Markus Stocker bio photo

Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

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If you haven’t seen it, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (by Peter Joseph) might be worth your time. The first part on Human Nature is actually very good, in particular the discussion on how biology can only be understood within the context of the environment.

Robert Sapolski, professor of neurological sciences, rejects the widespread notion that particular behavior is genetic, the deterministic view of life rooted in genetics, genes equal things that are inevitable. That is “sheer nonsense”, according to Robert. Aside a handful very rare diseases, “nothing is genetically programmed”, says Gabor Maté, physician, including heart disease, cancer, strokes, rheumatoid conditions, autoimmune conditions, mental health conditions, addictions. The environment affects gene expression, turning on and off different genes to put you on a different development track, which may suit the kind of world you have got to deal with, notes Richard Wilkinson, professor of social epidemiology. According to Gabor, the genetic argument allows us to ignore the social and economic factors that, in fact, underly many troublesome behaviors. Life experiences not only shape a person’s personality and psychological needs but also the brain, a process that begins in utero, the Dutch Hunger winter provides an example. According to Richard, early life, how nurturing or how much conflict or attention you get, is a taster of the kind of world you may be growing up in.

Then, Peter raises some questions. Is the condition we have created in the modern world actually supporting our health? Is the bedrock of our socio-economic system acting as a positive force for human and social development and progress?

Things switch from genetics to the market and, quasi predictably, the train of thoughts becomes confused, and confusing.

About an hour and six minutes into the film, I was surprised to see F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, mentioned as examples of major (Austrian School) market economists. Not being an economist, Peter scratches his head incredulous how modern economics looks entirely disconnected from ordinary human life experiences and needs or, even more so, from the physical environment. If you aren’t into ecological/environmental economics, the steady state economy, or natural resource economics, then I agree with Peter, economics operates within a frame that is essentially disconnected from the physical environment.

Unfortunately Peter forgets Hayek’s essential prediction. As much as he ought to be free to pursue his vision, including an economy without money, so must be everybody else. While Peter argues for a resource-based economy as “a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude” so may his neighbor argue that it is exactly a market-based economy that has, as no other in history, freed her from servitude.

Peter notes, “human needs are human needs” as if one box fits everyone. Hayek predicts that if the few try to fit the rest into one box, the rest will serve the few or the goal set by the few, also if the few is a machine performing scientific models and operating from the center of cities. Even if not “perfect” it is not democracy and a market-based economy but more likely Peter’s vision that will, ironically, lead to the rioting masses facing armed force pictured at the end of his film, because it is the oppression of the diversity of vision of the people that will force the masses onto the streets.

Nature is a dictatorship, we can either live in harmony with it or suffer the consequences of not doing so. Maybe, Peter. If you are right we might experience the fist of nature’s dictatorship, just like any other population that decreases after having hit the carrying capacity. Between nature’s and your dictatorship, however, I will choose the former, anytime.