No one can accuse Peter Joseph, founder of the global organization The Zeitgeist Movement, of thinking small. Joseph thinks in terms of systems and structures, and in his new book, The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression, he offers a comprehensive critique of the market-dominated economic system that has been in place in the United States and large swaths of the world for the past four decades.
Joseph argues that the difficulty with structural oppression — be it economic, racial, or environmental — is that while we all participate in the architecture to some degree, it’s almost impossible to discern its impact and effect. What this means, according to Joseph, is that society is constantly focused on symptoms rather than causes. Unlike most contemporary analysts, Joseph devotes scant time to blaming Republicans, Democrats, or greedy capitalists for the ills of the world because the American government — like the governments of most nations — always supports dominant economic interests. The individuals and corporations who profit from the arrangement aren’t necessarily intent on subjugating the masses and dominating the world, but this is often the end result because the framework in which they operate rewards perverse values and incentives.
Joseph repeatedly makes the point that the root socioeconomic orientations of a society organized around neoliberal economic principles are competition, dominance, and scarcity. He writes, “It is fruitless for us to demand idealized or more just behaviors from our existing institutions, since they have been built around a value and incentive system that thrives on the very behaviors we wish to change.” This is particularly apparent when it comes to the environment. The capitalist system with its insatiable demand for constant growth is inherently at odds with sustaining human existence on a finite planet.
The magnitude of the cultural shift Joseph writes about looks unlikely to occur in the current political and economic moment, but the overall tone of The New Human Rights Movement manages to be hopeful without being unrealistic. Sociological transformation will not come easily or without disruption, and can’t happen until the dominant economic model is replaced with one that, in Joseph’s words, “favors behavior that condones sustainable, collaborative, and socially just outcomes.”