Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Zeitgeist", the movie, debunked (part 3)

This is the third part of the review. The second part is here:

Of Rorschach and conspiracies

Many myths and conspiracy theories can be reduced to a feature of the human nervous system, finely honed through many years of fight for survival. You see, when you're in the jungle, and you're looking at the confusing pattern of green leaves around you, if something in your brain thinks there's a vague spot of color somewhere that remotely resembles a tiger, there's no doubt about your reaction: you will stop everything you're doing, freeze in place, and try your utmost to figure out where the possible threat is coming from and how to deal with it.

It doesn't matter that the information is vague. It's much better to get scared 10 times every day and be wrong every single time, than ignore a piece of information which is vague but true and get eaten by the tiger. Mother Nature made us see patterns where patterns are not, simply because this overshooting detection mechanism enabled us to survive better.

So this is why we look at random inkblots, made by simply throwing ink on a paper, no intentional design whatsoever (the Rorschach test used in psychology) and we see figures and objects and shapes and whole stories. That's why a child is lying in bed looking at the ceiling, and sees all sorts of creatures and faces, as if it's not just cracked paint on the wall but real cinema. That's why we look at series of random events, completely unconnected but similar in one way or another, and we don't see randomness but conspiracy. The tigers in the primordial forest took care of that.

So if there are similarities between various myths and religions, instead of seeing them as generated by common traits in human psychology, which is the rational and scientific explanation, there is this tendency to suspect vast multi-millenary conspiracies to delude and enslave the unsuspecting people.

Are the financial magnates doing unethical things to obtain more wealth and power? Probably, some of them at least. Are they sometimes working together for their mutual benefit, at the expense of everyone else? I would say yes, I'm sure there are all sorts of secret dealings and groups and cabals at that level in finance. Are they attempting to curb the way of history for profit? Very likely, yes.

But to go from here to an alleged world-wide conspiracy, spanning ages and cultures and continents, uninterrupted, consistent and all-powerful, it's lunacy.

Look at a school of fish, how they appear to swim synchronized with each other, the whole group a thousand individuals strong appearing to move, stop and turn as one. Does that mean there's somehow a "group mind" at work here? No, it's just a bunch of dumb fish, each one of them looking only at a handful of neighbors and attempting to coordinate its swimming with them according to very simple rules. Look at the bees in a hive building the hexagonal lattice of the honeycomb, so regular and beautiful and perfect. Are they "conspiring" with each other, is there a conscious group consensus guiding them? No, it turns out each bee builds its own tiny cell and because they all work exactly the same, according to very simple but very rigid rules, the amazing complexity emerges as simply the sum of a large number of trivial interactions.

Similarly, there may be dishonest politicians or unethical bankers twisting or sometimes straight out breaking the rules for their own selfish interest, making everyone else a victim. This kind of individuals have always existed, still exist now and will probably continue to exist. What powerful people want above all, is more power, of course. What rich people want above all, is more money. It's just human nature. But does that imply there's some sort of "hive mind", an evil conspiracy of the rich and powerful, reaching from the depths of history to enslave all of us in the future?

You may answer "yes", if the pattern detection mechanisms in your brain are overshooting just a bit more than the average, and if you're carrying some hidden (or sometimes not so hidden) paranoic tendencies - the fear of the tiger, distilled and handed down from parent to child across innumerable generations. For everyone else, still in possession of their rational faculties, and able to employ a healthy sense of realism when judging the situation, the answer can only be "no".

A lesson from Umberto Eco

Switching to literature, if you ask me who are my favourite authors, very likely somewhere in the Top 5 list you'll find the name Umberto Eco. While teaching semiology at the University of Bologna, he is also the author of several successful novels published over the last 30 years or so. I enjoyed very much reading his first title, "The Name of the Rose", also made into a film starring Sean Connery (just read the book, the movie is entirely optional); it's a book for people who love books, I guess that's the best way to describe it. But of all his works of fiction my favorite is the next one, "Foucault's Pendulum".

It's hard to characterize "Foucault's Pendulum" in just a few words. It has been described as "the thinking person's Da Vinci Code", but that's like saying a Rolls Royce is the rich person's scooter. It's slightly biographic, due to similarities between some characters and the author. It's detective fiction worthy of Agatha Christie or A.C. Doyle. It deals with secret societies and, finally, its entire structure is based on the ten Sefiroth of the Kabbalah.

And it's very satisfyingly complex. At the beginning of his career, Eco used to support the theory of infinite semiosis - which means, from any given symbol, potentially an infinite number of meanings and messages can be derived. He later abandoned this extreme view, but a remnant of it is still visible in his works of fiction - everything is a symbol, and scores upon scores of interpretations pile up upon each other. The complexity is both horizontal (many different details weaving the plot) and vertical (many different levels of interpretation for essentially everything in the book). The focal point zooms left and right, back and forth, up and down through this three-dimensional network of details and interpretations, gradually exposing a big lattice of symbols and meanings, valid at every level, dense in every point, vast in its scope.

There's a series of characters in this book, which at first appear to be just your garden-variety New Age lunatics, obsessed with secret societies, and "mystical powers", and magic, and "occult knowledge". Rightfully, the author calls them (through the words of one of his main characters) "the diabolicals", not so much due to some luciferian magic they may possess (ultimately, they do not, although the book, not willing to put a finite cap on the process of semiosis, is predictably ambivalent in that regard), but for the inherent evil accompanying any distortion of truth, any voluntary relinquishment of the fact-based, reality-based thinking in favor of misty dreamy paperback-style imagination.

The "diabolicals" in the "...Pendulum" might be seen as plain deluded individuals, feverish as they are with the dream (or rather nightmare) of secret societies jousting for world domination, but they do act based on their delusions - and then evil ensues, not of the magical persuasion, but regular down to earth thievery, blackmail and murder. They act based simply on dreams and illusions, but dreams and illusions can be very powerful when they substitute reality and attempt to change reality when it refuses to acknowledge them and give them its fiat and its stamp of approval.

You'll have to read the book to get all the nuances and the entire scope and depth of it, but for the moment just heed my word - it paints an image of scorching criticism of the "diabolicals", of the obsessed and the deluded and the secret societies nutjobs. Watching "Zeitgeist" I was instantly reminded of this book and of the "diabolicals". This is a movie that the "diabolicals" would make and would enjoy watching. This is a movie that plays to every single fiber of paranoia and every single figment of delusion of this kind of people. Unable to grasp the world in the clear and firm hold of reason, they paint it over in the colors of unreality and call it "secret truth" and scoff at any attempt to wake them up from the unwholesome trance.

And maybe that's not the right thing to do - waking them up. Not having the firm foundation of reason to stand upon, all they can do is fill the void with imagination. Clutching at straws for meaning and coherence, and not being able to obtain them, anything else will do - secret societies, the Synarchy, the government, the financial tycoons... something, ANYthing has to explain the mystery and dispel the confusion. Quote Umberto Eco, via two of his characters in the book (both of them atheists):

When I told Lia about this episode, she said: "If you ask me, he was sincere. He really did want to get it all off his chest. You think he can find anyone at police headquarters who will listen to him wonder whether Jeanne Canudo was right-wing or left? He only wanted to find out if it's his fault he can't understand it or if the whole thing is too difficult. And you weren't able to give him the one true answer."
"The one true answer?"
"Of course. That there's nothing to understand. Synarchy is God."
"Yes. Mankind can't endure the thought that the world was born by chance, by mistake, just because four brainless atoms bumped into one another on a slippery highway. So a cosmic plot has to be found - God, angels, devils. Synarchy performs the same function on a lesser scale."
"Then I should have told him that people put bombs on trains because they're looking for God?"
"Why not?"

And there you have it. The ultimate explanation for the deeds of the "diabolicals" in the book. The ultimate explanation and the reason of being of the movie "Zeitgeist" - when the mind is asleep and the reason is taking a day off, all sorts of other things pile up to fill in the void. Then you see patterns where patterns are not. You see evil plots and group consciousness where it's really just a school of dumb fish. And the whole world is a giant Rorschach test, secrets and conspiracies and false flags seemingly springing forth out of the inkblot of reality.

For, without a mind, reality indeed is as dark and obscure as ink. Stop for a moment, quell the childish excitement and fantasy, and open your eyes. There's a wonderful world out there, intricate and surprising and beautiful. If only you start thinking about it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Zeitgeist", the movie, debunked (part 2)

This is the second part of the review. The first part is here:

The 9/11 thing

Ah, yes, the 9/11 conspiracy theory. Essentially, in the second part, called "All the world's a stage", the movie claims the events on September 11 2001 were an inside job, staged and directed by elements within or affiliated to the US government.

This topic has been beaten to death all over the Internet. It is not the stated mission of this essay to deal with this subject - if anything is real regarding these theories, it's a matter of high secrecy and there's probably not much I (or you, for that matter) can do. If you're interested to read more about this subject, here's some material - it's a lot more than what the movie mentions, with plenty of references.

As for my opinion: I don't really have one. I do incline, somewhat, toward rejecting the conspiracy theories, merely because executing something like this, on such a big scale, without any whisper leaking out, seems quite improbable. I'm not saying it's impossible. Also, I think there were plenty of elements, within or associated with the administration at that time, who were 100% capable of contemplating such an operation and finding nothing wrong with it. But from thought to action the road is sometimes long and arduous. Being capable of, or even inclined to, doing something does not imply being responsible for it.

Only time will tell. Probably.

Of money and evil

Part three, "Don't mind the men behind the curtain". The claim here is that the biggest bankers are the real power brokers in the world, with the politicians as mere talking heads to create an illusion.

Finance and economy are not really my strong points - if I do have any such things, you've seen them already at work deconstructing the misinformation in the first part of the movie regarding mythology. But anyway, I was watching the third part and I had the feeling that the author talks about fiat currency, credit and debt and somehow magically calls all of them "debt", merely because it sounds scary. I am under the impression that finance is significantly more complex than that. I could be wrong, of course, since I'm not a trained professional in this field. But, then again, neither is the movie's author.

Of recessions and depressions

Allegedly, there was a "conspiracy" by major bankers at the beginning of the 20th century to create an economic crisis to further their own interests. The movie doesn't even mention the name of that event, but I'll spell it out for you since the author or authors can't be bothered to: it's called The Panic of 1907.

According to the movie, one of the main architects of the event was J.P. Morgan. This criticism is mainstream indeed, "Zeitgeist" is not alone in attributing Morgan part of the blame. What the movie fails to mention is that, also, Morgan is seen as one of the people who averted the crisis and worked to fix a very messy situation. This is not okay - if you're talking about a controversial topic, please present both sides of the story. Otherwise you're getting high points for partisanship but not much for anything else.

Also, the movie doesn't fail to make a point that the Great Depression itself was caused by the bankers. This, too, is not an opinion unheard of. The trouble is when you attribute to malice what can be explained very well by plain old ignorance.

The educated, mainstream explanations are much more complex and nuanced. While there is no consensus, the most common schools of thought are somewhere in between "natural effect of past policies" and "cluelessness of the financial institutions at that time." Here's a list of the more common theories:

It's funny, though, how the image of "shadow overlords" that the movie tries to create for the major players in the financial field is nowadays contradicted by the current events (I'm writing this in March 2009) - look at all the banks that are failing now, waiting to be rescued like beached whales gasping for water. Not so omnipotent after all, are they?

And yes, I am aware that the crisis we're facing nowadays is said to be caused by the banks too. But there's a difference between world conspiracy, and plain old individual greed, shameless and lacking any trace of scruples. I'll get back to this idea below, when I'll talk about conspiracy theories in general.


The movie quotes at some point one Louis McFadden, politician in the 1920s and '30s. His claim was that the Depression was created by "international bankers". The conspiracy theorists love this case, because apparently McFadden had made many enemies, enough so that there were several attempts at his life. Was that the long hand of the financial tycoons, or is the explanation more mundane? Hard to tell.

In any case, it does not help the movie's cause that McFadden was anti-jewish and pro-Hitler. Not exactly the kind of source you want to quote in polite company. But this is just one more example in a long sequence of bad sources for this movie - I have dedicated an entire chapter below to this problem.

The almighty income tax

Finally, the movie claims the income tax is "unconstitutional".

Um... Okay, I can be pretty verbose sometimes (as you can surely tell from the length of this essay), but there are situations when, facing absurd blatant nonsense, words seem to betray me. This whole issue is such an imbecile technicality, I don't really have anything to say. If you want to educate yourself, fine, here's a truckload of material, merry Christmas, have at it:

If there was any real basis, don't you think there would be a whole lot more noise surrounding this issue, more anyway than two conspiracy theorists and three run-of-the-mill lunatics chatting on a mailing list? Jesus Christ, there's far-fetched, there's downright moronic, and then there's this.

So many flags, all false

Next up: false flag operations.

This is an old concept. There's a good chance that even the Great Fire of Rome, back in the time of emperor Nero, was in fact a false flag operation - Nero was just crazy enough to do it. Whether the fire was actually started by Nero or not, it cannot be demonstrated today beyond doubt. But there's no doubt that the Roman administration did its best to put the blame for the fire on the shoulders of this new inconvenient religious sect, which they wanted to destroy, called Christians. The public swallowed it hook, line and sinker - and so that guy, Peter the Apostle, one of the leaders of this novel religion, was caught and crucified upside down. That'll teach them to refuse to worship the emperor!

So apparently this false flag stratagem is as old as civilization, or maybe older. The movie's point is that America got involved in all its recent wars through false flag operations. All, without exception. Well, I have a problem with that. One, maybe two, okay, I can believe it. But every single war?

World War I

They say the US got dragged into World War I in order to satisfy the interests of (guess who) financial tycoons who stood to profit from this involvement, and the alleged false flag operation which did it was the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania in 1915, with 2000 people aboard, by the German U-boats.

The reality seems to be quite a bit different. It looks like Lusitania was attacked and destroyed due to the recklessness of its new captain, a bit similar to the catastrophe of the Titanic (what, just a bit of ice floating by? no matter, full steam ahead!). There seem to be no mainstream sources alleging anything close to a false flag operation in this case - only conspiracy theorists.

World War II

On to World War II and Pearl Harbor, of course. The claim is that the attack on Pearl Harbor was either engineered by the US ("baiting" Japan into it), or known in advance but not acted upon. Here the controversy is more voluminous, if not more substantial. The movie barely makes a dent in the variety of arguments brought on both sides.

Was Pearl Harbor staged or somehow permitted by the US military and government? I incline to answer in the negative, although I would not rule out the other reply completely. In any case, keep in mind this: at that time Hitler was already a big and pretty obvious threat. It is unlikely that any government would have needed to stage a false flag attack to convince its citizens to get up and defend themselves.

Also, there's always the sad and embarassing truth that failure to act due to incompetence or plain old sloth is a pill very bitter and hard to swallow. So, let's say I make a pretty serious blunder, something monumental in its sheer stupidity - what do you think is easier for me to admit: that I was just too lazy to act even though I knew it was coming (or even worse, too dumb to even know something was being cooked up for me), or that somehow the whole Universe conspired against me and mysteriously made me fall flat on my face, no responsibility on my part required? You don't have to be an expert psychologist to tell the answer. I'd rather invent massive conspiracies than admit such a huge mistake.

To support the "Pearl Harbor as a false flag operation" hypothesis, the movie quotes Charles Lindbergh (yes, the aviator) who, in a speech, said that America "could be enticed into" WW2. Again, this is one of the many bad sources and references that the movie is leaning on.

If you do a bit of digging through various references, you find out quickly the quote is from Lindbergh's September 11 1941 speech at the America First rally in Des Moines. Pearl Harbor took place on December 7 the same year, almost 3 months later, so he was not talking about an actual event during that speech, he was just agitating the spirits. The movie is misleading in the way it presents the facts.

One might say that Lindbergh was prescient. In reality, by today's standards, his political views were somewhere in between oddball and simply insane: almost a Nazi sympathizer but steering very short of actually supporting them, almost anti-Jewish but narrowly escaping the accusation, advocate of eugenics (castrate the "inferior" people, encourage the reproduction of the "superior" ones), promoter of Nordicism (people from the North are racially "superior"), it goes on and on and on. Wow! And this is the guy you're bringing in as witness, "Zeitgeist"? Scraping the bottom, are we?

Ironically and unfortunately for "Zeitgeist", after Pearl Harbor Lindbergh changed his opinion and abandoned his non-interventionist views, and fully supported the war effort. But the movie makes no mention of that. How convenient.

Again unfortunately, at the same rally in Des Moines, Lindbergh claimed the three groups "pressing this country toward war [are] the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration." Oh, the irony. A couple minutes later, the movie brings nobody else but Roosevelt himself as witness against the financial tycoons, quoting: "a financial element [...] has owned the government since the days of Andrew Jackson."

Well, "Zeitgeist", your own witnesses seem to not like each other very much, and internecine accusations are rife in your own camp. How about you clean up your own act before pointing fingers at others, huh?

Anyway, moving forward. The movie doesn't fail to mention how some big bankers allegedly financed Hitler at the beginning of his career. Prescott Bush (the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush) is, of course, brought to attention, the claim being that he was involved in operations which ultimately gave (through Nazi industrialist Fritz Thyssen) financial support to Hitler in the '30s.

Well, duh. In the '30s I'm sure there were plenty of bankers who were happy to do business with Germany. After all, under the Nazi regime, the country was rapidly building its military, so no doubt plenty of cash was being routed across its borders. But is that a proof that the financial giants are somehow inherently evil? Far from it. In fact, well into the late '30s, Hitler was still not necessarily seen as a bad guy by everyone. As late as 1938, the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was still thinking it was possible to negotiate with Hitler. Sure, Chamberlain is now seen as naive, but hindsight is such a great thing to possess and leisurely enjoy, isn't it? Mmm-mmm, hindsight, yum.

By the way, for what it's worth, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement in 2003 aiming to clear Prescott Bush of involvement with the Nazis. I can't say I'm a big fan of Bush The Second, but that doesn't automatically make his grandpa a Hitler sympathizer.


Then it goes on and on. The Vietnam War was triggered by the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which, again, is claimed to have been a false flag operation. Was it, really? Or was it a series of initially honest reporting mistakes, quickly followed by a flurry of cover-your-ass "corrections"? Or did it happen literally as reported? Hard to tell.

Of all the alleged false flag operations discussed in the movie, in my opinion this one seems to have the highest chance to be indeed an "engineered" event. But to extend this allegation to everything else is unjustified and downright irrational. Yes, that was a pointless war. But do you need to watch "Zeitgeist" to realize it?

And of course the authors go full circle and allege, again, that 9/11 was a false flag operation too. And then they mention the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 by Nazi operatives as yet another example of a false flag operation - at least this one is quite likely true, the Nazis probably did it and Hitler's political career took a great leap forward after the event.

But that's the movie's over-arching theme: wild allegations and bad sources. And it doesn't stop here.

Of modern media and other scary things


The next sequence in the movie begins with a talk by someone called Lyndon LaRouche. He speaks about various methods used by powerful nations to destabilize governments in parts of the world they want to control, various manipulation techniques used to exert covert power over those regions, and so forth. Now, again, this is not something new. If "Zeitgeist" was the first place where you've seen these things mentioned, you probably have quite a bit of catching-up to do. The CIA, the Mossad, the KGB, have used these techniques so many times, they have ceased to be secret - and even before the modern age, it is conceivable that similar things have been done in past ages, using the methods available at those times. So this is not really something shocking or something new.

What is grating about it is the fact that the movie uses LaRouche as a reliable witness. Google him up, and it's like turning a rock over: suddenly, cockroaches start squirming all over the place. This individual is anti-semite, covert fascist and, no surprise here, conspiracy theorist. He claims to be the real originator of the SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative, the anti-missile project under Ronald Reagan dubbed "Star Wars") - no mention of the real drivers of the project, Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham and the renowned scientist, and father of the hydrogen bomb, Dr. Edward Teller. LaRouche did some years in jail for tax evasion, and then him and his attorney started a campaign saying that his imprisonment was a "conspiracy" by government officials to discredit and destroy LaRouche and "brainwash" the population.

It's all very surreal, until you learn that he was bullied and isolated in school - well, that explains it, he looks then very much like the mad scientist from Batman, except without superpowers or death rays.

That's someone who the movie presents, keeping a straight face, as a reliable source of information. Sigh.

Too much TV

The movie then mentions the very real phenomenon of media saturation - TV and all the information channels can inform, but can also brainwash. This is true, a TV channel is only as good or as impartial as its owners, and TV in general is a very poor channel for aquiring information. But look at it this way: even if there is a conspiracy to brainwash you through the 'tube, the only person responsible for its existence is you. Nobody forces you to grab the remote and turn the screen on. Nobody forces you to spend 4 or 5 or 6 hours daily in front of the TV like a vegetable... erm... I mean like the average person in the western world. If TV is your main view to the Universe, you definitely deserve whatever you get in the process.

There are much better ways to stay informed nowadays. Just look at the variety of news aggregators on the Internet - not impartial per se, but closing in on impartiality just because of the law of the averages: when you combine so many different sources, the extremes are bound to cancel each other out. And there's always the good old alternative of reading a book, a time-tested method to eliminate ignorance and promote critical thinking. You know, when even the president of the U. S. of A. tells you to turn off that TV and read a book, either by yourself or to your kids, well, there might be something to this book reading thing after all.

So, "Zeitgeist", what's your point? You're saying the TV makes us dumb? But we know that already. Those who didn't know it are those who probably have spent already too much time in front of the "dumbificator" and now may be quite a ways beyond salvation. So who are you talking to actually?

New World Order

Predictably, the movie then attacks the alleged issues of the "North American Union", the Amero, and the One World Government. Again and again, the authors are not original. This is a conspiracy theory at least hundreds of years old, which resurfaces here and there periodically. It is the idea that there is some sort of conspiracy at the highest levels of power to dominate large parts of the world, or the entire world perhaps, for the purpose of more easily enslaving and controling the population. It's the "powerful people want more power" slogan - basically true, but deceptive when unjustifiably extrapolated.

The earliest signs of this collective delusion that I can identify go back to the early 1600s and the "Fama Fraternitatis" manifestos, which were the equivalent of a today's wildly optimistic sci-fi novel, but back then were taken seriously by quite a few smart people and triggered the so-called Rosicrucianism. Many readers only paid attention to the alleged technology and knowledge vaguely alluded to in "Fama", believed it was real, and made all attempts to aquire that knowledge, hoping to put it to some lucrative use, or perhaps hoping to achieve power. That stock of ideas got mixed with the Knights Templar myth and absorbed into today's Freemasonry.

The Illuminati of Bavaria in the 1700s, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in the early 1900s, all these belong to the same category. It's the thought that somewhere, some very powerful people, perhaps possessing some "occult" power, work in secrecy to enslave and rule the whole world. Over and over again, this myth resurfaces in new forms, Rosicrucians here, Illuminati there, Synarchy over there, always covertly operating, but never quite achieving palpable or visible results in the real world.

North American Union? Lots of chatter on conspiracy-theory-oriented websites, but nothing concrete so far. Amero? (the supposedly unified currency of the alleged N.A. Union, modeled after the Euro) Well, there's this guy who claims to show "genuine amero bills" as proof that the conspiracy is real; it turns out, they were photoshopped by another guy on Flickr.

Pffft. This is just lame.

Here's my take. On one hand, I think all these conspiracy theories are pure bullshit. On the other hand, I do think the world is moving toward ever-increasing unification. There's a World Federation waiting for us a few generations in the future; it's either that, or back to the Stone Age (or a radioactive desert). The national and cultural egos in the contemporary world are just too big and too nasty and too toxic to be compatible with the survival of our species over a long time. So we either recognize our fundamental unity as a species, or we perish.

The One World government presented as an evil conspiracy is the product of troubled minds on the fringes of both the political left and the right - the extremes are both pathologically afraid of this idea, for reasons apparently different but ultimately surprisingly similar. The extreme left anarchist is intrinsically afraid of any sort of law and order, so by extension a World Government I guess is pretty frightening - they would rather live in a village in the woods and grow pot (yes, I am stereotyping, thank you), no law at all. The extreme right, very likely American supremacist in secret if not openly, is afraid of anything that may threaten America's status as the most powerful country in the world - becoming part of a planetary federation is seen as a fall back into mediocrity. Different causes, same compelling instinct: fear.

So, I think it will happen, but not as some sort of nefarious conspiracy, but purely as the result of a growing awareness and understanding. Just extrapolate the recent past and current tendencies: Germany used to be a motley collection of tiny states for hundreds of years, no more; India used to be the same kind of fractured country, not anymore. Europe is already a federation. There are talks of a pan-African union modeled after Europe, and a South American one too, and no doubt Asia is mulling similar thoughts, and one day all these things may just happen.

I think the world is slowly coalescing not as a giant blob under a single government, the One World boogeyman, but perhaps a federation, maybe following the EU example - by small hesitant steps it moves, but irresistibly. Maybe. I guess we'll see, if we survive to that point.


Right, of course they had to mention the RFID chips scare. This is another oldie but goodie, and this time it goes back to John the Apostle and the book of Apocalypse and the number of the Beast, 666. "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name." (Rev, 13:16-17) This is another very pervasive and very persistent myth of the Western world. Too bad there isn't much to support it, other than a few lines in the Bible and a bazillion metric tons of wildly imaginative commentary on top of it.

Look, shortly before 1000 A.D. people thought the world was going to end. Many renounced their fortunes, gave everything to the poor, gathered in churches on the new year's eve and waited for the celestial trumpets to break the silence. Midnight came and went, and the silence lay unbroken, except for the occasional crickets chirping.

Nowadays, since that other myth was busted, people with a need to be scared of something are frantically looking for a replacement, and the whole 666 affair is so convenient, because it provides a concrete idea to hold on to (it's a number, now go search for it everywhere) and because it appears similar to the techniques of electronic identification in the modern world. Maybe it's a tatoo, maybe a bar code, maybe an RFID chip implanted under the skin, we don't know, this Beast fellow is pretty deceptive, we better keep our eyes open.

And once again, the future is going to give these people a good scare by seemingly confirming their fears. See that smartphone-slash-computer you're wearing, hanging on your belt? It's not going to stay there for too long; give it a few decades and it's going to become miniaturized and much smarter and more powerful, and is going to live as an implant inside your skull, or your arm. No, it's not an evil plot by the Beast, or the Illuminati or Synarchy, or the nefarious financial tycoons, it's something else called Progress. It will happen, and it's not going to be the first time that Progress will march forward claiming a religious belief or myth or a conspiracy theory as a victim under its boots.

Are there any valid, rational concerns regarding the chip implants? Sure, privacy being probably number one. These things will need to be executed very well, or they will give away too much information about ourselves. On the other hand, privacy looks more and more as a thing of the past - if you do any purchases and banking online, your privacy is largely gone already. Maybe this is a topic that merits a separate analysis, and maybe I'll do it, if I find enough time.

You're only as good as your references

From a 10 km perspective, and perhaps at a much closer view too, this movie's biggest problem is its sources and references. When you're researching a topic, it does happen that you unwittingly throw a few bad apples in the basket, along with the good ones. But a few bad apples is one thing, while a whole swimming-pool-sized mudfest of errors and distortions is another, and "Zeitgeist" is taking the latter path.

Already we have mentioned Gerald Massey, Lyndon LaRouche, Louis McFadden and Charles Lindbergh. Let's see who the others are.

Chogyam Trungpa

The movie opens with a discourse by Chogyam Trungpa. On one hand, this is a rather famous Buddhist scholar who lived in the Occident in the 20th century, pretty important figure for the cultural dialogue between East and West, author of books, commentaries, poems, and also a guru.

On the other hand, it's hard to find a more controversial figure in this field. Throughout his entire adult life he was a heavy drinker, and died exhausted, of heart failure caused by alcohol, at the age of 48. During his latter years was crippled by partial paralysis after speeding and crashing a sports car under the influence. While being appointed by the Dalai Lama as a spiritual advisor at a school for young monks, he had a child with a nun. He married another woman disciple when she was at the age of 16. Many times his sermons faded out mid-course and he was carried off-stage for being too drunk to talk coherently.

Astute observers familiar with Tibetan Buddhism may observe these are not unusual features of some Tantric gurus, and perhaps the remark is not entirely unjustified - Tantra has a peculiar definition for "freedom" and some of the followers of this doctrine were and are known for their eccentric behavior, as if the normal rules did not apply to them.

But it's one thing to live the life of Marpa the Translator, one of the most important scholars at the time when Buddhism was being "imported" by Tibet from India, and also the guru of Milarepa (major figure in the Tibetan spirituality, founder of a large monastic order, comparable with St. Francis in the West), and so live in a place that could accept and indeed understand (as strange as that may sound to us) such behaviour and integrate it with its mainstream culture. And it's an entirely different thing to pretend to be Marpa and live in a very different culture, in a very different time and place.

In the 11th century Tibet, Chogyam Trungpa would have been a revered guru. In the 20th century West, he was an alcohol addict with a messianic complex. And this movie is quoting him as a reliable authority. Wow.

Jordan Maxwell

Jordan Maxwell appears several times during the movie, directly or implied, so much so that the whole thing seems, to an extent, a vehicle for advertising his ideas. And after briefly reading a few pages on his website, those appear to be curious ideas indeed.

But first, let me make an observation, in case you haven't visited his website yet. Believe it or not, in this day and age, a website sporting a black background with a blinking starfield, achieved through the awesome power of animated GIF images, is sooo last century. I'm looking at it and - lo and behold - it's 1995, Clinton is a faithful husband, Lady Di is alive, the space shuttle Columbia is still flying, it's deja-vu all over again. But enough about the form, let's see the substance, if any.

Reading the Links section on his site, we find such fascinating things as a document called "How To Legally Avoid Unwanted Immunizations Of All Kinds". When vaccination conspiracy theory nutjobs are jacking up the risk for diseases long gone to reappear in the US because they refuse to immunize themselves and their children (see this LA Times article), Jordan Maxwell is fanning the fire. That's just great.

He seems to believe also that the water-powered engine (yes, an engine that runs on pure water and nothing else) is a genuine invention, and people such as Paul Pantone and Stanley Meyer (self-styled "water engine inventors") are veritable scientists, rather than cranks or con artists, and are "persecuted" by the government, rather than institutionalized for mental health problems. And it goes on and on, just peruse the aforementioned Links section.

The original conspiracy theorist, if there ever was one. A major source of "information" for this movie. Wonderful.

Sri Chinmoy

During the final minutes, the movie inserts a quote from Sri Chinmoy: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Nice saying, uplifting message. But why, oh why, does it have to come from Sri Chinmoy?

This was an indian guru who in the '60s, at the age of 33, went to the US and had many disciples. He spoke passionately about religious tolerance and love. And at some point he sort of went berserk.

This is a guy who, at a pretty old age, claimed being able to lift extraordinary weights, culminating with the alleged lift of 7,000 lb (seven thousand pounds, or 3175 kg) with one arm. He had the famous musicians Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin as disciples, but they left him, and Santana said later that Sri Chinmoy was "vindictive". Has been accused by a number of former followers of sexual misconduct. And at some point started touring the world, claiming to transmit a "soulful message" through music.

I've been to one of his "concerts". Now, look, I am not a stranger to religious, spiritual and psychedelic music. I grew up Orthodox Christian and I am familiar with Gregorian chants. I have assisted to live performances of genuine Indian religious music (bhajan) and I've been deeply moved by it. I am somewhat familiar with the practice of chanting mantras. The trance-inducing experiments of abstract musicians such as Klaus Schulze, believe it or not, are one of my favourite forms of music. And then I've found myself listening to this guy.

As opposed to about 50% of the audience who left the hall before the end, I actually tried hard to "get it" and struggled through to the final note. He would grab an instrument, fiddle with it, emit a series of sounds, put it down, pick up another one, and then do the whole excruciating procedure all over again. There was no music, and I'm not going to add "that I could perceive", because there was no music, period. There was no hypnotic mantra-like repetition. There were no brilliant fractal intricate progressions as conceived by Schulze and, long before him, J.S. Bach. There was only this old guy, probably in a state of trance (I'll give him that much), trying to put some musical instruments to work but having no idea how it's actually done.

And this is the brilliant spiritual master that the movie is quoting. Sigh. I should rest my case right here and now.

And so on

It's probably a waste of time to keep digging through the names listed in the final credits, so I'll keep it brief.

There's one John Allegro who claimed that psychedelic mushrooms were a major factor in the creation of the Christian religion - essentially saying that a bunch of guys in Oriental robes, sitting on the shore of the Dead Sea, ate a whole lot of 'shrooms, tripped their brains out and made up the whole thing.

Okay... Now, look, they may both be semi-deserts, but still the Dead Sea area and California are quite a ways apart, and while the latter's fungi and cacti indeed make you see pink elephants and enjoy Grateful Dead, the former's bad mushrooms actually just straight out kill you. Kids, if you're reading this, heed my advice - don't eat weird mushrooms from the Old World. If you do, you won't have a chat with St. Timothy Leary in the seventh heaven, you'll be dead.

It goes on and on, the gift that keeps giving. Having overwhelmingly made my point, I am going to turn the spigot off at this point.

The few good ones

Give credit where credit is due, I've been taught, and that's what I will do. The movie does mention a few good and prominent names on the credits, and I'll pass the information on.

For once, there's Carl Sagan, astronomer and popularizer of science. He is the scientist who has determined that Venus is an ultrahot, high-pressure environment completely incompatible with life as we know it. His TV series "Cosmos" has reached hundreds of millions of people and inspired many. His book "Contact" is a great science-fiction literature novel, a work of extraordinary vision and imagination (one of my favourites). I wonder what is the movie giving him credit for, since Sagan remains a model of scepticism and rationality, while the movie goes in the opposite direction.

Then there's Joseph Campbell, mythologist and writer, known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion. Do read his books, they're illuminating.

Then there's Sir James Frazer, social anthropologist, writer of "The Golden Bough", seminal work that opened and paved the way for Campbell, Eliade and others. Read that book; put the "Zeitgeist" DVD down and read the book. Read Eliade's books too. It's like a detox diet after the "Zeitgeist" junk food.

So, yes, the movie does quote a few good authors, but the amount of bad stuff is so overwhelming, the well is forever poisoned. It's not just the one proverbial bad apple, it's more like a few good ones in a barrel full of rot.

Let's move on.

The review continues with the 3rd part which is published here:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Zeitgeist", the movie, debunked (part 1)

I had no intention to write about "Zeitgeist" at all. I've skimmed it shortly after its release, seeing as it had generated a pretty consistent buzz on the blogosphere and the discussion forums. I've seen references popping up here and there afterwards, but mostly I just ignored them. So I thought the whole affair was dead and buried and I was well on my way to forget it. Except, I was not aware of the impact and influence that the movie still had in the time that followed - and still has today. That was my biggest surprise, and the reason why I'm writing now.

OK, I'm lying. I'm also writing about it because I need the exercise - you know, to keep that pen sharp, or rather that word processor busy. But regardless of the reason, here it is, my review. Sort of.

Let's see. "Zeitgeist", noun, German word. Means "the spirit of the age", the ethos, the prevailing thinking of a certain time, the world view. From the German words "zeit" (time) and "geist" (spirit). Used in texts of philosophy and high-brow literature. Goes back to a German philosopher who, in the 1700s, wrote a commentary on a book called "Genius saeculi" and translated the title in German as "Zeitgeist". Later on, Hegel borrowed the word and after him everybody followed suit.

Okay mr. Author (somebody named Peter Joseph, apparently, but perhaps others are involved too), or authors, so you made this movie, and you called it "Zeitgeist". What does that mean? According to what I've said above, it's a fairly big claim already. It means you're talking about the broad currents of thought, ideology, morality of an epoch. Means you take a few steps back, take a snapshot of that whole era, and draw conclusions, and pass judgement on it. You position yourself up there on the throne, the stone tablets of the Decalogue in hand, separating the sheep from the goats.

Well, not really. But you must be careful when you're talking about such broad issues. Tiny errors at the base tend to multiply upwards and, if you haven't got your fundamentals right, your far-reaching conclusions may get completely out of whack. And calling it "Zeitgeist" means you're looking at the very top, at the broadest currents and forces in the human society and thought.

True to its initial claim staked in the title, this movie attempts to do exactly that. The result? Well, keep reading and we'll build together the conclusion - but let me give you just a hint as to what that conclusion may be: it ain't pretty.

Note: I am reviewing only the movie "Zeitgeist" proper. I have seen the sequel, I think it's marginally better than the first movie, but I am not making any comments on it.

The most mangled story ever told

The first part of the movie, called "The greatest story ever told" is about religion. The claim the movie makes here is that all religion is just a big fabricated lie, consciously fabricated, designed, an instrument in the hands of the powers-that-be to control the masses.

The author, or authors claim most if not all major religious figures are all carbon-copies of the same myth, the same story repeated over and over again, in all times, in all countries, on every continent.

Now, whether some or few or all the world's religions contain some factual truth, or are pure unalloyed truth altogether, or possess no truth whatsoever, is a long and complicated discussion that did not begin yesterday or the year before, but a very long time ago, has been fiercely disputed by some of the brightest minds in the history of human thought, and is not likely to be put to rest any time soon. Yet the movie proposes a solution that is uncomplicated and quick and, given the "evidence" they claim to offer, should have been pretty obvious a long time ago.

Again, I'm not arguing here whether religion is true or not. I'm discussing their particular claim, the special way they allege religion is untrue, blended with all sorts of conspiracy theories, and the claimed "evidence" presented which is quite second-hand and amateurish. Those are not the measured broad cultured arguments of a rational thinker the caliber of a Bertrand Russell, it's wild imagination running amok. It feels like a fantasy flick, not a supposedly serious documentary.

Enough ranting, let's get to the point.

The cross and the zodiac

The first big bungle: The authors of this movie are looking at the ancient belief in astrology, not claiming it (the astrology) to be true, but just using it as a reference to show how certain myths are constructed. That's all very fine - by comparing the various myths you show more clearly their relations, their common characters and structure, and you can use one myth to explain another. This is a pretty standard procedure in comparative mythology.

But they present the circle (or disk) of the zodiac, the 12 constellations intersected by the Sun in its yearly trajectory on the sky - a pretty important concept in astrology - and somehow identify a cross in the middle of it. They even talk about "the cross of the zodiac" as a matter of fact, put the Sun in the middle of it, and voila, the Sun-god, the Savior of so many solar religions is seen as inspired (or justified) from or by the astrological myth.

Well, sure, if you divide a circle in 12 parts, you can skip every 3 segments and somehow decide it's actually divided by 4. And a circle, or disk, divided into 4 parts seems to suggest a cross, isn't it? So, that means, Jesus Christ and the cross and everything - that's all inspired by astrology, isn't that so?

No, it is not. This is a later syncretism, probably originating in the medieval times by the European astrologers who were trying to legitimize their practice in a world controlled by the various Christian churches.

Look at the earliest representations of the zodiac, such as this 6th century mosaic:

There is no cross in the middle. In fact, the 12 segments are not even very much regular. That is the original form, a circle, 12 slices, and that's it. No messianic figure on a cross - that has come later - only a representation of the Sun, which is expected in an astrological diagram. Christ's story has not been built on an astrological foundation - it's astrology that, much later, attempted to give itself a seemingly "christian" lustre.


They talk about the ancient egyptian deity Horus, present him as the god of the Sun and oppose him to Set, allegedly the god of night, as if in a good-versus-evil opposition of principles. They say Horus was born on December 25th, and his was a virgin birth. You see where this goes, or tries to.

Unfortunately, it is all a pretty wild combination of fact and distortion, like most of the movie anyway. First off, Egypt had a very long history, and religions and ideas and beliefs changed quite a bit during all those thousands of years. When talking about ancient Egypt's religions, it's best to specify the period you're taking about, or run the risk of looking quite foolish.

For the most part, what is now commonly known as "ancient Egypt" did believe in (among others) a god called Horus. He was the god of the sky, having the Sun and the Moon as his eyes. He was also the patron of war, therefore a quite obviously masculine deity. His symbol was the falcon and, very much like the Holy Spirit in christianity, the bird symbol was a reference to spirit, mind, inspiration.

The actual god of the Sun in ancient Egypt was called Ra, not Horus. According to myth, Ra travelled every day in "the boat of the millions" - a representation of the daily trajectory of the Sun on the sky. Every morning, Ra was born again, crossed the sky and, at sunset, died and entered the world of the dead. To secure his passage back to the East, Ra and his boat were guarded during the nightly portion of his journey by a host of other deities, among them Set and Mehen, whose mission was to fight Apep, one of the monsters of the afterworld who could otherwise swallow Ra and the boat and prevent the Sun from ever rising again.

Speaking of Set, it's clear he was not the bad guy after all. He was Ra's bodyguard each night, and also the patron of such things as desert, storm and chaos. Oh, and strangers too, he was the god of strangers and foreign people and things and lands.

So, thousands of years later, after Egypt started to lose its previous glory, not being anymore the mighty empire of days gone by, it got conquered by other, newer and now stronger, empires. "Those evil foreigners, how do they dare rule the sacred land of Egypt? Oh wait, Set is their god. So then... Set is evil! Yeah, he is the god of evil after all! It's his fault!"

That's what happened in reality. When Egypt declined and withered and all that remained of the grand and powerful empire of the pharaohs was a shriveled husk under the boot of any random Caesar happening to romance the Cleopatra du jour, Set's image changed, and he became the principle of evil. But that is not what is commonly thought of as the "ancient Egypt", but only a mostly irrelevant vassal country.

Horus too changed. Being a conquered people, the Egyptians probably did not bother sticking to religious fine points, and merged (syncretized) Horus and Ra into one bigger, more comprehensive god. "After all, when we're breaking our backs paying taxes to the Romans, who cares what's the name of that big guy in the sky? Horus, Ra, it's all Greek, or rather Egyptian, to me."

So, Horus as the sun-god of the ancient Egypt? Hardly. More like the remnant of the religion of a previously mighty civilization. The myth of the solar god, fabricated by the powers-that-be to enslave the ignorant masses, which is what "Zeitgeist" would have us believe? More like the masses, already enslaved by foreign conquerors, started to make a jumble out of their own traditions and beliefs.

And what of the virgin birth and the December 25 business? That was the dead giveaway that allowed me to identify their bad source. It turns out, the movie quotes heavily from somebody called Gerald Massey (mentioned on the credits at the end actually, but the name didn't catch my attention at first). Not a dishonest person probably, born in poverty and deprivation, educated himself despite hardship, a self-made man who ascended to a higher station in life through relentless effort despite overwhelming odds. I ended up kind of liking him actually, the way everyone's rooting for the underdog at the movies. But also, a self-taught Egyptologist, and that's the crucial point. Self-taught. He just learned "egyptology" by himself.

He is the source of long-standing but unsubstantiated rumours about Horus and his "virgin birth" and December 25. In reality, he had simply quoted a bunch of other people who dreamed up the whole affair. There are no egyptian texts supporting these allegations, no hieroglyphs, nothing. There may be things in life that only require you to be a good energetic capable person and nothing more, but Egyptology ain't it. Massey is rejected by modern (and true) Egyptologists. He may have been a fine person otherwise, but to the modern science studying ancient Egypt he is what Paracelsus is to modern chemistry - the weird grandfather with loony ideas whom everyone is embarassed to talk of.

And Massey is only one of the many bad sources used by this movie. In other words, wait, it gets worse.

After all, you know you're doing pretty badly when even pop culture has more precise information than you. Look at Enki Bilal's comics for the Heavy Metal Magazine (the Nikopol trilogy), or the movie "Immortel (ad vitam)" having Bilal in the director's seat (an awesome cinematic translation of the comics trilogy, great non-hollywoodian movie, a must-see for the fans of the genre) - Horus is one of the gods in this fantasy story, and he's definitely not the Sun-god, but the god with a man's body and the head of a falcon.

Look at the book "The Anubis gates" by Tim Powers, an unusual but well written sci-fi/fantasy hybrid with Ra as a marginal character, and it's Ra who is beyond any doubt the god of the Sun, not Horus.

Look no further than the book "The buried pyramid" by Jane Lindskold, an entertaining fantasy novel which seems to know more about ancient Egypt's religion than "Zeitgeist". The book even mentions the later syncretism between Horus and Ra and, while indeed one of its characters is this hybrid Sun god / Hawk god (no doubt because a tall muscular brilliantly shining man with the head of a hawk is a very spectacular asset for the plot), the readers are at least made aware that this has not always been the case in Egypt's religious history. Jane Lindskold did her research. Peter Joseph of "Zeitgeist" did not.

And this pop quiz primer is just put together from books and movies I've seen or read in recent years. Yup, no matter the philosophers, it's the whole pop culture pointing fingers at you and laughing, "Zeitgeist". Pretty embarrassing if you ask me.


And so it continues. Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu in the Hindu religion - the movie claims was born of a virgin, a star in the East assisted or announced the birth, then he performed miracles as a prophet, then died and was resurrected.

Okay. Let's go to the original sources, shall we? Krishna is one of the main characters in the Mahabharata, a work of traditional poetry of gigantic proportions, sort of like the Iliad and Odyssey put together, only much bigger. The book's main epic thread is the conflict between two royal families, the Pandava and the Kaurava, culminating with an epic battle after which the Pandavas, the good guys, win and rule the country, and the Kauravas, the bad ones, are defeated forever.

Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, has a pretty complex relation with Krisha - the latter is his friend, mentor, guru and, I guess I should say, god. Krishna, as the king of one of the many little indian states long time ago, is a powerful ally for the Pandavas, the good guys, who wisely use his help to secure victory over the evil Kauravas (both families courted Krishna before the battle, but it was the Pandavas, of course, who won his personal assistance).

A series of chapters in the Mahabharata are sometimes considered a separate book called Bhagavad Gita. You may have heard of it, it's the "gospel" of India, so to speak. It's the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of the big battle, the latter feeling remorse for having to fight his cousins and uncles and nephews (the two warring clans were closely related), and the former responding with a "pep talk" which grows broadly into a big philosophical and metaphysical exposé (the gist being: "get up, take up your weapons and fight", "action is better than inaction", "do it in my name, I am the real source of all action, not a mere mortal like you" and finally "it is your nature to do this, you can't oppose your nature, it will force you to act even if you don't want to").

There are several other sources out of which Krishna's legend is constructed, but anyway, back to the movie: The virgin birth is not the mainstream indian legend. Krishna, according to the legend, was born in prison to princess Devaki and crown-prince Vasudeva. The legend is quite clear in saying his parents were imprisoned together (by evil king Kamsa, some sort of indian equivalent to king Herod). And together they had seven other children before Krishna, six of them killed by Kamsa, out of fear of a prophecy that one of the couple's sons would kill him (the seventh child escaped and became Balarama, a king like Krishna).

There is only one source (Bhagavata Purana) which claims Krishna was born without sexual union, Vasudeva having impregnated Devaki through some sort of yogic procedure. But even so, his mother was definitely not a virgin at that point.

The star in the East at Krishna's birth - maybe this is my fault, but I can't find any reference anywhere (using serious sources). I am going to stick my neck out and say it, too, was invented by the movie's author, or plucked by him out of a bad source. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

Next point, the miracles Krishna was said to have performed as a religious figure. Well, duh, you're trying to draw a parallel to Jesus Christ - fine, but use something more substantial than this, okay? Because, you know, all prophets and all saints and all avatars and all holy men and shamans and druids and medicine men and gurus, everywhere and in every time, are known as miracle workers. All of them. That's why they're considered holy. So then, why bother bringing it up? It's implied, it goes with the territory, it's nothing special. He was expected to perform miracles, as soon as he started his career as a god on Earth.

Next up, death and resurrection. Okay, so according to the actual indian legend, Krishna fought the good fight, helped Arjuna and the Pandavas win the big battle, then retired to enjoy life as king of Dwaraka for several decades. During his last years, after a bloody incident at his court (ending with his brother Balarama's "yogic" suicide), he renounced kingship and retired to the forest as a hermit (not unusual in ancient India, apparently). While sitting under a tree (either sleeping, or doing yoga meditation, depending on the source) he was shot with an arrow and killed by a hunter who mistook him for a deer. And that's it, end of story, according to the indian sources.

Yes, like any other prophet, he is said to have appeared in visions to many followers afterwards - let's pick a random example, Paramahansa Yogananda, an indian guru who lived in California in the first half of the 20th century, has claimed to have seen Krishna in visions many times during his life, including in 1936 at the Regent Hotel in Bombay, the vision smiling and waving at him standing on the roof of a high building across the street. Now, the vision's substantial reality is of course highly controversial, especially given that Yogananda doesn't even claim any witnesses or material traces of any kind - it was just a vision. But that's not what we're analyzing here. The important question in this context is: is that "resurrection"?

No, it isn't. It's "living in spirit", and it's a very different thing from the physical resurrection which would be the correct parallel to the christian myth. Most if not all big prophets and saints and avatars are said to live in spirit forever and appear as spiritual visions to their devotees. Krishna is no exception and there's nothing extraordinary about it.

No resurrection. Thumbs down again, "Zeitgeist".


Movie claims: born of a virgin, on December 25th, performed miracles.

Uh... what???

Dionysus was the son of Zeus, who was one the biggest "players" ;-) among all gods ever, and one day he took a fancy for Semele, a princess, daughter of the king of Thebes. Apparently she was quite attractive, and Zeus was not one to turn a blind eye to the beauty of the earthly women. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon the pregnant Semele was noticed by Hera - you know, Zeus' legitimate wife, poor thing - who was quite naturally outraged by her husband's innumerable indiscretions.

A very strange sequence of events follows, with Semele killed by a divine vision, Dionysus as a foetus transplanted into an ad-hoc uterus that Zeus created in his thigh, and it was Zeus who eventually carried the pregnancy to term. Hence Dionysus Dimetor, or Dionysus "of two mothers", neither of which were virgins though - Semele definitely was not anymore after her encounter with Zeus; as for Zeus himself, Dionysos' second "mother", well, let's just say he was as far from virginity as humanly (or godly) possible.

December 25th again, and again I can't find any serious reference - we'll see below why no real source makes (or could make) any reference to this date.

Miracle working again, and again this is nothing special.

By the way, if you're talking about major solar gods like Jesus or Krishna, at least stay consistent. Dionysos was not the solar figure in the greek pantheon - that place is reserved for Apollo. Dionysos was the god of wine, ecstasy and madness, a visceral and orgiastic deity with nothing solar in it. If you're talking about apples, please don't switch to oranges mid-course. Thanks.


Main figure in the Zoroastrian religion in Iran and other countries. Movie claims again the virgin birth, the December 25, and the working of miracles. Also says he was surrounded by 12 disciples.

According to the actual legend, his birth was virgin only in as much as solid rock can be considered "virgin". That's how the legend describes him, as emerging, fully grown as an adult, from rock. The only author making any mention to a "virgin birth" is Joseph Campbell, an otherwise respectable figure in comparative mythology and comparative religion - we'll meet him again later in this commentary. It's hard to understand why Campbell made that observation. It contradicts everyone else in the field of mithraic studies. Seems like the movie is selecting its sources to match a given pattern.

December 25 - again, a lone author, Martin Larson, is responsible for the rumor. In this case, it's a very different story - while Campbell is somebody with a solid reputation (although not necessarily beyond error), Larson is more of a popularizer of religious ideas. Again, hard to discern why he said Mithra was born on "December 25", but in this case I won't worry too much, Larson being to religion what Bill Nye The Science Guy is to physics.

12 disciples? Where is that coming from? He was represented surrounded by the 12 astrological signs. And yes, there are parallels drawn between Jesus' close circle of disciples and the 12 signs of the zodiac. But Mithra and 12 disciples - I can't find anything like it anywhere.


I admit, I had to look this one up. I'm not a stranger to this field, but there are so many tiny details it would take more than a lifetime to learn them all. It turned out Attis was some sort of minor god in a backyard of ancient greek mythology.

Look, if you're talking about major solar gods, at least be consistent. If Christ or Krishna are major religious figures, Attis is nobody. If Krishna is the world-renowned star pianist performing front-stage on the grand Bosendorfer concert piano, Attis is the fifth guy on the seventh row of the orchestra playing the piccolo. Hardly any comparison can be made. Let's move on.

The December 25th fiction

The movie keeps talking about the alleged birth of these many religious figures on the same date: December 25th. The problem is - December 25th according to which calendar?

We are currently using the Gregorian calendar (and the Julian one before), which has a month called December which has more than 25 days. But all those various cultures mentioned in the movie use so many different calendars, sometimes difficult to reconcile with the Gregorian timekeeping method, that it is essentially meaningless to talk of a single date that remains fixed across cultures, in every epoch and every geographic area.

India uses the Saka calendar, which is a solar calendar like the Gregorian, but historically they had an eclectic mixture of various methods of keeping time that are hard to put in correspondence with each other, to say nothing of the modern calendar. They seem to have used a combination of solar and lunar calendars, and once you talk about lunar calendars, there is no hope for a direct correspondance to a completely solar method like the Gregorian one.

Iran at some point used the Zoroastrian calendar, with the year composed of 360 days - the difference between it and the 365.24 days of the Gregorian calendar makes it difficult to translate the dates, and there is certainly no way to simply proclaim "this day in the Zoroastrian calendar corresponds unambiguously to December 25th in the Gregorian or Julian calendar."

Ancient Egypt's calendar is not very well known. Then how can anybody say that some Egyptian deity was born "on December 25th?" Even if we knew more about their calendar, it appears to have been based on the motion of Venus, which throws out any hope of a simple translation between it and the current one.

So let me state this clearly: there is no universal "December 25th" across all cultures, in all places and all times. Various peoples had various ways of keeping track of time. What to us is indeed the 25th of December could have been several different dates each different year for some cultures of the past (and even present). Such a simple parallel ("it's December 25th everywhere!") is impossible to establish.

Comparative mythology

Focusing now on the movie's claim that, because there are so many similarities between religions, there must be some sort of "world conspiracy" using religion as a tool for domination:

Look, all these things have been studied before, this movie is not the first place where parallels between various myths are raised (and, sadly, often invented when reality doesn't provide enough "flesh" for the feverish imagination in search of world conspiracies). It's called comparative mythology, and it's a science studying various myths in order to evidentiate common themes and features. But comparative mythology proceeds rationally and scientifically, not from mirage to error to delusion.

There are many approaches to comparative mythology. It studies the myths from a linguistic perspective, looking at similarities of names - e.g. Zeus Pater in the European space and Dyaus Pita in India. It looks at the myths from a structural perspective - e.g. the fairy tales in certain cultures tend to have a similar and predictable plot and sequence of events. Finally, it uses psychological methods, Freudian or Jungian or other techniques to reveal the same psychological forces behind all the various myths.

And yes, there are many parallels between them. The great flood is perhaps the best example, and the movie does make a mention about it, saying it was "plagiarized" as proof of the world conspiracy. Oh, really? Are you aware that the same theme is present in the Aztec mythology too? Pray tell how exactly was it "plagiarized" across the Atlantic ocean, before Columbus?

The movie talks about the "death and resurrection" of many religious figures, in some cases inventing the resurrection to make the parallel seem more convincing. But this is the creative sacrifice and the dying god of so many cultures, including some Pacific islands, New Guinea, etc. How is that part of a conspiracy? How did the "conspirators" travel from ancient Egypt to the Pacific ocean in an era when the best means of naval transportation were the papyrus boats?

There are so many other parallels, besides those incorrectly used by the movie, some of them fascinating. The titanomachy, the fight between the gods of light and good and the dark deities is present in so many religions - from ancient Greece (gods vs. titans) to India (devas vs. asuras) to the Celts and so on. The Axis Mundi, the object or building or tree at the center of the world, is present also everywhere, literally on every continent, in every time, in every culture.

How can that possibly be part of a conspiracy?

The monomyth

Or just look at the concept of Monomyth, created by Joseph Campbell to describe any "hero's journey" type of myth. Buddha's, Moses', Christ's legends use the same narrative structure - and hear this, the same pattern is present in Star Wars, used to build the trajectory of one of the main characters (Luke Skywalker) through the vast panorama of the fictional universe in the movie. "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card is fleshed out on the same transcultural and universal backbone of mythical substance.

All these myths and stories are the same because they reflect the same features of human psychology. It's essentially the same type of mind (Homo Sapiens) everywhere which created all these tales, and in that case there must be many details shared by otherwise unrelated mythologies.

But no, if you listen to "Zeitgeist", surely there's a conspiracy here. George Lucas must be one of the Illuminati, and Yoda is then the agent of Evil. Orson Scott Card too is one of them... oh wait, actually Card has been gravitating lately toward some sort of loony and, to speak honestly, kind of creepy radical right-wing politics, so maybe there is something to this whole conspiracy thing. At least as far as Card is concerned.

Okay, just kidding.

Jesus the unknown

The movie makes a reference at some point to Jesus "the unknown". This, again, is hardly unusual. With arguably the exception of Muhammad, the historicity of all the founders of major religions is barely more substantial than a wisp of fog. There are no uncontroversial historical references to Jesus outside the Bible - and the Bible itself is a self-contradictory text. Buddha is not different. Zoroaster doesn't fare much better. Krishna is definitely lost in the mists of ancient history. As for the religion of ancient Egypt, well, we barely know its generic outline, so any information about its founders is way beyond even hope.

(Note the exception: we do know there was a pharaoh called Akhenaten, or Amenhotep IV, who around 1300 BC tried to reform Egypt's religion to monotheism, a belief in the one god Aten, but it's pretty obvious he failed, in the grand scheme of things. His wife was called Nefertiti, whose bust is one of the most famous ancient works of art. They were succeeded by Tutankhamun, if that name rings a bell with you - hint: the most famous mummy in the world. So we do have some certified historic data in this case.)

All this is hardly surprising. All these figures, if real, lived very long time ago, during eras when only the most prominent characters (kings, emperors) had the details of their lives sculpted in stone to defeat time and reach us safely. A founder of religion must have been, typically, a figure whose influence grew significantly only after his death; many of these characters, to the contemporary eye, probably appeared slightly eccentric but otherwise ignorable, so there's no surprise there were no serious efforts during their lives to record their deeds in a prominent fashion - maybe with the exception of their disciples, whose memories were surely marked forever by the encounter with the numinous. An exception here might be, probably, Krishna, who is said to have been a king; but then, his birth, if real, took place around 3200 BC, five millenia ago, good luck finding solid historical references - Akhenaten's "age" is "only" two thirds of that, so perhaps that's why we do know a handful of things about him (also, the egyptians "wrote" their documents in solid rock).

And, of course, there is always the possibility that any or some or all of these figures are pure fiction, which is a perfectly rational hypothesis. But do you really need to watch such a movie to think about that? And is that necessarily a sign of a conspiracy, worldwide and spanning the ages, no less?

Somebody has not been applying Occam's razor that much, and they are in dire need to learn using it a whole lot more.

The review continues with the 2nd part which is published here: