The Birth of a Skeptic (Guest Post by Niels Böge Nothdurft)
This is a guest post written by Niels Böge Nothdurft. Hailing from Denmark, Niels is a former member of the Zeitgeist Movement, the organization spawned by Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist series of conspiracy-theory films. In this post, Niels relates his experience being a part of this movement and what led him to discard the organization and become an advocate of science-based skepticism and critical thinking.
It’s around two years ago I left The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM), so why not celebrate it with a blogpost about my time in TZM?
I first joined TZM around mid-2013. I was another person back then. I was utterly frustrated with society and I had a serious lack of critical thinking skills, which meant that I believed in almost any kind of woo you can name. If some claim had a YouTube documentary to support it, it had definitely met its burden of proof for me back then.
My frustration with society led me into Facebook groups for other frustrated people and of course the comment sections on news articles. It was on a comment section that I encountered the third Zeitgeist movie. When watching it I had an epiphany. What the movie said made sense to me, so I watched the other movies as well and got into contact with the Danish branch of TZM.
I got into a regional chapter, which mainly consisted of me and two other guys. We met once in a while, had a good time, and talked about a Resource Based Economy (RBE), which is a societal model promoted by TZM. I won’t go into any details in this blogpost about what a RBE is, since it requires a blogpost of its own.
We of course talked about what we can do to spread awareness about RBEs. The awareness was mostly Facebook-based, which means that we posted in comment sections and made posts on our Facebook page about anything from societal issues to science. There was one exception to this in our awareness spreading, which was a speech one of us gave at a political party and grassroots movement meeting in the city of Århus.
In the spring of 2014 I began to get more interested in science and skepticism, mainly because I wrote a lot of Facebook posts about science. New technology, science, and the scientific method for social concern was officially promoted by TZM, but the reality was another, which I found out later. I began to read books like The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It quickly purged my mind of any belief in the supernatural and woo I had held until then. I had been a firm believer in all kinds of woo and supernatural claims most of my life. I now began to see the world in a different way; I questioned things and demanded a more rigorous burden of proof before I accepted a claim as true.
Soon after this I began to question TZM. In the beginning it was the small things, like why the first movie was promoted by some TZM chapters when it clearly was shite. After a while I stopped promoting the second movie, since it had some things in it that were clearly dubious, like a conspiracy theory about economic hitmen, backed by nothing but the testimony of one man. It was during that time I encountered other likeminded, skeptical TZM members, like Matt Berkowitz who came to play a big role later that year.
I continued to be a member of TZM and promote RBEs, in some way, until the fall season that year. I kind of rationalized my involvement with TZM with the thoughts that the goal was noble, so it didn’t matter if what we were promoting and selling wasn’t all true, and that our official TZM information material, like the second movie, had serious flaws.
There was trouble in TZM in 2014. Matt Berkowitz, who was a prominent coordinator in a Canadian chapter (a chapter that for once did something serious in TZM), had posted a video in which he promoted critical thinking and scientific skepticism. All hell broke loose because of that video. TZM had at that time (and probably still has) a lot of members who are into conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and other unsupported claims, so the video got rough reception by a lot of TZM members. To make a long story short, Peter Joseph (PJ), who is the leader of the supposedly leaderless TZM, got involved and erased Matt and his video about critical thinking. I find it a bit funny since some people call PJ “Peter Joseph Stalin” due to the similarities between communism and RBEs, the joke being that Joseph Stalin erased his former friend Trotsky and PJ basically did the same thing.
Shortly after that I left TZM, as did many other skeptics who were once a part of the movement. We were basically fed up with all the pseudoscience in the movement, and now when it was clear that the “leaderless” movement had a leader who was against critical thinking, we had had enough.
So was my time in TZM wasted? Besides the obvious waste of time promoting a RBE, I would say that I had a great time. I met some nice and cool people and it led me down the road of skepticism. My time in TZM also made me interested in society and politics, which eventually led me to learn more about them and gain some understanding, so that I don’t feel as frustrated anymore.
Learning critical thinking skills has definitely been a good thing for me. Critical thinking is a tool you can apply to all aspects of life and it helps you understand the world, so I really appreciate getting that tool. And I appreciate the people who helped me get it, like Carl Sagan, one of my biggest heroes, and of course Matt Berkowitz and Philip Blair (both ex-TZM members), who introduced me to a lot of great YouTubers. And I appreciate these YouTubers, people like Matt Dillahunty, C0nc0rdance, Potholer54, Martymer81, and of course The League of Nerds, a podcast starring James Gurney and his co-host/friend Myles Power, who besides doing that podcast also makes his own YouTube videos.