A film changed Ryan Dyment’s life.
The Toronto man watched the Zeitgeist: Addendum in March 2009 and then quit his corporate finance job shortly after. The film series paints a vivid picture of how society came to be the way it is, points out its dysfunction, and promotes a complete overhaul of our economic system. It suggests that there is no greedy human nature per se, only human behavior. It insists that reliance on our monetary system is the source of all of our troubles: crime, environmental destruction and psychological disconnection. It insinuates that most people are lulled into complacency within the capitalist system, toiling endlessly to pay their debts to invisible lenders who never owned the money in the first place.
The film posits a solution: abolishing the monetary system and developing a new way of life where technology is utilized to share the world’s resources equally.
At the end of the film, there is a call to action — join the Zeitgeist movement. Dyment was intrigued. “It offered a solution to how a society would function that is sustainable,” he says. He wanted to explore the ideas in the film with others, so he called a meeting in a local pub. Thirty people showed up. Since then, the Toronto Zeitgeist chapter has expanded — more than 1,000 people are on the mailing list. They hold workshops and events, and even hosted acclaimed physician Dr. Gabor Maté as a keynote speaker in Toronto at their last Z-Day conference, a global day of awareness for the Zeitgeist movement.
For someone with a background in accounting and finance, the idea of an economic system without money was a difficult pill to swallow. Dyment started reading intensely — more than 150 books on the subject — as the idea of a resource-based economy began to appeal to him more and more. “I had to come to terms with that,” he says of the idea to eliminate money altogether. “We can change the money system. There are other alternatives. What we’re doing is essentially saying we don’t need money.”
The Zeitgeist movement requires a commitment to change, not always easy if one is fully enmeshed in the market economy. After Dyment quit, he worked at a non-profit also in finance before launching his own non-profit, the Institute for A Resource-Based Economy (IRBE), with some likeminded people from the movement.
“We do similar stuff that Zeitgeist was doing as a chapter, but we’re able to scale it a little better as an organization. It makes us a little bit more reputable in the public eye,” he says.
IRBE has the same general agenda as Zeitgeist, but on a more manageable, project-based scale. Their first major initiative has been the Tool Library, a Parkdale facility where members can borrow tools without having to purchase or rent them. Last week, the Library signed up their 87th member, and they recently received operational grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Home Depot Canada Foundation.
“We get new people in the shop all the time. Our main supporters appear to be younger men and women (about 50/50 split) between the ages of 25-35. There are also a bunch of young families who are fixing up their homes and want access to the place,” he says.
Tool libraries are good for the environment because fewer tools need to be made, and it’s easier on the wallet for the average person. “As we increase that ability to share things, using fewer and fewer resources, that automatically makes things more abundant. And when things are more abundant, then they’re cheap. You don’t need money as much. You don’t need to make as much money. And eventually we will get to the point where we don’t need money at all in the society. Because everything is just abundant. That would be the idea, to share everything.”
This includes sharing food. “We have the food to feed double the population we have. It’s not a population problem, but we have a system that perpetuates it,” says Dyment. “You’ve got these farmers that make this corporation-friendly food, there’s a lot of waste in the system and it’s profitable. It’s more profitable to throw it away than it is to give to people who can’t eat. It’s a false scarcity, but it’s built upon an economic system that rewards scarcity. The more scarce a thing is, the higher you can charge, the higher you can charge, the higher your stock prices are, the more you get paid. There are all these incentives that perpetuate this idea of scarcity even though it’s not real.”
Scarcity or not, we still live in a culture where money and possessions indicate status. Eradicating the desire for status is a tall order indeed. Dyment feels that humanity will have to come to grips with sharing resources equitably in order to survive.
Timothy Nash is a Toronto-based economist and President of Strategic Sustainable Investments. While he agrees with some of the tenets of the Zeitgeist movement, he feels that it can veer towards extremes.
“It paints the term ‘capitalism’ with a very wide brush. It’s used interchangeably with greed, Wall Street, and so on. It can be taken in pretty awful directions,” he says. He feels that making measured, incremental changes to our lifestyles will “build resilience” within our economy, making us less reliant on the monetary system and more efficient in utilizing other forms of capital: human (including health and education), social (trust and community) and natural (the environment).
While he doubts that sharing personal items (such as clothing) will catch on, he sees the folly and shortsightedness in placing one’s self-image in their possessions. “I’m a fan of the middle path, and I think personal identity is a huge part of private ownership. However, having something like a luxury car as a status symbol, for me, is quite foolish.” He believes an initiative like the tool library makes a lot of sense. “I think having a shared resource — in that context — is brilliant.”
IRBE’s mission is to transition to a resource-based economy, one project at a time: “The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resources if we apply our technological knowledge appropriately and live in accordance with the Earth’s natural replenishment rates.”
Dyment claims we can all live quite comfortably in this situation, eradicating fossil fuels in lieu of renewable energy sources, and changing the food economy to provide for everyone.
“We can provide for people’s needs. As far as we can tell, in terms of how much we waste, everybody could be living a much higher quality of life. There’s enough energy out there for all life, there’s enough resources if we share them. What scarcity do we really have? Obviously some, because we live on a finite planet. But it requires a shift in how we manage these resources and how we could do that sustainably,” he says.
IRBE’s plans for the near future include the launch of the Toronto Timebank, an online service exchange forum. For example, a graphic designer could exchange two hours of graphic design work for two hours of plumbing work, or vice versa. The bank riffs off of the ‘time is money’ mantra, but eliminates money entirely.
As for the Tool Library?
“We are also going to be opening up a second location this fall in the East Side (Danforth and Coxwell),” says Dyment. “That space will also host a workshop with some of the bigger tools that were donated and can’t really be signed out easily, as well as a makerspace with 3D printers, a laser cutter and more.”
The transition to a resource-based economy will not come overnight, but Dyment believes it must come. He says our very survival depends on it.
This article first appeared on Yonge Street.