Sunday, 13 March 2016 10:19

Jacque Fresco, a legacy of optimism

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Introduction

The first time I learnt about Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project was back in 2005, when the embryo of what would later become the EOS was originally born. The Venus Project back then did not have the notability it later would attain, and already back in 2006, the precursor to the EOS – the NET – arranged showings of William Gazecki’s documentary about Fresco, Future by Design, with the explicit permission from The Venus Project.

In 2008, The Venus Project gained a lot of publicity within a segment of the youth population through the popularization of The Zeitgeist Movement. The crowning achievement of the collaboration between TVP and TZM was the Jacque Fresco world tour of 2010, where one of his most successful lectures was in the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm that summer. It was a lecture which I myself was a part of organizing, as a part of the EOS. We were tasked with organizing the ticket sales. You can watch the entire lecture down here.

Apart from giving me valuable experiences, this extended stay in Stockholm gave me the opportunity to talk with and interact with Fresco, which in itself was an interesting and thought-challenging experience. 

Now, Jacque Fresco is soon to celebrate his hundredth birthday. This centennial celebration is an important event for TVP and their followers, since he plays an important role, not only as a leader and inspirer, but also fundamentally a symbol. To his young followers, he can be said to be a “Cool Old Guy”, much like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders are to their respective admirers. Since time immemorial, there has been a certain captivating quality of sage-like old men who have inspired a following. 

I was contacted by my predecessor and former mentor, Dr Andrew Wallace, regarding writing an article about Jacque Fresco’s heritage in relationship to his hundredth birthday, and regarding the collaboration we once had. That is actually a far more difficult task than what you would naturally expect, given that the EOS and TVP have several major differences. 

When writing an article like this, it is difficult to not write a eulogy on one hand, or a critique on the other. While mean criticism of Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project is rare (and often more reserved for TZM, justifiably so), it is far more usual to witness the variant where Fresco is described as a universal genius, who single-handedly had designed and created a thematic model for a future civilization – in short, a super-being who can lead humanity away from the current dark age.

Pondering in what context I would frame this article, I came up with the idea of seeing Jacque Fresco as a part of a wider contextual setting rather than as an isolated phenomenon. This can improve our appreciation of his true heritage as well as connect him to the actual cultural and structural development we’ve seen taking place within American and world culture. 

The transition from Modernism to Post-modernism

Modernism can be described as the dominant approach to reality during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is ultimately a linear understanding of human history, which is seen as “progress”, visually exemplified by the classical Darwinian image “From Ape to Man”. In the context of Modernism, human existence is seen through an optimistic lens as a journey from darkness to light. This journey should be understood in a purely material and scientific manner, as humanity learning to master its surrounding environment, developing society towards and beyond an industrial state and during this process also get rid of old superstitious habits and prejudices. The meaning of life is seen as advancing towards a post-scarcity society ruled by science and reason.

From the second half of the 20th century and onward, post-modernistic tendencies have been dominating the western cultural and social narrative. Post-modernism stresses that reality is heterogeneous and fail to live up to grand narratives in themselves. Post-modernism also questions the narrative of progress, instead stressing how technology in itself can be dehumanising, reduce the human being conceptually and de-facto into a biological machine, as well as destructive to culture and myths seen as enriching to the human experience. Post-modernism is also stressing a critique of norms and puts an emphasis on relativism in order to include other experiences previously excluded by the dominant choruses during the modernistic era.

The reason of the ascent of post-modernism (which started to emerge during the middle of the second decade of the 20th century) has been the experience of the world wars, the world-wide depression, the industrial genocides and the birth of nuclear weapons. All of this led to an emerging pessimistic view on technological progress which has been more and more prevalent amongst – ironically enough – the most progressive elements of western societies. If anything, this undercurrent had its political breakthrough during the Flower Power movement of the 1960’s. Films such as Wizards (1978) and Star Wars (1977) also more or less stressed the perceived inherent conflict between technology and spirituality. 

The Venus alternative

Paradoxically, the birth of Jacque Fresco as a public figure coincided with the transition from late modernism into post-modernism. Originally, The Venus Project was known as Sociocyberneering and consisted of a small group of students, engineers and others where Jacque Fresco was a dominant force. It remains unclear and exist many conflicting recounts of how Sociocyberneering came to transform into The Venus Project, an exhibition village on the future which for many years only had two team members, Jacque Fresco himself and Roxanne Meadows. 

Ultimately, The Venus Project is a movement that wants to usher in a radically different future, a post-scarcity economy characterised by high technology and a transition from hierarchic and force-based systems of conduct towards egalitarian and libertarian forms of social organisation. The Venus Project is claiming that the basis of their legitimacy lies in science. Their claims can be summoned up into three parts.

  • There is truly an abundance of resources on the Earth, or if resources are managed intelligently, there is a functional abundance of them and human beings should be able to utilize them without artificial constraints, i.e the “demand curves” created by financial limits.
  • Our technology is sufficiently advanced to manage these resources intelligently, with a minimum of human intervention, meaning that humans can be freed from labour and instead devote more of their time to the pursuit for happiness and excellence. The model in question is a cybernated planned economy run by A.I computers (with one central computer per city), much like Iain M Banks’ envisioned Cultureverse.
  • Human behaviour, as well as the behaviour of most other animals, is mostly or wholly regulated by environmental stimuli and experiences of previous environmental stimuli. This means for example that given the right conditioning, “any child can become a scientist or a composer” (Fresco, Future by Design).

I should also not omit to state that Fresco believes all of that is feasible now, with a transition period of less than ten years (Stockholm lecture, 2010). 

In summary, what The Venus Project is offering is a very optimistic and positive vision of the futureof humanity. In Future by design, Fresco is often remarking about what we will see in the future, though in later appearances (post-TZM-upsurge) it is made clear that TVP intends to not only describe the wonderful future of tomorrow, but also actively work to make it a reality, by gathering the resources necessary to build an actual model city.

What the Venus project is offering is a radically modernistic vision, in an era where we thought we had grown disillusioned with the idea of progress. 

A just critique

The steadfast optimism of The Venus Project is encouraging, but when it starts to entail practical measurable issues, the positive statements of Fresco and other proponents can have the effect that it either encourages the followers to the point of lethargy (“we don’t need to do anything because technology will solve all problems”), or creates the idea that we already have a working, established alternative to the current system, that the transition is a relatively simple affair (for a world with seven billion people, five world religions, several thousand cultures existing on all levels from hunter-gatherer, through feudal and tribal towards super-urban). 

On the other hand, in terms of actual numbers, The Venus Project has offered sweeping statements, through actual data of the feasibility of a Venus-style RBE or how they define the global abundance they claim we have is fuzzy at best and more or less non-existent at worst. A lot of what The Venus Project states is contradicted by the data from respected groups such as The Club of Rome, Global Footprint Network and other environmental organisations. 

Which brings us to the next point of critique, namely the lack of a discussion on environmental challenges during the next century. For The Venus Project, there seems to be a focus on the idea that we should transition towards a new system because the current system is inadequate and that it primarily is an issue of human well-being. The focus is – as already mentioned – directed towards the visualisation of the positive future. Maybe it is a good strategy since it encourages people in a positive and inclusive manner, instead of offering doomsday scenarios which often can tend to disempower people and make them feel scared and powerless.

However, a lot of people are invested, emotionally and materially, in the furtherance of this incumbent system which we are living under. They have real, tangible things to lose if a transition instead inadvertently leads to a situation which they perceive as worse. Maybe that is one of the reasons why youths tend to be more susceptible to the message of hope offered by The Venus Project?

The heritage of Jacque Fresco

It could be argued that Jacque Fresco is a continuation of late modernists such as H.G Wells, Buckminster Fuller and Gene Roddenberry. The same belief in human potential, linear progress and the supremacy of science is evident in Fresco’s vision, as in the works of these inspired individuals. 

To a large extent, the rise of The Venus Project as a concept within radical progressive circles in North America also has coincided with the ascent of the Neo-modernistic and radically optimistic transhumanist and singularitarian movements, which in most regards are far more radical in their visions than The Venus Project. 

Even if The Venus Project fails to materialise a tangible Venus City which can serve as an inspiration for a transition, they have managed to make a significant cultural impact on the emerging intelligentsia, to inspire youths to think outside the established boundaries and to energise a positive vision for the future. And that is not a small achievement given what we are witnessing daily around the world.

Happy birthday, Jacque!

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