The European Organisation for Sustainability

Archive for March, 2012

Paradise or Oblivion



I will take the liberty to write this post in English, because of the interest this has generated throughout the Internet. Most Swedes and most citizens of fair Umea will forgive me, because most people around these areas can speak English. I also think it is important that as many as possible who are reading this message don’t misunderstand (or misrepresent) it.

I have personally met Jacque Fresco, during The Venus Project tour organised by TZM. EOS, while not a part of TZM, cooperated in organising their lecture in Stockholm. He is truly a fascinating person who is worth admiration – both for his unquestionable devotion to humanitarian ideals, his inflexibility in selling the integrity of his ideals and the rigorous work he has conducted during the course of soon to be forty years. It is amazing to think that a 96 year old man can inspire so many people in viewing the world in a different light.

The recent documentary, “Paradise or Oblivion”, is certainly helping to establish the brand of The Venus Project independently from TZM and also shows with clarity that TVP is not about conspiracy theories, religion or neo-spiritual beliefs.

Despite that the documentary in itself is pretty well-done, is short (merely 48 minutes in comparison with Future by Design, which was closer to two hours), I still believe that there are a few weaknesses that needs to be addressed in both the documentary and in The Venus Project. At the same time, it is basically saying the same things as Future by Design said a few years ago. In a sense, it is Future by Design, but with some more emphasis on the social issues. It is still very much an emphasis on the designs by Jacque Fresco, and while they are beautiful, science fiction imagery is not really serving to increase confidence amongst the masses.

Science vs Scientism

In many ways, TVP is a product not only of a man, but also of a particular period in time – the decades prior to the 1970s. It is evident in the architectural style predominant within TVP. But it is also evident in the high reliance on positivism and behaviourism, as well as in the top-down direction of the new civilisation that is proposed by Fresco. Nothing of this means that Fresco has bad intentions, but there are a few issues with these three points which need to be put into the limelight. I don’t say that these issues are damning TVP entirely into oblivion, and I am quite sure they can be corrected.

Positivism in this regard can really be called a form of scientism, a belief that science always hold the correct answers. While the scientific method is indeed the best avaliable method to reach conclusions, the proposed solution of TVP is painting it as a miracle cure that will solve every problem imaginable.  While the scientific method is the best to use to utilise information, it can only cope with the available information. Scientists and engineers can disagree, can have personal preferences and can combat for status (just look at the Bone Wars).

The image TVP portrays is that all issues will be solved with the application of science to society. It is true that it can decrease or eliminate many problems, but it is a statement of faith that it will solve all problems. And science should never be a faith. Science means that nothing is really ever proven beyond any doubt (except for in the field of mathematics, where you cannot doubt that 2+2=4). This faith that TVP will make the deserts bloom, create cities in the sea and eliminate all social problems is a part of what I personally believe is holding TVP back. In the early 20th century, many more people could have flocked to that message, but in our day and age when we all know what demagogues who claimed to hold all the answers could cause, people in general are wary of such positive messages (even though Fresco would never approve murdering anyone in the name of his ideology).

Another beef is behaviourism, the school of psychology which was predominant until the 1970s. It claims that all human behaviours are primarily governed by the environment. While it is undoubtly true that the environment is a big factor in human progress, we cannot just put modern Swedes into a jungle and they will start becoming headhunters. Behaviours are shaped during a long time (in New Zealand for example, a lot of the avian species are living a big part of their lives on the ground, due to the fear of a large avian predator which has been extinct for 500 years), and nature also plays a part in this matter. TVP is not even commenting on the fact that the science of Psychology has moved forward with many new schools, and that very few psychologists today profess to be behaviourists.

The third matter is the matter of transition.

Even if we assume that the kind of RBE advocated by TVP is able to solve all major problems, we still would need to transform the entire infrastructure of the planet to reach that point. It is a gargantuan undertaking to build systems to transfer resources, to utilise resources, to build up structures and to save the environment, at the same time. It would be a project of a scope several thousands times the size of the Soviet Five Year Plans. The Venus Project talks very little about the political and infrastructural ramifications of these issues.

Rewind back to Stockholm again. One of the things the young and devoted zeitgeist activists in Stockholm wanted to hear was direction for transition, but all what TVP said was basically “spread these ideas”. I think it might have been related to miscommunication, but the main issue is not how amazing the design proposed by TVP is, but how a transition from here to there is made.

The complement of EOS

EOS is not professing to be a rival movement or to be better in any regard in TVP. Their success is something to be celebrated. At the same time, we feel that we would need a gradual transition plan from this current society into something that is socially and ecologically sustainable. Because of that, we have spent the majority of our research on building up a model for a transition process. We know that TVP too is planning to acquire the funds to make an own community, but it doesn’t seem like the thought that their community might not work have struck their minds. Our hypothetical communities will not only be stepping stones towards a sustainable system, but also testing grounds to see where we have done it wrong. That is not a display of low self-esteem, but a display of the scientific method and basic humility.

The main issue of our age is not to define a better final product, but to start to undergo the process towards a more sustainable and just society. That process cannot be dictated from above by politicians or scientists or designers. It can only come through the emergent efforts of thousands if not millions of autonomous groups consisting of ordinary fellow citizens who together are employing the scientific method to improve their own lives and to step by step learn by their mistakes to build a new form of society. This society is not the intellectual property of some genius or some organisation, but will be born out of the concerted constructive efforts of the masses.


P.S ~ If you want to help to advance this process and are living in Umea, you could join one or two Facebook groups set up to advance the cause of the construction of a future community in Norrland.