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The World According to Fresco

From FO/Futureorientation 1/2010

With The Venus Project, 93-year-old Jacque Fresco, a multi-disciplinarian and futurist, has created an all-encompassing alternative to the society we live in today. Fresco recently visited Copenhagen as part of the event COP Kreativ, where he talked about designing the future. If you weren't near Copenhagen, or if you happened to miss his lecture, you can read here about his ideas of how we can create a better world

By Morten Grønborg

There aren't many alternative, thoroughly conceived societal models left, nor are there many practical idealists. The Venus Project and its creator, American Jacque Fresco (1916-) are examples of both.

The Venus Project is at once futuristic architecture, technological futures studies, a sociological project, and an all-encompassing model of how we can improve the world on many levels, in particular the economy and the environment. It is the brainchild of multi-disciplinarian and futurist Jacque Fresco - who is now 93 years old - and uses words, images, videos, photos, and architectonic models to describe a potential future.

The work has been developed by Fresco himself together with his wife, Roxanne Meadows, and a large number of volunteers worldwide. It is a life's work in the true sense of the word - a work that both has been the centre of the creator's life and has taken most of a lifetime to realize. At the same time, the word gesamtkunstwerk is appropriate, for just like Arne Jacobsen - who, among other things, designed SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen from its exterior shape down to details like door handles, chests of drawers, and coffee spoons (as well as the famous chair the Swan) - Fresco has thought about everything.

The Venus Project is a single, unified idea for a better world and hence very close to what we normally call a utopia. However, according to its creator, it is something else:

"The Venus Project is not a utopian concept," Jacque Fresco clarifies [1]. "We do not believe in the erroneous notion of a utopian society. There is no such thing. Societies are always in a state of transition. We propose an alternative direction, which addresses the causes of many of our problems. There are no final frontiers for human and technological achievement."

The idea

Fresco recently visited Copenhagen as a part of COP Kreativ [2], a climate event for Danish design and architecture students, where he talked about designing the future. If you weren't near Copenhagen, or if you happened to miss his lecture [3], you missed his explanation of what the Venus Project is really about.

Is the project architecture? Design? Politics? Sustainability? Economy? The answer is: all of the above!

The Venus Project presents an alternative design of our culture. It suggests an achievable path to a better future through connecting the latest technological developments directly to the social system. The idea is that through education, research and using what we already know, we can abolish poverty, war, starvation, crime, and even taxes.

"There is no place to hide today," Jacque Fresco says, in good accordance with the Institute's ideas about No Comfort Zones, "because you can't hide from human instability. War, weapons, corruption seem to dominate everywhere. Our primary goal, and our primary reason for the project, is to make these things belong to the past."

As stated in one of the many presentation videos about the project that you can find on YouTube [4], "These goals are not merely a paper proclamation. They can be translated into physical reality if, as a society, we choose to do so. A democracy that doesn't ensure the basic necessities of life is meaningless."

The economic system is collapsing

The aim of the Venus Project is first and foremost to ensure social stability, which requires among other things high-quality health services, a clean environment, and access for all to the amenities that a well-functioning society must provide.

However, there is no doubt that economics, in particular a different economic system, plays a key role in the project. The Venus Project was founded in the 1970's, but Fresco has repeatedly stated that his upbringing in the United States after the Great Depression of the 1930's influenced his social conscience and enabled him later to devise his vision:

"Living through the 1929 Great Depression helped shape my social conscience. During this time, I realized the Earth was still the same place, manufacturing plants were still intact, and resources were still there, but people didn't have money to buy the products. I felt the rules of the game we play by were outmoded and damaging. This began a life-long quest resulting in the conclusions and designs presented in The Venus Project." [5]

The changing political and economic realities in Fresco's adult life have not made his project less relevant. Now, in his advanced age, Fresco has faced another economic mess, namely the global financial crisis, which by several economists has been compared precisely to the situation in 1929. However, the financial crisis could hardly have surprised Fresco, as for many years he has criticized the system that produced it.

The Venus Project presentation video tells us: "The American free enterprise system does generate incentive. However, it also creates greed, corruption, crime, stress, and economic insecurity The consuming pursuit of money that grips many in our society has a dehumanising effect and has led us to our present self-centred values."

Fresco asks rhetorically what would happen if we, for example, continued to automate production around the world and in doing so got rid of more and more human labour. His response is that we very quickly would find ourselves in a situation in which the majority of Americans, and people everywhere, would lose their purchasing power to buy products.

"So what good is a factory that is turning out all the wheels, if it is making all the cars automatically - who will be around to be able to buy those cars? What will they use for money? So what happens? Our system dies. The free enterprise system was terrific 50 years ago, maybe 30 years ago, but it is no longer adequate. So if an automobile factory, or any other factory, goes completely automatic, and most people lose their jobs, and they don't have the purchasing power, you tell me how the free enterprise system can function. It comes to an end. And when it comes to an end, there will be gangs and riots, and crime begins to rise. I'm not advocating this, I'm not for this; I'm just describing what most likely will happen," he says and continues:

"If that happens, a military dictatorship will come in, in which people will tell you how to live and what to do. That's called a dictatorship. It comes about when you can't manage the vast majority of your people. This dictatorship is something I have a tremendous fear of, and we are trying to do this Venus Project in order to show people a possible alternative to social chaos." [6]

Jacque Fresco Jacque Fresco (1916-) is a self-taught industrial designer, writer, futurist, and educator, and he is the founder of The Venus Project. His followers - many of them with roots in The Zeitgeist Movement- call him 'a modern Da Vinci'. The movie Future by Design (2006) describes Fresco's life from when he experienced the Wall Street crash in 1929 and the following Depression until today. In spite of his 93 years, Fresco still teaches various subjects, including holistic design of sustainable cities, energy efficiency, and advanced technological automation. He has recently been a guest lecturer in Copenhagen. Read more about Fresco and his ideas at www.thevenusproject.com and www.thezeitgeistmovement.com

The Venus Project The 25-acre research center of the Venus Project is situated in Venus, Florida. This constitutes the first phase of the project's realization. Here, you can find full-scale buildings as well as models that physically show how nature and technology can co-exist. Read more at www.thevenusproject.com.

The Venus Project hence recommends a resource-based economy that makes all the basic amenities of life available to all. This can only be achieved through intelligent application of research and technology - not by going on in the same groove, the same system. The idea is that the true value of any society is its resources, both potential and developed, as well as the individuals that work towards eradicating resource scarcity.

"80 percent of all jobs will be phased out. We will no longer need politicians, businessmen, bankers, soldiers, and lawyers," Fresco told a Danish newspaper [7] when he visited Copenhagen.

The key word is cybernation

The tight-knit metropolitan society is the key to the project, which proposes a tabula rasa approach (see page 39), whereby you build new cities rather than trying to repair the old. This is exemplified in the idea of the circular city: a fully conceived, sustainable and efficient city consisting of concentric circles around The Central Dome, with recreational areas at the outer rim. Inside is everything a modern society needs. The idea isn't unlike Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow, see page 38, though naturally it is infinitely more modern. After all, there's 75 years between the projects.

Fresco recommends connecting cybernate system computers to automated machinery, coordinating all the city's functions and processes. This can be compared to the brain and nervous system of an organism. In the city's housing areas, the system monitors environmental management and the recycling of waste. It also monitors and adapts supply and demand between fabricators and consumers, balancing production and distribution according to demand. Hence, according to the idea, excess production and scarcity can be eradicated.

Cybernation (cybernetics + -ation), which means the automated control over a production or process through computer control, is a keyword. Fresco maintains that only when this cybernation is fully integrated into our culture can computers sensibly serve humankind and its needs:

"No technological civilization can ever operate efficiently and effectively without the application of cybernetics to the social system. This dynamic approach only acts to enhance human lives - it doesn't monitor or dictate their lives. The idea is to create so good living conditions and so high standards of living that everybody will be free to choose the lifestyle they find the most fulfilling."

Culture

Even though the city core's production units are automated, they are non-polluting, silent and clean, with easy access to the cities. Goods and products are transported on boats along canals, while people are transported centrally from the Dome (e.g. by automated monorails [8] designed for transportation between cities, or by air or sea between states.) Fresco also has suggestions for undersea housing units in which the view from your window wouldn't be surface nature, but fish and other marine life.

However, technology and design of the physical world alone won't cut it. The culture must also be designed and the population educated for a better world.

We are limited by our past. "Perhaps the greatest limiting factor of our present-day pre-scientific culture can be traced to our language, social customs and values, which were conceived in earlier times," the argument goes [9]. However, any similarity to earlier totalitarian regimes is resisted:

"The design of The Venus Project will not only be applied to cities, industrial processes and the environment, but to education as well. The aims of The Venus Project have no parallel in history, not with communism, socialism, fascism or any other political ideology. This is true because cybernation is of recent origin. With this system, the system of financial influence and control will no longer exist." [10]

MORTEN GRØNBORG has an MA and is editor of FO/Futureorientation

Photos in this issue of FO are used with permission of The Venus Project as visual illustration of this article. Thanks to Roxanne Meadows, Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project.

Notes
[1] FAQ at www.thevenusproject.com
[2] Read more at http://copkreativ.dk/
[3] See Fresco's COP Kreativ lecture at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=dwIlPqkpJf4
[4] http://tinyurl.com/ydrjqk8
[5] Interview at www.thevenusproject.com
[6] See note 4
[7] http://www.information.dk/205302
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monorail
[9] See note 4
[10] I bid.

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Published
29. januar 2010

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