What you are reading here is not just any rebuttal written by some teenage schmuck who has just seen The Venus Project website. I am neither a disgruntled former Venus Project fanatic nor a troll, and I am certainly not a neoclassical economist who is outraged by what he has seen of the Venus Project proposals and out to debunk any nonconventional economic thought. What you will read here is a rebuttal from a former member of The Venus Project – and not just an ordinary one.
I have spoken for the Venus Project on Triple M radio and I have spoken against Venus Project critics on Skid Row Radio. I have given speeches and lectures to audiences of varying sizes and backgrounds about what the Venus Project proposes. I am a former devoted member of the Venus Project, and have met and spoken with its founder and Guru – Jacque Fresco. In 2010 I organized, with the help of a team of fellow supporters, a national tour for the Venus Project in Australia that spanned 4 major cities. I was responsible for organising the campaign, graphics and webpage development, as well as recruiting volunteers in Sydney and other 3 cities for the tour. The event campaign was a huge success that sold out all 1,500 tickets in all 4 cites with enough requests to repeat the event in Melbourne. I continued to advocate the Venus Project until about January this year, and I am well, shall I say, “qualified”, if you will, to comment on its flaws.
A little background info
First – let me explain what the Venus Project is – in their own words:
“The Venus Project proposes a system called a Resource-Based Economy, in which automation and technology would be intelligently integrated into an overall holistic socioeconomic design where the primary function would be to maximize the quality of life rather than profits. This project also introduces a set of workable and practical values.”
“This is in perfect accord with the spiritual aspects and ideals found in most religions throughout the world. What sets the Venus Project apart, however, is that it proposes to translate these ideals into a working reality.”
Simply put, the Venus Project aims to bring about a peaceful moneyless society in which Spirit of the Times Magazine / November 2012 19 the scientific method of inquiry is applied to every aspect of life – including governance, economics, and culture. A moneyless society is deemed equitable in its facilitation of access to the world’s resources, which are held to be the common heritage of all humanity. Technological automation is believed to be the best method for bringing about such a society because it facilitates a level of efficiency that reduces the material throughput of natural resources, whilst generating abundance for social stability. Cybernation is to be employed wherever possible for decision-making, with the assumption that automated technologies are not fallible in the way that humans are, thus avoiding the all-too human errors of the political system.
To achieve this, the Venus Project has a 3 stage plan. The first stage – to build their research centre – is complete. The second step is to release a major motion picture that would reveal how the Venus Project would work. The third and final stage includes building a test-city with a theme park attached. Initially the building of the theme park was slated as stage 4 in the plan, but just a few months ago this plan was merged with stage 3 – the test city. The initial plan to build a theme park after completing the construction of a test-city, and all the subsequent research, seemed somewhat odd as one would naturally expect the next stage to involve implementation of what has been learned. Keep this point in the back of your mind as implementation still does not feature in the plan, and a theme park is now merged into the test-city stage, blurring the
The Venus Project has been in existence for over 37 years. The project has produced large numbers of very attractive models and concepts of how the future may look, as well as drawings and much, much more media, including films, documentaries, audio-lectures, books etc. Some of these products are available free of charge, and many of these products can be bought in their online store; you can even buy your very own “I love TVP” coffee mug.
Relationship to the Zeitgeist Movement
The Venus Project was featured heavily in film-maker Peter Joseph’s second and third documentary movies, Zeitgeist Addendum and Zeitgeist Moving Forward. The Zeitgeist Movement – an organisation founded by Peter Joseph following the success of Zeitgeist Addendum in 2008 and subsequent calls for a global people’s movement – quickly allied with the Venus Project as the project’s “activist arm”. That union did not last long, to the detriment of the Zeitgeist Movement.
Soon after Joseph’s third film Zeitgeist Moving Forward was released – in which there was a full 30 20 November 2012 / Spirit of the Times Magazine minute section dedicated to the Venus Project – Fresco’s co-founder Roxanne Meadows announced their intention to terminate the project’s affiliation with the Zeitgeist Movement, and that they were thankful for all the help that Zeitgeist Movement volunteers had provided to further their cause. This action placed the Zeitgeist Movement in limbo-land – the position of advocating an organization that they were no longer affiliated with was one irreconcilable for many volunteers, particularly as Peter Joseph’s documentary films, heavily reliant on Venus Project material, were the mainstay of the Movement’s educational materials. With Joseph’s films freely available online via multiple sources there was no easy way of updating the material in order to avoid misunderstandings regarding the relationship between the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project.
Thus the Zeitgeist Movement and Peter Joseph were forced into the position of continuing to provide free publicity for an organization that had utilized their human resources for a period, gained a great deal of exposure via the success of the Movement, and even gathered donations via the Movement’s supporters – then gone on to denounce both the Movement and its founder.
The approach of a one-man think-tank
The Venus Project has some great ideas overall, and it definitely enhanced my understanding of potential solutions to the world’s issues. But, to put it hypothetically, if had the choice, I would not vote for the Venus Project based just on what they say – in the same way that I agree to a large extent with a lot what Barack Obama promised during his 2008 presidential campaign. Words alone are not sufficient evidence of intentions.
Unfortunately there is very little that the Venus Project does aside from talk. Their work solely revolves around producing materials that further the ideas of the Venus Project. You won’t hear of the Venus Project partnering with any cause or organization that feeds or educates people, or that develops technologies that solve human problems. You won’t see any of the own lifesaving solutions and designs they claim to have produced released under a not-for-profit licence such as Creative Commons so that they could be utilized by humanitarian organizations. The Venus Project have even tried to copyright the phrase Resource-Based Economy in an effort to prohibit the use of the phrase by anyone not fully aligned with the Project’s understanding of it. Thankfully the attempt was unsuccessful, meaning that other organizations making use of the phrase are able to continue their work without having to re-brand their identity and amend all of their literature.
Jacque Fresco is the one-man think-tank for the Venus Project. The designs, drawings, and all of the proposed ideas are his alone, which renders him somewhat of a cyber-guru. Many other wise people have left an enduring legacy of their work, only some of whom have become famous because of it, such as Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie, to throw out a few household names. What separates Fresco from this eminent group is that he does not cite scientific sources to support his conclusions. He has not produced a single study of his own to back up his futuristic ideas for humanity. Despite his claims that a full-scale survey of the Earth’s resources is a vital first step toward a Resource-Based Economy Fresco has made no steps toward establishing a task-force for this purpose while rejecting already existing surveys data. Proposals for the development of technologies such as space-shuttle personal vehicles, buildings build from memory-metal, volcanic heat harnessed as a thermal-power plant, full automation of all labour, cybernated decision making, etc, have all remained unresearched, while new designs with the embedded assumption that these technologies are possible continue to be produced by the Project. It is simply hypocritical for anyone who advocates science as a way of life to fail to apply the scientific method of inquiry to their proposals.
After 37 years of existence a think-tank cited by many as “ingenious” may reasonably be expected to yield results a little more scientifically convincing that their output of a single unreferenced book, a novel, 2 feature movies and merchandise bearing the slogan “I love TVP”. Fresco is undoubtedly wise, but it requires a significant imbalance of ego to claim how the future will look, and how it could or should work, without a shred of empirical evidence generated by the Project itself to support its own projections.
A theme-park for the hungry
The growth paradigm makes an unsettling appearance in much of Fresco’s work, with designs for building cities in the sea or underwater, even in the sky – there are seemingly no limits to his imagination – being posited as ways to accommodate an ever-growing population. As lovely as these ideas may sound, a painful parallel is clearly drawn between the projection of the Venus Project and our current economic growth paradigm, unsustainable to its core. Fresco is bold in stating that the earth can sustain double the population we have at present – provided we manage our resources wisely and apply the most advanced technologies. Unfortunately studies conducted so far illustrate a far grimmer future for us. One of the more positive studies predicts that the whole planet will have to shift to a strict vegetarian diet in order to sustain its projected population of 9 billion by 2050. While I am all for managing our resources wisely and applying our latest sustainable technology – who wouldn’t be? – the first thing that should be done, from an ethical standpoint, is to find ways to feed and clothe the poorest, most is advantaged people in the world at present. Once a feasible plan to escape poverty is in existence, then we may be able to talk seriously about sustaining further population increases.
However, the Venus Project argues that the first step in bringing about a peaceful world free from suffering is the concept of a Resource-Based Economy, and that we should first concern ourselves with its design by supporting their 3 step plan (including the theme park, but absent plans for implementation). I’m sure the 10,000 children who die from starvation each day would be very happy to hear that the Venus Project has built them a theme park… while they are starving.
I am not saying that the Venus Project first needs to send food-aid packages to Sudan before they even consider some of their very ambitious ideas; my criticism is directed at their order of priorities. If the Venus Project were to behave empathically toward all the people of the world, with ethics-based priorities, somewhere in the plan would surely be included the engineering of (perhaps even cybernated) food production, water-filtration technologies, or the provision of basic healthcare and education. Not a theme park.
Whilst a member, I assumed that many of the Venus Project’s ideas were possible because I had heard about them from a person who seemed so smart and so wise, to the extent that he is certainly a man before his time. This appeal to authority fallacy is something that many Venus Project supporters suffer from, subtle in that no one screams and shouts when someone starts to question these things, yet once such a “challenge to authority” arises it is usually greeted with the response that “one day it will be technologically possible” to do X; which is, more or less, how Fresco himself responds to such questioning This leads us to a very important part of the Venus Project belief system – a Technological Cornucopia.
Technological Cornucopia is the belief that technology can provide for all our needs, and solve… well… everything from climate change to peak oil to infinitely substituting finite resources. The Technological Cornucopian concept is to the Venus Project as the virgin birth is to Christianity – you have to believe it, otherwise the whole thing just does not make sense. What Technological Cornucopians hold is a set of beliefs, not a scientific position.
One very impressive idea for humankind is to build buildings with memory-metal, or shapememory alloy – a compound material which could theoretically enable people to buy a new home from a supermarket in the form of a metal cubicle – say 10 cubic meters – and, once delivered, and a little bit of heat applies, the house would unpack from the cubicle into its full-size. Great idea. But memory-metal is made of titanium, and currently there is only 690 milion tons of titanium left – vastly less than would be needed to serve the needs of a country, much less the whole planet. On top of that we currently use 6 million tons of titanium per year as it is – mainly for paints and electronic gadgets. Building houses out of titanium would be like building houses out of silver – a bizarrely extravagant waste of a rare nonrenewable resource.
Fresco envisions a world of abundance for everyone, and of everything. That sounds very lovely, and if it were possible I have no doubt that it would solve a lot of social problems. I’m quite sure that Fresco does not mean that the finite resources existing on our planet can be somehow made abundant, but he does speak of creating an abundance of resources for all human needs. What, then, are those needs? That’s a hard question to answer, but as a former member I can say that the Venus Project does not think of human needs in the sense of Maslow’s Pyramid, but in the context of current standards of living. Can the “needs” of our current standard of living be provided in abundance? In a word: no.
You can’t talk about the notion of abundance without making reference to Jevons’ paradox. In a nutshell, Jevons observed that rate at which resources are consumed increases with the level of availability. This means that in making a process more efficient one makes its product more available, hence increasing the rate of material throughput and consumption. Increased production and efficiency bears the unfortunate side-effect of overuse – an abuse of the abundance generated – leading to more rapid depletion of finite resources, and depletion of renewable resources at a rate higher than the rate of renewal. This is an importanft point to consider, since in Fresco’s visions for the future, everything will be supplied in abundance, and standards of living will be so much better that even the ultra-rich will be compelled to transition to a Resource-Based Economy. Thus, if you take into consideration Jevons’ paradox, and the notion of abundance – Fresco’s vision is stuck in a catch-22 scenario in which the notion of abundance, touted as humanity’s saviour, may turn out to precipitate its more rapid demise.
Although living standards do not only concern matters of energy usage, it is beyond the scope of this article to give attention to the full range; therefore attention will be given to our population’s energy needs, a major factor in standard of living – fundamental to the level of technological progress we have thus far attained. The Jevon’s Paradox is not where the energy problem ends. 86.4% of the world’s energy comes from nonrenewable resources, the three major sources being coal, oil and natural gas. All three of these resources entail difficult extraction processes which are prone to accidents that can lead to catastrophic damage, not to mention the production and usage that causes high levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There are two reasons why we use them: Spirit of the Times Magazine / November 2012 23 they are cheap; and there is no easily available a l t e r n a t i v e for which we currently have the technology to power the planet with needs defined as they are at present. The Venus Project’s solution to transition to 100% renewable energy is spot on – who in their right mind could disagree with this? There is a catch though – the Venus Project does not explain how we are supposed to transition to the use of 100% renewable energy sources – globally. With a lack of viable transition plan being a key reason why we are stuck with 86.4% non-renewables in the first place and the Venus Project failing to provide such a plan, there is a clear absence of evidence to support Fresco’s assertions.
Organizations such as Beyond Zero Emissions do, however, attempt to present a 100% renewable transition plan, begging the question: why not simply partner up with Beyond Zero Emissions, pool skills and resources, and promote the concept in a similar manner. As the trajectory of our energy consumption indicates, our energy requirements double every 35 years – rendering the transition to 100% renewables no easy feat. With this in mind it is difficult to have faith that any plan presented based on current needs projection will be sufficient.
The Venus Project does not explain in detail how their proposals are supposed to actually work. You will never hear Fresco explain how waste management works in his Venus cities, or how healthcare is provided, or the basis on which absolutely scarce resources – such as rare earth metals – would be allocated. This is a point for which the Venus Project was criticized during their world lecture tour; Fresco was unable provide a straight answer on these matters. Instead Fresco encourages his audience to rely on a faith in a Technological Cornucopia. This pattern is mimicked to perfection by other Venus Project representatives, who are not engaged in research or design, but in promotion of the Project’s assertions.
The new Dr Octopus?
Dr Octavius Octopus – a cartoon figure from Marvel comics – is presented as a sympathetic and caring scientist who, through his research, has found a way to create an abundance of fusion-based energy. His effort to harness the energy has spiralled out of control and, in effect, catastrophically failed, yet Octavius presses on though criminal means to rebuild and refinance his mad experiment.
As psychologist and engineer Jack Catran notes:
“There are many futurists, “geniuses”, and self-styled seers in our midst who, upon careful examination, turn out to be disappointingly commercial and exploitive.”
Unfortunately The Venus Project is no different here.
The most recent example of their exploitation of their supporters was their pocketing of 113 thousand dollars of donations that were donated to further “step 2″ of their flawless plan – the release of a major motion picture. The money was originally intended for a professional scriptwriter for this movie, and donations were solicited under this pretext. Initially the target was set at one million dollars, and later reduced to $100,000. Despite going significantly above target in donations received, the Venus Project then announced that they now plan write the script themselves. To make a fair comparison, this is akin to donating $100,000 to a specific charity campaign, and then seeing the money diverted from that campaign – the reason you saw merit in making the donation in the first place – into an unknown and unannounced alternative venture.
Another one of the Venus Project’s amazing financial stunts was the world tour which I organized, as an unpaid volunteer, the Australian leg. I was pleasantly surprised when the Venus Project insisted on lowering the ticket price to $30 from proposed $40, and the Australian tour sold out in the 4 major cities, netting upwards of $30,000 – after expenses, of which only 1 thousand was given to the Australian chapter in order to further promote the Venus Project. The Venus Project Tour took place in 18 countries, totalling more than 20 presentations. I do not know the total net earnings, but soon after the world tour, the Venus Project decided to take their property in Venus, Florida – a property comprising 10 buildings in which only Jaque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows live; the property which doubles as their research centre – off the market. This action indicates that the Project was no longer in the financial trouble that they had been in prior to 2010, and, as my partial intention in hosting the Venus Project in Australia was to provide some assistance for the Project to continue, I saw this as a positive result.
The Venus Project encourages people to visit them in Venus, Florida, a tour in which anyone can participate – as long as they can afford the $200 fee, a somewhat ironically high fee for an organization that promotes a non-monetary economy. There is also the shop on their website through which the Project generates income – a standard for any major non-profit these days.
While everyone understands that you can’t do much completely without money these days, there are organizations that do their best to minimize expenses in order to use money as little as possible – such as the Post Growth Institute’s global Free Money Day event, held for only $100.
Of course any organisation will need to employ paid staff if they are expected to work full-time for the cause. The Venus Project, however, is in a much more advantageous position than most non-profits. They own their land which serves as a research centre, home, and generator of revenue. I am confident that, considering the money that they are making, the Venus Project can lower at least their cost of living to close to zero by … well… walking their self-sustainable non-monetary talk.
For the money earned from the global lecture tour, or pocketed from the movie, it would be possible to power their whole research centre with solar panels, eliminating dependence on external power supplies and exiting the billing cycle. It would also be possible to grow at least some of their food the land they own, jazzing up the garden with high-tech gadgets that fit their proposals – perhaps functioning to test some of their theories. They could even afford to buy an electric car and reduce their level of emissions, never needing to rely on petrol from the pump again, powering all necessary journeys from their selfsufficient solar set-up. By doing all of these things – well within the reach of their budget – the Venus Project could lower their expenses to a little casual supermarket shopping and land rates, leaving the rest for testing their theories.
If they were to do all of the above, wouldn’t they be a step closer to their proposed moneyless solution? Wouldn’t the Venus Project research centre then be more than just a place with fancy Jetsons domes, but also a working blueprint for how your life and home can be converted to the ideals of a Spirit of the Times Magazine / November 2012 25 Resource-Based Economy? Wouldn’t it be the first community that functions as both a non-monetary microcosm of society and as a testing bed for their proposals? Wouldn’t this appear to be a minimum level of commitment for anyone expecting to be taken seriously for their grand plans to fundamentally alter the way the word works? Likely many people – including ardent supporters – think that this is exactly how the Venus Project does function.
The Venus Project revised:
I must admit that when I met Roxanne Meadows I met an unusually shy and loving personality, someone who does truly care about people and believes in what she does. She and Jacque Fresco are very giving and very approachable people. In contrast to the impression that this article may give you, Fresco really does seem to believe in what he does. In his mind is not a scammer; he is an objective scientific mind, and would immediately counter the notion that his work revolves around a set of beliefs rather than scientifically-gleaned understandings. He sees himself as an aging man on a tireless and unending quest that just may result in ultimately saving our species.
However, if you were to ask me now what the Venus Project is, my answer would be as follows:
The Venus Project is a theme park that serves as a home for its founders, Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows. The theme park is their sole means of generating income, and has attracted a religious-like following and unquestioned funding from its followers due to the Project advocating nothing less than redesigning society. That proposed new society is based on rational and sensible ideas that have evolved to utopian proportions, rationalized by a belief in a Technological Cornucopia. Unwittingly and unconsciously, Jacque Fresco has become the monetary-motivated villain that he and his fans truly believe he advocates against.
There aren’t any bad people in this world. Every villain and every hero do what they do because they think it is the right thing to do. And it’s hard to tell one from the other if you base your judgement of an individual solely on what that person says. But rest well assured that a person does mean business if they embody the change they wish to see.
So what is your solution?
Venus Project fans, if presented with evidence against the Venus Project, or if they simply cannot argue against the point presented, may reply condescendingly with something to the effect of: “So what is your solution?” So let me answer exactly that question in brief:
Well, to the surprise of the reader I still advocate a Resource-Based Economy – with specific emphasis on the notion that the scientific method of inquiry should be at the forefront of decision-making. The difference for me now is that I actually want to apply the scientific method to my own thinking, instead of drawing conclusions and then aiming to validate them.