Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Has IT Begun? (comments on Zeitgeist 3)

The first of the Zeitgeist documentaries was uploaded in 2007. Four years later the creator, Peter Joseph has trimmed  his vision into a more impressive work that doesn't veer off into useless trashing of religions and breathless revelations of 9/11 conspiracy scenarios. Instead, the most recent video, Moving Forward offers a somewhat more restrained argument for establishing a global 'resource based' economy as an alternative to the one we have that's based on empty abstractions and the so-called 'free market'.

Inspired by the ideas of Jacque Fresco, a structural engineer who has lectured extensively for the past four decades, the Zeitgeist Movement has made full use of the Internet to bring to fruition his concept of "the scientific method applied to social concerns." Fresco contends that science is our only path beyond the cultural relativism that dominates politics and religion, and the only way that humanity can successfully sustain its long term existence by reintegrating society with the demands of nature. 

His is a vision reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's Design Science and Paolo Soleri's Arcologies, extended into an attempt to organize a bonafide political revolution. Fresco's vision of a future where the global workforce is replaced by the mechanized efficiency of a computer guided utopia that 'takes care' of all human needs is as compelling and as troubling as is every visionary dream that reduces human complexity to a container of logic. More than either Fuller or Soleri, Fresco comes off as driven toward a somewhat desperate struggle to save humanity from itself.

Granted, in many ways it appears that the world around us is steadily going to hell, but hopefully we aren't limited to the alternative extremes of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the sterile technological nightmare of a world dominated entirely by machines. Fuller was an engineer and Soleri is an architect and both envision the salvation of humanity as primarily a design problem. Fuller the engineer offers up an optimistic vision of the possibilities technology opens for transcending the narrow vision of history. Soleri, an artist, has actually constructed an ongoing experiment that at least recognizes technology must be adapted as a flexible container for the shifting and unpredictable realities of human community. The problem with design theories is that the success of any design, no matter how well thought out, depends on the ability of humans with all of their unpredictable variations of behavior, to adapt to living inside of it.  

Fresco's vision envisions a grateful humanity volunteering to submit to the total management of their lives by a vast array of 'machines of loving grace.' His is a wonderfully idealistic vision of a civilization where all human needs are met, crime and dysfunction are eliminated and virtually everything is standardized and manufactured solely for the good of all. Fresco's bottom line is efficiency, and everything in his vision serves that aim. 

As much as I admire the kind of life one might see on one of Gene Rodenberry's Federation starships, my sense is that humanity will not give up willingly the bonds of culture that make us both inefficient and interesting. Although I admire and agree with his basic analysis of where civilization has gone astray, I find his vision of a more perfect future to be more than a little barren of the things that make us human. 

One of the most troubling things in Fresco's proposed scenario is the devaluation of work, which he sees as drudgery better performed by machines. There is no sense that work is one of the primary ways humanity experiences community and is a vital part of the evolution of values of friendship, warmth and common destiny. Work is only seen in terms of function and efficiency. Why should people build a house or tend the soil when machines can do it better and faster with less waste?      

The Zeitgeist vision sees religion and politics as the enemies of evolution. Although the stridency of this narrow view is toned down considerably in the Moving Forward there is no acknowledgment of value in either activity. Although these are primary ways that we experience being part of a larger community they are both dismissed as tools for the propagation of lies while nothing much is proposed to replace them, unless it's the sheer awe we feel in the shadow of our technological prowess. In short, Zeitgeist proposes a world where everything works just fine, but there just doesn't seem to be any people around.

The end of the documentary expresses with eerie prescience a situation resembling the global events we are witnessing right now. Global economic collapse, civil unrest, the end of the elaborate Ponzi scheme we all live under are depicted against a vision of awakening masses and the police, as in Egypt, laying down their arms before the common people. An inspiring vision indeed. The leap from that scenario to one of global peace, however, will undoubtedly require all of the 'well-earned' politics, the lessons of religion, and the sheer human lust for survival in order for any sort of technological fix to take hold without leading us into just another manifestation of control.  
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Do not squander your life.

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