17 March, 2009

Why do so many utopias look so sterile?

Tough times call for visionaries. Pity too many of them have a vision that looks like a cover of Amazing Science Fiction, circa 1950: big machines, perfect systems, the ideal of the technocratic society.

In his goatee and mustache and tieless in a brown suit, Mr. Joseph had been lecturing for nearly 90 minutes on the unsustainable nature of the money-based economy — on cyclical consumption, planned obsolescence, corporate malfeasance and piles of poisonous waste. “It’s time that we wake up,” he intoned, speaking solemnly through a wireless clip-on mike. “The doomsday scenario, the big contraction, might be happening right now. The system of monetary exchange is — in the face of advancing technology — completely obsolete.”

This drew wild applause from the sold-out crowd, a patchwork of perhaps 900 people who paid $10 a head on Sunday night to sit in a packed auditorium at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street near the West Side Highway. Z-Day events were taking place from New England to New Zealand, but this was the big one: the marquee happening with the marquee names.

There, in the crowd, was Jacque Fresco, an industrial designer and the engineering guru of what people unironically called “the movement.” Mr. Fresco, an elfin 93-year-old, sat beside his partner, Roxanne Meadows, smiling self-effacingly.

Mr. Joseph, back on stage, waited patiently as some of the crowd, still cheering, refused to leave their feet.

If the election of Barack Obama was supposed to denote the gradual demise of churlish, corporate governance and usher in a new, sustainable era of visionary change, there was little sign of it at the second annual meeting of the Worldwide Zeitgeist Movement, which, its organizers said, held 450 sister events in 70 countries around the globe.

“The mission of the movement is the application of the scientific method for social change,” Mr. Joseph announced by way of introduction. The evening, which began at 7 with a two-hour critique of monetary economics, became by midnight a utopian presentation of a money-free and computer-driven vision of the future, a wholesale reimagination of civilization, as if Karl Marx and Carl Sagan had hired John Lennon from his “Imagine” days to do no less than redesign the underlying structures of planetary life.

Where are the people who live in this?  What if they don’t fin in to the vision?  It’s one more example of the way in which so many “progressives” of one stripe or another try to impose an artificial order, an end-state that is simple enough that a planner (be it human or computer) can comprehend it.  For all the talk of change, it’s stasis.

Peter Joseph and Jacque Fresco Critique the Monetary Economy - NYTimes.com

1 comment:

Jim Hoy said...

Dr. McIntosh,

The popular vision of what a "utopian" society might look/feel like scares me, because the concept of utopia reminds me more of socialism than much else.

The fact of the matter is that utopia - while a nice goal to strive for - is an unattainable goal. Human nature, the basic flaws in human design (a.k.a. the seven cardinal sins) will always require oversight and authority. In those two additions, the utopian society is lost because there is now (at least) two clearly-defined factions: The people and the government.

Once there is a "we" and a "them" the notion of utopia is lost.

I know what the point was in saying that the currency-based economy is becoming obsolete, however I argue that it is because we have meaningless currency to begin with. We don't trade in gold and silver notes anymore; instead we trade using paper currency, the supply of which is limited only by the means of its production. It diminishes the fundamental principles of our free market economy (namely the laws of supply and demand) when the treasury is able to print $1.2 trillion new dollars, just to "pump up" the economy.

I went out of my way to rant about our baseless currency to point out that humans like tangible things. We're driven by our five senses, all of which are based on the physical world, so while we will continue to digitize and computerize, we will never fully rid our lives of things like currency and liquidable assets; it's just not in our nature.