Since 1975, Roxanne Meadows has worked with renowned futurist Jacque Fresco to develop and promote The Venus Project. The function of this project is to find alternative solutions to the many problems that confront the world today. She participated in the exterior and interior design and construction of the buildings of The Venus Project’s 21-acre research and planning center.
Roxanne Meadows: My background is in architectural and technical illustration, model making, and design. However, for the last 41 years, my most significant work has been with Jacque Fresco in developing models, books, blueprints, drawings, documentaries and lecturing worldwide. We are the co-founders of The Venus Project, based out of Venus, Florida where we have built a 21-acre experimental center. The Venus Project is the culmination of Jacque Fresco’s life’s work to present a sustainable redesign of our culture.
In our view, The Venus Project is unlike any political, economic or social system that’s gone before it. It lays out a sustainable world civilization where technology and the methods of science are applied to redesigning our social system with the prime concern being to maximize quality of life rather than profit. All aspects of society are scrutinized - from our values, education, and urban design to how we relate to nature and to one another.
The Venus Project concludes that our social and environmental problems will remain the same as long as the monetary system prevails and a few powerful nations and financial interests maintain control over and consume most of the world’s resources. In Jacque Fresco’s book The Best That Money Can’t Buy, he explains “If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must ultimately declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all of the world’s people. Anything less will result in the same catalogue of problems we have today.”
DA: One of the more interesting aspects of The Venus Project vision is its futuristic design. Have you been approached by companies or governments interested in using The Venus Project as a model? Do you foresee experiments in smart urban design that mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking?
RM: No company or government, as yet, has approached The Venus Project to initiate a model of our city design, but we feel the greatest need is in using our designs to usher in a holistic socio-economic alternative, not just our architectural approach itself. As Jacque very often mentions, “Technology is just so much junk, unless it’s used to elevate all people.”
We would like to build the first circular city devoted to developing up-to-date global resource management, and a holistic method for social operation toward global unification. The city would showcase this optimistic vision, allowing people to see firsthand what kind of future could be built if we were to mobilize science and technology for social betterment.
I have not seen what is called smart urban design mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking. I see smart cities as mainly applying technology to existing and new but chaotically designed, energy- and resource-intensive cities without offering a comprehensive social direction or identifying the root causes of our current problems. Our technology is racing forward but our social designs are hundreds of years old. We can’t continue to design and maintain these resource- and energy-draining cities and ever consider being able to provide for the needs of all people to ensure that they have high-quality housing, food, medical care and education. Smart cities within a terribly dysfunctional social structure seem contradictory to me.
DA: My understanding is that technological automation forms the basis for The Venus Project. Given ongoing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics, do you imagine that we are moving closer to this vision?
RM: Our technological capacity to initiate The Venus Project is available now, but how we use artificial intelligence today is very often for destructive purposes through weaponry, surveillance, and the competitive edge for industry, often resulting in technological unemployment. In the society we are proposing, nothing is to be gained from these behaviors because there is no vested interest. In our project, we advocate concentrating on solving problems that threaten all of us— climate change, pollution, disease, hunger, war, territorial disputes, and the like. What The Venus Project offers is a method of updating the design of our society so that everyone can benefit from all the amenities that a highly advanced technologically-developed society can provide.
DA: I know The Venus Project is envisioned as a post-capitalist and post-scarcity economy. Could you explain what you mean by resource-based economics?
RM: Money is an interference factor between what we want and what we are able to acquire. It limits our dreams and capabilities and our individual and societal possibilities. Today we don’t have enough money to house everyone on the planet, but we do still have enough resources to accomplish that and much more if we use our resources intelligently to conserve energy and reduce waste. This is why we advocate a Resource Based Economy. This socio-economic system provides an equitable distribution of resources in an efficient manner without the use of money, barter, credit or servitude of any kind. Goods and services are accessible to all, without charge. You could liken this to the public library where one might check out many books and then return them when they are finished. This can be done with anything that is not used on a daily basis. In a society where goods and services are made available to the entire population free of charge, ownership becomes a burden that is ultimately surpassed by a system of common property.
When we use our technology to produce abundance, goods become too cheap to monetize. There is only a price on things that are scarce. For instance, air is a necessity but we don’t monitor or charge for the amount of breaths we can take. Air is abundant. If apple trees grew everywhere and were abundant you couldn’t sell apples. If all the money disappeared, as long as we have the technical personnel, automated processes, topsoil, resources, factories and distribution we could still build and develop anything we need.
DA: I know that the scientific method forms the basis for decision making and resource management within your project. Could you explain how this approach is applied to social behavior? For example, what is the role of politics in The Venus Project?
RM: Today, for the most part, politicians serve the interest of those in positions of wealth and power; they are not there to change things, but instead to keep things as they are. With regard to the management of human affairs, what do they really know? Our problems are mostly technical. When you examine the vocations of politicians and ask what backgrounds they have to solve the pressing problems of today, they fall far short. For instance, are they trained in finding solutions to eliminating war, preventing climate change, developing clean sources of energy, maintaining higher yields of nutritious, non-contaminating food per acre or anything pertaining to the wellbeing of people and the protection of the environment? This is not their area of expertise. Then what are they doing in those positions?
The role for politics within the scientific and technologically organized society that The Venus Project proposes would be surpassed by engineered systems. It is not ethical people in government that we need but equal access to the necessities of life and those working toward the elimination of scarcity. We would use scientific scales of performance for measurement and allocation of resources so that human biases are left out of the equation. Within The Venus Project’s safe, energy-efficient cities, there would be interdisciplinary teams of knowledgeable people in different fields accompanied by cybernated systems that use “sensors” to monitor all aspects of society in order to provide real-time information supporting decision-making for the wellbeing of all people and the protection of the environment.
DA: In your view, is abundance simply a function of technological innovation? I mean, assuming we get the technology right, do you believe that we could eventually eliminate poverty and crime altogether?
RM: Yes, if we apply our scientists and technical personnel to work towards those ends. We have never mobilized many scientific disciplines giving them the problem of creating a society to end war, produce safe, clean transportation, eliminate booms and busts, poverty, homelessness, hunger, crime and aberrant behavior. For instance, one does not need to make laws to try and eliminate stealing, when all goods and services are available without a price tag. But scientists have not been asked to design a total systems approach to city design, let alone to planetary planning. Scientist have not been given the problem to develop and apply a total holistic effort using the methods of science, technology and resource management to serve all people equitably in the development of a safe and sustainable global society. Unfortunately, only in times of war, do we see resources allocated and scientists mobilized in this way.
DA: I assume schooling and education are important to Jacque’s vision. How might schools and universities differ from the way they are designed today?
RM: The education and values we are given seem to always support the established system we are raised in. We are not born with bigotry, envy, or hatred - we do pick them up from our schools and culture. In fact, even our facial expressions, the words we use, notions of good and bad, right and wrong, are all culture bound. A healthy brain can, in fact, simply become a Nazi faster in a Nazi society. It has no way of knowing what is significant or not, that is all learned by experience and background. The manipulation is so subtle that we feel our values come from within. Most often we don’t know whom our values are really serving.
Yes, education will differ considerably from that of today. As Fresco explains in his book The Best That Money Can’t Buy “The subjects studied will be related to the direction and needs of this new evolving culture. Students will be made aware of the symbiotic relationship between people, technology, and the environment.”
DA: I can only assume that critics routinely dismiss The Venus Project as a kind of hopeful utopia. How do you respond to that criticism?
RM: Critics very often reject or dismiss new ideas. What is utopian thinking is to believe that the system we are living under today will enable us to achieve sustainability, equality or a high standard of living for all when it is our system which generates these very problems in the first place. If we continue as we are, it seems to me that we are destined for calamity. The Venus Project is not offering a fixed notion as to how society should be. There are no final frontiers. It does offer a way out of our dilemmas to help initiate a next step in our social evolution.
Many are working at going to other planets to escape the problems on this one, but we would be taking our detrimental value systems with us. We are saying that we have to tackle the problems we face here on the most habitable planet we know of. We will have to apply methodologies to enable us to live together in accordance with the carrying capacity of Earth’s resources, eliminate artificial boundaries, share resources and learn to relate to one another and the environment.
What we have to ask is, what kind of world do we want to live in?
DA: My last question is about the challenges ahead. Rather than taking the necessary steps to reverse climate change, we seem to be accelerating our pollution of the Earth. Socially, we are witnessing a renewed focus on nativism and fear. How might the values of The Venus Project manage against these negative tendencies in human beings?
RM: The notion of negative tendencies in human beings or that we possess a certain “human nature” is a scapegoat to keep things as they are. It’s implying that we are born with a fixed set of views regarding our action patterns. Human behavior is always changing, but there is no “human nature,” per se. Determining the conditions that generate certain behaviors is what needs to be understood.
As Jacque elaborates, “We are just as lawful as anything else in nature. What appears to be overlooked is the influence of culture upon our values, behavior, and our outlook. It is like studying plants apart from the fact that they consume radiant energy, nutrients, require water, carbon dioxide, gravity, nitrogen, etc. Plants do not grow of their own accord, neither do humans values and behavior.”
All social improvement, from the airplane to clean sources of energy undergoes change, but our social systems remain mostly static. The history of civilization is experimentation and modification. The Free Enterprise System was an important experiment and tremendous step along the way that generated innovation throughout our society. What we now advocate is to continue the process of social experimentation, as this system has long outlived its usefulness and simply cannot address the monumental problems it is facing today. We desperately need to update our social designs to correspond with our technological ability to create abundance for all. This could be the most exciting and fulfilling experiment we as a species could ever take on; working together cooperatively to deal with our most pressing problems which confront us all and finding solutions to them unencumbered with the artificial limitations we impose upon ourselves.
Daniel Araya is a researcher and advisor to government with a special interest in education, technological innovation and public policy. His newest books include: Augmented Intelligence (2016), Smart Cities as Democratic Ecologies (2015), and Rethinking US Education Policy (2014). He has a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an alumnus of Singularity University’s graduate program in Silicon Valley. He can be found here:www.danielaraya.com and here: @danielarayaXY.