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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

What hell might look like

I stumbled across this rumination of 97-year old architect Jacque Fresco, about how to make a better world.

And it apparently involves living in symmetrical planned cities with identical modular architecture, no doubt presided over by wise technocrats like Jacque Fresco, who presumably decide who gets issued with what in a cashless future in which a drone class of otherwise superfluous people are free to go to school and write plays apparently.

His better future looks a lot like my vision of hell.

38 comments to What hell might look like

  • Jane Jacobs had this guy (as well as Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier) figured out 50+ years ago. You wouldn’t be able to hang a picture without filling out a form in quadruplicate.

  • Laird

    Hell, indeed. He certainly won’t live to see it, and thankfully neither will I.

    If my math is correct, Fresco started working on this idea when he was 16, and indeed it sounds like a typical 16-year-old utopian fantasy. Looks like he never grew up.

  • RRS

    If we want innovation, which seems to be a key element in the expansion of a civilization, we will often find it produced from the minds of individuals whose concepts are not compatible with general experience and preferences.

    Jacque Fresco came to my attention a year or so ago by reason of his connection with a particular area of industrial design. This caused me to become acquainted with his earlier work and advances in avionics design during the 40s.

    For those interested in the ability of an individual to innovate, the Wikipedia entry under his name provides an interesting (if overly favorable) outline of that ability arising without formal education.

    Jacque Fresco, a Brooklyn kid, who came from nowhere, with nothing, has done something, several things in fact, and deserves broader consideration than the usual narrow focus on some particular aspect of his thinking and work.

  • he is the founder and director of The Venus Project.

    RRS, as worthy of praise as this man may be, he is also worthy of no small amount of contempt. But then nothing human is entirely black or white.

  • RRS, I do not regard Jacque Fresco as ‘evil’ but rather a naive utopian whose vision of a well ordered heaven would actually be a repressive bureaucratic hell.

  • AKM

    Actually it looks pretty much identical to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek to me: No money. Mass production via machines (replicators) that can make anything you desire at the push of a button. All social problems solved by the wave of a magic wand. Humans have evolved beyond their base instincts, yadda, yadda. You just need some bumpy-headed aliens to cause trouble and stop everyone getting bored.

  • Perry, the man has a naive innocence and good intentions. We all know where that road leads…

  • Mr Ed

    Where is he line between ‘naive Utopian’ and ‘evil’? Surely when one proposes or uses force to achieve that Utopia?

    The blurb on the Venus Project has a familiar ring to it, the abolition of scarcity, is he Charles Fourier reborn, offspring of Fourier and a mermaid from a Sea of Lemonade?

  • PaulM

    Circular cities………hmmm.
    I tend to find when I’m going in circles I’m generally not getting anywhere.

    I also think the cities of the future will be on (hopefully) many other resource rich planets.
    Nice graphics though.

  • Carnwennan

    Jacque Fresco derives much of his justification from the standard left wing notion that all criminality and avaricious beastliness is rooted in inequality and hence will be automatically eradicated when people are properly rationed. Ergo, he is a moron.

  • RRS


    my point is the proper consideration to be given to the sources of innovation arising from individual thought.

    But, “contempt?” Whose contempt, based on what standards of judgments, by what kinds of other individuals, who have thought what, or done what?

    This particular individual, and much of his thinking is not attractive to my own preferences in life. Like so much else carried forward from the French Enlightenment, based upon the objective of the “Perfectibility of Man,” and on the contra posed search for compatibility with (presumably “harmonious”) nature of the Romantic Movement, many attempts at innovation will be based on the concept that there is a single answer to everything. While it may devalue the results, it does not devalue the drive for innovation.

  • I disagree, RRS: it does greatly devalue the drive for innovation. Innovation, in and of itself, is not a basic value, but a tool. An important and satisfying one, but still a mere tool.

  • I think technocratic world views like those of Fresco spring from seeking stasis as a preferable state to dynamism, the diversity of several choice and markets… they *think* that by putting experts in charge that such a system will be resilient yet in truth it will be brittle, like all non-dynamic systems in which there is a force backed hierarchy of rule making people. This is the view that hierarchy can be the source of solutions if only the best people are at the top… yet if the internet shows us anything it is that in truth the future will be more heterarchical.

    And when he says it is not a political system, that is actually very revealing and rather disingenuous: it will not be a political system in the sense such a system cannot coexist with an alternative view based on severalty rather than official qualification.

    It is hard to see how resource-based economics will not be much the same as every other collectivist system based on rationing things at gunpoint and allocating resources in the interests and prejudices of whoever controls the command and control hierarchy.

    Like I said, my vision of hell.

  • RRS


    This surprising.

    I do not assert that “innovation IS a “value.”

    The results of innovation have value.

    Those results can be “devalued.”

    [In particular by the concept that there is a single set of answers to everything]

    The drive for innovation, as you seem to agree, IS a value that can be devalued.

  • Jake Haye

    Jacque Fresco’s understanding of the human condition appears to be on a par with that of a small child.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    As a practical exercise, use Wikimapia and Panoramio to ‘tour’ the former Soviet Union, where they are still building the same Soviet-era apartment tower (in various heights and pastel shades) all over the country. The cityscapes become brain-damagingly monotonous after a while.

  • RRS, you wrote:

    While it may devalue the results, it [i.e. ‘the concept that there is a single answer to everything’] does not devalue the drive for innovation.

    The drive for and the process of innovation is not a basic value, but it can certainly be of value, and so can be devalued – primarily through the devaluation of its results. Put in simple terms, innovation can lead to new and improved means of imprisonment and torture, in the same way it can lead to new and improved treatments of diseases. Just because someone has a drive to innovation does not make him neither an admirable person, nor a contemptible one. As it happens, Fresco seems to be a mixture of both, at least on the face of it.

  • Paul Marks

    There is nothing wrong with technology – indeed all tools are technology (by definition) and better technology means better tools (it is the use the are put to that matters).

    But there is a lot wrong with a technocratic elite.

    Plato’s Guardians were to send off spies to find out about new inventions and bring them back to the Collectivist Motherland (Plato seems to have sensed that there would be little or no innovation in his collectivist dream city – and why would that be Plato lad?).

    The “Sun City” of one of the Stoics (I forget which one – but one of the collectivist ones, the Stoics were divided on politics) was also frankly static – innovation (if there was to be any) would have to be stolen from outside.

    However, with Francis Bacon (“The New Atlantis”) we get something new.

    A vile tyranny (Francis Bacon was the mentor of Thomas Hobbes) but, somehow, highly inventive (lots of new technology produced by the rulers) – which (in a phrase that Oakeshott mocks) would make nature yield what it had never yielded before.

    Total drivel – but wildly successful as agitprop.

    Both the Fabians and the Marxists (and the American Progressives – and the German “Socialists of the Chair” before them) were the children of Francis Bacon.

    I bet he would have loved the idea of this city.

  • RRS


    the “drive” within individuals for innovation is a value.

    Whether it is to be assigned any particular classification among values is a separate question.

    The “processes” of innovation by which the drive for it is expressed is another issue.

    The value of that drive in an individual has naught to do with character; although character has much to do with the value of the results of the drive.

    Your view may differ.

  • His cities look like Canberra.

    No one lives in Canberra out of choice.

  • Achillea

    Now, his idea isn’t totally worthless.

    We could build one of these proposed cities, invite everyone who thought it was a good idea to live there, then lock them in and throw away the key. Would get a lot of idiots out of our hair. Might even televise it like a sort of giant ‘Big Brother’ house. Or ‘Survivor: Utopia’ but where the viewers get to vote each week which person has come most to his or her senses and gets to leave.

  • When someone says, “I have a plan for a new type of society” that rarely bodes well. Likewise, I had to smile at the phrase, “We don’t want to order anyone to do any exercise…” It’s odd how when people like Mr Fresco get utopian they tend to imagine cashless anti-capitalist scenarios, with enormous gardens that no-one gets paid to maintain, enormous buildings that no-one gets paid to build and which no-one gets paid to clean. They assume that people – other people – will spend their days strumming instruments and radiating good feeling, with no need for jobs or resources of their own. And no need for weapons or prisons or armies or national boundaries… because, by implication, the state will be everywhere. “They will learn how to live,” as Mr Fresco puts it. Because he, unlike you, knows “the meaning of a human being.” And Mr Fresco can picture these things, lovingly and at length, without pausing to wonder how slavery and rebellion might be avoided.

    And of course, he’s not alone.

  • llamas

    Eloi and Morlocks.

    All of these ‘new types of society’ assume that somewhere there is a Stakhanovite army of laborers and craftsmen in all of the 101 nasty and brutish trades which make life tolerable for the majority, all prepared to work themselves into an early grave for the common good. Such an army has traditionally been hard to locate.



  • Venus project supporter

    All I see here are ignorant people (minus a select few) that haven’t taken the time to really research and see what Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project is all about. A better future and equality for all. Negativity toward revolutionary ideas such as this is what holds us, humanity, back. Your Hell is what I feel I am already in and will prevail if people can’t start working together for the good of everyone.

  • Ernie G

    His perfect society is more totalitarian than anything Mussolini or Stalin could have dreamed of. What would become of those who don’t want to go along?

    His beautifully landscaped cities, mostly park, would require the entire population of Mexico to maintain.

  • Well VPS, what you see here is not ‘ignorant’ people but rather people who are well informed and who just happen to disagree with you. I have read up on the Venus Project, so I am not ‘ignorant’ of what it stands for, I just think it is a vision for the future that will only ‘work’ if imposed at gunpoint.

    If you think our skepticism is wrong, please explain why.

  • Mr Ed

    Lenin offered ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ and then took all three. He did not openly campaign (at first) on a manifesto of death, war and famine with perhaps 80,000,000 dead over 70 years, but he intended that and more.

    Is there any need for architects? Give me an engineer any day, Palladio will never be surpassed.

  • if people can’t start working together for the good of everyone

    Unlike the supporters of various utopian visions such as the Venus Project, I do not feel qualified to decide what is good for everyone, and therefore will certainly not work together with those who claim to have such knowledge – especially not those whose ideas on the matter are described as ‘revolutionary’.

  • Carnwennan

    VPS, sadly I have invested too much time researching the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement. I’ve seen all the films, participated in half a dozen debates and I know some of the UK organisers.

    Fresco premises his vision on abundant resources and machines that will make whatever you want. If you can’t see the problem with this you are beyond help. …diamond encrusted titanium super-yachts all round.

  • AKM


    “A better future and equality for all.”

    Pick one. A better future is NOT one with enforced “equality”. We have plenty of examples of societies with a lot of equality; they tend to be very, very, equally poor. Your standard of living in such societies tends to be based on who you know, rather than how much money you’ve earned and favors the compliant bureaucratic/intellectual class.

    “Negativity toward revolutionary ideas… is what holds us… back.”

    This is hardly a revolutionary idea. Various types of socialists/social engineers have suggested most of these ideas before. This is simply a slight update to old 19th century Utopian-ism.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    First, you need to define ‘Equality’. If you mean equal treatment by the law, then you can all have a better future.
    And I wonder how many architects have grand, utopian visions? Perhaps they all do, because they’re trying to plan towers for a hypothetical average person to dwell in. They might be so used to plans that it seems perfectly natural to extend the idea to communities and cities.

  • Veryretired

    This utopian makes the same fundamental mistakes that all utopian dreamers make—fatal misdiagnoses of the basic elements of human nature.

    In this case the two most glaring are the utopian beliefs that, if the correct social structures can be achieved, then humans will be molded into perfectly socialized entities within those structures, and a stasis will be achieved that will preclude any unrest or dissatisfaction.

    The infinite malleability of human nature, as molded by external factors, is a basic and staple assertion of the utopian theorist. That this assertion is utterly unfounded is one of the basic reasons that utopian visions inevitably collapse, either into dissolution, or coercive prisons.

    Human beings are enormously complex entities whose basic elements are a volatile mix of untold millennia of genetic selection, familial and cultural influences, and a reactive mental/emotional construct which perceives and interprets experience and knowledge in unprogrmmably idiosyncratic ways.

    It is a form of willful blindness to somehow look at the splintered and factional history of humanity when addressing any issue, from the deeply significant to the frivolous, and still maintain that there is some magic formula of ideology and environment which will render people compliant and willingly cooperative in the adoption of a static social structure that will ensure perpetual harmony.

    The fantasy people these utopian theories postulate have never existed, cannot exist, and still be human beings. Even Quakers argue endlessly in their meeting houses…

  • Robin Goodfellow

    Nobody who ever pitched the dream of enforced equality for everyone ever did so using photo galleries of brutal stalinist architecture or videos of protesters facing down tanks in the streets.

    Somehow people fail to realize that every totalitarian nightmare will always be peddled by folks attempting to paint it as a beautiful vision of a world yet to come if only we have the courage and strength to follow through. Many of them even believe in the vision.

    It’s sad that even today people expect totalitarianism to be easy to spot. Or that it won’t attempt to manipulate their emotions by selling them precisely what they hunger for such an idyllic, though impossible, world of gleaming skyscrapers and lush trees devoid of rubbish and strife. But that’s not reality. Nor is it utopia. It’s a gilded cage that can only exist through the destruction of individualism. How one would manage to maintain utopia on the one hand and destroy individualism on the other is one of those silly practical problems that utopian idealogues always manage to sidestep.

  • Related quote from Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which I am reading.

    a woman called Jane Jacobs who was the first person to really nail why it was wrong to slice cities up with freeways, stick all the poor people in housing projects and use zoning laws to tightly control who got to do what where. Jacobs explained that real cities are organic and they have a lot of variety—rich and poor, white and brown, Anglo and Mex, retail and residential and even industrial. A neighborhood like that has all kinds of people passing through it at all hours of the day or night, so you get businesses that cater to every need, you get people around all the time, acting like eyes on the street.

    It’s the opposite of a planned space, like a mall. It feels like a wild garden or even a woods: like it grew

  • Greg

    34 comments to date? Sounds like a reasonable place to post a comment on the general state of things. Sorry if this is off topic, but I didn’t know where else to post this.

    SEEMS TO ME THAT THE STATISTS HAVE WON! They own the media, dominate academia (including journals of former repute), have Hollywood by the nose-ring, have the world’s legislatures/courts/executives as their lap dogs, and only have to worry about the occasional pseudo-conservative getting into higher office. Votes are locked up. Courts are reliably on their side notwithstanding the occasional judicial outburst (probably viewed as a good thing in that it gives them cover). They understand the proper use of power: destroy your enemies…utterly!

    What do we have? Samizdata.net? A few other voices. You all are obviously smart, but have no power–political or otherwise (or am I disconnected from what action is happening?). Arm yourselves; man the battlements!!! Or if we want to be smart about it, go to “battle” in less obvious ways, but no less aggressive or decisive. Or am I premature? Tell me how I am wrong! I’m tired of talk.

  • Mr Ed

    Greg, the forces of liberty have one thing on their side that will never change, economic law. Look at Eastern Europe and the Warsaw Pact in 1986, a wall of Communist states, armed to the teeth from and yet many régimes collapsed and vanished.

    The debt clocks are ticking, the media outlets are losing money and readership, and when the State’s bills can’t be paid, something will have to give. It will not be pretty or pleasant, but the road to a better future is there to be taken. It might require the collapse of the Conservative Party, the greatest ‘false flag’ friend of freedom since Dzerzhinski’s Trust in the 1920s Soviet Union, and its replacement, but that is a possibility.

    I do recall someone saying at one of Brian Micklethwait’s Friday evening gatherings around 20 years ago that one hand grenade in the room would wipe out libertarians in the UK. I agreed, but pointed out that it would double their effectiveness.

  • craig

    PersonFromPorlock: “… ‘tour’ the former Soviet Union, where they are still building the same Soviet-era apartment tower (in various heights and pastel shades) all over the country. The cityscapes become brain-damagingly monotonous after a while.”

    Even better, watch ‘Irony of Fate’ (Ирония судьбы), an unusually amusing Soviet film. The gist of it is a relationship that starts after a drunk Russian unwittingly flies to Leningrad and lets himself into an identical flat at the exact same address using the exact same key as his own flat in Moscow.


  • an unusually amusing Soviet film

    Nothing unusual about this one – and there were far more amusing ones too.