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The Venus Flytrap - Karl Popper

Chapter 8.
Because it is exactly a utopian engineering predicted by Karl Popper.


8-01 Summary) According to collectivists, we must first think about what is the best social system for us if we were to improve the society. Then we must completely destroy current system to accomplish it. Such teleological approach to social engineering is what Popper exactly referred to as utopian engineering. [52] Such experiment is incapable of teaching us large amount of knowledge, whether it succeeds or fails. It can be compared to an experiment in which variables are not controlled.

8-02 Experiment with uncontrolled variables fails to teach us any applicable knowledge. If we are experimenting the effect of environment on growth of a plant but have different temperature, sunlight exposure, soil and water supply to the experimental and control groups, we cannot find out the reason for difference in speed of growth between two groups. It may be able to tell us which among the two groups is a better environment, but that is all.

8-03 If the perspective of a utopian social engineer is consistently applied, we will have to destroy the society through another revolution and create a completely new society whenever problems occur in the new society we accomplish through revolution. In order to find the best among countlessly many social systems, we must completely destroy conditions of our lives without end. We cannot make such choice.

8-04 The society cannot be innovatively improved at once. We can only change one system at a time. This is the easiest experiment we can perform, and we can learn the most from this experiment. If we wished our descendants to live in a better world than we are, we must give them useful knowledge as an inheritance. There is only one experimental program we can use to do so, piecemeal engineering.



8-05 Karl Popper classifies social engineering into two types in The Open Society and Its Enemies. One is utopian engineering. It can be explained as follows: All rational behaviors must have rational purposes. If we were to behave rationally, what we need to do is to choose a rational purpose. This means that we must have the image of the best society we are trying to accomplish before starting a social movement.

8-06 Utopian engineering can coexist with the belief that perfect society does exist or at least cannot be known. We can at least design a feasibly best society within the scope of our knowledge. Once we reach an agreement on the realizable image of the optimal society, what we need to do to accomplish it will become clear.

8-07 Of course, we must be careful about determining this rational purpose. It is the most important aspect of utopian social engineering. We should be careful about deciding this practical purpose, and this must be distinguished from intermediate purposes that are meaningful as methods and steps. This is boiled down to the following attitude: Utopian social engineers endeavor to find the ultimate and common cause of evilness instead of removing each evil.

8-08 Undoubtedly, The Venus Project is a utopian engineering. Zeitgeist Addendum says, "We must first find the true underlying cause. For the fact is: The selfish, corrupt power and profit-based groups are not the true source of the problem. They are symptoms." The Venus Project has never supported any social movements like the movement to abolish the Federal Reserve that can directly improve the situation. [53] They would say we should spend our time on a more important thing because such movement is not a fundamental solution. Construction of the best society is the more important thing.


8-09 Before I get into detailed criticism on utopian engineering, I would like to briefly talk about a healthier method called Piecemeal Engineering. Those who adopt this method may or may not have a blueprint about the ideal society, but they will not regard such thing as important. They will set an ultimate purpose and find the most urgent evil in the society for modification instead of fighting for the purpose.

8-10 The blueprints for piecemeal engineering are simple. They are the blueprints about single systems such as health, unemployment insurance and education reform. The damage from abuse of these blueprints is not large, and it is not so difficult to readjust them. They are less dangerous and therefore are less controversial. Thus, we have greater possibility of using democratic and logical means over passionate and violent methods.

8-11 The claim that we need not to configure the ultimate purpose of social engineering may sound absurd. However as a scientist conducting research about the effect of environment on plant growth doesn't need to have any conviction about the optimal environment in advance, people trying to improve the society do not necessarily have a view on what is the best society. Instead, we can hope to create the optimal society on day through repetition of mistakes and corrections. This holds true even when we don't know what the optimal society is like.

8-12 Therefore, the value of social engineering should be determined by whether it can bring some kind of experimental knowledge to us, because such experimental knowledge is the only thing we can permanently inherit down to our descendants. Accordingly, utopian engineering and piecemeal engineering represent two different experimental programs about the society. piecemeal engineering is superior to utopian engineering as an experimental program.


8-13 As we discussed earlier on, mistakes that occur in resource-based economy during the transition period cannot demonstrate that the experiment in resource-based economy is destined to fail. We will learn that our experiment has failed after everything is irreversibly messed up. If we are wise enough, we are going to stop the experiment before such things actually happen. However, this means we can never find out the result of our experiment.

8-14 We cannot expect utopian social engineering to always come to an end. If an experiment seems to fail, we should stop it. Judging whether an experiment will succeed or fail without seeing its end is a hasty decision, but we still have to make the judgment. If we have to do it one day, there is no reason why we shouldn't do so right now. There is no reason not to decide whether to try it by analyzing the experiment ahead.

8-15 Even if we succeed in finding out the failure of our experiment before things go irreversibly bad, we cannot gain much knowledge. Overall restructuring of the society is too elaborate an experiment. The most miscellaneous error accompanied by its setting can spoil the entire experiment. In this case, we cannot determine whether this experiment failed because of a simple mistake or was problematic since the beginning. [54]

8-16 We will have to spend too much time on each experiment. Much more, it is almost impossible to cope with the consequence of failure. Further, there are possibilities of the experiment being modified or altered. We may not learn any lessons after enduring significant loss every time. All of these demonstrate that utopian engineering is an interior experimental program.


8-17 The bigger problem is in extremely low applicability of knowledge obtained by utopian engineering. Let us assume we learned the fact that communism is destined to fail. This doesn't mean we learned that planned economy is destined to fail or democratic centralism is destined to fail. The simple fact of failure in communism can yield millions of interpretations. Even Jacque Fresco has his own interpretation.

8-18 Interpretations without persuasive power can be filtered by discussion, but this would simply reduce the number of interpretations from a million to a hundred. In the end, failure of communism cannot say anything more than the fact that communism fails. This is not an applicable knowledge. We might have to attempt planned economy once again, even if it actually is the cause of failure of communism.

8-19 I have only been talking about cases in which the experiment fails, but the opposite is the same. Successful experiment cannot teach us a lot. Let us assume that resource-based economy miraculously turned out to be a success. In this case, we have no idea as to what led to the difference between that and current society. This means that we have no knowledge we can apply to cope with a new problem that may occur in the new society we create.

8-20 If another problem occurs in resource-based economy, future utopian engineers must destroy the better society created by their ancestors by going through another revolution. They might reintroduce money. They simply learned that some market economies are worse than resource-based economy. They did not learn that market economy is always worse than resource-based economy. [55]


8-21 In conclusion, utopian engineering is similar to an experiment with uncontrolled variables. For example, imagine we are conducting an experiment about the effect of environment on plant growth. When we compare the experimental group with control, all variables including temperature, wind, sunlight, soil and water are different. This way, we would never be able to find out the reason why the speed of growth differs in experimental plants and control plants.

8-22 In social engineering, the experimental group is the alternative society we are trying to test. The control group is the existing society. This has a clear meaning. We can learn the most through experiment in which only one system is changed at a time. This is because we can only use this method to learn how systems harmonize with other systems and how to adjust the systems in order to make them work according to our intent. [56]

8-23 In this case, failure of one experiment will not result in serious damage. Besides, we can easily readjust the experiment. As time goes on, our knowledge will be quickly accumulated. We might even be able to build up the same level of applicable knowledge as modern science about education system, political system and economic system. The fact that obsession about the best society leads to inability to further progress this task is one of Popper's strongest refutations against utopian engineering.


8-24 We simply try to learn from trials and errors, or by making mistakes and fixing them, about all problems. It is not rational to assume that complete restructuring of our society would immediately yield an operable system. Instead, many mistakes will occur due to lack of experience, and we can only expect to remove them through piecemeal engineering of slowly adjusting them for long time.

8-25 If we consistently apply utopian engineering, we would have to remove newly constructed society before starting over. Since the new start would not reach its completion, they will end up repeating this process without reaching anywhere. There is no utopian engineer who argues we should do this. They will say we should apply utopian engineering only once and then make use of piecemeal engineering.

8-26 This attitude can be justified only by the conviction that the first utopian engineering will be successful. Utopian engineering cannot sustain without such conviction. Supporters of The Venus Project protesting against their opponents saying 'how do we know it is going to fail without even trying' are deceiving themselves. If we are unsure about whether utopian engineering will be successful or not, we naturally have to choose piecemeal engineering.

8-27 Piecemeal engineering is the only experimental program we can use when we frankly acknowledge the fact that we don't know what the best society is. Utopian engineering cannot be used without a conviction that it is going to be successful. The question of 'how would we know whether it's going to succeed without trying' is the one and only proper questions that must be answered by all utopian engineers. However, it is rare to find utopian engineers who are willing to answer this kind of question.


8-28 Sometimes, moderate utopian engineers might acknowledge that the experiment of overturning the entire social system at once is unreasonable and propose a scaled experiment. This is not a completely bad attempt. However, it is still doubtful as to how valuable an experiment limited to a factory, village or area would be. The difficulty of designing a society is mainly in the fact that it handles a gigantic group of population. Experiments limited to regions cannot provide information we need. [57]

8-29 Experimentation of the best society should be carried out in an environment as similar as the environment it is going to be applied. An experiment intended to test resource-based economy to be applied throughout the entire planet should not be conducted in a region with abundant resources. Also, we cannot selectively choose people with special personalities, preferences and intellects to participate in the experiment. Material and human resources must be standardized if we were to experiment on resource-based economy.

8-30 The most difficult condition to be satisfied is the fact that all people participating in the experiment including planners should not know that the experiment will come to a stop once testing of resource-based economy is completed. This is as important in the experiment to test the best society as in psychological experiments, because whether or not the designed society succeeds depends on the behavior of participants. This can conceal the most critical problems of the system.

8-31 There is no reason for us to be greedy about seizing power if we knew we were participating in a simple experiment. The special experimental environment even turns the planners who will try to enjoy privileges once actual resource-based economy is constructed into altruistic beings. For the same reason, we can more easily trust the planners. This suppresses our suspicion about the planners and social division caused by such suspicion.


8-32 We cannot start resource-based economy after constructing all cities. We have to construct cities after starting with resource-based economy. However, it is not an exaggeration to say that most of difficult problems that can turn resource-based economy into horror exist in this transition period. In order to discover them, we may need to conduct an experiment to test resource-based economy using infrastructure during its transition period instead of completed resource-based economy.

8-33 In other words, separate from the experiment to find out how successful the completed resource-based economy is going to be, we must design an experiment to test whether we can reach completion of resource-based economy using the provisional government suggested by Jacque Fresco as a means. Utopian engineers always tend to neglect this. It is more important to test the plan they will use to create the best society than to test the best society itself.

8-34 How many participants do we need for each experiment? It is easy for members of community to cooperate in a society so small that all members have human relationship with one another. This may not be applicable to large scale societies in which people act in anonymity. Anthropologists assume that the size limit of group that can maintain mutual intimacy is 150 persons. [58] In order to test resource-based economy, we need at least 10 times this minimal size, or 1,500 participants.

8-35 The requirements above may seem somewhat excessive. However, they are the most natural requirements to be satisfied before the experiment on resource-based economy can have any meaning. Without these conditions, important problems of resource-based economy we discussed in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 will not be revealed through experiment. It is simply a deception to argue that a specific society is the best society based on an experiment originally designed to conceal the most critical problems.


8-36 At least, there is an experiment that satisfies all of these requirements. For example, it can be an experiment that starts out resource-based economy in a relatively small area. Nobody would disrupt people empathizing on resource-based economy from purchasing land, installing solar power plan, and managing resources. Once it becomes evident that resource-based economy can offer better quality of life, number of participants will naturally increase.

8-37 However, this must be carried out for the actual purpose of improving quality of life, just like the planetary project of Jacque Fresco. In other words, it should not be a temporary event with limited period or purpose. All participants of the experiment must believe that the experiment is actually being conducted to improve their life quality as actual resource-based economy would. The only way to do so is to actually designing it in that way.

8-38 There is another merit here. Collectivistic planned economy like resource-based economy is easier to succeed in small societies. It would not be as difficult to be successful in a small society. Of course, many new problems can occur as the society grows. Participants of the experiment may be able to sequentially resolve such new problems as they expand the size of their society. [59]

8-39 Looking from the perspective of the entire society, this is a kind of piecemeal engineering. What we handled before is an experiment that accumulates small effects inflicted on all members of the society, and this experiment accumulates small number of people receiving large influence. The reason why most of small-scale collectivistic economic communities remain small is because they can only persist as small groups. If resource-based economy is truly valid, it would be able to show different aspect.


8-40 Still there is another reason why we must oppose utopian engineering. Utopian engineers demand us to decide an ultimate social purpose and devise a detailed and long-term plan to accomplish this purpose. That is, despite the fact that we have little knowledge to decide such grandiose matters, they argue that we must devise a rational plan for the entire society. As of now, sociological knowledge required for large-scale engineering does not even exist at all.

8-41 The blueprints for piecemeal engineering are relatively simple. It is easier to reach an agreement about existing evils and how to improve them than to agree upon the ideal line and method of satisfying the ideal line. It is extremely difficult to discuss about the best society. Nobody can determine whether it is realizable, it brings actual improvements or it includes some kind of pain, and what kind of methods there is to realize such society.

8-42 We cannot determine the best society by the majority rule. The number of individual best societies and blueprints to accomplish them exceeds thousands. Even if it can be determined by the majority rule, there is a problem. There is no reason for the majority of people to agree with one of many optimal societies. In fact, there is greater probability of having more people oppose the society determined as best.

8-43 Even if a policy was selected by the majority vote, it may seem for many people as a path to the worse society. They might believe that violent methods are required to save the mankind from the worst. Ignorance or even destruction of democratic procedure is often regarded as legitimate when there is a more urgent purpose than to protect democratic procedure. [60] Determining the path of mankind is so important that it can justify any violence.


8-44 The degree of ideological unification demanded by utopian engineering is beyond imagination. The methodology of utopian engineering in which an ultimate purpose is configured first is useless if modification of the purpose is permitted. [61] If measures taken are distant from realization of the newly configured purpose, we have to change our direction according to the new purpose. All sacrifices we make until then become meaningless, and we will have to start everything over.

8-45 However, reconstruction of society is a project that can bring inconvenience to many people for significant time period. Those who enthusiastically support the project at the beginning might start complaining that their lives are not getting any better. What seemed as the best nation to people who first created the blueprint may not be seen the same to them. The blueprint about the best society, which becomes the basis of utopian engineering, is extremely vulnerable to passage of time.

8-46 Accordingly, utopian engineers are obligated to consciously educate their descendants so they will have exactly same idea about the best nation. This is because they can only prevent degeneration of the idea they decided as the best nation through this method. Such belief that all members of the society must have the same ideal is what we referred to as collectivism in Chapter 2. Utopian engineering cannot sustain without collectivistic ideology, especially when it requires long-term plan.

8-47 Utopian engineering demands the present and future mankind to have a common conviction about matters difficult because we have not yet accumulated sociological knowledge it requires, and important since a single wrong decision can lead to destruction. Such common conviction can never be accomplished as a result of rational discussion. It would be rational to predict such unification to be accomplished by a type of collectivistic ideology.


8-48 Popper has already written about this matter: "We see now that the Utopian approach can be saved only by the Platonic belief in one absolute and unchanging ideal, together with two further assumptions, namely (a) that there are rational methods to determine once and for ever what this ideal is, and (b) what the best means of its realization are. Only such far- reaching assumptions could prevent us from declaring the Utopian methodology to be utterly futile."

8-49 He continues, "But even Plato himself and the most ardent Platonists would admit that (a) is certainly not true; that there is no rational method for determining the ultimate aim, but, if anything, only some kind of intuition. Any difference of opinion between Utopian engineers must therefore lead, in the absence of rational methods, to the use of power instead of reason, i.e. to violence."

8-50 Plato actually believed we can examine the idea of best nation by intuition. Jacque Fresco has similar argument: "And we really need to understand that. That's what's gonna bring us joy too, and pleasure. That's what's missing in our lives right now. We can call it spirituality, but the fact of the matter is joy comes from that bliss of connectedness… It's this amazing wonderful feeling, and you know it when you get it."

8-51 Needless to say, this is far away from rational method. It divides human beings into two types, people who know pleasure and people who don't. The majority of people who simply cannot feel such pleasure must unquestioningly accept the words of people arguing they know such pleasure, hoping they will be able to feel it one day, as people cannot see their ideas by intellectual intuition in the utopia of Plato do. Perhaps this is exactly what Jacque Fresco wants from us.


8-52 In this Chapter, I am not trying to say that all types of radical revolutions are bad. Starting a revolution when there is no means for us to progressively improve the society is legitimate. However, the goal of this revolution must be limited. The revolution must be intended to remove specific evil, not to realize an abstract good. And, most importantly, this revolution must be a means to gain piecemeal method.

8-53 We must accurately understand the choices put in front of us. We do not have a choice between democracy and anarchy. [62] We can only choose between democratic government and the so-called provisional government with the right to control everything immediately after the revolution. Democracy, no matter how useless it has become, is not something we should destroy through revolution but something we need to reconstruct and improve by revolution.


8-54 Some people complain that corporations today exercise so many lobbies that limit the function of democratic devices. This may be true, but the claim of collectivists that this problem can be resolved by abolition of money is absurd. Lobbying is only one of many corruptions of the government. If we cannot prevent corruptions committed by the government democratically elected today, it would be much harder to prevent corruptions of the gigantic government demanded by the collectivistic plan.

8-55 We have already verified in Chapter 4 that lobbying is fundamentally impossible in nations with complete rule of law. It only occurred because we permitted discretion of the government. So the solution is simple. It would be to reduce discretion of the government and further strengthen the rule of law. Unlike Jacque Fresco's computer, this is a solution that has been progressively improved by ancestors and can be immediately applied.

8-56 In fact, the rule of law is an essential condition for democracy to become effective. If the elected people exercised arbitrary power, they would be the main body applying the method of substantiation and experimentation to our system. Knowledge accumulated by predecessors will become useless every time they are newly elected. Democracy can be a method of piecemeal engineering only if it is used to establish and improve general rules. As long as this principle is observed, we have no reason to worry about lobbying.


8-57 Utopian engineering is related with the desire to construct a truly beautiful world, which is not only better and more rational compared to now but also is wearing a completely new clothes instead of messy clothes with old cloths. However, such aesthetic enthusiasm is only valuable when it is suppressed by reason and sense of responsibility. If not, it can easily develop into neuropathy or hysterical excitement.

8-58 Aestheticism and radicalism make us throw out our reason and take on a desperate hope about political miracle. Such irrational behavior coming out of intoxication about the beautiful world can be referred to as romanticism. This heaven may be found in the past or future. It may be able to preach to 'return back to the nature' or 'proceed to the world filled with love and beauty.' However, it always appeals to our emotion instead of reason.

8-59 Utopian engineering is nothing more than a dangerous gamble with the future of our descendants at stake. We should not jump into aestheticism without consideration just to satisfy our quick temper. If we really wanted our descendants to live in a better world, we must endure the pain. We have to carefully and progressively inherit knowledge to be used by descendants.

8-60 Piecemeal engineering is itself an alternative to resource-based economy. However, someone might demand more specific means to free the mankind from labor and allow sustainable use of resources. We are now ready to handle them, but before that, we must liberate Fresco. The last anticipation about him will melt down like snow once we realize that his scientific methodology is not scientific at all or even academic.



[52] Here, the term utopia does not refer to perfect society. A utopian engineer may or may not think they can create a perfect society one day. Of course, communists as well as Plato seen by Popper as a model of utopian engineer did not believe that realization of absolutely perfect society is possible. It cannot be the standard of classifying between utopian engineering and other social engineering. Refer to the main text of Chapter 8 for definition of utopian engineering by Karl Popper.

[53] A utopian social engineer does not always have such perspective. Many revolutionary Marxists support social movements for piecemeal improvement. However, they only understand such social movements as methods of moving up the revolution. For example, social movements can be used as tools to grow the organization for revolution. Improvement in quality of life is not what revolutionary Marxists are trying to directly accomplish through social movements. Like Jacque Fresco, revolutionary Marxists in 1920s wished to become saviors after collapse of the capitalistic system. They actually wanted to accelerate collapse of the system. Popper wrote, "According to this assertion… Only the vain hopes created by democracy were holding it back in the more advanced countries. Thus the destruction of democracy through the fascists could only promote the revolution."

[54] Most of communists today find the reason for failure of Soviet Union in Stalin's state or external factors. Likewise, supporters of resource-based economy will not find the reason for its failure from the contradiction of resource-based economy when it is actually attempted. The problem is that such argument has persuasive power that cannot be neglected. What utopian experiment is trying to experiment on is practically irrefutable.

[55] We should not think that future utopian engineers won't attempt market economy just because many market economies were worse than resource-based economy. We know the fact that all collectivistic planned economies failed. Actually, they were far worse than our society. Nevertheless, we don't think that collectivistic planned economy is proved to fail. Of course, Jacque Fresco clearly said that all market economies fail. However, Jacque Fresco's opinion is not important here. As Jacque Fresco rejected existing economics, future utopian engineers will reject Jacque Fresco's economics. They might refer to his economics as an ideology. Utopian engineering always begins from tearing down an idea that sustains a society. Future utopian engineering is not an exception.

[56] Somebody might say that this is a hasty argument. For example, it may be possible to deduce principles applied in the society from biology. However, this is as difficult as inducing biology from physics. Experimental method still seems to be the strongest method of acquiring knowledge about social problems. Refer to Chapter 9 for actual attempts made to explain the society in terms of biological knowledge about human beings.

[57] Popper reveals this with relative clarity. He wrote in Chapter 9 of the first volume of Open Society and Its Enemies, "…An experiment in socialism would be of little value if carried out under laboratory conditions, for instance, in an isolated village, since what we want to know is how things work out in society under normal social conditions."

[58] Here, I am citing the view of Robin Dunbar. He discovered the relationship between the degree of development in brain neo-cortex and overall size of the group. According to him, when size of the group reaches 150 persons, people begin to lose track of who is doing what to whom. Refer to How many friends does one person need? by Robin Dunbar. 150 is the most efficient size of the group. Refer to The tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell.

[59] People worried about the possibility of such experiment from failing because of suppression by the governmental authority must realize the fact that this is the greatest evidence that The Venus Project will succeed when left intact. It can bring greater social influence than 1,000 video clips going on and on about Jacque Fresco's personal opinions. It is foolish to worry about suppression by the governmental authority without even trying.

[60] This attitude is best shown by supporters of The Venus Project. They believe that scientific principles - which are more accurately described as their opinions - must determine policies instead of democratic majority vote. They will not accept the best society determined by the majority vote if it differs from their thoughts. They are likely to persist with their thoughts using violent means. However, what I want to stress out is that this attitude is not entirely wrong. If the government is trying to pass an ethnic cleansing policy, we must prevent it even if the majority agrees with the policy. Fortunately, we very rarely face such choice. Policies handled by piecemeal engineering are mostly small, and damage from failure of such policies is minor. The problem of utopian engineering is that it forces us to face important choices for almost everything.

[61] This makes it more difficult to apply democracy to utopian engineering. We cannot force the future mankind to not modify our long-term plan. We cannot deprive the mankind of the right to decide its problems after 15 years. This means abolition of democracy. The only thing a utopian engineer can do is to simply hope that the mankind, or at least its planners, after 15 years will have the same goal as we do now.

[62] Anarchism means we must give up on all plans. It cannot coexist with utopian engineering as well as piecemeal engineering because it means abolition of social engineering. However, anarchism does not pursue complete disorder. Anarchists expect people to create a spontaneous order once all systems are removed. In my view, this is at least healthier than utopian engineering. But if anarchism argues that a provisional government is necessary in the transition period on the way to anarchy, it is simply utopian engineering wearing a mask. What they are actually attempting is exactly opposite of anarchism. It expands the role of the government. The problem is that most of ideas arguing for revolution based on helplessness of the politics today are such false anarchism. I doubt whether there had been any revolution that truly pursued anarchism.