“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.
In other words, a not entirely inappropriate response to the zeitgeist itself, which one young man, a philosophy student in a roomy purple blazer, described before the show began as “the world as we know it coming to an end.” As the evening labored on with a Power Point presentation, a panel talk with Mr. Fresco and a spirited question and answer session, some basic themes emerged: modern economics is a fraud; global debt will crush the planet; society itself is dying from the profit motive; and people ought to wise up to the fact that more than legislation — or presidential administrations — needs to change.
Though they were never actually shown — as most in attendance had seen them several times — Mr. Joseph’s two films, “Zeitgeist, the Movie” (released in 2007) and “Zeitgeist: Addendum” (released last fall), were the subtext of the evening: online documentaries that have been watched, he says, by 50 million people around the world.
The former may be most famous for alleging that the attacks of Sept. 11 were an “inside job” perpetrated by a power-hungry government on its witless population, a point of view that Mr. Joseph said he has recently “moved away from.” Indeed, the second film, the focus of the event, was all but empty of such conspiratorial notions, directing its rhetoric and high production values toward posing a replacement for the evils of the banking system and a perilous economy of scarcity and debt.
That’s where Mr. Fresco came in, an author, lecturer and former aircraft engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio who has spent the last six decades working on the Venus Project, a futuristic society where (adjust your seatbelts, now) machines would control government and industry and safeguard the planet’s fragile resources by means of an artificially intelligent “earthwide autonomic sensor system” — a super-brain of sorts connected to, yes, all human knowledge.
If this sounds vaguely like a disaster scenario out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Mr. Fresco did not seem worried in the least. Machines are unemotional and unaggressive, unlike human beings, he told the crowd during the question-and-answer phase. “If you took your laptop and smashed it in front of 50 other laptops, trust me, none of them would care.”
The audience — white, black, young, old, baseball caps and business suits alike — received such words like a tonic, and the questions kept coming: What would family life be like in the future? What would happen if the automated system decided that a person had to die? Mr. Fresco and Ms. Meadows are planning the production of a major feature film to bring the Venus Project to a wider, global audience. Before the night began, Mr. Fresco, a small man with a V-neck sweater and a hearing aid, sat signing books and answering questions from a dozen or so college students gathered like acolytes at his feet.
As the evening came to a close, someone finally asked: So what would it take to actually put such a program into action? A grassroots movement, Mr. Joseph said.
“We already have a quarter-million members,” he insisted from the stage. “At the rate things are going, this will be at Madison Square Garden next year.”