Disaster by Design? What's Wrong with the "Thrive" Movement
By John Robbins / yesmagazine.org

Thrive is the name of a controversial film that asks, and attempts to answer, some of the deepest questions about the nature of the human condition and what is thwarting our chances to prosper. Lavishly funded, it features appealing imagery, beautiful music, and interviews with many leading progressives, including myself. Yet ten of us have signed a statement formally disassociating ourselves from the film.

In my case, the decision was especially difficult because there are aspects of Thrive I find inspiring, and its makers, Foster and Kimberly Gamble, are old friends. Why have Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Edgar Mitchell, Vandana Shiva, John Perkins, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin and Adam Trombly, as well as yours truly, gone to the trouble of signing our names to this public statement? The statement reads as follows:

“We are a group of people who were interviewed for and appear in the movie Thrive, and who hereby publicly disassociate ourselves from the film.”

Thrive is a very different film from what we were led to expect when we agreed to be interviewed. We are dismayed that we were not given a chance to know its content until the time of its public release. We are equally dismayed that our participation is being used to give credibility to ideas and agendas that we see as dangerously misguided.”

“We stand by what each of us said when we were interviewed. But we have grave disagreements with some of the film’s content and feel the need to make this public statement to avoid the appearance that our presence in the film constitutes any kind of endorsement.”

In Thrive, the Gambles have attempted to address some of the crucial challenges of our times. I appreciate their idealism, commitment, and passion. And I agree with them about some things they state in the movie and on their website—such as that the political system is depraved, the Federal Reserve has been used to consolidate economic power, fiat currency tends to produce financial corruption and ever-increasing debt, the tax system is unfair, and enormously powerful economic interests often collude with one another to deceive and defraud the public. I stand with them as they promote the labeling of genetically engineered foods and an end to the spending of enormous sums on war. I appreciate their support for local and organic agriculture, their passion for credit unions and local banking, and their opposition to governmental invasion of privacy. They recommend many action steps that I support.

But I do not agree with some of the core conclusions they draw. Nor do the other signers of the statement of disassociation from Thrive. Duane Elgin, one of the signers, says that Thrive “is idealistic, naive, narrow, shallow, and focuses attention away from more productive areas of engagement.”

At the very heart of the Thrive message is what it calls the Global Domination Agenda. Foster Gamble explains:

A small group of families are actually controlling virtually every sector of human endeavor… Their agenda… (is) to take over the lives of all people across the entire planet… to collapse the economies throughout the European Union… to devalue the dollar to almost zero... and to create a one-world government, with them in charge.

The Thrive movie and website also state that this “small group of families” is developing plans to radically reduce the world’s human population to make us “easier to manage.”

Could this be true?

There is no doubt that staggering wealth and power is today concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority. The combined net worth of the world’s richest thousand or so people—the planet’s billionaires—is almost twice that of the poorest 2.5 billion. I believe this disparity to be nothing less than an indictment of our civilization.

Thrive refuses to see these shades of grey and insists on attributing to the powerful a level of diabolical malevolence that makes the villains in James Bond movies seem like Mother Teresa.

It is also certain that networks exist among the most powerful that enable a remarkably few people to shape the world's economy, to determine what is known and what is not, which views are accepted and which are not, and what priorities and policies will prevail. More than most of us realize, they decide whether we will live in war or peace, and how our treasure will be spent. And they have proven to be eminently successful at enriching themselves, often at the expense of the common good. Exposing the global power elite is tremendously important work. And this, Thrive purports to do.

But the Thrive movie and website are filled with dark and unsubstantiated assertions about secret and profoundly malevolent conspiracies based on an ultimate division between “us” and “them.”  “We” are many and well-meaning but victimized. “They,” on the other hand, are a tiny, greedy and inconceivably powerful few who are masterfully organized, purposefully causing massive disasters in order to cull the population, and deliberately destroying the world economy in order to achieve total world domination.

This way of thinking has an allure, for it distracts and absolves us from the troubling truth that the real source of the problem is in all of us, and in the economic systems we have collectively produced. If the ills of the world are the deliberate intentions of malevolent beings, then we don’t have to take responsibility for our problems because they are being done to us. Thinking this way may provide the momentary comfort of feeling exonerated, but it is ultimately disempowering because it undermines our ability to be accountable for the way our own thoughts and actions help to create the environmental degradation and vast social inequity of the world in which we live. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”

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Thrive refuses to see these shades of grey and insists on attributing to the powerful a level of diabolical malevolence that makes the villains in James Bond movies seem like Mother Teresa.

For example, Foster Gamble says that the Japanese earthquake that caused the tsunami that wreaked havoc on the nuclear plants in Fukushima was deliberately created by those seeking absolute world domination, in order to punish the Japanese for not acceding to their wishes. The catastrophic earthquakes that devastated Haiti and Chile in 2010, he says, were also intentionally created. According to this view, these earthquakes were not the result of tectonic stresses and geologic processes. They were intentional acts perpetrated by a ruling elite with unimaginably sinister intent.

There are many things that are terribly wrong in our world, and some of them are dire. But holding these tragedies up as the deliberate acts of a tiny group of families seeking total world domination via a global police state distracts us from the arduous work of confronting the true challenges before us.

For example, as an environmentalist, I heed the monumental evidence that global warming may be one of the most serious threats faced by humanity and many of the other species on this planet. Yet Foster Gamble and the Thrive website strongly recommend a film called The Great Global Warming Swindle, which states that man-made global warming is a “lie” and “the biggest scam of modern times.”

The Thrive website opens its climate change discussion with this question:

How does the premise of man-made global warming relate to the banking elite’s effort to transcend national sovereignty, establish global governance and create a global tax to fund their dominance?

The insinuation is that the idea of human-caused global warming is being fabricated as an excuse to create a global police state and a tax basis for tyranny. If this is true, just about every scientific expert in the world has been taken in by the hoax. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 97 percent of scientific experts agree that “anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gases have been responsible for the unequivocal warming of most of the Earth’s global temperature in the second half of the 20th century.”

It has been painful for me to witness personal friends of mine become caught up in seeing global warming as a lie, and just about everything on earth as part of a vast demonic conspiracy. When I wrote Foster Gamble to voice my disappointment with many of the ideas in the film and website, he wrote back, encouraging me to study the works of David Icke, Eustace Mullins, Stanley Monteith and G. Edward Griffin.

Who are these people, in whose worldviews Thrive has its roots?

David Icke, who is featured prominently in Thrive, is well-known for advocating utterly bizarre theories, and claims that the entire world is run by a secret group of reptilian humanoids who drink human blood and conduct satanic rituals. In a recent interview, Icke seemed to be competing for lunatic of the year. “What I’m explaining now,” he said, “is that the moon is not a heavenly body but a construct.”

One of the signers of the statement of disassociation from Thrive, former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, has grounds to disagree. As the lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, he spent nine hours working on the moon’s surface.

Buoyed by lush visual effects and lovely words, the Thrive film has been attractive to many who know how often we are deceived and exploited by the powers that shouldn’t be.

The rest of Thrive’s primary sources aren’t much better. The late Eustace Mullins was the author of a book titled Hitler, An Appreciation. Stanley Monteith, who happens to be a neighbor of mine, has long been involved with Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and professes that the environmental movement is a pretext for the effort to create a global police state. He and G. Edward Griffin have long been members and officers of the John Birch Society, a far-right political organization that first came to public attention when one of its founders, Robert W. Welch, proclaimed that Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t the genial war hero and popular president he seemed, but rather “a conscious, dedicated agent of the international communist conspiracy.” Welch co-founded the John Birch Society along with Fred Koch, the father of today’s notorious Koch brothers.

Both Thrive and the John Birch Society view government, in Welch’s words, “as always and inevitably an enemy of individual freedom.” And both see a small group of families, including the Rockefellers and Rothschilds, as behind an utterly malevolent conspiracy seeking total global domination. The Thrive website features this statement from the second president of the John Birch Society, Larry McDonald:

The drive of the Rockefellers and their allies is to create a one-world government…all under their control… Do I mean conspiracy? Yes I do. I am convinced there is such a plot, international in scope, generations old in planning, and incredibly evil in intent.

These are only a few of the ultra-right wing sources whose ideas and agendas pervade Thrive. Another is the economist Ludwig von Mises, whose words and beliefs are cited frequently and sympathetically on the Thrive website. Many Americans first learned of von Mises when Michele Bachmann, seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency, said she read his books at the beach. Von Mises’s brand of laissez-faire capitalism is hardcore. In his eyes, nearly all government intervention in the economy is strictly verboten, and taxes are a crime against freedom.

Buoyed by lush visual effects and lovely words, the Thrive film has been attractive to many who know how often we are deceived and exploited by the powers that shouldn’t be. But what is the revolution Thrive would bring? Both the Thrive movie and website call for the end of taxation, even for the rich. Thrive’s goal is a world in which public schools and welfare programs, including social security, have been terminated. Instead of police, we have private security forces. As Foster Gamble puts it, “private security works way better than the state.” 

That may be true for the rich who can pay for it. But who, I might ask, would pay to protect low-income communities if all security was privatized?

Eventually, if Foster Gamble had his way, there would be no taxes, no government, and everything would be privately owned, including roads. “It’s clear that when you drive into a shopping center you are on a private road, and almost without exception it is in great shape,” explains the Thrive website, as though a free market unfettered by concern for the 99 percent would somehow magically meet the needs of all.

I am saddened to see Foster Gamble, an heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune, so oblivious to the realities of those who do not share his privileges. If all roads are privatized, how will the poor get anywhere?

To Foster Gamble’s eyes, any form of government that depends on taxation, including democracy, is unconscionable. He writes on the Thrive website:

Democracy…which is born of and sustains itself by taking people’s hard-earned money, whether they like it or not, and calling it “taxation”—is in and of itself a violation [against life].

While Foster Gamble finds democracy abhorrent because it depends on taxation, Amy Goodman, one of the signers of the statement repudiating Thrive, has long been the host of what may be the most significant progressive news institution of our time, Democracy Now.

How, you might be asking, did those of us who have signed the statement of disassociation from Thrive ever allow ourselves to be filmed for a movie that advances such ideas? The answer is simple. We were grievously misled about what the film would be.

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I want to underscore that although I think the Gambles are promoting a destructive agenda, which they kept secret from those of who were interviewed for their film, I do not think either Foster or his wife Kimberly are sinister or malicious. I have known them to be kind people who mean well, and I have long considered Kimberly one of my closest friends. But I have found it necessary to speak out in this way because some of the ideas at the heart of Thrive strike me as frightening and misguided. They most certainly are not ones that I or the other signers of the disassociation statement can condone.

In my view, the deregulation of the economy and the demolition of government programs that Thrive proposes would take us even further in the direction of a winner-take-all economy in which wealth would concentrate even more in the hands of the financial elites. This is something that I and the other signers of the statement repudiating Thrive find deeply abhorrent.

As one of the signers, evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris, writes that, “without community, we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit. It does not just happen with flowers and rainbows, and no taxes.”

The signers of the statement of disassociation from Thrive do not deny the evil in the world. It is here and it is real. But as one of the signers, Paul Hawken, writes, “The suffering and the despoliation of the world cannot be healed by the us/them divisions that inform Thrive.”

Our hope is not blind. We see the enormous peril our world is in today. Ours is the hope that remains open to miracles while investing the sweat and perseverance to lend the universe a hand in creating those miracles. It is the hope that is borne from knowing that it is far too late, and our situation far too serious, to indulge in the luxuries of pessimism, paranoia, and finger-pointing.

The state of the world is perilous. But it is not too late to love, not too late to work to realize our dreams, and not too late to believe in ourselves and in each other.

In the end, we are all in this together. Each step you take to lessen the amount of fear in yourself and the world brings us closer to a world reflective of the beauty that exists—sometimes buried and other times apparent—in each of us. Every act you take that increases the amount of trust and compassion in your relationships helps us move from a world created by privilege to a world created by community.


John Robbins is author of Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and eight other bestsellers including the newly released No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution. He is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and Green America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. To find out more about his work, visit www.johnrobbins.info.

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