Thrive: The Story is Wrong but the Spirit is Right
By Charles Eisenstein /

"What is keeping us from thriving?" asks the new movie, Thrive. The answer it gives is "the global elite," the people who control the financial system that in turn controls everything else. Operating through the power institutions of our society, this elite pursues a conscious agenda of total world dominance, purposely suppressing anything that would disrupt their power: from clean energy to alternative cancer cures.

This answer might serve to give expression to feelings of rage, hate, grief, and indignation that otherwise, in a world where the wrongness is so ubiquitous as to seem woven into the fabric of reality itself, would turn inward. Ultimately, though, this answer feeds the  mentality of control that is a much deeper culprit in humanity's failure to thrive.

To put primary blame on the global elite says that the primary problem is not the system; it is the masters of the system. If only they were not such awful, greedy -- in a word, evil -- people, they would relent and create a new system. Certainly that's what you and I would do if we were in a position of power -- right? Because we, unlike they, are decent people. In other words, the culprit for the planet's woes is evil, which implies that the solution is to somehow defeat or eliminate evil (though to its credit, Thrive advocates non-violent means to accomplish this.)

The quest to create a better world through conquering evil lies at the heart of civilization as we know it. Originating in the earliest agricultural civilizations, the concept of evil first applied to weeds, wolves, locusts, hail storms, and other natural phenomena that were, before agriculture, merely parts of an interdependent whole, and not the enemies of mankind.

In the ensuing millennia, the War Against Evil developed in tandem with technology and religion. The conquest of nature extended into the internal realms and became a struggle for self-mastery, self-control, and the transcendence of the flesh. It extended into the social realm as programs of social engineering that sought to eliminate evil on a mass scale. Taken to its extreme, it took the form of purges, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism. In other words, the elimination of evil lends itself to the very same dominator mindset that is part of the problem.

Thrive advocates peaceful non-compliance with the institutions of domination, except in cases of "self-defense". But when you see an enemy implacably bound to enslave you or murder you, the line between defense and offense blurs. What war of aggression in the last hundred years has not been justified as a kind of self-defense? The Indians are scalping innocent settlers! The North Vietnamese communists attacked our ships in the Gulf of Tonkin! Remember the Lusitania! The terrorist regime is producing weapons of mass destruction!

That is not to say that there aren't powerful people in the world that do tremendous damage, or that these people should not be held to account. These people, however, are produced and given power by a system that runs deeper than anyone's capacity to design. It is a system that has taken on a life of its own, a system that includes even the film's favorite targets -- the Rockefellers and Rothschilds -- among its thralls. The money system -- born of interest-bearing debt and generating separation and exponential growth -- is at its core, but even the money system rests on a deeper foundation. It rests on our civilization's defining myths: scarcity, reductionism, determinism, dualism, separation. But as the filmmaker must know, these stories have run their course, and so has the world built atop them.

The money system and its underlying mythology necessitate the roles that the power elite fill. Remove those people without changing the underlying beliefs, and new tyrants will rise to take their place. However strong our idealism, do we imagine that our revolution against evil will produce results any better than the French Revolutionaries or the Bolsheviks did? The War against Evil never ends, because it generates a limitless supply of new enemies, progeny of its own shadow.

Perhaps there was a conscious conspiracy to suppress free energy devices, alternative cancer therapies, and so forth, or maybe it was an unconscious conspiracy comprising the agents of the status quo whose careers and intellectual paradigms these technologies violate. In either case, the suppression is decreasingly effective, as the guardians and executors of the system struggle just to keep it going a couple years longer. The analogy to control-based technologies of agriculture or medicine is quite precise. You can suppress each new pesticide-resistant weed with a new chemical, but eventually the consequences of chemical agriculture pile up faster than you can invent new technological fixes to deal with them. It works great at first and yields rise significantly with very little effort, but eventually huge chemical input is needed even to break even. In medicine, you can suppress with a pharmaceutical drug the symptoms caused by the last pharmaceutical drug, but eventually the patient is on twenty medications and getting no better; synergistic side effects proliferate and the patient rapidly deteriorates. Such is the inevitable end game for any program of control.  The illusion of control can only be maintained temporarily, and at ever greater cost.

If there ever was an Illuminati orchestrating world events, it has lost control. Today, the atmosphere among the financial elite fluctuates between panic and resignation. They cannot be bothered to suppress films like Thrive, like What on Earth, like Moon Rising, magazines like Infinite Energy, and all the information freely available on the Internet that is accelerating the shift of consciousness away from separation and scarcity.

The ground has already begun to shift, and that shift will accelerate as the "old normal" falls apart. It has fallen apart in many ways already, yet its afterimage lingers. The supermarkets are still full of food, the malls full of shoppers, the highways full of cars, and the ATM's full of cash. The last-ditch strategy of the financial elite, "extend and pretend", applies to our entire society. It is still possible to pretend that the world of our parents will be the world of our children, and to extend its lifestyle a few more years. But that pretense is wearing thin.

Despite this criticism, I would say that Thrive gets the story wrong but the spirit right. The dominator model is not an evil to overcome, but rather an evolutionary stage that has reached its fulfillment and is giving way to something new. Toward the end, the film touches on this understanding through the words of Elisabet Sahtouris, who likens the present historical moment to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, or to the transition of an ecosystem from headlong growth in its immature state, to symbiotic homeostasis in its mature state. I wish the film had given her greater voice, and developed the idea that the power elite are not reprehensible villains, but players of a role soon to become obsolete. This would be an attitude of forgiveness and invitation. After all, the rewards of the rich, whether measured in money or political power, do little to further their authentic happiness. The rest of us, having not attained the pinnacle of success, can at least tell ourselves that our angst would be relieved if only we reached the top of the ladder. The power elite have no such anodyne to assuage the desolation of life at the top. The system, in other words, isn't working for them either. We want to invite the 1% into a world that is better for everyone.

The film argues that if only we threw off the yoke of the tyrannical Illuminati, we would live in a magnificent, abundant, peaceful world. For example, it says, the deliberate suppression of "free energy" technology would end. Again, the film gets the story wrong but the spirit right. I won't consider here the scientific plausibility of such technology, which appears to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but will rather address the film's contention that the main reason for the misery of the Third World masses is lack of access to energy, and that unlimited clean energy would be a near-panacea for humanity's problems and would usher in an era of abundance. The story here -- call it "technological utopianism" -- is that technology is going to rescue us, create a new and better world, and solve our problems.  We have heard this story many times before, starting with the steam engine, and proceeding through electricity, chemicals, atomic energy, computers, economics and political science, nanotechnology... each invention promised an age of leisure, freedom from disease, social perfection, and other wonders; two hundred years later, none of these promises has been redeemed. We work longer hours than in 1973 and, by many measures, are sicker and unhappier than a primitive tribesperson or peasant.

Why has the promise of technology never been redeemed? If not an evil illuminati consciously suppressing or co-opting the technologies of abundance, what has kept us in a state of scarcity and extreme inequality? If we don't address the reason at its root, and instead blame it on evil people, we will never redeem the promise either.

The truth is that without a change in our consciousness and in the social systems built on our consciousness, no technology will be any more successful than any of those I just listed in bringing peace and prosperity to all people on earth. Indeed, such a vision, and the technologies that are part of it, seem "too good to be true" to someone accustomed to scarcity and habituated to the responses to scarcity: domination, control, struggle against each other and against nature. When this mindset changes, no new technology is even necessary. We already have, and always have had, potential abundance at our fingertips. The scarcity that so many experience today is not the result of any fundamental lack, but rather of the maldistribution of political power and resources. What kind of abundance would we have if we didn't spend trillions of dollars on wars, guns, non-recyclable packaging, sprawling suburbs, automobile culture, consumer junk, transcontinental food, unnecessary pharmaceuticals, and every other form of waste that contributes nothing to human happiness? In one way or another, all of these things are the end products of a civilization built on separation.

A world of justice and abundance doesn't depend on any new technology, yet it is also true that new kinds of technology will emerge from a different kind of consciousness. The shift of consciousness of which I speak is from separation to oneness; from being to "interbeing"; from a discrete and separate self in an external objective universe, to an integral part that contains the whole. The new self seeks less to dominate than to cocreate, less to control than to share. It knows that the whole universe is as alive and as conscious as oneself. From that perspective, technologies that do no harm to other beings come naturally; from this perspective, it seems as a matter of course that the universe wants to freely provide what we need, rather than requiring us to wrest it from an indifferent or hostile environment. Thus we have a paradox: we do not need new technology to enjoy abundance; yet, the shift of perception that is necessary to enjoy abundance will also bring forth new technology. Or we might say that free energy technology will be a symptom that our consciousness has shifted, or perhaps an instrument for the actualization of abundance consciousness in material reality. The filmmaker understands that on some level. The spirit coming through is this: a more beautiful world is possible, right in front of our faces, waiting only for us to accept it. It is a spirit of vast possibility readily available.

Because it carries this spirit, the film has attracted a cult following despite its disjointed editing, repetitiveness, and the narrator's frequent resort to "I believe," and "I am firmly convinced" in place of actual evidence or arguments. Indeed, at times it seems that the film wants to be about Foster Gamble's personal journey to radicalism and hope. Despite its flaws, in its invocation of evil and in its appeal to technological salvation, Thrive arouses our conviction that the world isn't supposed to be this way, and that a much better world is closer than we dare think. Even if it wrongly ascribes the source of the problem and misidentifies the essence of the solution, still it will stimulate people to deepen their questioning of the boundaries of consensus reality. This is a good thing. Once the questioning starts, it will not stop until we arrive at a new story aligned with the spirit being born today.

4.5 ·
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Thrive: The Story is Wrong but the Spirit is Right