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Thrive: Deconstructing the Film

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There have been many screenings in the Bay Area of a privately produced film called Thrive. It is a long documentary, created in a New-Agey, pseudoscientific mode, which would be fairly innocuous if it were not masking a reactionary, libertarian political agenda that stands in jarring contrast with the soothing tone of the presentation.

Foster Gamble, the creator and narrator of the film, is heir to the Proctor Gamble empire. One advantage of being wealthy is that you can make a film for which you choose the cast, director, producer, and staff. One of the disadvantages is that you end up working with people who won't challenge your ideas or politics. That feedback loop is clearly missing from Thrive.

Certainly, progressives can find common ground with some of the stated goals of the film. We may agree on banning GMOs, eradicating pollution, and stopping bank bailouts, but our solutions are very different from the anti-government ones posed by libertarians and by the ones promoted in Thrive. For example, government regulations could have prevented the runaway libertarian agenda that was pushed by Alan Greenspan and his Ayn Randian cohorts. They could have prevented bundled foreclosure loans and derivatives that gambled away people's pensions and savings. And they could have prevented the housing bubble and subsequent foreclosure debacle. At one time, we did have such legislation. That was before the right-wing attack on all things government.

Although Gamble thinks he is creating a political center where the right and left can join together, he proposes only libertarian solutions (e.g., voluntary education, voluntary taxes, and shrinking the government).

Oliver Wendell Holmes reportedly said, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Gamble considers taxes to be theft and doesn't realize that an informed citizenry might create a government by, of, and for the people who pay the taxes. But, this would require a mature citizenry, not one stuck in the adolescent phase of development that focuses doggedly on individual rights with little regard for the individual's responsibility to civil society.

Gamble admits to being "profoundly influenced by Ludwig von Mises," founding member of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. As an author, von Mises is celebrated by right-wing presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who claims, "When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises."

If I thought the film was libertarian propaganda, it was nothing compared to what I found on the Thrive website. The "Liberty" paper (under the Solutions section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Stefan Molyneux, there is even an attack on democracy! Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism and says they all -- including democracy! -- violate the "intrinsic freedom of others."

Another disturbing aspect of the film is that Gamble primarily interviewed progressives: Vandana Shiva, Paul Hawken, Elisabet Sahtouris, Danny Sheehan, John Robbins, Amy Goodman, and several others. By speaking with a few of these people, I learned that they did not know the political slant of the film when they were interviewed. One interviewee said he felt this was manipulative. Interviewing admired progressive thinkers and doers in a film that ultimately supports a radical, libertarian agenda does seem odd -- unless there is another agenda at work. Perhaps in next year's election campaigns, we might see Gamble and the thrive movement endorse Ron Paul and the new Americans Elect third party, which is a right-leaning movement masquerading as a "center" party.

This reactionary program sold as a "vision" on the Thrive website is nothing short of a dark fantasy intent on returning us to the 19th century, complete with no taxes, no labor laws, no child labor laws, no regulation of pollution, no social security, no Medicare, no public education, no government programs for the people. Instead, there would be a voluntary type of social regulation. We saw how well that worked in the 19th century.

It is our responsibility to educate family and friends about the reactionary philosophy behind Thrive. This is a great opportunity for discussion and debate!