Friday, July 22, 2016

Buckminster Fuller's ideas are more relevant than ever





Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth – R. Buckminster Fuller (1968)

            There are, in the history of humanity, certain people that come along whose minds have the ability to absorb and analyze information in a way that helps them create a vision of what our collective future could and should be, but which, due to the fearful and conservative nature of mankind, only end up accepted and affecting the world at large after some time has passed.  R. Buckminster Fuller was such a person.  His life was focused for the most part on the fields of engineering, cartography, architecture, geometry and philosophy.  The combination of these intellectual pursuits fermented in the man a deep and overwhelming need to correct the prevalent thinking of humanity, and gave him the means to explain to the rest of us just how amazing our world could be.
            Mr. Fuller was around 70 years old when this book was published.  That is a lot of life-experience and knowledge brought to bear on a very critical topic.  This topic, how best to utilize the amazing world we find ourselves in to improve the existence of every human, animal, and plant on the planet, would drive him to the last days of his life.  Ideas, once created, do not die.  They sometimes must wait for receptive minds.  Buckminster Fuller’s ideas found in this short book have the power to propel humanity onward to a far more noble path than just the aggregation of power and money, or the control and subjugation of each other and the world around us.
            One of the first things I felt in reading this book was the truly infectious joy and love for the inventiveness of humanity that Mr. Fuller had.  As he describes us, we humans are the masters of generalization.  We have the ability to understand and utilize wildly divergent information and experience to create whole new worlds, thoughts, capabilities, and successes.  It is only through our ability to be generalists that we have survived and grown and developed our worldwide complexity of experience. 
Fuller gives the single most “simple” yet profound description of human society’s development I have ever read.  He describes how in the early days of humanity, everyone understood and knew just the tiny bit of Earth (sometimes just a few square miles) that they experienced in their short lives.  Through the development of sea travel and other means, certain humans began to understand that the world was much larger and much more varied than what they originally accepted.  The humans that could aggregate the most information, that understood the significance of wide ranging knowledge, became the leaders of the world.  Eventually, these “Great Pirates” as Buckminster Fuller calls them, controlled the entire world, utilizing resources in one area to make riches in another and to use those riches to control the populations of yet other areas of our Earth.  They placed kings and barons as titular heads of state, when in fact these rulers only did the bidding of the Great Pirates.  Because information was never readily available, and because the Great Pirates used their kings and leaders to forment nationalism and jingoism and fear of the unknown, they were able to control ever greater parts of the Earth, all the while leaving regular people to believe that their kings were valid rulers, that their laws were divinely inspired, and that they would do well to stay in their place, where they “belonged,” and never upset the status quo. 
These Great Pirates made sure to retain control by forcing the rest of the world into ever more specialized and niche positions.  The men who built their ships did not know what the men who sailed the ships knew, and they in turn did not know what the captains who controlled the ships knew, and they in turn did not know what the business men who financed these expeditions knew.  This was the first trick the Great Pirates understood to maintain their control, and it is still used to this day. 
Fuller describes how the fields of science had become ever-more specialized, until scientists began to realize the inter-connectivity of what they were doing.  Once you get small enough, all botany is biology, all biology is chemistry, and all chemistry is physics.  We are all atoms.  We are all energy.  Everything is interacting with everything else.  Nothing exists in vacuum, not even vacuums.  Einstein put the final nail in the coffin of scientific specialization with his simple equation describing the interchangeable relationship of matter to energy.  Because of this, Fuller states, the Old Great Pirates were fought and broken in the first World War.  After that, governments, the puppets that the Great Pirates had created to run their desires, assumed that they were in charge, and proceeded to try and gather up the power left behind by the demise of the Great Pirates.  This led directly to the second World War.  Specialization is the bane of human existence.  Those who focus on one thing, are blind to the other things that need attention.
Fuller describes how all the specialization ideas coalesced to fool mankind into thinking that not only are resources and wealth limited, but that they were inexorably running out.  This has helped create a mindset among human cultures that “we” must get what is coming to us, at the expense of “them,” that there is no way to share what there is to go around.  This is bullshit.  As an example, Fuller states how politicians and the powerful always claim that universal health care is too expensive, that there is too much cost involved in fixing the environment, that funding a truly capable universal education system is just too damned expensive.  However, a month later, when some tragic or terrible “threat” to a vague concept such as our “safety” or “freedom” arises, those same politicians will somehow find plenty of money to throw at the military, usually in amounts far more vast than what is needed to address the true problems.  It is horrible.
Fuller describes our current state.  He shows the lie that there is not enough to go around.  He understood that only by thinking BIG, but attempting to achieve a vast generalized knowledge, can humans keep from self-destructing.  We are all passengers upon Spaceship Earth.  We are al travelling through the cosmos, fed by the energy of our wonderful star, Sol.  In 1810, when the GDP of the USA was estimated to be 4 billion dollars, the idea that government should pay to fund inter-state roadways, universal schooling, or massive infrastructure changes was ludicrous.  However, since then, humans invented the means to converse through electricity, to fly at supersonic speeds, to travel through space, to see into the farthest reaches of our Universe, and a million other amazing things unthinkable back in 1810.  This shows us that what we deem unthinkable or undoable today is but an illusion.  This illusion must be destroyed if humanity is to continue on this wonderful planet. There is plenty of everything to go around.  It is all or nothing for humanity.  Either we thrive together, or we all die.  There is no need for 1 billion people to live in poverty, for 500 million to be nearly starving every day.  There may not be any more Great Pirates controlling the whole world, but the wanna-be Little Pirates continue to exert their undue influence. 
It is truly the sign of a great mind to be able to include all this and so much more in a book of barely 140 pages.  R. Buckminster Fuller is someone whose ideas need to be shared and spread to the world.  This small volume needs to be required reading for those that are entering a University-level education, to show them the need for generalized knowledge, and for responsible use of that knowledge.  Mind blowing stuff.  Like Buckminster Fuller, we must all be enthusiastic about mankind's "extraordinary and timely ingenuities."  They will save us all.

(This book can be downloaded in PDF format here :
designsciencelab.com/resources/OperatingManual_BF.pdf )

 

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