Bucky’s Legacy

Why R. Buckminster Fuller’s Great Vision for “Spaceship Earth” Lives On

He coined: “Spaceship Earth” (and wrote an instruction manual)
He invented: the geodesic dome
He predicted: the Information Age
He pioneered: recycling and nanotechnology
He exhorted: think global, act local

While still a young man, R. Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) fell into despair after the failure of his building company and the death of his little daughter. He wanted to end it all. “But,” as he later recounted, “I said to myself, ‘You do not belong to you, therefore you do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You belong to the universe.’” He was taking long walks through the city… “Suddenly I found myself with my feet not touching the pavement…in a sort of sparkling kind of sphere… And I heard a voice… saying, ‘From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought…’ (I wasn’t going according to my own thinking, but was following everyone else’s criteria”) (Snyder, Robert. Buckminster Fuller: An Autobiographical Monologue/Scenario. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1980, p. 35).

Ever since his decision to commit egocide instead of suicide, Fuller went on to become, arguably, the greatest prophet and myth-buster of the twentieth century. He was so ahead of his time that despite his arrested academic career (he bolted Harvard—twice! He ultimately received 47 honorary doctorates.

To get past “humanity’s general reluctance to let go of nonsense,” Bucky often found himself coining new words, like “comprehensivity,” which meant seeing the big picture and instilling this outlook in the minds of the very young. He thought education (freed of the push toward specialization) was on track to become the most important world industry.

Surely there were ways to develop “our beautiful minds… in time to save humanity from self-annihilation… It will be possible for children at home with closed-circuit TV documentaries… to do valid nuclear physics formulations at kindergarten age” (Zung, Thomas T.K., Ed. Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for the New Millennium. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2001, p. 115, 105–6).

You can always tell a genuine futurologist from a wannabe: The real deal puts children up front. The “de-geniusing” of our kids was one of Bucky’s keenest beefs. Yet that comprehensivity extended also to women and every underclass on the planet. In RBF’s futuristic writings you find constant repetition of the phrase, “100% of humanity,” usually in the context of enlightened strategies that equally benefit all of mankind. And although this is one of my (Susan’s) own leitmotifs, I hardly knew anything about Buckminster Fuller until I met Bil Becker.

Bil was in Bucky’s inner circle in the 1970s; at one point Bil, as a young professor, introduced him to an audience of 10,000 at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Architect, engineer, and iconoclast (who but a free spirit would dare to drop the gratuitous L in Bill?), Bil invented the aeroturbine (the first “urban turbine”) and is among the pioneers who brought solar and wind power out of the mountains and deserts and into the cities. Let’s get our discussion going by turning this over to Bil.

Bil: In 1970, RBF gave a prediction and warning to me (I was 29) at a dinner in Chicago. He said, “Well, the Vietnam War is going to finally end soon, but there will be decades of Oil Wars to come in the Middle East. These will be quite dangerous because of the ancient traditions of patriarchy and religion that elevate the Warrior. There, vengeance is a virtue. Very dangerous!”

As Bucky saw it, our conflicts in the Middle East began in 1953 when the first democratically elected president of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, was captured in a coup and put under house arrest where he remained until his death in 1967. Why was he a threat? It is because he had successfully nationalized the British and American oil industries in Iran. This displeased the business elite that, with the help of covert agencies from the UK and USA, created artificial uprisings and engineered the coup that ousted Mossadegh. “This,” Bucky reasoned, “was like having some foreign power come into our early republic and put our first president, George Washington, under house arrest! This underhanded business in Iran was the beginning of the hatred now growing against the West in the Middle East.”

Bucky said all this in 1970, while we were in Vietnam. Many of us still faced the draft, and none of us understood why he was talking about oil and events in the Middle East. During this period, at dinners in Chicago, Bucky also reminded us of President Eisenhower’s warning, in his 1960 farewell speech, about the Military Industrial Complex. Bucky would say, in an almost intimate grandfatherly way—hands together and elbows on the table as if praying, “You youngsters don’t realize the power of those interests that emerged after World War II—the corporate interests fixed on the profitability of advanced armaments and paid for, no less, with the hard-earned tax dollars of the average American.

Eisenhower, our leading general during that war, saw how much political power these interests had gained after the war and how they helped push us, first, into the Korean and then the Vietnam War. “These,” Bucky averred, “are the same interests behind what I call ‘killingry’ (advanced weaponry)… My hope is that each of you will focus your talents on ‘livingry,’ which includes humane technologies that enhance life instead of bringing more death. Be warned: The killingry interests are always into the mischief of resolving problems through war.”

Bucky had little respect for powerful politicians. He was always talking about how Big Money, particularly “war bucks,” could corrupt most politicians. To him, the combination of Middle East oil and the Military Industrial Complex was tantamount to “open lakes of gasoline… near a very dry book of matches! A very dangerous combination!”

Indeed, with the intercession of the USA and the selling of arms to both Iran and Iraq in 1982—adding fuel to the fires of the Iran-Iraq War—Bucky’s 1970 prediction began taking shape. And here we are in 2016 after more than three decades of Oil Wars, and there is no end in sight. Bucky’s sad prediction is coming all too true.

I saw him get quite upset at times, sometimes giving in to a full-bore rant. In 1969, a colleague and I traveled to hear him speak at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Those were the years of major protests against the Vietnam War, and as we entered the lecture hall there were large signs saying things like “Technology is Evil.” By the time we were seated, Bucky had moved to the edge of the stage and was spouting fire. It seemed to be part of a heated discussion he was having with the students. He said, “Technology is not evil! It can liberate us! It is only a question of whether you support the technologies of weaponry and killingry or those of liberation and livingry.”

Finally, he moved from being the angry, scolding grandfather back to the podium and into the role of lecturer. Hands together, he took a deep breath and started again. “Right here,” he said, “at this great university, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln convinced Congress to start a Land Grant school of agriculture. So they began to study mechanized agriculture. A few years later, the first steam tractors appeared, with this university at the forefront of their development. In many ways this was the beginning of livingry.

“So many wars in history were fought over access to better farmland; but now—as agriculture became mechanized with tractors, trucks and conveyors—huge changes were in store: the new technology proved revolutionary. Families could grow enough food for themselves, and indeed for hundreds of others. This very university and Lincoln’s other Land Grant schools created a worldwide farming revolution that continues to this day.

“And the great bulk of workers affected by this revolution in livingry were women and children, who were previously bound to the land. The backbone of patriarchy (since the time of Christ) was broken: women and children could now operate one of Henry Ford’s lightweight new tractors, and till, fertilize and harvest as capably as any man.”

Next came refrigeration, preserving perishable foods, in both storage and transportation; and the next wave of liberation came through rural electricity. Leisure time would become a reality on farms and homesteads across the planet, and ‘Brains over Brawn’ was the keynote—as the status of mechanic and welder rose above that of the ‘straw boss’ and muscular ‘overseer.’

“All these changes brought a great shift in culture. Factories sprang up in the cities, and many farm families moved to urban centers to seek a better future. Family size began to shrink. Population growth in the advanced nations declined…” And then Bucky made a truly illuminating statement for me: “There is no ‘overpopulation problem’, there is just an opportunity to educate and liberate women being missed.”

And that set off another rant, one he would often return to: “It was Thomas Malthus, in 1798… who started all this nonsense about ‘overpopulation’ and our world running out of food… The Central Banks would use this rationale to convince the world that there was and would always be a crisis in food production versus population. Thus was created the modern myths of scarcity and the need for eternal war (and eternal profits). Malthus and Charles Darwin, fathers of this bogus ‘scarcity’ model, lived, of course, before the invention of the steam tractor and refrigeration. “Their totally outdated ideas of scarcity, overpopulation, universal doom and gloom have nonetheless remained and become a kind of religion. Enter the Social Darwinists who (working with the early Nazis) then seized upon all this fear mongering: exploitation, imperialism, racism and Eugenics all engaged this spurious scheme. When Rudolph Hess went to England to negotiate a Nazi-Darwinist merger, Winston Churchill grabbed him and nipped the deal in the bud; Hess was only released later to stand trial in Nuremberg.

“Every apologist for War and killingry uses this same claptrap to stir up trouble. Many leading economists, who should know better, still parrot this twaddle; both Communism and Capitalism are based on it. Darwin’s Dog-Eat-Dog world and the Survival-of-the-Fittest are the sacred hymns of this ill begotten credo. But remember, with every woman we liberate and educate—a goal inimical to the hyper-paternalistic Darwinists—we come another step closer to population control and the stabilization of society” (http://www.ozy.com/acumen/world-population-decline/4357).

In Bucky’s acclaimed book Critical Path (St. Martin’s Press, 1981, p. 207), he shows five intriguing charts demonstrating the links between birthrates and energy production from 1957–1979. In each of these illustrations is shown that the higher the level of growth in energy production, the lower the growth in population.

Bucky was decades ahead of the trends and data. Today, 33 years after his death, population in the postmodern world is declining. The number of women now entering college in the USA is equal to men, and by 2020 their number will exceed men (Diprete, T.A. & Buchmann, Claudia. The Rise of Women. NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2013). As farming technology becomes more efficient, and as the Information Age, which Bucky also predicted, expands worldwide, war itself boils down to the effete struggle of a violent patriarchy taking names like ISIS. Cui bono? No one—only entrenched and misogynist autocracies who are all in the ‘killingry’ business, even murdering their own wives and daughters and sisters for “honor’s” sake.

On several occasions, Bucky spoke of the coming “rise of women” which was bound to intimidate and antagonize men from rigid traditional cultures. Just 70 years ago, it was only rich women who could go to college. Now millions are not only part of the workforce but have many options for learning and training.

We remember, too, Bucky’s rants against the so-called scarcity of energy. He would often start a talk by saying: “There isn’t any energy crisis. It’s simply a crisis of ignorance!”

Early in the 1970s, I was trained to give presentations of what Bucky called “The World Game.” Created as a “team activity,” these efforts brought vast packages of information together to form visionary scenarios that would benefit nothing less than 100% of humanity. See Bucky’s Dymaxion Sky-Ocean World Map. This unique patented map is the most accurate (undistorted) way of showing all the world’s land masses within an overall world ocean.

Most World Game scenarios involved the deployment of wind generators attached to a single global energy grid (see http://www.GENI.org today). Much of this was summarized in the book, Energy, Earth, and Everyone: A Global Energy Strategy for Spaceship Earth, by Medard Gabel (Simon and Schuster, 1975). RBF observed, “Within a 100-mile radius a wind is always blowing. Windmills around the world, converting their direct current into alternating current and feeding the electric energy into the network can…adequately supply all the world’s energy needs.” (Critical Path, 208; See also http://hint.fm/wind/. It’s interactive!).

President Jimmy Carter, who advocated numerous alternate energy schemes, admired and met with RBF several times; and with Carter’s creation of the U.S. Department of Energy in 1977, the effort began in earnest to build the large wind generators needed for utility company power. In fulfillment of RBFs predictions, Carter’s funding of the necessary R&D led to today’s trillion-dollar worldwide wind industry.

In 2005, Stanford University researchers generated large-scale maps showing the amount of wind power available for tapping: it was over 72 terawatts in electrical energy capacity. Today the entire world’s installed capacity is just over 18 terawatts. So, in a nutshell, our planet’s wind power capacity exceeds current installed electric power capacity by four times! And there will be no losers or underprivileged in this scheme. Clean energy on behalf of 100% of humanity, I believe, is doable.

Nevertheless, tremendous entrenched interests conspire and work against wind power and solar energy. Many continue to push polluting fossil fuels that contaminate air and water, constantly peddling false fears and factoids in order to provoke War and killingry as the ultimate solution!

As predicted by Bucky before he died in 1983, “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment… Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in the U

By Susan Martinez and Bil Becker