GENERAL: Richard Buckminster Fuller. [Long!]

From: IN%"[email protected]" "List for the discussion of Buckminster Fulle
s works" 15-SEP-1992 22:32:25.13
To: Howard Lawrence <[email protected]>
Subj: History, Industrialization and Political Agenda

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Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1992 22:10:29 -0400
From: Gary Lawrence Murphy <[email protected]>
Subject: History, Industrialization and Political Agenda
Sender: List for the discussion of Buckminster Fuller's works
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To: Howard Lawrence <[email protected]>
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Big topics (whew!) and Big Guns --- I hope I'm not out so far I crack
the limb I stand on! :-)

In the latecomer's corner, we have Robert Holder (RH) and Karl Vogel
(KV), and I want to thank both for playing Devil's Advocate as they
raise many of the typical reactions of those unfamiliar with Fuller's

To begin with a common misconception, Robert writes:
RH> although the little reading of fuller's work I have done has
RH> left me impressed and excited, I sadly do not see his (and
RH> other bright thinkers) ideas being taken up by the people who
RH> have the reins in their hands.

This points to one of the most powerful aspects of Fuller's Earth. In
mathematical circles they will say new ideas do not conquer, they grow;
older rank and file have too much vested interest in the status quo and
are reluctant to change, whereas the youth are already disadvantaged in
the status quo and have little to fear. Taking chances, they make
discoveries. Having made the discovery, they seek to comprehend it,
and in discovery and comprehension, mistakes are implicit. In making
mistakes, whole new vistas appear. The people with the reins in their
hands are not immortal. This situation has not changed in anyone's
recorded history.

RH> This suggests to me that good ideas about how to run the systems
RH> are only part of the solution.

Fuller talked about 'gestation periods' and went to great pains to
measure these in all aspects of human endeavour. For example, the
time between discovery and wide-spread use in the computer hardware
business is about 2 years. In housing it is about 50. For this
reason, Fuller was unconcerned with 'commercial success' and more
intent on making the discovery, thus setting inevitables in motion.
Look around at the new mini-vans, then hark back to the Dymaxion Car

Fuller had another 'rule' about the spread of knowledge: wide-spread
conversions only occur at crisis periods. When human beings first
notice old habits are not being successful, first they do them again,
HARDER, and only as a last resort do they change, but changing and
adapting _is_ what we, as creatures, do best.

RH> How do you get access to military budget control?

Who needs it. Let the boys play with their toys. They sow their own
downfall, and in the precess, their spending fantastically grants us
all benefits (if they don't kill us, that is). Even Somalians who
won't make it through tonight have benefited in their lives by the
Military Rule that now strangles them: the Hawks have left literate
soldiers, airports, roads, mechanics and engineers in their wake. As
the youth grow themselves into higher positions, we may even someday
see there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Military ways and begin
just as earnestly applying them toward Livingry.

The same is true of Corporate controls, and we should keep in mind here
that Corporate money and power are _not_ identical with American
Interests; a glance at your Forbes listings will show you most of the
money has long since moved off-shore and is American only in their
pretentiously flying the flag in front of their Bermuda towers. Still,
as is evidenced in several industries like computers and electronics,
even the densest executive can see how the bottom line benefits from

There are two sides to the industrial equation, cost and return. If
you can cut the cost you win, and if you boost the return you win.
World-distribution means world-scale manufacturing and lower costs.
World-sales means volume increase, and as technology and communications
adapt, world-sales requires as much or less effort than local sales,
the return is up, and you win. If you double the length of your ship,
the surface area of drag against the engines is quadrupled, but the
capacity increases eight-fold. If you can get your 'competitor' to add
your products, their sales staff is yours, and you win, and they win
because that is one item they no longer have the overhead or risks in
making, and their line seems expanded. Chrysler and Mitsubushi, Coke
and McDonalds. Grade school math, well within the reach of even a

RH> I see communism as a totalitarian system ...
RH> my conversations with people from the soviet union ...

Just an aside here, I don't think I ever said anything about communism
being any better, but for the record, I'd say Soviet Communism was as
communist as American Capitalism was capitalist. Both are to each as
Tang is to orange juice. In science we say nothing is ever a failure,
as it can always be used as a bad example. I found Chomsky's remarks
about the two really being the same system amusing: he felt it would be
so easy to 'flip' our perceptions and have them as friends or enemies
as politics demand.

But back to Fuller (who is a lot more fun and a lot less nasty than
Chomsky), there is, in all his visions of the future, an implicit
'force' he called Second-Class Evolution. First-Class is what gave us
the posable thumb and our information-storing, pattern-distilling,
sensory-filtering and contrast-enhancing brain. Second class is just
as oblivious to where we think we are going or why. Second Class
evolution brought you world-literacy, airports, railways, highways,
medicine (from not wanting to "send the boys home" from Europe or 'Nam,
preferring to patch them there, put them back on-line, and pocket the
cost of shipping in a replacement) ... a pretty impressive list even
for the Amazon farmer and his german-steel knife.

RH> I'm sorry Gary, although I feel I did learn some things from your
RH> posts, and the other posts, and I appreciate the suggested reading
RH> material (which will definitely go on my list) I feel compelled to
RH> say that this "well what are YOU doing about it" is a copout and
RH> distraction from the issue: WHERE did the problem come from? WHO
RH> is responsible? Is this problem the result of INTENTIONAL ACTS?

No, searching for causes is the cop-out. Passing the buck to people
who are no longer in office is a cop-out. Rolling up your sleaves and
saying, "Ok, what needs to be done" is the only reasonable option.

RH> you should find the ten foot hole in the ship before you try to bail
RH> with a teaspoon.

We found the hole: it is called Apathy and Sloth. We found the patch,
it is called Doing What Needs To Be Done. Bad news is, you still only
get a teaspoon, but if you remember the story about Stone Soup, you
will see why those like myself, struggling for years, get excited to
see newcomers like you wander up and say, "Yeah, sure, but _where_ did
that stone come from?" If you've brought some carrots, I'll fill your
head with magic stone stories ;-)

RH> In the meantime, I will continue to HELP the people
RH> I KNOW how I CAN. I hope you are not asking me to account for myself
RH> in that way; that would REALLY bum me out, because then we have
RH> degenerated to a level where a LOT of energy will be wasted in words.

Please, do your own accounting! The point is, each time we add a pair
of hands to the task, the work goes a little faster. Does the
missionary stop working with lepers because he cannot cure them? It
was once said that when you believe you will fail, and then try
unsuccessfully, you must suffer twice. Is it not better to just try
and suffer only once? And what if, as the evidence suggests, we _are_
succeeding? There is always more than we can ever know, knowledge is
like that, and I personally do not believe in 100th monkey business;
information theory is enough to explain exponential growth.

RH> I can say that I AM going to keep "trying", but my view of what I should
RH> "try" for has changed dramatically, comprehensively, and negatively.

This is not really our concern here. Read David K Reynolds and meet
me over on sci.psychology ;-)

RH> What I mean is: do we still live in a world that can be saved?

All the time! It is what is called the 'human condition' and I have
yet to find any evidence it has ever been otherwise; Buddha's last
words were, "Strive on with dilligence."

RH> Perhaps it is frustrating to you that someone who is hardly familiar with
RH> fuller's works shows up and starts shooting his mouth off... I came here
RH> hoping to get fuller's ideas in your own words, to help me make up
RH> my mind about the world's predicament and how I will approach it.

And you asked excellent questions and posed excellent problems, thank
you! I look forward to hearing your reactions to Fuller's plans once
you've look at the proper references, and I hope I haven't biased you
against them with my arrogant noviceness.

Karl also wrote about the 'motivation' required to put Fuller's vision
in motion, and I'd like to state first that I see 'motivation' as a
circular argument: we say he was 'motivated' to write because we saw
his posting; we say he posted because he was 'motivated'. I only
believe in doing, because from the doing I have empirical evidence.

Any, on to Karl's concerns ...

KV> I'm doing my best not to quote you out of context. The highlighted
KV> phrases above indicate that you don't mean effort alone, but
KV> productive effort on the part of an individual. Not all individuals
KV> are motivated to be productive; I believe very highly in Theory Y
KV> management, and I don't think that people like that constitute
KV> anything like a majority, but they do exist.

Let's clear up a myth. It goes like this: the world's output grows
arithmetically while population (because it is so much fun) grows
exponentially, ego, we will always need strong armed forces to meter
the resources to ensure it is not stolen, and those that do the
metering are to be rewarded because of their noble position.

Malthus gave us this in 1605 (or so) and then it was true. Fuller was
asked to do the same study Malthus had done (for the same reason: the
Navy wanted to know), but his conclusion was very different. Malthus
lived in a time with little communication and virtually no technology
beyond shipbuilding and even that done by methods traditional for

Malthus could not have been expected to recognize the slow growth in
the science of his time as the beginnings of an exponential curve. He
could not forsee mass-production, plastic injection-moulding,
freeze-drying... all those leaps in our living standards Fuller
described as 'ephemerialization', the getting of ever more performance
for ever less investment. Marx, too, could not have forseen that the
invention of the refridgerator would obsolesce the need for the worker
to be near the source of food production, and in these modern times of
Knowledge Power, the clear trend is to dump land-holdings.

In Fuller's future, no one cares if someone wants to be unproductive
(and in my experience from studying Morita therapy, this feeling
normally passes of its own or can be dispelled by Naikan reflections
unless the person is being externally reinforced)

KV> I get damned resentful when I see someone who thinks the world
KV> owes him some kind of living just because he has a body temp of 98.6.

Like I said, I find this most often a passing feeling, but let's
suppose you are right and people really can be labelled for life (what
a thought!). Who cares. If there is more than enough to go around,
let them veg-out and die off. We'll even feed and clothe them just to
be nice, as there is no shortage and it would otherwise go to waste.

Anecdotally, when my wife was in traditional psychotherapy, I was
talking to my Morita teacher about how she was being led to believe
she was 'damaged' and somehow so inferior, the best she could do was
laze about all day, visit friends when she wanted to, eat, sleep or do
whatever she wanted whenever. In my anguish, I felt a little jealous,
or so I thought, and asked why shouldn't she want to continue like
that, not a care or responsibility in the world. My teacher, a Zen
nun by profession, leaned forward and asked me, "Would you?". No.
I'd get restless and start doing. Periods of unemployment are always
my busiest, and I still search in vain for a job that doesn't
interfere with my work ;-)

KV> You make a comment later in this post that the most important job
KV> will be that of Consumer. Where does that leave the Producer of all
KV> this wealth? Where is all this wealth going to come from?

From the result of that industrial equation, in fact, the result is
already here, we are just waiting for the Old Boys to kick off and
leave it to us. We are waiting until enough of us have positions
where the decisions are made. Why do you thing the market-place is
suddenly after your "green" dollars? Conservation and ecology are not
really new concerns, it's just the Boomers now have the checkbooks.

KV> Gary> Why do we have repressive regimes? Greed.
KV> "Greed" in this case is desire for political power, which is not
KV> necessarily the same thing as economic power. I'm paraphrasing Ayn
KV> Rand here, but if you can't tell the difference between the power of a
KV> gun and the power of a dollar, then you deserve to learn the
KV> difference on your own hide.

Not very convincing argument coming from a country where the military
is most often used to protect economic interests (in the name of the
economy or trade liberty).

KV> Gary> Why do we have have-nots? Greed.
KV> I'm sorry, but not everything on earth is the fault of greed. I'm
KV> quite greedy, and I've never done one thing to keep anyone in the
KV> ghetto from getting out of the ghetto.

I don't know what you sell, but imagine if all those ghetto kids
bought one! Then see if you can understand why Japanese companies are
wooing third-world markets by picking up the tab on their debt
(although I've never understood how we could plunder their countries
for centuries and then say they owe us money)

KV> These goods and the capital you speak of don't come out of thin air;
KV> they need Producers to bring them into existence. Some producers are
KV> motivated by a desire to improve the human condition, but I guarantee
KV> you that quite a few are not; they are more interested in their little
KV> corner of the world, and there is no reason they shouldn't be.

I will go further and propose even the altruistic ones are doing it
for themselves. If you read what I write, there is room for this to
spare. The motivation will be wealth, and the surprise will be the
gains from making others wealthy: Everybody wins.

KV> I am not some reactionary pining away for the good old days of the
KV> robber-barons, but I am a capitalist and proud of it. I'm well aware
KV> of what cooperation between individuals can do; the Internet is the
KV> most astounding example of such cooperation I've ever seen. I do my
KV> work for two reasons; love and money. I'm paid well to be a
KV> programmer, but I'd be flattered as hell if the folks at (say) the GNU
KV> Project would include something I wrote as part of their free software
KV> base. The only reason they would have to accept something of mine is
KV> recognition of its merit, and that means more to me than money.

Exactly. And if you no longer had that need for money? Here's what
McLuhan saw coming: Banks like to tally interest (see Fuller for
reasons why), and Industry likes to see capital in motion; it is the
motion of the goods that makes the world-society function, and the
motion off the capital that currently hooks the gamblers (although, to
be fair, and again read into Fuller for why, the very act of
incorporation removes all the risk from this sort of gambling).

The banks will soon see it is better to have clientele in debt than
solvent, and they will realize, as industrialization streamlines and
guaranteed-income becomes neccessary, most anyone will always be able
to "pay-off" on their loans. The Banks will stumble along for a few
decades tracking the individual balances, but soon they will notice
that those few who default by dying with a debt are easily offset by
the increased volume of the trading. They will play their papergames
all day, and the average joe will just put his card in an ATM and take
what he thinks he needs. WE ALREADY HAVE THIS! Banks, in the history
of banking, have never been so lax with bad debts, and in much of the
world, they can't even do anything about it.

Back to GNU, what do you need to do today toward getting your package
in their catalogue?

KV> Gary> Welfare would also be obsolete, and all the kids material needs met.
KV> How this is going to happen without some disguised redistribution
KV> scheme is beyond me.

I am beginning to see that we already have much of this in a disguised
form. As the volume of data records increases, Welfare is finding it
increasing difficult to track its clients. As governments start to
recognize how the Giants have bled them into bankruptcy, I think
Welfare will wither and vanish, but I also think the corporations may
just recognize the industrial equation factors and take the Japanese
lead in extending the benefits to employees. What I see as the ugly
possiblity is this producing an elitism such as in Vonnegut's Player
Piano, but I think the overwhelming advantages of wealth distribution
will make this at most a temporary last-stand of the Dinosaurs.

KV> I most certainly do want a say in which behaviours have official
KV> sanction. I hope I'm not misunderstanding you here; feel free to
KV> correct me if I am. I wish to be free to produce, and to keep the
KV> right to dispose of what I produce. That's the definition of a free
KV> man. If that makes me a witch-hunter, so be it; I'm a witch-hunter.

Sorry if you took this as such. No, I was taking exception to the
notion of passing out punishment for crimes of non-conformity, and I
think it was said before that North America, while by no means free of
this sort of oppression, is by no means the world leader. This, of
course, ignores the stat placing the US now above South Africa for
prisoners per capita, but I'd still say the US maximum-security
prisoners are probably better served than many less serious offenders
in other countries.

Anyway, I have strayed very far afield from trying to portray a
strictly Fuller's Eye View, but I hope I have at least interested you
enough to check a few books out of the library. In a nutshell, for
the sake of the concerns of these letters, I would say Fuller's view
is not anti-anything in a political sense, as Fuller did not believe
in partisan politics --- true and lasting revolution always comes from
technology and the future comes to those who can master it.

Gary Lawrence Murphy -- [email protected] -- (613) 230-6255
"The present moment is a powerful goddess." - Goethe
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