The Buckminster Fuller Annual Memorial Lecture – 1997
The Buckminster Fuller Annual Memorial Lecture – 1997
(Introduction: I found many of Bucky’s writings to be pivotal in my education . So I decided to piece together those words that have had an tremendous impact on my life — and read them for you — as if Bucky were here. I think you will forever see the world in a whole new way.)
Specialist verses Comprehensivist
I thought her essay, Women in the Nineteenth Century, was so important that I published it in my book, Ideas and Tensegrities. When I heard that Aunt Margaret said, I must start with the universe and work down to the parts, I must have an understanding of it, that became a great drive for me. I saw that in my education I was being pushed to be a specialist – everybody is being pushed to specialize, to where they can’t be synergetic and can only know about the parts instead of the whole – I switched very vigorously; very deliberately, I became a comprehensivist.
Global Thinking and Planning
I was then sent to the United Stated Navy Academy. Then I became involved in the great transport operations that moved millions of people and supplies across the oceans of the world. This got me to thinking very big. I found the Navy was thinking in terms of the total world, of global planning, and that was an extraordinary experience for me.
Food for Humanity
When I came out of the Navy I went into Armour and Co.’s great packing house. They made me assistant export manager. I began thinking about the total foods of humanity around the world. You see how by this comprehensive anticipatory way of looking at things and thinking about the total needs of total man, I came a few years later to invent the words, Spaceship Earth. Because I began to think about the total planet as being as beautifully designed and equipped as a ship.
Think for Yourself
Anne came from a large family; she was the oldest of ten children. Her father, James Monroe Hewlett, was a prominent architect and he introduced me to the world of architecture. For the first time I met people who were building on the land. And for the first time there was a father again, who said to me, Don’t pay attention to what people say. What you think is the most important thing. Pay attention to your own thoughts.
Commit to Humanity
I had good cause with our first child to feel that children are endowed with a great deal more than many of us know, that every child may be born a genius but may simply be degeniused at an early age because parents and environment lack the ability to recognize these faculties. I said, I’m really going to give the rest of my life to the new young life. I pledged, both to the daughter who died and to the daughter now born, that I was committing myself to humanity.
I said, What can a little man effect toward such realizations in the face of the formidable power of great corporations, great states, and all their know-how, guns, monies, armies, tools and information? Then, self-answering: The individual can take initiatives without anybody’s permission. Only individuals can think, and can look for the principles manifest in their experiences that others may be overlooking because they are too preoccupied with how to please some boss or with how to earn money, how to take care of today’s bills. Only the individual disregards his fears and commits himself exclusively to reforming the human environment by developing tools that deal more effectively and economically with evolutionary challenges. Humans can participate -consciously and competently – in fundamental ways, to changes that are more favorable to human life. It became evident that the individual was the only one that could deliberately find the time to think in a cosmically adequate manner.
This was to be a fifty-year experiment to prove that man, like nature, was not a failure but a success; to rethink everything I knew. It was an experiment in which I myself was the guinea pig. I had to begin from the beginning. I had to find out what man has and see how it can be used for the advantage of others. I became convinced that we’re here for each other. Once I’d committed myself to that kind of program I had to expand what I’d already learned by a great deal, and unlearn a great deal that I had been taught was so that I’d found out was not so. And that was the most difficult discipline I took on. I scarcely spoke at all for two years. I couldn’t be completely free of words, but my wife had to talk to people for me. I didn’t want to say anything, make any sounds, until I was pretty sure what those sounds meant and why I wanted to use them. I had to make a complete disconnect in order to start my own thinking.
I said, how do we find out how to use our minds and experience to the highest advantage of others in the shortest possible time? That was the challenge. Out of this then, in due course, came a great many designs, because I said to myself, I must commit myself to reforming the environment and not man; being absolutely confident that if you give man the right environment, he will behave favorably. By employing the kinds of capabilities used in building a battleship, you do more with less. I’m convinced that by more with lessing we could take care of everybody and there need not be any suffering around the world.
I decided man was operating on a fundamental fallacy: that man was supposed to be a failure and therefore had to prove his right to live. Each man then said, I must show I can earn my living, and let other people go die. I decided the fallacy was that man was, in fact, designed to be an extraordinary success. His characteristics were just magnificent; what was needed was to discover the comprehensive patterns operating in the universe. The universe is a success. How could metaphysical man, using his mind, master the physical? Clearly, the possibility of a good life for any man depends upon the possibility of realizing it for all men I must be able to convert the resources of the earth, doing more with less, until I reach a point where we can do so much as to be able to service all men in respect to all their needs.
I review planetary resources in terms of today’s gained know-how, to see whether there’s any way we might be able to do much more with much less, to be able to take care of everybody. All political systems and wars based on scarcity would become obsolete. World Gaming is played, not like checkers against an enemy but against ignorance, inertia, and fear. The World Game proves that John Von Neumann’s theory of war gaming, which holds that one side or the other must ultimately die, either by war or starvation, is invalid and offers a heretofore unconsidered alternative way to play the war game in which, as in mountain climbing, the object is to find all the moves by which the whole field of climbers would win as each helped the other so that everyone reached the mountaintop successfully. I think of my World Game as a way to bypass politics, human ignorance, prejudice, and war and put the facts before man and the whole world to try to deal with them coherently. We have never so far made the attempt to take our collective destiny into our own hands, and shape it.
Malthus is Wrong
It could be, I thought to myself, that Malthus is really not pertinent today because he didn’t know, for instance, that we were going to have refrigeration. I said, What else did Malthus leave out? I began to inventory the many discoveries that were not available to him in 1810: there was no modern technology at all; no refrigeration; no production steel; no electromagnetics. He left out doing more with less. In 1917 I began to realize we actually had the possibility of doing so much with so little and might be able to take care of all humanity at the highest standard of living anyone has ever experienced, and to do it by 1985. And if we did that, the whole raison d’etre of war would disappear.
Be a Trim Tab
I would never try to reform man – that’s much too difficult. What I would do was to try to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions. It’s like the principle of a ship’s rudder, which is something I thought a lot about as a boy here on Bear Island. The interesting thing about a rudder is that the ship has already gone by, all but the stern; and you throw the rudder over, and what you’re really doing is making a little longer distance for the water to go round. In other words, you’re putting a low pressure on the other side, and the low pressure pulls the whole stern over and she takes a new direction. The same in an airplane – you have this great big rudder up there, with a little tiny trim tab on the trailing edge; and by moving that little trim tab to one side or the other, you throw a low pressure that moves the whole airplane. And so I said to myself, I’m just an individual, I don’t have any capital to start things with, but I can learn how to throw those low pressures to one side or the other, and this should make things go in preferred directions, and, while I can’t reform man, I just may be able to improve his environment a little. But in order to build up those low pressures I’m going to have to really know the truth.The child is really the trim tab of the future.
I do know that technologically humanity now has the opportunity, for the first time in it’s history, to operate our planet in such a manner as to support and accommodate all humanity at a substantially more advanced standard of living than any humans have ever experienced. This is possible not because we have found more physical resources. We have always had enough resources. What has happened that now makes the difference is that we have vastly increased our know-how of specialized innovations, all of which invisible realization integrates to make possible success for all. I also know that this can be realized only by a technological revolution involving total Spaceship Earth, using all the resources and know-how as an integrated regenerative system, as in the design of any successful seagoing ship or any biological organism.
Spaceship Earth now has 150 admirals. The five admirals in the staterooms immediately above the ship’s fuel tanks claim that they own the oil. The admirals with staterooms surrounding the ship’s kitchen, dining rooms, and food refrigerators claim they own all the food. Those with a stateroom next to a lifeboat claim that they own the lifeboat, and so forth. They then have an onboard game called balance of trade. Very shortly the majority of admirals have a deficit balance. All the while the starboard-side admirals are secretly planning to list the boat to port far enough to drown the portside admirals, while the portside admirals are secretly trying to list the boat to starboard far enough to drown the starboard-side admirals. Nobody is paying attention to operating the ship or steering it to some port. They run out of food and fuel. They discover that they can no longer reach a port of supply.
Thinking about humanity on board our planet, the Spaceship Earth, and playing the World Game, I became fascinated by the question, How do we get energy from here to there to help each other? If you look at the world map, you could see, not only crossing time zones and reaching Alaska, where the Russians are putting up dams, hydroelectric dams, in all their northerly flowing waters – all the way over there! I suddenly found I could reach the Russian network -1,500 miles. Boy! This would mean something because of all that standby power – that is, at off-peak times when 50 percent of the generating capacity is not being used. I found then that by integrating these networks to produce a global energy grid, we could integrate night and day and double the generating capacity operative around the world – immediately.
Why Utilities Link
The best customers that power companies have are industries. And they discovered that to hold their industrial customers, public utilities had to anticipate increased uses, for if the industrial customers turned on the juice and didn’t get it from the public utility, they’d go and put in their own energy production plants. So the utility company had to study the needs of their customers, and they have the most incredibly accurate charts of when the peak loads come in every day of the year, every minute of the day. The utilities have standby power for peak hours. This excess power is always being generated at a loss – a complete loss. But the company discovered that if it hooked up its wires with the next town’s, where the peak loads occur at just a little different time of day or night, what had been a complete loss could go over there and become a profit. With interlinked networks, the loss could be turned to a profit. But within 350 miles, the company couldn’t cross time zones. When it reached 1,500 miles, it suddenly was able to go right across the time zone to a different peak time; which meant of course, that there was a much better chance of selling that standby power.
Trudeau and USSR
In early years of Trudeau’s premiership of Canada, when he was about to make his first visit to Russia, I gave him my world energy network grid plan, which he presented to Brezhnev, who turned it over to his experts. On his return to Canada Trudeau reported to me that the experts had come back to Brezhnev with: feasible…desirable I therefore predict that before the end of the 1980s the computer’s politically unbiased problem-solving prestige will have brought about the world’s completely integrated electrical – energy network grid. This world electric grid, with it’s omni-integrated advantage, will deliver its electric energy anywhere, to anyone, at any time, at one common rate. This will make possible a world-around uniform costing and pricing system for all goods and services based realistically on the time-energy metabolic accounting system of Universe.
When Buckminster Fuller was asked by a 12-year-old boy, How do you suggest solving international problems without violence? He answered:
“I always try to solve problems by some artifact, some tool or invention that makes what people are doing obsolete, so that it makes this particular kind of problem no longer relevant. My answer would be to develop a world energy grid, an electric energy grid where everybody is on the same grid. All of a sudden there would be no problems anymore, no international troubles. Our new economic basis wouldn’t be gold or dollars; it would be kilowatt hours.”
The world energy network grid will be responsible for the swift disappearance of planet Earth’s 150 different nationalities. We now have 150 supreme admirals, all trying to command the same ship to go in different directions, with the result that the ship is going around in circles – getting nowhere. The 150 nations act as 150 blood clots in blocking the flow of recirculating metals and other traffic essential to realization of the design science revolution.
World’s Highest Priority
Electrical-energy integration of the night and day regions of the Earth will bring all the capacity into use at all times, thus overnight doubling the generating capacity of humanity because it will integrate all the most extreme night and day peaks and valleys. From the Bering Straits, Europe and Africa will be integrated westwardly through the U.S.S.R., and China, Southeast Asia; India will become network-integrated southwardly through the U.S.S.R. Central and South America will be integrated southwardly through Canada, the U.S.A., and Mexico.
Graphs of each of the world’s 150 nations showing their twentieth-century histories of inanimate energy production per capita of their respective populations together with graphs of those countries’ birthrates show without exception that the birthrates decrease at exactly the same rate that the per capita consumption of inanimate electrical energy increases. The world’s population will stop increasing when and if the integrated world electrical energy grid is realized. This grid is the World Game’s highest priority objective.
Not You or Me
In 1970 it could, for the first time, be engineeringly demonstrated that, applying the most advances know-how to the conservation and use of the world’s resources, we can, within ten years of from-killingry-to-livingry reoriented world production, have all humanity enjoying a sustainably higher standard of living that any humans have ever heretofore experienced. It could further be demonstrated that we can do this while simultaneously phasing out all further Earthians’ use of fossil fuels and atomic energy.
Humanity is so specialized and these epochally significant technological facts are so invisible that it seems an almost hopeless matter to adequately inform humanity that from now on, for the first time in history, it does not have to be you or me -there is now enough for both- and to convince humanity of this fact in time to permit it to exercise its option and save itself.
Integrity of Everyone
Now we’ve reached the point of discovering that muscle is nothing, mind is everything. Evolution is integrating us and we’re no longer so remote from each other. Clearly we are here to use our minds, to be information gatherers in the local universe, problem solvers in relation to the maintenance of the integrity of the eternally regenerative universe. Muscle is nothing; mind is everything. But muscle is still in control of human affairs. In about ten years, if we come out with muscle in control, we will have chosen oblivion; if we come out with mind in control, it’s going to be utopia and eternity. Yes, we do have the option to make it, but it’s absolutely touch and go, a matter of the integrity of every human being from now on.
What Can I Do?
Each year I receive and answer many hundreds of unsolicited letters from youth anxious to know what the little individual can do. One such letter from a young man named Michael – who is ten years old – asks whether I am a doer or a thinker.
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see needs to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done – that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others.
You have what is most important in life-initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.
Presentation By: Peter Meisen
President, Global Energy Network Institute
Fuller’s Earth, Richard J. Brenneman, St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
Buckminster Fuller: An Autobiographical Monologue Scenario, Robert Snyder
Critical Path, Fuller and Kuromiya
Peter Meisen is a San Diego native and Money & You® Graduate, Mr. Meisen founded Global Energy Network Institute (GENI) to investigate Buckminster Fuller’s premier global strategy — the electrical interconnection of renewable energy resources around the world. This solution has been called one of the most thoughtful strategies in solving many of the world’s problems.
To contact GENI:
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