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October 3, 2001

no ideas but in Nature
R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was a self-described "comprehensivist" who took a long view of history and applied his abilities for the general good of humanity in whatever way was most relevant at the moment. He played the roles of poet, designer, architect, philosopher, inventor, and teacher, but he never categorized himself as any one of these things. He was above all an optimist, believing that technological advances would make resource scarcity a thing of the past, thus making systems born of an "us or them" mentality obsolete. Cooperation, not competition, would signify the next step of human evolution. To this end, he urged leaders of government and industry to focus not on weaponry, but on what he called "livingry"--the tools necessary to promote peace and prosperity for the entire planet's population. It was he who coined the term "Spaceship Earth" and introduced the concept of "One World Town," which inspired Marshall McLuhan's oft-quoted "Global Village."

Early experiences as a U.S. naval officer in WWI (which he later referred to as the first global civil war) and as president of an innovative construction company showed him that bureaucracies exist to preserve their own power and influence and thus often hinder the individual from fulfilling his or her vision. At the age of 32, he dropped out of society for a 2-year period of self-imposed silence, study, and meditation, after which he resolved not only to never again work for anyone else, but also to never let monetary considerations influence his choice of what to work on next. He deduced that if he worked for the good of humanity and Universe, all his needs would be provided for. "Leap and the net will appear." Time proved him correct.

His first significant invention was the Dymaxion Map, which for the first time presented a 2-dimensional view of Earth which did not distort the proportions of surface features. Also, rather than showing the typical sidelong equatorial view of land masses seemingly divided by bodies of water, he adopted a top-down view which showed the basic interconnectedness of all Earth's land, thus taking a vital early step in promoting a unified worldview. The Dymaxion Map's modular construction (similar to a tangram set) allowed the focal point to be shifted to any perspective. For example, putting the South Pole at its center shows unmistakably One World Ocean, not the outdated divisions which have persisted since the Age of "Discovery" 500 years past.

Fuller is perhaps best known for his invention of the geodesic dome, which is basically a hollow sphere constructed of triangular components, far stronger than any structure based on the right angle geometry which dominated architecture unquestioned for hundreds of years. The perfect simplicity of his design was later confirmed by virologists when they discovered that the hard shells of viruses are built the same way.

Again, this confirmed Bucky's notion that all ideas are in Nature, whether or not we consciously perceive them. He believed in ESP and intuition, convinced that our senses are underutilized (some as yet unknown) and constantly evolving. To Fuller, the only obstacle to progress was entrenched thought, the reflexive conditioning of institutions which create barriers to critical thinking and are skeptical of inspiration.

Fuller's epitaph reads simply: TRIM TAB. A trim tab is the tiny, trailing part of a ship's rudder. Slight pressure on the trim tab moves the rudder, which in turn directs the ship. In a recent editorial, Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner suggests that the events of 9/11 will be seen as the "pivot of history." We are all trim tabs, tiny pivots affecting the overall direction of humanity. As Fuller advised, it is time to take a long view. Zoom out, look at where we've been and where we might be going. See it? Now choose your path and act accordingly.

The speed of the "Twentieth Century Limited"
roaring by an observer at its trackside
may be reduced to a snail-like crawl
not by the observer's throwing a stop signal ahead,
which causes the engineer to throttle down,
but simply
through the seemingly irrelevant act
on the part of our observer
of zooming aloft
in a pursuit plane.

From this aeronautic viewpoint
as the horizon increases,
the relative speed of the train
through the observer's world
is diminished.

Thus do aviators regain daylight
after the sun has set.

So in super perspective to us
do the stars,
moving at thousands of times
the speed of the "Twentieth Century"
seemingly hang motionless in the night sky.

From, let us say, a
fifty-thousand foot sky vantage,
do events in the making,
from man's usual earth level viewpoint,
become readily predictable --
the flood lands ahead
which the train approaches.

But even as we after sunset
regain the sun
by flying aloft,
so may we regain observation
of events
long past to the man in the street; --
at least, gain accurate record
of the outstanding causes and effects
of those events --
of a many-mile wake in the water
soon to resolve.

Thus may we well comprehend
that since the important
causes and effects
never were visible
in historical scale
to the man at earth level,
his recording of history
was of necessity
naive, -- legendary, --
and full of fanciful misemphasis
on back-eddy flotsam edging the main streams.

But our sky-vantage reviewing
is summarily accompanied by a sense
not only of slow motion
of the events enacted,
but also of relative belittlement
in trend significance
of any precise time of impact,
or any direct agency act, --
in the consecutive push-over flows, --
to the greater import
of the over-all happenings themselves;
and to the clearly tracked passages
of past and hitherward trends
of over-lapping causes and results
which interplay to the horizon....

from Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization by Buckminster Fuller, 1962

Ask for it by name
                                                at your local library! Source: Buckminster Fuller's Universe: His Life and Work
by Lloyd Steven Sieden, 1989