BUCKMINSTER FULLER: DESIGNER OF A NEW WORLD 1895-1983
looks out at the world through a "tensegrity"
model (1971, Courtesy of the Boston Public
Library, Print Department)
Richard Buckminster Fuller, who discovered the most
economical way of being able to use space, was born
in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1895. A Unitarian, he attended
Milton Academy, Harvard College, and the U.S. Naval
Academy in Annapolis. However, he found that formal
education got in the way of his being able to educate
himself to the full potentiality of the powers that
were within him.
When one of the senior members
of The Architects Collaborative in Harvard Squarean
area which is noted for its architectsfound
out that Buckminster Fuller was going to be recorded
for national public television and radio broadcast
at the historic Meeting House of the First Parish
in Cambridge, he said, "I think he is the Thomas Alva
Edison of our time." Marshall McLuhan called Bucky
"the 20th century Leonardo da Vinci."
Nonetheless, Buckminster Fuller was no mere
technological inventor; his thought has profoundly
affected our awareness of the amazing, emerging social
and environmental potential of humanity.
It's important to note that
in 1927 a drastic change took place in his life..
He decided that he was not going to commit suicide
but committed his life to the furtherance of humanity.
He found ingenious ways of doing that repeatedly.
People began to say, "Oh Bucky,
you're a thousand years ahead of your time!" A decade
later, he noted, people were saying, "Oh, Mr. Fuller,
you're a century ahead of your time." Now, he says
that they said, "My, you certainly are up to date!"
What follows is what he said
in 1980 at that Cambridge Forum national broadcast
at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square.
MORE IS LESS
Fuller in 1962 (courtesy of the Boston Public
Library, Print Department)
Humanity is in great crisis. We're in
great crisis because evolution is intent on integrating
all the human beings who for thousands of years were
deployed remotely from one another in finding their
own ways of surviving.
Now, she's integrating all of humanity.
Earth is going to integrate all kinds of different
credos and all the different colored skins. Evolution
is intent on doing that. This brings about a great
crisis due to the enormous amount of conditioned reflex
in humanitythe relative ignorance that's still
dominant in human affairs.
Evolution is also intent on making
all of humanity economically successful. There are so
many, many centuries, or thousands of years of humanity
operating on the basis that there's not enough to go
around; it has to be you or me. We've had all the great
political institutions, and soforth, organized that
way, so society does not understand. Those who are in
power tend to amass even more power rather than yielding
to evolution's apparent intent to make all humanity
an economic success.
Go back to William Ellery Channing
and his time; he graduated from Harvard just two years
before the opening of the nineteenth century. When
Ellery Channing had been out of Harvard University
seven years, we had the battle of Trafalgar. The British
Empire was established and was maintained for a hundred
and seventeen years. It was established by virtue
of ships being able to master the lines of supply
of the three-quarters of the earth which are covered
with water. There had been incredible battles for
all this mastery, and it finally came to the British.
Behind military strategy, they
had the economic strategy for the development of the
British Empire, the first Empire in history on which
the sun never set. If you realize what you were taught
about empires in schoolabout Alexander the Great,
the Roman Empire, and so forththey were all
flat empires. They were just a part of Europe, Northern
Africa, and a little Asia. They were flat empires
that went to infinity. You didn't know where the edges
were, or what went on beyond the edges. Because you
seemed to live in infinity, if you didn't like what
was going on, there were an infinite number of chances
that if you prayed in the right way you might come
out all right. But we haven't.
Fuller stands in front of his famous Dymaxion
map which shows the world without distortion.
(1971, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library,
Fuller's Dymaxion map in color
The time when the British Empire was
established, was also the time after Magellan had
first been around the world. It was the first time
we had a great empire which was a sphere.
The political and economic strategy
of the British Empire was that of the East India Company.
The Company had a college, and still has in England.
You can go on that campus, find the room of the East
India Company directors, which is very impressive,
and see the long table where they made many decisions
about that British Empire. At that time Thomas Malthus
was a professor of political economics for the East
India Company, and in 1800, five years before Trafalgar,
he wrote his first book. In 1810, five years after
Trafalgar, he wrote a book confirming his theory.
He was the first human being in the history of humanity
to have the total vital statistics from a closed-system
spherical empire within his hands. He said it was
perfectly clear, and he was deeply aware of the fact,
that we're dealing in a sphere which is a closed system
in contradistinction to a plane going to infinity.
He said, "Quite clearly, humanity is multiplying itself
at a geometrical rate and increasing its life support
on an arithmetical rate. Quite clearly, the majority
of humans are destined to have to live out their years
in great want and pain."
There were very few people who
were interested in what Malthus was saying. In fact,
it was pretty much classified information, only of
interest to those who were ambitious to try to take
the British Empire away from the British. There was
a general illiteracy of humanity at that time. Very
few people would have been able to read it, anyway.
This information really remained almost classified
and secret for a long, long time.
Forty years later, we have Darwin
promulgating his theory of evolution, explaining it
as a consequence of the survival of only the fittest
species, and of the fittest individual within those
species. Darwin said he did not mean any economic
inference, but the economists said that it had obvious
We have Karl Marx saying, "I now
accept Thomas Malthus' scientific statement; I have
to think of it as absolutely valid. I also accept
Darwin; quite clearly the workers are the fittest
to survive. They know how to handle the tools; they
know how to nurture the seed. These other people are
discusses his theories with a group of students
from Southern Illinois University (1971, courtesy
of the Boston Public Library, Print Department)
Those other people said, "We're not parasites. According
to Darwin's survival of the fittest, we are on top of
the heap because we are the fittest. The workers are
very dull, they don't have enough imagination. What
is needed is some vision and daring and cunning and
enterprise." So they said, "We're going to stay on top
of the heap."
This, then brought about the two
great political divisions of humanity since the time
of Channing. We have the Socialists and the Capitalists.
You can call it Communist and Private Enterprise,
or any way you want to call it, but each of these
great ideologies says: "Although you personally may
not like our system, we are convinced that we have
the fairest, most logical, most ingenious way of coping
with lethal inadequacy of life support on our planet.
Because there are those who disagree diametrically
on how to cope, this problem can only be resolved
by trial of arms as to which system is fittest to
survive." That is why for the last thirty years Russia
and the United States spent a sum now totaling six
trillion four hundred billion dollars to buy the highest
scientific capability of humanity in order to develop
the means of killing the most people at the greatest
distance in the shortest time. A very unworthwhile
endeavor of humanity.
Ten years ago, it became clearly
demonstrable, engineering-wise, that with a ten year
engineeringor as I call it designrevolutiontaking
the metals that have been proliferated into armaments,
melting them up, so that within ten years we could
have all humanity living at a higher standard of living
than human beings have ever experienced before, and
on a sustainable basis. During that ten years we could
phase out forever all further uses of fossil fuels
and atomic energy. We could live entirely on our energy
I've made this public announcement
on many, many platforms. I've been checked-up by many
competent people who have found my figures to be correct.
What I do know is, it does not have to be you or me,
ever, ever again. War is obsolete. All the necessity
of humanity to rationalize selfishness, how and why
your family should exist as other families, should
not carry on. We've had to do all this on the mistaken
assumption that it had to be you or me. Then I began
to find that nobody was paying any serious attention
to me except a young world that was very pleased to
know they had an option.
Epcot Center: an example of Fuller's Geodesic
Studying the whole thing, you find that all
big government, all big politics, all big religion,
almost all big business, would find it absolutely
devastating to their activity to have humanity a success.
"You poor kid, come on down, I'll get you a job at
City Hall. Come on down, and I'll give you a turkey
dinner; I'll get you into Heaven." So, I began to
realize this also in big government tax hungry to
take care of all its big bureaucracies. All those
in bureaucracy want to have their jobs keep on. Neither
government nor big business could see any way of putting
meters between you and your energy income, between
you and the wind, or between you and the sun. So I
find that while it's clearly demonstrable that we
really can get on with our energy income, that big
government and big business are doing nothing serious
about it whatsoever.
How do we get the information to
humanity that we really do have the option to make
it? The means of doing it is to realize that 99 percent
of humanity doesn't understand science. They don't
understand science because science has a languagea
mathematical languagethat the 99 percent can't
read. Therefore, they think that science is really
something new, and they don't know that all that science
has ever found out is that the universe is the most
incredibly reliable technologyso reliable as
to be the only 100 percent efficient absolutely continuous
The majority think the word technology
is something new. They equate it only with weapons,
or machines to compete for their jobs. They say "I'm
against it." If we're going to make and exercise our
option, it has to be done by humanity. With our educational
system we're going to have to get it clear to humanity
that science and technology are necessary to understand
what its options are.
I find our educational system incredibly
ignorant (saying this in the presence of my dear old
Harvard). I've had the honor of being asked to speak
to a number of scientific societies of real prominence.
I've always asked those scientists, or any scientists
present, "Who does not see the sun going down in the
evening? If any of you do not, please show hands."
No hands. I say to those scientists, "You've had five
hundred years that scientists have known that the
sun's not going down. You haven't 'downed' anything
to come up, coordinating your senses with your knowledge.
What are you doing telling all your children 'sunset,
sunrise'? You're deceiving all your children. What's
the matter with your kind of education? It's five
hundred years behind design."
So, we're in for a very great revolution
in education, in our technology, in evolution, where
all humanity, instead of being specialized, is cultivated
in what every child wants to be: a comprehensivist.
Comprehensive information and intelligence now are
only in the hands of those who are in great powerand
using that power to keep everybody else conquered
and kept conquered by keeping all the specialists
and keeping them divided. All these things are going
to have to be overcome in the next ten years. The
curve of acceleration is like that; probably a fourth
power greater acceleration of human affairs. Humans
were born with beautiful minds as well as brains,
with access to the great laws of design of the universe
itself. No other creature has such capability. We
quite clearly have a very important function to fulfill.
We were deliberately designed to be born naked, helpless,
ignorant, to learn only by trial and error, being
given hunger and thirst to drive us to make the trial
and error. We've now come to the point where humanity
is about ready to graduate into a comprehensive functioning
of all of our great beautiful minds.
addresses Boston College's 1969 graduating class
(courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print
I was born here in 1895. I was the first generation
of my family to go to Harvard, and I tell you that
when I was young what was fundamental, what was reality,
was everything you could see, smell, touch, and hear.
The year I was born X-rays were discovered, but they
didn't make any newspaper. Nobody knew that it was
going to amount to anythingyou couldn't see
them anyway. When I was three, the electrons were
discovered. That didn't make any newspapers. Nobody
knew that was going to amount to anything. Marconi
had invented theoretical wireless the year I was born;
but didn't get the first SOS until I was twelve years
I was eight years of age when the
Wright brothers flew. I was seven when the first automobile
came into Boston. Out of seven hundred in my class
here at Harvard, entering in 1913, two had automobiles.
One of them was Ray Stanley, whose father invented
the Stanley Steamer, so that was logical. Automobiles
were anything but for everybody. We didn't have any
kind of roads except dust roads. Once in a while somebody
was able to get through to a place like New York after
getting mired and pulled out by horses.
Since that time in America and
the world, the electron began to be of prominence,
and we began to learn something about the invisible
world. While you couldn't see it, the human mind and
instruments began to open up a greater range of reality,
ah, but invisible reality.
and other architects present the model for the
US Pavilion in the 1967 Canadian Exhibition
(courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print
I was brought up here in this particular worldthis
Cambridge and Milton where I went to schoolwhere
my mother and all the schoolteachers said, "Darling,
never mind what you think. Listen, we're trying to teach
you." The working assumption of the older people was
that the children's thinking was very unreliable.
Suddenly evolution does something
absolutely amazing here, when the young discover
that the grown-ups don't know what it's all about.
So we have the young world doing its own thinking;
and without any experience, it had to make many
mistakes. But it's getting now where it's not being
politically exploited the way it was at first. I
find the young everywhere around the world are completely
intent in thinking about the total world. They're
not impressed with local nations anymore. There's
a young world coming along, each child born successively
in the presence of less misinformation. Just think,
until I was eight years of age, I had been told
it's inherently impossible for man to fly. I've
had undue, enormous amounts of misinformation. Each
child, now, is being born in the presence of a great
deal more reliable information.
I'm getting letters nownot
very often, about five a yearfrom children
who were born after humans got to the moon. How
they find I'm someone they can write to I don't
know, but they do, and they write incredibly beautiful
letters, and the syntax couldn't be better. They
say they are familiar with the critical path of
all the things that had to be done before the blast-off
to get humanity over to the moon and back safely.
They say, "Humanity can do anything it needs to
do; why don't we make this thing work?" So a young
world is coming along which may very likely exercise