A Fuller View - Buckminster Fuller's view of the Future
Buckminster Fuller was many things to many people. Architect, poet, philosopher, spiritual leader, environmentalist, artist, designer, futurist and mystic were all titles given to him. When asked about this, Bucky (as he preferred to be called) had many answers including the famous quote ‘I seem to be a verb’ and the reminder he had engraved on his tombstone, ‘Call me Trimtab’.
At one point in his life, he became so tired of the question that he came up with the title ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ which he often condensed to ‘comprehensivist’. When asked about this label (one of Bucky’s many disciplines was to never speak unless asked) he would explain that each of us was born a comprehensivist, interested in everything.
One only has to watch a toddler exploring her or his environment to see this phenomenon in action. Young children crawl around interested in everything, and they utilize all their senses in their explorations. The fact that a toddler has never witnessed another person try to taste a coin or a flower will not stop her from putting these and most other objects in her mouth.
Young children are curious explorers interested in everything. They are comprehensivists, and as Bucky often pointed out to his audiences, we only become specialists when society trains us to believe that that is the way we will succeed. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Considering Nature as Bucky always did when contemplating a problem or issue, we see that the more specialized a species becomes, the more likely it is to become extinct. For example, birds living in marshy areas evolved over the centuries to have long legs and long beaks because that was the best mechanism to gather the food at the bottom of the marsh. However, when the climate heated up radically and the marsh dried up, these species of bird were doomed to extinction because their specialized feeding mechanism was no longer viable.
And that is the crisis that humankind faces at this very moment. As Bucky began warning us in the 1930s: ‘Whether humanity is to continue and comprehensively prosper on Spaceship Earth depends entirely on the integrity of the human individuals and not on the political and economic systems. The cosmic question has been asked – “Are humans a worthwhile to Universe invention?”’
Many of us have come to the realization that we are here for a purpose, both as individuals and as a species. Some of us, like Bucky himself, have gone deep in searching for meaning in our lives and in our culture.
Many of us have come to the realization that we are here for a purpose, both as individuals and as a species. Some of us, like Bucky himself, have gone deep in searching for meaning in our lives and in our culture. We’ve even gone so far as to pose the very real yet daunting question, ‘Are we humans of value to each other, our tiny fragile Spaceship Earth (a term coined by Bucky) and all of Universe?’ In other words, why are we here and are we making a positive contribution. If we’re not making a positive contribution, we may not be ‘a worthwhile to Universe invention’.
When addressing this challenge Bucky was quick to return to the heart of the issue - the way Nature (i.e. God, Great Spirit, Allah, etc.) designs everything. He noted that when Nature creates anything of importance, she always constructs at least one back up. That’s why humans have two eyes and two ears. Following a logical thought trail, if we were ‘designed’ by Nature (as must be the case since we are part of Nature), there must be several other life forms in Universe designed to perform a similar function.
Specifically, Bucky said ‘anyone who thinks that humans on this Earth are running Universe or that Universe was created only to amuse or displease or bore humans is obviously ignorant. Pay no attention to those who say, “Never mind that space stuff; let’s get down to Earth; let’s be realistic. We can’t afford it”. In reality, we are so remote and infinitesimally tiny in space as to be almost nothing but space. The only reality is that of our sizeless minds, and the eternal metaphysical principles that they have discovered to be governing eternally regenerative Universe’.
Which begs the question that Bucky examined and reexamined for decades: ‘Why are we humans here on Earth?’ His answer is elegant in its simplicity yet detailed enough to support anyone in finding their true passion and following their bliss as Bucky did. He wrote: ‘Humans are here as local information harvesters and local problem solvers in support of the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe’.
In other words, we are here to gather information and solve problems locally (our site is Earth), but our solutions must be sustainable for all life. This is essentially the Buddhist philosophy of doing everything with and for all beings and not just our little family, community, city, nation or even species. We’re all in this together on a tiny, fragile, irreplaceable Spaceship Earth, and we’re not going to get another such vehicle. The solutions that we come up with must be in precise synchronization with all of Universe, all of Nature. If not, what we perceive as a solution to a problem may just become more of a problem.
Considering this phenomenon, we might look at the issue of earning a living or as Bucky often called it, ‘earning your right to life’. Most of us have come to believe the fact that we have to work for a living. We think that we have to do something that we don’t really want to do (or at least don’t love enough to do if we were not being ‘paid’ money to do it) in order to survive and thrive. This belief is predicated on the false assumption that we live in a culture where resources are scarce. In other words, there’s not enough to take care of all life on Earth.
As Bucky proved when he first inventoried all the resources on our planet in the 1930s, there was not enough food and other resources to support all life. However, during that process, Bucky also noticed that resources kept coming around and being reused on a regular basis. Today, we call this process recycling, but back in the 1930s people believed that resources such as oil and iron came from some bottomless place and would continue to flow forever.
What Bucky also discovered was that every time we recycle a resource we add something to it that allows us to do more with less. That something is knowledge. For example, there is nothing in your smart phone that has not been on our planet for millions of years. There is no special fairy dust added to the earthly elements to make our phones into tools that people never dreamed possible only decades ago. All that we are doing is adding knowledge to the same copper, zinc and other materials in order to do much more with far less resources.
Back in the 1930’s Bucky sensed that humankind was doing so much ‘more with less-ing’ that we would eventually reach a point where there was enough of everything to support all life on Earth. And being a comprehensive anticipatory design scientist, he decided to figure out when that would happen. By his calculation, it was destined to occur around 1976. Worldwatch and other organizations have now proved that in 1976, we humans reached a point where there was (and still is) enough food on our planet to feed everyone. The fact of the matter is that there is enough of all resources to take care of everyone at a higher standard of living than the richest person on the planet now experiences.
This may sound preposterous, but consider back only a couple decades in your life. The richest person on the planet did not have access to the device on which you may be reading this or the network (Internet) over which it was broadcast to you. Back when Bucky was born in 1895, the richest person on the planet did not have access to fresh produce all year long, and the farthest that almost all people traveled in their entire lifetime was the distance that they could walk or ride a horse in one day. We’ve advanced our capacity for innovation dramatically in that very short span of a couple lifetimes, but we’ve also put ourselves on the brink of extinction. As Bucky often reminded his audiences: ‘Humanity is taking its final examination. We have come to an extraordinary moment when it doesn’t have to be you or me. There is enough for all. We need not operate competitively any longer. If we succeed, it will be because of youth, truth and love’.
Which brings us to the soundbite. I’m often asked to encapsulate Bucky’s vision and contribution into a short statement. This is no an easy task when you realize that Bucky’s normal ‘thinking out loud’ lectures averaged about six hours in length with no breaks and were often cut short only because the building was being locked up for the night. Still, the hallmark of all Bucky’s vision is the fact that we humans have enough of everything to support ourselves and all life on Earth if we shift our focus and resources from weaponry to livingry. In other words, there is plenty to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone on Earth right now if we as a species recognize and acknowledge this basic truth and start acting in a way that is congruent with our knowledge.
War is obsolete. Politics are obsolete. Even working for a living is obsolete. We have reached a place in time when everyone can have it all, and we can share it all with each other. Recycling, while valuable and viable, will not create this transformation. Using less fossil fuel will not create this transformation. Turning down thermostats will not create this transformation. The only thing that will create this transformation is a shift in our focus and use of valuable resources from weaponry to livingry. We need to do this on both the personal and a societal level, and we need to do it now as we stand on the brink of what Bucky labeled ‘utopia or oblivion’.
Steven Sieden is a speaker, futurist and author of ‘Buckminster Fuller’s Universe’ and ‘A Fuller View, Buckminster Fuller’s Vision of Hope & Abundance for All’. To get in contact and find out more about Steven and his work go to
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