Book Review: ‘The Buckminster Fuller Reader’
The Buckminster Fuller Reader. Edited by James Meller. Jonathan Cape. 48s.
Socialists devised the slogan “One World” as a concise description of the society we are striving for. Socialism means that the whole world will operate as a single productive system where goods and services will be produced so that people can use them freely without resorting to buying and selling. It also means that the people of the world will be united on the only solid basis for achieving this end—by the resources of the world (the means of producing wealth) being owned in common and democratically controlled by mankind as a whole. “One World”, then, represents an entirely different vision of the future to such schemes as the “United Nations” or “Internationalism” which, as their names imply, are attempts to improvise a patchwork from the fragments which capitalism makes of the world.
The American scientist Buckminster Fuller, whose work over more than forty years has brought him recognition as an architect and industrial designer, is not a socialist. But his understanding of what industrialisation has done to the world, and the potential abundance it gives rise to, has led him to a number of conclusions which are similar to ours. Since the problems which face mankind are “whole-world problems”, since culturally and scientifically we are all enrolled in a “One World University”, given the “world-girdling air transport and communication services”, what we are rapidly being confronted by is a “constantly shrinking ‘one-town world’.”
“Any who have looked at the jet plane schedules know that they can fly to the furthermost points around the earth from where they start in less than twenty hours, so that within the day they can reach the furthermost point of the earth. Projecting for only five years, you find the speed is such that you will be able to leave your home any morning, go to any part of the earth to do your day’s work, and come home for dinner. And if our definition of a town is a place where you work and sleep, then in five years from today we can have a one-town world. What has been a theoretical and idealistic concept will be stark reality.“
Because of industrialisation, “wealth is now without practical limit.” Traditional ways of thinking of consumption (‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’) are completely outdated. “You can now have your cake and eat it. The more you eat, the more and the better the quality of the cakes to be had by further production.” “It is completely clear that all men now may be successful in living in a progressively satisfactory enjoyment of total earth”. At last we have the ability to “make man a success on earth” and the sequelae of a step like this do not escape Professor Fuller. “If this is successfully done, the Malthusian and Darwinian frustrations will be completely irrelevant. There will be enough to go around, and the politicians will have no mandate to build weapons.” “There is a dawning awareness that I am saying something realistic when I say ‘Reform the environment, don’t try to reform man’.”
The trouble with Buckminster Fuller and other brilliant men like him is that while their scientific training and technological expertise make it clear to them that “we will soon have to design the over-all industrial network for making the world work for all humanity”, politically they have never climbed out of their cradles. True, Professor Fuller dismisses what he calls “‘gold capitalism” (“as obsolete as the stone hammer”) and even his rejection of socialism is fair enough (“Socialism was one of yesterday’s ways of dealing with inadequate wealth”) —because by ‘socialism’ he simply means either a state capitalist system or government intervention in the American economy. What he doesn’t call into question, however, is capitalism’s motive force—the production of goods for sale on the world markets in order to realise a profit. As long as this is the priority which production is he is dedicated to proving to be technically feasible is bound to remain a dead letter.
The Buckminster Fuller Reader is a useful anthology of his speeches and writings over the last forty-odd years and is only marred by the fact that it is unreadable. Professor Fuller’s prose has to be seen to be believed. Sample sentence — “Environment embraces a complex of non-simultaneously occurring but omni-integrating, or inter-stimulating and therefore inter-regenerating mutations of man’s integral, internal, metabolic regeneration organisms on the one hand, and on the other of his external, invention realised metabolic regeneration organism which we think and speak of as industrialisation.” If that whets your appetite there is a copy in the Socialist Party’s library.