1990s >> 1995 >> no-1095-november-1995

The Same Conclusions

Richard Buckminster Fuller, engineer, architect, inventor, scientist, poet, was born a hundred years ago (he died in 1983). Among his many inventions is the geodesic dome, a structure with no theoretical limits to its size: the higher it is the greater the capacity of its foundations. Many have been built, particularly in the US. He was also distinguished by having the newly-discovered carbon molecule named after him—Buckminsterfullerene.

His name is not often included in the pantheon of social revolutionaries, which only goes to show how parochial we sometimes are in our thinking. He came to much the same conclusions about the society we live in and possible alternative arrangements as we do, but from totally different premises.

As an engineer he couldn’t stand the inefficiency of capitalism—he called it “obnoxico”. As an anthropologist he rejected the idea of “economic man”, selfish, on the make, as a perversion of our natures by this crazy system:

    “With complete freedom of choice, much of humanity will begin to discover that it loves to work at tasks of its own choosing—that it loves to disciple itself to demonstrate its competence to others—that it will compete with the many to demonstrate its competence to serve on one of the multitude of production teams. There would be no payment for the work. It would be like qualifying for the Olympic team to be allowed to do what you want to do. You would have to prove that you could do the job better than anyone else to get onto the production teams. Permission to serve on the world’s production teams will be the greatest privilege that humanity can bestow on any individual. There is no joy equal to that of being able to work for all of humanity and doing what you’re doing well. It is difficult to match the gratification of not just crudely crafting a plaything for one child (which indeed can be very rewarding) but of producing exquisite somethings for a billion children. Activities of this kind are re-inspirational to a mystical degree.”

As a student of thermodynamics he anchored his reasoning not in sentiment but in the facts of nature:

    “About 90 per cent of all USA employment is engaged in tasks producing no life-support wealth. These non-life-supporting producing employees are spending three, four, and more gallons of gasoline daily to go to their non-wealth-producing jobs, ergo we are wasting $3 trillion of cosmic wealth per day in the US.

    “We may safely assume that class one evolution is syntropic and that class two is often entropically diseased. The desire to make money is inherently entropic, for it seeks to monopolize order while leaving un-cope-with-able disorder to overwhelm others. We must remember that the majority of those convincedly committed to “making money” are motivated to do so because of their mistaken conviction that there is a fundamental (external) inadequacy of human life support on our planet.”

I can’t find the word syntropic in my dictionary but I think his meaning is clear if a touch poetic. Entropy yes. That describes the evolution of the universe toward randomness, the discharge of all potential, ultimate running down. Time is an arrow and not a boomerang. But life on earth, fuelled by the sun, is building structures, organisms, societies, except where frustrated by disease or disintegrating forces like capitalism.

Ken Smith

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