If you’ve been following me awhile, you’ve probably noticed Buckminster Fuller (Bucky) is one of my favourite and most frequent referents – there is a very particular reason for this – and it’s not what he’s best known for. As a designer, he’s almost a modern Pythagoras – so unrestrained by previous assumptions and keenly dedicated to widely integrated ideas, that he was forever inventing things which were only practical a few years later, when materials science caught up with him. Always far more interested in the challenge of design-solution and innovation, than commercial exploitation (a highly sympathetic weakness, to be sure).
He thought design science could solve homelessness, and sectors of the economy presently devoted to killing (military manufacture) ought to be redirected to manufacturing housing for everyone (as a right). He even designed these houses to be portable, minimal materials, and acoustically lovely – and to present minimum drag under prevailing wind conditions (heat-loss being proportional to drag, buildings should therefore be designed in wind-tunnels, for fully thought-through thermal efficiency – duh)
His famous and still very cool geodesic domes came from his obsession with enclosing maximum volume with minimum materials, and he added some nifty things to engineering math as he went, which, while wild-seeming at the time, have since been discovered on microcosmic scale in nature – precisely as he predicted (such efficiencies being clearly implied by system: universe). Still – the really amazing thing he did, for which we all ought to remember him best, was finally beat the heck out of Thomas Malthus, for once and for all!
Malthus attempted a survey of everything and everyone, and came to the conclusion that population and demands are forever increasing faster than supply of food, most particularly – therefore the rich must take and the poor must suffer, because there would never be enough to go around. Centuries of ‘rational’ western politics have been based on this same assumption of fundamental material inadequacy. Similar to the old brutalist interpretation of Darwinism (red of tooth and claw). You want to live nice? You have to accept that others will be made and kept poor, so you can get it!
Turns out, on closer look (and in fairness, Darwin struggled in his own time also to make this clear) that what survives long-term are not clusters of ‘fit’ competing individuals at all, but groupings that cooperate well enough to flourish effectively as a team, long-term, with adequate sustained diversity to cope with change. No macho killer monoculture at all, something much more like decency and compromise (see previous century, for last sight of same).
Early in his career, Buckminster Fuller was tasked by a mining company to do a very similar sort of study to that of Malthus – that is – how much of every essential exploitable material on earth is there, (at best estimate), and what are the future needs of humanity likely to demand? His conclusion – and he was no idiot or magical-thinker at all – was that there was enough material in the world for everyone to enjoy an excellent modern standard of living – but we had to think about how we used all this stuff, and stop using it in the incredibly stupid disposable and design-inefficient ways that we were.
He also concluded that the creation and management of false scarcity, is a power game of manipulation played by the wealthy upon the foolish – and one which the foolish ultimately had a responsibility to stop being so consistently fooled by.
Our choice? – Utopia or Oblivion – but we actually have to make it!
And no – Utopia is still not off the table – if we can be less ostrich, more meerkat!