“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” Mae West.
“All the world’s a stage.” Bill Shakespeare
After a fairly typical youth of skipping out of school and blowing money on girls, R. Buckminster Fuller suddenly found himself at a difficult crossroads and made a commitment to devote the rest of his life to the betterment of humanity. He had no formal university credentials or specialized training beyond a stint in the Navy, (when asked, he identified himself primarily as a “sailor”) but nevertheless pursued and achieved a great deal in diversified fields of study including architecture (he is best known of course for the Geodesic Dome which is visible in many cities around the world including our own Science World in Vancouver), engineering, design, cartography, economics, mathematics and poetry. Buckminster Fuller believed in a utopia that could be achieved through technology and mass production. He created the concept of CADS, a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science that would “make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”➀ In the 1930’s and 40’s when he was first introducing his revolutionary inventions,
(notably the Dymaxion House and the Dymaxion Car:
(Dynamic… Maximum… Action? Buckminster Fuller also like to make up his own words) he was largely regarded in the scientific community as a sort of lunatic, although harmless. He was an untraditional thinker, a futurist visionary who sought real solutions to improve situations world-wide, pursuing an ideal of global harmony and abundance for everyone and backing up all his assertions with scientific method and statistics. “I started with the Universe: as an organization of regenerative principles frequently manifest as energy systems of which all our experiences, and possible experiences, are only local instances” ➁.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Thus, all of the energy that exists in the universe is constant: it has always existed in one form or another. Energy is transformed into matter and back into energy again. During the frenzy of industrialization and mass production in the 20th century, a great deal of pollution (wasted resources) (“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.”)➂ was generated due to everyone’s excitement over suddenly available “STUFF” like never before, a vastly “increased” standard of living in select parts of the world. Long ago in 1992, things were already getting serious. A conglomerate of more than 1,700 top scientists from all over the world issued as collective statement, the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”➃ stating that we, the world, (especially YOU-KNOW-WHO-YOU-ARE) had better get our act together as the window of opportunity for reversing the damage that we as a species had inflicted on our natural habitat was running out. We could keep having fun shopping and water-skiing and robbing future generations of breathable air, delicious fresh water, seafood, scenic nature walks, interesting animal friends, etc., or we could call it a day and start to slowly stick things back together again. Looking at our current world situation now, 20 years later, it’s difficult to believe that enough of us took the warning at all seriously. As the great big comforting lump of our planet continues to spin reassuringly through the heavens, our biosphere, the fragile layer that comprises all of the earth, air and water that sustains all of life here is threatened by increasing pollution and decay. Nonetheless we have continued to swish to and fro in the “family car”, guzzling fast food and generally behaving “unsustainably”, perhaps believing that somehow the world wasn’t really our problem and that somebody else (let’s point fingers now at the big ugly smokestack in the centre of what’s-that-town– way worse than us!) would surely clean up the mess. It is quite possible now that our chance to do so has run out.
In the midst of so much complaining about “the way things are” by the disillusioned and the disenfranchised (including a lot of us artists who could never afford to go water-skiing anyway) it is important to remember what Buckminster Fuller succinctly pointed out: that ideas and conclusions have no social importance unless they are transformed into tangible entities. We may indeed be doomed, but the sun is still shining and in the meantime we have little choice but to make some hay with sustainable farming practices.
By the 60’s and 70’s, Fuller was lecturing at universities around the world, had received a slew of honorary degrees, had been endorsed by the likes of Albert Einstein and was consultant to several world leaders of the day including our own extra-saucy ex-prime-minister Pierre Trudeau. He continued to reference the absurdities inherent in modern industrial life, how society is shaped by our meaningless obsession with the work ethic resulting in unnecessary work, inefficiency, “job creation” and other such nonsense.
Fuller showed us that Energy=Wealth. Because energy cannot be created or destroyed therefore wealth is also constant. “Wealth does not come from the bank. All energy and wealth and growth emanates from the stars and energy is pouring down upon us… Energy is actual wealth if its rate of conversion through work is rapid enough to stem natural chaos and leave a residue of arbitrarily spendable time.”➄ “The importance of arriving at man’s ‘work’ or energy conversion rate is that the determination of the means of accomplishing work with the least energy and time loss is the primary need of the day, and is, therefore, the goal of all scientists-artists and the criterion of efficiency amplification is unimplemented man”➅. So proper utilization of the available energy in the universe equals our freedom, and Fuller demonstrated that it was an achievable goal for everyone in the world if only we cared enough to make it happen.
I like Buckminster Fuller’s ideas because they continue to give me hope and they confirm with facts, figures and the tracking of world resources my lifelong suspicion that much of what passes for “work” in our modern society is in fact merely a sort of glorified welfare that is doled out in return for the unquestioning completion of inane and ludicrous tasks often created at the expense of many who still live in poverty. It is a means for control that plays on our sense of guilt and an abstract and ill-informed “desire to contribute” and be a socially-acceptable “productive member of society”. As a kid I was intensely skeptical when my parents made it clear that it would be in my best interests to “learn to type” as then I would surely “end up with a good job” (good enough for a girl anyway…)
“Money costs more than you think”, writes French economist Corinne Maier in her hilarious 2005 book Bonjour Laziness– Why Hard Work Doesn’t Pay. “In the struggle between the corporation and you, the corporation always wins, just as in the jungle the lion usually gets the better of the antelope”➆. She suggests that if you don’t have the option of quitting your job, the best way to make the most of things in the world of big business is to look busy, keep your mouth shut and do absolutely as little as possible because nothing you do will make any difference anyway. This can apply to other situations as well. When I recently questioned a relative of mine who has been employed with the City of Vancouver for the last 30 years what it was he did at his desk job, he replied, after a short consideration, “Well… I don’t really know…”
It is refreshing to realize that as performing artists emerging from the warm cocoon of a college education into the so-called “real world” we are now free to do exactly as we like because let’s face it, society is not dangling any very tasty-looking carrots our way. We could go work on a cruise ship, earn lots of money and make a meaningful contribution to Big Business and its attendants Pollution, Gluttony, Greed, Boredom and Alcoholism; we could make wonderful paychecks via jobs on TV and in advertising or “hit records” if we are pretty enough or at least brave enough to undergo facelift operations and cap our teeth; or we can live in poverty for a couple of years (the romance of the starving artist) performing poorly paid, poorly attended gigs in order to “establish ourselves” so we can be eligible to apply for the ever-diminishing supply of arts grants (or perhaps alternately try winning the lottery).
But who cares? The future of the arts and indeed EVERYTHING ELSE (at least in human terms) is nebulous and problematic at best but problems can be fun because they require solutions. As part of the grand scheme, artists have a special relationship to the beauty that one finds in the midst of the cosmic mess. I’ll wind this up with a couple more quotes from my favorite dude, Mr. R.B. Fuller. “On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate” and also, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I’ve finished, if the solution isn’t beautiful, I know it’s wrong.”➇
➀ R.B.Fuller. I’m quoting from memory here and far too lazy to dig my giant pile of books to figure out where this one came from.
➂ Bucky Fuller. I think I found this quote on one of those websites with all the quotes from famous people.
➃ “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. I wonder if I knew about this at the time? Anyway David Suzuki reminded me. Also:
➄ Page 64, Nine Chains to the Moon by R.B. Fuller.
➅ Page 67, Nine Chains to the Moon by R.B. Fuller.
➆ Page 39 Bonjour Laziness by the wonderful Corrine Maier.
➇ Same as ➂
Works cited/ plundered/ plagiarized:
Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World
2009, Penguin Group Inc. New York NY
Anthology for the New Millenium
(Ed. Thomas T.K. Zung) 2001. St. Martin’s Press, New York NY
Nine Chains to the Moon
1963, Southern Illinois University Press, Illinois
Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn’t Pay
2006, Vintage Books New York NY
Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered
1973, Blond and Briggs Ltd., London, UK
The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for our Sustainable Future
2010, Greystone Books, Vancouver BC