Paula's Reviews > Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller
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's review
May 10, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, second-or-third-time-around
Read in May, 2009

This is a classic, published in 1969, first read by me back in 1970 or 1971, when we thought we would soon experience either the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius or, alternately, the Eve of Destruction. Definitely Utopian, still visionary, and in some ways quite wrong, Fuller makes interesting reading even now, 40 years later and 26 years after his death in 1983. One important area in which Fuller has turned out to have been wrong was his prediction that global population would stabilize at the then current 4 billion thanks to world-wide industrialization, which he expected to be complete by 1985. Now almost 7 billion, world population has nearly doubled since he wrote this book and has not yet even peaked.
Another issue that Fuller wasn’t exactly wrong about, but that he didn’t take fully into account, is that of waste; for example, what to do with all the plastic, such as the Texas-sized mat now floating out in the middle of the Pacific ocean, or nuclear waste (though it must be said that he categorized atoms similarly to fossil fuels as non-renewable capital, to be used only sparingly and then only for start-up purposes). He doesn’t mention climate change or global warming except by implication (i.e., if we don’t smarten up soon, we will use up or destroy our life support and enhancement system on this planet). However, Fuller placed great faith in human evolution proceeding in such a way as to result in a favorable outcome for humans on this planet. What has saved us in the past, he said, is our built-in (by evolution) trial and error approach in conjunction with a bank account of energy resources. Meaning, we have evolved in such a way as to enjoy enough breathing space to be able to make errors and then adjust our behavior accordingly and progress.
Some of his prognostications seem uncannily prescient considering the world's current economic crises, for example :
"The constantly put-off or undermet costs and society’s official bumbling of them clearly prove that man does not know at present what wealth is nor how much of whatever it may be is progressively available to him," and "The wisest humans recognized in 1810 only one three-hundredth of 1 per cent of the immediately thereafter 'proven value' of the United States’ share of the world’s wealth-generating potentials. Of course, those wisest of men of the times would have seen little they could afford to do."
R. Buckminster Fuller is still well worth reading, if only to ponder his definitions of democracy and wealth:
"Semi-democracy accepts the dictatorship of a majority in establishing its arbitrary, ergo, unnatural, laws. True democracy discovers by patient experiment and unanimous acknowledgment what the laws of nature or universe may be for the physical support and metaphysical satisfaction of the human intellect’s function in universe. . . . .
Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives.”

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for this true "re-view," this look at our own past prophets. And especially thanks for including the final quoted paragraph. "I was just thinking about that today," she quite casually remarks, as if she and Bucky have been trading ideas lately.

Seriously, I was thinking about the fact that the dream of democracy revealed itself to be a mirage as soon as the society it was to regulate expanded beyond the size at which every voter was personally acquainted with the candidates. Once the source of knowledge about issues and candidates became regulated by ownership of media, democracy became dysfunctional.

And, finally, thanks because I never read the book, having confused the names Buckminster Fuller and William Buckley. ("Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity," I cry to myself today with a rueful chuckle. But those were giddy days indeed.)

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