A view from the bridge of spaceship earth (part one)

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By John F. Sase, Ph.D.
Gerard J. Senick, senior editor
Julie Gale Sase, copyeditor


“All of humanity now has the option to ‘make it,’ successfully and sustainably, by virtue of our having minds, discovering principles, and being able to employ these principles to do more with less.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller, American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor, “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”
(Simon and Schuster, 1969)

In our column for the next four months, we will take the intellectual high road during this bizarrely interesting election cycle—a period that has drawn the focus of attorneys, economists, and others. Many attorneys take time off from their practices to oversee polling stations, work for their candidates of choice, and sometimes run for office themselves. In our view of the best and worst of humanity at this time, we will have the company of R. Buckminster Fuller, through his classic book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.” Many of us may have read this work when it first appeared between the Summer of Love during the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1967 and the Kent State Shootings in Kent, Ohio, during a campus protest in 1970. The words of Fuller, meaningful for those times, are just as relevant today.

A Brief Biography

Born in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1885, Fuller was named for his father, Richard Buckminster Fuller, a Unitarian Minister, and also was the grand-nephew of Margaret Fuller, an American Transcendentalist. “Bucky,” as he was called, was the product of an early Froebelian education (based on the theories of Friedrich Froebel, the progressive German educator who created the concept of the kindergarten) and that of the Milton Academy in Massachusetts, which counts T.S. Eliot, Robert F. and Ted Kennedy, and singer/songwriter James Taylor among its alumni. Fuller entered Harvard College and was associated with Adams House, in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert Frost, and William S. Burroughs resided, among others. Though he was one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Fuller was expelled from Harvard twice. The first incident was in response to his spending all of his money partying with a vaudeville troupe. After his readmission, he was ejected again for his “irresponsibility and lack of interest,” according to Harvard records. Per his own appraisal, Fuller was a nonconforming misfit in the fraternity environment. Following service in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.

In the 1920s, Fuller built lightweight housing that was weatherproof and fireproof before moving to Greenwich Village in New York City, where his associates included Eugene O’Neill and architect Isamu Noguchi; with the latter, he collaborated on various design projects. While continuing his design work and inventing, Fuller taught at colleges and universities. In the 1950s, he began to achieve international acclaim through the success of his creation of huge Geodesic Domes, which he based upon what he called “synergetic geometry.” Fuller is also well known for creating the Dymaxion House (one of which is on permanent exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI) and the Dymaxion Car. Eventually, he authored more than 30 books and was the recipient of 47 honorary doctorates. Fuller passed away in 1983.

Back to the Bridge

I (Dr. Sase) first became familiar with Fuller through his “Operation Manual for Spaceship Earth,” which brilliantly synthesizes his worldview, one that many of us share. In this volume, Fuller investigates the greatest challenges that continue to face humanity. He explores topics such as the principles for avoiding extinction, the impact of automation on individualization, and the more effective utilization of our resources in order to eliminate world poverty and to realize our fullest human potential. Furthermore, Fuller addresses the historical development of specialization and calls for a design revolution of innovation as he advises us on how to move toward a sustainable future. In previous columns, we have referred to this concept as one of Sufficient Affluence through a Sustainable Economy in a Living/Learning Environment. What follows in this column and in the next three is a reflective and annotated synopsis of some important thoughts from Fuller that all of us may consider in these volatile times.

Comprehensive Propensities

Fuller begins his lesson by explaining that our human brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences. However, he notes that our spontaneous initiative has become frustrated in recent centuries, with the result that we tend to continue with the principle of narrow and shortsighted specialization. Primarily, Fuller states that we leave long-distance, wider-scope thinking to politicians, a point that is especially relevant to our current political climate.

We can make reasonably accurate forecasts for a forthcoming quarter of a century by focusing on the current Industrial-Tool Generation of the same length. With such foresight, we could, as Fuller writes, “[A]lter our comprehensive physical circumstances” while addressing critical issues such as global ignorance and hunger.

We continue to fail due to an ongoing belief that specialization remains our key to success, ignoring the realization that “specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.” This means that the techno-economic advantages that should accrue from specialization are not realized in positive ways. Since the time that Fuller first wrote these words in 1967, our universities progressively have organized curriculum into increasingly finer specializations. Generalist-polymath programs foster growth in which students spontaneously apprend, comprehend, and coordinate an expanding universe of experience. However, these remain scarce in the 21st century.

The roots of this intense focus on specialization can be traced to the Age of Exploration (15th to 18th Centuries), when the world began to grow from local to global through sea trade. Fuller reminds us that 99.9 percent of the human population resided upon 25 percent of the surface of the Earth. At that time, the few existing generalists who possessed great anticipatory vision, ship-designing capabilities, original scientific conceptualization, and mathematical skills for navigation and exploration became the Masters of the Sea. These few venturers, to whom Fuller refers as the Great Pirates (G.P.s), discovered that the seas interconnected all of the lands and the peoples of the world. The G.P.s found that the resources of the Earth were unevenly distributed, spread across the globe among human beings who often were ignorant of these foreign resources or even of the existence of other peoples. The sea-masters took advantage of the disparity in the production of tools, services, and consumable goods. By integrating and redistributing these resources, the G.P.s generated massive amounts of wealth. In order to grow their global empire, these generalists were aided by individuals with specialized knowledge, information that could be compartmentalized and hence controlled through separateness. These specialists included mathematicians, inventors, and designers, among many others.

Origins of Specialization

The Masters of the Sea continued to prosper until the first quarter of the twentieth century due to their comprehensive capability, which was supported by the compartmentalized talents of specialized minds-for-hire. The G.P.s subjected themselves only to the natural laws of the universe, not to the sovereign laws of land-rulers whom the G.P.s patronized in order to fulfill their own agendas.

Fuller offers the example of the Duke of Milan. The Duke extended the patronage from the seafarers to Leonardo da Vinci, whom Fuller calls a “comprehensively anticipatory design scientist” (in addition to an accomplished artist). Leonardo designed fortified defenses and weaponry as well as tools for the production of goods. Acting as admirals, the G.P.s outside the Duchy of Milan enlisted the help of other “Leonardos” through their own puppet rulers. This modus operandi enabled the Sea Masters to become the Masters of the World.

Scientifically designed secrecy of naval operations hid all of the Leonardos from public view and recorded history while the Masters of the Sea developed a global-trade network, designed industrial facilities and mining operations, and erected naval bases for the production and maintenance of even greater trade- and attack-vessels. Fuller explains that the G.P.s manipulated the people who learned to cheer as they were told of the great world power of their respective nations, sovereignties unknowingly controlled from the shadows. The obfuscation of this system was accomplished by the grand strategy of “anticipatory divide and conquer.” The G.P.s realized that the less-gifted people in these lands were innocuous. However, the masters realized that the brighter ones may contrive to displace the G.P.s from their positions of power. The process of anticipatory divide-and-conquer dispensed with this possibility.

The G.P.s picked local “strongmen” and instructed them to proclaim themselves as the rulers of these lands supported by the shadow regimes. These self-proclaimed heads of state received secret lines of supplies in order to enforce their sovereign rights. Fuller continues by explaining that the critical elements of the plan included the appointment of teams of compartmentalized specialists to manage the business of state and to create royal tutorial schools that formed the root of an educational system that focused on the development of intellectual specialization. Subsequently, this turning of the best and the brightest into specialists secured a pool of brain power for the puppet sovereigns while extending great advantage to the G.P.s, who endowed the whole show.

However, Fuller underscores that this systemized and compartmentalized specialization evolved into a form of slavery in which the “expert” accepted the yoke in return for social and cultural preference and a highly secure lifelong position. In contrast, only a few in the inner elite of the ruling family received a wide—but still limited—scope of education, while the all-encompassing knowledge of the global economy, its resources, and its secrets remained in the hidden exclusive domain of the G.P.s. Their knowledge base included the navigation arts, ship design, logistical strategies, and internationally deceptive trade-balancing stratagems within a global-exchange network. In effect, these “Pirates of the Caribbean” did devour the tourists in their global “Jurassic Park.”

Next month, we will explore Fuller’s ideas about Comprehensively Commanded Automation and the concept of Spaceship Earth. During World War I, a group of out-pirates challenged the established in-pirates—the G.P.s--through the invisible realm of electronics and chemical warfare. Technology went from “wire to wireless, track to trackless, and pipe to pipeless.” In part, these changes led to a fuller awareness that our planet is not the center of the universe. We are on a finely designed and balanced vessel, Spaceship Earth, which travels within our solar system in orbit around our galaxy. However, we continue to misuse, abuse, and pollute this system, which successfully regenerates all life aboard.

The Closing Statement

Without naming names or taking partisan sides, what can Fuller teach us about our current malaise on our Spaceship Earth? Attorneys, Economists and Political Theorists understand that a thorough knowledge of the Global Economy coupled with skill in Diplomacy, especially as it relates to International Affairs, is essential. This is why many of us believe that a background in law is essential for holding higher political offices. Add to that a fundamental understanding of the inner workings of both the economic and political systems. Most of us are products of a myopically specialized educational system. In order to survive and to thrive in the future, Fuller suggests that we progress to a more comprehensive and polymathian approach to education. As we will discuss in future columns, our ancestors left us with a now-antiquated educational system that is inadequate for our future needs on Spaceship Earth.

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PDF copies of this article will be posted at www.saseassociates.com. In addition, we post original and curated videos related to Economics on www.Youtube.com/VideoEconomist.
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Dr. John F. Sase has taught Economics for thirty-five years and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics since the early 1990s. He earned a combined Masters in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, and a Ph.D. in Economics at Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Dr. Sase can be reached at 248.569.5228, www.saseassociates.com, and www.Youtube.com/VideoEconomist.
Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a Supervisory Editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication and gives seminars on writing and music. Mr. Senick can be reached at 313.342.4048 and at www.senick-editing.com. You can find some of his writing tips at www.YouTube.com/SenickEditing.
Julie G. Sase is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. As a consultant, Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles for publication, and gives interviews to various media. Ms. Sase can be reached at sasej@aol.com and www.Quill2Keyboard.com.