IN 1930, the author of Buck Ragers told R. Buckminister Fuller that he frequently used Fuller's concepts for his cartoons. Fifty years later, the ideas that Fuller originated still seem right out of sei-fi magazines. Fuller's previous inspirations were mostly technological; now he has coordinated ideas with experience into a blueprint for attaining utopia. He believes that fear of want could destroy the world, and wants to point humanity along the Critical Path before Arrnageddon comes. The weakness and strength of Fuller's book lie in his prognostications--they seem too fantastic, yet at the same time, one does not want to give up hope.
The geodesic dome. Dymaxion map. Geoscope and other inventions have made Fuller known as one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century. Despite initial failures, including being expelled twice and never graduating from Harvard, these early successes lend credibility to his ideas. The 85-year-old Fuller succeeds primarily be perceiving the world and mankind in large terms: he defines the universe as the "omni-interaccommodative, nonsimultaneous, and only partially overlapping, omni-intertransforming. self-regenerating scenario."
With this broad outlook, all men are latent billionaires because of world resources and advanced technology. The problem is allocation of this wealth. Fuller feels current institutions prevent people from living like kings. He believes the establishment's faith in the Malthusian theory of searcity has led to wars and wasteful stockpiling of arms. Fuller tries to dispatch these doomsday beliefs so that mankind will work together. If fear of poverty is dispelled, cooperation and efficient coexistence are inevitable.
Fuller approaches his argument logically, analyzing both why manking has not advanced more rapidly and how resources could be used better. His examination of mankind's history is enticing often bordering of fantasy. Yet it is unconvincing. Certain principles do not fit into his major argument, but seem to be included simply for their originality or spice. For example. Fuller contradicts the Darwinian theory that simple organisms evolved into complex ones. Fuller speculates that "South Sea-atoll, lagoon-frolicking male and female human swimmers gradually inbred pairs of underwater swimmers who held their breath in their lungs for every-longer periods. and after many in-breedings of largest lungers and as many outbreedings of general adaptabilityorganic equipment, the progeny evolved into porpoises and later into whales." Such vignettes provide interesting reading, but are not well in tegrated with the focus of the book.
AT OTHER TIMES, his historical examples work successfuly with his theories to provide a firm background for his criticism. Fuller feels the central authorities often slowed development throughout mankind's history and cites examples from the Catholic Church and the lawyer-run capitalist system. His argument becomes clearer when he promotes a theory of exploitation: the specialization and separation of the scientists. Wall Street lawyers realized the new value of the "unseen" technology, like electronics and chemistry. and, in their pursuit of power, they perceived that they must keep scientists separated through specialization and unaware of their multiple achievements. The result is inefficiency due to imperfect information. Fuller's description of this seenario is vivid, the references current and convincing.
A utopia is possible because of scientific achievement. Manking will advance through more awareness and use of inventions. Development without government aid could be more efficient. Too many third parties destroy a singleness of purpose: When Fuller plans a building project for a poor community in East St. Louis, he advises the people to keep other investors out.
More cooperation between countries will ensue from the elimination of 150 nationalistic sovereign states. His plans include an electric energy network grid extending across the world, making energy consumption more efficient, recycling resources, and using lighter alloys. He also seeks to eliminate worthless occupations--such as insurance agencies--because these services should be provided outside the market.
The major weakness of his solution lies in its implementation. Thomas Edison believed when he invented motion pictures that within 50 years newspapers would be extinct and that no one would be learning from books. What Edison did not realize was that some changes will never be made because society does not want more efficiency at the expense of institutions. Similarly, people want to feel they are needeed for work. There are already millions of elderly people who don't want to retire but must. Most countries are highly nationalistic, with no desire to be integrated into a world-wide super nation, whatever the benefits. Fuller's dogmatic projection of technological advancement seems blind to these realities.
EVEN IF the world were ready for Fuller's suggestions, his plans must still be feasible. Fuller states that he has accumulated data on world resources and energy: he is sure the requirements of four billion people can be met. Yet, Fuller doesn't present enough facts to validate his utopia. Computers may not be able to handle the functions he envisians: a perfectly efficient world economy, whose computers would monitor the use and allocation of resources. However, computers can only handly a limited number of variables, and Fuller's plans seem to necessitate a computer that could solve billions of equations. His faith in technology is dubious.
There are also problems of equity and information. Someone will have to program the computers and decide what criterion is "best." Fuller suggests polling the population to decide policy. He wants to measure the "ultra-ultra-ultra-high frequency electromagnetic field" of all concerned individuals since humans give off fields alternating between positive and negative. Thus one could determine, literally, whether people feel positively about an option. His explanation is faulted. Since it appears one cold alter the readings by producing artificial fields, thus changing the national opinion.
The book is not as successful as Fuller originally intended. He does not convince that computers and world unity can save the world. nor that this goal is wanted. He believes. however, that salvation can be attained and want ended. Fuller's achievements are evidence that a creative spirit can accomplish wonders. The Critical Path is thought-provoking. Fuller, like Leonardo daVinci and sci-fi writers, brings forth ideas: their implementation may not be feasible today, not tomorrow, but the dream is needed before the utopia can be achieved.