R. Buckminster (Richard ) Fuller talks with Studs Terkel
BROADCAST: Jan. 20, 1965 | DURATION: 00:52:33
A sprawling conversation with R. Buckminster Fuller including his great aunt Margaret Fuller, future communication, the nature of work, human nature, and physics.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel At a time when so many of our creative spirits, or at least they seem to be creative spirits, sing of man's impotence, one of the most original spirits of our time, Buckminster Fuller--R. Buckminster Fuller--sings of man's potency. I think everyone aware of his work, and his work has so many facets to it, agrees that Buckminster Fuller is one of the original minds of our time. Bucky Fuller, once upon a time you were called strange, far out. Today you are accepted as seeing tomorrow the way other men look at yesterday. You still as optimistic as you were the last time we met about prospects for humanity?
R. Buckminster Fuller Much more so, I should say. More so because the reasons for my being optimistic before were not entirely mystical but were predicated on observation of certain fundamental patterns such as the fact that human beings don't really know how to make a baby. This beautiful, extraordinary piece of design we call a new life just emerges from the womb. And in as much as I know, the parents don't really know what it's about. They talk about what college they're going to send it to and so forth. And life is very successful despite man's great ignorance so that I've been observing those kind of patterns of life and gestation, as the new life is in the womb. I see that, really, the whole of mankind seems to be in a state of gestation. I think the whole of mankind is about to emerge from a universal womb into, really, a new kind of relationship to universe. If we had a--if telepathy or this sense of communication which we all experience from time to time to the point where it's so surprising that it can't be explained by probability, if that telepathy becomes confirmed in our next few years, as I think it will be, as ultra, ultra, ultra high-frequency communication, then we can assume that little babies have this same--possibly they have better, clearer stations that are working better, they have not had as many years to break down--so we have, are going to have, all the babies in the wombs--and I think on Earth there are at least 100 million babies in wombs at any one time--so that [we'll have?] all of the hundred million babies in the wombs all around the earth all communicating with each other by [TP? ESP?], this ultra, ultra, ultra high--so, they would say, "How are things over at your place, Joe?" And "Wonderful here, very warm. We seem to be--my universe seems to be juggling up and down."
Studs Terkel You know, I think that it seems that Buckminster Fuller speaks outrageously. I say it seems this way. And yet you've come up with so many outrageous explanations that turned out to be right, and accurate, and true, and practical. Isn't there a phrase you once used, Bucky, as you're talking now about babies, and ESP, and communicating--in other words--man knows so much yet does so little. [Bernofsky?] was saying once, [Bernofsky?] was saying that we know more than Ei--we have more facts at our disposal than Einstein did.
R. Buckminster Fuller Well, what I want to establish in your thoughts first, before we go to [this?], is the concept, then, of the hundred million babies who have, then, an environment that's, as we say, becoming familiar. And then to suddenly be born and emitted from the womb and into this relationship to man that we know around the earth, well, it must be a very sudden, surprising affair. Yet, it is a due process of life. And it did consist of, in that gestation period, of the growth of many cells. And so I see--also, I'm going to give you another kind of cellular group: the little coral animals. Each coral animal making little excretions, which make his own little local shell, and he adds his excretions to somebody else's shell but little individual coral animals are utterly unaware of the other, what the other coral animals are doing. Utterly unaware of the shape of the great coral frond of, consisting of the millions of little coral animals. Very much less aware of the coral reef and its effect on the Pacific Ocean currents. The effect of that, then, the coral reef, on the ocean currents and the effect on man on the land. All these are--no question about these effects; we were able to trace them. But I just want to get to the concept of the utter unawareness of the little individual coral animal, of his relationship to a bigger pattern. So I have, now, man on Earth as an individual utt--with his own little excretions, his little own local preoccupations, utterly unaware of the larger coral reef, in effect, he is building. So I spoke, then, about all the babies who were in the womb, suddenly being born and having entirely a new kind of experience. I speak now, then, of all man as part of cells of something bigger. There's something called mankind coming into an utterly new relationship with the universe. I have a strong feeling from all the trends that I read that man is about to emerge into so completely a new relationship with the universe that the older generations, who were familiar with the earlier womb-like--we might say--concept of Chicago, will be very, very ill-prepared for this extraordinary new relationship of total humanity. Which will, which we--I see coming on by virtue of our developing extraordinary awareness of the behavioral characteristics of life. We're just beginning to know that the new young life has very much greater capacity to learn than man had ever known before. That, really, all of education is through at seven years old, by the time we send them to something called school. And that we are now getting ready to turn that pre-seven year into its really high potential which means then there is a younger generation coming through to an entirely new relationship to the universe which we, as the older generation, are going to have a hard time to understand but which they will understand. We're already getting just even a little break. It's a tiny little break but in the bringing in, for instance, something called "the new mathematics" at school you suddenly find that parents who used to enjoy so much helping their children with their mathematics suddenly find themselves unable to help their children with what they're learning. The children are moving through into entirely new competence and, as I say, this is the beginning of a birth of a new relationship to universe because that new life, if it really is allowed to develop [within?] to its highest potential, its way of looking at the universe will be so different as to not look at all the way our newspapers talk of life today.
Studs Terkel Well, doesn't this pose the problem of our time? You speak of the infinite potentialities, possibilities that man has and you describe this and, Bucky, you see this. But doesn't this pose the problem today of our societies and the various worlds, the national governments, the way we think; we still think in a limited way--that is, man thinks so little, as you said, and thinks so much and yet does so little. How, then, can the molders of the different societies be aware of what you are aware? Isn't this the problem?
R. Buckminster Fuller My point is that the universe, the almighty, are the molders, and not the societies. I mean, the various associations of this group or that group feel reason for needing to associate; they're not going to form up what I'm talking about at all. They will, in their apprehensions and fear, their conditioned reflexes, are going to be opposed to these things that are happening but they're going to happen. What I'm interested in is what is permitted to happen in the terms of the fact the Earth does contain, still, its atmosphere. It does have all these extraordinary processes working. That the human brain does have very much high capability. So I would certainly expect this young, this whole new world of the young children informed by all the experience men have had before, plus the new capabilities, the integration of all that knowledge is going to bring about an entirely new way of looking at things.
Studs Terkel If I may play Cassandra for the moment, now: you, last time you spoke of Einstein, and your particular understanding of Einstein at the time, and how he knew that fission is possible, and, yet, what he thought of eventually destroyed a man. You spoke of his horror. And, yet, aren't we--isn't--I'm being Cassandra now. Doesn't the clock work against us in this respect with more and more atomic bomb possessing nations? And thinking, as we do, about nationalities and states?
R. Buckminster Fuller Well, just think of, go back to the Bronze Age and there were not so many people around and they all learned how to make stilettos. And those stilettos, they could just simply kill everybody else and the last one commit harakiri. The same trick we could do today with the atomic bomb. We've always had the ability to destroy ourselves, always been there. Even without the stiletto you could jump in the river. And man has always had the ability to destroy himself. And I simply, I'm utterly convinced that there is a much more powerful, total subconscious intuition of total man that time to time manifests itself. You know, I'm sure, within myself and most of humanity, are utterly surprised that suddenly a voice of--that will appear in an election or a refusal to do that--that suddenly there's a manifest of a great, deep wisdom of mankind that is much greater than anything that is manifested in any of their forecasts and analysis by any political commentator.
R. Buckminster Fuller I felt that there were a couple of sonic booms, I thought, near us, probably. That to have sonic booms over Chicago today as I'm talking here, it's 1965, and I recall in 1927 in Chicago, when I first started doing the work that I'm doing, wheeling my little child in her baby carriage in Lincoln Park. And I was amazed because a little biplane went over Lincoln Park. Airplanes were not very common in those days. You'll watch then and I'll--
R. Buckminster Fuller Just to remind ourselves of how uncommon it was, that same year that Lindbergh flew his airplane across the Atlantic. And I can tell you that the year after, 1927, when I was wheeling my baby in Lincoln Park, the first night mail was flown out of Chicago and it went out in a biplane, cloth-covered wings biplane, so that the [art?] was still very early and, in fact, it was three years later that the first aluminum airplanes came into being. So that when I saw that little airplane in the sky and it was a very strange sight I said, isn't it amazing: here's my child looking up at that airplane and she's just been born so that airplane in the sky is almost as natural to her as a bird. Because when I was born the airplane did not exist. In fact, I was 9 years old when the airplane was invented. So I said, I see this is a very different kind of environment with an airplane in, as normal, in your sky. It's because it was really sort of the beginning of an impossible set of things happening where the older generations said you can't possibly fly and you can't talk by air. But suddenly there was the radio which came in my day, too. So I said, Oh, then. My daughter, who was--I was wheeling the baby carriage--who had an airplane as normal in her sky, now has her daughter and her daughter was born 11 years ago. And that daughter was born in New York and they took her to an apartment in the northern end of New York which--and it was in a little wooden house on a high hill and it was right in the flight path for the western and continental bound flights out of LaGuardia and Idlewild. And the planes were going overhead at a rate almost four a minute and this little child, then, [lying?] in her crib, would hear this ROAR as the airplanes [went?] and people would say "airplane." So this happened and she had that experience so many times, instead of having her first word, Mommy or Daddy, which most children have--[so many?]--the first word she ever mouthed was "air." And so they would take her, then, in their arms to the window and they'd show her the airplane to identify what that sound was. So it happened that she had born in the fall, late November, and the trees, the leaves were off the trees outside the house. So she saw many thousands of airplanes before she ever saw a bird. I saw the children's books that were sent to her, which were the same kind of children's books that you get in any bookstore. There's a tradition what the children's book would be and they're the same children's books that were sent to me when I was a child so they were "Farmyard." There was a barn and all the nice natural things that a child would see: the horse, and the pig, and the cow, and the goat, sheep, rooster. And my daughter--my granddaughter--in New York City looked out the window and saw those airplanes and she saw the automobiles going by by the millions. But when they gave her this farm book, she'd never seen a sheep or a cow and it was as if you gave her these imaginary pictures of dragons and things. And she was very accommodating about it, she laughed about it. It was very amusing but they weren't natural to her.
Studs Terkel Doesn't this raise a challenging question, Bucky? Say, a 20th century Audubon would ask, "Is there not a danger of the sound of, the whir of the plane drowning out the song of the nightingale?"
R. Buckminster Fuller It's a poetic statement, Studs, and I also feel it's a poignant statement. And I know that I've come to wonder where the sound of those birds are. But I find when I get into the deep country the birds [have gone?]. The birds know something. In the first place they fly over, they can see things where we see it from the airplane now; they can see the patterns very beautifully. I think one of the most amazing things is the way the ducks and the geese learn where there are, where the safeguards have been put up for them by man. So that they know the refuges, they fly right to them. And in the same way the birds are now getting, they're flying around but they are picking other places where we just have to go fairly deep in the country to find them. At any rate, I'm also confident about the great big processes of nature and there are patterns that come and go and there was a time you might say, "Isn't it sad because we don't have the wonderful growling of the dinosaurs. They must be very poetically beautiful," [or something?]. And I'm not bothered at all by nature's own due process because we didn't invent the bird and we didn't invent the man. And I see that these things are moving along some very extraordinary evolution.
R. Buckminster Fuller Man is entirely a process. He is not a thing. There's a great tendency to think of ourselves like the mannequins in the store windows, as china dolls, but we are anything but. And we--just remember we are born and conceived at approximately no weight at all; then we weigh in at seven pounds and everybody says, "Oh, look at that child. That's just a spitting image of Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe." And so this, sure enough, there is a pattern and they seem to smile the same way, and that right eye is cocked a little. And so that same child goes through, it gets from seven pounds to seventy so we got used to, then, looking at 170 pounder with the same patterns as sort of the china doll. And we see him around quite a lot so we're going to misinterpret this extraordinary phenomena that is there. That same man can lose--from 170 [he can go?] back to 100. And he's just the same man. So what is there is not the [thinness?], or the pounds, or the potatoes he ate, but the extraordinary pattern of integrity which was the fact that you could see little Aunt Mary and so forth and the twinkle in the eye of that child. And so I, myself, am deeply impressed then with the continual process. I think we eat, we [take in?] somewhere around 7 tons of food each, and we breathe enormous amounts of air, enormous tons of water and that's not us. We are the capability to associate those extraordinary patterns and principles which are the chemical elements and somehow [or other?] employ that integrating process to do something called communication. And what you're doing with me--you're saying something to me and getting me to talk about patterns, you're talking about patterns--is, in the end, the--by far--the most important part of all this. In that process we do regenerate and so there's this extraordinary part of the invention to have two--have the baby factory here, and the baby factory manager there, and they get together and make baby. That's process.
Studs Terkel So, this process, which you call man, clearly, as you say, is more than the amount of food he consumes or the amount of mechanical contraptions he may use. Isn't this, in a way, related to the--if I may just introduce another figure who is part of your heritage, if not your life: your Great Aunt, Margaret Fuller, the transcendentalist of New England in the middle of the last century. She--how did this remar--one of the most remarkable women in American history figure in your life? Your great aunt?
R. Buckminster Fuller She died, she was drowned, you know, on Fire Island on her way back from Europe, way back in 1850. So that happened more than about a half century before I was born. So that my relationship to her was not even--my early childhood days when they told me that I had a Great Aunt Margaret, or there's a picture--that doesn't mean a thing. [Or that ?] there were some books and the shelves. My way of meeting Margaret was to discover her in print. I was reading, I was studying Goethe and some of Goethe's theories on time when I ran into a book called "Margaret Fuller and Goethe" and then I began to read Margaret and I suddenly found Margaret Fuller saying in that book, in a conversation about Goethe, things that I was saying in my own investigation regarding time. So that I suddenly found there was a kinship between this human being and myself and the, our way of looking at things, so I began to read much more of [it? her?]. So I discovered her not as my Aunt but as a human being who communicated a half century earlier. But I do think that, just as there are certain family traits and characteristics, and I look back at the family: my father, grandfather, and so forth, I can see their characteristics. So there must--and there are certain--even the way people laugh, or cackle, or anything like that there's a little, that kind of characteristic. So there probably is a little bit of a twist, the way you look at things.
Studs Terkel If I may suggest, Buckminster Fuller, that more of a little bit--the fact that she and you--she, ahead of her time: She drowned in 1850, spoke of the state of women, knew what was going on in Italy, friend of Mazzini. You, ahead of your time. Both looked upon in the beginning as strange, being somewhat crackpot-y, and the world began to realize, just as Margaret Fuller died, and in the midst of your life, the truth; the almost oracular quality that both of you have. So it's your--as the grandfather may have a twinkle that the grandchild has, you and your great aunt seemed to have this quest for man's possibility of being better than he is.
R. Buckminster Fuller She--I know that I am, in all my thinking, I am prone to shun the way school taught, tried to teach me to think. School tried to teach me to forget about the universe and just look at A, B, and C and one, two, and three. I don't. I must always start with the universe. I start from the whole and within the whole I can find the particular but I don't think I can get anywhere by just being paying attention to the particular. I never can be a super specialist or a horse with blinders on so I can't see the rest of the road. And I see, I know that Margaret was very prone that way and her writing makes it very clear. Paradoxically, she has become known to the world in a popular way from a very stupid little anecdote about this way of looking at the universe which was completely misunderstood. There's a book out that came out this last year by Perry Miller. Perry Miller was head of the Department of Early American Literature at Harvard and he just died after writing this book. And the book came out during this, just this time last year. And it's called "Margaret Fuller" by Perry Miller. It's in paperback and he opens that book by talking about the anecdote, too. The anecdote is about Margaret Fuller in conversation with Carlyle in England, not long after arrival there, in which Carlyle tells the anecdote, not Margaret, and the word has come down about Carlyle and Carlyle said, "Margaret Fuller said, 'I accept the universe.'" And he said, "Egad, she better." And [their world?] thought this was so amusing, that. At that time they were looking at Margaret as sort of a crackpot and the smart Carlyle had found this woman as sort of egotistically identifying herself personally with the universe and nobody else counted in the club. But what Margaret was thinking about, as you read her, was just what I said to you: she must start her thinking, her reasoning, with the universe. So when she said, "I accept the universe," she was simply saying, "I start off with my premises of the universe and then from there we'll see." Where are you, Studs Terkel, in, on--where is the earth? And what star group? And what, and how does there happen to be an earth and star group? And how a very strange thing there are mans on it and how is man able to exist? And there is a Studs Terkel in Chicago. [unintelligible] We have a few buildings and environment controls and she'd identify you in history very quickly. And her thinking was exciting to the men about her in her day because she did see herself--she could see herself and her fellow men in history. And she could see the struggle of man in the universe as a total struggle. She began to see if man, [as? is?] having a function in the universe how did--why was he there? Not as a passenger in a strange ship but as a working function of universe. And she wanted to understand that function.
Studs Terkel Isn't this the way you look at it? At man, too? Man and connection. This phrase--another phrase Carlyle used about her that may or may not have been apocryphal. That "She seeks to swallow the world like her oyster." That is--very rightfully so. That is, man, she wanted to swallow the world--the universe--as her egg or oyster. Isn't this right, though?
R. Buckminster Fuller She had the extraordinary, you might say, a muscular will; a drive that people mistook as sort of a vain, boastful ego. She was said to have said, and Perry Miller says it is beginning to turn out that she was right--she said she knew of no one in her day who knew as much as she did. She said she wished it wasn't so. But Perry Miller says it's turning out now, as we go back over the record, that apparently it was true. So she really was--it probably hurt her a little to say it--but this was mistaken as a very boastful ego. And Carlyle, in saying this about the oyster and so forth, was stressing a popular viewpoint about Margaret at that time.
Studs Terkel I would look at it, I was looking just in the opposite point of view in reference to you. That is, just the opposite: That the universe and the world are so full that you want to drink of it as much as possible. She went everywhere, she saw Carlyle, the British Isles, saw the Brownings in Italy--
Studs Terkel Saw George Sand in France, traveled all over and worked with Mazzini. You--the world is yours, too, [is what I'm trying to say?]. You are in New Delhi one day, you are in Ghana the next day, offering your credo, your approach. I meant this in a very--what man can do, what one Buckminster Fuller is saying man can do and is doing.
R. Buckminster Fuller Well, there are a great many people travelling around the world as I am. I think, Studs, I'm one of a class of something better than a million who are covering about as much territory as I am. I'm averaging a trip around the world every year and a half. Not because I'm trying to go around the world but just simply the pattern. Let's see, I used to be going back from New York to Chicago in the '20s, on the 20th century. And that [is so?] big a pattern. But now we just find that the whole world is involved and in the places I have to go. Incidentally, I have a discipline which is that I don't go any place unless I've been asked to go there. There is only one way in which I would break that rule and that is when my granddaughter, my grandchildren, are on the West Coast and I have an opportunity to go to see them so I would go there. But I would say that, really, is almost a calling, too. They draw me. But I'm no, I'm not a tourist. I don't go on curiosity and I never go around and ask anybody to listen to me. So my trips around the world are primarily because people ask me to come and talk to them. And it's because I think that I have such discipline as to only go where I'm asked, that makes it possible for me to read the pattern of where I am being asked as being significant. So, I'm used to studying big patterns like that.
Studs Terkel I think you said what I was trying to say--I may have goofed on it--and that's that you are, in a sense, the new kind of man of which you speak: a universal man. That is, they seek what you have to give, whether it's the geodesic dome idea, whether it be in India or in the Soviet Union or Asia or China, wherever it is. Do you see this in the 20th century? This new kind of--do you see the 20th century as being different than the 19th. Less materialistic?
R. Buckminster Fuller Utterly different. I'd say that the calculating machine is going to take over functions of man and that the automation will take over others and men are going to have to find entirely new relationships to the universe. They're going to be much pleasanter relationships. In fact, the ones that they were given the greatest capability and the ones who relate to their brain, and to vision, and to reason. And not to the automation because all men have always had automation. We just had lunch a few minutes ago and you don't know what's happening to your lunch now but it's all automated; it's being processed and sent off to various plants and made. And some that's being made here, and some that's made [in the flesh?], and so forth, and some has been sent out. But, rather, you're not controlling that at all, that's all automated. We've always had automation but with some of the automation is going to take over more and more of the tasks and regression to the external metabolics of man. And we are going to be much--man is going to be greatly preoccupied with patterns, some very significant to the kinds of things we are talking about now. I would then say that man used to be the--I was born in the era of the specialist and almost everybody is trained to be specialists. And I set about to be purposefully comprehensive; just the opposite. And for this reason I've found that my kind of pattern, the kinds of things that I discover, has, for the moment, been different from that of my fellow men who were specialists in finding out a great deal about very small areas. And I've wanted to put all that together and learned ways to do so. I don't think I have any unique capability but my pattern is just that different by that, for that reason. I also made up my mind that you don't just find out something to entertain yourself, you must find out things in order to be able to turn that to advantage. So I must turn everything not just into a philosophical statement but into [actual? actually?] tools. I must reorganize the environment of man. I felt that this is a function we're given: to reorganize our environment by virtue which then man, greater numbers of men can prosper. That's been my main undertaking. Now because I then gave myself that kind of a task--a what I call a design revolution versus a political revolution--and because I deliberately was comprehensive, I find that my kind of deliberate training, then, is very different from the deliberate training of others with almost just the exception per se of some artists. Artists often do this spontaneously. So, I find artists have tended to be my friend but I'm, time and again, I am asked by an interviewer or even somebody who is interested in affecting some end, "Who else do you know who thinks the way you do or does what you do?" And I find it very strange to have to answer I don't know anybody else. And it's not because, then, I think of myself unique but simply because I really did choose a very different grand strategy. And not because I think that I have capabilities that other human beings don't have. So my difference, really, is in the intuitions that made me start off in various ways and so there you could say there are intuitions that have also come along as family traditions to encourage intuition. For instance, I think it was encouraged in my family. That could relate to a Margaret Fuller kind of an influence.
Studs Terkel The last time we met--there are so many questions I want to ask you. We can turn this tape. There's no problem, you know. There are so many questions I want to ask you, Mr. Fuller. You spoke, remember, of your--
R. Buckminster Fuller I found the sailors very extraordinary teachers. They do not communicate well to a man they feel is just a stranger who has tried to exploit them or who doesn't want to understand. But if they, if you're a child and you show enthusiasm and a love for what they're doing then they will just open themselves up and show you how they, exactly how they bait their line, and just where the fish are, and so forth. These wonderful pieces of experimentally acquired knowledge--I should say acquired in great pain and cold winter days in ice on the water there. And to learn then how to, really, the quick way you will tie a line. Never mind about the yachting magazines. What is necessary to keep that boat at the top of the water and get it--arriving safely at destination carrying the load it needs to carry. And how do you maintain it and keep it there. And so I learned from those sailors. And those sailors in Maine were very interesting ones because they also were usually farmers. They lived on islands. The island was sort of a big boat and these smaller boats they went fishing in, well, the small boats went off of the big boat. But they learned how to, then, to grow things on the land and how to supply their boats and they didn't have to go to the mainland for very much. They milked their cow and they made their butter and they grew corn. They didn't grow much wheat. They would be liable to buy their flour on the mainland. There was very little to trade it for so they'd take their fish to the mainland. They learned how to get on with nature with approximately no contact with the rest of civilization. And I think that's possibly the most important of all my young experiences.
R. Buckminster Fuller Very extraordinary. So we could say the farmer and the fisherman has been for a awful long time. The farmer tended to be able to get on almost entirely on his own. But all men will always discover in the end that they can't get on without other men.
Studs Terkel Isn't this one of the problems of a man working in a factory today? He doesn't know what he--he turns the screw but he doesn't quite know what the end product of his work will be. Doesn't this destroy so much of--
R. Buckminster Fuller I think, unfortunately, there have been so many interruptions between the screw, and the nut, and the relationship of that nut finally to a bolt, and a bridge, and then a radio set, and then a meat chopper that man hasn't been allowed to put enough time in thinking about those connections and how important those nuts and bolts are, as a nut and bolt man, because he doesn't make them, he just stands around the machine the machine makes it. I think, Studs, the struggle, first, for life has been so, so hard. Up to just this last decade, in the whole history of man on Earth, there seemingly was not anywhere nearly enough to go around, therefore the majority of human beings assumed it was you or me. And you might be the people guarding this good farmland and you knew there's some other people didn't have good farmland, they're coming around, so you trusted in the local knight. And he became the local knight by saying, "Our God, your fields," and "You just come up in the castle when the marauders come around and we we'll clean them up." So you had an early manifestation of man; there wasn't enough to go around and [they're really bad?]. So, even as we began to do more with less--we did have more to go around--[you might?] say, "How could you possibly have more to go around? How could Malthus have been wrong?" Well, Malthus didn't think about the fact that if you were able to pick the food in the field and you were able to refrigerate it that you might be able to get it here because he assumed that most of the food was going to rot in the field or that even if you did pick it and got it into baskets it'd rot before you could--you couldn't send it around the world. But today we can send it around the world. So there's no reason why anything that grows shouldn't reach [their?] mouth. And he couldn't count on that. So those are the kind of things that have come in in the meantime. Meantime, however, we've got a very complex kind of an accounting system, all of which was worked up. For instance, the word "failure" is in our accounting system. For instance, the word "mortgage"--mortgage is a terrible word. Death, deathage, [mortis?] is death. Deathage. We have deathage as part of our--every house has deathage on it.
R. Buckminster Fuller We just assume death all the time in this accounting system; only a few are going to get through. And the whole accounting system is fraught with [add on?]. So this poor man who's getting paid for his nuts and bolts, is getting paid by a clerk who wonders whether he's going to ever--he's not producing anything, he's just putting things to ink on a paper, "They can't pay me for that. That [or nobody'd eat it?]." And people are questioning whether jobs have any security at all. So there's enormous amount of fear about whether, how you're going to get on. But the great changes that I've spoken about--enormous change is coming. One of the fascinating changes began to loom into sight even at the political level where I assume things--where man is dullest and the most--because it's brutally practical--but we have Eisenhower and Khrushchev coming together in Switzerland, 1954. 10 years ago. We have the first meeting of the heads of all the states of the world. And they have their scientists are with them and the scientists suddenly say to them, it is safe for you, Mr. Head Man, to say to the other head man, and say to the world, because the world was listening, that it is possible now to harvest and preserve and distribute that food in such a way that we could take care of everybody. An absolutely new note came into the life of man at this moment. This has not, as yet, been realized. As yet we've only taken care of around 40 percent of humanity because we're going through in quotas in our own country to [continually?] say, "No, you can't put that wheat in a field of wheat anymore, you're going to get too many, the prices will go down." We don't just produce and distribute it and get it to the people. We have the ability but we, as yet, are tied in with all kinds of our laws of yester that are related to the fact that only a few were going to survive. And these are hard laws made, really, in a sense, by those who were the successful ones who wanted to exclude. And we're going to have to change that and we will change it. You and I are in the public world. And you said to me, this was earlier here, "Yes, we now have this coming, looming into view, that there could be enough to go around." With this new, the new generation growing up now, our babies are going to grow up in a world which they'll never [want for anything?]. I spoke about an utterly new world, a world in which it is assumed there's plenty to go around. Which is--you don't have to have a job to prove your right to live. Where you--the first thing you're going to think of is how--instead of--is not how am I going to earn a living but what needs to be done and what am I interested in and where might I make a contribution. What an extraordinary new preoccupation of man.
Studs Terkel This will involve a redefinition of work, wouldn't it? You know, that is, man need not earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; also call for a redefinition of the Puritan ethic, too, wouldn't it?
R. Buckminster Fuller Work will be the most privileged word we have. The right to work will be not, of course, with the muscle but with the right to work with your brain, work with your mind. And you are born with that but just getting accredited by the other man to be allowed to use that tool and so forth, and to get credit enough so he helps you and cooperates with you and you make a breakthrough on behalf of your fellow man [is the next one?]. That is work and work will be the most beautiful thing we do. It's pure poetry.
R. Buckminster Fuller Just as we're used to the idea of having enough air. People don't think much about that air. But when we have a great fire in a theater there's panic and suddenly there's no air. And there's people [suffocating?]. And then they're so unused to the idea of not having air they tramp right over each other, kill each other brutally, they run over each other's bodies, run over children. Go mad. They're so used to having air and so they don't know how to behave on a basis of there's not enough to go around, of air. So the assumption is, really, there's enough to go around will be everywhere and be a very different kind of an attitude.
Studs Terkel So wars become obsolete for two reasons, then: one, there are no [survivors?], what with nuclear bombs, and the other is, there's no relevance to it if there's war for food, for survival, isn't there?
R. Buckminster Fuller Let's get at what are the fundamentals of war. I will agree that you have conditioned reflexes which you can condition, condition so you develop a fighting cock by inbreeding fighting cocks, so that we probably have quite a little inbred fighting men still today who were good [unintelligible] men, and good swordsmen, and so forth. And we probably inbred those in the days gone by so there are probably a lot of fighting instincts still in man. But that is not what I'm really getting at. Because we can crossbreed those people and we can breed that out again. What is really important is the reason we [originally?] had war--
R. Buckminster Fuller Yes. We take a good racehorse and you crossbreed him with a good Percheron and he's no longer a good racehorse. He gets to be a much better, comprehensive horse; you can put him in a harness, you can ride him, or you can jump him, anything. And you work him. So what is specialization--Inbreeding is a specialization. And so when we want a good racer we inbreed. But we inbreed at the cost of other general capabilities. You breed out the, exclude the general capabilities, and leave only special capabilities. So I think we probably did inbreed some special capability in war, war-wiseness, in that sort of a slyness of things. But that could be cross bred out quite rapidly.
R. Buckminster Fuller Oh, yes. So, in the first place I'm going to get out the war itself. The war was there because there wasn't enough to go around. If there's not enough to go around, [meaning?], I'm not just talking about this in sort of a club--in a dilettante manner. I'm saying one of us is going to die. One is going to starve. Now, starving is a slow process, really a very uncomfortable, particularly if your family is starving and you have the pain of watching the people you love starving. So, in a sense, a war--if there's not enough to go around--then just getting up swords and cutting each other down and at least having a good sport about it, in a sense, was noble and you had the pain over quicker. And so I don't, I think people looked on war in a very different way than the way we do today. But that war was because there was not enough to go around. Period. Next, then, I say we are going now to have enough to go around. So the basic reason for war is gone. But, as I said, we also, just as we could inbreed high running capability for a horse, but by virtue of outbreeding general capabilities and general adaptability, we find that horse, then, when there's a fire in the barn he doesn't have the sense enough to get himself out. So I will cross--we will begin--man is just inherently crossbreeding. The drives are to cross breed so that he will cross breed and he will cross breed out any of the total--I don't think these are very deep, incidentally--but the now bred in, or inbred tendencies to just to fight. I myself, I can understand physical exercise. I was an athlete, and I love football and so forth, and I have no tendency to guard my physical comfort. I really enjoyed the struggle with the muscle and so forth. And I didn't feel that you did get hurt. You got crushed and so forth but it doesn't hurt. So that kind of thing is in us and I don't understand, then, people being enthusiastic about boxing and so forth. But I can't ever really, personally be--I can think about that exhilarating thing or the athletic battle but I can't be enthusiastic about knocking a fellow in his nose or the side and finally just getting and crushing down this--abusing some very beautiful tools any more than I'd enjoy taking up a clock and just slamming it on the floor and so forth and expect it to function. And so I think we will get over that. Whatever there is in here that is, you might say, a malevolent fighting instinct [which might, gets down to the sly?]. That will, that's sort of the inbred thing and that'll be cross bred out. There will be residual in man, we'll have to do something about it for generations to come, but it will not be predominant enough to push the great button.
Studs Terkel Well, assume, then, that the new generation coming up, one you ascribe much more advanced knowing, so much more than those preceding it. Assume, then, that no nut pushes a button. This world you see--there's so many things to ask you, Bucky, that you have foreseen--do you see a roofless--ask you questions now, not specific ones--do you see, thinking of your geodesic dome, do you see actually roofless--roofed cities? Cities roofed, ever? [Since we speak of?] man and elements.
R. Buckminster Fuller I think we are continually doing more with less and my geodesic domes do a very great deal with very little. But I think they're only symptomatic, Studs, and I wouldn't be surprised if we found ways to control that environment over the city without even seeing the roof there. There would be an electrical field control and so forth and so we could make the water go and dump over here and pipe it there and so forth. Whatever it may be.
Studs Terkel The use of materials--I know this is--your unique use of materials. You once said, I remember last time, how Neanderthal building, the building was--the process of--in contrast to aircraft. And you spoke of materials stronger than their very weight. This is part of the--new ways in which materials, old and new, can be used. [unintelligible]
R. Buckminster Fuller I don't find us dependent on materials. This is an old time way of thinking about it. I'm talking, Studs, in the building world that what you can do depends on the materials at hand. So, it was true when you wanted to build a house and you didn't have any ship to bring you anything else and you couldn't afford anything else either. So you used the stone that was there or the tree that was there. But both tree and stone are very complex chemistries and we've learned to take the metal out of that stone and we've learned to take all kinds of things out of the tree. So plastics are the same kind of chemistries where we use the special aspects of those patterns. Now, the main thing about materials today, man used to be dependent on them. Now he makes the materials and we are at a point where we are, our great research work is continually saying, "What are the tasks to be done?" This is, in the advanced jet airplane, and even more so in the rocketry, you say, "I must have a, something that will hold together, have a certain shape. And must have a certain strength for it, certain stresses and it must be able to do that at a re-entry heat." And that material, so-called material, didn't exist so man goes about and develops that material. So he is now making the materials. So he's not dependent on the materials he found. What is the task to be done? What are its behavior characteristics? And then he finds out how to reorganize the chemistries in such a way as to bring about those characteristics. And that is very possible. And that is, really, the new order of affairs. In 1932 man isolated, made his 92nd isolation of a chemical element, there being an original family of 92 regenerative chemical elements. In the year 1932, which is usually thought of as a year of depression, and therefore a low moment for society, was quite the other way in the terms of the real success of man because that was the year in which we had, then, the 92 chemical elements on the shelves, separated out and available to be re-associated in the preferred ways and, so, all these new materials which we're making. I don't even like the word material. It's sort of deceiving. But these new chemical associations which we are developing, which make possible this kind of a structure which can have safe re-entry at those great heats, and plunge into the seas at enormous velocities and keep [a man? matter?] safe just a few inches behind it; it's cool and comfortable. Those are consequences of our being able to separate out the 92 basic patterns, chemical elements, and re-associate them in the preferred ways.
Studs Terkel You know, a strange thought occurred to me as you're talking, because you denigrate this word "material" and, as you do, you prove that--you spoke of a materialistic age, the 19th cen--entering into a new non-mater--even now, literally, using the word "literally" mat--you say, "Man's thought." You see man conceiving, you know, space, time, everything, in which material becomes a secondary matter, really.
R. Buckminster Fuller I shun the word material because it also is built on the root matter and the concept of matter has now been completely obliterated by the most advanced of the scientific exploration. Which in the last decade the nuclear physicists, in separating out the nucleus into its various components, which came as great surprise to man that this--what he had thought was the key thing or matter which was the atom--could be broken apart into an enormous number of secondary components, he has found, then, that the nucleus of the atom involves negative particles--he calls--as well as positive particles. Now these negative particles--every positive particle has a negative counterpart--which means that the negative has all the reverse characteristics. Therefore the negative particles have literally reverse weight. The average over the weight of all of these is zero and we discover that the man is dealing in pure principles. There is no matter. There are no things. There is no smallest thing. Matter involved, infers a thing: a solid, a surface. The words solids and surface are gone. It is a pity that one of the latest phases of the modern, really, applied science, has been called solid-state physics. This word was used just at the time when man discovered there are no solids. He's learned that an atom is a completely discontinuous array of events like a great Milky Way. There's nothing solid about it at all. I know how they happened to use it. They had thought in the solid-state physics that they were going to be able to keep reducing the temperature of the experiment. They were going to take liquids down so everything was going to get down to its crystalline, which they confused with crystalline in solid. They suddenly discovered that some of them would not come to crystalline; they suddenly just went over and reversed again in a negative universe where the word solid just doesn't hold.
Studs Terkel Well, Bucky Fuller, this is practically an hour in which you've been talking simply, improvising, pressing your credo, too, through what you've been telling the world and, indeed, proving to it. Perhaps one last, I know, one of your talks as you travel through various cities is the prospect for humanity. And you paint a prospect that is affirmative in contrast to so many prospects painted by others. And one of your talks was reprinted in the "Saturday Review." The 45th anniversary issue opens: "The scriptures were right. The meek have inherited the earth but they do not know it." You still believe this?
R. Buckminster Fuller Yes. I'm convinced that that is correct. Very much so. And I feel that for the moment the trustees of the will, the lawyers, [in a sense?], the managers, politicians, the corporation managers, don't as yet really know quite how to handle this. They've never had such a big will to handle so they're a little mildly confused. They haven't gotten to completely probate it. Once they probate that thing then we're going to see man on earth a real success.
Studs Terkel Buckminster Fuller, thank you very much indeed. And I think just as a sign off, for me, the refreshing aspect of listening to someone like Bucky Fuller talk. We hear so often of man's--we opened by saying men today seem to sing of man's impotence. He's one who sings of man's potency and potentialities. So good to hear. [pause in recording] This is our program for this morning. And after this message a word about tomorrow's program. Tomorrow will be our tribute to one of the best of American songwriters, the late Johnny Mercer. Until then take it easy but take it.