Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 847
The selfless, high-minded, almost spiritual pursuit of science and technology for the betterment of mankind has been the lifelong activity of Buckminster Fuller. He had unquestioning faith that it can be the lifetime activity of all humanity because of the natural benevolence of man and his continually evolving rational mind. He presents arguments proposing that technology is the vehicle by which such success may be attained. Technology can, in fact, overcome the king-of-the-hill order of social groups—most important, of governments. Rulers, he suggests, hold power through skill, wit, and brawn which create fear in the masses.
He further believes that rulers maintain power by encouraging specialization among bright people. Such specialists are thereby kept apart and cannot gather sufficient power themselves because of their very separation and narrow focus. Yet since human beings become actively aggressive only when “what they have relied on is no longer working,” it follows that if they are given enough material goods and are offered enough opportunities to help their fellowman, they will become peaceful, and the avariciousness inherent in national governments will dissolve. Such satisfaction of human needs is achieved through technology. This thesis has been praised for its originality by Guy Murchie and dismissed by James Traub, who claimed that Fuller “wanders off the deep end of optimism.”
Fuller willingly acknowledges that prognostication is a subjective science. Still, he predicts a startlingly provocative critical path for humanity based on synergy, the union of several scientific systems, which, when united, create a sum greater than the parts. Fuller consistently attempts to step back and gain broader perspectives in order to explain existence.
He combines technology with other disciplines to produce artifacts that will induce proper behavior in mankind, all of which are dependent upon already existing technologies. He suggests a world energy network so that the nations of the world can share the same system fairly and equitably. This, he asserts, will be in full operation, thanks to computers, by the end of the 1980’s. His confidence in computers and video equipment for home instruction is enormous. He predicts that home video and computer equipment will be the source of a highly educated and trained populace, since the only real education is self-education. Furthermore, this population may anticipate a career requiring only 35,200 hours of lifetime production during a total of 13.5 years because of the efficiency of a world organization for society.
Fuller also unhesitatingly addresses the question of why man was created. He believes it is self-evident that actions and creations on Earth can never be considered unnatural, only unfamiliar. If nature permits a substance or an organism to exist on Earth, it must therefore be considered natural, never synthetic. Man, then, functions as a part of nature. His purpose in nature may be exemplified in his tilling of the soil, raising animals, creating art, inventing technology. He is intended by God to be “primarily syntropic,” that is, to conserve, produce, support, and regenerate through his generous and compassionate propensities. Ephemeralization operates to this end. Still, Fuller laments that big religious, industrial, or ideological interests are corrupting influences. He offers his proposals for the industrialization of Brazil, commissioned in 1943, as an example of ways to improve conditions for a large portion of the world’s population.
The final portion of Critical Path is a determination of the order in which to begin using the various “artifacts” necessary to the omnicooperation of mankind. First, Fuller suggests the institution of a worldwide integrated electrical energy network; and, second, the construction of domed cities and air-deliverable domes to be used as single family or small group homes. Fuller names these “fly’s eye domes,” 5/8 spheres with seven-foot-diameter pores or circular openings for windows, doors, and vents; semiautonomously constructed with no sewers, water pipes, or electric power supply connections. An enormous prototype of an entire enclosed city is “Old Man River City,” planned for East St. Louis, Illinois, a crater-shaped construction with inside walls opening onto communal spaces and the outside walls, a series of concrete rings, serving as terraces for twenty-five thousand families. The center of the crater would be covered with an umbrellalike geodesic dome. Fuller claims that never has he felt that a project could have such promise for humanity.
It must be noted that, while Critical Path is unswerving in its vision of man’s path through history, even at the cost of excessive repetition, its style is varied. Fuller shifts freely from clear, factual exposition to sermonic exhortation, from the analytic detachment of a scientist to the chatty manner of a journalist; at points of special importance, he lapses into lists of neologisms used to describe some abstraction. An example of this is the following statement:Mind possibly may serve as the essential, antientropic (syntropic) function for eternally conserving the omni-interaccommodative, nonsimultaneous, and only partially overlapping, omni-intertransforming, self-regenerating scenario—which we speak of as “Universe.”
It may be said that the entire book is fanciful, rather than realistic or practical. Yet from such flights of virtuous fancy are born the slow but rhythmic steps of the changes in society.
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