A non-technical, easy-to-follow guide...

printable version >

Buckminster Fuller's acclaimed book, Critical Path, hasn't reached the mass audience it deserves, possibly because people see it as "difficult". With the following excerpts, we hope to show Fuller's easy-to-follow ideas – the subversive (socially and economically) utopian ideas, scathing of politicians, bureaucrats and power elites, but realistic and essential.
Links to other Fuller
texts are given below
– including full text
of chapter 3 of
Critical Path >

[On money, work & idleness]

[All the passages in black are from Fuller's introduction to Critical Path.]

Those who make money with money deliberately keep it scarce. Money is not wealth. Wealth is the accomplished technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growful needs of life. […]

History's political and economic power structures have always fearfully abhorred "idle people" as potential troublemakers. Yet nature never abhors seemingly idle trees, grass, snails, coral reefs, and clouds in the sky. […]

In 1953 my friend the late Walter Reuther, then president of the United Auto Workers, was about to meet with the board of directors of General Motors. [...] Walter had all his fine-tuning machinists put the following problem into their computers: "In view of the fact that most of General Motors' workers are also its customers, if I demand of General Motors that they grant an unheard-of wage advance plus unprecedented vacation, health, and all conceivable lifetime benefits for all of its workers, amounting sum-totally to so many dollars, which way will General Motors make the most money: by granting or refusing?" All the computers said, "General Motors will make the most profit by granting."

Thus fortified, Walter Reuther made his unprecedented demands on General Motors' directors, who were elected to their position of authority only by the stockholders and who were naturally concerned only with the welfare of those stockholders. Reuther said to the assembled General Motors board of directors: "You are going to grant these demands, not because you now favor labor (which, in fact, you consider to be your enemy), but because by so granting, General Motors will make vastly greater profits. If you will put the problem into your new computers, you will learn that I am right."

The directors said, "Hah-hah! You obviously have used the wrong computers or have misstated the problem to the computers." Soon, however, all their own computers told the directors that Walter was right. They granted his demands. Within three years General Motors was the first corporation in history to net a billion-dollar profit […]

The computer will show that 70 percent of all jobs in America and probably an equivalently high percentage of the jobs in other Western private-enterprise countries are preoccupied with work that is not producing any wealth or life support – inspectors of inspectors, reunderwriters of insurance reinsurers, Obnoxico* promoters, spies and counterspies, military personnel, gunmakers, etc. […]

We find all the no-life-support-wealth-producing people going to their 1980 jobs in their cars or buses, spending trillions of dollars' worth of petroleum daily** to get to their no-wealth-producing jobs. It doesn't take a computer to tell you that it will save both Universe and humanity trillions of dollars a day to pay them handsomely to stay at home.

One would hope the at-home-staying humans will start thinking – "What was it I was thinking about when they told me I had to 'earn my living' – doing what someone else had decided needed to be done? What do I see that needs to be done that nobody else is attending to? What do I need to learn to be effective in attending to it in a highly efficient and inoffensive-to-others manner?"

"It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry"

[On ruling elites & technology]

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I and a few intimates founded the East India Company. Exercising her crown privileges, the queen granted the company limited liability for losses on the part of the enterprise backers. They could lose their money if the ship were lost, but they could not be held liable for the lives of the sailors who were drowned. While the owners could insure and very greatly limit the magnitude of their losses, the sailors and their families could not. "Ltd." – limited, in England – and "Inc." – incorporated, in the USA – and other similar legal definitions in all capitalist countries constitute "for ages uncontested" – ergo, custom-validated and legal-judgments-upheld – royal decrees greatly favoring big-money capitalism over the mortal breadwinner-loss-taking vast majority of the poor.

Elizabeth's East India Company scheme was to have her national navy (and armies) first win mastery of the world's sea-lanes. This advantage would thereafter be exploited by her privately owned enterprise. This scheme became one of the first of such national power structure bids for establishing and maintaining world-trade supremacy through dominance of the world's high seas', ocean currents', trade winds', critical straits', and only-seasonably-favorable passages' world-around line of vital and desirable supplies. All the other world-power-stature individuals who vied for supreme mastery of the world's high seas lines of supply also operated invisibly through monarchs and nations over whom they had sufficient influence. Through such behind-the-throne influence the influenced nation's resources could be politically maneuvered into paying for the building and operation of the navies and armies that would seek to establish and protect their respective privately owned enterprises.

With the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the British Empire won "the world's power structures championship" and became historically the first empire "upon which," it was said, "the sun never sets." This is because it was the first empire in history to embrace the entire spherical planet Earth's 71-percent maritime, 29-percent landed, wealth-producing activities. […]

Building and maintaining the world's most powerful navy, the 1805 supremely victorious British Empire was to maintain its sovereignty over the world's oceans and seas for 113 years.

Concurrently with its 1600 A.D.-initiated two centuries of maritime and military struggle for world dominance, England was also developing a civilian army of the world's best-informed and Empire-backed scientific, economic, and managerial personnel for the most economically profitable realization of its grand, world-embracing strategies. To educate the army of civil servants was the responsibility of the East India Company College located just outside of London. (In 1980 it is as yet operating.) Its graduates went to all known parts of the planet to gather all possible data on the physical and human culture resources to be exploited as well as information on the local customs of all the countries large and small, with whom Great Britain and the East India Company must successfully cope and trade.

[On Malthus, Darwin and Marx]

In 1800 Thomas Malthus, later professor of political economics of the East India Company College, was the first human in history to receive a comprehensively complete inventory of the world's vital and economic statistics. The accuracy of the pre-Trafalgar 1800 inventory was verified by a similar world inventory taken by the East India Company in 1810. In a later – post-Trafalgar – book Malthus confirmed in 1810 his l800 finding that world-around humanity was increasing its numbers at a geometrical progression rate while increasing its life-support production at only an arithmetical progression rate, ergo, an increasing majority of humans would have to live out their short years in want and misery.

"Pray all you want," said Malthus, "it will do you no good. There is no more!"

A half-century later Darwin expounded his theory of evolution, assuming that nature's inexorable processes were the consequence of the "survival only of the fittest species and individuals within those species."

Karl Marx compounded Malthus's and Darwin's scientifically convincing conclusions and said, in effect "The worker is obviously the fittest to survive. He is the one who knows how to handle the tools and seeds to produce the life support. The opulent others are 'parasites.'" The opulent others said, "We are opulent and on top of the heap because we demonstrate Darwin's 'fittest to survive.' The workers are dull and visionless. What is needed in this world is big-thinking enterprise, courage, cunning, and fighting skill." For the last century these two ideologies, communism and free enterprise, have dominated the political affairs of world-around humanity. Each side says, "You may not like our system, but we are convinced that we have the fittest, fairest, most ingenious way of coping with the lethal inadequacy of life support operative on our planet, but because there are those who disagree diametrically on how to cope, only all-out war can resolve which system is fittest to survive." .

Those in supreme power politically and economically as of 1980 are as yet convinced that our planet Earth has nowhere nearly enough life support for all humanity. All books on economics have only one basic tenet – the fundamental scarcity of life support. The supreme political and economic powers as yet assume that it has to be either you or me. Not enough for both. That is why (1) those in financial advantage fortify themselves even further, reasoning that unselfishness is suicidal. That is why (2) the annual military expenditures by the USSR, representing socialism, and the USA, representing private enterprise, have averaged over $200 billion a year for the last thirty years, doubling it last year to $400 billion – making a thus-far total of six trillion, 400 billion dollars spent in developing the ability to kill ever-more people, at ever-greater distances, in ever-shorter time.

[On the "more from less" trend of technology and the obsolescence of war]

A one-quarter-ton communication satellite is now outperforming the previously used 175,000 tons of transatlantic copper cables, with this 700,000-fold reduction in system-equipment weight providing greater message-carrying capacity and transmission fidelity, as well as using vastly fewer kilowatts of operational energy. […]

[This is just one of] hundreds of thousands of instances that can now be cited of the accomplishment of much greater performance with much less material. […]

Neither the great political and financial power structures of the world, nor the specialization-blinded professionals, nor the population in general realize that sum-totally the omni-engineering-integratable, invisible revolution in the metallurgical, chemical, and electronic arts now makes it possible to do so much more with ever fewer pounds and volumes of material, ergs of energy, and seconds of time per given technological function that it is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a "higher standard of living than any have ever known." It no longer has to be you or me.

Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete.

It could never have been done before. Only ten years ago the more-with-less technology reached the point where it could be done. Since then the invisible technological-capability revolution has made it ever easier so to do. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry. The essence of livingry is human-life advantaging and environment controlling. With the highest aeronautical and engineering facilities of the world redirected from weaponry to livingry production, all humanity would have the option of becoming enduringly successful.

All previous revolutions have been political – in them the have-not majority has attempted revengefully to pull down the economically advantaged minority. If realized, this historically greatest design revolution will joyously elevate all humanity to unprecedented heights. […]

Technologically we now have four billion billionaires on board Spaceship Earth who are entirely unaware of their good fortune. Unbeknownst to them their legacy is being held in probate by general ignorance, fear, selfishness, and a myriad of paralyzing professional, licensing, zoning, building laws and the like, as bureaucratically maintained by the incumbent power structures. […]

Bureaucracies will panic because all the great political, religious, and – most of all – big-business systems would find their activities devastated by the universal physical success of all humanity. All the strengths of all great politics and religion and most of business are derived from the promises they give of assuaging humanity's seemingly tragic dilemma of existing in an unalterable state of fundamental inadequacy of life support. […]

The world populace identifies technology with (1) weapons and (2) machines that compete with them for their jobs. Most people therefore think they are against technology, not knowing that the technology they don't understand is their only means of exercising their option to "make it" on this planet and in this life.

[On the global energy network]

The world energy network grid will be responsible for the swift disappearance of planet Earth's 150 different nationalities. We now have 150 supreme admirals, all trying to command the same ship to go in different directions, with the result that the ship is going around in circles – getting nowhere. The 150 nations act as 150 blood clots in blocking the flow of recirculating metals and other traffic essential to realization of the design science revolution.

[A subversive viewpoint on education]

Comprehensively and incisively programmed with all the relevant data regarding education, it will be evidenced that the physical and social costs will be far less for individual, at-home-initiated, research-and-development-interned self-teaching than having individual students going to schools, being bused, and so on. This mass-production baby-sitting is only continued because of the union-organized response to the fear of the teachers about losing their jobs. Their political clout has for long been strong enough to guarantee continuance of this inefficiency to the present moment. The computer will make it clear that by far the most effective educational system for human beings – all the way from birth through early childhood and on – is that to be derived from the home video cassette system and its supporting books, the pages of which are also to be called forth on world-satellite-interlinked video "library" screens as published in any language. The computer will also make it very clear that, freed of the necessity to earn a living, all humanity will want to exercise its fundamental drive first to comprehend "what it is all about" and second to demonstrate competence in respect to the challenges. The greatest privilege in human affairs will be to be allowed to join any one of the real wealth-production or maintenance teams.

[Utopia or Oblivion]

Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. The race is between a better-informed, hopefully inspired young world versus a running-scared, misinformedly brain-conditioned, older world. […]

The political and economic systems and the political and economic leaders of humanity are not in final examination; it is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate. […]

If you read the entire Critical Path book carefully, including its sometimes long but essentially detailed considerations, and pay realistically close attention to these considerations, you will be able to throw your weight into the balancing of humanity's fate.

Buckminster Fuller Links

Full text of Chapter 3 of Critical Path
(on power structures & ruling elites):
(MS Word format; 171K)
http://www.anxietyculture.com/criticalpath3.txt (plain text format; 160K)
(rich text format; 174K)

Full text of Fuller's book, Grunch of Giants:

Full text of Fuller's book, Operating manual for Spaceship Earth:

The Buckminster Fuller Institute: