OPERATING MANUAL FOR SPACESHIP EARTH

by Buckminster Fuller
1. COMPREHENSIVE PROPENSITIES
I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very
timely ingenuities. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are
gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes
along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that
the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top.
I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting
yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for
solving a given problem. Our brains deal exclusively with specialcase experiences. Only our minds are able to discover the
generalized principles operating without exception in each and
every special-experience case which if detected and mastered will
give knowledgeable advantage in all instances.
Because our spontaneous initiative has been frustrated, too often
inadvertently, in earliest childhood we do not tend, customarily, to
dare to think competently regarding our potentials. We find it
socially easier to go on with our narrow, shortsighted
specialization’s and leave it to others — primarily to the politicians
— to find some way of resolving our common dilemmas.
Countering that spontaneous grownup trend to narrowness I will do
my, hopefully “childish,” best to confront as many of our problems
as possible by employing the longest-distance thinking of which I
am capable — though that may not take us very far into the future.
Having been trained at the U.S. Naval Academy and practically
experienced in the powerfully effective forecasting arts of celestial
navigation, pilotage, ballistics, and logistics, and in the long-range,
anticipatory, design science governing yesterday’s naval mastery of
the world from which our present day’s general systems theory has
been derived, I recall that in 1927 I set about deliberately exploring
to see how far ahead we could make competent forecasts regarding
the direction in which all humanity is trending and to see how
effectively we could interpret the physical details of what
comprehensive evolution might be portending as disclosed by the
available data. I came to the conclusion that it is possible to make a
fairly reasonable forecast of about twenty-five years. That seems to
be about one industrial “tooling” generation. On the average, all inventions seem to get melted up about every twenty-five years,
after which the metals come back into recirculation in new and
usually more effective uses. At any rate, in 1927 I evolved a
forecast. Most of my 1927′s prognosticating went only to 1952 —
that is, for a quarter-century, but some of it went on for a halfcentury, to 1977.
In 1927 when people had occasion to ask me about my
prognostications and I told them what I thought it would be
appropriate to do about what I could see ahead for the 1950′s,
1960′s, and 1970′s people used to say to me, “Very amusing — you
are a thousand years ahead of your time.” Having myself studied the
increments in which we can think forwardly I was amazed at the
ease with which the rest of society seemed to be able to see a
thousand years ahead while I could see only one-fortieth of that
time distance. As time went on people began to tell me that I was a
hundred years ahead, and now they tell me that I’m a little behind
the times. But I have learned about public reaction to the unfamiliar
and also about the ease and speed with which the transformed
reality becomes so “natural” as misseemingly to have been always
obvious. So I knew that their last observations were made only
because the evolutionary events I had foreseen have occurred on
schedule.

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