|Note: original incorrectly dated 11-29-96 (sent 25th). This web version fixes a couple typos, is otherwise identical to the original (but with hyperlinks added. I have a follow-up letter dated 02-16-99 in my public domain archives.|
Dr. Richard Meier
Dear Dick --
Thanks for your booklet (Information Technology for Development: Africa, UC Berkeley, 1996) which came in the mail today.
I think dad's chosen focus, under your tutelege among others, of Urban Planning, when that discipline was still emerging via the University of Chicago and Harvard, predisposed me to adopting a big picture viewpoint early on.
Walking through dad's offices in Italy, I was always impressed by the number of maps and charts of huge land areas, color coded to suggest future growth according to some rational scheme -- in this case maps of Libya. And lets not forget the numerous family slide shows of aerial photographs of the Libyan desert.
So I began early on to take for granted that we humans were responsible for our own futures at this big picture level, thinking fifty or more years into the future as clearly as feasible, sketching storyboards for succeeding generations to ponder and elaborate upon. On the other hand, mom's Quaker-informed mysticism balanced the need to plan ahead with the sense that if we remain attentive to our own innermost gyroscopes, a positive way ahead will reveal itself, these gyroscopes being more attuned to eternal principles than the sum of our stored up experiences to date.
So it seems natural, in retrospect, that I would find Bucky Fuller's perspective so resonant with my own, informed as mine is by parental example. Here was a big picture 'plan ahead' type with a spiritual bent, the last New England Transcendentalist (some would label him) with an interest in Ekistics. Bucky encouraged humans to think and talk big about their responsibilities, but also to remain humble in the face of the superior design integrity of nature, which, he felt, is intent upon making humans a success, our spiritual preoccupation with teleological concerns being part of our natural endowment as a species with access to eternal principles.
Of course each of us has an individual journey to work out; I'm more than simply the sum of what's gone into my psychological makeup. I've got my own mission to fulfill. These days, that has to do with Project Renaissance, as I call it, which I started writing about in the 1980s, while still at the Center for Urban Education, a nonprofit providing tech support, mostly around computers, to other nonprofits.
Project Renaissance is about public/private partnerships in the days when Grunch has more than the latest military designs to chew on. Sure we can knock out yet another faster, cooler fighter jet than the world has ever seen, maybe some star wars ray guns 'n stuff too. But this under utilizes our design capabilities. Our aerospace engineers would love some new challenges, ala your comsat cluster info-pods for Africa, for example, over and above the same old killingry stuff, which is intensely boring compared to some of the storyboards we could be working on, minus the political pressure to always furnish more of the same.
'Grunch' by the way, is Bucky's coin for 'buncha giants' (the corporations), and also an acronym for 'gross universal cash heist.' In Bucky's view, the synergies stemming from the combined megatrends in computerization and networking would shift the 'space program' away from its narrow focus on probing the solar neighborhood, and expand it to encompass our home base, Spaceship Earth. This shift would involve reinvestment of currency assets in new storyboards, hence the heisting of all the cash by supranational corporations, with or without the assistance of yesteryear's cash-sourcing national sovereignties, which latter the Grunch now works to sponsor within scenarios largely of its own devising.
That same public/private symbiosis which brought us our currently high standards of living owing to 'spin offs' aimed at taking us into space, via the Apollo and Soyuz programs, would operate anew, with private enterprises moving to converge their R&D efforts within the public sector, tooling up to tackle the severe life support system challenges now facing our biosphere, with advanced artifact-based solutions. The new tools, combined with ever-creative human adaptability, will inspire and encourage many new ecosystem-aware lifestyle options which we cannot now predict, but which we can assume with some confidance will be less destructive and counter- productive than our own. As always, we wish the best for our children, and their children, for generations to come.
The public sector is the place to prototype and demo, the 'school of hard knocks' in which to stress new systems to their limits. Systems that have proved their robustness in the field then become commercial sector goods, backed with the tech support and replacement part warrantees won from the hard work of prototyping on the front lines.
This is not a new model. It describes how many civilian technologies came into being, including modern medicine, with the public sector military serving in the proving ground, in the global warfare 'theaters' of tragic death and destruction. In the next chapter, we need to tackle the root causes of war directly and proactively, rather than waiting for our collective inattention to ecosystem realities to provoke us into brutish and inappropriate responses to our global situation, which is still far from hopeless.
The Apollo program took some of the critical path planning developed by the Navy during WWII and adapted it to quasi-civilian purposes, along with a lot of the rocket science and avionics knowledge gained from that war. As a kid growing up in the Apollo Era, I could absorb the imagery of high tech competence, of mission control and orbital spacecraft, minus the military decals and overtly destructive targeting that would have made such fantasies ideologically less acceptable to our Quaker family. Given the space program, I could realistically dream of a positive future minus nightmarish visions of explosives detonating in populated areas, although I was not especially lacking in the stereotypical boyhood fascination with high energy events.
Of course despite Apollo, the specter of nuclear holocaust never left us, nor the reality of helicopter gunships, land mines, tank warfare, napalm and all the rest of it. My relatively privileged life to date has been against a world backdrop of terror, combined with the profligate spread of high tech weaponry to any clients with ready cash, a harbinger of more of the same, or worse, to come.
Now that I'm on the other side of several years of expensive education, some of the best curriculum on tap, and had a chance to find my ecological niche in the computer world, get into raising a family and so on, I'm able to look back on my boyhood and think about my hopes and concerns of that time. I was worried about overpopulation for example. In the 8th grade I did an independent study project for Fred Craden, my sociology teacher, on the Club of Rome research, and their computer modeling. My dad's Futurist magazine was a primary source. I was not, at that time, tuned in to Fuller.
I was a big fan of Isaac Asimov's all through high school, both of his fiction and nonfiction, and managed to hear him speak live when I got to Princeton. His line was similar to yours: give women more opportunities to prosper outside their traditional roles and watch living standards improve for everyone (although he wasn't especially hopeful that this would occur). Bucky had a similar revelation at some point, and pushed for the passage of the ERA. He dedicated his Grunch of Giants to three women, in recognition of the dawning of this new era of coequal partnership versus patriarchal dominance.
If we can manage to bring high technology into the domestic scene more successfully, in service of those human needs traditionally of central concern to women, e.g. child care, early education, health care, day to day operations of the family, we'll be short circuiting the obsolete system of reaping these benefits only as the sidebar results of military sector R&D, traditionally of central concern to men.
Fuller's suite of prototypes was about freeing humans from both drudgery and from enslavement within systems depending on the indebtedness of the many to the few. He placed a lot of emphasis on what he considered an innate human drive to demonstrate competence, to shine against some dramatic backdrop in various interesting plot lines. So he wasn't worried about higher living standards resulting in a lot of laziness and ugliness. Lifestyle ugliness is more a result of hopelessness and a lost sense of participating in a worthwhile storyline.
Against the backdrop of the world as a whole going to hell, finding worthwhile storylines is indeed an uphill battle, and we suffer many casualties along the way, in both the military and civilian sectors. By providing new 'theater props' of direct relevance to the domestic scene, and against a back drop of working to make humans a global success, we are refocusing our considerable talents on providing the kinds of life support needed to avert future warfare, thereby revitalizing a sense of mission, in a positive feedback cycle that should spiral us out of much of the apathy and narrow-focus thinking that keeps so many of us feeling powerless and disengaged.
Given this more direct focus on livingry, the Grunch will be freed of some of its tax obligations, as it shifts more R&D into the public sector, in lieu of underwriting redundant and inefficient bandaid-style programs administered from Washington DC and other such seat-of-government centers. Real solutions don't necessarily require lawyer-politicians to design and appropriate funds for them. What this looks like in practice is more local control and participation, more democracy, and more options to invest personal income in local solutions, versus mailing it off to some nebulous entity riddled with black holes wherein time/energy receipts tend to unaccountably disappear. This doesn't mean people will retreat into obsessive concern with their local scene only, the world be damned. On the contrary, the internet is facilitating both distance education and cyberdollar investment/procurement around the world.
The future curriculum will be about dispersing credits and access to appropriate resources in the context of getting on with learning new skills, aquiring new knowledge. The curriculum is also about brainstorming new storyboards, putting up websites to attract funding, and recruiting star players to implement the planned events, thereby reaping whatever rewards for whatever stakeholders and clients. This is a game we can, and do, play at the global level, drawing participants and funding from far away, and dispersing the benefits and newly gained experiences likewise. Bucky called this World Game, given that the various subplots would need to make sense within a more globally operative system of constraints and preferences, which critical feedbacks could be shared and updated routinely via various Fuller Projection data displays.
My personal focus is on new curriculum components: general systems theory and 4D geometry. GST provides context for Project Renaissance, presenting this view of the public sector as the logical proving ground for private R&D and eventual commercial market assets. 4D geometry is what's behind a lot of the inventions and structures used by Fuller and others to sketch out positive future storyboards, to provide the presently-attainable props needed to stage "humans make a success of themselves" versus "humans bomb and/or overcrowd themselves into oblivion."
On the GST front, I've taken up a strategy of positioning this discipline as competition for Economics. Economists are always saying how healthy competition is good for business overall, if not always for this or that particular business. GST agrees, and notices that Economics, the discipline, has established quasi-monopolistic hegemony over how to best conceptualize about providing life support and other basic survival issues. GST is therefore planning to give Economics a run for its money, suggesting that it's time to share turf. This is the kind of potentially constructive interdepartmental warfare that attracts attention in academia and sometimes rouses otherwise bored-to-tears students. The overall impact should be positive, both on economics and on systems theory, which ultimately have a lot to learn from one another.
On the 4D geometry front, I've found that computer graphics people are especially receptive to Fuller's 'geometry of lumps' wherein even points occupy volume. For example, ray tracing software needs 'points' to be miniature spheres or relatively small shapes of some kind, if the computed light paths are going to register their presence at all. This is where Fuller was headed with his non-Euclidean definitions of 'point' and 'line' classes and subclasses. None of these basic objects need point back to a conceptual schema wherein 'height, width and depth' need be enshrined as independent 'dimensions', such that one could extend in one of these but not the others. This Cartesian framework and 'dimension' concept has been replaced with a more intuitively based and experientially informed one in 4D geometry where, conceptually speaking, space and its objective occupants are considered volumes.
Directed energy enters the picture in vectorial terms, ala Gibbs and Feynman, in conjunction with the 'frequency' concept, which synchronizes pure shape to a special case time/size context, energy having an underlying waveform characteristic, as revealed by quantum phyics. With 'frequency', a purely conceptual cube becomes an actual one, somewhere persisting as a paperweight or cardboard box, having a trajectory relative to various sensing systems -- fast approaching systems having a higher frequency profile, given the Doppler Effect.
In 4D geometry, the 4-faced tetrahedron replaces the cube as the topological primitive, as the unit of volume. This doesn't force us to jettison the old 'xyzt' way of doing things, but does provide another foot in the door for phasing new thinking into the curriculum. When you take Synergetics and GST together, you get a formidable set of concepts that should allow us to impact degree-granting programs in several disciplines, and help get more of the Fuller syllabus, with hyperlinks to lots of work by other writers, raised to 'required reading' status. If this interim goal is accomplished, then it will be far easier to broadcast the news that humanity has the option to revector its considerable energetic resources in service of a new set of storyboards, wherein the futuristic lifestyle options such as you and I envision, both for Africa and elsewhere, become a living possibility in more people's minds.
Synergetics on the Web
maintained by Kirby Urner