Thursday, November 11, 2010

The World Needs Bucky More Than Ever

I’m a supporter of the voluntary simplicity movement. I’m most enthusiastic about it between the times when I’m hungering to buy something new. Right now I’m a strong supporter. I rode my new motorcycle over to my favorite coffee shop and I’m sitting here writing this blog on my new nifty netbook. ‭ ‬I am pleased to see the voluntary simplicity concept is catching on with many young people. Only in a wealthy country like ours can there be a movement like this. It’s probably not real popular across the border in Mexico or in other third world countries. You can’t give up what you never had or have no hope of getting.
‭ Katie and I have been mindful of living lighter on the earth since the 70s. Since that time we have avidly recycled, mostly driven small fuel efficient cars, flushed our toilet sparingly and gave away or sold possessions we no longer used. The attitude of living more simply allowed us to retire earlier than most people and to retire without a fear of being poor. We now live in a 600 square foot condo, have just one small storage area on our back porch and 3 small closets. It seems we still have plenty of stuff. I can barely remember the many things we got rid of. Realistically looking at our attempts to conserve energy, we still consume way more than most people on the earth. And even if we became super good at conserving and recycling, would it make a difference in the grand scheme of things? ‬Looking to the future,‭ ‬it seems obvious that the entire world can’t participate in the making, buying and throwing away of things at the rate we've been doing it in America over the past sixty or so years.‭ The earth cannot sustain such wasteful activity on that grand of scale. Yet our consumer way of life is spreading around the globe like wildfire. In China, India, South America, and everywhere, people are becoming aware of all the goodies and want them, and you can’t blame them, some of these goodies are pretty cool. The third world is not going to choose voluntary simplicity.
‭ Sometime in the 1970s when I was in college at the University of Oregon, I went to a lecture by Buckminster Fuller. He was an architect, inventor, environmentalist and all around genius type of guy. He invented many things, but is most known for his invention of the geodesic dome. He also coined many terms, one being ephemeralization, which basically means doing more with less. At the time of the lecture, he was in his 80s. Sitting there in the audience listening to him speak, I noticed the large hearing aides behind each ear attached to thick black glasses with coke bottle lenses. I had to really concentrate to follow what he was saying. He talked in giant circles. I thought this old guy was just rambling on, but what I initially judged as a meandering, disjointed monologue, all of a sudden came together in brilliant clarity.
‭ He emphasized that we cannot continue our current way of living on the earth and hope to survive.
‭“‬If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference.” “Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value.” “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”
Bucky was a renaissance man. I remember him saying that the fall of western civilization will be because of over-specialization. I’ve been thinking about that statement off and on all these years and see examples of it everywhere. In the medical field you have to go to a special doctor for your feet, your heart, your eyes, your nose and throat, your allergies, your diabetes etc. And if you’ve ever had a house built, the list of people that need to be involved is almost endless. We are losing the big picture by each one of us focusing only on our narrow interests or specialties. He believed that by using our intelligence we could design systems that work for everyone and are in harmony with the environment. Not only could we feed the entire world, but he confidently said we could raise everyone’s standard of living higher than what we currently have in the US.
Bucky’s ideas were popular in the sixties and for a while a whole generation of young people cultivated a more holistic view of the earth and its inhabitants. We need Bucky’s ideas again today. He encouraged each one of us to do our part no matter how small. At his grave site there is a small concrete stone above his headstone that is inscribed with the words: “Call me Trim Tab”. The following quote explains this.
“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary, the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab”.
—Buckminster Fuller
Each one of us can make a difference and getting serious about voluntary simplicity is a good place to start. Bucky said we can save the world with intelligent design and the help of modern technology. I’m hoping that means I can keep my new laptop. Oh yeah and our TV is getting really old.


  1. Michael,

    There are several groups working to make the world better. The Synergetics Collaborative has a YouTube channel with 14 videos. I recently started a blog where I mention Bucky and Bucky ideas and the Buckminster Fuller Institute has a "challenge" where they have published many ideas that are part of the solution:

    Thanks for making providing part of the solution with the difference you are making!

  2. There is nothing wrong with living a simple lifestyle when it is your choice and when it fulfills your purpose.
    Something troubles me about the philosophy of less however particularly when applied to resources. You have lived through all the scares that I have. We are running out of resources. We can't feed the growing population and they are all silly hysterics. The axe never falls because technology makes the limitation meaningless. We should be fearing depopulation which is devastating the economies of Europe and Japan. Simple is good but I believe in the infinite possibilities of the mind. I think Bucky might see it that way too.