Book Review of Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller Glen T. Martin

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) is sometimes called the “Leonardo di Vinci” of the 20th century. His inventions and innovative design principles are known and used worldwide. But beyond his great insights into the fundamental principles of geometry and 20th century science, Fuller was also a profound philosopher whose ideas remain of direct relevance to our endangered human situation in the 21st century.

Of his 10 or so books, Critical Path, published toward the end of his long life, is meant to be an overall synopsis of his vision and the meaning of his work in service to humanity. In this review, Part One will try to articulate what I take to be the most central ideas of Critical Path. Part Two will attempt to extrapolate from Fuller’s thought what is most relevant to our present situation in the year 2019 in relation to the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

Like many serious thinkers, Buckminster Fuller’s books always reflect the multi-faceted thought of their author.  When he was a boy, Fuller recalls, his inquisitive mind was always investigating and asking questions. His elders did not encourage this kind of independent questioning. They told him to listen to his teachers and learn from his elders. But Fuller soon understood that this is precisely what we must not do. We must learn to think for ourselves. One of the great tragedies of our endangered world in the 20th and 21st centuries is that we imbibe ideologies and beliefs from our elders that obscure and derail the intuitive, innate wisdom that each individual can bring out of himself and use as a guide for life.

As a young man Fuller tried his hand at business, but was an abject failure.  He realized that the deeper problem was that in business he was working for himself, for private profit. In World War One he was in the US Navy, commanding ships. He was good at this, he says, because he was not doing this work for private profit. He realized eventually that each of us should be working for humanity, for what is universal in the universe and in human life. Private profit, like war on behalf of this or that nation-state, is destructive of our common human project. In Critical Path he declares: “It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete” (p. xxv).

If we want to survive, he said, we need to be thinking beyond the ideologies of communism and capitalism. We also need to be thinking beyond the ideologies of sovereign nation-states. We need to be thinking in terms of human evolution as a whole, which is itself a product of cosmic evolution. All the different nations, cultures, races, and language groups around the world are now obsolete by the 20th century.

We need to bring all these “differently competing entities into a completely integrated, comprehensively interconsiderate, harmonious whole” (p. xvii). We must make the world work satisfactorily for all humans (p. xix).  You need to become “spontaneously enthusiastic about everyone having everything you can have” (p. xxxvii).

Fuller understood the paradigm shift that emerged in the 20th century away from the Newtonian conception of an “inertial,” static cosmos and toward the Einsteinian conception of an integrated, evolving universe always in dynamic, harmonious motion. There is no longer any up or down. The sun does not move around the Earth. The world is a sphere with no boundaries, only one human civilization everywhere. The human mind can understand the “the generalized principles” governing the “eternally regenerative Universe” (p. xxxvi) and act on these principles to make planet Earth a successful, beautiful place for everyone to live.

Mahatma Gandhi organized his life around “truth experiments.” Early on, while in South Africa, he realized that life needed to be conducted as satyagraha, clinging to truth, continuously making “experiments in truth.” For the whole is truth: God is Truth. And the consequence of this action of “clinging to truth” was nonviolence in thought, word, and deed—love of the whole (God as Truth) and every person as a child of that Truth.

 

A similar love animated the life of Buckminster Fuller:

We can sense that only God is the perfect—the exact truth. We can come ever nearer to God by progressively eliminating residual errors. The nearest each of us can come to God is by loving the truth. If we don’t program the computer truthfully with all the truth and nothing but the truth, we won’t get the answers that allow us to “make it” (p. xxxvii).

Whereas Gandhi focused on the all-embracing truth in terms of nonviolence and social struggle, Fuller focused on the eternal laws of the cosmos revealed by Relativity Theory and Quantum Physics, and the amazing human mind that can comprehend these laws.  The evolving universe has itself evolved a creature that can comprehend its laws and thereby use these laws to solve its problems of survival and flourishing on planet Earth. We must love the truth (God) and thereby use our computer technology for the benefit of all persons on the planet.

We must repudiate our nation-state loyalties, our political ideologies, our racism and our greedy, self-interested capitalism. God is truth and truth embraces all of humanity. “Personal integrity” transcends all these ideologies and propaganda systems through the “discovery of truth and the interrelationship of all truths. The cosmic laws with which the mind deals are non-corruptible. Cosmic evolution is omniscient God comprehensively articulate” (p. xxxviii). Personal integrity mirrors cosmic integrity.

Fuller corroborates the idea of our common human evolution through developing his own account of the “speculative prehistory of humanity” as well as the evolution of technological developments from ancient times to the present. He makes many interesting points about these developments, but it is important to keep his purposes in mind. He is showing (1) that we have always been one common human civilization developing around the planet (even before people were in communication with one another) and (2) that technology has evolved in concert with our understanding of fundamental cosmic principles (the laws of nature) to bring us to a point in the 20th century at which we can use that technology for the benefit of all humans in one harmoniously planetary civilization.

The alternative, if we continue with our divisive ideologies or our fragmented system of sovereign nation-states, is extinction, planetary omnicide. When he published this book in 1981 (at age 86), it was already very clear to thoughtful people like Fuller that this was the choice that confronts us. Today, in 2019, we are very close to passing the point of no return.  Even with very rapid immediate changes in the fossil fuel, polluting, greed invested, nation-state competitive economy of the world, it is not clear whether we have entered the period of runaway global warming which human technology and ingenuity will be unable to stop.

In his small book Grunch of Giants, published two years after Critical Path, Fuller presents his analysis of the absurdity of a capitalism run by the super-rich for the benefit of the super-rich while the entire planet heads for omnicidal disaster. It is a system of greed, of unrestrained debt, and of political manipulation by the super-rich titans of capitalism. But it does not have to be that way. Fuller writes: “I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.” (pp. xiv-xv). He continues:

Humanity is the experimental initiative of the Universe. The experiment is to discover whether the complex of cosmic laws can maintain the integrity of eternal regeneration while allowing the mind of the species homo sapiens on the little planet Earth to discover and use some of the mathematical laws governing the design of the Universe, whereby those humans can by trial and error develop subjectively from initial ignorance into satisfactorily informed, successful local-Universe monitors of all physically and metaphysically critical information and thereby serve objectively as satisfactory local-Universe problem-solvers in sustaining the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe (p.xxiv).

Fuller had, of course, been making these points for many years. In Critical Path, he wrote: “Cosmic costing makes utterly ludicrous the selfish and fearfully contrived ‘wealth’ games being reverentially played aboard Earth…. Since realization and fulfillment of that responsibility [to think from a planetary point of view] involve evolutionary discovery by humanity of the cosmic stature of its mind and the inconsequentiality of its muscle, the planting of humans on Earth may not bear fruit” (p. 119).

Fuller recognized that our minds (our deep minds—not corrupted by ideologies, dogmas, personal selfishness, or ignorance) are direct expressions of the cosmic mind come to consciousness in us. Our selfish “wealth games,” like our ludicrous “nation-state games,” block deep mind. This means that we are heading toward an omnicide in which the planting of humans on the Earth by the Universal Mind “will not have borne fruit.”  Our cosmic destiny will not have been fulfilled, and the human project may well fail.

Part Two

During the years 1968 to 1991, the period during which Critical Path was being written and distributed, other world citizen thinkers were busy writing and refining the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Fuller’s best known book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, was published in 1968, the same year as the First Constituent Assembly in Interlaken, Switzerland at which the project for writing the Earth Constitution was formally initiated (see Martin 2011).

The Earth Constitution sets up a global democracy on precisely the principles that Fuller developed during his long life, principles in which the “integrity” of his own mind was progressively conforming to the “integrity” of the cosmos. One of the issues often focused on by contemporary writers about the planetary environmental crisis is the issue of “scale.”  Global trade (based on shipping made possible by fossil fuels), some claim, will have to be scaled back, and local communities will need to become more self-sufficient by growing their own food and dealing with their own technical issues (see, e.g., Heinberg 2011).

However, we at the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), point out that the Earth Constitution integrates the holism of human civilization and the planetary biosphere with the need for local initiative and empowerment.  Only this combination will be sufficient to provide what James Gustav Speth (2008) calls “the bridge at the end of the world.” Anarchist visions of local empowerment will not be sufficient to regulate the whole, equitably and justly, for the good of the biosphere and future generations.

Fuller recognized the need for a comprehensive, focused global authority dedicated to the common good of humanity and future generations:

It was not that the problems could not be seen by others, but society was preoccupied with individual, national, state and local business-survival problems, which forced its leaders into short-term, limited-scope considerations—with no time for total world problems. The presidents of great corporations had to make good profits within a very few years or lose their jobs. The politicians, too, were preoccupied with short-range national, state, or municipal survival matters” (Critical Path, p. 127).

Spaceship Earth needs to be democratically run by elected people who see and understand the whole, the oneness of civilization and our cosmic responsibility to make a flourishing planetary civilization. The Earth Constitution, with its designed unity in diversity for all its agencies and structures, is optimally suited to make this happen. Local empowerment is necessary and excellent but under of system of exclusive local authorities there will be no global authority to direct the planetary protection of the biosphere and assure the equitable well-being of all the world’s citizens and future generations.

Fuller lived at the time when computer compilation of information, and computer modeling and projections, were just coming into widespread use. In Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donna Meadows, et. al., chronicle the development of computer modeling over the period 1974-2004. The early computer models of climate change are now seen to be largely correct. Their prediction of increasing global temperatures, global droughts, global superstorms, and changing weather patterns were borne out during these three decades.

Today, the worldwide Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN uses the ever more sophisticated data, variables, and projection power to model local and global climate change over a wide variety of parameters. Under the Earth Constitution, the work of the IPCC can be harmonized with the Integrative Complex that includes global agencies dedicated to exactly this monitoring, coordination, and dissemination of information to localities around the world. This appears to be exactly what Fuller had in mind in declaring that we need to begin responsibly operating our “Spaceship Earth” and overcome the fragmented system of autonomous nation-states and self-serving economic corporations.

The IPCC has been warning the nations and business corporations since its founding with the United Nations in 1988. Yet because the UN is not a constitutional government but rather a treaty of sovereign nation-states, its warnings have gone largely unheeded and its predictions of increasing climate disaster have come true.  We need not only heed the warnings of the scientific community, we need to heed these warnings though major changes in the economic and political structure of the world system, a structure that now inhibits the ability of people everywhere to deal effectively with climate change.

The UN system does not embody the paradigm-shift that Fuller envisages. It holds back the process of human self-transcendence (Martin 2018). Its Charter rests soundly on the principle of national sovereignty and makes clear that the UN has no authority over the affairs of these nations. How does humanity create a system in which the deep mind, universal mind, is more likely to emerge in our leaders and many citizens?   How does humanity create a system in which agencies and global authorities can implement and promote the insights of deep mind throughout planet Earth?   The answer lies in ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Fuller describes the result of this paradigm shift to the holism of the cosmos, the biosphere, and all humanity. This will apply precisely to the world as organized through the Earth Constitution. The system itself will promote universal “synergy”:

Earth planet-based humanity will be physically and economically successful and individually free in the most important sense. While all enjoy total Earth no human will be interfering with the other, and none will be profiting at the expense of the other. . . . They will be free in the sense that they will not struggle for survival on a “you” or “me” basis, and will therefore be able to trust one another and be free to co-operate in spontaneous and logical ways. (p. 95)

Contemporary physicist Henry Stapp, commenting on the philosophical and human significance of quantum physics, writes of the vast transformation occurring as new insights in science “lead us away from the egocentric bias” of classical physics to a new “image of the self, not as a local isolated automation but rather as a nonlocalizable integrated aspect of the creative impulse of the universe” (1988, 57).  The human mind is an expression of “the creative impulse of the universe.” God is truth, Fuller declares, and we draw ever closer to God though discovering our “integrity,” our deep mind beyond ideology, greed, and nationalism.

Life is not about your or my personal ego and its selfish interests. It is about all of us together: our common humanity. Physicist and philosopher Ervin Laszlo writes that “Ours is an in-formed, purposively evolving universe, and with our body and consciousness, we are an intrinsic part of it” (2017, p. 43). This is the fundamental cosmic truth for which we should all be striving. We should all live as self-aware embodiments of the Cosmos. This is Fuller’s fundamental principle.

Mahatma Gandhi led a life of satyagraha, “clinging to truth,” that understood nonviolence as the universal principle of truth that must inform all our human relationships and institutions. Gandhi also advocated democratic world government, going beyond the militarized nation-state to global law-making authorities. The nation-state, he declared, was “violence in a concentrated and organized form” (1972, 132).

Fuller likewise led a life of clinging to the a priori truths of physics, that is, to the revealed mind of God, mind which is evolving to fruition in human consciousness. These truths must also inform all our human relationships and institutions.  Like Gandhi, Fuller advocated democratic world government, going beyond a chaotic world in which “hundreds of chiefs” attempt to independently and competitively pilot our one Spaceship Earth.

One of Fuller’s central thoughts was that we begin playing “the world game” rather than our current practice of “war games.” One key consequence of playing the world game was his idea of a “Global Energy Grid” that could bring electrical power to every person on Earth. Such a grid would make peoples interdependent worldwide, promoting peace. It would improve the standard of living for everyone, providing refrigeration for food and the many other benefits of electricity.

Fuller realized that high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines could link the nighttime half of the world and the daytime half of the world (the daytime half always experiencing plentiful solar energy), making the rotating world itself an energy generation and distribution grid benefiting everyone. Today (2019) HVDC long distance transmission capacity has greatly improved and is being used to link off-shore and island based wind farms to the electrical grids of Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and other locations. Engineers are also looking into using deserts for massive solar arrays that can generate the electricity to locations worldwide through long distance HVDC links. Potentially, the Sahara Desert could generate enough clean, non-fossil fuel power to serve all of Europe (Jones and Westman, 2007).

The Earth Constitution is ideally suited to oversee and implement this sort of planetary coordination as human beings convert from fossil fuels to clean energy. A system of local empowerment of self-sustaining communities alone would be wholly inadequate to use the rotation of our planet from night to day to provide a global energy grid that would empower and protect every person on Earth.  Buckminster Fuller saw our immense human potential for linking the global and local levels within a dynamic synergy.

The Earth Constitution embodies both the visions and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Buckminster Fuller. It gives us both a well-designed system for progressively reducing violence in all human affairs and it gives us the infrastructure to use science and technology equitably for the benefit of all.  As Fuller expresses this, our choice today is between “utopia or extinction.”

The Constitution provides Fuller’s “operating manual” that can lead us into a nonviolent, technologically advanced and efficient, world system government informed by deep, universal mind. Universal mind effortlessly transcends competitive, selfish, power-hungry interests as well as nation-state fragmentation and war-making. Universal mind demands a planetary civilization under the rule of democratically legislated universal laws. The most effective thing we can do to save humanity, prevent nuclear war, and address climate change is ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Fuller, R. Buckminster (1968). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. New York: Pocket Books.

Fuller, R. Buckminister (1981). Critical Path. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Fuller, R. Buckminster (1983). Grunch of Giants: “Gross Universe Cash Heist.” Santa Barbara, CA: Design Science Press.

Gandhi, Mahatma (1972). All Men Are Brothers. Ed. Krishna Kripalani. New York: UNESCO and Columbia University Press.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Jones, Peter and Bo Westman (2007). “HVDC Transmission from Energy Source to Consumer,” http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/3567/hvdc-transmission-from-energy-source-to-consumer/

Laszlo, Ervin (2017). The Intelligence of the Cosmos: Why Are We Here?  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Martin, Glen T. (2011).  Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2017). “Gandhi’s Satyagraha and the Earth Constitution.” In Examining Global Peacemaking in the Digital Age: A Research Handbook. Ed. Bruce L. Cook. Hershey, PA: IGI Global Publishers: 361-371.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-transcendence: The Power of the Future for Human Transformation.

Meadows, Donna, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows (2004). Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.

Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Stapp, Henry. 1988. “Quantum Theory and the Physicist’s Conception of Nature.” In The World View of Contemporary Physics. Ed. Richard F. Kitchener. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press: 38-58.