Buckminster Fuller Reconsidered
“Young man, you amaze me.”
That’s how Albert Einstein greeted Buckminster Fuller when the geniuses met in the 1920s. Einstein had just read the manuscript of Fuller’s first book, “Nine Chains to the Moon,” and asked to meet the young unknown whose chief distinction was that he’d been thrown out of Harvard not once, but twice.
The anecdote was reported by the Christian Science Monitor in a long article it published a few days after Fuller’s death in 1983. It came to mind when I was flipping through a back issue (July 7) of TIME recently and happened upon an article about Fuller.
The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is exhibiting his drawings, sketches, etc., by way of remembering him 25 years after his death. TIME acknowledges Fuller as “the famous advance man for the future” (Wikipedia refers to him as an architect, author, designer, futurist, inventor, and visionary), but he was more than that.
In fact, it may be that the drawings and inventions were not Bucky Fuller’s greatest contribution. In a world beset by hubris, greed and aggression, Fuller was remarkable for his love for mankind and his commitment to peace.
“War,” he once declared, “is obsolete.”
But it was at the personal level that I think he made his greatest contribution. Bucky Fuller was a role model for the evolution of humankind. In particular, he understood the necessity of subduing the ego and what the Hindus called “the monkey mind” in favor of humility and connection.
The Monitor quoted the pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York as saying that while Fuller was not a particularly religious person, “He was the most spiritual person I ever met.”
I got a glimpse of this in 1984 when I attended a four-day workshop in Honolulu called “Money and You.”
It was taught by Marshall Thurber, a bright and amiable San Francisco lawyer who had started a business buying, renovating and selling old Victorian houses. Thurber operated the company on New Age principles, and reportedly secretaries were making $50,000 a year.
The workshop, at least as I recall it, had less to do with acquiring and using wealth than with changing the business paradigm. It was the first time I’d heard the term “win-win,” and Thurber emphasized repeatedly that cooperation, not competition, must be the dominant theme.
On a grander scale, this took the form of the mantra “We are all one.” Thus, the proceedings were punctuated with breaks where we stood in a huge circle, holding hands and sang along with the likes of John Denver, Bette Midler and the “We Are the World” gang.
Thurber came by this philosophy through Fuller, with whom he apprenticed and apparently lost his taste for law. He discussed Fuller at length, and often played recordings that had been taped during talks and lectures Fuller gave over the years.
I had tried to read Fuller’s book “Critical Path,” and gave up after a few pages having not the slightest idea what he was talking about. I expected the recordings to be similarly dense and abstruse, but they were not. In fact, Fuller live proved to be a man of enormous warmth and love. With his rumbling, gravelly voice and simple eloquence, he seemed a loving, kindly and understanding grandfather.
During the third day of the workshop, as Thurber reminded us once again that “we are all one,” I had a surprising insight: Thurber understood oneness as a philosophical concept. He grasped it intellectually, seemed to believe it and conveyed it with as much conviction as he could muster.
But Fuller got it at the spiritual level. He had internalized it, felt it and knew it in the same way that knowledge dwarfs belief. He had navigated the shift from intellect to intelligence.
In short, where Thurber was the well-intentioned intellectual, Fuller was enlightened. He had sublimated the ego and counterbalanced the extravagances of the mind with the wisdom of a spirit-filled heart.
This is in no way a criticism of Thurber. Making the jump Fuller made is not easy. Few manage it. Indeed, just a few days ago, I heard a guy argue for nearly an hour against Eckhart Tolle’s contention in “A New Earth” that the ego must be subdued, the intellectual equivalent of a dog chasing its tail.
For that matter, I need look no further than my own life to see how much damage a willful ego can do. And this after the insight about Fuller and Thurber, about the mind and the heart.
The good news is that beneath the radar, people like Fuller, Thurber, Tolle and others in a variety of spiritual hues are building an alternative curriculum. In due time, a new paradigm will displace the rusting, toxic relic that has dominated the world for a long, long time.