[Adapted from a letter to Thomas Schöllhammer, dated 28 February 1986. Mr Schöllhammer, then a student of ‘American Culture’ at Munich University, was writing a dissertation on Buckminster Fuller and had requested a full account of my personal contact with ‘Grandpa’ Bucky.]
I’m not sure how I first heard of R. Buckminster Fuller.
But the first time I saw him was in Kuala Lumpur in 1973 when he gave a talk at the University of Malaya. He was extolling the virtues of non-specialization, which was to me an interesting change from the conventional Jack-of-all-trades doctrine that you can achieve nothing unless you concentrate on a very tiny area.
I was impressed by his awareness of 4-dimensional processes – the only way apparent contradictions can be reconciled and appreciated. It was the first time I had heard the word SYNERGY. He also expressed his belief in “syntropy” – the opposite of entropy. Whereas most scientists speak of “negative entropy” Bucky used the more pro-active term, syntropy: the antidote to pessimism (“things fall apart,” “the heat death of the universe,” “Murphy’s Law,” and so on).
SYNTROPY he defined as Scenario Universe’s counter-tendency towards greater coherence and integrity: the centripetal (returning to Source) counterforce to centrifugal “expanding Universe” theories. Bucky was a visionary who could sense transcendental Meaning and Higher Order beyond the apparent disorder and randomness of physical phenomena. I had no chance to talk with him, as he was hurried off to some official tea party immediately after the lecture.
Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute (a research team entrusted with developing futurist ‘scenarios’ for the Pentagon, among other rightwing interests in the U.S.) was also there; and so was Prof. Robert Jungk, the famous German sociologist-historian. I managed to get myself invited to the conference and that’s how I finally got to meet Bucky.
He was very approachable, very warm and saintly, radiating a very loving aura – in sharp contrast to Herman Kahn who was hugely aloof and sneering, radiating little warmth. In the two men you could see the polarities of intellectual vision. Kahn was convinced that the planet was in deep trouble and that Malthusian economics dictated Darwinian survival strategies (e.g., he advocated and defended America’s policy of exporting pollution to Third World countries). Fuller, on the other hand, was convinced that Universe is sentient, that Cosmic Intelligence always prevails, and that cooperation, not competition, was the key to real progress. Mentally I called Herman “Fat Hope” and Bucky “Slim Chance.”
Within hours I had decided Bucky would make the ideal grandfather. So when I found him sitting one row behind me at one of the talks, I scribbled my request on a sheaf of conference notes and handed it to him: “Do I have your permission to adopt you as my grandfather?”
Bucky scrawled an unhesitating response: “Indeed you do! It gives me great joy and an increase of responsibility.”
This simple act proved to me that Bucky represented the noblest spirit of humanity, the archetypal Community Elder who has grown beyond tribal concerns and was in effect one of the True Sages of Planet Earth. Such beings are not universally recognized under the military-industrial power structure – but I’m sure that as the Aquarian Age proceeds, they will come into their own.
The general atmosphere at the 1975 conference was pretty much a triumph of Optimism over Pessimism, of human over technocratic values.
Herman Kahn (pictured left) was loudly and repeatedly booed during his address in which he defended the hard-line “realist” approach to problem-solving (that whole pragmatic worldview founded on Original Sin, the contrariness and imperfectibility of Human Nature, and the overall untrustworthiness of the Cosmos; the scientific-materialist paradigm wherein “God” is essentially an abstraction to which political expediency demands payment of lip service, but in private nobody really gives a hoot about “moral authority” or any sense of ethics governing human existence; the Bottom Line being, of course, Economics).
In contrast, Bucky’s talk was very warmly received. Though a fair portion of the audience seemed to have difficulty following his non-linear, multidimensional way of thinking and speaking, Bucky was able to transmit a clear and direct feeling of genuine goodwill and high intelligence. He didn’t refer to notes and could have gone on for hours if there hadn’t been a time limit. I can recall only fragments of what he said, but those few fragments remain vividly imprinted in my mind:
Bucky speculated on the ascendancy of Muscle Power during a particular phase of our prehistory when kings and chiefs were chosen from the warrior caste and Power was equated with the weight of a man’s weapon. Cerebral individuals were given subordinate rôles as consultants, magicians, healers, and comedians. (“Put this little guy on the payroll, he tells funny jokes.”) These thoughts were neither new nor radical to me as I had covered the same contemplative ground in the course of my personal musings – but it was the first public utterance of these ideas I had encountered, and it served to reaffirm the validity of my own views on social hierarchies and power elites.
Bucky came up with another important analogy: that of the honey bee colony which serves a greater design (the propagation of plant species) without actually being aware of its nature-ordained function. To the bee, the whole purpose of existence is simply the gathering of nectar and the defence of its own hive until the next generation is ready to take over the endless cycle.
|Allegra Fuller Snyder, Bucky and Anne's only surviving child, visits the Eden Project |
in September 2009
Bucky’s work with the miraculous behavior of Whole Systems, Synergetics, Syntropy, Reciprocity, Regenerative Intertransformations, Integrity, and Omnidimensionality put everything mystics had always spoken of in poetic code into clear, technical focus – the same way G.I. Gurdjieff and John C. Lilly made epistemology accessible to empirical investigation. However, don’t take my word for it – read Bucky’s Utopia or Oblivion (Pelican Books, 1968)!
The conference on “Malaysia in the Year 2000” lasted only five days – but I had the chance to have more contact with Bucky between sessions and at meals. The remarkable thing is that there was never much casual talk at these encounters: it was more like a reunion of intimate friends. He would perform childlike exercises on paper napkins, demonstrating how EVOLution derives from EVE and how EVOL is really LOVE spelt backwards.
I wrote a long letter elaborating my ideas on transport systems (from solar buggies to antimatter propulsion to mantra-powered lightships) and handed it to Bucky on the second day of the conference. When we met the next day he gave me a radiant smile and a warm handshake, saying: “It was the best letter I’ve ever received, I was absolutely delighted!”
He asked if I was interested in reading a new poem he’d drafted, something called Complexion 1975. He had only the original copy, so I was required to read it all at one sitting in his hotel room while he very kindly ordered me a glass of milk (perhaps I still looked like a baby to him). Since then I’ve read the published version of Complexion, but it didn’t read like the same document I saw in Bucky’s room. My memory informs me that the original draft was more science-fictionish – written from an extraterrestrial viewpoint. I had the feeling that Bucky was eager to communicate some earthshaking secret – but he apparently changed his mind and all he said to me before we left the room was: “Don’t worry about anything. It’s 99.9 per cent metaphysical!”
I did feel a pervasive sense of “unreality” – as though the view outside his hotel room was a holographic projection. I looked at him for further clarification and he kept smiling beatifically and insisting that the physical reality around us was such a minute section of the electromagnetic spectrum as to be actually quite insignificant.
Around this time, a half-mile or so away, the Japanese Red Army (a leftwing terrorist group) was getting ready to take over the AIA building on Ampang Road and hold 50 people hostage for several days. Mercifully, it all ended without bloodshed soon after the conference. A mere background detail to this account.
I wrote Bucky a few times after that. He would reply personally or get his secretary to send me his latest itinerary. Which is how I got wind of his brief visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1976. I met him at the airport with a gift of his favourite oolong tea and he suggested that I accompany his small entourage to the Hotel Equatorial for dinner.
Our conversation was mainly about John Lilly (right) - the multidisciplinary scientist best known for pioneering dolphin intelligence research and the sensory-deprivation tank. Bucky mentioned that he once saved Lilly’s life; he felt that Lilly was far too reckless, doing dangerous things to himself; but he agreed that the man was truly brilliant, if somewhat erratic. Then Bucky handed me some advice that has served me well over the decades:
“Just do what you feel you must do. Do it the best you can and trust that you’ll be looked after. Believe me, it’s true. I’m an old man, and I’m not in the habit of giving irresponsible advice.”
Six months later I quit my job in an advertising agency and have been gainfully unemployed since.
On October 12th 1979, I saw R. Buckminster Fuller for the last time. I’d written to his secretary earlier, saying I’d be passing through Philadelphia and asking if I could visit. The response was swift and warm. I found Bucky in his Market Street office, older and feebler but still as sensitive as ever.
|Bucky autographing books for me in his Market Street office in Philadelphia. |
This photo, which I printed myself, has survived three decades of floods, termite invasions,
and several changes of address.
So he wrote the titles for me on the back of an envelope and decided he couldn’t let me leave without a small stack of autographed books. While he was putting his shaky signature on the books, I took a couple of photographs of him – one of which keeps reappearing at the oddest of times from within the pages of my favorite collection of Bucky poems: And It Came To Pass – Not To Stay.
[Bucky was recalled from Spaceship Earth on 1 July 1983, about a week after helping his wife make the transition. Herman Kahn, oddly enough, died about a week later. Let's hope being free of all that mass has given him a Fuller perspective on everything.]
ETHICS by R. Buckminster Fuller
THE FULLER PERSPECTIVE