The other day I heard about a young man who gave up a promising career in corporate America to become … a professional gambler. You read that right. Top of his class in college, math whiz, highly regarded “quant” with a major US-based corporation, married with young children. And he heeded the clarion call of Las Vegas.
This young professional might well be following his bliss, but the world needs more talent and vision deployed to bigger and greater challenges. His contribution will be missed.
The Black Plague of the 14th century wiped out half the population of Europe. It also opened up new human potentialities. An acute labor shortage empowered serfs to walk off land they had been tied to for centuries, and seek employment elsewhere. The Plague ended feudalism. Last year, 47 million workers made the decision to quit their jobs to seek something better. To pursue their vision of what life could be.
In tumultuous times, we need new visions more than ever. Without vision the people perish, as the proverb has it. History shows that while we sometimes are unkind to them, visionaries can point the way forward. Maybe it’s just me, but today’s crop of visionaries, with the exception of Bill Gates, almost singularly fails to inspire.
Mark Zuckerberg wants us to escape the realities of a warring, pandemic-ravished, heating up planet by submerging ourselves in the metaverse. Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars. The dominant vision just now among the young is dystopian. How to break the spell and paint a new vision? Where are the visionaries of our time who inspire us – and take us to a higher plane of thought?
Why Bucky Fuller is Boomers’ Favorite Visionary
Like a lot of other people of my generation (I am a boomer), I came of age fascinated by the ideas and inventions of Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983), inventor of the geodesic dome. In the 1960’s and ‘70s, Fuller became a beloved public speaker on college campuses, and around the world. His visions of the future inspired a generation.
Fuller was especially prolific when it came to envisioning how things could be done differently, more efficiently, using fewer resources. After Ford Motor hired Fuller to build one of his geodesic domes over its headquarters building in Dearborn, Michigan, Fuller was suddenly a hot commodity. The military hired him to dome over its defense system outposts. World’s Fairs and expositions everywhere went big for “Bucky domes.”
His Dymaxion vehicle could turn on a dime and caused traffic jams when introduced in 1933. His Dymaxion homes were billed as the wave of the future. They were to be assembled in factories, transported via blimps, and installed in a single day. Fuller designed flying cars and underwater communities that would be resupplied by submarines. Above it all, new-age communities envisioned by Bucky would float above the clouds like gigantic cruise ships in the sky.
Prolific ideator though he was, most of Bucky’s notions never got off the ground. His most famous construct, the geodesic dome, would prove to be impractical. “They leaked,” noted a disillusioned early enthusiast named Stuart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalogue fame. “The angles between the facets could never be sealed successfully.” But no matter.
Almost 40 years after his death, it’s not Bucky’s inventions, it’s his embrace of potentiality and possibility that stands him apart. Bucky’s vision of the world, and the humanistic values of one world that endeared him to the Boomer Generation, at a time when idealism and can-doism was sending kids into the Peace Corps, not to gambling halls.
In his early years, depressed, jobless, and with a family to support, Fuller considered suicide. Instead, he asked himself a series of questions: “What is my job on the planet? What is it that needs doing? What is it that I know something about that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?”
Out of this period of study and self-examination, Fuller began to see that his calling was not confined to inventing things. But to inspire inventive thinking in others. In mid-life he began to travel the world speaking to audiences about the future, about possibility, and potentiality. These lectures would go on for hours and the effect was expansive.
Fuller coined the term “spaceship earth” and no matter where he spoke, he’d create a sense of global unity by telling his audience that “we are all passengers on spaceship earth.”
Fuller’s 1960s vision was to observe that humankind was depleting the earth’s resources at a rapid clip. He saw that there would come an inflection point, a reckoning. “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment,” he would often say, humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.”
All hands on deck on spaceship earth.