by Buckminster Fuller: And we’re at a point where I now have what would seem absolutely incredible to generations before. I’ve now completed thirty-seven circuits of our Earth–kind of zig-zagging circuits, not straight around. Not tourist. Just responding to requests to appear here and there, to lecture at universities or design some structure, or whatever it may be. So that is in the everyday pattern, that I am circuiting that earth. Certainly makes evidence that we are dealing in totality of humanity not the–up to my generation–completely divided humanity, spread very far apart on our planet.
My father was in the leather importing business in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, and he imported from two places, apparently–Buenos Aires and India, for bringing in leather for the shoe industry, which was centered in that time in the Boston area. His mail, or a trip he would like to make to Argentina, took two months each way. His trip to India, or the mail, took exactly three months each way. It seemed absolutely logical to humanity when early in this century Rudyard Kipling, the English poet, said “East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” It was a very, very rare matter for any human being to make such a travel as that, taking all those months. There were not many ships that could take him there.
All that has just changed in my lifetime, to where I’m not one of the very few making these circuits of the Earth, but I am one of probably getting to be pretty close to twenty million now who are making, living a life like that around our planet. And very much the whole young world is doing so. I keep meeting my students of various universities from around the world half way round the world again. They’re all getting to be living as world people. This is a very sudden emergence of some new kind of relationship to our Universe being manifest. None of it was planned. There was nobody in the time of my father, my mother, in the time I was brought up, prophesying any of the things I just said.
The year I was born, Marconi invented the wireless, but it did not get into any practical use until I was twelve years of age, when the first steamship sent an SOS, when it was in distress, by wireless. Think of it. Great many miles–and the world began to know the ship was in distress, and a ship then rushed to its aid. Absolutely unexpected. My father and mother were saying, “Wireless? Nonsense!” And, when I was three the electron was discovered and nobody talked about that; it wasn’t in any of the newspapers. Nobody was interested in the electron, they didn’t know what was the electron or whether it was discovered. I was brought up that humanity would never get to the North Pole. Absolutely impossible. They’d never get to the South Pole. On Mercator maps, it didn’t even show anything up–the northernmost points were a very rugged kind of a line, if you see it, with nothing beyond that. When I was fourteen, man did get to the North Pole. When I was sixteen, he got to the South Pole. The “impossibles” were happening.
Like all other little boys, I was making paper darts that you make at school–boys must’ve been making them for a very long time. And we were hoping it might be able to get to flying. Parents would say, “Darling, it’s very amusing for you to try that, but it’s inherently impossible for man to fly.” So when I was seven, the Wright brothers suddenly flew, and my memory is vivid enough of seven to remember that, for about a year, the engineering societies would try to prove it was a hoax, that it was absolutely impossible for man to do that.
So then, not only was there radio, but when I was twenty-three–which I guess many in this room are not twenty-three yet,–when I was twenty-three, the human voice came over the radio for the first time. That’s an incredible matter. I was forty-five when we had our first television. It couldn’t be a more recent matter, and yet, nobody thought at that time, they didn’t know you were going to have transistors. They didn’t know man was going to have satellites going around the earth, they didn’t know we were going to have radio relay satellites, with programs coming out of any part of the Earth to any other part of the Earth. Not one of these steps was ever anticipated by any of the others.
So having experienced that, I also experienced living with my fellow human beings who, I find, no sooner does it happen, says “I knew it all the time. I’m not one of those to be surprised; I was totally in on it, you know, I was a little bit responsible.” There’s a strange vanity of man, I think the vanity that he has was essential to his being born naked and helpless and having to make the fantastic number of mistakes he had to make in order to really learn something. I think he is so disgruntled, so dismayed by the mistakes and the errors that he would never have been able to carry on–would’ve been absolutely discouraged. So he was given this strange vanity to say–to continually make himself exempt, that he was some kind of privileged and always in, and he is able to quite clearly deceive himself a great deal. So I find everybody today–let anybody do that unless it is absolutely simple and logical.
The first census of the population of the United States was taken in 1790, just after the war was over. In 1810, the United States Congress decided we ought to have a census of the wealth of America, so the Treasury Department had a very large survey made of people to determine their wealth. In 1810, there were a million families in America. In 1810, there were a million human slaves in America. It’s a very sad and very dramatic fact to be revealed if you go back into the records. It looks like every family having a human slave; that was not correct. Very few families owned a slave, comparatively. But the point is that kind of a figure.
So I found that in 1940, in contradistinction to that kind of condition, there were a number of energy-slaves working in the economy rather than human slaves. And I found that–you can go back and look at Fortune Magazine 10th Anniversary Issue, 1940, and you’ll find the number of energy slaves operating per each person, per family. The number of energy-slaves operating in the United States per person was thirty-nine energy slaves per person. Every individual, if you have a family of five, you come pretty close to two hundred slaves working for each family. But energy slaves are really inanimate, in contradistinction to a million–one slave per family–of human slaves. Suddenly you have two hundred non-human slaves doing the work. An enormous step up in the standard of living is represented, as well as doing away with the inhumane idea of the human being being the muscle machine to be commanded. That that change had taken place in such a short period of time–about a hundred and thirty year change–I felt I was discovering something very, very dramatic.
And now I went into the figures in 1940 even more deeply because by then World War II was thoroughly looming, and a great deal of the energy being generated in the United States was going toward war production. So I deducted from the total energy that I would be considering any energy that could be identified as going toward anything that had to do with war. To see then how much energy was actually benefiting the family, the human beings; if the energy was producing a highway for them to go on, I made that primarily for them and not for the war, whatever that might be. I made as strict an accounting as I could to see what was really benefiting the family. So then, I found out how many net energy slaves were really supporting a peaceful life of human beings in America. What I found was one hundred energy slaves per family, approximately–I came to two hundred at the time, and about half of them were really working for the human family itself; the other half were getting ready for war.
I took the criteria of a hundred energy slaves per family as being the criteria for what I call a “have” family. This represented people who were enjoying a really comfortable standard of living. So my criteria for a “have” family: a hundred energy slaves per family.
Now in 1900, taking the total human population, far less than one per cent were in what I called “industrial have” family. So less than one per cent of humanity in 1900. As a consequence of World War II, and the technology I spoke about that was introduced in World War II, it came out four per cent of all humanity were suddenly “industrial haves” which was a very big jump from nothing. In 1951, I was taking a new point on the curve, and I found we’d gotten up to twenty eight per cent of humanity.
I now had enough points on my curve–I had three points–to be able to discover, there’s a radius of change, so I made a constant radius of change, and I extended that radius. And I found that curve was increasing so rapidly that the curve in exactly 2000 AD, we came to 100% of humanity would be enjoying a high standard of living. I saw that that curve could be accelerated, so I made an acceleration curve on my 1951 publishing of this curve and when I took the slower rate, the constant rate of radius, and I found that (this 1951), as of 1970, the curve went through fifty per cent of humanity.
Historically, ninety-nine per cent and more of humanity were “have-nots'” they were in dire need, and revolution was really rampant. The many would say the fewer are enjoying unfairly, and we have to get up and do something about it. When you go by fifty per cent, I saw for the first time in history, the majority begins to be “haves”, rather than “have-nots.” This would bring about a different way of looking at things. Those who were “haves” would probably find much more information than they ever had before, found they really couldn’t enjoy that “have-ness” as long as they had awareness of the dire “have-not-ness” of the others. At any rate, this would be a critical point where, for the first time, you would not have the majority rising up to pull down the top. You might really have, then, the tendency of the majority, being on top, to pull the bottom up. This seemed to be, probably, a very new relationship.
In 1951, I marked on my chart, the critical year would be 1970. Using my acceleration it could be somewhere between 1970 and 1975 The most accelerated point would be 1970 and the least accelerated would be 1975. This is the critical period and the curve really did get exactly there at 1970. So we crossed, we’ve been going through a very, very critical time right now. Because this is the point where, I say, it is now being clearly demonstrated to humanity that something is going on, if he is not so myopic and shortsighted as not to really look at such curves. I am really astonished at how little people will look at them.
This kind of awareness that made me want to develop what I called a World Game to try to make it as quickly as possible to make it clear to all humanity what its options were, that changes are going on. There are very big things going on in nature here. I spoke to you about our all coming out of some common womb of permitted ignorance, with enough cushion of resources by which, by trial-and-error to make mistake after mistake, to learn what we’re learning. And this is a very extraordinary moment, I find; suddenly there is–all around the world–literacy. This wasn’t there when I was young.