Occasionally a member of the ruling class speaks the blunt truth about what they see as the Natural Order of Things. Occasionally someone who hears them blows the proverbial whistle. Buckminster Fuller had an uncle who was one of the former. In relating the story to one of his biographers, Bucky became one of the latter. WarrenS read the quotes to me recently, and they make a central point about the roots of neofeudalism.
Fuller was one of the great engineers of the 20th century. I heard him speak once, not long before his death. One thing he said that stuck in my mind, was that his life had been a series of frustrations and failures until one day he had an epiphany: He realized it was time to stop working to benefit himself and start working for the greater good.
At that point he finally began to meet with some well-deserved success. The rest, from the Dymaxion design paradigm to the architectural geometry that bears his name, to the posthumous discovery by others, of forms of carbon that naturally embody Fuller's geometry, is well-known history.
What isn't so well known, is the lesson he received one day, and ultimately rejected, about how the upper class preserves its privileges.
E.C.S.T.A.S.Y. — End Consumption, Save The Air & Sea, Y'all!What do you want from life?
Discussion for those who want to kick the habits of consumption that are damaging the world we live in.
To kidnap an heiress? or threaten her with a knife?
What do you want from life?
To get cable teevee and watch it every night?
-The Tubes, "What Do You Want From Life?"
When a change in someone's outlook comes through epiphany rather than opportunity, one has to wonder what struggle they had to wage before an immovable object finally yielded to an inexorable force. In Bucky's life, the immovable object was the legacy of being born and enculturated into the upper class of New England. The inexorable force might well have been the product of empirical facts and personal conscience.
When Bucky was young, one of his rich uncles took him aside one day to explain how the world was.
The world was like this: it did not contain enough to go around. That fact had stood established for a good three generations, but never been widely publicized. It was Thomas Malthus, with mankind's first comprehensive statistics at his disposal, who had shown... how population tended to outstrip resources. Population had since done just what Malthus predicted, and men had outgrown the era of the Golden Rule, the formulation of a less-crowded world. The possessions of the haves were now founded on the destitution of the have-nots, and despite Sunday-school pieties serviceable to placate women, that was henceforth the unalterable state of things.
The upper class knew about Malthus, and they viewed his theory of overshoot and collapse with the alarm of a shopkeeper facing a hungry mob during a natural disaster. They also knew about Darwin, and they twisted his theory of natural selection into the self-justifying bastardization known as Social Darwinism.
Note this in particular: They had outgrown the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule in one form or another, is the key to the concept of morality in each of the major world religions, Asian as well as Western, and in most of the systems of secular (nonreligious) philosophy that address the foundations of ethics. Kant's Categorical Imperative (treat persons as ends-in-themselves rather than as means to other ends; live only by those rules that you would hold to apply to all), and Utilitarianism (good is defined as the greatest good for the greatest number, logical tricks such as human sacrifice excluded) are each in their own way founded upon the idea that one must consider the effect on the other person as the basis for one's own actions.
Now all of this was to be swept aside for the expedient necessity of maintaining one's position and possessions: the eager sacrifice of the core of moral and ethical behavior, upon the altar of Mammon, the god of worldly wealth and power.
Of -mice- dogs and men.
And so we return to Bucky's uncle and his lesson.
The fittest, said Malthus' disciple Darwin, were the survivors. It behooved a man, therefore, to cultivate enough of the red tooth and the unsheathed claw to ensure that he and his loved ones should be haves. This was not nice, and he need not distress the innocent by talking of it, but there was really no choice. It had been established that a man's chance of passing his life in any comfort was about 1 in 100. "It is not you or the other fellow," explained Bucky's uncle, "it is you or one hundred others." To prosper in the Fuller way with a family of five, he would have to slit the throats — genteelly, of course — of 500 others. "So, do it as neatly and cleanly and politely as you know how, and as your conscience will allow." That was a new role for conscience: the lubricant of murder.
Let us be quite clear what was being said there: If you want to preserve your family's position in the upper class, you will have to do it at the expense of five hundred other humans. Your task is to do unto them what we do unto livestock at the slaughterhouse: slit their throats. Perhaps not in the most literal sense of the phrase, but by some other means, the neater the better: stealing their livelihoods, their homes, their savings, and any free time they might use to start making trouble.
According to an old Latin proverb, canis caninam non est, "dog will not eat dog." The first English rendition may have appeared in the Times of London, 19 June 1798: "As it is an established fact, that sharper [thief] will not rob sharper, nor dog eat dog."
(source: http://www.wordorigins.org/... )
But the modern origin of the expression "it's a dog-eat-dog world" apparently dates to 1931. This would have been roughly the period in history during which Bucky's uncle took him aside to give him a lesson in the upper-class version of reality.
(source: http://www.smh.com.au/... )
Have you ever thought about what that phrase "dog eat dog" really means?
Dogs who eat other dogs are engaged in cannibalism. And the doggies are symbolically standing in for humans. "It's a human-eat-human world." I'm hardly the first to notice this; it even made a hit song decades ago:
Everywhere there's lots of piggies, living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner, with their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives
to eat their bacon
-The Beatles, "Piggies"
Dog eat dog. Piggy eat piggy. Human eat human. Slit their throats. Cannibalism. The upper class of the early 20th century apparently understood the significance of dogs eating dogs.
We don't tell them about it.
The uncle warmed to his (own) oration, which he cautioned was for Bucky's ears alone. "I'm not going to try to educate your grandmother because she's quite happy thinking in her own Golden Rule way. And of course — unknown to her — I have taken care of her one hundred alternates." She was therefore free to be grateful to God. Others, all around the world, clung to their gods and yet died off, short of their potential years, no relative having taken care of their alternates. "But they keep themselves happy by having their hopes and their infinite possibilities. So we don't tell them about it".
"We don't tell them about it." Better for the serfs to remain in the dark, pleasantly tranquilized by whatever bread and circuses can be concocted, whilst they are led passively to the slaughterhouse. To have their throats slit. To be eaten by the Top Dogs, or the Bigger Piggies as the case may be.
What do you want from life?
Someone to love, and somebody you can trust?
What do you want from life?
To try and be happy, while you do the nasty things you must?
-The Tubes, "What Do You Want From Life?"
Fattening you up for the slaughter.
It's fashionable for Americans to describe themselves as "homeowners." But that term is a clever falsehood used as a lure. They don't own homes, they own mortgages, or more accurately today, their mortgages own them until they are completely paid off, which, if they're lucky, might occur before they go senile and forget their own names.
All those consumer goods? Same thing until the credit card balance is paid down to zero. And what percentage of people today have successfully managed to pay off all of their consumer debt?
Consumerism is a trap. And speaking of mice and men, take two minutes to watch this video. It's nonviolent and it's actually amusing, until you draw the parallels with humans:
It's a consumer-eat-consumer world.
The dirty little secret is that the purpose of all those shiny consumer goodies is to trap you, render you harmless, fatten you up for the slaughter, and then make you one of somebody's "one hundred."
You need to remember that every time you are tempted to whip out the credit card or sign something that's as thick as a phone book.
As far as the neofeudal lords are concerned, you are food. Food to be milked, or to have its nest eggs stolen out from under it, or to be led away to the slaughterhouse. You are food. To be eaten. Sacrificed at the altar of Mammon. For someone whose goal in life is nothing more than possessions and position.
And the way to fight back is to just say NO. NO to the treadmill, the rat race, the mouse trap, the veal-fattening pen. NO to the blandishments, baubles, and bling, the deceptions, distractions and debts, the stress, the serfdom, and the slaughterhouse.
If you don't play their game, they can't win. And in any case there's a better game to play.
Today's seditious incitement:
Make up a short story. It can be as simple as a fairy tale or a children's story, or the re-telling of something from your own life. Write it down. Now find a few more adjectives and adverbs to sprinkle around the nouns and verbs. If you can visualize it, audiate it, or otherwise perceive it in your mind's senses, you can write down some of that. Making up a story is the most basic creative act, and it requires nothing more than the ability to speak a language.
Do this at least once a week. If you have drawing or graphic arts skills, sketch out one or two of the characters or settings. Then hand it to someone to read (or read it to your kid(s), depending on their age and the content). You'll get better at this from week to week.
Encourage other family members and friends to do the same thing.
Using your imagination is a subversive act. And it feels really really good.
Quotes about Bucky Fuller's uncle are from Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller, by Hugh Kenner, pages 75 - 76.
Here are a few important links:
1. Annie Leonard's crucial movie, The Story of Stuff.2. An invaluable tool for calculating the ecological footprint of your lifestyle, from the good folks at Redefining Progress. What's your score?4. SCRAP - a creative reuse center, store and workshop space.
Donations of high quality, low cost, re-usable materials such as textiles, paper, jewelry findings, wood, buttons and plastics are collected from businesses, institutions and individuals then sorted, displayed and distributed by SCRAP for artists, educational and community groups.
For more creative reuse centers around the country, click here.5. Philosophical perspectives on sustainability, civilization and the role of human nature from Jason Godesky.6. Freecycle.If you have a resource that should be included in ECSTASY diaries, please include the link and a few words about it in the comments.
The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,793 groups with 7,208,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on “Browse Groups” above the search box. Have fun!
ECSTASY diaries will appear most often on weekends and Thursday evenings. All diaries dealing with the problems of living in a Consumerist society are potential candidates. If you think you've got something to contribute, please contact WarrenS and he'll schedule you in.
The ECSTASY series thus far:
February 28: Introducing ECSTASY.
March 7: The Work of Julian Lee and Juliet Schor: Two Voices of Sanity.
March 10: G2Geek's Measure The Power.
March 14: Earthfire promoted Annie Leonard's appearance in Washington, DC.
March 21: RL Miller tells us about Chickens.
March 24: G2Geek prompts an unbelievable discussion about the
difference between Consumerist Time and Hunter-Gatherer Time.
March 28: citisven shares a thought-provoking and aesthetically satisfying look at the ways that one person's trash is another person's art materials.
April 4: WarrenS gives us the good word on Making Homemade Musical Instruments.
April 7: G2geek talks about what makes for robust and sustainable technology.
April 11: B Amer tells us how to find ECSTASY on our bicycles.
April 18: rb137 reviews Judith Levine's book, "Not Buying It!"
April 25: mwmwm's powerful rumination on our collective complicity in consumerism.
April 29: G2geek discusses the need for a new economic and emotional narrative.
May 2: WarrenS offers Eight Thoughts About Timescale.
May 6: G2geek talks about the ecological implications of Where You Keep Your Money.
May 9: rb137 gives us a powerful review of the role of "blood metals" in our consumer electronics — "Your Cellphone is Killing People!"
May 13: G2geek gives us the backstory of neo-feudalism, with more promised in the weeks to come.
May 16: Milly Watt tells us more about the power of feedback in reducing our consumption of electricity.