Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth

There are not many avant-garde theorists who have their ideas materialized in the form of a Disney World attraction. Buckminster Fuller has done just that, back in the 70’s. But his metaphor of ‘spaceship earth’ is far from being merely ‘attractive’; it was, and is perhaps, purely utopian. In his book ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’- which was published in 1969 – Buckminster Fuller made the daring assumption that the time was there to hand over control from politicians, financiers and bureaucrats to designers, engineers, artists and urban planners. 


According to Fuller only the latter are able to go beyond a specialist view on reality; beyond comprehension, beyond grasping. It are the creative ones who are able to see the world from the view of outerspace. This emphasis on ‘outer’ is crucial for Fuller compels us to consider the world no longer as a natural variable, but as something completely artificial; not ready-made, but always in-action. To think of the world as a pure construct is, in fact, to debunk every idea of a seperation between human and non-human, natural and cultural. Well, perhaps for Fuller not quite, since he poses his ‘spaceship earth’ as a human possibility; it is a human obligation to think of the world as being a vehicle.

What is interesting here is that, instead of representing some vague, poetic concept, the metaphor of the world as a spaceship makes manifest an important and contemporary truth. Namely the fact that the consequences of this metaphor do justice to the situation that is being presented to ‘us’. As Sloterdijk remarks, ‘If Earth is a spaceship, then its crew must indeed above all be interested in maintaining the conditions for life inside the vehicle.’ Being on earth and caring for its preservation compels us to think of ourselves as ‘earthly astronauts’ forced to constantly check our breathing conditions. Or, to state it differently, spaceship earth does not have an exit. The supply of oxygen crucial for astronauts is not a gradual situation. It is, rather, all or nothing. What is more, Fuller’s metaphor shows that taking care of the maintainence We (humans and non-humans) need is both a highly technical and cognitive undertaking. Dasein is design – in this respect. A house needs taking care of – this is Fuller’s attribution to Heidegger. A deeper humanism (as Heidegger was striving for) is a humanism expanded towards being-with; constituting those intelligent practices that last, that are sustainable. One other lesson Fuller teaches us is that the possibility of this ‘being-with’ must be sought in the activity of combining metaphysical ideas with experimental capacities. Fuller’s new metaphysics is one that is supposed to be completely immanent; it is one with the empirical. What is more; once the earth and outerspace as such do no longer function as an ‘outside’ to the world, as a transcendent escape, we must conceive of everything as being ‘inside’. And once we cannot escape our own activities, so says Fuller, we must radically think through all its consequences and possibilities.

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