Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth - R Buckminster Fuller
IOperating Manual was drawn to this book by its wonderful title and the recognition that I’d collected a number of quotations by its author without really knowing anything about him.

I found this book to be something of a curate’s egg. In places it uses language to develop ideas in a really clear way. In other parts the language and structure of the description seems to make the ideas rather impenetrable. On balance, however, the ideas win through.
(Having found out a little more about R. Buckminster Fuller I have learned both that this is one of his more accessible volumes, and that his other books may well be worth the challenge.)

It is a book with some wonderful ideas, not least the one captured in the title, that the Earth is a spaceship travelling through space escorted by the Moon and following its mother ship, the Sun. Though written in the 1970 this metaphor, or perhaps its simply a realisation, provides a framework which encompasses many of the problems of sustainable living we are currently grappling with.

Equally the book has some very vivid and enlightening imagery with which to entice the reader to see and begin to challenge their current paradigm. It for example begins with a story of Global Pirates which is used to describe the recent history of western civilisation, its creation of empires and the division of the world into those that have and those that have not. In a dozen pages or so it describes our current paradigm for how the world works and some of the key characteristics of our environment and the thinking this has created. For example our understanding of need and scarcity, the role of nationality, the use of knowledge. I found the description very thought provoking and began questioning many of the assumptions that drive my, and possibly our current behaviour. For example the assumptions that there will always be shortages of resources and food, which underpin a view of haves’ and have-not’s and our need to protect what we have, often at much greater cost than sharing what we have.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a fellow speaker Mr. N Ramanathan (Ram) in Iran last year. He asked me
“When you have an idea. Who does it belong to?”
He didn’t expect an answer, nor do I have one, but what is clear is that it doesn’t belong to me It’s the result of a million connections and so must in some way belong to all of them.

This is a thought provoking book, which though in parts challenging, is concise enough to warrant some re-reading. The ideas may shake your understanding and beliefs, which may be one of the most powerful ways of enabling change.

Steve Unwin
August 2006