Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bucky vs. Bernays - Two Big Thinkers, Two Different Paths

So in the past few weeks, I've finished up two biographies on two men who have a lasting impact on all of humanity, even if most of humanity has not a clue that they do...Edward L. Bernays (Father of Spin) and Buckminster Fuller (Buckminster Fuller's Universe).

The timing was mostly an accident of the Denver library hold system...both holds came through about the same time and so I read both in the same time period. It turns out that they have a lot in common: both believed in thinking really, really big ideas and then setting about trying to realize them.

Both men have huge, lasting impacts. Bernays often promoted himself as the father of PR, and while that's not entirely true, many still look to him for ideas/inspiration in PR. Chomsky constantly uses the phrase "manufacturing|engineering consent" in reference to Bernays. PR influences EVERYTHING in our daily lives - everything from the fatuous like celebrity spokespersons to hard science (see Big Tobacco and Big Energy, for example) to decisions to go to war - see Iraq War I and stories about throwing preemie babies off of ventilators, see Iraq War II for stories about Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch.

The idea of whether there is any "benefit" from PR is dubious at best. Then there's Bucky. Consider: the World Game, front-wheel drive, the geodesic domes and his inspiration for others to even name series of molecules such as fullerenes after him, and even further out, yet-to-be-implemented structures such as Cloud 9 - floating cities based on geodesic domes. Bucky's bio was really quite inspiring to read - it was basically what one man who decided to ignore the profit motive and instead focus on what he could do for humanity's benefit. Sure, almost every feel-good bio you care to pick up will read something like this, but usually it's a bio about something meaningless for humanity such as a celebrity or a sports star. Bucky actually set out to try to solve key issues like sheltering all of humanity cheaply. My thoughts on education mirrors his as well - I've written about this earlier, but I'll recap - I think education in institutions has a certain amount of value (I've done the bachelor's thing, and am considering an MBA), but it also has certain traps and one of the biggest is the tendency to stamp out like-minded individuals to serve institutions. Bucky was mostly self-taught, and virtually his entire life shows this.

On a much more personal note, while my father built the house my mother and my father still live in, my family lived in a yurt for a few years. The finished house also happens to be round as well. I'll have to ask him sometime if he was inspired at all by Bucky to do that, even if it's not a geodesic dome...I know at one point that he had Bucky's Nine Chains to the Moon on his bookshelf.

I've read various RAW books over the years, and obviously RAW admires Bucky very much. Being born after the 60's, I've seen geodesic domes everywhere - I even lived on a commune for a short while at a very young age that had a geodesic dome house. Our school, even in the heart of Pennsyltucky, had a playground that had a geodesic structure for climbing on. I even remember reading Slashdot stories on buckyballs. But until reading RAW constantly flogging just how great Bucky was, I never thought to figure out who was behind all this and read more about him. I'm glad I finally did, and it's yet another reason I continue to value RAW's contributions to humanity, as well. As for Bernays, as an individual, he seemed affable enough, but I think the world could use a few less people trying to manipulate public opinion for corporate profits and government's evil deeds. I could invoke Godwin's Law, and mention the Nazis were apparently fans of his work. But even without the Nazi consideration, ponder this: does this planet need more Eddie Bernays creating more "manufactured wants", or does it need more Buckys trying to actually solve real problems that face real people?

one other difference.. one was a self promoter and always carried a press kit on himself.

the other is hardly ever talked about, but created more ideas that were implemented a natural
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