Future Beacon

More Is Less


J. Tyronius Gaussington IV

      It was during the late 1920's that a technologist by the name of Richard Buckminster Fuller, began to experience a series of personal setbacks. Having been pushed to the edge of despair, he doubted he would ever have the ability to make a difference in the world. It was perhaps while recalling his Naval service, that he considered the trimtab on a ship's rudder. A hundred ton rudder must work against its own inertia to change the flow of millions of gallons of water in order to alter the path of a ship.

      A trimtab is a small, movable surface, that when maneuvered, creates a pressure differential within a flowing fluid, causing it to move the rudder in the desired direction. You don't need to push the rudder, you just need to change its shape and it will move by itself. Like a jujitsu master using an assailant's energy to defeat him, the trimtab can move an 80,000 ton ship by tapping into the energy of its forward motion.

      Fuller understood that just as you could use small, well-directed actions to solve difficult engineering problems, you should also be able to apply that methodology in other areas, and achieve what seems unachievable with minimal resources.

      During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union waged a series of expensive and ineffective proxy wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and others. When the Berlin wall fell, it was not due to any of these armed efforts. The people of East Berlin looked out the window and compared their dismal lifestyle to the vibrant one happening just a few streets over. Bootlegged clothing and music found their way onto the streets of Moscow. Russians saw that these things were better than anything their system could produce, and their loyalties shifted away from communist ideals.

      If Western powers had realized the more effective battlefront was not in a jungle, but in the minds of their adversaries, they could have saved millions of lives. A fraction of the billions spent carpet-bombing the Vietnamese countryside could have been used to build schools and hospitals, showing the Vietcong that there was more to Capitalism than oppression.

      Why does our collective problem solving repertoire consist solely of hefting military might, or throwing money at ineffective, brute-force solutions? Group efforts focus on what is easily understood and communicated, therefore most group-sourced solutions are trivial. It doesn't help that our selection of leaders is dictated by one-dimensional measurements. People are uninterested in what problem solving skills a candidate has, instead focusing on where they lie along a political axis.

      If we want to come up with more elegant, minimal solutions, humans need to learn to value wisdom over dogma. They need to find better ways of interacting that encourage the cultivation and application of insight. If we can accomplish this, we will be able to free up countless resources that are today squandered on ineffective outcomes, and achieve magnitudes more good than we do currently.