Monday, February 14, 2011

the revolution is US: a hypothesis/work-in-progress

Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The Synergetic Omni-Solution is a way of describing how new models are emerging. Synergetic Omni-Solutions can be seen in decentralized, leaderless transformations happening around the world, right now, in every facet of society from freedom fighters in north Africa and the Middle East, to organic farmers, to creators and advocates of appropriate technologies and local economies. Many of us cannot wait any longer for change to happen – we can only take so much more-of-the-same before we arrive at the stark realization that if we want a different model, we’re going to have to build it ourselves using whatever materials are at hand.

Historically, certain individuals have served as catalysts – visionaries who by accident or design capture the sentiment of a population and, by acting on an impulse that resonates across a culture, awaken others to their cause. But Rosa Parkses, César Chávezes, Gandhis, and Mohamed Bouazizis are not born in a vacuum. They are extraordinary conduits, tips of icebergs. It may require thousands or millions of people all feeling a certain way at the same time to produce a single individual who seizes the urge to act, unlocking a gate through which others may follow. The Synergetic Omni-Solution is an effort to minimize this ratio by testing the theory that everyone possesses a unique key – it’s just a matter of recognizing it, and deciding to use it to open the lock.

Buckminster Fuller used the word “synergetic” to describe an ideal system or philosophy that results when unique parts are elegantly integrated to create a greater whole. He often attached the prefix “omni” to words to emphasize their universality – omni-cooperative, omni-inclusive. Synergetic Omni-Solutions, while they may be small in and of themselves, contribute in a positive way to society as a whole. I think of the grandmothers who never dreamed of participating in a political demonstration who made tea to share with protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

So often media and political leadership - in western culture, at least – discourages the tea makers by glorifying competitive spirit and rugged individualism while downplaying or even demonizing approaches intended to benefit the greatest number. Fear mongering news outlets are inherently disempowering, constantly reminding audiences that individuals are helpless, that the world’s problems are too complex and overwhelming for the actions of one person to make a difference. This theme assuages the conscience of the uninvolved – if actions don’t matter, then we are not responsible for the manufacture of our predicament.

Leaders took a very different approach during WWII. In the 1940’s U.S. and British “War Advertising Councils” launched extraordinary media campaigns based on slogans such as “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.” These wildly successful initiatives not only promoted self-sufficiency and conservation of resources during tumultuous times; perhaps most importantly, they united citizens behind a common cause. The public was invited to participate in solutions, and entire nations rose to meet the challenge. Today we face all manner of global crises - economic, environmental, political, social - and yet those in positions of leadership overlook an important opportunity to invite us to play a roll in helping to resolve them.

The Synergetic Omni-Solution is this invitation. Buckminster Fuller understood the challenges that lay ahead for humanity, but remained optimistic that our extraordinary abilities to innovate and cooperate would enable us to avert them. The SOS proposes that a new participatory model for planet-preservation and regeneration is already underway at the grassroots level, and seeks to hasten and strengthen its growth by identifying, highlighting, and encouraging engagement in this phenomenon. Every action - from seed planting to tea making to twittering - that reinforces the notion that the things that unite us are more powerful than the things that divide us contributes to the SOS.

On the final page of “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”, Buckminster Fuller offers his insight into how he believes humanity will ultimately avert disaster: our problems, he says, will be resolved by the computer. Certainly Bucky understood the computer’s potential as a tool for computation and design – but it’s hard not to wonder if he had some inkling of its potential as an interactive information sharing and culture-connecting device. YouTube, twitter, facebook, Instructables, flickr, SoundCloud, Wikipedia…the list of resources driven by users’ willingness to freely share and exchange knowledge is endless. Wikileaks, Avaaz, and We are all Khaled Said are just a few among thousands of examples of internet-based initiatives designed to bring injustices to light and direct and inspire social action. Those who follow the Egyptian revolution via social networks can attest to the powerful sense of community that has arisen as a result of the protesters’ ability to broadcast their message using ubiquitous technology, connecting and communicating with sympathizers around the world in real time. The momentum and immediate, widespread engagement made possible by the Internet can be applied to people-powered, grassroots revolutions of all kinds. By facilitating the pooling and dissemination of resources such as information, resolve, and passion, and by allowing us to join forces around common goals that transcend nationality, religion, and geography, the Internet is helping humanity to understand that we are all connected to one another in ways that are unaffected by signal strength and persist long after we shut our laptops.

The Instant & Efficient Comprehensive & Synergetic Omni-Solution exists wherever and whenever any individual chooses to infuse an action, however minute, with creativity and purpose for the sake of a greater good. The SOS website and real-world activities are efforts to acknowledge and further these revolutionary phenomena by documenting, sharing, and contributing to them. For more information, please visit, our entry into the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, and our launch event at Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, Texas during the last weekend in April. All are welcome!