It seems to me that in order to be Comprehensive Designer the entity would not only be have to be neither nor, but also that she would also have to have some sort of power derived from the very existence of the universe he oversees. The social implications that are merged with this idea of governance via technology which applied at the time postulated that the rigors of performing life’s tasks under the technocaracy breaks down the psyche of the bureaucrat is a bold statement. I think here it means that bureaucracy creates so much of a burden of labor, paperwork, policies and procedures that too much focus is lost by the bureaucrat on what is supposed to be the point of his office: the oversite of “States and industries.” It also bemoans the fact that most of the resources created by advances in technology and research should not be earmarked for military purposes.
The comprehensive designer favored collaboration to the end that data and research and ideas all be combined towards a goal without any “heircharies”, or government interference. It also calls for balance. This notion of balance would have to be different from traditional notions of balance in a system because of the absence of hierarchy. In a hierarchy, all needs are assessed from the top down which inherently causes imbalance as there is no flexibility to assess needs fairly cases where needs originate at lesser points. At odds here in my mind is the question of where this designer will get his powers of self sufficientcy. By whose authority would his notions of balance be measured.
Fuller was an inspiration to Brand as their thoughts were similar regarding using technology for social change. Like the Native American culture of which Brand was so fond, they believed that balance should be applied in all things and that through networking the resources to achieve balance lie. They both wanted to use technology and art to help people and connect them through shared ideas. He believed that it is only through the expression of ideas that people could experience shared consciousness. The governmental system he felt is divisive to this process.
Turner (2006:56) references Buckminster’s Fuller’s idea of the “Comprehensive Designer,” described in Fuller’s book Ideas and Integrities (1963). As Turner (2006:56) explains, “[a]ccording to Fuller, the Comprehensive Designer would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness.” Elaborating on the idea of the comprehensive designer, describe the vision of the world espoused by Fuller. Why do you think this vision was so appealing to Stewart Brand? If you are unsure, take a guess.
I found an article that gives a detailed description of the idea of the comprehensive designer:
Comprehensive Designer would be aware of the system’s need for balance and the current deployment of its resources. He would then act as a “harvester of the potentials of the realm,” gathering up the products and techniques of industry and redistributing them in accord with the systemic patterns that only he and other comprehensivists could perceive. To do this work, the Designer would need to have access to all of the information generated within America’s burgeoning technocracy while at the same time remaining outside it. He would need to become “an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.” Constantly poring over the population surveys, resource analyses, and technical reports produced by states and industries, but never letting himself become a full-time employee of any of these, the Comprehensive Designer would finally see what the bureaucrat could not: the whole picture.
Being able to see the whole picture would allow the Comprehensive Designer to realign both his individual psyche and the deployment of political power with the laws of nature. In contrast to the bureaucrat, who, so many critics of technocracy had suggested, had been psychologically broken down by the demands of his work, the Comprehensive Designer would be intellectually and emotionally whole. Neither engineer nor artist, but always both simultaneously, he would achieve psychological integration even while working with the products of technocracy. Likewise, whereas bureaucrats exerted their power by means of political parties and armies and, in Fuller’s view, thus failed to properly distribute the world’s resources, the Comprehensive Designer would wield his power systematically. That is, he would analyze the data he had gathered, attempt to visualize the world’s needs now and in the future, and then design technologies that would meet those needs.
Buckminster Fuller, utilizing a military research culture model of information systems theory, essentially believed in a future where systems management would be undertaken by a comprehensive designer. The comprehensive designer would be an eclectic and free example of an artist and scientist, endowed with a healthy grasp on the psychological dimensions of his task.
Fuller believed that the universe operated according to its own system and that the comprehensive designer would essentially map out this information and be a sort of renaissance man when it comes to pulling from across disciplines and technologies in order to work with the existing order in a harmonious way to create from an inner place. Fuller believed that systems were already in existence, that it was possible to map everything to a set of patterns as information.
This is more or less what Stewart Brand believed in – and the model for the Whole Earth Catalog was a chance for the information processing of a multitude of sources to filter into a harmonious mixture that accentuated the aptitude of each user and employed systems theory in order to change future consciousness. I believe that Brand was attracted to Fuller’s concept of the Comprehensive Designer because the idea was shaped in the belly of military-research culture and Brand’s own background, (though no longer part of his emerging worldview) was shaped by his own experiences in Ranger school. Though he dropped out, it seems to me that a kernel of that enterprising and individualistic or heroic ideal remained in him, and further encouraged his interest in navigating a path outside of the tense political period of the cold war. Capitalizing off of his own divergent interests and desire to be free of a bureaucratic future, the allure of Fuller’s ideology of a Comprehensive Designer, suggested a community of like-minded individuals looking to take the best aspects of existing technology and fuse that together with learning how to understand the existing structures. I believe that Brand was enchanted with Fuller’s notion of mapping the world as an information system – which means that the ideal course of direction for the new vision of humanity – a humanity enabled by technological innovation and free from social and bureaucratic constriction, was to process the data and focus on building a future that relied on a creative and collaborative culture. This becomes more evident later in Brand’s expansive travels through different scenes and communities of other free thinking and technologically plugged in (or at experimental) folks like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
The vision of the world espoused by Fuller in his idea of the “Comprehensive Designer” allowed an individual an outside view of all the different systemic processes that the bureaucrat could not see having “been psychologically broken down by the demands of his work.” The “Comprehensive Designer” would have available to them all the information from all different types of industry and try to figure out how they can work together in the world they inhabited.
This was appealing to Brand because he appreciated “cybernetics as an intellectual framework and as a social practice; he associated both with alternative forms of communal organization.” The whole theory of cybernetics is a collaborative process of using information for a common good without any hierarchy. The “Comprehensive Designer” and cybernetics are very similar in the fact that there is a collaborative effort that did not deal with politics. It was all about the greater good of the community combining data that was gathered in an attempt to see the world’s needs and hopefully design technologies that would solve those needs.
Brand was a man that needed his individuality and he did not want to give that up. He even fought in a war not to fight for his country, but to fight for his right of individuality that he felt might have been taken away from him otherwise. After coming back from the war he studied the readings of Wiener, McLuhan, Fuller and Ehrlich who all believed in cybernetics which was a new way to look at the world. Fuller’s “Comprehensive Designer” idea was so appealing to Brand because it aligned with his own sensibilities in what he wanted to see the world looks like.
Fuller was someone that was considered a key figure in the world that Brand was a part of at the time. His “intellectual frameworks and social ideals” may have come from the military research culture but it was endearing to the avant-garde world that Brand saw with the USCO.
In the beginning I would love to say that the chapter starts very interesting and unusual, not like everything we read before. The chapter begins with a little Stewart Brand’s biography.
In the chapter named “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture”, according to Fuller “Comprehensive Designer would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness”. Fuller believed that “Comprehensive Designer” would be the key and would be able to help with world’s problems. He believed that all those technologies should be used to help society and not bring distraction, he “attempted to visualize the world’s needs then and in the future, and then design technologies that would meet those needs”. Later “Comprehensive Designer would be aware of the system’s need for balance and the current deployment of its resources”. For Stewart Brand, Buckminster Fuller was inspiration. He inspired Brand about the comprehensive designer and his movements. Fuller knew how to use technology in a way to benefit from it; he used different ways to help develop technology. Stewart Brand shared the same vision as Buckminster Fuller. He believed that society depends on every person in it; he used technology, he worked on finding new ways to develop society and connect people. Also Native American played a big role in building Stewart Brand’s vision. Native American Indians were all about equal community.
This chapter really hit home for me as it made sense of the through line I’ve been tracing in the ideas of many thinkers I’ve encountered over the past few years. The design theorists, smart city advocates, resource based economists and even transhumanists whose work I’ve encountered all harken back, at least in part, to Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s notions of the world as an integrated system which only the Comprehensive Designer is suited to interpret grew out of his own ideological and experiential influences. Fuller had seen systems he encountered as highly flawed, such as industrial planning and distribution. In a manner of speaking, his ideal of the Comprehensive Designer blended a sort of pseudo-Marxist redistributive ethic with a Taylorization of processes and protocols throughout systems. The Designer who stands outside it all, discerning the overlapping nodes of systems and data, functions as a Frederick Taylor, assigning microtasks to accomplish the big picture goal efficiently and effectively. Fuller fused this mode of thinking with a passion for technological innovation, which would foster an anticipatory solutionism that would be superior to instruments such as bureaucracy. This easily calls to mind modern disciplines such as project management.
That Stewart Brand and his USCO colleagues would buy into this is unsurprising. Like Brand, Fuller espoused a rejection of institutional hierarchy in favor of integrated systems that took advantage of technological progress for the supposed elevation of state mankind required. This synthesis of technological spoils with liberated consciousness that might save humanity from the very real existential threat of nuclear annihilation, which Brand and his generation grew up constantly reminded of, gave a sense of hope to a group obviously in search of a semi-coherent ideological framework. Fuller’s theories also represented a break from the grim models of cooperativism espoused by the Soviets and perhaps espoused by some of the Communards counterparts on the New Left.
This cultural ethic is fairly clearly infused into the modern tech community, but suborned to capital in way Fuller might not have imagined, though Turner convincingly has made the case that it was always an innovation within capital with its roots in wartime industrial production rather than an outside methodology. Brand continued this trend with the organization of the Whole Earth Catalogue, even as he rejected the trappings of his society.
One way that Turner described Fuller’s vision of the world as having resources that were unequally distributed. Fuller related this to his daughter’s death from infantile paralysis, which he viewed as directly caused by the disease but “indirectly from a failure to distribute the world’s resources appropriately” (p. 56). According to Turner, Fuller believed that the humankind needed the comprehensive designer that would be able to gather and analyze data about what the world needs now and in the future and coordinate and distribute resources and new technologies properly to meet those needs. Fuller described the comprehensive designer as an individual who “would be aware of the system’s need for balance and current deployment of its resources” (p. 56). Unlike the bureaucrats, the comprehensive designer “would wield his power systematically” (p. 57) Fuller supports a vision of the world that is not a bureaucratic or hierarchical organization, rather a place where humankind benefits from the equal distribution of resources and technology.
I think this vision was so appealing to Stewart Brand because as Turner had described him, Brand was against hierarchical government and industrial bureaucracies. He also shared Fuller’s belief in the use of information and technology to benefit society. According to Turner, Brand looked for worlds that were similar to the world experienced at the happenings: “a world where hierarchies had dissolved…” (p. 48). Brand acted as a comprehensive designer at the Trips Festival by building a world, an environment without hierarchy or bureaucracy system, rather “a world in which he and the dancers on the floor were part of a single, leveled social system” (p. 67).
Buckminster Fuller’s book Ideas and Integrities had a tremendous impact on Stewart Brand. At the time it was published, Brand was working on and off with USCO (short for the US Company,) a troupe of artists that collaborated on multimedia performances, lived communally and “created art intended to transform the audiences consciousness.” (49) A New Communalist movement, USCO created the first “be-in,” calling it that because the audience members were to “be” a part of the experience, not just observe it. They used technology in innovative ways and many artists had to combine their individual skills and talents to create each installation or “happening.” As Turner states, “…they could see themselves as parts of a techno-social system, serving new machines and being served by them.” (58) This vision closely aligned with the writings of Fuller who saw technology as a way of social transformation and Fuller became an inspiration to Brand.
In his book, Fuller introduced his vision of the “Comprehensive Designer” as a person who would not be a specialist but instead would “stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness.” (56) Simply put, he would anticipate what was needed to solve a problem in the present or in the future, coordinate resources and design the technology to meet those needs. By anticipating the needs of the future, the Comprehensive Designer could save mankind.
When Brand was a college student he worried about the future, fearing both a nuclear holocaust and becoming an adult in a hierarchical world. His search for a more meaningful mode of living brought him to USCO, Indian reservations and the writings of Buckminster Fuller. Brand fully embraced Fuller’s insights and when in 1966, he promoted the Trips Festival in San Francisco, he became the definition of Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer. “[The festival] shunned hierarchy in favor of anarchic togetherness; it turned away from emotionally removed, objective consciousness and toward a delicious, embodied, experimental magic.” (67) In combining technology (images, music and lighting) with the New Communalist social ideals, Brand set the stage for new Comprehensive Designers to set forth across the country to do the same. Fuller’s vision of the world now seemed possible and Brand no longer had to fear growing up to be a middle manager or “worker bee” in a hierarchical society.
Turner’s chapter, “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture”, begins with the story of Stewart Brand and his upbringing. He formulated a negative response to technology upon the dreadful conditions of the Soviet Union during the cold war. He had a fear of seeming not as an individual that paralyzed him for much of his life. This however was altered when he met Buckminster Fuller. His ideology was one that was new to Brand and stimulated his mind to think differently. Fuller’ viewed a world that was a collaborative technological revolution. He believed the way to conduct this ideology is by using “Comprehensive designers” who organized resources on a larger scale and would utilize material production for the advantage of the world, mankind.
Fuller sees the world as an opportunity for technology to contribute to the ever-changing world while supplying “products and techniques of industry and redistributing them in accord with the systematic patterns”. The Comprehensive designer would serve as all positions needed to carry out the job while being an outsider from a bureaucratic position. It puts them at an advantage to use this power instead of being controlled by hierarchies.
Fuller’s ideas had such an impact on Brand and he had similar views of how an individual can influence and create needed resources for the world. This evolution would benefit humanity rather than harm it. Brand adopted this view and changed much of what he thought about technology and its power. Brand was intrigued by what could be accomplished and the possibilities for advancement in society.
In this chapter, “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture” Turner tells us about all the former counterculture groups that helped to create, shape, and define the views of the New Communalists. Through this chapter we get a better understanding of how their views towards the problems of the rise of technology came into play and how each group responded towards this new information technology that seemed to have created an imbalance in the world at the time.
The Comprehensive Designer named by Buckminster Fuller, was a person who “would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness” (56). Fuller believed that what society at the time needed was a person who would do what they can for the greater good. Someone who would develop new technologies, someone who had all the resources created by the industry and would distribute this with everyone when the time called for it. This kind of person would realize the struggle of balance in the world and would be able to fix it by giving the people what they needed. Turner states “Being able to see the whole picture would allow the Comprehensive Designer to realign both his individual psyche and the deployment of political power with the laws of nature” (56).
I think Fuller’s vision was appealing to Brand because it showed that technology and the information we got from it wouldn’t necessarily destroy the human race. It could make it better if we used it a certain way, as described by Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer. Also Fuller’s vision showed equality, not one person or one thing was bigger than the other. There was no hierarchy in his system, which for Brand and people of the New Communalists group was inspiring. Through Fuller’s beliefs that technology could work towards the greater good of society might’ve been what gave Brand his ideas that he incorporated into the USCO. This information technology could be ways to connect the people instead of tear them apart.