A Bull in the China Shop (One)

A Bull in the China Shop (One)

A Story by Jay Ligda

First written in 1989 while working on my B.S. in Industrial Technology. The class was an elective, Native American Studies: Comparative Values. The assignment was "a well publishable article." an article we are so proud of we want to share it


"I cannot myself conceive of anything I have done ever having the slightest practical application," Albert Einstein commented to Buckminster Fuller during their only meeting in 1934 (Snyder 34). Eleven years later, on August 6, 1945, the first practical application of Einstein's work came to pass in a Japanese town called Hiroshima. "Einstein's theory of relativity was one of the preconditions for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan" (Sugimoto 7).


Technology is being abused causing the destruction of human lives and a threat to our planet; however, it has also greatly benefited humankind by raising our standards of living and allowing us tools to aid our creativity. Technology can continue to benefit humankind if we stop abusing it or it may destroy us. We abuse technology because of our failure to apply our values due to the lack of understanding of what it is to be human. "Man has hardly begun to be fully human" (Fromm 59).


Erich Fromm, after his escape from the wrath of Nazi Germany, spent much of the rest of his life studying human behavior. In his book, The Revolution of Hope, he gave an overview of what it means to be human: Humans are conscious beings. This means that we have awareness, imagination, reason, the capability to create, and the power to love. We are not entirely instinctual; we have to make decisions for ourselves. This creates confusion and insecurity because we don't understand our existence. The price of our consciousness is insecurity. To be secure, we need to find our connection to the greater universe. This is our duty as human beings. We do this by exploring our individual creativity and increasing our awareness. However this takes a great amount of individual effort on our part. It is much easier to give up our identity to a social group.


Social groups provide us with a common belief system. By conforming to a belief system we become a part of something that is greater than ourselves giving us the illusion of security. We need to feel secure before we may make full use of our creative powers. Social groups are a false sense of security because of the anxiety produced at the threat of social change. The risk of this kind of security is that we trade our humanity for our social identity thus losing our ability to think for ourselves and our capability to fully experience being human. Without our humanity we become endangered of acting similar to the Nazi's in Germany; slaves to their social identity. Fromm speaks of mankind: "He remains a child when he should become an adult" (66).


Our technology has developed from our desire to understand more of our environment. By understanding our environment we gain the power to manipulate it. Technology is the understanding and manipulation of our environment to create tools to aid our existence. Because of our technology, we've expanded our horizons. In 1800 the average human rarely left their immediate surroundings; today we are capable of world travel relatively easily (Fuller 310). As we grow technologically we also raise our standards of living: today, sixty percent of humanity is now living at higher standards of living than "the kings and power commanding humans" prior to the industrial revolution (Fuller 133). This expansion of our horizons and increased standard of living has created both negative and positive results for us.


As we expand our horizons, we become more aware of other social groups. If our individual identity is primarily related with our social group, these other groups become a threat to this identity by introducing conflicting ideology. To protect our identity we develop ethnocentric attitudes. Our higher standards of living support our ethnocentricity. Our technology provides us with weapons to protect our ideology. This is how we abuse technology, by using it to protect our "false" social identity instead of benefiting all of humanity. This, if not changed, may eventually lead us to the destruction of the planet and humankind.


The positive effect of higher standards of living is that it provides us with physical comfort and time so we may explore the more creative aspects of our humanity (one of the Beetles once commented that he could write better music after he could afford cushions to sit on). The positive aspects of our expanding horizons is that we develop a better understanding of the world as a whole. Our space program has provided us with a view of the Earth from space. This view has had a profound effect on the way we see our planet; we are now able to see it as it is with no political boundaries. Technology is in part responsible for our growing "global consciousness." This challenges our limited social identities as we realize that humans are humans and not just Americans, Japanese, Indians, Communists, Buddhists, Catholics, etc. With our social identities challenged, we start to explore ourselves for our true identity, thus increasing our awareness.


Buckminster Fuller spent the majority of his life developing "artifacts" that would help free humans from menial tasks so we may spend our time in more creative helpful ways instead of more destructive hurtful ways. He developed the idea of a world energy grid that would provide energy for the daytime half of the world, where it is in demand, from the nighttime half, where the demand is not as great. This would greatly reduce the cost of energy by making better use of it as it comes from it's two main sources, the sun and gravity, thus eliminating the need to burn oil. He also developed the geodesic dome which is the most efficient way of enclosing the most amount of space, such as a house, factory or city, with the least amount of materials. Because of its design, the geodesic dome is earthquake proof and can be built to any size. He invented many other ways of doing "more with less." Along with Fuller's developments, there are many other technologies that are not being employed to their fullest extent that would help reduce the harm done to our planet. A good example is the industrial scrubbers which can be used to remove the pollution released from the industrial chimneys. These pollutants can then be recycled or disposed. The amount of sulfur released into the air annually exactly equals that which is mined from the earth (Fuller 219). With our technological advances we are capable of supporting all of humanity at "higher standards of living than any has ever known" (Fuller 212).


Rather than using these technologies and others like them to their full beneficial capacity, we have been putting much of our resources into military spending: In the past thirty years, we have spent six trillion, 400 billion dollars learning how to "kill each other more effectively": Fifty percent of the worlds scientists are also employed at this task (Fuller xxiii). The greed and ethnocentrism that support this behavior is caused by failure to understand our humanity.


Only by each of us exploring ourselves through our creativity and love will we be able to increase our individual awareness and fully experience being human. The more we can grasp reality on our own, the more secure we feel because we are not as dependent on the consensus of society, thus the less threatened by social change. The less threatened by social change we are, the more willing we are to channel the potentially destructive powers of technology into more creative paths.

Fromm comments on man's awareness:


...there is no denying the fact that the history of mankind is a history of growing awareness. This refers to the facts of nature outside of himself as well as his own nature.... He is still very much at the beginning of this process of discovery, and the crucial question is whether the destructive power which his present knowledge has given him will permit him to go on extending this knowledge to an extent which is unimaginable today, or whether he will destroy himself before he can build an ever-fuller picture of reality on the present foundation. ( 64)


Technology has become a bull in the china shop. Human values are the music which has the power to soothe the beast. By turning on and turning up the music, we can use the bull for the benefit of humankind and the planet. Otherwise, it may run rampage leaving a wake of destruction in it's path.



Fromm, Erich. The Revolution of Hope. Harper & Row Publishers, New York. 1968.

Fuller, R. Buckminster. Critical Path. St. Martins Press, New York. 1981.

Snyder, Robert. R. Buckminster Fuller. St. Martins Press, New York. 1980.

Sugimoto, Kenji. Albert Einstein: A Pictorial Biography. Schocken Books, New York. 1989.

© 2008 Jay Ligda

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Added on August 13, 2008
Last Updated on August 13, 2008


Jay Ligda
Jay Ligda

San Francisco, CA

I mainly write as a way to clear my mind of unwanted thoughts. Most of it is too personal or rough to publish here, but here is some that I polished up to share. more..


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