THE BLOG
11/27/2012 11:43 am ET Updated Jan 22, 2013

Buckminster Fuller Obnoxico Provides a Valuable Perspective of 'Stuff' for Holiday Shoppers

"You have to decide whether you want to make money or make sense, because the two are mutually exclusive." -- Buckminster Fuller

As we move into the holiday shopping frenzy that occurs every December, it might be good to step back and take a deeper look at what we are buying. Do you really need another smaller and faster tablet computer or an automated vacuum cleaner or squirrel underpants? Are these things that will make your life better or more fulfilling or are they just more of the stuff that we fill our lives with?

Buckminster Fuller often considered all the stuff that we buy to fuel our consumer economy, and he came to the conclusion that we're being convinced to purchase lots of things that we really don't want or need. In fact, many of those things are downright obnoxious, and his World Game strategy to create a world that works for everyone addresses massive useless consumerism.

While describing his global peace strategy, the World Game, in his classic book Critical Path, Bucky tells the story of a whimsical yet pointed 1947 business he almost created. That business was called Obnoxico, and was initially conceived in response to criticism of his discipline to never "work for a living."

Bucky kept that vow from 1927 until his death in 1983, even though during the last decades of his life he had an income of approximately $250,000 per year. Here is what Bucky wrote about Obnoxico in Critical Path:

I said, 'You have to decide whether you want to make money or make sense, because the two are mutually exclusive.'

The private-enterprise corporation called Obnoxico was schematically designed only to serve an object lesson. Obnoxico was designed to exploit the most sentimental weaknesses of humanity. In my theoretical Obnoxico's catalog the No. 1 item suggested that on the last day that your baby wears diapers you carefully remove them, repin them empty, and stuff them full of tissue paper in just the shape in which they were when last occupied by your baby. You pack this assembly carefully into a strong corrugated-paperboard container and send it to Obnoxico, which will base-metallize the diapers, then gold -- or silverplate them and send them back to you to be filled with ferns and hung in the back window of your car. The easily forecastable profits from this one item ran into millions of dollars per year.

Eagerly my friends of 1947 on begin told of Obnoxico joined in the fun and began invention items for its catalog. Next they began sending me Obnoxico items then beginning to come on the market in 1950 for the first time and as advertised in magazines: plastic pebbles for your garden walk and the now-prevalent, but then-new, plastic flowers.

I then showed how the contributors of the original items sent to me in fun -- to keep the joke going -- could be persuaded to accept shares in Obnoxico in exchange for their contributions. Then the Faustian aspect of the enterprise revealed itself, for it was clearly foreseeable that the stockholders would swiftly become so rich that they would tend to take the whole matter seriously. Overnight they would lose their sense of humor as their greed was stimulated and they became ruthlessly deliberate exploiters of humanity.

Somehow or other the theoretical Obnoxico concept has now become a burgeoning reality. Private enterprise is now building airports with ever-longer walkways and hotels with ever-increasing numbers of levels of ground-floor and basement arcades to accommodate the ever-more-swiftly multiplying Obnoxico stores.

As the banking system pleads for more savings-account deposits (so that they can loan your money out to others at interest plus costs) the Obnoxico industry bleeds off an ever-greater percentage of all the potential savings as they are sentimentally or jokingly spent for acrylic toilets seats with dollar bills cast in the transparent plastic material, two teddy bears hugging and alligator, etc.

World Game is anti-Obnoxico and commits itself to making Obnoxico and allied activities obsolete rather than attacking it directly."

Obnoxico presents an interesting conundrum for most people today. We tend to want and love more "stuff," but is that stuff really viable and valuable? Do you and I really need the latest craze of desk toy or designer whatever? And do we want all those "impulse purchase" items that marketers make us feel we so need?

Or would we rather see our resources (both personal and societal) being put to use for genuine livingry such as better pay for teachers, repair of roads, lowering of global warming, etc.? There are plenty of anti-Obnoxico items that could benefit us as well as future generation.

So, as we begin shopping for those we love, perhaps we can consider a bigger anti-Obnoxico perspective. And, if you do find Obnoxico items to share you can do so on the Obnoxico Facebook Page or Obnoxico Facebook Group.