terça-feira, 17 de março de 2015

In Memoriam R. Buckminster Fuller 1895-1983 Herman Kahn 1922-1983



The passing of Buckminster Fuller and Herman Kahn deprived us, within one month, of two remarkable minds, communicators, and technological optimists. They came from very different backgrounds: Fuller the fifth generation of his New England family to go to Harvard, Kahn the son of East European immigrants living in Bayonne, New Jersey. Fuller became an influential inventor, architect, futurist, and poet; Kahn a physicist, systems analyst, and futurist. Fuller gave forecasters the concept of energy slaves, Kahn offered the multifold trend. Both saw technology as the means to bring wealth and a good life to every future inhabitant of spaceship Earth. And both had the rare ability to stimulate and inspire—and this will be most sorely missed.

I had the great pleasure of knowing Herman Kahn personally and was invariably astounded by his incredibly fast and brilliant mind. I always felt his tongue had difficulty keeping pace with his brain. He tried to talk rapidly to close the gap—the result was that the uninitiated often found him hard to understand.

Herman was at the RAND Corporation in its days of glory—the strategic weapons analyst par excellence. He was once labeled the Mort Sahl of national strategy. By 1960, he was blossoming into a global futurist and formed his own think tank—the Hudson Institute. Herman on the Hudson grew a beard and assumed the appearance of an ancient prophet (or at least the Ancient Mariner). Paradoxically, he appealed to the establishment elders (government and industry) with his espousal of nuclear strength and economic growth, while the patrician Fuller attracted the antiestablishment types (hippies in the 1960s, environmentalists in the 1970s) with his Dymaxion map and geodesic dome.

Kahn’s first book, On Thermonuclear War, did not make him appear to many as an optimist. But it did bring him to international prominence. James R. Newman, an editor of the Scientific American, called it “a moral tract on mass murder.” Here is an excerpt from Newman’s memorable review:

Is there really a Herman Kahn? It is hard to believe: Doubts cross one’s mind almost from the first page of this deplorable book: no one could write like this; no one could think like this. Perhaps the whole thing is a staff hoax in bad taste. . . . This evil and tenebrous book, with its loose-lipped pieties and its hayfoot-strawfoot logic, is permeated with a blood-thirsty irrationality such as I have not seen in my years of reading.

Even within RAND there was strong reaction. Richard Bellman was impelled to write to the Washington Post that “I myself do not have these troglodytic, apocalyptic visions of Kahn.”


Twenty-two years later, Herman produced The Coming Boom; it does not refer to a nuclear holocaust but to America’s economic rebirth.1 He leaves us with a vision of a happy future:

Unless my prognostications are disastrously wrong, a revitalized America—revitalized in terms of tra­ditional values, of world-wide status and influence, and of citizenship and morale, as well as of economic improvement—seems to me very probable, and with sensible social and economic policies, a near certainty.
Economist Herbert Stein, in his review of this work, concludes:

Kahn’s purpose goes beyond objective, value-free analysis and prediction. His purpose is also inspiration and prescription. He wants the world to come out the way he describes {wealthier, better, and happier}. He believes, certainly correctly, that the probability will be greater if certain policies are followed. . . . He is in the position of the Redskins coach trying to inspire his players to believe that they can win, as well as instructing them on how to do it. Moreover, this inspiration can work. . . . [Fortune, October 4, 1982].


Kahn’s favorite analysis tool after leaving RAND seemed to be list-making. Alter­native futures, new social classes, and ideologies were described with machine-gun like bursts of words and phrases, i.e., checklists. Another “tool” he used with devastating effect was his wit. He could announce to a Congressional Subcommittee that “man has been on the earth a million years, and I’ve studied every one of them.” He could talk about cloning Herman Kahn and admit that his wife did not think the world could stand two Hermans. He had a gift for the clever word or phrase—“educated incapacity,” “thinking the unthinkable,” “C4I2 systems,” “the Japanese century,” etc.

Woe to him who would attempt to argue with the master after one of his presentations! No one could best Herman in debate. Like John F. Kennedy, he loved to perform in front of an audience, confident of his superior oneupmanship. In matching wits, he was intensely democratic, willing to take on college students as well as corporate leaders, liberally giving of his time to all.

He has enriched and nettled us, he has challenged and entertained us. He could be outrageous, but his shtick was never, ever dull.
Herman, we salute you with a list:

H. Kahn
dazzling intellect
fearless iconoclast
fascinating showman
anti-new class establishmentarian
middle class with traditional values
true democrat
nuclear use theorist
Talmudist manque
“have 300 slides, will travel”
friend
                                                        HAROLD A. LINSTONE Senior Editor


In: TECHNOLOGICAL FORECASTING AND SOCIAL CHANGE 24, 181-182 (1983)

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