My reading of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is it’s a poetic rant against “overspecialization”, in Fuller’s thinking a number one threat to species survival.
He was explaining how his fabled “great pirates” of old still had a chance at gaining a big picture, an holistic vision, but once science became focused on invisible phenomena inaccessible to the naked senses, even these pirates were at a loss.
Nowadays we have specialists galore, but lack comprehesivists. His lifelong mission was to regain the possibility of a comprehensive vision. Whether he succeeded or not depends somewhat on one’s assessment of Synergetics. A would be comprehensivist verges on being some kind of romantic outlaw (more how Fuller saw himself).
As for whether Spaceship Earth is too sterile and cold a metaphor, for some it is. I see the planet as “the Global U” (global university) or as a global nuthouse (going in circles), depending on my mood and events in the news.
Fuller meditated a lot on what distinguishes “alive” from “not alive” and came to see “alive” as a metaphysical aspect of the universe, nothing physical. “How is a virus not a miniature machine? How is the universe not technological, independently of humans?” These were the kinds of questions he concerned himself with.