|I always loved Vonnegut
||[Jun. 1st, 2004|06:45 pm]
c'mon guys read it- I know it's long but he knows what he's talking about, and listening to our elders is of utmost importance, even if kids take them for granted every day the passes.|
by Kurt Vonnegut
May 12, 2004 | In These Times
Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered
it possible that we could become the humane and
reasonable America so many members of my generation
used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during
the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And
then we fought and often died for that dream during
the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of
America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because
power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy
drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are
power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking
the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the
Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is
already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I
never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is
81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself
asking your own children, who are themselves
middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven
kids, four of them adopted.
Many of you reading this are probably the same age as
my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally
shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations
I put my big question about life to my biological son
Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir,
The Eden Express. It is about his crackup,
straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he
recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard
Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad:
“Father, we are here to help each other get through
this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you.
Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can
I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost
as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that,
because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to
say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese
philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest
and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and
the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb
they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody
was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere
even knew that there was another one.
But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my
son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave
more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful
place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre
Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of
Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4,
ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for
president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the
popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a
ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:
As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw
up? Like great public schools or health insurance for
How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
the children of God. …
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not
exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us
never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in
their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be
posted in public buildings. And of course that’s
Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand
that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed
are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution,
and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is
it: Only nut cases want to be president.
But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case
would want to be a human being, if he or she had a
choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and
greedy animals we are!
I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.”
signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic
asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross
by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious,
they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps,
and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so
he dangled up there where even the shortest person in
the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.
Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman
Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just
made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was
tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.
During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of
the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled
alive in public. Show biz again.
Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter.
Box office records will again be broken.
One of the few good things about modern times: If you
die horribly on television, you will not have died in
vain. You will have entertained us.
And what did the great British historian Edward
Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human
record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more
than the register of the crimes, follies and
misfortunes of mankind.”
The same can be said about this morning’s edition of
the New York Times.
The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is
but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that
So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature.
Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates?
Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it
is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn,
The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey,
Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the
But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No
matter in what era in history, including the Garden of
Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the
Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy
games going on, which could make you act crazy, even
if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games
that were already going on when you got here were love
and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and
credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.
Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American
politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience
of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human
beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the
people of England generations ago, and Sir William
Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan,
wrote these words for a song about it back then:
I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a
law of life that you have to be one or the other? If
you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a
If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it
easy for you.
If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re
all for murdering fetuses, and love it when
homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them
kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for
the poor, you’re a liberal.
If you are against those perversions and for the rich,
you’re a conservative.
What could be simpler?
My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The
two most widely abused and addictive and destructive
of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George
W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was
smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a
good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was
41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and
made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose
Other drunks have seen pink elephants.
And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at
Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the
numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which
nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are
dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European
explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we
now call “Native Americans.”
How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the
people of Baghdad today.
So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich.
That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget.
Hail to the Chief.
That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with
Democracy as the Europeans had to do with
Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in
whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t
noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury,
passing it out to pals in the war and national
security rackets, leaving your generation and the next
one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be
asked to repay.
Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you,
because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in
the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme
Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been
embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the
About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve
been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so
on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did
smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia
and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t
seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I
never did it again. And by the grace of God, or
whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of
genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and
will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No
I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I
keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end
and a fool at the other.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that
not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I
got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here
comes Kurt Vonnegut.
And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was
powered, as are almost all means of transportation and
other machinery today, and electric power plants and
furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and
destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here, even when I got here, the
industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on
fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any
more of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV
news, is it?
Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts
of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey,
our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get
what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
© 2004 In These Times