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.
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.
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.
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 and government.
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
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 forget it.
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.
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
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 this:
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:
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
free. Doesn't anything socialistic make you want
to throw up? Like great public schools or health
insurance for all?
about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
the children of God.
exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly
Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.
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 posted anywhere.
are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are
the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
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.
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!
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.
you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
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.
the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of
the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter
boiled alive in public. Show biz again.
Gibson's next movie should be The Counterfeiter.
Box office records will again be broken.
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.
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
same can be said about this morning's edition
of the New York Times.
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 is suicide."
there's another barrel of laughs from literature.
Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates?
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 Light Brigade.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 doughnut.
some of you still haven't decided, I'll make it
easy for you.
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.
you are against those perversions and for the
rich, you're a conservative.
could be simpler?
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.
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 paint.
drunks have seen pink elephants.
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
spreading democracy, are we? Same way European
explorers brought Christianity to the Indians,
what we now call "Native Americans."
ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people
of Baghdad today.
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.
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.
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 People.
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 problem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I tell you the truth? I mean this isn't like TV
news, is it?
what I think the truth is: We are all addicts
of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to
face cold turkey.
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
Posted: May 18, 2004