[lit-ideas] I always have loved Vonnegut....

  • From: JulieReneB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 18:14:25 EDT

(any relation to you, Mike?  I just realized who you sometimes remind me of.)
Click here: Cold Turkey -- In These Times 

Cold Turkey
By Kurt VonnegutMay 10, 2004

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 
the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of Americaâ??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 
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, 
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 and government.
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 
straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to 
graduate from Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: â??Father, we are here to help 
each other get through this thing, whatever it is.â?? So I pass that on to you. 
Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.
I have to say thatâ??s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, â??Do unto 
others as you would have them do unto you.â?? 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 
was another one.
But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, whoâ??
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 
state of Indiana. Get a load of this:
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 
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, Iâ??m of it. 
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free. 
Doesnâ??t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public 
schools or health insurance for all?
How about Jesusâ?? Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. â?¦
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 thatâ??s Moses, not 
Jesus. I haven
â??t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be 
posted anywhere.
â??Blessed are the mercifulâ?? in a courtroom? â??Blessed are the 
peacemakersâ?? in 
the Pentagon? Give me a break!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I donâ??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 
greedy animals we are!
I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does â??A.D.â?? 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 
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 
could see him writhing this way and that.
Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
No problem. Thatâ??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 Gibsonâ??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, â??History is indeed little more 
than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.â??
The same can be said about this morningâ??s edition of the New York Times.
The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature 
in 1957, wrote, â??There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and 
that is suicide.â??
So thereâ??s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an 
automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.
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 Light Brigade.
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 
the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which 
could make you act crazy, even if you werenâ??t crazy to begin with. Some of 
games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, 
liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girlsâ?? 
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 
wrote these words for a song about it back then:
I often think itâ??s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
Thatâ??s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? Itâ??s practically a law of life that you 
have to be one or the other? If you arenâ??t one or the other, you might as 
be a doughnut.
If some of you still havenâ??t decided, Iâ??ll make it easy for you.
If you want to take my guns away from me, and youâ??re all for murdering 
fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them 
kitchen appliances at their showers, and youâ??re for the poor, youâ??re a 
If you are against those perversions and for the rich, youâ??re a conservative.
What could be simpler?
My governmentâ??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 paint.
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 
which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long 
division with Roman numerals.
Weâ??re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought 
Christianity to the Indians, what we now call â??Native Americans.â?? 
How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.
So letâ??s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. Thatâ??ll teach bin 
a lesson he wonâ??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 havenâ??t noticed, theyâ??ve 
cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national 
rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous 
debt that youâ??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 People. 
About my own history of foreign substance abuse. Iâ??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 didnâ??t seem to do anything to me, one way or 
other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not 
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.
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 Iâ??ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine 
could match. That was when I got my first driverâ??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 
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 wonâ??t be any more 
of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isnâ??t like TV news, is it?
Hereâ??s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a 
state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
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 weâ??re hooked on.

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