It has been far too long since I last checked in with my good friend Kurt Vonnegut about the state of this great nation or the state of life in general (well not too long, I finished Timequake a couple of months ago).
With all signs pointing to the end of life as we know it here in the United States and with even us optimists stocking up on a few bottles of water for the next 10 years, I figured a good post-modern, posthumous sit down with the humanist master would be a great way to help me take a good, long, hard look at where we are and where we’re going and in the end, give it all a big post-modern shrug and a sigh
As Kurt Vonnegut’s famous mantra of Slaughterhouse-Five states: “So it goes!”
I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Vonnegut to pick his brain on what he thought about all of this: this election cycle, the Romneys and Obamas, unemployment, the slow warming of our Earth, the lost (or newfound) passions of our generation, all of it. Just a big "here’s where we are Kurt, what do we do next?" chat, and in true Vonnegut fashion he did not hold back and he did not disappoint.
Kurt Vonnegut explains how to be human, a good human, as simply as possible and how to avoid being consumed by the murky, dark places we often see we are in. He is optimism coated in sharp, sarcastic wit and honesty. The following excerpts of the interview are taken from A Man Without a County, Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, Mother Night, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Timequake and Hocus Pocus.
Adam Hogue: Mr. Vonnegut, it is an honor to sit down with you. I just wanted to ask you some questions about the state of our nation and generation in the hopes that you could shed some light on where we are. First off, why do you think we find ourselves in such dire times?
Kurt Vonnegut: “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
AH: So, as we find ourselves presently in dire times; high unemployment, dependent on fossils fuels, unsure of what the future of our country should look like, I can’t help but feel like we are just hurtling ourselves off of some cliff and hoping for the best when we hit the bottom.
KV: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
AH: So you feel that humanity, or more specifically, America will find its way in freefall? What do you feel like our purpose as a nation should be?
KV: “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”
AH: Where would you say our individual purposes should lie, in the midst of farting around?
KV: “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” [Listen.] “Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”
AH: Would you say that our best years as a nation are behind us? Should we be looking back?
KV: “Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”
AH: So it is only human to look back and compare our situation now to what it was. What would you say to people who feel that we are worse off compared to other times in our nation’s history?
KV: [As Bokonon once said,] “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”
AH: Ah yes, the Foma as you called it in Cat’s Cradle. Do you believe that we should all be living by these harmless untruths? Can we ever find love or truth when we give ourselves lies to live by?
KV: “Americans ... are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.”
AH: If you could say anything to President Obama today, what would it be?
KV: “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.”
AH: What would you say to Mitt Romney?
KV: “Ting-a-ling mother fucker.”
AH: Do you have any thoughts on the threat of Global Warming? It certainly seems to be a problem that is not going away anytime soon.
KV: “We're terrible animals. I think that the Earth's immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should.”
AH: Let’s talk about art and education. With so much funding for the arts being taken out of our public schools, do you have any thoughts on the place of the artist in this day and age? Is the artist, writer or dancer a necessary component of our American society?
KV: “I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did.'”
AH: Do you think money has any place in the scheme of happiness? Is it necessary? As Less Than Jake said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can pay the rent.” Any thoughts?
KV: [My friend Kilgore]: “Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.”
AH: Any final thoughts for our politicians, America, my generation, or the world in general?
KV: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
AH: Thank you Mr. Vonnegut.
This has been my long overdue homage to Kurt Vonnegut, someone everyone should stop and listen to at least once.