Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 5, 2008

Thoughts from Vonnegut

I finished reading Kurt Vonnegut‘s collection of his speeches and articles from the 80’s – Fates Worse Than Death. It was an amusing book but not a particularly hopeful one. Vonnegut, after all and at his own admission is a humorist who writes about very un-funny things. It is the humorist’s job to make us laugh at our own pains. Laughing makes it seem better.

White PavementI fell down five times while out walking this morning. The sheet of ice hidden beneath the new-fallen snow might have had something to do with it. It seems pretty funny to me now – like a scene out of a Charlie Chaplin movie – but while it was happening I was frustrated and a little frightened.

I feel very similar when I read about Antarctica melting and the ocean temperatures rising and the sun’s rays not bouncing back as they should and the seven year drought in Australia (which I want to visit this coming winter). I feel frustrated and a little frightened. Vonnegut feels pretty bad about those same things, among other world-wide plights, and in one speech (making fun of himself for finally being an old poop who “imagined that life was ending not merely for himself but for the whole universe”) he said this:

“If flying-saucer creatures or angels or whatever were to come here in a hundred years, say, and find us gone like the dinosaurs, what might be a good message for humanity to leave for them, maybe carved in great letters on a Grand Canyon wall?
“Here is this old poop’s suggestion:
“We might as well add this:

The other day at work we were all standing around talking about new technologies (did you know they’ve created robots that have learned how to lie?! Where is Asimov and his Three Laws of Robotics when you need him?!*) and one guy said that he probably wouldn’t live to see the real doomsday stuff that we seem to be spiraling toward. I believe otherwise.

In fact after reading that bit about robots in a Discovery magazine this morning, I am certain that in my lifetime a whole lot of exciting and scary things are going to happen – I hope more exciting than scary, but I am afraid that we’re all going to be too excited to realize that it’s scary.

That’s just how humanity is wired it seems. I am guilty of it myself – and demonstrated the potentially destructive power of that wiring when I ventured outside this morning, high in spirit and low in common sense, and returned home bruised and subdued.

We probably can save ourselves…but will we bother trying?

At least Vonnegut can keep his tone light. For myself, all I can say is that I recycled my cardboard this morning.

*Okay, so robot lying isn’t part of the laws, but I still feel like it’s a step in the wrong direction!


  1. I love this photo… the winding road – not traveled – yet

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