Posted by: Sally Ingraham | July 5, 2013

Wise Humans: Vonnegut, Hakanson, You, and Me

I recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s collection of essays titled A Man Without a Country, and as usual his commentary on life and the condition of America today (the book was published in 2005) was one of the more hilarious ways to get slapped in the face. Vonnegut wields humor like a battle ax, and in this book he is clearly very annoyed. Occasionally he sets the ax down for a moment and talks about jazz, and storytelling, and remembering to be happy, and the importance of jokes when faced with potentially overwhelming despair – but he can’t stray far from the topics that weigh so heavily on his mind. The book ends on an amazing and horrible note, with the poem Requiem – 

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
“Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do.”

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.

…we know what we are doing.‘ That needs to be repeated. We are not innocent bystanders, watching the world parade into ruin. We are all actively participating in the disintegration of our society, the disembowelment of our democracy in this country, and the destruction of the only life-supporting planet that we know of. Even as we try to live ‘green’ and shop local and support civil rights in various forms, thinking ourselves to be perfectly liberal and enlightened, our tax dollars are funding wars and murder, theft and starvation on a worldwide scale. This video, made by my friend Jonah Hakanson, states clearly the role each of us plays in activities that none of us agree with or support. And he offers a solution – a little seed that needs to be planted and watered by all of us so that it can grow big and strong and beautiful.

I cannot un-see what I have seen, and you can’t either. It’s time to do something about it.

We need to be wise humans, as Vonnegut states at the end of a chapter about the ‘guessers’ in power –

‘Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long, for all of human experience so far…’ – p. 82

‘Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today.’ – p. 83

‘The boisterous guessers are still in charge – the haters of information. And the guessers are almost all highly educated people. Think of that. They have had to throw away their educations… If they didn’t do that, there is no way their uninhibited guessing could go on and on and on. Please, don’t you do that.’ – p. 86

Why would we allow such ignorant guessers to control our lives? – folks who guess that ‘billions spent on weapons will bring inflation down‘, or that ‘the more hydrogen bomb warheads we have, all set to go off at a moment’s notice, the safer humanity is and the better off the world will be that our grandchildren will inherit,’ or that ‘industrial wastes, and especially those that are radioactive, hardly ever hurt anybody, so everybody should shut up about them,’ or that ‘the poor have done something very wrong or they wouldn’t be poor, so their children should pay the consequences,’ or that ‘the United States of America cannot be expected to look after its own people.’

You guys! We are not fools. We are not cruel, evil people. And yet we have allowed the guessers in Washington to ‘present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry – who stand unopposed. In case you haven’t noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis once wereAnd with good reason. In case you haven’t noticed, our unelected leaders (referring to the rigged election in Florida in 2000) have dehumanized millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound ’em and kill ’em and torture ’em and imprison ’em all we want. Piece of cake. In case you haven’t noticed, we also dehumanize our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class. Send ’em anywhere. Make ’em do anything. Piece of cake. ‘ p. 87

This should make you angry. This should shatter you. This ought to make you want to stop cooperating with the guessers, with the PPs (psychopathic personalities, as Vonnegut later calls them- ‘congenitally defective human beings…people born without a consciences...’) – because you are smarter, and more thoughtful, and more caring and generous than they are. Because you DO have a conscience. Because you’re a wise human. They hate those. ‘So be one anyway. Save our lives and your lives, too. Be honorable.’ p. 93

The idea that Jonah suggests at the end of his video presentation is simple. It’s the action of the modern day hero that Vonnegut asks for. Stop participating in a system that believes it can get away with murder (literally) in your name, using your money. Stop selling your labor to employers whose taxes go to support wars and theft, racism and ignorance. Stop living in isolation, stop waiting for someone else to tip it all over. Stop battling zombies and staking vampires in a virtual reality. Just stop. Let’s come to a screeching halt, join hands, and start walking forward again together.


In a statement on FB Jonah said, “Don’t help your employer give his money and debt to a system that is patently murderous and insane. That is the “strike” part of the General Strike. The other part, is helping each other with the abundance, courage, and skills we all have together. THAT is called democracy. THAT is the revolution. We’ll figure it out.”

And on his blog Jonah wrote, “It is hard to wrap our head around the idea of a General Strike. It is not a day off of work, it is a thoughtful withdrawal of yourself from a system doing things you do not agree with. It is non-violent, non-cooperation on a massive scale (Gandhi, MLK). It is civil disobedience, although not exclusively. The small details do not matter. Although, in practice, in history, a General Strike means that wage workers cease their work. Start there.

I am going to strike on July 8th. I have two jobs, and while I myself don’t directly contribute to the system, due to the fine print of my employment agreements, my employers still do. They are decent, honest folks who care deeply about the people around them. They’re doing their best to put their hands to good work. They do not want to cause the deaths of children in middle eastern countries. And yet they, and I, are contributing to a system that does just that. Therefore, on July 8th I won’t go to work.

I’m not going to march around and wave a sign. I’m simply going to wear something yellow, take a walk, talk to friends, hopefully talk to strangers. It will be a very small thing – but it could be a very large thing if you joined me. If you and I, and every other wise human in this country stopped participating for a single day, the guessers and the PPs in power would have to take notice. They would have to remember that there aren’t very many of them, while there are millions of us. And boy, would they get scared. They might even start listening to us. Wouldn’t that be something?

So won’t you take my hand? Won’t you set aside your video games and TV shows and fantasy football and yes, even your books, (!) and any other means you have of escaping the real world, and do something amazing and powerful with me? You long for adventure and heroes and for life to be different. Let’s go on an adventure and become heroes and make that difference!

For more information on the General Strike click on the flyer above. Also, check out Jonah’s blog, Brutally Naked.

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