Jim Lee: Local Columnist
On Oct. 7, I watched a television interview with author Kurt Vonnegut on PBS. Although TV makes me more disgusted just about every time I hit the “on” button, this interview became a rare and valuable experience. I witnessed non-contradictory contradiction. Hey, how’s that for a topic to drive a person goofy?
I have long admired his writing, but I didn’t know how fascinating Vonnegut could be in an interview. Of course these ideas could have been salted away in some form in his books, but I grew intrigued with how he directly expressed himself as a person. He had no hesitation in saying what he thought. Looking a bit like Mark Twain, the 83-year-old author made me think of a kinder, gentler version of his predecessor from the previous century, but his commentary could bite just as hard.
He referred to himself as a Luddite but at the same time spoke as a progressive. This seemed really ambiguous at first, but he made sense. Of course as a Luddite he opposed change, especially when related to technology, but as a progressive he had innovative ideas. I think what it amounted to was getting rid of superimposed values mostly brought on by unrestrained technology while restoring our values that go back to prehistory. (Try to say that in one breath.)
Instead of new characteristics, we need to recognize who we have always been. Then maybe we can stop our descent to extinction on the planet we have destroyed. Now there’s a pleasant thought for a Sunday morning.
All this is not just the ramblings of an old man, despite his occasionally addled behavior. He has thought this out. And he has the wisdom to reason with his experience.
To those who shrug off his observations on the human condition, he could point out his master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. To those who scoff at his opposition to the war in Iraq by calling him a liberal dilettante he can refer to his experience as a World War II combat infantryman who was awarded the Purple Heart.
By changing, people can become what they actually already are. He says we will soon be extinct, but we should start doing things that used to work. He says the nuclear family (husband, wife, and kids) as a unit doesn’t make sense because it’s powerless. We need to form what he calls “gangs.” After a bit of reflection, I could accept that, but instead of “gangs” I thought of clans. We would not exist if our ancient ancestors had not formed clans for protection and for finding or creating what they needed to survive.
When he quoted the “Beatitudes” from the Bible as a humanist, I didn’t see contradiction because in his point of view what Jesus said had profound value, whether he was divine or not. What really hit me, though, was Vonnegut’s assertion that the concept of “original sin” should be replaced by “original virtue.” Now that ought to give us something to think about for awhile, huh?
Kurt Vonnegut calls himself a pessimist while giving reason after reason for hope. Why does he do that? He suggests adding a secretary of the future to the president’s cabinet. Why do that if we are all doomed? Can pairing contradictions lead to reason? To harmony? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I understand my own statement.
Oh well. The questions are the fun part, not the answers. After all, searching is what life is all about, a matter of just lookin’ around.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: