Monday, October 18, 2004

More Vonnegut

Vonnegut brings up the idea of Folk Societies in the current book that I am reading, which are what are typically viewed as simple societies, mostly tribal in nature that pre-date what we call civilization. What Daniel Quinn would also refer to as tribal societies. He then posits that the problems in our societies arise from our body chemistries being designed to exist in those types of societies.

And I say to you that we are full of chemicals which require us to belong to folk societies, or failing that, to feel lousy all the time. We are chemically engineered to live in folk societies, just as fish are chemically engineered to live in clean water--and there aren't any folk societies anymore.

How lucky for you to be here today, for I can explain everything. Sigmund Freud admitted that he did not know what women wanted. I know what they want. Cosmopolitan magazine says they want orgasms, which can only be a partial answer at best. Here is what women really want: They want lives in folk societies, wherin everyone is a friendly relative, and no act or object is without holiness. Chemicals make them want that. Chemicals make us all want that.

Then he goes on to explain our attemts to form clubs and orginizations to take these societies and extended families place. And he puts his traditional bitter coating on the sweet message.

There are other good clubs. The Loyal Order of the Moose is open to any male who is Christian and white. I myself admire The War Dads of America. In order to become a War Dad, one must have had a friend or a relative who served in the armed forces of the United States sometime during the past 195 years. The friend or relative need not have received an honorable discharge, though that helps, I'm told.

It also helps to be stupid. My father and grandfather were not stupid, so they did not join the Moose or anything. They chose solitude instead. Solitude can be nearly as comforting as drugs or fraternities, since there are no other people to remind a solitary person how little like a folk society his society has become. My father had only his young wife with him on his happiest day. My grandfather had only a friend with him on his happiest day. There was very little talking--because the locomotive made so much noise.

As for my own happiest day: I was happy because I believed that the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago was a small, like-minded family which I was being allowed to join. This was not True.

As I have said before, I can explain everything in terms of this biochemical-anthropological theory of mine. Only two men are less mystified by the human condition than I am today: Billy Graham and Maharishi. If my theory is mistaken, it scarcely matters, since I was told that this need not be a serious speech anyway.

Also, whether I am mistaken or not, we are surely doomed, and so are our artifacts. I have the word of an astronomer on this. Our sun is going to exhaust its fuel eventually. When the heat stops rushing out from its core, our sun will collapse on itself. It will continue to collapse until it is a ball perhaps forty miles in diameter. We could put it between here and Bridgeport.

It will wish to collapse even more, but the atomic nuclei will prevent this. An irresistible force will meet an immovable object, so to speak. There will be a tremendous explosion. Our sun will become a supernova, a flash such as the Star of Bethlehem is thought to have been. Earth Day cannot prevent this.

Somewhere in that flash will be the remains of a 1912 Oldsmobile, a cowcatcher from a locomotive, the University of Chicago, and the paperclip from this year's Blashfield Address.

I thank you.

--Kurt Vonnegut Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons

from The Address to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1971

Just thought it was interesting subject matter to bring to your attention and has the double impact of tying in directly to a discussion I had at work with someone the other night.

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