Custodians of chaos
In this extract from his forthcoming memoirs, Kurt
Vonnegut is horrified by the hypocrisy in contemporary US
By Kurt Vonnegut
-- -- "Do unto others what you would
have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that,
because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But
it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, five
hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of
human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula
for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder
for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody
in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.
We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we
hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show
But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the
doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we
could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less
painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from
Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.
Get a load of this.
, who died back in 1926, when I
was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party
candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent
of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot.
He had this to say while campaigning:
"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.
"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like
great public schools, or health insurance for all?
When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing,
wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I
am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As
long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the
children of God.
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George
W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never
mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes,
they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public
buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't
heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the
Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the
peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of
perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.
But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I
fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by
Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What
has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the
sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état
I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality
TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your
hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".
George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who
know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white
supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly,
psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart,
personable people who have no consciences.
To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable
diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's
foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by
Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the
Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!
Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and
this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort
that is making this whole country and many other parts of the
planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born
without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of
PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their
actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care
because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!
And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron
and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while
ruining their employees and investors and country and who still
feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say
to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making
billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of
billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George
Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal
government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They
have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and
the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.
They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war
was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many
PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is
that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every
fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they
are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they
don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do
that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools!
Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut
taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck
habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't
know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want
to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly
disturbed people ran for class president.
The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the
title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit
451. Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the
combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are
composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker
whose job is burning books.
While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate
librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all
over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic
bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their
shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to
thought police the names of persons who have checked out those
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House,
the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or
the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks
of our public libraries.
And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources,
newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of
the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we
learn what's really going on.
I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig
Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful,
In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly
rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of
African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now
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 Nazis once were.
And with good reason.
In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have
dehumanised 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 dehumanised 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.
The O'Reilly Factor.
So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a
Chicago paper called In These Times.
Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed
there were weapons of mass destruction there.
Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the
end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first
world war. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made
the first world war so particularly entertaining were two
American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.
Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't
you wish you could have something named after you?
Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on
people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have
to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a
pitiless war machine.
My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a
Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas
Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be
said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities,
which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of
pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our
government and corporations, and made it all their own?
© 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Extracted from
A Man Without a Country:
: A Memoir of Life in
George W Bush's America.
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