A New York Times article about how our safety net often leaves out those that are most in need of it. Kurt Vonnegut always used to use the line from A Streetcar Named Desire, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I would personally like to change it slightly to, “I have always depended on the kindness of others.” I know that there are times when I would not have made it if not for the kindness of my family and friends. The only difference between myself and those I see on street corners sometimes, is that I had people that cared about me, that were in a position to help me when times got tough, and those poor souls didn’t. I believe most people, if they looked at their lives realistically, would say the same thing. If it wasn’t for their parents, their friends, a teacher that took an interest in them, whatever, who knows where they might be. Part of the reason to have a safety net is to extend a helping hand to those that don’t have anyone to fall back on. Whenever I see an article like this in a nation of such wealth, I find myself disgusted. We can do better.
Fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000, yet we now have a Senate in which 49 of its members are unwilling to tie climate change to human behavior, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. If this were a movie no one would believe it, unless it was a comedy. We are a laughing stock to most of the intelligent world, yet so many of our citizens bury their heads in the sand. (This bunch was just elected and reelected.) Anyone that has young children or is thinking of having them should be weeping openly in public. If we don’t act soon, we are willingly bequeathing future generations a world that will resemble a flaming ball of shit. If I sound angry, I am. This idiocracy is the result of greed and laziness and people that can’t be bothered with anything that isn’t in their narrow little field of view. We let the 1% buy so many of our elections. We sit idly by as the rich destroy education and turn our people into a nation of retarded couch potatoes. These powerful few are making monkeys out of us and no one cares. If no one was going to procreate again, I could say we had it coming. However, people that are babies now, or those that have not been born, are innocent of these ridiculous crimes. And yes, what we are doing is a crime. We are harming other people and future generations just so we can drive big cars around town while fueling destruction and our own egos. In a democracy the many have power over the few, but in order for that to be so the many need to pay attention and actually try to figure out what is really going on. If they don’t soon it is game over…
I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”. Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void. Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit. I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.” I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited. These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them. Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation. I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.” I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot. My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week. I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field. Entry #1:
Lulu – Lou Reed and Metallica – Maybe the most insane recording of all time. So many people hate this record, but I love love love it with my whole being. I don’t love it because people hate it, but because it seems like someone going as far out on a limb as they possibly could. Lou Reed was apparently already suffering from the sickness that would eventually kill him. Did he go out by reflecting on an extraordinary life or by begging forgiveness for past sins? No, he went further out into the storm than he had ever gone before. He was a warrior poet that went out into the jungle, that the rest of the village feared, and brought back strange truths. This record is poetic, vulgar, bizarre, and heavy as fuck. Based somewhat on the “Lulu” plays of the German dramatist Frank Wedekind, it deals with murder, Jack the Ripper, sadomasochistic sex, and a femme fetal. And that is just the tip of the iceberg! On the single The View Reed sings:
I want to see your suicide
I want to see you give it up
Your life of reason
I wanna see you in a coffin, your soul shaking
I want to have you doubting
Every meaning you’ve amassed
When I hear this album I can’t help but mentally be in Berlin’s Teirgarten on a dark and rainy day. Yet, in case you think that this is just shock for shock value, the album ends with the incredibly poignant and heartbreaking Junior Dad, which casts multiple layers of meaning over the prior proceedings. The song features, from the breakdown on out, lyrics that are some of my favorite lyrics of all time, lyrics that never cease to move me. Even if you have no desire to check out this record, check out that song. A poetic tour de force that shows that Reed was, on his last song on his last record, still a poet of incredible insight and depth.
Sunny, a monkey then to monkey
I will teach you meanness, fear and blindness
No social redeeming kindness
Or oh, state of grace
Would you pull me up
Would you drop the mental bullet
Would you pull me by the arm up
Would you still kiss my lips
Hiccup, the dream is over
Get the coffee, turn the lights on
Say hello to junior dad
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad
The greatest disappointment
The greatest disappointment
Age withered him and changed him
Into junior dad
17-Year-Old Trans Teen Pens Heartbreaking Suicide Note
I am unfortunately pretty used to human cruelty by now, but something like this, where someone on the margins is made to feel like nothing by the very people that should care, fills me with a most rotten kind of sadness. Abandoned by society, friends, and even your own parents, because you didn’t fit in with what was considered “normal”, is truly absurd and heartbreaking. Let me tell you about “normal” people: They are often as fucked up as anyone in their own way. To quote Morrissey, “There is no such thing in life as normal.” And who is more fucked up: The person who is genetically born to feel different about their sex from most others, or people that choose to believe in an invisible man in the sky that permits them to treat their own children like dirt? The first is nature and the second is delusion. Only one of those is normal.
As long as people don’t hurt others, allow them to find happiness in there own way. If someone was born to feel differently than you, accept them for who they are.
“There is only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut
The above article, from the New York Times, is an interesting article about those that seek religion without belief. It mentions the Unitarian Church of which my parents were members. One of the main ideas in the article is that people need community more than they need a dogmatic set of beliefs.
Where do I stand on all of this? I am an agnostic. The only claim I can make is one of doubt, that I don’t know what happens when we die. I don’t feel that anyone knows what happens after we die. Whether one believes either in religion or is an atheist, they are basically saying, in my mind, that they know what happens after we die. This is knowledge that I believe none of us possess.
However, Kurt Vonnegut, a secular humanist, used to say that if someone was just getting out of prison or something, had no family or community to return to, he would tell them to go to church, as community is an incredibly important thing. No one should have to go it alone.
I am an introvert, and don’t need constant human interaction, so having a community of good friends is all that I need. I am distrustful of groups, especially ones that are exclusive in any way. I like when groups happen naturally over time.
I vowed at a very young age that I would never join any group that would have me. I intend keep this vow. I’m not a joiner. I’m in a band, and that is enough for me! Sometimes this puts one on the outside, but the outside is a great way to see what is going on with minimal bias.
Now even though I am an agnostic, and am especially anti any kind of dogmatic religion that takes on a fanatical character, that does not mean that I look down on people that are religious. I have met deeply moralistic people that are religious. I don’t believe that you need religion to be moral, but if it helps someone treat their fellow man/woman with kindness, then who am I to judge? I know that some religious groups do great work on behalf of the poor and the needy. This is always to be commended, as long as they don’t tie that help with demanding the people they are helping believe what they believe. I know that in South America that Liberation Theology has been an extremely powerful force for social justice.
I think two of the greatest people that this country has produced are Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. King was obviously religion and no one can dispute that his work here upon this earth changed civilization for the better. Meanwhile Lincoln was deeply skeptical in belief. He was not convinced there was an afterlife, although at the very end of his life, though he never became overtly religious, altered his beliefs slightly. Yet his entire life he was someone that was extremely kind, forgiving, that worked very hard to make the lives of people better.
So basically as long as other’s are treating people with kindness, to me, it doesn’t matter what they believe. I myself don’t need the mysteries of life explained, because I believe at least in this life, they never can be. I would rather focus my efforts at trying to treat other people better in the here and now, and not spend too much energy trying to answer a question that can’t be answered. And trust me, I’ve got a lot of fucking work to do on the front of treating people better!
The purpose of life, to me, can be explained in one sentence by Kurt Vonnegut:
“We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
What else is needed?
I was just reading some of the Kilgore Trout stories from Kurt Vonnegut’s books. (Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers.) Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer that reappears in several of Vonnegut’s books. Trout is an under-appreciated writer, but other than that the details about him are often slightly different in each book. Vonnegut often uses Trout to tell short far out science fiction stories that also usually highlight a a truth that Vonnegut wants to convey. Here is one as an example:
It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being of the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh, boy — they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And then that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.
So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!
If you want to read more of these stories you can find some of them at the website oocities.org, which is where I found them. Here is a link:
Every single day that I decide not to fashion a flute out of another human being’s femur bone is a small victory. I know that I am a flawed human being that occasionally has an unreasonable temper. I know that I can occasionally let my self-interest overcome the good of the group. I, like most people, am neither a saint nor a sociopath. Most human beings are complicated characters that are somewhere in between. I am no different.
However, it is exactly because I am very consciously aware of these traits that I feel that we should be kind to other people when we can overcome our own chemicals and tribal biases. As long as human behavior is not hurting others I believe it is the height of self-righteousness to try to control other people through the law. There is a huge difference in my mind between stating your beliefs and trying to impose your will on others through the power of law.
In your personal life, again as long as you are not hurting others, you can be as ignorant as you wish, though I would advise against it. But when people try to prevent others from experiencing their own journey towards happiness and meaning, it makes my head spin. Most of us human beings, I’d say 99% of us, have our own shit to sort out and should be concerned with that before trying to impose our will on others.
Being gay doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact being gay, being of a different race, being male or female, being from another country, are all accidents of birth. Show me someone trying to ban gay marriage and I’ll show you a motherfucker with too much time on their hands that should be looking in the mirror first. And if you don’t want to spend time looking in the mirror, go down to the local orphanage or something else that will be of some good to people. If you believe that gay people shouldn’t have the right to marry, that women shouldn’t be in control of their own bodies, that new immigrants are somehow less deserving than the less recent immigrants of your ancestors, I may disagree with you, but that is your right. However, again, actively campaigning to have these beliefs codified by law is exactly where I feel the line should be drawn.
Although I don’t believe in the Fall of Man as having actually happened, I love it as a story. We are all flawed. We are all on a daily struggle to overcome our chemical makeup and our imperfect knowledge and this strange ocean of absurd culture that we are born into.
There is only one place in life we should be trying to reach. As the great Kurt Vonnegut said: “Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
To close out the week the above link is an article of 15 great quote by Kurt Vonnegut over at the A.V. Club. Vonnegut has long been one of my heroes. A sample:
4. “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
This line from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater comes as part of a baptismal speech the protagonist says he’s planning for his neighbors’ twins: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” It’s an odd speech to make over a couple of infants, but it’s playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know. By narrowing down all his advice for the future down to a few simple words, Vonnegut emphasizes what’s most important in life. At the same time, he lets his frustration with all the people who obviously don’t get it leak through just a little
Yesterday I mentioned that I had been reading the Kurt Vonnegut collection If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? I thought that the following speech, when he received the Carl Sandburg Award in 2001, would be the perfect thing to post for Labor Day. In the book this speech is called Don’t Despair If You Never Went to College.
We are America’s Great Lakes people, her freshwater people, not an oceanic but a continental people. Whenever I swim in the ocean I feel as though I am swimming in chicken soup.
I thank you for this honor, although it is a reminder that I am not nearly the passionate and effective artists Carl Sandburg was. And we are surely grateful for his fog which came in on little cat feet. But tonight seems an apt occasion as well for celebrating what he and other American socialists did during the first half of the past century, with art, with eloquence, with organizing skills, to elevate the self-respect, the dignity, and political acumen of American wage earners, of our working class.
That wage earners, without social position or higher education or wealth, are of inferior intellect is surely belied by the fact that two of the most splendid writers and speakers on the deepest subjects in American history were self-taught workmen. I speak of course, of Carl Sandburg of Illinois, and Abraham Lincoln, of Kentucky, then Indiana, and finally Illinois. Both, may I say, were continental, freshwater people like ourselves.
Hooray for our team!
I know upper-class graduates of Yale University who can’t talk or write worth a nickel.
Socialism is no more an evil word than Christianity. Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal, and should not starve.
Adolf Hitler, incidentally, was a two-fer. He named his party the National Socialists, the Nazis. Hitler also had crosses painted on his tanks and airplanes. The swastika wasn’t a pagan symbol, as so many people believe. It was a working person’s Christian cross, made of axes, of tools.
About Stalin’s shuttered churches, and those in China today: Such suppression of religion was supposedly justified by Karl Marx’s statement that “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx said that back in 1844, when opium and opium derivatives were the only effective pain killers anyone could take. Marx himself had taken them. He was grateful for the temporary relief they had given him. He was simply noticing, and surely not condemning, the fact that religion could also be comforting to those in economic or social distress. It was a casual truism, not a dictum.
When Marx wrote those words, by the way, we hadn’t even freed our slaves yet. Whom do you imagine was more pleasing in the eyes of a merciful God back then? Karl Marx or the United States of America?
Stalin was happy to take Marx’s truism as a decree, and Chinese tyrants as well, since it seemingly empowered them to put preachers out of business who might speak ill of them or their goals.
The statement has also entitled many in the country to say that socialists are anti-religion, are anti-God, and therefor absolutely loathsome.
I never met Carl Sandburg, and I wish I had. I would have been tongue-tied in the presence of such a national treasure. I did get to know one socialist of his generation, who was Powers Hapgood of Indianapolis. After graduating from Harvard, he went to work as a coal miner, urging his working-class brothers to organize, in order to get better pay and safer working conditions. He also led protesters at the execution of the anarchists Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts in 1927. Another of our freshwater ancestors was Eugene Victor Debs, of Terre Haute, Indiana. A former locomotive fireman, Eugene Debs ran for president of the United States four times, the fourth time in 1920, when he was in prison. He said, “As long as there is a lower class, I’m in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it. As long as there’s a soul in prison, I am not free.” Some platform.
A paraphrase of the Beatitudes.
And again: hooray for our team.
And our own beloved Carl Sandburg had this to say about the fire-belching evangelist Billy Sunday:
You come along – tearing your shirt – yelling about Jesus. I want to know what the hell you know about Jesus.
Jesus had a way of talking soft, and everybody except a few bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem liked to have Jesus around because he never made any fake passes, and he helped the sick and gave people hope.
You come along calling us all damn fools – so fierce the froth of your own spit slobbers over your lips – always blabbering we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it.
I’ve read Jesus’s words. I know what he said. You don’t throw any scare into me. I’ve got your number. I know how much you know about Jesus.
You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it up all right with them by giving them mansions in the skies after they’re dead and the worms have eaten ’em.
You tell $6-a-week department store girls all they need is Jesus. You take a steel trust wop, dead without having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross and he’ll be all right.
You tell poor people they don’t need any more money on pay day, and even if it’s fierce to be out of a job, Jesus’ll fix that all right, all right – all they gotta do is take Jesus the way you say.
Jesus played it different. The bankers and the corporation lawyers of Jerusalem got their murderers to go after Jesus because Jesus wouldn’t play their game.
I don’t want a lot of gab from a bunk shooter in my religion.
Hooray for our team.
And I now take advantage of your hospitality by declaring myself a child of the Chicago Renaissance, powerfully humanized not only by Carl Sandburg, but by Edgar Lee Masters and Jane Addams and Louis Sullivan and Lake Michigan, and on and on.
I propose a toast to an individual who wasn’t an artist or working stiff of any description. She wasn’t even human being. Ladies and gentlemen of Chicago, I give you Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.
I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college. The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know).
I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world. Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”
What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?
“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be real sorry.
Bombs away – or whatever.
When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” What kind of a man was that? Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”
Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago.
We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.
Fires, explosions. Come look. Oh my gosh – hey wow.
To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”
It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road, but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of. One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS. It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight.
I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid. It was called Sledgehammer, and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force. I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy. In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper. Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest.
Oh my gosh – hey wow.