Monday, May 02, 2011


I must tell you that my world view changed just as Vonnegut's changed once I decided to accept the facts of evolution and the happenstance from which natural selection picks its winners. Take the miraculous out of the world and, then, one must accept the facts or go crazy. This is why so many who accept the miraculous go around proclaiming how crazy the world is or how horrible life is. They keep wanting to be transported into a better world, even though it means their dying to get there. In truth, life is very understandable, if mean, once one accepts the biological processes that drive human behavior.

But let Vonnegut speak. He captures the change with such humor and precision. In Breakfast, the author sometime intrudes himself into the story, and the following passage is something the author is saying about the characters he has created. This follows earlier passages in a preceding chapter in which the author speaks of his having been told he is schizophrenic and speaks of wanting to die.

from BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS by Kurt Vonnegut

I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian [a fictional minimalist] with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid. I thought Beatrice Keedsler [fictional gothic novelist] had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.

As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

And so on.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.

It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.

[Things haven’t changed much, have they? For me, it was the black and white movies I loved as a kid. I realized eventually that I thought that life could be changed by a major speech by a major character (think Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington") or that a critical, very dramatic moment of denouement would altar the course of my life or someone else's life. One lives dramatically under such delusions, posing and making speeches, rather than getting down to work. The alcoholic is specially susceptible to those beliefs. Pay close attention to people who are drunk. You'll catch them at it.

Even more thrilling to me is when we add in what Steven Hawking just wrote in The Grand Design: our bodies operate by the same physical laws that direct the Cosmos, and we are as determined by natural laws as is the Universe. As he says, "...we are all biological machines. Free will is an illusion." That means, not only are we acting as if we are characters in books or plays, but we imagine we have some choice in the matter about being the characters we are, when in all truthfulness, we are who we are by genetic accident and nurture, both of which have created, create and continually tweek the synaptic patterns through which we receive the world into ourselves and by which our actions in the world are directed.

I know this seeming chaos is scary to some people, but until we accept it, we'll remain children, frightened and rejecting of the world as it is, living in childhood fantasies rather than in reality.]


ctropea said...

But perhaps the non-acceptance of things as they are is part of the programmed survival code that has allowed the human race to seek knowledge and technology to alter and change the world around us,just as our mind does.By wanting humans to accept "reality" and not desire change is to ask them to be other than what they were "programmed' to become...and you have just stated that we are biological machines,so your desire for people to accept that is your desire for them to you see your own paradox?

Geo said...

Carl, my good friend. You are correct. In fact, I'm sure that if we humans didn't believe we had free will and "were in control", the world would feel crazy to us. People with the most of beauty and the material things of life are also the one's who feel most entitled to what they possess. There is an identified connection between what one has and how one feels about oneself. This is why people who are the haves resent having to give up some of their possessions to the have nots, and why they feel they "deserve" everything they have because, by good, they "earned" it. Like Vonnegut nowadays, I see all this clearly and don't know how we can alter it, even though altering it would create a world beyond imagination.

Zach Hunt - Personal Trainer Spokane said...

Whatever it is, you still have to accept the situation you're in.

Geo said...

Yeah, Zach, and the fact that one accepts the situation in which he finds himself is the body recognizing that something has to change. The recognition is the beginning of the change. I've found that most of my best insights have come AFTER the process has already begun or has actually been completed. The knowledge must be in the synapses before the brain can know it. I suppose the best attitude one can have is gratitude that one is as far along as one is. Of course, he/she can also keep putting out the good word, hoping that the seeds sprout in other soil.

Now, I just did see a paradox because along my way, people have dropped seeds that have sprouted in my biological soil container, so maybe certain moments are important. Maybe a good speech now and then does help.