Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut’


“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


I was going to write a much longer entry this morning about the vast income inequality that is the underlying problem for many of this country’s ills but thought I’d share the selection above from Kurt Vonnegut. This was brought on by a study released by the RAND Corporation that was featured in a recent TIME Magazine article pointedly titled, The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure.

Even though they kind of give away the message of the story in that ridiculously long title, believe me when I say that it is an article that should be read. It shows how that if we had simply maintained the same income distribution that the US had in the the three decades following World War II, from 1945 to 1974, that the aggregate income of the bottom 90% of workers would be $2.5 trillion higher each year.

2.5 TRILLION.

That is such a large number that most of us cannot even begin to fathom it unless we break it down into smaller, more digestible bits. Well, in this case, 2.5 trillion breaks down to about $1144 more per month for every working person in the bottom 90% of the population. Or to put it another way, the level of income inequality we have accepted since 1974 costs the median income of the average full time worker about $42,000 per year.

The Counterfactual Column is What Might Have Been With Income Equality Maintained

I could go on with numbers and figures but what I want you to do is imagine if we had maintained that level. You might have to go back to the period fro 1945-1974 to get an idea. It was a time that so many people here yearn for now because it was marked by many of those things to which we all aspire still. The great American Middle Class was at its peak. Think Happy Days, okay? Building and infrastructure increased tremendously as our national highway system was built and suburban communities popped up with housing developments. The average worker could buy a home and prosper with a single income, most often in jobs that came with health insurance and a retirement plan.

I want you to imagine what this country look like now if we had continued that arc?

Our infrastructure would be the best in the world. Our GDP would be through the roof. Our health system and school systems would be among the best in the world. Small businesses would boom because wealth builds from the bottom up, despite what supply-siders would have you believe with their snakeoil concoction of Trickle Down economics. People would not be so upside down in their mortgages or auto loans.

It comes down to the fact that most could live comfortably on a regular job that would have vacations, healthcare, pensions and more free time for ourselves.

There are a lot more examples that I know I am missing. This is just off the cuff so I hope you will take the time to imagine them.

I am not saying it would be perfect. Social problems– crime, civil rights, homelessness, etc– would remain but might not be exacerbated by the high levels of poverty that we see now.

The rich would still be rich but just not as rich. Ask anybody old enough if there were rich folks in those years between 1945 to 1974. The wealthy were still rich as hell. Maybe Betsy DeVos would only have one luxury super yacht instead of the three or five or whatever the hell she has now.

But that is the beauty of the ruse the wealthy has perpetrated on the American people. The average worker worries about the welfare of the richest of us more than those folks in their own economic strata. You see it whenever there is talk about raising the minimum wage. It is the people who make just a bit more than the minimum wage who scream against it the loudest. I think they see it as devaluing them in some way.

And maybe it does. It should. Instead of railing against someone getting a living wage and a better life, they should be yelling about why they themselves aren’t getting a bigger piece of the pie.

You also see it in the people who attend the president***’s rallies. Most of those folks are working class who are rotting for a creature who is peddling policies that go directly against their own self interest. He doesn’t talk about higher wages for those with jobs. He doesn’t offer them better healthcare. Well, he promises healthcare then moves on to a newer distraction without delivering anything at all. He spouts about the stock market and has these working folks believing it is the economy, even though the bulk of them don’t own a share of stock or understand that in order to return maximum profits to their shareholders, these companies need to keep wages and expenses low.

They root for their own lower wages.

I could keep going and going and going. I don’t have an answer except to say that we will never get back to that time if we don’t acknowledge that there is a real problem. And even then, we have so empowered the top 1% that they will never willingly agree to go back to that level even though they would not experience any real decrease in the quality of their lifestyle. In fact, they would be rewarded with a society that would be far more pleasant in which to live.

Okay, that’s enough. At least I got it off my chest.  Just read the article.

And remember that this not from some left wing think tank. It’s the RAND Corporation. Look them up if you’re not aware of them.

Oh, and have a good day.

Read Full Post »

*********************

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

― Kurt Vonnegut

*********************

The words above are from the book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater from the late Kurt Vonnegut. They are are spoken to the infant twins of a neighbor as part of a baptismal speech from Eliot Rosewater, the book’s protagonist.

It seems like a ridiculous bit of advice to speak over infants at a religious ceremony but the sentiment is striking in its simplicity and practical application.

In nearly every instance, kindness will make the situation better.

I don’t know why I am writing this today. Maybe it’s the shrill ugliness of our society at the moment, marked by naked tribalism and selfish greed.

Or maybe its our attack mentality that has become the norm, one where reason and logic are thrown aside and replaced with insults and slurs.

These negative aspects, the hatred and selfishness we are so often displaying, are not sustainable for us as a society. They are the signs of an undisciplined and unprincipled people.

On the other hand, kindness is a sustainable and enduring principle of guidance. It builds up, not tears down. A hand up, not a push down.

Like I said, I don’t why I am writing this. Maybe the thought was that we– maybe just I– needed a reminder that a little kindness does more for the world that all the ugly words spoken with hatred by one person toward another.

So, this is your reminder. We have a short time on this world. Don’t waste your time here being mean-spirited and vengeful.

Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

This made me want to hear a little Otis Redding this morning. Try a Little Tenderness. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Have a good and kind day.

 

 

Read Full Post »

****************************

“No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

***************************

It’s obvious that the removal trial coming before the Senate is being rigged by the GOP leadership to have no witnesses, no press coverage and as little evidence as possible. It is a travesty that mocks the entire concept of law and justice. It is a slap in the face of all citizens.

It’s infuriating. But I didn’t want to write about that today. So, I won’t.

However, I did come across a great quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut that allows me to use it to somewhat comment while moving on to something else. Vonnegut reminds us that while the coming days may mark the end of the Great American experiment as we know it, we have made some great music. Hopefully, that part of us will not change.

It reminded me of a post from several years back that I am running again today:

**********************

GC Myers- American Music 1994Last week I wrote about going through some old work and coming across work that had been lost in my memory, work that I seemed to recognize but couldn’t quite remember the how or why of it. Didn’t have that recollection of the moment that I usually have with my work where I can recall the emotion of that time, recall the instant it excited me and came to life for me. You know it’s your own work but it remains an enigma, a question. This is another that I came across last week. It was marked as being from 1994 and was titled American Music across the bottom.

I have looked at this piece a number of times over the year and know that it came from a time when I was experimenting on an almost constant basis, trying to capture that thing in my mind that I couldn’t quite identify but knew instinctively was there. All kinds of things poured out, most eventually set aside like this one. And through the years, looking at this piece always makes me question why I wrote  American Music across the bottom of the sheet it was painted on. I don’t know if I saw some rhythm in this that reminded me of a generic American music or if I had been listening to some old music. The Blasters, fronted by Phil Alvin, had a song of that name in the early 80’s that I always liked so maybe that played a part.

But the fact is that I just don’t know. And there’s something interesting in that, that I get to look at a piece and try to figure out what the artist was thinking without really being sure. It’s not too often that you get to do that with your own work. And I think that’s why I gravitate to this piece whenever I go through my old stuff.

An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in paint.

Maybe you can figure it out. Here are The Blasters with the original version of their song, American Music.

Read Full Post »

 

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969

++++++++++++++++++++

The above was written almost 50 years back by Kurt Vonnegut. I first read my now worn copy of Slaughter-House Five about 45 years ago and re-read it a number of times in the years that followed though it has been decades since I last read it. When I came across the excerpt above this morning I realized how much it informed and shaped my views on the world.

And how little this country had changed in the 50 years since.

If anything, this loathing of the poor or just those who may not be doing as well as ourselves has accelerated as the sheer numbers have grown due to a population that is now roughly 70% larger than in 1969. It provides some explanation for how the poor and middle-classes could somehow stand behind that thing now lurching around our White House. He is everything they would normally detest: a privileged, loud, rude elitist who flaunts his good fortune and mocks and derides those he sees as being beneath him. Who brags about dining and playing golf with the wealthiest people and hates to shake the hands of the common folk out of fear of their germs. An amoral man who is a known liar and a cheat, especially when it comes to bullying those with little sway who have worked for him.

The why of this is in Vonnegut’s words. It’s the same dynamic that allows people to get angry at the supermarket when they see someone in line ahead of them, especially a person of color, using food stamps. You can see them seething, almost mouthing the words welfare queen. These same people would have no problem with a man, especially a white man in an expensive suit, accepting billion dollar checks as a bail-out for the mistakes of these same men.

Maybe that is what we are seeing, common folks glorifying their betters, as Vonnegut put it. Except this person, this so-called leader, is not their better. He is a glaring symbol of the very worst of their qualities. He is well beneath them if they would only look beyond the cheesy gold patina.

To put it crudely: a gold-plated turd is still just a turd.

And even more than that, he is compromised and beholden to several other nations now.

And these same folks, by extension, are compromised as well. They have forsaken their principles and beliefs for empty promises that were never meant to come true. They would turn their head to corruption and possibly murder so that a wealthy man in a nice suit could make some more money.

It was true in 1969 when Slaughter-House Five came out. It’s true today.

Time to read the book again.

Art here tomorrow. Promise.

 

Read Full Post »

GC Myers- First FlameLight thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

Terry Pratchett

*************

Last week, I featured a painting called Early Riser and spoke a bit about being just that– an early riser.  This is another new piece in that same vein, a 30″ by 30″ canvas that deals with the Red Tree greeting the first light of morning as it sweeps away the darkness of night.  I call this painting First Flame.

I’ve been thinking about this relationship with light, about the need to not waste the light of the day.  It reminds me of the rarity of light in this universe and how much darkness there is throughout its vastness, punctuated by the light of distant stars.

Light means life in this universe, so far as we know.  Everything we depend on for our continued survival is itself dependent on light and perhaps we ourselves are comprised of  and animated by light.

We are beings of light.

And perhaps there is a type reverence shown here in this painting with that knowledge at hand.

Looking now at this painting after writing these words, I can see many things in it which confirm this interpretation.  The cemetery in the shadow of the church, for example– an implication of death being devoid of light.  The orchard at the bottom right that waits for the feeding light of the sunlight. And the fruit stands that are dark and closed.

So long as the sun rises each morning, life goes on– for us as a group and for personally for myself.

To use my all-time favorite Kurt Vonnegut-ism: So it goes

Read Full Post »

I’ve always been a fan of the short story.  I grew up reading the classic short stories of  Guy DeMaupassant, O. Henry and Edgar Allan Poe, all beautifully crafted and plotted.   There are short stories by other authore that are lodged deeply in the fabric of my memory, which helped shape how I view the  world.  The will to live of the man struggling against nature in Jack London’s To Start a Fire or the way that love and art changed the lonely characters in Who Am I This Time? from Kurt Vonnegut are two varied examples.

A short story is very much like a painting to me.  They are often complete views of an event or a moment but there is still a lot of room for the reader to fill in the spaces with their own imagination, to allow their own emotional understandings to become part of the tale.  They can be taken in quickly yet often, as I have noted above, the memory lingers on.  Again, like the glance of a painting that stays with you in a haunting way.

I was pleased to come across such a piece of short fiction recently from writer David Terrenoire, a friend I met several years ago through my work.  It’s called After the War and is the story of two lonely souls who momentarily find one another in the area of the steel mills around Pittsburgh of 1948.  I would call the story a poetic tragedy. The writing is spare and direct, giving the piece the feeling of the fable that it is. 

Just a damn fine piece of writing that will stay with you for days after.  And maybe longer.

After the War is available  from Amazon for e-readers.

 

Read Full Post »

Reaching…

Reaching...

 

Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.

       -Kurt Vonnegut

 

 

The quote above is from the late writer Kurt Vonnegut, who was one of the writing heroes of my youth.  I read his Slaughterhouse Five, a WW II dark comedy novel, over and over during my teens and twenties.   I identified strongly with his point of view and the aloofness of many of his main characters.  They always seemed slightly out of place in their worlds and times which appealed to the same feeling I have often felt.

I like this quote a lot.  It’s very arguable, simple but with aspects that are contradictory and open to debate.

When I first looked at the quote I thought of someone who aspires to a career as an artist or writer.  I remember reading many years ago some advice to prospective artists that said  to be an artist you must first act like an artist.  The writer’s point was that if you thought of yourself of an artist and did all the things an artist did with the same dedication, then eventually you would find you were truly an artist.

I have found this to be true, to a degree and with a few caveats.  For instance, I think this only applies if you stick with this for a long period of time.  Pretending you’re something for several months or a year only means you tried but couldn’t maintain the dedication that is required.  Doing it for a long time means going through the ups and downs of a career, the thrill of success and the abyss of being rejected.  Time means going through periods of creativity and periods when there is seemingly nothing.  But if you are what you say you are, you forge on. 

But before you pretend to be what you wish to be, know what the pitfalls are that accompany your choice.

This is kind of a continuation of yesterday’s blog, The Spiral, where I talked about expanding my horizon and thinking bigger.  I hope that more people reach out for what they really want and find the dedication in themselves that is needed to live the life they want.  

The key is to never stop reaching…

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: