Come let us fart around and celebrate our anywhere Saints. We may not win our quest for a new day in American politics and in our world. In fact, by experience we have learned that we probably won’t. But we reject the gallows for humanity, even as we see everywhere very well the plutocratic master carpenters of our collective fate measuring twice and cutting once using our very own hands to do the work.
We embrace each other and our gallows humor. Trying times will not stop us from trying to prevail and, in our own authentic ways, trying to have a good time at least some of the time in ways that do not involve pharmacology.
Ten years ago, a couple of years before he died, a grim American socialist saw rays of hope in our past, present, and future, somehow having a positive worldwide influence on the left even as he confessed to profound pessimism. Kurt Vonnegut summed up the clumsy graceful ideals of that which we will not see our world deprived if we can help it:
DAVID BRANCACCIO: There’s a little sweet moment, I’ve got to say, in a very intense book– your latest– in which you’re heading out the door and your wife says what are you doing? I think you say– I’m getting– I’m going to buy an envelope.
KURT VONNEGUT: Yeah.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: What happens then?
KURT VONNEGUT: Oh, she says well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope.
I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around.
And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well you wrote in the book about this. You write; What makes being alive almost worthwhile—
KURT VONNEGUT: Yeah.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: —for me besides music, was all the Saints I met who could be anywhere. By ‘Saints’ I meant people who behaved decently, in a strikingly indecent society.
KURT VONNEGUT: Yes. Their acts of kindness and reason. On a very– on a face-to-face. On a very local.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: On a human level.
KURT VONNEGUT: Yeah. On a human level. And, oh, I’ve also spoken about you, know you’ve heard of ‘original sin.’ Well, I also, I call attention to original virtue. Some people are born to be nice, and they’re gonna be nice all their lives, no matter what.
From his days in World War II, both as a soldier and a POW in Dresden, to his last days, Vonnegut, no Saint himself, despite his depression, frustration, and crusty resentment of his own potential for obscurity learned to recognize original virtue where he saw it and to do his best to testify about its wondrous beauty even though he often could only peer at it from a caricatured otherworldly dimension.
An atheist and a leftist, he saw through the smoke of his Pall Malls original virtue in people and places that are not often linked in American culture and politics anymore–socialism and the Sermon on the Mount, Eugene V. Debs and Jesus.
It is sad that he is not around to see Bernie Sanders running for president.
With the eminent stubborn liveliness and creativity of regular people everywhere in imminent risk, let’s raise a grim salute to Kurt Vonnegut as we join the hopelessly bold, but not crazy, effort to save our world already being undertaken by an anywhere Saint near us. His was not a fully crafted art of hope for the working class, but the working class still needs its crusty resentful champion as it sits down for breakfast.
We miss you Kurt, but we suspect that you don’t know that. Things will not work out so well for us either. We have no sane alternative sometimes other than to clear our heads of all the junk in there, like the one about the:
extinct giant sea eagle called the Bermuda Ern. This allegorical species was later described in Vonnegut’s book Timequake (1997) as a pelagic raptor, a “great blue bird”, the looming extinction of whose population was being caused by its female members “kicking the eggs from the nest” prior to their hatching, rather than kicking the young fledglings from the nest at the appropriate time. In Breakfast of Champions their extinction is said to have been caused by a fungus, brought to the island by men (in the form of athlete’s foot), which attacked the birds’ eyes and brains.
How on earth do we come up with this stuff? So it goes.