Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turns out warm beer isn't the ONLY Breakfast of Champions...

I'm almost finished with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s book, "Breakfast of Champions." It's pretty amazing, which isn't something I expected to be saying when I picked it up two days ago. I used to hate that kind of writing because it made me feel dirty, hopeless, and angry at the world. Books like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, etc, just made my idealistic soul ache.

I suppose I've changed a lot in the past few years though (as this blog can bear witness to), because now I find myself giggling at the absurdity of it all. "Breakfast of Champions" reminds me of a modern, more comical version of Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" with it's constant barrage of absurdity. It's written from a third person perspective of someone who seems completely removed from the planet Earth. The narrator thus takes the liberty to explain every little detail we take for granted and in doing so points out how everything we see as normal is actually completely foreign, everything is strange; nothing makes any sense out of the context of our short, strange little lives. So what can you do but laugh? It's kind of a relief when you think about it.

Also, I'm struck by how much things haven't changed in the 36 years since the book was written. Vonnegut's book points out lots of problems facing the Western World in 1973, and not many of them are any different. Pollution abound, materialism being unsatisfactory, racism, homophobia, gender inequality. They're all still around (though we've made significant improvements in some of those areas). Still, I can't help but wonder why we're still scratching our heads trying to find solutions to problems outlined clearly and succinctly in literature over thirty years ago - which in my mind means these problems were around long before that.

Perhaps that means we don't really care as a society. In life, when something goes wrong, you assess whether or not the problem is worth more than the cost to fix it. So when you don't fix a problem, it means that fixing it has a greater cost than letting it nag you. As a society, does that mean that we think trying to address racism, homophobia, gender equality, and materialism (the most insidious) would cause greater strain than they're already putting on us? I don't think that's possible. I think we're just lazy.

Anyway, enough rambling for the day. Go pick up "Breakfast of Champions" by Vonnegut, Jr.! It's a great book and it will make you think.


JustJess said...

So I don't think it's an issue of laziness as much as it is an issue of the heart. As humans, we are focused on us. Not just us in general, but us in the very moment. We only want what will make us happy for that very second. The issues contemplated in the book are issues that would require us as a society to think beyond "me" and "now," which we don't know how to do. We only want to fix things that will immediately change our happiness. Until we learn to live outside of that bubble, I don't think the issues will ever change. And until our hearts are significantly changed by an outside force (God, for me), that shift will never happen.

Mark said...

Jess -
(This is my sister, for those of you who don't know! How exciting!)
I think you're exactly right. We're a very self-centered creature most of the time. I think it's got a biological underpinning (coupled with a lack of discipline). Seeing as evolution favors those who are able to survive against all odds, it makes sense that we are an entity which evolved to be happiest when we're fulfilling our needs at every instant. If being full meant surviving another day, having bodies hardwired to feel a sensation of happiness after we ate would increase our chances of survival. Now that we don't have to compete against the elements, that same hard-wiring that helped us thrive is our now biggest enemy. It also doesn't take many steps to be able to extend that argument to more trivial things like cultivating uniformity and especially patriarchy (thus we still have problems ridding ourselves of things like homophobia and gender inequality).
I think our faculty of reason can help us overcome our selfishness, too. Our minds have the ability to focus on something bigger than ourselves (God, for a lot of us). We CAN bypass our selfishness, it's just hard work!

Anonymous said...

I read those books in high school, a million years ago, and liked them.