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Kennedy writes: "In 1988, my then Hyannis Port neighbor the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote a prescient letter to the Earth's planetary citizens of 2088 for Volkswagen's TIME magazine ad campaign. His seven points of advice are perhaps more relevant today than at any time in human history. We should keep this advice in mind this election year and adopt Vonnegut's recommendations while we still can."

Kurt Vonnegut. (photo: Daniele Prati/Flickr Commons)
Kurt Vonnegut. (photo: Daniele Prati/Flickr Commons)


Kurt Vonnegut's 1988 Letter to the Future More Relevant Today Than Ever Before

By Kick Kennedy, EcoWatch

31 July 16

 

n 1988, my then Hyannis Port neighbor the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote a prescient letter to the Earth's planetary citizens of 2088 for Volkswagen's TIME magazine ad campaign. His seven points of advice are perhaps more relevant today than at any time in human history. We should keep this advice in mind this election year and adopt Vonnegut's recommendations while we still can.

Here's his letter:

Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet: 'This above all: to thine own self be true'? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: 'Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come'? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.'

Our century hasn't been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn't do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don't need an enemy.

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.

  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.

  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.

  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.

  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.

  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.

  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians. For all I know, even bag ladies and bag gentlemen will have their own personal helicopters or rocket belts in A.D. 2088. Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

Cheers,
Kurt Vonnegut


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+59 # Billy Bob 2016-07-31 14:53
"I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do."

=============

For me, that was the most chillingly accurate thing he had to say. That's obviously gotten worse since his death. Even the Democratic Party has sunk to imitating Republicans and their use of these "optimists" to just force all of our heads in the sand (even against our will). Now that many of us actually DO have a clue what's going on, it's growing increasingly frustrating to be laughed at and denigrated by people who don't.

The DNC is still living as though this were 1980. They're still trying to "fix" what they considered the problem of that year's election. The problem is, their "solution" consists of trying to beat Ronald Reagan at his own game - trying to OUT bullshit him.

And we're stuck with the consequences.
 
 
+43 # Radscal 2016-07-31 17:45
Yep. A quote I was reminded of in a recent re-reading of Thom Hartmann's now 3-year old book, "The Crash of 2016:"

Bill Clinton, on his 78th day as President:

"'Where are all the Democrats?' Clinton bellowed. 'I hope you're all aware we're all Eisenhower Republicans,' he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. 'We're all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans.

" 'We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?'"

Unfortunately, Bill was exaggerating in likening them to the Eisenhower Republicans. They were (and are) far more "conservative" and right-wing than Ike.
 
 
+7 # elizabethblock 2016-08-02 21:52
Yup. The people calling themselves mainstream Democrats are in fact liberal Republicans. I'm almost old enough to remember Roosevelt, and I know.
 
 
+26 # MainStreetMentor 2016-08-01 05:17
We rant. We debate. We plan. We cajole. We manipulate. We build. But …

We do not change that which must be changed if we, as occupants of the Earth, are to help extend and perpetuate its’ reproductive powers. Failing that, we are nothing more than wandering vandals who blatantly and mindlessly assist those who are systematically, programmaticall y eradicating the very essence of what is needed to sustain the planet, and its’ future, we inhabit.

Vonnegut’s prophesying letters’ importance is: You and I, and all those of any nation, any culture still have the opportunity to abandon, at least temporarily, religious, political, cultural and ethnic differences in order to form a cohesive bond of mutual need which will prolong Life and promote the repairs of mankind’s self-destructiv e actions of the past and present. All fracking must cease. All off-shore oil-drilling must cease. Coal must not be allowed to be burned. Chemical use must be curtailed. The list of self-destructiv e products and their manufacture goes on and on. We must do these things NOT after 10 years of study … but NOW. If studying them must be done, we can study them during the reconstruction phase of our planet. Otherwise, as Vonnegut states … “We are on borrowed time”.
 
 
+21 # NAVYVET 2016-08-01 07:32
The worst--in some ways, the most insulting--spee ch at the DNC was Sen. Cory Booker's oratory praising the Founding Fathers and the jingoist U.S. history that's found in school textbooks. Yuchhhh!

Howard Zinn's PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES should be a prerequisite for everyone nominated to public office. LIES MY TEACHERS TOLD ME: EVERYTHING YOUR TEXTBOOKS GOT WRONG by James Loewer is also a great book. Both are well worth buying and reading more than once.

Sen Booker is a black man?? A Democrat?? Obviously he never read either the Zinn or the Lower book--or Michelle Alexander's THE NEW JIM CROW. I wanted to throw up and was glad to hear voices from the audience chanting "Black lives matter!" while he was speaking.
 
 
+5 # Radscal 2016-08-01 15:25
If you look up Cory Booker and AIPAC, you'll find that his entire political career has been created by and for the Zionist Colonial Project.

In fact, he's so deep into it that he's backed by one branch of Zionism, and is vehemently opposed to and by rabbis on the other branch.
 
 
0 # librarian1984 2016-08-03 06:58
Maybe that should be OUR tactic -- to DIVIDE TPTB -- to find THEIR fault lines and wedges -- to separate them.
 
 
+6 # RLF 2016-08-02 06:03
Booker is a suitable associate for the Clintons...all about himself and advancement. He wants to be the next black DINO president.
 
 
+2 # librarian1984 2016-08-03 06:56
I homeschooled my kids until nearly high school, and one of the best outcomes was that they know history! And the books you mention figured largely :-)

I had great hopes for Sen. Booker in his earlier days and am sorry to see the path he's chosen -- though I'm sure he thinks he's made the wise move, career-wise.
 
 
+25 # PeacefulGarden 2016-07-31 17:35
Didn't Kurt basically say, somewhere, in one of those glorious novels, that we have already destroyed the earth. We are just living on borrowed time. I think it was Breakfast of Champions, or something like that.

Oh, well.

Go Jill Stein!!!
 
 
+32 # vilstef 2016-07-31 18:13
The wine is dead-the earth, just hanging on. So it goes.

Ave Atque Vale, Kurt Vonnegut. Thank you for your wisdom, humor and insight.
 
 
+29 # guomashi 2016-07-31 18:23
Brilliant, chilling and depressing.
 
 
+30 # Cdesignpdx 2016-07-31 22:42
A friend of mine commented in the late 60s, "We're destroying the earth." I replied, "We're destroying ourselves. The earth will regenerate once we're gone."
Every gum wrapper to the ground diminishes the home we live in.
An earlier RSN post stated, "we (white Europeans) didn't discover America, we invaded it."
Native Americans respected Mother Earth—land— and instinctively knew that it was for sustenance and not be owned.
Too bad (for us) that dollars and not a native community's respect for our land has been discounted.
This info is not new. Read "The Population Bomb," Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich, 1968.
 
 
+19 # NAVYVET 2016-08-01 07:48
The first book on environmental destruction which I read, in about 1964 or 65, was Fairfield Osborne's OUR PLUNDERED PLANET--publish ed in 1948.

I am pretty sure Pete Seeger recommended it to me, so it may help explain his early passion for saving the planet, which became mine. I worked for renewables, conservation and alternate energy job training for 14 years, as a volunteer and professionally.

Recently I reread Osborne's book. Of course it's outdated and nothing was said about global climate change till the 1960s, but that book and Rachel Carson's, plus another one called MOMENT IN THE SUN, were enough to wake me up. A few months after I finally was able to resign from the Navy, I wrote and illustrated the first comic book in fossil/nuke pollution in 1969, published by Ecology Action East.

These books alerted my ex-husband, too. Out of grad school, he was a physicist looking for a decent, humane job--teaching school and avoiding having to invent new weapons of mass destruction or waste products for consumers. He found what he wanted in the physics and engineering of renewable energy, especially solar. Yes, our work was wrecked by Ronald Reagan, but it's back. Last I heard, almost 70 years old, he was teaching it in China. Think about that when your kids or grandchildren want guidance on a job for the future!
 
 
+16 # janie1893 2016-08-01 01:32
So even the biggest, finest, "godblessed"
country on earth cant dominate Mother Nature?

Well shucks!
 
 
+4 # jsluka 2016-08-01 14:10
The attitude though seems to be the bumper sticker 'wisdom' that claims "Whoever dies with the most toys wins."
 
 
+12 # futhark 2016-08-01 01:58
Once again, choose political leadership on the basis of honesty, knowledge, wisdom, courage, and an explicit plan, agenda, or program to address challenges to peace, justice and sustainable prosperity. The plutocracy operates on the basis of promoting personality and celebrity, so will back candidates on the basis of their race, gender, or rhetorical skills. We've been fooled by this more than once and won't be fooled again.
 
 
+14 # newell 2016-08-01 07:53
Of the seven, "reducing and stabilizing the population" was number one. Yet when he said it, or anyone sez it now--they are ridiculed, called naive or labeled a traitor to our species. And not just climate change but our numbers are causing the largest mass extinction in 65 million years, deforestation and depletion of most other resources including clean air and water.
 
 
+10 # Observer 47 2016-08-01 09:20
I'm glad someone finally said it!! You are absolutely right: mentioning population control or saying that other creatures on the planet have a right to survive has become the third rail. How did we become so twisted??
 
 
+9 # NAVYVET 2016-08-01 08:38
The best sci-fi/fantasy writers are social critics. Vonnegut was, & Pratchett & Rowling. Until he got old so was Robert Heinlein.

Once again I'll quote from his 1952 intro to a reprint of his 1939 novella, "If This Goes On", a story of a successful rebellion against tyranny.

RSN doesn't allow much text, so I'll put the Heinlein quote into another entry, and still need to cut it a bit. The important text is intact, but I must remove all elisions (...) and brackets ([]) to get it to fit. MARC ASH! Why so stingy with space for our comments?

Please read this (the time it was stored reads 8:56). Think about The Donald and shudder.
 
 
+5 # Wally Jasper 2016-08-01 10:06
NavyVet, you can also post article length entries to Writing for Godot on RSN.
 
 
+15 # NAVYVET 2016-08-01 08:56
Heinlein quote (excerpts):
"Fanaticism in our culture is rooted in our history. It has broken out many times in the past. There has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme. Almost any sect will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and suppress opposition, subverting education to seize the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. Legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country—Sunday closing laws, anti-birth control legislation, Prohibition. There are such a variety of sects that they oppose each other. Could it be otherwise? Could a sect take over the country with a combination of dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda? Throw in a depression, promise a material heaven here on earth, add anti-Semitism, anti-Negroism, a good large dose of anti-”furriners ” and anti-intellectu als here at home, and the result might be frightening, since our voting system is such that a minority of pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets and the fanatics won the election. The next election was never held. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."
 
 
+9 # uuzul 2016-08-01 11:37
SCARY.
Yet -- if you want the population to diminish, simply EDUCATE WOMEN and GIVE THEM EQUAL RIGHTS. This has been proven over and over to cut the number of children being born to sustainable levels within a generation. It is as simple as that. Countries where women are equal (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, etc) have the best living conditions for everyone.
And I say it again -- ORWELL WAS AN OPTIMIST. In the ultimate destructive move of all, we are layering our atmosphere with tons of metallic chemicals to make a 'space fence' for our militaries to play war games. And to manipulate the weather. HOW INSANE HAVE WE BECOME!!!
 
 
-1 # RLF 2016-08-02 06:10
Population will never decrease but people will starve. Humans are too stupid and selfish to do anything in a controlled way. Everyone insists on having children. Lots of people have to not in order for population to go down. Welcome starvation!
 
 
+4 # newell 2016-08-02 13:27
Your argument was given when I was a kid. The population then was 2.5; it is now 7.4 and climbing. The "educated"count ries now import workers from countries with large families so those families remain large and keep sending their excess to the West. And when we do import those workers, their consumption levels become the highest in the world. Incentives for 0-1 world-wide child policy is the only way to reduce our numbers to a sustainable 1 billion-- for the quality of our species and the continuation of others and their healthy ecosystems. At our present population, not the 11 billion expected, we will lose 25% of species in the next 50 years---and those species won't be cockroaches, mosquitos or ticks. That's if you don't deny science.
 
 
+4 # DurangoKid 2016-08-02 14:40
It's been suggested that humans en masse have no more intelligence than that of yeast in a vat of grape juice. In 60 years of observation I have yet to see much evidence to the contrary. We metabolize and reproduce with little regard for the consequences. To expect better seems to me wildly optimistic. There are only a very few examples of societies who have recognized the dangers and stepped back from the brink.

My guess is that at some point in the next few decades many regions around the globe will simply become exhausted. People will try to leave them or die or die trying. The momentum of the collapse may take us to extinction or it may dampen out as the load on the environment diminishes while some capacity still remains.

Those who survive will have a lot on their hands trying to contain the contamination from the previous decades. Some sizeable zones will have to be permanently abandoned. The remnants of industrial culture might keep them supplied with various metals for a few centuries, but eventually these too will diminish. Without the energy density provided by fossil carbon they will have to get by on a much lower return on their energy resources. This will act as an upper limit on their population which will be a good thing. The Earth might be able to support a few hundred million humans for quite a long time.
 
 
0 # newell 2016-08-03 07:27
The advent of farming and the resulting increase in our numbers may have deprived us of some hunter-gatherer wisdom. They did control their numbers with a variety of plants. They did not want to encroach on their neighboring tribe's territories because they were all related. Europe and Hollywood needed to portray them as constantly warring to demonize and justify a land grab--but the truth is they needed to interbreed so most of the neighboring tribes were related and needed to control their numbers.
 
 
0 # Brice 2016-08-04 02:25
Being the amazing student of human nature Kurt Vonnegut was, I wonder why he still had any hope, and why he bothered to write this letter. We have made everything worse since his time on Earth and haven't done a thing to stop from killing ourselves, including doing our best to make life miserable for most of the people on the planet so they won't even fight death when it comes.
 

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