Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ship of Fools - on Vonnegut's Galapagos

"Leon! Leon! Leon!" he implored. "The more you learn about people, the more disgusted you'll become. I would have thought that your being sent by the wisest men in your country, supposedly, to fight a nearly endless, thankless, horrifying and finally pointless war (emphasis: Vietnam) would have given you sufficient information into the nature of humanity to last you throughout all eternity!

"Need I tell you that these same wonderful animals which you apparently still want to learn more and more about, are at this very moment proud as punch to have weapons in place, all set to go at a moments notice, guaranteed to kill everything?

"Like the people on this accursed ship, my boy, they are led by captains who have no charts or compasses, and who deal minute to minute with no problem more substantial than how to protect their own self-esteem."

These words spoken to the haunting narrator, Leon Froutsky Trout of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Galapagos, by his even more dead father, Kilgore Trout, are part of his plea to Leon to end his days of haunting the world as a curious decapitated ghost and join him by agreeing to enter the squirming blue tunnel into the afterlife.

"Had enough of the ship of fools, my boy? You come to Papa right now. Turn me down this time and you won't see me again for a million years."

None of us knows exactly, if it does exist, what awaits us in the afterlife. But imagine for a minute you are Leon, a conscious if not living soul, having been undead for some time already when your father appears in a blue portal for the fourth time begging for you to leave at once this senseless, confusing, at times diabolical "ship of fools" and join your family and friends in something that might or might not be paradise, but is certainly the answer to that internationally common question, "What happens after we bite the dust?" What would you do? If I had to guess, I'd say most of us would gladly skip into the portal without thinking twice or even looking back.

As it turns out, this is a much more difficult decision for our friend Leon the Ghost, and whose second option - to continue haunting the Earth for at least another million years - might hold the answer to the equally as popular, possibly as important question, "Why are we here?" To Leon this question is much more interesting than the former, and he is willing to pay the million years of ghostly existence to research the paradox of human nature.

And a paradox it is. I love the perceptions Vonnegut shares on human nature. Some are pessimistic and most are critical and sarcastic, but in my eyes, overall soothingly funny. He has the effect of say George Orwell's 1984 while replacing the headache with a gut laugh.

Unfortunately, the human race is far from perfect. We all might have given up on the idea of a paradise utopia. But does this mean the world is any less lovely? Sure there's alot out there that isn't right. Nobody would choose genocide of peace if they had a choice (save a few particularly special maniacs.) But that is essentially human nature - Insanity. We are all a maniac at one point or another. We are capable of atrocious actions and thoughts while at the same exact time beings just as capable of beautiful, loving deeds. It's the process of denying this inevitable oxymoron that hurts people the most.

It's ok you didn't think a joke was funny (Could you help it?) It's ok that you slept in all day long. It's ok that you're not really sure if there's a God listening to your prayers. Quit worrying about that look someone gave you. Quit losing sleep over the atom bomb. There's a whole lot more fish in the sea... That could have been you... We've all messed up sometimes, ok? Give yourself a hug.

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