The End is Near

Kurt Vonnegut October 29, 2004

I am writ­ing this before the elec­tion, so I can­not know whether George W. Bush or John F. Ker­ry will be our Pres­i­dent, God will­ing, for the next four years. These two Nordic, aris­to­crat­ic mul­ti-mil­lion­aires are vir­tu­al­ly twins, and as unlike most of the rest of us as a cou­ple of cross-eyed albi­nos. But this much I find time­ly: Both can­di­dates were and still are mem­bers of the exclu­sive secret soci­ety at Yale, called Skull and Bones.” That means that, no mat­ter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones Pres­i­dent at a time when entire ver­te­brate species, because of how we have poi­soned the top­soil, the waters and the atmos­phere, are becom­ing, hey presto, noth­ing but skulls and bones.


What was the begin­ning of this end? Some might say Adam and Eve and the apple of knowl­edge. I say it was Prometheus, a Titan, a son of gods, who in Greek myth stole fire from his par­ents and gave it to human beings. The gods were so mad they chained him naked to a rock with his back exposed, and had eagles eat his liver.

And it is now plain that the gods were right to do that. Our close cousins the goril­las and orang­utans and chimps and gib­bons have got­ten along just fine all this time while eat­ing raw veg­etable mat­ter, where­as we not only pre­pare hot meals, but have now all but destroyed this once salu­bri­ous plan­et as a life-sup­port sys­tem in few­er than 200 years, main­ly by mak­ing ther­mo­dy­nam­ic whoopee with fos­sil fuels.

The Eng­lish­man Michael Fara­day built the first dynamo, capa­ble of turn­ing mechan­i­cal ener­gy into elec­tric­i­ty, only 173 years ago. The first oil well in the Unit­ed States, now a dry hole, was drilled in Titusville, Penn­syl­va­nia, by Edwin L. Drake only 145 years ago. The Ger­man Karl Benz built the first auto­mo­bile pow­ered by an inter­nal com­bus­tion engine only 119 years ago. 

The Amer­i­can Wright broth­ers, of course, built and flew the first air­plane only 101 years ago. It was pow­ered by gaso­line. You want to talk about irre­sistible whoopee?

A boo­by trap.

Fos­sil fuels, so eas­i­ly set alight! Yes, and as Bush and Ker­ry are out cam­paign­ing, we are present­ly touch­ing off near­ly the very last whiffs and drops and chunks of them. All lights are about to go out. No more elec­tric­i­ty. All forms of trans­porta­tion are about to stop, and the plan­et Earth will soon have a crust of skulls and bones and dead machinery.

And nobody can do a thing about it. It’s too late in the game. Don’t spoil the par­ty, but here’s the truth: We have squan­dered our planet’s resources, includ­ing air and water, as though there were no tomor­row, so now there isn’t going to be one.

So there goes the Junior Prom, but that’s not the half of it.

Kurt Von­negut, the leg­endary author, WWII vet­er­an, human­ist, artist and smok­er, was an In These Times senior edi­tor until his death in April 2007. His clas­sic works include Slaugh­ter­house-Five, Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons and Cat’s Cra­dle, among many oth­ers. The last book by him pub­lished before his death, A Man With­out a Coun­try (2005), col­lects many of the arti­cles he wrote for this magazine.
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