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Vonnegut the muckraker: 5 ways Breakfast of Champions will make you question yourself

If you want to know what’s really going on in the world, listen to the writers. Not all of them, mind you, but pay close attention to the ones who dare to call bullshit on everyone– including themselves.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Kurt Vonnegut’s book Breakfast of Champions did just that.

And I liked it.

Vonnegut parades his exposé of human failure. He arouses forbidden questions. He is a provocateur.

Consider these 5 snippets from the text. Can you see yourself in them?

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From Breakfast of Champions

By Kurt Vonnegut

“When Kilgore Trout accepted the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1979, he declared: “Some people say there is no such thing as progress. The fact that human beings are now the only animals left on Earth, I confess, seems a confusing sort of victory. Those of you familiar with the nature of my earlier published works will understand why I mourned especially when the last beaver died.

“There were two monsters sharing this planet with us when I was a boy, however, and I celebrate their extinction today. They were determined to kill us, or at least to make our lives meaningless. They came close to success. They were cruel adversaries, which my little friends the beavers were not. Lions? No. Tigers? No. Lions and tigers snoozed most of the time. The monsters I will name never snoozed. They inhabited our heads. They were the arbitrary lusts for gold, and, God help us, for a glimpse of a little girl’s underpants.

“I thank those lusts for being so ridiculous, for they taught us that it was possible for a human being to believe anything, and to behave passionately in keeping with that belief—any belief.

“So now we can build an unselfish society by devoting to unselfishness the frenzy we once devoted to gold and to underpants.” He paused, and then he recited with wry mournfulness the beginning of a poem he had learned to scream in Bermuda, when he was a little boy. The poem was all the more poignant, since it mentioned two nations which no longer existed as such. “I see England,” he said, “I see France—”

* * *

Actually, women’s underpants had been drastically devalued by the time of the historic meeting between Dwayne Hoover and Trout. The price of gold was still on the rise.