I just spent five hours nonstop writing an essay about Kurt Vonnegut's critique of humanity's greatest flaw. Enjoy!
Emotions: The Curse of Mankind
For hundreds of years, wise men have asked themselves what will cause the
downfall of mankind. Science (more and more powerful weapons) and religion
(religious wars in particular) both seem to be possible causes, but Kurt
Vonnegut has a completely different opinion. In Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut’s
critique of emotions – humanity’s greatest flaw – correctly reflects reality,
because hope, despair, and love, three of our most powerful emotions, both drive
people to perform irrational actions.
Hope, the belief in a positive outcome,
can be attractive but requires a lot of perseverance, and as such as criticized
by the hesitant Vonnegut as being deceptive and unrealistic. For example,
Hazel Crosby is obsessed with other Hoosiers, that is, people from Indiana, as
shown when she says, “We Hoosiers got to stick together.” Although one may
obtain hope from knowing other Hoosiers, in reality this group, called a “false
karass” by Bokonists, is meaningless, just another distraction. Vonnegut’s
message is that we must steer clear of such distractions by avoiding hope
altogether, and sticking to more concrete ideals. In addition to foolish
hope, a real sort of hope makes an appearance as well: after the ice-nine
incident the survivors all hoped that the situation would improve.
However, all of this hope amounted to absolutely nothing when all of these
survivors ended up dying. From this we can learn that rather than hope
that things will get better, one must instead work for it, in other words, that
nothing happens by accident.
Despair, the loss of hope, is well known to be
destructive, and Vonnegut only adds to this. One example of the dangers of
despair can be seen in Bokonon and his followers: “[Bokonon] told [his people]
that God was surely trying to kill them … and that they should have the good
manners to die. This, as you can see, they did.” In other words,
Bokonon’s people saw that they had virtually no chance of survival, and so
decided to kill themselves rather than die in any other way. However,
Bokonon’s pessimistic philosophy is, as Vonnegut clearly shows, disastrously
wrong. Regardless of the odds, we should never give up, because once we
give up we have no chance at all. Another example of the consequences of
overwhelming despair is Mona’s suicide after she realized how silly life really
is: “It’s all so simple, that’s all.” Mona killed herself when she saw how
easily life is taken away by ice-nine, symbolical of life’s inherent
futility. The message here is although life may seem useful and pointless,
it’s all we’ve been given, and we must make do with what we have, whether we
like is or not.
More than any other emotion, Vonnegut blames love as the
cause of nearly all of mankind’s problems. In the novel, the destructive
power of love is demonstrated by the narrator’s infatuation with Mona, which
caused him to fly to the island of San Lorenzo, as demonstrated when he said,
“While I didn’t feel that purposeful seas were wafting me to San Lorenzo, I did
feel that love was doing the job.” While there, the narrator aided in the
destruction of the world, by means of ice-nine. Love here is portrayed as
an evil force that leads people to their doom. Furthermore, ice-nine was
distributed among the world’s major superpowers, the United States, and the
Soviet Union, through love, albeit one-sided love: Angela gave her ice-nine
sample to her government-employee husband, while Newt’s sample went to his
Ukrainian girlfriend, who immediately gave it to the Soviet government.
Once again, the message is clear: love causes people to do foolish, and
sometimes even dangerous, things that they would later come to regret.
So far, I have discussed Vonnegut’s views on the dangers of human emotion.
However, lack of emotion can have disastrous results as well, demonstrated by
Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a man so engrossed in his scientific research that he
almost completely isolated himself from the outside world, a lack of emotion
that led to his “playful” development of the superweapon ice-nine, and then his
careless distribution of ice-nine among his children, moves that had terrible
consequences. Clearly, with a lack of emotion comes a lack of ethics, and
when you can’t tell the difference between right and wrong the results can be
disastrous. All in all, while emotions can be dangerous, so can the
absence of emotion, so, as with many other things, moderation would be the
solution: one must refrain from being led solely by emotions, while at the same
time keeping a code of ethics.
If you like it, thanks! And if you don't like it ... After working for so long I really don't care... ;)