Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What would Kurt Vonnegut say about the April 22 March for Science?

If he were still alive, Kurt Vonnegut might have attended the science march near him this weekend. New York City will probably have a big one. He would probably attend more to protest numbskull Trump than to applaud science.

Some of Vonnegut's big books, especially Cat's Cradle, carry warnings about runaway scientific research. In Galapagos, Vonnegut posits a future where humankind has evolved into sea-lion-like creatures with flippers and beaks and smaller brains in heads streamlined for swimming. One of that book's recurring themes is that contemporary human brains are too big and possess all sorts of ways to screw things up. In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Vonnegut has fun with time travel and memory. He also has the fire-bombing of Dresden, brought to us by masterminds in science and war-making. They go hand in hand. So it goes.

Vonnegut studied biochemistry as an undergrad and has a master's degree in anthropology. He worked as a PR guy for General Electric while he wrote his novels and raised his family. He and his fictional alter-ago, Kilgore Trout, are noted sci-fi writers. But Vonnegut stands out for his scientific background and his social commentary. Baby Boomers discovered his novels just as we headed off to college or Vietnam or the assembly line or wherever. It spoke to the absurdity of war, as did Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Ken  Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest completes the big three books of the 1960s that changed my life and many others. Just think about their backgrounds for a minute. Heller was a World War II veteran and NYC ad man in the Mad Men era. Kesey was a rural Oregon boy who made his way to Stanford and sixties legend as part of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He wrapped up his life on a farm in Oregon, back where he started. Vonnegut came from an educated Indianapolis family but the war changed everything, as it did for many of our fathers. My father was able to attend college on the G.I. Bill, begin a career as an accountant, marry a nurse and fathered nine children, of which I am the oldest.

Dedicated sci-fi readers know the thrill and the danger of science. We know that science leads to Hiroshima and to the Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator or ICD. I wear one of those in my chest. It was invented by Morton Mower, a Denver resident, now a millionaire art collector. Part of his world-renowned collection of Impressionists (Degas, Renoir, Monet, etc.) is now on display at the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities at the Anschutz Medical Center, 13080 E. 19th Ave. in Aurora. A med center with a gallery that exhibits artwork collected by a scientist/inventor? You can attend for free as you get an ICD check-up at the cardiac telemetry unit. A nifty blend of science and art, invention and patronage.

Saturday's Science March is not an effort to promote science above religion or instead of religion. It is a move to celebrate scientific innovation against those who would hide inconvenient facts and cut funding for research. Consider the Know Nothings of the 19th century U.S. They professed to "know nothing" other than that written in their bibles. They valued The Word over words and imagination and science. Today's conservative Republicans are descendants of the Know Nothings.  They are threatened by humankind;'s march into the future. And it is scary. Technology brings drastic changes. The arts expose our children to other voices and other cultures. People who don't look like us force us to consider our deeply held beliefs about race and gender.

It's really fear that drives conservatives. Fear of galloping change. Science and the arts and education represent the most threatening fields. That's why Congressional conservatives' budget cuts target them. If only we could stop the clock, everything would be all right with the world!

But you can't stop change. So we write and we march and we challenge the people who want to deny climate change and evolution and higher ed.

On Saturday, April 22, we meet at 10:30 a.m. in the service station parking lot at Little America in Cheyenne. We then caravan over to Laramie, where we will join others at noon for the Wyoming March for Science from the UW Classroom Building at 9th and Ivinson to downtown. An Earth Day Rally follows, with music by Laramie's Wynona. If you are interested in making an appropriately clever sign, one that honors wit and science, gather at the UU Church in Cheyenne from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, April 21. I missed the Wyoming Art Party's sign-making session last night in Laramie. You may remember WAP's performance art at the Women's March in Cheyenne in January. Their uterine-based signage ("Wild Wombs of the West") was a big hit for many, although some follow-up letters in the local paper called them crude and insulting to women. It's always a good thing when a protest incites letters to the editor.

See you on Science Day on Saturday. It's also Earth Day. Naturally.

Vonnegut won't be there. He's on Tralfamadore, most likely. But he will be there in spirit, both as an encouragement -- and as a warning.

No comments: