By Chet Yarbrough
If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young
By Kurt Vonnegut
Narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Scott Brick
“If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” is a brief introduction to Kurt Vonnegut through his speeches to graduating college students. Though there are a number of repeated stories in Vonnegut’s speeches, his humor and humanist view of life appeal to the old (speaking for me) as well as the young.
For example, Vonnegut offers the story of one of his children that is complaining about the condition of the planet. His response, “Shut up, I just got here myself.” Of course, he says this to be ironic. Vonnegut consistently and deeply believes the world is being damaged (trashed) by humankind even though people have not been here very long.
One wonders why Vonnegut remains so popular with the young. (YOUTUBE-YOUTH’S COMMENT-http://youtu.be/lp_daXRkOH0?t=17s) “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” suggests it is, in part, because of his understanding that earth’s future is in the hands of the young.
Vonnegut’s speeches laud the young for staying in school to become better educated. He rhetorically asks, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” It seems the progress of humanity—not personal aggrandizement from money, power, or prestige is the standard for Vonnegut’s view of the world.
Vonnegut disdains television but says, “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” His disdain for television is because of its mindless distraction, a distraction exemplified by David Foster Wallace’s book, “Infinite Jest”, and made tragically clear by Wallace’s suicide.
Vonnegut’s humanist view of life is in his acknowledgement of the goodness and wisdom of a man named Jesus. He said (as he acknowledged the value of “The Sermon on the Mount”), “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?” If Vonnegut had a motto for living life in a particular way, it is “Be kind to others”.
In spite of many of Vonnegut’s dire observations about world pollution, discrimination, economic inequality, and human distraction, one feels a sense of optimism about the future in his speeches. Vonnegut comically validates belief in science by saying, “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.” (Funny, but the truth is brain wave technology is offering insight to the manipulation of brain function and computer chip interface, that could make it look like telekinetics, is possible.)
Vonnegut tells his audience in different ways to live in the moment. When life is good, appreciate it. When life is not so good, work on it—“If This Isn’t Nice, What is?”