(via The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic | Maya Eilam)
When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”
A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.
I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who had six hundred relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby, the best possible news in any extended family.
They were going to take it to meet all its relatives, Ibos of all ages and sizes and shapes. It would even meet other babies, cousins not much older than it was. Everybody who was big enough and steady enough was going to get to hold it, cuddle it, gurgle to it, and say how pretty or how handsome it was.
Wouldn’t you have loved to be that baby?
I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family, make you an Ibo or a Navaho—or a Kennedy.
Someone read this passage from Vonnegut to me a while back. Today, it made me think of something my dad said once (actually, it made me think about television, but more on that in a second).
When a child in either the fifties or early sixties, my father moved, and this gave him an interesting perpsective on social atomization a la suburbia. They moved from a poorer, more working class neighborhood to a more affluent one, so if you ask him today, he can tell you with relative certainty that affluent, suburban atomization has one cause: air conditioning.
See, you couldn’t keep all your windows closed in the summer time without air conditioning, you couldn’t even really stay in the house all of the time. So people would talk from house to house (the houses were closer together, too, of course) to their neighbors, or out on the porch, or underneath a tree, etc.
When he moved to the more affluent neighborhood, where the houses had conditioned air, it was like night and day. Totally different social structure to the community. Which bring’s me back to television (which I was thinking of in a fair amount of depth because hours of infomercials on public television is a violation of the commons and the public mission of television, but I digress).
Maybe television has become regnant not because it was a superior communication technology, but because it fit so well with the advent of a new kind of community (or maybe just because of the invention of air conditioning). Suburbia is lonely; televisions fill homes with more voices, more personalities, more plot lines and intrigue, more of that substance that we need to construct our lives. How many voices does one need, before one can dwell some where, before a space can become a home?
Thus, suburbia needs television, a sort of technological collusion that has artificially sustained an untenable form of life, sprawling coccoons of pure boredom. Television lessens the median quotient of loneliness just enough to keep it from all falling apart.
You are not enough people, indeed.
There is one more ugly, more wicked, more filthy!
Although he makes neither great gestures nor great cries,
He would willingly make of the earth a shambles
And, in a yawn, swallow the world;
He is Ennui! — His eye watery as though with tears,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
— Hypocritish reader, — my fellow, — my brother!
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