Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut at Rice University, 1998

So what does this Methuselah have to say to you, since he has lived so long? I'll pass on to you what another Methuselah said to me. He's Joe Heller, author, as you know, of Catch 22. We were at a party thrown by a multi-billionaire out on Long Island, and I said, ''Joe, how does it make you feel to realize that only yesterday our host probably made more money than Catch 22, one of the most popular books of all time, has grossed world-wide over the past forty years?''

Joe said to me, ''I have something he can never have.''

I said, ''What's that, Joe?''

And he said, ''The knowledge that I've got enough.''

His example may be of comfort to many of you Adams and Eves, who in later years will have to admit that something has gone terribly wrong -- and that, despite the education you received here, you have somehow failed to become billionaires.

This can happen to people who are interested in something other than money, other than the bottom line. We call such people saints -- or I do.

Well-dressed people ask me sometimes, with their teeth bared, as though they were about to bite me, if I believe in a redistribution of wealth. I can only reply that it doesn't matter what I think, that wealth is already being redistributed every hour, often in ways which are absolutely fantastic.

Nobel Prizes are peanuts when compared with what a linebacker for the Cowboys makes in a single season nowadays.

For about a hundred years now, the most lucrative prize for a person who made a really meaningful contribution to the culture of the world as a physicist, a chemist, a physiologist, a physician, a writer, or a maker of peace, has been the Nobel Prize. It is about a million dollars now. Those dollars come, incidentally, from a fortune made by a Swede who mixed clay with nitroglycerin and gave us dynamite.


Alfred Nobel intended that his prizes make the planet's most valuable inhabitants independently wealthy, so that their work could not be inhibited or bent this way or that way by powerful politicians or patrons.

But one million dollars is only a white chip now -- in the worlds of sports and entertainment, on Wall Street, in many lawsuits, as compensation for executives of our larger corporations.

One million dollars in the tabloids and on the evening news is "chump change" in 1998...

Here is a direct link to the entire Rice speech. For those of who are big fans of Kurt Vonnegut (Author of Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions), you can find a complete archive of his speeches, writings, biography and more at Vonnegutweb.com.

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