Saturday, July 15, 2017

July 15: War Criminals, Power Corrupts, Pay It Forward

The author of the monograph, a native of Schenectady, New York, was said by some to have had the highest I. Q. of all the war criminals who were made to face a death by hanging.  So it goes.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue, the monograph went on.  Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money.  They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

Many novelties have come from America.  The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor.  They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.  Once this is understood, the disagreeable behavior of American enlisted men in German prisons ceases to be a mystery. 

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., is a fictional historical figure.  A former American who rises in the ranks of the Nazi regime in the German Ministry of Propaganda.  Obviously, Vonnegut is not a supporter of Adolf Hitler.  However, Vonnegut uses Campbell as a mouthpiece to speak about the poor in America.  Despite being a Nazi, Campbell's observations are right on target.  The poor in America are taught to despise themselves for not having money.  And the rich do everything they can to make sure that the poor have no opportunity to obtain money.

This passage makes me really sad because it is absolutely true.  The powerful make the weaker always feel inferior.  (I initially typed "feel like shit," but I am trying to be classy this morning.)  It happens in families.  It happens in school playgrounds.  It happens in the workplace.  It happens in politics.  It happens all over the world, everywhere.

I know that I went on a little bit of a rant last night.  Not going to do that today.  I have too much to do.  Ninetieth birthday party for my father.  Poetry reading with my mentor and friend, Beverly Matherne, at the local library.  4:30 Mass.  Wedding reception.  That's my day in a nutshell.

In my life, I try to stay away from situations that put me in any position of power.  Don't feel comfortable with it.  Of course, I am a college professor and Poet Laureate of the U. P. and Saint Marty.  There's a certain amount of power that comes with titles.  Everyone has heard the quote "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."  It's true.

I try to embrace humility.  I think that, if you have any kind of power, you need to use it to make a positive impact in the world.  I know that sounds very Marvel superhero-ish, but it's one of my core beliefs.  Do good in the world, and the world will do good by you.  In my life, I have been the recipient of some wonderful acts of generosity that have left me speechless. I try to pay it forward.

At the moment, it's easy to find examples of people abusing their wealth and power.  Just turn on the news.  Check Facebook.  Read a newspaper.  Every day, the powerful are taking advantage of refugees and impoverished people, in the name of "making America great again."  Nothing great about that.

Okay, I'm done.  You get my point.  Pay it forward.  Stay humble.  Power corrupts.

Today, Saint Marty is thankful for generosity and kindness in his life.

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