Cat's Crade - Kurt Vonnegut

This book "is devoted to pain, in particular to tortures inflicted by men on men." - from the Sixth Book of Bokonon

Paul Virilio's Original Accident considers how new technology creates ever greater possible calamities. The passenger airplane creates the air crash. The highway creates high speed car wrecks worthy of J G Ballard. Essentially, Virilio riffs on the balance between life and death, creation and decay. Everything is wolved by the fangs of entropy. But some technology resists classification here. Think of DARPA's soundwave based weapons, microwave based weapons, nuclear weaponry. None of that technology exists in some kind of mystic yin-yang between swell-ish and hellish. No, this crap was created to hurt people, to flatten cities, to maintain political sovereignty and economic might.

Enter Dr. Felix Hoenikker, creator of Ice-9. Ice-9 functions symbolically as a nuclear weapon. It's a weapon that can't be used without destroying life on earth. The compound, when released into an ocean, would rapidly crystallize nearly all the water in the world. Sure, you'd still have underground aquifers and some lakes that don't connect to waterways, but give it time, and the rain cycle would spread that water over Ice-9 affected areas too. It's a manmade environmental disaster. It's the Anthropocene. It's global thermonuclear war.

Now, there's something of the original accident in environmental disasters brought on by expanding human civilization and the industrial revolution. Humans are climbing through increasingly advanced technological ages, and it's impossible to jump from the bronze age to solar without going through the mire. But Cat's Cradle is planted squarely in the mire phase and is highly cynical about man's ability to navigate it to reach a new golden age of homeostasis with our environment and marked by peace between nations and peace within nations.

Ice-9 has another symbolic function. It reflects the spread of harmful ideas, the pandora's box of toxic thinking, whether racist, fascist, extremist, or whatever else. Once ideas are out in the wild, they spread. They don't go back in the box. The virulent capacity of dangerous thinking is its own original accident. A society is made up of free-thinking, communicating people. Not every idea is good. Neither are bad ideas always really bad, but some bad ideas spark. They get propelled by the zeitgeist for whatever reason and then you have QAnon, ISIS, Brexit and the ideas infect everything.

One perverse aspect about the human is its capacity for schadenfreude. Seeing the suffering is a pressure-release valve, where we can dump our own anxieties of suffering onto others, as if other people's suffering was a talisman against our own--even if the talisman only allows us the comfort of knowing that others suffered as well. Every plane crash and car crash that isn't our own is a paean to our own survival. But Vonnegut presents humanity with the inescapable. No matter what tortures we inflict on others, our own death is inescapable. Entropy is the first and last original accident of existence. It's the ice that nines us.

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