So it goes and so on – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Listen! This is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a war veteran who survives the bombing of a German town and who is able to live a comfortable life after it. How did he do it? He hid at the storage room of a slaughterhouse where he was taken as a war prisoner when the sky hailed bombs and set the city ablaze.

No heroic act involved, yes, but he manages to be quite successful. He gets married, has two kids, and becomes a leading optometrist. Things are pretty normal until he tells us a secret: he knows it all. He perfectly knows what happened and what will happen thanks to an alien who kidnapped him one night.

So this would sound like some science fiction, but at least this one offers some philosophical thoughts without leaving you up in the air with arguments that do not follow one another. I don’t think the book directly asks questions; rather, it makes the reader ask questions, particularly about time as an eternally dissolving progression versus time as a measured vista of recurring events.

“It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

That is spoken by an alien, apparently, who has seen the entirety of his life, from birth to death, and who has the ability to travel back and forth through time and revisit the best moments of his life, not once or twice but as often as he likes. Billy, upon hearing this, questions the alien’s stand on freewill, which is sneered upon for the alien has never heard any talk of freewill except from us Earthlings.

What then is freewill? Does this exist or is it just a form of human folly? If we agree that all time is time, a flat stretch that runs from Point A to Point B, then freewill cannot exist. It is the antithesis of a fatalist perception in life. If one is powerless to control the path that his life would take, why bother on freewill?

On the other hand, is it better to live your life as you want it, not knowing where it will go, savoring fleeting moments of happiness, and enduring considerable lengths of suffering and pain? Can freewill outweigh the possibility of knowing what lies ahead and being able to relive what happened? Sure enough, turning either the past or the future into a successive sense of present might have its thrills, but I find it a little disconcerting. It would make me feel like a restless traveler constantly going to and fro someplace and never settling down for a home.

Going back to the alien encounter, it can also be argued that Billy went baloney. Witnessing the ugly world war with its innumerable deaths assailing him every waking day could have sedated his postwar daily life, making him yearn for an alternate reality. I think constant exposure to violence corrupts the mind.

Which makes me wonder: if we really have freewill and if we really have this knowledge that violence is not fit for humanity, then why do we seem incapable of repelling it? Why do we feel so powerless, like there’s an unknown force controlling us? Why do we seem drawn to violent acts, however big or small? Doesn’t this inability to eradicate violence a proof that freewill is just that, a fancy thought that elevates us from irrational beings?

Which baffles me further: what is so rational about freewill? Does it even follow that freewill is a gift bestowed upon rational beings? I know I am treading on waters that I cannot swim out of, and this will involve a lot of debating and even research on a number of disciplines, particularly philosophy, psychology, sociology, and theology. Heck, I am not even from any of those fields.

4 star - really liked itI am from a technological field, but I suck at it. I do not even have the inclination to keep myself abreast of what’s new and what’s not. But these are passing pleasures, things that can be Googled in a matter of minutes.

And the question of freewill? It will always be there, forever posed, discreetly, just right outside our reach, arching its curve as if to complete a circle and pointing its dot in a response that vanishes as instantly as the question mark is formed.

Redrawing the question mark will only allow whatever forces are out there to wag their fingers in front of our dumb faces. And the question will go on and on, unanswerable in our human capacity and probably better left in the hands of the unknown.

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