'Nature is Ruthless': Kurt Vonnegut's Advice to the People of 2088

In 1988, as part of a print advertising campaign, Volkswagen asked many thinkers, including author Kurt Vonnegut, to write letters to the people of 2088. Vonnegut's words of advice: Nature is out to kill us all and instead of being overly optimistic, we should submit to its terms of surrender.

Vonnegut begins his missive by speculating on why "Our century hasn't been as free with words of wisdom as some others," and suggests that out improved knowledge of the world and the human condition has left us paralyzed by "bad news." The bad news with which Vonnegut particularly concerns himself is that Nature is no friend to the human race:

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

You can read the entire text of the letter, including "Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms," at Letters of Note.

Photo by Miserlou Behind The Aperture.

Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088 [Letters of Note]