It would be no exaggeration to say that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. may be one of my favourite writers. He certainly was when I was younger. I loved his sardonic wit combined with his story-telling skills.
When I came across this short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, it struck me as something ironically appropriate in these days of rising demands for equal results. It’s a vision of applied equality that, while obviously extreme, does not require a huge leap of imagination to see aspects of it coming to an authoritarian near you.
Written in 1961, it portrays a society in the year 2081 that is completely equal. And I mean completely! Not only is everyone at the same economic strata, but no one is better looking or even more intelligent than anyone else. It is equal outcomes taken to the farthest corners of human relationships.
Here is the opening paragraph:
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
As is often the case, Vonnegut connects the abstract to the person in order to illustrate what it might be like to actually live this kind of nightmare. And in this case, he does it with a story that can be read in about 10-15 minutes! I’ve linked the story below so you can read it.
From the feedback I’ve been receiving, I see that Mindmuser readers seem to be people who think about things and come to their own conclusions. This story will hopefully spark some personal reflection on equality and how far one is willing to go to enforce it.