“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.” – Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s short story – Harrison Bergeron – was written in 1961, and in Vonnegut’s darkly satirical style, portrayed America in 2081 as an disgracefully dystopian nightmare. Little did Vonnegut know what he considered outrageous and 120 years in the future, would be far closer to our current dystopian reality just 60 years later. The story was brought to my attention by my wife a week ago when we were talking about the absurdity of masks, their uselessness in stopping viruses, how they are nothing more than a means to control the population, being used to spread fear, and as a dehumanizing technique.
She remembered the name Diana Moon Glampers from reading the story in high school. Never has a story that takes 15 minutes to read, captured the evilness and depravity of a government demanding “equality” in a more succinct and brutal manner. Its parallels with our current government enforced lockdown, mandatory muzzles, mainstream media propaganda, and social media censorship is uncannily accurate.
The premise of Vonnegut’s story is George and Hazel Bergeron sitting on their couch watching TV, sometime after their fourteen-year old son Harrison had been taken away by the government and jailed for the crime of being strong, good looking, intelligent, and defiant against their ridiculous regulations and dictates. The mediocre minds of those in charge had taken the American Declaration of Independence’s phrase – “All men are created equal” to a ludicrous extreme.
Their warped interpretation of our founding document failed to acknowledge the term “independence”, and the unalienable rights of all men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are created equal in the eyes of God, but we have free choice to use our abilities to succeed or fail in life. Some people use their intellectual abilities to succeed, others use their athletic strength, and others their physical appearance and talents. The government should not dictate who should succeed or fail.
The totalitarian government in Vonnegut’s 2081 America coerces its citizens into being equal to one another in appearance, behavior, and achievements. To attain physical and intellectual equality among all Americans, the government torments its citizens through mandatory handicapping, enforced by the Handicapper General – Diana Moon Glampers.
The beautiful must wear repugnant masks or disfigure themselves, the intelligent must listen to piercing noises that impede their ability to think, and the elegant and strong must wear weights around their necks. Removal of their government mandated handicaps results in huge fines and imprisonment. Vonnegut takes the “achievement” of total equality to its most absurd outcomes. The foolishness of handicapping the best and brightest citizens to achieve total equality is unnatural and wrong. Punishing the talented by forcing them to be unexceptional and compliant, results in a society of mediocrity and mendaciousness.
Harrison Bergeron is seven feet tall, three hundred pounds, athletic, graceful, handsome, intelligent and defiant. He is the embodiment of the alpha American male, making him a dangerous threat to a government dependent upon keeping its populace fearful, sedated, cowed, average and unmotivated to defy their dictates. The handicaps placed on Harrison were heavier than anyone had ever required.
“Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides. Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.” – Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut
Despite these hinderances, he escapes from his jail cell, bursts into the studio where average ballet dancers, masked to hide their beauty, and weighed down by bags of birdshot, are joylessly giving an unexceptional performance in front of a nationwide audience of unthinking automatons, obediently following the orders of their overseers. The warning announcement from the government before he arrived at the studio said he was plotting to overthrow the government and should be considered extremely dangerous.
In this world of the “future”, anyone not toeing the government line and exercising their right to think differently or question the government narrative is considered a traitor and dangerous. Individuality is a crime. Thinking for yourself is a crime. Enjoying life is a crime. Not obeying masking rules is a crime. Does this remind you of anything in present day America? Harrison is brave and defiant, while the majority are cowardly and passive.
Harrison rips off his steel restraints and handicaps, revealing his physical strength and magnificence, reminding TV viewers that underneath their own restraints and handicaps, they too are individuals, capable of excelling and living life fully. He declares himself emperor and selects a ballerina as his empress.
The other dancers and musicians removed their handicaps and began to play and dance up to their God given abilities. This scene offered the potential for a revolution. As Harrison and his empress danced majestically, you could visualize the mental and physical binds breaking across the country. A spirit of excellence and independence could sweep across the land and the people could break free of their government mandated trusses.