Vonnegut, Kurt - Harrison Bergeron
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
"Harrison Bergeron" (1961) is a science fiction short story depicting a future in which a powerful, authoritarian government goes to extreme measures to ensure that absolute equality exists between every individual. It was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October 1961, and was republished in the author's Welcome to the Monkey House collection in 1968.
The realm so imagined was indeed black - "Harrison Bergeron" was set in a dystopic future where all are equal, even if that means disfiguring beautiful people and forcing the strong or intelligent to wear devices that negate their advantages.
Fourteen-year-old Harrison is a genius and athlete forced to wear record-level "handicaps" and imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government. He escapes to a television studio, tears away his handicaps, and frees a ballerina from her lead weights. As they dance, they are killed by the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.
In his 1976 biography of Vonnegut, Stanley Schatt suggested that the short story shows "in any leveling process, what really is lost, according to Vonnegut, is beauty, grace, and wisdom".
Whilst true, we might be better thinking of the story as a satire on socialism and the political correctness that has crept like poison into our lives. It is a biting satire on liberal values, the nanny state and the control freakery that ends up producing the mindless, who can only do what they are told and never think for themselves.
Furthermore it is a warning that libertarianism and socialism of this sort are in direct opposition to the objectives of the Great Work – the allocation of a personality to suit one’s destiny, the uniqueness as a consequence of each person, that beauty and diversity were fundamental parts of the strategy of creation, and as such this form of policy is tantamount to forcing people to go against God’s will and imposing man’s will in its place.
“the so-called ‘equality’ found in Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron is not, in fact, conducive to Liberty”.