Enforced Equality and the Tale of Harrison Bergeron

Equality is a noble ideal. “All men are created equal.”

No One is Truly Equal

In reality, no one is truly equal.  No one is exactly the same.

We are born with different gifts and talents.  We are born with various flaws and handicaps.  We are born with different IQ’s.

Some people are born into poverty, and some are born into wealth. Some are born with two parents, and some are orphaned.  Some are born in the USA, and some are born in dung heaps.

We are all raised differently. Not all parents are loving and nurturing.  Not all schools strive for excellence and instilling a love of learning.  Not all neighborhoods encourage civic pride and responsibility.  Not all peers elevate and encourage us.

“Life is Not Fair”

In short, “life is not fair.”

Political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, comments on the complaint that “life isn’t fair” by retelling a conversation he had with one of his daughters.

Daughter: “But Daddy, that’s not fair.”

O’Rourke: “Honey, you are very cute, and that not fair.  You are very smart, and that’s also not fair.  Your parents are well-to-do, and that’s surely not fair.  You were lucky enough to be born in the United States, and that’s really not fair. . .  You better hope that life never becomes fair.

The Inherent Clash Between Equality and Liberty

Yin and Yang

There is an inherent conflict between equality and liberty.  They are the yin and yang of political philosophy.  You cannot increase one without diminishing the other. The only way to eliminate inequality and natural disparities is by taking away freedom.  When you increase liberty, disparities and inequalities expand.

  • Egalitarians champion fairness; libertarians promote freedom.
  • Socialists advocate equality; capitalists support liberty.
  • Socialists prefer security; capitalists want freedom.
  • Socialists espouse cooperation; capitalists embrace competition.

When the Founders referred to “equality” they did not mean “sameness,” they meant:

  • Equal rights.
  • Equal justice.
  • Equal respect.
  • Equal opportunity.

Equal opportunity is a worthy goal. Making life fairer for everyone is a noble objective.

However, forced equality is not. Enforcing equal results and equal outcomes makes life even more unfair and less free.

Story of Harrison Bergeron

(Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Catch-22 and Slaughter House Five, wrote a prophetic short story in 1961 entitled Harrison Bergeron. I recommend reading the full story. Here my brief pathetic summary.)

The story takes place in the year 2081.  The 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution have been adopted guaranteeing that everyone is totally equal.

Under the law, everyone is now the same. No one is dumber, uglier, weaker, or slower than anyone else. The Office of the Handicapper General is created to ensure that equality is enforced.

George and Hazel Bergeron are watching a ballet on television.  Hazel is dumb, and George is smart. So, in order to be equal, George is required to wear a radio devise that shocks his brain and disrupts his thoughts several times a minute.

Years earlier, George and Hazel’s son Harrison was taken away and put in prison.  He was too intelligent, too strong, and too handsome to be left among the general public.

While George and Hazel are watching the ballet, Harrison escapes from prison and suddenly shows up on the television screen. He is wearing the handicaps meant to counteract his strength, intelligence, and good looks.

He is covered with 300 pounds of metal to slow him down. He is wearing earphones and glasses to blur his vision, impair his hearing, and give him headaches. He is wearing a red rubber nose, black caps on his teeth, and his eyebrows have been shaved.

Suddenly, Harrison rips off all his handicaps. He also tears off the handicaps of the beautiful, intelligent, strong prima ballerina.  They start to dance. Whirling, twirling, and jumping, they seem to be defying gravity.

Throughout the program, George and Hazel make comments to each other. They are trying to carry on an intelligent conversation, but she is too dumb, and his thoughts keep getting short circuited. Finally, George goes to the kitchen to get a beer.

Meanwhile, the Handicapper General herself shows up on stage carrying a shotgun.  She aims and fires, killing Harrison and the ballerina. The law has been enforced. The audience gives a standing ovation.

George comes back from getting his beer and finds Hazel crying.  She says something sad has happened on television, but she can’t remember what. And then George forgets what he asked her.

This is the eventual outcome of enforced equality.

(Other Articles: londonedition.home.blog or http://www.londonedition.net)

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