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Harrison Bergeron University

Harrison Bergeron University

Reader: “Harrison Bergeron lives!! Only thing Kurt Vonnegut got wrong was that he thought it wouldn’t happen until the latter half of the 21st century.”

Public Domain

Yesterday I posted about the proposed elimination of “blind auditions” for symphony orchestras, so that race and gender could be used as selection criteria to help diversify orchestra musicians. It would be the elimination of what previously was a meritocracy:

For decades leading symphony orchestras have used “blind auditions” to hire musicians. That is, the musicians are not seen at all, only their music is heard. That way, implicit or explicit racial, ethnic, or gender bias cannot enter into the hiring decision, only the quality of the music. It is as close to a pure meritocracy as I can imagine….

The desire to move away from “blind auditions” hurts people who otherwise would have been chosen based on the quality of their music, or in other contexts, their academic performance on standardized tests and other objective measurements….

I mentioned in that regard that this overt intent to discriminate was, in campus-speak, called “equity,” which is the opposite of equal opportunity:

On campus, this is called “equity,” a euphemism for racial, gender and other discrimination. It’s the opposite of equal opportunity, it’s demanding equal results even if it means discriminating against some people on the basis of race, ethnicity or other immutable factors. It’s the core driving the “antiracism” movement on campus. When campus activists and administrators say “equity” (as opposed to “equality”), what they really mean is discrimination based on race to achieve a desired racial outcome.

As mentioned previously, the suggested Cornell summer reading and discussion topic is How to Be AntiRacist, which seems to be the roadmap used to develop the proposed compulsory racial activism for faculty, students, and staff. Here’s a key concept from How to Be AntiRacist:

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

The Orchestra post inspired a reader to send me this message:

“Harrison Bergeron lives!! Only thing Kurt Vonnegut got wrong was that he thought it wouldn’t happen until the latter half of the 21st century.”

The message was accompanied by a link to the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1961 short story, Harrison Bergeron. I’m embarrassed to say I had not read it before, but now I’m glad I did. As with George Orwell, and other authors also, Vonnegut understood human nature, and the tyranny to which we seem inclined.

Vonnegut foresaw the abysmal “equity” culture, though he didn’t use that term:

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 that opening paragraph suggests, all were made equal by handicapping the over-achievers in various ways, including requiring them to wear weights and to have their thoughts interrupted through implants and other devices.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April forinstance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteenyear-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Harrison Bergeron was too smart and could not be easily handicapped:

“He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

Harrison Bergeron required special handicaps in order to bring him down to others’ level, so all would be equal:

He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. 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. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

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.

Want to know what happened? Read the story. It’s short. Short enough even for people who are used to typing TLDNR.

I think Harrison Bergeron holds great relevance to the campus and societal push to achieve “equity” at the cost of “equal opportunity,” through discrimination on the basis of race in the name of antiracism.

We are heading for this dystopian vision, or we may already be there.

[Featured Image: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain]


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legacyrepublican | July 20, 2020 at 9:32 pm

I keep thinking also of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery which explores the idea of groupthink too.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to legacyrepublican. | July 21, 2020 at 12:28 am

    You mean discrimination to not be cured with more discrimination by those who are the most bigoted prejudiced discriminating people on the planet?

      notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital. | July 21, 2020 at 1:28 am

      Universities Nationwide Promote Mental Health App To Treat “Anxiety Over Racism”

        notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital. | July 21, 2020 at 1:29 am


        Time to close the universities. They have been RANCID for decades. Without free access to DEBT, the universities would not exist anyway.

        And they preach lies…………….like climate change.

        Universities PREACH PROPAGANDA and demand its regurgitation for grades and “peer acceptance”.

        They are horrible for our youth.


        Our VALUES can be taught. WE HAVE GREAT VALUES……Israel’s values come from their belief in God.

        SO SHOULD OURS. We only need 10 Commandments. And a love of country, respect for self, respect for others, respect for things. That IS what the military teaches. MOST get it…..some still don’t…but not many….that is why they make prisons…….for evil.


        We would have a much much better society if we did that. We would not have such mental illness and social psychosis.

          I agree, but you’re treating the fever, not the underlying cause.
          Our “values” come from what is taught in kindergarten when the individual is most vulnerable.
          The children are taught to say to their parents, “You’re wrong! My teacher says,’…’ and I’m going to tell her what you said.”

          And yet, parents continue to send their children to the government monopoly bureaucratic public indoctrination centers. But somewhat fewer than Before Covid.

    stevewhitemd in reply to legacyrepublican. | July 21, 2020 at 1:29 am

    To me the story of ‘The Lottery’ was simple: if we couldn’t find any other way to discriminate against and hate our fellow humans, we’d simply hold a lottery and stone the unlucky person. That would do, for a while. So not quite like Harrison Bergeron, but perhaps the two tales are complimentary.

      notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to stevewhitemd. | July 21, 2020 at 2:21 am


      Sort of like the Deep State controlled by the world’s elitist one-percenters……

      Just discovered Salty Cracker.

      He’s laying it on the line with the truth but caution there’s lots of salty salty obscene language in his presentations.

      He tears the Democratic party’s presidential candidate of this year, which is really black lives matter, multiple new ones.

      highly recommended. Don’t listen and learn if you’re offended by adult language.

Diversity: affirmative color, sex, and gender discrimination, too… a Pro-Choice religious doctrine. Stand up to racism etc.

I read Harrison Bergeron in my Government High School. I thought everyone did. Sad.

RightStuff1944 | July 20, 2020 at 10:30 pm

We are living in an upside-down world now, folks. The plan of the enemies of liberty goes like this: 1. disinformation, 2. demoralization, 3. destabilization, and 4. destruction. We are somewhere between 3 and 4.

The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.

This was the theoretical justification for blatantly racist programs like AA at least fifty years ago. “Bad” racism will be opposed with “good” racism. An obvious weak point is that what’s “bad” and “good” mutates rapidly. Another weak point is that, “bad” or “good”, it’s all racism, and all bad.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to tom_swift. | July 21, 2020 at 12:30 am

    In other words an evil plan created by evil people.

    CaptTee in reply to tom_swift. | July 21, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Actually, the only true remedy is a Great Awaking level return to God and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The real problem in American now is too many people hate themselves, are angry with God and angry with their neighbors.

    henrybowman in reply to tom_swift. | July 21, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Just like Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. American citizens living in the affected states transferred immediately from a society in which segregation was MANDATORY into a society in which segregation was FORBIDDEN… without ever passing through any regime in which they could choose to segregate or desegregate of their own personal choice, as guaranteed by the First Amendment freedom of association. Then, because that didn’t work, something (else) must be done, but never, never, never the right thing — freedom of choice.

Diana Moon Glampers seems to be running a number of states these days.

    henrybowman in reply to Demonized. | July 21, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    I like to think that when Vonnegut imagined Diana Moon Glampers, she was a lot like Janet Reno. I know the resemblance was immediately apparent to me.

Many thanks to you and the poster you sent you this,, certainly eye opening

I read Harrison Bergeron. The Showtime movie was better- one of the few times film was better than the book.

I am starting to think that we are headed towards “A Clockwork Orange.”

This might be a stupid question: What is the human aversion of late (more than at any previous, perceptible moment in my lifetime, it seems) to the thought and application of principle?

Of course, absent principle, moral discourse would appear to be in vain. Is that the aim, if principle is, in fact, seriously on the wane?

Vonnegut fostered the institution of principle, I’m pretty sure; and one especially I’ve always felt he was pushing implicitly: lovingkindness. Pretty good for a self-avowed atheist-humanist.

I’m the religious-humanist kind, in fact a Jew (and married to a Methodist), and Kurt’s works, from the very few I’ve read, including now H B, are mighty Judeo-Christian in my eyes.


Is it the case, then, that as with Judeo-Christian religion’s unmistakable promotion of lovingkindness’ having disappeared from the public square, so has principle?

If so, our current dystopic experience is possibly understood in this sense, at least, among the noticeable, many others.

And Vonnegut certainly saw it coming.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to GatorGuy. | July 21, 2020 at 2:25 am

    Education, government’s, and the business world have not been teaching principles for several decades and now I do believe.

    Of course it’s all by design by the communist minions who play the long dream to tear down societies.

I used to teach this short story with Auden’s “Unknown Citizen”; I wrote about it back in 2009 on my own blog:

I doubt anyone could get away with such a lesson today, but it was fun while it lasted.

    OwenKellogg-Engineer in reply to Fuzzy Slippers. | July 21, 2020 at 4:53 am

    “Anthem” by Any Rand would make a perfect trifecta.

      Agreed! It was an intro to lit course, though, so novellas are a bit longer than I wanted since I wanted to cram in as much lit as possible (novellas require more time for students to read, more class time, etc.), but yes, this would be great if I ever get to teach lit again (as I want to, that is), it’s on my list.

OwenKellogg-Engineer | July 21, 2020 at 4:44 am

Diana Moon Glampers

Who knew NPR would still be a thing in 2081…..

In the interest of “diversity,” perhaps Cornell should ass Harrison Bergeron to their required summer reading.

MoeHowardwasright | July 21, 2020 at 8:31 am

Once again, reading this type of material requires critical thinking skills to grasp the importance. It also requires a frame of reference to past, present and future.
I am of a firm belief that the Federal government needs to be out of the college finance business. They have done more harm with student debt in the last 20 years then could have ever been visualized. College should not be universal. What should be universal is military / public service. 2 years minimum.
I would wager that a high percentage of current college students wouldn’t know that we are a Republic and not a democracy. Nor would they know why. That alone is reason enough to dismantle higher education.

PrincetonAl | July 21, 2020 at 8:33 am

Been citing this for years, as have the commenters over at Instapundit.

Good to know not everyone knows this.

I was a science teacher once upon a time, and mostly I taught science, but our middle school had this thing mid-morning called “PATTER”. It stood for Put Aside Time To Enjoy Reading. The morning came to a halt, and everyone took 20 minutes to read for pleasure. By the time the kids got settled in, there wasn’t much time to read. I was supposed to send anyone who didn’t bring something to read to the vice principal’s office, but I took a different approach. I kept a supply of short stories around that could be read in 15-20 minutes. The kids loved Harrison Bergeron so much one of them “stole it”, took it to a copy machine and passed it for the whole class to read the next day. I wasn’t one to ever let a teachable moment go to waste. They also loved “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”.

Some people have been pointing out ever since Vonnegut wrote the story that this is the way our educational system was designed–by John Dewey and financed by Rockefeller.
When I was attending a Hollingworth Institute conference about the highly gifted, I was told that Dewey raised the question to Rockefeller, “But what about the bright children?” Rockefeller’s response was, “We have enough bright people to carry on the work of the world.”
Jphn Taylor Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education” (available as a pdf) details how and why American education was designed to dumb us down. Harrison Bergeron was merely the logical extension.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a Cornell alumnus.

I read all of Vonnegut that I could find starting with Player Piano. It altered the way I look at things – whether that is a good thing or not I will leave to those in my karass to decide. LOL

Syndrome in “The Incredibles” had a similar vision for the world, however his intent was to eventually make everyone a super hero.
“And when everyone’s super, hahahahahaha, no one will be. Hahahahahaha!”

henrybowman | July 21, 2020 at 5:37 pm

The other thing Vonnegut got wrong was that he assumed the American government would be honest enough to apply actual amendments to socially engineer the constitution, instead of just ignoring the constitution wholesale.

He revisited this in, i believe, The sirens of Titan, where everyone was made physically equal by, among other things, tying heavy objects around the necks of those deemed to strong or fast.

Seemed ridiculous at the time.