2081 • Harrison Bergeron

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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.

In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., published this short story, called “Harrison Bergeron“. You can read the story at the previous link, or listen to an audio rendition (11:38 in length). And below are two film versions (one that running just over 26 minutes and the other a full-length film at 1 hour and 37 minutes). There is little wonder the lengths to which some will go in their efforts to manufacture equality.

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Many have spoken lately about equality, even a forced equality. Recently one British theorist asserted that parents should, from time to time, take into account how reading to their children advantages them over other children. He mentioned one solution that some have proposed and that is seen by them as quite reasonable.

One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem [that is, inequality] would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.

These are the words of a British political theorist named Adam Swift. But please don’t misunderstand, Swift knows that abolishing the family and raising children in government institutions would be wrong. At least I think he knows that.

‘Nearly everyone who has thought about this would conclude that it is a really bad idea to be raised by state institutions, unless something has gone wrong,’ he says.

Nearly everyone. Nearly? Nearly. And unless something has gone wrong? What sort of something? What sort of wrong?

He concedes parenting might not be for everyone and for some it can go badly wrong, but in general it is an irreplaceable relationship.

Whew, thankfully, in general it is an irreplaceable relationship. Well, people both theorize and sometimes do injustice in the pursuit of their visions of social equality.

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Below are two film adaptations of Harrison Bergeron.

And the full-length film from 1995, though I much prefer the shorter version above, to be honest.