Kurt Vonnegut’s Dystopia Arrives 60 Years Sooner than Imagined

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

From new reports that people sent me: In the name of equity (i.e., equal outcomes by race), the Virginia Department of Education is moving to eliminate all accelerated math options prior to 11th grade, effectively keeping higher-achieving students from advancing as they usually would.

Because news coverage on the left and right is so pitifully biased, superficial, and copycat, I don’t know the veracity of the reports or if there are nuances to what the department is planning. However, it sounds plausible in today’s America, where Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional short story of 1961, “Harrison Bergeron,” is coming true, albeit 60 years sooner than he had imagined.

He described a dystopia where everyone had to be equal in talent and intelligence. Below is a summary of the plot:

In the year 2081, the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the Constitution dictate that all Americans are fully equal and not allowed to be smarter, better-looking, or more physically able than anyone else. The Handicapper General’s agents enforce the equality laws, forcing citizens to wear “handicaps”: masks for those who are too beautiful, loud radios [smart phones?] that disrupt thoughts inside the ears of intelligent people, and heavy weights for the strong or athletic.

One April, 14-year-old Harrison Bergeron, an intelligent, athletic, and good-looking teenager, is taken away from his parents, George and Hazel Bergeron, by the government. They are barely aware of the tragedy, as Hazel has “average” intelligence (a euphemism for stupidity), and George has a handicap radio installed by the government to regulate his above-average intelligence.

Hazel and George watch ballet on television. They comment on the dancers, who are weighed down to counteract their gracefulness and masked to hide their attractiveness. George’s thoughts are continually interrupted by the different noises emitted by his handicap radio, which piques Hazel’s curiosity and imagination regarding handicaps. Noticing his exhaustion, Hazel urges George to lie down and rest his “handicap bag”, 47 pounds of weights locked around George’s neck. She suggests taking a few of the weights out of the bag, but George resists, aware of the illegality of such an action.

On television, a news reporter struggles to read the bulletin and hands it to the ballerina wearing the most grotesque mask and heaviest weights. She begins reading in her unacceptably natural, beautiful voice, then apologizes before switching to a more unpleasant voice. Harrison’s escape from prison is announced, and a full-body photograph of Harrison is shown, indicating that he is seven feet tall and burdened by three hundred pounds of handicaps.

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