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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.”

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    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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    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.

    Strelnikov | July 22, 2020 at 10:36 am

    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.

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