Kurt Vonnegut’s Literary Prophecy Coming True by Larry C Johnson

An unfortunately obscure story by Kurt Vonnegut is largely unknown to the vast majority of Americans. You need to read it. He saw where we were headed and wrote about it in his unique style combing wit and irony. (This is posted on the web and can be read here, it is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.).

Kurt

HARRISON BERGERON by 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 213 th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing
vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for
instance, 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 fourteen-
year-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.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's
cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.


On the television screen were ballerinas. A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

"That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel. "Huh" said George. "That dance-it was nice," said Hazel. "Yup, " said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.

George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn't be handicapped. But he didn't get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts . George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been. "Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer, " said George . "I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a little envious. "All the things they think up." "Urn, " said George.

"Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. "If I was Diana Moon Glampers," said Hazel, "I'd have chimes on Sunday- just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion . "

"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George. "Well-maybe make 'em real loud," said Hazel. "I think I'd make a good Handicapper General." "Good as anybody else," said George. "Who knows better then I do what normal is?" said Hazel.

"Right," said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that. "Boy!" said Hazel, "that was a doozy, wasn't it?" It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes.

Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples. "All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel. "Why don't you stretch out on the sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch." She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George's neck. "Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said. "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while . "

George weighed the bag with his hands. "I don't mind it," he said. "I don't notice it any more. It's just a part of me." "You been so tired lately-kind of wore out," said Hazel. "If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few."

"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out," said George. "I don't call that a bargain." "If you could just take a few out when you came home from work," said Hazel. "I mean-you don't compete with anybody around here. You just set around."

"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people ' d get away with it-and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?" "I'd hate it," said Hazel. "There you are," said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?"

If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head. "Reckon it'd fall all apart," said Hazel. "What would?" said George blankly. "Society," said Hazel uncertainly.

"Wasn't that what you just said? "Who knows?" said George. The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn't clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen."

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read. "That's all right-" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried. That's the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard." "Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin.

She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men. And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody.

"Excuse me-" she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive . "Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen," she said in a grackle squawk, "has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous."

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall. The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware.

Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. 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. "If you see this boy, " said the ballerina, "do not – I repeat, do not – try to reason with him."

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges. Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake. George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. "My God-" said George, "that must be Harrison!"

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head. When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen. Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood – in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand.

Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die. "I am the Emperor!" cried Harrison. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" He stamped his foot and the studio shook. "Even as I stand here" he bellowed, "crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become ! "

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds. Harrison's scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor. Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall. He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

"I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering people. "Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!" A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow. Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask. She was blindingly beautiful.

"Now-" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!" he commanded. The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. "Play your best," he told them, "and I'll make you barons and dukes and earls." The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false.

But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs. The music began again and was much improved. Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it. They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers. And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang! Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well. They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun. They leaped like deer on the moon. The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it. It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time . It was then that Diana Moon Clampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor. Diana Moon Clampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons' television tube burned out. Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer. George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again.

"You been crying" he said to Hazel. "Yup, " she said. "What about?" he said. "I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."

"What was it?" he said.

"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.

"Forget sad things," said George. "I always do," said Hazel. "That's my girl," said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

"Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy, " said Hazel.

"You can say that again," said George. "Gee-" said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy."

"Harrison Bergeron" is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

 

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27 Responses to Kurt Vonnegut’s Literary Prophecy Coming True by Larry C Johnson

  1. JohninMK says:

    Well, that was pretty sobering.

  2. doug says:

    I’ve always thought this Vonnegut work was well known. I read it in my teens and have come across many references to it since. One of the points of the story is to discard the fiction we all like to believe, or at least espouse, that most everyone has the same capacity to materially succeed if given the opportunity. But the real value of life is living a meaningful existence and that isn’t necessarily proportional to some measure of native intelligence. For some it’s inversely correlated.

  3. Deap says:

    Memory lane moment: wasn’t it the extreme conformity of the 1950’s, the post WWII Silent Generation, that produced the youth rebellions in the 1960’s?
    What was the Rebel Without a Cause actually rebelling against – was it not his father’s weakness and conformity to a matriarchal world- a world of Karens, post WWII? What was Holden Caufield’s complaint anyway in Catcher in the Rye – phonies and enforced conformity.
    Why did these two stories from the 1950’s resonate so strongly with these prior generations? (I personally never got their point, but many I knew did and still claim they were the best book or movie ever. Only much later did I get Salinger’s later work “Franny and Zooey” see below.)
    We are experiencing another wave of high conformity- following “experts” and the universal demand to wear masks as symbols of our allegiance to these higher authorities and faceless conformity. And also witnessing another generation of rebels without a cause – the antifa and boogaloo crowds. Rebels without a cause, because it is certainly not BLM driving them.
    Is history repeating itself- or is this simply the wheel of life constantly turning, turning, turning. Rollo May in his 1960’s “Love and Will” presciently claimed the Age of Aquarius would ultimately become the Age of Addition because life affirming passions were being traded for life-destroying lusts. How did he know this?

  4. Deap says:

    A question going around in education today: do we prepare the child for the road; or the road for the child?
    When they stopped taking a chair out in each round of musical chairs in pre-school games, so children would not feel left out, we should have seen this coming. Everyone must be treated equally; no winners and no losers. No competition, no survival skills obtained. Just everyone run around and laugh together.
    The next clue was the proliferation of tattoos among middle class young people – screaming – look at me, I am different. I am me. Until they all started looking the same.
    Society has been demanding mass conformity for a long time – wearing masks, look at me, I care – you don’t wear a mask, you must not care, you must be eliminated – is just one more step in the mass conformity continuum that started several decades ago.
    Trump 2016 represented a silent scream. Trump 2020 – the battle lines are drawn – to a very dystopian future no matter who is the winner. Hang on. We will need to surf the waves of the next few years. There is another generational shift going on. Problem this time is there are too many of us still alive who have longer memories, than those in prior generational shifts.
    How radical it was to see a man born in the 20th Century elected President when the generational torch was passed to JFK. Thus it is, watching the torch pass to those born in the 21st Century.
    Heck, I am not even a Boomer, so that puts me in the very narrow top part of the current demographic pyramid of life. Out numbered; and increasingly outflanked. Wondering only if I will live long enough to see how this all turns out.
    What exactly will this new generation do with their Boomer and pre-Boomer parent’s estate, inheritance, once they get their hands on the long fruits of their parent’s labors? Will they donate it all to BLM, sniff it up their nose, shepherd it for their own dotage or spend it all in one grand blast. Or will they passively step aside and let the “government” take it all.

  5. CK says:

    @ Mr. Gore
    I don’t have much truck with Elk; but Moose can get a little rowdy when the apples have fermented.

  6. Barbara Ann says:

    Larry, many thanks for posting this. I am a fan of Vonnegut, but had not come across this marvelously disturbing work. Your timing in posting it is impeccable.
    It strikes me that there are two basic kinds of reaction people have to dystopian literature of this kind: 1) Incomprehension or horror & rejection on the basis of the patent impossibility of such a world coming into being, or 2) understanding that the comic effect of taking concepts to extremes only reinforces the deadly serious underlying message; that all ideologies result in insane dystopias if taken far enough by the zealots.
    Is the concept of a United States Handicapper General so hard to imagine? A few months ago I would have given a different answer to the one I’d give now. Doubtless the system Vonnegut describes would be created by youthful idealists with the knowledge and expertise to make things work. Why is it that dystopias can only be made by utopians?

  7. Diana Croissant says:

    This story was common in some junior high literature texts. I remember it in one I used when I was assigned to teach the “remedial reading class for seventh and eighth graders.
    That was years (decades) ago. I thought it was frightening then because, for one thing, I had been protesting then about he “levelling” of studens: i.e., you belong in remedial classes, you belong in regular classes, you belong in advanced classes.
    All that did is KEEP students in those groups. And I noticed the advanced students were not really that much brighter. They were just proviede farmore interesting and complex matieals.
    I haven’t thoughto fhat story for a long time. Thanks for posting.

  8. Deirdre O´Sullivan says:

    Fascist dictatorships always try to eliminate art, especially music and literature, so as you can not think or dream of something better….
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUN0hUNFP_o

  9. SoCal Rhino says:

    One of his best known short stories I’d thought. Maybe less so today. I recall he thought some misinterpreted its intended message but I couldn’t find a link. I think he opposed many of the same tendencies that Ayn Rand did but from a very different place, summed up by the famous quote from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater : “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

  10. Terence Gore says:

    “This video, which features people (council members) who are Jewish, white Gentile, Latino, East Asian, and South Asian, is an absolute disaster of racialism and ideological policing. If you want to know what post-liberalism looks like in a pluralistic society, there you have it. For all its problems, I can’t see any governing system available to us in our pluralistic, multiracial democracy than classical liberalism. Just drop in on any of the clips I’ve embedded or linked to above, and see what a freaking catastrophe the race-conscience, post-liberal progressives bring about.”
    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/manhattan-community-education-council-diversity-is-not-our-strength-wokeness/
    Videos are in the article. I watched a couple of minutes and wondered what school business they were handling. They all seem to be trying their hardest to virtue signal.
    “Broshi says here that if the accuser is a person of color, then the accusation is true, even if the white person claims to be innocent.”
    I don’t know where we are headed. Upon watching this I would think they could never unite enough to organize a birthday party never-mind a country. Maybe a virtue seeking blob doesn’t need a competent executive, it just randomly destroys whatever it’s pseudopod attaches to.

  11. Barbara Ann says:

    Twitter seem to be using Harrison Bergeron as an instruction manual. These people are absolutely insane.
    https://twitter.com/TwitterEng/status/1278733305190342656

  12. Babak makkinejad says:

    Dierdre O’Sullivan
    You are jesting?

  13. John Merryman says:

    Ideals are aspirational, while absolutes are elemental. It goes to the premise of monotheism, that a spiritual absolute would be an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. Rather than the essence of sentience, from which we rise.
    The long shadow of God plays across every ideology that seeks to replace it.
    Ideals. Are. Not. Absolutes.
    The last several centuries, no, millennia, of philosophers are morons, for not asking the real questions.
    Time is also not the point of the present moving past to future, as it is change turning future to past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns. There is no literal dimension of time, because the past is consumed by the present, to inform and drive it. Causality and conservation of energy. Cause becomes effect.
    I’ve spent my life farming and avoided school as much as possible and if I can figure out where the cracks are in the models, why can’t the smart people?

  14. Fred says:

    Barbara Ann,
    Of course the left is using this as a manual of operations. The same with Dr. Helms’ work, Nationless States, Staleless Nations, that was mentioned here multiple times. I refered a copy to an acquaintance of mine, a recently minted U Mich history professor, back around 2013-14 time frame. He told me that was the exactly what needed to be done to our past. Sadly I had not learned early enough just how far left he was before hand.

  15. Paco says:

    Thanks for that short story. Vonnegut, somebody to be proud of. I wonder if he had a statue -I doubt it- but if he did its been torn down, just like Cervantes.
    But let me warn you, if you make use of the vast fund of knowledge now available to educated persons, you are going to be lonesome as hell. The guessers outnumber you—and now I have to guess—about ten to one.

  16. Deirdre O´Sullivan says:

    @Babak Makkinejad,
    No, why would I?
    Music and dance are always right, as part of human expression, there is no way they could be deemed evil by well intentioned people…
    In the most adverse cirscumstances, sensible human people missed just music…Music acts as encouragement of hope and remembers us humanity is also able to produce beauty…
    https://youtu.be/aRkPoF7iVGc?t=2597
    ( watch at least to 49´footage…)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K-mw4CSfnI

  17. scott s. says:

    Today I constantly read in the general media, often from quoted politicians or bureaucrats, that what’s needed is “equity”. I’ve only seen this in widespread use in the last couple of years, though I suppose it has been out there for a while. So, in the demand of equity if one child lacks the IT infrastructure for online instruction, no child can get online instruction so all must be uneducated.
    It’s interesting in Hawaii as a dominant metaphor is “we are all in the canoe together”. You use that and throw in a couple of Hawaiian words like aloha and malama to shut down any dissent. If you do dissent you are dismissed as a “mainland haole”.

  18. doug says:

    As an aside, Mark Vonnegut, Kurt’s kid, wrote an excellent book: “The Eden Express” about his descent into and recovery from schizophrenia. He later became a pediatrician. A Cousin of Kurt was also my college girlfriend. Small world.

  19. Yeah, Right says:

    Anyone else seen the movie Idiocracy?
    A box office bomb – for what should have been obvious to the producers – but I laughed at the absurdity of it.
    Now I’m not so sure I should have laughed.

  20. Babak makkinejad says:

    Deride O’Sullivan
    There are contrarian views to yours in Islamic Tradition.
    For example, in post-Revolutionary Iran, for example, soli performances by female vocalists are banned.
    As for dancing, don’t even think about it.
    These are only contemporary examples.

  21. ked says:

    Another example of life imitating literary prophecy is Fletcher Knebel’s Night of Camp David.

  22. Deap says:

    Babak, melding western and eastern constructs, eminent Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung concluded the human psyche consists of four dimensions in search of balance: (1) the intellect; (2) the sensations; (3) the intuition and (4) the spiritual. Music and dance access all four dimensions.

  23. Babak makkinejad says:

    Deap
    He was talking about the ancient Type Theory, a qualitative way of understanding human diversity.
    Where would legalistic religions such as Judaism and Islam belong in this categorization?

  24. Babak makkinejad says:

    Deirde O’Sullivan
    Most men do not like women; the way they are, what they do, and how they do things.
    The AI advocates, the CRISPR sub-human makers, the Roboticist are all suffering from this, perhaps even unbeknownst to themselves.
    Thank you for youtube postings. Messiah does not speak to me. Gospel singers, I find, more appealing.
    You do not need to convince me about the significance of dance: I applied for a patent to express quantitative information through dance movement, using Labanotation or other such systems of codifying dance movements and computer animated figures:
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US20100039434A1/en?inventor=Babak+makkinejad&num=100&oq=Babak+makkinejad
    I think that South Indian system of dance is the most developed one in the world; all the Flamenco movements are there, for example.

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