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Harrison Bergeron, the prequel


“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.”

Sixty-six years earlier:

“What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children.”


Now I realize that these are just a couple of philosophers* tossing around “purely theoretical” ideas on how we might make a “better society,” but ideas have consequences. The “I’m just asking questions and throwing out ideas” of today becomes the culture of tomorrow and the law soon after that.

It’s telling that these gentlemen* follow the Handicapper approach: “equality of opportunity” requires not pursuing advantages for all children, but rather removing “unfair” benefits some children have. Benefits like intact families, education not controlled by the state, and an inheritance from their parents. And of course, their solution is the state, because that’s always the solution: “What we will allow” to be legal, to be legal but regulated, or flat out forbidden, enforced at the point of the gun.

The thinkers* throw around — but ultimately reject  –the idea of preventing parents from reading bedtime stories to their children. The quote, after much hand-wringing over the unfair advantage implicit in bedtime stories, is “We have to allow parents to engage in bedtime story type activities.” Emphasis added. So very kind of you, gentlemen*. How, exactly, would such a law disallowing that practice be enforced? Are you familiar with the phrase “Come and Take It”?

In the end, they decide (graciously) that familial benefits ought not be touched, “‘We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families — and that our theory defends — will confer unfair advantage,’ he (Swift) says. . . For Swift and Brighouse, the line sits shy of private schooling, inheritance and other predominantly economic ways of conferring advantage.”
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So they’d forbid individuals from choosing the education they wish for their children or passing on the fruits of their labor to their children (or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren), but they’ll allow Goodnight, Moon and Sunday dinner. Such kind tyrants.

Of course, the most obscene and glossed-over premise of the entire absurd episode is the school yard whine, “That’s not fair!” To wit: the author — not the philosophers — states, “So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between individuals, and increasingly between families.” Inequality is accepted as a problem that must be fixed at all costs. Better to have an equal outcome of collective misery than worry that someone, somewhere is making a better life for himself and his family.  The abolition of liberty and individuality is a small price to pay for the noble cause of making sure that everyone is kept equally miserable, equally envious, and equally shackled.   (Fun fact: inequality is greatest in progressive strongholds. Something about a plank in your own eye.)

For these sages*, Harrison Bergeron is not a cautionary tale, but a goal.


*I’d like you to appreciate how much self-editing was done on this post, with many colorful and fitting adjectives and nouns removed.




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