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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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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.
Number fudging is specifically used in order to make pre-conceived notions/models work. They (try to) teach students how to do it, and "fall in-line", as well. Of course, pupils resist at first, as they do in all other subjects in school, but ultimately indoctrination is a very powerful tool. Of course, there are still those in the outcasted minority who try to call it out, as there are in other areas as well. As for images, nearly everything you see is one form or another artist rendition. NASA pictures of the Hubble Deep Field, Andromeda Galaxy, the "Pillars of Creation", or any such thing in astronomy, for instance.
Nom does believe in the mainstream to a large extent when it comes to physics but then again so do you.
No, I do not. We could discuss that much further in a separate thread, though I'm pressed for time a the moment. In short, (a) the only people qualified to do the legitimate work are Physicists and possibly Chemists, while all others lack the absolutely necessary mathematical background (and system of internal logic) to accurately model their claims (b) as such, other fields of "science" are extremely loose/hand-wavy, consist of wildly inaccurate & incoherent models due to innumeracy & other illiteracies, etc. etc (c) even in Mathematics, Physics, etc., people will intentionally fudge numbers in order to work out a pre-conceived model--it is very common. Fudging numbers is only part of the issue, however, as images & such the public sees from the 'telescopic' to the 'microscopic' are in fact, artists renditions that, in many cases, are quite imaginative and go far beyond the bounds of what one can legitimately determine.
He may not be a "scientist" per se but he is still involved with and informed about science.
No, he is not. He is far too much of an outsider, it all looks extremely impressive & undecipherable to him, and Nom therefore puts it, and the people attached to the "clubs" up high on a pedastal. However, this is extremely dangerous, and inaccurate. It is very weighty baggage that he carries with him, and reflects highly on his worldview. It has created a priest class, in his mind, with the authority to pontificate to those outside the "club".
Now, to be clear, it is not that one needs to know the fundamental "technical" material to be rid of this, that is not the point I am making. Rather, it is more whether or not one has wisdom to comprehend the situation, as a whole.
Frankly, you and Nom are in two different intellectual classes--you the superior, and Nom the inferior. It is why you are able to see through "Priest Class" illusions to a degree (among various other societal illusions)--which i guarantee will increase orders of magnitude once you begin making notable progress in those particular studies i.e. Universty level Phys/Math/etc.--while, Nom lacks the aptitude to break the spell, as of yet.
I would point out, Nom intentionally does not engage in (real) Phys, Math, Chem, Engineering, Architecture, or anything along such lines with actual, hard substance--even though his job, by nature, necessitates it.
Therefore, the picture posted is nearly the opposite of the truth of the matter.
@Blood, Jamesbody, Amarel
When one person moves into the future at a faster rate than you do, then clearly you become his past.
Honestly, I'm not sure what you are trying to communicate by this based on your usage of the term "past". The only ways Physics currently knows how to theoretically "time travel to the past" (on a "Classical Scale") are:
A. Faster than speed of light travel
B. Tunneling to the past via a Wormhole (CTC)
C. Cosmic Strings to bend the fabric of space-time...
..The fundamental question in this debate is, "Is it possible to time travel to the past in a "Back to the Future" type format?" That is, could you travel into the past and meet your parents before you were born? Could you travel back to the "Wild West"?, ect., ect...
I hope you understand the problem with his post. When you are younger than your counterpart due to time dilation, you are not in their past. Time dilation does not allow us to get ahead or behind the present, by anyone’s frame of reference.
I am appealing to you on the hope that someone who typically disagrees with me isnt as intellectually stubborn as him so that one day, debate may occur
Yeah, I do understand, I think I have seen a couple of issues actually, that is why I raised the issue about his use of the term "past".
For instance, in his OP, he stated "Relativity predicts time dilation and the existence of time dilation proves that time travel is possible, either into the past or into the future." Now, there is already a problem with this initial statement because although we have experimental data demonstrating that time travel to the future happens regularly, we do not know of an instance where it has occurred to the past (in a classical sense). Now, there are potential theoretical models for which this could be achieved, but they have not been bared out through observation/experimentation. Therefore, to say the "existence of time dilation proves that time travel...into the past" occurs is not accurate.
Then he stated "If a person wanted to travel into the past all they would need to do is move into an area where time runs more slowly. In fact, technically speaking if you come down off a hill you have travelled into the past. This is because the closer you are to a gravitational field, the slower time becomes." Now, "time running more slowly" does not give you a window into the past (and I'm not sure how/why he believes it does). The arrow of time is still running forward (from your perspective) just at different relative rates. At no point is the arrow of time running backward.
In the next paragraph, he said "To put it another way, I am able to travel to somebody else's past or future, but not to my own. In Hawking's famous thought experiment a person is able to take a long journey away from Earth and return to the same frame of reference to potentially access the future, but again this is not their future, since they have been away from Earth's frame of reference." When would you have access to another person's past? You have access to two competing personal presents that now misalign in a more overt fashion (although they once appeared to align more closely) because of the various relative circumstances the people found themselves in. As for the future, yes, we know that you can travel to your version of their future in the sense that you identify with life on Earth and if you did the Hawking thought experiment, then you would return to a "future" Earth relative to your conceptual memory of it (from when you left) and other people would be older relative to you. However, the past is an entirely separate matter.
You (Amarel) said "The relativity of time does not allow you to travel to someone else’s past " Now, to my understanding (and I could be wrong, I definitely want to brush back up on my Special Relativity after this debate because I feel that I am becoming needlessly confused here and concepts are being phrased sloppily; although I have taken SR at Uni. level so this isn't just off the top of my head bs) you are correct in that statement Amarel. The only way one would get access to another's past (that we currently consider theoretically possible) is through one of the several methods I listed in a separate post (or some other theoretical framework that I did not list or hasn't been thought of yet). This is why I was confused by Nomenclatures us of the term "past" in this context. To make one correction I saw of yours also though Amarel, you said "However fast or slow you’ve traveled, when sharing a location and speed with another, it is both of your presents." Now, this is a statement that is operating on Classical Mechanics view of time. As Nomenclature rightly pointed out before, there is no universal "now" or "present". If you had an extremely precise clock out to many sig figs attached to people born at the same time, same place, and then allowed them to live their lives in separate ways, then time dilation effects are still occurring off-aligning their "clocks" relative to one another, just in an infinitesimal manner so it is effectively trivial and non-relevant in daily life (thus why it can still be usefull to model many events on Earth as though they occurred in a universal present).
For instance, in his OP, he stated "Relativity predicts time dilation and the existence of time dilation proves that time travel is possible, either into the past or into the future." Now, there is already a problem with this initial statement because although we have experimental data demonstrating that time travel to the future happens regularly, we do not know of an instance where it has occurred to the past (in a classical sense)
Your terminology "in a classical sense" does not actually mean anything. I have patiently explained that time runs differently dependent upon the frame of reference you are standing in. I have furthermore explained what the implications of this are in a real sense. It seems that you are here simply to argue, and the problem with that is that the laws of physics are not a matter of opinion.
Now, "time running more slowly" does not give you a window into the past (and I'm not sure how/why he believes it does).
I genuinely thought you were more intellectually honest than to ignore the explanations I took the time to write and simply come back with, "nah". How is it even possible that you do not understand this? I explicated in the absolute simplest terms possible. If time runs faster at point A than it does at point B, if I move from point A to point B then I have moved into the past relative to point A. It isn't complicated, mate. This is the reality, and you are responding here by refusing to understand why I am correct. That really isn't my problem.
When would you have access to another person's past?
You just asked me this precise question two hours ago and I gave you a simple answer. Do you even understand the principle of relativity in the first place? Because, forgive me, but I do not think you do. Right now, assuming you will have grandchildren, you are in their past, without even doing anything. This is because relativity stipulates that there are no absolute past, present and future. The entire point of relativity in the first place is that time is relative to where you happen to be standing. Yet you keep blathering on in such a way that you are making it absolutely clear you do not understand this fundamental point.
I have explained how time runs at different rates depending upon your frame of reference and I have explained how moving between these frames of reference can take you either to the past or the future relative to where you were previously. If you don't understand then that is one thing, but it seems more the case that you are refusing to understand.