Harrison Bergeron


I think one of the more interesting political fault lines emerging in the United States centers around the idea of "inequality" and is currently voiced -- in what I consider to be an overly simplified and not quite thoughtful manner - as "income inequality." [If one is to ask the government to "fix" income inequality, I hope one would do so only after first appropriately understanding and recognizing the government's role in contributing to that inequality. But my hopes are not realized.]

The short story Harrison Bergeron, is a great "thought piece" for classroom reading and discussion. A common mistake is to criticize existing practices and policies without offering practical alternatives -- both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this. This short story is so compelling and interesting because it forces us to look at the issue of "equal opprtunity" vs "equal outcomes." For much of the history of the United States the overwhelming majority of people happily settled for equal opportunity. At least as an ideal. Lately, however, there is a growing part of the population that increasingly begins to support policies that directly and indirectly support equal outcomes rather than, and occassionally at the expense of, equal opportunity. This particularly story makes itself both timely and relevant by taking the equal outcome concept to its absurd conclusion. It's a great story for classroom discussion because if forces every reader to consider the implications of trading opportunity for outcomes and hopefully forces the thoughtful consideration of simple questions as, "What is fair?" Is the government's role to decide your destiny or is it to provide a framework where everyone can forge their own?

First published in 1961, Harrison Bergeron is not in the public domain and I cannot publish it here in its entirety without permission from the copyright holder. I have requested permission but have not received a reply. Get started below, then follow the link to an entity that seems to have obtained the rights to republish this timely short story.

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.

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