Throughout history, visionaries have illustrated a utopian, dream-like world in which all men, women, and children are perceived as equals. Martin Luther King Jr., Elizabeth Caddy Stanton and other activists have all championed the cause of equal rights, and devoted their lives to making sure that everyone – regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation – has the same opportunities. While these progressive mentalities have changed our world for the better, is there a point where equality can become dangerous? In “Harrison Bergernon”, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. argues that the overwhelming deindividuation in a system where the individual is subservient to the group destroys the humanity of everyone involved. Vonnegut proves this by mocking the ridiculous nature under which this system is run and moreover by highlighting these peoples’ inability to think and act freely.
Vonnegut satirizes the way these people live in an attempt to show the ever so ridiculous way in which their system is run. He starts the story by saying that “the year was 2081 and everybody was finally equal”, giving off the original impression that this was very positive (Vonnegut Jr. 1). It is only when he qualifies this by mocking how much regulation and enforcement it took to obtain this sense of equality that the reader is able to pick out the irony. The entire idea of equality stems from freedom. The fact that it took so much governmental influence and so many laws to achieve this sense of freedom is incredibly ironic. Vonnegut wants to draw attention to this flawed thought-process in an attempt to convey the reality of the corrupt and ridiculous nature of the system. He explores how the corrupt government serves solely to keep everyone “equal”, but in doing so only ends up limiting the capabilities of the gifted and extraordinary to level the playing field for everyone else.
The state’s control over the abilities of their people is seen throughout the story. First and foremost there is George who is completely unable to finish a thought because every time he would try to think critically about something a buzzer would sound in his head and “his thoughts fled in panic” (1). This is also seen when they are watching the ballerinas dance. George mentions that “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” (3). The measures they will take to ensure that no one person is better than another is ludicrous, especially when examining the negative impacts it has on these people. Without the ability to perform, compete, or actively engage in things these people enjoy, the system is demoralizing and dehumanizing them.
Diana Moon Glampers and the rest of those in charge feel they are doing the right thing by stifling their peoples’ creativity, talents, and intelligence, however all they are doing is turning them into empty shells. They have completely dehumanized every person to the point where they no longer have the capability to think, perform, or feel how they otherwise would. By taking such drastic measures to reach complete “equality”, this system has in fact taken everything these people stood for away from them. Without the freedom to think there will no longer be great visionaries and activists such as Martin Luther King and Elizabeth Caddy Stanton – two of the people that goaded the movement for equality in the first place. Without the freedom to think or act as they wish, they completely lose touch with humanity.