We have reached the point in my blogging where I criticize beloved figures, starting with a beloved author.
I first read "Harrison Bergeron" in junior high. My first reaction was to be disturbed. Most of our class discussion focused on how even though they called Harrison a genius he seemed pretty stupid. It took me much longer to think about the fact that efforts toward equality don't really work that way.
Think about it. Even with affirmative action having been on the books for a while, a black college student has the same change of getting a job as a white high school dropout. When they do get the job, they get paid less. Their efforts to use that salary to invest in a home usually involve worse loan deals and less valuable property - even after those practices were declared illegal - so they lag behind in gaining wealth. People still feel threatened by affirmative action and get angry about it.
The common conception is that the story was a satire relating to wealth equality, and the points in the previous paragraph can apply to that. On the surface it is more about actual physical disabilities. Looking at that, steps toward equality generally involve accommodations like ramps and reserved parking spaces closer to the entrance. Maybe there are larger screens for the visually impaired. They don't remove all obstacles caused by the disabilities, but they allow participation by individuals who do have something to give. It doesn't take anything away from those without disabilities. It certainly doesn't lead to weighing down the strong and putting masks on the beautiful.
The absurdity of it could be seen as the point of satire, and you could hope that Vonnegut's point was to show how ridiculous the fears were for those who worried about talk of equality. That doesn't seem likely. In trying to see if anyone else had addressed those issues, I found this:
It relates to the story "Welcome to the Monkey House", originally published in Playboy but later in a collection (by that name) of stories that included "Harrison Bergeron". And yes, apparently the way you satirize simultaneous concerns about overpopulation and the Pope reconfirming his opposition to birth control (plus equality) is therapeutic rape, done humbly. Right.
I don't think Kurt Vonnegut was a bad man. He sounds like a pretty nice man, but he was white and he was male, and especially in the 1960s that put him in a position where there were things he just didn't need to worry about.
This is a time of finding lots of anger and fear about a change in the social order, and there are people who aren't even that high up in the social order but who still cling to it because they're afraid of being lower still.
When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
I'm not saying that you can't find Black people who will argue against affirmative action or women who will shame victims of rape - they are out there. You will also find white men who look beyond that. But it's easy not to know if you don't have to know. There are still a lot of people who have to know.
I try to never forget that.