Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional society adopted the theories of Social Contract and Social Justice to establish a new social and legal order. The people amended the constitution to attain equality for all. With the amendments, they created laws to make a uniform citizenry out of their people and in the process stripped them of their individuality. These laws were also intended to make them think and act alike which was their idea of equality. As to who is benefited from such extreme version of social control depends on whose viewpoint it was coming from. Despite their unrestricted freedoms no one was ultimately benefited in this kind of system.
It was no guarantee of peace and absolute control, as in the case of Harrison. His physical and mental states were no match for the handicaps. Once both powers were unleashed and unrestrained what resulted was a blending and coordination that produced a beautiful symphony of dance and music. It was symbolical of the good things that can happen or that can be achieved if we let our natural gifts, talents and skills work for the common good. There can be unity in diversity and peaceful co-existence may be possible. In a controlled society as this fictional one, there were no norms, values, and culture that may identify them.
For norms, values and culture were what will set them apart. This was a robotic society where the norms were that which are forced upon them because of the handicaps some were made to wear. Acceptable norms were absent because the standard (equality) was built into the system. In effect one had a common standard to follow in which to comport oneself, no less and no better that the others. There was only one value that stood, no one was above the other in appearance and in the treatment he gave and he got. Culture should define who and what this society was, but what would make it truly unique?
There was nothing neither appealing nor interesting in it because everything went against the natural ways of man. People followed rules not out of their volition. How were they to know the good was turning bad, and worse was turning worst, if something in their brains signaled a censure. This restraint was basically against their good and benefit, but they had no choice but to obey what was programmed in their system. Once, this was a society that had reached the extreme end of the balance with their all-out freedoms and unchecked rights of individuals.
The situation had reached unmanageable proportion that they had to resort to dramatic crisis control which brought them to the other extreme end by way of the encroachment on their rights and freedoms. This society took not only the people’s freedoms but their right senses as well. In what they figure to be the correct moves to effect change, their agitation towards a freak of nature was alarming, like when “some things about living weren’t quite right … April not being Springtime” (Vonnegut, 1961). Law and society have interchangeable attributes.
Law may change a society and society may change the law. In the case of Harrison Bergeron, society had made 3 amendments to their constitution out of desire for and necessity to change. They wanted to regulate and curb freedoms to a comfortable magnitude. The change in the law made this society a strictly tempered one. Lawyers and the legal system do not have a place in this society anymore. The Handicapper General proceeded to punish without trial law breakers. The only crime that can be committed was taking one’s handicaps off and that did not need investigation and defense.
The crime and the criminal are self-evident. The fictional society does not have any direct similarities in today’s time. However, the inference to the curtailment of freedoms is plenty. When a society does not allow an artist to express his heart in his art, the Harrison Bergerons to criticize the government which should be for, by and of the people, and ease the fear of ordinary citizens, they are the translations of Vonnegut’s transgressions of freedoms in his fictional society. Instead of seeking for equality in the extreme, working with diversity might be the better option.
Courtney from Study Moose
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