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Friday, February 12, 2010

My thoughts on Vonnegut

The Mind Police

The story “Harrison Bergeron” was written in in the early 1960's, about a future that was supposed to be perfect. Or at least equal. The story is set in the year 2081 with the central theme being control, specifically, control the government has over our lives. It describes a futuristic view of a world where everyone is the same, not by creation, but by law.

In this world, even a citizens' thoughts are subject to control. The first example of this is seen in the third paragraph where the reader discovers the main character, George, who's smarter than he should be, is required by law to wear a radio in his ear, tuned to a government transmitter.

In our world today we can see various forms of government control all around us, if only we would wake up and open our eyes. While the rest of the world is distracted by the government stimulus package, bills are being signed and laws are being passed that restrict our control. Gun control, specifically, according to the National Riflemen Association, is about to be taken to the next level and most Americans don't even know it.

If the government has its way, laws will be passed by the end of the year that require a gun to be destroyed after its owner dies, therefore eliminating the opportunity for a father to pass along his deer rifle to his son if he chooses too. This is a fine example of the powers that govern us rewriting our Constitutional amendment to bear arms. They might take away our guns, but they cannot take away our thoughts, at least not yet.

In the story, the specific function of this radio transmission is to monitor the people's thoughts
before they get too deep. Every twenty seconds or so, a sharp noise is broadcast to every radio receiver causing the subscriber to experience severe disorientation. It disrupts the user's thought process to the extent that any possibility of completing a series of complex thoughts or actions would be unlikely, maybe even impossible.

The ability to communicate with members of your own family is minimal at best. Between the above average citizens who cannot complete a thought and the perfectly average ones who can only think in short bursts, it is easy to imagine a world void of all color and individuality, and maybe thats the point.

While much of Vonnegut's vision of the future seems far fetched and exaggerated, it is safe to say that “Harrison Bergeron,” like much of Vonnegut's work, was very much ahead of its time. After reading it, one must ask themselves why a society would choose to violate the very principles the constitution was founded upon. If the ability to think freely has been taken away, would constitutional amendments even matter?

This futuristic story is relevant today because you can see the writing on the wall if only you look close enough. If your not allowed to think, you would never have the ability to form a mental notion in your head to say what you wanted. Or buy a gun. Or go to church. You must assume the Handicapper General does not suffer these restrictions, so ultimately, the government becomes a dictatorship that controls us, and we become the slaves to our own thoughts.

For those who think the future he prepares us for is impossible, you must remember the time in reference is still over seventy years away from today. Harrison Bergeron was shot down by the Handicapper General to take away society's hope and he is dead because the future is a world without hero's, at least Vonnegut's future.

But there is little doubt that technology will provide the Government with the proper ammunition to destroy itself from within, and their ability to spy on each and every one of us is already more sophisticated than we realize. If they wanted to read the license plate of your car while it's parked in your driveway they could do it by satellite. They can eavesdrop on your conversations and they can read your emails. Big brother is out there and he is curious. Perhaps Vonnegut was onto something after all.


Kathleen A. Ryan said...

What an intriguing post - one would never guess you just started blogging yesterday!

I think you're right, Vonnegut was onto something (& what a fabulous story, I didn't know about that one).

I hadn't heard anything about the possibility of guns being destroyed after someone dies. That's a disturbing thought & I hope it never happens.

You're off to a great start, Matthew!

Margot Kinberg said...

Matthew - Welcome to the blogosphere! If this first post is any indication of what's to come, we're all in for some fascinating posts : ).

Paul D. Brazill said...

Good post. I like a bit of Kurt but had never heard of this story. welcome to Blogton!