How is radical mediocrity achieved and enforced in "Harrison Bergeron"?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Mediocrity as mandated by the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments of the Constitution is radically enforced by the use of handicaps.

In the manner that racehorses have been handicapped by having weights added to their saddles, people with more than ordinary athletic ability are made to wear sash weights and bags of bird shot. For reducing the mental capabilities to mediocrity, there are mental handicaps, too. Ear radios transmit brain-joggling noises that destroy thoughts and prevent any serious train of thought. Failure to wear the handicaps results in fines and time behind bars.

Interestingly, Kurt Vonnegut felt that technology would desensitize people, reducing their intellects to the point of accepting mediocrity in the name of equality. In many cases, Vonnegut's insights have been prophetic with such educational programs that include all levels of students and the doing away with the placing of exceptional students into exclusive courses. Moreover, it is often the mediocre who are promoted as they flatter their superiors and "network with others" rather than exercise individual thinking and action, which is perceived as threatening, just as Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General viewed them.

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poetrymfa's profile pic

poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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In Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," "radical mediocrity" is a byproduct of the push for universal equality that has finally come to fruition in 2081. This equality—in which "Nobody was smarter than anybody else... Nobody was better looking than anybody else... Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else..."—was instituted through the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments and enforced under the iron rule of Diana Moon Glampers, the United States Handicapper General, and her dedicated group of agents. 

"Handicaps" are provided to any person who shows some sort of exceptional ability in order to bring them back down to the "standard." Those with beauty must wear grotesque masks. Those who are strong receive sashweights and bags of birdshot to hinder their movement. Those with great intelligence are forced to wear radios connected to a government transmitter that emits sharp, disruptive noises.

George, Harrison's father, must wear forty-seven pounds of birdshot and a radio. He mentions that the punishment for adjusting one's handicaps is, "[t]wo years in prison and two thousand dollars dine for every ball I took out."

Harrison himself is provided with thick glasses to obscure his vision and give him headaches, earphones to block his hearing, three hundred pounds worth of weights to slow him down, and a red rubber ball nose, tooth caps, and shaven eyebrows to cover his good lucks. His attempt to rebel and overthrow the rule of the government results in the ultimate punishment: execution. 

In other words, not only has excellence and talent been completely stripped of its worth within this society, but so has the value of human life.

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