Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vonnegut vs Darwin

One of the communities that I frequent had a post about Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Vonnegut, which brought back many memories of reading it in high school. For those of you that have never read it and are of the tl;dr variety, the basis is that society is now equal. Anyone that is more superior (in intellect or physical abilities) is forced to wear handicaps to bring them down to normal level; masks to cover the beautiful, sudden noise ear piece to distract the mentally focused.

Since high school, I've had two criticisms of the story, 1- the equalizers actually make the wearer less than average (as can be seen by weights straining George's neck while Hazel's has a neck that doesn't bother her, and "She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous." which suggests that she is made uglier than someone who is slightly less beautiful), and 2- the government is most likely above the handicaps (someone who's distracted every 20 seconds could not possibly track an escaped prisoner and kill him).

Putting aside that the equality isn't quite equal (see pt 1 above), this is the kind of situation in which I am proud of myself for being anti-equality. This is why I'm okay with being a little bit racist. This is why I'm a believer in competition and doing the best you can.

Darwin's view of survival of the fittest allows the betterment of mankind (and other species). However, with the advent of medicine and technologies, some traits that are selected against become irrelevant. Have a compromised immune system? Take some antibiotics and go on your merry way. Have a sprained ankle? Take some tensor bandages and stay off it and rest for a few days (a flying bird without the power of flight would die in days if not for human intervention). Have a face too fugly to get a man? Take some trips down to the local sperm bank and start passing genes that aren't meant to be passed on. (This isn't meant to be taken as a serious biological treatment of the argument - there are good aspects to this such as wider gene pool and nurture aspects of development).

Vonnegut's dystopia reminds me of two things, Atlas Shrugged, and George Bush. Atlas Shrugged is because the Washington men are basically using the tycoons' brilliance as a way to hurt the tycoons. George Bush is because of the "no children left behind" policy, in which bred some of the worse education systems the world has seen.

George Orwell's (one of the more used writers in high school besides Shakespeare) Animal Farm has coined a well-known phrase "all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others". The phrase suggests that perhaps with equality, there will always people who will try to become a little bit more equal (see pt 2 above).

For those of you that will grow up to do great things involving policy-making, please remember that trying to implement utopia by force might end up in tragedy.


Loluis said...

i remember reading this in high school. ur points are good lol and you don't need to justify urself for being a little racist :p, who isn't anyways (subconsciously)

Justin Chang said...

Oh, a little bit racist as in, a little bit more racist than most people's baseline racist.