Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God
and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody
was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All
this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the
unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove people
crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George
and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a
perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short
bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap
radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government
transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep
people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d
forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar
“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.
“Huh?” said George.
“That dance – it was nice,” said Hazel.
“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good
– no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights
and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful
gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the
vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it
before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.
George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.