Harrison Bergeron Is Alive And Well In Sweden

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 12 2011 @ 5:34pm

by Zoë Pollock

The great short story (pdf) by Vonnegut comes to life. In Vonnegut's version, the Handicapper General has mandated that everyone be equal – athletes and dancers wear weights, the beautiful wear masks, and the intelligent suffer through loud buzzers in their ears. The heavily handicapped Harrison Bergeron escapes from prison, rips off his manacles, chooses a ballerina, dances on national television where he and his ballerina proceed to kiss the ceiling. Elna Nykänen Andersson reports from Stockholm:

In the 1980s ballet training was moved from the Royal Opera to the municipal school. … The classes had to be filled for the school’s economy to work, even though all pupils weren’t qualified. The teachers had to focus on achieving an acceptable average level for all, instead of focusing on the few, exceptional talents.

Five years ago, none of the graduating students from the Swedish Ballet School were deemed good enough for the Royal Opera, and the ranks were filled instead with foreign dancers:

Sweden’s ballet education had deteriorated to a level where the dancers couldn’t be employed by the country’s main institution for classical dance … Equality is a fantastic principle. In the Swedish school system, it guarantees that basic education is free and available for everyone. But for the best and most talented, it can become a force that holds back instead of pushing forward.

Vonnegut was such a genius on that front – taking an idea like equality that we all want to believe in – and pushing it into the extreme. He was also king of the aphorism; this collection of his best quotes is worth reciting on a daily basis.