September 2013 Bar Bulletin
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September 2013 Bar Bulletin

To Be Truly Equal or Not To Be...

By Alex Choi


Half a century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in front of a crowd of thousands of people about his dreams for racial equality. Today, Americans share the same dream that King had, but with a wider range of factors, including equality when it comes to matters such as sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status and disability.

Dr. King's dream for freedom and equality meant that everyone, regardless of their traits, would be able to live freely and to their full potential without judgment and discrimination. We have all seen the fine print in our job applications and signs at businesses stating policies against discrimination. Most of us read the statement without any deep thought and proceed on with our lives.

Yet, it is clear that there is a growing awareness and acceptance of the diverse beliefs and cultures in the U.S., such as in the recent decisions to allow same-sex marriage in many states. America is striving to preserve and accomplish Dr. King's vision, but is there such thing as true equality? To what degree will the government go to create a land free of discrimination?

The Declaration of Independence — with deference to the time in which it was written — declares that "all men are created equal."1 But is this truly the case or, more precisely, are men — and women — required to be equal?

In Kurt Vonnegut's short story, Harrison Bergeron, a dystopian fantasy, equality is taken to the extreme. Vonnegut wrote Harrison Bergeron in 1961, a time in which inequality, racism and discrimination were prevalent in the lives of Americans. Caucasians were considered superior to minorities and had access to greater opportunities.

Fast forward to the year 2081, a time in which everyone is truly equal — no one is smarter, better looking, stronger or faster than anyone else, because everyone is monitored by the government. This short story takes place in George and Hazel Bergeron's living room where they are watching a ballet performance on television. George is a man classified by the government as one who possesses an above-average intelligence, meaning that he must have handicaps in order to remain equal with everyone else.

As with many other people, the law requires that George wear a radio device in his ear via which the Handicapper General can frequently send sharp noises that will interrupt his thoughts. George also must wear a 47-pound lead weight around his neck to hinder his strength.

His son, Harrison, is highly intelligent, good looking and strong, and reluctantly carries the maximum amount of handicaps. He rebels, but as a result he is taken to prison and tortured. Harrison escapes from prison and interrupts the television program that his parents are watching, declaring himself as the almighty emperor and removing all of his handicaps.

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