Harrison Bergeron and the Law of Jante

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The idea that the individual should be valued based only on their contribution to the collective, is one of the most detestable philosophies ever invented. From Harrison Bergeron, Sirens of Titan, Law of Jante, tall poppy, Procrustean bed or Dog in the Manger -- the allegories and lessons throughout time are not positive ones. But still the philosophy exists. And humanity is worse for not crushing it, and all who harbor it, in the name of tolerance.

Harrison Bergeron

A friend linked this story by Kurt Vonnegut, written in 1961 called Harrison Bergeron it is a worthy read, and was a lightly witty dystopian play on the future we were heading towards, if we kept trying to make life fair (instead of letting people overcome their handicaps and play to their strengths). Basically, it's a tale of the injustice of Social Justice. How trying to help one person, by handicapping another, doesn't make either life better. The bittersweet irony comes not just from how much truer the warning is today, 54 years after this story was written, but how stale and derivative the story was when Kurt first penned it.

At the time, it plagiarized his earlier work The Sirens of Titan. Yet the concept goes back much, much further.

The Law of Jante

The Law of Jante (proper collectivist herd think) are the 10 danish/Scandinavian rules to enforce that individual success and achievement are both unworthy and inappropriate (and discourages people from promoting their own achievements over those of others). The community is more important than the individuals - and they'll enforce it by portraying anyone who thinks otherwise with negative stereotypes. Now it's good to note that this is an attitude mostly in the country areas, and not as much embraced in the urban cities. But the fact that it ever existed, is sort of a sad commentary to those who embrace tolerance and individualism.

The ten rules state:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Crab mentality

There's the crab mentality: that crabs in a bucket will all scramble to freedom, but all pull back any that try to escape to rest, preventing any from escape, thus they all die .

The nail that sticks up...

Japan had the proverb, "the nail that sticks out will be hammered" (or the stake that sticks out). And China had theirs, "the shot hits the bird that pokes its head out." Both are warnings that those who stand out will be targets. Though there are nuances to the warning (it is safer to stand out as a crowd/group than an individual), but there's still the message to NOT excel or be seen as anything special.

Flogging the tall poppy

The tall poppy syndrome (or flogging the tall poppy) which goes back to similar stories in Herodotus' The Histories, Aristotle's Politics, and Livy's History of Rome, which all tell similar stories about culling the best and brightest amongst us, to reduce the threat to leadership. (Punish the rich, successful, or outstanding).

Procrustean bed

Procrustes (or Procrustean bed), is the idea of an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced, going back to the tale where a son of Poseidon (Procrustes) had an iron bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night. Then he'd either stretch them or amputate parts, to make them fit the bed, until stopped by Theseus. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter", used the metaphor of a Procrustean bed.

Dog in the Manger

And from the same ancient era came "The Dog in the Manger". Where the dog can not eat the hay in the manger (because he can't digest it), but will prevent Horse or the Cow from eating it as well, lest they get to enjoy something that he can not.


It seems the ancients had warnings that many of those who have no understanding of the classics, still have not learned (or digested).

There will always be many that will try to punish success, or anything they can't have. Most of the fables/allegories are just recognizing it, but I think if we're trying to progress as a society, we should be trying to progress beyond that petty socialism/marxism, and trying to celebrate the individuals achievements towards greatness as an achievement of humanity, instead of holding back excellence to prevent the petty/jealous from feeling inferior.


📚 References