Harrison Bergeron

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In “Nasty, brutish and on credit” by Theodore Dalrymple linked on LRC today, he writes:

“Much worse, however, is the constant thump of very loud pop music everywhere you go, as inescapable as the political propaganda of a totalitarian regime.”

I have a far higher tolerance for pop music than, say, Jeff Tucker but I have to say that the increasing prevalance of loud music and TVs in public places has been annoying me for years. In a great anti-egalitarian short story called “Harrison Bergeron“, Kurt Vonnegut describes a totalitarian future where everyone is made equal by being artificially handicapped. The strong are made to wear weights, the beautiful are made to wear masks. And the intelligent have to wear headphones that intermittently play a burst of random, loud sound to prevent sustained thinking (or sensible conversation).

Well, I believe much of Vonnegut’s dark vision has come true, with the twist that it is voluntary rather than enforced. The beautiful, and everyone else, wear unattractive clothing and, at least in public places, sustained thinking and conversation is interrupted by loud music and blaring TVs. I love music (1,500 CDs/albums and counting) but I’ve also learned to love quiet, especially when I go out hoping to have some intelligent conversation with friends over food and get 3 live sporting events on 15 TVs instead.

1:57 pm on September 25, 2003