I have mixed feelings about Kurt Vonnegut. I think he has some extremely important ideas in his writing and I know he’s deeply affected a lot of people, but I don’t actually care for most of his writing. He’s still worth reading and I was thinking about him yesterday while I was reading my daily quoto of Ayn Rand (25 pages per day, five days a week.) Despite making a comparison between two authors without having actually read all that much by either, I think they have many similar points of view and many similar styles. But Vonnegut not only writes much shorter books and even short stories, I think he also has a more nuanced sense of people.
He makes many of the same arguments that Ayn Rand does, about the importance of individuality and personal achievement, about rebelling against totalitarian societies, but he also goes on to talk about the importance of working to make the world a better place, if only because it is the world you live in and there’s no opting out.
Anyway, some of his short stories can be found online.
The story that I was particularly reminded of was “Harrison Bergeron.” This story talks about equality and the importance of realizing what exactly you want to be equal. As a die hard liberal, I think everyone should have equality in opportunity. In contrast, the idiot liberals in Harrison Bergeron (and in Atlas Shrugged) seem to be arguing for equality of results. This is an extremely important distinction. Not everyone should be paid the same amount or receive the same amount of accolades. Not everyone is a winner. But everyone should be a contestant. Everyone should have the opportunity to try.
Another of his stories, one that I actually really enjoy, is “Report on the Barnhouse Effect.” While this story also deals with the individual’s ability to achieve great things and to effect the world as a whole, it’s also about taking personal responsibility for the world as a whole, and even the possibility of (as Tony Stark says) privatizing world peace. Privatizing world peace is not something I would approve of in the real world, but it sure makes a good story and I do like the look at personal responsibility on a global scale.