For a while, I’ve been watching “patriots” circle-jerk over Ayn Rand and I never understood why. So, I took a short amount of time and read a short book of hers called Anthem, which I assumed would be typical of the Rand philosophy. I can say I have no further desire to read a Rand book. For as much as conservatives scream about the evils of socialism and communism, the world that Rand wants is just as evil, just in the other direction.
To me, Anthem is a tribute to selfishness and hubris. The final chapters are filled with an excess of “I”, “me”, and "my”, which is meant to contrast with the whole rest of the book, where the primary character refers to himself in the plural, “we”. This book’s story is set in an absurd world, because it’s the only world that you could even begin to justify the main character’s actions and beliefs. Some future world where humanity has regressed to the dark ages and is controlled by a collection of councils, who have mapped out everything so there is no personal choice. And somehow, people today think we are moving in that direction?
As I neared the end of the book, knowing what was going to happen, I thought I would write a blog post as an epilogue to the story, describing what would happen when this extreme individualistic philosophy grew. Turns out I didn’t need to. The book already had it covered. The primary character took over an old house, claimed all its possessions as his, planned to convert it into a fortress, planned to build an army and wage war on the existing community, make his house the capital of a new world and be the absolute leader. This is a good thing?
At the turning point in the story, where the character begins to learn at a hyper-accelerated pace and surpasses the entirety of humanity in knowledge, it is not dwelled upon that he stole items from various councils to accomplish his learning. While it sounds understandable to break the laws of an absurdly oppressive future world, the general message, reinforced in the closing of the story, comes across as “Do whatever it takes for your own benefit.” This is something to strive towards?
The problem with this book and the current flavor of individualism is the inherent exclusiveness. Coming along with that is the despise and near hatred for fellow humans. In this mindset, everyone is out to get something from you and you’re not going to share anything with anyone you don’t deem worthy. In this mindset, you have no need for anyone else – unless you need something from them, of course. The viewpoint that a person has no value whatsoever and contributes nothing to society is the default instead of the exception. Trusting no one but yourself is the overriding belief.
So what becomes of a society of individuals? How does anything move forward? How can there be any progress without shared resources? Consider a bunch of individuals living by a stream, each using the water for daily life. A new person comes along and dams the river upstream so he can do whatever he wants to with the large pool. That’s his right; he’s doing whatever his individual desires want. The others downstream suffer. Without any governing body, I suppose the dam owner would simply be run out or killed and the dam destroyed. Sounds like an incredible world to live in, where whatever you make is yours and only yours.
The concept of radical individualism like portrayed in Anthem and in the equally absurd previous example are possible when there is no overpopulation crisis. If someone cramps your individual freedoms, simply move farther away. This, accurately, is how America got started and is how and why it grew so powerful. but with as crowded as America is now, we have no choice but to be socialistic. We do not have the space nor the independence (as in lack of dependence on others) to make this happen. Maybe being a farmer in the rural Midwest would be suitable for such people, but not everyone can attain this.
There’s always such a big cry from the people who feel they’re being repressed. “Why can’t I?” “The government won’t let me (insert anything here).” The answer is that what you want is not good for society. Not everyone can go and start building a nuclear power plant, because not everyone will get it right, then we all have to pay for the mistakes. The answer this book purports is that it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that it is good for me. Although in the closing chapters the book came very, very close to using this phase, it didn’t. The phrase, usually reserved for unmentionable acts, is “The end justifies the means.” And to have a society built on that belief would be a terrible one to live in.