Oh, holy shit.
My kid came home with the news that they're reading Anthem in her English class.
I knew there would be risks involved in sending my kid to public school. But this?
The inside cover of the book supplies the answer: The Andrew Lessman Foundation (a foundation started by a guy who made his fortune shilling vitamins and health supplements) has donated free copies of this vile piece of propaganda to the schools of our city.
I read the work this evening, to see what my poor child would have to deal with -- the first time I read this particular blight that Rand inflicted upon language.
I knew Rand was a terrible writer. How terrible, frankly, I had forgotten.
This piece of work is just abysmal.
(Spoilers from this point on, for anyone who gives a shit.)
The thesis of this novel -- well, novel is putting it kindly -- of this little sermon is One Man Good, Societies of Men Evil.
We open in a dystopian society, where all the citizens are given names suitable to society that views unified men as a good thing -- Solidarity, Equality, Union. But of course they all also have numbers attached to their names, because Rand has to make the point that in a world where people work together in a society, we can't possibly also have individuals. Everyone must become a cog, a number, a thing, in such a world.
So the ego is lost! Equality 7-2521 is forbidden to think of himself as I. The very word I is forbidden, in fact! Everyone must use the word We instead!
Blah, blah, blah.
The worst part about this book is how dull it is. There are very few scenes. The first twenty pages or so is just Equality 7-2521 ranting on and on about how misunderstood he is, and how mistreated he is, and how hard he fought to be stupid like he was supposed to be, and yet his brilliance kept shining through, because -- after all! -- he is just so smart and tall and blond and not like the idiots around him.
And he just loved science and thinking! And this made the Teachers so mad at him. Because no one is supposed to be different! And he is so different!
So the Council who tells you want to be made him a Street Sweeper! Instead of a Scientist! And he was glad! Because now he could repent and make up for his bad, bad desires!
And all of this is just stupid.
Because I know it's a metaphor, okay, but for it to work as a story it needs to be a story first and a metaphor second, and just how exactly is this world going to function if the teachers beat down all their best students for being good students? If they turn all their smart kids into street sweepers, then who, exactly, are their Council of Scientists and Council of Elders? Would that not be the Kind Of Dumb Kids?
Would we then not have all the really smart kids sweeping streets and fixing plumbing? Would we not then -- I'd say in about fifty years, tops -- have a revolution on our hands?
Not to mention, who is going to run your society? Who keeps the books? Who runs the Secret Police? Who figures out who the smart kids are, in order to make sure they aren't the ones ending up in charge?
Beyond that, the structure is terrible. Very few scenes, and a lot of exposition -- we're almost entirely in Equality's head; and Equality is (of course) a Superman. He discovers electricity all on his own. He withstands torture. He gets Liberty 5-3000(a lithe and beautiful blonde seventeen year old girl) to throw off the chains of her communitarian upbringing and run away to be a Randian Superhero with him, pretty much simply by staring deeply into her eyes.
(Of course she is blonde. Everyone who is of any worth at all in this book is tall and slender and white and blond, blond, blond. What was that you said? Aryan? Eugenics? I can't think what you could mean! Ayn Rand is TOTALLY against eugenics! She says so right here in the introduction!)
And, of course, the penultimate chapter is a lecture on the rights of man:
"Only three [words] are holy: 'I will it!"...I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others.
"For the word "we" must never be spoken, save by one's choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within a man's soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all evils on earth, the root of man's torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.
"It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.
"What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow and agree and obey?"
Truly, what kind of freedom is it, if the "botched and impotent," the weak and poor and impoverished, are always going to be hanging around in your society, acting like they have a right to be there? I mean, jeez. Bunch of takers.
The opening line, by the way? "It is a sin to write this."
Truer words were never spoken, Ayn.
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