The Ridiculousness of Demagogues

Star Trek, for all its occasional simplicity, tackles
the problems and complexities of collectivism
far more insightfully than Anthem.
Below is a repost of a past review. Regarding America's current political choices, it seemed apropos (note: it's the elitism that bugs me--why do politicians always think they have to "educate" the populace to understand that they aren't utter toads?).

Several years ago, I reviewed Anthem by Ayn Rand on Amazon. Anthem is one of the few books in the world that I utterly loathe. Generally speaking, I can almost always find something good to say about any book, such as, "Hey, someone wrote this! It took time! And effort! Good for him or her!"

But Anthem is just trash.

A commenter challenged my contention that the book is (1) anti-individualistic and (2) chauvinistic: "You've completely missed the entire point of this book, perhaps because you went into it with a bias, not being a fan of Rand."

Here is my response:

I'm afraid I did understand the book; that's the problem.

Ayn Rand's fundamental philosophy is not one that I actually disagree with: collectivism is the ultimate evil. (Hey, I watch my Star Trek!) And the main character does make exactly the argument that you [the commenter] state: "[N]o masters and no slaves. Equals."

Unfortunately, accompanying Ayn Rand's philosophy is a shovel-full of elitism, namely the belief that a few must convince the many: "In those days, there were a few among men, a few of clear sight and clean soul, who refused to surrender that word."
Excellent spoof of political elitism from Coupling:
Sally: Come the revolution.
Patrick: What revolution? You guys are in power!
We're the revolution now.You're the evil empire.
Howard: Yes! Like Star Wars!
And Patrick and me are the Rebel Alliance!
Sally: No! You're not the goodies!
We're the goodies. We're lefties! We're always goodies!
Patrick: (Darth Vader Voice): No, Sally,
you are the establishment!

The narrator obviously places himself in the "few" category and not just the I'm-one-of-the-few-who-needs-to-share-what-I-know category, but the I'm-one-of-the-few-who-needs-to-get-everyone-else-to-be-like-me category.

At one point the narrator states the following:
The Saint of the pyre had seen the future when he chose me as his heir, as the heir of all the saints and all the martyrs who came before him and who died for the same cause, for the same word, no matter what name they gave to their cause and their truth.
An heir to Saints and martyrs with causes is how the guy sees himself. The continual use of "me" and "I" throughout the final chapters is NOT symbolic: he does not perceive himself as a messenger of truth but as a leader to whom others will be called:
They will follow me and I shall lead them to my fortress.

My chosen friends . . .

And the day will come when I shall break the chains of the earth, and raze the cities of the enslaved, and my home will become the capital of a world where each man will be free to exist for his own sake.
If the narrator truly believes that "a man must be free of his brothers," why isn't he encouraging his so-called friends to scatter, to create individual homes or capitals and lives? Why do they have to help HIM? Is it possible that the guy likes being in charge? Or is it possible that collectives, i.e. armies, have their good points?

I'm afraid I think the narrator likes being in charge. The book ends with "we," but it isn't the "we" of the corrupt city; it is the NARRATOR'S "we":
"The word [ego] which will not die, should we all perish in battle."
It really makes one wonder what would happen to any of these so-called chosen friends, if any of them happened to say one day, "Hey, by the way, *I* think collectivism has its points" or "*I* don't really want to fight in a battle. Can I just leave?" I don't for a moment believe that the narrator would respond to such blatant individualism with any degree of kindliness or understanding.

Individual Sean Bean isn't kowtowing to a self-described
leader. He's reading a book.
As for the implicit chauvinism, the narrator calls the "Golden One" to himself. Then he talks *at* her. She doesn't argue with him or question him or provide her own ideas. She doesn't do anything except say, "I love you." Then he names her. Then she gets pregnant with HIS child--not THEIR child ("our child") or, good grief, even HER child but HIS child ("my child").

I'm willing to allow that the book may have some good points (I concede my bias). And an argument could be made that a religious uprising led by a fanatic IS the pathway to individuality.

But the text says what it says.

The movie Equilibrium--though flawed--handles this whole problem better although even Equilibrium rests on the idea of a necessary elite. I guess democracy truly is a totally radical idea.

1 comment:

FreeLiveFree said...

There was a passage in a Robert Bloch novel describing a hippie where he talks about him having the same clothes et cetera as other hippies and believing in his individuality. Though it had nothing to do with the plot of the book (Bloch really did not like hippies) it was pretty spot on about human nature.

We are herd animals, but we like to think of ourselves as individuals.