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Anthem

Anthem - Ayn Rand How did I miss reviewing this book earlier? I must have been suppressing it.Do you want to know who Ayn Rand is like? She’s like Rainman. Did you ever see that movie, with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman? Rainman (Hoffman) is an autistic savant, whom his brother Charlie (Cruise) wants to use to count cards in Las Vegas. And Rainman would be ideally suited to that too, if he could understand Charlie’s plan enough to cooperate effectively. But being an autistic savant, Rainman doesn’t really get it. He’s constantly distracted by completely irrelevant things, resulting in so much calamity that his brother is forced to abandon the scheme.I’m pretty up front about my Libertarian beliefs, the nuances of which I won’t bore you with here- but suffice it to say that I spend a fair amount of time freaking out about the coercive power of the State. Along comes Ayn Rand, spinning yarns about independent-minded souls asserting themselves against oppressive bureaucracies, and I get all weak-kneed like a schoolgirl. Ayn can go on a five page tear like it was nothing, ranting about how the bulk of human suffering thoughout history has been at the hands of the State, and how the greatest innovations and improvements have come from individuals. I love that. That’s her savant superpower, and when it’s out in full display, you can find me behind her, pumping my fist in the air, yelling “Yeah! Give ‘em hell, Ayn!” Those are the times when I feel like she and I on the same team, and I’ve got a real affection for her. But then… Ayn isn’t content to just talk about the right to be left alone, or how planned economies are unavoidably coercive. She’s got this philosophy she invented. “Objectivism”. It’s kind of a ridiculously glamorized plutocratic Übermensch worship, hopped up on high-powered social Darwinism and good old-fashioned selfishness. Too often Ayn’s books digress into a platform to hawk these pet philosophies, and I’m like “Shut up already with the Objectivism”. She’ll go off on some weird solliloquey attacking charities as a tool of the weak to exploit the strong, or some such nonsense, and I’ll get to wondering who exactly this is that I’ve fallen in with. And it isn't just that I’m not comfortable with her. I resent having to spend my energy explaining to other people why I like some of her stuff, but then resignedly agreeing that a lot of what she writes is a load of crap. I feel like Ayn and I showed up together at a rally to protest the PATRIOT ACT, and we were really getting into it at first, yelling at the top of our lungs, voicing our discontent… but then after a few minutes, I realize I can’t hear her voice anymore, and when I look around, I spot her on the other side of the field, away from the rally. She’s foaming at the mouth, babbling incomprehensibly, with a glassy stare in her eyes. She’s perched up on a bulldozer next to Rush Limbaugh, and they’re getting ready to plow an orphanage into the ground. I run over, screaming “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!?!! THIS ISN’T WHAT WE CAME HERE FOR!!!”, but the bulldozer is way too loud, and she and Rush have already broken through one of the outer walls of the structure. The roof is caving in, and terrified orphans are pouring out of the back and sides of the building, running for their lives, screaming and crying. Limbaugh, cigar hanging out the corner of his mouth, is snickering and snorting to himself. Ayn’s eyes have rolled up into the back of her head, and her body is shuddering. Befuddled, wounded and shocked by what I’ve witnessed, I slowly walk back to the rally. The friends I came with –the ones I’ve been talking up Ayn to- have stopped taking part in the protest. They’re glaring at me silently, with uncomprehending expressions on their face, trying to decide whether I’m friend or foe…whether Ms Rand and I are birds of a feather, or if I’m basically a good guy who was duped.So that’s the story of me and Ayn. It’s bittersweet, and I try to make the most of the sweet. I read Anthem in high school. Even then, the dramatic, overstylized narrative struck me as juvenile, but I was okay with it, because Ayn was telling me things about authority that I wanted to hear. I don’t want to get into the book too much. It’s a dopey story about a feudalistic world far in the future, ruled by shadowy Elders who suppress technology, and keep the peasants ignorant of their past. A lone figure discovers an old lightbulb, and discerns its principles (yeah, right). Envisioning all the benefits this new discovery will mean to mankind, he hurries off to tell the Elders. Of course they’ve known about its existence all along. They destroy the bulb, and send the peasant back to his field with a warning not to tell anybody what he saw... It's "Bill Nye The Science Guy meets the Grand Inquisitor." Read this book if you must, but if you’re on the fence about it, I suggest you listen to Rush’s (the rock group’s, not the demagogue’s) 1976 classic album “2112”. It’s the same basic story as Anthem, if you substitute the lightbulb with an electric guitar, but it’s a lot more fun. Neil Peart was still new to the band back then, and they were “finding their sound”. Geddy’s vocals- while not for everybody, make for great effect, and Alex’s guitar work is badass- as usual. The album is long and the book is short, but I think you still come out ahead if your pick 2112. “We have assumed control!”(I just wanted to throw that in)