Years ago, my 12th grade economics teacher — a nice guy, by the way — giddily assigned our class to read Ayn Rand’s book Anthem. His enthusiasm for Rand and her work was palpable and infectious. I couldn’t wait to read it myself. And then I actually opened it. To say Anthem is bad insults bad. For my money, it contains more crap per page – it clocks in at just 123 – than any work of literature I have ever encountered. And I will have you know that I have read one of the Left Behind books: “Tribulation Force.” I would gladly choose it over Anthem if forced to read one of them again by Dick Cheney’s torture goons.
Anthem is the Crash of books – a bizarre, self-important take on human nature crammed into narrative mess of pottage and absurdity. I keep a copy of the book around to remind myself of the power of human idiocy in much the way Opus Dei folks wear those pain-choker leg things to remind themselves of human wickedness.
In a sentence – and that’s all it needs – here is Anthem: the hero, a man/thing/wildebeast of some sort named Equality 7-2521 lives in world controlled by Barack Obama, errrr, some large government entity, refers to himself constantly as “we” and then eventually comes to call himself “I” and save the world or something. Its very last word – not making this up – is EGO – in all caps.
Star Trek blatantly ripped off Anthem – and greatly improved on its concepts- by creating the Borg. But, crucially, the show made them aliens. That’s because Anthem bears not even a halting attachment to actual human experience. The Matrix also borrows from Anthem, but it’s less farfetched.
Anyway, what does all this have to do with anything? Upon finishing Anthem and telling my crestfallen teacher that I found it utterly stupid – how could any little smart kid not love Ayn Rand? he cried – I basically wrote off Rand. I vowed never to put myself through that again.
However, I’m now rethinking. It has gradually dawned on me over the years that Ayn Rand is the heart of goofy modern conservatism. In the online world where I traffic for much of my information, there was much talk among glibertarians of “going Galt” following the election of Barack Obama because of his obvious hatred for productivity and business and neo-colonialism, etc., etc.
Going Galt is a reference to John Galt, the hero of Rand’s, gulp, influential epic “Atlas Shrugged.” I have not read it. But I can infer its story from the reverence in which people write about it. John Galt is some sort of supergenius – like Sarah Palin – who grows tired of all these whining moochers thinking he should pay taxes on the fruits of his superbrilliance. So he retreats to a canyon, I think they call it “Galt’s Gulch,” and begins to actively withhold his productivity from the moochers. He recruits others, who do the same, and soon the trains don’t run, children die in the streets, dogs and cats live together, etc. Humanity learns a hard lesson about screwing with Galtian supergeniuses with things like taxation and expecting them to adhere to the rule of law. One begins to understand why this country is where it is when one learns that Alan Greenspan evidently adored Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged.”
What’s implicit among people who love Rand, from what I can tell, is that they all personally identify with John Galt. Funny that no one ever identifies with the looters. They are supergenius, productive types unfairly subject to the ropes of Lilliputians. And Rand gives them the intellectual license to embrace it.
Anyway, I noticed at the recent Politics in the Park event that my old buddy Neil Combee, who collected a government check for either 16 or 18 years (can’t remember which) as a Polk County commissioner, was wearing a large “Who is John Galt?” pin on his shirt. I really like Neil; I thought he was a good, pretty honest county commissioner for Polk County. But I never really thought of him as a Galtian supergenius. That was more Bruce Parker. But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Neil is building some sort of potato reactor in his barn between Swiftmud meetings that will revolutionize energy supply. Or maybe not.
Let’s test it.
To all of you who fantasize about going Galt, let’s assess the enigmatic Ms. Rand empirically. I’ll promise to read “Atlas Shrugged” if you’ll promise to go away to a gulch somewhere and take your productivity – and your government pensions – with you. We’ll see who lasts longer — you in your gulches or we moochers in society.