A guest column, courtesy of Susan Lider

Culture Ayn Rand Anthem Dystopia Cancel Culture
No. 2,565
Recent legislators,
activists, and education reformers have promised to lead us into a new world of
equity. No longer will some groups have a different lifestyle from others. No
longer will some groups have a different education from others. There will be
reform or else, Hawk Newsome warns,
“we will burn down this system and replace it.”
For a preview of these glories, we have only to open Ayn
Rand’s 
Anthem. In this dystopian
novella, collectivists achieve their ideal by burning cities and books, then
implementing central planning. Now everyone is equal: equally poor, equally
housed, equally limited in what they can say and do and think.
If, as Jen Maffessanti observes,
dystopian fiction helps us understand the dangers we face, then none is more
relevant to this moment than Rand’s novella. What 
Anthem clarifies is the real significance of collectivist ideals
and language, which undermine not only our rights but our ability to articulate
them.
“Our Name is Equality 7-2521”
Anthem opens by
foregrounding the triumph of the collective through the narrator’s struggle to
express and justify his thoughts. In this world, there is no “I,” only the
collective “we,” which has become synonymous with good. The novel opens,
It is a
sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them
down upon a paper no others are to see. . . . And well we know that there is no
transgression blacker than to do or think alone.
Only the “Council of Vocations” can approve such writing. The
narrator, Equality 7-2521, struggles to conform even as he defies such rules:
“We strive to be like all our brother men, for all men must be alike.” But he
is not.
At six feet, Equality 7-2521 towers over other boys. His teacher
warns, “There is evil in your bones.” In school, he is unhappy because
“learning was too easy. This is a great sin, to be born with a head which is
too quick.” How does he know? “The teachers told us so.”
Eventually, Equality 7-2521 tries to imitate the slow learners.
But the teachers know, “and we were lashed more often than all the other
children.” And when he turns fifteen, the Council of Vocations places him in
the Home of the Street Sweepers, where he will have no more opportunities to
display his “quick” mind. Equity achieved.
“Our Poisoned Language”
Anthem anticipates F. A. Hayek’s later
warnings about “our poisoned language.” In 
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism Hayek
observes, “so long as we speak in language based in erroneous theory, we
generate and perpetuate error.”
That error is evident in the use of words to convey entire moral
arguments. In 
Anthem, “we”
and “the collective” are “good,” just as, Hayek observed, “social” now
designates what is “morally right.” And “what at first seems a description
imperceptibly turns into a prescription”: distributive justice.
A similar shift is now occurring in the use of “equity.”
According to the 
Oxford English Dictionary, the
earliest recorded instance was from 1315, from which point “equity” has been
used to mean “the quality of being equal or fair; fairness, impartiality,
even-handed dealing.”
Now “equity” means the moral imperative to ensure equal
outcomes, as in the concept of “educational equity”: “Equity recognizes that
some are at a larger disadvantage than others and aims at compensating for
these people’s misfortunes and disabilities.”
How does “Equity” do this? It “aims to take extra measures by
giving those who are in need more than others who are not. Equity aims at
making sure that everyone’s lifestyle is equal even if it may come at the cost
of unequal distribution of access and goods.”
In other words, to achieve “equity,” the unacknowledged
officials treat people unequally.
“The Plans of the World Council”
Rand’s Anthem illustrates
the results generated by such committees. The Council of Vocations achieves
equal lifestyles by grouping diverse people in the Home of the Street Sweepers,
where Equality 7-2521’s team consists of a talented artist and a man incapable
of using his broom due to incessant convulsions. Their work is uneven, to say
the least.
When Equality secretly discovers electric light and brings it to
the Council of Scholars, they reject his invention because he invented it
alone. Furthermore, it would destroy the Department of Candles and “wreck the
Plans of the World Council,” which took fifty years to approve the candle. They
insist it be destroyed, metaphorically seeking to keep their world in the dark.
For the collective, the goal is control of outcomes, not freedom
or human flourishing. And to maintain that control, they make sure that no one
can see the truth, much less say it. In the Home of the Street Sweepers at
night, the men undress silently in the dim candlelight: “For all must agree
with all, and they cannot know if their thoughts are thoughts of all, and so they
fear to speak.”
“The
Smallest Minority on Earth is the Individual”
Over the last few months, we have come closer to Rand’s dystopia
of fear, silencing, and distorted “equity.” In a recent survey at the
University of North Carolina, students across the political spectrum reported
that they (like the Street Sweepers) engaged in self-censorship in classrooms,
remaining silent even when their opinions related to topics in class. They are
afraid.
They are not alone. Online mobs are destroying careers and
lives, as John Stossel observes in “Cancel Culture is Out of
Control
.” He urges those of us who can speak to do so.
Yet embracing free speech and other rights becomes increasingly
difficult as governments push to eliminate them. Recently the California
legislature passed ACA 5, which would
allow for “race- and gender-conscious remedies” to correct differences in
university admissions and government contracts. This measure for equity would
overturn Proposition 209, which prohibits the state from discriminating against
or granting preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of
race, sex, or ethnicity.
If California’s citizens pass it, the government will be able
legally to discriminate against individuals. Yet, as Rand argues:
Individual
rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away
the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to
protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on
earth is the individual).
Rand urges individuals to take a stand. In her Author’s Foreword
to the American edition of 
Anthem, Rand
observes, “The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism
by moral default.”
If we need models, we have only to look to Leonard Read. He
discovered that 
Anthem had
been published in England (1938) but had been rejected by American publishers.
Deciding it deserved a broader audience, he issued the first American edition
with Pamphleteers in 1946, the same year he founded FEE.
Our own options will vary, but as John Stossel urges, those
of us who can speak up, must do so. Otherwise, we face entering the
twenty-first-century version of 
Anthem.
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Blogger’s note: What with the mandatory masks, social distincing, and the government and its allies striving to homogenize everyone to make them conform and become permanent hospital patients, what else could be in our future, unless we fight back?