Placing Me Before We in Ayn Rand's Anthem
Ayn Rand's classic story of one man's desire to become an individual in a nameless society presents a compelling refutation of collectivism in all forms. The hero, labeled "Equality 7-2521" by the State, chooses to challenge conventional authority as he learns the joys of experimentation and discovery, the ecstasy of human love, the challenge and fairness of liberty, and the happiness of self-interest. Equality 7-2521 writes three unique phrases in his journal: 1. "My happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to an end. It is the end.", 2. "We know that we are evil, but there is no will in us and no power to resist it.", 3. "The word 'We' . . . must never be placed first within man's soul.". These phrases will be discussed individually in the remainder of this essay.
1. "My happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to an end. It is the end."
In the tale, this thought drives the entire actions of Equality 7-2521 as he progresses in his attempt to become an individual. His happiness is not satisfied when he must share it universally with all men. Not every man can be as happy as the next, and therefore the forced brotherhood of all men will only deplete the spirits of those who are successful. In Anthem, Rand tells of Equality's joy when he "discovers" electricity. At that moment he knows that the joy of discovery is only his to relish, and that it cannot be shared or manipulated by any other man. In that regard, his own well-being is the end of his striving; he has fulfilled his wishes. To say that his happiness was only the means to, say, world peace would be to abolish his status ...
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... by individuals who had some self-interest at heart. However, the creator of a product is justly entitled to his own happiness, and therefore it is at his discretion that his invention is distributed. One who creates a great thing cannot be forced to share it with mankind unless he desires. In most cases, it is in the self-interest of the originator that his creation be distributed freely.
Thus, man is no longer a free man when he thinks of the group's interest above his own. It is fine for someone to be compassionate, but it is foolish to place the happiness of anyone else in front of your own. When men choose to follow groupthink, they forfeit their identities, and the end result is a world without freedom or creativity.
Mankind is composed of sovereign individuals, and each person only has one obligation to self: think of "me" before "we."
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