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 as an independent body.
An individual's happiness is the culmination of patience, work, and physical or material expenditure. Such happiness is self-contained, as there is no possible way for a human to know the feelings of another. The fulfillment of one's desires cannot be anything but the end, as the individual sets his own goals and, when they are achieved, has reached the finishing point of an endeavor. (The only conceivable way in which individual happiness could be seen as a means to another goal would be if that goal were the complete happiness of society-in which case the individual would again be placed in subservience to a group.) Man's sovereign rights would be infringed upon if he were seen as a unit in a broader plan rather than as a self-contained human being.
2. "We know that we are evil, but there is no will in us and no power to resist it."
This sentence has a powerful meaning in the story. Equality 7-2521 is not evil in the traditional sense of right versus wrong, but he is evil in the sense that he refuses to join the collectivist program of the rulers. They view him as evil, and he does not wish to change his beliefs or resist the emergence of latent individualism. He dares...