You know, for all I've said #TheDispossessed shows the reality of ambition in an anarchist society while the short story Harrison Bergeron and the novel Atlas Shrugged--which both take place in an enforced-equality dystopia where those who pursue excellence are persecuted--show cartoonish distortions of leftist ideals, The Dispossessed actually does have elements of Atlas Shrugged in that the anarchist society weaponizes its egalitarian ideals to suppress creativity and ambition.
Of course, the difference in how TD and AS treat this subject is that TD makes it clear that the people who fear change and suppress creativity are distorting, not practicing, the ethos of autonomy and sharing that anarchism stands for. As the social ostraciziation of Shevek and his circle, even his child, grows worse, he remarks bitterly that he is hated for being an anarchist--in a purportedly anarchist society.
What makes The Dispossessed a great and enduring work is its honesty about the things that can go wrong in a society constituted under anarchist ideals, including the creeping nature of enforced mediocrity to assert itself even in a society without sanctioned state violence. A revolution is never complete and you can't rest on calling yourself a leftist or anarchist; revolution must forever be renewed in one's self, in one's community and society.
Yet the book is ultimately unequivocal in its insistence that ambition does and must exist outside the profit motive--that the pursuit of knowledge and benefit for all is not reducible to profit or power. Shevek doesn't become a titan of industry or a mover or shaker with his innovative theory of physics. After completing it through a lifetime of work and a fraught journey, he gives it away for free to the entire world and goes home with nothing.
What was the point of all that work then, if he gained nothing out of it? Well, what is the point of the stars, of people? We shine our light, live out our spans, and fade away. That was Shevek's light to shine out into the universe, or part of it. He is also a friend, partner, father, comrade, and revolutionary, and the book shows him making those contributions as well.
For that reason Harrison Bergeron, Atlas Shrugged and other "Communists are coming for your creativity" type of Red Terror works aren't necessarily wrong in their fear--heck, even LeGuin, the Arch-Leftist of sci-fi, confirms it! What I deplore is the dishonesty of these works, Atlas Shrugged in particular, in ignoring the ravages and violent repressions of capitalism. That dishonesty may be born of another dishonesty, that capitalism is/must be humane and life-affirming because Soviet Communism, its rival, was inhumane and destructive.
This kind of propagandizing for a flawed and brutal system is small-minded thinking for timid, unimaginative people, of course. It comes of seeking the protection of an absolute power as a refuge from the injustices of another, then building up that power at all costs including the cost of honesty and integrity. If we refuse to be honest about the pitfalls of even systems and ideas we want to see succeed we become propagandists seeking the safety of power, not revolutionaries who seek better and more just communities.
@ljwrites What a great thread! Sums up perfectly my love of The Dispossessed as well as my ... unease with the other works. I honestly couldn't get thru AS b/c of its utter inability to even acknowledge the dangers of unfettered capitalism.
@acdw this. Also AS is so fricking long and boring. I tried to plow to the end before I acknowledged there were only so many hours in my life and bailed lol.
@acdw I got to about 1/2 and feel only shame at having wasted so much time 😭 Rand had the technical skills but the constant propagandizing and disingenuousness made her writing dreary and a chore to read.
@ljwrites I know that feeling to lol. I hate not finishing a book... But I hated Atlas Shrugged more!
We also read Anthem in that class- a lesser-known piece of Rand horseshit. I was interested in the idea (I was also super into dystopias at that time) but I reread it as an adult and it's hot garbage. In retrospect I think it was dangerously irresponsible to teach this text without addressing objectivism as a theme of the text AT ALL.
Generalist Hometown instance with a strong focus on community standards. No TERF, no SWERF, no Nazi, no Centrist.