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.
And if anyone seriously thinks that capitalism does not suppress creativity and ambition, let me just laugh (or cry) in rivers and oceans of of wasted potential under survival pressure and manufactured scarcity 🙃
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.
These lights we shine, these gifts we give are our mark in the universe. They are the witness that we have lived. In a very real sense, stifling these ambitions is to stifle life itself. That is why these repressions must be resisted--even, or especially, when they come in the name of liberation.
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 YES YES YES
Generalist Hometown instance with a strong focus on community standards. No TERF, no SWERF, no Nazi, no Centrist.