Night of January 16th

Recently I attended a local theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th.  The performers did a great job of presenting a very young Rand’s emerging philosophy on individualism versus collectivism.  It’s done as a courtroom drama with the murder victim’s secretary/mistress on trial for his murder.    The jury, chosen from the audience, must decide if she threw him from the penthouse apartment to his death or if he committed suicide and she was merely struggling with him to prevent him from jumping. 

                Through courtroom testimony, we must make a decision as to what type of man Bjorn Faulkner was, since it becomes apparent that He is the one on trial.  Was he a man who was ready to change his ways and strive to help make the world a better place for mankind or, a man who set his own rules and was willing to live or die by them. The witnesses called to the stand bring their own biases. The question as to how he died becomes irrelevant; more important is the way he chose to live. Rand’s play forces the jury to decide between conformity and individualism based on their own philosophical leanings. 

                Ayn Rand was only twenty-eight in 1933 when she penned her play and had a long road ahead of her before she honed completely her philosophy of Individualism.  Probably she is most well known for her huge novel, Atlas Shrugged, but a tiny parable of hers written years earlier, Anthem, gets her point across even more clearly.   The society in her story encourages collectivism.  One must think only of what is good for the general public.  Individual thoughts or actions are banned.  Having pride in your accomplishments is a sin.  The word “I” is unspeakable and if uttered is cause for death.

                If we were to live in such a collective society, another word that must be banned is “choice.”  What is best for you may not be best for the masses, therefore limiting your access to achieve that choice is the correct thing to do.  If you wish information on a particular subject that the higher authority does not approve of, the information becomes lost or illegal to acquire.  Soon, this information becomes less real and more of a distant memory.  A typical modern term for this is “dumbing down.”        

    We can see this is today’s society where certain books, regardless of literary value, are banned from classrooms and libraries because they might be offensive to certain people.  Rather than making it known that a book or some other type of media could be offensive to those people, the easier course of action is to make it unavailable to everyone.  It would not take long for the masses living in such a culture to eventually think as one and act as one.  If an individual with an open mind entered the mix chaos would surely follow.

                We all have and will continue to be influenced by others. It’s just human nature.  Listen. Digest. Process.  Live your life free to decide your own path.  Remember what your mother asked you when you were a child?  If Billy jumps off a cliff are you going to jump too?  Think about it.

                Just read a pretty interesting book by NBC Chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel talking about his twenty plus years living in the Middle East and reporting on the people and politics of the region.   Not a casual observer, Engel spent time getting to know the history behind the different factions, learned the language and spent time with the local inhabitants, living in places like Egypt, Israel, and Iraq.  He was quick to travel wherever the action was taking place, at times at great risk of his life. It’s a fast-paced account of what went bad and why in a greatly complicated region.  Check out And Then All Hell Broke Loose.


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