Commentary on Anthem: Chapters 5, 6 and 7

1. Ch. 5: Equality’s discovery, Equality’s decision

Chapter 5: Equality’s fifth journal entry. In this entry, he records the culmination of all of his scientific experiments. He tells us that after more days and trials than we can count, he has managed to create a device which we can look at and see what is essentially consists of is an electric light with some sort of power source. Up until now, his knowledge has been mainly theoretical. He has discovered the properties of metals and acids. He has discovered this power of the sky, which we know is electricity. At this point in the story, though, he has taken that knowledge and gone one step further with it. He has taken his knowledge and he has used it to create a device that has practical significance. He has done something that is not just knowledge for its own sake, knowledge as an end in itself, but it's knowledge applied to a practical invention that will actually be useful to people and bring a benefit to mankind.

Equality immediately sees the enormous potential of his invention: “We can light our tunnel, and the City and all the Cities of the world with nothing, save metals and wires. We can give our brothers a new light, cleaner and brighter, than any they have ever known. The power of the sky can be made to do men’s bidding. There are no limits to its secret and its might. It can be made to grant us anything if we but choose to ask.” He decides that something so important should not remain hidden underground. He decides that he needs to bring his invention out and show it to other people.

If people are going to be able to take advantage of his discovery, it's going to take a lot of people working together. He wants to work with the Scholars in the home of the Scholars, he says, with “. . . their wisdom joined to ours.” And he wants to extract all of the life-serving possibilities of the light that he has invented and the power of the sky that has so much potential. Now he thinks at this point that when he shows his invention to other people that they are going to want this too. 

All his life Equality has operated on the premise that the moral rules of his society were intended for the benefit of all mankind. Even though the laws and the rules might be incredibly severe and incredibly repressive, nevertheless, they were at least intended for a noble purpose. 

At this point, he thinks that the Scholars and the leaders in his society really do want what is best for all mankind. Equality thinks that if he takes his invention and shows it to the council of Scholars, that they will immediately see its practical significance and the incredible benefit it would bring to all mankind. He thinks that they will understand what it is and what it could do for people, and he thinks that they will forgive him all his crimes and want to work with him to bring this benefit to people.

In Chapter 5, he writes: “In a month, the World Council of Scholars is to meet in our City. It is a great Council, to which the wisest of all lands are elected, and it meets once a year in the different Cities of the earth. We shall go to this Council and we shall lay before them, as our gift, the glass box with the power of the sky. We shall confess everything to them. They will see, understand and forgive. For our gift is greater than our transgression. They will explain it to the Council of Vocations, and we shall be assigned to the Home of the Scholars. This has never been done before, but neither has a gift such as ours ever been offered to men.”

Unfortunately, Equality is naïve about the motives of the Scholars and the leaders of his society. He is naïve about what really moves them, what their real goals and purposes are. Recall the incident in Chapter one when he tells us about when he was assigned his life mandate, at the age of fifteen, by the council of vocations. Now, at the time, he was very conscious of the fact that he had committed the Transgression of Preference, right? He knew that he wasn’t supposed to desire a particular kind of work, but in his mind he did. He wanted to be a scientist. He wanted to be assigned to the home of the Scholars. He tells us he was very conscious of his own guilt at the time. When he was assigned to the job of a street sweeper, he saw this as a way for him to atone for his guilt. He actually described it in Chapter 1 as something that, at the time, made him happy. 

In effect, he was seeing this as an act of justice by the council of vocations. He, Equality 7-2521 was the one who had violated the rules of his society. He had committed this Transgression of Preference. He wasn’t supposed to be choosing his work and, in effect, by assigning him to the job of street sweeper . . . his view was that they were justly and fairly punishing him for this sin he had committed. This is how he thought about it and understood it in Chapter 1. 

Equality assumed that the council was acting in this way because they were taking morality seriously, the way he does—that they were motivated by a desire to do the right thing. They were very conscious of right and wrong and they wanted to do the right thing. Now, the way his society interprets right and wrong is by the standard of achieving the “common good,” so he thinks that they are motivated to achieve the good of all society.

What he doesn’t realize is that they are not actually motivated by justice or morality or any sort of positive values. What they are really motivated by is the desire to stamp out a fire or spirit or passion or individual desire in the young people who are brought before them to be assigned their jobs. The Council of Vocations are not choosing jobs for these youngsters based on what will make them happy on and sort of standard of justice and fairness. They are not actually choosing carriers for people based on the standard of what would benefit all of mankind. If they were, someone as intelligent as Equality 7-2521, should surely have been made a leader or Scholar or been given some important role in society. That would really benefit all of mankind. The council of vocations doesn’t actually care about bringing benefits to all mankind. What they are motivated by is the desire to stamp out any burgeoning spark of individuality in any of the young people who come before them. What really motivates them is the desire to crush the individual.

Recall how Equality describes the council of vocations. “Their hair was white and their faces were cracked as the clay of a dry river bed. . . . They sat before us and they did not move . . . we saw no breath to stir the folds of their white togas.” So they are described as being completely lifeless, almost like corpses. When Equality answers them in a clear, steady voice and willingly accepts this horrible punishment they have given him of assigning him to the job of a street sweeper, they give absolutely no reaction whatsoever. “[W]e looked straight into the eyes of the Council . . . their eyes were as cold blue glass buttons.”

The council members are not motivated by justice or fairness or the good. They, themselves, have absolutely no living spirit driving their life. Their motive is really to destroy and to stamp out the life of the young people brought before them. But, at this point in the story, Equality doesn’t know this yet. At this point in his development he is mistaken about the motives of his teachers and his society’s leaders. He is naïve also about the council of Scholars. Recall in Chapter three when he was describing his work. He said the following about the council of Scholars: “The Council of Scholars has said that we all know the things which exist . . . therefore, the things which are not known by all do not exist. But we think that the council of Scholars is blind.”

Now, the important word here is the word “blind.” When you say that somebody is blind, what the means is that they can’t see. It doesn’t mean that they won’t see or that they refuse to see, it means they can’t see. At this point in his development, Equality thinks that Scholars are just ignorant, that they just don’t know the things that he knows. He thinks that if he goes and shows them the things that he has discovered, he thinks that they will accept him. He thinks that they still care about the truth and that they are interested in knowledge and they are interested in learning new things and making discoveries. That is supposed to be their job. They are supposed to be the ones who study. They are the Scholars. They study and invent things and improve people’s lives. He thinks that is what they care about. He thinks if he goes and takes his invention to them and shows them the things that he’s discovered, they will welcome this, that they’ll forgive him and they’ll want him to join them as a brother Scholar. Unfortunately for Equality, he has to learn the hard way what it is that really motivates them. 

2. Chs. 6 & 7: Capture, escape, condemnation

Chapter six: Equality’s sixth journal entry. He tells us that he has been caught. On the night of his previous journal entry, the one where he discovered his invention, he was so stunned by what he had done, so shaken by thinking about all the implications of it—everything he could do with his new power—that he lost track of time. When he got home to the Home of the Street Sweepers, he refused to tell them where he had been, so they took him to the Palace of Correction Detention and he was beaten with a lash. He spends 30 days in a prison cell. He didn’t want to confess to them where he had been or tell them anything about his tunnel or his discovery. He didn’t want to tell this to anyone but the Scholars, because nobody but the Scholars would have the wisdom to understand what he was talking about. All they would recognize is all these crimes that he has committed and would punish him for that. So, what he wants to do is to take his invention to the Scholars. When he realizes that nearly a month had gone by, he remembers that the World Council of Scholars was going to be meeting in his city—the top Scholars in the entire world are going to be meeting in his city the next day. So he decides that he has to escape. He has got to get out so that he can take his invention and tell the Scholars what he has done, show them what he has done and talk about his discoveries. So he needs to get out of his jail cell. 

Well, it turns out, he’s easily able to break out of his jail cell because the locks are old and there are no guards around. Why are there no guards around, why are the locks old? Well, he tells us: “There is no reason to have guards, for men have never defied the Councils so far as to escape from whatever place they were ordered to be.” So he makes it back to his tunnel and he resolves to go to the meeting of the World Council of Scholars the next day.

Now, again, notice what he thinks about how the Scholars are going to react. “Tomorrow, in the full light of day, we shall take our box, and leave our tunnel open, and walk through the streets to the Home of the Scholars. We shall put before them the greatest gift ever offered to men. We shall tell them the truth. We shall hand to them, as our confession, these pages we have written. We shall join our hands to theirs, and we shall work together, with the power of the sky, for the glory of mankind. Our blessing upon you, our brothers! Tomorrow, you will take us back into your fold and we shall be an outcast no longer. Tomorrow we shall be one of you again. Tomorrow . . .”

But, when he writes again, Equality is a changed man. 

3. Chs. 6 & 7: The World Council of Scholars

The next time he writes, his seventh journal entry is the end of the next day. Equality has been to see the Scholars, but the result was not at all what he expected. When he shows them his invention and when he tells them the story of how he came to discover all the things that he has been doing in his tunnel and so on, how do they react? Do they rejoice in his discovery and embrace him as a brother? Are they fascinated at the prospect of a whole new area of science that they can now explore and learn about? Do they see the benefits that his invention will bring to all mankind and want to pursue those benefits? Do they willingly forgive all his transgressions and welcome him into their fold? Well, unfortunately, no. Their reaction is exactly the opposite of what Equality expected. What is their reaction? They call him a wretch. They call him a lawbreaker. They say that he should be lashed until there is nothing left under the lashes. They say if his discoveries are not known by all men, then they cannot be true. They say that if he worked on his invention alone and not together with other men, it cannot be good. They say his invention must be destroyed.

What equality learns here is what the real motives of the Scholars are. He had thought that the Scholars would be like him—motivated by values, motivated by the desire to discover knowledge and pursue the truth and invent things that would be beneficial to mankind. What he learns is what they really care about. What they really care about is obedience to authority. They care about the subjugation of the individual to the collective. They don’t care about progress, because progress demands work and thought and action.  They don’t care about improving human life. What they care about is making sure that men sacrifice themselves for the sake of other men. What Equality learns is that the Scholars, as well as all the other leaders of his society, have as their real aim the destruction of all values and the enslavement of all people. This is the real meaning and the real result of the philosophy of collectivism embraced by his society. So Equality takes his invention and his journal and he runs. He runs as fast as he can and as far away as his legs can carry him. When he finally stops and looks around and realizes where he is, he sees that he has run into the Uncharted Forest. There is no turning back for him at this point. He would just be captured and beaten and probably executed. So all he can do is keep walking on into the forest, away from the city. And here he confronts one more issue about which the beliefs of his society still have a strong hold on him.

4. Chs. 6 & 7: The “evil” of solitude

When Equality realizes that he has run into the Uncharted Forest, he expects that he is now doomed. He expects that he is going to starve to death or be torn apart by the wild beasts of the forest, never to return. But his expectation of doom is based on more than the things he has heard about the Uncharted Forest—you know, the wild beasts and so on. Fundamentally, he thinks he is domed because he separated himself from the collective. In Equality’s society, it's considered inconceivable that a man could live alone, apart from other men. The whole society is devised to prevent people from thinking that a solitary life is even possible. I mean, it's against the law to be alone, people never are alone, they’re never supposed to think alone, act alone, or to do alone. The whole goal is for people to subordinate themselves to the collective. 

They are told throughout their whole lives that good things can come only from the collective, from all men together. But the point is even deeper than this. The goal of Equality’s society is not just to stop people from thinking that it's good to be an individual. The goal is to stop people from thinking that it's even possible to be an individual—to stop people even from thinking of themselves as separate individuals. The idea here is not just that only the collective is good, the idea is that only the collective is real. 

Remember that the great truth in Equality’s society is that “all men are one” and that “there is no will but of all men together.” Remember the words carved into marble on the palace of the world council: “We are one in all and all in one. There are no men, but only the great we, one, indivisible, and forever.” Notice it says there are no men. No individual men. Only the great we. This is a society that has tried to impose the idea that there literally are no individuals, only a great collective mass of humanity. Now, this is a form of collectivism that goes far deeper than politics.  So when Equality finds himself in the Uncharted Forest, he thinks he is doomed, not just because of the wild beasts, but also because he has now separated himself from the collective. This is what he means when he writes, “We have torn ourselves from the truth which is our brother men . . . there is no road back for us, and no redemption.” He sits in the moss, writing in his journal, waiting for the end to come.

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