Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DBTL 32: The Ideal Man

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. Following the Second Polish-Soviet War of 1944 - 45, the Polish Commonwealth annexes the Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. A number of mass graves are soon discovered in the newly annexed regions . . .

Los Angeles, California
4 June 1946

Ayn Rand was of two minds about attending Orwell's talk that night. On the one hand, his recently published book 1937 was the most brilliant expose of the evils of her homeland's collectivist regime she had ever read. On the other hand, Orwell was an outspoken Socialist, and thus had to be considered evil himself.

In the end, it was her husband Frank who persuaded her to go. They had few enough opportunities to go out together, and she had admired the book, so she finally decided it would only be fair to go and hear what the man had to say for himself.

Orwell began by describing the discovery of the first mass grave at Kuropaty in the former Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. When his report reached Marshal Guderian, that worthy man had assigned Orwell the task of investigating the find. Orwell and his small team had quickly discovered a number of other mass graves in the area, and they began interviewing the local inhabitants, then people in the Minsk area who had had friends and relatives disappear in the night, and finally a few former Party members and NKVD agents who were willing to speak on condition of anonymity.

1937 was the final result of Orwell's investigations, a horrifyingly dispassionate and objective account of life in Minsk during the Great Terror. Ayn found herself becoming more and more confused. Here was a man who probably knew more about the evils of collectivism than many who had actually lived through them. He had taken what he knew, and used it to compose an unsparingly graphic description of a nightmare come to life. And yet, despite all that he had seen, all that he had learned, he continued to advocate a collectivist doctrine. When Orwell had finished his talk and opened the floor to questions, Rand had taken the opportunity to confront him with the contradiction.

"Probably the most common misconception I've heard since coming to America," Orwell replied in his quietly penetrating voice, "is that Socialism and Stalinism are basically the same thing. The truth is that Stalinism has no more to do with Socialism than Capitalism has. In fact, Stalinism and Capitalism have more in common with each other than either has with Socialism. If you were to take the men surrounding Stalin and compare them with, say, the board of directors of the Standard Oil Company, you would have a difficult time telling them apart. Both groups are concerned only with their own aggrandizement and are totally indifferent to the welfare of the men working under them. Both have resorted to violence, even murder, to suppress any resistance to their policies. Both have subverted the power of the government to serve their own ends. The only difference is that the Capitalists no longer have absolute power over peoples' lives. Not all of them, at any rate, though they certainly do seem to be trying. Next question, please? The young man in the gray pullover?"

As far as Ayn was concerned, that was that. Whatever Orwell may have done to expose the evils of Communism, he was thoroughly corrupted by collectivism. After the talk had ended, Ayn had grabbed Frank and gone right out the door. Frank had missed lunch that day, however, so they went to a restaurant across the street for dinner.

While she was waiting for her food to arrive, Ayn heard a commotion stirring through the restaurant. Turning to look, she saw Orwell enter, surrounded by a small party of second-handers. She was turning back when one of the second-handers had exclaimed, "Oh, look there, it's Ayn Rand!"

"Ah, the outspoken young lady," Orwell had genially observed. "Still think there's no difference between me and Joseph Stalin?"

"A collectivist is a collectivist," Ayn had declared.

"And what makes you think Joseph Stalin is a collectivist?"

The statement was so utterly nonsensical that Ayn found herself momentarily stunned. "It's obvious!" she finally blurted.

"He certainly doesn't behave like one," said Orwell. "He behaves like every petty, brutal tyrant that's ever lived. In the Soviet Union they call him the Boss, and that's what he is, boss of the biggest company town that's ever been built." In the heat of his passion, Orwell's carefully cultivated proletarian facade was disappearing, and his accent grew more refined. "He rules it with an iron fist, just like every other boss of every other company town, and he rules it for the welfare of himself and no one else. True, he calls himself a Marxist, but anyone can call himself anything he likes. If Stalin is a collectivist, then so is every capitalist on Wall Street."

Ayn wanted to speak up, to denounce the way he was twisting words to mean that black was white, but she found herself captivated by his piercing eyes, and unable to speak.

"If you wish to fight injustice, Miss Rand," he concluded, "then you should pay less attention to the labels it wears, and more to the weapons it employs."

And in that moment, Ayn realized that she had found a man who would stand by his principles no matter the cost, no matter the odds. He was Howard Roark made flesh and blood. She didn't care about her husband, or his wife, or that he was a Socialist, or that he wore that silly little mustache (well, not much, anyway, and besides she was sure that she could persuade him to shave it off).

Ayn Rand had finally found the Ideal Man, and she would not rest until she had made him hers.

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