Anthem follows the story of Equality 7-2521 as he tries to live in a collective society that he does not necessarily fit in to. In this society, each member is not even seen as an individual. Rather, they are seen as a part of "we." None of the people living in this collective society even have a general understanding of the word "I" or the concept of self.
In other works, the author, Ayn Rand, explores the philosophical idea of rational egoism. This idea promotes that one should put themselves before they put any other person in a moderate way. In Anthem, the society that Equality is living in, has no sense of rational ego whatsoever. Had they had a sense of this, their lives, society and government would have turned out quite differently.
Rational egoism is something, I believe, that is important to a society. It creates a sense of individuality that is important to self-worth. Being that the rational ego, is as it suggests, rational- it is not harming the society. It is important in a society to have a minuscule amount of collectivism- just enough that it amounts to a sense of community and fraternity. Having both a sense of self, as well as a sense of community is the best way for a society to survive and thrive. To be clear, having rational egoism is only part of a cure to an extreme collective society such as shown in Anthem.
Rational egoism, as I have mentioned before, values the self over the society. Under these terms, individuality would flourish. Each person would continually do what is best for himself. As individuals, we would be the best that we could possibly be. Another benefit of rational egoism is the removal of guilt. In some situations we put ourselves ahead of others. In hindsight of this we would feel guilty for our lack altruism. If a community was following this philosophy, the members of that group would not have to deal with the guilt from a bad situation.
Though there are many pros of rational egoism, there are also cons. The benefits of rational egoism is that each person would do what is best for themselves. Another positive that could come out of rational egoism is the eradication of guilt. If everyone did what was best for themselves, they would not have to feel guilt about putting their own wellbeing in front of others. The biggest downfall though, would be that there would be no one looking out for the community as a whole. People would do what was best for them, putting the overall community at risk. For example, if we all chose to not pay our taxes because we would rather have a few extra dollars in our pocket each month, the surrounding community would physically fall apart. There would be no extra money to spend on the community. Another problem with rational egoism is rampant selfishness. There would be no kindness in a world where everyone always did what was best for them.
Rand grew up in Communist Russia where the entire country was under the process of being collectivized. Many of the people living in the USSR were very poor. Those kulaks who did have money were looked down upon. Everyone was comrades. If I were to come from the same situation as Ayn Rand came from, I might too also be all for rational egoism in every or any society. But I do not come from her society. I was born and have always lived in Capitalist America. What I see in our society today, is a sort of rational egoism. Many people look out for themselves and give no thought to anyone else. This can be exemplified by the large level of poverty that we see each day. People think first of their $15 dollar lunches, and not at all about the people who can't even afford a $3 lunch. This shows that rational egoism in America does exist today. As I had said earlier, a community could fall apart if everyone did what was best for themselves. The question I have is whether we will let our society fall apart before we realize that maybe rational egoism is not the only solution.I think Ayn Rand was was on to something when she talked about rational egoism being great in any given society. I think rational egoism can combat extreme versions of collectivism. It has a lot of great components to it. But I think rational egoism can quickly take a turn towards being more selfish and harmful.