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Living by Permission in COVID-19 America – and Its Relevance to Ayn Rand’s Almost Forgotten Novel

Last updated on August 29, 2020

When I was a young man there was a popular expression in this country. Whenever someone challenged your right to do something, you’d reply, “It’s a free country!” And, you believed it. Back then it was almost true.

After decades of new regulations and bureaucratic overreach, the COVID-19 pandemic gives government the excuses they need to clamp down even more. It reminds me of a long-forgotten novel…

Recently, I finished listening to an audio version of We the Living, Ayn Rand’s first (and least read) novel. I was struck by the similarities with today’s America. It reminded me of how collectivist ideology and policies create an unbearable environment for independent thought and action.

In We the Living, the new Soviet regime, “crushes a whole country and smothers every bit of life, action, and air,” writes Rand about her novel, “It makes the atmosphere choking, airtight!” In fact, Airtight, was Rand’s first title for the novel before it was changed to We the Living.

Now, consider the situation in Ayn Rand’s most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged. In that novel, it is still possible to go on strike, to disappear, to go anywhere, and to live a life independent of the collective.

But in We the Living, it is too late. Communism/Socialism has taken hold of the country. One’s ability to move about, to make a living, to go to school, to do just about anything a thinking human being needs to do to stay alive and prosper, has been hampered and smothered. Then, the regime takes advantage of those who become enforcers—local busybodies who look for any sign of civil disobedience or independent thought.

We the Living is the reverse of Atlas Shrugged. Shrugging in We the Living has been outlawed. To escape such a system, one can’t go on strike or found a colony in the mountains. Escape can come only with suicide, alcohol (slow suicide), or an escape attempt, almost certainly deadly.

We the Living has more relevance to our current COVID-19 government lockdown, than even Atlas Shrugged.

Governments put us in a strait jacket of regulations, where we live by permission!

Our economy is kneecapped, with the jobs of millions of workers gone. Even if the government pays us every month, where the hell can we spend that money, except for food and booze? As this issue of the Matrix Gazette goes to press, in most places, you still can’t get a haircut. (And, of course, where the hell is the government money coming from?)

The COVID-19 lockdown is smothering the country and strengthening the government’s stranglehold on our lives, our living, and our way of life.

Will “It’s a free country” have any relevance ever again?

Unlike the characters in We the Living, we still have a chance to reclaim that old saying and make it a reality.

We can still shrug!

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