- Paperback: 218 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2 edition (May 23, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1438221231
- ISBN-13: 978-1438221236
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,276,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Publicani Paperback – May 23, 2008
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It made me wonder whether apathy of the general population could allow something like this to actually happen? Sometimes it seems like we're so bombarded with news 24/7, that unless something directly affects us or is the lead story on the big news channels, we don't pay much attention to it. If it happens to only a small percentage of the population and it doesn't affect most people, does that make it more acceptable? How does a government agency such as the ICA in this book get so much power and why does this kind of power always seem to end up being misused? This would be a good book for a political science class to stimulate conversation. Two thumbs up!
Premise of the book is that sometime in near future the government invents a procedure that allows to take part of one's intellect and share it with other people. Intellect redistribution, much like income redistribution, would used to make people in key positions smarter, benefiting society as a whole. Is this an ethical thing to do?
The story is told very visually, as if it were a movie. (In fact, its futuristic and supernatural elements reminded me of the 'Minority Report'.) It is entertaining and full of unexpected twists. I like the well developed characters and the conflict surrounding this new technology... So, yes, the book is interesting.
But what isn't obvious, even after you read it, is that the actual purpose of this book is to FIGHT THE INCOME TAX! The procedure of sucking out one's intellect is an exaggerated account of how intrusive the government can be, and it is not meant to be taken literally. Instead, if you get the allegory, you would see that motivation for this book was to advance author's libertarian principles and to explain why direct taxation of income is immoral and unnecessary. (In an interview he said, "If you give me time, I'll prove it to you like a mathematical theorem." - This I would like to see!)
Incidentally, it is curious to know that Zak Maymin is not a fiction writer. (Well, I guess he is now!) He is a hedge fund manager with an advanced degree in mathematics - a Russian immigrant who believes in freedom. So, what he did was combine his knowledge of economics with his libertarian principles and wrote a book (or should we say, a movie script?) in the most infectious and thought-provoking way, to get his message across.
The opening chapter is rather intriguing: no narrative. My first impression was that it had a flavor of corporate espionage novels. For someone whose first language isn't English he writes very well. I like his economy of words: if he were a painter, he would know how to turn the brush to get a desired effect with just a few strokes.
There are several intertwined story lines in the book, maintaining variety and suspense. The chapters aren't too long or too short (like in Dan Brown's or Joseph Finder's novels), and instead of just numbers, they have descriptive titles, which helps to understand and remember them better.
In the 'Prologue', from letters exchanged between government agencies, we get to learn the meaning of the word 'Publicani'. Basically, in the ancient times there were tax farmers (Publicani) who used to collect taxes from the provincials; they were despised by the common folk. In the next chapter, 'Josh gets an assignment', we meet the main hero, Josh, a young government agent, and one of the villains, Moschetti, his boss.
There is a funny paragraph about Josh that I enjoyed very much:
"This was not as easy as it sounded because he tended to think independently. The principle had worked well for him in all the concentration-camps-like institutions that he had attended: school, colleges, and now the ICA. In all of these places, people of average abilities did what they hated under the supervision of corrupt losers. The rules protected the losers, who ferociously protected the rules. The system was especially hard on those with higher intellects, who would question the reasons behind the rules."
What a brilliant observation! Reminds me of every school I went to. :)
In this and subsequent chapters we learn more about the Intellect Collection Agency (a.k.a. Publicani) that Josh is working for and the infamous "Gerbatz Procedure" they use to transfer some of the brain power from people with high IQ to various politicians and generals that need to be smarter in order to run the country better. The procedure causes excruciating pain and actually makes people dumber for a few months. So, naturally, there are many cases on "non-compliance" that are handled by the agency with unbelievable cruelty.
In later chapters we meet Sam and Ariela, Josh's parents, and his sister Sarah...
Throughout the book, the author uses characters to express his opinion directly.
For example, Mr. Olafson, a scientist who resisted the procedure, basically choosing between death and taxes, says:
"Who decides whether the speed limit is a small sacrifice or not? Airport searches? Sales tax? Phone fees?"
"I can choose to travel below the speed limit and not pay the fine. I can choose to not travel by plane. I can grow my own food. I can e-mail instead of phoning. But I can't stop thinking and working!"
"What you are doing to me is direct extortion, and I am not your property or slave!"
Another example (from chapter 'Pesach'):
"You think it is possible to have a simple test of who is free and how is not?"
"Listen," said Ariela, "I thought about this. If I sit in my house, drinking wine and eating matzoh, and somebody comes in and tells me that the government has decided that I have to do something 'because it is extremely good for all of us', here is my test. I tell this somebody to go to hell. I tell him that I can decide myself what is good for me or for my country. If after that I am still sitting here drinking my wine and enjoying my life, I am free. If, on the other hand, I am in jail, or killed, or thrown out of my house, I am a slave."
Two of my favorite characters - Josh and Sarah - survive in the book, and unlike other characters whose personalities are fixed, they go through 'the arch' of personal transformation. For Josh, many of his beliefs are changed dramatically, and although he gets to keep his mind, his face isn't the same. For Sarah, the transformation is even more profound. Running away and on the brink of death, unexpectedly she discovers a secret place, "which was by all accounts the crib of human spirituality", becoming one with what she yearned for her entire life, and realizing her ultimate purpose.
As a reader, I also went through a 'paradigm shift'. I realized that although I thought I was free, it was an illusion.
You know what I mean?
It is the same kind of feeling you'd get while watching 'The Matrix': you know that even if machines have won, they wouldn't need to use humans as source of electric energy; you know that the virtual world they'd create wouldn't be so elaborate; and yet, looking around at how media and the government are already controlling our minds, it is easy to see how, in a way, we already live in the Matrix!
Like that film, 'Publicani' is filled with religious and philosophical symbolism; though, instead of the "red pill" that would remove us from the Matrix, we get to participate in a new thought experiment providing the same "abortive action". It makes you think outside the box and see that, although we like to believe that our rights and freedoms are guaranteed by laws & the constitution, they are but temporary privileges that can be taken away at any moment.
(By the way, it's April 14th. Have YOU filed your taxes already!?)
An ongoing theme throughout the book is the moral choice between Law and Freedom.
In the beginning, both Josh and Moschetti are showing a strong preference for the Law:
"...for most of his life, despite occasional doubts, he had been able to stick to one simple principle: follow the rules, whatever they are."
"...the most important passion in his life was obeying the law. Ever since he was a child, he had realized that all people's problems came from evading the law; and all his life observations confirmed in him the simple thought that if everybody just obeyed the law, life would be fair and happy for all."
The theme reappears in 'Job interview' between an old rabbi and a younger man applying for his post:
"What is more important, the law or freedom?"
"Both are equally important. There should be a balance between individual freedom and societal stability."
"Who should be making the decisions about such a balance?"
"The society itself, through its elected or selected leaders."
After the interview the old man is dismayed: "All wrong. I am failing miserably." He looked at another job application: "No tragedy, no purity, no strength. No sense of destiny. Where is their thirst for freedom?"
Finally, the choice is settled in favor of Freedom in the conversation between Eliyahu and Sarah:
"You think freedom is more important than law?"
"Of course. What's the point of supporting the law if you are a slave? If I am not free, the law will be used against me."
The ending is particularly moving ('Call for help' and 'New beginning'), because through metaphor it shows us, living in the real world, that there is hope. It shows how one voice can be heard by all people everywhere, and though freedom-loving people due to their very nature are independent-minded, united by a common cause they can be a powerful force!
(You've probably heard the quote "organizing atheists is like herding cats". Richard Dawkins has a good response to this: "Even if they can't be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored.")
Although the book ends well, at the very last chapter we are reminded that "the fight is not over". Campaign for liberty is a never-ending process. Even if big oppressors are defeated, as long as smaller ones are tolerated, there is a risk of relapse.
I think, the contribution of this book is that - through grotesque metaphor - it raises our awareness of serious social and economic issues. There is no shortcut to a free society. The only way we can do it is by becoming as knowledgeable and articulate in our advocacy as possible in order to attract those who want to understand freedom.
Main point of the book, in my opinion, is this: "If there are enough free people, and the message is right, they'll produce a wave, and others will join."
Needless to say, this kind of change will not be coming from the government! So, it is up to us to support the people advancing freedom, be that through politics (Ron Paul), fiction (Zak Maymin), or social networking...
In closing, I would like to quote Sheldon Richman who wrote:
"So what about the income tax? There is no shortage of arguments that the income tax is illegal, even unconstitutional. It's been said to violate the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination, that it's really voluntary, that Federal Reserve Notes aren't money, and on and on. Most curious is the argument that the income-tax law was never intended to tax wages and salaries earned in the private sector because the lawmakers knew such a tax would be unconstitutional."
"The income tax is immoral on many levels. It permits the government nearly unlimited access to the people's wealth. It opens the door to inquisitorial intrusion into their private affairs. And it introduces such complexity into the law that everyone is a potential criminal."
You will be reminded of 1984 and Twilight Zone episodes. You will try to put this book down but like me, will probably feel compelled to finish it in 1-2 sittings. The greatest compliment I can give is that you will be thinking about the ideas in this book long after its over. An apocalyptic future is introduced that is both creative and at the same time, extremely plausible. I hesitate to give anything away in this review. As an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, all I can say is that this is one of those books that I fear far too many people will fail to read because it won't be on their radar.
In an era where freedom, technology, and visionary ideas are regularly in conflict, this book asks you to consider the trade-offs. Similar to Ayn Rand, the philosophy at the foundation of this book is buried in the background of an exciting adventure. I tend to relish books that can be enjoyed at multiple levels. This is one that I will be recommending to many people...
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The read is fast and enjoyable.Read more
The book is a quick read, but has a gripping plot.Read more