The Giving Tree vs Atlas Shrugged: YA Author Arin Greenwood on "Save the Enemy"

"Personally, I am a little creeped out by The Giving Tree," explains writer Arin Greenwood, whose latest book, the young adult novel Save the Enemy, features a wonderfully drawn libertarian father with a keen hatred for the beloved children's book. As the novel's teenage girl protagonist explains:

Your dad probably read you books like The Giving Tree when you were a kid. My dad did read me The Giving Tree once, calling it "evil" in that it "promotes the immoral destruction of the self." (I was four.) He preferred Atlas Shrugged, which is basically about how rich people shouldn't pay taxes. He has explained to me a lot over the course of my seventeen years that taxes are "slavery."

"The father is a think-tank-like libertarian," explains Greenwood, who is editor at HuffPost DC, where she covers "weird" stories from the nation's capital. "He's a big Ayn Rand supporter. He doesn't think there should be public transportation. He's very suspicious of public schools." As it happens, Greenwood is married to a think-tank libertarian in real life, which might explain why so much of the dialogue and jokes ring true.

Apart from being funny and poignant, Save the Enemy is a mystery in which Zoey Trask both looks after a brother with Asperger's and tries to find out who murdered her mother and kidnapped her father. All while trying to adjust to a new prep school in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia where the kids are disturbingly nice. Younger readers will dig the drama while older readers will enjoy the satire of D.C. life and politics.

And while Greenwood, a self-described liberaltarian ("the kind everyone hates"), may not hold the same reverence towards Ayn Rand as her protagonist's father, she shares many of his misgivings with the Silverstein classic. "I feel like it promotes some gender roles that maybe I am not so comfortable with. It does seem like a maternal tree that is giving up everything of herself to her child...and the kid seems so unaware of what the tree has given up for him."

Greenwood recently sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to discuss her book, the divide between Ayn Rand and Shel Silverstein, and the challenges of writing libertarian characters.

Approx. 7:45 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Todd Krainin. Edited by Bragg.

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  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    OT: How did reason raise $50,000 in the two hours since I last saw "the bar"? Did someone get drunk and send a gold bar?

  • KPres||

    Kochtopus!!!

  • Marc F Cheney||

    That money was supposed to go to Warty's victims' compensation fund.

  • Paul.||

    They told me I'd get two teeshirts, so...

  • Warty||

    Yes. Correct. Fuck The Giving Tree.

  • Zeb||

    What's wrong with the Giving Tree? Are trees supposed to be objectivists or something?

    The weird creepy aspect is what makes it interesting. Plus, it's a tree, not a person. It teaches children that exploiting natural resources is a good and natural thing.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    IIRC, correctly say we're supposed to be emulating the tree, not Boy.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    correctly +people

  • Zeb||

    Fuck those people. You get to interpret it however you want.

  • Zeb||

    Says who? It doesn't say that in the book as far as I recall. I think it is deliberately ambiguous as far as that goes. Shel Silverstein was an interesting guy and definitely not all puppy dogs and rainbows.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Anyone who thinks Shel Silverstein is all puppy dogs and rainbows needs to listen to 'We're still gonna die' by him and Bob Gibson. Try this:

    http://www.lyricsmania.com/sti.....stein.html

    [For those who don't want to follow links, here is a sample:

    But remember that for all your pain and gain
    Eventually the story ends the same...
    You can quit smokin', but you're still gonna die.
    Cut out cokin', but you're still gonna die.
    Eliminate everything fatty or fried,
    And you get real healthy, but you're still gonna die.]

  • Lady Bertrum||

    Creepier than the Giving Tree is the picture of Shell Silverstein on the back cover.

    http://www.google.com/imgres?i.....CAYQsCUoAg

  • fish||

    HOLY SHIT....hello no fly list!

  • entropy||

  • Warty||

    USE ONCE AND DESTROY

  • Rasilio||

    But which is worse? The Giving Tree or Rainbow Fish?

  • Loki||

    At least it's not the raping tree.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I was hoping for the one in Evil Dead.

  • MJGreen||

    Your dad probably read you books like The Giving Tree when you were a kid. My dad did read me The Giving Tree once, calling it "evil" in that it "promotes the immoral destruction of the self." (I was four.) He preferred Atlas Shrugged, which is basically about how rich people shouldn't pay taxes. He has explained to me a lot over the course of my seventeen years that taxes are "slavery."

    Wait... this is excerpted from the book? Really?

    It's great that you're kind of a political ally (boo, liberaltarian!), but blech.

  • lap83||

    I am not a fan of our high rate of taxation, but comparing a tax to slavery is almost as bad as comparing low pay to slavery, as in "wage slavery". It's almost offensively hyperbolic.

  • Libertarius||

    You are guilty of an equivocation. The slavery analogy does apply to income taxation (and to otherwise confiscatory taxation) because the actor has no choice in the matter; anyone who works without the right to own his production *is* a slave, and it is a matter of degree whether the State takes all of it or graciously allows you to keep half.

    "Wage slavery" is, of course, farcical; both the employer and employee enter the contract voluntarily, each are free to go elsewhere.

  • Libertarius||

    In answer to the taxation question, I advocate the Fair Tax (which includes the repeal of the 16th Amendment).

    The Fair Tax (national sales tax) is profoundly libertarian, but I can't understand why libertarians aren't pushing it, why it's only Tea Party types.

    Anarchy is a juvenile, rationalistic pipe dream, boys; it ain't gonna happen, and god help you (!) if it does. An objectively-delimited federal government is necessary, and the Fair Tax is by far the best way to fund it.

  • Zeb||

    For me, anarchism is a way of looking at the world, not a political philosophy.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    There is no tax that is libertarian. All taxation is theft. Voluntary association is the only possible way to maintain civilization and our liberties.

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Libertarius||

    Hey child, back here on earth, there is no such thing as something for nothing. Individual rights, property rights, and capitalism will not magically "manifest" out of the mindless chaos of anarchy.

    You Rothbardians are pretentious, magical-thinking faggots who live in rationalist lalaland. You sully the name of capitalism with your ridiculous, naive theory.

  • sasob||

    You sully the name of capitalism with your ridiculous, naive theory.

    And you are certainly not doing a hell of a lot for the name of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, or capitalism with your "naive" defense of taxation, Libertarius. If you would expend the effort to read some of Rand's essays, you'd find that she was no supporter of taxation either, yet far from being an anarchist. She advocated other, more voluntary means of paying for government.

  • ||

    I guess fundamentally I'm a true anarchist, in the sense of Absolute Liberty to do whatever you want, and authorities to protect other people from your idiocy are irrelevant, because each other person has the power to prevent you from interfering with their Liberty.

    The real troublemakers would get culled in a matter of days, and governments would become practically irrelevant.

    That's what they're all so freaking terrified of. Terrified out of their wits, to coin a phrase.

  • Edwin||

    This is to all these comments

    Taxation is neither slavery nor theft.

    You guys ignore the fact that you can LEAVE a country and stop paying taxes.

    It's more like HOA fees, or like some kind of security company fees, or whatever.

    Of course, the level of actual CHOICE is marred by... well, you have the same full CHOICE but it's a really shitty choice when you take into acount language barriers and the difficulty in learning new laws and that credentials tend to work only in one country.

    So no one's saying the government doesn't abuse the shit out of the taxation system, both in terms of how and how much they tax and what they spend it on, but it sure as hell isn't either slavery or theft

  • IT||

    "You guys ignore the fact that you can LEAVE a country and stop paying taxes"

    Not really. Massa Sam might let you off the hook if you pay a hefty 'exit' tax (what you would owe if you liquidated all your assets). Chuckles Shummer would like the exit tax increased to 30% from 15% AND not allow the former US citizen from ever returning to the US.

  • ||

    "The real troublemakers would get culled in a matter of days, and governments would become practically irrelevant."

    I think this is a pretty naïve way of looking at it. Anarchy, after all, was the default state of humanity.

  • Zeb||

    It's theft, not slavery. If you were required to pay whether or not you had any income, the comparison would be more apt.

  • ||

    With no income you don't eat, albeit it's a little hard to tax a panhandler.

  • ||

    It's much worse than ordinary theft, because they have the power to throw you into an iron cage if you don't comply.

  • IT||

    No! There is a Youtube video where Sen Reid repeatedly says our income tax is voluntary. Though he does admit that you can go to jail for not voluntarily paying your taxes. huh?

  • Raven Nation||

    Well, it's also the reported dialogue in a novel. So it doesn't mean the author believes it to be true or even that the narrator of the novel believes it to be true.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Okay. Define slavery. I've not seen too many definitions that are distinct in detail from taxation.

  • Zeb||

    Slavery is owning another human being. Taxation is taking some of their stuff by force. There are many ways one might say that we are owned by governments, but I don't think taxes are really it. The health care mandate is more like slavery than even income taxes, I think.

  • sasob||

    And the essence of ownership is control. If you can force another to do your bidding under pain of imprisonment or even death, if you can seize the fruits of that person's efforts in life against his will and do with them as you wish - then that person is in essence your slave. And if you can force him to pay a penalty/tax or an insurance premium or other fee to an entity of your choosing - just for the "right" to draw breath and to live in his own country unmolested - then you are saying that his life belongs to someone else and that he must purchase it. Most definitely that is a form of slavery.

  • sasob||

    And furthermore: If you can force someone to go and fight your wars for you or your friends - to risk or even give up his life or health against his will and the perception of his own interests - then that person is a slave, regardless of whether you call yourself the State or the Crown or the Country. And regardless of by what euphemism you choose to refer to his involuntary servitude - be it conscription, the draft, or national service.

  • Lord Peter Wimsey||

    "As it happens, Greenwood is married to a think-tank libertarian in real life, which might explain why so much of the dialogue and jokes ring true."

    Uh...not from what you quoted it doesn't.

    "He preferred Atlas Shrugged, which is basically about how rich people shouldn't pay taxes"

    No one with half a brain stem would give this description of Atlas Shrugged. Does Atlas makes ANY references to taxes? I can't think of a single one, though I suppose must be one or two in a book that long.

    Rearden Steel? The Dog-eat-dog law? The govt.'s push for necessary sacrifice? Altruism? Rational self-interest? this is all about the rich and taxes????

    Good freaking grief. The stupid author could have at least read the goddamn Wikipedia pages on Atlas and Objectivism before writing her novel. That would've taken her about five minutes.

    I was a children's librarian for 11 years. I NEVER saw a YA book make a political point/observation that didn't read like the author pulled it out of her ass.

    These people should stick to wizards and vampires.

  • Rasilio||

    And the funny thing is when they do they usually do a pretty good job of making political points.

    The entire Harry Potter series can be read as one long rant about how untrustworthy the authorities are

  • The Last American Hero||

    I believe Ayn goes off about income taxes being immoral at some point because they punish folks for producing. Although, as you indicate, Atlas isn't about taxes.

  • ||

    I NEVER saw a YA book make a political point/observation that didn't read like the author pulled it out of her ass.

    Starship Troopers? Red Planet?

  • sasob||

    Does Atlas makes ANY references to taxes? I can't think of a single one, though I suppose must be one or two in a book that long.

    One of the protagonists in AS, Ragnar Danneskjold the pirate, gives as his justification for raiding government welfare and foreign aid ships the immorality of taxation.

  • Bob G.||

    She seems like she was just trying to say what she thought Nick wanted to hear.

    But, yeah The Giving Tree always creeped me out as well.

    My parents once gave me "My Mother Sends Her Wisdom". Even when I was a child (long before I had heard of libertarianism) I knew there was something wrong with that book.

  • Car Scanner||

    That's a good book.

  • Barry Williams||

    Dogs . . . sentient? I guess in the loosest definition of the word i.e. "able to sense" but I prefer the definition "awareness of self". Allowing the former definition would mean everything with a nervous system and maybe some things without one.

    SHEESH!

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  • Edwin||

    "The giving tree" to me was never about endless, one-sided giving. I always figured that implied was that the tree was happy to see the boy's life advance, and spend time with him (didn't the old man sit on him frequently once the tree was a stump?), because it's in the nature of a tree to give fruit and lumber, it isn't really "taking" anythign from the tree, trees aren't like animals so all that chopping wouldn't "hurt" it
    That's how I understood it

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