Protest is one of the central themes of the book, and it is presented in an exaggerated, absurdist manner. An animal rights protest at a cat show results in a convention center’s worth of terrorized animals pissing in unison. The scene crystallizes (at least for me) the questionable utility of direct action protest. (Not at all sure this was the author’s intent, but this is what I took from it as it confirms my own feelings about the misplaced anger, insufferable self-righteousness, and outright chaos that results from this kind of political action.)
From there, the story becomes more and more absurd as an entire neighborhood of affluent suburbanites abandon their gated community, abdicating their civic responsibilities and setting fire to cultural meccas for the energizing jolt it gives them. A poorly articulated philosophy is thrown about here and there to justify the actions, but it is the thrill of destruction that is the true motivator.
I was reminded of one of my all time favorite books, “Friend of the Earth” by T.C. Boyle. There is a similar thread in that book of the vaguely unsatisfied but otherwise upstanding individual giving themselves to an activist cause and going completely off the deep end with it. Violence and destruction (for a good cause!) offer the means to a new and improved identity for the disaffected man. When the environmental activists in “Friend of the Earth” actually set fire to a second growth forest to stress the importance of their philosophical purity, the absurdity of extremism is laid bare. (The parallels with the Tea Party and their idiotic insistence on “No New Taxes Ever” spring easily to mind.)
The terrorist tactics of the characters in “Millenium People” also bring to mind the recent horrors in Norway. Though much has been made of the ideology of the shooter, I feel like the violence itself is the most relevant issue, as it is for me in this book. Who cares what “reason” people use to justify their violence and vigilantism? It shouldn’t matter, because taking up arms and wreaking havoc is morally indefensible. All the discussion and parsing of various manifestos of mass murderers obscures the only relevant issue which is the violence itself. What I take away from this book is the idea of mindless protest dressed up as something noble, and getting quickly out of hand.