By Ayn Rand
At the beginning of the chapter, when Dagny has run away from a rigged debate and found herself in a seedy diner, she discusses the state of the world with the lower-income diners. Like all good liberals, it was only from their mouths that I began to see what Rand has been trying to get at, and to perhaps even find some common ground between liberal and conservative viewpoints.
I think we can all agree that the state of the production in our country is in trouble, and, additionally, that one of the main sources of the trouble is that people have become disenfranchised from the act of production, that people are too afraid to buck the status quo to come up with original and ground-breaking ideas. From my liberal standpoint, the voices of the “little people” are too far away from the “big people” and if the “little people” try to make their voices heard, they have a very real fear of losing their jobs. Thus, people in the production line might notice incompetence, but are actively discouraged from acting on it. Of course, the two political sides break down when it comes to finding a solution, but I think even agreeing on the problem is a step in the right direction.
So, I was beginning to buy into Atlas Shrugged, right? I was even starting to think that this whole endeavor wouldn’t be as unpleasant as I had originally thought.
Then, she lost me again with one little word in the last ten pages of the chapter, and it felt like a slap in the face. That word was “passenger”:
“The day began with the news of a disaster: a freight train of the Atlantic Southern had crashed head-on into a passenger train, in New Mexico, on a sharp curve in the mountains, scattering freight cars all over the slopes.”
The freight car was carrying much-needed ore for Hank Rearden’s company, and he promptly calls the train company to check on the status of his metal. The general manager of the train company cannot give him an answer, and promptly falls into hysterics, giving the impression that he is just incompetent and not capable of dealing with any sort of crisis, instead of the truth, which is that he is currently dealing with getting EMERGENCY CARE to the MORTALLY INJURED PEOPLE and COLLECTING CORPSES from the GODDAMNED PASSENGER TRAIN and that Rearden can SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HIS GODDAMNED METAL UNTIL THEY MANAGE TO CLEAR THE SITE OF THE FUCKING BODIES.
JESUS! Anyway, Rearden then arranges for freight trucks to go pick up his metal and deliver them so he doesn’t have to have any sort of delay in his smelting business or whatever, despite the fact that he wouldn’t be able to get his trucks anywhere near the sight because it would have been cordoned off by the EMERGENCY VEHICLES, who would have told him to get HIS ASS OUT OF THEIR BUSINESS until they were done SAVING LIVES. In fact, this is one of the most important justifications for a government, and a largish one, at that: to have the services that will jump into emergencies like this, and also to tell the CEOs of metal companies that they can’t just drive their freight trucks over all the corpses in order to pick up their freight.
And, here’s where the real slap in the face comes: this is a fictional novel, not a report of an actual event. Rand decided to add the word “passenger” to this sentence, even though it was completely unnecessary and no actual passengers are mentioned in any of the following paragraphs. It feels a whole lot like Rand is specifically going out of her way to make sure that the reader knows that she views copper ore as more valuable than human lives, and that’s where she’s lost me completely. (After much yelling and gnashing of teeth, and a few days of retreating to my normal reading of vampires and werewolves, Rebecca has convinced me to keep reading to the end, but I’m on my guard now, and I don’t see how she can win me over again.)
P.S. – Much earlier in the chapter, before I got distracted by the PURPOSEFULL and BLATANT disregard for human life, this made me laugh:
Hank Rearden is driving a new and clearly very beautifully engineered car, which he tells Dagny is from Hammond’s of Colorado. Now, I just moved from Boulder, Colorado this year, and Hammond’s of Colorado is in fact a well-known candy company that makes old-fashioned and very beautiful candy canes. However, Hammond of Hammond’s Candy actually has quite the Randian origin story, so maybe it is a bit of a call-out, though she couldn’t quite bring herself to have Rearden sucking on a bunch of candy canes.