Atlas Shrugged, Chapter 8

AtlasShruggedThis chapter kind of highlighted for me how Rand appears to have an incredibly focused Monkey Sphere. She sees known individuals as individuals, but she fails to see groups of people as made up of individuals. Once some people are in a group, they immediately become some vague conglomerate that looses all interest and rights, even to the point of ignoring the individuals who make up that group. (Example from chapter 7: “Passengers” aren’t really people.)

I very much see this perspective as a symptom or a cause or some combination related to depression. The whole world can be against you and the individuals who support you don’t really count because they’re just individuals and you know that the whole world hates you… the whole world being this amorphous thing that you know without ever having to actually get to know it. There is much talk about how the “public” is against Reardon Metal and the John Galt line, how “people” are saying that it’s dangerous and horrible, how “the press” are writing scurrilous stories, etc. And yet, at the same time, there are long lists of individuals who are placing orders for the new metal, who are buying stock in the new train line, who want to be on the new train. But this chapter has a break through because in this chapter Dagny not only achieves a massive success but also recognizes for the first time that there are masses of people who support her, masses too large for her to comprehend as individuals, but must see as groups, as “the public” or as “the press.”

This is a happy chapter (at least in comparison to everything else so far.)  

First, a quick rundown of what happens in this chapter:

Eddie Willers continues to monologue to a mysterious other whose name he doesn’t even know. As much as I harangue most of these characters about opening up and verbalizing their thoughts and issues, Eddie Willers needs to learn to shut the hell up. As much as I had originally wondered if 1957 was long enough ago that business principles were different, it was still post-WWII. Corporate espionage was a recognized thing. Loose Lips Sink Ships!

Reardon sells off a couple of his companies in order to comply with the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. The two people we see purchase those companies both consider the situation horrible. One of them apologizes and wants Reardon to accept the apology, while the other one just offers to give Reardon illegal kickbacks. Reardon hates the first guy but likes the second one for all that he refuses the kickbacks. Reardon clearly likes things to be unambiguous. He wants a company to be his or to not be his, but having weird unwritten and unspoken (and unreliable) power is worse than having none. In many ways, I feel similarly, although I understand that there are some people who feel differently and are capable of managing amorphous reins of power.

People say all sorts of awful things about the bridge and the metal and whatnot. Rand attempts to demonstrate that Wikipedia can’t possibly exist because crowd-sourcing knowledge is the most awful thing ever.

There’s a press conference in which Dagny says she expects to make a lot of money, and the press corps attack her, saying things like how can she bear to make money by killing all of her passengers. I wanted to roll my eyes at both parties. I don’t know how those reporters think business works, but one doesn’t make a lot of money off of dead passengers and possibly Dagny should point out that she expects to make her money off of satisfied, live passengers.

And then there is a long, beautiful, and emotional train ride in which Dagny’s love of the train is highlighted in beautiful, descriptive prose. The shining tracks, the rushing wind, the endless sky, the landscape streaking past… this is joy and love and success and wonder and all things good.

Then there’s a celebratory dinner with Dagny, Reardon, and Ellis Wyatt. It actually reminded me a lot of the dinner in chapter 3 with James Taggert, Orren Boyle, Paul Larkin, and Wesley Mouch. Here are the movers and shakers of the world, making plans for the rest of us. Dagny et al. are competent and successful while Boyle et al. are whiny wimps, but they very much mirror each other.

And finally there’s a sex scene with Dagny and Reardon, which was just as skeevy as I had been expecting. On the one hand, verbal consent: Excellent. I approve. On the other hand, there are a lot of thoughts about whose victory or defeat this is. I can’t say I’m much impressed by a sexual experience in which one person wins while the other person loses.

And, back to (even more blatant) ranting:

The dinner party gives me several thoughts.

First, it makes me wonder what exactly Dagny does. What exactly is she producing? She’s purchasing factories and hiring workers to use metal designed by Reardon, to create objects (bridges designed by Reardon, tracks and train cars designed by who-knows-who), to provide transportation for other companies. And then she sits around a table with her friends and compatriots talking about their future plans. It’s not that I think management isn’t important, it’s that I hadn’t thought Rand thought so, especially given the way Dagny does management. I have had to force my way, kicking and screaming, through a variety of management texts, but they were worthwhile reads. Dagny should probably do something similar. Dagny can and does complain that good employees are hard to get, wondering how she’ll replace her most knowledgeable and experienced veteran workers, but it doesn’t occur to her to try to cultivate employees. She would never explain to a subpar employee what he was doing wrong and how to improve. People are seen as oddly static in their abilities and capabilities, such that there’s no point in trying to change them. So Dagny’s strength and ability appears to be that she finds already competent people who already have their niche markets and brings them together. Given how often she states that she’s bad at people, and the evidence sure backs her up on that one, it’s an odd business for her to be so successful in.

Second, it makes me roll my eyes whenever these very people say that they don’t rely on friendship or offer favors, etc. They work with people they know, respect, and like. They try to support the people that they know, respect, and like. What exactly do they think friendship is? I have the impression that these people (Rand included) think that friendship and favors involve compromising ones honor and principles. I would counter argue that friends are people who don’t demand that of one.

Third, let’s discuss the issue of what it means to be selfish. It’s a constant insult thrown at Dagny and Reardon, both externally and internally. And the Randian’ perspective is apparently that being selfish is good. I actually approve of this. In part because I’ve been caught in way too many circles of friends asking “what do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” and I find it easiest to state my preference and see if anyone else has a counter suggestion rather than to let the cycle continue for too long. But, coming back to the Monkey Sphere issue, there’s a distinct difference in scope of selfishness. Rand seems to think being selfish means wanting money. I, on the other hand, feel perfectly happy in my left-ist liberal perspective that what I want is a government that takes care of its people, where there’s universal healthcare and universal education and the entire financial structure of my nation is not hostage to the success or failure of a few individuals. That is what I want, and the fact that it is a more complex desire than a few extra digits in my bank account doesn’t make it any less self-ish. Because I have a Monkey Sphere, too, it just includes the ability to see national and global patterns and understand their effect on me and mine.

One comment on “Atlas Shrugged, Chapter 8

  1. Anna says:

    I agree that for a book that talks up individualism as much as this one does, it sure has a very strong predestination vibe.

    Also, I think we were all the losers in that sex scene: Dagny, Hank, and the reader. Right from the get-go, I knew we were in for a bumpy ride (cool train metaphor) with the opening sentence:

    “It was like an act of hatred, like the cutting blow of a lash encircling her body: she felt his arms around her, she felt her legs pulled forward against him and her chest bent back under the pressure of his, his mouth on hers.”

    Delightful.

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