Atlas Shrugged, part 2, chapter 3

AtlasShruggedIn this chapter, Rearden just begins to touch on some issues that I hope Rand intends to delve into further.

First, is the definition of “success.” Success is not just making money, or the characters would have accepted the various deals the corrupt officials keep offering them. Oddly, for all that they would deny it vociferously, the characters appear to define success as earning public accolades. They don’t go out seeking it, but they sure are upset when they don’t receive it. Unearned accolades are, of course, for parasites like Jim Taggert et al., but having earned those public accolades, they had better get them. Rearden touches on it, when “He thought—in bitter astonishment and for the first time—that the joyous pride he had once felt, had come from his respect for men, for the value of their admiration and their judgment. He did not feel it any longer. There were no men, he thought, to whose sight he could wish to offer that sign.” If you can’t define success as people looking up at you in awe, what does success mean?

Second is their ignorance of people as a resource that can be developed. Again, Rearden touches on this, when he wonders, “We who were able to melt rock and metal for our purpose, why had we never sought that which we wanted from men?” I have wondered this too, given the amount of times they complain at how hard it is to find good workers. All these men fresh out of college aren’t anywhere near as experienced as their veteran workers. Why don’t you train your own workers?

Meanwhile, Francisco remains an idiot savant. He has wonderful skills at all things, and he continues to make these Faustian arguments that have just enough truth to seem right, huge amounts of flattery to ease their way into Rearden’s psyche, and vast numbers of fallacies to stick in my craw.

So a quick summary of events and then a bit more of reaction from me:

After the wedding/stock market crash, Lillian leaves for home, but Rearden stays in New York to be with Dagny.

Rearden and Dagny talk. Rearden apologizes for being married, and Dagny points out that she wants to have whatever part of him he’s willing to give her, so he needs to stop whining, trust her to do what she wants when she wants, and start doing what he wants to do. (I agree.)

But it turns out that Lillian didn’t leave: it was a test! Now she knows her husband is cheating on her, although not with whom, and is going to hold it over him for ever and always as a torture that he’s no better than anyone else and will now sink to all sorts of depraved behaviors! One flaw is equal to all flaws, and thus he is no better than anyone else. Now he must obey her every command! And she intentionally caused it all by acting frigid! Mwa-ha-ha!

Rearden fails to ask the obvious question in response to her rant: why in the world would he do whatever she says? Her only threat is divorce, which she rejected out of hand.

Then Dr. Ferris comes along to smarmily talk about how Rearden will now do whatever he says because Rearden attended the Taggert wedding. Also because Rearden has been caught illegally selling metal to Danagger. Now Rearden must do whatever Ferris says for fear of prosecution. And Ferris caused it all by creating laws that are impossible to obey! Because apparently a criminal society is so much easier to control than a law-abiding one! Mwa-ha-ha!

Rearden does do the obvious in response to this: refuses, damn the consequences.

Eddie Willers demonstrates that he still has not learned when to shut the hell up and stop spilling insider knowledge to strangers.

Dagny goes to Danagger because she is sure that he will be the next to disappear, since he is currently the person most important to stabilizing the business community in some way. There’s some tension as she waits: did she get there in time? Why is Danagger late for his appointment with her? Who is Danagger currently closeted with?

We discover that Danagger had a visitor (maybe John Galt?) who is apparently a Buddha, capable of transporting a person mentally to nirvana with just words. High-on-Nirvana!Danagger tells Dagny that he’s retiring, that there’s nothing she can do about it, that he’ll answer any of her questions that he can, and that he can’t answer any of her questions. (Yes, he contradicts himself.)

Having heard about Danagger, Rearden sits in dark silence in his office. But then Francisco shows up. Francisco makes a variety monologs about how Rearden is clearly too good for this world, no one appreciates Rearden the way he should be appreciated, that the only reason to work is to be properly appreciated by the masses, and that Rearden should clearly abandon the world that has betrayed him. He is not the Buddha, though, because:

Then there’s a minor disaster at the factory and only Rearden and Francisco are capable of the dangerous task of fixing the leaking furnace. They work together like manly men, joyfully succeed, and save each other’s lives. Rearden rediscovers that there is joy to be had in working hard and successfully. It doesn’t require the accolades of others. (Yes! Thank you!) Rearden then offers Francisco a job at his factory because Francisco could learn to run a factory since he has demonstrated that he already knows how to run a factory. (Yes, that’s super-circular.) Francisco looks tortured while refusing.

And then some further reactions:

First, wow, Lillian really hates Rearden. This is getting into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory. She wants him to be miserable more than she wants to be personally happy. She really needs to get herself a life that is not so consumed by hatred of her husband.

Also, both she and Dr. Ferris are idiots if they think it is easier to control someone who doesn’t obey orders or follow known principles than it is to control someone who does. (Ah-ha, you don’t obey orders, excellent, then you can be told what to do! Um? Wait…)  And they also don’t know anything about how blackmail works. At least Ferris understands that there has to be a threat involved, an either-or scenario in which the alternative is something worse than the desired action. But both of them seem to think that all sins are equal and fail to understand that if one intends to break a man of principle, it has to be done in stages. And doing a Bond-villian monolog is a bad second step.

Meanwhile, Dagny and Rearden both, in their own ways, want to have their cake and eat it, too.

Dagny wants Danagger to not retire or to at least name an heir to his business (as a side note: what kind of crappy businessman doesn’t have an heir apparent already in case of accident?) but refuses the offer to be named the heir herself. People might think she’s just a parasite! Apparently her image is more important than getting the job done.

Rearden, on the other hand, is frustrated at the general incompetence of his workers. All of his older, more experienced workers know their business really well, but the new guys don’t know what they’re doing! They didn’t show up for their first day of work already knowing how to do everything? Shocking. (Not.) How does Rearden think his older workers acquired the skills and knowledge they have? When Francisco demonstrates that he already has a highly developed skill at working in a foundry and the knowledge/ability to direct the other men who are working in the foundry, Rearden tries to hire him with the stated opinion that Francisco can learn how a foundry works. Here’s a hint, Rearden: training someone for a job does not generally involve finding someone who already knows it.

2 comments on “Atlas Shrugged, part 2, chapter 3

  1. Good job battling through this mound, it can’t be easy. I’m all for hearing views other than my own but not if they’re as long as the Bible as just as interesting.

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