Atlas Shrugged (random musings at the half-way point)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedOkay, so I lied about the previous post being my last for the week, but I have to celebrate making it to the halfway point somehow. It is all coasting downhill from here on out, right?

I’m working (sort of) at trying to understand the philosophy behind this book.* The idea of the poor little rich guys being forced by an equalitarian government into supplying their innovations to unappreciative consumers who believe it is their right to get any new product, not a privilege for which they have to work, is hard for me to wrap my mind around – not because I believe that her argument against such a thing is wrong, per se, but because it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the world around me at all.

It is the rare CEO nowadays that actually has direct involvement in the production of his or her company, which leads to more and more of them looting their own companies. In fact, today’s CEOs and Presidents more closely resemble Rand’s despised Washington men than any Hank Rearden or Dagny Taggert. (As an aside, even Rand’s protagonists seem to want their cake and to eat it, too: they complain of the inefficient officials who are always blaming their ineptitude on “unforeseen” and “unpreventable” circumstances, but whenever something interferes with the protagonists’ efficiency, it always turns out to be unforeseen and unpreventable, as well.)

However, as I was mulling this over, a Metallica song came on, and I started thinking about their history. They were on the forefront of the battle against illegal downloading of music, and got a ton of flack for basically being selfish and money-grubbing. Musicians in general are creators and innovators who are caught between unfavorable contracts to corrupt studios and consumers who are trying to fight back against the price inflation of the studios. Honestly, Lars Ulrich is this generation’s Hank Reardon!

Several days later, though, another thing occurred to me, though: when trying to get paid for his work, Lars Ulrich was asking for government regulations to stifle a new technology, which is what the bureaucrats do in Atlas Shrugged. So, he is actually both sides of the coin, really, which is a bit of a gray area that exists a lot in the real world and not at all in this novel.

—Anna

*Tom and I had a short discussion on whether you can call yourself “trying to understand” something when you are simultaneously unwilling to let go of your disdain for it, and I was arguing that you cannot, which seems to have come back to bite me in the ass for Atlas Shrugged.

5 comments on “Atlas Shrugged (random musings at the half-way point)

  1. Ben says:

    I like that: “a gray area that exists a lot in the real world and not at all in this novel.”

  2. ‘The idea of the poor little rich guys being forced by an equalitarian government into supplying their innovations to unappreciative consumers who believe it is their right to get any new product, not a privilege for which they have to work, is hard for me to wrap my mind around – not because I believe that her argument against such a thing is wrong, per se, but because it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the world around me at all.’

    YouTube: Let’s Ban Profits
    state-accuses-13-new-york-gas-stations-of-price-gouging
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_health
    ADA: “Public accommodations” include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays, among other things.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_housing_in_the_United_States
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_food

    National Labor Relations Act: “Employers have a duty to bargain with the representative of its employees. There can be only one exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees.” So-called unfair practice under the law: “Refusing to bargain collectively with the representative of the employer’s employees.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft
    A couple of Dan Conway stories
    ObamaCare Agencies vs. FDR Agencies (Higher res)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Program

    Rand just carried all this to its logical conclusion. For Atlas Shrugged, she distilled the ideas that move the world into purer form. This includes the ideas and motivations of characters. Her novels aren’t meant to be a naturalistic snap-shot of a certain time period, or certain people. They are meant to dramatize conflicts in purer, essential terms. Rand called her aesthetic philosophy “Romantic Realism,” and contrasted it to Naturalism.

    • Rebecca says:

      I’m actually a bit confused by these examples you give, particularly the ADA, and the rights to health and food. What is the Objectivist/Randian opinion on Universal Human Rights?

      I know that Dagny had shown admiration for Nathaniel Taggert being able to get away with murder, but the rest of the text seems pretty supportive of the individual’s being given a chance to succeed. There are certainly other cultures that believe that believe the elderly and the disabled are not productive members of society and thus should be cast off entirely (for example, pre-18th century Inuit would cast them off on ice floes), but those tended to be subsistence cultures that treasured manual labor over design/creation/invention types of productivity.

      Anyway, it’s hardly a logical progression to go from thinking that everyone should get a fair chance at being a productive member of society to thinking that no one should need to be a productive member of society.

      • There are universal human rights in the Objectivist view. The right to life is the right not to be killed or injured. The right to liberty is the right not to be imprisoned. The right to property is the right not to be robbed.

        But some of the “rights” in the UN Declaration are not proper rights. “Rights” to be given certain goods or services are coercive claims on the products of others. For some to have such “rights” is for the government to violate the proper rights of others. If I have the right to healthcare, then that means that someone else has to be enslaved to give it to me (at least partially and temporarily.) What happened to his or her right to liberty? It can’t coexist with my right to healthcare. I’m entitled based on need, and the doctor or hospital is drained to fill my need; parasite and victim.

        Under the ADA, private business are called “public accommodations” and are forced to install expensive ramps and other special facilities, regardless of whether they judge it prudent to expend the funds necessary to accommodate the handicapped. (Such regulations also tend to foreclose innovative options for accommodations outside the few prescribed by the government.)

        (See this video and the next in the playlist: Individual Rights)

        Anna said that an entitled attitude to new products among consumers bears no resemblance to the world around her. Perhaps the entitlement mentality in the US is not so brazen as to demand new products as a right…yet. But there is plenty of entitlement driving Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, Social Security, rent control, ADA regulations, elaborate “consumer protection” regulations and frivolous lawsuits.

        If you or Anna want to better understand some of the thinking that goes into the Objectivist political positions, I recommend reading this essay I wrote: How to Show That Taxation is Robbery.

        • Rebecca says:

          Thanks. I read and enjoyed your essay on taxation as robbery and responded over there.

          It’s good to know that there are Universal Rights in Objectivist Theory, now we just need to quibble over what those rights are. (I admit, a couple of the UN’s rights had me raising an eyebrow. Article 24, right to paid holidays? Really?)

          I agree that a doctor/hospital should not be drained of value in order to treat anyone, but I also think that is why there should be nationalized healthcare, so that the government is paying for the treatment, and citizens universally are paying taxes so that they do not have to pay insurance and they do not have to live in a society that is full of sick people.

          On the other hand, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand appears to believe that people have a universal right to intellectual property. Is this accurate? Because that’s a right that I pretty strongly disagree with. They should have a right to trade secrets, if they want, but to say that one individual can not use the thoughts in his head because those thoughts were used by someone else first strikes me as particularly unpleasant. That type of monopoly might, arguably, be a necessary evil, but it should never be considered a right.

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