Atlas Shrugged, part 3, chapter 1

Part 3, Chapter 1


Just… I can’t even…

Ha-ha-ha! Ha! Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!

This is awesome. It is so incredibly ludicrous. This is John Galt’s solution? Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!


It’s just, okay, the internal contradictions are pretty extreme, ranging from specifics to whole societal structures.

For some non-spoilery specific examples:

“There were no superfluous objects, but she noticed a small canvas by a great master of the Renaissance, worth a fortune, she noticed an Oriental rug of a texture and color that belonged under glass in a museum.” (I don’t think “superfluous” means what she thinks it means. Plus, it’s a run-on sentence.)

“The streets were empty when I left that theater, I was the last one to leave—and I saw a man whom I had never seen before, waiting for me in the light of a lamppost.” (How many people does it take to have a street not be empty?)

Anyway, first a summary of events, short and sweet:

First, Dagny wakes up from her plane crash to look into the face of a god. He’s the most gorgeous person imaginable, the Platonic ideal of a face, and he’s John Galt. Since she sprained her ankle in the crash, he scoops her up and carries her back to his place in his arms, bridal fashion. (Hee!)

Both during her time in John Galt’s arms (ha-ha-ha!), and, the next day, in a car Galt rents for the purpose, Dagny is given a tour of the valley and its inhabitants. This is like an industrialized Swiss Family Robinson. The valley holds all the resources in the world, and the people have all the knowledge, skills, time, and good will in the world. It’s a utopia of brilliance and joy, friendship and success.

To live in the village, every resident has to take the oath: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Then there is a dinner party in Dagny’s honor in which the nine other attendees were each highly successful men of intellect out in the greater world who all gave it up to live in this valley and now proceed to tell Dagny their individuals tales of woe. It’s a bit much, and pretty much put paid to my optimism about this section, because, just wow, the whining.

So, let’s proceed to my ranting section, which mainly consists of, repetitions of “really? No, I mean, really?”

Um, okay, where to start?

1. The Oath. Yes, it’s got to be oath. That’s the oath? Really?

This oath essentially says that friendship and marriage are both out, and children are definitely out. Clearly, you are not allowed to have a child, since children are born without providing much use and parents are making their children live for their own pleasure.

Also, gift giving is specifically taboo. John Galt tells Dagny this before we even get to the oath. You are not allowed to either give or receive gifts. I had rather thought we’d covered that issue way back in the beginning of Dagny’s affair with Rearden: that sometimes you gave a gift because you want the other person to have the thing. That it is for your pleasure that you give. Well, it’s a taboo pleasure in this society.

Anyway, the lack of marriage thing is helped along by the gender divide. In Dagny’s tour, there are 26 people described as residents: 24 are male and 2 are female.*

2. The supreme competence of all the characters. Really. If you are brilliant in one area, you are apparently brilliant in all areas. The head of a large airplane company starts making and maintaining his planes from scratch (vaguely possible, I suppose) and running a pig farm as a part-time business. A gifted surgeon becomes a happy and capable village general practitioner.** A judge raises chickens and runs a dairy farm, churning all the butter for the village. (Really? That’s your solution? Have you ever churned butter or tried to take an egg from a chicken?)

It’s pretty unspecified, but there’s also a strong implication that people are designing and building their own houses, individually and without assistance. Or materials, for that matter. The early residents magically transfer their wealth into houses (although it’s unclear if they are bringing workers into the secret valley to do the work and then killing them, paying the other millionaires to help them, or just waving a magical wand), but the later residents are not allowed to either use regular US currency or convert that currency into Mulligan dollars, so they’re coming into the valley with nothing, and they’re not allowed to receive gifts. Um…. Yeah. I don’t even know.

3. The environment. I realize that Ayn Rand doesn’t believe in the environmental movement, but wow, does it become apparent here. She really doesn’t believe in the environment as anything that needs to be taken into consideration.

In Dagny’s tour of the valley, we discover that there is, in one valley, both shale oil production and pig farming. There are a variety of other things, too, but just those were the two that jumped out at me. I spent one summer living near an animal stockade. I have never lost so much weight in one summer. It smelled.

I have never been near shale oil production, but it involves exploding rocks, in order to get to the oil underneath them.

How would you like to live in a valley with both of these going on?

4. The miracle technologies. I suppose, if I want to make excuses for Ayn Rand, I could ignore point 3 and just explain that a miracle happened and solved all the problems with the industries. But, um, really? She already specified at least three miracle technologies:

  1. They have a hologram projector over the whole valley, hiding it from outside sight. (This is what blinded Dagny and caused her to crash when she was making a daredevil landing.)
  2. The mysterious motor of Dagny’s, that Quentin Daniels’ worked on, and that John Galt designed, is working and producing electric power from the atmosphere.
  3. Ellis Wyatt has perfected his shale oil drilling, producing 200 barrels of oil per day.

5. The people, for all their competence, are wimps. This isn’t actually impossible or even all that illogical, but all of these characters who I am supposed to admire, are really coming across as wimps. A philosophy professor refuses to argue his philosophy in front of any audience that doesn’t already believe him. A musician refuses to perform his music in front of any audience that hasn’t always supported him. A judge refuses to make any judgment in a court system that doesn’t see him as the supreme authority. They refuse to act within the system, and their method of acting outside of the system is to sit back and wait until “they” learn their lesson and get sad? They can’t stand up for their beliefs and argue their points? Really?

John Galt describes this movement as “the mind on strike.” But it’s not a strike because they aren’t making any demands. Instead, they’re just waiting for the rest of the world to fail without them having to do anything. (With the exception of Francisco and Ragnar, I suppose, who are out to actively ruin the world.)

6. Galt complains about the mind always being regarded as evil and suffering from every insult.  When I read his descriptions of these poor rich men, what he’s really complaining about is that they are not given the unique distinction of having never been attacked. Any attack is the same thing as systematic persecution. Anyone making an attack them is the same thing as all people attacking. Because he has ever been attacked, he has always been attacked. Just as Rand doesn’t appear to believe in minority votes and she apparently doesn’t believe in periodic events either.***

7. The government. This chapter reminds me of how I have long thought that the most perfect government would be a benign dictatorship. (Alas, for the lack of benign dictators.) Next to that I think a well-run commune would be best. (Alas, for that lack, too.) Rand appears to agree because this valley is defined by both. It’s a cult with John Galt as the worshiped leader. It’s an owned town with Midas Mulligan as the sole source of money. It’s a commune in which the savings Ellis Wyatt makes in refining his oil drilling business are willingly passed along to his customers and Mulligan asks only a token payment for the use of his car.

This is a wonderland dependent upon both miracle technologies and an altruistic population.

8. Nonetheless, various people have suggested trying to create such a place.

Glenn Beck wants to create the city of Independence, described here in his own words.****

Rod Lockwood wants to develop the island of Belle Isle off of Detroit, although I wasn’t able to find his actual proposal.

But honestly, nothing like Ayn Rand’s model is ever going to be implemented because it’s an impossible bluff and most of the rest of us look at it with confusion and wonder if we really have to bother calling it.

In my mind, the reality would be a lot more like John Hodgeman’s satire, than it would be to the description in this chapter.

If a bunch of rich investors and inventors want to withdraw from the world that is their right. We’re not going to stop them. Because we don’t believe in slavery and we’re not going to give in to some weird attempt at blackmail. The threat of them secluding themselves is based on a philosophy of the romantic creator, in which each individual stands alone and creates spontaneously, unaffected by the world around him, intrinsically better than the huddled masses.

But most of us know that people get their inspiration from each other and from the world around them. We know that no man is an island, and that we gain inspiration and insight from working with and around other people. That’s pretty much the basis of the scientific community and the business community and the slow failure of every single country that has tried to maintain isolation from the rest of the world. The rest of the world passes them by because they collaborate while the isolationist get left further and further behind.

If some group of smart people want a hidden valley, that’s their prerogative, but it will be more like Shyamalan’s The Village than like any sort of technological wonderland.

* Dr. Hendricks (male surgeon), John Galt, Dr. Akston (male philosopher), Lawrence Hammond, Dwight Sanders, Judge Narragansett (male), Midas Mulligan, Quentin Daniels, Dick McNamara, a professor of economics (male), a professor of history (male), a professor of psychology (male), an author (female!), Ellis Wyatt, Richard Halley, a brakeman (male), a truck driver (male), Ted Bielsen, Roger Marsh, Andrew Stockton, Calvin Atwood, a sculptor (male), Ken Danagger, Kay Ludlow (female actress), Owen Kellogg, and Francisco d’Anconia.
** This surgeon’s personal tale of woe is that he was forced to perform surgery on people he didn’t want to help. In general, I have the impression that most surgeons in the real world would complain that they’re not allowed to perform the surgery that they do want to perform, because the subjects are uninsured. Instead, they are forced to perform only the boring surgeries on the rich and insured.
*** Have you seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog? Galt’s speech here reminds me of Captain Hammer’s therapy session at the end of the blog in which he is whining about being punched and feeling pain. (38:33)
**** And I can’t resist including the links to John Stewart‘s coverage of Glenn Beck’s city idea.

3 comments on “Atlas Shrugged, part 3, chapter 1

  1. Anna says:

    Ugh, I’m so far behind! Anyway, I just finished Chapter 1, and I was having trouble swallowing the John Galt utopia, as well, but I have to say, to give credit where credit is due, I figured I was probably missing the point. Ayn Rand is creating a philosophy, that with all of the clear-cut moralities, is practically a religion, and no religious “after-life” is held up to the scrutiny of realism.

    Rand is showing an ideal state that is not really achievable in the real world, but is still a goal or a vision that Randians can strive for. So, while I definitely do not agree with it and still find the idea of it pretty appalling, I am not going to heap the scorn on it that I was intending to.

    I would also like to just add that if the millionaires in our real world would like to seclude themselves on some remote island or valley, I say go for it, not just because I believe in their freedom to do so (though I do), but also because I believe it would be a significant improvement in the world for the rest of us.

  2. I think laughter is the only response to Rand. Don’t try to understand, just laugh.

    Is it just me or does this utopia seem to go against everything Rand is giving out about? After all it seems pretty communal and the opposite of the individualism she so often praises. Why don’t the entrepreneurs charge a profit? Isn’t that the whole reason why they went Galt, so that they could be free to charge as a high a profit as they wanted? Am I missing something here?

    • Rebecca says:

      Yeah, this utopia just tipped the balance for me. Everything else, Rand uses enough logic to be argued against. But this is just so random: I got to laugh because what other response is there? They’re apparently making profit by not making profit.

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