There’s a weird dichotomy in this whole book between what the characters are actually doing and what they (and Rand) describe them as doing.
The level of hypocrisy is pretty much on par between the good guys and the bad guys, it’s just that Ayn Rand castigates the bad guys for their hypocrisy while joining the good guys in theirs. The good guys are also happier with their hypocrisy, which makes me happy. While I sure would appreciate a few sincere people, I definitely prefer happy hypocrites to unhappy hypocrites.
Plus, I also prefer people who act in a way I can support, even if they mouth words I disagree with, to people who mouth words I agree with while acting in a way I dislike. Thus, even though Ayn Rand is saying “Greed is Good,” what she’s actually showing is closer to Marianne Williamson’s quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
— Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles
This, I can agree with whole-heartedly.
Be successful, not by dragging other people down but by building yourself up. Yes!
Anyway, the summary is going to be vague because it’s less a series of events and more a lot of description and philosophy. After that, I’ll have a few comments and a small rant.
The whole chapter consists of Dagny spending a month in “Galt’s Gulch” AKA “Atlantis,” meeting people and learning the way of life in this utopia.
Dagny discovers that the outside world thinks she’s dead, that she’s not allowed to send a message to anyone letting them know it’s not true, and that she can’t leave the valley for a month. Dagny decides that for the duration of the month, she will be paid for doing some make-work for Galt, and he agrees.
Ragnar explains that he is stealing gold and taking it to Mulligan’s bank and depositing it in the name of various industrialists, Dagny included. It is her money when she wants it. She refuses to use it, but everyone else treats her as an heiress with money.
Francisco arrives, is delighted that Dagny is alive, and declares that he loves her and everything he has done has been for her sake. Meanwhile, John Galt has been stalking Dagny for years. John Galt wants Dagny for himself but first wants her to reject Francisco, fair and square. There’s a weird dynamic in which Francisco thinks he’s lost Dagny to Rearden, Galt and Dagny both know that Galt is the competitor, but no one is going to tell Francisco that.
There is, it turns out, both marriage and children in this valley. Ragnar is married to the actress Kay Ludlow and one of the male professors has a house-wife who raises their children as her career. The two children are happy and free in this super rational world (where they can have no friends and irrational creativity is frowned upon.)
We learn that Galt lectures people on physics, but only those people who will be able to make direct use of it, and not Dagny, because she’ll use it in a way he doesn’t want.
Richard Halley gives a speech about how he works hard for his art and thus it is worth more than any art that comes from people who don’t work hard. (Apparently art is valued by the effort that goes into it rather than the product that comes out of it? This is a particularly odd argument for him to make since it perfectly mirrors the arguments the liberals out in the rest of the world are making.)
Dr. Akston talks about his three students: Francisco, Galt, and Ragnar in college. They were all brilliant. Akston and Stadler gave them special privileges and training because they were worth it. And Stadler is a dirty traitor.
Hank Rearden is still searching for Dagny. Dagny decides that she has to go back out into the world and at least try to save the railroad, certain that when the public’s lives are at stake, they’ll finally listen to her and see reason. Galt declares that he will continue to stalk her in order to whisk her back to the valley as soon as she gives up. Francisco finally buys a clue and realizes that Galt and Dagny are destined for each other. He shows this by giving them his heirloom silver goblets, which they accept as their due.
And that’s the chapter.
So, here are some thoughts:
The whole bit about how the people of Galt’s Gulch are just waiting for the rest of the world to collapse, reminds me of Anatoly’s song in the musical Chess. Specifically the part where he sings:
Right behind to shoot me down
And say he always knew I’d fall.” (1:27)
They are certain the rest of the world will collapse without them and they will make certain it happens by working just as hard as they possibly can to tear down the rest of the world. Dagny is going out to try to save her railroad. Galt and Francisco specifically say that they don’t think she’ll succeed and that they will be actively working against her to make sure she fails. The world isn’t so much collapsing because these geniuses have gone on strike as that these geniuses have formed a terrorist organization to cause the collapse.
While the verbal descriptions say this community is based on capitalist ideals, the actions and interactions being shown actually illustrate a communist utopia.
Here are a bunch of people who have given up everything they had in the outside world in order to work hard in a setting where they are supporting other hard workers. Each individual works hard, trades value for value, and gains pleasure from working together and supporting a hard-working community together. Money is, at most, a token representation of value transferred.
They are working for the greater glory of god/Galt/industry/whatever-ideal-they-want. Unlike modern versions of greed in business, there is no planned obsolescence, nor even any cost-benefit analysis. What is best is best and there’s no acknowledgement of diminishing returns. They want to work and they want to create great things.
Good for them.
The oath, which I thought was so ludicrous in chapter 1 of this section, turns out to not be an issue. It is routinely ignored by everyone. The presence of both marriage and children demonstrate this.
The oath, let me remind you, is:
“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.”
Now, compare this the most common marriage oaths:
The traditional wedding oath is:
I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
Traditional civil ceremony oath:
(Name), I take you to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife). Before these witnesses I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and I will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life.
Plus, people are constantly giving gifts to each other and calling it fine, because they are getting enjoyment from giving the gift.
John Galt is paying Dagny for some make-work, and relying on Ragnar’s deposits of money in the bank for repairs to her plane, even though she denies that she’ll ever use it.
Nobody is taking that oath seriously.
Rand’s version of the world reminds me of Newtonian physics. It’s very straight forwards, and (relatively) easy to comprehend. It’s a good working theory of the world. It’s not correct, but the errors are trivial for any daily use. In physics, it’s only when you get to very small things and very big things, that you need Einsteinian or quantum physics, to show that the observer matters and interactions are more complex than they might first appear.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, values are absolute. If reasonable people disagree, it’s only because one of them is working with false data. Personal preferences and individual values do not exist. A single object has a set value, and no reasonable person will value it more or less than anyone else.
A dinner is a dinner and has a set value, regardless of whether the person eating it is starving or already full. A wrench is a wrench and has a set value, regardless of whether the person owning it is a mechanic or a singer.
I believe that Rand needs to reassess her premises. People really and truly do value things differently.
A small rant:
I dislike people whining about how hard-done they are and I really dislike it when people bad-mouth someone else to me. As much as the bad-guy, stupid liberals in this book do it, the hard-working, good guys do it just as much.
It just makes me uncomfortable and makes me think less of the whiner. Thus, Akston whining about Stadler effects my opinion of Akston a lot more than it does my opinion of Stadler.
I had an experience in which I was training under two different martial arts instructors who had had a falling out with each other. In the particular circumstances, I agreed with one of them over the other, but I didn’t have the position (or desire) to voice an opinion. They simply trained at different schools after that and I continued to train with both. But even though they now had no interactions, they each continued to take the occasional verbal potshot at each other to me. They were both excellent teachers and excellent martial artists and mostly I just wished they would stick to their teaching rather than try to convince me that the other one wasn’t as good a teacher as they were.
Plus, Halley complaining that the audience in the outside world didn’t appreciate his music in the way he wanted it to be appreciated made me think he wasn’t as good an artist as he was described as being. Here’s a hint: if you are trying to communicate something and the person you’re talking to isn’t getting it, then you’re probably not communicating it well-enough.