Atlas Shrugged, part 3, chapter 5

AtlasShruggedPart 3, Chapter 5: Their Brother’s Keepers

The sheer hypocrisy of this book is wearing me down. The reader is given in-depth looks at the thought-processes of our protagonists. The protagonists have full-life backstories and motivations and ambitions. The lack of similar detail for the antagonists and secondary/tertiary characters is not only reasonable but necessary given the limits of a book. But to then denigrate and scorn the antagonists/secondary/tertiary characters FOR THE EXACT SAME ACTIONS as the protagonists BECAUSE THEY LACK ANY STATED MOTIVE infuriates me.

Arg! This chapter is an illustration of the phrase: “We judge others by their actions but judge ourselves by our intentions.”

Anyway, first there is a description of the events of this chapter, and then a series of five brief rants, mostly centered around hypocrisy.

First, copper wires keep on breaking. It’s a theme for the chapter. Every other scene is a bit of copper wire snapping.

Jim Taggert has a mental breakdown in which he shouts hysterically at Dagny that he should get whatever he wants and it’s Dagny’s job to do whatever it takes to give it to him.*

D’Anconia Copper was nationalized, but then the nations involved discover that it’s a worthless company and the stuff that remained of value was bombed out of existence (presumably by Ragnar) before it could be used by anyone else.  Francisco then gives a public fuck-up, by hacking the city’s big calendar to say “Brother, you asked for it! Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d’Anconia.”

Hank Rearden and Dagny have dinner. Hank Rearden “realizes” that Francisco has always been his friend. (Yeah, I don’t know either.) Rearden and Dagny are given respect by those around them for the purity of their love.

Philip Rearden approaches Hank Rearden to beg for a job in his own unctuous manner and declares to Hank that, “You haven’t any feelings. You’ve never felt anything at all. You’ve never suffered!” clearly demonstrating that he fits in with every other self-centered ass in this book. Hank Rearden kicks him out.

Hank Rearden successfully buys the justice system in order to divorce his wife. **

Hank Rearden is approached by his “Wet Nurse” (whose name I don’t think we’ve ever learned) who wants a real job rather than the government supervisory job he’s currently got. Rearden exercises some sarcasm and then says that he would love to hire Wet Nurse but he can’t because the government wouldn’t let him. (Given that Rearden is hiring all sorts of people under fake names, is smuggling out materials to sell on the black market, and generally running two books for his whole company, which Wet Nurse knows perfectly well, the excuse falls super thin for me. But Wet Nurse knows that Rearden is true and honest and whatnot and goes away sorry that he’s missed his opportunity for competent usefulness.***)

Minnesota is a central disaster area. It has the big grain harvest that will feed the nation if only it survives. Rearden is providing black market deals to farmers for farming equipment. But then the train schedule is messed up by one of the Washington boys so that all the grain gets stuck in Minnesota and doesn’t get to market. Ma Kip, a Washington Woman, has been promoting soybeans and is likely the reason the trains got held up. But her soybeans don’t make it to market either because they were harvested too soon and go moldy.

Dagny has finally been invited to and attends one of the mysterious back-room meetings with the movers and shakers who then proceed to tell each other what Dagny thinks without letting her get a word in edgewise. She wears a dress “made of satin, a satin so light and thin that it could have served as the stuff of a nightgown.”**** Dagny argues that they should retrench to the East Coast and support industry. They say that they need transcontinental traffic in order to move military troops to keep the peace. Plus, in the long run, they’ll all be dead so there’s no need to plan for the future.

One of the (many) broken copper wires pulls Dagny out of the meeting and takes her to the train yard in order to fix the problem. She then calls a competitor to borrow one of his employees because “No, George, not one—not a single mind left on Taggart Transcontinental.” Meanwhile, as they wait for the new arrival, Dagny’s tower director knows exactly what she wants and starts working on creating a new train schedule from the ground up.

Then she calls out as many of her employees as possible to send them out to manual relay signals via lanterns and written notes. She gives a speech to the workers: “She could barely distinguish the faces of the men when they gathered […] These were the dregs of the railroad.” Then she sees John Galt among them. She continues her speech but no longer knows what she’s saying.

Then she goes off into the tunnels to meet up with John Galt and we are once more treated to unpleasant, violent sex of dubious consent. He leaves hickeys down her throat, she sinks her teeth into his arm, he elbows her in the head, and his kiss is “viciously painful.” Galt then talks about how he stalked her for ten years. He was jealous of Rearden for being her lover, but then he saw Rearden and realized that Rearden was worthy of Dagny, so then he stopped being jealous. He tells her that they can never meet again until she’s willing to give up her entire life to him, but when she’s ready to leave the world behind and come with him, she should leave a note on the statue of Nathaniel Taggart. Finally, “she staggered out” and “fell down on the steps of the pedestal, like another derelict, her dust-smeared cape wrapped tightly about her, she sat still, her head on her arm, past crying or feeling or moving.”

Thus ends chapter 5.

On to the rants:

1.

It is becoming increasingly clear that his book really personifies the quote: “We judge others by their actions; we judge ourselves by our intentions.”

When the Washington boys take the seed grain from one place in order to feed the people of someplace else, it’s a sign that they are stupidly shortsighted. But when Dagny rips up the copper wire from one working place in order to patch up a broken area, it’s a sign that she’s desperate.

When Ma Kip destroys the grain industry in order to make way for her own soy product to take over the market, she’s being monstrously greedy and insultingly paternalistic. But when John Galt works to destroy the society as a whole in order to make way for his own social plan, he’s being gloriously ambitious and deeply caring.

When the various members of the populace are standing in silence, it’s because they’re stupid and unmotivated. When our main characters stand in silence, it’s because they know the people around them are too stupid to understand and it’s pointless to speak.

Which takes us to:

2.

Dagny tells the head of another train company that there is no intelligence left at Taggert Transcontinental, thus she needs to borrow one of his employees. She then goes to her experienced dispatcher and he knows what he needs to do and immediately starts calculating the complex commands that she’ll need. She then goes out to speak with the train workers, a group of men whose faces she can see but whose lack of intelligence she knows. Then she sees John Galt is one of them.

I think the lesson here is pretty obvious:
Because Dagny knew there was no intelligence in that group of men, she failed to notice John Galt for twelve years. Who else in that crowd has she also failed to notice?

Dagny’s problem is not that there are no intelligent people in her company, it’s that she doesn’t recognize intelligence in others and isn’t willing to foster it in her workforce.

3. 

She does learn a related lesson, not to the extent of thinking that any of those people are smart or have motivations of their own, but to the extent that she broods about using them as lampposts to pass the signals along. What has society come to that she must use men as mere tools? And yet, Dagny’s horror at this strikes me as disingenuous since this is exactly the method that her much respected ancestor Nathaniel Taggart used. She is going back to how he did things, just as she always wanted.

Given Dagny’s horror, I can only assume that she has a very revisionist notion of history. This is on par with many of the other characters who only acknowledge the good parts of the past and will flatly deny any historical wrong doing. (Slavery? That never happened in the US!) She lives in a world where the past has taken on a golden sheen of perfection in which everything was done perfectly, whitewashing away all the problems, and thus she is horrified that her own time involves problems. It wasn’t like that in the past!

Thinking about how perspective changes the interpretation of events:

4.

Dagny’s radio talk in chapter 3 was excellent. She stands up for herself, acknowledges her actions, and calls the bluff of all of the people trying to blackmail her from the shadows. Of course, she also talks about how her love is greater and purer than anyone else’s, because she found true equality in a partner, but aside from that bit of insult-laden bragging, it was a great speech.

Then, in chapter 5, she shows up to a train emergency wearing an evening gown like a nightgown, gives a speech that she wasn’t paying any attention to, and then wanders off into a dark tunnel to have a quickie with one of her manual laborers. Sure, if you know her thoughts, her intentions, this was just as “pure” as her affair with Rearden, but from the outsider’s perspective it is kind of the opposite of what she spoke up for on that radio show. Any other character acting like that would have been thoroughly scorned by Rand.

5.

And finally, the level of presumption that these characters rise to is really pissing me off.  In chapter 4, Cheryl died because she wouldn’t ask for help. Now, in chapter 5, Rearden wants to know where Francisco is, but “I wouldn’t approach him. The only homage I can still pay him is not to cry for forgiveness where no forgiveness is possible.”

Well, it’s certainly not possible when you refuse to ask for it, or even allow the opportunity for it to happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Is it the wronged party’s responsibility to go to the perpetrator to deliver unsought forgiveness? Is it the perpetrator’s right and responsibility to decide how the wronged party will react?

I know that it’s hard to apologize when you know you are thoroughly in the wrong. Shame can be extremely difficult to face. But Rearden needs to play the adult for a bit rather than hiding from his own actions behind the (demonstrably false) excuse that he knows what Francisco thinks and wants.

* I suggest that now is the time to take Jim in for a psychological evaluation to see about his break from reality. Jim Taggart really comes across like a young child demanding that his mother give him candy and never make him go to school. In that scenario, Dagny comes across to me a bit like the mother responding to this by saying that he can go or not go to school on his own recognizance but that she’s not going to feed him anything at all. So, you know, a spoiled child and an abusive/neglectful mother. Given that the actual situation is two adult siblings, Dagny is well within her right to respond that way, but possibly she should have told him to grow up a hell of a lot sooner. Alternately, take him to a mental health clinic because he’s having a mental break from reality. She needs to either give him help (ie. help him face reality) or walk away entirely. Merely standing back and watching him descend into deeper levels of psychosis just seems distasteful.

** Anna pointed out to me that, in any other story, a rich man using his wealth to subvert justice and divorce his wife without giving her a penny would be a sign of evil. In this story, he’s the good guy. Go figure. It feels to me a bit like the train disaster in which the passengers on a train are all suffocated, but their various actions or inactions meant that they deserved it. Justice doesn’t matter as long as bad stuff happens to bad people.

*** I’m fairly sure that Wet Nurse and Cheryl are both the equivalent of Rand saying “I told you so.” On the one hand, it’s like the lyrics to Sinner Man, in which God tells the sinner man that it’s too late to pray now that the end of time is here so he’d better go to the devil because God isn’t accepting him. On the other hand, it’s pretty darned arbitrary: there’s no reason why Wet Nurse and Cheryl couldn’t have been saved.

**** We get a lot of descriptions of Dagny’s girlish figure and her light, transparent clothing in this book. A LOT.

6 comments on “Atlas Shrugged, part 3, chapter 5

  1. Anna says:

    For some reason, that giant calendar hanging over the city really cracked me up each time they mentioned it. I was a little disappointed to learn in this chapter that it is automated; I had liked to imagine that someone’s job was each morning to actually hang a large banner with the date on it on the side of the building.

    • Rebecca says:

      Hee! They had mentioned before that it was electronic, but I have to say, I had also assumed that someone had the job of going in, each day, and typing in the new date, and pushing the button to update at exactly 12 midnight.

  2. Blake says:

    Just a mouse in the house traipsing through to say “you are smart, and your blog is too”. Ayn Rand epitomizes the “I’m ok, you’re not ok” disposition; the world around her is just chock full of flawed, terrible people, to the point that it sometimes forces her to do and say things that others might call flawed or terrible. But it’s not her fault – it’s the world’s fault! What a blissfully blameless way to stumble through life.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks! I’m glad to have you traipsing through. And yeah, the only difference between her “men of the mind” and her “looters” is that the narration is nice to the “men of the mind” and vicious to the “looters” but they’re not actually acting any differently, all of them horrible whiners.

  3. Lisa says:

    Hey Anna! Cool blog!!! Ayn Rand!?! I just find her philosophy creepy. But you know that. Good on you for tackling Atlas Shrugged. I hope the next serious books project is one that you can enjoy!

    • Anna says:

      It was brutal, Lisa! If I’d been in Colorado, I totally would have tried to rope you into it, too. I swear, I’m still recovering, though Rebecca and I have different traumas: she has been going through a bit of withdrawal, still unable to quite let go of all of the fallacies, while I have been pretending that I read it so long ago that I can barely even remember the book. I’m also currently reading almost entirely fluff.

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