Atlas Shrugged (“Who is John Galt?”)

By Ayn Rand

Here’s where the live blogging gets a bit messy: by recapping as we go through it, we often decide to either not mention or put off mentioning something until it proves itself important. But the whole John Galt thing is sort of gradually gaining in importance, so there hasn’t been a good time to really address it head-on (yet) and we probably should have mentioned it beforehand. So, to catch up, here’s a quick run-down of John Galt: Continue reading

Atlas Shrugged, part 2, chapter 4

AtlasShruggedOne of my problems with this book is the way that it’s dated. I increasingly get the sense that this book is fighting a war that’s already been won. Ayn Rand is right and society acknowledges it: inventors who create impressive things can and should be rewarded richly by being able to monetize their inventions. Standing up for yourself, declaring your motives and taking pride in your accomplishments, is not only accepted but encouraged. Inventing, and being rewarded for it, is standard. Think of the way society looks at Steve Jobs or at Bill Gates. They’re impressive people and society respects them greatly. From the perspective of the 1950s, maybe this argument still needed to be made. From the perspective of 2013, though, it’s going too far and turning into bullying.

This is not the fault of Rand or her book, but (as her own arguments go) fault is not actually the issue at hand. It doesn’t matter whether there is fault, what matters is that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. The problem is that the book argues that wealthy business owners need to be given more rights and freedoms than they currently are. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, those wealthy business owners are being severely prosecuted. It makes sense to give them more rights, i.e. stop prosecuting them. But we’re not in a society that hates inventors and hates people who make money. We’re in a society where the banks demand bailouts, where the Disney corporation demands control of the intellectual property of a man half-a-century dead, and corporate theft is a standard practice to quash start-up companies.

I think Ayn Rand would be rolling in her grave regarding some of the people who use her arguments to rationalize their behaviors.

Anyway, first a summary of events (it’s only short in comparison to the chapter itself), and then a bit more about how Rearden, despite being rather awesome in this chapter, is also being incredibly blind, and how Francisco has fallen off the deep end.

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Atlas Shrugged (in the news!)

Once again Atlas Shrugged has made the news – this has seriously been a very timely reading! An Idaho lawmaker has proposed a bill requiring every high school student in the state to read and pass a test on Atlas Shrugged before graduation.* I had a series of reactions:

  • Ugh, those poor students! Oh, man, those poor teachers!
  • You know what, this is totally going to bite him in the ass. I have never heard of a single person who’s favorite book turned out to be one they read as a requirement. There’s something about the simple fact of the requirement that takes away a lot of the inspiration from reading.
  • Considering the somewhat explicit and very uncomfortable sex scenes, the PTA would be howling! Actually, this specific lawmaker would probably be howling just as loudly about any other book that contained similar passages. (Although given the Republican Party’s recent comments on rape, perhaps they wouldn’t be all that bothered.)

*I linked to Fox Nation because I thought we should have a supporting view of it (though they actually seem pretty noncommittal), but you should also check out the “Pic of the Day” on the right  column, because it is super cute!


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:

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Atlas Shrugged, part 2, chapter 2

AtlasShruggedGiven the recent Super Bowl, I have a sports metaphor for you:  Dagny and Rearden are like Olympic-grade field and track athletes who have stumbled onto a professional football field. They are extremely fast, they are extremely strong, they can get that ball from one end of the field to the other with no problem… and they have no clue why those referees keep on yelling at them, or why those other guys on the field are working together and even strategizing. There are two different competitions going on here, but Dagny and Rearden aren’t willing to learn the rules of football and the rest of the world isn’t willing to give up the game in order to celebrate pure individual strength.

In some ways, this book seems to foretell the shift our society went through in the way it treats information. We are so inundated with information, in today’s world, that someone’s attention is a valuable resource. Marketing firms make and spend fortunes focusing attention. Facebook is monetized based on the idea that people and corporations will pay money in order to get the attention of various demographics. Dagny and Rearden are the dinosaurs in this new economy. They are the takers rather than the makers when it comes to attention. They demand it of others, but they don’t give it to anyone else. That is why they are currently failing so hard. They ignore their “men in Washington” and their boards of directors just as they ignore the vast majority of people. Dagny even states that she doesn’t think her brother’s new wife is worth the attention it would require to form an opinion of.  The economy based on a currency of time and attention is something that she and Reardon are completely unaware of. They wander through the marketplace, wondering why no one will barter with them, when they so obviously have nothing to give.

Anyway, a quick summary of events and then a discussion of money and logic and why Francisco is an idiot.

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Atlas Shrugged (Part 2, Chapter 1)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedSigh.

Rebecca read my previous post, where I complained at the end that there were too many characters to keep up with, and commented that I had neglected to mention Dr. Robert Stadler. I said that was because I didn’t care about him. She simply smirked, so of course this chapter opens on Dr. Robert Stadler, renowned theoretical physicist and head of the State Science Institute. Continue reading

Atlas Shrugged (Chapters 9 and 10)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedI’m feeling a bit broken down by this book at this point, and I’m only a quarter of the way through it (which, I would like to add, is the length of a normal-sized book). I feel like maybe I’m being brainwashed? I don’t even have the strength for resistance anymore.  Send help! What’s the anti-Ayn-Rand?

Anyway, the plot is getting pretty dense at this point, so while I was initially trying to confine my summaries to two or three paragraphs a chapter, I’m not sure that is going to be possible, and I refuse to let you escape hearing about some of the most uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve had to read.

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An “Atlas Shrugged” Theme Post

I’m still grinding my way through Atlas Shrugged (I’ve made it past the 300 page mark! I’m a quarter of the way through! … Urg.) But, it also appears to be taking over my life.

For instance, The Colbert Report talked about The Atlasphere: a dating site for fans of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. (It starts at 1:55 in the clip below.)

(Wowza. Plus, given the skeeviness of the sex scenes in this book, I would not want to date anyone taking their pointers from it.)

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

I also joined a new gaming club, for board games and card games and the like. I’ve learned two new games in the last few weeks. Both of them are a lot of fun… and both of them involve building train systems.

Welcome to “Ticket to Ride” and “Trans America.”

TicketToRide     TransAmerica

And finally, when I was just talking (read: venting) to Anna about the book, my playlist comes to Billy Joel singing about living in a small dying industrial town, Allentown:

Atlas Shrugged is taking over my life!

But at least the extra bits are really fun.

Atlas Shrugged, Chapter 8

AtlasShruggedThis chapter kind of highlighted for me how Rand appears to have an incredibly focused Monkey Sphere. She sees known individuals as individuals, but she fails to see groups of people as made up of individuals. Once some people are in a group, they immediately become some vague conglomerate that looses all interest and rights, even to the point of ignoring the individuals who make up that group. (Example from chapter 7: “Passengers” aren’t really people.)

I very much see this perspective as a symptom or a cause or some combination related to depression. The whole world can be against you and the individuals who support you don’t really count because they’re just individuals and you know that the whole world hates you… the whole world being this amorphous thing that you know without ever having to actually get to know it. There is much talk about how the “public” is against Reardon Metal and the John Galt line, how “people” are saying that it’s dangerous and horrible, how “the press” are writing scurrilous stories, etc. And yet, at the same time, there are long lists of individuals who are placing orders for the new metal, who are buying stock in the new train line, who want to be on the new train. But this chapter has a break through because in this chapter Dagny not only achieves a massive success but also recognizes for the first time that there are masses of people who support her, masses too large for her to comprehend as individuals, but must see as groups, as “the public” or as “the press.”

This is a happy chapter (at least in comparison to everything else so far.)   Continue reading