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Atlas Shrugged


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Whilst we are on the topic of Ayn Rand I thought I’d review her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. Now, weighing in at over 1000+ pages and as thick as a brick, it took her over 12 years to write. I can admire the labour of love that went into this ‘novel’ but it certainly, for reasons I’ll go on to give, does not feel like it took 12 years to write, or if it did, the proof-reading and editing must have taken little over a lunch hour. In, short this can only be called a novel if we debase the term so that it is meaningless. We could call this a novel only in the same way Uri Geller could be called a metallurgist What, you don’t believe me? Well try reading Atlas Shrugged and you will find that the book not only preaches that creating new things is an automatic path to riches, but that all other human activities are inessential. This relegates to trivia such considerations as social skills, etiquette, other people's feelings, any exertion outside of your own narrow focus, and possibly even personal hygiene.


The world of John Galt, Rand’s hero of the book does not conform to any kind of reality: scientific, social, fiduciary, or managerial. Early in the story a prime mover takes personal responsibility to order a train onto the main line against a red

light, thus ensuring that the Comet continues its unbroken on-time record. As any reader of the RISKS-FORUM Digest could tell you, in real life the instant the passenger train hit the main track it would collide with an eighty mile per hour extra carrying the only availableshipment of antitoxin for an epidemic in Chicago.


(In regard to objective reality, I find an irresistible urge to

digress into Rand's view of nature. She hates it. Nature's only

purpose is to provide raw material for factories. A beautiful park is

only as good as the crops you could grow on it once the trees were cut

down. That contempt has to flow from ignorance: on a night

only twenty four hours after a full moon the moonlight will easily be

bright enough to walk down a railroad track.


(This despite for nature extends to the human body. These people, the prime movers, live on caffeine, nicotine, and fried cholesterol. None seem to get more

than a few hours sleep per month and there isn't even a pretence of exercise. There would be no need for them to "disappear in the real world they would be dying off at an extraordinary rate.

If cancer didn't get them, they would all, Type As that they are, be having coronaries left, right, and sideways.)


Rand does try to have the book exhaustively "prove" her

philosophy (while I haven't timed it, I can well believe that Galt's

sixty page speech goes on for three hours), the more obvious problem

is the simple internal inconsistency of it, as amply demonstrated in

the book. Go ahead. Try to reproduce Galt's speech in symbolic



The book has some beautiful and very moving tributes to persistence,

hard work, the fruits of the human mind, accomplishment against great

odds, and the joy of a job done superlatively rather than merely well.



The very phrasing of the exchange of one's best efforts for the best

efforts of others has a poetry almost unheard of when speaking of



Unfortunately, it also has a great many very long passages

of antagonistic characters spouting pathetic garbage so that it can be

knocked down by Rand's heroes.


These protagonists are capable, confident,productive, athletic, ruggedly good looking (oh, sorry, Dagny), and pretty much universally rich. They are task-oriented and aggressive. They are the "drivers" in many versions of that particular personality grid, and they are at the outermost tip of the quadrangle.


Rand's books are built on the conflict between these and the antagonists

characters are unproductive,lazy, illogical, whining, hypocritical toadies who are generally also physically loathsome. The speech of an antogonist may reflect a kind of low cunning, but generally they are incapable of forming complete and grammatical sentences, and one suspects that they should not be let out on the streets on their own lest they fall into the traffic. It

is these straw men who turgidly attempt to express (or caricature)

ideas that Rand disagrees with, so that the protagonists may wittily demolish



We have the girl who, single-mindedly dedicating her life to running a railroad, when she does go to the ball is not

only the most naturally beautiful woman there, but, not having studied any of those things is an expert on cosmetics, conversation, dancing, fashion, and everything else that goes into being the toast of the town. When they all get to the Shangri-La to live happily ever after, everyone willingly turns their hands to all kinds of mundane jobs, and they are all perfectly expert at them.



The character of the protagonist is arbitrary and, despite the extreme

insistence on reason in all things, unreasoning. One protagonist character

takes an understandable dislike to an antagonist, but out of all proportion to

the offense, and acts upon it in an indirect, useless, and unfair

manner. This action, of course, is merely human, but it flies in the

face of Rand's (emotional) insistence on reason and logic in all

things. The insistence itself is unreasonable, since any strong human

drive, be it the will to create or the love for a good woman, is

emotional. Logic does inform, but it doesn't impel.



The concept of trust is handled very oddly. One protagonist character is asked

to trust another on the basis of no evidence at all, while a few pages

later yet another insists that he will not demand that the second take

him "on faith" (despite a significant history of consistent

behaviour). Yet much of the business of protagonist seems to be conducted on a

"handshake" basis. On a fourth hand, a protagonist who prides himself on never

breaking a promise has no interest in keeping his vows to his wife,

and seems to absolved from those vows since his wife isn't, after all,

a protagonist.



Business operations are subject to rather incredible contradictions.

Inflating prices because you know your customer to be in need is

Acceptable protagonist behaviour. Trading in information is not. Making a

profit on someone else's lack of information is quite OK: a number of

sharp deals are cut where it is said that the buyers did not know what

they had. Putting pressure on someone is OK, but using political

pressure is justification for murder. Nobody should use force against

anyone else, except one protagonist does, but that is OK because his victims are

of the antogonist persuasion. The question of fraud simply never arises.

(Unless you think that fraud is just a special case of ignorance on

the part of the buyer, which would make fraud quite OK.)


Management is a bit of a problem. It appears to be limited to barking

orders. There are never any personnel difficulties, aside from a bit

of a labour shortage. There is never any training. In fact, the one

person in the entire book who tries to improve her situation commits

suicide in the end. The pension plan isn't much better: the perfect,

loyal, lifelong employee is abandoned in the middle of nowhere.


Grand sounding sermons are sprinkled liberally throughout the book.

With yet more irony they preach logic, but appeal to emotions. These

diatribes seem to be completely unaware of internal contradictions.

As only one example, having shown a visitor that invention, commerce,

and ownership exist among the hidden Ps, their leader insists that

they have among them no invention, commerce, or ownership.


Both family and sexuality are rather hideously portrayed. First, is

it ridiculous to call a woman a misogynist? Rand seems to rail

against the "keep 'em barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen"

mentality, but also manages to put women very firmly in a subordinate

position. Sexual activity (tame as it is) seems to be more of an

"acquiescence to rape" than any kind of romance. (One also suspects

that Rand was into bondage, considering a great many of the

descriptions and comments.)


Marriage vows in an objectivist church would probably run along the

lines of "Do you promise to attempt to dominate and subdue this woman

until such time as you grow bored?" "Maybe." "Close enough. And do

you promise to applaud this man`s production until such time as you

find someone with a bigger ... corporation?" "Whatever." "By the

power vested in me by having scammed you guys out of a marriage

license fee, I now pronounce you man and appendage. May you be

unencumbered by small persons." Having almost no idea of Rand's

family life (I do understand that in spite of the "Miss Rand"

references she did get married at some point) I still feel confident

in saying that nobody who has ever actually raised children could ever

talk about "the virtue of selfishness" with a straight face. The

discipline and self-sacrifice (oh, dear!) necessary to spend ten

years, part time, developing a new alloy is rather pallid beside the

investment made by any mother. However, the objection never arises,

since almost nobody seems to have any children.


But enough of the soft stuff, what about the technologies? Railroads

dominate all, with no room for trucking, shipping, or air freight.

(1957 wasn't that long ago.) We have superlatively hard alloys made

chiefly of soft elements. The amount of oil you can remove from a

given piece of shale seems to be limited only by the imagination. The

fact that steam engines can out-pull diesel-electrics seems to have

been forgotten. Neglected aviation fuel tanks don't fractionally

evaporate, and don't get contaminated with water condensation. Hidden

valleys are possible in the second most extensively mapped country in

the world. Visual cloaking devices cover huge tracts of land. Sound

waves that can destroy bridges at a range of a hundred miles don't

damage the transmitter (but eventually do). Dozens, or even hundreds,

of planes flit about the eastern seaboard completely unnoticed.



The ultimate object in this book, and the one we return to time and

time again, is the motor: the "motor of the world" as we are

repeatedly told. More specifically, it is John Galt's motor. And

this is where we reach both the final departure from objective

reality, and the central contradiction of Rand's philosophy. The Ps,

P values, and even the P hideout itself are all dependent upon this

magical motive power. Those to whom the very word "gift" is a hissing

and a byword rely on a gift from that oh so exploitable nature. In

direct violation of the laws of thermodynamics, the great motor gets

its power from "out of the air."

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Been in the news a lot lately, as a paradigm of the US economy and what's been happening on Wall Street. Not saying I agree with this assessment (need to re read the book to give an opinion - it's been 20 years) but interesting nonetheless

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