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Atlas Shrugged: Part One: Chapter Seven: The Exploiter and the Exploited

Someone read Anthem and loved it.

Eddie Valiant: So that’s why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don’t get it.
Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Chapter VII: The Exploiter and the Exploited

Pages: 162 – 216

Summary: Back out West, Dagny has to deal with more business things.  Working with Rearden Metal gives Dagny no end to her troubles, since Summit Casting of Illinois has gone bankrupt.  It was the only company willing to work with the allegedly controversial metal.  Finding supervisors to work with the metal proves another stumbling block.  But she will find a way.  Oh, yes she will.  Nobody puts Dagny in a corner.

In Colorado, she meets Hank again and they have another business meeting.  Since Dagny has been having trouble building her bridge with Rearden Metal, Hank agrees to build the entire bridge out of the metal.  Not only would the bridge be stronger, it would also be less expensive.  Then he gives her a ride on his private plane to New York, since Dagny has to attend a business meeting with the perpetual screw-up James, her brother.

James Taggart

Dagny and James argue on their way to the New York Business Council meeting.  James tells her how public opinion is against the use of Rearden Metal because it might pose a threat to public safety.  Then he tells her how she’s going to debate Bertram Scudder, the topic: Is Rearden Metal a lethal product of greed?  Dagny, indignant, walks out on James.

She ends up in an automat and has a philosophical discussion with a bum.  Meanwhile Hank has a heated discussion with Dr. Potter from the State Science Institute.  He argues that the economy, since it is in a delicate state of equilibrium, would not be able to withstand the introduction of Rearden Metal.  Since Hank’s innovation would cause competing steel companies to lose business and by extension feel bad about themselves, it would be a bad thing.  (Ironically, in reality, businesses said the same thing when the State had the gall to mandate against the use of child labor.)

Dagny then heads to New Hampshire to meet Dr. Robert Sadler.  Dr. Sadler and Dagny argue, much like Hank and Potter, with Sadler unable to give a definite opinion on the goodness of Rearden Metal.  Dr. Sadler is a scientific genius who wrote a treatise on cosmic rays when he was twenty-seven.  He said to a student: “Free scientific inquiry?  The first adjective is redundant.”  He also said men are greedy, vicious dollar-chasers, but Dagny tells him she is a greedy dollar-chaser.

If you consider Atlas Shrugged a philosophical novel, I bet you believe in unicorns too.

During this conversation, Dr. Sadler tells Dagny he had three brilliant students when he was professor at Patrick Henry University: Fransisco d’Anconia, Ragnar Danneskjöld and a “third one” who achieved no distinction.  (Gee, I wonder who that could be?  Maybe the anonymous guy Eddie Willers keeps talking to in the Taggart corporate cafeteria?)

So much for foreshadowing.

Dagny Taggart, sick of the run-around with Taggart Transcontinental, decides to resign, leaving Eddie as Acting Vice-President, to start her own railroad line.  She decides to name it the John Galt Line.  Instead of despair, the line will symbolize hope.

Meanwhile Hank argued with his mother about giving his no-account screw-up brother a job.  Hank thinks it would be a fraud while his mother wants Philip to have a job so he can feel better about himself.  (Reminds me of the movie Tommy Boy.)

Philip Rearden: brother, looter, jackass.

Hank Rearden then has a conversation with Mr. Ward of Ward Harvester Company of Colorado.  During the conversation, his secretary, the calm Gwen Ives, tells them that the Equalization of Opportunity bill passed.  (What next?  Death panels to kill grandma?  The government providing up-armored Humvees for soldiers?  The gall of these assholes!)

Historical Note: Brown vs. Board of Education legalized integration in 1954.  Atlas Shrugged came out in 1957.  The Brown case wanted to equalize opportunity for students regardless of skin color.

Observations: In the previous post, Matt mentioned that Ayn Rand was like Thomas Pynchon in her ridiculous character names.  Pynchon’s fiction is concerned with entropy and randomness (among many other things), yet in Atlas Shrugged we get a world where economic entropy has become the norm.  Money has stopped moving, at least from consumer to producer, and this has spilled over into the consciousness of man, creating an apathetic creature unwilling to work.  It should be noted that the Great Depression was both an era of economic devastation and a psychological experience.  Many people had no jobs and no food along with a feeling of depression and despair.

Encouraging laziness among the looter class or saving capitalism from itself.

But Atlas Shrugged is not reality.  Far from it.  While Rand wrote about creating a novel that focuses on idealized versions of mankind (the industrial awesomeness of Hank Rearden, the railroad genius of Dagny Taggart, etc.), the novel is not so much about philosophical ideals as much as a modern fable.  The problem is: fables tend to be a little shorter than 1100 pages.  The characters in fables are also more subtly drawn.  Characters in fables tend to have at least two-dimensions.  Rand gives us straw men and caricatures and less-than-one dimensional heroes.  While Atlas Shrugged can be read as a takedown of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (another epic), it comes across as a poorly executed and highly overwrought screed.  The arguments lose their power due to the shrillness.  When the demands of an extended philosophical critique and a fable collide, it comes across as, ironically, a train wreck.

Math problem: Patch Adams minus jokes equals Atlas Shrugged.

Another telling feature is how the state-sponsored institutions and the legislature sound like a caricature of today’s Corporate America.  Rand waxes rhapsodic about how innovation, invention, and daring create better, cheaper products for consumers.  General Motors and other American car companies have created their own anti-dog-eat-dog mentality, crushing innovations as far back as Tucker’s safety features and the electric car.  With our crumbling infrastructure, inefficient motor vehicles, and government-corporate collusion, rail may be a means of liberation.  Unfortunately, in the real world, creating a decent rail system will take a creative partnership between private corporations, the government, and labor.

How big corporations kill innovation and then use those same innovations decades later.

Another solution to our oil addiction and poor foreign policy decisions is the adoption of the electric car as a regular mode of transport.  One of the more fascinating companies producing electric cars is Aptera.  Personally, I would love to see the roads filled with Apteras, Priuses, and Teslas.  Too bad Big Oil’s strangehold on Big Government – remember all those Ayn Rand-lovin’ pro-business conservatives defending British Petroleum? – will prevent electric cars from becoming a common reality.  At least for now.

Fuel cost: $1.  Car cost: $25 – 30K.  Ending our foreign oil addiction: Priceless.

Quotes from Scripture™:

  • “Down the track, she could see men working, their arms stiff with the tension of their muscles as they gripped the handles of electric tie tampers.”
  • “Do you know that the stuff [Rearden Metal] won’t melt under less than four thousand degrees?”  (Steel melts at 2500°F.  Apparently, plasma cutters weren’t included in the operating budget, since they weren’t invented yet.)
  • “She saw the disjointed notations he had made, a great many figures, a few rough sketches.”  (A good capsule review of this attempt at narrative.)

  • “Damn these streets!”  James Taggart.
  • “You are using ugly, unnecessary words, Mr. Rearden.”  State Science Institute man to hero Hank Rearden.  He’s also describing Ayn Rand’s writing “style.”
  • This classic exchange:

“They are greedy, self-indulgent, predatory dollar-chasers who –”
“I am one of the dollar-chasers, Dr. Sadler.”

(When does Sauron show up?  Seriously, the last black-and-white, good-vs.-evil battle I read that was this earnest at least had some orcs thrown in.)

Ayn Rand’s capitalism is sort of like this.

  • “To reduce you [Dagny] to a body, to teach you an animal’s pleasure, to see you need it, to see you asking me for it, to see your wonderful spirit dependent upon the obscenity of your need.”  Hank Rearden thinking to himself.  (Ewwww …)

Marty DiBergi: “This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within.  The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted.  They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry.”
Nigel Tufnel: That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?

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