“Who’s Ayn Rand”
“She wrote about how awesome awesome people are.”
–Kyle and Casey, Party Down, Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday Party
Behold: the Ubermensch!
Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Summary: Thanksgiving dinner at the Rearden household is a fraught affair, what with Lillian knowing about Hank’s affair and Hank’s impending trial looming on the horizon, not to mention the constant yammering of his idiot brother and shrieking harridan of a mother. But today is the day that Hank realizes that he’s only made miserable by his family because he allows them to make him miserable. So he tells his nitwit brother to pipe down with the fatcat-bashing or GTFO, tells his mother to shut it, tells Lillian to get bent, then goes to his show trial and uncorks a wicked speech where he refuses to cooperate with his persecution by recognizing the court’s legitimacy. The crowd roars its approval and the flustered court issues a suspended sentence. Rearden 1, Looters 0.
“It looks good on you, though!” Hank decides to let his freak flag fly at the family dinner table.
Flush with victory, Hank visits Francisco at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, intent on figuring out the enigmatic Argentine once and for all. Francisco lets Hank in on the fact that he’s not really the feckless skirt-chaser of tabloid imaginings, even though he intentionally cultivates that image. Francisco assures Hank of this fact by way of another dull speech, this one about the nature of sexual attraction. Awesome men seek to have sex with women who reflect their awesomeness, while lame-wads end up looking for “sluts” who reinforce their essential self-loathing. Francisco is awesome, “sluts” are not awesome, therefore Francisco doesn’t go after sluts. Why he pretends to be s skirt-chaser is something he’s not ready to divulge yet. Hank is more and more convinced that Francisco is hiding some essential mystery of the universe, and to help pry it out of him, he admits that he’s secretly bought a huge shipment of d’Aconia copper to fuel his mills. Francisco is creftfallen, and insists that, no matter what happens, he considers Rearden a friend. Three days later, Hank finds out that Ragnar Danneskjold’s pirate ship sank the entire payload to the bottom of the Atlantic.
You sank my Coppership!
Reflections: Ayn Rand’s sexual antics are the stuff of literary legend. She famously took a young lover, her married protege Nathaniel Branden, and held a meeting with their respective spouses to let them know that they intended to embark on an affair. Then, when Branden couldn’t bring himself to mount Rand’s tobacco-cured carcass, she excommunicated him from the Movement. This raises the question of just how truly awesome Rand could have been to have so much sex with a person who she would eventually deem unworthy of the mantel of superiority. I have to believe that having sex with Ayn Rand was, to put it mildly, intense. As we discover in this chapter, Rand viewed sex through the same prism as profit accumulation: as a way to express one’s inner awesomeness. Basically, it’s assisted masturbation. I was wondering just how Rand was going to turn something so inherently collaborative into another arena of defiant solipsism, but damn it if she didn’t find a way.
If you’re an Objectivist, and you’re NOT having sex in front of a full-length mirror, you’re doing it wrong.
“You can’t be hard on a man who needs you, it will prey on your conscience for the rest of your life.”
“You’ve got to be kind, Henry.”
“You’ve got to have some pity.”
“A good man knows how to forgive.”
“You wouldn’t want me to think that you’re selfish.”
“I am.” — Mother Rearden and Hank Rearden. It’s like an Objectivist Abbot and Costello routine.
“Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their mood requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!” –Hank Rearden
“The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut. He does not seek to…gain his value, he seeks to express it.” –Francisco d’Aconia. I wonder how “I want to express my value” goes over as a pick-up line.
\Alternate chapter title: Tenacious D and the Cigarette Butt of Destiny.
Chapter III: White Blackmail
Pages: 423 – 460
Summary: The chapter has it all: important exposition, a little bromance, a titular line, and the greatest line ever written in the Western Canon. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Henry James have nothing on the literary firepower of Ayn Rand.
The chapter begins with Hank’s shrewish wife Lillian complaining about his budding romance with copper magnate/philosophical delivery system Francisco d’Anconia. He leaves his wife to meet his mistress, Dagny Taggart. So long as Hank gives her what she wants, she does not resent his marriage. The next morning, Hank and Lillian argue again. This time Lillian exposes Hank as a philandering hypocrite, but vows to keep his marriage-shattering erotic shenanigans under wraps provided she keep half her wealth. Hank agrees, since this is the Fifties and nothing could be more dishonorable than a divorce. (Graham Greene this is not.)
After battling his wife, Hank has a day at the office with Dr. Floyd Ferris, author and contemptible bastard. He offers Hank a way out, since Dr. Ferris knows some people in Washington that could be persuaded to look the other with the inevitable law breaking. Hank plays the part of the martyr against Dr. Ferris’s oily nihilism.
Eddie Willers again talks to the anonymous man in the Taggart cafeteria. Willers forwards the plot with some exposition about the indictments of Rearden and Danagger. Willers feels bad.
Meanwhile Dagny Taggart waits a really long time to see Danagger. Danagger, usually punctual about all business meetings, pushes her meeting off for several hours. When she finally meets him, she sees a mysterious figure leave through a side entrance. Who is this mysterious figure? Who is J–? Oh never mind.
After pleading and groveling with Danagger, she submits to his plans to leave the business. Danagger says he doesn’t know what to do next and refuses to name a successor. He also refuses to disclose the name of the Mystery Man who left his office. Disheartened and defeated, Dagny is about to leave when she discovers a used cigarette butt in an ashtray. This is no mere cigarette butt but one emblazoned with the mystical sigil of the dollar sign. At this moment in the narrative, Ayn Rand writes one of the greatest sentences in the Western Canon.
“She was looking down to the butt in the palm of her hand as if it were a jewel.”
Suck on that, Shakespeare! Eat it, Mark Twain!
Inspired, she plans to discover who smoked this cigarette butt. This quest is even more important than finding the inventory of the Magical Mystery Electrical Motor.
We return to Hank Rearden again, this time ensconced in his office, pondering the future of his business, rendered silent by the rapacious laws of the looters, rotters, and second-raters. Francisco d’Anconia sits down to talk to Hank, or at least talk at him while he delivers another heaping of moral philosophy on his lap. He talks about letting Atlas, tired and bleeding, shrug. We come to the narrative and moral crux of the novel. When the world is in trouble, don’t help. When those unworthy of help beg for it, don’t offer it. When you see a beaten up Samaritan on the side of the road, kick him in the face and set him on fire.
Following d’Anconia’s philosophical discourse, he assists Hank in plugging a hole in a leaky bucket. The action ends on an oddly homoerotic note. Odd since Rand never made a secret of her homophobia, although in the Fifties homosexuality was considered a form of mental insanity and insane people can’t be Objectivists. (At least until one heads BP and another becomes Chairman of the Federal Reserve.)
Observations: One of the pleasures of reading is that a reader can give the text any interpretation he or she wants. Objectivism, like any other cult, demands one read the holy texts in one specific way. “Think whatever you want, so long as you think exactly like we do.” One finds this among hardcore Objectivists (are there any other kind?), unreconstructed Marxists, and Creationists. Despite monumental evidence to the contrary, they demand you interpret their view of reality under pains of eternal damnation or smacking you in the face with the hardcover of Atlas Shrugged. Which is a roundabout way of saying I love Dr. Floyd Ferris, despite his status in the novel as enemy and contemptible bastard. It’s the same reason I like Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas and Brother Cavil on Battlestar Galactica.
Ferris and Cavill are evil manipulative moral nihilists. The greatest irony is that Ferris is more of a character than Hank Rearden or Francisco d’Anconia. Behind Ferris’s cartoonish rendering of nihilism exists a compelling character. Atlas Shrugged would have been a lot more fun if it followed around Ferris and, say, Cherryl Brooks. At this point, I cringe every time I find Francisco; since he’ll probably open his mouth and then I have to read several pages of philosophy awkwardly shoe-horned into a scene.
Since one can read this book in any way, the heroic scene involving Hank and Francisco fixing a leaky bucket could be read as a piece of gay pornography. One could easily read the movie 300 in the same way. While objective analysis may be possible in engineering, it is not possible in literature or philosophy. Ayn Rand via her mouthpiece d’Anconia wants to weld together the objective reality of, say, building a railroad bridge with moral philosophy. Unfortunately, she can’t even stage a sensible debate since her designated opponents are cartoonish and exaggerated like Sade characters. Like any good Bolshevik or Maoist, Rand considers any alternative interpretation of her work as heretical. She is strangely similar to Lenin in this regard. When you get right down to it, certain sections of the US population consider this book as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the Bible, and the wheel. Others look at it like an overlong romance novel with philosophical speeches stapled to it.
- “The only power the government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when they’re aren’t enough criminals, one makes them.”
And here’s what Bill Hicks said:
Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally on our planet, serves a thousand different functions, all of them positive. To make marijuana against the law is like saying that God made a mistake. Like on the seventh day God looked down, “There it is. My Creation; perfect and holy in all ways. Now I can rest. [Gives shocked expression] Oh, my Me! I left fuckin’ pot everywhere. I should never have smoked that joint on the third day. Hehe, that was the day I created the platypus. Hehe. But if I leave pot everywhere that’s gonna give people the impression they’re supposed to…use it. Now I have to create Republicans.” “…and God wept”, I believe is the next part of that story.
- “But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on the guilt.” (Sounds a lot like the agenda of the Christian Right and its crusade to criminalize everything fun.)
- “You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements.” (I think we owe Tony Hayward, Kenneth Lay, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros., Enron, Halliburton, and Union Carbide a heartfelt apology. Thanks for making the world a better place.)
If Ayn Rand is anything, it isn’t subtle. Francisco d’Anconia’s “Money Speech” had all the longwinded shrillness of a fire-and-brimstone sermon. But this shouldn’t surprise us, considering Rand sells herself as a moral philosopher. Moral philosophy is not economics, which is a science … sort of. Economics and meteorology both rely on projections, theory, and making people hysterical over nothing.
Given Rand’s penchant for Preaching with a Cartoon Mallet (a 95 cent off-brand non-union equivalent of Nietzsche’s “Philosophizing with a Hammer”), it helps to look at other examples of preachy non-subtlety.
The Wu, like our good buddy Francis d’Anconia, knows that “cash rules everything round me, dollar dollar bill y’all!”
Since Rand is utterly allergic to subtlety, she reduces her critics to sounding like beatnik hippies. The woman who responds to d’Anconia’s lengthy monologue felt he was wrong. The scene was effective in portraying the soft buttery niceness of political liberalism (not to be confused with the reckless lunacy of economic liberalism). Ben Stiller and Janeane Garafalo satirized the soft underbelly of self-help niceness with Feel This Book.
Instead of taking offense, she should have whipped out her Wrap It Up box:
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Michael Schultz, 1978) attempted to cash in on the success of the Bee Gees and the Beatles by creating a musical of the famous album. The end result was a monument to ridiculousness. The film sets up a conflict between the nice eponymous band (the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton), a hometown band from Heartland, USA, and a money-grubbing ex-real estate who is the villain. Another villain, Reverend Sun (Alice Cooper), recruits minions and turns them into braindead hordes (see clip below). The opposition between the Lonely Hearts Club Band and Reverend Sun is right out of Atlas Shrugged, except the roles are flipped. Reverend Sun’s zombie hordes chant: “We hate love/We love money.” Sounds familiar. The strange thing is that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a box office bomb and is forever associated with a dunderheaded music industry marketing strategy (“The Bee Gees playing Beatles songs. How can this not make money?”). On the other hand, despite a global financial catastrophe and Rand lacking qualifications as an economist, Objectivism still commands a fandom of millions immune to objective reality and thinking for themselves. Given the circumstances, Objectivists sound more and more like unreconstructed Marxists, given they have no real solutions to problems, can not adapt to outside forces, and have no artistic taste. Stalin and Rand both enjoyed poorly written potboilers.
Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Summary: At the offices of Taggart Transcontinental, Dagny is hard at work trying to reverse engineer the Magic Static Electric engine that she found in Wisconsin. To that end, she hires a sharp young engineer named Quentin Daniels to fiddle with the device after he shows during his job interview that he’s clearly a man of ability and, most importantly, contempt for the looters. In another episode from the life of Dagny Taggart, Girl Detective, Dagny gives the mysterious dollar sign cigarette to the old man who operates the news stand at the Taggart terminal. He’s also a collector of cigarettes from around the world, and according to him, no such cigarette has ever been manufactured on earth!
I wonder if they’re low-tar?
Meanwhile, poor Hank Rearden is conspiring to sell Ken Daneggar an illegally large amount of Rearden metal and, if that isnt’ enough to deal with, his awful wife Lillian demands that he attend James Taggart’s wedding. Because Hank feels so guilty about cheating with Dagny, he agrees to go along.
Yes, James Taggart has tricked poor, good-hearted Cherryl Brooks into marrying him. She thinks he’s the man who built the John Galt Line, and he wants the social plaudits of marrying below his station. Rand’s description of James Taggart’s wedding reception is the closest she has yet come to displaying a sense of humor or insight into human nature. She describes the army of sycophants panting for a moment of favor from Taggart, who now holds such influence in Washington that anyone looking to get ahead during the economic collapse had better stay on his good side. Lillian brings Hank along mostly to give the Washington crowd the impression that Hank came to show respect to James. As a result, these wheeler dealers think James has power over Hank, even though Hank is just there to assuage his guilt over his affair. Every interpersonal relationship in the room is based on emotional or professional blackmail. Rand actually makes some good observations about the corrupting nature of bureaucracy: when influence substitutes for ability, the only currency worth anything is shameless ass-kissing.
Of course, then she ruins it by introducing the first in what promises to be an endless series of long-winded speeches by her heroes. Francisco d’Aconia shows up and, after messing with puzzled old Hank Rearden for a bit, overhears Bertram Scudder say that “money is the root of all evil.” Francisco responds with a four-and-a-half page rejoinder that boils down to the idea that money is an objective measurement of worth, and as such the only medium of determining the value of human endeavor. Hank is understandably confused at such rigorous, morally-upstanding sentiment coming from a man he’d written off as a worthless playboy. The real icing on the cake comes when Francisco reveals to the collection of rent-seeking plutocrats who had put most of their money into d’Aconia Copper (seeing as how it is the only reliably profitable company left in the world) that their piggy bank is about to get smashed. d’Aconia Copper stock is about to crash, taking the fortunes of the assembled looters with it.
Ayn, this Mr. Show sketch got across the whole of your 1200 page book’s argument in two minutes. Brevity truly is the soul of wit.
Reflections: Francisco’s big speech, the heart of the chapter, isn’t notable so much for its shoddy reasoning, although there’s plenty of that. It’s hard not to think about George W. Bush and Paris Hilton when he says that “if an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroy him.” No, more interesting to point out is the complete failure of imagination on Rand’s part that the monologue represents. After a twenty minute harangue, the only response the assembled worthies can muster is one bubble headed debutante saying “I don’t have any answers, my mind doesn’t work that way, but I don’t feel that you’re right, so I know that you’re wrong.” This is in a room filled to bursting with heavy-hitting acolytes of the looter ideology. It’s really Rand whose mind “doesn’t work that way.” She can’t project out of her ideological cocoon to even attempt an oppositional argument. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong point of view, but failing to give any sort of tension to the conflicting viewpoints at war in the book drains all the drama out of the proceedings. It’s not only a failure of empathy or imagination, it’s BORING. Intellectual combat this lopsided is inherently dull, dare I say OBJECTIVELY dull. There’s never a moment’s doubt as to which side is right and, more importantly, which side will triumph, and doubt is the engine of drama.
“Well, I’ll just say that ‘Governmental scientific inquiry’ is a contradiction in terms.” –Quentin Daniels. Yeah, Quentin, what has government research ever accomplished…other than building the atom bomb and PUTTING A MAN ON THE DAMN MOON?
Big Government can’t do nothing right…
“Can’t you give me this much, at the price of a few hours of boredom? Can’t you be strong enough to fulfill your obligations and to perform a husband’s duty? Can’t you go there, not for your own sake, but mine, not because you want to go, but only because I want it?” –Lillian Rearden. Lil, that’s pretty much the worst possible appeal to make to ol’ Hank. You’re lucky he’s cheating on you.
“There were men whose presence signified a special protection extended to James Taggart, and men whose presence confessed a desire to avoid his hostility–those who represented a hand lowered to pull him up, and those who represented a back bent to let him climb. By the unwritten code of the day, nobody received or accepted an invitation from a man of public prominent expect in toek of one or the other of these motives. Those in the first groupwere, for the most part, youthful; they had come from Washington. Those in the second group were older; they were businessmen.”
“Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.'” –Francisco d’Aconia. Now we know why Ron Paul has such a hair up his ass about the Gold Standard.
Glenn Beck says, call the good people at Goldline, and they’ll hook you up with the only objective determiner of worth!
Text: “The German and the Jew.
Take a good look at the two
In the picture drawn for you.
A joke – you think it is only that?
Easy to guess which is which, I say:
The German stands up, the Jew gives way.”
“Yet another strategy is Manichaeism, which makes much of the need for fateful decisions but stacks the cards. In effect, we are asked to choose between an evil-tasting, poisonous dish and one that tastes good and is good for our health: all good is on one side, all evil on the other, and the choice makes itself.” – Walter Kaufmann
Part II: Either-Or
Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged to Earth
Pages: 339 – 378
Summary: The first chapter of Part II encompasses comedy, tragedy and romance. The chapter opens with a discussion between Dr. Robert Stadler and Dr. Floyd Ferris. Dr. Ferris published a book entitled Why Do You Think You Think? that amounts to a veiled attack on rationalism. Dr. Ferris, who Rand describes as “severe” and “that a movie producer once said he would cast him for the part of a titled European gigolo,” published the book for the “general public” that Dr. Stadler equates to “a drunken lout.” (Seriously, when do gigolos ever look severe?)
The conversation goes on a bit, with each side lobbing righteousness-grenades at each other. Dr. Ferris plays the part of the cynical nihilist and Dr. Stadler the part of a benighted rationalist. Rand also includes excerpts of Dr. Ferris’s unintentionally hilarious book. Since this is a Rand book, the excerpts run for two pages. (One could get the gist after two or three examples.)
Dagny has a contemplative moment, musing on the disappearance of Ellis Wyatt, in some of the most hilarious prose I have ever read. She fears that the government might subsidize the oil industry and there are few oil men who have men in Washington. She muses on some economic matters, especially about drilling heads rising in cost from $100 to $500 given the recent passage of looter legislation. (Granted, the book was published in 1957, but when did a drill bit for oil exploration cost $100? Things cost less in the 1950s, but this strikes me as ridiculous.)
Dagny converses with Dr. Stadler about the motor. Dr. Stadler agrees to recruit bright minds from the State Science Institute to help her research the Miracle Motor, but has to decline since he interviewed a few candidates and found only dithering dolts. He also reveals that he knew John Galt once as one of his students, but presumes he’s dead. If Rand had any talent as a fiction writer, this would have come as a surprise, not as something I saw coming one hundred pages back. Or is artful foreshadowing the hallmark of a second-rater?
Hank has an infuriating conversation with a weasely government man (given the nickname the Wet Nurse). The Wet Nurse philosophizes about there being no absolutes (yeah! Another Nihilist Strawman!), then promptly tells Hank that the Government absolutely needs Rearden Metal for Project X. Hank refuses and tells the Wet Nurse to simply steal the Metal he needs. Or arrest him. The Wet Nurse balks at Hank’s ultimatums.
The chapter concludes with Dagny and Hank engaging in a whirlwind romance. Hank, giving Dagny beautiful jewelry for his selfish enjoyment, finally gets his groove back and does not feel so guilty anymore about cheating on his wife.
Observations: The second part of Atlas Shrugged is titled “Either-Or,” a kind of Manichean call to arms. Either you are a free market hero-god-genius-industrialist or you’re looter scum. Again to echo Matt’s comparison of Rand to Pynchon, Pynchon’s works repeatedly buck the “either-or” binary opposition, since his novels deal with anarchy, entropy, and chaos. However, since this is 1957 and the Cold War rages against the godless Communist menace, the title is fitting … at least until Henry Kissinger shakes up the bipolar world with détente and “opening China.”
Ironically, the binary opposition Rand sets up harkens back to the Manichean worldview of Middle Eastern monotheisms (and most religions). Rand detested religion as irrational, but her dividing the world into a binary opposition seems irrational and reductive. Because this work was written as a cudgel to beat the Communist ideology to a pulp cheapens the artistic merit of the work. It is so obviously and specifically reactionary. Similarly, the work of Ezra Pound, maybe the greatest Modernist poet, becomes dry, pedantic, and boring whenever he raises the issue of economics.
The tragedy of this chapter is that the budding romance of Dagny and Hank sours amidst the shrill self-righteousness. For a while, it seemed like the characters would break free from their ideological straightjackets. It is understood that the book operates like a morality play, but if Rand was the gifted novelist her fans misguidedly attribute to her, then she would have soft-pedaled the ideology for a few pages and allowed to Hank and Dagny to flower as human beings. Unfortunately, when one deals with idealism, the human factor gets buried in abstractions and utopian dreams. It would have been nice to see Dagny and Hank as fully formed persons, not merely Objectivist-delivery devices.
Additional Random Thoughts:
- While Project X remains unknown and the set piece between Hank and the Wet Nurse illustrates the thuggish nature of looter government, one wonders if any industrialists refused to participate in the Manhattan Project? The government gave no details about the project, not even to Vice President Truman, and the project required vast quantities of materials and man-hours. What about businesses that had dealings with hostile regimes? What is Rand saying, that we owe the dollar greater allegiance than the state?
- One of the major issues with this novel is that the Enemy is altogether invisible. We either see representatives of the system (the Wet Nurse, etc.), but not the government itself. For a novel this epic and grandiose, some scenes in Washington, D.C. might add to the believability factor. The scenes in New York City have a certain decayed glamour to them, so why not D.C.? I think I know the answer to this. To show government representatives would humanize the opposition. Since Objectivism like other utopian schemes needs to weight the deck in their favor, any representation of the opposition would weaken the argument. Best stick with straw men and tedious monologues to reader-surrogates.
- I’m not sure how to square the circle Rand presents us in Part II. The section is called “Either-Or.” This name makes Objectivism seem less like a philosophy (something that can be argued and discussed) and more like partisanism (Party X is better than Party Y) or organized religion (“God decreed for us to kill everyone different!”). The shrillness of the delivery, the cavalcade of exaggerated straw men, and the absurdity of the setting expose the utter weakness of Rand’s arguments. This contributes to the effect of making hardcore Objectivists as fanatical, immune to evidence, and reason as any Creationist, Scientologist, or suicide bomber. One can’t argue with those kinds of people. Ironically, Rand turns reason, the cornerstone of Objectivism, into an idol and the idolatry becomes totally unreasonable. (Look at the Catholic Church’s constant talk of poverty and charity, meanwhile the Vatican Bank keeps raking in the filthy lucre.)
- The romantic scenes with Dagny and Hank reminded me of Tamara de Lempicka paintings. Lempicka synthesized Futuristic lines with classical elegance to create luxurious artworks.
- “If a drunken lout could find the power to express himself on paper,” said Dr. Stadler, “if he could give voice to his essence – the eternal savage, leering his hatred of the mind – this is the sort of book I would expect him to write.” (Atlas Shrugged? Stadler nails the Ayn Rand’s mental state pretty much exactly. She wasn’t a drunk, but she did speed with the same ferocity of a street-corner wino.)
- “By what right did you use my work to make an unwarranted, preposterous switch into another field, pull an inapplicable metaphor and draw a monstrous generalization out of what is merely a mathematical problem?” (Kind of like how Rand turns Marxist philosophy and any legislation aimed at the economic redistribution of wealth into an epithet by using the term looter. It reduces the incredibly complex problem of neo-classical economics into a theological spat. Every time Rand uses the term “looter,” substitute the term “heretic” or “Kulak.”)
- “Now, you see, Dr. Stadler, you’re speaking as if this book were addressed to a thinking audience. If it were, one would have to be concerned with such matters as accuracy, validity, logic, and the prestige of science. But it isn’t. It’s addressed to the public. And you have always been first to believe that the public does not think.” (No wonder Rand is so popular with the Tea Party movement.) Ferris continues: “So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking.”
- “Then the boys in Washington granted subsidies to the oil operators, but not all the oil operators had friends in Washington, and there followed a situation which no one cared to examine too closely or to discuss.” (This is when I realized Atlas Shrugged was one of the most unintentionally hilarious books I’ve ever read. Rand lived in New York City, how did she think Rockefeller Center got built? Magic beans? Big Oil and Big Government have had a centuries-old relationship in this national, just like … wait for it … the railroads.)
- Some classic dialogue:
“But I’m a luxury object that you’ve been paid for long ago,” she said; she was not smiling.
“By means of the same values with which you paid for your mills.”
(“By means of the same values.” Warms the cockles of my heart. Go suck on that, Margaret Mitchell!”)
- “This is the world and the core of it, this is what made the city – they go together, the angular shapes of the city and the angular shapes lines of a face stripped of everything but purpose – the rising steps of steel and the steps of being intent upon a goal – this is what they had been, all the men who lived to invent the lights, the steel, the furnaces, the motors – they were the world, they, not the men who crouched in dark corners, half-begging, half-threatening, boastfully displaying their open sores as their only claim on life and virtue – so long as he knew that there existed one man with the bright courage of a new thought, could be given up the world to those other? – so long as he could find a single sight to give him a life-restoring shot of admiration, could he believe that the world belonged to the sores, the moans and the guns? – the men who invented motors did exist, he would never doubt their reality, it was his vision of them that had made the contrast unbearable, so that even the loathing was the tribute of his loyalty to them and to that world which was theirs and his.”
This passage exposes the contradictory style of Atlas Shrugged, a combination of heady Romanticism and cold pro-Enlightenment philosophy not seen since the writings of fellow atheist D.A.F. de Sade. The style of de Sade actually works and still shocks readers to this day. The style of Rand comes across as out-Hugo-ing Victor Hugo and simultaneously anti-Hugo in its complete lack of sympathy in its alleged protagonists. Instead of emotionally identifying with the benighted inventor heroes, the passage exposes Rand’s ham-fisted deck stacking. Fine, inventors are good; looters are bad. I get it. But any writer with even an inkling of talent knows not to stack the deck in front of the reader’s face. This deck stacking is so blatantly obvious one can see it from space … kind of like Deepwater Horizon, or better yet, one could call it Hayward’s Torch.
- “What she felt in that moment contained, as one nameless part of it, the knowledge of the beauty in the posture of his body as he held her, as they stood in the middle of the room high above the lights of the city.” (Is this supposed to be erotic or am I putting together an IKEA table? Overly convoluted sentences bespeak an utter lack of writing talent.)
Quotes from Why Do You Think You Think?
- “Thought is a primitive superstition. Reason is an irrational idea. The childish notion that we are able to think has been mankind’s costliest error.”
- “That gray matter you’re so proud of is like a mirror in an amusement park which transmits to you nothing but distorted signals from a reality beyond your grasp.” (That explains the Tea Party signs rather well.)
- “The entire history of science is a progression of exploded fallacies, not of achievements.” (I didn’t think that was an either-or proposition, since the history of science easily encompasses both.)
- “Do not expect consistency. Everything is a contradiction of everything else. Nothing exists but contradiction.”