Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter 8: By Our Love

The Taggart Comet meets its end.

Chapter VIII: By Our Love

Summary: While the passengers and crew of the Taggart Comet chug towards their doom, Dagny slowly goes mad in the seclusion of her family cabin.  The woman is congenitally incapable of relaxing, which, of course, signals her worth as a human: she craves purpose, she must create at all times! She even considers creating a new roadway near Woodstock to reduce travel time.  Her restlessness is made even worse by her ceaseless pining for Hank Rearden, who she hasn’t spoken to since fleeing into the wilderness.

Someone finally shows up, but it isn’t Hank, it’s Francisco.  He’s finally ready to reveal to Dagny the secret of his mysterious hedonism and business failure, and shepherd her away from Taggart Transcontinental once and for all.  But before he can finish, an absurdly detailed radio report announces the fate of the Taggart Comet.  Sure enough, everyone on the Comet was asphixiated in the tunnel, and then, after the train broke down in the middle of the tunnel, the explosives-laden Army special collided with it, blowing both trains up and collapsing the Taggart tunnel forever!  Dagny is running to her car to get back to New York before Francisco can stop her.

Meanwhile, at Taggart Transcontinental, the fallout of the Comet disaster continues to reverberate.  James has written his resignation (with no intention of submitting it, of course, just as a hole card), and Eddie Willers is quitting rather than revealing Dagny’s whereabouts.  James blows his stack as the insolence, but before they can come to blows or James can summon the employment police, Dagny arrives.  Instantly, she’s issuing orders to reestablish the Comet line; extending track, buying trunk lines, changing gauges, generally showing just why Dagny is basically the only person on earth who can keep Taggart Transcontinental going.  After a hard day of saving the American economy singlehandedly, Dagny gets a booty call from Hank, setting the stage for a night of life-affirming, purposeful intercourse.

Reflections: Chapter Eight is a mercifully short chance to bask in the Objectivist Mindset, as personified by Dagny Taggart.  Left at loose ends in the wilderness, Dagny is unable to rest at all: her mind is constantly working on challenges: there is no introspection, there is no contemplation, there is no quiet.  According to Rand, people are like sharks: if they’re not moving forward, they’re dying.  Undergirding the whole ethos is a fundamental hostility to the natural world, as exemplified by Dagny’s compulsive need to enforce order on the wilderness around her.  Nature, in the Randian view, is a stupid, thoughtless mechanism. People only show themselves valuable to the degree to which they impose their minds on the dumb tabula rasa of the natural world.  This means building roads through woods, paving the unruly wilds, replacing dirt with concrete, wood with plastic, and animals with robotic simulations of same.

The only dog worth a damn is a dog with batteries.

This speaks to the fundamental conflict between libertarianism and the environment.  Of  course, libertarians have plenty of arguments that capitalism is the best way to preserve natural resources: if the natural world is owned by people, those people will have a rational self interest in seeing those resources preserved.  But that is a purely instrumental argument that sees nature only as a commodity.  If the “resource” part of the term “natural resource” became obsolete because of some technological breakthrough (nanobots, perhaps?) , is there any doubt that Randians would gladly trade the Redwood forests for a glittering array of polycarbon robots?  Since a redwood tree was not brought into being by the will and intelligence of humans, just the dumb machinations of seeds and dirt, it has no value.  Hell, a McDonalds Happy Meal toy from  “The Emperor’s New Groove” has more value than a redwood tree in the Randian cosmology.  I don’t think that any person who values the majesty and transcendence of the natural world could embrace a philosophy that fetishzes the most banal human output while treating the actual environment like an obstacle to achievement.

Tacoma, WA Best Buy parking lot >>>>> Grand Canyon


“A circle, she thought, is the movement proper to physical nature, they say that there’s nothing but circular motion in the inanimate universe around us, but the straight line is the badge of man, the straight lineof a geometrical abstraction that makes roads, rails and bridges, the straight line that cuts the curving aimlessness of nature by a purposeful motion from a start to an end.”

“I am destroying d’Aconia Copper, consciously, deliberately, by plan and by my own hand.  I have to plan it as carefully and work as hard as if I were producing a fortune–in order not to let them notice it and stop me, in order not to let them seize the mines until it is too late.  All the effort and energy I had hoped to spend on d’Aconia Coppe, I’m spending them, only…only it’s not to make it grow.  I shall destroy every last bit of it and every last penny of my fortune and every ounce of copper that could feed the looters.  I shall not leave it as I found it–I shall leave it as Sebastian d’Aconia found it–then let them try and exist without him or me!” –Francisco d’Aconia

“We kept mankind alive, yet we allowed men to despise us and to worship our destroyers.  We allowed them to worship incompetence and brutality, the recipients and the dispensers of the unearned.” –Francisco d’Aconia. Dude’s on fire.

“Dagny, any office boy could have issued orders here since the morning and everybody would have obeyed him.  But even the office boys know that whoever makes the first move today will be held responsible for the future, the present and the past–when the buck-passing begins. He would not save the system, he would merely lose his job by the time he saved one division.” –Eddie Willers

  1. September 30, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for that !!

  2. fyodordorset
    October 3, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Awful blogging on Atlas Shrugged. You do not understand the whole point. I suppose you’d rather live in a Utopian, unselfish state where you can’t say what you want.

  3. mattchristman
    October 4, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Awful response to blogging on Atlas Shrugged. It’s pretty hilarious to see a Randian decry Utopian idealism, and the line about wanting to not be able to say what I want (?) is just gibberish.

  4. amy
    October 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I’ve been enjoying your Atlas Summer posts a great deal. I’m reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time as well, and while I have more appreciation for the novel (and, I suspect, for the philosophical basis of the novel) than you seem to, I by no means agree with everything Rand has to say, nor with how she chooses to say it. Reading your reviews has been not only amusing but also helpful in formulating a more well-rounded perspective on the novel and Objectivism.

  5. will
    November 13, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I’m reading Atlas Shrugged for the 1st time, enjoying it a lot (there isn’t a single page I disagree with, except maybe with a passage about one of the employees involved in the train accident who did so just because he bowed to fears for his famility)

    Sorry to tell you, but you just don’t get it. I’ve read all your articles, and I see all the superficiality, your grasp of the scenario, but none of the guts of the book.

    To give you an example about the McD toy and the redwood tree since it seems to concern you – yes I prefer the toy, because it has been made by an human for the enjoyment of another human being. You sure can hug the tree, or not hug it, or whatever you want, but anything you do it’ll grow by itself, provided it has some soil, water and sun.

    The McD toy won’t grow on tree. It won’t happen unless it is made. If mankind or sentient consciousness disappeared from this universe, among other things these toys wouldn’t be made any longer.

    So yes they are superior to the tree who just happens by itself because they have a purpose. They are an idea turned into a concrete object to bring pleasure. And that’s even more beautiful. And yes I value the environment and take pleasure walking in the forest, and all. Yet I see mankind as more interesting.

    Instead of reading Atlas, why don’t you give a go at Nietche’s Zarathustra or better – start with the Buddist Tripitaka? It’s a good way to get to know the nihilism and it’s virtues, before exploring the wille-zu-mach and objectivism.

    Maybe you’ll see the light one day, maybe you don’t. No big deal. It’s your life, not mine.

    • Erdosign
      June 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      I find it rather perplexing that an Objectivist would prefer a McD’s toy to a redwood (or any kind of) tree. After all the toy is just an object with no life of its own, but the tree is an almost perfect example of objectivist principles, living only for itself with no concern for the existence of other organisms. Why does a tree grow roots? To obtain moisture and nutrition for itself. Why does it grow branches and leaves? To collect sunlight to power its own growth? Why does it create flowers, seeds and fruit? To create copies of itself, sending the best of itself out into the world.

      On the other hand, it’s kind of grotesque to claim that the toy “has” a purpose. It may serve someone else’s purpose, the manufacturer’s, the retailer’s, the parent’s or the child’s, but it’s just a dead thing with no purpose of its own. It’s a purpose moocher.

      Perhaps objectivists are simply jealous that they were beaten to the “living for themselves” concept by pretty much every other organism on the planet.

  6. mattchristman
    November 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Actually, it seems like I DO get it. My claim was simply that a Randian would value a McDonalds Happy Meal toy more than a redwood. You then confirmed that this is, in fact, true, by longwindedly rephrasing Rand’s already-longwinded argument from the book. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not such a value system is to their liking. I’ve got no all encompassing unified field theories to sell here.

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