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Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter III: Anti-Greed Or, When Atlas Shrugged Turned into David Lynch’s Dune


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter III: Anti-Greed or, When Atlas Shrugged Turned into David Lynch’s Dune

Pages: 816 – 863


Summary: A new year and I’m still not done with this infuriating book!  Only seven more chapters to go.  I hope that my sanity can stay intact.

The chapter opens with a strange meeting in the rural outskirts of Iowa.  Dr. Stadler joins a nefarious cabal of government officials and other economic traitors to the One True Faith of Objectivism™.  Finally, Dr. Ferris unveils Project X to the public.  Dubbed the Thompson Harmonizer, it is a machine that inspires fear in the crowd and blows up an abandoned farm and a baby goat.

In the second part, Dagny gets bullied into appearing before a live radio audience to discuss her disappearance and assuage the parasitic sheep audience that everything is hunky dory.  Dagny takes control of the situation and outs herself as an adulterous hussy, admitting her extramarital affair with muscular industrialist/Minnesotan sexpot Hank Rearden.  To use the parlance of our time, she totally pwns the looters.

Finally, Dagny and Hank are reunited.  Since this a novel written by Ayn Rand, the reunion of lovers is met with a long speech by Hank Rearden to Dagny.  Then Dagny tells Hank she’s ending her affair with him.  Hank, a man without fear and guilt and pain, accepts it without any protest or anything resembling a plausible human emotion.  The claim that Atlas Shrugged contains characters possessing any resemblance to human beings – rather than cheap ideological constructs fit for disgorging essay-length tirades – has been highly exaggerated.

John Galt with a couple of his Objectivist Fly Girls.

Observations: The chapter has a number of confusing scenes.  The confusion arises from Objectivism’s collision with basic human emotions and implausible behavior.  How is one supposed to react to the death of the baby goat?  Let’s quantify it in coldly intellectual terms:

  • It’s a goat, not a chromium counter top.  (“Hooray technology, Nature can suck it!”)
  • The goat was vaporized by a human invention.
  • The human invention was created by evil looter bastards who stole the knowledge from heroic Objectivist inventor industrialist superheroes.
  • The Thompson Harmonizer gets its name from Mr. Thompson, Head of State and shyster.
  • Dr. Stadler felt sad that the goat died.  (“Emotions be damned!” – Richard Halley)
  • The Harmonizer will be used to intimidate the populace.  Looters with weapons are far more dangerous than Ragnar blowing up aid shipments.  (That would explain the twisted logic behind opposition to helping out 9/11 first responders.)

So … what am I supposed to think?  Objectivist Commissars help me out here.  Actually, my first response was “Wow, this novel sounds a lot like David Lynch’s Dune.  The looters will prevail with their Weirding Module.”

“One of my premises is false” falls flat to the above listed mélange.  If anything, it proves this is a philosophical system all too willing to cash in its credentials for cheap political points.  But philosophy itself has gone through various political and ideological iterations since Aristotle and Heraclitus.  Rand’s aggressive personal Messianism and economic specificity put her on par with kooks and eccentrics, not within the long lineage of philosophers and thinkers.  (Depending on one’s adoration of Atlas Shrugged, my last statement can be read as either an egregious insult or a laudatory compliment.)  At least to this lowly book reviewer, Rand’s philosophy possesses the same staying power of Ezra Pound’s economic crackpottery, although Old Ez could write a poem like nobody’s business.  (Ezra Pound’s poetic output will last the ages, his economic and political thought … not so much.)

The other sticking point this chapter drove home was the complete lack of humans in Atlas Shrugged.  Granted, there are plenty of bipedal hominids acting as major and minor characters, but the ideological stridency of this epic slab of free market agitprop strips off any plausible human behavior.  This is even appraising the novel on its own terms: the idealistic, the epic, and the heroic.  Even Ulysses had his frailties.  It’s like a Russian Reversal of the medieval Everyman plays.  In the plays, Everyman represented us.  In the novel, we are supposed to aspire to these industrialist heroes whose hobbies include adultery and making long speeches.

Am I the only one who noticed that the characters have stopped having sex?  This is less an observation dealing with the prurient and more an observation that sex is an intimate relation.  Beneath the hardness metaphors and science fictional inventions, these characters have no plausible link to each other or they did in the beginning of the novel.  Unfortunately, long multi-page speeches on various topics have entirely replaced the turgid eroticism.  Just look at the objective reality: Dagny and Hank are reunited following her harrowing confession on the radio program.  Instead of turning this long-awaited reunion into an opportunity to engage in some efficient Objectivist intercourse, it’s Hank who rambles on and on in yet another non-fiction essay masquerading as conversation.  Seriously, who does that? And this is his mistress, the female companion he actually has sex with.  Dagny is vital, sensual, and beautiful, unlike Lillian, his frigid castrating shrew of a wife.

Dagny’s actions bring up some pressing questions: Is Atlas Shrugged nothing more than a philosophic edifice created to justify adultery?  A pretty shallow assessment.  Let’s examine the Objective Reality™:

[…] Objectivists tend to gloss over the extra-marital affair Rand had with her protegé, Nathaniel Branden. Despite their 25-year age difference and the fact that they were both married, the two carried on a lengthy affair that was allegedly approved by their prospective spouses; Rand even tried to “rationalize” the affair by claiming that she and he were the two greatest living minds on the planet. (She didn’t have an ego – did she?) It came to an end when Rand discovered that Branden was actually cheating on her behind her back with yet another woman. This led to Branden’s excommunication from Rand’s inner circle and his demonization by the Objectivist movement. Rand rejected many of her close friends in the later years of her life, and much of the movement dwindled with her death in 1982. Today the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism (a.k.a. the Ayn Rand Institute) is led by Rand’s hand-picked successor, Leonard Peikoff, and he rules it with an iron fist. In the eyes of the ARI, Ayn Rand is nothing less than the greatest human being who ever lived.

(via The High Weirdness Project)

Let’s run down Dagny’s affairs thus far:

  • She had a youthful fling with Francisco D’anconia.
  • She was the mistress to Hank Rearden.
  • This is just a hunch: She will have an affair with Living God Free Market Messiah Literary Caricature John Galt.

Francisco = Nathaniel Branden; Hank = Leonard Peikoff; John Galt = Rand’s Jupiter-sized ego; A = A.

If I were suddenly reunited with my long lost love who was presumed dead, who then promptly dumped me, I would probably act differently than Hank.  Since emotions are anathema within the Galtverse, it isn’t surprising that Hank’s reaction seems more robotic than human.  Hell, even Cylons have more human responses than these characters and they are robots!

“Oh Calculon!”

Quotes:

  • “Why didn’t you come for me in person, instead of sending those incredible young hooligans with their mysterious gibberish that sounded half-science, half-pulp-magazine?”

  • “He saw defensively belligerent men and tastelessly dressed women – he saw mean, rancorously, suspicious faces that bore the one mark incompatible with a standard bearer of the intellect: the mark of uncertainty.”  OBAMACARE IS SOCILISM!
  • Oh noes!

Dr. Stadler turned to Ferris, “What is Project X?” he asked sterly.

Dr. Ferris smiled in a manner of innocence and insolence together.

“A non-profit venture,” he answered.
“The Ayn Rand Center (ARC) is the public policy and outreach division of the Ayn Rand Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.”

  • “From the respectful whispers of the crowd, Dr. Stadler learned that the little man in a wilted suit, who looked like a shyster, striding briskly in the center of the new group, was Mr. Thompson, the Head of the State.”  [Emphasis added.]  Really Ayn?  A few sentences later, we get “Dr. Stadler saw the little shyster’s eyes studying him for a fraction of a second.”  [Emphasis added.]  Etymology: shyster, from the German, Scheiᵦer (“shitter”).  Not sure what annoys me more, the lack of subtlety or rancid tackiness of the description.  Rand’s caricature of Mr. Thompson is so broadly drawn it can be seen from space.

  • “Dr. Stadler could not bear to watch the graceful, undulating, effeminate motion of Dr. Blodgett’s hand as it pulled the first lever of the switchboard, then the next.”  What’s Objectivism without a nice dollop of homophobia?
  • “Oh, Miss Taggart … Miss Taggart!” said, in a joyous moan, the voice of the severe, unemotional Miss Ives.  (Count the contradictions in this sentence.)

  • “The grapefruit special is for the Smather brothers.  The Smather brothers bought a fruit ranch in Arizona a year ago, from a man who went bankrupt under the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.”  Mom liked you best.
  • “Let me finish, dearest.  I want you to know how fully I know what I am saying.”  Hank to Dagny when they are reunited.
  • He took her hand and pressed it to his lips.  “Then you know what I feel,” he said, “and why I am still happy.”  (Hank seems to take being dumped rather well.)
  • Another classic conversation:

“So there is a John Galt?” he asked slowly.

“Yes.”

“That slang term refers to him?”

“Yes.”
Duh.  Color me unimpressed by this revelation.  Hank is as dense has his Metal.

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  1. missdisplaced
    January 2, 2011 at 3:55 am

    I loved how just everyone in the novel was in love with proto-feminist Dagny. Francisco, Hank, and John Galt (a foursome?). Heck, even sacrificial lamb Eddie was in love with her.

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