“Well, this certainly looks like a lot of words, in record time, I’m very impressed…Unfortunately, I am also disgusted. This is incoherent drivel! This is a total redo, and I’m assuming I need it right away.” — J. Peterman
J. Peterman or John Galt? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.
Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”
Well, that was pretty much exactly what I expected…and yet, so much worse. Karl aptly covered the dramatic and literary failings of “the speech,” so I won’t shoot the broad side of that particular barn. I’m also not going to attempt a point by point refutation of Rand/Galt’s legion of philosophical failings. I may not have a life, but I do have to eat, sleep and move my bowels for the next month, so that’s right out. John Rawls went through all the trouble of writing A Theory of Justice, after all. Just go read that.
Go ahead, it shouldn’t take long. The whole thing is probably shorter than Galt’s speech.
Among the myriad logical and historical fallacies on display in the Galt speech (the Dark Ages were dark because of a strike by intellectuals? For realsies?), the most annoying for me is Rand’s deeply misinformed conception of scientific and technological progress. Rand seems to live in the grammar school universe where every major innovation on the road of human progress is the result of a single individual applying their brilliance to a particular problem.
Theodoric of York knew that he shouldn’t have just slapped leeches on his patients, but his brain was on strike against the Catholic Church.
Eli Whitney “inventing” the cotton gin. Samuel Morse “inventing” the telegraph. In reality, of course, no invention in the history of humanity has a single author. Whitney and Morse, as well as Edison, Marconi, and every other famous inventor in human history, made their names and fortunes by innovating within an existing line of research being carried out across the years and by countless individuals. More importantly, their inventions came in the context of all the human knowledge that came before them. As brilliant as he was, Thomas Edison could not have invented an iPod. Not because he wasn’t smart enough, but because he didn’t have access to the corpus of collective human scientific advancement that occurred in the 20th century. Isaac Newton may have been the smartest man in human history, and he spent thirty years trying to turn lead into gold because he didn’t know what the hell an atom was. Not to mention the fact that he whiffed big-time on that whole “relativity” deal.
Isaac Newton: Father of modern physics and alchemist.
At one point in Galt’s speech, Galt challenges his lumpen audience to imagine what would happen if they had to survive by themselves in the untamed wild without the guiding intelligence of their betters. I’m guessing they’d do just about as well as Hank Rearden or Johannes Gutenberg: they’d scratch out a living for a while on grubs and tree bark, then die of exposure. Hank isn’t making any Rearden metal out of leaves and rainwater. Even more ridiculous is Galt/Rand’s parallel claim that corporate employees owe the same debt of gratitude to their bosses as the rest of us owe the inventive geniuses who make our comfortable lives possible.
The Cotton Gin: NOT invented by Eli Whitney.
In 1957, when Atlas Shrugged was first published, the President of the Ford Motor Company was Henry Ford II. Now, whatever claim to genius that Henry Ford Senior may have had (it’s not like the dude actually invented the automobile: he simply devised a more efficient way of manufacturing someone else’s invention), it didn’t necessarily extend to his son. Henry Ford Junior had the good fortune to be born the son of an industrial magnate. His crowning achievement as President was the introduction of the Edsel. Yet according to Rand, the employees of Ford, who significantly differed from the President of their company only by an accident of birth, owed him their entire devotion and should have been happy with any wage he chose to offer them. Every human being benefits from the collective intellectual and physical efforts of every other person, both past and present. Now, Rand might be willing to concede that point, but still hold that these efforts and intellectual products must be traded on an open market by individuals. Fair enough, but that’s not how Rand conceives the creation of human knowledge in the Galt speech. Instead, she posits an alternate universe where every human mind operates in a locked, lightless cell, uninfluenced by any other intelligence. Rand can’t acknowledge the self-evident fact of intellectual interconnectedness even when it wouldn’t necessarily invalidate her view on the correct way to structure an economy. Once again, we’re confronted by the fact that what Rand is peddling in the seemingly endless pages of Atlas Shrugged isn’t philosophy, it’s pathology.
Without the visionary genius of Henry Ford Junior, we never would have had the chance to buy the Edsel.
Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”
Pages: 1000 – 1069
Pages of John Galt’s Speech: 1009 – 1069
James Taggart drags Dagny along with him to an important meeting. All around the country, placards and radio announcements notify the public that Mr. Thompson will address the global situation on November 22nd.
When Dagny enters the radio station, the various straw men paraded before the reader in previous chapters meet her.
Mr. Thompson is about to give his speech to a worldwide audience when, suddenly, all the radio stations get jammed by a force beyond the understanding of looter idiots.
And then John Galt gives a speech.
It’s really, really, really long.
Here Mr. Smokestoomuch, aka John Galt, goes to a travel agent.
Descriptive of the expression seen on the face of one person in the presence of another who clearly isn’t going to stop talking for a very long time.
The Deeper Meaning of Liff, by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.
I’ll be honest; the notorious John Galt Speech was one of the reasons for my interest in the book. Much like The Phantom Menace, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. And much like the Phantom Menace, Atlas Shrugged suffers from many similarities:
- Both focus on the issues of taxation.
- Both have terrible writing, pacing, characterization, and plot development.
- Both possess a fandoms whose fanaticism is in direct proportion to the work’s suckitude. A = A. (The degree of an Objectivist’s fanatical devotion to Atlas Shrugged = How much Atlas Shrugged sucks. Read the book. The logic is self-evident.)
First, I want to offer any Objectivist out there to a simple challenge. Objectivists like challenges, right? They don’t back down from them like looter cowards? Then I’ll comment on the proportion of John Galt’s Speech to the rest of the novel. Finally, I’ll compare Atlas Shrugged to another philosophical novel, Juliette, by the Marquis de Sade.
A Challenge to Objectivists:
Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.
Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)
John Galt’s Speech is really long and explains in excruciating detail the particulars of the Objectivist philosophy. My challenge: Take it out.
Matt and I have already shown that Rand has made these points repeatedly in the novel. Why one more time? The goal of free market economics is efficiency and speed of capital turnover. The Speech embodies an inefficiency that slows down the pace of the novel to sub-glacial speed. One can easily read Atlas Shrugged and get the same explanation of the philosophy without John Galt’s Speech.
Unfortunately, removing the Speech from the novel exposes a few things to Objective Reality™:
- Rand’s rank amateurism as a novelist.
- Rand’s lack of examples and evidence to support her claims. All this talk of “savages” and “cannibals” and “mystics of the spirit” and “mystics of muscle.” In the words of Seinfeld: “Who are these people?” The overall vagueness of the speech really irritated me. Surely a philosopher of such genius as Ayn Rand could cite examples and counter-examples backing up her philosophy? You know who also doesn’t cite examples? Mystics. Hell, even the Marquis de Sade gave examples from the real world in his philosophical novels.
- Rand’s Jupiter-sized inferiority complex. (For someone with a monstrous ego and a conviction of her own genius, wouldn’t it be better to clearly state the philosophy of Objectivism once? Animal Farm and Brave New World explained their philosophical perspectives in far fewer pages.)
- Rand’s mistaking quantity as an aspect of quality. (See above re: Animal Farm.) Drowning the reader in bloat and poorly edited fiction just devalues the work as a whole. Rand even acknowledges the fact: The three-foot tall dollar sign made of pure gold in Galt’s Gulch. Francisco d’Anconia says it was a joke. The Speech – in a novel littered with multi-page speeches – can be seen as nothing other than a joke.
- Rand’s unquestioning fanatical fans who, superficial differences aside, behave no better than the jackbooted thugs associated with Stalinism, Fascism, and all other mass movements.
- Rand’s desire to convert others to her philosophy: By this far along in the novel, one falls into two camps. The first are adherents to Objectivism. Each speech reinforces the philosophy, Objectivist nodding knowingly, as he or she basks in the golden light of their One True Faith. The second camp are full of doubters, skeptics, and people who like well-written fiction. Much like Jerry Falwell’s comments after 9/11, Rand’s controversial statements could persuade someone to become a card-carrying member of the Communist Party simply out of spite. “Yes, Communism is awful. Yes, the Gulags are reprehensible and inhuman. Yes, planned economies have numerous flaws. But seriously, fuck her!” This response isn’t anomalous. People react this way in numerous other situations, especially when morally duplicitous and mentally questionable authority figures (spiritual, temporal, or otherwise) say something really stupid and infuriating. Heck, I’m sure Objectivists have reacted similarly to my assertions and observations. But one can understand and explain a philosophy without accepting it. That’s called “critical thought.” It’s also called “having a brain.”
The Mathematical Proof of Atlas Shrugged’s Galactic Suckitude:
Wednesday: I don’t want to be in the pageant.
Gary: Don’t you want to help me realize my vision?
Wednesday: Your work is puerile and under-dramatized. You lack any sense of structure, character and the Aristotelian unities.
Gary: Young lady, I am getting just a tad tired of your attitude problem.
Addams Family Values (1993, Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay by Paul Rudnick)
One of the foundations of Objectivism involves making assertions based on physical evidence. A method to attain evidence involves the discipline of mathematics. Let’s use math to prove how much Atlas Shrugged sucks. Only tyrants and looter second-raters deny the power of mathematics. (That and people still embracing the laughable idiocy known as the Laffer Curve.) 2+2=5. I don’t think so.
Let’s look at the percentage of John Galt’s Speech in relation to the novel.
Percentage of John Galt’s Speech to Chapter VII: 87%
Percentage of John Galt’s Speech to Atlas Shrugged: 5%
(Someone with more heroic literary stamina will have to come up with the percentage of all speeches to Atlas Shrugged as a whole. I can only recommend ingesting horse tranquilizers and watching installments of the Saw series when commencing with that experiment.)
Every time she has a character recite a multi-page speech, she devalues her literary worth. Seriously, I understood her philosophy the first time. No need to beat a dead horse. Ayn Rand doesn’t act like a philosopher; she acts like a hectoring lunatic.
The upcoming release of Atlas Shrugged, Part I is seen by some as a great triumph. But John Galt’s Speech was released as a concert film. Here’s a clip:
Juliette and Atlas Shrugged, or “Wow, these characters sure give horrendously long monologues.”
Atlas Shrugged isn’t the one novel where characters give really, really, really long monologues explicating an allegedly profound philosophy. By comparison, let’s examine Juliette (1797 – 1801) by Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade. It’s a doorstopper like Atlas Shrugged, comprising of six parts, and 1193 pages, a few more than Atlas Shrugged’s 1168.
Needless to say, Sade has a much more notorious and maligned reputation than Rand. Unlike Rand, Sade espouses a coherent philosophy of brutality and power. Unlike Rand, Sade can write well. (We’ll get to that later, with some choice tidbits from John Galt’s Speech.)
In Juliette, we meet the eponymous heroine, a greedy atheist hell-bent to accrue pleasure, wealth, and power. Juliette is a ferocious figure with insatiable appetites untainted by such looter-ish concepts like pain or fear or guilt. How did she become this way? By listening to and giving incredibly long philosophical monologues.
The novel begins with our plucky protagonist being raised in the Panthemont convent. One of her teachers is Madame Delbéne. Following a series of saucy interactions, Madame Delbéne gives young Juliette a précis of Sadean philosophy lasting seven pages. Long speeches become de rigueur. Ironically, for all the similarities between Sadean and Objectivist philosophies, people see Sade as an Antichrist, rarely read and more often demonized. Rand, by contrast, is held in the highest esteem, even by conservative Christians, who apparently have no qualms about her Richard Dawkins-esque strident atheism.
Not to be outdone, Sade has a philosophical monologue of over 100 pages, dwarfing John Galt’s verbal spasms. Sade’s writing talent is undisputed, since most criticisms regarding his characterizations and plotting do not apply to 18th century standards of literature. Expect long philosophical monologues when reading Sade. He is not Nicholas Sparks nor Jodi Picoult, although all three relish in killing their characters.
But Rand should be held to account by the standards of 20th century writing. John Galt’s Speech was one long harangue against those opposing modernization. Yet Rand’s novel reads like a bastard stepchild of a 18th century philosopher and a cheap-ass romance novel … and the results are worse than both. The bad result stems from Rand’s sub-standard talent using the English language.
Want proof? I’d like to see an Objectivist apologist explain this elementary malapropism:
“You who lost the concept of a right, you who swing in impotent evasiveness between the claim that rights are a gift from God, a supernatural gift to be taken on faith, or the claim that right’s are a gift of society, to be broken at its arbitrary whim – the source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A – and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. … Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.”
Or Ayn Rand said: “A culture is made — or destroyed — by its articulate voices.” The quote above shows how utterly inarticulate Rand is with her philosophy. Content aside, she builds this excerpt on a false premise. What’s the false premise? Not knowing the difference between the multiple meanings of the word right. There is right used in terms of morality (right vs. wrong). There is a right in terms of the law (right to bear arms, speedy trial, illegal search and seizure, etc.). These definitions are not the same. Did Rand mistakenly attribute these two different meanings as contradictions? (Can’t have any of those in Objectivist craniums, now can we?)
Lay off the speed, Ayn, check your sources and do your research!
In the words of Dark Helmet, “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”
I’m sorry, but if you can’t understand the basics of American English, it’s hard to take this much-hyped philosophy seriously anymore. Rand not knowing the operations of her adopted tongue smacks of looter second rater laziness. Then again, laziness in writing has been a constant refrain of these posts.
“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Listen chaps, here’s a chance for us all to learn something. Carry on, John:
- “A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time.” John Galt has never touched dry ice.
- “Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.” Whither Russell’s Paradox? “Suppose that every public library has to compile a catalog of all its books. The catalog is itself one of the library’s books, but while some librarians include it in the catalog for completeness, others leave it out, as being self-evident.” In a logical and non-contradictory way, where would John Galt put the catalog of all the library’s books?
- “The symbol of all relationships among such men, the moral symbol for human beings, is the trader.”
- “The name of his monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.” John Galt, Mormon. “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions.” (“The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” by Joseph Smith)
- “The word that has destroyed you is ‘sacrifice.’”
- “If you surrender your power to perceive, if you accept the switch of your standard from the objective to the collective and wait for mankind to tell you what to think …” Foul! Objective is not the opposite of collective. Objective/Subjective; Collective/Individual. Yet another false premise of Objectivism by Ayn Rand, sub-par writer who doesn’t understand how English works.
- “When men render their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels – and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.” Sounds like a succinct description of what happens whenever Democrats and Republicans sit down together “in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
- “Stop supporting your own destroyers.” That would make a nice sign for Madison marchers and Jasmine Revolutionaries.
- “We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter, a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets, and inviolate homes.” Those who deserve to enter? Is this a new society or a Streisand concert? All this talk of exclusivity makes Objectivism fit the criteria of crazy cult. Only Mormons can enter the Salt Lake City temple, only Christians go to Heaven, only devout Muslim men get 72 virgins, etc.