Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”


“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”

Reflections:

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.


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