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When You Shrug Into the Abyss, the Abyss Shrugs Back At You.


Well, after twenty years and twenty million dollars of his own money, film producer and Galtian superman John Aglialoro finally dragged Atlas Shrugged: Part One into theaters three weeks ago, to a shower of critical brickbats and universal audience indifference. Now, Aglialoro is whining that politically biased film critics poisoned the market with their non-Objective reviews that harped on such minor issues as laughable CGI effects, wooden performances, and a screenplay comprised almost entirely of discussions of metallurgy and corporate governance.  In response, this titan of cinema and gym equipment manufacturing is threating to deprive the world of the two sequels no one was asking for. Some churlish sorts might claim that the free market has spoken, but that would ignore the tyrannical, market-perverting power of Todd McCarthy from the Hollywood Reporter.

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Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist


Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist

I Blow Minds.

Summary:

After John Galt’s speech melts the airwaves, the looter elite at the Wayne-Falkland lose their collective shit. They bicker and freak out until Mr. Thompson declares that Galt is just the man to right the listing ship of state. It turns out Mr. Thompson is a pragmatist above all, and willing to overlook all of Galt’s windy “theory” in order to exploit his clearly singular mind.  So the government starts a campaign to find Galt and give him the power of economic dictator. Meanwhile, Galt’s incendiary rhetoric and the continual collapse of the economy lead to an upsurge of violence across the country, as the people strike back against government goons and their civilian lackeys.

After trying to lure Galt out of hiding with strategic loud-speaker begging, the government finally nabs him by following Dagny to his apartment in New York. Of course, he’d been hiding in plain sight as a common laborer at Taggart Transcontinental, with his own apartment filled with a hidden science lab. As soon as Galt sees Dagny, he knows that the feds are just behind, so he makes her swear that she’ll disavow him when they come. If Thompson and company think that Galt cares for Dagny, they’ll threaten to harm her if he doesn’t help keep their failing system afloat. Heavily armed guards so up, Dagny points an accusing finger at Galt, and he’s spirited away to the Wayne-Falkland, but not before his lab self-destructs.

Across a starving land, government buildings burn as looters and home-grown militias vie for power. In New York, a parade of luminaries try to talk John Galt into taking over economic planning. Mr. Thompson offers riches and power, Dr. Ferris threatens to euthanize everyone over 60 years old, and Dr. Stadler just blubbers all over the place. All the while, Galt holds fast against these entreaties: if they order him to sit at a desk that says “ECONOMIC DICATOR,” he’ll do it, but they can’t force him to think for them.

Dagny plays her part as a new convert to Mr. Thompson’s expedient vision and, in order to make sure that the government doesn’t just kill Galt, advises the Head of State that Galt can be convinced, given enough incentive and time. Thompson attempts to force Galt’s hand by holding a massive dinner at, where else, the Wayne-Falkland to announce Galt’s cooperation and the creation of the John Galt Plan. On the night of the event, Dagny watches the assembled reptiles smarm their way around the dais, giving windy, contradictory speeches before Galt’s final remarks.  In front of a national television audience, Galt jukes out of the way long enough for everyone to see that his ‘secretary’ has a gun pointed at him, and says directly into the camera, “Get the hell out of my way!”

Reflections: Wait, are there really less than a hundred pages left? Praise Xenu! There IS light at the end of the tunnel! I’ve honestly forgotten that there was a time in my life when I wasn’t reading this book. Who is president? Have we landed on Mars yet? What’s with these young people and their saggy pants and raps music?

Quotes:

“‘That wasn’t real, was it?’ said Mr. Thompson.” That head of state never misses a trick.

“The attendants of a hospital in Illinois showed no astonishment when a man was brought in, beaten up by his elder brother, who had supported him all his life: the younger man had screamed at the older, accusing him of selfishness and greed–just as the attendants of a hospital in New York City showed no astonishment at the case of a woman who came in with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.” So apparently the looter method of coercion through guilt-trips is giving way to the Galtian ethic of random violence. Incidentally, that ‘best toys to the neighbor kids’ vignette is a reference to the primal scene of Ayn Rand’s philosophical development. Apparently, her parents made a similar demand of her when they were living in Russia. Needless to say, she never got over it.

“‘I will perform any motion you order me to perform. If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I’ll move into it. If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it. If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue.’

‘Oh, but I don’t know what directives to issue!’

There was a long pause.

‘Well?’ said Galt. ‘What are your orders?’

‘I want you to save the economy of the country!’

‘I don’t know how to save it.’

‘I want you to find a way!’

‘I don’t know how to find it.’

‘I want you to think!’

‘How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?'” Physical assaults and passive aggression, the two mightiest weapons in the Objectivist arsenal, apparently.

“‘The John Galt Plan,’ Wesley Mouch was saying, ‘will reconcile all conflicts. It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor. It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits. It will lower prices and raise wages. It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations. It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the of a planned economy.'” Alright, Ayn, that’s a pretty good distillation of the sort of political rhetoric that has led to record deficits, record spending, and all-time low income tax rates.


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.


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance

February 9, 2011 1 comment

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance

Summary: Strange doings are afoot at the Rearden Steel plant.  The workers are demanding a raise, there’s a phantom tax lien placed on Hank’s assets, the parasitic Rearden family are clamoring for money, and a high conclave of Looters, including Wesley Mouch have summoned Hank for a meeting in New York.  What’s it all about, Alfie?  Turns out, the government ghouls are trying to leverage Hank into signing off on a Steel Unification Plan modeled on the disastrous Rail Unification Plan.  All caps on steel production will be lifted, and all steel profits will be pooled between producers.  Rearden, being all smart and stuff, instantly realizes that the whole thing is a scam meant to enrich Orren Boyle’s goldbricking ass at the expense of the uber-efficient Rearden mill, and that the end result will the be the bankruptcy of Rearden Steel.   Hank tells the assembled slapdicks to get bent and drives back to the mill…where a pack of “workers” (actually government thugs under the direction of Cuffy Meigs) has set fire to the plant.  Rearden’s REAL employees, who of course worship their brilliant boss, have rallied to the plant’s defense, shooting it out with the looters.  Outside the mill, Hank finds the bullet-riddled body of the young government stooge who had slowly been coming around to the Hank/Dagny/Galt way of thinking.  In a hilariously protracted death rattle of exposition, the young man, who Hank called “Non-Absolute” in a rare fit of terrible humor, explains that the government stooges had come to him with their plan to foment violence at the Rearden plant as a pretext for a looter takeover of the factory.  Hank tries to carry the kid to safety, but he dies in Hank’s arms, even after Hank told him specifically not to. What a dick.

Not even vampire Pee Wee milked his death this much.

So Hank jumps into the fray, is waylaid by a pair of thugs but saved at the last moment by “Frank Adams,” a new employee at the plant and a crack pistol shot.  Sure enough, “Frank Adams” turns out to be Francisco d’Aconia undercover.  They share a meaningful look, and set the stage for Francisco to finally tell Hank the truth about Galt’s Gulch.

Reflections: After poor, young Non-Absolute dies in his arms, Hank lets rip with a blistering internal condemnation of the brainwashing of students in America’s public educational institutions.  According to Hank, Non-Absolute wasn’t killed by some government thug, he was killed by the mental poison fed to him over years of so-called education, which left him unable to fend for himself in the cutthroat world of adulthood.  This segment is typically tedious Rand, but it goes a long way towards explaining this book’s continued popularity among teenage boys.  For instance, behold this bravura paragraph:

“From the first catch-phrases flung at a child to the last, it is like a series of shocks to freeze his motor, to undercut the power of his consciousness. ‘Don’t ask so many questions, children should be seen and not heard!’–‘Who are you to think? It’s so, because I say so!’–‘Don’t argue, obey!’ –‘Don’t try to understand, believe!’–‘Don’t rebel, adjust!’–‘Don’t stand out, belong!’ –‘Don’t struggle, compromise!’–‘Your heart is more important than your mind!’–‘Who are you to know? Your parents know best!’–‘Who are you to know?  Society knows best!’–‘Who are you to know? The bureaucrats know best!’–‘Who are you to object? All values are relative!’–‘Who are you to want to escape a thug’s bullet? That’s only a personal prejudice!'”

“You’re not the boss of me!” –Ayn Rand/every fifteen year old in America

Doesn’t this sound exactly like the inner monologue of every half-bright, hormone-addled teenager to ever sulk their way through the halls of a junior high school?  Hyperbolic, resentful, deeply put-upon, devoid of perspective…I certainly recognize the thought process from my own stifled and falsely-grandiose pubescence.

Rand speaks to the particular worldview of adolescence not only with her hot-house prose, but in the general thrust of her philosophy.  Your average white American is most likely never going to feel more repressed and controlled than during the time of their secondary education.  The mechanisms of social control are never more visible than when you spend every moment of your day under the thumb of parents and teachers.  Also, your lack of personal freedom is coupled with a complete absence of personal responsibility.  It’s the perfect environment to generate fantasies of unjust restraint and limitless genius, and Rand channels that sensation masterfully.  Hopefully, most of the tragically oppressed mega-geniuses who spend their teen years railing against the hegemony of mediocrity mellow out a bit when the dead hand of educational/parental authorities lifts and they finally come to realize the limits of their thought-to-be limitless intellects.

Quotes:

“He remembered her hammering derision of his work, his mills, his Metal, his success, he remembered her desire to see him drunk, just once, her attempts to push him into infidelity, her pleasure at the thought that he had fallen to the level of some sordid romance, her terror on discovering that that romance had been an attainment, not a degradation.  Her line of attack, which he had found so baffling, had been constant and clear–it was his self-esteem she had sought to destroy, knowing that a man who surrenders his value is at the mercy of anyone’s will; it was his moral purity she had struggled to breach, it was his confident rectitude she had wanted to shatter by means of the poison of guilt–as if, were he to collapse, his depravity would give her a right to hers.” Women! Amirite?

“‘Have you anything left to loot?  If you didn’t see the nature of your policy before–it’s not possible that you don’t see it now.  Look around you.  All those damned People’s States all over the earth have been existing only on the handouts which you squeezed for them out of this country.  But you–you have no place left to sponge on or mooch from.  No country on the face of the globe.  This was the greatest and last. You’ve drained it.  You’ve milked it dry.  Of all the irretrievable splendor, I’m only one remnant, the last.  What will you do, you and your People’s Globe, after you’ve finished me?  What are you hoping for?  What do you see ahead–except plain, stark, animal starvation?'” –Hank Rearden

“I’d like to live, Mr. Rearden.  God, how I’d like to!…Not because I’m dying…but because I’ve just discovered it tonight, what it means, really to be alive…And…it’s funny…do you know when I discovered it?…In the office…when I stuck my neck out…when I told the bastards to go to hell…There’s…there’s so many things I wish I’d known sooner…But…well, it’s no use crying over spilled milk…Over spilled anything, Mr. Rearden.'” –Non-Absolute

“On the roof of a structure above the gate, he saw, as he came closer, the slim silhouette of a man who held a gun in each hand and, from behind the protection of a chimney, kept firing at intervals down into the mob, firing swiftly and, it seemed, in two directions at once, like a sentinel protecting the approaches to the gate.  The confident skill of his movements, his manner of firing, with no time wasted to take aim, but with the kind of casual abruptness that never misses a target, made him look like a hero of Western legend–and Rearden watched him detached, impersonal pleasure, as if the battle of the mills were not his any longer, but he could still enjoy the sight of the competence and certainty with which men of that distant age had once combatted evil.”  NEVER MISSES A TARGET! Of course not!

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter V: Their Brother’s Keeper

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter V: Their Brother’s Keeper

Reflections: This book has gone beyond a chore to read and has officially become a punishing ordeal.  There is not a single moment of prose in this chapter that doesn’t simply reiterate points made somewhere in the previous 900 pages of concrete turgidity.  The government is a vampire.  “Altruism” leads inevitably to mass suffering.  Dagny Taggart is a hot piece of tail who is the only person worthy of receiving the sacred member of John Galt.  It was kind of funny when Rand put John Maynard Keynes’ famous line “in the long run, we’ll all be dead,” in the mouth of the vicious, small-minded, absurdly named government commissar Cuffy Meigs.  Suck it, Keynes!  At least we’re one chapter closer to the end of this nightmare.  And now…Conway Twitty!

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IV: Anti-Life

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IV: Anti-Life



Chapter Four: Ayn Rand and Edward Albee have a boring, long-winded baby.

Summary: Chapter Four finds the unfortunate reader thrust back into the unpleasant company of James Taggart.  He presides over a grim collection of government cutthroats and foreign dignitaries all celebrating the impeding nationalization of D’aconia Copper by the soon-to-be People’s State of Argentina.  This move will somehow give Taggart unprecedented power and wealth, even though the world economy is collapsing.  Of course, none of this makes poor Jimmy happy, because he’s a joyless sack of failure.  We also learn that, even though he’s obscenely rich, he’s not the right KIND of rich for Rand: it doesn’t really love money, after all.  He’s driven by self-loathing and resentment of his betters, nothing more. Back at home, James is confronted by his closet-Randian wife Cherryl, who is in the painful process of realizing that all the things she admired about Taggart and Taggart Transcontinental were the work of Dagny, and that James is a resentful, whiny freeloader.  They fight, she apologizes to Dagny for cursing her out at the wedding and has a sister-to-sister-in-law chat about the virtues of selfish love, and to top it all off, she comes home to find James in bed with Lillian Taggart!  They fight again, James smacks her in the mouth, and Cherryl flees into the night. After a painful trek through the ruins of New York City, finding herself alone and trapped in a world run by vampires, where achievement and talent will be crushed and exploited, Cherryl ends the chapter by fleeing from the “altruistic” hectoring of a social worker into the welcoming embrace of the (East?) river.

Don’t do it, Cherryl! There’s a Gulch! A Gulch!

Observations: In case you were somehow craving further explications of Rand’s theory of love, this chapter is lousy with ’em.  It’s interesting, because while some (okay, most) of Rand’s arguments are self-refuting (art can only be appreciated by the artist, essentially), others are just empty.  For example, in this section, Rand rails endlessly against then notion of loving people for no reason.  She’s arguing against Jim’s assertion that “love is it’s own cause.”  But every single person who has ever been in love fell in love for a reason. And they know what it is! And relationships end when people stop providing the “reason” for that love to each other.  Seriously, who goes around demanding to be loved, but not due to any attributes of their own?  Can we explain Rand’s psychotic egotism as the product of a traumatic childhood spent around needy, talentless assholes?  That’s that most charitable theory I can come up with.

Quotes: “‘This is not an old-fashioned grab for private profit.  It’s a deal with a mission–a worthy, public-spirited mission–to manage the nationalized properties of the various People’s States of South America, to teach their workers our modern techniques of production, to help the underprivileged who’ve never had a chance to–‘”  –James Taggart.  Okay, we have to settle this once and for all: does Rand condemn altruism in this book, or is she arguing that altruism doesn’t exist, and is simply a way for the dull masses to exploit the brilliance of the elite?  Does she not realize that these are separate propositions?  Is she fundamentally incapable of visualizing a truly selfless act, and therefore fails to credit the existence of said?  Sadly, this question will remained unanswered.

“Knowledge did not seem to bring her a clearer vision of Jim’s world, but to make the mystery greater.  She could not believe that she was supposed to feel respect for the dreary senselessness of the art shows which his friends attended, of the novels they read, of the political magazines they discussed–the art shows, where she saw the kind of drawings she had seen chalked on any pavement of her childhood’s slums–the novels, that purported to prove the futility of science, industry, civilization and love, using language that her father would not have used in his drunkenest moments–the magazines, that propounded to cowardly generalities, less clear and more stale than the sermons for which she had condemned the preacher of the slum mission as a mealy-mouthed old fraud.  She could not believe that these things were the culture she had so reverently looked up to and so eagerly waited to discover.  She felt as if she had climbed a mountain toward a jagged shape that had looked like a castle and had found it to be the crumbling ruin of a gutted warehouse.”   Concise as always, Ayn.  And “dreary senselessness” is the best description for this book I’ve yet come across.

“‘I know that it was you who ran Taggart Transcontinental.  It was you who built the John Galt Line.  It was you who had the mind and the courage that kept all of it alive.  I suppose you thought that I married Jim for his money–as what shopgirl wouldn’t have?  But, you see, I married Jim because I…I thought that he was you. I thought that he was Taggart Transcontinental!  Now I know that he’s…some sort of vicious moocher, though I can’t understand of what kind or why.  When I spoke to you at my wedding, I thought that I was defending greatness and attacking its enemy…but it was in reverse…it was in such horrible, unbelievable reverse!…So I wanted to tell you that I know the truth…not so much for your sake, I have no right to presume that you’d care, but…but for the sake of the things I loved.” –Cherryl Taggart.  And “Atlas Shrugged” skirts with the only thing that could make it even crudely interesting at this point: lesbianism.

Don’t fight it, Cherryl!

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter III: Anti-Greed

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter III: Anti-Greed

Reflections:

There’s plenty of dross to choose from in this chapter.  You just can’t beat Hank Rearden’s insane reaction to being dumped by Dagny, for starters.  That’s the second man who loves this woman more than anything on earth who accepts the end of their relationship with a smile.  I know that this is because they’re all perfect Objectivist specimens, and therefore would never deign to impose their desires on an unwilling partner, but the on-its-face ridiculousness of it all just shows what a fanciful worldview we’re dealing with.

No need for that bauble, Tin Man. All you need is a copy of “Atlas Shrugged”!

For me, though, the most interesting moment in “Anti-Greed” is a quote that Karl highlighted in his chapter recap:

“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.”

Let’s break this down for a minute.  Rand is saying explicitly that uncertainty and intellect are mutually exclusive.  Well, what sort of uncertainty is she talking about?  Given the situation, the looks of uncertainty would be due to the fact that these people are about to find out what “Project X” is.  Since they would have no way of KNOWING what Project X is, then uncertainty seems to be the only reasonable reaction right there.  In fact, a look of “certainty” would suggest that they have a totally unearned confidence in what they’re about to see; not really a hallmark of intelligence.  So, we’ve established that the only look of “uncertainty” that an observer could reasonably read on the faces of the spectators is NOT incompatible with intellect.  Just some more evidence that Rand can’t really write for shit.

Now, since we know that she couldn’t have meant what the scene suggests she meant,  we’re left to guess her real intentions.  Since characters in Rand novels are always having their innermost attributes divined from facial shape and expression, we can deduce that the “uncertainty” on the faces of these schmucks if of a deeper sort.  So, Rand is positing that the fundamental condition for intellect is “certainty.”  Leaving aside the question of whether it’s possible for looter scum to be “certain” of their beliefs (I’d bet Rand would say no, because of their adherence to relativism), we’re left to wonder about Rand’s view of the mind.  This seems to be one more piece of evidence that Rand essentializes intellect.   Her character’s don’t really go through any sort of intellectual journey through the course of the book; their weltenschauung is just as inborn as the set of their heroic cheekbones.  Her heroes don’t struggle with their moral or philosophical view of the world: Dagny and Hank only struggle with what degree of allegiance they own to society.  It makes you wonder why she even bothered to write books in the first place: the only person would would look to a piece of fiction for philosophical insight is a person incapable of really thinking at all.  Unless her books are meant to activate the already-extant philosophical structures in the minds of her readers.  Or, at least, those of her readers with the inherent cognitive capacity to possess such structures.  She’s the Noam Chomsky (linguistics edition) of philosophical thought.

This article marks the first time in human history that a connection has been made between Noam Chomsky and Ayn Rand!  Well, just the generative grammar stuff, but still!