Yet Another Failed Apocalypse
Like the inevitable outing of virulent homophobes, we have yet another example of a failed apocalypse. The problem is not necessarily the apocalypse itself, but the frequency of these failed apocalypses has become so grating that even the jokes have become predictable and flat. In 2012 alone, we had Howard Camping’s multiple declarations of impending doom as well as the famous Mayan “apocalypse.” (Ironic air-quotes because it is a classic misunderstanding of a non-Gregorian calendar system by hysterical nutjobs. In December 2012, the Mayan calendar ends. What happens when you reach December 31, 2012 in your household? Most people usually get a new calendar.)
I won’t bother listing the failed apocalypses. Here’s a link. It’s a really long list. And in the future there will be more non-apocalypses added to that list. But people will still be hysterical, declaiming the end of the world, and getting everyone worked up over nothing. Another after-effect of all these failed apocalypses is that apocalyptic rhetoric has lost all meaning.
Apocalyptic rhetoric has been trotted out whenever a poorly written cash-in reaches the New York Times bestseller list. (Because that never happens.) Until the next sub-literate hack gets a choice book deal and struggling authors continue to struggle in obscurity. All this talk of cultural apocalypse because the author of Fifty Shades of Grey sold some books seems a bit overheated. The wealth of Hollywood wasn’t built on good movies either. The apocalypse is fast becoming meaningless the same way terms “indie” and “edgy” have been eroded to vacuous buzzwords.
Do not misinterpret this post as some snarky smug “religion is dumb, hooray science!” diatribe. (The Internet has plenty of those.) I was raised in a Lutheran household and apocalyptic rhetoric wasn’t in the conversation. Yes, the theological basis for Lutheranism includes the Apocalypse, but there wasn’t any ham-fisted close readings of the Book of Revelation like certain denominations, sects, and cults do. (For examples, tune in to your local religious networks, except EWTN, since the Catholic Church isn’t apocalypse-happy as Kirk Cameron’s flock.) The Apocalypse was part of Lutheran theology, but believers were taught not to presume to know when it would happen.
Presume is the key word here. As with other things, God will determine when the Apocalypse will happen. Hence the constant empty blathering of failed prophets. This goes hand in hand with the phenomenon of the Antichrist of the Week. So many people have been charged with being the Antichrist that it gets comical. Cracked.com, the reliable barometer of American opinion, published one of their most hilarious articles saying “Obama is the least efficient Antichrist ever.”
Not to belabor the point, but naming someone the Antichrist has become as politically expedient as calling someone a Hitler. The same people using the same rhetoric have called everyone from the Ayatollah Khomeini to Saddam Hussein to Barack Obama the Antichrist. One doesn’t need a PhD to see what’s going on. Label the political opposition the Antichrist and the flock will follow accordingly. And since Obama was re-elected, American is in a state of moral depravity and God will smite us. Or something. (I live in Minnesota and the state recently voted down the Traditional Marriage Amendment. I’m still waiting for the being-caused-by-gays earthquakes and hurricanes. We did get a snowstorm on the day of the Mayan Apocalypse … in Minnesota.)
The same people who label the President as the Antichrist are the same people who allege there is a War on Christmas. Which leads us to …
The Holiday Spirit
August to December 25th annually, depending on the retailer
“First-nighters, packed earmuff-to-earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden, tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy!”
A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
I enjoy the holiday season. I get to home to Wisconsin, be with family, open presents, and generally have a good time. Again, this is not some garden variety anti-religious screed. Those are boring. This post is exploring the issue of fatigue. Along with apocalypse fatigue, the commodification of Christmas inevitably gives way to fatigue. Since free market capitalism is based on the premise of an ever-expanding market, the Christmas season has been incrementally expanded into more of the calendar year. While retailers and businesses are right to exploit the reason for the season, this can have an unintentional blowback effect.
Christmas is fine. Shopping is fine. But I don’t need to see Christmas trees in retailers in August! By the time Black Friday rolls around, I’m already sick of Christmas. To put this another way: I like chocolate cake, but I don’t want to eat chocolate cake for every meal every day for three months. What is happening to me and fellow shoppers is the retail equivalent of diabetic shock.
Ironically, I see myself as a traditionalist here. Christmas season should begin on Black Friday and end on Christmas (with some overlap for New Year’s). The relentless drive to have us shop, shop, shop til we drop has extended the holiday season way too far. The Holiday Season has become a calendar-eating amoeba, devouring everything in its path.
Christmas, the best seven months of the year.
The Battle of Stalingrad
July 17, 1942–Feb. 2, 1943
Nikita Khrushchev: [addressing a roomful of Soviet political officers] My name… is Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. I’ve come to take things in hand here. This city… is not Kursk, nor is it Kiev, nor Minsk. This city… is Stalingrad. Stalingrad! This city bears the name of the Boss. It’s more than a city, it’s a symbol. If the Germans… capture this city… the entire country will collapse. Now… I want our boys to raise their heads. I want them to act like they have balls! I want them to stop shitting their pants! That’s your job. As political officers… I’m counting on you.
Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)
The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the pivotal battles of World War 2. Thousands died, thousands more were killed, and it was an ideological wrestling match between two totalitarian superpowers. I only mention this because, as a punchline, I have likened the annual Christmas season to the Battle of Stalingrad. It is a Stalingrad-like battle of enforced cheer and omnipresent Christmas songs. I’ll leave you with a clip of Christopher Hitchens likening the holiday season to living in North Korea. Is it really? Let me know your opinion in the comments section.
This week, I continue my ongoing series “On Being Human” with “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica,” two Syfy TV series that explored the struggles between humanity and the machines that rebelled. |
Short answer: Why not?
Long answer: The reason I’m investigating Warhammer 40K mostly stems from my own biography. As an 80s pre-teen, I enjoyed the pop culture of the time, especially if it was on TV and involved robots, vehicles, and weapons. Transformers, Voltron, and GI Joe were my favorites. (Although I owned a number of GI Joe toys, the TV show remained anathema in the house.)
I’m not sure when it happened or where, but it was probably a hobby shop somewhere in (possibly?) South Milwaukee area. While the store had the usual hobby store staples – trains, models, kites, etc. – what caught my wasn’t a model car or a Lionel product, it was the Citadel Miniatures catalogs of 1991. (And yes, I still have them.) The monsters, demons, soldiers, and armored vehicles really hooked me. In the terms of museology, I had a case of poeisia, the Greek term for wonder and awe. In the end, my dad ordered not a miniature or model, but the catalog itself.
Besides the Citadel Miniatures catalogs, I also found a copy of Rogue Trader. The illustrations, the hyper-dystopian mythology, and the ultraviolence appealed to my baser instincts. Only recently have I discovered my copy, falling apart as it is, remains a collector’s item in high demand.
Rogue Trader, the Dune Encyclopedia, and the Star Wars VHS trilogy (pre-Lucas meddling) form a constellation of precious pop culture commodities I value as one would a saint’s bone. Given the crypto-religious tone in Warhammer 40K, a reliquary for my Rogue Trader 1st edition doesn’t seem inappropriate at all.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s: I’m in the thicket of a grad school public history program. (What is public history? Short answer: The program you take when you don’t want to become a history professor.) Grad school in the humanities involves lots of reading. Lots and lots of reading. Footnotes, Foucault references, using the words “discourse” and “space” in a sentence. Heady, intellectual stuff, occasionally interspersed with writing as dense as a uranium milkshake. I don’t regret a minute of it.
I preserved my sanity by rediscovering Warhammer 40K, this time in the omnibus editions of the Black Library novels I found in the local Barnes & Noble. The hook occurred with the first sentences of Ian Watson’s magisterial trilogy The Inquisition Wars. Now considered non-canon, it remains one of the best Warhammer 40K novels I’ve ever read.
The omnibus opens with a short story entitled “The Alien Beast Within.” It concerns an Imperial Assassin infiltrating a cabal of Genestealers. Pretty standard stuff in terms of space opera and military science fiction. While the plot didn’t stand out, the language did. Watson wrote the story in a gaudy pop decadence, a delicious fantasy reincarnation of French Decadent Joris-Karl Huysmans. Here are a few opening lines:
THE GIANT EXERCISE wheel accelerated yet again while Meh’Lindi raced, caged within it. The machine towered two hundred metres high, under a fan-vaulted roof. Shafts of light, of blood-red and cyanotic blue and bilious green, beamed through tracery windows which themselves revolved kaleidoscopically. Chains of brass amulets dangling from the rotating spokes of the wheel clashed and clanged deafeningly like berserk bells as they whirled around.
I read on, blissed out on the verbal pyrotechnics. Here is Watson’s description of the God-Emperor’s Palace on Terra in the novel Draco(1990; 2002):
IF VIEWED FROM low orbit through the foul atmosphere, the continent-spanning palace was a concatenation of copulating, jewelstudded tortoise shells erupting into ornate monoliths, pyramids, and ziggurats kilometres high, pocked by landing pads, prickling with masts of antennae and weapons batteries. Whole cities were mere chambers in this palace, some grimly splendid, others despicable and deadly, and all crusted with the accretion of the ages.
Following the Inquisition Wars, I read the Eisenhorn omnibus written by the impossibly prolific Dan Abnett. The trilogy follows the eponymous Imperial Inquisitor and his rag-tag entourage across worlds. What makes Eisenhorn different from the usual Black Library volume is it spends most of the time amongst the ordinary and everyday in the grim 41st millennium. It was a nice re-introduction into this world. Both Inquisition Wars and Eisenhorn are excellent gateway volumes for those interested in the Warhammer 40K universe.
One final note: I don’t play Warhammer 40K. First, from the prohibitive pricing of just about everything in their inventory makes it financially detrimental to start an army. Second, I don’t know many players who live in my area. On the other hand, I continue to enjoy reading the novels and browsing the catalogs online.
Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IX: The Generator
Pages: 1126 – 1146
Summary: And now … torture! John Galt, having refused the entreaties of shyster hooligan Mr. Thompson, gets stripped and strapped to Dr. Ferris’s electrical contraption. The torture is horrendous until the machine breaks and the idiot operating it doesn’t know how to fix it.
In other news, Dr. Robert Stadler heads back to Iowa where the Xylophone is under control of effeminate fascist goofball Cuffy Meigs. Words are exchanged, a melee ensues, and KA-BOOM!
Reflections: The torture scene comes across as dramatically puzzling and unintentionally funny. What kind of sociopath tortures for laughs? Oh, right …
The humor in the scene throws a giant monkey-wrench into the narrative’s tone. Granted, the electrical apparatus breaking down proves Rand’s point, but to use the phrase of libertarians, “at what cost”? Galt, the muscular genius hero guy, gets tortured by fat looter morons. What’s so dramatic about that? The characters, such broad caricatures of humanity, sap the scene of momentum and give it all the depth of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Hell, Rocky and Bullwinkle had better plotting, better characterization, and better jokes than this banal horseshit.
The only real explanation for this nutty scene is Rand needed to make John Galt into the book’s Christ Figure. A rather odd thing considering Rand’s rabid atheism, although not that odd since cults of personality adopt the liturgical features of religion to suit the star’s egomania. (Yet another similarity Ms. Rosenbaum shares with Uncle Joe.)
Compare this to the torture scene in 1984, written by British Socialist George Orwell. In the novel, dissident functionary Winston Smith faces torture from O’Brien. Winston thought O’Brien was also rebelling against Big Brother, when in actuality O’Brien belonged to the Inner Party. Unlike the rotund dimwits in Atlas Shrugged, O’Brien uses a rat-cage that he attaches to Winston’s face. No electricity involved. It’s sustainable and has a small carbon footprint. It’s also effective as hell. Perhaps Mr. Thompson had difficulty attaining rat-cage-face-masks from Airstrip One, considering the United States is in transportation crisis in the novel?
In the end, Winston confesses and thus, 1984 becomes tragedy. Dr. Ferris’s shenanigans just seem idiotic, especially since it is in aid of making John Galt their Economic Dictator and solving all their problems. It’s a scene diametrically opposed to that of 1984. 1984 is a critically acclaimed novel that attained its rightful place in the Western Canon, easily making 100 Best lists without breaking a sweat. Atlas Shrugged, on the other hands, required market manipulation by hordes of crackpot cultists buying books in bulk in a facetious attempt at popularity. That’s just sad. But so is having the inability to break the $2 million dollar mark on opening weekend and coming in at a lame-ass #14. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake challenges the real estate salesmen to “Always Be Closing.” Second place is a set of steak knives, third prize is your fired! What’s 14th?
Like the Left Behind series, Atlas Shrugged isn’t literature for the ages, it’s only appeal lies with a sliver of the population that buys into its nutjob theories and infantile views of economics. In a word: marginal. Here’s another one: Inconsequential.
Call me anything you want, Objectivists. I’ll make sure to have a couch handy for you to jump on.
One chapter left and we’re done with this overwrought literary abortion. Huzzah!
- “There was nothing beyond the lighted strip but the emptiness of the prairies of Iowa.”
- “He [Cuffy Meigs] wore a tight, semi-military tunic and leather leggings; the flesh of his neck bulged over the edge of his collar; his black curls were matted with sweat.” Jeremy Clarkson?
- “We want ideas – or else!”
- “Had enough?” snarled Ferris, when the current went off. “Yes, end this book NOW! Oh, you were talking to John Galt.”
- “Don’t kill him! Don’t dare kill him! If he dies, we die!” Whew, good thing somebody explained the stakes in the scene or I wouldn’t have understood what was going in. Way to not insult the intelligence of your readers, Ayn.
- “Galt burst out laughing.”
- “Galt was watching them; his glance was too austerely perceptive.” Or if someone with actual talent rewrote the sentence: “Galt watched them; he perceived them with a muscular austerity.” Seriously, Ayn, use the money you made from The Fountainhead and take some creative writing courses at Columbia or the New School or something. Your utter lack of talent is repellent, lazy, and childish. “I’m here on a mission of mercy. If it was up to me, I’d fire your fucking ass.”
“You do not become an author just by using the language to call a cabinet minister unfit for office.”
“There are writers who can express in a mere twenty pages things I sometimes need two whole lines for.”
Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936)
Reflections: The nature of fictional storytelling requires emotional and narrative pay-offs. Starting with John Galt’s speech, Atlas Shrugged moves into the dénouement. This is where all the deck-stacking and intellectual dishonesty of Rand’s project reveal the flaws and fractures within her attempted “philosophy.”
While all the characters get shuffled into place, John Galt prepares to escape the clutches of the evil looters. The looters, in their idiotic desperation, call for John Galt’s help. The tables are turned and the looters are revealed as having a bankrupt philosophy.
When Galt is finally detained by Thompson’s men in a section of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel brimming with military men, Galt still refuses to help. Despite Galt’s two-hour speech, Mr. Thompson still doesn’t get it.
In this exchange between Galt and Thompson, we get to the essence of Atlas Shrugged, the very nubbin for why it exists in the first place.
“Okay, I’ll tell you. You want me to become Economic Dictator?” [Galt]
“And you’ll obey any order I give?”
“Then start by abolishing all income taxes.”
“Oh, no!” screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. “We couldn’t do that! That’s … that’s not the field of production. That’s the field of distribution. How would we pay government employees?”
“Fire your government employees.”
“Oh, no! That’s politics! That’s not economics! You can’t interfere with politics! You can’t have everything!”
Galt crossed his legs on the hassock, stretching himself more comfortably in the brocaded armchair. “Want to continue this discussion? Or do you get the point?”
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a balloon deflating. This alleged confrontation distills the philosophies of both camps, yet it’s so … so … anticlimactic. Galt is so perfect, smart, and heroic; Thompson is so conniving, weak, and contradictory. It is the immovable Idealist versus the unstoppable force of the Looter Hordes.
Narrative sterility aside, the essence of Objectivism is now revealed as Rand’s distaste for the income tax. The fucking income tax! I read over one thousand pages for this! Seriously! (I feel like James Taggart, all exclamation points and apoplexy.) Nevertheless, let’s take a step back, since I don’t want to give myself an aneurysm, least of all for this book.
Like anyone who has had to pay taxes, I understand the resentment and hatred people level at the Internal Revenue Service. Money earned through hard work, etc. But to write a 1100 page book against the injustice of the income tax is sort of silly. Like building a cathedral to why Justin Bieber sucks. It’s ridiculous and rather petty. Added to this is the Randroid perception that this is the Greatest Novel of All Time. (It would be, if you’ve never read any other book. One would also think it the Greatest Novel of All Time as a natural and logical opinion. Don’t worry, Objectivists, Scientologists hold the same opinion about Battlefield Earth. They’re both good at buying in bulk and rigging literature polls. But Objectivism is totally, totally not a cult. ***Stifled laughter***)
The trick is buying the books in bulk. Also works when selling subprime mortgages as loans.
Ironically, Rand’s philosophical novel resembles the logorrhea of Dave Sim, except Sim has talent as a comic book artist. Ayn Rand (neé Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum) is just another paranoid megalomaniac who changed her name to sound tougher to her adversaries. Wait a second … paranoid megalomaniac … name change … sounds a lot like this guy.
“Complain about the income tax all you want, I’ll be pummeling the Nazis into a slurry and sending the first man into space … with the occasional famine and purge. Have to think of the bottom line in all this. It’s not personal, it’s business.”
To adapt Stalin’s quote to the parlance of our time, “One unemployed person is a tragedy, a million unemployed people is a statistic.”
Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist
I Blow Minds.
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?
“‘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.
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.