I continue my CCLaP essay series “On Being Human”, this week exploring the dark world of Warhammer 40K and the Space Marines.
Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Summary: At the offices of Taggart Transcontinental, Dagny is hard at work trying to reverse engineer the Magic Static Electric engine that she found in Wisconsin. To that end, she hires a sharp young engineer named Quentin Daniels to fiddle with the device after he shows during his job interview that he’s clearly a man of ability and, most importantly, contempt for the looters. In another episode from the life of Dagny Taggart, Girl Detective, Dagny gives the mysterious dollar sign cigarette to the old man who operates the news stand at the Taggart terminal. He’s also a collector of cigarettes from around the world, and according to him, no such cigarette has ever been manufactured on earth!
I wonder if they’re low-tar?
Meanwhile, poor Hank Rearden is conspiring to sell Ken Daneggar an illegally large amount of Rearden metal and, if that isnt’ enough to deal with, his awful wife Lillian demands that he attend James Taggart’s wedding. Because Hank feels so guilty about cheating with Dagny, he agrees to go along.
Yes, James Taggart has tricked poor, good-hearted Cherryl Brooks into marrying him. She thinks he’s the man who built the John Galt Line, and he wants the social plaudits of marrying below his station. Rand’s description of James Taggart’s wedding reception is the closest she has yet come to displaying a sense of humor or insight into human nature. She describes the army of sycophants panting for a moment of favor from Taggart, who now holds such influence in Washington that anyone looking to get ahead during the economic collapse had better stay on his good side. Lillian brings Hank along mostly to give the Washington crowd the impression that Hank came to show respect to James. As a result, these wheeler dealers think James has power over Hank, even though Hank is just there to assuage his guilt over his affair. Every interpersonal relationship in the room is based on emotional or professional blackmail. Rand actually makes some good observations about the corrupting nature of bureaucracy: when influence substitutes for ability, the only currency worth anything is shameless ass-kissing.
Of course, then she ruins it by introducing the first in what promises to be an endless series of long-winded speeches by her heroes. Francisco d’Aconia shows up and, after messing with puzzled old Hank Rearden for a bit, overhears Bertram Scudder say that “money is the root of all evil.” Francisco responds with a four-and-a-half page rejoinder that boils down to the idea that money is an objective measurement of worth, and as such the only medium of determining the value of human endeavor. Hank is understandably confused at such rigorous, morally-upstanding sentiment coming from a man he’d written off as a worthless playboy. The real icing on the cake comes when Francisco reveals to the collection of rent-seeking plutocrats who had put most of their money into d’Aconia Copper (seeing as how it is the only reliably profitable company left in the world) that their piggy bank is about to get smashed. d’Aconia Copper stock is about to crash, taking the fortunes of the assembled looters with it.
Ayn, this Mr. Show sketch got across the whole of your 1200 page book’s argument in two minutes. Brevity truly is the soul of wit.
Reflections: Francisco’s big speech, the heart of the chapter, isn’t notable so much for its shoddy reasoning, although there’s plenty of that. It’s hard not to think about George W. Bush and Paris Hilton when he says that “if an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroy him.” No, more interesting to point out is the complete failure of imagination on Rand’s part that the monologue represents. After a twenty minute harangue, the only response the assembled worthies can muster is one bubble headed debutante saying “I don’t have any answers, my mind doesn’t work that way, but I don’t feel that you’re right, so I know that you’re wrong.” This is in a room filled to bursting with heavy-hitting acolytes of the looter ideology. It’s really Rand whose mind “doesn’t work that way.” She can’t project out of her ideological cocoon to even attempt an oppositional argument. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong point of view, but failing to give any sort of tension to the conflicting viewpoints at war in the book drains all the drama out of the proceedings. It’s not only a failure of empathy or imagination, it’s BORING. Intellectual combat this lopsided is inherently dull, dare I say OBJECTIVELY dull. There’s never a moment’s doubt as to which side is right and, more importantly, which side will triumph, and doubt is the engine of drama.
“Well, I’ll just say that ‘Governmental scientific inquiry’ is a contradiction in terms.” –Quentin Daniels. Yeah, Quentin, what has government research ever accomplished…other than building the atom bomb and PUTTING A MAN ON THE DAMN MOON?
Big Government can’t do nothing right…
“Can’t you give me this much, at the price of a few hours of boredom? Can’t you be strong enough to fulfill your obligations and to perform a husband’s duty? Can’t you go there, not for your own sake, but mine, not because you want to go, but only because I want it?” –Lillian Rearden. Lil, that’s pretty much the worst possible appeal to make to ol’ Hank. You’re lucky he’s cheating on you.
“There were men whose presence signified a special protection extended to James Taggart, and men whose presence confessed a desire to avoid his hostility–those who represented a hand lowered to pull him up, and those who represented a back bent to let him climb. By the unwritten code of the day, nobody received or accepted an invitation from a man of public prominent expect in toek of one or the other of these motives. Those in the first groupwere, for the most part, youthful; they had come from Washington. Those in the second group were older; they were businessmen.”
“Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.'” –Francisco d’Aconia. Now we know why Ron Paul has such a hair up his ass about the Gold Standard.
Glenn Beck says, call the good people at Goldline, and they’ll hook you up with the only objective determiner of worth!