21 May 2011

On Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged

I can hardly bring myself to suffer through the bad dialogue and longwinded speeches that these cartoon characters make. Come on! Just for example, the speech about smoking - holding a cigarette is having the fire of Prometheus at one's finger tips?  The arc of the story follows Dagny, Rearden, Francisco and others as the government sets out actively to destroy them. There is a long slow decay as one by one the brave capitalists are crushed under the wheels of a thinly veiled communist government. Accelerating the decay is a man named John Galt who convinces all the men of vision and ability, i.e. great industrialists, to quit working and retire to a hidden valley called Galt's Gulch. (Essentially unionizing them to stand in solidarity in a communal setting...oddly enough)
Sex between Dagny and Rearden is described in the vilest terms of dominance, obedience, possession, and violence. Then their adulterous relationship is held up as the example of virtue. (mirroring Rand's adulterous affair with Nathaniel Branden)
Reviewing the book, the conservative author Whittaker Chambers called the book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly". He described the tone of the book as "shrillness without reprieve" and accused Rand of supporting the same godless system as the Soviets, , claiming "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber—go!'"
In politics, Rand sapped all distinctive meaning from the moral concept of "rights" by making respect for rights depend solely on self-interest. That means that, in strict consistency, all Objectivism can say about Hitler's atrocities is that it's a shame he loused up his own life so badly.
Rand developed a philosophy that countered the excesses of the Bolshevik revolution by going straight backwards: the emotions of the Russian feudalist system. The heroes of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" are gods in all but name: two dimensional, golden haired industrialist icons, heroes to whom the unwashed, illiterate masses are to hold in nothing but the highest regard.  This book speaks more to Rand's own personal problems and idiocyncracies than anything else.  It is a poorly written novel that goes on and on and on...soliliquies and 'speechifying'...
If you want a novel that speaks to 'takers and leavers'...read Ishmael, which points out that, in the past, there were many ways a human could make a living in the world that did not threaten to render the planet uninhabitable. Daniel Quinn recommends that if we are concerned about our future, then we should find out as much as we can about these other ways of living in the world and what made them sustainable.
So-called communist countries operate the same unsustainable lifestyle as so-called democratic countries and are just as hierarchical and corrupt. Nothing new, except the academic devaluation of the individual. In "democratic" countries, the devaluation is not openly professed, only practiced and theoretically implied. Progress means the same thing in both societies: the technological displacement of people.

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