What I Think About Atlas Shrugged

In the wake of the “Objectivist Jerky” crack I made earlier in the week, I was asked by a friend of mine to share my thoughts on Atlas Shrugged with the general public. I suspect this friend then went off to make herself some popcorn in preparation for the presumed inevitable mind-losing that will occur in the comments. That’s what I am to you people: cheap entertainment. Well, fine.

I’ve mentioned it in passing before, but I’ll go a little more in detail about it now. I enjoy Atlas Shrugged quite a bit, and will re-read it every couple of years when I feel in the mood. It has a propulsively potboilery pace so long as Ayn Rand’s not having one of her characters gout forth screeds in a sock-puppety fashion. Even when she does, after the first reading of the book, you can go, “oh, yeah, screed,” and then just sort of skim forward and get to the parts with the train rides and motor boats and the rough sex and the collapse of civilization as Ayn Rand imagines it, which is all good clean fun. Her characters are cardboard but they’re consistent — the good guys are really good in the way Rand defines “good,” and everyone else save Eddie Willers and the picturesquely doomed Cherryl Brooks are obnoxious shitheels, so you don’t really have to worry about ambiguity getting in the way of your zooming through the pages.

Rand is an efficient storyteller that way: You know early on what the rules of her world are, she sticks with those rules, and you as the reader are on a rail all the way through the story. It’s not storytelling that works for everyone, and it doesn’t work for me with every book I read. But if you’re in the mood not to work too much, it’s fine to have an author who points dramatically at the things she wants you to look at, and keeps the lights off the things she doesn’t. Basically, I find her storytelling restful, which I suppose isn’t a word used much to describe her technique, but which fits for how it works for me.

A good way for me to describe how I relate to Atlas Shrugged is to note that one time when I was in college in Chicago, the only way for me to get back home to California for the Christmas holidays was to take a Greyhound bus. This meant a 53-hour-long bus ride in the company of felons (no joke; the bus stopped at Joliet and some rather skeevy-looking parolees from the prison got on. One of them decided to sit by me and I was treated to delightful stories of prison rape all the way through Iowa). The way I handled the trip was to take Atlas Shrugged along for the ride, and when I was bored, to crack open the book and start reading. The book would put me in a fugue state and when I looked up again from the pages, an entire state would have gone by. It’s no exaggeration when I say that Atlas Shrugged probably saved my sanity on that bus trip. So well done, Ms. Rand, and thanks.

That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. (This is, incidentally, where you can start your popcorn munching.) Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. I’ll show you! the nerds imagine themselves crying. I’ll show you all! And then they disappear into a crevasse that Google Maps will not show because the Google people are our kind of people, and a year later they come out and everyone who was ever mean to them will have starved. Then these nerds can begin again, presumably with the help of robots, because any child in the post-Atlas Shrugged world who can’t figure out how to run a smelter within ten minutes of being pushed through the birth canal will be left out for the coyotes. Which if nothing else solves the problem of day care.

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt. This is most obviously revealed by the fact that in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick. Indeed, if John Galt were portrayed as an intelligent cup of yogurt rather than poured into human form, this would be obvious. Oh my god, that cup of yogurt wants to kill most of humanity to make a philosophical point! Somebody eat him quick! And that would be that.

The fact that apparently a very large number of people don’t recognize Galt as the genocidal prick he is suggests a) Rand’s skill at stacking the story-telling deck is not to be discounted, and b) as with any audience with a large number of nerds in it, a non-trivial number of Atlas Shrugged readers are possibly far enough along the Asperger spectrum that they don’t recognize humanity does not in fact easily suss out into Randian capitalist superheroes on one side and craven socialist losers on the other, or that Rand’s neatly-stacked deck doesn’t mirror the world as it is, or (if one gives it any sort of genuine reflection) model it as it should be.

To be fair to Rand, she’s certainly not the only science fiction/fantasy author who has lashed together a universe out of twine and novel but shallow philosophical meanderings (Objectivism: the spongy white bread at the Great Buffet of Human Ideas), and then populated it with characters tuned to exist in that universe and that universe only. She’s not even the only author to have enthusiastic nerds confuse that Potemkin universe with a possible one, who then go about annoying the rest of us, who have no desire to be characters in that sort of universe, thank you kindly. But on the other hand, Rand did spend a lot of time getting high on her own supply, which most pushers are smart enough not to do, and at the moment, her claque of enthusiastic nerds certainly seems to be the most energetic, which doesn’t really please me. I wish they could be more like Heinlein nerds, who keep to their own freeholds.

So that’s how it susses out for me. As a pulpy, fun read about an unrealistic world that could never happen, I give Atlas Shrugged a thumbs up. As a foundational document for a philosophy for living in reality with other actual live human beings, I rank it below Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Secret, both of which also have the added value of being shorter.

Update, 12:24pm 10/2: Speaking of stories in which intelligent yogurt rules humanity, I just wrote one. And it is startlingly realistic.

552 thoughts on “What I Think About Atlas Shrugged

  1. Given the nature of this topic, I’ll note right off the bat that the Mallet of Loving Correction is pre-warmed and in play. Be polite to each other. You are allowed to be less polite to me, but be aware that “less polite” does not equal “mad dog foamy,” and that I will be the one to decide on which side of that line you fall, not you.

    If you’re new here and have any questions at all on how to behave and/or how I run this joint, please see the site disclaimer and comment policy.

    Thanks.

  2. [Mad applause!]

    My fave term for Rand’s works, from The Virtue of Selfishness through Atlas Shrugged, is “sociopath porn.” The woman had issues and pointing that out wins one no friends. Next time someone spouts off at me, I will point them here, and you can take the heat.

  3. I’ve always been rather confused about Professor de la Paz in RAH’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress, saying, “I can get along with a Randite.”

    Really? The character as created by RAH never really seemed to me like he would, despite the quote.

    ‘Randites’, Libertarians, and the philosophies and actions of various RAH characters has never seemed all the homogeneous to me.

  4. Thanks again, John, for neatly composing and setting in text a set of opinions close enough to the ones I’m harboring that I can just link to your post. You’ve saved me another half-hour of composition, typing, and revision (better left to a professional like yourself anyway). I had a hell of a time clawing through Atlas the first time, just because the screeds drove me nuts.

  5. Never read it. Knew people who adored it; knew people who hated it; never caught the bug.

    At this point I file Rand with Vonnegut under “Authors whose work might have really screwed with my head if I’d read them when I was younger.”

  6. Once upon a time when I was in high school I spent a summer at nerd camp. Because it was nerd camp, the exciting feature was getting to take college-style classes. Because I was a nerd, I had brought “The Fountainhead” along as light reading, and I found it an engaging read. Thankfully, the politics ran smack up against the class I was taking, which spent a lot of time on the sociology of poverty. The combination was wonderfully mind-bending, and I recommend it highly.

    Rand could certainly write a page-turner. Her relationships are a bit icky, however.

  7. At least Atlas Shrugged had substance to criticize. (JLS was new-age pablum.) Unfortunately, as Scalzi points out, its substance was toxic waste by-product. Rand desperately needed an editor, her philosophy was aptly described by an old professor of mine as “dangerously incomplete,” and from all accounts she was a horrible person to be around. AS is a 1,000-pager written in her bile.

    Rand was absolutely correct in saying that human society, being based on…well, humans, must take account of our innate selfishness. But pure selfishness is an insufficient basis to build a society that any human being would want to live in.

  8. Now, John, be fair to people with Asperger’s and related neurological issues. Fantasizing about being in the select, tiny NerdElite surviving the death of billions of socialist sheeple-parasites doesn’t mean you have an ASD; it means you’re an asshole with unresolved anger issues unbecoming in someone who, if slammed into a locker by a meathead, wouldn’t bother calling the principal because you can call your lawyer. And then sue the meathead for everything he owns.

    I’ve often thought it sad that temporal constraints prevented a Thunderdome type cage match between Ayn “Atlas Shrugged” Rand and Ernest “Ecotopia” Callenbach. Although I suppose smart money would be on Rand.

  9. Regardless of the pilosophy in the book, the lady desparately needed an editor. Atlas Shrugged read to me like a poorly-translated version of a mediocre Russian novel; I felt like I was wading through a self-published philosophy text. Turgid prose, much too long, too much recurviseness and repetition. I have a hard time seeing how such a poorly-written opus is routinely credited with being a life-changing read.

  10. Been to long. I dimly recall reading Rand as a teen in the sixties. Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, one of those two. I do remember enjoying the novel, whichever one it was. I also remember that I thought the underlying philosophy a wee bit too close to the dark side. We are all of us selfish as that is the nature of being human. But we can also choose to be altruistic, and Rand left no place in her world for that brighter side of human nature.

  11. @#13 – Well, to be fair, it was “a poorly-translated version” of a Russian novel. Rand was born & educated in Russia, and never quite mastered colloquial English.

  12. Is it bad of me to admit I could never finish Atlas Shrugged? I’ve gone back and attempted this book several times, but I’ve invariably put it down. The world she paints is too bleak, and too filled with one-dimensional, terrible people. The politics thump you between the eyes on every page — and I’m somewhat sympathetic to certain aspects of Rand’s philosophy, at least where Big Government is concerned. And I get tired of that very, very quickly. I need way better characters and way more story to hold my interest.

  13. Haven’t read it, but I once listened to a heated discussion of the novel in which one of the discussers invariably referred to it as “Atlas Slogged.”

    This got *really* old.

  14. I tried to read an Ayn Rand book once. I don’t recall which one it was. I kept thinking, woman, you can make your points without pounding them into my head with a mallet.

    I didn’t finish the book, and have had no temptation to read anything else of hers in the 50 or so years since.

  15. Add me to the camp who never read Atlas Shrugged either. Since I have a degree in English Literature, I suppose I should feel vaguely guilty about this, but that guilt can get in line with the guilt I feel for never having read Moby Dick or Titus Andronicus.

    Regardless, I may have to read it now, just so I can picture John Galt as a sentient cup of yogurt the whole time.

  16. When I was a teen, people I idolized would rave about Ayn Rand’s writing. So I subjected myself to The Fountainhead. What a giant load of crap. Cardboard characters who have ideals, but not brains mixed with screeds that take pages and pages (and can be easily skimmed as noted) for nothing. And the ideas that Rand threw in were half boiled at best and idiotic most of the time.

    Having forced myself to finish The Fountainhead, I then heard people telling me that I should read Atlas Shrugged. After seeing that Atlas Shrugged was twice as long as The Fountainhead, I decided that I was better off just ignoring Ms. Rand.

  17. Wow. I’m getting pissed-off here that I can’t find it in me to disagree… stop killing my gods.

  18. “But on the other hand, Rand did spend a lot of time getting high on her own supply”

    And, also, on amphetamines. Which rather explains a lot about the Randite inner circle’s hilarious 7th-grade internal politics.

  19. I couldn’t finish it either. But then again, I’d read all of Taylor Caldwell’s books by the time I was 16, and I’d been thoroughly brainwashed into an old-school Plato-ist (Platonian?) so that Atlas Shrugged was just too far over the edge into madness for me. And then I read Frank Herbert’s The Plague Dogs, and if I had to choose how society should collapse, that’s the one I’d hope to survive in. But then, I have too many daydreams about becoming a benevolent dictator, so Rand obviously effected me somewhat.

  20. Yes, Rand was fond of sociopaths. Google “Ayn Rand” and “William Hickman”, a serial killer back in the 1920s. Still, her writing can be fun, but she has the same problem as Marquis de Sade. Both stop the action for long philosophical screeds. Granted, it is easier to remain angry through the verbiage than to stay sexually excited.

  21. I always thought of it as “moral fiction”, by direct analogy to science fiction. Suppose morality actually worked like this; what are the consequences?

  22. I remember tearing through Atlas Shrugged in college, in my crappy basement apartment, chain-smoking Camel Lights (I rarely smoke anymore, but my favorite bit from the book is still the train-station guy [I think] telling Dagny Taggart he likes cigarettes because of how they’re a reminder of Prometheus bringing fire to humanity [I think].).

    Anyway, it was rather more of a page-turner than I had expected. As one of my friends always says, Rand was a shitty philosopher, but she wasn’t a bad novelist. She wasn’t a great novelist, either, but she clearly did something to connect with as many people as she did. Lots of people with stupid belief systems never amass a single follower.

  23. If the previous comments are any indication of what is to come (which of course they’re not), then it appears you were wrong, Mr. Scalzi. Everyone scorns or is apathetic to Ayn Rand’s ideology. Or, at the very least, they don’t love it enough to try to protect it from your blasphemy.

    Yeah! Libertarianism is stupid!

  24. Rand had her issues. She had her high points, too, but subtlety was not one of them.

    I am extremely thankful that Atlas shrugged , prominent position on my bookshelf that it holds, was not my introduction to libertarian thought. That honor is held by RAH, and he put things much better, and had better-formed ideas.

    Atlas shrugged is not “dangerously incomplete” it is, as a novel, whole in itself. Rand’s Philosophy, however, fits that description like a glove. Incomplete, and as can be seen in Atlas, dangerously so.

    No sane libertarian wants the trucks to stop rolling. He just wishes the government would stop standing on the brakes.

  25. I’m actually reading the book for the first time now so seeing this blog post was a real treat for me. I fall into the category of people who enjoy Russian philosophy novels, so it’s no surprise that I’m enjoying this one. As a conservative type guy a lot of the philosophy appeals to me. (Of course a lot of it doesn’t; I’m not a total nut.) One thing that I find interesting is the idea on taxation that she pound our that it is fundamentally evil to take money from one person who does not want to give it and then give it to someone else. In my mind this does not apply to programs that actually go to the good of the nation, like building infrastructure, as Rand would have meant it. Rather I’m thinking of things like entitlement programs such as social security. Why does some other person have the right to take my money and spend it on themselves? In my mind Rand makes a good point when she paints that type of thing as robery.

    Feel free to disagree with me, I have a very high self esteem.

  26. @Matt, #27: Ayn Rand’s take on libertarianism can be stupid without all forms of libertarianism being stupid. Inferring that criticism of one form of something is necessarily equivalent to a criticism of all its forms, though—that is pretty stupid.

  27. Thena@7: Yes but Vonnegut’s style of mind screw would have made you a better, more humane person, if darkly cynical. I’ve yet to meet a Randian who wasn’t an obnoxious twit with sociopathic leanings or a 17 year old (though I repeat myself).

    But then I’m biased, as a giant fan of Vonnegut and having never read a word of Rand (unlike our esteemed host, I can’t stomach the wooden prose).

  28. I did read that book once, but I felt it had less in common with human society than Watership Down. Plus Watership had characters with more depth and empathy.

    I am strangely drawn to the idea of Government by Yoghurt though. At least there would be less expenses scandals. Hmm, there is an election in may next year, I wonder if it is too late to form The Yoghurt Party. Proudly serving as the liaison to our new yoghurt overlords.

  29. MLW#30:

    So, you’re cool with taxes being used to build roads but not to feed old people? That’s… an interesting take on things.

    I’m all for Social Infrastructure programs (“Entitlements” sets off my buzzword alarm) and material infrastructure as well, but mostly nonplussed about spending gobs and gobs of my tax money on military-industrial pork. I’d rather feed, cloth, house and educate every citizen (as well as build them roads and free hospitals) and would gladly build less bombs to do so. But then I’m a bleeding heart socialist so there’s that.

  30. I read the whole Rand thing back in high school, during which I was mightily impressed. Since then I’ve done a lot of different things in the real world (i.e., experiences that gave me a more nuanced world view).

    Recently, given all the increased attention she has gotten from right wingers who seem to want to live in her world, I decided to read something of hers again.

    I started with the Fountainhead, which I remembered as more story, less screed
    (the Bud Lite of Rand novels, so to speak).

    Then I got to a part where Dominique was about to do the wild thing with Howard (again). But first, she went through a speech that ran something like “I love you, but I hate you. I need you, but I don’t. I am rubber, you are glue. You’re my favorite flavor of ice cream, but I hate ice cream…” She went on and on, and I found myself thinking “I get the point: she’s conflicted. Move on already.” Shortly after that I ran out of steam, and totally lost any desire to re-read Rand.

    She’s just not a very good writer, in my totally subjective and humble opinion.

  31. I read “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” in my early 20’s. I enjoyed both books, and yes, they influenced my perspective on personal responsibility.

  32. Generally, I tend to agree with everything said, except as someone who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, I find your characterization of those like me to be flippantly hurtful. We may have trouble interacting and understanding others, but most of us deep down wish we were able to better able to adapt and fit in. Our desire for solitude is not a denial of the value of other humans, but more of a way to grant us peace from the confusion associated with social settings. And from the hurt that comes from never fitting in, yet having a desire to do so.

    Yes, we tend to get obsessive about doing particular things in a particular way. But, that doesn’t mean that Rand and her view points are in any way analogous with our way of thinking, or more appealing to us then they would be for others.

    Besides for a small group of the rich and powerful achiever/business tycoons, Rand, I believe, appeals to those who philosophically can’t move beyond their own feelings inadequacy. They see heros that society puts down and trashes their selfish desires. It hink most Objectivists sit in their middle class suburban houses and think “Yeah, if society was like that, then I’d be a CEO making the big bucks too!” And there are also those who see these people, and use this selfishness and lack of self esteem and use it to manipulate them. Probably why it appeals to segment of the tea party folks.

    But, Aspies probably don’t support this philosphy by much more than the normal percentage of a cross section of society. And I find it disheartening that you would associate us with that idea.

  33. I once went to a “Friends of the Library” book sale, in which I picked up Atlas Shrugged and Dhalgren, at a quarter each. A friend of mine remarked, “That’s two big books, one of them good.” We decided that many people would agree with that statement, but there might controversy over just which one. (I’m with her on giving the Delany the nod.)

    I read Atlas Shrugged the once, so I’d know what the fuss was about, but I can’t imagine voluntarily reading it again. The characters and philosophy just get too much in the way of the storytelling for me.

  34. @Richard Banet:

    I’m an aspie myself (well, probably), but strangely what Scalzi said didn’t hurt my feelings. Maybe I can recognize satire.

  35. Cyan, you should have read Watership Down instead.

    We’re all in this together, if we co-operate we can pull through, and if all else fails, tell a story.

  36. Kevin @43: Asperger’s certainly helps in not recognizing that others may feel differently or in making blunt comments that piss people off, but it’s not an absolute requirement. As an example, perfectly neurotypical people are able to act pointlessly snotty about how if I wasn’t offended by thus-and-such, anybody else who is has something wrong with them, such as a tragic inability to recognize satire. Because the only reason that somebody has a different opinon than I do is that they’re stupid. Right?

  37. @CrypticMirror: I did. Read Watership Down, that is. And then many, many years later I went to New Orleans and had the most delicious rabbit stew.

  38. It’s less about “hurt feelings” and more about casting aspies in a light that further distances us from society. And, I don’t see satire in taking a group of people that already have social problems and further marginalizing them. Of course, years of reading John’s writing leads me to believe that his intent is not to defame aspies, but that is the effect of stating that Galt, who is basically a misanthropist, is an aspie hero.

  39. I loved Atlas Shrugged!

    Except for John Galt’s radio address. 50 pages of drivel spouted forth by a robotic-like person that repeats the same message over and over and over again to the point where I wanted to rip the pages out of the book!

    The second time I read Atlas Shrugged, as soon as I got to that point in the book I skipped it. Made the whole book about 5000 times better!

  40. Surely others must have noticed the strangeness of Rand’s view of male sexuality. In “Atlas Shrugged,” John Galt, a 30-something adult virgin, trashes his well paying technological career, takes a menial job on a railroad, stalks the railroad’s beautiful vice president, sabotages her business deals, and then has his first, apparently flawless, sex of his life with this woman in a store room underneath the railroad’s headquarters.

    In real life, men who behave Galt would probably get into serious trouble with the law. I can see why geeky, socially and sexually inadequate males would identify with the “heroes” in Rand’s novels. Also in real life, a Galt-like individual and another adult male virgin in “Atlas,” Eddie Willers, would probably commiserate over lunch about how they can’t get laid.

  41. a note on the screed. I figured that when she wrote the novel, there was no tv or internet. they the media consisted of radio and print, along with public speeches. so the fine art of the mindless sound bite didnt exist yet. you I gave her a break on the screed.

    on the other hand, after reading the first screed I quickly just skimmed and skipped all the rest.
    fine. I got it. shut up already. I understood it the first 300 times, why do you keep repeating yourself. FINE!!

    it is interesting that rand nerds and a lot of heinlein nerds are willing to kill of large parts of the population. I wonder if it is a function of asperger’s.

  42. Richard @47: I think it was probably just using Asperger’s as a shorthand for ‘isolated, slightly clueless about the rest of humanity and nerdy’, which isn’t accurate either, but I doubt John meant anything malicious by it.

    cyan @46: You’re not helping the stereotype, dude.

  43. I read it as a teenager and for a year or two bought the philosophy hook, line and sinker. I am not sure what pulled me off. It was either noting that some of the people at the one college “Objectivist Club” meeting I went to were insane, or perhaps it was the “chasing after the hippy girl” thing. Who knows.

    Now it’s been thirty years since I’ve read anything by her. I remember enjoying her books, but I am not bored enough to go see how memory compares to reality.

  44. Richard Banet:

    “Of course, years of reading John’s writing leads me to believe that his intent is not to defame aspies”

    This is correct — Asperger folks exist across an entire spectrum, with a commensurate spectrum of behaviors. And of course they do not all act or think alike. Nor do I suspect all folks on the Asperger spectrum have an inclination toward Rand.

  45. Mythago @45:

    Sensitive, much? I wasn’t intending to be insulting… see also “aspie”.

  46. Yog-Urt
    Yog-Urt
    Yog-Urt
    Yog–oh, wait, that’s not the right outer god.
    Oops.

    I’m a hard-core, un-repentant Vonnegutite. You’ve inspired me to pick up Rand, but is there an edition with the screedy bits highlighted to facilitate skimming?

  47. The deliciousness of Rabbit is actually a long term gambit by the rabbits themselves to get all humans hooked on nothing but rabbit flesh. The rabbits know that it actually drains minerals and calories from humans to digest rabbit meat and they can make humans die out. Since rabbit population rates are so much higher than human ones, when they have reduced us to a rump population they will take over. And I for one welcome our new bunny overlords.

    What? Why is everyone looking at me like that?

  48. Thank you for the comment John, and on reflection, I might be over analyzing things and letting my own “aspie inclinations” cause me to misjudge your original comments. If so, please accept my apologies. I should be more careful to judge the person based on my knowledge of them, rather then reacting to a comment just because it reminds me of the comments of others that demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of Aspergers. Once again, my apologies.

  49. @Spencer:

    Heh, maybe a Jefferson Bible-style edition with all that stuff simply cut out.

    OTOH the whole point of AS is to make a political point, so one wonders how much would truly be left.

  50. Kevin @58: now throw in “PC” and you’ve got the trifecta.

    petec @51: no, it’s a function of being pissed off at not being recognized by the rest of the human race as a Special Snowflake. I think John’s original post pretty much covered it.

    Amusingly, as a side note, in the polyamory community Rand is a cautionary tale. Sort of the anti-Heinlein, if you will.

  51. Can you do “Ishmael” next?

    I’m not sure why I equate the two, but “Atlas Shrugged” and “Ishmael” are the two books I dread hearing fans of.

  52. This is the best review of ATLAS SHRUGGED ever written.

    And like Keith @#34, I have yet to meet a Randian who didn’t espouse the philosophy through sneering condescension and verbose ranting about how everyone who didn’t fall at the feet of the Goddess Ayn was either a “parasite” or an intellectual inferior who couldn’t possibly comprehend the real truth of how the world works.

    Evangelism through total dickishness is rarely, if ever, effective in winning hearts and minds. Of course, since the core of the philosophy is, “I’m a total dick and that makes me superior to you” I guess there’s no other way to go about it.

  53. I’ve been meaning to read Atlas Shrugged for a while now, just to see what the fuss is all about. I think this post makes it slightly more likely that that will happen in the near future.

    I read Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I was a young teenager (and most of his other books, as well). The philosophy of that really grabbed me – Yes! People are basically decent! People will look out for each other! Line marriages would be awesome!

    Eventually, though, I figured out that if you need a fictional world to show off your philosophy, it’s probably because it wouldn’t survive in a non-fictional world.

    That being said, I still do enjoy reading MiaHM. And Starship Troopers. (Though I always hated Friday and Number of the Beast.)

  54. mythago @46: You’re not helping the stereotype, dude.

    Honestly, I really don’t recognize the stereotype you are referring to.

  55. On a personal note: What I feel most for individual Objectivists is sorrow. (Not pity; pity is reserved for creatures lower on the evolutionary totem pole than humans.) Sorrow, because they are so broken that they are missing out on a huge amount of breadth of life which comes from having fully functioning empathy.

  56. Since there have been several Heinlein comparisons, at least Heinlein generally had the courtesy to actually set the fiction on another world (if not another universe) so as to make it very clear that the reader needed to think hard about how to apply these ideas to the real world.

    I’m a theoretical fan of libertarianism and, separately, of Rand, but I am a pragmatic fan of neither. Working in the healthcare profession will do that to you.

  57. Brian R @ #19

    Couldn’t let this pass — go read Moby Dick. If you have a degree in English literature you won’t be disappointed.

    Similar to AS, though, be ready to skip through parts that are unpleasantly slow.

    -JLR

  58. If you are skipping bits of Moby Dick, don’t miss the entire chapter devoted to explaining how to skin a whale’s dick and turn it into an apron. That bit gets dropped from all the adaptations, for some reason.

  59. JLR #71: I’ll try again, but “parts that are unpleasantly slow” seemed to be 90% of the book. Or as I put it the time I cast it aside: “100 pages and he’s not on the damn boat yet.”

  60. Rand actually did write a decent novel. It’s called ANTHEM. She acknowledges that her silly abstractions are just that (abstractions, not silly) and so it works better. It’s also written like a utopian fiction but isn’t one, which is also clever.

    Then she went Hollywood and started imaginary casting calls in her hand for her giant versions of To The Gas Chamber, GO!: The Musical.

  61. I’m glad to see you review Rand. Whichever side of her philosophy we might be on, we all have to admit (perhaps grudgingly) that her works are important.

    Nobody really judges Plato on his writing style, plot, or characterization. On Rand’s writing there seems to be a consensus: she needed an editor, she plods, she tries to disguise screeds as dialog, her characters are stiffer than wood. Nevertheless she’s effective enough to make a lot of people want to finish the whole book.

    When anyone reviews Rand, it always comes down to their own philosophy, though. Hardcore libertarians love her. Standard ‘conservative’ types claim to admire her in theory and would never actually put going Galt into practice. Progressive-leaning types point out that she’s a misanthrope and her philosophy is childish. I personally agree with her on keeping moral judgments simple and on keeping government as much out of our lives as possible. I personally disagree with her on treating human lives as acceptable collateral damage to prove a point; and I think she neglects the role of genuine altruism among all that selfishness.

    So I’m interested, John: what parts (if any at all) of her philosophy as presented in AS do you think have value?

  62. JD @73: the first hundred or so pages are slow going, but after that it’s great. Also, you can stun burglars with your bedside copy, in a pinch.

    mark @76: Plato wasn’t writing a novel. But I have heard plenty of people criticize Plato’s Mary Sue-ization of Socrates.

  63. read somewhere that the video game Bioshock is an effort to inoculate teenage boys from the Ann Rand virus.

    Anthem was much better

  64. Gee, there are a lot of us Aspies around here!
    I’ve also sent three of my kids (of my 7 I have 2 Asp, 2 ADD and an Aut – we’re very “special”! I must have the right genes!) to Scalzi pages. Don’t know how many of them are reading this post!

    But back on topic…. I hadn’t heard of Rand before a few months ago and haven’t read any yet. This gives me a reason to at least try it to see how good/bad it really is! I can usually read anything – only thing I haven’t was the Thomas Covenant books (bored and annoyed me big time!) so let’s see if I can get through Atlas!

  65. Rotorhead@37–you are awesome.

    One of my very favorite parts of Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America” is where, in the middle of a fist fight, Louis points out that they’ve suddenly devolved into an Ayn Rand sex scene.

    Reading the sentence “A leash is a rope with a noose at both ends” in the Fountainhead at the age of 16 is quite seductive. I look back on my brief stint as president of Campus Objectivists the same way other people look back on drug experimentation–there are worse people I could have fallen in with when I started college. And I came out the other side.

    And it gives me sympathy for my own students now, when they make sweeping claims about taxes or sexism.

  66. Loved this review. Giggled all the way through it. Most mornings we wind up in line at Dunkin Donuts behind a car with the following bumpersticker: Atlas Shrugged was a warning, not an instruction manual.

    That one has always made me smile as well.

    Thanks!

  67. JD@66 – Dusty, sad to say, there are those who want to be told they are substandard, blind, parasitic and so on. Lemon-eaters, some call them.

    Makes me wonder how much business Randians give to professional doms and dommes. No, not being snide, I see a kind of connection.

  68. “Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs.”

    Really John, you’ve totally misunderstood Rand if you think that!

    It’s “sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough MONEY.” Hugs will follow, as in both Atlas and Fountainhead the rich people all get attractive hangers-on.

  69. I’m not a big fan of Rand. I do find her earlier work (“Anthem” and “We the Living”) when she was just off the boat fleeing the Soviet Union much better than her later, political activism work (“Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”). I also find her non-fiction political books to be good (not as great as her early fiction books). The problem comes when she needs to have her characters in stories give long speeches putting out every little detail of her political ideology.

    I also find a lot of libs (not you, John) hatred of her as a little pathological; but you get that from Beck-haters also: they (libs) have an inability to say “I disagree” and walk away and instead say “you’re an evil fascist” (a bizarre accusation repeatedly applied to the anti-collectivist Rand)

  70. I find her work interesting, but problematic when applied to more than a few thousand people. I feel some of her problems with government is more a problem with large organizations (which is something I think humans naturally want to form).

    I find her ideas about humans and what’s admirable in humans to be…disturbing, given her admiration of a sociopathic killer. How that plays into her larger ideas about society is not ultimately provable, but it would seem something natural to ponder about.

  71. @Scorpius:

    Plenty of that going around. See also Goldberg’s book _Liberal Fascism_. Not excusing that sort of behavior, but it’s disingenuous to single out one side.

  72. It’s mean to say that people who are social misfits are comparable to objectivists. I spent most of my life lurching from one awkward social situation to another and still suck at dealing with people, but that doesn’t mean I want to hurt anyone. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of why I like being altruistic is a reaction to a childhood of alienation. In my experience, the people who think they don’t need society are the people who have never been outcasts due to anything but choice.

    It’s also interesting to me to see people using Heinlein as a counter example of libertarianism. I’ve read a smattering of Heinlein and never really thought of him as being libertarian in his books. I can see what people were talking about now that I think about it. Nor did I find his narrative depressing, like Rand’s, which had me thinking about cutting myself 150 pages into the Fountainhead. I think that while Heinlein might have been writing from a libertarian perspective, he wisely realized that people are different and can abide different views and wrote his words like that. Sometimes his heroes were individualists, sometimes they were community minded. Sometimes the world was going to hell, sometimes it was slouching towards utopia. Heinlein might have been a libertarian and an author, but I don’t think he was a libertarian author.

  73. I think if I want to read about the nerds taking over, I’ll skip Anthem and go for Anathem.

  74. True. The term “fascist” has been shorthanded to mean “someone I disagree with politically” — which is not only a shame, but also very dangerous, given the fact that it means that *actual* Fascists are given cover, because anyone pointing them out is dismissed as engaging in hyperbole.

    Randian Objectivists arent’ fascist — they’re just delusional. They’re sort of the Scientologists of Politics — basing an entire life philosophy on the pet theories of a pulp writer.

  75. My only real Objectivist encounter is from college, when I was a member of a small (no, really) pro-First Amendment group which was made up of an odd coalition of traditional libertarians and ACLU-type liberals. For reasons that are a mystery to this day, the campus Objectivist chapter decided we were some kind of threat to their philosophy and made a point of papering over, stealing or ripping up every poster*, notice or sign we put up on campus.

    I make it a point never to judge any philosophy, religion or creed based on what its college-student adherents are like, but to this day, my reaction to all things Rand is girded with a visceral “dude, WTF?” reaction.

    *Yes, I’m dating myself by pointing out that this was before Facebook or e-vites. We had to tell people about things by printing stuff on PAPER. And it COST MONEY.

  76. My friend, who I’ve known since I was in 7th grade, told me to read this book when I was 23. 5 years of off and on slogging later, I’m still not finished, and I sometimes wonder what I ever did to make him hate me so. Every time I think of this book, I’m reminded of Madeline Kahn in “Clue” (“I hated her so much, that… flames… FLAMES… on the side of my face… burning, heaving breaths…”).

    It seems likely that someone, somewhere has made a suggestion similar to the following, and if so, I apologize for being a moocher: How about a drinking game? You chug a beer every time one of Galt’s elite cadre experience something that is not a recognizable human emotion so much as an abstruse bit sophism that can only be expressed by some kind of tortured metaphor involving handcuffs or other bondage imagery. Also, chug a beer every time a character hears something that makes them want to cry out in pure exaltation in recognition of that stimulus’ ideological purity. Shots of Jaeger anytime someone monologues for more than two solid pages of text, or anytime a man’s face is described with the words “hard,” “planes,” or “angles.” Dizzy bats if you make it to the point where a new character is introduced only to then state his life’s work is to kill Robin Hood.

    This idea has potential, I think. Clearly, the two most likely results are that you pass out in a drunken stupor before making serious headway into the novel, or you drink yourself to death. Either is preferable to finishing this book. Hurled aside with great force indeed…

  77. @Kevin Williams,

    I read “Liberal Fascism” and what it’s about is a warning to liberals about people who live in glass houses. He basically details the broad ideological connections and mutual admiration between Fascists and early 20th century progressives. But, he does repeatedly say how it shouldn’t be applied to progressives today.

    It’s an well-researched exercise in showing the Left how their ideological ancestors have as many or more connections to Fascism and an attempt to say to them “Maybe, we should just drop the practice of labeling each other ‘Fascists’ then”

  78. Never read Ayn Rand, and you’re not making me regret that choice.

    I suffered enough slogging through Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” pablum…

  79. Maybe I’m not remembering the novel correctly…but when exactly did John Galt commit genocide? Are you suggesting that by refusing to work in a society he didn’t approve of he was no better than Hitler? That seems odd.

    Regarding the book…I remember reading it in high school. Around page 700 I realized that I understood the gist of what she was saying and still didn’t give a shit about any of the characters.

  80. I think my basic problem with Randian philosophy is that it doesn’t account for the inherent altruism necessary to even raise a person from zygote to functional sapient in the first place.

    When you realize that you’re born with an inherent debt to the society that made sure you lived long enough to be a Randian asshole, you start thinking that maybe you ought to first pay back that balance a bit…

  81. Can’t believe no one else has thrown this out yet:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    And I won’t wade into the fascism swamp, but…”Liberal Fascism”? Well researched?? Certainly not by the author, who (among other laughable bits of nonsense) claimed that Mussolini wasn’t really a fascist, he just supported WWI.

  82. Thanks for doing this! I have always wondered what the deal was with Rand, and this helps. I never wanted to waste part of my life reading it when I have so many other, better works to read. So there was always an Ayn-shaped void until today.

    The closest I ever got to hearing an explanation of Rand was when a Philosophy PhD roommate of mine woyld get furious when he saw Atlas Shrugged shelved in the philosophy section of the bookstore. He would fume too much to explain it to me, however.

    Thankfully, now I at least have a clue as to why I never want to bother reading it. This is a happy customer!

  83. Happened to be at a charming park just north of Northampton Ma last weekend for distinctly non-randian familial reasons, grr. It was pleasantly rustic with a fairly long and winding kids railroad, too late in the season to be running but I was just enthralled with the tracks, about 18in wide. About all I can remember about that book is just how cool it would be up in the mountains with your own private mini-railroad. I suspect that one scene is what grabs a lot of nerds and much of the enveloping dreck is ignored.

  84. John,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I get the sense that, if you wanted to, you could rattle off for us a bunch of other writers and books that you see as having the same problem: the writer is pretty good at building some momentum but keeps derailing with either lame political rants or character actions that are philosophically required but *not how people really work*. Anything similar come to mind?

    BTW, I think you would get more explosions if you used the term “Randroids”

  85. I did a quick F3 (search) of the page after a quick read. 100 comments and no one has brought up the fact that Alan Greenspan was one of her in-crowd followers back in the day?

  86. Y’all are a bunch o’ wussies. I’m reading this on a Friday night expecting some real blood. Poor John’s mighty Mallet of Loving Correction is as cold as Rand’s corpse from disuse. I was looking forward to seeing that thing swing around like the Buccaneer at Rye Playland.

    You are all a complete disappointment.

    Oh, well. Guess I’ll go to bed.

  87. I had a boyfriend in college who gifted me with this book and said, “IT CHANGED MY LIFE!”

    I read it. I was like, “Okay. So, which part was life changing?” He’s like, “Well, all of it.” I’m like, “Okay, which part of your life did it change?” He says, “Well, obviously you didn’t understand the book.”

    Yeah, he got nexted pretty quick.

  88. Atlas shrugged is a bodice-ripper. The point is not all the stupid objectivist nonsense, it’s all the splendid manly men who rip Dagny’s clothes off. Check out how many of the men are beautiful misunderstood playboy heirs or handsome superrich unhappily married men, both of whom will actually be faithful once they meet a Real Woman.

    It’s a romance novel which also celebrates loser geeky guys as being fated to be total successes (you make the second point above). Since both demographics buy books, it’s still in print.

  89. My father actually met Ayn Rand when she lived in New York and he was attending University. Had tea with her (served by her husband who stayed out of the conversation & left the room). Dad’s gift to me just before I left for college was a new edition of Atlas Shrugged. Told me to skip the long speeches, at least for the first time. He adored Rand.

    I read another of her books, and then bought Theory of Selfishness. Couldn’t finish that mound of steaming crap-I’d figured out for sure that NOTHING about her “philosophy” could work in the real world, and that her big hero was worthless, even if Rand made his paradise sound almost as good as Shangri-La (Lost Horizons-THAT was a good book!). And no one in the real world operates like the people in her books. They’re counter to the human experience-except for the selfishness part.

    Let’s just say my father & I do *not* discuss politics when we’re together.

  90. Brilliantly said – I just wish I’d said it first. No wait, I *did* say it first, just not out loud! (At this point, I should probably mumble some sort of Objectivist claptrap, but I’m fresh out). Regardless, the thing thats always fascinated me about Rand is that it successfully gets all those raw – oh *so* raw – emotions/feelings/ideas-about-how-the-world-should-work that people have in their teen years, and distills them into one long foundational work, which, years later, the requisite 2% on *this* end of the population distro. have ended up with as their Answer To Everything…

  91. Thank you for this, John. You’ve help me clear up something that 40 or so years have fogged in my memory. Like many of my generation (or near it), I read Rand, Heinlein, and Vonnegut as a teenager. (Which, now that I think about it, might explain my somewhat odd political bent, which is somewhat Libertarian-ish with a strong Socialist bent – I never said it made sense. A strong belief in personal responsibility that includes a responsibility to support infrastructure and community.)

    I remember being quite taken with Rand’s books, but somewhat dismayed that I couldn’t remember Galt and other significant details. I think I’ve figured it out though – I read “Anthem” and “We the Living” and petered out during “The Fountainhead”. Whew. I suppose I really should read “Atlas” one of these days.

    So many books, so little time…

  92. I thought I’d read all three of Ayn Rand’s novels as a teenager but I apparently was only impressed by The Fountainhead and we analyzed Anthem in one of my high school English classes so I do remember that. Although portions of your review do stir up vague memories and impressions. I think I had the same thoughts. I rejected the philosophy she espoused in it. I have too much compassion for my fellow human beings. I liked the Fountainhead, though.

  93. I’m of the opinion that only one piece of great art has ever come from Randian ‘philosophy’ – 2112 by Rush.

  94. Sorry I came to this one so late. I would have to say that I came to Rand late. I will point out that “We the Living” is probably her best book and that “The Fountainhead” is probably much better than “Atlas Shrugged.” By the time she got to Atlas she had enough notoriety to write whatever the hell she felt like. I think that translated as “I don’t have to take as much shit from my critics, or to get published” and she retaliated by writing something very extreme. Look at the work of Stephen King and you might see that by this point in his career he gets to write whatever the hell he wants and his editors sit back and take their cut.

    I have always been a huge fan of RAH and I think reading Rand has fine tuned for me many of the shakier parts of his own writing/philosophy. I enjoy this a great deal. RAH’s own libertarian societies are never on a large scale. He saw that libertarianism really works best in small populations and that the nature of man does not allow individualism with nations in the hundreds of millions. Rand was indignant about this concept and felt the individual greatness of man was more important than the collective. Being rather swayed by her ideal man and the rugged individuals of my beloved RAH I can honestly say I don’t give a damn about either. I will do what brings the greatest happiness to myself and those I choose to surround myself with. Is this Rand or RAH? It is not important.

    It is important to understand that while Rand, and more than a few times RAH, will lecture through the dialog of her characters the extremism cannot truly sway the mind to that extreme unless that mind already wishes to be that way. The extreme example can sway the mind but not infect it like a virus for anyone who is truly a free thinker. I think Rand might agree with that.

    And this book serves both of its primary functions because people keep buying it and talking about the damned thing. It sells like every author wishes their work would. And it makes people think. Anyone who merely dismisses a book like this without weighing the fact that it is a book of ideas before anything else is guilty of academic snobbery. Any good intellectual will always work both sides of the argument thoroughly before coming to a conclusion. John did this. Many who posted here have also done that. Some did not.

  95. Hey John Scalzi, you’re the only other guy I know of who’ll admit having read that crapola three or four times for the cheap thrills of a hot potboiler. Crappy, you betcha, but the pages just turn themselves, don’t they?

    Have you ever read Slan, by A. E. van Vogt? If you haven’t you should; also The Weapon Shops of Isher. Slan is the story of young Jommy Cross, mentally superior mutant boy, hunted ruthlessly by dumb, heartless humans. That’s the book I immediately associated with Atlas Shrugged when I first read it, except of course Rand has more hot hot sex scenes, as Astounding didn’t print smut you know.

  96. Is the yogurt related to the carnivorous blancmange of Monty Python fame? That would make the Mallet of Loving Correction a tennis raquet.

    On an equally surreal note, I remember I used to hang out with an earnest Libertarian economist who worked for an oil company. All I can say is that BP modelled the principles he loved. And all we got was an oil-soaked coastline and a hike in cancer diagnoses.

    “Shrugged” is exactly the right verb, but the character’s name has always been wrong, IMHO.

  97. Hmm, I’ve not read Rand yet. But I did suffer through Orxy and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

    It sounds like I suffered through a cheap knockoff of Rand’s work. Yet no one damns Atwood.

    Just pondering.

    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer Marches

  98. Anyone who merely dismisses a book like this without weighing the fact that it is a book of ideas before anything else is guilty of academic snobbery.

    It’s a book of bad ideas.

    Any good intellectual will always work both sides of the argument thoroughly before coming to a conclusion.

    Sure. I thoroughly worked through that Rand’s side of the argument is remarkably dumb.

  99. Anthem was vital to my sanity when I read it.

    Atlas Shrugged I never got to. I found Nicholas Branden’s biographical account of his time with Ayn Rand and ran like hell the other way.

    I’ve never regretted that decision, even after reading this review.

    Now, I’m personally surprised nobody’s taken John calling it “rough sex” and debated whether it was actually rape. I won’t as I haven’t read it, but I know others who have and would insist Dagny was a victim more than a willing participant who happened to like it rough.

  100. I’m with Adam in that I don’t equate inaction with genocide. Galt choosing to destroy his inventions and not spend his life trying to fix a broken society is hardly the same as someone actively trying to destroy a society.

    I totally agree that Rand’s characters in AS and The Fountainhead have no basis in reality and that no utopia formed of those characters could ever exist. However, her books did switch me from being a progressive liberal to a libertarian.

    The value of individualism is the value of democracy. We may individually choose to be charitable and we may choose to whom we wish to donate. We could be empowered and invested in the change we wish to see. Instead, we primarily leave it to unseen leaders and constantly complain about misappropriation of tax funds.

    The alternate argument is, of course, what about those without individual ability. Obviously, there are people in society that would choose to help the less fortunate (hopefully you are among them if you’re arguing this side). Convince others that these people are worth helping. Don’t tax me and spend my money on programs I disagree with (unjust wars, industry bailouts, social security).

    Those that assume that individual freedom implies the downfall of society are the ones without faith in the goodness of others. If you need the government and its guns to force your detractors to spend money as you see fit, you are not acting in the realm of ideas, but instead in the realm of tyranny.

  101. Oh, and I suppose I should point out that

    But on the other hand, Rand did spend a lot of time getting high on her own supply

    means that I am never going to be able to think of an Ayn Rand novel without this music as the soundtrack.

    DARN YOU, SCALZI! DARN YOU TO HECK!

  102. I think of Rand as having taken several steps outside the consensus, and finding both true and false things there.

    One of the true things is that there are people who care about doing things well, and they’re miserable if they don’t have a chance to do that. This doesn’t show up in fiction much.

    In AS, the characters who leave are fleeing a dictatorship. What gets morally iffy is that they destroy whatever infrastructure they owned on the way out, with intent to destroy the society. What’s factually iffy is that Rand underestimates how long a dictatorship can totter along– though the best example, North Korea, is dependent on outside aid.

    There really are people (more of them in Rand’s time) who preach self-destruction for the sake of a larger good. Where Rand blew it was underestimating the amount of helpfulness that isn’t self-destructive and is necessary.

    I can’t think of any fiction which has realistically explored the axis that goes from SDO (authoritarian leader) through reasonable cooperation to self-immolation.

    49 # Mark Plus: You’re the only person I’ve seen discuss that, but it’s an interesting parallel to the way Dominique treated Roark in The Fountainhead– she spends a lot of years trying to wreck his career. Admittedly, he raped her (or something like very like that), but he’s still in love with her. The happy ending is that they end up with each other.

  103. The value of individualism is the value of democracy.

    Sez who? Not the ancient Greeks, certainly. Not the Romans. Not the Founding Fathers.

  104. I tried to read Rand, but stopped when I got to Dominique in The Fountainhead falling in love with the man who raped her. Even at 16 I knew there was something deeply, deeply wrong with that. I did read Heinlein, but he, at least, knew how to write a solid adventure plot without clogging the whole thing with his own political beliefs (at least until Time Enough for Love, which should have been called Lazarus Long’s 3000 year Oedipus Complex).

    As for Rand’s “philosophy” – there’s a reason she’s not taught alongside Tillich and Niebuhr and Popper and Russell in modern philosophy courses, and it’s not political correctness. Further deponent saith not.

  105. Silbey: It is nice to see people reinforcing my concepts. I accuse others on not considering concepts and you use words like “bad” and “dumb.” I don’t think this adds much to the conversation. You are trying to be offensive without being “lovingly” whacked. Please explain. I love the line “The value of individualism is the value of democracy.” This is fitting with the ideas of Ayn Rand. Just because someone before didn’t think this way does not denote that we should not advance our own thinking. To do the opposite is stagnation of intellect. Stagnation is death.

  106. Is it more important to talk about what we take from the book than to berate the woman who wrote it? It makes no difference what the person who creates the art is if the art itself has value. I’ve been reading her non-fiction lately and think Rand would agree. The art is the end in itself. The artist may only take pride from it and nothing else.

    It also does not matter if she thought this world could actually exist. Most readers of this site are readers of the improbable and outright impossible. Why berate Rand? Because her philosophy is an affront to Judeo-Christian morality? Is that really so wrong? I’m not arguing that she is the goddess that some people believe her to be but to insult her because she dared to question is ridiculous.

    Her philosophy like any philosophy only works in a vacuum. NO philosophy works in the real world because the real world is populated by real people and people are flawed. This does not change the fact that we need people to challenge the conventions of flawed world. She said her greatest battle was not against altruism but against irrationality. This is a beautiful sentiment. I would also like to say that those above who commented that her philosophy was somehow flawed but that whole selfish thing was good did miss the point a bit. The one cannot exist without the other. Saying that people are inherently selfish and then holding to altruism does not work

  107. It’s my money; I earnt it; I did that by making the world a little better, by creating wealth;

    And if I want to give my money to the starving poor, that’s my business, no-one has a right to say different.

  108. I’m not going to weigh in on one side or the other, but I will say that this was probably one of the more fair, less foamy-at-the-mouthy critiques of the novel I’ve read. Anti-Randites tend to be as “mentally challenged’ in their criticism of Rand as Randites tend to be in their glorification of her. It’s nice to see that once in a while someone can be just a little more *ahem* objective.
    That being said, Scalzi…I’d love to see you tackle an opinion piece on Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series. “Atlas Shrugged” repackaged as fantasy fiction? Sheesh.

    Oh…and thanks for forever associating “Atlas…” with “prison rape” for me. Really; thanks.

  109. Thanks for putting into words so well what I’ve always felt about Atlas Shrugged (and The Fountainhead and We the Living, for that matter).

  110. Everything we claim ownership of outside of our own bodies is only ours by the grace of fortune and the social contract. I wish people who burble on about ‘their’ money and ‘their’ property would take a step back and realize that.

    Kit Whitfield said that Ayn Rand was an outsider artist on the level of Henry Darger. I personally prefer Darger when it comes to invented worlds.

  111. Shorter Ayn Rand:
    Selfishness: good
    Altruism: bad

    For real-world application, see Greenspan, Alan.

  112. I agree that, from a low-thought sci-fi approach, Rand with an editor who could have stood up to her would have created quality amusement. I say this as someone who has read a _lot_ of poorly written science fiction and enjoyed it, but I have a great deal of trouble slogging through her. Never finished Atlas, although I did make it through Fountainhead.

    And… I have a background in debate, and thought seriously about going into law for a while. I have a deeply argumentative/competitive streak. And that side of me is thankful for Randroids – the quality ones are at once true believers who never go off-point or can be persuaded, and they’re easy pickings that are fun to bait/’bate. That said, I prefer that they _not_ be given the keys to the Fed.

    My general take on Rand the person, and this may well be something to attack me over (hey, gotta throw out some red meat sometime), is that she was mostly writing her own romance novels about the perfect man who shared her kink, who she could never quite find in reality.

    And also that, in unwitting collaboration with Kerouac, she provided an object lesson to other authors on the perils of writing with too much speed and too little editorial feedback.

  113. Personally, I agree with the idea that it is an enjoyable science fiction novel. If they released a new edition with the 80 page Galt diatribe edited out, I think it would find a new audience. Reading it, I never wanted to be a part of her world, but I did think there were some interesting points. And a line or two gave me downright chills. Still trying to convince my husband to read it so we can discuss it.

  114. Okay, John, you just freaked me out. I hadn’t noticed before that you’re lurking back there behind your blue-tinted comments.

    I thought there was dirt on my monitor…. but it’s YOU.

  115. I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the excellent SF novel “Sewer, Gas and Electric” by Matt Ruff. It’s a hilarious novel that’s enough of its own thing that I can’t call it a parody of Rand, but it’s definitely in reaction to Rand. One of the main characters, Joan, determinedly altruistic, has to carry a hurricane lamp through most of the book containing a simulation of Ayn Rand who continuously chain smokes and hectors Joan about her philosophy.

    Having never read Ayn Rand, mainly because the Objectivists I’ve come across are more irritating than god-botherers (and, amazingly, have worse fashion sense), “Sewer, Gas, and Electric” helped me feel like I no longer should read it.

  116. @300Baud –

    Damn, I’d forgotten about that book! Read that a long time ago, and laughed all the way through it. Now I need to hunt down a copy of that again.

  117. As an econ major, one quarter I was assigned to read both Atlas Shrugged and Das Kapital. The books inadvertently touched on my desk and annihilated each other.

  118. That’s just a brilliant piece of writing, John. You have an amazing talent for driving a stake into the heart of any matter, albeit from your preferred direction (which also happens to be mine) with both clarity and humor. Thanks.

    I’m curious as to how long you worked on this particular post. Does that level of style/coherence just roll off your fingertips, or do you spend more time than perhaps you should on non-revenue-producing activity? :))))

  119. My favorite line re: Libertarians goes something like this: “There are two kinds of Libertarians; those who don’t know that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and those who don’t know Heinlein was writing fiction.”

    What I don’t usually add is that the ones who don’t know Heinlein was writing fiction are far preferable to the other group.

  120. I was thinking about how life imitates art when you summed up the book as: “sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society.” It made me think of Alan Greenspan (a Rand acolyte) and his pathetic “shocked disbelief” that the “self-interest of lending institutions” failed to prevent a massive financial crisis. Sociopathic idealized nerd, indeed.

  121. Joshua @115: “[RAH] saw that libertarianism really works best in small populations”

    He may have written such idealized scenes into his books, but he never really mentioned who was taking care of the pool or washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. If you took away the hired help and/or robot servants (we are talking SF, after all) and stranded them on another planet, those little libertarian utopias would almost certainly morph into communist enclaves. The alternative would have them turning on each other fairly quickly.

  122. @133 what is yours is what you can bash someone else’s head in and make yours. Thats the basic truth that the rest of it all flows from

    Social contracts, social groups, individualism, altruism, is all around either optimizing the head bashing at the tribal level or trying to find substitutes for it internally to avoid the tribe killing themselves off instead of killing off the other tribe.

    One of the parameters in the head bashing equation is “how much does the tribe allow individuals to benefit from their own creativity and hard work in the hope of getting more creativity and hard work, leading eventually to better head bashing techniques for all”

    What Rand was basically arguing is that you move that dial up to 11.

    What she kept forgetting is that human societies compete at the tribal level as much as individuals compete at the individual level. Any philosophy that tries to ignore that mental hardwiring will end up eating itself or getting eaten be a society that doesn’t.

  123. “What gets morally iffy is that they destroy whatever infrastructure they owned on the way out, with intent to destroy the society. What’s factually iffy is that Rand underestimates how long a dictatorship can totter along– though the best example, North Korea, is dependent on outside aid.”

    I’ve been reading about a near-analog in the real world.

    Right after WW2, scientists and factories were evacuated from areas of Germany that would come under Soviet control. Entire factories and engineering staffs, like the Carl Zeiss optical works. Or an underground factory that had built fighter jets.

    Of course, this was government action, not rugged individualists.

  124. Note for next book:

    Rand nerds threaten the world . Heinlein nerds let it go until their freehold is threatened. Heinlein “competent males” plan and stomp the Rand nerds into dust never to rise again. Heinlein nerds return to freehold and resume tinkering on their homebuilt fusion plant and gardens.

  125. Cyan@46: A delectable comment.

    Many thanks to all who’ve posted links to the parodies and vivisections of Rand. My favorite remains Elvis Shrugged by Patrick McCray.

    mythagoon@64 wrote … it’s a function of being pissed off at not being recognized by the rest of the human race as a Special Snowflake. I recall hearing of a teachers blog wherein one professor described his typical class (I paraphrase from memory) “Each one is a special little snowflake. At the end of the semester, most of them will be a puddle running down the drain.”

    AlanDownunder@123: Nice flowchart. Notice there’s no obvious start point? A deliberate omission, I think.

    Jamie@134: “bait/’bate.” I love you. Please marry one of my children.

  126. Heinlein was not black and white on libertarianism. Some of his later books do a good bit of poking holes in his own characters.

    Several folks have commented that Heinleins or others’ philosophies only work in small groups. Well, yes. Communism and objectivism also work just fine in small groups. The necessary component is that all members of the group have bought into the core tenets to such a degree that they will not leave the group, and they will blame any failings of the tenet on failures of the individual – including themselves, if necessary. With a large enough group and/or the ability to opt out of the group, they either collapse or become monstrous tyranny.

  127. I had a Summer intern dumped in my lap repeatedly over the course of his undergrad education (Econ major, Drama minor–you remember things like that) who was in the intern program because his Aunt was a Sr Director at the company. He had no skills to speak of, and had all the charm of a hemorrhoidal hedgehog.

    He also quoted Ayn Rand’s work like it was the One True Way.

    I asked him how he rationalized his getting his Summer job through nepotism and his Objectivist outlook. He considered nepotism as an expression of “enlightened self interest”, so no problems there! So he sat in his cube, taking up available oxygen for three summers and not doing a thing, complaining every payday about the “governmental freeloaders” who were taking money out of his paycheck for “people who can’t bother to get a job.”

    No, I don’t know why his head didn’t explode.

  128. Oh, thank you. Just when I was considering the idea of trying to slog through an Ayn Rand book again, you’ve saved me.

    My father gave me the Rand collection many years ago. I dutifully tried to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and pretty much had the same reaction to both them just a couple of chapters in: “Meh.” Every once in a while, I feel guilty and think about trying again (after all, my perspective has changed a bit over the years). But now I think I can quit worrying about them and learn to love the bomb.

  129. You had me at “nerd revenge porn.” And I love this: “Objectivism: the spongy white bread at the Great Buffet of Human Ideas.”

    Though rather than spongy white bread (flavorless and almost textureless, but sometimes comforting, and at least marginally useful for soaking up tasty sauces or supporting Velveeta spread), I think I’d say matzoh–something that always looks and tastes stale and flavorless to me, and which I’m still skeptical should be classified as actual food, in the sense of taste treat OR nourishment.

    At age 22, I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD instead of ATLAS SHRUGGED, because I’m a slow reader and FOUNTAINHEAD had a 2-inch spine, whereas ATLAS had a spine that covered half a bookshelf. And I’d known so many people in my teens who considered Rand brilliant that I figured I should probably read SOMETHING of hers.

    And after reading FOUNTAINHEAD, I had no interest in reading more Rand (and never have). My reaction to that novel was that the author was a fascist, which I found repellant enough (and I was shocked to realize how many of my youthful friends had apparently been fascists, or at least sympathized with fascist ideas), and that she was also a bad novelist: cardboard-cutout characters, wooden dialogue, and narrative that was a toxic sea of the author’s resentments and polemics.

    I read novels for the same reason in my early twenties as I do now: I want a well-crafted, absorbing tales about compelling characters. Rand offered none of that IMO–and, meanwhile, far from striking me as an innovative thinker, I thought she was just recyling fascism from pseudo-intellectual perspective (which particularly disturbed me, since I had until then–mistakenly (hey, I was young)–attributed fascism to lack of education or opportunity; it was upon reading Rand that I started to realize, no, people with plenty of education and access to a free press and all sorts of information and choices and opportunities… can nonetheless believe this stuff).

  130. John H @ 146: He wrote a lot about who did the dishes and fed the livestock. Look at Tunnel in the Sky and Time Enough for Love. In Tunnel in the Sky he does a fair job showing how society can develop out of a mutual need to survive, but no one is forced to stay. He seems to revere pioneer cultures. Perhaps this is the only place where libertarianism can actually exist. Admittedly you are right in most respects. I think my point still stands: who cares? This is fantasy. Why people actually argue about whether a fictional world could ever exist seems silly. Think Tolkien and Rowling. I love reading about those worlds but you would have to be suicidal to want to be a part of them.

    unholyguy @ 147: Kudos! Very big Kudos! Your analysis is excellent. It fits in line with humanity as a selfish entity and allows it to function in a tribal system. You also pointed to the large flaw in the philosophy. Though I am not sure Rand herself saw this as a flaw. I think she saw it as a conflict that the individual must endure in order to become stronger. Though this is a fresh thought and I haven’t had time to think it through. Perhaps their are elements of social darwinism here. Perhaps this argument is actually going nowhere.

    The book has sold a hell of a lot of copies. It has done its job.


  131. “No sane libertarian wants the trucks to stop rolling.
    He just wishes the government would stop standing on the brakes.”

    The fact that you don’t see the value of brakes on a truck disturbs me.

    Yes, yes, I know that’s not what you’re saying. But who else besides government should decide when and where to apply the brakes? Leaving it to individuals is just jungle law where the richest and most powerful can set things up as they please. Or are you planning to strip everyone of their wealth and redistributed it equally so everyone gets an even start in the new world order?

    Of course one problem with the US government as currently defined is that it’s frequently (mostly?) a tool of the rich and powerful anyway. But that isn’t a problem with the ROLE of government, that is a problem with the way the government operates within its role.

    The fundamental problem is that unbridled communism and unbridled libertarianism are both oversimplified models. BOTH of them fail to take human selfishness into account. Hashing out where our society stands in the control vs. freedom debate is what politics is all about.

  132. Never could get through Atlas Shrugged. When John Galt comes on TV and starts making that ginormous speech, he starts out by saying: “My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists…”

    And at that point I lost it.

    Wild, hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. Even at age 12, I realized: This has got to be the stupidest thing anyone has ever said. I mean…it’s straight out of a Monty Python sketch. It’s like Lenin standing at the barricades and shouting: “Comrades, our revolution is dedicated to the proposition that 3 = 3!” It’s so dumb, it just sucks all the air out of the room. Everyone who reads something like that automatically loses 50 IQ points. Atlas Shrugged is like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, except that when you touch it, your intelligence goes down.

    Now, The Fountainhead, there’s an entertaining movie. Never read the book, but the film’s a hoot. The phallic symbols make The Fountainhead a scream. Check out the scene where Roark looks up at Dominique in the quarry. Roark drills into the rock with this big honkin’ old drill — cut to Dominique staring down at him. Cut to a close up of ROARK’S BIG DRILL. Cut to a close up of Dominique all excited ‘n stuff. Cut to even closer close up to ROARK’S BIG DRILL. Man, that’s funny stuff.

    And then at the end, when Dominique mounts that elevator to meet Roark at the top of his giant phallic skyscraper…she gets this wild orgasmic look and the camera pans up…up…up this giant skyscraper. Cut to Roark standing right on the tippy-top of this giant stone phallus. Cut to close up of Dominique drooling with admiration. Cut to close up of the elevator rising closer and closer to the top of the stone phallus…it’s a scream.

    Should’ve had some scenes of trains entering tunnels, though. They missed that bet.

  133. “Fantasizing about being in the select, tiny NerdElite surviving the death of billions of socialist sheeple-parasites doesn’t mean you have an ASD; it means you’re an asshole with unresolved anger issues unbecoming in someone who, if slammed into a locker by a meathead, wouldn’t bother calling the principal because you can call your lawyer.”

    Yikes, so we’re not just pathetic nerds, but pathetic nerd assholes with unresolved anger issues. I guess I’m one of those, and I’m going to demonstrate my colossal assholeness even further by saying this: you’re a jerk.

    I’ve never read Rand, and libertarianism has never appealed to me thus far. I have, however, been bullied a lot, fought back a lot of resentment, and fantasized about some kind of event or other happening, the old order falling down, and my particular skill-set somehow acquiring value. I thought lots of normal people did that, but maybe they don’t.

    For those of us social misfits with unfulfilling lives who are entirely aware will continue to work hard in a humiliating life until we finally reach a lonely, obscure death, fantasy is the only possible release, and if that makes us assholes then so be it. Unless you or the author of this article have something better to suggest for us, kindly shut it.

  134. Thena@7, Keith@34

    Putting Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut on the same level is like equating the scientific understanding of Albert Einstein and George W. Bush

  135. If I were a better human being @160 would inspire me to pity and kindness, but I’m not, therefore:

    Mary, please. The issue isn’t nerd revenge porn; it’s pretending that nerd revenge porn is not merely a fun fantasy, but a blue print for real life. It’s the difference between the guy who enjoys watching porn, and the guy who, having watched porn, then goes around hitting on hot babes half his age and is furious that they don’t want to immediately drop trou and engage in a hot three-way because, hello, that’s how it’s supposed to be, why won’t they get with the program?

    Since you asked for suggestions, here’s a serious, non-snarky one. Let go of whatever satisfaction you get from picturing yourself as a permanent misfit doomed to a lonely, obscure death. Whatever value you derive from that is going to get in the way of anything you do to improve your lot. It can be scary, or uncomfortable, or frightening to try things outside your comfort zone, and assuming ‘things will always suck’ is a handy way of assuring yourself that you shouldn’t try to make anything better.

  136. [quote]He may have written such idealized scenes into his books, but he never really mentioned who was taking care of the pool or washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. If you took away the hired help and/or robot servants (we are talking SF, after all) and stranded them on another planet, those little libertarian utopias would almost certainly morph into communist enclaves. The alternative would have them turning on each other fairly quickly.[/quote]

    Pretty sure people were paid to do those things. I’m really rather confused as to why you’d think a social safety net is required for a lunar colony to have janitors.

    On a general note, please, for the love of god, don’t compare Rand to RAH, or Vonnegut for that matter (even if I personally dislike the latter, he’s an actual author).

    Rand is most aptly characterized as the L. Ron Hubbard of philosophy.

  137. @160 a lot of people fantasize about a sudden and dramatic change rewriting all the rules and opening the way for dramatic change. That’s normal. Don’t have to be a misfit to do that, just have to have an imagination

  138. Then these nerds can begin again, presumably with the help of robots, because any child in the post-Atlas Shrugged world who can’t figure out how to run a smelter within ten minutes of being pushed through the birth canal will be left out for the coyotes.

    No worries — Randian protagonists do not have children. Neither did Rand. Children, after all, force one to consider using one’s personal resources to shape the future at the expense of one’s own immediate ME-ME-ME ego-worshipping self-actualization.

    Can’t have that. Oh my no.

  139. Nancy: Iain Banks’ Complicity is the most intensely engaged examination I can think of about individual responsibility for response to official tyranny when none of the usual channels can work. It’s uncomfortable, which is just right – there’s nothing glib or easy about it.

    Scattered thoughts about Atlas Shrugged:

    I like to read it as an alternate history in which there wasn’t a World War II because of more success among left-wing revolutionary efforts like the Spartacists.

    There’s the material for maybe 400 pages of pretty fun gripping alternate-history adventure with a streak of dystopia in the book. Rand wouldn’t be the writer to bring it out in any event, since her prosecraft is so just plain bad, but the fodder’s there.

    There’s also this that she did remarkably well from time to time: she really captures the thrill of bringing something new into the world, turning ideas into tangible things that will affect others. These are good epiphanies.

    The flip side of the everyone-hates-me thing is the sense that all the right people agree, naturallly and effortlessly, pretty much all the time, and whenever comody breaks down, it’s easy to fix. For those of us who grew up misfits and only later realized the extent to which our own choices alienated others and cost us fellowship, particularly for those who haven’t yet hit that realization, this is potent stuff. It’s not just that all those losers in the outer darkness suffer, but that here in the true light, absolutely everyone is our friend and there’s no strain or nasty times lost to stupid arguments or anything like that.

  140. @ mcl: “John Galt comes on TV and starts making that ginormous speech, he starts out by saying: “My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists…”

    Seriously?

    Okay, then I might have to read ATLAS SHRUGGED after all. Because, you know… NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  141. Like most other social animals, Homo Sap is hard-wired for competition and selfishness. Again, like most other social animals, we are also hard-wired for cooperation and altruism. Philosophically speaking, libertarian purists are blind in one eye.

    As for Ayn Rand, I read pretty much all of her collected essays as a teen and eventually decided that she was a limited thinker whose axioms and prescriptions didn’t correlate with the real world, though it took a few more years of living and learning before I understood exactly how and why. I’ve tried to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead but just couldn’t get past the first page or so of either, in spite of being a voracious consumer of tall tales.

  142. unholyguy @147 — That’s . . . exactly my point, really. The social contract is basically the rules we have set up to determine who gets what to avoid the whole “rock-bashing” method. Now instead of rock-bashing, we have nice people with guns to enforce these notions.

  143. Wow. I just love that. I got roped into reading it by a girlfriend in college who had drunk the Kook-aid and asked for seconds (and this was in the summer of 1978, at least two months before that cultural reference had any meaning). I was able to get through it almost exactly as described above. I tried to look at it as though it were the novelization of a big, garishly colored comic book with insanely overdrawn characters. On that level, it really is good, mindless fun.

  144. It seems many have read a synopsis of objectivism but never actually took the plunge, so to speak. At Tully @ 167 in particular, sacrificing for a child is not outside of the realm of Rand’s ideas. She stated that we do things for those we love for ourselves. We derive pleasure from them and therefor make them happy. You seem to deride her for the fact that she had no children. Are you actually judging a person based on their preferred use of the plumbing?

  145. Joshua,

    Actually, if you read a lot of Rand’s stuff you see that she is like an advocate of geocentrism. Her initial logics seem simple and adequate, but as she proceeds, the facts she is trying to account for force her into more and more elaborate and burdensome structures of argument, like epicycle upon epicycle. The reality of social and economic behaviour is complex, but not as incomprehensible as Rand would have it.

  146. @161 A reference to the sociopathic nerds collapsing society? You do understand I have no actual, genuine desire to collapse society, right? Or were you just playfully stirring the hornet’s nest a little?

    @163 Who’s Mary? It sounds like you’re saying that the whole hating-people-for-fantasizing thing makes sense because people like that shouldn’t have any reprieve from suffering at all, lest their punishment be insufficient motivation to do whatever it is that you think they’re supposed to do to “change” things.

    @169 “For those of us who grew up misfits and only later realized the extent to which our own choices alienated others and cost us fellowship, particularly for those who haven’t yet hit that realization…” are you saying the whole getting-pushed-into-lockers bit really is their own fault, and they deserve it? I don’t agree with that at all. I think it’s the whole knowing how not to “alienate others,” having a natural talent for interaction, and liking all the stuff you’re supposed to like that is the special gift some people have and others don’t.

    In retrospect, sure, I probably should have mastered the art of comebacks to insults, fought back when attacked even if it was pointless, just to save face, and studied and practiced the mannerisms that make people more likable. I also should have worked out, and spent less time studying pointless crap no one ultimately cares about and more time trying to build up an image. I should have stifled every emotion and just done whatever you’re supposed to do. The problem is (aside from the fact that I had no way of knowing how to do all of that as a kid), even with all of that, it’s still fake.

    Today, after decades more practice, I can simulate a personality well enough to be seen in public with people some of the time. It’s just that it’s really easy to slip, because it takes so much concentration and the rules still aren’t 100% clear to me, and even when I am doing stuff with people, it’s not all that rewarding because I don’t really like that stuff. Sure, I can passably fake an interest in others and their lives, and hold myself back from talking about my own interests in any depth. I can follow things like football just so that I know what to say about it. I can sit and laugh when everyone else does and act entirely happy, but I don’t get any real enjoyment out of it — I’d rather be sitting at home building those robots.

    So yes, with enough practice maybe someday I can win all the praise I want, and do all the things people expect, be the selfless witty hero yadda yadda, but I would still dislike my own persona and die completely alone, even if I were surrounded by all those kinds of “friends”. The reality is that I don’t care for reality. I find the real world and its inhabitants for the most part aesthetically displeasing. So why not just let me have my fantasy?

    Yes, I fully understand that there can be no such thing as that utopia in the real world, real people are real, etc. I just dislike that fact. There’s nothing in the whole world that will ever change that, so I have to find a way to make peace with it. Escaping into impossible, not-even-necessarily-self-consistent fantasy is the only way I know of.

  147. Harry Connolly @137
    Who is Yo Gurt? (or should that be “What is?”)

    I wrote an amazon review where I called Atlas Shrugged a great pulp novel wrapped in a bad political screed. It’s my only review that’s actually gotten responses.

  148. BTW, did anyone here see THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, a film about Rand starring Helen Mirren, with Peter Fonda as her husband, and Eric Stolz as a Rand accolyte? Most of the movie takes place during the years when she was working on ATLAS SHRUGGED.

    I don’t know anything about Rand’s life and have absolutely no idea if the film was a remotely accurate or factual portrayal…. though, in personality, Rand certainly came across in this movie much the way I would have pictured the author of THE FOUNTAINHEAD when I read it. (And, no, I do not mean that in a flattering way.)

    I also remember thinking, when watching the scenes where she’s working on ATLAS SHRUGGED and the voiceover is giving us the text, “Wow, is the novel really THAT full of endless screed?” Apparently the answer is: Yes.

  149. Jason@177 “Who is Yo Gurt? ”

    Yo Gurt is a modern day corruption of the true name of the Ancient One Yogh-Urt, second cousin (twice removed) of Yog-Sothoth. And yes, that should definitely be “What is?”

  150. And then they disappear into a crevasse that Google Maps will not show because the Google people are our kind of people, and a year later they come out and everyone who was ever mean to them will have starved.

    It’s gonna be the future soon.

  151. I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged. I have met enough people who have to get the impression that a lot of the people who think that Ayn Rand Is The Greatest Author Ever are also absolutely convinced that he or she Could Be John Galt.

    It may be that some of them could be John Galt. I don’t think that any of the ones I’ve met could manage it, but that’s just my opinion.

  152. Just a small comment: the point of the statement “existence exists” is to say that existence exists apart from our individual perception. Say what you will about the idea itself but it is an idea that’s been the subject of arguments between philosophers for centuries so it hardly seems laughably obvious. Indeed if that idea (and it’s implications) were generally accepted, Rand probably wouldn’t have seen a need to write Atlas Shrugged in the first place.

  153. Escaping into impossible, not-even-necessarily-self-consistent fantasy is the only way I know of.

    Go for it. But you can hardly throw a fit when others try to make that fantasy escape back out and get called on it.

    And really, the fact that other people think your favorite book(s) suck(s) says nothing about whether you’re allowed to enjoy them.

  154. @176, there is nothing you can do to avoid getting your ass kicked in high school except walk in with an assault rifle and gun them all down. That tactic has some pretty serious downsides though. High School is hell for the seriously weird, pure and simple.

    As you get older, you generally grow up, the res of your peers grow up, and as the pool of people to interact with grows bigger you can generally find people to hang with who are like you. Trust me, however weird you think you are, there are plenty weirder out there, and some of them you can be friends with.

    There are also plenty of good paying jobs that you can be as weird as you like at, as long as you are smart enough to make up for it and not actively annoying people and bathe occasionally.

    The trick is to be able to put high school behind you and not spend the rest of your life living in a hole assuming the rest of the wide wide world is going to be like 9th grade gym class.

    It does, however, pay to be able to cultivate the appearance of normalcy upon occasion, for weddings and things. I have a suit I pull out for those rare events, I have been told by reputable types that it is a nice suit. I draw the line at pretending to like football though.

    The problem with not being able to deal with the real world is that occasionally it knocks down your door and evicts your ass because you haven’t been paying the rent. As long as you get around that problem, you are fine.

  155. Adam: Actually it’s one of the major things wrong with Objectivism in practice – it grossly underestimates the way our shape our assessment of the world, and encourages taking as given a lot of things that are actually matters of interpretation. I’ve seen, for instance, Objectivists argue that ring species can’t exist as the phenomenon biologists think they’re documenting, because it violates the existence of species as a category otherwise and paradoxes are always a sign of faulty logic, since reality cannot have any.

    What actual biologist say is that “species” is a construct of ours, not an objective reality, and that there’s room for a lot of fuzziness even though most of the time the construct works quite well. Likewise with, say, gender, and lots of other things. The Objectivist craving for objectivity turns out to be anti-reality.

  156. As a footnote to my last: For a while I read both of the rival Objectivist journals, out of curiosity and, at first, sympathy. Another thing I saw turn up several times was confidence that quantum mechanics just couldn’t actually be all that reliable, and that it was bound to be replaced by an improved classical physics any time now.

  157. Context seems important here. Rand comes from post WW2 USSR / Europe where almost every large institution,philosophy, government type, religion, failed to prevent and often were root causes of suffering death and misery in most of the civilized world. Collectivism definitely has serious drawbacks; we should be wary of all large organizations; for their purpose often becomes survival and growth of the organization; often of the expense of the individual and/or the greater good. It was the peak of mass society: in the one country left standing in the world which happened to have a mythos and a reality of pioneers, cowboys, rags to riches, up by your bootstraps, any boy can grow up to be president. Fertile ground for converts.This was also the era when engineers were portrayed cool and kind of sexy by media and pop culture. She was riding the same wave as Orwell, Leary, Kafka, just a different flavor.
    Today the arguments for and against are becoming moot; our society demassifies and the rise of the super-empowered individuals
    and NGOs of all types; the disappearance of communism leaving only the disappointing socialist – capitalist style of government, anarchy or despotism as only alternatives. To me; alot of Rand, and alot of political discussion today in general, is discussing problems of today with old concepts of yesteryear; using mindsets and frameworks that describe and proscribe earlier eras; with a political language that has less and
    less meaning.Rand of course is dead and has an
    excuse being dead and all.
    In conclusion, I conclude that groups of people collude to able to continue to collude and
    will try or get other people to come to the same or similar conclusions and begin to also collude.
    fin

  158. Sam @165: “Pretty sure people were paid to do those things. I’m really rather confused as to why you’d think a social safety net is required for a lunar colony to have janitors.”

    I don’t recall mentioning a social safety net, but I did say take away their hired help (the janitors, et al). My point was, without the luxuries of modern society, those libertarian ideals would give way to more pragmatic realities. Such as everyone having to take a turn scrubbing the toilets.

  159. So it’s a guilty pleasure without the guilt? I’m good with that. Never thought about it before, but I’d be inclined to be skeptical of anyone who didn’t have a couple of their own.

    A couple of months ago, there was a brief fad for the expression “going Galt,” apparently meaning all the zillionaires go off to pout leaving us serfs to our just deserts. Way out here on the left* we want most of society to just go on without paying any more attention to the bosses. Work is getting done, and the people doing it often know the most about getting it done. If the almost-half of the “profits” now going to “financial services” stopped going there because all the big swinging dicks were in their mountain retreats wondering who was going to mix the drinks, the anarchists would be partying in the streets.
    So if they want to “go Galt” en masse, I’ll chip in to buy the tickets.

    *(Marxism is the authoritarian right wing of socialism; Leninism is the authoritarian right wing of Marxism. Bolshevism/”Communism” ≠ socialism.)

  160. So many (including the author) deem themselves Sooo smart and intelligent…like watching teenagers talking about how stupid adults are.

    For some the light never comes on…

  161. Joshua @157
    Think Tolkien and Rowling. I love reading about those worlds but you would have to be suicidal to want to be a part of them.

    Suicidal? Suicidal! And here I have been hoping for years that once I make the transition from this life to the next life (tagged “heaven” in my faith circle) that I will be able to wander through Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Hadn’t thought about Rowling’s Hogwarts world, but that would be cool too. C. S. Lewis in the final novel of the Narnia series postulated a heaven where you moved from world to world upon entering and then leaving a walled garden in the middle of a gorgeous valley. But I will not suicide to leave this reality for the next one. That would be silly. I can wait.

    Oh, if there are any Randian worlds in the mix to visit in the next life? I think I will take a pass on them and sas-shay on over to the worlds of Patrick Rothfuss, Orson Scott Card, or even our fine host here John Scalzi. After I check out Middle Earth, mind you. Gotta see the elves first.

    This has been a most interesting thread to read. I gather Rand’s objectivist philosophy seems to misunderstand true human nature which is a mixed bag of both selfishness and altruism. We are neither all good or all evil. We become what we are with our choices.

  162. Vinnster:

    “So many (including the author) deem themselves Sooo smart and intelligent…”

    Whoa, now whoa, there. Some days, I think I’m smart. Other days, I think I’m intelligent. But smart and intelligent at the same time? That’s just madness.

  163. I accuse others on not considering concepts and you use words like “bad” and “dumb.”… You are trying to be offensive without being “lovingly” whacked.

    Actually, I’m trying to point out that it is perfectly possible to consider a set of ideas deeply and come to the conclusion that they are “bad” and “dumb.” Pronouncing, as you did, that anyone who does them is simply not considering them “thoroughly” is simply a debating trick. I would say it’s the kind of debating trick that people who love Rand think is clever, but that would be a generalization as well.

    To do the opposite is stagnation of intellect. Stagnation is death.

    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

  164. Like so many others (I’m glad to notice I’m not alone), I _started_ to read the book. That was in the early ’60s. But I quickly decided that it was describing a Fantasy World that, though interesting, I didn’t like, and that it featured no characters I could possibly like, so I stopped. That is not something I regret, even though it means that I can’t talk about the book here, or fully appreciate your comments.

  165. I agree with most of the literary critique but I’m not sure how you interpret Galt as a murderer. All he did was get up and leave – encouraging others to do the same. How is this anything but the geek version of Leary’s “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” manifesto? Society’s collapsing on it’s own – no point in artificially propping it up on our own efforts.

    Being anti-social doesn’t make you a sociopath.

    All that said, I’m sure I would have enjoyed a few chats with Rand but soon it would sound pretty much like a Libertarian Party platform debate. And no one knows how to or enjoys attacking Libertarians than other Libertarians.

  166. Joshua @#175: You seem to be intentionally missing the point, that the Randian protagonist is sans offspring because offspring actively get in the way of the full actualization of comprehensive Randian ME-ism (or as Rand called it, “egoism”). Your own proferred example emphasizes this while attempting to evade it: by your answer others are to be considered ONLY as ways of furthering one’s own happiness, NOT as people deserving of happiness in their own rights, such as minor children to whom the parent has an obligation that is external to their own selfish aims and desires. (That is, BTW, in conflict with Rand’s own position that parenthood is an overriding responsibility.)

    The Randian protaganist invariably lacks children because children create a moral obligation that can not be discarded at will with any superficial self-referential moral justification, and that conflicts with the Randian self-actualization of one’s own desires as the supreme moral attainment. Her protagonists do not have children because Rand was completely aware that the moral responsibility of parenthood would prevent them from doing their intended job of espousing and exemplifying her egoistic philosophy.

    Pointing out that Rand herself apparently acted in accord with this belief by not assuming the responsibility of parenthood herself is not a comment on her plumbing. She evaded the moral conflict in her fiction by simply evading the issue. So to speak.

  167. I was a teenage Randroid…

    I was a quotation machine, annoying people and generally being an ass. It started in my teenage years and faded as I got older. I worked in Laissez Faire Books in Manhattan (of all places!) in the late 80s. I found myself in regular contact with every kind of thinker/activist/nutjob of a roughly libertarian orientation you could name, from the most well spoken Austrian School economists to hog hollering redneck survivalists to hippy-dippy legalize hemp types. The only ones I had any problems getting along with were Leonard Piekoff (called Pope Leonard) founder of the Ayn Rand Institute and the head of the campus Objectivists at NYU.

    That being said, I feel should I defend the book as well as Ayn Rand.

    Many here have commented on a book they say they haven’t even read. Why? For what purpose?

    This is a book about ideas, which she took very seriously. It is hard to find an author at the time writing about the individual vs. the collective and what that means. It dealt with the deadening effects of bureaucracy which I found more convincing than Orwell. It had an appreciation for general economic collapse caused by “want of a horseshoe nail” events. It showed the corruption of a system run by political pull. Most of all, it revealed the malice of envy which destroys “in the name of the people” that which is beautiful and good.

    I think Atlas Shrugged was an important work because it brought those ideas to a large number of people. Hayek may have made better arguments against socialism and other centrally planned economies but he held back because as he admits, he did not want to antagonize the Soviets (Road to Serfdom was written during WWII) Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism was a comprehensive work but certainly not written for a general audience. There were few non-religious arguments against the collectivist doctrines which had by then captured much of Europe and Asia. She was pretty much the only intellectual attacking collectivism from a philosophical standpoint. Her stance was an uncompromising black and white morality, yielding no philosophical ground to the looters, irrational mystics or those who would sacrifice others or even themselves for some ill conceived altruism. It was a brave thing to do and I think people tend to forget that.

    I re-read the book a few months ago, and you are waaay off in describing John Galt. Words like genocide have to *mean* something, and calling him a “genocidal prick” is simply not true. He did not cause the collapse of the society. That society collapsed because it made life so intolerable for the competent and productive people that they were forced out of business or in Galt’s case left. Society then transformed to the state in which only the incompetent and politically savvy ran things.

    This has happened all over the world many times. Spain had *no* doctors after they expelled the Jews. There were mass famines in The Russia, the Ukraine and China in the mid-20th century engineered by cruel and incompetent governments. Countries in Africa had similar problems and became economic basket-cases when they killed or drove out their Ibos(Nigeria), Indians(Uganda) or white farmers (Zimbabwe). All of these were done in the name of “the people” or “the party” i.e. collectivism.

    Say what you will about the wordiness or that her writing style was clumsy, and that her personal behavior was scandalous and cult-like. I would probably agree. But she tied together many big and important ideas in her book, ideas that were and are timely and relevant for the real world.

  168. You, Sir, are a genius! “Intelligent cup of yogurt” made me giggle way more than it had any right to.

    Thank you for the laughs on this Sunday morning. I shall now go see what madness you have dreamed up for humanity ruled by actual intelligent cups of yogurt.

  169. >>
    It is hard to find an author at the time writing about the individual vs. the collective and what that means.
    >>

    Jung. And his students.

    Harder reading. Less rough sex. More thinking required. Rand is certainly the funnier of the two, though unwittingly on Rand’s part, I assume.

    I am certain there are a lot of good and brainy reads to be had from both the fields of philosophy and psychology, which explore the tension between the individual and the collective. I am no liberal arts major, or I’d make some suggestions.

    Less rough sex in those books, though. I do get the allure of Rand, I do.

  170. It’s the people who claim Rand had big interesting ideas in her books, even if they/she were flawed that crack me the hell up.

    Rand was about as original as a terracotta bowl. Other people, philosophers in particular, had already discussed all of her ideas in greater depth and breadth elsewhere… and in many cases moved on. Most philosophers I’ve talked to cannot abide Rand for this reason. If she had understood Nietzsche, as she had apparently tried to; she’d have picked up on the fact that reality, not just morality, is inscrutable.

    Say what you like about her writing, which I personally find too stunted to enjoy, but please, don’t endow her with the originality she so sorely lacked. Objectivism was covered ground not long after Plato started talking about caves and the fires and shadows within.

  171. The book is certainly anything but subtle. To that end, though, so is her implementation of the philosophy – and I don’t think people give that idea enough credit, because they come away thinking that Rand has used her cardboard characters to say that you should never do anything for another person, ever. They recognise that the former is fictionalized to make a point, but they don’t recognize the latter.

    Being rationally self-interested doesn’t mean you should never share your stuff, or that you should never give to charity, or even that you should never pay taxes. It’s simply a claim, from a moral standpoint, that there should be some benefit to us for doing that. The aforementioned ‘altruisms’ do benefit me: Sharing my stuff can benefit me by giving me friendships. When I give to charity, I benefit from living in a world where that charity is more effectively doing its work (work that I presumably think is worth doing). Paying taxes will buy me a whole range of government services, from defence to civil order, that I think I’d be better off with than without.

    If any of these consequences weren’t true – if all my tax money were taken by the government and burned on a big pyre, for example – then why would I give them the money, when I could be giving it to charity or using it to buy things to share with my friends instead?

    To not observe these consequences is to not think things through. Rand, I think, deliberately did not, because it’s harder to tell the difference between two moralities when they end up doing the same things for different reasons. The readers who come away from Atlas Shrugged thinking that Rand’s philosophy is pure isolationist selfishness have no such excuse.

  172. I was an IBM punchcard Fortran programming nerd in college and I am still a nerd today. The professor of an English lit course held “Atlas Shrugged” as the penultimate novel, the shining path for our future. Being an impressionable young man I figured what the hell and read it. I found this novel to espouse a dangerous and morally bankrupt philosophy. I looked upon her with suspicion after that and all who embrace “AS” as a fabulous philosophical work ever since.

  173. Eric:

    “Words like genocide have to *mean* something, and calling him a “genocidal prick” is simply not true. He did not cause the collapse of the society.”

    He most certainly did. If all Galt had done was say “fuck all y’all” and leave, taking his own talents with him, then that would have been fine. However, in a world that Rand posits functions only because of the efforts of a few extraordinary individuals, Galt goes about picking off those extraordinary individuals, convincing them (or, in keeping with Rand’s “nobody does anything except for themselves” philosophy, providing them a reason to convince themselves) to withdraw from the world — although some of them hang around a bit first, to lay schemes that will hasten the collapse, or to engage in piracy targeted to effect the same. He does this intentionally and with full awareness that the end result will be the collapse of society, and that with the collapse of society comes anarchy, chaos, famine and death. John Galt is a genocidal prick.

    As I noted in the entry, the fact you don’t notice that Galt is a genocidal prick is a testament to Rand’s stacking the narrative deck to such a degree that Galt’s systematic plan to destroy human civilization looks like a heroic act, rather than the act of monomaniacal sociopath. But let’s make no mistake that Galt wanted, planned and worked for the death of that society that he felt wasn’t fit for his contributions. If it that meant millions died in the collapse, well, you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs.

    He’s a genocidal prick, all right. The rest of the Randian superheroes who bought into his plan aren’t much better.

  174. The first time I ever heard anything about Ayn Rand was in the stories from the videogame Bioshock.

    Which goes to show what a great medium videogames are and also how very different Europe looks on someone who some consider a very influential american philosopher. Over here, I have to say, nobody knows her. Not as a philosopher, not as a novelist.

  175. Tully: You seem angry. You seem mad that people would make decisions not in line with the common model of life in the US. The non-standard are unfit to talk to you about philosophy. And before you go spouting about you gay friends and unwed teenage mothers you should know that I actually don’t care. I never completely agree with anyone, including Rand. She brought to light social problems. She attacked a disgusting and depraved regime in a time when it was not trendy. She say the writing on the wall enough in a country she loved (the US, in case you weren’t listening) to try and warn people about the consequences of their actions. The fact that you would attack someone for not having children is just silly. If anything, not having children is an advantage to the society. Having children is very selfish. You do it because you want children. The fact that your personal philosophies state that a child cannot be reared in a household where the parents aren’t completely self sacrificing only shows that you lie to yourself about your own motives. And I never said that those in our lives are only vessels for our own happiness. Rand refers to the individuality and “sense of life” of others as the driving forces of our affection. Really? We love the values and morals, the rich inner person? Hard to believe right. But we love them because it makes us happy. We buy women flowers to see the look of happiness in their face. Human beings sacrifice themselves WILLINGLY because they hold another person as THEIR greatest value.

  176. As to Galt being a being a genocidal prick. Maybe a little. The core of this question is based in the value of human life. Is murder/genocide ever justifiable? Rand attacks it as preserving the best things in humanity. Given her origins and the nature of this question, I think this would make an interesting topic for debate.

  177. Eric @201 says:

    “This has happened all over the world many times. Spain had *no* doctors after they expelled the Jews….”

    This is a lovely little piece of apocalypticism, but it’s not quite accurate:

    – About half the Jewish population, almost certainly including many physicians, converted to Christianity. They may not have been good or observant Christians, but under Spanish law at the time the moment they were baptized they were no longer Jews. The “purity of blood” laws didn’t come along for another century. Recent DNA studies indicate that around 20% of Spanish men are descended from conversos, and it is not credible to believe that NONE of these conversos were doctors.

    – Gentile students had been studying Jewish and Muslim medical texts for centuries. Even if all the Jewish doctors *had* been expelled, Jewish TRAINED doctors were still there, as were the books they’d written. You’re also forgetting that the University of Salamanca was still there, and still training physicians.

    – Medicine was not a Jewish monopoly in Reconquista Spain. Apothecaries, midwives, and other medical practitioners were frequently non-Jewish; I heard a paper last May at the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress about two Gentile apothecaries who were involved in a poisoning case in the early 16th century in Barcelona. Your treatment seems to imply that there were no medical professionals left in Spain after 1492, which is simply not correct.

  178. Joshua at @211 –

    Kindly explain how not producing the next generation of citizens is good for a society. Thank you.

  179. The economy collapsed because it could not withstand the ever increasing intervention forced upon it. Entire industries were seized and redistributed in the name of fairness. Sound business decisions were overridden by political pull, even on the slightest whim. (Hmm this is beginning to sound familiar). This caused cascading failures of other industries. The central planners wanted to (literally) run the railroad, and they were successful at grabbing it.They are responsible for the (again literal) train wreck. Why are they getting a free pass? Because they claimed that they were acting for fairness and the good of all and not their own selfish interests?

    That is precisely Ayn Rand’s point. They considered themselves morally superior merely by virtue of their being unselfish. This didn’t translate into their developing their skills and competence to share with others, it meant that they would seize the work and property of others at the point of a gun. That the newly dispossessed might object was never even considered, they just blindly assumed that they would keep soldiering on for their new masters and the lights would not ever go out.

    The society was not innocent either, some were active collaborators living off the spoils and most had ceded their minds unquestioningly in a petty get along to go along kind of way. Rand also showed the moral corruption that was a result of this system of political patronage, and depicted it in a tragic sense.

    As for the attack on the society by the protagonists, I would argue that the government and to a slightly less extent the society attacked them first. They confiscated their property, ruined their livelihood and took away their freedom to build. So they built another, better society to replace it. I also would argue that acting to support and defend a tyrannical government is collaboration, acting to prevent such aid is morally justified. When a government is so evil that it deliberately starves its people, put them in gulags, has no freedom to write or speak or act without permission from the government, it is merciful to push it over or at least let it fall. It is morally wrong to prop it up with food and oil shipments.

  180. As noted, Rand stacked the deck well to excuse Galt’s genocidal prickitude. You’re simply describing how she does it, Eric.

  181. @Joshua: You’re ducking Tully’s points and throwing up straw men, and it’s painfully obvious.

    You’re also harming your cause. The number one reason I feel no need to read Rand is that her followers argue like fundamentalist Christians, street-corner Maoists, or particularly rabid Larouchies. They’re just incapable of having an actual discussion.

  182. Eric @216, protip (literally): terms like “I would argue that”, and their cousins “It’s my position that” and “It could be said that” are conversational flags that the speaker doesn’t really believe what they’re saying, understands that their point is not credible to their audience, or wishes to create some plausible distance later from a potential loser argument. I’m not saying that you chose this phrasing consciously, but you should be aware of its effect.

    This was explained to me early in my law career by an older, wiser colleague who asked me to imagine it in this context: Your spouse goes to a dinner with friends and comes home at 3 a.m. slightly drunk and disheveled. When you ask what the heck happened, s/he replies “It is my position that nothing happened and we all just lost track of time.”

  183. Eric @216, protip (literally): terms like “I would argue that”, and their cousins “It’s my position that” and “It could be said that” are conversational flags that the speaker doesn’t really believe what they’re saying, understands that their point is not credible to their audience, or wishes to create some plausible distance later from a potential loser argument. I’m not saying that you chose this phrasing consciously, but you should be aware of its effect.

    OK, do a search and replace with the words “It is absolutely and unquestionably true that I am right about…”. I would do that but don’t want to feed my internal CORRECT ANSWER MACHINE ™.

    Seriously though, this is John Scalzi’s ballpark and I am trying to be polite.

  184. @ 214, I just meant in the overpopulation idea. I actually think having children is a good idea for good parents.

    @300baud: Any fundamentalist sounds like a rabid jackass. And my cause is that anyone who denies without exploration is intellectually lazy. Claiming to detest someone and not figuring out why is merely stupidity at its finest.

  185. The society described in Rand’s book basically describes a race to the bottom. How is refusing to participate, and convincing others to join you, genocide?

    Keep in mind that her working title was “The Strike.” We’re talking speculative fiction, which I assume is something everyone on this website understands.

    All I know is that the actions and attitudes of the current crowd running the show in DC are frighteningly close to what she described in her book.

  186. As noted, Rand stacked the deck well to excuse Galt’s genocidal prickitude. You’re simply describing how she does it, Eric.

    It is absolute… er…

    Where have the greatest genocides occurred? What was their economic and political form?
    Where is the example of a country that economically prospered after it expelled, killed or drove out a productive minority?

    BONUS QUESTION:

    What political system prevails or had prevailed in European countries with birthrates below replacement (2.1)? This is less of a genocide topic and more related to the Ayn Rand and kids thread.

    The economic and societal collapses have occurred in the real world and continue to occur for the reasons described in Atlas Shrugged, i.e. forced collectivization, nationalization of entire industries, corruption and the politics of envy. The only difference is that in the real world the cavalry doesn’t come. The mass of people suffer the consequences and most of the time have no idea why.

  187. Happy Sunday morning, all!

    An interesting conversation indeed. Glad to find it, wish I remembered the linkage that brought me here. John S., I enjoy your books a lot, keep up the good work!

    Ayn Rand was an interesting character, and lived in a milieu of other equally strange characters, all of which I wasn’t quite aware of when I read a couple of her works as a teen. Now that I know a little more about the history of the world and how we got into the situation we were in at the time she was writing in, I’m a little more forgiving of her fiction, and less so of her philosophy.

    I enjoyed the alternate world-ness of her work at the time, but now I pretty much reject her relevance to our current condition, as opposed to the condition at the end of WW II.

    As a retired software geek living in a rural world (had to put down a deer the other day that coyotes had gutted – no fun, and gives you additional new perspective on life and goodness) I find Objectivism more and more to be a self-justification for ordinary greed. Much like current Tea-party-ism. Folks living on Social Security and Medicare, who want to stop government support of the needy and weak? Get real!

    One slightly off-topic question, why do web spell-checkers still think Obama isn’t a word?

    He’s the leader of the free world, the most powerful single individual on Earth, and still our spell checkers don’t know who he is? Now that’s strange. Linus, could you step in here and fix this, please?

    JR

  188. Dave in Georgia:

    “The society described in Rand’s book basically describes a race to the bottom.”

    If someone jumps off a building and you shoot them in the brain before they land, you’ve still murdered them. And in any event, in the story Galt and his buddies were not passive; they gamed the system.

    Eric:

    Oddly enough, your questions/statements re: genocide in the real world have nothing at all to do with how Ayn Rand constructed her book, and the implications of Galt’s actions therein.

  189. Eric@223

    “Where is the example of a country that economically prospered after it expelled, killed or drove out a productive minority?”

    Turkey!

    Do I get a prize?

  190. Eric:

    Oddly enough, your questions re: genocide in the real world have nothing at all to do with how Ayn Rand constructed her book, and the implications of Galt’s actions therein.

    Other the the fact that they were slowly engineered by collectivist societies that were hostile to capitalism and the individual human, I can see nothing in common, nope nothing…. In the same manner, I can see no irony in the fact that I saw a warning sign near Orwell’s house that said “Video Surveillance 500 meters”.

    She wrote the book so the heroes win, what is your point?

  191. Why does some other person have the right to take my money and spend it on themselves?

    In the US, it’s because the Sixteenth Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and later ratified by 42 of the 48 states (more than the required three-fourths majority) and became part of the US Constitution.

    In other words, the government has the right to tax your income, because We the People imbued it with that right.

    When you read the text of the amendment, it’s hard to make a convincing argument that it’s even “your” money:

    “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

    Couple that broad power with income tax withholding, and it seems more obvious that the government isn’t taking 25% (or whatever) of your money, but rather allowing you to take 75% of its money.

    Heck, they don’t even pay you interest on your income tax refund amount.

  192. The economic and societal collapses have occurred in the real world and continue to occur for the reasons described in Atlas Shrugged, i.e. forced collectivization, nationalization of entire industries, corruption and the politics of envy.

    Bolded for the hilarity of inadvertently proving Scalzi’s point.

    Eric @220: I’m not accusing you of rudeness. Just pointing out a rhetorical boo-boo.

  193. Another example of a country that did very well for a couple of years after kicking out a minority group: Nazi Germany. Go read a couple of contemporary reports by Americans or Brits about the booming economy, glowingly healthy and athletic youth, and contented workers, and you’ll see why Fascism was briefly considered a viable political system despite the suppression of civil rights and the abominable treatment of Jews, women, homosexuals, and anyone who wasn’t “Aryan.”

    Also, the old stereotypes about France and Spain wrecking their economies after they expelled the Huguenots and the Jews are, to say the least, oversimplified. France was still one of the leading economic powers in Europe for decades after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, boasting thriving industries in silk weaving, porcelain, textile printing, and other light industries. French intellectuals shaped the Enlightenment, French painters and designers set the style for the entire Continent, and French theater and music were top notch. The country’s economy failed because of two incompetent kings in a row (Louis XV and Louis XVI) and because they financed the American Revolution and were never paid back.

    As for Spain…the Spanish “Golden Age” was the century AFTER the expulsion of the Jews. A succession of strong leaders (Isabella and Ferdinand, Charles V, and Phillip the II) led a country that explored the world, beat the Low Countries (and the Papacy) like a drum, and produced or patronized superb art, music, literature, and theology. Eventually they failed, yes, but that was as much due to the Habsburgs’ habit of marrying close relatives as anything else; the kings that followed Phillip II were physically and mentally defective, culminating in one who was such a mess that he was known as Charles the Damned.

    This does not by any means excuse what the Nazis, Louis XIV, and the Catholics King did, but accuracy is also a virtue.

  194. Bwahahahaha! There were so many lines I wanted to quote, starting with “a propulsively potboilery pace,” that I decided to just say:

    Bravo!

  195. I also found Rand strangely readable; I’ve even read the entirety of Galt’s “climactic” speech – twice.

    That said, I wasn’t quite as phlegmatic about the genocidal foundations of her “philosophy” as you seem to be. Probably because it isn’t just powerless nerds who read (and admire) her, but people who have actually managed to put themselves in positions of power where they could do some pretty serious damage to a lot of people.

    But yes, her description of the decay of civilization very readable and even close to haunting at times. My own review is at http://ed-rex.com/reviews/genocide_is_painless if you’re remotely interested.

  196. Well, it may be more like assisted suicide than genocide. I think Rand’s point is that Galt and his industrial buddies don’t owe society anything. Indeed, that no one owes anyone else anything. Justified or not, they put their money where there mouths are to prove that point.

    Galt makes plain his intentions to kill collectivism, though, when he leaves the motor company saying “I will put an end to this once and for all. I will stop the motor of the world.”

  197. I’m finding some folks inability to be objective about objectivism hilarious.
    Atlas Shrugged is the rapture for nerds that swallowed too many puffed up diva pills.

  198. # ellidon 03 Oct 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t know if it is possible to accurately quantify a loss of human capital like that. I would point out the economic gains to the receiving countries such as the Ottoman Empire, England, Venice, the Netherlands and America as evidence.

    As for the Nazi’s, Hitler knew how put out good propaganda. He had to fight a blitzkrieg because his economy could not withstand a lengthy siege and did not, even with all the captured land and conscripted labor.

    France practiced mercantilism for much of the period you mention, and Jean-Baptist Colbert gave them a nice stimulus package but lost the edge to the British and Dutch because of their superior trading networks. They were also hampered by greedy aristocrats who practiced tax farming and internal customs and other useless activity. I would also add the Mississippi Bubble, the above mentioned war debt and numerous displays of conspicuous consumption by the monarchs as a cause of the financial ruin before Napoleon.

    I am curious as to what you mean by a “superb theology” in Spain. The Moors were more tolerant of religious differences than the fanatic Spaniards. The Inquisition lasted until the 1830s. I would credit their downfall to their creation of exploitation colonies, massive debt, and the indolence of the nobility. They were rapacious conquerors whose only saving grace in my opinion was that they kicked Aztec/Inca butt who were even worse.

  199. I think Eric has some good things to say in his comments.

    I re-read Atlas Shrugged a year or so ago and thought there were some spooky similarities to some of the things the government is doing right now. Let’s have a little more capntrade or EPA action to grease the wheels of industry.

    John Galt as genocidal prick didn’t occur to me- prick yes, but I didn’t think he was out recruiting the producers to happy valley, rather he was giving them an option when the looters ruined them.

    Another galtish book with obvious current parallels is John Ross’ “Unintended Consequences”, both books are extended rants with some good points along with serious faults.

    Diva pills indeed – good one!

  200. Eric: I think the “point” is that manufacturing a scenario in which your protagonists’ preferred actions are also morally right is a fine, if trite and unimaginative, way of writing fictional tales. But as a basis for a social and economic philosophy, it is sorely lacking, given that the scenario doesn’t model or approximate the real world.

    Furthermore, Rand’s heros only “win” for values of “win” in which their philosophical stances are actually moral, in opposition to nearly all other moral thought.

    Nickster: But he doesn’t “put his money where his mouth is.” He takes his ball and goes home. After convincing the property owner to pave over the sandlot.

    Or, for an even more tortured analogy, he choses to fix his leaking roof by pitching a tent in the backyard, and then burning down the house.

    Honestly, the only way I can manage to keep from throwing AS across the room is to treat it as a dystopian survival story, and cast Galt as the lawful-evil antihero.

  201. @Nick, #235: “Well, it may be more like assisted suicide than genocide.”

    Assisted suicide is where the person to die asks for help. Unlike your more curious meaning for the term, which is roughly “seeing somebody sad and pushing them in front of the train”.

    The rest of us call the latter thing murder. And when done at scale, genocide.

  202. Dr. Rocketscience: Okay, to put it another way – actions speak louder than words. I think the intended message is that if you keep biting the hand that feeds you, don’t be surprised when the hand gets withdrawn.

  203. Quite obviously, my point is that Ayn Rand’s hero is a genocidal prick. And now we’re back where we started.

    Actually you went off on a tangent about yogurt and spongy white bread and not getting cornholed on the bus so I am slightly confused here.

    John Galt did not commit genocide, he did not have the power to jail his fellow citizens, deprive them of their livelihoods, confiscate their property, or prevent them from growing food, building buildings, or inventing and creating new wealth. He just convinced people not to support those that *did* do these things, i.e. stop acting like French collaborators.

    If someone jumps off a building and you shoot them in the brain before they land, you’ve still murdered them. And in any event, in the story Galt and his buddies were not passive; they gamed the system.

    If someone jumps of a building tied to a rope that is attached to my leg, can I cut the rope? What if it is Hitler/Stalin/Sean Penn?

  204. Eric,

    I enjoyed reading your post @ 216 a lot more than slogging through Atlas Shrugged. Well said.

  205. There’s explicit discussion in Atlas Shrugged about the morality of killing strangers, in a scene where the characters don’t really argue but have a genteel jaw about the pirate’s sinking of relief ships. Everyone quickly agrees that making more people die of hunger and untreated medical need more quickly is really swell in the long run, since no change short of the revolutionary will help and besides they have it coming, the lackeys.

    We can disagree about one’s responsibility to help others with the resources one controls, but this isn’t that. This is deciding that nobody else will be allowed to try to help others, either, since they haven’t jumped through whatever hoops you care to set up to prove that nothing that you consider yours is conceivably involved. That’s choosing genocide.

    On the side, something that only struck me fairly recently: by the absence of the slightest suggestion that there’s any equivalent to Galt’s Gulch anywhere else in the world, Rand is basically setting up her characters to rule the world. They’ll apparently establish the Objectivist Dominion in America and then annex everywhere else whenever they get around to it, and will face nothing but peasants and the dead.

  206. The economic and societal collapses have occurred in the real world and continue to occur for the reasons described in Atlas Shrugged, i.e. forced collectivization, nationalization of entire industries, corruption and the politics of envy.

    Bolded for the hilarity of inadvertently proving Scalzi’s point.

    Eric @220: I’m not accusing you of rudeness. Just pointing out a rhetorical boo-boo.

    I don’t see it as a boo-boo, envy is such an utterly destructive emotion that I think it should have been first on the list. It is vulnerable to being used on a mass scale by the worst people in a society, and it is the *fear* of being envied that causes educated, rational people to lend their support to destructive ends.

  207. Well, I, for one, am a parasite; I know and freely admit it, and I’m happy to be one. Without the social net that I had, I would not have been able to survive not being able to do my kind of work; without the free medical care – and I had *at least* 150 hours of it, at full hospital rates, for what turned out to be as much of a cure as there is, never mind at least as much professional time not curing me, but at least keeping my disease from killing me – I would maybe be cured, but in debt for longer than the rest of my life, and that debt would almost certainly be impeding the cure, probably fatally.

    However, I am now a very productive member of society, doing two things that very few people can do (and both employers are actively looking for more people with my special combination of skills, and have been throughout the downturn). Without all of society’s help, I wouldn’t be here, and both of those jobs would be begging for people to fill them as well.

    I doubt I will ever “pay off my debt”; I doubt I can. But I believe that society is better off for people like me, able with help to be a productive member of that society; and I don’t think it’s close.

    I also know how much luck I had to be in this position, so while I might have mine, Jack, I’m not going to pull the ladder up behind me. From a purely selfish point of view, after all, I’m still one accident away from needing those services again. And the next game or book I enjoy, or bus trip I take, might come from someone who, like me, wouldn’t be here without the money “parasited” from the few, the lucky, the successful gamers of the current system (oh, and the rest of us, in our percentages).

  208. I suspect John Galt, in the real world, would find himself reminded constantly that there was a reason he got slammed into is locker a lot, and it stared back at him from the mirror every morning.

  209. “Why does some other person have the right to take my money and spend it on themselves?”

    Right off the bat, this is a nonsense question because it literally isn’t “your” money, if by money you mean any of the currencies issued by sovereign nations. Those chits are issued and backed by said collective governments, not by anything you, as an individual, do. The same is true of whatever deeds to property you may own. It’s all part of that social contract thing.

    You are still perfectly free to negotiate transactions in kind or by personal IOU. Good luck trying that with a corporation, though (the which, by the way, are every one of them also creations of government and would literally have no existence without government). The trouble with Objectivist axioms is that they don’t correlate well with the real world, so building conclusions on them has no real-world value. If you missed it, that’s one of the points Scalzi was making in this post.

    By the way, I’m thinking that financiers and bankers were among the useless parasites left behind by the virtuous Galters. Is that correct? If so, it seems strange that so many of them, like Alan Greenspan, have adopted Rand’s notions as their personal philosophy.

  210. @Nickster

    Okay, to put it another way – actions speak louder than words.

    Fair enough.

    I think the intended message is that if you keep biting the hand that feeds you, don’t be surprised when the hand gets withdrawn.

    That’s a very different – and far more reasonable – message than “Galt and his industrial buddies don’t owe society anything.”

  211. Eric:

    “John Galt did not commit genocide, he did not have the power to jail his fellow citizens, deprive them of their livelihoods, confiscate their property, or prevent them from growing food, building buildings, or inventing and creating new wealth. He just convinced people not to support those that *did* do these things”

    Leaving aside that in Ayn Rand’s fantasy world one does not need to do any of those things in the former to engender a genocide, in point of fact, the latter is not all he did during the course of the book. Galt is not a passive observer of events.

    Eric, I understand you want to argue that Galt isn’t a genocidal prick. Your problem is that the text of the book makes no doubt that Galt actively engineered the collapse of human society for his own philosophic ends. Which makes him a genocidal prick. Ayn Rand clearly approved of his genocidal prickitude, which is again why she narratively stacks the deck to make it appear as if engineering famine, chaos and the death of millions is a heroic act of conscience. But Rand’s approval of her hero’s actions doesn’t make him any less of a genocidal prick.

  212. There’s explicit discussion in Atlas Shrugged about the morality of killing strangers, in a scene where the characters don’t really argue but have a genteel jaw about the pirate’s sinking of relief ships. Everyone quickly agrees that making more people die of hunger and untreated medical need more quickly is really swell in the long run, since no change short of the revolutionary will help and besides they have it coming, the lackeys.

    Ragnar was not a well developed character in the book, but it is clear from the book avoided sinking the relief ships and put the crew in lifeboats when he it was possible. He did not kill the crews. He stole the cargo, sold it for gold and put it back in the bank accounts of those that joined the strike to compensate in gold the amount they paid in taxes. The one exception was at Francisco d’Anconia’s specific request, he attacked D’Anconia Copper ships and sank them with their loads. Francisco had decided to destroy D’Anconia Copper systematically, so that no one would benefit from his talents or those of his father and grandfather and ancestors.

    We can disagree about one’s responsibility to help others with the resources one controls, but this isn’t that. This is deciding that nobody else will be allowed to try to help others, either, since they haven’t jumped through whatever hoops you care to set up to prove that nothing that you consider yours is conceivably involved. That’s choosing genocide.

    Would you give oil and food to the North Korean government, knowing full well it will be diverted to prop up the army and the communist party? The people are eating bark off of trees, getting sent to gulags, and are being brainwashed to hate and kill. Their leader Kim Il Sung, is still in charge, even by the slight inconvenience of being *dead* since 1972. They are involved with trafficking in ballistic missiles, counterfeit money, methamphetamine and kidnapping foreign nationals. They have a nuclear weapons program. Please explain why I as a taxpayer should give them a plugged nickel.

  213. Rand’s social commentary cannot be favorably compared to that of can’t compare with Gilbert Shelton or R. Crumb, in my opinion, for either pertinence or guidance.

  214. Eric, please put other people’s quotes in quotation marks to differentiate them from your own comments — not doing so makes your comments confusing to read.

  215. Leaving aside that in Ayn Rand’s fantasy world one does not need to do any of those things in the former to engender a genocide, in point of fact, the latter is not all he did during the course of the book. Galt is not a passive observer of events.

    So if I understand your reasoning, it take more than *not* killing a whole lot of people to clear oneself of the charge of genocide. Uh, what?

    Eric, I understand you want to argue that Galt isn’t a genocidal prick. Your problem is that the text of the book makes no doubt that Galt actively engineered the collapse of human society for his own philosophic ends. Which makes him a genocidal prick. Ayn Rand clearly approved of his genocidal prickitude, which is again why she narratively stacks the deck to make it appear as if engineering famine, chaos and the death of millions is a heroic act of conscience. But Rand’s approval of her hero’s actions doesn’t make him any less of a genocidal prick.

    No, the gist of the book was that the collectivist government was slowly destroying the society through various means I have described earlier. Galt and friends worked to destroy the destroyers by withdrawing their support. That the destroyers were also cruel, incompetent and neglectful was precisely the reason they had to be overthrown.

    Nothing the antagonists did was all that uncommon in the real world, so I hardly think she was stacking the deck, except to let the good guys win. Just like you did in your books John.

  216. Interesting discussion, except for the Rand fundies.

    I used to be the faculty advisor for a Libertarian student org. I agreed on the grounds that they admit members who came by their beliefs honestly–i.e. not be rand fanatics.

    Vonnegut was great, and his heroes included volunteer firemen, not sociopathic pricks.

    Finally, I think most of us would agree that if Saint Greenspan and the thieving Wall Street Masters of the Universe had gone Galt 30 years ago, we would have a much better economy.

  217. Eric @245: I’m getting the rather strong impression that you’re not so much reading what other people have to say as searching for jumping-off points to explain why you <3 Rand's writing. That makes for a rather dull and circular discussion.

  218. Is there a problem with not recognizing genocidal pricks?

    Fuck, even *children* who attend church are taught the story of Noah and the Flood.

    This is the heartwarming story of how God got pissed that his creation, humanity, had gotten off the course he preferred, and so he thought the best thing to do was to drown every single living person.

    Every mother would get to see or know that the cold waters of the deep were swallowing up their children, bursting their lungs and drawing that last bit of bile and vomit as their little lives ceased.

    Every man, grandparent, sick person, every human being on the planet, and every land animal — all except for one God-picked family and a pair of a bunch of different animals — God would kill in a murderous genocide starting with a 40 year rain and continuing on to a year long death deluge.

    Oh, but, yeah, he did give Noah’s boat a rainbow as a promise that God wouldn’t slaughter the entire population of Earth (save a few) in the biggest genocide ever imagined in ancient literature.

    Genocidal prick? Yeah. That. And more.

  219. I enjoyed AS when I was in my late teens, I read it on a firebase across the Pond. I read it again in my forties and was struck by the way they left Eddie Willers hanging, by the side of the railroad track. Eddie, of course, had done nothing wrong. He might not have been sharp enough to build a railroad but he showed up for work, on time every damned day. And he did his job well. He may not have had the smarts or the imagination to be the big boss but he was a valuable and trustworthy subordinate. And they left him.

    I have hated Rand for that ever since. It takes more than hardware to build a business, it takes people.

  220. @Eric: Their leader Kim Il Sung, is still in charge, even by the slight inconvenience of being *dead* since 1972.

    Quick clarification: 1994, not 1972. (Irrelevant to discussion, I know. Never read Rand, fine with that.)

  221. Eric:

    “So if I understand your reasoning, it take more than *not* killing a whole lot of people to clear oneself of the charge of genocide. Uh, what?”

    You clearly don’t understand my reasoning, or choose not to understand my reasoning, which amounts to the same thing. I’m not sure in either case there’s much point in trying to explain it to you any further, so I won’t. Other people may choose to engage you further on this point if they choose, but I’m done with you, Eric.

  222. I didn’t get round to reading anything of Rand’s when it was first recommended by a boyfriend, then snippets I read later convinced me not to bother. Seems that my judgment was better than I knew; if the constant preaching of the author’s gospel didn’t make me give up, the pointless histrionics & self-destructiveness of characters who’re supposedly indispensable to the very existence of civilization would have. *These* people, who can’t even figure out how to live satisfying, productive lives of their own, are essential to civilization? Yeah, that’s completely believable.

  223. Eumenidis: Of course, a lot of crucial people do indeed have awful personal lives, and there’s room for great stirring tragedy in this. But that would take a very different sense of virtue and drama than Rand brought to bear.

    Peter: I also found Eddie’s fate horrifying, and illuminating about the whole project – it really hit me the last time I red the book and ruined my enjoyment of it. I don’t expect to read it again.

  224. Eric @255:

    Yes, if some of your actions will lead to genocide and some of them will not it is immoral to chose an action from the first group.
    Obviously, zero action is an action as well.

    Without prescience this is difficult to apply to reality but does apply to a fictional universe.

  225. I felt the same way at the end of AS as I did at the end of The Celestine Prophecy. (Spoilers ahead, though I hope that everyone likely to read TCP has already done so.) In the final chapter we learn that the future economy will be based on people teaching each other to see auras and the like, and that people will pay each other for these “insights.”

    It’s the opposite of Atlas Shrugged, I guess.

    Up to the end, I found both books an interesting enough read, and I wanted to know how each would finish up.

    I wanted something profound, and I was profoundly disappointed. I can’t think of a better way of putting my reactions than: “This has to be a joke.”

  226. If we were to make a political cartoon out of the genocide argument, we’d see a patient in a hospital bed hooked up to life support. The patient would be labeled “Society,” the life support machine would be labeled “The Elite,” and a sinister, waxed-mustache looking man labeled “John Galt” would be pulling the plug.

    And yes, according to several moral philosophies, that is murder.

  227. “So if I understand your reasoning, it take more than *not* killing a whole lot of people to clear oneself of the charge of genocide. Uh, what?”

    You clearly don’t understand my reasoning, or choose not to understand my reasoning, which amounts to the same thing. I’m not sure in either case there’s much point in trying to explain it to you any further, so I won’t. Other people may choose to engage you further on this point if they choose, but I’m done with you, Eric.”

    No, I disagree with your reasoning. I disagree with all of your fan base who commented on the book without even reading it. I disagree with the idea that Galt engineered the collapse, to me that would be like saying the Amish people could destroy farming. Galt was fighting in a burning house.

    When a society collapses, it is the ones holding the guns to everyone’s heads that are the ones responsible. You have released them from that responsibility.

    It is possible to admire some of the ideas in the book without being a sociopath nerd porn addict, just as it is possible to enjoy your books without being an aged codger who dreams of rejuvenation, super soldier warrior status and a galactic UN.

  228. “Eric @255:

    Yes, if some of your actions will lead to genocide and some of them will not it is immoral to chose an action from the first group.
    Obviously, zero action is an action as well.

    Without prescience this is difficult to apply to reality but does apply to a fictional universe.”

    If the leaders are slowly destroying the societies ability to get basic necessities as in the book *and* in real life examples, does that constitute creating genocide? If you support and benefit from such a system why are you not also guilty of it’s results? If such a system does direct harm to you why should you support it? For the good of everybody else?

  229. Let’s get down to basics about Atlas Shrugged. It’s nothing more than a comic book for adults and its characters are Rand’s version of Superman, Batman, and all the other heroes and villains who populated our childhood fantasies. It has no more connection with reality than John McCain. That supposedly intelligent grownups should clasp it to their bosoms as a guiding philosophy is one of the
    great tragi-comedies of our time.

  230. So. I have not read Atlas Shrugged. But I gather from Scalzi’s wordy bit above that it’s a sort of Terry Prachett world with all traces of humor removed.

    I will continue to avoid it.

    Thanks. :)

  231. Were you hungry when you wrote this? Popcorn, yogurt, AND spongy white bread?

    Because I sure would like a snack.

  232. In the world I live in, people with Great Minds who use those Minds to come up with Great Creations and then build them into Great Corporations usually don’t own the Great Corporations—at least, not after they take in the first round of venture capital finance.

    This turns out to be a convenient system for everyone whose Great Creation needs to be mated with Great Piles of Capital before generating Great Profits. But applied to Atlas Shrugged, it makes Galt’s crowd not merely genocidaires, but thieves. Francisco D’Anconia has no right to trash the value of the copper company he manages, because it’s not his company: there are other shareholders whose wealth is being destroyed. John Galt has no right to take the engine he designed while working for Twentieth Century Motors and use it for his little anti-commune, because, like any engineer, he must have signed away all his IP rights as a condition of his employment.

    Rand’s idolization of private property does not really engage with the idea that normal people—nay, even subnormal people—also have the right to use (and misuse) their property. Of course, if you read the novel while imagining yourself as one of the superhumans in the book, rather than as one of the normal folks, then this omission is easy to gloss over.

  233. “No, I disagree with your reasoning.”

    Eric, as the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts. You can’t get around the fact that Galt intended to bring about, took action to bring about, and succeeded in bringing about, genocide. Period/full stop. Trying dealing with that first and then we can get around to why you <3 Ayn Rand.

  234. “I enjoyed AS when I was in my late teens, I read it on a firebase across the Pond. I read it again in my forties and was struck by the way they left Eddie Willers hanging, by the side of the railroad track. Eddie, of course, had done nothing wrong. He might not have been sharp enough to build a railroad but he showed up for work, on time every damned day. And he did his job well. He may not have had the smarts or the imagination to be the big boss but he was a valuable and trustworthy subordinate. And they left him.

    I have hated Rand for that ever since. It takes more than hardware to build a business, it takes people.”

    Read it again, he stayed willingly rather than leaving in a covered wagon. He felt obligated to stay with the train, to fix it or wait for aid or die in the attempt. Ayn Rand deliberately does not tell his fate.

    His character was a metaphor for the moral strength of the common man who while not an inventor, executive or industrial giant, nonetheless felt duty bound to preserve the part of modern civilization which that which was within his reach.

  235. ““No, I disagree with your reasoning.”

    Eric, as the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts. You can’t get around the fact that Galt intended to bring about, took action to bring about, and succeeded in bringing about, genocide. Period/full stop. Trying dealing with that first and then we can get around to why you <3 Ayn Rand."

    Your reasoning is unsound, and you don't have facts or parallels to history on your side to support your premises.

    If you want to talk about facts, fine. Put up or shut up.

    Opinions about the value of political systems are not facts. Stating an opinion with emphasis does not make it a fact. Hysterical exaggeration of the failings of an author because you hold an opposing political view does not make it a fact. Assuming that someone holding an opposing view is ignorant or doesn't understand is arrogant.

  236. Eric:

    “Your reasoning is unsound, and you don’t have facts or parallels to history on your side to support your premises.”

    And you’re attempting to game the discussion by demanding people accept your terms. They don’t have to, because among other things most of what you’ve been trying to haul into the discussion is not relevant in terms of how Rand has constructed her fictional world, and the implications of how she has her characters act.

    Eric, it’s time for you to move on from this discussion. It’s fine you don’t agree that Galt is a genocidal prick, but at this point you’re becoming rude to others, and it’s clear that at there’s not much more value to be had in you arguing just to argue. So you’re done on the thread.

  237. @Eric:

    You are obviously missing the entire point of Rand’s characterization in the novel. She designed the “heros” and “heroines” in her novel to be bad people by the rules of the society they were in.

    Dagny is a public adulteress (in the 40s no less) who wants to run a male dominated business (instead of letting a man take care of her), and doesn’t care about society at all. She’s the “nice” character in the book.

    Ragnar Danneskjöld is a pirate/terrorist. Hank Reardon is the typical heartless corporate bastard who cheats on his wife (with Dagny). Francisco d’Anconia is a businessman who defrauds his stockholders on a massive scale while living a “playboy” lifestyle. John Galt, as mentioned already, is a genocidal prick, although you don’t actually learn much about him personally in the novel as his identity is one of the MacGuffins driving the story.

    The entire point is that she makes these characters somewhat likable and they all could be successful in the eyes of normal society if they wanted to, so the author is trying to get you to find out why they aren’t. My problem with the novel is that the philosophy wouldn’t work if implemented by actual human beings. Or, as one of my Computer Science professors put it people who aren’t “hyper-capable”.

  238. MyName:

    You undoubtedly crossposted with me, but: I’ve just told Eric to move on from the thread, so he won’t be able to respond (and if he does, I’ll be snipping it out to make the point).

  239. El Cid @258: you need to read a little more ancient literature if you think the Flood was the biggest, nastiest wipeout ever. For one thing, the Biblical flood story is taken from an older story (Atrahasis). Which is actually worse, because it doesn’t even have the morality gloss Noah gets, where the Flood is punishment for humanity’s evil and is a one-off; the gods kill humanity off because humanity won’t stop with their gol-danged racket and that music they call “noise” at all hours, and eventually relent on the whole genocide thing because, whoops, dead humans don’t make sacrifices and the gods’ beer and skittles stash is running a tad low. Seriously.

    Seth @273, I read an amusing online discussion about those points (re: property) not long ago, and a couple of Rand supporters were twisting themselves into knots trying to explain how it couldn’t have been theft because we don’t know that Galt actually signed an IP agreement, and even if he did, it didn’t matter because his employers were just letting this technology go to waste, so…. It Didn’t Count.

  240. I never saw it until reading your take, but it’s obvious in hindsight–Ender’s Game and Atlas Shrugged, while they may seem different on the surface, appeal to the same wounded solipsist geekery that made so much sense right around middle school, but that most of us grew out of.

  241. we don’t know that Galt actually signed an IP agreement, and even if he did, it didn’t matter because his employers were just letting this technology go to waste, so…. It Didn’t Count.

    Right, and the Native Americans weren’t really making productive use of the land they occupied, so American dispossession of that land Didn’t Count, either.

  242. Oh, but Seth, those people whose property was trashed deserved it because they were faceless bureaucrats, or not as capable as Our Heroes, or creating waste due to the politics of envy or…well, something, because the alternative explanation is that it’s self-contradictory nonsense, and that cannot be.

  243. Absolutely hysterical, and right on! I loved Rand as an adolescent, mostly because Neil Peart, from the band Rush claimed to have read and been influenced by her. Fortunately, I grew up, read other philosophers, political economists and social theorists and realized that she was about as in touch with social reality as your average fruit bat.

    But my personal educational journey did, in fact, start there. For what that’s worth.

    Speaking of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the promise: I much prefer Jonathan Seagull Chicken, and found it far more useful and entertaining.

  244. @183: “Just a small comment: the point of the statement “existence exists” is to say that existence exists apart from our individual perception. Say what you will about the idea itself but it is an idea that’s been the subject of arguments between philosophers for centuries so it hardly seems laughably obvious.”

    As if the masses addressed by TV were well-versed in the philosophers, or anyone needed to declare to the world that he is not a solipsist. John Galt opening statement rephrased:

    ‘1st: you all are not just part of my solipsist imagination. You are real beings. This is my philosophy.’

    @ Scalzi: “Galt’s genocidal prickitude”

    That phrase bristles, sir. Bristles. I recommend ‘pricklination’. It doesn’t poke the eye so hard and contains the word ‘nation’ which surely relates more to genocide than ‘itude’. (Think of me as the nattering nabob of gnarly neologisms.)

    I have never read a Rand book and never will, not just because I’ve seen what they do to the minds of the susceptible but also because I long ago read the first page of The Fountainhead, the 4th sentence of which reads:

    “A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water.”

    Ahead of its time, if she was trying to write bad beatnik poetry to be read to accompaniment by bongos and cheap Mexican weed, but as for being a sentence of visual depiction that describes something my mind’s eye could actually *see*, it is a verbal poleaxe.

    I remember grappling my way hand-over-hand along the next few paragraphs and stopping when I read that “His face was like a law of nature –” whereupon I realized what others have confirmed: if I’d continued reading, I would have read so often of chiseled granite, angular planes, and stern resolve until every sentence in the book looked to me like raw material “to be cut and made into walls…split and made into rafters…to be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky.”

    You’ll notice how girders are not made but emerge against the sky. Someone already mentioned Ayn’s phallicism. After all, “Howard Roark stood naked…”

  245. Awww, man. I can’t believe I’m so late to the game on this post. Probably too late to add something that hasn’t been said before, so I’ll just say “Objectivism: the spongy white bread at the Great Buffet of Human Ideas” is probably the best thing I’ve read this year.

  246. @# grendelkhan

    Regarding Ender’s Game: oh you are so right. For reasons mysterious (most of all to myself) I haunted Orson Scott Card’s online political forum, The Ornery American, for about 6 years. While relatively clear-thinking hung out there too, it was a magnet for the Galtites of this world, and Orson is capable of depths of cognitive dissonant denial that place the ocean floor atop Mt Everest.

  247. I hope I never fully outgrow my wounded solipsistic geekery. I’d hate to have to give up science fiction altogether, like real adults do.

  248. “Bonus assignment for the day: rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a lighthearted romantic comedy”

    I thought it was lighthearted romantic comedy.

  249. I am so annoyed that I found this so late. It’s a terrific review of the book and it made me laugh, thanks for that.

    But I really wanted to add this link. Don’t think that Rand’s philosophy is dead. Just a year ago, on the opinion page of the WSJ was this article by Stephen Moore.

    ‘Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123146363567166677.html

    Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    I have seen this idiot on one of the TH shows and he doesn’t appear to be as complete an idiot as this op-ed proves he is. These are the kind of people that are counseling the RW.

    Pretty scary huh?

  250. Of all the reviews of Atlas Shrugged I’ve ever seen, this one has the maximum ratio of words to sense, which is quite a feat given the competition. I salute you, sir. Of course, it probably helps to miss the point when you skip all the “rants.” (Given recent pronouncements, I suspect several members of Congress are applying this same literary comprehension skill to the New Testament.)

    Calling Galt’s actions “genocidal” is so strange it’s astonishing you claim to have to read the book even once. Galt only refuses to be forced to help try to save society from its inevitable collapse. Since Galt’s society is going to collapse with or without him; the salient question is whether something better can replace it, and that’s Galt’s new society in which coercion doesn’t reduce the marginal propensity to produce — a notion that the 20th Century proved to be of paramount importance as everyone not living in North Korea now acknowledges. Given that the book was written in 1957, it can fairly be called both prescient and brilliant, and you an intellectual lightweight out of his depth here.

    Ironically, I seem to recall you, John Scalzi, got quite self-righteously irate when Amazon’s Kindle pricing was unfavorable to your income, so at least enough Randian sense has penetrated for you to pay hypocrisy’s compliment to the virtue of selflishness — and never mind about the consumer’s pocketbook. Social justice is always wonderful when other people are being forced to pay for it, isn’t it?

  251. I can’t even come up with a way to mock TallDave’s comment at @297 better than it unwittingly does all on its own.

    Back in a minute, people, getting popcorn.

  252. TallDave: Years ago, when I was participating in an online discussion with an Objectivist about some rather arcane (to non-geeks) matters of software licensing, and his flounce, which I have always treasured, included this passage:

    …I respect an honest person’s questionings into these issues. But it is quite another to be a software engineer–a person whose means of supporting himself ultimately boils down to intellectual property–and not only not understand them, but actively argue against them. I find such a person a sleazy, sick, deranged example of humanity, someone who belongs in a cave picking fleas out of his armpits–not someone who has a job making a comfortable living writing software.

    Compared to such exemplars of the art of online rhetoric, your comment above is sadly deficient. Please put a little more effort into polishing your style.

  253. “Bonus assignment for the day: rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a lighthearted romantic comedy.”

    Be sure to use ‘What A Girl Wants’ in the trailer, also.

  254. “Really? The character as created by RAH never really seemed to me like he would, despite the quote.”

    Tumbleweed – at the time Heinlein wrote that, Ayn Rand was viewed a little differently than now. Most notably, she was considered an important figure for women as a symbol that she could make it in the man’s world (albeit, with a little distance, it’s realized that she did so in kind of a Thatcher way).

    When Heinlein wrote that, I think it’s quite likely he was basically talking about sex, which certainly makes it fit much more with standard Heinlein characters as well.

  255. I would have much greater respect for the kind of person who loudly declares his independence from society and other people…

    … if he wasn’t holding up a book *written by someone else* as an argument.

  256. “The term “fascist” has been shorthanded to mean “someone I disagree with politically””

    And people also tend to use that as a dismissal of any accusation of a philosophy being fascist, rather than examining what, if anything, about the philosophy is fascist.

    For instance, comparing liberalism to fascism, with the arguments Goldberg makes, makes no sense.

    Comparing a book where the lead character is a member of the “elite” and, as such, recognizes that what is best for humanity is if the masses die out and let the elite take their place as the true masters of human destiny … it’s pretty damn close, and depends largely on how much the character has to do with the actual death of the masses. But, moreover, it certainly *endorses* fascism, because the next logical step is, “Why should we elites wait for them to die out naturally?”

  257. “Ironically, I seem to recall you”

    Yes, it is ironic that you can remember anything with your head buried that deep…

    Just to point out, when people try to act uber-intellectual, and then misuse a basic term like “irony”, it always makes me laugh, because I just think, “In this case, your use of ironic shows that *you* couldn’t expect something, not that it’s actually unexpected… and that just tells me how limited your own perspective is.”

  258. TallDave @297

    I think you demonstrate here one of the most disturbing aspects of the world view the book puts forward. It’s the readiness to write off the majority of humanity at the first bump in the road.

  259. Atlas Shrugged was a central part of my early adulthood, and I was one of the annoying little pains who quoted it on all occasions. I have the current dilemma of owning everything Rand ever wrote, being constitutionally unable to burn a book for any reason, and being unwilling to let the books leave my house and infect another vulnerable young person.

    As I grew older, I realized that the very premise of Ayn Rand’s book is flawed, even on her own terms… she postulates that all of the “captains of industry” (people of ability), though discriminated against by not being properly appreciated, naturally rise to the top, and therefore when John Galt gathers up his minions and retreats to summer camp, there will be no one left with any ability and/or sense.

    What is left out of that equation is that the people at the top of any system rise not solely from merit, but from a combination of merit, privilege, nepotism, and sheer will. With the current crop of captains of industry at summer camp, the world will not be left bereft of people of ability, because, frankly, they are everywhere, and many, many of them did not have privileged upbringings that make them susceptible to the “I’ve got mine, eff you” Galtian philosophy.

    With the Galt Gulchers gone, people would rise to the top who had a history of needing to rely on others to survive, who understand the importance of interdependence and cooperation, and the world would be a better place, not a worse.

    So please, all you “captains of industry” typing away in your mothers’ basements, Go Galt. I know many, many men and women who have been working crappy mid level and low level jobs with the brains and drive, but not the proper background, to make it. I’d like to see the world run by people of color, women, LGBTQ, geeks, and others who didn’t grow up privileged and entitled.

  260. Another problem bedeviling Atlas Shrugged is something Rand herself could probably be forgiven for not knowing.

    Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk a while back where he explained why folks with similar ambitions, backgrounds, and strategies meet with utterly different rates of success and failure based on when they’re born. His example was of two men, a man and his son, who both went to law school, both went into business for themselves, the father failed, the son succeeded. Why? Because the father was born in 1908, and the son in 1935. The father came into his own just as the depression hit, and thus failed. The son started life in a relatively small birth-cohort, with alot of hard up PhDs in the public school system to teach him, and fairly little competition for opportunities throughout his school and professional career. So if Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957, it was just in time for these small birth-cohort enjoying “captains of industry” (baby-busters?), who had relatively little competition and a huge market (their parent’s generation) to service, to read it and agree with it.

    Atlas Shrugged was probably alot more resonant 50+ years ago than it is today.

  261. I work at the campus library at a science/engineering university. I’ve seen students tell other students that they HAVE to read Atlas Shrugged, like it’s some sort of holy text. And when they aren’t checked out, our copies of the book are being stolen by the students. We can’t keep it in the building.

    I just hope they grow out of it, eventually.

  262. @Sherry 311: It’s interesting to me how often engineers and scientists, who work with a very specific, complex field that has absolute wrongs and rights, so consistently want to apply their knowledge directly to the field of human interactions, which is another specific, complex field, which doesn’t have easily defined wrongs and rights.

    Not only that, they want to denigrate the training and experience of those of us who are expert in the field of human interactions, because we fail to start with the assumption that human beings are interchangeable cogs that are actionable upon solely by external forces (interestingly, those same engineers never apply this belief to themselves, only to *other* human beings).

  263. @291 Kevin Bon: I hope I never fully outgrow my wounded solipsistic geekery. I’d hate to have to give up science fiction altogether, like real adults do.

    See, this is the thing that kills me about this is that science fiction doesn’t necessarily involve adolescent social damage. Literature of ideas, and all that. But a significant portion of the fandom likes it because it’s a place to go where not even Cat Piss Man would be excluded, and I don’t think that’s a healthy way to relate to it.

  264. odanu @312: probably because it’s more comfortable to approach the problem that way. If people are simple and interchangeable, they’re not nearly as unpredictable, difficult or threatening as if they’re a big bad of weird, contradictory impulses that can’t be easily plotted out.

    http://xkcd.com/592/

  265. I think the biggest problem with Atlas Shrugged as a platform for discussion is that it literally takes place in a world completely alien to modern times and real people. The complaint that the characters are cardboard cutouts is a serious problem with the book because they cannot inform the reader about how Rand’s philosophy can be applied to their lives. We aren’t all Randian Supermen or the Atlas that holds the world up. We don’t see a normal view of one of the most basic human instutions: a family. We don’t see how Randian egoism acclimates itself (or doesn’t) to a family where dependents exist. Godforbid Galt ended up starting a family, have a disabled child and be responsible for something other than himself. (Actually I would be interested to see how the Galt character would act in that situation)

    Further the world in which they inhabait is utterly alien to the world we live in. The country seems to be stuck at the late 19th century level of technology development within the greater economy, an obscenely simplistic political system and cartoonish villians. I understand that this is fiction, but as a vehicle for espousing a philosophy fails miserably. It is about as effective as using the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe as a means to espouse Kant’s Categorical Imperative. It might work in a world with a Boris and Natasha and talking animals, but any of its virtues are muted by the alieness of the setting.

    Within Rand’s bizarro world the protaganists actions might make some degree of sense (genocidal pickitude aside) but they are in no way characters that can be emulated in our world.

    First off they seem to have an almost zombie-like adherance to the excact same ideals. Rand might have you believe this is a function of their mega-rationality but it is really just another manifestation of poor character development. In reality even most sensible and rational folks have disagreements that are a consequence of their life experience and values. America’s Founding Fathers had huge disagreements about how the government should be organized and screwed up the first time (Articles of Confederation). Early rationalists approached the world using the same tools (skepticism, science) but certainly did not parrot the same talking points as each other. They were individuals who reacted to the world in unique ways, unlike Rand’s “heroes”

    In a similiar vein Rand seemed to think that all rational thought led to the same conclusion. This is on its face false and simplistic. Scientists can looks at the same data results and draw different conclusions. How do they resolve this difference? They do further experiments, they challenge currently held assumptions that were themselves the result of a rational thought process. Rationality and empiricism inherantly encourage doubt and self examination. I didn’t see any of this in the “converted” Atlases. Once Galt had his claws (or fangs if you prefer) in them they were zombiefied. No an objection raised to the deaths of millions (that could have been prevented), not a doubt uttered as to their own righteousness, not a single second thought about what they were doing. There’s a term for that: cult. We in the real world tend to frown upon such organizations but Rand holds them up of having discovered the one eternal Truth. As Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike than no one is thinking.”

    At the end of the day Rand presents us with a fantastical world, full of aliens that act in ways totally foriegn to human beings. It might be an interesting yarn to some folks, but to draw conclusions of how to live in the real world leads to a serious for reality and real human social interactions.

  266. Ouch! And here I thought that reading Atlas Shrugged more than once, and actually understanding and agreeing with many of the philosophical points Rand was trying to make had turned me into something of an intellectual before my fifteenth birthday. It was one of the few books I couldn’t put down (although I mistakenly thought it was science fiction for like the longest time). And I must admit that I found the description of Galt’s “persuasion session” with the bad guys oddly arousing at the time (the time being a full fifteen years before I left my particular closet), and actually a lot more stimulating than the visual depictions of the same thing being done to Mel Gibson and Kiefer Sutherland about twenty-five years apart. I guess all this makes me a thoroughly despicable human being, but then so does my agreement that the 14th Amendment needs a bit of amending itself (can’t we just add the phrase “…so long as one or both parents are already citizens of the United States.”? Anyway, I liked Atlas Shrugged and am willing to give Rand something of a pass for the relatively minor imperfections in her writing style and her philosophy. Her points are valid (“valid” not necessarily meaning “correct”), although most folks seem to think that today’s hedge fund managers pulling in multi-million-dollar bonuses are making money in the sense that Rand used the phrase. Of course they aren’t; money has ceased to be the scorecard Rand might have supposed it would be. Just ask Gordon Gekko. She did have at least one positive effect on me- I spent a good career as Eddie Willers, and look back on it now as fulfilling the best that was within me, and making things better for my co-workers, employers and, eventually, employees. I wouldn’t recommend Atlas Shrugged to everyone, but I think we might all use a healthy dose of objectivism these days. Heck, I’d settle for a healthy dose of logic and reason once in a while.

  267. @319 – can’t we just add the phrase “…so long as one or both parents are already citizens of the United States.”?

    So children of legal immigrants aren’t citizens? Anyway, the original purpose of the 14th was to make sure that the slaves were citizens. The wording you’d prefer wouldn’t have permitted that.

    Atlas Shrugged – never read it. I did read The Fountainhead and thought it was entertaining, but not much more. One thing about it did bother me, however. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but it seems to me that Roark was not looking for the acceptance of society or recognition or whatever, he just wanted to be true to his vision and to do his thing. That’s great, but it seems to me that that position is slightly undermined by the ending, wherein he is not only true to his vision, but *also* gets the recognition and adulation he deserves. I’d have been more impressed if he remained true to his vision, continued to be ignored by society, and didn’t give a fig. If you want to win on your terms and not mine it seems a bit of a cheat to end up winning on both (so you really *did* want society to recognize you after all, hmmmmm?).

  268. It is about as effective as using the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe as a means to espouse Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

    I’d actually read that.

  269. I guess all this makes me a thoroughly despicable human being, but then so does my agreement that the 14th Amendment needs a bit of amending itself (can’t we just add the phrase “…so long as one or both parents are already citizens of the United States.”?

    Then I wouldn’t be a citizen. Nor would millions of quite productive people.

    Not sure I would consider that despicable, but I do consider it massively ignorant and short sighted.

  270. 313 grendelkhanon:

    See, this is the thing that kills me about this is that science fiction doesn’t necessarily involve adolescent social damage. Literature of ideas, and all that. But a significant portion of the fandom likes it because it’s a place to go where not even Cat Piss Man would be excluded, and I don’t think that’s a healthy way to relate to it.

    I wasn’t exactly being serious. I was just annoyed at the realization that no matter what books you read and enjoy there’s always someone who thinks he or she is infinitely more mature and evolved than you in choice of literature.

    So here goes:

    Orson Scott Card,
    E.M. Forster,
    Olaf Stapledon,
    Stephen Baxter,
    Robert J. Sawyer (but not that terrible TV series),
    David Gerrold,
    John Scalzi,
    RAH,
    Stephanie Meyer

  271. Ron @319: I don’t know about ‘despicable’, but it’s pretty obnoxious to try and heat up a discussion about Atlas Shrugged and objectivism with a random, off-topic reference to a contentious subject like US immigration law.

    What’s striking me about the impassioned defenses of Rand and her work here is that they’re so vague. It’s not that Scalzi is wrong about A, B or C, but Rand was a visionary intellectual with nigh-psychic prescience whose views should be more widely held, and Scalzi’s just kind of a dope who doesn’t get it.

  272. Sure, Ayn Rand’s hero is a genocidal prick. I’m no Objectivist. But god damn it she was a little ugly kinky lonely nerd-girl like me, and she GOT IT. Trains. The Chrysler Building. Gray herringbone suits. The Rockies. Rough sex. High finance. That wonderful morning when you wake up and all your weariness and loneliness is gone and someone loves you for who you are.

    Well, it’s a dream, at least.

    And it pisses me off that you should want to take it away and engage in the usual round of nerd-bashing. Go fuck yourself. Some of us are different from you. Some of us don’t get the touchy-feely stuff, the social niceties, the endless compromises and defeats. Some of us think in a different language. You’re not really very tolerant, Mr. Scalzi.

  273. Well, I’m glad we’ve all outgrown all those terrible ideas and the sociopaths that worship them. Group hug everyone! Or else.

  274. The good thing about Rand is that Atlas Shrugged was really, really long. It’s like jingling keys for distracting babies, but as a distractor for assholes.

    Gennita Low (#106)“I read a couple of Rand biographies in my younger days and have studied how Objectivism shaped much of Greenspan’s beliefs and handling of the Feds (and hence, our economy). At one time, I did sort of conclude that he had Galtian powers to make or break a stock market/economy with mere words ;-).”
    Greenspan the Objectivist in the Fed: Someone who ascribes to a philosophy that’s against the State interfering with the Market, working in a position for the State that interferes with the Market.

    “Zoe Brain (#130)) “It’s my money; I earnt it; I did that by making the world a little better, by creating wealth;”
    Except that you didn’t make it in a vacuum. Society isn’t “I”, it’s “Us”.
    “And if I want to give my money to the starving poor, that’s my business, no-one has a right to say different.”
    Yeah! Let them eat cake!

    Steve Simmonson (#151) “Many thanks to all who’ve posted links to the parodies and vivisections of Rand.”
    One more: Motzart was a Red.

    mcl (#159) “Now, The Fountainhead, there’s an entertaining movie. Never read the book, but the film’s a hoot.”
    I haven’t read the book, but my take on it (after having sat through ten minutes of it on a late, late, late movie) is:

    “You’re special, Howard Roark. You’re special and you’re strong and people hate you for that. People hate you because you’re special and smart and they want you to fail. They want you to fail because they’re dumb and average and dull and they’re jealous of how special and smart and strong and special you are and they want you to fail, Howard Roark, because you’re special and…”

    Eric (#216) “The economy collapsed because it could not withstand the ever increasing intervention forced upon it. Entire industries were seized and redistributed in the name of fairness. Sound business decisions were overridden by political pull, even on the slightest whim. (Hmm this is beginning to sound familiar). This caused cascading failures of other industries.”
    Odd. Most of Wall Street’s recently collapsed chicanery was either poorly regulated or unregulated.

    “As for the attack on the society by the protagonists, I would argue that the government and to a slightly less extent the society attacked them first. They confiscated their property, ruined their livelihood and took away their freedom to build.”
    Except that reality has that reversed. The Great and Majestic Leaders of Business and Industry have taken the government.

    300baud (#218) “The number one reason I feel no need to read Rand is that her followers argue like fundamentalist Christians, street-corner Maoists, or particularly rabid Larouchies.”
    During the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, I stumbled via Google on to a message board of Objectivists (who are supposed to be about property rights over government) arguing with each other about how to deny the Muslims the right to use their own property, complete with the Objectivist equivalent of Bible prooftexting; quoting Rand.

    JR (#225) “One slightly off-topic question, why do web spell-checkers still think Obama isn’t a word?”
    That’s because you’re spelling it wrong. He’s Irish. It’s O’Bama.

    Eric (#251) “Their leader Kim Il Sung, is still in charge, even by the slight inconvenience of being *dead* since 1972. They are involved with trafficking in ballistic missiles, counterfeit money, methamphetamine and kidnapping foreign nationals. They have a nuclear weapons program. Please explain why I as a taxpayer should give them a plugged nickel.”
    Just imagine how much worse things would be if he’d have been an Objectivist!

    James T (#301) “Be sure to use ‘What A Girl Wants’ in the trailer, also.”
    What A Galt Wants.

    Just another Mikeon (#318) “It is about as effective as using the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe as a means to espouse Kant’s Categorical Imperative. It might work in a world with a Boris and Natasha and talking animals…”
    “Natasha, I am confuzed. What iz Categorical Imperiteev?”
    “Boris, iz like Moooz un Skwirrul…”

  275. I do, however, consider it something of a mistake to strongly hate on the author’s personal life when evaluating their work. While Marion Zimmer Bradley apparently turned her eye from some very reprehensible behaviour of her husbands, I do enjoy her Darkover; while Samuel L Delany according to his autobiography had a lover who burgled and raped old women without Delany acting to stop this, he still has written some good work (Dhalgren, as mentioned above, though my favorite for some reason is Nova); while Thomas Pynchon like Rand seems to have taken quite a lot of drugs, though of another kind, Gravity’s Rainbow is still awe-inspiring; while William Burroughs was a heroinist who killed his wife while joking around, I still think his work is (sometimes repulsive but) mostly brilliant; while european authors too numerous to mention have knowingly supported ideologies whose adherents, you know, _actually_ murdered tens of millions of people not so long ago, these authors still wrote many worthwhile books, some of them even winning the Nobel Prize for their corpus; and indeed someone may be the kind and eminent president of the SFWA, yet they write something like the first page of The Android’s Dream.

    The examples are legion and I find myself growing weary. In short, I’d like to call for a bit of separation of the author’s person and their works.

  276. Peter @259 Since I’m sure Eddie Willers had been paid for his work, in the view of AS all obligations had been fulfilled. Rand’s heroes didn’t need Eddie to survive the coming apocalypse, & his loyalty had no value in their economy.

    Bruce Baugh @263 My point is that since Rand was so insistent her heroes were superior even in their capability for rationality to the proles around them, it strikes me as odd that her heroes’ behavior is so extremely emotional & irrational. I’m intimately familiar with extreme irrational behavior on the part highly intelligent, skilled people; the overwhelming majority of the time their personal lives aren’t screwed up for external reasons, but because they fail to see or refuse to accept reality. The heroes of AS are fictional, of course, but my rule of thumb for judging fictional characters is, “how would I judge them if they were real”–& my judgment is that the heroes of AS are the biggest bunch of sadistic, perverted fucks gathered in one place since Pol Pot’s regime, & brother, am I relieved I never read any of that deranged drivel.

  277. And it pisses me off that you should want to take it away and engage in the usual round of nerd-bashing. Go fuck yourself. Some of us are different from you. Some of us don’t get the touchy-feely stuff, the social niceties, the endless compromises and defeats. Some of us think in a different language. You’re not really very tolerant, Mr. Scalzi.

    “You’re being intolerant of my right to be a genocidal prick.”

  278. Boy am I late to this party. But I still feel compelled to put in my two cents.

    As purely fiction Atlas Shrugged has a lot of good points. As a descriptive or predictive work Atlas Shrugged is crap. This is coming from someone who would best be termed a Rational Anarcho-Capitalist.

    The end-game of free-market capitalism is utopia. Once technology has progressed so far that every person can have everything they would possibly ever want for nearly zero cost, there is utopia. Because there is no more property to protect or people able to have power over others there is no more need for government. There will always be a market for original ideas, but there will eventually come a time when there is no more market for physical goods or resources of any sort, as long as the means of these miracles of production are open source or otherwise owned by everyone equally in a manner than cannot be overtaken. Then we can all be happy and get along (or not; when you and your neighbor have nearly limitless offensive and defensive capabilities, petty bickering can become an interesting form of public entertainment).

    We are at least a hundred years away from that. Probably two hundred; it’s hard to predict sort of genius required for the breakthroughs that will be required for this future. That’s the “Rational” part; any attempt now to pretend that we are nearing utopia or that it can be forced to come to be is foolishness and only delays the required breakthroughs.

    tl;dr version: The ironic end game of rampant capitalism is a true communistic utopia. Simmer for 200 years before serving with a nice merlot.

  279. Other Bill @332: I’d really like to get away from the dumb notion that Asperger’s Syndrome is “you’re a selfish asshole for biological reasons”.

  280. The27th:

    Nonsense. I’m perfectly happy for you to be as clearly obnoxious and annoying as you choose. Indeed, I celebrate your lifestyle choice. Do me a favor and do it somewhere away from me. Thanks.

  281. No problemo. I doubt we’d get along. Didn’t like your books, either.

    Silbey @331: a prick, maybe, but hardly genocidal.

    N.B. I don’t really think Ayn Rand was a smart lady. Her philosophy doesn’t hang together too well. She didn’t know much about anything beyond her own dogma. Not smart — but damn if she didn’t understand how it feels to be this out of place.

  282. Mythago:

    I should have qualified that comment. For clarification, I don’t think Aspergers is synonymous with being a selfish prick. And, I was genuinely surprised. Instead of exclaiming the thought, I should have expanded just a bit.

    I was referring to a lot of the Rand Fans talking about how hard social interactions are for them because they just don’t get social interaction.

    It may be that none of them are. But, a noticeable number of comments read like mild Aspergers to me.

    For example, I have no idea about the27th, but this is the kind of language I’m talking about:

    “Some of us are different from you. Some of us don’t get the touchy-feely stuff, the social niceties, the endless compromises and defeats. Some of us think in a different language.”

    That seems to neatly encapsulate some of the defense of Rand. It seems to be based on the idea that real humans genuinely not understanding social niceties or being socially awkward was being attacked.

    On the other hand, it was a comment interjected like 350 down the line. I’m not developing a doctoral thesis here or anything.

  283. You know, I don’t agree with John’s political rants, but if you don’t like his books the27th, why the fuck are you here?

    And if you didn’t like the first one you read, why suffer through another?

    You’re just weak. Please leave the debate to the adults.

  284. but damn if she didn’t understand how it feels to be this out of place

    Not unless by ‘out of place’ you mean ‘a towering intellectual giant in a world of simpering, envious idiots who can never approach your clear and undeniable genius.’ I mean, there are all kinds of ways to feel out of place, and all kinds of literature built around heroes who are out of place, but they’re generally obvious escapism and aren’t a stale, cheap chunk of tooth-cracking philosophical nougat with a thin layer of fiction smeared on the outside. It would be unkind and a little snotty to mock people who get comfort out of reading Harry Potter, for instance, but it’s also true that not many of them wander around insisting that actual policy decisions be made on the basis that some people are “Muggles”.

  285. Billy Quiets:

    The post was linked to far and wide over the last several days, so a lot of folks who are not usual reader/commenters have checked in to take a look. And of course generally speaking new folks are welcome; occasionally one of them will show up just be rude. They usually don’t stay long, so the best thing to do is just let them swing through and go.

  286. I’d caution the worthy readers here against inferring too much moral worthiness from professed beliefs. In my life in what many consider a group hug role model country, I have found that, not always but also not infrequently, the nasty individualists turn out to be caring and kind, while the professed altruists turn out to be selfish, insincere, and untrusting of their fellow citizens. What a paradox, eh?

  287. @Thomas 346: Not a paradox at all. What you are describing in the “professional altruists” is compassion fatigue, which is the result of not getting enough rest and respite from the very difficult job of interacting with others who are in distress and/or crisis. It is very common where these jobs are underpaid, overworked, and where the management structure fails to adequately plan for and respond to the sorts of issues that lead to it.

    Noblesse oblige in individualists is also very common, but from experience I can tell you that the sort of help that often comes from people who consider themselves innately superior to those they are helping tends to be less than helpful, and often actually counterproductive. It is my strong suggestion that these sort stick to what they are best at: writing checks. Charity served with a heaping dose of condescension and/or contempt is a bitter, foul pill to swallow.

  288. I think the scenes at the end with Eddie Willers provide more evidence that Rand is a feudalist in capitalist drag. Willers isn’t an employee doing a job in exchange for money; he’s Dagny’s loyal retainer.

    @Thomas: Edna St. Vincent Millay’s remark “I love humanity; I hate people” comes to mind. I feel that way a lot….

  289. @345 Nickster

    “Ayn Rand’s uptopia = a place where everything has a price tag.”

    Hate to break it to you, but everything in life DOES have a price tag. The price may not be in cash, but at the very least the price comes in time and in opportunity costs.

    It would be nice if the pricing on everything was up-front, but it just doesn’t work that way.

    That’s something voters find out from both political parties after every election.

  290. Hate to break it to you, but everything in life DOES have a price tag. The price may not be in cash, but at the very least the price comes in time and in opportunity costs.

    No, Rand (and other Libertarians) *defined* everything in life to have a price tag. That’s not the same thing. TANSTAAFL is a viewpoint, not an immutable truth.

  291. I had to laugh reading some of this. In the course I’m teaching this fall, I’m having my students play an elaborate game based around the introduction of Darwin’s Origin of Species in the 1860s. I’m going to have to start referring to one of the characters now as a “sentient cup of yougurt”- her role is a perfect Randian hero. (Albeit her ideas are grounded in Malthus, rather than Rand- she’s interested in having the poor people die off to prevent population crises)

  292. I was looking forward to cracking open a John Scalzi book based on what I consider to be many quality recommendations. I likely will still do so, only after reading this piece my enthusiasm has damped considerably.

  293. yeah, Chris (#352), his SF writing is pretty good, and generally founded in a Heinleinian universe of personal responsibility and effort (something Rand would approve of). Unfortunately, Scalzi is starting to take his reviews too seriously.

    He’s beginning to remind me of those wealthy Hollywood actors who lecture the rest of us on the virtue of simplicity.

    Is the view good from the Cheap Seats, John?

  294. If John Scalzi jumps off a building and I shoot him in the brain before he hits the ground, have I rescued an absurd metaphor? No? Oh, well…

    I haven’t read AS for many years, but it is absurd to call John Galt genocidal (one is free to call him a prick if that is your judgement). He is not causing society to collapse either by action or inaction; societies around the planet are collapsing economically, due to the worldwide adherence to collectivist philosophy and the increasing brutality of the various ruling classes. I recall some of the ruling class are even explicitly genocidal, discussing how they might need to kill a portion of the population so they can feed the rest. To avoid mass starvation and collapse all that is necessary is that these philosophies are discarded and the ruling class gets out of the way. Do this, and you don’t need John Galt to save you; don’t do it, and he cannot (or will not) save you.

    Now this is fantasy, but with some realistic elements. The heroes are not realistic, while some of the villains are disturbingly familiar. The frequently ruinous and brutal nature of collectivist regimes is an historical fact. Rand’s critique of these regimes is quite good (and the errors the government makes on the path to ruin are sometimes prescient), and one can enjoy these without accepting her proposed solutions. I think John’s review misses the mark badly because it ignores this aspect of the novel.

    I find it disturbing that many of the missteps of the current US government could well have come out of the pages of this novel. I must reread it immediately.

  295. No wonder I hated the only Scalzi book I ever read. He deals in minutia, a day in the life stuff, unlike epic works that have a struggle and a resolution.

  296. @350 silbey

    “No, Rand (and other Libertarians) *defined* everything in life to have a price tag. That’s not the same thing. TANSTAAFL is a viewpoint, not an immutable truth.”

    Anything that is of limited availability has a price tag attached. You only have so much life span, so no matter your choices, there is a price to be paid, since you literally cannot do everything you want to do.

    And quite frankly, TANSTAAFL is more a law of nature than anything else for the reasons just stated. It’s an extension of the Law of Supply and Demand, which seems to be ignored by politicians, and by others.

    At their own risk, of course. Unfortunately, we’re having to pay a price while waiting to remind them of this fact in four weeks.

  297. Thanks for the rec’s. I’ve never been a big SF reader but I’ve enjoyed Heinlein and more recently Orson Scott Card.

  298. Chris, our esteemed host and I rarely see eye-to-eye on politics, but trust me when I say plunking down your hard-earned cash on his books is money well spent.

    Start with “Old Man’s War” and work your way down the line. To reference something I said earlier in this thread, the price is very much worth it.

  299. While responding in a thread over at Classical Values on this, I came across these passage in Whittaker Chamber’s famous 1957 review of AS in National Review. Chambers – who was by no means a leftist – also saw Galt’s actions as an urge to genocide.

    Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”

    …We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feel at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline, and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.

  300. By Scalzi’s definition of the word, if the slaves in the American South had gone on strike, resulting in the starvation of their owners, that would have been “genocide”. Awesome logic there, John.

  301. … and they have finally arrived… in packs, like good little individualists. Unique…. just like everyone else. (Kinda like teenaged Goth kids).

  302. “By Scalzi’s definition of the word” here meaning “The wildly inaccurate way I have chosen to interpret what he’s said.” I’m not going to worry too much much about your estimation of my logic, Steve.

    I’m guessing this post has just recently hit some Rand-friendly site, leading to the largely content-free comments of dismissal. Just ignore them. If they get too useless, I’ll mallet them.

    Update: Ah, it’s Andrew Sullivan’s site. So not necessarily Rand-friendly in itself but with a readership with a Rand-friendly contingent. I’m a fan of Andrew’s site, though (it’s a daily read), so this pleases me.

    If you are just dropping by to attempt snark, please don’t bother. You probably can’t do snark well enough to impress/amuse/hurt me, and trying to poke at me by declaring how little you like my work isn’t at all likely to have the effect you’re hoping for.

    If you do want to actually contribute, please do, but I do suggest at least skimming through the comment thread to this point to make sure you’re not just repeating what’s already been discussed.

  303. @363 odanu

    ….Or like Progressives?

    C’mon already. If there are a bunch of people that disagree with you, it isn’t necessarily groupthink. Unless you want to call the group that DOES agree with you another set of groupthinkers.

    You get the respect you give.

  304. If one needs a real life example of Randian libertairianism look no further than the poor soul in Tennessee who’s home burned to the ground while the firefighters watched because he didn’t pay a $75.00 fee. A fee that wold have been covered had everyone in the county paid $3.00 more per year in their electrical bill.

  305. John, I’m certainly not interpreting your opinions of Atlas Shrugged any less accurately than you have interpreted Rand.

  306. Hmm… Scalzi’s writing is more entertaining than Rand’s His characters are more fleshed out and, while in the reading, I care more about what happens to them than to Rand’s admittedly cardboard stock.

    But… the principles at stake pale by comparison. For all the quirks and unreality of Rand’s world and its inhabitants, the central message — that wealth redistribution is both immoral and bad economics (in that the recipients of redistribution of necessity, as a group, end up with less due to the lower overall production of goods and services) — goes beyond trusim, at least for anyone who can count.

    Yet… many folks, even our host, applaud the nakedly redistributive actions of Obama et al, notably the health care bill. Health care is a finite resource. It will be rationed, either by the market or by political fiat. If the choice is between health care for one who has the resources to pay for it (absent the redistributive effects of the bill) or the redistributee, what’s the moral outcome? Please don’t put up the objection that the choice as stated does not obtain; at the margins, it surely does. And if you think it’s OK, even at the margins, for the government, or sociecty, or the collective, however you frame it, to make that choice, we have a disagreement of revolutionary scale.

  307. Steve:

    “I’m certainly not interpreting your opinions of Atlas Shrugged any less accurately than you have interpreted Rand.”

    I’m aware you think that, Steve.

    Joe:

    “But… the principles at stake pale by comparison.”

    Well, Rand was explicitly a polemicist, and as a fiction writer I’m not so much, so this estimation probably isn’t wide of the mark.

  308. Re: Joe:

    “But… the principles at stake pale by comparison. For all the quirks and unreality of Rand’s world and its inhabitants, the central message — that wealth redistribution is both immoral and bad economics (in that the recipients of redistribution of necessity, as a group, end up with less due to the lower overall production of goods and services) — goes beyond trusim, at least for anyone who can count.”

    Sorry, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Wealth distribution is, first off, a horrible vague term. Is paying for a military wealth distirbution? We are taking money from some people and transfering it to soldiers and weapon makers. But without a military some nations would be suseptible to invasion and an overall decline in productive capabilities.

    Also there is a question about how you want to calculate production impacts on wealth redistribution. Unemployment insurance and welfare, I would argue, actually enhance the productive capacity of an economy by allowing people to find a job that best suites their skills instead of having to take a job to keep food on the table. Society as a whole benefits by allowing people the opportunity to economic activitiy that maximizes their potential.

    Or public education for that matter. Guarenteed public education offers an excellent opportunity for those who were born at the low end of the socio-economic scale a chance to develop skills and knowledge to allow them to advance up the economic ladder. Without such an opportunity we will be condeming large swaths of the population to perpetual poverty, passing over the potential of the next Einstein, Shakespeare or, even, Rand. Sociey would risk becoming more stratified and staganat as the rich get richer and the poor stay at the bottom.

    Further, a society that concentrates wealth within a very narrow group in the society runs the risk of stagnation. If those people choose not to invest this money, but merely live off it a country’s economy will not operate at its highest capacity, or would develop in a manner to cater to the monied elite instead of the economy as a whole (think aristocrats and peasants).

    If you want to debate the impact of government provided social services in the context of economic efficacy and justice read Rawls and Nozik. Rand is an intellectual light weight compared to them or any decent economist. The only way her perspective appears to have some weight is if she creates her own world and heavy stacks the deck in her favor.

    At the end of the day your statement is anything but a truism. Different time-horizen views will lead to different results or, as you so eloquently put it, counting.

  309. Dave in Georgia @365:

    Brian – “You’re all individuals!”

    Crowd – “Yes! We’re all individuals!”

    Brian – “You’re all different!”

    Crowd – “Yes! We ARE all different!”

    Man in crowd – “I’m not.”

    Crowd – “Shh!”

  310. I first read Ayn Rand when I was a teenager, in a much more secluded world, and it’s interesting now to see what the rest of the world thinks of it. At the time, and, dare I say, even now, I found Atlas Shrugged inspiring. Yes, her politics are a little one-off. And Atlas Shrugged clearly takes her unpopular and largely unworkable philosophy to an extreme. But my favorite part of the book, which goes largely ignored, is its emphasis on the Greatness of Men. I came from a religious household in a midwestern state, where the emphasis was on people being “humble” and living “quiet lives.” So for me to see a place where people were not only allowed to be powerful, but encouraged to do so was striking. Even today, when I read Atlas Shrugged, it reminds me that although I will never build a transcontinental railroad or make a million people starve, I can still be working every day to find that human ability that so many people swallow up and push aside. I feel like the book deserves a lot more credit for this than it gets. And Francisco d’Anconia is still my one true love……

  311. @335, TPRJones, The end-game of free-market capitalism is utopia. Once technology has progressed so far that every person can have everything they would possibly ever want for nearly zero cost, there is utopia. Because there is no more property to protect or people able to have power over others there is no more need for government.

    I sort of agree with you, but I think it’s going to take a hell of a long time, if ever, for us to get there (Libertarianism – The nuclear fusion of political systems). Iain Banks covers this general area in “A Few Notes On the Culture” and his position is the exact opposite. He thinks that there is still a role for goverment and even (gasp) a planned economy in this sort of utopian environment. Of course, his planned economy is managed by super-intelligent AIs with whimsical names and that tends to make lots of things easier.

  312. Re: Steve in Philly:

    “By Scalzi’s definition of the word, if the slaves in the American South had gone on strike, resulting in the starvation of their owners, that would have been “genocide”. Awesome logic there, John.”

    I think that is a simplistic reading of what John is saying. It would be one thing if Galt just left (let’s not forget he distroyed what was in all likelihood his former company’s property and stole its secrets), but what Galt did was go around and convinced other key people within the economy to leave knowing full well the consequences. In one case he convinced an industrialist to effectively bankrupt and destroy his own company (sorry normal laborer and stock holder who just wants to earn a living or a market return, you are collateral damage).

    In your example we would have to extend to all the slaves stopping work and then encouraging all the people who produced food to sow their land with salt and stop growing food as well.

    What Galt did was knock to the support beams of a decaying house. Yes the house was already on the decline but there was still the potential (at least of people in AS acted like real human beings) or righting the ship. Instead he condmened the house, and those millions still living in it, to collapse and ruin.

    Perhaps genocidal is not technically the proper term, but mass killer would fit. He took actions knowing that their results would doom millions to death. Just a select few that he saw fit to save would come out unscathed.

  313. Anything that is of limited availability has a price tag attached. You only have so much life span, so no matter your choices, there is a price to be paid, since you literally cannot do everything you want to do.

    Really? Where do I look for these price tags that the universe has attached to everything? I can’t see them…

    The reason I can’t see them is that they’re not there; instead, we–as a culture–have chosen to look at things in terms of “price” and “cost” and so on. That’s not an immutable organization of the world, it’s our description of it, and it has all kinds of implications. For one thing, it sets everything in monetary terms.

    Thinking that TANSTAAFL is a law of nature is mistaking that description for the actuality.

  314. Patrick F @374: I’m tempted to dredge up some Stuart Smalley quotes, but that would be dickish (although not genocidally so)…

  315. All this talk of Rand and genocide, and no one has mentioned the actual gas chamber sequence in AS–the part with the train tunnel, where all those people of course deserved to die because they were so small, so insignificant, or they worked for the government. But of course, that ISN’T GENOCIDAL AT ALL, WE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND THE GENIUS OF THE GENIOSITY.

    The only Randians I’ve ever met in person have been creepy old trolls lurking on the campuses of colleges they graduated from 10+ years earlier, none with a wedding ring on, trying ever so hard to indoctrinate the kids there who are still privileged enough and irresponsible enough to go along with the Kool-Aid. These same Rand “alumni” were enthusiastic leaders of anti-Earth-Day protests every year…. no, really.

    It’s also worth noting that Rand herself lionized genocide not only in her crappy books but also in real life. Someone here already mentioned her support for child murderer William Hickman. As late as 1979 she was publicly speaking in favor of the extermination of the Native Americans–their actual DEATHS–because they weren’t using their property as well as the white people could have. Her “reasoning” was indistinguishable from Maoism at the height of the purges, because all philosophies that are sufficiently insane and misanthropic end up sounding the same.

  316. @376 Just another Mike

    “…let’s not forget he distroyed what was in all likelihood his former company’s property and stole its secrets…”

    Actually, he didn’t destroy the motor. He left it there, figuring no one would understand what he’d done. The motor remnants found in the ruins of the factory had been stripped by people looking for raw materials, who obviously didn’t know what the motor could do.

    @377 silbey

    Everything comes with a virtual price tag attached. YOU fill out the tags yourself and determine the prices, using whatever system of valuation you like. The “price” and “cost” are all up to you. And everyone puts a different value on everything out there.

    And that shows you have no concept of what “money” is. In this context, money represents the value of the time and sweat put in by someone.

    “Money” is simply anything that has an accepted value when used as a means of exchange. Beads will do if they’re what’s valued by a large number of people. Or beautiful sunsets seen from the beach. Or whatever.

  317. Everything comes with a virtual price tag attached. YOU fill out the tags yourself and determine the prices, using whatever system of valuation you like. The “price” and “cost” are all up to you

    What if I don’t put a price or a cost on something?

    In this context, money represents the value of the time and sweat put in by someone.

    What if I don’t accept the context?

    You’re running into severe trouble, because you’re trying to convert something that is a societal definition into a universal law. That everything we do affects entropy is a natural law. That that effect is labeled a “price” with all the implications, is not.

    Or beautiful sunsets seen from the beach

    So what’s the price of a sunset, then?

  318. John,
    Love your work.
    I’ve only read Atlas Shrugged once and fairly recently. I enjoyed it and frankly it seems occasionally spot on regarding some trends in today’s America.
    My understanding of genocide is that it’s more active than what John Galt did, or didn’t do. Or are we all genocidal for standing by as (actual, bloody) genocide continues to happen in various locales around the world.
    I did find the book as black and white as you mentioned, but took it all as more of a greatly extended allegory than a novel.

  319. Silbey, I could care less if you put a cost or price on anything, or even accept the context. It’s there, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not.

    Like I said, you place your own valuation on everything. Everyone does, and they act accordingly.

    Again, whether you acknowledge the fact or not.

  320. I can’t believe no one has yet added the Dorothy Parker quote: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

    Having said that, I must admit I have not read any Rand, but reading the discussion so far, I think, does give me a good sense of what it’s about and the conflicting arguments. With those caveats, I do think it’s wrong to conflate the collectivist/communist takeover of industries with a government that is strong enough to enforce the rules and intervenes in times of market failure.

    Even if John Galt and his pals are more talented than everyone else, it shouldn’t give them the right to conspire to keep John Galt 2.0 from inventing something even better, should it? I think that’s the problem with blind belief in self-interest making everything end up okay. I mean, it’s in Galt 1.0’s interest to stack the deck in his favor once he has the power to do so.

    My question for the objectivists is this: If collectivism is the wrong answer (and it certainly is wrong as presented in AS), then what, if anything should be done to prevent negative consequences of rational self-interest, e.g. monopolies and trusts that serve to prevent any upstart innovator from succeeding at their expense?

  321. @ 385 Mikey

    “My question for the objectivists is this: If collectivism is the wrong answer (and it certainly is wrong as presented in AS), then what, if anything should be done to prevent negative consequences of rational self-interest, e.g. monopolies and trusts that serve to prevent any upstart innovator from succeeding at their expense?”

    Monopolies and trusts are government creations — i.e., using police powers of varying types to keep competitors from cropping up. It can range from regulations that are so costly that they discourage start-ups to making it illegal to compete at all. Any company that gets too big becomes vulnerable to smaller competitors who are quicker to react.

    It’s not perfect. It’ll never be perfect. People are flawed. But trying to do things by fiat usually makes it worse. There are rare exceptions, but usually efforts to “fix” things backfire, because that just opens the door for more legal chicanery.

    FYI…I’m not an Objectivist. I don’t even play one on TV.

  322. It’s there, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not.

    Again, not really. It’s a definition we’ve applied to a state of nature and mistaken the definition for nature.

    You still haven’t answered my question about the sunset. What’s its price? A supernova? A planet? Silence?

  323. Rarely have I ever read a post where one single comment so succinctly highlights the chasm separating the ‘mere’ intelligent from the ‘superior’ intellectual.

    Well done “TallDave” No.297

  324. What’s it worth to you? Whatever you decide is what it’s worth.

    To you.

    Everyone else has their own valuation.

    It’s worth more to me after five straight days of rain than it is during a drought.

  325. What’s it worth to you? Whatever you decide is what it’s worth.

    I don’t think it’s worth anything. Voila, something without a price.

  326. “Perhaps genocidal is not technically the proper term, but mass killer would fit. He took actions knowing that their results would doom millions to death. Just a select few that he saw fit to save would come out unscathed.”

    Honestly, I think Atlas Shrugged makes a lot more sense if you realize that Galt isn’t the hero or the antihero of the story.

    He’s the super-villain. Who won. And then wrote the history.

  327. I have read both Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead. Whenever I recommend a book to someone, I tell them that Fountainhead is a story with Ms Rand’s ideas embedded within it. Atlas Shrugged is Mr Rand’s ideas with a ‘thin story’ wrapped around them. And after reading the same idea for the fifth time in Atlas Shrugged I remember, many times, thinking “I get it! I get it!”.

    I much prefer Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged.

  328. Monopolies and trusts are government creations

    In the same way that ANY collective entity is. What separates monopolies and trusts from other collectives is a matter of degree; barriers to entry, control of information flow, etc. are not binary conditions.

    The minute an individual forms an organization to multiply their efforts, they are on one end of the collectivist spectrum.

  329. Ben @ 390

    ” Jo @388 Are you being ironic here? I’m sorry to say that it’s hard to tell.”

    Don’t be sorry Ben, bask in the glow of equals.

  330. @391 silbey

    “I don’t think it’s worth anything. Voila, something without a price.”

    So a enjoying a sunset is worthless to you? That’s depressing. I like mine when I’m sitting on my back porch with my wife, feet up and sipping a cold beer.

  331. Re: Dave in Georgia:

    “@376 Just another Mike

    “…let’s not forget he distroyed what was in all likelihood his former company’s property and stole its secrets…”

    Actually, he didn’t destroy the motor. He left it there, figuring no one would understand what he’d done. The motor remnants found in the ruins of the factory had been stripped by people looking for raw materials, who obviously didn’t know what the motor could do.”

    Fair point, it has been a while since I read AS so some of the minor parts get lost in a haze of memory.

    Regardless, the rest of my comments still present, what I think, are meaningful challenges to Rand’s philosophy as she presented it in AS. I haven’t seen any refutations of them as of yet.

  332. RE: S.D. Jeffries #134:

    My take on a Shorter Ayn Rand:
    Selfishness: your choice
    Altruism: your choice
    Coercion: bad

    It seems that most people who don’t like Rand, don’t like the last part. They believe that there are times when you (or the collective we) know what’s best, and so have to have the power to coerce your idiot neighbors to do the right thing.

    The problem is, the people who like coercion are never satisfied. Ever met a non-libertarian who said that’s it, we’re done, we don’t need any more power? The ratchet on coercive power only goes one way.

  333. ‘That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs.’
    If you think that is what the book is about, you need to read the sock-puppet screeds, and perhaps the rest of the book while NOT in a fugue state.

  334. Nigh on 400 comments in and no one’s linked to Gore Vidal’s review of Ayn Rand in that 1961 issue of Esquire magazine. So here it is.

    Ayn Rand…has just published a book, For the New Intellectual, subtitled The Philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a collection of pensées and arias from her novels and it must be read to be believed. Herewith, a few excerpts from the Rand collection.

    • “It was the morality of altruism that undercut America and is now destroying her.”

    • “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”

    Intriguing logic. You’d think that if we did away with altruism, laws against slavery would immediately have to get repealed, no?

    • Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”

    Presumably Ayn Rand never drove on public highways or listened to radio or TV that made use of publicly-owned airwaves. No doubt she railed at the audience for her books, educated to read as they were by that dastardly collective compulsory public education system.

    • “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.”

    If your kids want food, they’d better go out and get a job, apparently.

    • “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

    Too bad Little Miss Greed never lived to see Wikipedia — she’d have spontaneously combusted.

    • “The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral….”

    Except, of course, when Rand calls upon everyone to sacrifice their children and their spouses and their friends on the altar of capitalism.

    This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the “freedom is slavery” sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her “philosophy,” but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.

    (..) Miss Rand…has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon “I” is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. Now the dictionary definition of “moral” is: “concerned with the distinction between right and wrong” as in “moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform.” Though Miss Rand’s grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.

    The last part of Vidal’s review will freeze the lymph in your glands with its prescience:

    Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.

  335. ‘ mythago on 04 Oct 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I can’t even come up with a way to mock TallDave’s comment at @297 better than it unwittingly does all on its own.

    Back in a minute, people, getting popcorn.’

    What a superb example of what festoons this site: lazy, pretentious, enormously smug, incapable of original thought.

  336. Last I checked, the notion that an individual has a duty to work for someone else, regardless of their own wishes, is called “slavery.”

    I assert that the right to take your ball and go home is fundamental. Many of you will disagree with me, but there is virtually nothing you can do about it short of violence. Good luck with that.

  337. Re: Andrew Lale:

    “‘ mythago on 04 Oct 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I can’t even come up with a way to mock TallDave’s comment at @297 better than it unwittingly does all on its own.

    Back in a minute, people, getting popcorn.’

    What a superb example of what festoons this site: lazy, pretentious, enormously smug, incapable of original thought.”

    Are you describing his comment or your own?

    As far as original thought goes, there have been several posts that did examine the implications and consequences of Rand’s philosophy in the real world. You might want to take a look through them before passing judgement.

  338. @403 #wtfo:

    Last I checked, the notion that an individual has a duty to work for someone else, regardless of their own wishes, is called “slavery.”

    So when you and your wifey-poo decide to have kids, the most moral action involves letting ‘em starve?

    Good luck with that one, buckaroo.

  339. mcl @401
    That gave me chills, thanks for sharing!

    Please, wtfo and others. Stop comparing things that aren’t slavery to slavery. At best, it’s in bad taste, and at worst, it’s kind of horrible. Thanks.

  340. So, I’ve never read more than a few passages of Atlas Shrugged. I flipped open a copy, read a few pages of terrible, dense and really unnatural dialogue (a dinner party with Hank, his wife and his brother, as I recall) and put it back down nearly as quickly.

    After having read this voluminous thread, I went to do some more research. Was John Galt a genocidal prick or was Scalzi misreading it? So I googled, googled and googled some more.

    I think Scalzi is dead-on.

    Unless I’ve misunderstood, Galt decides to initiate the strike by coming up with the plan that he convinces his two college buddies to help him enact: specifically one masquerades as a depraved playboy while sabotaging and dismantling his company while the other friend becomes a pirate, attacking commercial shipping lanes. Galt spends a decade convincing other captains of industry, thinkers, makers and ‘great minds’ to all abandon society, with the specific intention of causing it to collapse. All of whom, amazingly, are without children, apparently.

    He doesn’t just walk away…he actively spends a DECADE dedicated to smashing the state. Yes, he does it in a passive-aggressive way, not actually firebombing places, for example. He does, however, have his friends bankrupt companies, sabotage train lines and shipping routes, attack infrastructure by using their positions of power and authority…and then running and hiding from the consequences of their actions. Anyone who isn’t one of the beautiful people…anyone who isn’t smart enough, driven enough, well connected or innovative enough…they’re eggs to be broken for Galt’s big omelette. Interestingly, inheriting wealth appears to be an OK qualifier for being great one of them strikers…though of course most are ‘self-made’.

  341. So a enjoying a sunset is worthless to you? That’s depressing. I like mine when I’m sitting on my back porch with my wife, feet up and sipping a cold beer.

    Translation: “I’ve lost the argument, so I will now distract with inconsequentialities.”

  342. Even Rand didn’t claim to write realistic fiction. She wrote to make a point, and did it somewhat better than most overt moralizers: there are a lot of people who don’t like her point, but who still like to read AS. If it’s not shiny smooth fiction, try learning Russian well enough to write a best seller in it. If it’s not a light read, it wasn’t supposed to be. If it makes you uncomfortable, maybe there’s a good reason for that.

    Anyone who complains that AS is an incomplete recipe for anything is either missing the point, or else hoping to help you miss it. If you don’t agree with the point, fine. But I’ve noticed that people who level charges of “selfishness” invariably want something, either for themselves or for their friends. You might decide to share, and that might be an excellent choice, while deciding not to share might be a very poor one. Or maybe you should just keep what you’ve earned and take care of yourself. Depends. Your right to say “Depends, and the choice is mine” is what AS is about. If you think she overstated the case, people who have a point to make usually do, of necessity.

    As literature, I think Rand’s novels are passable and not much more. As a person, I’m sure I wouldn’t have liked her very much. As someone who stood up and said something that needed saying, I can only admire her. And if AS isn’t the solution to all the world’s problems, well, get real.

    Steven T Abell
    Author of DAYS IN MIDGARD: A THOUSAND YEARS ON

  343. @399 – They believe that there are times when you (or the collective we) know what’s best, and so have to have the power to coerce your idiot neighbors to do the right thing.

    Around here we call those “laws”. Libertarians/Objectivists only seem to talk about coercion when refering to laws that they don’t personally like.

  344. ‘He doesn’t just walk away…he actively spends a DECADE dedicated to smashing the state. Yes, he does it in a passive-aggressive way, not actually firebombing places, for example. He does, however, have his friends bankrupt companies, sabotage train lines and shipping routes, attack infrastructure by using their positions of power and authority…and then running and hiding from the consequences of their actions. Anyone who isn’t one of the beautiful people…anyone who isn’t smart enough, driven enough, well connected or innovative enough…they’re eggs to be broken for Galt’s big omelette. Interestingly, inheriting wealth appears to be an OK qualifier for being great one of them strikers…though of course most are ‘self-made’.’

    Not just a genocidal prick, then, but the villain of a Roger Moore-era Bond film.

  345. “Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs.”

    I think that statement shows a more about how Scalzi feels about libertarians than Atlas Shrugged.

  346. @408 silbey

    Honestly, that’s my reaction to your lack-of argument. Putting a price on something doesn’t always involve money. It’s setting a scale of importance. Money is just one scale.

    Being obtuse and obscure doesn’t exactly advance a debate. Try again, because you’re not making any sense.

  347. Honestly, that’s my reaction to your lack-of argument. Putting a price on something doesn’t always involve money. It’s setting a scale of importance. Money is just one scale.

    You’ve defined your entire world in terms of price tags and are so taken with that definition that you can’t see past it. You think that makes you a tough-minded realist, but it’s really kind of sad.

    Let me try again: the idea of a “price” is a human invention that is used to describe the world in economic terms. But that description isn’t the same thing as the world itself, any more than a painting or a photograph is the world rather than just a representation.

    It’s a description that breaks down pretty quickly when you take it out of the economic arena, which is what you’re doing by glibly saying that “everything has a price.” Asking what the price of the sun is, for example, just isn’t answerable in your definition. Or what the price of infinity is. Or what the price of a sunset is.

    And the idea of “everything has a price” is both limiting and sad because it assumes that everything is for sale, that everything is a commodity.

    You’re stuck staring at a photograph, insisting fervently that it is the real world, too scared to look up from the picture.

  348. M:

    “I think that statement shows a more about how Scalzi feels about libertarians than Atlas Shrugged.”

    Yeah, it really doesn’t.

    Andrew Lale:

    “If you think that is what the book is about, you need to read the sock-puppet screeds, and perhaps the rest of the book while NOT in a fugue state.”

    As noted, I’ve read it several times. I’ve characterized it perfectly well. You’re free to disagree.

  349. In defense of Dave in Georgia Re: “Everything has a price” he is somewhat correct, though it perhaps could be worded a bit better.

    Costs and prices exist because we are not infinite. If I do action X, I have necessarily not done actions Y and Z. You could say the price of X is Y or Z.

    Example: I could either watch a sunset on the beach OR have a dinner with an old friend further in land.

    The cost of doing one is not doing the other. While there may not be an amount of money attached to that decision, there is still a cost. Different people have different preferences. Maybe I’ll just see tomorrow’s sunset or maybe I know my good friend will be in town for a while.

    Because we are finite limited beings we cannot do everything we desire, so some actions or things will need to be left at the wayside. These unrealized actions and items are the “cost” or “price” of the actions and things we do pursue.

  350. Mike 371:

    “Unemployment insurance and welfare, I would argue, actually enhance the productive capacity of an economy by allowing people to find a job that best suites their skills instead of having to take a job to keep food on the table. Society as a whole benefits by allowing people the opportunity to economic activitiy that maximizes their potential.”

    Cf. the recent WSJ editorial that opines that 3% of the current unemployment rate is due to extension of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 2 years. See also the dramatically lower GDP per capita in European states with a generous dole.

  351. Just another Mike @404: c’mon, you have to admire the self-parody. I mean, here we have somebody using ‘festoons’ with a straight face bitching about all them smug intellectual sorts.

    Which is, again, just pointing to what I said before: The impassioned defenses of Rand’s works are emotional generalities. Eric was the last one to take a stab at ‘the book is valuable because it did specific thing X’ or some concrete reference to actual content, like ‘actually the scene in which Roark does Y makes an excellent point.’ It’s all about how only the smart, self-aware people really dare to comprehend AS, what an astoundingly original thinker Rand was because…well just because! she was, okay!….and how Scalzi’s just jealous or something.

    John @399: actually, yeah. If you’ve spent much time in the more annoying hippie-crunchy-granola wing of liberality, you’ve run into people who make the average hand-wringing Democratic political strategist look like an alpha male. There are plenty of people who are afraid of power who aren’t libertarians. And there are plenty of libertarians who are just fine with jackbooted thuggery as long as it’s directed at people they dislike.

  352. @415 silbey

    Please re-read what I wrote. You have shown a total lack of comprehension of what I wrote, or you’ve chosen to misrepresent what I’ve clearly stated.

    We all have a limited amount of time on this earth. We have to make choices, and each choice precludes doing other things, simply because of the limitations of being human.

    “Price” means what’s it worth to you? You’re the one who seems to think that I’m talking about money. Everyone has a scale of importance about things they acquire, be they things or experiences or whatever.

    The peace and tranquility of watching a sunset with my wife while relaxing after a hard day is something that I would give up other things to experience. I don’t get to do that much, since I work a second-shift type job.

    On the other hand, the scarcity of the opportunity makes it even more valuable. Certainly, it’s more valuable than trying to wring every dollar possible out of things, as long as you’re not scrambling just to make ends meet.

    I said the price tags are imaginary, and you fill in the blanks. You decide what EVERYTHING is worth to you in terms of effort. And that’s how it should be. This is a free country, and you should live your life the way you see fit. That’s what it’s all about.

    The thrust of your argument says more about you than anything else. (Shakes head.)

  353. Cf. the recent WSJ editorial that opines that 3% of the current unemployment rate is due to extension of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 2 years.

    I trust the news side of the WSJ more than I do the editorial side. They tend to research and source it better. And they’re better at attributing correlation and cause.

  354. surprised no-one has mentioned the ultimate in dig at Rand..as paraphrased in “the Illuminati” trilogy, (THE book of conspiracy theories to end all conspiracy theories)…as “Telemachus Sneezed”…i read fountainhead and tried to read objectivism for some research for a philosophy class and was steered off it by my instructor…who likened it to philosophising on “Dick and Jane”‘ as social metaphor on the social and political hierarchy of medieval India.

  355. (As a quick aside before going into this, I do hold to the notion that each copy of Atlas Shrugged should also include a copy of Nathaniel Branden’s essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement”, which speaks to many of the criticisms offered in this thread.)

    JS wrote: If all Galt had done was say “fuck all y’all” and leave, taking his own talents with him, then that would have been fine. However, in a world that Rand posits functions only because of the efforts of a few extraordinary individuals, Galt goes about picking off those extraordinary individuals, convincing them (or, in keeping with Rand’s “nobody does anything except for themselves” philosophy, providing them a reason to convince themselves) to withdraw from the world — although some of them hang around a bit first, to lay schemes that will hasten the collapse, or to engage in piracy targeted to effect the same. He does this intentionally and with full awareness that the end result will be the collapse of society, and that with the collapse of society comes anarchy, chaos, famine and death. John Galt is a genocidal prick.

    As I noted in the entry, the fact you don’t notice that Galt is a genocidal prick is a testament to Rand’s stacking the narrative deck to such a degree that Galt’s systematic plan to destroy human civilization looks like a heroic act, rather than the act of monomaniacal sociopath. But let’s make no mistake that Galt wanted, planned and worked for the death of that society that he felt wasn’t fit for his contributions. If it that meant millions died in the collapse, well, you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs.

    He’s a genocidal prick, all right. The rest of the Randian superheroes who bought into his plan aren’t much better.

    I understand that’s your opinion and position. I’d like to offer an alternative take, which I believe leads to the reasonable conclusion that your position is misguided at best.

    Within the conceit of the story that Rand constructed, Galt had mentally worked out the logical (or illogical, if you prefer) end-point of the philosophical underpinnings of that age. He concluded that the society would continue to auger its way into the ground, eventually decaying to a collapsed and decayed wreck of small tribes ruled by thugs scratching out a bare existence… and most importantly, that this outcome was a natural consequence of the entrenched philosophy of gun-backed expropriation from the productive class, in order to feed what Rand derisively classified as the “parasites”.

    In at least one sense, I see a parallel between Rand’s characterization of the productive class, and Orwell’s character of Boxer, the workhorse in Animal Farm. This certainly does not seem like an accident. I think both authors were trying to speak to the same basic point on this matter, and there are thus a large number of parallels in these two works.

    In the case of Atlas Shrugged, Galt has the key insight that there will only be one way past this “death spiral”: The philosophy that one man should be unwillingly sacrificed to “save” another must be utterly discredited, to the point of a completely visceral understanding. The method for achieving that end is to illustrate vividly for everyone involved what the natural consequences of holding that philosophy will be.

    Now, it’s not my intent to debate the merits of how well that maps to the “real world” that we face today. It’s simply to address this notion that Scalzi offers up that Galt is somehow self-evidently a genocidal prick. If we accept the conceit of the novel, just before leaving the factory that is about to go full-bore collectivist, Galt is looking at a vision of an utterly dystopian future, with humanity cast back to caveman days… his logical conclusion of the endpoint for collectivization.

    What, then, is he to do? His path is twofold. One, to establish a “survival bank” for the rebuilding of a coherent society after the coming collapse, via the establishment of Galt’s Gulch and the recruiting of like-minded individuals to act as a proof of concept implementation. Two, a natural consequence of this approach is that it will hasten the day of the “breaking point”, when the lights go out in the cities of the world.

    Morally, this is a tough pill to swallow. If you believe fervently that a given society is on an inexorable path of collapse, and is already in dire straits, but you also believe that a new and radically better one will arise from the ashes of the old one… do you continue to struggle to keep the failing system going, prolonging the suffering of everyone in the system, possibly for generations, or is it more moral to get to get things to the breaking point sooner… hopefully, to the point when society wakes itself from its self-imposed nightmare?

    It’s a non-trivial question, and one that Rand uses as a key plot point. Dagny and John Galt simply do not see eye-to-eye on the question at the end of her stay in Galt’s Gulch. Dagny believes it’s better to go back out to the decaying wreck of the outside society and continue to try to save it from within. Galt does not. He allows her to leave and see for herself that the philosophy is too entrenched to be given up by a hardcore cadre without reaching its full denouement.

    There’s a bit of amphiboly going on with the use of the term “collapse of society”, it seems to me. It looks like Galt wanted to collapse the grip of the ruling class of thugs, the “aristocracy of pull”, as Rand put it, and have people abandon it utterly. Only after could a more rational substitute be created, one where the notion of delegitimizing the coercive use of force could take hold. So in that one sense, the “society” being collapsed is more a set of ideas than anything else.

    It’s not that Galt wanted people to die by the millions (a second interpretation of the “collapse of society”), as we would expect if we take Scalzi’s characterization of him as a genocidal prick at face value. Galt has simply reached a point where he has become so jaded by seeing how deeply entrenched this notion of magical thinking is in the society of this story, and what it will actually take to get through to people, and get them to wake up to the reality of what they are doing.

    There is evidence in the book that Galt would rather see the governing system change, than to see everyone “not with him” die.

    We see it in the calls that he makes directly to the people during his big speech:


    “I am speaking to those who desire to live and to recapture the honor of their soul. Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules.”

    “If you find a chance to vanish into some wilderness out of their reach, do so, but not to exist as a bandit or to create a gang competing with their racket; build a productive life of your own with those who accept your moral code and are willing to struggle for a human existence. You have no chance to win on the Morality of Death or by the code of faith and force; raise a standard to which the honest will repair: the standard of Life and Reason.

    “We will act as the rallying center for such hidden outposts as you’ll build. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol-the sign of free trade and free minds-we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor. Those who choose to join us, will join us; those who don’t, will not have the power to stop us; hordes of savages have never been an obstacle to men who carried the banner of the mind. Then this country will once more become a sanctuary for a vanishing species: the rational being. The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force. Every man will stand or fall, live or die by his rational judgment.”

    Clearly, if there are still people around who chose not to join them, those people have not been wiped out in true genocidal prick fashion.

    We see it after his capture, when he takes the ruling class at their word that they want him to tell them how to make things work, and that they’ll follow his instructions.

    “Okay, I’ll tell you. You want me to be the Economic Dictator?”
    “Yes!”
    “And you’d obey any order I give?”
    “Implicitly!”
    “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 the discussion? Or do you get the point?”

    It’s not Galt who is failing to rescue society at this point… it is the ruling class, as embodied by Thompson.

    Being willing to show them how to remake the system into one more tenable, without causing anyone to die in the process, hardly seems consistent with the actions a “genocidal prick”. If they were serious about being willing to reform, I take it from the story that the collapse could have been avoided right then. It wasn’t PEOPLE that had to die, it was the ruling philosophy which placed that society on an ultimately unsustainable course which had to die.

    Obliterating the legitimacy of a philosophy isn’t genocide. It’s the philosophy which was killing the society, and the people in it, via slow torture. Galt was willing to have the “strike” end if only the ruling class would give up and utterly repudiate their philosophical system. They refused, and Galt continued to show them the logical consequence of that refusal.
    If people demanded to keep that boat anchor tied around their necks, they were going to go down, sooner or later. Galt insisted that not everyone had to go down with them.

    This magical thinking that “there’s always a way out” is manifested over and over in the story, with the recurrent theme that the productive will “somehow” find a way to meet the increasingly irrational demands of those who live off of the productive. Those in charge don’t know how the productive will do it, they simply demand that they must… because they always have before.

    And that, friends, is the key to understanding the point of the novel. This is a book about one of the two critical concepts for transforming a society from one as in Atlas Shrugged (and in some ways, like our own today) into something far greater.

    That concept is the induction of moral hazard.

    In the end, Rand’s point is that it is the “fault” of the productive that things had reached that point, because through their own acceptance of the faulty creed of altruism (as Rand saw it), they had induced the moral hazard for others to grow dependent upon their generosity, and eventually contemptuous of it and demanding of it as an entitlement.

    Hank Rearden’s character arc epitomizes the recognition of the slippery slope that leads to that induction, with the realization only fully dawning on him when he signs the “Gift Certificate”, and opts to go to trial in order to exercise this realization of the fundamental flaw in the scheme of those who try to use a person’s good grace as a weapon against them.

  356. Joe @418

    I’m not sure we want to use current GDP as the ultimate arbitor of what makes for a sound economic policy. I would think long term, stable growth would be prefereable than short term GDP changes.

    If a scientist is unable to go on welfare and takes a menial job to feed their family or keep their house sure, the unemployment rate would go down, but the economy would not be able to operate at its full potential.

    Further, there is much to be said about counter cyclical spending. If a whole bunch of people lost their jobs in an economic down turn you also will lose a good chunk of consumer spending. People either need to dig into savings (which adversly affects their ability to retire and free up room in the labor market further down the line) or cut back spending (causing a further cyclical downturn).

    The current recession is particularly bad because the housing market also imploded, making it even more difficult for people to move and find jobs best suited to their skills.

    So while ditching unemployment benefits might cause people to rush into the first available job, it is not healthy for the long term prospects of an economy or a society.

  357. Q: Is Hari Seldon a genocidal prick? He certainly seems to have done much the same thing as Galt, which is to say predicted a major societal collapse that could not be prevented and then deliberately meddled with its progress in order to allow a survivor/successor society that suited his ideology…

  358. VekTor @424: thanks for writing an actual substantive commentary.

    But you’ve really just made Scalzi’s point. Rand’s narrative does indeed stack the deck; everybody who isn’t a Randian supermensch is a parasite and/or a fool, acting out of base motives, and there’s absolutely nothing even Galt can to do stop its utter collapse. Therefore, having carefully rigged this system, the only alternative is genocidal prickery.

    That dialogue you posted is…um…really….awful. It combines clunky prose with the worst “Why, Socrates, you are so very wise!” sockpuppetry that one learns to despise coming out of Plato’s pen.

  359. I’ve only read The Fountainhead. When I attempted Atlas, I could tell that I wasn’t going to like anybody in it and I already knew basically what Rand’s ideas were, so I got bored and dropped out.

    While I’m a conservative and generally agree with most libertarian ideas, I find Ayn Rand’s universe and her heroes pretty cold and unattractive. I also find the progressives’ universe self-absorbed and childish. In both cases, the problem is selfishness and arrogance. Nobody is as essential as John Galt is made to be or as Barack Obama, et al. think they are.

    We ought to spend more time thinking about what the nature of a healthy society is. It should become pretty obvious then that we need both self-reliance and cohesiveness. Every person has a different mix of talents and intellectual channels, and working at those, we all can contribute to a whole greater than the sum of the parts. But when people start thinking that government can be compassionate or solve our personal problems, and start electing people who promise to bring that about, we’re toying with what makes society work. If anybody like John Galt existed and wanted to quit producing, that’s his right, but I think he’s a myth. On the other hand, we’re witnessing that the progressive conspiracy to replace our republic exists and has advanced far toward its goal, and we’d better wake up and do something about it.

  360. Re: Jeff R

    “Q: Is Hari Seldon a genocidal prick? He certainly seems to have done much the same thing as Galt, which is to say predicted a major societal collapse that could not be prevented and then deliberately meddled with its progress in order to allow a survivor/successor society that suited his ideology…”

    It has been a while since I read Foundation, but I believe Seldon did take is concerns to the Empire, but they were ignored. I also wouldn’t say he did nearly as much meddling in Galactic society as Galt did.

  361. In order to have been genocidal, Galt would have had to take action to harm others. He did not. Galt simply withdrew, and withdrew select others with him. The rest were left to their own devices. Without a host, a parasite dies, as does a parasitic society.

    Is it “genocidal” to refuse to save a society from itself? If so, does that mean the US is “genocidal” for every collapsing third-world country we refuse to save? Are we genocidal for pulling out of Viet Nam? Are we genocidal for not stopping the Rwandan massacres?

    The dystopian society from which Galt withdrew could have saved itself had it changed its ways, but it did not. Instead, it followed the path of self-destruction that is socialism and tyranny.

    Detractors argue that Galt and his people had a MORAL duty to help save society. Did they? Why? Society has villanized them, not as weak nerds to be bullied, but as powerful villians to be brought down for being “too” successful. Nerds won’t relate to Galt’s people. The nerds in the book are the weaklings in DC who use the power of the mob to tear down people that the nerds themselves don’t stand a chance against.

    It’s not a book for nerds. It’s a book for winners who are sick of being called villains for winning.

  362. At least three times or so a school year a mailer shows up in my inbox offering me a free classroom set of one of Rand’s novels, providing I promise to teach the novel to my students. Why Rand? Why not offers of Hemmingway, Byatt, Ishiguro, or any of hundreds of other great writers of the recent past and present? Is there some secret society out there of Randites trying to convert the world on the sly to the evil of pure selfishness, oh sorry, I meant “objectivism.” Just wondering. Anyone got an explanation?

  363. John G:

    Yours is yet another comment that would have been unnecessary had you read earlier comments in the thread, in which others had the same thought as you, almost word for word.

    Folks, won’t you please read the thread before commenting? Pretty please?

  364. @427 The point is definitely not to claim that Rand writes good prose. I never claimed that. Her writing style is often near-unbearable. The point was to show the CONCEPTS.

    I think you’re missing at least one of my points. The people Galt is calling to in the radio address are NOT the supermensch. Those that escape and build those enclaves are not parasites or fools… they are the rational ones who have woken up. We see that in the reactions of people after the radio speech, as the reality of the situation begins to set in:

    Nobody had ever granted them the title of “the better men” or, granting it, had paused to grasp that title’s meaning, but everybody knew, each in his own community, neighborhood, office or shop and hi his own unidentified terms, who would be the men that would now fail to appear at their posts on some coming morning and would silently vanish in search of unknown frontiers-the men whose faces were tighter than the faces around them, whose eyes were more direct, whose energy was more conscientiously enduring-the men who were now slipping away, one by one, from every corner of the country

    These are not supermen, they are basic decent people who have woken up sooner rather than later. I see no reason to believe that, were this a real world rather than a story, that Galt would have worked to ensure the deaths of millions if almost everyone had responded to the speech as these characters did… if the inhabitants of that world rose up and overthrew their political overlords before the collapse completed itself.

    I see nothing in the character of Galt (as represented by Rand) that inherently wants people to die. If I did, I’d agree with Scalzi’s characterization. I see instead that he wants them to recognize the philosophical flaw in their approach, and treat the productive not as resources to be mined or slaves to be worked… but he has reconciled himself to the fact that some will likely choose to not abandon their stranglehold, and instead will become part of the impotent clan of those left over who choose not to join the rebuilt society.

    I’m sorry… I don’t see that as a genocidal prick mentality. Accepting the notion that the productive in that world must follow the ruling class down into oblivion as slaves to their desires, struggling on until the end to ensure that the minimum possible number of people die in the resulting chaos, buys into the very notion that Rand rails against: that the needy have a claim on the lives and resources of the productive, whether they like it or not. It puts a club in the hand of any beggar.

    A case can be made that getting to the endpoint faster saves lives (overall), rather than costing them, in the same way that the nukes dropped on Japan saved lives overall, even though they killed a huge number.

    Was Truman a “genocidal prick” for ordering their use? I don’t think so.

    Galt simply rejected the premise that these people could force him (and others) to save the unproductive from themselves… forever.

    Just as the Japanese had the option of surrender, so too did the ruling class in Atlas Shrugged. They could have prevented any of the deaths that did occur, by preventing the chaos to begin with.

    Both had the same issue. They refused to surrender their power, and people died because of it. I lay the blame for those deaths squarely on those who refused the surrender.

  365. It was? Been through twice looking for an earlier comment, as well as doing find-in-pages on “Hari”, “Seldon”, “Seldom”,” Harry”, “Asimov” and “Foundation” and haven’t spotted a trace.

    Re: JAM: I got at the very least the strong impression that the particulars of the Sack of Trantor were psychohistorically engineered, to create the place in which to hide the second foundation.

  366. I’ve looked as well, and I can’t find hide nor hair of the Hari Seldon point prior to #429.

    I tried to do a pretty diligent job of reading every word of the thread before posting.

    Can you help us out, John, and point out exactly where “upthread” this point was made, that should have been noted by Jeff?

  367. Please re-read what I wrote. You have shown a total lack of comprehension of what I wrote, or you’ve chosen to misrepresent what I’ve clearly stated.

    We all have a limited amount of time on this earth. We have to make choices, and each choice precludes doing other things, simply because of the limitations of being human.

    “Price” means what’s it worth to you? You’re the one who seems to think that I’m talking about money. Everyone has a scale of importance about things they acquire, be they things or experiences or whatever.

    …The thrust of your argument says more about you than anything else. (Shakes head.)

    Dude, I’ve read everything you said with perfect comprehension, if only because it’s a such a popular cliche.

    What you are talking about is a way of viewing the world the world, not the world itself. You see doing one thing instead of another as a “price” but that’s your definition and not a law of nature. “I get to do this” is always paired for you with “but I don’t get to do this.” That latter, though, is not required; one could simply say “I get to do this” and leave it that. The “price” is your addition, not the universe’s.

    That you mistake your label for reality is terribly crippled.

  368. I was happy to see someone mention “social infastructure” earlier. It seems to me that the greedy bastards who say the government is taking “their money” are forgetting the necessary foundation of stability that government provides capitalism. Doesn’t it follow that a share of the wealth created through capitalist means duly belongs to the government for providing that necessary stability? This must be an economic philosophy floating around somewhere – something between socialism and cold hearted free-market capitalism. Or is that Liberalism?

    Anyway, you’d have to be pretty narcisistic to think that “going Gault” in the RW would lead to anything more than someone else taking your job.

  369. VekTor @434: ah, but they are supermen (although not quite as super as Galt et al); they are capable of hearing The Truth and heeding it. The rest of society is going to collapse because everybody else is an inferior parasite who not only won’t, but can’t, listen.

    I get that you weren’t praising Rand as a prose stylist, but the excerpt you posted isn’t just sloggy prose; that’s why I brought up Plato, who is a better writer but similarly jiggers his conversations so that Socrates is always right and anyone who disagrees with him is has the rhetorical skills of a banana slug. Mr. Thompson doesn’t say “All right, but we’re going to have to jack up the capital gains tax,” or “You do realize people are going to be upset when they wake up tomorrow morning and nobody is paying the military”. The comment about ‘politics and not economics’ isn’t even coherent. Rand has him throw a rather stupid tantrum, the point of which is to prove that Galt is right and awesome.

  370. Even if the WSJ statistic is accurate, 3% of an approximately 10% unemployment rate is a great deal less than 1% of the total unemployment rate in any way attributable to extending unemployment benefits. So essentially, the extension of the unemployment benefit has an effect that is so minuscule that it’s within the margin of error of the unemployment rate collection data. Doesn’t sound like a big effect to me :-)

  371. #443

    I think their point is the 3 percentage points of the 10 percent (or 30 percent) is due to employment.

    Of course, that could very well mean that if it it weren’t for unemployment insurance, those percentage points would drop into the too discouraged to look for work, thereby taking care of the unemployment rate…or that they’d be taking a job far below their previous job and not put that money into circulation helping others still employed…or that there simply isn’t the jobs there…but I’m not sure that’s what the editorial side is getting at.

  372. Thank you for that analysis of Atlas Shrugged! Aspergers describes these people exactly – and I know whereof I speak – it runs in my family..
    I have read A.S at least 3 times, and written about 50 pages in rebuttal, given that the first time I read it, I was informed by a Randite that Ms Rand had just died! (1982). Given what I have subsequently learned about her, if she had been alive, she would never have listened to my rebuttal! How naive I was…

  373. mythago @442: You know, if you twist your head around just right, almost anything can be characterized as an embodiment of malice aforethought. That doesn’t make such a practice much more than being tendentious, as far as I can see.

    Imagine a parallel storyline taking up shortly after Galt’s radio address. In the parallel, the people rise up, shake themselves awake, and hound the aristocracy of pull out of all power and relevance. Galt is hailed as a hero and savior, and his ethic is embraced by all but the tiniest remnant of irrelevant hangers-on. His vision is embraced utterly.

    In that parallel, nobody dies from the collapse that doesn’t come, Galt still gets made out as the icon of perfection, and there’s no accusation of genocidal prickery.

    Here’s my point: I see nothing intrinsic in the character of Galt as represented by Rand up to that point which indicates to me that Galt responding as I described would be inconsistent. It’s the same Galt.

    So it doesn’t strike me as obvious that Galt is intrinsically a genocidal prick. It sounds more and more like the assessment is that it is only his willingness to let people actually experience the consequences of their own ethic which somehow pushes him over that threshold.

    Is that about right? It’s the fact that he won’t save some of them from themselves before they come around which makes him a genocidal prick?

  374. Ayn Rand was a warm-body primate biped who succeeded in getting herself mistaken for a several centuries long socio-economic system, with all its problems and promise, through the power of her peculiar imagination and considerable force of will. Every time I see someone frothing at her, or adoring her, I can only imagine that she is snickering from beyond the grave at the confusion. Why the Cultural Studies crowd hasn’t lifted a finger to figure out how she pulled it off is one of the great unspoken mysteries.

  375. If John Galt is driving his car one day (car=company) on the highway (world of commerce, government) and he notices that the traffic is really backed up because of excessive enforcement of speed and seat-belt regulations and poor placement of traffic lights, etc., and he becomes disgusted with the situation…as a citizen of the highway, is it his duty to pull over at a rest-stop and pursue other travel arrangements (perhaps a more conventional approach) from there, or is he obligated to persuade as many other drivers as he can to pull over with him and set to work building a smaller, more efficient network of roads (and cease contributing monetarily to the public roads)?

    If Galt & Pals choose the 2nd option and thereby make enemies of the civil engineers and other motorists (who so desperately need their stupendous driving and financial input), then are automotive hobbyists and diy greasemonkey/engineers allowed to get upset with both sides for their (a. despotic collectivism) and (b. smug terrorism)?

    Or do they simply go back to tinkering for the love of discovery?

  376. Scalzi:
    Your original post is fantastic (and I’ve just ordered a copy of _Old Man’s War_), but in the subsequent “genocidal prick” discussion I can’t help feeling like you’re stacking the deck a bit yourself when you talk about how things shake out in the world Rand describes.

    One question this brings up is about moral agency. To wit: in a complicated world where bad things happen as a result of many people doing many things, who do we get to treat as an unyielding force of nature and who are we inclined to regard as an actor who made moral decisions that they need to be held accountable for? And why? Deciding that question in advance stacks the deck to force whichever moral outcome you want to see later. Ignoring that question leads to everybody talking past one another based on their unstated premises.

    If we choose to regard all the bureaucrats and the people-at-large and all the other industrialists except Galt as irrelevant sleepwalkers who just can’t help being the way they are but we regard Galt alone as a brilliant, self-aware, fully-informed moral actor who could conceivably have made different choices than he did – and deaths resulted from his actual choices, why then: Galt is a murderer.

    On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to choose that framing. We could just as easily choose several others that equally well fit the facts at hand.

    For instance, perhaps Galt simply can’t help being the way he is – nor can his fellow industrialists – and the bureaucrats are the moral actors who could have acted otherwise and should have known better than to choose the course they did. If Wesley Mouch could have stopped what he was doing at any time, given in, and prevented all the deaths: Wesley Mouch is a murderer.

    On the third hand, Galt doesn’t force his fellow industrialists to do anything – he rationally persuades them. That action makes it a collaborative effort, so: Galt would only be guilty of conspiracy to murder.

    On the fourth hand, the bureaucrats had their own enablers and conspirators too – other bureaucrats and the populace-at-large that voted for them.

    In short, there seems to be lots of blame to go around and really no particular reason to lay it all on Galt’s shoulders.

    As near as I can figure, you choose to blame Galt exclusively because Galt knowingly acts based on his having brilliantly figured everything out in advance in a way that turns out to be correct. Which brings up the other big question: contingency. It’s true that it turned out in the novel that Galt’s predictions were correct, but that didn’t have to be the case. Galt could have been wrong. It was theoretically possible that the bureaucrats might have folded early short of collapse, or that the country could have limped along successfully without those particular “men of action”, or that the Galteans couldn’t make it work on their own and went back, or…oodles of other possibilities. The fact that things turned out one particular way in the book doesn’t mean they couldn’t have gone a different way, and that also mitigates Galt’s responsibility to some degree.

    In my view, the deaths are an unfortunate result of a variety of actors all acting according to their own natures. Given the situation, I don’t see how you can pin the deaths on any one character in particular…unless that character is Rand herself.

  377. Maybe this is an easier question: If you’re a stupid bureaucrat who does stupid things that predictably leads to disaster, does your being stupid absolve you of all blame and instead place the blame firmly on anybody else who was smart enough to predict what would happen when you did those stupid things, on the theory that somebody that smart should also have been able to figure out how to stop you from doing the stupid things?

    Given that Uncle Ben died, is Peter Parker a murderer?

  378. Glen Raphael:

    “In my view, the deaths are an unfortunate result of a variety of actors all acting according to their own natures. Given the situation, I don’t see how you can pin the deaths on any one character in particular…unless that character is Rand herself….Given that Uncle Ben died, is Peter Parker a murderer?”

    Stan Lee is totally gonna kick you.

  379. Glen Raphael:

    “Galt could have been wrong.”

    Yeah, no, actually he couldn’t have been, not in the world Ayn Rand constructed. I think you’re modeling your argument as if the events in Atlas Shrugged are akin to being history, as opposed to being fiction. If AS were history, then there would be the possibility of events having transpired in other ways. But it’s fiction — polemical fiction at that — and thus events do not transpire except how the author wills them. Ms. Rand never intended Galt to fail at any point. The framing, as you put it, is put there by the author herself.

  380. “I think you’re modeling your argument as if the events in Atlas Shrugged are akin to being history, as opposed to being fiction.”

    That’s the only sensible way to model it. If you treat AS as a work of fiction then Galt has no free will – he’s the puppet of his author – and therefore has no moral culpability for his actions. In order to treat Galt as a moral agent you have to imagine things could have happened differently than they did – specifically, that Galt could have acted differently. To judge the morality of his choices you have to consider his opportunity set and compare what he did against the feasible alternatives. But if Galt in some sense could have acted differently, why then, so could Mouch. Or Rearden. Or the citizens or the bureaucrats or blind luck.

    “If AS were history, then there would be the possibility of events having transpired in other ways. But it’s fiction — polemical fiction at that — and thus events do not transpire except how the author wills them.”

    Spider-Man’s origin story is fiction, thus events do not transpire except how the author wills them. Therefore there is no possibility that Uncle Ben could have lived – his living wouldn’t have served Stan Lee’s narrative purpose. So do we blame Peter Parker or not? To ask that sort of question, you need to consider what the character “knew” at the time or could reasonably foresee – reasonable to us, not to him – and you may need to bring in relevant hypotheticals that didn’t happen in the actual narrative.

    “Stan Lee is totally gonna kick you.”

    I have a ticket to Comicon NYC this weekend so that, too, is a relevant conceivable hypothetical. :-)

  381. “Spain had *no* doctors after they expelled the Jews.”
    Sorry, but I seriously doubt that’s true…
    Vicky

  382. Glen Raphael:

    “That’s the only sensible way to model it.”

    Well, no, that’s not even remotely true. The argument that Galt isn’t morally culpable for his actions because he’s fictional is nicely meta, but in fact it’s neither difficult nor insensible to talk about the moral actions of fictional character and consequences of the actions, and in particular in the context of the stories and worlds they inhabit. Separately you may have a discussion of authorial intent in writing characters/scenarios how they do, but it really is a separate discussion.

    In other words, it’s not contradictory to say, one, Galt is a character completely in the control of his author; two, he’s a genocidal prick. If it makes you happier to say Rand’s made him a genocidal prick, fine, but it doesn’t change his nature.

    As regards this statement re: Peter Parker’s culpability in Uncle Ben’s death:

    “you may need to bring in relevant hypotheticals that didn’t happen in the actual narrative.”

    Not really. It clear in the narrative Parker had no intent to have his uncle killed at any point, so there’s no need to introduce hypotheticals. It may be amusing to do so as a mental exercise, but it’s not required because the story itself gives you an unambiguous answer regarding Parker’s intent (whether you consequently blame Parker is a matter of personal morality; certainly Peter is presented as feeling that his actions contributed to the death, which is why he fights crime. That, too, is unambiguously in the story).

    To be clear, there is fiction that traffics in plot ambiguity, lending the reader to speculate about events. However, neither Atlas Shrugged nor the Spider-Man origin story are that kind of story.

  383. This “genocidal prick” thing is way out of bounds. Galt observes the world telling him that it doesn’t need him or people like him. He knows this isn’t true, but he grants the people who say this their wish. Is that murder? Who do you think you are kidding? It’s like dealing with alcoholics or drug addicts: maybe you can reason with them, but more likely you just have to walk away from them and let reality take its course. Assuming they don’t run into some other person who enables them, they’ll either learn or die. If you think such deaths are Galt’s responsibility, you’re welcome to put your belief into action. Eventually, you too will get tired and change your mind. Unless, of course, you manage to persuade yourself that it’s someone else’s responsibility to carry out your morality. And that’s the really cheap trick that so many people learn so easily: that somehow it’s *my* job to carry out *your* morality, whether I like it or not. Sorry, no sale.

  384. “it’s neither difficult nor insensible to talk about the moral actions of fictional character and consequences of the actions, and in particular in the context of the stories and worlds they inhabit.”

    Sure. The reason it’s not difficult is that we can put ourselves in the place of the character and ask what we might have done in similar circumstance. But when we do that, we cannot bring with us an absolute certainty that every subsequent action has been preordained by the author to happen exactly as it does. We have to consider alternatives. Without alternatives, choices are meaningless. You make different choices because you want to produce different results, no?

    In Galt’s world, his moral certainly – his Galt-nature – led him to do things that would lead Mouch and the masses to choose between their existing course and…some other course. Galt’s actions thus did make an eventual collapse more likely…but so did those of Mouch, Dr. Stadler, and everybody else in the story. It’s an ensemble piece. And war is hell; when unstoppable forces meet immovable objects people in the middle do tend to get smooshed.

    Do you consider Mouch or Dr. Stadler moral monsters too? If not, why not? How are they less culpable than Galt for what happens, given that everything he does is in reaction to things that they do and vice-versa? Is it their incompetence that makes them less culpable – that they just don’t know any better than to act as they do? If so, why doesn’t the same excuse apply just as well to Galt?

  385. Imagine a parallel storyline taking up shortly after Galt’s radio address. In the parallel, the people rise up, shake themselves awake, and hound the aristocracy of pull out of all power and relevance. Galt is hailed as a hero and savior, and his ethic is embraced by all but the tiniest remnant of irrelevant hangers-on. His vision is embraced utterly.

    In that parallel, nobody dies from the collapse that doesn’t come, Galt still gets made out as the icon of perfection, and there’s no accusation of genocidal prickery.

    Uh, sure. If he doesn’t do the things that make him a genocidal prick, then, well, he wouldn’t be a genocidal prick.

    Galt observes the world telling him that it doesn’t need him or people like him. He knows this isn’t true, but he grants the people who say this their wish.

    Interesting, because in the Atlas Shrugged that I read, Galt actively goes about *creating* the collapse of society.

  386. The threshold for genocidal behavior sure is low around here. It used to be, you and your gang get ahold of the government, and deliberately begin killing all those you don’t like. Raw, naked, amoral power. Evil.

    Galt says, I refuse to participate in the world you are creating. I think it’s wrong. I have a different idea about how society should be organized. I have no power other than my mouth. So one by one, I’m going to start finding and convincing the people that count. Since the ratchet of coercive power only works one way, it’s no good working inside the system. My ideas can only be tried out once the current system collapses.

    He’s a genocidal prick because he thinks your way sucks, his way doesn’t, and he goes about making allies?

    He’s a genocidal prick because he’s successful at convincing other people that the current system is rotten to the core, should not be saved, and that the new system cannot be implemented until the true nature of the old system is exposed?

    Most people who think like that are just deluded. Apparently, Galt was as good a salesman as an engineer, and the facts were in his favor. Hmm, successful salesman, engineer, mass murderer? Galt = Osama bin Laden? Is there a difference?

    When societies collapse, it’s rarely obvious why to the participants. People who see the collapse as an opportunity, will proffer all sorts of reasons. Tyrants will try to move in and grab for all the loot. All Galt did was say, here’s undeniable proof that when you abuse the wealth creators, your society collapses. When I convinced the wealth creators to go on strike, it collapsed. You want us back? Here’s the price: the looters and moochers have to give up power. We’re not gonna work for you guys anymore, you’re gonna work with us. Do it our way, everyone’s liberty is secured, and everyone enjoys the fruits of their labor. You don’t like this deal? Still think your way is better? Go ahead, but we won’t help you.

    He’s a genocidal prick because in the marketplace of ideas, he competed vigorously and succeeded, and unlike OBL, went about it peacefully? Galt coerced no one. He offered a choice where none existed. Join with me, and we’ll pry loose the looters’ grip on power, and you’ll have more Liberty.

    For those who point to Danneskjold, I’ll counter-point that the U.S. Government, in an era when we’re running trillion dollar deficits, and 40% of the Federal spending is borrowed, is sending $500 million of our wealth to the Palestinians, a bandit kingdom if there ever was one. Our Federal government may have the legal authority, but does it still have the moral authority? Danneskjold confiscated the looted wealth, until such time as it could be returned to its rightful owners and once again put to productive purposes. (I think Rand was just having fun with Danneskjold. He’s a wild-card character.)

    As for the examples of Albania, North Korea, etc. There is a lot of ruin in a country, and a country that collapses is an opportunity for amoral tyrants. I interpret Galt’s goal as to get it to collapse fast, so to minimize the damage. And then, it would be off to the races, the wealth and ideas of the producers, against any would-be tyrants with guns. The NorKo’s and Albanians were utterly powerless and bereft of ideas and knowledge. The United States, after the Galt-caused collapse, would and did still have a large, educated, and resourceful Remnant that would be able to resist the tyrants, especially since Galt made it obvious the consequences of entrusting your Liberty to collectivists.

    Societies collapse. Ours will too. Don’t be so sure that this high water of civilization won’t collapse back to barbarism. When it comes, it comes swiftly, surprising most everyone. The long period of decline and senescence enabling the collapse is only seen in hindsight by historians. All Galt did was hasten the day (as it could be argued Reagan did to the Soviet Union). One of Galt’s ideas was to create a vigorous and wealthy Remnant (the Prometheans), to catalyze the rebuilding of civilization. They didn’t do it because they were sensitive to human suffering. They did it because they selfishly didn’t want to jump from the frying pan of collectivism, to the fire of barbarism and naked tyranny for the rest of their lives.

    One final loose thread. To compete in the marketplace of ideas, is not the ethereal actions of just writing books and articles. It’s also convincing people to try your ideas out, put them into practice and see what happens, and compare the results against other implemented ideas. The TwenCen was one long competition between the ideas of collectivism and individual liberty. There is no doubt remaining which produces hell on earth, and which produces prosperity.

    So I remain perplexed. Galt did nothing immoral, encouraged only moral behavior by his allies, and his only power was the power of persuasion. And he’s a genocidal prick. Good luck with that.

  387. Scalzi seems to be assuming that the economic collapse was caused by the strike, and hence the organiser of the strike – John Galt – is morally responsible for the deaths which ensue. But this is simply false.

    The economic collapse was caused by the collectivist philosophical system – in the terms put forward by the author, certainly. The strike was simply one of the consequences of that system.

    To show that this is the case, consider the disaster of the Taggart Tunnel. The strike did not cause this – it was a concatenation of events and choices by people who were doing exactly what the philosophical system demanded of them. Similarly, the disaster of the Minnesota harvest had no input from the strike. Time and again throughout the book, the green shoots of economic advance are crushed by government intervention: for example, the Colorado renaissance.

    The vast majority of enterprises abandoned by the strikers were left behind for whatever use the successor owners could make of them. The vast majority of competent workers who left were not induced to strike by John Galt, but driven out by government edicts. Even the strikers generally did no more than accept the system’s evaluation of their worth. It said they were not needed.

    The main exception to this was Francisco D’Anconia, who deliberately set out to destroy, by sabotage and mismanagement, the copper mines. And even here, he argued (not entirely convincingly) that he was only doing what the system demanded of him, even though that was far less than he was capable of doing. On a smaller scale, Ellis Wyatt sabotaged his oil operation. Both of these occurred when either their inventions or their enterprises were being expropriated by their respective governments.

    This interpretation of Atlas Shrugged is much more realistic. Does it make sense for the world economy to collapse simply because a few dozen geniuses stop working, or because the entire system is corrupt? Since we have real world examples of the latter occurring on a smaller scale over the last fifty years, it is entirely plausible.

    Ayn Rand was not precisely subtle in ramming this point home, and Scalzi should have at least acknowledged it since it was the main theme of the book, but he seems to have missed it somehow.

  388. Steven T. Abell:

    “This ‘genocidal prick’ thing is way out of bounds.”

    Well, except for the part where Galt actively works to collapse society, thus dooming millions to chaos and anarchy and death. The various comments immediately upthread here explaining all the various ways that the society of Atlas Shrugged compel Galt into action, thereby attempting to absolve him of genocidal prickitude are outlining the ways, as noted in the entry, Ayn Rand stacks the deck to keep you from recognizing this particular aspect of Galt. And as noted, she does a fine job of it.

    Beyond that, of course, he’s a fictional character. I’m not going to hurt his smug little feelings by calling him a genocidal prick, nor can I libel him (I can’t even libel Rand; she’s dead). I recognize I may be annoying those who may have made him an icon of their personal philosophy or otherwise find him an admirable character, but, you know, that’s life.

    Glen Raphael:

    “we cannot bring with us an absolute certainty that every subsequent action has been preordained by the author to happen exactly as it does.”

    I’m not sure how you theorize how novels are written, but this above statement bears absolutely no relation to how novels are written, either by me or indeed by any author in my experience.

    “Do you consider Mouch or Dr. Stadler moral monsters too?”

    To be sure, Rand packs her book with monstrous characters left and right, because it suits her purpose to do so.

  389. With all the heat and noise coming down the internets onto this post, you’d think John had reviewed The Bible or something. Really, it wasn’t even a bad review, if you read all of the words in it, and not just the ones that make you black out in righteous hatred.

    The defensiveness in the more insulting of these posts reminds me of nothing more than angry nerds on video-game review sites blasting this or that reviewer for giving a so-so review to a game that they love.

  390. “in the same way that the nukes dropped on Japan saved lives overall, even though they killed a huge number.

    Was Truman a “genocidal prick” for ordering their use? I don’t think so.”
    I disagree. He certainly was a genocidal prick – as it is well known now (or should be!) that the Japanese had already offered their surrender when Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped. His real purpose was to terrify Russia…
    Vicky

  391. Great take on Atlas Shrugged. Someone once said that everyone who reads it for the first time acts like an asshole to his/her friends for the next three weeks. Says it all.

  392. Let me see if I can recall the property-rights violations committed by the putative heroes of AS:

    Galt leaves behind the physical engine he constructed while working for Twentieth Century Motors, but absconds with the design, which is still a trade secret of his employer.

    D’Anconia, by driving his own company into the ground, violates his fiduciary responsibility to his fellow shareholders.

    Danneskjöld steals the gold on the relief ships; ostensibly he intends to return this money to the taxpayers, but how is he going to pull this off? Consider the sheer logistical difficulty of distributing the loot among two hundred million citizens, add on the cost of combing through IRS records to find out how much each citizen paid in taxes, and then looking through other government records to account for benefits each citizen received from the government. And foreign aid, in the current real world, makes up for less than 1% of Federal expenditures.

    And in the Court of Objective Property Rights, could the owners of radio stations file suit against Galt for drowning out their signals with his broadcast speech?

  393. Re: Jeff R @435

    “Re: JAM: I got at the very least the strong impression that the particulars of the Sack of Trantor were psychohistorically engineered, to create the place in which to hide the second foundation.”

    I think that would be accurate, but my understanding was that that was the work for future psychohistorians, not Sheldon.

    Of course Foundation is a tricky universe to attribute moral blame to since it operates under the assumption that Psychohistory is pretty accurate. I don’t think you can hold Sheldon responsible for the sack, even if he did predict it since he lacked the agency to prevent it, much like he lacked the gaency to prevent the collapse of Galactic civilization.

    What I would say is that if Psychohistorians manipulated events that brought about the sacking of Trantor would without a doubt morally culpable for for the death and suffering that the sack caused, much as Galt accellerated the collapse of his society. It is one thing to let a system fail, it is another to actively court its collapse. Galt, if we treat him as something more than a cardboard cutout of a Randian ideal, is not an all knowing being, he is merely a man.

    Society could have turned it around given enough time. Galt’s invention could have reduced human suffering immensely, maybe given society enough time to reform. But because the story didn’t actually take place on any Earth that ever existed populated by being that act in ways alien to our own the engineering fo society’s collapse was Galt only “moral” option. Sure it would lead to the deaths of millions but gosh darn it we’re making Objectivist Omlettes here.

    I still maintain that genocide is the improper term in this case (and distracting us from the issue at hand). Galt’s actions were not driven by any racial animus, merely his sociopathic psychology. He is certainly a mass killer though in so far as he manipulated events in such a way to directly bring about suffering and death on a grand scale.

    On a side note I really resent Rand’s take on reason and rationality. In her mind Reason is a narrow street that will bring everyone to the same destination. Not surprisingly all her heroes (and the people Galt converted) tended to have the same profile: self-made individuals (mostly men), no family ties, businessmen or engineers, white, no apparent religion.

    Contrast this with humanity and you’ll see that they are in the vast minority. Humanity is a rich tapestry that offers us a wide variety of exepreinces, each of which shapes how we view and assess the world. This also shapes how we rationally analyze the world. Westerns might place emphasis on the individuals and self reliance due to their upbringing in such a culture while East Asians might place a greater emphasis on family ties and support. Can we really say, using reason, which is superior?

    No, because this is a value judgement. There are benefits and drawbacks to both systems and a person could rationally argue that either was preferable. (Think about it, could we use reason to determine which color is best? [blue of course])

    The River of Reason as many tributaries, each guided by its own current. Rational people can disagree with Rand’s conception of reason (e.g.: It can easily be argued that a social safety net is in everyone’s best interest to support), but in the world of AS these rational, reasonable people would be condemned to societal collapse along with the “moochers”. Galt wasn’t saving people who valued reason, just those who shared the same belief as him. He was no hero for reason, just a lackey for Rand’s narrow, insular view of rationality.

    To me reason is a tool that allows us to perceive and understand the world. A very useful tool, but merely a tool. It is value neutral and cannot be used to sift through the sum of human experience to choose the one, best way to think.

    To believe otherwise invites closemindedness.

  394. Nearly 500 posts, and no mention of bacon yet? We’re slipping.

    @467:

    I never understood how Rand justifies some of the actions of her characters. In addition to your list, I always thought that the residents of Atlantis broke their code by rescuing John at the end of the novel. John should have rescued himself.

  395. Why has “Atlas Shrugged” been read by so many people over the years? Certainly not for the elegant writing. Mr.Scalzi has made arguments for both the page turner and nerd porn nature of the book, but how many other potboiler novels from the late 1950s are still in print? James A.Mitchner may still have some fans but are there teenagers reading Alan Drury’s novels in the 21st century?

    I’ll agree that Rand’s heros are unattractive to the point of being inhuman but, to my mind, the thing that makes the book readable are the villains. In the way that Heath Ledger’s “Joker” made “The Dark Knight” the best Batman movie of all time, the bad guys in “Atlas Shrugged” are the best part of the book.

    Since Ayn Rand lived through the Russian Revolution and the transition as the Communist Party took over, she had a fair exposure to practical implementation of the philosophy she derided. The Soviet Union of the 1980s showed where that philosophy led in the best case. For worst case you can choose between Pol Pot’s Year Zero, the Holidomor, the show trials and purges of the 1930s, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution or modern day North Korea where guards have to be placed at cemeteries to prevent hungry people from digging up corpses.

    Karl Marx is often recommended as accurately analyzing history if being somewhat sketchy on how well his predictions and recommendations worked out. Ayn Rand is not too bad at describing the problem but her recommendations are unlikely to work all that well with actual human beings.

  396. as it is well known now (or should be!) that the Japanese had already offered their surrender when Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped.

    No, they hadn’t. One part of the Japanese government had approached the Swiss to approach the Russians to feel out what a peace settlement would look like. There were two problems: the conditions they set out were not acceptable to the allies (for all sorts of good reasons) and the part that had done so was not actually in control (ie it wasn’t the Japanese Army or Navy). So, no, Truman did not drop the bomb despite knowing that the Japanese were willing to surrender.

  397. I would argue that it is indeed the “nerd-porn” factor that has kept AS so popular over the years. When I first came across it as a teen, I was an outsider, very bright and very shy, and working under the assumption that no one liked me because I was smarter than they were (actually, no one liked me because I was a self-righteous ass, but live and learn). I became almost obsessed with the book for nearly a decade, trying to fit every piece of my life into a Randian pretzel to live up to her ideal. Sadly, it led to a very unpleasant decade.

    I wanted so much to be “different” and “special” that I allowed my intellect to contort itself into unnatural shapes in order to justify myself. Once I began analyzing the philosophy with greater knowledge of human psychology and sociology, I began realizing how simplistic the philosophy is… but that very simplistic essence is the “nerd-porn” that attracted me. The wide world was a dangerous place and I wanted to find a system that would reduce everything into simple black and white issues for me, because gray was just too danged scary.

    Unfortunately for me, and many others who succumbed to Rand’s ideas, human interactions *live* in the gray area and no amount of wishing will make it otherwise. It makes far more sense to learn how to differentiate shades of gray than to insist in splitting the world into stark black and white.

  398. I keep hearing this sentiment or something similar over and over in the thread:
    Galt says, I refuse to participate in the world you are creating. I think it’s wrong. I have a different idea about how society should be organized. I have no power other than my mouth. So one by one, I’m going to start finding and convincing the people that count. Since the ratchet of coercive power only works one way, it’s no good working inside the system.

    Unless I’ve misunderstood, Galt does more than call up a series of wealthy people and say “Hey, screw those guys, let’s head to the Gulch!” He decides the system is so corrupt, he has to SABOTAGE it. He doesn’t tell these folks “Just walk away”, he tells them “destroy everything you have exclusive access to, THEN run and hide from the consequences”. He convinces one to pretend to be a wastrel while discretely destroying his company; he convinces another to become a pirate. A PIRATE.

    Galt doesn’t pull a trigger, but he plans and incites people in positions of power to willfully sabotage the work they have power over. This seems particularly odd in the cases of people like Dagny and Francisco, given that they are inheritors of someone else’s labors, regardless of their own competence. Further, I get the impression that most of them appear to be operating with the assumption that being CEO means the company is exclusively yours. Creditors? Not important or part of the problem. Employees? Not at all important or meant to be left on the side of the tracks to die.

    And Children? Rand not only avoids giving them to any of her characters, from what I can tell, she also thinks they deserve to die if their parents dont’ fall in line with Galt. ‘The woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her two children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying, ‘I don’t care, it’s only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children.’” See? Serves them damn right for having parents who didn’t take a stand. Time to suffocate and die in a train tunnel, you little twerps.

    I have no doubt the character of Galt (and the strikers) have no desire to see people die. I also have no doubt they won’t lose any sleep when all these people suffer, either. THAT is what makes Galt a genocidal prick. He’s apparently brilliant; he KNOWS the consequences of his actions. And his actions aren’t an overnight kind of thing…he starts the strike about 13 years before his speech, according to the chronology one fan site has cobbled together. And for each of those years, Galt is actively working at bringing the infrastructure down. He obviously is working long and hard towards his ideal…and attempting to bring about the destruction of the state and it’s infrastructure is his goal. The problem, of course, is that to attain this goal, he has to destroy all of the advantages the state provides (and presumably must still be providing, since apparently the only people rebelling are Rand’s heroes).

    You can argue that this is still not the same thing as actively being genocidial, but from where I’m standing, Galt appears to me to be sociopathic to be so inured to such casualties as he’s inflicting, however indirectly.

    Side note: could we lay off on the Aspie talk? As the father of Aspie, I can assure you that they DO understand their lack of social integration and it HURTS. That they don’t know how to rectify that problem hurts, as well. John’s initial reference didn’t bother me, but a few people are tossing the reference around and getting a little insensitive about it. Let’s also remember that Asperger’s Syndrome is a Autism spectrum disorder, not an absolute condition. Aspies cover a pretty wide range of behaviors. Thanks.

  399. I always thought of Rand as someone who just plagiarized Nietzche and made his writings which she plagiarized more complicated than they should had been in the first place. Philosophy always breaks down the longer it takes you to explain itself, and Rand definitely over explained things in her books(that was sort of her thing).

  400. VekTor @446: I’m familiar with ‘malice aforethought’ as a legal term, so I’m really not sure what you mean by it in this context.

    But your parallel is exactly the point. Rand didn’t write a narrative where Galt is a hero, he saves the world with his uber Objectivist philosophy, and we all live happily ever after. She wrote nerd revenge porn, where everybody who disagrees with her is stupid, craven and selfish and suffers a horrible fate. It’s a secular version of the Elect ascending to heaven while all the sinners sob and claw at the Pearly Gates to no avail, when it’s too late. Could you construct an imaginary AS where Galt was a noble hero? Sure. Did Rand? No.

  401. “So, no, Truman did not drop the bomb despite knowing that the Japanese were willing to surrender.”

    The fact that they indeed did not surrender after the first bomb should be sufficient proof that the ones in charge weren’t ready to do so.

  402. “If someone jumps off a building and you shoot them in the brain before they land, you’ve still murdered them.”

    The problem with genocide analogies isn’t that they’re simplistic or too heavily reliant on splatter-gore or just plain boring (I made a boring and rather limited one about cars earlier), it’s that they rarely address the aftermath of the genocide.

    For instance, if we suppose that Galt is responsible or at least complicit in allowing genocide to happen, what exactly should his punishment be, if say, he is brought before the Hague?

    Is there such a thing as 2nd degree genocide? Criminally negligent genocide (if genocide wasn’t his main aim)? Genocide under the influence?

    These are important questions to ask if we are to properly castigate our cardboard (miscreant? hero?)

  403. I wrote: In that parallel, nobody dies from the collapse that doesn’t come, Galt still gets made out as the icon of perfection, and there’s no accusation of genocidal prickery.

    silbey replied: Uh, sure. If he doesn’t do the things that make him a genocidal prick, then, well, he wouldn’t be a genocidal prick.

    My point is that in both instances, he engaged in the behaviors that Scalzi says makes him into a genocidal prick: He actively works to convince the other productives in society to “go on strike”, hastening the end of the current paradigm.

    Yet in my parallel, there’s no “genocide”, so how can it be the working towards the end of bringing about the collapse of the ruling regime is what makes someone a genocidal prick.

    Hell, it’s almost a Zen koan: If Galt is a prick and no one dies, is it still a genocide?

    I say no. So what precisely does it take for him to be a genocidal prick? Can he work towards the end of scaring them into giving up their paradigm, but he must always rescue them from themselves before someone dies?

    That’s impotence writ large. That’s the moral hazard that’s the point of the whole novel… at some point, the productive must give up the moral notion that it is their duty to capitulate to the irrational.

  404. So he’s on the playground and he decides he doesn’t want to play any more because the other kids are insisting on rules that don’t let him beat them as thoroughly as he’d like. So he doesn’t just stomp off in a huff. He doesn’t even just take his ball (or the ball he happens to be holding) and stomp off in a huff. He doesn’t even persuade all the other “good” players to stomp off in a huff. He persuades them to first deflate all of the balls and burn down the goalposts, and _then_ stomp off in a huff.

  405. I almost don’t want to point this out, but John’s review is now part of the Atlas Shrugged entry on Wikipedia.

    …Cue the race of rabid fans to delete it.

  406. VekTor @478: “So what precisely does it take for him to be a genocidal prick?”

    Allow me to break Godwin’s Law for a moment.

    How many Jews did Hitler kill by his own hand? I don’t know, and perhaps it’s something nobody knows. But the fact is we attribute 6 million deaths to him because the German people followed his orders.

    There is no doubt that Hitler was a genocidal prick, even though he personally might never have injured a single Jew.

  407. (Still waiting to be given a post# for the upthread discussion of Seldon, by the way)

    JAM: Recalling further, the Sack of Trantor was certainly engineered, and as part of Seldon’s original plan. It’s overt purpose was to utterly eliminate the possibilty of a rump Empire as a competitor to the Foundation, while it’s covert one was to give the Second Foundation a secure home. (Per the later books, Second Foundation tweaking and manipulation, as well as possibly Robotic same may have been required to keep it on track, but an unusually thorough and final Sack was always part of the Plan). So I don’t see how we can avoid giving Hari the Genocidal Prick label.

    In both cases, though, the characters in question have the ready defense that to do otherwise would have made them even worse; better a genocidal prick than an omnicidal one, after all. If Seldon hadn’t established the plan, the collapse would have led to hundreds of thousands of years of barbarism, and the book requires us to accept this prediction as absolutely true and with all of the moral force that that implies. The same applies to Galt; in the AS framework, the combination of Aristotelian Logic and Objectivist Economics is as powerful as psychohistory, and if he had done nothing, civilization would have collapsed, possible a few decades later, but totally and beyond any hope of a recovery (possibly ever, since AS only has Earth and it’s already depleted natural resources to leverage in that recovery.) And if he and his fellows had merely ‘dropped out’, not sabotaging the system as they left, then, again, the collapse still happens, but again too late, and all of the Gulchers too old to rebuild anything. (Because none of these people have any interest in children, as mentioned above. And because even if they did, virtue and rationality are not heritable and so the next generation would be afflicted with the wrecker rot. Or some more serious reason; regardless, within the premises of the novel we are forced to assume that the supremely rational Galt has foreseen deadly flaws with every conceivable alternate plan.)

  408. I really can’t let this false meme go unaddressed any longer. There were children in Galt’s Gulch. Read the book.

  409. “society would continue to auger its way into the ground, eventually decaying to a collapsed and decayed wreck of small tribes ruled by thugs scratching out a bare existence… and most importantly, that this outcome was a natural consequence of the entrenched philosophy of gun-backed expropriation from the productive class”

    Eventually everybody dies. Yet murder is still illegal. And would probably have been illegal in Galt’s Gulch. Eventually your money will disintegrate, yet Objectivists positively worship the stuff. And eventually no one will remember this thread ever existed, so why are Objectivists fighting in it? Could it be that we humans don’t live in “eventually,” we live in human timescales and actually have to judge our decisions accordingly?

    In a thread devoted to denouncing Rand’s misanthropic nihilism, it is sad to see so many of her fans have no recourse but to echo it. I haven’t yet seen anybody say “you got it all wrong, nobody was going to die, things would actually be better,” instead there’s a lot of “no, he just sped things up a bit.” That’s still genocide. Murder is speeded-up death.

    I’d like to see a Rand fan here explain away her fangirl crush on child murderer William Hickman, and her hateful attitude towards the jury that convicted him.

  410. My point is that in both instances, he engaged in the behaviors that Scalzi says makes him into a genocidal prick: He actively works to convince the other productives in society to “go on strike”, hastening the end of the current paradigm.
    Yet in my parallel, there’s no “genocide”, so how can it be the working towards the end of bringing about the collapse of the ruling regime is what makes someone a genocidal prick.

    Intent matters. If you plan to murder someone, but fail, you’re still guilty of attempted murder.

    Attempted genocidal prickery?

  411. @479 Joe_1967 said: He doesn’t even persuade all the other “good” players to stomp off in a huff. He persuades them to first deflate all of the balls and burn down the goalposts, and _then_ stomp off in a huff.

    Joe, can you provide some references to things actually in the book that support this contention?

    I don’t remember Galt dynamiting bridges or burning down any goalposts. Unless you’re a collectivist, the closest I can see to this is people choosing to treat their own property as they see fit, rather than letting the looters take it over.

    Do you really want to make the case that failing to allow someone else to steal your property for their own use is tantamount to genocide?

    I recall that Galt disagreed with the tactics that Ragnar employed… but even those were cases where this was a pirate form of economic embargo, with Ragnar making efforts to save the crews of “relief ships” before sinking them.

  412. VekTor

    So once I own the world (or have a piece of paper that says I do, or think I should, or something), it’s not murder if I decide to blow it up? Cool!

  413. @489 sibley wrote: Intent matters. If you plan to murder someone, but fail, you’re still guilty of attempted murder.

    Attempted genocidal prickery?

    But that’s simply begging the question that I’ve been trying to ask. Why assume before it happens that his GOAL is for people to die, rather than his goal being as Rand stated: to get people to abandon that philosophy and allow the productive to build a more effective structure?

    What is it before any deaths happen that would lead you to believe that Galt wouldn’t prefer for them to let loose of the chain, rather than be dragged to the bottom of the sea by it, taking millions with them?

    You (and Scalzi, apparently) are claiming that his intent is clearly for people to die. I just don’t see that as true. His intent as I see it is to collapse the idea, not to murder millions.

    He’s willing to see it through to the end, and not save them from themselves if they refuse to let go, but I don’t see that as the same thing at all. That’s the point of the moral hazard: if you give people that kind of perpetual veto power, that they must do everything possible to save you from yourself, or you’re their murderer… it leads inexorably to the dystopia that Galt sees.

    By your formulation, in my parallel Galt should be deeply frustrated that no one died, because he was attempting to kill them (being an attempted genocidal prick), but they came to their senses too soon. Why not give him a mustache to twirl at the same time that he monologues that he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids?

    That kind of characterization of Galt simply does not strike me as coherent with the rest of his behavior in the book. You have to work backwards from the predetermined conclusion that he must want them to die to get there. That’s not cricket as far as character analysis, in my view at least.

  414. @491 ben said: So once I own the world (or have a piece of paper that says I do, or think I should, or something), it’s not murder if I decide to blow it up? Cool!

    Sure, if you’re willing to reject the entire fundamental premise of Rand’s philosophy, that no one can be owned, you can get there and still blame that on Rand and her characters.

    Like I said before, twist your head far enough, and anything can be evidence of malice aforethought… if you’re willing to be tendentious enough.

    I’m sure you’re a nice enough fellow in person, but I’m sorry… that argument is weak.

  415. TTT, do you accept the moral premise that if you don’t do everything in your power to stop someone from engaging in behavior that will lead to their own death, that you are their murderer?

  416. VekTor

    I was specifically responding to

    “the closest I can see to this is people choosing to treat their own property as they see fit”

    You make that sound as if we’re talking about what people are allowed to do with their tooth-brush, when what we’re actually talking about is the equivalent of:

    “If I own the power company that supplies the east coast, and decide to shut everything down, am I responsible for the aftermath of that decision? If people in ICU units in hospitals die, did I kill them?”

    The answer is an unequivocal “Yes”.

  417. Now map that to something that’s actually in the book, and we’ll have a point to discuss.

    If you want to reject the notion of property rights outright, that’s your business. An argument can be made about the contingent obligations that arise out of providing a critical public service, particularly if it’s as part of a government-sanctioned monopoly. If you wish to do so, by all means, proceed.

    I recommend starting with a service that a character in the book ended up removing as part of disposing of their personal property… since that’s what we were discussing.

  418. It seems to me that one of the fundamental problems with the Atlas-Shrugged view of the world, even before we get into questions of economic justice, is precisely the assumption that all the really valuable work in the world is done by some miniscule percentage of the population, and that if everyone in this cohort went on strike (never mind the political motive for the strike) there would be catastrophic economic failure leading to widespread death. (I can buy a sudden decline of about 5–10% in the country’s economic output, but the disaster Rand portrays goes far beyond that.)

  419. VekTor, I accept the moral premise that if you convince every surgeon, firefighter, and water quality technician in the world to quit their jobs tomorrow, you are responsible for all the deaths that would occur thereafter.

  420. I can’t find that straw man anywhere in the book, TTT. There was a tiny contingent of people in Galt’s Gulch.

  421. Within the context of the book, Galt’s actions were both reasonable and successful because Rand wrote it that way. I think that’s how this argument goes.

    But I can’t suspend my disbelief that far. I know that in the real world no one sane person would be so confident of his own judgement the fall was inevitable. Only a psychopath thinks it’s okay to blow up the whole world to make a better society.

    I do blame him for the deaths and I think the pro-Galtians should do so as well, because if you don’t blame him for the results of his actions, how can you credit it for him? Was he just the guy that was along for the ride when the world fell down? No. The man engineered it and Rand lauds him for it.

    You know, I could write a story in which the fate of the world rested on the protagonist torturing a fluffly little bunny to death. I think that would make me a fairly sick person (or funny,because sometimes we roll that way). If my pro-tag kills the bunny though, he’s a bunny killer, maybe at best a bunny-killer with a good excuse. And if he kills the bunny without particularly minding, he’s a prick.

  422. Hypothetical: Joe tells Betty that he’ll kill himself if she doesn’t agree to sleep with him. She refuses, and Joe kills himself. Is Betty a murderer?

    This is the key point of the book, in my opinion. Accepting this flawed moral premise, that we must make ourselves into slaves (if necessary) to save others from their own self-destructive tendencies, is inducing a moral hazard.

    From what I can tell on this thread, opinion seems to be that convincing others to reject that moral premise, and stop saving people from themselves who have gone so far down that road that they consider you their property… the act of that convincing qualifies you as a genocidal prick.

  423. hope@500: See “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

    (And note that those who walk away are, in fact, just as morally complicit as those who stay and that their hairshirt doesn’t do anyone any actual good.)

  424. Rooting for children to be gassed to death in train tunnels because their state bureaucrat father dressed them funny sure as hell makes you genocidal.

  425. Another hypothetical: Steve works at a suicide prevention hotline, and he’s quite good at his job. He’s saved hundreds of lives… but it’s taking its toll on him, and stress is contributing to breaking down his marriage to Sue. Sue convinces him that it would be best to quit the job, despite the fact that the hotline is currently understaffed.

    Steve quits, and due to his absence, several people commit suicide that otherwise could have been saved. Is Sue a murderer?

    Or is Steve morally culpable to remain forever in that job, no matter what the impact to himself and his family… because once he’s started making the world a better place, to then stop is evil?

    Is it moral to force someone to be their brother’s keeper, no matter the cost to them?

  426. TTT wrote: Rooting for children to be gassed to death in train tunnels because their state bureaucrat father dressed them funny sure as hell makes you genocidal.

    You won’t get any argument from me that Rand is, with things like this, a deeply sick and twisted individual. Rand can be fairly personally characterized as a monster, in my opinion. If you bothered to read the essay by Nat Branden, who Rand characterized as the closest person on Earth to being John Galt, you’d see that he pretty thoroughly eviscerates her for her personal failings. Those are legitimate criticisms of her as a human being.

    That doesn’t necessarily imply that the character Galt is a genocidal prick. That’s a question of literary character analysis, not psychoanalysis of the person who authored the character.

  427. VekTor
    Ok, but tweak it a bit.
    Steve leaves, but in leaving convinces the other effective employees to strike, and sabotage equipment.

    Yeah, he’s responsible.

  428. VekTor, what difference is there supposed to be between the children in the tunnels and the millions of unfortunates in broader society who woke up one day with the essential mechanisms of lifesaving and public order stripped away from them? Why is it worse to let children die because let’s-face-it-they-deserve-it than to let adults die because let’s-face-it-they-deserve-it? The children were just gonna grow up to be more parts of that sick self-destructing society that made slaves out of everybody. Why are they owed their lives but others aren’t?

  429. TTT said: Why is it worse to let children die because let’s-face-it-they-deserve-it than to let adults die because let’s-face-it-they-deserve-it?

    Moral agency.

  430. Re JEff R @485

    “(Still waiting to be given a post# for the upthread discussion of Seldon, by the way)

    JAM: Recalling further, the Sack of Trantor was certainly engineered, and as part of Seldon’s original plan. It’s overt purpose was to utterly eliminate the possibilty of a rump Empire as a competitor to the Foundation, while it’s covert one was to give the Second Foundation a secure home. (Per the later books, Second Foundation tweaking and manipulation, as well as possibly Robotic same may have been required to keep it on track, but an unusually thorough and final Sack was always part of the Plan). So I don’t see how we can avoid giving Hari the Genocidal Prick label.”

    Like I said before it has been a while since I read the Foundation series, so I will defer to your knowledge about Trantor. In that case the question comes down to: Did Seldon have any agency to prevent the sack of Trantor or cause the Sack to occur. My understanding is that The Sack would have occurred without psychohistorian interference and that Seldon lacked agency to prevent that from occurring. If that is not the case and Trantor could have continued, slowly declining to a sustainable level and Seldon interferred with that path to further the Foundation ends then I would agree with you.

    The path to hell is paved with good intentions after all. Merely because he (and Galt) may have chosen the lesser evil still makes the action evil. but honestly, if I was in that position and completely convinced that my actions would shorten the galactic dark age I would make and accept the moral culpability for the action.

    I think a lot of the discussion is coming down to: the system was alreay crashing so why not speed it up and rebuild faster vs. the system could still be reformed so Galt is responsible for the death his activities caused (he may not have collapsed the rotting house, but he did remove support beams to speed it up).

    To a degree this argument is a non-starter: Rand’s characters inhabited a world unlike our own where characters acted unlike human beings. Even Rand’s fans acknowldge that the writing was not very good and the characters little more than cardboard cut outs of some ideal. Rand went even further by creating the universe such that the opposition to Galt’s philosophy was populated by a bunch of idiotic, narrow minded unsympathetic characters. We really cannot draw many parallels between the actions of Galt and how that might translate into the real world.

    What we are attempting to do is place Galt and his actions in the real world and analyze it from a real world perspective. I’ve maintained that Galt would be morally culpable for the deaths and misery because he actively sought to bring down society.

    Let’s keep in mind what a collapse of society menas: food shortages, energy shortages, break down of law and order. Power might devolve to local warlords or there might not be any order. Certainly not stable enough to promote long term economic development. Basically Somalia. Life in such a place would be nasty, brutish and short.

    That is the type of world Galt was accelerating his society to. Galt is knowlingly pursuing goals that would bring about that situation. If that doesn’t result in moral culpability I don’t know what does.

  431. VekTor @487: As others have pointed out, Galt et al were happy to abuse other people’s property rights.

    I was going to ask you about the children, because as I recall there’s a long rhapsodic speech in there about Motherhood that Rand could have (and perhaps did) lifted wholesale from Soviet propaganda; but I’ve never heard how this is supposed to square with the whole A=A thing since unless you put them to work at an early age against their will, children are parasites.

    And the children in the train tunnel aren’t an unfortunate side effect. Rand writes that passage so that the children dying are a punishment for the greedy bitch of a bureacrat’s wife, correct?

  432. TTT wrote: what difference is there supposed to be between the children in the tunnels and the millions of unfortunates in broader society who woke up one day with the essential mechanisms of lifesaving and public order stripped away from them?

    Can you show me in the book where that happened? Which day was that… it had to have been one of those ridiculous September 2nds, right?

    Is my copy of the book defective, or is yours… because they damned sure don’t come even close to matching each other.

  433. @510: Let’s keep in mind what a collapse of society menas: food shortages, energy shortages, break down of law and order. Power might devolve to local warlords or there might not be any order. Certainly not stable enough to promote long term economic development. Basically Somalia. Life in such a place would be nasty, brutish and short.

    That is the type of world Galt was accelerating his society to. Galt is knowlingly pursuing goals that would bring about that situation. If that doesn’t result in moral culpability I don’t know what does.

    I would contend that it is not the collapse of society that is the goal of Galt, but the collapse of the power structure via the rejection of its underpinning flawed philosophy. I believe that a parallel Galt would have been thrilled to see people rise up and overthrow the ruling elites in the day or two following his radio address. I consider that position consistent with the rest of his character as outlined in the book up until that point.

    I would consider it inconsistent if his character were disappointed in that parallel story line that he hadn’t met his bucket-o-blood quota because he was too darned convincing.

    In other words, I reject the initial premise that Galt desired for people to suffer, rather than simply being willing to steel himself to the possibility that many would not wake up, and thus his strict code would call for him to watch them descend into the state you described without rescuing them… and to convince others to stop engaging in that same moral hazard that had brought that world to that point to begin with, accelerating the day for each person when they would have to choose whether their philosophy would be followed even to their own deaths.

    He was willing to let them die if they insisted on it. That’s a tough moral row to hoe, but I don’t think that qualifies as a genocidal prick.

    Your mileage may vary.

  434. High school was a long time ago, Vek, so I can’t cite page numbers. But the collapse of civilization inherently involves stripping away essential mechanisms of lifesaving and public order, since that’s what civilization is.

    As for the “moral agency” of those adults–this is basically Ward Churchill’s argument about all the Little Eichmanns in the WTC. None of the people in Randland were just normal people trying to go about day-to-day lives, carving out some happiness for themselves and not knowing or caring about how the self-declared Most Important People In The World were being treated. No, they all knew about everything and were all guilty of all of it. And so they can all burn together.

  435. JAM: Trantor was certainly doomed, in the long run, since it couldn’t exist without the concerted imports of several other worlds feeding it. But the Great Sack wasn’t the only, or even the most likely sans-psychohistory failure mode for it. (Left to itself it would probably been conquered, massively depopulated but not all the way down to the sustinance-farming level seen post-Sack, and kept as a prize conferring cultural and metal resources, as well as a patina of legitimacy, to a series of warlords. Alternatively, a less thorough sacking might have left it as a smaller but sustainable statelet. The First Foundation plan couldn’t work if that statelet or the Trantor-possessing-warlord of the day existed as a plausible nucleus for a second empire, and the Second couldn’t hide on a world that still had galactipolitical significance.

  436. mythago @511: I was going to ask you about the children, because as I recall there’s a long rhapsodic speech in there about Motherhood that Rand could have (and perhaps did) lifted wholesale from Soviet propaganda; but I’ve never heard how this is supposed to square with the whole A=A thing since unless you put them to work at an early age against their will, children are parasites.

    It doesn’t strike me as inconsistent at all, once you incorporate the notion of moral agency. Children cannot be moral “parasites”, and cannot accept the creed which the book strikes against, until they reach the point where they are actual moral agents. It’s irrational to hold them to the standard of accepting or rejecting moral positions before they can fully and rationally do so.

    I’d actually be quite satisfied if our society opted for the notion that adulthood, and the associated rights and responsibilities, comes at the moment that one recognizes and accepts their own moral agency. It certainly makes more sense to me than the arbitrary age lines that are drawn today.

  437. Re Vektor @513

    You make a compelling defense of Galt not wanting people to die, but instead through off their shackles. I agree that Galt would have preferred that they not die, but he still took steps that would lead to the collapse of a society.

    Looks at it this way: there are reasonable risks to take into consideration when acting and unreasonable risks to take into consideration when acting. A person building a sky scrapper has a variety of reasonable risks to take into consideratin when doing it: foundation stability, building material integrity, a trained work force. they should not concern themselves with offending a pagan god who used to have a shrine on the building location thousands of years previous. Pagan acts of god would be an unreasonable risk to access when making a decision.

    If a builder uses substandard equipment, a poorly trained workforce and has a weak foundation we would say they did not take into account reaosnable risks when building. The builder did not have the intention to crush a nearby orphanage with their half constructed building but because they ignored the reasonable risks they should be morally culpable.

    Likewise if the builder succeeded in finishing the building with the substandard procedure and materials we would still condemn them by taking those risks even though they succeeded. Instead we would view them as callous to the life and safety of others.

    Merely because Galt does not INTEND to cause a collapse of society and its subsequent misery does not absolve him from moral blame any more than a builder using substandard materials is absolved of a flattened orphanage because they did not INTEND for their building to fall over.

  438. TTT @514: the collapse of civilization inherently involves stripping away essential mechanisms of lifesaving and public order, since that’s what civilization is.

    Sure… now show me where Galt indicates that he would prefer that civilization itself collapse, to the alternative of a potential “velvet revolution” arising immediately after he gave his radio address.

    If he truly wants civilization to collapse, rather than for the people to wake up and throw off their chains in a mostly peaceful overthrow of the aristocracy of pull, then Scalzi’s right… he’s a genocidal prick.

    But here’s the thing: I can’t find anything in the book that leads me to believe that’s his preferred outcome. He’s willing to let it happen, and to shorten the road to the crisis point… and for those who insist on it, to then stand by and let them flame out and die without lifting a finger to save them.

    But I don’t see indications that convince me that he wants people to reject his vision… that he wants the elite to hang on and the people to keep following them towards the abyss.

    I’m willing to be convinced if someone can show me where this bloodthirsty mustache-twirler is in the book. I haven’t seen it.

    Literary character analysis is about drawing conclusions that are consistent with the nature of a given character in a given story.

  439. Children cannot be moral “parasites”, and cannot accept the creed which the book strikes against, until they reach the point where they are actual moral agents.

    So, what, age 7?

  440. I am not particularly interested in defending the adjective “genocidal”, but let’s talk for a minute about prickishness. If you are a professional and you believe your company is not paying you what you deserve and has a ridiculously unsustainable business plan to boot (been there, done that, got the fridge magnet with the lame “branding statement”), you are thoroughly within your rights to quit. However, if you are a professional, you don’t just walk out the door. You give your manager notice. You bring your unfinished projects to a point where your successor has some hope of picking them up (even if you believe that the person who will take over your job is an idiot). You tell trusted co-workers, if not HR, why you are leaving.

    A “man of the mind” who just vanishes from the office one day with not even a forwarding address, leaving everyone to guess at his motives, is leaving behind a very clear message to his co-workers: I don’t care about you. To me such a person is not anything close to a role model.

  441. I really can’t let this false meme go unaddressed any longer. There were children in Galt’s Gulch. Read the book.

    That’s rather lazy arguing, don’t you think? You’re all incorrect…now go prove me right! You’ve got the book, so certainly you can pick it up and find it.

    Except that it’s not easy to find, because it’s a short passage when Dagny comes to the Gulch, mentioned in passing that some men brought their wives and children, and that they were exempt from the ‘gold exchange’ and ‘no sharing’ rules. Also, he mentions that 2 kids are being raised without fear or somesuch. It’s a very brief mention.

    Which I found with 2 minutes of googling. So you are correct…there are children at the Gulch. They’re never really on camera and there certainly aren’t any moral actors on the stage with kids. Children are, at best, stage props. All of Rand’s main characters are childless.

    What’s odd is how many people try to say that she doesn’t write children because she never had any…but it sounds like she writes plenty about the childhoods of several characters.

  442. mythago, I’ve never met a 7-year-old who led me to believe they can fully and rationally understand the necessary concepts to a degree that I’d consider them a true and full moral actor, and should therefore be treated as needing to meet all the same moral and ethical standards of any adult.

    I don’t think it’s impossible, but that would strike me as an extreme edge case.

    I’ve met 14-year-olds who can, and it makes sense to me that some who took wives and headed west in the pioneer days at that age would qualify.

    I’ve also met some at the age of thirty or more that I don’t think had met that standard yet.

  443. But that’s simply begging the question that I’ve been trying to ask.

    Yeah, not having a discussion with you until you 1) spell my name correctly and 2) stop bolding every third word.

  444. Interestingly, John’s post here seems to have influenced one Lance Manion to take a more charitable view of Rand’s work.

    (Jeeze, every time I type or see “Rand,” for a second I think I’ve stumbled on a Wheel of Time discussion. It doesn’t last long. )

  445. You know, I could care less if Galt is a genocidal prick or not in Atlas Shrugged. But Hari Seldon now–is he a genocidal prick? This side discussion of the Foundation novels by Asimov has been interesting reading in this overlong thread. Maybe we can entice John to write a review of Asimov’s masterpiece and comment on his views of Hari Seldon and the psychohistorians. Seldon, Seldon, Seldon…

  446. Like a number of people who’ve commented, I had an “Aynfatuation” for a couple of years (last year of high school, first of college). What shattered it, though, wasn’t anything I’ve seen mentioned so far. It was her attitude on science fiction and fantasy.

    After reading her novels, I went on to her nonfiction, including her book, The Romantic Manifesto. In it, she trumpeted her fiction as “romantic realism”, and slammed everything else (beside Hugo, Rostand and a couple of other authors). She didn’t discuss written sf, as I recall (it’s been a while, and I no longer have a copy), but criticized TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, which she liked to a degree, as romance without realism. She admired its imagination, but scorned its fantastic elements. She wanted things set on “this earth”.

    She displayed a similar attitude about the space program as irrelevant to the lives of men in this world, till she went to an Apollo launch, and was overwhelmed by its raw, furious power and phallic thrust (not her words, but not, I think, an unfair description of her experience, and congruent with her portrayals of skyscrapers and trains as a Technological Sublime). Afterward, she saw it more as a heroic mastery of enormous forces to an audacious goal, but still seemed uninterested in space or the universe itself.

    None of this sat well with an sf fan who desperately wanted to go Out There. I also wasn’t wild about her seeing the love of Shakespeare and Beethoven as an indication of a tragic sense of life and potential moral depravity. I was also more than a little angry at her hypocrisy, since I thought Anthem and Atlas Shrugged were pretty clearly sf (still do). This was the first crack in my admiration. Closer inspection of her philosophy led to more problems with it, and after learning about the Branden’s excommunication, that was pretty much it for me. There are still a few things I find worthwhile about her work, but the days of her guruhood have long been over. Thank you, sf; another soul saved from a pernicious cult.

  447. @524 Mea maxima culpa for the inadvertent transposition that lead to a mis-typing of your name.

    No bolding. Could you please engage the argument? Thanks.

  448. Oh, and just to be certain: silbey silbey silbey.

    (type three times, check three times)

    Got it. I know how much that grates when others get my handle wrong, so I understand the bristling.

    Again, my apologies, it wasn’t an intentional slight. I’ll endeavor to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

  449. Well, Objectivism as a whole has some serious problems when dealing with the issue of children. (As, for that matter, does just about every political philosophy derived from first principles, left, right, center or offset-along-the-seventeeth-dimension.) In that system, it is actively immoral to feed a starving infant orphan. (And only correct to care for your own children insofar as doing so makes you happy. Luckily, it making you happy is probably Required Rationality). The ways in which a committed Objectivist would have to deal with a 2-year old….well, let’s say that I can’t imagine the process turning out anything remotely resembling well-adjusted adult Objectivists…

  450. VekTor@490 – “Unless you’re a collectivist, the closest I can see to this is people choosing to treat their own property as they see fit, rather than letting the looters take it over.”

    Your faulty axioms are showing. Your whole argument is based on the idea that property rights are something like a natural law. Taint so. They are only an artifact of society and there’s no such thing as an absolute property right, either. Ask a real estate lawyer sometime about the “bundle of rights” that come with your deed to a house.

    The closest thing to an absolute property right that we recognize is control of your own body, but we still incarcerate and execute people. Then there’s the Typhoid Mary scenario. Or we could talk about abortion, if this thread isn’t quite tedious enough already.

  451. paintedjaguar, can you show me where a character in the book was encouraged by Galt to destroy something that clearly didn’t belong to them?

    As I mentioned, Ragnar’s approach was NOT encouraged by Galt.

    Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just because there aren’t absolute property rights doesn’t mean there are NO property rights at all.

  452. @ 527 Dirtyrottenvarmint

    You made your point quite well. Yet I surmise that your parents taught you more civil manners that shouting (in all capital letters) at our host here using the most common and overused obscenity in our language.

    Shame on you for being so uncivil. Most of us here pride ourselves on arguing our cases in a civil and genteel manner. If that skill eludes you I suggest you find some other blog site to expend your curses therein.

  453. VekTor @523: Probably some of the wives taken by those 14-year-olds would qualify, too. But aside from that, I’m seeing a lot of handwaving here. Children stop being parasites when they become moral actors – when? According to you, perhaps not even into middle age. In the meantime, they’re parasites, and I’m baffled as to how Objectivism squares ‘no altruism’ and ‘A=A’ with the idea of parenthood. What qualifies them as moral actors, if not age? And what if they suffer from a disability meaning they’ll never be whatever a ‘full moral actor’ is – do we stuff them in the train with the bureaucrats?

  454. John H @537: now, now, I’m not accusing anybody of being a eugenicist. Frankly I think Rand just didn’t give much thought to the matter. Children are an accessory to the characters in the book – something ‘brought along’, like foodstuffs or furniture – the implications of having them in a Galtian world isn’t examined, nor does Rand consider any reason somebody couldn’t be a full, moral actor other than “they choose not to be”.

  455. @536: Children stop being parasites when they become moral actors – when? According to you, perhaps not even into middle age. In the meantime, they’re parasites, and I’m baffled as to how Objectivism squares ‘no altruism’ and ‘A=A’ with the idea of parenthood.

    Why in the world would I defend the positions of Objectivism? I’ve never been an Objectivist in my life. I saw the gaping and ragged holes in the “philosophy” offered up by Rand from Jump Street. No sale.

    If you must put me in a box, call me a Heinlein-style libertarian.

    That being said, I was addressing the conceit of the story itself, and pointing out that within the utterly imaginary (and sometimes cardboard) world that Rand constructed, it’s not that hard to see how those characters could reconcile the notion of having and raising children without also having to descend into caricature (any more than they already are).

    What I’ve been trying to do is speak to the notions of character analysis, which necessarily calls for buying into the conceit of a given story. I don’t try to say that Rand’s approach is some kind of proper prescription for the real world. Far from it.

    If you want to ask me about my personal views on the matter of the moral agency of children (and the childish) and how our society should approach that, we can discuss that further if our fine host doesn’t consider it going too far afield.

    It’s not just his ball… it’s his playground. He’s well within his rights if he sees fit to pitch this whole thing into a black hole so that not an atom of it contaminates the universe.

    Someone should write a kick-ass story that includes that notion. Oh wait, he did. And lest someone consider that a suck-up move, I will defend in mortal combat how awesome OMW is as a story. I’ve re-read it more often than I’ve re-read Atlas Shrugs, and I don’t hesitate for a moment to represent the case that Scalzi is a far better writer than Rand ever was.

    That yogurt story makes me utterly green with envy of John’s ability to be concise… a skill I deeply lack.

    That being said, it’s the substance of John’s contention regarding the literary character analysis of Galt that I’ve been trying, in my own ridiculously prolix way, to address.

    I hope I’ve been doing a decent job of representing that argument, even if you don’t agree with my conclusion. I’m passionate about stories, and I like the ideas that percolate around through the process of character analysis.

    That’s largely why I like sci-fi as a genre… because so many good authors of it love to kick ideas around that get you outside your comfortable box, and make you THINK.

    Even when you find them morally repugnant. Hell, especially when you react that way. If we can’t allow our own moral and ethical positions to be questioned and challenged, we can’t learn and grow as people.

    Instead, we’ll end up as cocksure, atrophied zealots like… well, Rand.

  456. VekTor @539: You’re the one who brought up the ‘moral actor’ question, which is why I asked you to explain it. What box you are in doesn’t interest me. You’ve been discussing Rand’s writing, so I’ve questioned a rather gaping contradiction and plot hole in her writing. If Scalzi doesn’t want us to I’m sure he’d say so.

    I don’t agree that books that are morally repugnant rock the world, either. Books that make you think? Absolutely. But sometimes a book is morally repugnant not because one’s own morals are wrong and ossified, but because it’s simply morally repugnant. A lot of authors confuse that with having something important to say. Anybody can be an asshole. Being thoughtful is harder.

  457. Thanks to TTT for directing me to Rand’s views on Native Americans. Her 1974 address to the cadets at West Point was…very illuminating. Beats me how anyone could look at her gushing enthusiasm for a vicious child murderer & the West Point address & not conclude that as a philosopher the woman was nothing more than another of the perverse, malevolent hacks that afflicted the 20th century.

    Mr. Scalzi was right, AS is nerd revenge porn.

  458. Sure… the Venn diagram I was envisioning was stories that make you think, and question your own assumptions, while in the process being morally repugnant.

    There’s complete crap out there, but we need to dig through our own inventories and be willing to question ourselves, if only to distinguish between whether it’s the story that’s crap… or the positions we’ve been clinging to that are crap.

    I agree that Rand isn’t totally coherent, which is part of what makes her espousal of that philosophy darkly ironic. She likely saw herself as the living embodiment of that visualized ideal, and couldn’t see the forest of her failure for the trees of her manifold personal flaws.

    (Yeah, I’m not a writer. Sue me. =P )

    Which is why Branden rightly gutted (metaphorically, of course) her after her passing in the essay I mentioned. She couldn’t learn, because she couldn’t accept the notion that she might be wrong.

  459. John, thanks for this post. I usually describe Rand’s works as sophomoric rubbish, but have long recognized my description lacks the depth and fullness a more patient soul could provide. Outstanding, and it fired off the idea that the only adequate counterpoint to John Galt is Buckaroo Banzai.

    Honorable mention to Jim Kiley in #31 for ‘nerdsplosion.’

  460. Folks:

    This page is now taking a fair amount of time to load due to the large number of comments, so be aware I will probably close the thread by about noon tomorrow (Friday) Eastern time. So if you have something you want to say, go ahead and get it in now.

  461. so many dismissive detractors here, yet the book still selling – with over 2,000 Customer Reviews it has 4 out of 5 stars at amazon. Look for your self.

  462. so many dismissive detractors here, yet the book still selling –

    Now that’s a dud for rhetoric. “It’s good because it’s popular.” Criminy.

    I expect better than that.

  463. “Bonus assignment for the day: rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a lighthearted romantic comedy”

    Jeeves Shrugged?

  464. I’d pay good money for a “Jefferson Bible” version of Atlas Shrugged, with John’s correctly-noted screeds summarized into a paragraph or so each.

    “Bonus assignment for the day: rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a lighthearted romantic comedy”

    “There’s Something About Atlas”?

  465. Actually, I get the last word. Because I’m me!

    Thanks everyone for the comments and your thoughts. It was all very interesting, and I mean that in a good way and not as a euphemism.

Comments are closed.