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What it Means to be an Atheist

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     In the starkest terms, it means there is no god, no spirit, no supernatural. There is no heaven, no hell, no wiping away of tears. You will not meet your dead parents, grandparents, Uncle Lou, or goldfish ever again.

 It won’t all be ok in the end.

 (Of course, you don’t have to feel guilty about drinking, eating pork, not praying or premarital sex. So there is that.)

      It would be simple to mock religion for claiming all those things to be true, for believing in a final justice where the slave is freed and the owner bound, where the weak are exalted and the mighty cast down, for claiming that somewhere there’s a friggin’ plan, and when the clouded glass is broken it will all make sense.  But I can’t- if believing in something supernatural makes you happy- go be happy, because that’s the best we can hope for.

        But if all that Atheism had to offer was guilt-free sex and teenage nihilism, it wouldn’t much attract anyone who wasn’t a horny teenager. So, what it really means is freedom.

     If things turn out well, if I find a loving partner and a happy life, it’s because I did it. Not because some immaterial being reached out and blessed my life. Not because I followed some ineffable plan that brings us all to our own best ends.

     I did it. With all my flaws and beauty I have created a life that is both flawed and beautiful, and for all my sins and failures, it is mine.

     Nothing irritates me more than someone who runs fifty yards for a touchdown and gives God the credit. It denies human agency, human awesomeness, and turns us into nothing more than toys of a capricious and unpredictable God, who dispenses gifts and grace with the petty whim of a drunk.

      Most religions have the same origin story- one time, in the far away and long ago, man was like the angels. We were in Eden, or one with the universe/Nirvana.  Whatever it was, we fucked up.  We sinned, we erred, we made some one fundamental mistake and were cast into an imperfect world to toil to our deaths.

     But atheism tells a different story:  In the beginning, we were animals.  We gnawed raw meat and spoke in grunts.   We are, says atheism, at root, not a whit different from any other animals. We have DNA and gallbladder and pheremones- we’re only about 10 percent different from a hedgehog.

 

     And we went to the moon.

 

       We’re as bound by the same immutable laws of darwinism as the smallest virus.  We’re still essentially driven by the urge to fight and fuck and feed and flee.   Our brains run off the same chemicals as a chimps, and we’re often just as much a slave to our passions. We kill in anger, we make war for land.

And we went to the moon. 

      The theory of evolution is the cold fact of the universe- uncaring and unknowing.  But atheism, like any religion, is a story.   It takes those blind laws of chance and breeding and speaks the truth- that is all we are. Apes with a few extra wrinkles in our brains and a cool thumb. 

And we went to the moon.  

     The Sistine chapel and Moby Dick.  The moon landing and the smallpox vaccine. Gandhi, for fucks sake. That was US.

     The narrative of religion says that we are fallen from grace, unworthy sinners making our own hell, and we can only be saved through some external force- call it Yahweh, Christ, Brahman, or Nirvana.  The only way to some salvation is through external agency. 

The story of religion is how far we’ve fallen. The story of atheism is how far we’ve climbed. 

     Of course, there is another side to this. When you are cruel, small, and unworthy- that’s you too. No devil tempted you except yourself. And when the world is cruel and strips you to the bone, there is no lesson being taught, no test being proctored. The world was cruel to you because the world is often cruel. We are often cruel, can the world we made be any different?

     So this is what you get, this is who you are. Some start from the depths and ascend the heavens, some start at the heights and plunge straight to hell.   The world is a tough place, a bareknuckle barroom brawl of an existence.

            And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            Atheism means many things. It is freedom, and responsibility, and sometimes stark depression at this mad world with no meaning, kindness or grace. But what matters isn’t meaning- what matters is doing. And what atheism does is give me the courage to walk tall, stomp upon the terra and proclaim at the top of my lungs ‘I am that I am,’ sui generis and self-made, god help us all. 

Written by newscum

April 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

This Mighty Scourge of War

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“If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha’ paid in full!”

Kipling- The Song of the Dead


At this point, I think everyone, on every side, can accept that everyone else has heard the basic arguments. The basic points of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and the dearth of gun deaths in the UK are so commonplace as to be cliche.

And I think we can also accept that no one is coming for granddad’s 30-06, or that Glock in your purse. Any realistic proposal put forth at this point has centered on the restriction of certain types of semi-automatic weapons.  Specifically, restriction of the AR-15 and its various knockoffs and virtually identical variants.

There have been a number of defenses of the perceived right to own assault weapons.  But this one is both the most interesting and the most important

“We need these weapons to protect ourselves from a potential government takeover.  Should the government turn evil, the American people can rise up and overthrow it, restoring democracy.”

An interesting claim. The idea of launching another civil war raises three fundamental questions, each endlessly complex.

First: Could such a rising occur?
Second:  What would that mean, in terms of combat?
Third: could such a rising be successful?

Before I begin, let me say- I am not anti-gun. At heart, I am pro-gun, for a number of reasons. First, I like guns. I like hunting. I like shooting. Second, I believe that the right to own a weapon should not, inherently, be denied. The right to defend yourself, your family, and even your property, with lethal force if necessary, is a right as fundamental as that of free speech. A right that does not stem from a government, but is native to any thinking being. I don’t want to talk about the morality of guns, but instead of the logistics of a second Civil War.

That such actions could become necessary is not beyond belief.  Governments, even democracies can become abusive and dictatorial. And never forget that the last vote of the Athenian democracy was removing that democracy. So let us hypothesize an American government in which the abuses have become so great that there is widespread consensus that revolution is the only course of action left. Imagine whatever abuses you want.

So we have our revolutionary impetus.  Now what?

Well, to start off with, the numbers are on our side. There are an estimated 270 million guns in private hands.  The combined military/police arms are about 4 million.* This works out to about 90 guns per 100 people. However, those weapons are unequally distributed- only 47% of the American people own guns.**  Roughly then, half the American people don’t own guns, and those that do own two apiece.

Very well then.  We have our weapons, and we have our cause. Proceeding then, to our first question:  Is a universal or semi-universal rising of the American people possible?

Well, first we can turn to our own history.  We have  had a civil war in this nation before. (An unsuccessful one, it should be  noted. )   This up rising was  able to assemble  an army that is the stuff of  legend.  Could such an army be raised again?

Possibly, although I doubt it. The  South had  a  number of significant advantages in that area.

First- a pre-existing societal homogeneity. At the start of the Civil War, the American South was both physically and socially united . Not only primarily white (aside from the slaves) but with a deeply cultural connection. The confederates were primarily white protestants from two large groups. Either poor Scots-Irish who would act as foot soldiers, or an incestuously close old-English aristocracy that would form the officer class. The soldiers of the Confederacy  came from a common culture that made creating an army a much simpler task.  To put it simply, this is an advantage that does not exist anymore.

Second- skill level.  The  largely sustenance  based  agricultural level of the poor southerners who would eventually suck up  most of the Yankee  grapeshot meant that they could be assumed to be handy with a gun, capable of walking a long way, and living in some seriously shitty conditions without complaining.

Third- time.  This is perhaps the greatest advantage the Confederacy had.  For a number of reasons, including most of the decent officers fighting for the South, the Union was extremely slow to turn the Civil War into the serious conflict it would become.  At the beginning of the war, moving on Richmond would have been more than possible, it would have been relatively simple. The Union hesitant  actions allowed the Confederacy to arm itself and train an army.

But a buildup to a modern Civil War would not be so simple.   First, we no longer have the cultural homogeneity of the Confederacy.  Instead of splintering more or less neatly into two halves, resistance to the government would, over most of the country.  More than likely, given current trends, it would be Blue vs. Red- Liberal vs. Conservative. While it is certainly possible to imagine other conflicts developing that would fracture the country in different ways, the simple fact is our political positions line up with our conflicts quite neatly.

For example: consider this map of the 1860 election. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1860

Notice how neatly the results split along the Union/Confederacy lines, and notice how the only serious outlier is Missouri- a state that would be torn apart, with units fighting for both north and south, plus an internal brush war closer to the tribal struggles of the Congo than the typical battles of the Civil War.

Now consider this electoral map of West Virginia:

In 2012, the state went overwhelming for Romney, and yet the map is half blue.  Take a look at the other maps available on that site- with the exception of Oklahoma and Nebraska, every state is a speckled mess of blue and red. In 1860, travel was virtual impossible, so society was far more insular, and in general, people voted the same as their neighbors.

 In the election of 1860, its worth noting that the only states where election results were even close was in places like California that had attracted a wide variety of immigrants from all over the country. Most other states swung widely either one way or the other. Simply put, that sort of homogeneity does not exist anywhere anymore.  A sectarian war would not be two largely homogeneous entities duking it out, but a bloody melange- upstate New York vs. Downstate, or Western Mississippi vs. Eastern Mississippi.

And that is only one issue. No matter what the issue, it is difficult to imagine a coalition of urban blacks and country rednecks. A civil war would be a nationwide event, with  widely disparate groups fighting their neighbors. For the rebels, communication, let alone common action, would be a serious stumbling block.

Then the question of preexisting skill arises. Here, it is safe to say that there is something to be said for the rebels here. Most gun owners have at least taken their weapons for a spin, and in the urban conflicts that would result, hardiness would be less of a factor.

The real issue is one of time to prepare.  Simply put, while most who argue against the possibility of a successful revolution stress the US governments advantages in materiel, at the start, the most telling advantage would be their intelligence. Consider the information gathering capabilities of the current government. A hypothetical American tyranny would expand those programs exponentially.

Further, the government forces would have the advantage of working with a pre-existing system, government forces would be able to recognize each other and work in concert. For a rebel leader in North Carolina, the most difficult part of the job would be deciding if the rebel leader from New York was a government plant or not.  Not to mention the government’s increased ability to wiretap, pay off or manipulate traitors to the rebel cause, and so on.

But let us suppose that these hurdles were overcome. Could a rebellion successfully fight the US military? The two positions on this argument are clearly defined- pro-gun activists imagine a revolutionary war scenario- small, brave units in a sort of clean, stand up fight.  Anti-gun activists imagine the US Air Force raining bombs down on rebels with AR-15’s cowering in cellars.

The truth, I think, bears no resemblance to either scenario. And yes, a rebel force with small arms could put up a more or less successful resistance to the US military- for a certain definition of successful.

Again- we have examples of the sort of war it would be. We just finished fighting two of them.  It would be a guerrilla war on a massive urban scale. The US has become increasingly built up in the past fifty years- urban sprawl would make everything from  Portland to Miami one giant Stalingrad- a confused, bloody slugfest of ambush and IED. The most important rebel weapon would not be the AR-15, however. It would be  diesel and fertilizer. The tactics of the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents would be the most effective, working as well in downtown Omaha as downtown Baghdad. Blow up your enemies on remote. You can’t go toe to toe with them, so instead, you use fear and paranoia- small, nasty raids followed by fading back into the civilian population.

The War Nerd is one of the most astute commentators on warfare I have ever read, and one point he makes repeatedly is that the three wars fought on American soil- the Revolution, 1812, and the Civil War, were anomalous in the extreme for how incredibly clean they were. Fundamentally, in all three cases, the armies fought under codes of honor that are unimaginable to us today. Further, in all three cases, the combatants saw themselves as fundamentally the same as the enemy. Even further  the technological limitations of the time meant that a small ragtag militia could successfully go up against the opposing professional military. A smoothbore musket is pretty much the same no matter who holds it.

A modern guerrilla war would be nowhere near so clean. It would probably begin that way- a lot of talk of “errant brothers” and how we’re all the same underneath.  But it would quickly dissolve. First of all, the government forces would be carefully separated- Californians fighting in Virginia, Texans in Boston.  And soon, the nature of guerrilla warfare would overcome bonds of national fellowship.

See, wars start off with high ideals. But as any soldier will tell you- you don’t end up fighting for that. You fight for your buddy next to you. And a few IEDs would lead to a lot of hate, which would be taken out on the local population. Maybe you’re a little rougher searching houses, maybe you shoot at targets you’re a little less sure of. And then you make a mistake, and blow up a wedding. Now the locals hate you even more.  And so it goes.

Which leads naturally to the third question- can such a war be won?

And the answer is- what do you mean, win?

As noted above, in terms of civilian casualties, the Civil War was remarkably clean, and even so, Reconstruction was bleak, miserable and difficult. The repercussions of those choices still resonate in our society today.  Compare that to the brutal realities of modern guerrilla war, and the task of rebuilding is orders of magnitude greater. Propaganda can now propagate at the speed of light. Modern infrastructure is not only more complex, but infinitely more delicate than that of the 19th century- simply rebuilding would be a monumental task.  And remember those election maps- everywhere during the war would become incredibly balkanized- Belfast across the nation.

More importantly, guerrilla civil wars would quickly degenerate into the bloody algebra of the feud.  You kill my cousin, so I kill you, and now your cousins want to kill me, and then my cousins and so on and so forth. West Belfast or East Kentucky, the story is the same. Eventually, it is no longer about politics, but a cycle of vengeance.  Violence would continue for years after the official conflict ended.  Eventually, families and communities would become extremely insular. You’d marry someone like you, have kids that you taught to hold your hatred.  This cycle can continue for centuries- they still fight this way in Ulster. I’ve been to Northern Ireland, and even now, twenty years after a stable peace, neighborhoods are still suspicious, and old enmity is just under the surface. They still fly the Red Hand in some neighborhoods, and the tricolor in others.

A civil war today, in America might be possible, might even be fought successfully on a large scale.  But it would destroy us at a fundamental level.  Brother against brother, in the most horrifying literal sense. No longer state by state, but county by county we would tear each other apart. Not on great battlefields  or the set piece fights of a bygone age, but street to street- snipers on the roof, carbombs by the side of the road. Informers brutally killed to send a message. Soldiers taking vengeance on civilians taking vengeance on soldiers until all that we were was washed away in blood, leaving behind the blind imbecility of war.

So could you do, with that AR-15 in the corner and a few of your buddies? Perhaps. But in the end, whatever you’d thought was worth it, whatever causa belli you decided upon would be gone beyond recall. And all that would be left of America is former neighbors tossing midnight molotovs over the walls, seeking to destroy people they’d never even seen. Everything we were, forgotten in violence.

*http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/unitedstates
**http://www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx

Written by newscum

February 12, 2013 at 7:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Atlas Shrugged IX: Growing Up Galt

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So. The childhood of Dagny Taggart. 

“[S]he always ran when Eddie yelled, “It’s Frisco d’Anconia!” and they both flew

down the hill to the car approaching on the road below.”

This sentence tells us two very important things. First, that Dagny and the shadowy Francisco d’Anconia are childhood friends, which will substantively affect their entire relationship right up through the end of the novel, where she flies off with him to his secret richy-rich fortress.

Second, it tells us that she and Eddie Willers are childhood friends, which will substantively affect their entire relationship right up through the end of the novel, where she abandons him in the newly post-apocalyptic world.

This should tell you everything you need to know about Dagny.  This is a novel that spends enough pages on the concept of integrity to have those pages turned into their own separate novel, but has characters who act with the integrity of a particularly rapacious robber baron.  The intensity of this fuck-you-jack-I-got-mine mentality transcends even the internal logic of the novel. 

According to Rand’s beliefs, the poor, disabled, old, less than perfectly brilliant (more on that in a bit) are, at best, grist for the mill. At worst they’re actively evil through the mere fact of their existence, and most of the time they have the same moral weight as a marshmallow- they can stick around for them as likes that, but you aren’t taking any on the lifeboat.

But Eddie is not just another poor person who never pulled hard enough on their bootstraps.  Eddie is incredibly useful. When Dagny has to go off and have rational sex with Hank, or Francisco, or John, Eddie is the one left in charge. Eddie works hard, Eddie doesn’t complain.  The only thing Eddie is not, is a total fucking bastard. Excuse me- the only thing Eddie isn’t is aware that his business abilities make him fundamentally superior to, oh, say, steelworkers.

Which, incidentally, and not to get to far ahead, is another problem with this book.  It’s elitist. Well, that is to perhaps cloud the issue. Undoubtedly Rand would brag about her elitism. Rather, this book is aristocratic in the nastiest sense- noblesse without the oblige. Throughout the novel, ordinary workaday schmucks will appear.  Not the entitled commies, or the lazy bums, but characters we are clearly supposed to like- hardworking, loyal, intelligent. Caring more for work than reward.

And these guys….get fucked.  Left to rot in what Rand makes very clear is a hellish, medieval world. Oh, true, in Galt’s gulch we will see what may be best described as token poor people. For the most part, though, the defining characteristic of those who go Galt is their wealth and (presumed) intelligence. Rand pays lip service to the idea that she values hard work and integrity and so on, but in reality, what Rand values is success. In Rand’s world, the unprincipled greed of Jack Abramoff is worth more than 40 years of work by a Detroit assembly line worker, because Jack made money and the worker didn’t.  When the dollar is elevated above all (and by the end of the novel, it is elevated to the status of religion) how those dollars are acquired ceases to matter.

And thus, a young Francisco d’Anconia (hereafter referred to as FdA because unlike Rand, I’m sick of typing that ridiculous name in full) says the following:

“We are the only aristocracy left in the world—the aristocracy of money”

Lil’ FdA is one of the most punchable creations since Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and for much the same reason- unbearable sanctimony and always being right.  FdA is the perfect person.

“The running to meet him had become part of a contest among the three of them. There was a birch tree on the hillside, halfway between the road and the house; Dagny and Eddie tried to get past the tree, before Francisco … they never reached the birch tree …Francisco always won, as he always won everything.”

Then:

“The reason my family has lasted for such a long time is that none of us has ever been permitted to think he is born a d’Anconia. We are expected to become one.”

 He pronounced his name as if he wished his listeners to be struck in the face and knighted by the sound of it.”

And:

“He spoke five languages, and he spoke English without a trace of accent, a precise, cultured English deliberately mixed with slang.”

And he can do so many pushups, and he knows karate and one time he went up to a rampaging bear and pulled a thorn out of its paw and the bear was his friend and they stayed up as late as they want and drank milkshakes all the time and then they made Francisco the king of the world because he had great abs. Or something.

Perfect protagonists (known in some parts of the internet as “Mary Sues”) are boring. Perfection is dull-it removes any hint of excitement from the plot. Drama is, functionally, seeing someone face an obstacle.  English 101- Person Vs. Person, Person Vs. Themselves, Person Vs. Nature, Person Vs. Society. Arguably, those four categories cover pretty much everything ever written.  Perfect people triumphing isn’t a surprise. Of course FdA becomes rich and awesome- he’s perfect, so naturally he’s perfect at becoming rich and awesome. 

And drama doesn’t need to be huge- sure, War and Peace is pretty freakin’ epic, but so is To Build a Fire. There are two fundamental conditions that must be met in a good drama, however- the characters must have something to overcome, and the character must change. Grow, shrink, rise, fall- a good story is about someone changing in some fundamental way.

And that is a critical failure on Rand’s part- This Francisco we see here- young, cocky, arrogant, strong, handsome rich accomplished tall blond able to eat all the cookies he wants without getting fat, is the exact same person we see at the end of the novel. Twelve-year old Francisco is functionally indistinguishable from forty year old Francisco.  As are twelve-year old Dagny, and even twelve-year old Jim. There is no moment, or storyline, wherein Jim becomes the weak and miserable man we see in the present, there is no moment when a young, carefree, Francisco d’Anconia decides he will be rich and more awesome than Batman. They simply always were this way.  FdA has blond hair and blue eyes and will be a great freethinking industrial potentate, and Jim has brown hair and brown eyes and will be weak and cowardly. As inevitable as DNA.

Anyway, another trend appears pretty soon- child labor.  FdA decides, like pretty much every good guy in a Rand story, that he is gonna start working right away.  He does this working for the Taggart railway as a call boy.  Which- fair enough. Actually sounds like a good job for a 14-year old boy.  My first job was shoveling snow in Maine, so I’m not all that impressed- running errands on a sunny railroad in the middle of the day sounds hella nicer than waking up at 5 AM to shovel a foot of snow before school.

Incidentally, my favorite bit of retarded St. Francisco-can-do-anything shows up here:

“They tried to follow him once, through the cold, pre-morning darkness, but they gave it up; no one could track him when he did not want to be tracked.”

Francisco d’Anconia.  Business magnate. Olympian sprinter.  Last of the Mohicans.

But this, of course, isn’t good enough. He also shipped out the summer before as a cabin boy on a cargo steamer.  Apparently his father looked for him for three months, but the only thing he asked Francisco (who was apparently too busy cabin-boying to write a freakin’ letter) was if FdA had done a good job.

Nice.  Loving, responsible parent there.

Anyway, Dagny asked him why he took this call-boy job, and he says:

“”To learn what it’s like, Slug,” he answered, “and to tell you that I’ve had a job with Taggart

Transcontinental before you did.”

Is…is it wrong to want to strangle a fictional child?

 

Anyway, FdA is awesome. His can play baseball. He drives speedboats. He…

Ok. Seriously?

“[Dagny’s] father picked them up…then asked,

“Francisco, how many years of algebra have you had?”

“Two years.”

“Who taught you to do this?”

“Oh, that’s just something I figured out.”

…[W]hat her father held on the crumpled sheets of paper was the crude version of a differential equation.”

 

….Let’s just move on, ok?

This may seem like it’s not about Dagny, but it is. And Jim.

Imagine you grew up with, apparently, the Messiah. Someone with the Godlike power to do anything he puts his mind to. Now, my mother, and probably yours, told me that all the time. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”  Except that for Francisco, there is no effort involved. He <i>watches</i> and then does it. Perfectly. Whatever it is- riding a horse or stripping an engine.

 Francisco isn’t smart. Francisco isn’t even a genius.  Francisco is what idiots think people with eidetic memories are like. I’m not sure there is a word for what Francisco is, because there is no one like him- at least, not in every possible field of human endeavor. There are people like Mozart who have a literal genius for music- they can transcribe a work they only heard once, for example.  But Mozart couldn’t look at an engine running and reconstruct it from scratch.  Mozart probably couldn’t just pick up a bat and ball and hit a home run (something else Francisco does).

(What’s more, even in music, Mozart wasn’t perfect without effort. His earliest works are beyond belief for a ten year old, but compared to the work of an ordinary mature composer, they’re only decent. Even Mozart needed to put in some work before he mastered music. )

But imagine living with this literal freak of nature, this being hardwired for mechanical perfection. Imagine seeing all your hard work, your practice, your struggles and triumphs swept away in moments by someone who just watches you for a moment, then does it better than you.

No wonder Jim Taggart ends up the way he is. His entire childhood, no matter how hard he works or how hard he tries, he can never win. The simplest victories- running faster, hitting a ball harder, being a faster reader, better at math, or history, or building a treehouse- are snatched from him again and again. Imagine that.  Imagine living with that.  You’d develop an inferiority complex like Superman’s younger brother, Tim Kent (Tim’s a farmer on a little spread outside Smallville. Grows peas.)

You might grow up feeling overwhelmed by the world. You might even be so fucked up you develop a philosophy that equality should be enforced by law.  Either that, or end up worshiping them as your superior to be aped and followed blindly into whatever dumbass cult they end up starting.

Next time:  We finish up Dagny’s childhood, and return to the plot.

Written by newscum

October 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

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Atlas Shrugged VIII: Trainspotting

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“Trouble is, Paul,” he said, thinking aloud, “that the men one has to pick for that job are such a crummy lot,”

            Larkin looked away. “That’s life,” he said.

            “Damned if I see why. Can you tell me that? What’s wrong with the world?”

            Larkin shrugged sadly. “Why ask useless questions? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky? Who is John Galt?”

            Rearden sat up straight. “No,” he said sharply. “No. There’s no reason to feel that way.”

….

            He paced the room, his energy returning. He looked at his family.

            They were bewildered, unhappy children-he thought-all of them, even his mother, and he was foolish to resent their ineptitude; it came from their helplessness, not from malice. It was he who had to make himself learn to understand them, since he had so much to give, since they could never share his sense of joyous, boundless power.”

Oh Hank.   Oh you sweet, sweet man. 

Let us, for a moment, accept the story’s conceit.  The other Rearden’s are helpless children. Ok.  Certainly we all know someone like that, or at least know of someone like that. High society seems to have a lot of these people. Not cruel. Not even stuck up. Just so far out of touch they think K-Mart is a rap star.

Gwyneth Paltrow.  That’s who I think of.  Sweet, but not in the same world as the rest of us. And ok, I can work with that.

These people are unhappy and Hank wants to help them. Wants to reach out and share his largess because he’s a nice guy. I can buy that.  Heck, I can even buy that they’re ungrateful jerks, because who doesn’t know a few of those?

But later, Hank gives his brother ten grand (in 1920s-ish money!) just because why the hell not, he wants the kid to be happy.

“Philip stared at him blankly; it was neither shock nor pleasure; it was just the empty stare of eyes that looked glassy.

            “Oh,” said Philip, then added, “We’ll appreciate it very much.”

            There was no emotion in his voice, not even the simple one of greed.”

This is where Rand begins to lose us. I would imagine you could hard Warren Buffet 10K in 2012 dollars and he’d have more of a reaction than that.  Human beings are human beings, and except for the rare sociopath, we all feel pretty much the same thing. Love and hate and sorrow and anger and happiness and when someone hands you 10 large, you feel happy. You don’t just stare at them like you’re halfway through a stroke.

But I do have an alternate explanation. 

Philip is high as BALLS.  Seriously- Philip shot some horse about half an hour ago, and now he’s not talking to Hank, he’s talking to what he thinks is a hallucination offering him enough cash to buy an Afghanistan’s worth of smack.

The rest of the scene makes more sense, actually, if you assume that Philip has a heroin addiction he and everyone else is hiding from Hank.

“”By the way, Henry,” Philip added, “do you mind if I ask you to have Miss Ives give me the money in cash?”

Rearden turned back to him, puzzled.

“You see, Friends of Global Progress are a very progressive group and they have always maintained that you represent the blackest element of social retrogression ha the country, so it would embarrass us, you know, to have your name on our list of contributors, because somebody might accuse us of being in the pay of Hank Rearden.”

….

He heard Larkin’s voice crying after him, “Damn it, Hank, you shouldn’t have given it to him!”’

Tell me that doesn’t sound like a junkie. They always come up with complex and vaguely plausible reasons WHY you can’t just buy them a sandwich but need to give them money.  Poor Larkin there has been spending MONTHS shepherding Philip through NA, going to all these meetings, and now Hank gives him ten thousand in cash just when Phil has a relapse.  Of all the shitty luck.

 C’mon- younger, passed over brother without much personality who suddenly has access to all the cash in Christendom, but only as gifts from his brother?  It’d drive you to drugs too.

 

Bah.  We skip ahead.  Essentially more of the same in the next few pages. Jim Taggart has a meeting with Excuse-Making CEOs.  They all agree to support “progressive social policies,”  which here apparently means “communism” because those are totally the same thing.

There is more of Rand’s obsessive conflation of appearance with reality and her obsession with straight lines- everyone here is hunched, round, and soft. I’d say it crosses the line from awkward motif to obsession, but it did that about 50 pages ago.  Now it’s just sort of sad.  This woman has such a fascination with right angles I’m starting to think her first boyfriend was a t-square.

There are a few things that irk me though.

“”If everybody could pull for a common purpose, then nobody would have to be hurt!” [Larkin] cried suddenly, in a tone of incongruous despair.”

Rand was born in the wrong world. She would’ve made a fantastic minister of propaganda. See- most propaganda doesn’t work because its too obvious. The propagandists don’t have the patience required- real propaganda, the type that sticks, is subtle. Slowly, you associate the people you hate with weakness and negativity.

So Rand sticks meaningless, but vaguely liberal sounding bullshit into the mouths of her most irritating characters, and surrounds them with words like “dank” and “dismal” and “despair” and “flaccid” and…..

And you can’t really fight it- it’s like punching cotton wool. You cannot point at one section and go “As XYZ economic data shows, you’re talking out your ass there, Ayn.”  Ironically enough, for a writer so obsessed with creation and building, she only tears down.  This book is an excellent study on the slippery slope, come to think of it. She never says “libertarianism is good.” All she says is “everything else but libertarianism is bad.”  At the end of this book, these characters won’t really have done much of anything- even the most intense passages full of trainz-n-brainz ‘action’ boil down too “and then Dagny did some business stuff that any reasonably competent human could bang out without too much trouble.” 

See, everyone in this book is a strawman.  Even the people we’re supposed to like are strawmen. And Ayn’s entire argument comes down to: “Wow!  Those strawmen sure did fall apart! Clearly these other strawmen over here are vastly superior beings! You should worship them.”

Cargo cults have better backstories than that

The problem is, when you do it over the course of several hundred pages- well, you end up committed to the conceit after a while. Once you’ve spent a week or so hacking through this, you pretty much have to either go along for the ride or accept that you’ve spent your time reading the world’s most verbose and obscure strokebook.

Propaganda. Good propaganda, but like all propaganda, ultimately hollow. 

Her characters struggle and pontificate, but don’t really grow or change. Their voices are set at the beginning. They may learn, like Hank does, but that learning doesn’t change them. They are as they were at the start. They move through their world and though the story tells us they make a difference, that they grow and change- we never get to see it. Because if they did change, it would be an admission that there could be a flaw in this world, that these characters were not chiseling commandants in stone.

The surest way to tell if something is bullshit is to see how it handles its own flaws and mistakes. The real world can be inconsistent, strange, and inexplicable- a good philosophy admits that.  But BS will got far out of its way to paper any pinhole of dissent or doubt, because BS cannot afford the exposure. To make Atlas Shrugged a reflection of reality in the way that Anna Karenina is, would take this story from the pompous and banal into the realm of the moronic- when one imagines a Dagny Taggart in our world, she ceases to be noble and just becomes laughable.  Rand made one of the classic blunders-  the world informs you, you do not inform the world.  

And that is, perhaps, why Rand’s staunchest devotees are usually between 15-20.  Old enough to think, but not old enough to have seen enough of reality to form a true mental picture. In those years the world seems very starkly divided- understanding complexity is often a function of aging.

 

Blah.

 

*flip flip flip.*

Ah. And now we come to something good.  The childhood of Dagny Taggart.

This requires pondering. More to follow, but here’s something to wet your whistle.

 

“Dagny Taggart was nine years old when she decided that she would run the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad some day. She stated it to herself when she stood alone between the rails, looking at the two straight lines of steel that went off into the distance and met in a single point. What she felt was an arrogant pleasure at the way the track cut through the woods: it did not belong in the midst of ancient trees, among green branches that hung down to meet green brush and the lonely spears of wild flowers-but there it was. The two steel lines were brilliant in the sun, and the black ties were like the rungs of a ladder which she had to climb.”

Oh, T-square. You’re so naughty!

Written by newscum

September 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm

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Atlas Shrugged VII: Ecce Homo

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So last time (oh, so long ago) we looked at Hank Rearden. Today though, I’d like to talk about Philip and Lillian Rearden. The most interesting things about these passages, is that they are the first real glimpse we get of the Randian liberals in their native environment. I remind you again of Ayn Rand’s own opinion of her writing: She believed not that she was creating fiction, or propaganda, or even a parable. She believed she was reflecting real life in her work.

Again, the resemblance to conservative, evangelical Christianity is clear.  The fictional works of Tim LaHaye, the pamphlets of Jack Chick, the inane ramblings and obsessive sophistry of Harold Camping all have a common root. These deluded men truly believe, or seem to truly believe, that the fantastic scenarios they concoct are an accurate reflection of real life.

The other thing their works have in common is a strange, almost sociopathic view of human nature. In both Atlas Shrugged and ‘Left Behind,’ characters behave- inhumanly. Many times, the “heroes” of both Rand and LaHaye’s onanistic fantasies casually walk through horror with hardly a backward glance. Rayford Steele, the protagonist of “Left Behind,” walks through burning airports, plagues, and hellfire, thinking only of the inconvenience to himself. In the same vein, Dagny Taggart, John Galt, and even sweet Hank Rearden, will walk past wrecks, disasters, human suffering, with hardly a word or thought.

This common vein is simple- the dollar-sign Christ of Tim LaHaye preaches self-service above all else, as does Rand’s sociopathic Objectivism. This neatly explains why the far right has been able to preserve itself as a solid voting block. On the surface, LaHaye and Rand are fundamentally at odds with each other- on preaching submission to Christ, one the triumph of the new atheist man. (And ‘man’ is the right word- Rand has little room for women in her world.)

And yet these philosophies have at their root, a love of money that transcends all things- Christ or humanity or empathy- all fall before the dollar.

Also before we read this, here’s a piece of advice. If you have to insult your character so we know they’re the bad guys, you aren’t a very good writer.  Which is not to say that insulting your characters never works, but we should be able to tell that they’re schmucks based on what THEY do and say, not what YOU do and say. 

“Paul Larkin was looking at him with the devoted eyes of an inhibited dog.

“Hello, Paul,” said Rearden. “When did you get in?”

            “Oh, I just hopped down on the five thirty-five from New York.” Larkin was smiling in gratitude for the attention.

            “Trouble?”

            “Who hasn’t got trouble these days?”

 Larkin’s smile became resigned, to indicate that the remark was merely philosophical.

“But no, no special trouble this time. I just thought I’d drop in to see you.””

 

Charming.  You know, this could actually be good- if the point of this scene was to show how Rearden, as a total douchebag, saw the people around him. As an honest reflection of supposedly normal reality, it stinks.

 

“”Henry, you work too hard,” said Philip.”It’s not good for you.”

            Rearden laughed. “I like it.”

            “That’s what you tell yourself. It’s a form of neurosis, you know. When a man drowns himself in work, it’s because he’s trying to escape from something. You ought to have a hobby.”

            “Oh, Phil, for Christ’s sake!” he said, and regretted the irritation in his voice.””

 

Oh those silly psychology obsessed liberals with their silly ideas about brains! Everyone knows that Hank Rearden just punches his pain in the face with his big manly fists. Or whatever it is men are supposed to do with their problems.

And of course, Lilian: 

“Her face was not beautiful. The eyes were the flaw: they were vaguely pale, neither quite gray nor brown, lifelessly empty of expression. Rearden had always wondered, since she seemed amused so often, why there was no gaiety in her face.”

Ultimately, the difference between a good writer and a bad writer is empathy; the ability to FEEL for their characters. Even the bad ones. I have no objections to a Liberal as a villain, liberals do bad things all the time. I have objections to strawmen, to false and lying creations who are so devoid of sympathy as to be unbelievable.

The example that always springs to mind is nonfiction, actually. Albert Speer’s “Inside the Third Reich”, is a long, intimate portrayal of Hitler and the rest of the Third Reich’s ruling elite. When I first read it many years ago, I was struck by how drawn I was to Hitler. He was portrayed as charming, funny, caring and intelligent. I felt the same sort of draw to him that one might feel reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography. And that feeling frightened me at first. I knew intellectually that Hitler must have been charming, magnetic, and so on, but actually experiencing it was deeply disturbing. I liked this sorta nuts but ultimately sweet man who cared about his employees and loved his dogs.

However, what Speer is doing is good writing- very good writing. To take the ur-villain, the official Worst Person Ever, and make him likeable, requires a great deal of skill. And it is here that Rand’s most fatal flaw is revealed.

She has no Empathy. None at all.

Empathy is a good thing, despite Glenn Beck’s claims. Empathy is what allows us to care for our friends when they suffer. It is what makes the human experience not one of ‘I’ but “we.” More practically, it is impossible to be a writer of any skill without empathy. It may be possible to be a good painter with no empathy- one need not feel for the light to be a Rembrandt. It may be possible to make good music, beautiful sculptures, or strong bridges without caring about people. But writing, the art and craft of writing, is getting inside of someone else’s head. Presenting the inner self of another being with such feeling as to seem real. Fundamentally, as far as Rand is concerned, Philip and Lillian know they’re the bad guys.  Which misses a rule of humanity so basic it is often missed- everyone thinks they’re the good guy. The worst people to ever live had a mile long list of justifications, and we are no different- we walk through life spreading small graces and petty cruelties almost unconsciously. Who among us doesn’t know at least one right bastard of a human being- and who among us hasn’t been one, at least once? Even when we acknowledge our wrongdoing, it is rarely through our own observations, and never in the heat of the moment. 

Yet Rand’s villains are- cartoonish. The most direct example is not from this book, but from “The Fountainhead.” Ellsworth Toohey often brags about his badness in a false psudeo-villiany. He talks about how he enjoys tearing down better men then he, how much he enjoys destruction for the sake of destruction. He is aware of his badness as if he were his own psychiatrist.

In contrast, look at another villain- Tony Soprano. He spends six years in therapy, and at the end, still justifies his evil, his transgressions as necessary. As excusable. As not so far different from what other people do. Or “Breaking Bad” where chemistry teacher Walt justifies his murderous avarice as being all for his family. Or Scarface, where Tony Montana is just trying to make his way in a hard world.

Everyone has a reason, even the bad guys. Rand does not understand that. She is so subsumed in her own truth that she is incapable of seeing that others hold other truths just as dear.  And in her total lack of comprehension, she is incapable of making her characters real. Real people who have real arguments and real reasons for what they do.

Another sign you’re a bad writer is when you are forced to create strawmen to serve your plot.  When moving your story forward requires characters to act not only in an unrealistic but an inhuman way, it is time to reconsider your plot. No person has ever talked like this, no person has ever acted like this.  The Roman playwright Terence wrote “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” We can recognize in ourselves the love of a Gandhi or the hate of a Hitler- we may not have felt so strongly but we have so felt.  . But what Rand creates is nothing human and it is, therefore, something alien to ourselves, and has no power over us. 

Rand’s failure of empathy means that she is not moved. And in not being moved, she cannot be moving. No tricks of language, no elegance of composition, can substitute for that. 

Written by newscum

September 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

An Atheist’s Proposal

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I saw this video, earlier, and it reminded me of something I’d thought for a long time:

For those of you at work, the link is to Steve Martin singing “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” Which is true. I’ve often lamented that while I love to sing hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Lord of the Dance,” and, my personal favorite, “One in the Spirit,” there are no equivalent atheist songs. Or rituals. Or (and this is important) holidays.

Yes, I know, I can hear you now. “But aren’t we atheists because we don’t believe in holy-ness, or really, much of anything?” And I say, yes, you’re very clever. Have a cookie.

But I think we should. I think we take a few days and declare them, more or less unanimously, our holidays.

As any atheist can tell you, we’re the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the “beliefs” world- we don’t get no respect. There is something about professing a belief in no god, as opposed to a belief in some other god- that brings out the theologian in even the most casual religious believers. I’ve noticed also that among those people who actively proselytize, there is a great deal more comfort in approaching an atheist than in approaching a professed Muslim or Hindu.

This all, I think, ties into the question of legitimacy. This can be clearly seen in George H. W. Bush’s comment that atheists are not really citizens. Even in this Islamophobic day and age, it is impossible to imagine a similar comment being made about Muslims. And any such unprovoked attack on most other religious minorities would be met with incredulity, scorn, and probably an immediate apology. Think of a President saying “no Sikh is a real American citizen,” and imagine the response. (Admittedly, the anger would probably come after a bit of frantic, nationwide googling, but still.)

Part of this is because when you’re an atheist, being a formal, declared whatever doesn’t really matter. I mean, that’s really the freakin’ point, innit? We don’t believe in woo, we don’t pray to woo, we don’t have a big party on some day when we thing the woo did something cool. We just go about our freaking lives, do our thing, and try to have a good time, right? But, on the other hand, I think I’ve come up with five good reasons why we should.

First, the emotional appeal. Whatever else they may be, religious beliefs, or the lack thereof, are an important part of who we are as people and as a species. And religion and science have at least something in common, and were born of the same fundamental and amazing human characteristic- we want to know. The point at which we became human, if not genetically, than at least in function, was when some guy on the savannah looked up at the stars, and around at the world in all its strange and inexplicable beauty and said “So….what’s going on here, huh?” Most atheists are, at the core, skeptics and investigators, people who are determined to ferret out the truth wherever she hides. This is an impulse that is beautiful and should be celebrated.

Second- we are legitimate people. We have a belief in common, and there are a lot of us. Being a Christian is as simple as believing that Jesus Christ was/is lord and savior of all human beings. Being a Muslim is as simple as saying “there is one god and Muhammad is his prophet” And being an atheist is as simple as saying “there is no god at all.” We have as much right to a unique and celebrated identity as any other granfalloon.

Third- respect. Beliefs, to gain traction and acceptance, need to have at least some legitimacy, and some demonstrable, recognizable symbols, songs, images- in short, some freakin’ marketing. We want to be recognized as legitimate people with legitimate beliefs that should be given the same legitimate recognition as any other belief, and too that end, the trapping and suits of organization are very useful. Actually, that is probably the most important qualifier- an “organized” religion gains legitimacy simply through that modifier. It is how we know that the Methodists are different in degree, if not in kind, from David Koresh.

Four- what, you wouldn’t love to be able to tell your boss “Sorry, can’t come into work tomorrow. It’s no-god-mas and I’ve got to wrap presents for the kids?”

Fifth, and most importantly- holidays build community, and people need holidays. We need an excuse to celebrate, and a few days a year when we remember what, and who is important to us. When we share who we are and what we feel with the world at large. Holidays remind us of important things as well- charity and giving lie at the heart of Christmas, atonement at the heart of Yom Kippur. And, as a former Christian, there is something lovely about seeing other people sharing your faith, celebrating and rejoicing the same thing, for the same reasons. Our differences are set aside as we remember who we are.

So then- what holidays should we have, and why should we have them this way? Well, to probably put too fine a point on things, holidays celebrate all sorts of shit. But generally speaking, holidays of all type fall into two big catagories= celebration and sorrow. July Fourth, Easter and Channukah are celebration, while Memorial Day, Good Friday, and Yom Kippur are sorrow. So we need at least two holidays- the day where we all get together and party, and the day of remembering our own and the world’s flaws.

For the first, a celebratory day of feasting, I have several ideas. The first is simple- May 21st, the day Harold Camping and his friends were not raptured. It is simple, and already has high name recognition. However, after thinking of it, I don’t like it. It feels less like “this is a day to celebrate who I am and what I believe with the people I care about” and more like “Haha! Stupid Jesus People!” And even more- it is both defining ourselves in juxtaposition to a religious belief, and it is doing exactly what Christians started out doing- piggybacking their beliefs on days that already had something going on, to make the transition easier.

So, the first and most logical choice is a notable birthday- Darwin is the easy choice, but a little too easy. So is Gandhi. While both were amazing men who deserve celebration, it would be nice to take this opportunity to recognize some other notable atheists who did great things.

Along those lines, here are my suggestions-

21st of March- Zackie Achmat’s birthday. An incredible South African activist who has and tirelessly for LGBT rights and many, many other causes. And he’s still alive- we don’t believe in an afterlife, so we need to recognize great people while they’re still around.
25th July- Rosalind Franklin’s Birthday. The woman who got screwed out of the credit for discovering DNA.
December 26th -Baba Amte’s birthday. An Indian activist who worked tirelessly to help lepers.
11 March- Douglas Adam’s birthday. If I have to explain this one, you’re reading the wrong damn thing.
21 June- Sartre’s birthday. Notable, at least for me, because he did more than anyone to help me clarify how one is good outside of a religious framework.
December 16th. Santayana’s birthday. Another wonderful, and hugely influential, atheist philosopher.
18 May- Bertrand Russell’s birthday.
My personal vote will probably go to 28th July- Karl Popper’s birthday. The man almost single-handedly invented the modern scientific method.

And we also need holidays to remember. Frankly, I think the best idea behind a holiday is Yom Kippur- a day of atonement, of reconciliation and compensation. A day where you make things right. A day where you are reminded that you, like everyone else in the world, has messed up, needs to acknowledge your mistakes and make them right.
To that end I suggest September 23d, the day the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed into Mars because one group was using metric and one was using imperial. It reminds us that for all our care and work, we can fuck up as badly as anyone. Perhaps we can have ritualized readings of scientific papers about the “ether” through which light travels, or the works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.

So that’s my proposal. Not a “But Thou Must,” but something fun and unifying- our very own little cultural marker. A day or two when we can fly OUR flag, put up OUR decorations, and know that all across the world, there are people who don’t believe in the same thing doing the same thing on the same day for the same reasons. We spend much of our time alone, as atheists. We are cut out of many aspects of modern life, and often find ourselves unexpectedly ostracized. The moment where everyone else begins to pray before dinner, the sudden reference to religion in a place far outside where it belongs-all these things serve to separate us out from the well of humanity- a distinct point where our differences are singled out in a way that they are not for people of faith.

And of course, there is always Atheist Pride Week. Which I think is great idea, but also disparate from what I’m suggesting. A pride week suggests an activism, a raising of awareness, as well as celebration. A sort of “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” What I want is something like the Atheist Christmas, a day about simply being a peaceful atheist. A day to remember where we came from, and what we don’t believe. A day to simply be at peace with ourselves and the ones we loved. A day to share in peace. Also, a week is usually too long to get off work. (Hey, we atheists are first and foremost a PRACTICAL people.)

So, I’d like to hear from you guys- dates you think it should be on. Other holidays we need. And the trimmings! There’s no point to Christmas without a tree, so what should we use? (I favor small, noninvasive shrubberies myself.) What songs should we sing around the symbols? What should become our traditional Atheist Day foods? What should we call these holidays that sounds cooler that Atheist Day?

And finally, please understand- I’m not saying this because I think we need a structure, or because we all agree. We’re a big group encompassing every possible political belief and tone of skin. But once in a while, it’s nice to set the ’me’ aside and celebrate a greater ‘us.’ Once in a while, its nice to have a holiday.

Written by newscum

August 16, 2011 at 12:41 am

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Atlas Shrugged VI: The Ballad of Hank Rearden

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Pgs 22-29

“The metal came rising to the top of the ladle and went running over with arrogant prodigality. Then the blinding white trickles turned to glowing brown, and in one more instant they were black icicles of metal, starting to crumble off. The slag was crusting in thick, brown ridges that looked like the crust of the earth. As the crust grew thicker, a few craters broke open, with the white liquid still boiling within.”

I’ll give it to Rand. That’s a damn pretty piece of writing. Say what you will about the woman (And I plan on saying a LOT) she can find the rough beauty in the industrial world.
Which it its way is half the problem. The best lies, they say, are those that have a core of truth at the center. And Rand finds some truth. There is nobility in doing honest work. There is something grand about tons of steel spun through midair by brave strong men who build and create.
The Seven Deadly Sins are so deadly precisely because they start out as virtues. Gluttony starts out as an honest love of the pleasures the world has to offer, and only later becomes twisted into sin. Pride starts out as nothing more than healthy self-esteem, taken too far. And in a similar way, Rand seizes on good things and twists them.
Let me shock all the libertarians reading this. I like the free market. Hell, I love the free market. When regulated and controlled, capitalism is a good thing, a great thing. The power that allows steel mills to rise, cities to sprawl across the globe, is the power of progress. And the love of building things is a true and honest love.
But that is only where Rand begins. In her hands, the love of creation becomes a weapon. In Rand’s world, creating and building are not pleasures, but desperate blows against a cruel and oppressive world. And her creations are twisted by this obsession. Hank Rearden cannot simply love to create. Love of his business must be his only love. He has to cut out everything else. All other beauty, all other loves, are not only subservient to his mills, they are obliterated.
And it has made him terribly, terribly sad:
“Ever since he could remember, he had been told that his face was ugly, because it was unyielding, and cruel, because it was expressionless. It remained expressionless now, as he looked at the metal. He was Hank Rearden.”
A man who never smiles, a man who never shows any expression, is rarely a happy man. And there is something pathetic in that passage, a man who has been denied love turning to one thing he can do well. One thing that makes him happy.
And I’ll make another confession. I like Hank Rearden. In this whole damn novel, he’s the only person who ever acts like a human being. A human being with a sequoia firmly implanted in his nether regions, true, but a human being nonetheless. Galt is a messianic figurehead, there to be dramatic and say pithy things about Aristotle. Dagny is….unpleasant. Eddie is there to show what happens to you when you’re not quite good enough (hint: the people you’ve served all your life throw you to the wolves.) But Rearden is a real person, a real character, and even though he’s not the best, he’s such a welcome relief in this novel I can’t help but love him.
There is a bit more lovely writing- descriptions of a young struggling Rearden making his first steel mill out of nothing, and, again, there is that deceptive Horatio Alger charm. This is a story we are familiar with. Poor Boy Makes Good on nothing but wit and brains. Most delightful, most familiar. And because it is familiar, we instinctively fill in the little details. We know Hank. We’ve met him a dozen times before, and where Rand’s grasp of the formula fails, we fill in the blanks for her. And we are predisposed to like these people. And so we like Rearden. Even filled out with the stale details of stereotype, he is at least three-dimensional.
And there is another thing about Rearden. He cares. He doesn’t care in the weak and wibbling sort of way that Eddie does, or have the blank uncaring of Dagny. This is a man who honestly loves people.

“He felt that he could forgive anything to anyone, because happiness was the greatest agent of purification. He felt certain that every living being wished him well tonight. He wanted to meet someone, to face the first stranger, to stand disarmed and open, and to say, “Look at me.” People, he thought, were as hungry for a sight of joy as he had always been-for a moment’s relief from that gray load of suffering which seemed so inexplicable and unnecessary. He had never been able to understand why men should be unhappy.”

Read that thoroughly un-Randian passage. Here is Hank Rearden, steel magnate, thinking, in a vague and inconsequential fashion, that he’d like to make other people happy. And that’s why we love him. Even though we know we’ll see this common decency beaten out of them, for a moment, this is a happy man, filled with the great joy of success, and wishing nothing but good to everyone.
Of course, all good things must come to an end.

“He touched the bracelet in his pocket. He had had it made from that first poured metal. It was for his wife…”

Awww! How sweet! Ten years of work, and the first thing he thinks to make with this metal he’s poured so much sweat into is something for his wife. Well, she must be a hell of a woman, right? To be so on his thoughts that in the moment of his greatest triumph, his thoughts turn to her.

“Then she turned her head, looked at Rearden in the shadows across the long room, and her arms spread gracefully, like two swan necks by her sides.
“Why, darling,” she said in a bright tone of amusement, “isn’t it too early to come home? Wasn’t there some slag to sweep or tuyeres to polish?”

Charming. Rand doesn’t have a Madonna/whore complex. She has a Madonna/bitch complex. Every woman she writes is either a Dagny or…whatever this is supposed to be. No one talks like that. No one acts like that. Does it get worse? Does the Pope shit in the woods?

“Lillian Rearden was generally regarded as a beautiful woman. She had a tall, graceful body, the kind that looked well in high-waisted gowns of the Empire style, which she made it a practice to wear. .. But when she turned full-face, people experienced a small shock of disappointment. Her face was not beautiful. The eyes were the flaw: they were vaguely pale, neither quite gray nor brown, lifelessly empty of expression. Rearden had always wondered, since she seemed amused so often, why there was no gaiety in her face.”

Oh! She’s supposed to be the cold, high-society chick and of course, Rearden will find love with the innocent but hard working Other Woman.

And here’s the problem. There are three interesting things going on here: Rearden meets his brother, Lillian plans a party, and Rearden gives her the bracelet. Today, for brevities sake, I’ll just finish off the bit about the necklace. Next time, though, I want to discuss Philip and Lillian in greater detail. For now, however, lets wrap this painful little scene up.

“”I brought you a present, Lillian.”
He did not know that he stood straight and that the gesture of his arm was that of a returning crusader offering his trophy to his love, when he dropped a small chain of metal into her lap.
Lillian Rearden picked it up, hooked on the tips of two straight fingers, and raised it to the light. The links were heavy, crudely made, the shining metal had an odd tinge, it was greenish-blue.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“The first thing made from the first heat of the first order of Rearden Metal.”
“You mean,” she said, “it’s fully as valuable as a piece of railroad rails?”
He looked at her blankly.
She jingled the bracelet, making it sparkle under the light. “Henry, it’s perfectly wonderful! What originality! I shall be the sensation of New York, wearing jewelry made of the same stuff as bridge girders, truck motors, kitchen stoves, typewriters, and-what was it you were saying about it the other day, darling?-soup kettles?”
“God, Henry, but you’re conceited!” said Philip.
Lillian laughed. “He’s a sentimentalist. All men are. But, darling, I do appreciate it. It isn’t the gift, it’s the intention, I know.”

Damn. I mean…damn. That’s a crushing blow. Ok, I’ll grant, as far as great gifts go, bracelet of metal doesn’t do much, and maybe he could’ve jazzed it up a little, but, sweet Jesus, that’s cold.
And that’s why Hank Rearden is the only real human being in this novel. The others were born to privilege and wealth. Francisco, Dagny…Galt was not born rich, but is instead a super-genius of some fashion.
Hank is just Hank. He’s the poor boy who made it good. He’s the guy who works and sweats and slaves because he honestly believes this is a good world. The cynicism of Galt and Francisco is disgusting to see. Rand tries to disguise it, but it is nothing more than the lowest form of aristocratic contempt for the proles. There are the chosen few, and then there are the hordes of slaves. Hank doesn’t have that though. He wants to make people happy, he wants to take care of his family. He wants in other words, other things. A life beyond mills and metal.
But that isn’t permitted. That isn’t the party line. And so, for the next nine hundred pages, this book is the Tragedy of Hank Rearden. Of a decent, hardworking man corrupted, beaten, mistreated and spurned until he lashes out at the world in a cynical orgy of destruction.
In Dagny, in Galt, this is disgusting. In Rearden, it is tragic. It is like the collapse of one of his buildings- something old and grand and noble slowly torn down and reshaped until the kind man who makes bracelets for his wife is lost.

Written by newscum

December 6, 2010 at 8:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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