Atlas Shrugged II: Who Is John Galt?
Atlas Shrugged pgs 2-5
I don’t wanna do it, don’t make me! Please mommy, don’t let the bad lady hurt me anymore. I won’t use anymore wire hangers…
*sigh* So, without any further sobbing, wailing, attempts to give myself testicular cancer with a glow in the dark watch, or trying to change my name to Juan and move to Tijuana…Ladies and Gents: Atlas Shrugged!
“Who is John Galt?”
That’s how she starts the book off. Well, in case you haven’t heard, John Galt is the perfected man. He won’t show up for about another 700 pages though, so don’t hold your breath. In Rand’s world, the phrase “Who is John Galt?”is pervasive. It is an expression of despair and depression, that the world is fundamentally screwed and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Of course, this is also a sign of the incredible low level of curiosity shown by anyone besides Our Craggy Heroes ™. No one bothers to do any research, investigation, zip. At the end, it will turn out that “John Galt” has been on the payroll of Taggart Transcontinental all along. And no one noticed. No one looked at his pay stub, none of the people he worked with, none of the people who paid him ever commented on it. These people aren’t just uncurious, they’re inhuman. Think of your reaction if you met someone named Thomas Cruise, or even Henry Ford. Their name, their face would stick with you more clearly, even though they only shared a name with someone famous. Humans search for patterns, and the idea that no one would comment, that no one would notice this guy has exactly the same name as the guy in that saying is literally impossible. Humans don’t work like that.
So the book opens from the perspective of Eddie Willers. And here’s the thing. I like Eddie. Eddie is a nice guy. Eddie acts like a human being. He isn’t some inhumanly dramatic Nordic God of Industry, he isn’t some whiny schmuck. He’s just a guy, caught up in events beyond his ken. Actually, Eddie might be the most important character in the book. See, Eddie is one of those people that keeps things running. The secret that Rand missed, even though it runs through the book like a thread, is that the John Galt’s and Dagny Taggart’s of the world don’t actually run things. Dagny spends about half the book traveling, in hiding, working on another railroad, and generally doing things that are not “Running Taggart Transcontinental.” Who runs it while she’s gone? Eddie. When she goes missing in Colorado and plays “hide the gold bar” with Galt, who runs things? Eddie. When she and Rearden travel around the US hunting down motors, who runs the office? Eddie.
One of the turning points of this book will be the eventual, inevitable downfall of Taggert Transcontinental. Dagny spends pages raging against this like the good lil’ ubermensch she is. Eddie doesn’t. Eddie just keeps things running.
I like Eddie.
When we meet Eddie, however, he is having a little crisis. A bum has asked him for a dime.
“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face …yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still-as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.
“It doesn’t,” snapped Eddie Willers.
He reached hastily into his pocket. The bum had stopped him and asked for a dime, then had gone on talking, as if to kill that moment and postpone the problem of the next. Pleas for dimes were so frequent in the streets these days that it was not necessary to listen to explanations, and he had no desire to hear the details of this bum’s particular despair.
“Go get your cup of coffee,” he said, handing the dime to the shadow that had no face. ‘Thank you, sir.’ said the voice, without interest, and the face leaned forward for a moment.”
Yep. This is the most likable character in the book. Look dude, you’re going to your high-powered, well paying job. Give the guy a fucking dime and spare us the drama, ok? You can afford it. Hell, he even thanks you. I mean you gave the guy a dime, what do you want, a boot licking? (Also, literary note. WE KNOW THE GUYS FUCKING NAME, AYN. YOU DON’T NEED TO KEEP REPEATING IT LIKE WE’RE UNUSUALLY SLOW KINDERGARTENERS.)
Again, this illustrates a fundamental part of Libertarian thinking. It’s not just the idea of charity or generosity that bothers them. It’s the idea that people aren’t grateful enough. Never mind that this is a polite, respectful bum, he is “without interest.” Because you know, when someone gives me a free dime, I am overjoyed. This poor bum doesn’t realize the simple joy of a dime. I mean, a dime! What ecstatic joy is in the word! Stupid bums not appreciating the value of a good dime.
But Eddie is feeling a “causeless unease”
“It’s the twilight, he thought; I hate the twilight.”
(Say it with me everyone: SYMBOLISM!)
“He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two buildings, as in the crack of a door, he saw the page of a gigantic calendar suspended in the sky.”
Worst. Acid trip. EVER.
“It was the calendar that the mayor of New York had erected last year on the top of a building, so that citizens might tell the day of the month as they told the hours of the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A white rectangle hung over the city, imparting the date to the men in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening’s sunset, the rectangle said: September 2.”
That’s a really, really, really stupid idea. I mean, really stupid. A giant calendar? Who the hell wants a giant calendar? I mean if it had some kittens playing with string, or a bunch of classic ‘vettes, yeah, I could see that. But just a plain old calendar? It’s like the worst present ever from your grandmother. Except that your grandmother is the Mayor of New York. And she just blew a few million of your tax dollars on a friggin’ sky calendar.
“Eddie Willers looked away. He had never liked the sight of that calendar. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.”
Really? It doesn’t make you angry, Eddie Willers? You don’t think it’s a horrible waste of public money, Eddie Willers? It just makes you sad, Eddie Willers? You’re such a puss, Eddie Willers.
You know, I get it. I really get why their world is falling apart. Because none of the “movers and shakers” ever get angry. Well, they do, but it’s always a sort of helpless and confused rage. “What can we do?” they cry. “We’re only powerful industrialists! We have no ability to affect the course of anything!” They never start a petition or pay off a senator or even write a letter. They just sit around, and then get all sad and outraged, but in a quiet and noble way, like an Indian watching you litter.
And I find myself understanding old people now. The sort of anger that Dagny and Hank and John feel isn’t the anger of the dynamic and youthful men and woman of action they are. It is the sort of helpless, gnawing rage of someone grown too old, in a world they do not understand. And so they shake their fists and curse the youth and vote for whoever reminds them of Ronnie, because they don’t understand and this frightens them. It is understandable, and heartbreaking in the old. It is unforgiveable in the young.
And this is the same attitude we see among the superrich today. Witness the reactions of the car companies any time a new requirement is added, be it seatbelts, or mileage requirements, or safety glass. Instead of either A) doing it or B) listing reasons why it can’t be done, they simply wibble and whine like two year olds who just lost snack time.*
“But but but, we can’t possibly do that! Profit margins! Engineering! LAYOFFS!” You halfway expect them to bring their mothers to the Congressional hearings. And then, if they’re lucky, they get congressmen (*cough* Barton *cough*) apologizing to them for the heinous crime of expecting them not make a horrible mess of the entire world. Because they’re suffering!
So Eddie wanders down the street. He sees a stall full of fresh produce, and a well driven bus, and feels better. 🙂 But then he sees the calendar again and feels sad. 😦 And then he sees stuff for sale and he’s all 🙂 again. And then he thinks about a tree and is all :(. And then he gets to work and is all 🙂
Brutha needs some lithium, know what I’m sayin’?
So blah, blah, blah, childhood memories, the world is changing, I can feel it in the water, I can smell it in the air.
Two pages later, he finally gets to work. And meets his boss, the head of the company, one of the most powerful, wealthiest industrialists in the world. James Taggart. The very name is synonymous with trains, with energy, with motion. Oh, what a God this man must be!
“He had a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead. His posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness, as if in defiance of his tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat, but transformed into the gawkiness of a lout. The flesh of his face was pale and soft. His eyes were pale and veiled, with a glance that moved slowly, never quite stopping, gliding off and past things in eternal resentment of their existence. He looked obstinate and drained. He was thirty-nine years old.
He lifted his head with irritation, at the sound of the opening door.
“Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me,” said James Taggart.”
Now, let us be clear here. Ayn Rand is not saying that all Liberals are ugly.
*flips through rest of book*
No, I tell a lie. She thinks all Liberals are ugly. Presumably her books of philosophy contains, (besides the “Liberals are ugly” argument) the “Liberals are smelly” argument, the “Liberals are poopyheads” argument, and most devastating of all the “So’s your old man” argument.
Again, I refer you to the statement included in the author biography.
“I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written-and published-is my proof that they do.”
Ayn Rand feels that her ability to write characters like Galt means that they somehow must exist. So presumably, in her mind, the fact that she writes liberals like James Taggart means that they too must exist.
And again, the sheer arrogance in that statement is so breathtaking, so very far beyond the ken of normal hubris, that it requires a full minute or two of thinking about before you realize what she has done. She has claimed that the fact that she has written something means that it is so.
“And Rand said, let there be Galt. And there was Galt.
And Rand saw the Galt, that it was good: and Rand divided the Galt from the liberals…”
Next time: Deals are made! Rail is bought! Woolen undershirts are sought! And introducing: DAGNY TAAAAAAAGART!
While I did not at all intend the particular edited line to be read that way, part of being a writer is being able to take criticism, and change what you did wrong. And yes, I’m still struggling with my male privilege. (I’m 21, cut me some slack.) And in this case…well, frankly, what I’ve got there now is a better metaphor that what was there before. Cheap shock value is one of those things I’m supposed to be rising above. And as always, thanks to Carolyn for calling me on these screwups. Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux and all that.