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Atlas Shrugged III: The Decider

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Atlas Shrugged: pgs 5-16

Wow, sorry about that. It’s been a busy week.

Anyway, today we are again traveling through a door. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the…oh, I’m sorry. That’s the opening to the Twilight Zone, not Atlas Shrugged. Although the ideas behind Atlas Shrugged would’ve made an excellent episode of the Twilight Zone. Of course, Dagny and Hank and John Galt would be the bad guys. Say what you will about the Twilight Zone, but it at least had a firm moral compass.

So, when we left off last, we had just met James Taggart, President of Taggart Transcontinental, the largest railroad in the United States. Eddie Willers shows up in his office because there is trouble brewing.

He looked at James Taggart and said, “It’s the Rio Norte Line.” He noticed Taggart’s glance moving down to a corner of the desk. “We’ve had another wreck.”
“Railroad accidents happen every day. Did you have to bother me about that?”
“You know what I’m saying, Jim. The Rio Norte is done for. That track is shot. Down the whole line.”

DUN DUN DUUUUUNNNNNNNNN!

The next few pages, while ostensibly about the Rio Norte line, are nothing more than a stream of cheap little insults at the expense of Jim Taggart. Of course, we begin with the initial description, where we left off last time, but allow me to refresh your memories.

He looked like a man approaching fifty, who had crossed into age from adolescence, without the intermediate stage of youth. 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.

Over the next few pages she will add lines like:

“What Taggart disliked about Eddie Willers was this habit of looking straight into people’s eyes”

“James Taggart seldom raised his head; when he looked at people, he did so by lifting his heavy eyelids and staring upward from under the expanse of his bald forehead.”

“Taggart asked slowly, his voice half-mocking, half-cautious, ‘What did my sister say?’”

You get the idea. That is not including the constant innuendo of every line of dialogue, of every comment. I would have to copy the entire page and a half to give you the full sensation. So just take my word for it, Ayn Rand goes out of her way to slander Jim Taggart. What’s more, these slurs are not directed at his intellect, nor at his ideas. While both these will be eventually attacked, when Rand first attacks her intellectual opponents, she immediately defaults to the cheapest of all propaganda tricks: physical appearance. Her heroes are clean limbed and healthy, and usually described as “angular.” She gushes over the lines of their faces, their bodies. Her villains…well, just read what she wrote.

What makes this so very irritating (beyond the fact that it’s bad writing, poor character development, supremely propagandistic, and generally bad art) is that when her villains do the same thing in the novel, she treats it as a supreme betrayal. On page 477, she describes one of the passengers riding on a doomed train as:

“a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.”

But as we have seen, and as we shall continue to see, her descriptions of her opponents are not analytical. There are no sheets of figures showing why their schemes will fail, there are no cutting logical analyses (Well, except for that massive speech by John Galt, but that is a bit sui generis and will be dealt with in its own good time.) There is only a stream of invective; the cheapest, most foolish inanities put into the mouth of characters she doesn’t like. Cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all liberals are scoundrels (if you will.) And trust me, it only gets worse from here.

But let us turn from that fruitful and yet to be fully explored path to what may be the most important sentence in this entire book. A bit of context: Eddie is thinking about Ellis Wyatt. (Q: is he a good guy or bad guy based only on the name?) and how he has turned his oil wells into the lifeblood of the nation by being bootstrappy. (A: Good guy.) He is reflecting on the symbolism of a map of railway lines as a chart of the United States’ arteries, and Ellis Wyatt’s role in filling them with oily lifeblood. To Eddie, Wyatt is an almost mythic figure.
.

One man had done it, and he had done it in eight years; this, thought Eddie Willers, was like the stories he had read in school books and never quite believed, the stories of men who had lived in the days of the country’s youth.

And there you have it folks. That is the quintessence of the Tea Parties, the Libertarians, the Randites beliefs. That the world today is somehow inferior to some unspecified prior golden age. And that is somehow the fault of restrictions on business. Life, they believe, was better in the age of Carnegie and the Battle of Blair Mountain, of Rockefeller and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Of J. P. Morgan and the Battle of Homestead. It is no coincidence that these things are paired. The existence of uncontrollable monopolies, of a pure free market, was what permitted the Gilded Age; filled with unbelievably wealthy nabobs and incredible suffering. There were no controls, no checks, no balances. And for 99% of everyone, it sucked.
Of course, one of the fundamental, unstated beliefs of this Tea Party worldview is that they will somehow all be among that one percent. That they are all so bootstrappy, so skilled, and so talented that should all checks on the pure free market be removed tomorrow, they would all be John D. Rockefellers, lighting their cigars with hundred dollar bills.
And in all honesty it is more than likely that, should that unhappy state of affairs come to pass, they would hang on quite well for a while. Of course, this would have little or nothing to do with their inherent abilities, but their whiteness, their education, their prior economic status…in other words, almost everything else but their inherent skills. To use my favorite phrase, they were born on third base, and think they hit a triple.

The essential belief of the Tea Party is that when they release the perfect free market, that all inequities will swept away, and the only rubric will be pure talent. They believe in some idealized pseudo-Peter Principle. That instead of rising to the level of their incompetence, people will instead rise to the level of their greatest competence and be happy there. In other words, they believe in a world of happy-crappy BS.
Ironically, their blind embrace of the free market is nothing more than the embrace of the free reign of mankind’s least noble impulses, expressed as far as the profit margin. As long as there is no profit (or at least no extra profit) in hiring women, in hiring minorities, in improving destitute communities, and so on, there will be no free market incentive to do so. And as long as it doesn’t impact the profit margins, anyone in power is free to exercise whatever bigotry they choose. It would be simple to slide back into the sort of system that existed before the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Mysteriously enough, only white males could go to college and get a good job. Which is, of course, proof that only white men have the natural genius required for industry. And so therefore women and minorities shouldn’t go to college. And so on ad nauseum.

Returning to the narrative. The discussion that consumes these pages is essentially this. There is another railroad, the Phoenix-Durango that is competing with Taggart Transcontinental in the newly industrial state of Colorado. Wyatt’s oil fields have caused a sudden economic boom in the state, one that Taggart’s railroad was poorly posed to take advantage of. The Phoenix-Durango is outperforming them, and Eddie wants something done about it. And Jim is going to do something about it, just as soon as their Mexican railroad starts to pay off.

Throughout this conversation a few themes are endlessly repeated. “Talk to my sister” and “No one can blame us” The first theme..well, we’ll meet Dagny in just a bit. But the second theme is very interesting. In Ayn Rand’s world, what Liberals care about is not results, not progress, but not being blamed. The world can go to hell (and it does) as long as no one can blame them.

That’s…that’s so stupid I don’t even know where to start. It’s like talking to someone about the latest mission to Mars and discovering that they believe the sun is a giant lamp in the sky, and the stars are places where the paint has chipped away. The flaws in their thinking are so grotesquely fundamental that you don’t even know where to start. However, we’ll put off that question until later, when one of these poor-straw men actually tries to defend themselves.

Then we come to a bit of good and rather effective writing. As Eddie leaves Jim’s office, he bumps into old Pop Harper, the office repairman. And Pop asks Eddie if he knows where he can get any good woolen undershirts.

Pop Harper glanced up at Eddie Willers as he came out of the president’s office. It was a wise, slow glance; it seemed to say that he knew that Eddie’s visit to their part of the building meant trouble on the line, knew that nothing had come of the visit, and was completely indifferent to the knowledge. It was the cynical indifference which Eddie Willers had seen in the eyes of the bum on the street corner.
“Say, Eddie, know where I could get some woolen undershirts?” he asked, “Tried all over town, but nobody’s got ’em.”
“I don’t know,” said Eddie, stopping. “Why do you ask me?”
“I just ask everybody. Maybe somebody’ll tell me.”

Of course, it immediately degenerates into a long maudlin speech after that, but let’s take a moment to appreciate this detail. An old man who just wants some good woolen undershirts. But these things don’t exist anymore. Everyone remembers them, and they are such a small detail, so easily overlooked. You simply buy the cheaper cotton ones, and how often do you buy undershirts anyway? You just assume they’re out of them at the moment. No one ever mentions it, no one ever notices that they’re gone, because they don’t realize they are. But this small detail has slipped away forever, the first small stone of the landslide that’s coming. And the only one who even notices is a half-crazy old man, who just wants to be warm in the long, cold winter. That’s a lovely detail, and a surprisingly delicate touch in a book that is usually about as subtle as a nine pound hammer to the kneecap.
And finally, finally we meet Dagny Taggart. Take a deep breath campers, we’re about to be up to our eyeballs in it.

Her leg, sculptured by the tight sheen of the stocking, its long line running straight, over an arched instep, to the tip of a foot in a high-heeled pump, had a feminine elegance that seemed out of place in the dusty train car and oddly incongruous with the rest of her. She wore a battered camel’s hair coat that had been expensive, wrapped shapelessly about her slender, nervous body. The coat collar was raised to the slanting brim of her hat. A sweep of brown hair fell back, almost touching the line of her shoulders. Her face was made of angular planes, the shape of her mouth clear-cut, a sensual mouth held closed with inflexible precision. She kept her hands in the coat pockets, her posture taut, as if she resented immobility, and unfeminine, as if she were unconscious of her own body and that it was a woman’s body.

You thought I was joking about the obsession with angles, didn’t you?

And to be honest, not much happens in the next few pages. The train stops, Dagny gets out. She discovers that no one wants to get the train started, because if they take action they could be blamed, dontcha see? And then Dagny sorts it out easily. Not because it was a hard problem, but because it’s an easy one. Which apparently no one else thought about. Also, she hears a piece of music, which she recognizes as the work of Richard Halley, a composer who disappeared some years ago. The thing is, this is a new work. *PLOT POINT*
Then she sweeps into Jim’s office, tells him that she’s not ordering the rails from Orren Boyle who hasn’t delivered it in over a year.

No.

No.

Sweet JESUS NO. OK? I could understand if, say the rail was two weeks, even a month late. Then we would have some energy in this scene. You have Jim Taggart, trying to be loyal to a friend who is having some trouble, and no-nonsense Dagny Taggart who wants that rail yesterday because she has important work to do. Neither one of these people would be evil, or moronic. They’d be two people, with different motives, caught in the struggle between rational and emotional impulses. It could explore the nature of the business world, the question of whether the quest for money is ultimately uplifting or dehumanizing. Jim could defend his principles and Dagny could shoot him down, but as one treats a brother. As one treats a fellow human being. Give the man some dignity, for Christ’s sake.

But no one, no matter how liberal, no matter how communistic, waits THIRTEEN MONTHS for something they need. Let alone something they desperately need. No one at all. It is just a stupid, overblown detail to show how wishy-washy and mealy mouthed Jim Taggart is compared to his sister. And, if she is so on the ball, why in hell didn’t she do this twelve months ago? There is no indication in this scene that once she has put her foot down, Jim will display any resistance. She effectively runs the company, so why is she just getting to this now? It seems to me that she has been waiting just as long as he has, to no appreciable end, for no appreciable purpose. But because she is the one finally taking action, we’re supposed to respect her.

And then this happens.

“The human element is very important. You have no sense of the human element at all.”
“We’re talking about saving a railroad, Jim.”
“Yes, of course, of course, but still, you haven’t any sense of the human element.”
“No. I haven’t.”

And you know what? I’m with Dagny on this one. Because I have no clue what the “Human Element” is, either. Except a buzzword from IBM. But it sounds like the sort of thing a shitty
author would put in the mouth of a strawman lib….Oh, I see what you did there. Very clever, Ayn.

And then she decides they’re going to use Rearden Metal. Which is a magical new type of metal that can do…well, just about anything. Of course, it’s completely untested under any sort of long term strain, there have been no replicates of the data, no one except Rearden has had a chance to see it.

And then this happens.

“What do you go by?” [Jim asked.]
“Judgment.”
“Well, whose judgment did you take?”
“Mine.”
“But whom did you consult about it?”
“Nobody.”
“Then what on earth do you know about Rearden Metal?”
“That it’s the greatest thing ever put on the market.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s tougher than steel, cheaper than steel and will outlast any hunk of metal in existence.”
“But who says so?”
“Jim, I studied engineering in college. When I see things, I see them.”

Apparently when she was studying engineering she missed out on…well, the entirety of the scientific method. You don’t “see” things in engineering. You don’t have a gut feeling that something will work and use that to go on. That gut feeling might be the start, but it is step one of about ten thousand. Then you collect data, and compare data, and run tests and simulations and calculate all sorts of variables and you do all this because no matter how good you are, at least half the time you’re Just. Plain. Wrong. Because you forgot to include some little detail in your gut feeling. And this isn’t just Timmy Testtube that does this, either. You think that Einstein just came up with relativity? No. He had a gut feeling, and he followed it down many, many blind alleys until he found something that worked. Because that’s what science is, methodically testing your educated guesses or gut feelings until you get them right.

And on that note…I’m tired. I’m really, really, tired of this book. I’m gonna take a break now. But next time, I think I’ll start exploring some of the similarities between this and the Left Behind series, and why they both seem to have a death grip on two very similar and often overlapping groups of people. Stay tuned.

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Written by newscum

July 24, 2010 at 7:39 am

18 Responses

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  1. Tis pretty amazing when you get into it how much Ayn Rand’s personal neuroses about physical appearance and her use of them to telegraph the good guys from the bad guys influences how we’re supposed to see these people.

    It’s also equally fascinating how she makes these straw-man characters, just like LaHaye-sponsored books have straw-man atheists or non-Christians solely for the purpose of Rayford Fully-Loaded to manfully overcome their puny little objections.

    apocalypsereview

    July 24, 2010 at 8:29 am

  2. A character named Taggart working on railroads makes me think of Blazing Saddles, and then we have our introduction of Dagny starting with her legs, which makes me jump to Lily von Shtupp …

    Maybe you can keep your sanity a bit if you imagine it the way Mel Brooks would spoof it?

    Jamoche

    July 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

  3. That last part is the one that makes me wince the most. This is the part of Rand where something that *might* have been admirable turns into a disaster of self-indulgent thinking.

    If you ask an objectivist, they’ll tell you that their philosophy is about caring about the facts above all else. If that was true, it’d be a fine thing. But when you look at how they actually behave, how they actually see the world, you realise that it boils down to this:

    “The facts are what I say they are, and if everyone else says something else then they’re wrong, because I clearly know better than everyone else! I have my tiny little bit of education, and if it tells me one thing, then that must be the truth, even if people with even more education says otherwise!”

    The typical libertarian, I’ve noticed, tends to make sure to know just enough about every given area to hold entirely unshakable and entirely wrong opinions about it. They call it “thinking for yourself.”

    Baeraad

    July 24, 2010 at 10:12 am

  4. The coat collar was raised to the slanting brim of her hat. A sweep of brown hair fell back, almost touching the line of her shoulders.

    Can we think about this image for a second. Collar raised to the brim of her hat. Okay that implies like ear height collar. Now imagine a collar up to your ears, wearing a hat and try to imagine how hair falls in that get up. Does it look completely ridiculous to you too?

    Onymous

    July 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

  5. It makes her sound like that shadowy figure on the Neighborhood Watch signs we have around here. And I thought that was a car going up a weird hill for the longest time.

    Winter

    July 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

  6. “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.” (from Kung Fu Monkey, with a tip o’ the hat to Personal Failure for quoting it.)

    Michael Mock

    July 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm

  7. But next time, I think I’ll start exploring some of the similarities between this and the Left Behind series, and why they both seem to have a death grip on two very similar and often overlapping groups of people.

    Left Behind and Atlas Shrugged are similar and draw a similar audience because they were written by and for similar people: those absolutely convinced of being right in absolutely everything.

    And by “absolutely everything” I really mean “absolutely everything”. Take, for example, this Slacktivist post: “This is part catechism, part polemic. Details like this are the stuff of heated arguments among prophecy seminar headliners. LaHaye is firing a shot in one such argument here: “No … nothing in Scripture says …” Them’s fightin’ words, and those no-good heretics who claim that the seven-year period begins with the Rapture won’t take that sitting down, either. This is deadly serious stuff.” It’s not sufficient for LaHaye to be correct in the general Rapture thing, he must prove his superior knowledge in every last insignificant detail.

    Compare with your earlier post: “In John Galt, Ayn Rand essentially creates a fictionalized version of Nietzsche’s ideal man. However, she also viewed herself as a sort of living ubermensch; whatever she did was the best thing. She was a chain smoker, therefore chain smoking was not only a personal choice, but a sign of your worthiness.” It’s the exact same sentiment. It, and the willingness to watch all your enemies die miserably are the defining aspects of fundamentalism, and libertarians – both Randians and others – are definitely fundamentalistic. “There is no god other than the Invisible Hand of the Market, and Ayn Rand is his prophet.”

    So in short, Left Behind and Atlas Shrugged are both fantasy books about fundamentalists being proven true, so of course they would both attract a crowd of similar people.

    Just Some Guy

    July 25, 2010 at 11:03 am

  8. Her face was made of angular planes, the shape of her mouth clear-cut, a sensual mouth held closed with inflexible precision

    Or if you prefer:
    ‘Her face was was flat and reckless, her mouth was kissing razorblades’

    firefall

    July 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm

  9. Don’t know if you’re still keeping this up, but you have got to see this:

    http://gizmodo.com/5611713/man-scrawls-worlds-biggest-message-with-a-gps-pen

    hapax

    August 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm

  10. I am! But real life is being a pain in the ass lately.

    newscum

    August 18, 2010 at 1:00 am

  11. Just followed a link here from the slacktivist comments. I didn’t read this book, but I saw it come by on some of the less-positive TV-tropes, so I’m totally looking forward to this. A shame I can’t yet go on an archive binge, but I’m looking forward to the new posts.

    Based on these first 3 posts, I’d say that AS is more competently written than LB, but (I hardly thought it possible) even more hidiously deflamatory about the writer’s real life opponents, while glorifying her own side. I think even if L&J didn’t have such a description-fobia (in LB, readers have hardly any idea what any character except the antichrist looks like) and added physical descriptions of the characters, it could not match the sheer undiluted hatred shown here.

    James Taggart has just been introduced, and (unless this blog has edited very selectively) every single thing written about him is horrible. He looks horrible, he acts horrible, and he says horrible and stupid things. Dear Lord, even Hattie a.k.a. the LB whore of Babylon isn’t treated this badly. We’re in for a treat here.

    And even when introducing a small and (I think) unimportant character like Pop, the book doesn’t waste any time showing who’s side he’s on. He doesn’t really care about the company. So he’s cynical, and like a bum. In short, get ready to die with the rest of the untermensch Poppy. (I’d look stupid if this man turns out to be a hero later in the book, but I’m willing to take that chance.)

    So, horrible book, nice blog. I look forward for more posts, and will load my AAA-guns, so I can have this book take all the flak it deserves.

    Ivan

    August 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm

  12. It makes her sound like that shadowy figure on the Neighborhood Watch signs

    Or Carmen Sandiego.

    Randall

    August 30, 2010 at 8:39 pm

  13. “Apparently when she was studying engineering she missed out on…well, the entirety of the scientific method.”

    Actually, Dagny says in the book that Rearden did show her scientific papers showing the test results of Rearden Metal, yet somehow the nation’s “chief metallurgical experts” say it’s crap because they are in on a conspiracy to screw-over Rearden. This kind of thinking lends itself to conspiracy theory-type misunderstandings that peer-review is basically a secret-society of priest-scientists suppressing truth to hold on to power rather than a refiner’s fire of critical scrutiny and experimentation to burn away the crap and reveal the scientific gold.

    “And there you have it folks. That is the quintessence of the Tea Parties, the Libertarians, the Randites beliefs. That the world today is somehow inferior to some unspecified prior golden age. And that is somehow the fault of restrictions on business.”

    You think that’s bad, wait till you get to the part where Dagny reminisces about her ancestor Nathaniel Taggart. It starts off about what an independent go-getter he was, starting out with nothing, working, turning down gov’t grants and instead borrowing money from private citizens to start his railroad and I’m thinking “Yeah, a nice individualist romantic hero.” Then we learn about Nat beating the ever-loving shit out of a guy then throwing him down the stairs for suggesting he take a gov’t grant during a rough period, then about him borrowing money from a millionaire while putting up his wife as collateral and it’s all done in this tone of adoration. Meanwhile, I’m like: “WTF Ayn Rand! Why not make him a slave-owner while you’re at it?”

    Hellboy

    September 13, 2010 at 2:24 am

  14. By the way, has Eddie Willers had a boring childhood or what? He still thinks of how, as a small child, he admired… someone who was good at starting a buisness and make a lot of money.

    Seriously? What about the dashing knights fighting evil? The astronauts exploring the vast reaches of space? The fireman saving children from a burning building? Aren’t THOSE supposed to be the childhood icons? If at any point children dream of having lots of money, it’s by marying a prince(ss) or winning a lotery.

    I’ll grant you that someone building a huge buisness empire from the ground up is commendable, and can be very usefull for society as a whole (if you don’t run it as the bloodsucking conglomorate Rand wants it to be), but I doubt there are many children who dream of doing that as a child.

    It might make a slight bit of sense if Eddie was an important buisness tycoon now. It would explain how he became this way by being driven even as a child. But Eddie is meant to be a loser, a nobody who doesn’t have the strong plentifull balls to become John Galt’s towelboy, much less a John Galt. Rand wants us to believe that pretty much everyone dreams of building railroad companies or oil refineries. We. Do. Not.

    Ivan

    November 21, 2010 at 9:58 pm

  15. It’s probably meant to portray Willers as “properly” hyper-rational. Knowing Rand, she’d probably regard the fantasies of being a paladin or heir(ess) as monstrously IRrational, not grounded in anything akin to reality. (I’ve heard tell that she was regarded as an unlikable child; I’d like specifics on the unlikable part, since that definitely comes in more than one variety. Was she openly contemptuous of fellow children’s dabbling in fantastic dreams?) She probably wouldn’t look askance at the astronaut part (exploration=discovery of new resources, after all), but the firefighter is difficult to work with. It is, after all, thwarting the unjust destruction of property (especially when dealing with an arsonist who isn’t the property’s owner), but even oblique life of service to others could have rankled her as less than top-echelon.

    How much of a space program was there when this was first published, anyway?

    Anyway, I’m more inclined to see Rand as thinking in terms of a gigas-level form of the Horatio Alger myth. Not only does everyone have the potential to ascend from destitution to absolute prosperity, it’s possible for everyone to be at the top simultaneously, if they just have the right mentality. Considering the kind of engine that crops up later in the story, she probably thought that literally all menial work could just be done by similar engines–or, if she were writing today, robots.

    Skyknight

    November 22, 2010 at 1:52 am

  16. Funny, I always pictured a society where robots/engines do all the work as socialistic by neccesity. I mean, those machines do all the resourcing, production and transport. That’s only a handfull of jobs left for the people .

    You can basically choose: Provide all those products pretty much free of charge to everyone, and let them do any work they feel like (a la Star Trek). Or fire everyone you don’t need as artists and managers, produce products with your robots and charge for them, and find out since you fired 95% of the population, there’s no one left to buy the products. Say goodbye to your economy.

    I can’t imagine how anyone could picture the entire population could just become directors of even small coorporations without resulting in a massive surplus of products. If everyone owns his own factory, what could you possibly sell to them? Even for big shots there’s a limit to how much they’ll be able to buy.

    Ivan

    November 22, 2010 at 7:53 pm

  17. In 1957, Sputnik had just been launched, beating the US Explorer satellite by a few months. Space exploration was still mostly theoretical when Rand was writing the book, but it was definitely seen as the wave of the future (most science fiction from that period involves space exploration in one form or another).

    I’m sure Rand would have approved of the firefighters in Tennessee who watched a house burn because the owner did not pay the annual fee for their service (while protecting the house of the guy’s neighbor, who did pay).

    I’m reminded of one of Robert Heinlein’s last books, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, where victims of an accident on the lunar surface participate in a bidding war amongst competing rescue parties. Even as staunch a libertarian as Heinlein recognized that the system carried to extremes had flaws. His lunar colony is supposed to be an ideal libertarian society, yet the state is empowered to deprive people of air for not paying the air fee (effectively a tax to support the production of air, which would make sense on the Moon). Killing a man is seen as a more just solution than just docking his paycheck or in the extreme scenario deporting him. The main difference I see here is that Heinlein knows just how absurd the proposition is as he’s making it, and even his mouthpiece characters remark on just how off-base the lunar state has become. Rand, given the same story, would applaud the strong, independent men and angular women who throw the weak, spineless, shapeless man out the airlock for suggesting that perhaps society itself does need to operate collectively sometimes.

    I don’t even want to think about how the police would operate in the ideal Randian society. But then again, even rape isn’t much of a crime in her eyes. Terrorist bombings? Make the right speech to the jury and they’ll let you off the hook!

    Steve

    April 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  18. The space programme may have been new as a practical proposition in the Fifties, but planetary romance had been a commonplace pulp genre since about 1900. I’m sure there were middle-aged people who’d dreamed of being astronauts in their childhood by 1957.

    As for the police in a Randian world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6CkltzGAxY&feature=related

    Makhno

    April 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm


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