Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking Part 3

When life hands you lemons, just make shit up. Image from these wankers.

Chapter IV The Immovable Movers

“A simple rule in dealing with those who are hard to get along with is to remember that this person is striving to assert his superiority; and you must deal with him from that point of view”
Alfred Adler

Earlier in our story we learned that the world was divided into two groups, the superior and the inferior. The superior group, which is very small, is made up of extremely intelligent men and women who live only to triumph over others. The second group is the lice, the looters and moochers, who live only to drag down the Ubermensch as they are jealous of the latter's ability and vitality. Tragically the lice are winning; they are too numerous to fight and too tiny to step on.

Her work was all [Dagny} had or wanted. But there were times, like tonight, when she felt that sudden, peculiar emptiness, which was not emptiness, but silence, not despair, but immobility, as if nothing within her were destroyed, but everything stood still. Then she felt the wish to find a moment's joy outside, the wish to be held as a passive spectator by some work or sight of greatness.

Dagny is an inhuman creation. She bears no resemblance whatsoever to a real person who feels the full gamut of human emotions and forms connections with other people. She loathes everyone and everything about her world. As Dagny walks home from her day at the office she is overcome with disgust at the taste and achievements of everything she sees. She spends the entire walk figuratively telling the world to get off her lawn, the losers. She hates modern music, "a long screech without shape, as of cloth and flesh being torn at random." She hates modern books which attack businessmen for their greed, modern movies with their conventional sexual morality, and everyone who reads those books, goes to those movies, or visits decadent modern nightclubs.

What had she hoped to find?--she thought, walking on. These were the things men lived by, the forms of their spirit, of their culture, of their enjoyment. She had seen nothing anywhere, not for many years.

The past is always a better place in AS, just as Rand's childhood was a better time, of servants and lessons and comfort, and, if not love, at least a sense of belonging. Protected by her parents' wealth, revolution and war and starvation were distant things. But they could not protect her forever and as she grew to adulthood life became harsh and uncertain. Rand, smart and stubborn and prickly, whose opinions once formed were formed forever, fixed on the masses, the common man, as the source of life's suffering. They were inferior and jealous, just like cold, mistrustful, serious little Alisa's schoolmates and playmates. All they all wanted to make her suffer, as she had suffered at the hands of Russian revolutionaries.

Dagny finally reaches her apartment, a nearly empty penthouse. She sates her need for greatness by listening to Richard Halley's last work. He is the only composer Dagny likes, and, of course, the only one worthy of appreciation.

It was his forth Concerto, the last work he had written. The crash of its opening chords swept the sights of the streets away from her mind. The Concerto was a great cry of rebellion. It was a "No" flung at some vast process of torture, a denial of suffering, a denial that held the agony of the struggle to break free. The sounds were like a voice saying: There is no necessity for pain--why, then, is the worst pain reserved for those who will not accept its necessity?--we who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?...The sounds of torture became defiance, the statement of agony became a hymn to a distant vision for whose sake anything was worth enduring, even this. It was the song of rebellion--and of a desperate quest.

"We who hold the love and the secret of joy." Dagny's a special little snowflake, who alone appreciates that which is good in the world. Everyone else but a few Ubermensch--bad. Dagny and and the few people she considers equals--good.

Is it any wonder that 14-year-olds adore this book? The struggle to break free from the oppression of family and the fantasy of the perfect life after freedom is achieved, the certainty that they and they alone understand human feelings and needs, and the self-pity that accompanies the hormonal agonies of suffering they feel they are forced to endure. Throw in a a clique of back-stabbing girls or a vampire and you've got every teen show on the CW.

Rand expositions that Halley had been ignored by the dull masses until he reached middle age, at which time the dull masses suddenly recognized his genius--the "man who could give to sounds a greater eloquence than they had ever carried." His first great work of art was a retelling of the myth of Phaeton.

[Halley] had changed the ancient Greek myth to his own purpose and meaning: Phaethon, the young son of Helios, who stole his father's chariot and, in ambitious audacity, attempted to drive the sun across the sky, did not perish, as he perished in the myth; in Halley's opera, Phaethon succeeded.

Of course he did. In our fantasies and daydreams we always come out on top. Phaeton was not strong enough to control the sun chariot, but try telling that to a 14-year-old.

Phaethon: Dad, can I drive the chariot today? You let Aeetes drive the chariot when he was my age.

Helios: Sorry, son, Aeetes was a lot stronger than you. You'll have to wait another year.

Phaethon: That's not fair! You always loved Aeetes more than me! I know I could do it!

Helios: Not until you're 18.

Phaeton: That is so lame! And it's not like I have anything else to do. Everyone else goes to Crete and Mycenae during vacation and we never go anywhere!

Helios: All right! You can drive the chariot, but only if you're careful and you don't go too fast.

Phaeton: Great! Don't worry, I'll be successful because I have the audacity to strive for greatness. As the child of a great man, I'm sure to be great too. What could go wrong?

Phaeton's ambition and audacity were more important than silly things like ability, strength and training. He dared to reach for greatness and such heroic characters deserve recognition for their specialness. People who were born to greatness like Rand deserve credit just for seeing their own unlimited potential. Reality is too boring, too small for such giants. A mediocre career as a screenwriter and novelist, hampered by a tendency to have her characters spout political philosophy instead of dialogue, wasn't enough for Rand. She had to recognized and lauded for her intellect, as she was is childhood, and if her reality wouldn't recognize her greatness then by golly Rand would create one that did.

During this time Rand wrote Red Pawn, in which a heroic woman infiltrated a Russian prison camp to save her husband. Both the bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her and the camp commander sacrificed himself so she could be free. In The Night Of January 16, an independent young woman who refuses to bow down to society's pressure to conform to its morality is put on trial for murder. Both a bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her. We The Living was the story of a young woman's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk suffering at the hands of the Communists while trying to become an engineer and keep her ideals alive. Both the bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her.

Making yourself the hero of your stories isn't necessarily bad. In the hands of a good writer it won't make very much difference to the reader. In the hands of a bad writer, however, the wish fulfillment overtakes the story:

Note that self-insertion isn't automatically bad. After all, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a hero in your favorite show — provided that you remember to insert your flaws as well as your fantasies. After all, not everybody loves and adores you in real life, so they're not all going to love and adore you in a fanfic, either. Play it this way, and even if somebody does notice that you've just written an Author Avatar, they probably won't mind too much. Self-insertion, complete with flaws and realistic reactions from everyone involved, is just as good a way to make a new OC as any other. What was originally a self-insert can even adapt and evolve into a genuine Original Character.

Even hooking up with your dream character can be acceptable provided they do so realistically..... The trouble is that a new writer doesn't think about that. They think only about ways in which their Author Avatar can be perfect, can within minutes hook up with the sexiest character available, cure their faults, force their beliefs on others, and ninja-kick their way to being the hero, rather than working on a realistic way they can enter the plot.

While Dagny's soul is crying out in pain, stabbed to the core by the looters-n-moochers who are trying to destroy her, her brother James is busy with his own looting and mooching. After a tryst (sordid and unemotional) with his girlfriend (unattractive, bitchy and badly dressed), James gets the bad news that the San Sebastian Mines and his railroad line were nationalized by Mexico. He joins the Board at a hasty meeting and takes credit for Dagny's foresight, then meets with her to joyfully break the news that the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule has passed.

The Rule collectivizes the railroad industry and Rand describes it in loving detail. Railroads would be forced to provide service to unprofitable areas and eliminate new competition in overbuilt areas. Dagny is enraged by this interference in the free market, because in a Rand fantasy the railroads did not need government laws, powers and funds to join major business centers and the only bad monopoly is a government monopoly. James is thrilled; that'll teach his know-it-all sister, and punish her for her competence! Dagny tries to reason with her competition in the West, Dan Conway, the owner of the Phoenix-Durango line, but he's been broken by the looters-n-moochers. Dagny says:

If the rest of them can survive only by destroying us, then why should we wish them to survive? Nothing can make self-immolation proper. Nothing can give the the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can't be punished for being good. One can't be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we'd better start slaughtering one another, because there isn't any right in the world!


I thought there was room enough there for both of us.... Still, if I found that there wasn't, I would have fought you, and if I could make my road better than yours, I'd have broken you and not given a damn about what happened to you. But this---Dan, I don't think I want to look at our Rio Norte Line now. I.... Oh, God, Dan, I don't want to be a looter!"

Rand was a Fundamentalist. Like Ross Douthat, clutching his Bible in wild-eyed panic to defend himself from the invisible hordes who want to snatch it from his pudgy, soft white hands, Rand divided the world into The Chosen and the Gay-Eat-Gay Rulers Evil Barbarian Hordes. Rand witnessed the rise and fall of revolutions and the convulsive violence of the struggle for power and learned the exact opposite of what a normal, feeling person would learn. In Dr. Zhivago, the author shows that the revolution ruined lives and caused a tremendous amount of human suffering; in AS, the socialist revolution ruins machinery and makes the trains run late. Rand's father lost his business so the most important thing in the AS world is owning businesses, running them the way one wants to, and keeping all the profits. If Rand's father were a poet she probably would have created a pale, cliched, badly written copy of Dr. Zhivago, in which all of the world's unappreciated poets rise up and slaughter the modernists.

Fortunately for Dagny's tenuous sanity, the next person who walks through her office door is The Colorado Kid, Ellis Wyatt.

The man who entered was a stranger. He was young, tall and something about him suggested violence, though she could not say what it was, because the first trait one grasped about him was a quality of self-control that seemed almost arrogant. He had dark eyes, disheveled hair, and his clothes were expensive, but worn as if he did not care of notice what he wore.

"Ellis Wyatt," he said in self-introduction.

She leaped to her feet, involuntarily. She understood why nobody had or could have stopped him in the outer office.

Wyatt thinks Dagny agrees with the Dog-Eat-Dog Rule and coolly tells her that she must do a good job transporting his oil across the country or he'll destroy her. Dagny is mortified that he believes she is a looter, or perhaps a moocher, but she is also elated to find another UUbermensch.

She wanted to tell him of the years she had spent looking for men such as he to work with; she wanted to tell him that his enemies were hers, that she was fighting the same battle; she wanted to cry to him: I'm not one of them! But she knew that she could not do it. She bore the responsibility for Taggart Transcontinental and for everything done in its name; she had no right to justify herself now.

I'm not one of them. I'm special. Yet Dagny actually does something to back up that little cry of superiority; she accepts responsibility for her actions. Fundamentalist worshippers always pick and choose which beliefs they will follow, abandoning ones they don't find emotionally satisfying and emphasizing the ones that make them feel special, so we are accustomed to seeing Libertarians ignore this very important aspect of Randian greatness. Nothing is ever anybody's fault, things just happen for systemic reasons and assigning blame and punishing the elite for their illegalities is just looking backwards instead of forwards. Dagny would have bitch-slapped your typical Koch-fed Reason Libertarian into next week for daring to make excuses about economic failure. Excuses are a sign of weakness and the mewling weak must be eliminated before they drag everyone down into the dirt with them. The only exception is the very few members of the rabble who worship the Ubermensch, who achieve a little bit of greatness by recognizing Rand's Dagny's greatness.

Dagny now has nine months to build the Rio Norte Line to Wyatt's oil fields in Colorado. She meets with Hank Reardon in his offices and he agrees to provide the Reardon Metal rails in time, for a hefty profit. He and Dagny work out the deals of the contract, which passes for flirting with them.

His smile had a discernible quality now. It was enjoyment. "You always play it open, don't you," he asked.

"I've never noticed you doing otherwise."

"I thought I was the only one who could afford to."

"I'm not broke, in that sense, Hank.

"I think I"m going to break you some day--in that sense."


"I've always wanted to"

"Don't you have enough cowards around you?"

"That's why I'd enjoy trying it--because you're the only exception."

Yeah, that's not creepy at all. Both Wyatt and Reardon have an air of violence about them, as did Grandpa Nate Taggart; Rand equates strength with violence and sees nothing wrong with committing violence in the name of Greatness. This was most famously demonstrated by her admiration for a pathetic little serial killer.

The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand's beliefs is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation -- Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street -- on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," she wrote, gushing that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'"

This echoes almost word for word Rand's later description of her character Howard Roarke, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: "He was born without the ability to consider others." (The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' favorite book -- he even requires his clerks to read it.)

Reardon tells Dagny that they'll just have to "pick up the slack" for all the incompetent people in the world and work harder to compensate for the lice's stupidity and weakness. "People like Jim Taggart just clutter up the world," Reardon tell Dagny. They forget all about the rest of the world as they discuss replacing everything made of steel with the miracle metal Reardon developed through brains, skill and endless experimentation, which is either half as light as steel or even lighter; Rand is not consistent. Ships made of Reardon Metal will never sink; a torpedo will not dent one. A mile of chicken wire will cost pennies and last hundreds of years. Kitchen pots will be sold at the dime store and last generations. Dagny's trains will go from 20 mph to 250 mph.

But Reardon can't shake off his feeling that there is something wrong with him, since everyone else says so. He only cares for material things, not "spiritual goals or qualities." Dagny can't understand his "feelings" and is alarmed by what appears to be an expression of guilt, but she knows in her heart they they are two minds who think as one, and that's all she needs to know. Reardon tells her, "Dagny, whatever we are, it's we who move the world and it's we who'll pull it through." Nobody else matters because as long as they are doing great things they are great people.

This was reality, she thought, this sense of clear outlines, of purpose, of lightness, of hope. This was the way she had expected to live--she had wanted to spend no hour and take no action that would mean less than this.

The real world doesn't exist, and doesn't deserve to exist. The world of ordinary people, alternately flawed and wise, kind and thoughtless, caring and uninvolved--is too mundane, to boring, too--human. And people are too human too. They have needs, which just drag you down from your quest for greatness. They demand emotional responses like concern and love, warmth, interest, openness, which you are unable to understand and which make you uneasy, knowing that you are missing out on something undefinable, something out of reach and eternally enigmatic. You can do a math problem or answer a history question or speak five languages, but the language of mankind is forever beyond your reach, and in your loneliness and confusion and resentment you close your heart to your fellow man. You tell yourself that everyone else is just a stupidhead anyway and you don't want their friendship or love or attention. And one day they'll be sorry because you'll be the most important person in the whole world and everyone will recognize your Greatness and when you are gone and they have to try to survive without you they'll be sorry then, and all you'll do is laugh, laugh, laugh.

Stupid people. Who needs them anyway?


Downpuppy said...

There were a few years I somehow got involved in a Yuku message board. The silliest post ever was by a Russian kid with a lot of resemblance to Rand (although his masterwork was self published)

need I mention that he was a fanboy?

Goddess of the Mind: A Tribute to Ayn Rand

G. Stolyarov II

A century ago, upon this day,
A Goddess of the Mind her entry made
Into a world in need of what she’d say,
Else faulty thoughts its fabric would degrade.
Her mighty pen and lucid mental spark,
Her reason’s clarity and firm resolve,
Great flames of truth lit where before was dark,

Showing no problem man’s mind cannot solve.

We saw a realm that we cannot evade,
Nor should we try, for here our might resides:
Reality, by Reason’s steady blade

Opened and used as one’s own mind decides,

To serve his life as hero and as sage,
Subverting not the temple of his soul.
She brought the sense of triumph to our age,
Work, thought, and progress proudly to extol.

To hold oneself as oracle and guide,

Taught she, that every thinking human must,

And let not ruler, faith, nor expert override

Whatever logic rules correct and just,

That each man ought his freedom of the will,

Be let alone to use as he sees fit,
That no State ought this sacred power kill
By silencing or regulating it.

Against the Dionysian spirit of her time,

Against the muck where nihilists had bathed,

She sought the orderly and the sublime,
An art that left man’s dignity unscathed.
Stories of titans, towers firm and straight,
Systems of thought that as enduring stand,
Left us the Goddess prior to this date,
The never-conquered, the immortal Rand

Susan of Texas said...

However, this occurred not before I obtained a top-rate first and second-grade education that enabled me to be excruciatingly bored for my next five years of schooling. Moreover, I absolutely forbade the speaking of English by my parents within the house so that I could retain proficiency in two languages instead of one.

Another Ubermensch!

Pete said...

The pome by Stolyarov: Why, that opening stanza is worthy of the poet McGonagall (whom Google if ye know not). The second line is superb, and the fourth, why, words fail me. And this in his second language, you say? Remarkable.

Anonymous said...

I've finally found a normal presentation on this issue. Thank you.

Lurking Canadian said...

Susan, thank you for doing this. I have been toying lately, with the idea of reading (or at least listening to the audio of) Atlas Shrugged, on the grounds that one should know one's enemy.

However, you are convincing me that the book is not only morally objectionable, but also, frankly, TERRIBLE. You are only on chapter 3 and already the plot doesn't make sense. It's just all screed, no story.

Susan of Texas said...

The only way I can force myself to keep reading this book is by blogging it.

blivet said...

Susan, I hate to tell you this, but it gets worse. I don't believe anyone besides the author has actually read the whole thing from cover to cover without skimming long passages.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The Maestro loved it too!

Susan of Texas said...

I'll have to work him into this somewhere.

Anonymous said...

"...You can do a math problem or answer a history question or speak five languages, but the language of mankind is forever beyond your reach, and in your loneliness and confusion and resentment you close your heart to your fellow man..."


Mr. Wonderful said...

Brilliant, Susan. Ask me if I'm surprised.

Lurking C: As they say on Law & Order, you "opened the door" for me to say this:

There is no need to read Atlas Shrugged! Instead, get all the bombast and twice the pretension, at 1/15th the length and tons more laffs, with the parody:

cynic said...

I have read that book so many times that I have practically memorized many parts of it (Francisco's speech on money, for instance).

Just you wait: it gets better, much better. epecially with the Twentieth century motor company and the train that explodes and everyone on it dies - but they all deserved to die anyway.

satch said...

I think ya really gotta hand it to little Alyssa Rosenbaum. She came over here and punched, kicked, and clawed her way through American culture until she created her lasting masterpiece... "Ayn Rand". And America was just the place for her. America has always had kind of a thing for hucksters, and the more brazen and shameless, the better. Atlas Shrugged appealed to longing, alienated, and often brainy young adolescents the way Charles Atlas appealed to 98 pound weaklings, except that, if you religiously followed Charles Atlas's teachings, you actually might develop some muscle. Following Ayn Rand would only make you MORE of an outcast to society in general. But she had her own little world, with her creation "Ayn Rand" at the head of it. Nicely played, M'am.

Kathy said...

It puzzles me, that given their utter contempt and even hatred for most of humanity, and the fact that "real" superhumans are very rare indeed! Whatfor or why are these creepy folks building their railroads? Oh, wait- to make money, to take these sheeple's money. But- what is money, and how/why is money created? -they don't wonder.

It appears that Rand's loathing for communism caused her to embrace capitalism without ever wondering what capitalism was.

Mandos said...

"But- what is money, and how/why is money created? -they don't wonder."

It's gold! It's created by mining! */snark*

A great antidote to all of this sort of thing is Terry Pratchett's amazing novel Making Money. It's not the funniest in his oeuvre, but it's probably the timeliest. Being fantasy, he is able to create a literal implementation of the Labour Theory of Value...

cynic said...

What is money

Francisco D'Anconia will tell you in over 3000 words: money represents the efforts of the Ubermensch

To be precise: "money has to be made by the productive effort of people before it can be mooched. It represents a claim on my productive effort by the parasites"

You can look it up.

Batocchio said...

Paul Ryan's latest fraudulent, cruel budget plan may be best understood as Randian fanfic.

Atlas Shrugged may be best understood as horrendous fanfic based on Ayn Rand's secret diary.