Archive for May, 2012
Just some quick updates about the upcoming blogging schedule:
*No post on Memorial Day. The last chapter of Part 2 will go up the first week of June.
*The rest of June will cover Part Two Review and various bits of commentary that will auto-post while I go on real-life vacation. I’ll also tidy up the blog, fix broken links, etc, in preparation for…
*Part Three, starting July 2nd. I have a LOT to say about Part Three and might take more than one week to break down certain chapters — for those familiar with the book, expect a lot of commentary on Galt’s Gulch and (obviously) The Speech.
See y’all in June…
PREVIOUSLY: Dagny quit to protest the totalitarian takeover of the American government, but when she got word of a catastrophic train collision that killed hundreds of people on her former railroad, she felt compelled to return to society and keep the trains running on time.
Dagny arrives home, exhausted but resolute. Francisco knocks at the door and she is not surprised that he followed her back to the city. He is grim now, though, seems betrayed. He insists that she’s making a terrible choice. “Don’t you see Dags? You can’t fix the system from the inside! Join my off-the-grid shadow team and we’ll burn this mother down!”
But Dags demures. As long as the railroad makes opportunities possible for even one person who is destined for greatness, her effort is worthwhile even in a totally corrupt world. Francisco shakes his head in disappointment. “Well, now I’ve told you my plan to hit the self-destruct button on civilization, but you’re still on the side of that civilization, so… technically we’re enemies.”
It only now occurs to Dags that Francisco is the one she calls The Destroyer, the man who has been convincing all the other elite pillars of society to disappear. Frankie admits that’s part of his plan, but he isn’t in charge of it. She starts to quiz him but they keep getting distracted by the subtext of their haunted, bittersweet love.
Just then Hank walks in, nursing a big rubbery one in anticipation of nailing Dagny all night. Francisco’s presence really throws him off, although his dick only gets harder if anything. I assume. Anyway Francisco realizes what’s going on here and is clearly crushed. Hank is like “What the FUCK are you doing in here?”
Frankie, as is his wont, clams up and just takes another screed impugning his character from the people he most admires. Dagny tries to get Hank to calm down but he’s like “Blah blah blah machismo.” Specifically he calls Francisco a madman and a coward, a nihilist and an anarchist, and mockingly tells him his word means nothing, especially that time he swore to Hank his motives were pure, swore by the only woman he ever loved.
GASP, EPIPHANY! Hank totally realizes that Frank is in love with Dagny, is in fact her only former lover. He calls Frisco out and Dagny is really starting to feel like shit about all of this. In a fit of possessive jealousy, Hank slaps Frisco across the face. Slaps. Like, so much for your macho act, Hank. Francisco stoically takes it and then strides out of the apartment. Dagny realizes the extent of his self-discipline and feels even shittier. Then Francisco comes back in the room, but now he’s a sparkling vampire, and Hank turns into a werewolf, and– sorry, wrong pap.
So now that they’re alone, and Dagny is pissed, she throws it in Hank’s face that she and Francisco used to make crazy animalistic love all day. In a jealous rage, he grabs her violently, and she’s pretty sure he’s about to kill her or beat her to a bloody pulp, but instead he kisses her hard and they start making out and Dagny has never wanted him more. Ayn Rand has a lot of rape fantasies, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear. Frankly it almost makes too much sense.
And there they are some time later, sharing a post-coital cigarette, when the doorbell rings AGAIN. It’s the landlord and he’s giving Dagny a letter that arrived for her while she was off the grid. It’s from Q. He’s quitting. He doesn’t want to fix the ion drive anymore. Even if the drive could save the world from industrial exhaustion and environmental catastrophe, he knows it would just enable the villains who run this corrupted America, and he can’t be party to that.
Dagny dashes to the phone and immediately, desperately tries to reach Q. She finally get him on the line. “Q! Have you, by any chance, been approached by any shadowy charismatic anarchists lately?” “No, what the hell are you talking about?” Q replies. She makes him promise not to go anywhere until she can make it out west and change his mind.
Hank slowly realizes that he won’t be getting his usual nightcap of a sloppy blowjob, so he promises to join Dagny out west in a week and lets himself out. Dagny barely notices because she’s already packing and coordinating her train schedule with Eddie.
Soon Eddie is in the apartment facilitating Dagny’s travel plans. He’s a little flustered by being in her bedroom, presumably because he is meek and a virgin. And, as I always like to point out, the representative Everyman of the novel. Never forget.
While Dagny throws clothes into a suitcare, Eddie looks up from his Blackberry (or Moleskin, whatever) and happens to see a man’s bathrobe monogrammed “HR” and GASP, EPIPHANY! Eddie realizes Dagny has been getting a good dicking from Hank Rearden. Jesus Eddie, you’re her body man and she and Hank’ve been going at it for literally years at this point. Get a fucking clue.
Anyway he feels his heart sink in his stomach like lead. He’s basically the sweet nerdy kid who’s shocked and crushed when the cheerleader picks the quarterback instead of him. Eddie, I’m generally in your corner, but I will not abide emasculating Nice Guy stereotypes. And yet he keeps going, because he never even realized until this moment the degree to which he was in love with Dagny. Yep, definitely a virgin.
After dropping Dagny at the appropriate Transcon platform, Emo Eddie wanders in a daze down to the cafeteria, and wouldn’t you know his laconic friend The Prole is there, chain-smoking and apparently just waiting for Eddie to show up and vent and whine like a little bitch.
Never one to buck expectations, Eddie spills his guts to the lowly laborer, about how he loves Dagny, how Rearden is sleeping with her, how he’s now completely given up hope of the world ever recovering from this crisis, and how alone he feels now that Dagny has barreled off to save Q and unlock the secrets of the ion drive.
But that’s about all the pity party Eddie gets a chance to throw, because The Prole jumps up and darts off sans explanation. Eddie’s like “Wait, where are you going?”
“I have a costume change before Act Three!” The Prole fails to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there are no second acts in American lives. In the case of Ayn Rand, there is a second act, she just sucks at writing it.
But now we’re near the end of the literary death march known as “Part Two: Either/Or” and things are finally starting to pick up again. The nation is firmly and totally under the control of corrupt executives and bureaucrats. Francisco has confirmed the existence of a conspiracy among the off-the-grid elites. And Rand’s morally abhorrent moral philosophy is beginning to come into sharper focus.
If we take a step back though, what becomes clear is that Rand’s morals are exactly what keeps Atlas from being more impressive. She has after all created a world of exhausted energy resources and excessive consumerism, where the heroes pursue technological advances that will create a more sustainable and renewable civilization, and the villains are vested big-money interests and the willfully ignorant politicians who enable them. Yet for some reason this book is about how the poor as a class should be treated as subhuman. What?
It’s also important to note that Ayn didn’t realize the depletion of natural resources was an actual looming danger, or that unchecked consumption poisons the earth as well as society. According to Ayn, the problems in the Randverse could have been solved long ago if Hank Rearden and Ellis Wyatt were left free to “Drill baby drill,” if only those yellow-bellied liberal pussies wouldn’t hold them back.
The irony, of course, is that the sustainability dangers are real in an objective way, verifiable by applied science and deductive reasoning. “Drill baby drill” might be a necessary stalling tactic to keep society running while renewable energy gains traction, but it is at best a stopgap measure. Rand’s Objectivist version has none of this foresight. Arthur C. Clarke she ain’t.
So in Objectivism (if not objective reality), threats of fossil fuel consumption and environmental corrosion are just false fronts for the liberals to enact an evil agenda that they won’t admit to anyone, least of all themselves. You can really see here just how influential the Rand worldview is on Republican ideology today.
This is why, now that we’re getting back to the thematically meaty part of the book, I’ve started replacing the protagonists’ talk of moochers and looters with vulture capitalists, moral vampires, and consumer zombies. The two sets of terms are vaguely synonymous but differ vitally in the details. Specifically, my descriptors cut across class and political boundaries whereas Rand’s place blame for society’s ills squarely on one side of the income and political spectra.
By making this change, I like to think I make the Randverse more widely relatable, not to mention recognizable as a relevant commentary on our world today. The American right circa 2012 thinks Ayn’s O.G. interpretation of Atlas is a relevant commentary on politics today, but their worldview simply doesn’t line up with the facts, the objective reality, in which we actually exist.
With this slight shift in the focus of moral blame I think the story actually gains potency as Ayn’s critiques get more extreme, rather than the original version in which the author’s awkward and bizarre proselytizing ruins the dramatic tension. Now, though the crisis is still rooted in moral degradation as Rand claims, the failings are not attributable to just one class or political party.
Part Two, as I mentioned above, is titled “Either/Or.” Either Objectivism, or nihilism. And, well… I choose Neither. Insofar as it encourages a perilous, willful denialism, a false consciousness about the objective state of the world that endangers that world, Objectivism can itself be nihilistic. It is not always and necessarily so, but neither is altruism or progressivism. There is no mutual exclusivity between the two sides of Ayn’s “either/or” proposition; no contradiction. And once you surgically remove Ayn’s insistence that there is, Atlas Shrugged gets waaaay way better.
PREVIOUSLY: The American government has finally, fully converted to centralized economic control. Dagny resigned in protest and retired to a remote cabin in the woods. In her absence, willful negligence at the railroad company caused a terrible humanitarian disaster.
Our heroine is living off the land, practicing strict self-discipline, trying not to think about the dying world. She’s almost gone hippie on us, contemplating how nature operates in circles while mankind operates in lines. It sounds like stoned dorm room talk.
As she chops wood or whatever, Dagny’s mind wanders to her longing for Hank, and the payment she owes to Q (the physicist reverse-engineering the ion drive for her). Oh yeah, the ion drive! What the hell is she going to do with it now? But nevermind, because all of a sudden Francisco shows up.
She watches his car approach her hill, and watches as he climbs the hill, and all the while he’s whistling Halley’s 5th Concerto (callback!). It’s like something out of a dream. How did he find her? When he reaches her, they stop pussy-footing around and totally make out. Sweeet.
Frankie is super-psyched that Dagny has finally quit and gone off-the-grid, and he came as soon as he knew where she was — though he won’t say how he found out. Dagny laments the hurt and withdrawal she feels for abandoning her former life (read as, “her job”) and yet acknowledges that she couldn’t continue working there with incompetent moral vampires as her bosses. Francisco is like “Damn straight.”
He reminds her of the last night they spent together as lovers, twelve years ago, when she cradled him in her arms while he had a nervous breakdown. Turns out, that was the night he committed to his secret plan to take down industrial civilization from the inside.
You see, Francisco explains, D’Anconia Copper is so old, so wealthy, that if he were to quit, all the no-good “vulture capitalists” could still live off his company’s largesse for generations. So, slowly, over the past decade, he has carefully sabotaged himself, hobbling the world economy as a last desperate measure to halt the planet’s mindless overconsumption.
Dagny understands, realizes why Frankie could never have told her while she still demonstrated any loyalty to society and “the system” in general. Still, she admits, it’s a shockingly ballsy move.
Francisco knows. When he made the choice to sacrifice his true love and his personal passion to
become Batman fight the power, it was before the climate and energy crisis was obvious, before communism had taken over most of the globe… she would have thought him a crazy person. It was the hardest decision of his life.
Dagny still feels shitty about leaving the world to the vampires and the consumer zombies, though. Francisco reassures her that there’s nothing she can do to stem the tide. At least, not by herself…
But before Francisco can explain his conspiracy further, a news bulletin comes twittering from the radio in Francisco’s car, announcing the Taggart Transcon tunnel disaster. Hundreds dead, the national rail system in complete disarray. In a fit of gross incompetence, an Army munitions train was sent into the tunnel after the poisoned flagship one, and they collided, destroying the tunnel completely.
And before Frankie can stop her, Dagny sprints down the hill and towards her car, compelled to return to society and save her life’s work.
Cut to NYC, Taggart Terminal. That rat bastard Jim is sealed up in his office, an unsigned resignation letter on his desk like a loaded gun. He is trying very hard not to think about the situation around him, block out the reality of this failure and his inevitable public shaming. He hates everything. Literally.
But most specifically he hates Dagny, and suddenly races to the VP office, assaulting Eddie Willers and demanding to know where she went when she quit. This is all her fault, for quitting!
Eddie keeps his cool, admits that he knows and that he will not tell Jim under any circumstances, because Jim is an asshole. Eddie’s glad Dagny left and he hopes she doesn’t come back. Yesss, Eddie’s testicles are finally descending!
Except this is Dagny’s cue to storm back into the office, totally undermining Eddie’s stand. She immediately ropes Eddie into her corner suite where they can take charge and get the nation’s core infrastructure back online.
Jim, still in the midst of a nervous breakdown of his own, and clearly getting no attention from the useful people, flees back to his office to destroy the resignation letter and ponder the impotent void of his personality.
Then Dagny and Eddie’s cram session is interrupted by a phone call from Wesley Mouch, who has already heard of her return from “vacation,” and lugubriously promises her any legal waivers she may need, despite all the laws she broke by quitting. She tells him to fuck off forever and send any further messages through his secretary.
While she’s at the phone, she calls Hank and they commiserate about how they’re gluttons for punishment, making sure the world keeps spinning when the world has gotten as crappy as all this. They agree to meet later that night for a therapeutic dose of kinky fuckery.
And now take everything that just happened in this chapter and make all the philosophical points sound about ten times douchier, and that’ll be roughly like how Ayn wrote it.
PREVIOUSLY: The now-infamous cabal of corrupt powerbrokers revoked all of America’s economic liberties as an emergency measure to halt the economic decline and implement a static, no-growth state. Rearden forfeited the rights to rMetal. Dagny quit and retired to a cabin in the woods.
Average Eddie Willers is getting lunch with his friend The Prole, who you’ll remember labors in the bowels of the railroad, and who I assume is real fucking tired of listening to Eddie bitch and fret. So beaten down by exploitive bureacrats is Eddie that he now wears the ‘smile of a cripple,’ like Ayn, give Eddie a break already, please. Everybody of any competence is disappearing in protest of the new forced-labor laws. Jim has some politically-connected crony holding down Dagny’s job, and for our purposes his name is Peter Principle. Eddie whimpers and mewls about it because Eddie, as the book’s symbolic Everyman, is nice enough but inexcusably pathetic.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden is walking home from work in solitude. He likes the quiet, because when he’s among people “the human shapes in the street were meaningless objects” to him, which sounds pretty sociopathic to me. In fact you could make an argument that this entire book is Ayn working very hard to define herself as a sociopath. Think about it.
All of a sudden Rearden is stopped by a shadowy figure. It’s Ragbeard the Pirate! Fucking FINALLY we meet this guy. Ragbeard has come to give Hank a bar of gold as recompense for the government’s abuse of the income tax. He has tons of gold, apparently, which he keeps in a bank. What kind of pirate has a checking account? Oh, the bank accounts are for all the aggrieved meritocrats who are being sucked dry by the government. Ragbeard hands the cash over to them whenever they join him off-the-grid. But he’s giving Hank a down payment because… respect. Or something.
By what principle does Ragbeard justify this mission? Well, get ready for this dear reader, because it is just an unbelievably epic kind of stupid. See, Ragbeard has an irrational hatred of Robin Hood, what with stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Nevermind that Robin Hood stole from unjust tax collectors and gave to their exploited victims, says Ragbeard, this is different! People remember Robin Hood for valorizing “need” over “ability,” and Ragbeard has dedicated his life to wiping the memory of Robin Hood from the planet. In short, Ragbeard is an idiot and a crazy person. He even says his allies (like his banker) kind of think he’s a weirdo, but hey, live and let live.
Ragbeard mentions that he bombed Orren Boyle’s rMetal factory so that nobody can make Hank’s precious invention if Hank can’t. That almost wins Hank over, but he still has the good sense to tell Ragbeard “Fuck off, you are a ridiculous joke of a man.”
He turns to go but some 5-0 rolls up, looking for the wanted pirate, and Hank is surprised to find himself covering for him. The cops drive off. Ragbeard is like “Haha, you kinda like me!” and Hank just grunts. Ragbeard departs for the sea. Hank, despite his earlier refusal to accept Ragbeard’s ill-gotten gains, shrugs and picks up the bar of gold Ragbeard left behind. Becuse it’s a fucking bar of solid gold, after all.
Cut to: Kip, a sleazy politico riding to a campaign stop in a private Taggart train car. He’s lazy and vindictive, and his campaign manager, let’s just call him Rove, insists that he must make his campaign stop on time. He says this in “[the] stubborn monotone of the unthinking which asserts an end without concern for the means,” which… are the heroes not constantly making demands of their business partners that end with “I don’t care how you do it so long as it gets done” and whatnot? This book’s bullshit quotient is multiplying rapidly.
In Rove’s defense, the train is running late. Kip thinks he’ll have Taggart Transcon fully nationalized for this. Then the train grinds to a halt because the worn-out track is straight-up broken and the engine car jumped it. Kip flips his shit. Don’t worry buddy, your train ain’t the only thing going off the rails.
The snafu makes its way back to the nearest Taggart office drone, who is another Peter Principle. He got his job because of a deal between Jim & Wesley Mouch, who “by their customary rules of bargaining, [squeezed] all one could out of any given trade,” which, again, the heroes do all the fucking time, proudly and explicitly. Dagny and Hank even flirtatiously threw that in each other’s faces once, back in the day.
Anyway, Kip’s rabid demands for a new engine car ASAP! bounce around the Taggart system for a couple hours, with all of the Peter Principles now staffing the company expending lots of effort to avoid responsibility, even the guy holding Dagny’s old job at the top of the food chain. On top of that, Kip’s train is very close to a miles-long tunnel with bad ventilation so they can only use a deisel train and not a coal train, but the only deisel engine in the region was moved to accomodate some other string-pulling politico. Looks like these guys are gonna have to cut some corners. I’m sure it’ll go fine.
The cowardly weasels apparently aren’t so sure. Knowing that it’s unreasonably dangerous, that they are almost definitely sending people to their death, the various middle managers look the other way and have a coal car sent to the tunnel to avoid the wrath of Kip and Operating Vice President Principle. Better to plead ignorance of a disaster than lose your job and fall at the mercy of the omnipotent Unification Board, right?
And so the Transcon flagship train barrels into a tunnel, driven by a coal car, the fumes from which cloud the air and poison everybody on board until they are dead.
But don’t worry! Ayn, whose misanthropy is also approaching toxic levels, goes on for like three pages about how all of the people on this train are vile political liberals and philosophical relativists, so you see they totally had death by asphyxiation coming to them. Obviously. Yaaaay…?
NEXT — 2:8 By Our Love, “Consumed”