2:10 The Sign of the Dollar, “End with a Whimper”

PREVIOUSLY: A conceptually interesting book got unbearably shitty because the author sucked at writing plot and character and dialogue and prose. A blogger took the scenic route through the narrative doldrums while biding his time for the return of thought-provoking material in Part Three.

Dagny is on the Transcon train heading west, staring out the window at a barren, abandoned landscape that used to be the American heartland. This is depressing as shit so she decides to leave her private car and get some fresh air to help her snap out of it.

But as soon as she steps out she finds the conductor trying to throw a hobo off the moving train in the middle of nowhere. The hobo clutches his hobo-bag of hobo-stuff like a comfort blanket, so Dagny knows he believes in private property and thus deserves to live. I wish I were making this up. She invites him to dine with her in her car.

The hobo has table manners and acts generally respectable. He’s headed west to find work, if there is any, since in the east the Unification Board has a complete stranglehold on employment decisions and you need to know somebody to get anywhere. As he recounts his tragic backstory, Hobo Code here mentions that once upon a time he held the same job for twenty years, and it was glorious. Then the founder died, the heirs took over, and the place went to shit. That’s right, Hobo Code was the foreman at GM! The very same GM where Dagny found the abandoned protoype of the ion drive!

“I demand lower taxes for the wealthy!”

Not only that, but Hobo reveals that it was he and the other employees at GM who coined the term “Who is John Galt?” Dagny’s ears perk up, but not mine, because I stopped giving a shit about this ‘mystery’ about four hundred pages ago.

Despite my disinterest, Hobo recaps the whole story of how GM got converted to a socialist pay system where the most able were exploited and the neediest were over-privileged. The specifics descend even further into ridiculousness this time around, like how the company forbid some dude from sending his kids to college, or how one guy was denied money for his record collection so that the company could pay some chick to get a gold-plated grill. I don’t even know where to start.

The Hobo’s main gripe with this system was that it established a moral code by which “the honest ones paid, the dishonest ones collected,” which of course has never and could never occur under the profit-motivated morality of capitalism. Never!

Anyway, this recap of stuff we’ve already been told goes on for pages and pages and pages, and Hobo Code makes sure to lash out at ‘professors and leaders and thinkers’ for trying to dupe the world with a bullshit morality based on human compassion, which has so clearly and inevitably led to the destruction of everything good. I think Ayn’s brush is so broad that it’s basically a broom now, but…

Finally Hobo trails off at the point where GM went bankrupt and he was out of work, and Dagny is like, “Uh, weren’t you going to explain who John Galt is?” And he’s like “Oh, right. He was this genius kid who had just started at the factory when the communists took over, and he quit as soon as they announced the plan, and he said he would make it his personal mission to ‘stop the motor of the world.'”

“Shit, sounds ominous,” nobody says, and Hobo’s like “Yeah when everything started going to shit, we all remembered what he said and got pretty freaked out. And that’s how we came up with the saying ‘Who is John Galt?’

Dagny does not respond “Well fuck, I pretty much knew all of that already! Get out of my car,” because Dagny has literally fallen asleep. Even the characters have checked out, and here I am still reading like a sucker. Goddammit.

When she wakes up she remembers Hobo Code’s story and how she gave him a sleeping car on the train afterwards for all his troubles. But all of that drops out of her consciousness when she realizes the train is stopped! And it seems nobody is in board! What in tarnation is going on??

As desolate and barren as Ayn Rand’s soul.

Running through the cars for signs of life, she bumps into none other than Owen Kellogg, the very first undercover charismatic anarchist we encountered in the book. Dagny does not ask where he went after he dropped off the grid, but he confirms that the crew has abandoned the train — an increasingly common form of political protest against the economic dictatorship.

After calming the scattered passengers who remain, all of whom are whiny and unappreciative of course, Dagny and Kellogg leave Hobo Code in charge of the train and set off for the nearest emergency phone station along the track. As they walk, Dagny bemoans how everything was better in Nat Taggart’s Gilded Age, and Owen Kellogg responds:

…[Nat Taggart] represented a code of existence which—for a brief span in all human history—drove slavery out of the civilized world.

Which is so historically wrong and factually meaningless as to be offensive, but no time to dwell because it just now occurs to Dagny to ask where this dude has been for the past… what, three years of story time?

When Kellogg shrugs and answers vaguely, she quickly realizes that he’s on the same shadow team as Francisco and The Destroyer. They arrive at the phone box but it’s broken, and they have to walk another five miles. Kellogg sighs and takes out a pack of cigarettes — $tamped cigarettes!

Dagny demands more information, and Kellogg goes on some rant about American exceptionalism and how calling money evil is itself evil. I punch myself in the nuts to stay awake. Special K wraps up the monologue and gives Dagny the rest of his cigarette$ as a token of good will. Let’s pick up the pace here:

“I’m just borrowing it to chase a mad scientist across an inhospitable wasteland. It’ll be back in mint condition, I promise.”

At the next phone box, Dagny calls the local Peter Principle and expends a lot of effort getting him to send a crew to help them restart the train. Some building is glowing a couple miles in the distance and she asks what it is. Peter Principle says it’s an airstrip. This gets Dags’ attention, seeing as she’s now running out of time to reach Q and save their research on the ion drive. Kellogg knowingly encourages her to do what she needs to do; he’ll make sure the train gets running again.

So Dagny commandeers one of the planes at the airstrip and flies all through the night across the Rocky Mountains. She thinks redundantly about Thematic Issues some more until she lands at Q’s airstrip in Utah just as another plane is taking off. She jumps out of her plane all “I’m looking for Q!” and some guy is like “You just missed him, he’s in that plane that just took off! Him and a mysterious, charismatic gentleman!”

Dagny knows immediately that The Destroyer has stolen Q and her last hope of saving society along with him. In a fury she takes right back off and follows The Destroyer’s plane into the treacherous heights of the Rockies once more. Right in the most uninhabitable dangerous patch of peaks, the nefarious plane descends out of sight. Turning the corner, Dagny is flabbergasted: there’s nothing but a jagged valley of rocks. Where did they go? Did they crash?

She descends too, to get a closer look, but something’s weird. The craggy expanse below her is almost like a mirage… Suddenly there’s a flash of light and her motor cuts out. She is now below the craggy rockface — it was a CLOAKING DEVICE! OH SNAP!

But with no motor, her plane drops like a stone to the grassy valley floor below, and as she braces herself to die in a giant fireball, Dagny cries out “Fuck you John Galt, Fuck Yoooooouuuuuu!!!”

The end.

REFLECTIONS ON PART TWO: Ayn Rand as an Unreliable Narrator

NEXT — 3:1 Utopia, “Meet John Galt”

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  1. #1 by zeureo on June 12, 2012 - 11:16 am

    HAHAHA! LOL! Could never exist in a capitalist system? Once boardrooms and C-average accountants start making the decisions, each company becomes a corrupted entity in a communal market – the stock exchange. The bottom line dictated by the trading not of the value of the company (its products you D**B a*s) but the shares in other companies. A gambler only gambles success on his/her ability – not others’ unknown virtue (with money devoid of achievement as the sole coin).
    The saddest part of human nature is so many who can’t understand the basics of the universe somehow manage to convince others of their literacy.

    • #2 by Taylor Bettinson on June 12, 2012 - 12:26 pm

      Err, for somebody obviously well-versed in sarcasm you seem to have missed a pretty obvious example of it. The whole point of this blog is to take down Rand’s absurd money-worshipping philosophy while arguing Atlas Shrugged has value IN SPITE of it and not because of it.

      In fact in this post I make the same point you do about how accountants and corporate decision-making structures disqualify wealth as a measure of moral worth. To quote myself, “anybody with sufficient funds can … pay others to manage their investments, thereby purchasing more responsible financial management than they themselves could provide and thereby divorcing their net worth from their competency and merit.”

      Your broader points about the stock market are also right-on, and echo the sentiments of Keynes as voiced in Chapter Twelve of the General Theory (a blog post discussing that in more detail here).

      So yeah, welcome to the same page. I’m not sure if you didn’t read the whole post or are just a willfully obtuse internet troll, but… way to act like a willfully obtuse internet troll either way. To paraphrase another great thinker I just finished reading, “The saddest part of human nature is so many who can’t understand the basics of the universe somehow manage to convince others of their literacy (you D**B a*s).”

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