Archive for July, 2012

Food for Thought #11: Rand Against the Machine

It’s worth pointing out in These Polarizing Times that there’s more overlap between radical libertarianism and radical progressivism than the adherents of either philosophy would care to admit. And while you certainly don’t need to invoke Ayn Rand to prove the point, it’s surprisingly fruitful to do so.

Take Galt’s Gulch, the secret hideaway of Rand’s anarcho-capitalist heroes. Though Rand envisions this place as a direct rebuke to the concepts of altruism and social justice, the lifestyle she outlines for its residents is ironically sympatico with the stereotypical ideals of the modern left: clean energy, locally and naturally grown food, a community in which everybody’s consumption is commensurate with their contribution, and — most radically of all — there are no formal institutions or hierarchies. It’s a model of sustainable living. It’s an Occupier’s wet dream.

Even better, take Rand’s scathing indictment of the society beyond the borders of Galt’s Gulch: she repeatedly insists that global society is unsustainable because people are consuming more than they produce. Her villains are labeled “moochers and looters” for this very reason. It is at the root of her worldview. And, lo and behold, this is also the rallying cry of liberals opposed to the excesses of global capitalism. It is the Cassandra call of progressives demanding action to mitigate climate change and reform the systems that provide our food and medicine.

And yet Ayn Rand is the patron saint of reactionary conservatism in politics today. Obviously, Ayn self-identified as exactly that. So, kudos. But perceived from 2012, her central criticism of society as it exists, and the vision she offers of what it could be, are both shared with the American left.

Of course Atlas is 1100 pages long specifically because Rand spends about 800 of them vehemently denying this very possibility. And I don’t mean to sound as though the left has a monopoly on anti-establishment sentiment. But there is a contradiction here, and it falls on Rand’s shoulders no matter how badly she wants to shrug it off: Her condemnation of our society’s unsustainable trajectory is unavoidably a condemnation of the system of global industrial capitalism for which she has become the mascot. Ayn Rand rages against the machine and fetishizes it at the same time.

Which, really, is what most of us do in one way or another. And this is where the overlap between libertarianism and progressivism comes in. What ultimately makes Rand’s vision of utopia appealing to both sides isn’t its specific political philosophy but its scale. In Galt’s Gulch, as I pointed out above, there are no institutions or hierarchies. In Galt’s Gulch, all enterprises are municipal in scope. All employment arrangements are made based on a personal evaluation with an individual entrepreneur. In Galt’s Gulch, the community feeds and powers itself self-sufficiently and without expelling its waste into the outside world. And the community’s basic model can be replicated by similarly-sized communities all around the country without necessarily developing a grander, more centralized infrastructure of political power.

That paradigm appeals to the culture of the grassroots right — libertarian, agrarian, pastoral. It appeals to the culture of the grassroots left — clean, sustainable, a locally-tailored global solution. And as I pointed out in the very first post of this series, a cynicism about institutions’ relationship to individuals is the common bond between Atlas Shrugged and The decidedly more liberal Wire.

Lest we forget, Rand’s villains include businesses, CEOs, boards of directors, and PR departments. Though Rand emphasizes tax subsidies as the vehicle of their corruption, it’s worth noting that subsidies or no, these (fictional) corporate elites are still corrupt: they operate a business model based on personally accumulating as much of their companies’ wealth as possible while providing increasingly poor products and services and avoiding taking personal responsibility for the results. Sound familiar to anyone?

This is the sort of thing I mean when I say that Ayn Rand wrote her book with an unintentionally unreliable narrator, or when I say that Atlas Shrugged could be a potentially epic and awesome story if the reader could excise all the author’s attempts to ruin it. It’s a nonpartisan fable that plays to both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, and once you realize just how liberal-friendly Rand’s vision is on its face, you can discard her irrational politics and start mining the thematically rich veins for precious material.

Take, as just one example, Rand’s recurring commentary on the spiritual nature of sex:

In the Objectiverse, the act of sex is invariably a spiritual and moral transaction. Good sex affirms the spiritual value of both partners and empowers them to aspire to ever greater virtue. Bad sex either saps the participants of spiritual value or confirms their lack of same, and in either case produces shame.

But this definition of lovemaking is not an endorsement of marital coitus as the best way to maximize spiritual health. On the contrary, our proto-feminist heroine explicitly tells her married lover that she makes no demands of him except to booty call whenever he needs to get off. And contraception and procreation? Children in basically any capacity? These issues are absent from Rand’s thoughts on the subject, and in the case of children, nearly absent from the book completely (because of how poorly they fit into Rand’s moral code).

So do those sexual politics sound liberal or conservative? The insistence on strict moral laws governing the proper expression of sexuality is decidedly conservative; the proud departure from the institutions intended to enforce sexual morality is decidedly liberal. Once again Rand vilifies historical patriarchy — in this case for repressing healthy sexual expression — even though her political agenda goes out of its way to flatter and justify the behavior and status of patriarchy’s contemporary beneficiaries.

Now take Rand’s views on money, espoused so verbosely by Francisco in Part Two.  In the Objectiverse, literal currency is also  spiritual currency. Yet in contrast to her views on sex, Ayn declares the ancient institutional hierarchy of money to be a direct and absolute measure of spiritual worth operating in a downright karmic fashion. What makes the objective symbol of wealth a direct corollary of spiritual value, but the objective symbol of deliberately committed love a degrading fraud? Nothing but the fact that both of these positions are the opposite of traditional religious teachings. It’s not logically groundbreaking, it’s just Ayn Rand’s knee-jerk bile.

Upon this closer inspection, I find the vaguely karmic and holistic metaphysics of Objectivism intriguing, if only for how they’re so counterintuitive to Rand’s reputation. These metaphysics declare that a person’s moral values and spiritual health will inevitably manifest in their behavior and choices, no matter how much they wish to deny the consequences of their actions. It’s an almost Zen Buddhist understanding of right action. And for Rand’s protagonists, the lifestyle that grows out of this harmony between mind and body is remarkably socially liberal.

But those metaphysics bear no deductive relationship to Objectivism’s political and economic tenets. When Ayn gets reactionary and proprietary about how her specific moral values are the only ones that can produce spiritual health, she loses the way (or should I say, loses the Tao).

That declaration of monopoly on morality is the only thing that theoretically ties her cosmology to her political economy. Hank Rearden says as much when he claims sexual guilt and Keynesian economics are two symptoms of the same moral illness: the statement is so absurd that the character himself qualifies it as laughable.

In reality, a karmic metaphysics that insists on harmony between mind and body for proper behavioral results is a belief that is wholly independent from Rand’s political dogma. And Rand also declares it imperative that false moral claims be rejected if one is to fulfill one’s potential for true virtue. In Objectivism, there is no such thing as a harmless false belief.

What this means for Atlas Shrugged is that by its own metaphysical and ethical imperatives, we must reject its political and economic tenets as lacking foundation, to save the story’s soul.

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3:3 Anti-Greed cont’d, “Love Pentahedron”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny returned to work, only to realize more acutely than ever how shitty humans are.

Hank Rearden’s wife Lily, scorned woman, repressed vessel of hellacious fury, and bitter harpy, shows up at Dagny’s office unannounced. Dagny is like, “Goddammit, these assholes expect you to save the world and then never give you a moment alone to do it!”

Lily puts on the pretense of civility but holds back nothing when she tells Dagny she will absolutely go on Leno like her brother asked her to, and assuage the peoples’ fears. Dagny balks.

Relishing the moment, Lil informs Dags that she knows about her years-long affair with Hank. She boasts that Hank sacrificed his rights to rMetal under duress, to prevent a scandal that would ruin Dagny’s reputation for integrity and professionalism. And now, Lilian declares triumphantly, Dagny will also play her part in greasing the wheels of a morally bankrupt society, for the very same reason. Mwa ha ha, etc.

But Dagny is unimpressed. Lillian tries to goad her some more by taking credit for uncovering the adultery and passing that information on to the blackmailers (specifically Dagny’s brother, but she doesn’t mention that). Anyway, still nothing. The lack of reaction is getting to her, and she’s like, “Well?”

Dagny shrugs. “Yeah sure, I’ll go on Leno.”

CUT TO: Jay Leno. Or “Bertram Scudder,” but who cares anymore. Actually, by this description:

He was laboring to sound cynical, skeptical, superior and hysterical together, to sound like a man who sneers at the vanity of all human beliefs and thereby demands an instantaneous belief from his listeners.

He’s clearly Rush Limbaugh. So Rush/Jay/Bert bloviates for a hot minute before turning the mic over to our heroine, who has been primed by his preamble to endorse the totalitarian regime.

BUT! Dagny blows up everyone’s spot. She announces to the nation that neither she nor Hank Rearden endorsed the forfeiture of all economic liberty, regardless of how things seemed. Allow her to explain… Then with one pang of guilt for… hurting John Galt’s feelings? Jesus, shut up…, Dagny confesses:

“I had been Hank Rearden’s mistress. … Not as a shameful confession, but with the highest sense of pride … have I experienced the most violent form of sensual pleasure. Specifically I let him put it in the butt.”*

*I’m paraphrasing that part but it’s almost definitely accurate.

Anyway she continues that she doesn’t care who knows because they were doing it for the right reasons: because they admired and respected each other and inspired each other to be better.  Not like Rearden’s sham marriage, or like “most of you” for whom sex is “an act of casual indulgence and mutual contempt.”

Then she transitions to how their extramarital fuckathons are morally similar to building railroads and stuff, because that’s the next logical step. More to the point, anybody who judges their affair negatively she accuses of being a soured soul who wants to destroy all human happiness. Because that’s what she has attained, after all, and the haters are just jealous.

At this point Limbaugh tries to take back the reins, because as we all know he’s not into sluts or women taking pride in their sexuality generally. Dagny brushes him off, concludes that it was only through explicit blackmail and implicit moral perversity that the powers-that-be kept Rearden in line while she was gone.

The goverment handlers hanging ominously in the shadows step forward and cut the signal. Jim and Lillian, watching from the studio audience, rush the booth. Everyone’s flipping their shit, trying to figure out what to put on in place of dead air. Dagny just slips out the back.

Back at her apartment, Dags is surprised to find the door open and the lights on. Hank has returned! He indicates the TV/radio/whatever and she knows that he heard. But he looks relaxed, happy, confident, etc. It’s a weight off his chest too. Overwhelmed with everything, she crumples in his embrace and cries her little heart out. OH THE HUMANITY. Literally.

Eventually she calms down and braces herself to tell Hank they can’t sleep together anymore because she’s got a crush on L. Ron Hubbard, but he’s like, “Shh, shh, shhhh… let me go first.”

“Dagny,” he says, “I love you, always have, always will. But we can’t sleep together anymore.” Allow him to explain…

So the gist here is that he feels they’ve run their course in a totally mutual way. They have successfully exchanged value for value and don’t need to stay together out of some sense of obligation.

See, when they first slept together he was all ashamed of sex, believed the body to be sinful, etc. But it was only his guilt and shame that gave their enemies leverage over him. He now rejects what he calls the “mystic’s” false distinction between mind and body.  Which, good for him, I guess.

Except that he’s blithely conflating the philosophy of every spiritual and theological belief system into one tenet about how sex shouldn’t be fun, which is… false. Untrue. Hiding from reality, to use Rand’s condemnatory phrase. Afterall, not only are there myriad spiritual traditions that celebrate the holistic nature of the self as encompassing both mind and body, but Western intellectual rationalism hasn’t exactly resolved its own contradictory attitudes towards the mind/body problem either.

Which is to say that for the length of a very boring monologue, Hank lumps everything bad in the Objectiverse under the heading of “the mystics’ morality.” Then he declares everything that is not specifically Objectivist in nature as falling into that category. Somehow this results in an epiphany that ancient patriarchical attitudes towards sex are exactly like Keynesian economics. Outside Dagny’s window, the Fonz leaps over an entire school of sharks.

Even Hank admits that he would find his own conclusions laughable if he hadn’t been convinced by his 800 pages of existence in a universe specifically designed to prove that exact point to him. Wow yeah, isn’t that weird? Here, I’ll give you guys a hint: the conclusions are still laughable, and SO IS YOUR UNIVERSE.

Long story short Hank lets Dagny down easy. He knows she already found somebody else, because she spoke about their affair in the past tense when she was on the air. He’s not jealous or upset, just happy they helped each other grow as people.

Dagny is relieved. Hank is pleased. But also kind of curious as to who her new beau is, and she can’t really tell him, but he pieces it together that she found The Destroyer, and that it was John Galt, and that he invented the miraculous ion drive, and that now she’s banished from her love for wanting to save the world. Somebody get this guy a pipe and a magnifying glass.

And so, with the Galt-Taggart-D’Anconia-Rearden-Rearden love pentahedron finally resolved, Dagny and Hank bask in the satisfied afterglow of personal drama averted, even as the darkening world outside continues to gnaw insidiously at their idealistic guts.

NEXT — 3.4 Anti-Life, “The Ministries of Love and Truth”

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3:3 Anti-Greed, “Internet Metaphor Death Ray”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny took a tour of John Galt’s secret society in remote Colorado. It was like the bastard child of Portlandia and a Scientology compound.

Dr. Stadler, spiritually atrophied physics genius, arrives in a vast Iowa field for reasons he’s not quite clear on.  He just knows his handlers told him to be here for “the unveiling.” His nefarious right-hand man Floyd “Jafar” Ferris is there, in the know but evasive.

Stadler feels a sickening in his gut but does his best to ignore it as the country’s leading lights and even President Thompson show up. Ferris mentions that it is the mysterious Project X that is being unveiled and the pit in Stadler’s stomach deepens.

Everybody sits in the viewing area facing the field and gets a pair of goggles. There’s a very “atom bomb test” vibe in the air. Ferris gets up to the mic and starts warming up the crowd. He points to an ugly mushroom-shaped building out in the field a ways. It’s giving off a sinister aura and Ferris is explaining how it emits signal waves into the air, etc etc. Wait, did they just invent wireless internet? I’m confused. Anyway it has a range two hundred miles in diameter, but later models could reach up to six hundred.

Stadler zones out, distracted by an abandoned farm house out in the distance and a few goats prancing around it. Until, that is, Ferris wraps up and some scientist lackey turns on the machine.

In the length of a mere instant, all of the goats float into the air, jerking and spasming unnaturally, then falling together in a mangled pile of fur and legs akimbo. The abandoned farmhouse splinters into its component pieces and then collapses to the ground. Project X is a doomsday machine! Shocking NOBODY.

The crowd sits in horrified silence, unsure how to react. Stadler thinks “this was the realm of a child’s nightmare, where material objects could be dissolved by means of a single … wish.” Ah, so it is the internet!

Anyway, Stadler confronts Ferris. “What the fuck?” he demands. “Chill out, Doc, this is a great tool of peace,” Ferris explains, Orwell-style. Stadler: “How’s that exactly?” Ferris: “Mutually Assured Destruction. Also a chilling effect on domestic unrest.”

Then Ferris turns to the television cameras and tells the nation how proud they all are of this patriotic achievement and how it’s all thanks to Dr. Stadler’s groundbreaking work in theoretical physics. While a number of other speakers stand up to orate about Project X (officially titled the Thompson Harmonizer), Ferris dismissively hands Stadler a pre-written speech to read at the climax of the broadcast.

Stadler makes his last stand. He excoriates Ferris for abusing his authority to bring a devastating tool of oppression into the world. Ferris laughs it off and goes on a proudly nihilistic rant about how there is nowhere left for Stadler to turn now, and how he must embrace the impotence of logic and morality and truth in our age of spin and marketing. “Speaking of which,” Ferris concludes, “you’re up next.”

As the cowardly Doctor steps up to the podium, an idealistic young reporter, let’s call him Jimmy Olsen, rushes the stage. “Don’t do it, Doc! Speak truth to power! Call out these fascists for what they are!” But it is too late. Defeated, zombie-like, Stadler addresses the nation with Ferris’ hollow words, praising the Harmonizer while Ferris sees to the expulsion of  Jimmy.

NEXT! In New York City, Dagny Taggart has returned from her secret visit to John Galt’s Church of Mammon and is freshly perplexed by the glassy eyes and willful ignorance of the despairing populace in the outside world. People now seem like unreasoning animals she cannot understand and to whom she cannot relate. So the sociopathy in Galt’s Gulch has rubbed off after all.

Dagny knows that her return will spark a media firestorm. She’s heard word-of-mouth stories about some new technology from the DOD, but she hasn’t paid enough attention to catch the details. Her first task upon getting back to her apartment is to get in touch with Hank Rearden.

She reaches him in Colorado, where he’s been searching for the wreckage of her plane. He is extremely relieved to learn she’s alive, and doesn’t even care when she dodges all his questions about where she was and why it took her so long to come back. They agree to meet once he gets back to New York.

Next stop is her old office at Taggart Transcon. Eddie is there serving as manservant to the venal bureaucrat now running the company. He is chained up and wearing a Princess Leia bikini. It’s pretty gross.

When Dagny shows up, an unimpressed Jabba sees himself out. Eddie kisses Dagny’s hand, which is the most assertive thing he’s done in 700 pages. Together, they go to meet with the vile and impotent Jim.

Actually, they make him come to Dagny’s office, where he is clearly a nervous wreck. He insists that Dagny needs to hold a press conference explaining her absence, but she just dictates a press release to Eddie about how she was in a plane crash and spent the month recuperating at a remote farm in Wyoming.

Jabba the Hutt comes back and the increasingly panicky Jim tries to act like Dagny and Jabba are gonna get along great while Jabba takes over the company as part of the railroad industry’s nationalization. They talk a bunch of technical jargon about how the train system is being run these days. It is a thrilling exercise in suspenseful prose.

As the abysmal state of America’s infrastructure comes into sharper focus, Jim reverts to his usual anxious excuse-spewing self, which seems to annoy Jabba as much as it annoys Dagny. She realizes that he feels guilty, though he would never admit it, and that he has lost his power and influence, and now feels doomed to become a victim of his own schemes.

Jabba’s business done, he leaves again. Jim immediately harangues Dagny some more about how she will definitely go on some talk show and reassure the nation that she isn’t a political dissident, that the economy will rebound now that she has returned, no ifs ands or buts. 

She quietly observes his freak out for a hot minute and then calmly refuses to enable his propaganda campaigns any longer. His hysteria reaches a boiling point and he goes into a despairing, frightened version of Ferris’ speech from earlier. Nihilism is the fundamentally true philosophy, there is no use in resisting the inertia of social corruption, you’ve just got to play along, blah blah blah.

But Dagny, increasingly confident that she is coming to understand the moral rot pervading the world, kicks him out for being depressing and pathetic. Fair call.

NEXT — 3:3 Anti-Greed cont’d, “Love Pentahedron”

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3:2 Utopia of Greed cont’d, “The Second Rule of Right Club”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny loves the idyllic Galt’s Gulch. The residents constantly talk about how the outside world deserves righteous annihilation, but after a while even that starts to seem eminently reasonable.

The end of the 10th annual Galt’s Gulch Summer Vacation Month is rapidly approaching.

Dagny and Galt take one morning to visit Francisco’s small copper mine in the hills near town, and Dagny gets all caught up in the creative energy that she immediately begins designing a railroad to connect the mine to the town in her mind.

Then she remembers her national railroad system that was meant to connect hundreds, thousands of towns, linking them to energy sources and food supplies. A wave of guilt washes over her and she despairs that she can’t bring herself to say “Fuck you world” like everybody else in the Gulch. But Galt assures her that that’s fair. Until she is able to face all the humanitarian horrors that await the world and shrug in response, then she’s right to feel like she doesn’t belong.

On their way back from the mine, Francisco asks Dagny that in case this last week of vacation is the last week they ever spend together, would she like to come stay with him at his remote love shack? But Dagny’s crushing on Galt now. She’s like “Oh well I’ve got this job. What do you think, Master?” And Galt is clearly giving her this look like, “Seriously, you’re making me do this? Weak.” But he says, “Sorry Frankie, but she stays with me,” because despite their nihilistic foreign policy the residents of this eden do not bullshit each other about their feelings.

Francisco takes that pretty well, all things considered, and Dagny feels utterly relieved that she can now pour hot candle wax all over Galt’s naked body without ruining her oldest friendship.  She starts to understand all theiresentment of the outside world, where the resolution of a love triangle like this one would never be so free of drama.

PAUSE. I’d like to point out here that Francisco D’Anconia is basically Ayn Rand’s loyal cuckold husband, Frank O’Connor, and John Galt is her polyamorous lover Nat Branden. All of the ‘shipper plotlines in this book are thus revealed to be Rand’s fan-fiction about her own life and her personal pornographic fantasies. Ridiculous.

PLAY. As Dagny leaves the farmer’s market with the fresh groceries for dinner, she happens to see another small plane circling in the skies above the town’s reflector cloak. She runs up to a high point to try and get a closer look and of course it is Hank Rearden, desperately hunting for signs of Dagny’s presumably dead body. This gives her another pang of regret at ignoring the tribulations of the outside world.

So when the Objectivist brain trust meets with her on the day before the end of summer vacation, and when they ask her if she has decided to stay or to go… she says she won’t be sure until the morning. They (Galt, Francisco, Mulligan, whoever) all consent to this, and then turn to their internal matters of business.

Specifically, everybody is moving to the Gulch permanently, no more dallying in the outside world. Francisco estimates he’ll be able to disappear completely from society in four months’ time. But Galt declares that he’s considering going back to his undercover life on the grid for a while.

Everybody is like, “Dear God, man, why?” and Galt is like “It’s my call,” and they’re like, “Yeah sure, but let’s remember a few salient facts here.”

And then they shoot off a list of all the terrible fucked up things that’re going on back in society proper. Mass starvation, no fuel, collapsing infrastructure, police crackdowns on civil unrest. It’s a fucking war zone. Everybody’s moving to the Gulch because it’s the only safe place left.

In the middle of this cavalcade of atrocities Dagny leaps up and shouts, “Fuck that!” and the assembled Objectivists turn to her  like, “You mean, ‘fuck the world’?” And Dagny scoffs. “No, fuck you guys! Somewhere out there, there are people who deserve to live in Galt’s Gulch too, people who you and I have never met. And as long as they’re out there, I’m not going to abandon the world to the senseless destruction you have wrought! Fuck!”

They would quibble with their culpability, of course, but mostly they just tell Dagny they’re sorry for what she’s about to put herself through. She’s like, “It’s okay. You have a beautiful thing going here. But ‘so long as men desire to live, I cannot lose my battle.'”

And Akston, World’s Greatest Philosopher, is like, “Oh silly little Dagny. Do they desire to live though? Do they really?” You know this ‘philosopher’ has a real yen to justify killing people, is anybody else picking up on that?

Anyway they’re all confident that Dagny will eventually realize the error of her ways and return to the fold. But for now she will have to be led out of the valley blindfolded and treated as an enemy.

Before she goes, Francisco and Galt take her back to Francisco’s place for one last drink. Galt announces that he has firmly decided to return to the world as well, and that’s the last clue Francisco needs.

He lets them know that he’s picked up on the sexual tension between them and doesn’t mind. He knew that when they inevitably met he would lose Dagny because obviously Sexy Capitalist Jesus is the alpha male in any room he’s in, so… what’reyagonnado, am I right?

Anyway poor Frankie has this pair of ancient goblets that belonged to his  ancestor Sebastian, who first came to the new world, and Sebastian’s wife, whom only joined him there years later. And Frankie kept these goblets here in the valley so that when Dagny arrived, the two of them could drink from them together.

But hey, if she’s into John now, then whatever. Dagny and Galt can drink from them. it’s not like this was a moment Frisco pictured for his whole goddamn adult life or anything. Totally fine. Cheers!

PAUSE. Fucking seriously? Look, you gotta do what you gotta do, but Dagny, you just met this guy a few weeks ago, and he’s a smirky douche who runs a cult and plots global destruction. Meanwhile, here’s Francisco, stoic badass of stoic badasses, who did all of the dirty work, who put himself in danger, who is currently witnessing his lifelong dreams turn to ashes in the most bitterly ironic way possible and taking it like a man, like a total boss… and you’re picking the smarmy asshole whose only claim to fame is refusing to do any work? This is some bullshit. Fucktarded. And I would say it’s all understandable under the maxim of “the heart wants what it wants,” but Ayn Rand herself would never accept that as justification, so… ridiculous.

PLAY. The three of them toast, perhaps bittersweetly, and go their separate ways. The following morning Galt tells Dagny he is returning to the world, undercover, to be there when she changes her mind. She’s into it.

The blindfold goes on, Galt flies them out of the valley, and, once she’s left alone on a remote airstrip, Dagny realizes that, basically, she’s fallen in love with Tyler Durden.

NEXT — 3:3 Anti-Greed, “Internet Metaphor Death Ray”

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3:2 Utopia of Greed, “The First Rule of Right Club”

PREVIOUSLY: Our heroine stumbled upon John Galt and his organic, locavore, good-vibes utopia in the Rockies. It’s a little weird.

Dagny wakes up to find John Galt staring at her. She’s into it. She offers to cook them breakfast. He’s into it. He goes off to run some errands, and Dagny is all like, “Wow, I’m a feminist prototype but I’m really enjoying this traditional domestic gender role right now,” until there’s a knock at the door.

Whaddya know, it’s the Dread Pirate Ragbeard. He’s here because all the secret meritocrats come every June for summer vacation. Francisco, apparently, is late. Galt gets back and they all have a drink together. Mimosas? Who knows. It is early.

Ragbeard goes on about his noble mission to rob from the poor and give back to the rich. He mentions that Dagny has an account waiting for her at the top-secret World’s Greatest Bank here in the valley. He does not mention to Dagny that he dedicated his life to this mission as a big fuck you to a folk tale. Idiot.

After he leaves, Dagny tells Galt she doesn’t want his money because that guy is a fucking moron. Preach it sister. She and Galt settle on an arrangement. She will stay in Galt’s Gulch for the summer vacation month, then decide whether to join or leave permanently. In the meantime she will pay her way by being Galt’s servant. Which is her idea, by the way, because this bitch is mad kinky.

So then Dagny’s old employee Owen Kellogg pops by with news from the outside world. Everybody thinks Dagny is dead, including and especially Hank Rearden. Kthanksbye! Owen leaves. Dagny gets to patching up Galt’s shirts, fretting about how to send Hank word that she’s safe, when Francisco shows up.

Our Man Frankie is all in a tizzy. He’s late for summer vacation because he was desperately searching for Dagny’s body in the mountains. Galt is like, “Yeah about that…” and calls Dagny out of her servant’s quarters or wherever to reunite with her childhood sweetheart.

Frankie is overwhelmed. He confesses his undying love to Dagny, ecstatic that she is finally here and can appreciate this utopian valley, this place that he became Batman to fight for. He reminds her of the night he had the nervous breakdown in her bed, explains that he made the decision to ally with Galt that night because of her, because of a vision of the three of them here, in this future, in this refuge of freedom, all liberated together.

Dagny is overwhelmed. Francisco soothes her fears that he expects her romantic devotion in return. He understands it’s been too long for that. He is just happy and grateful that all of the secrets are now out on the table. And Dagny’s thinking, “Yeah but this is still gonna get real awkward when I tell you I’m gonna fuck your best friend.”

She and Frisco visit his house, and they talk about Galt’s Gulch and their mission and the outside world, and as always when one of Galt’s acolytes considers the world beyond Galt’s borders, they get extremely resentful and bitter and threatening. But Dagny is so overwhelmed with the journey-to-Oz-like nature of her experience that even that is starting to seem natural. NOOO Dagny! Resist The Destroyer!

Anyway, summer vacation passes day by day, it’s all pretty uneventful. The community holds lectures and seminars on science and futurism but Dagny isn’t allowed to come. She can go to the concerts and plays though. We don’t get any details about them but I think we can be sure they are The World’s Greatest.

Meanwhile all the submissive roleplay at her new job is getting Dagny extremely worked up. Whenever Galt leaves the house she paces around thinking about all the dirty dirty things they could do together. Jesus, just rub one out Dags. You’re usually so ahead of the curve on this stuff.

This routine carries on. Galt comes home, flirts and taunts her, she digs at him right back. “I’ve been watching you.” “You want to hold me here, don’t you? Keep me to yourself?” “Yes.” Then, once the gears are wound, they go to their separate rooms and masturbate furiously Dagny listens to Galt lighting a sexually frustrated cigarette.

One day late in the month, Dagny is enjoying a private performance by The World’s Greatest Composer, Richard Halley. After he wraps up, he explains to Dagny in excruciating and rhetorically tortured detail that he loathes the outside world because audiences felt feelings when they listened to his music, instead of appreciating it as an abstract but specific intellectual argument that should be appreciated solely in line with authorial intent.

What the fuck is wrong with this guy? Maybe, if you want your work to be interpreted so specifically and intellectually, MUSIC was the WRONG FIELD. ASSHOLE.

Dagny also spends time with The World’s Greatest Actress, who is also Ragbeard’s wife by the way, just because.  She said “Fuck you world” because she kept getting type-cast as sexpots and bitches. Guys isn’t their cause so righteous? It’s inspiring.

The piece de resistance of this demographic sampling is when Dagny meets The World’s Greatest Mother, who is the only person allowed to bring children into Galt’s Gulch because they don’t fit neatly into Ayn Rand’s philosophy she wants to home-school them. And also banish irrationality from their lives. Good luck with that.

And then, on a quiet starry evening some time around halfway through the summer vacation, Dagny finds herself sitting outside The World’s Greatest Philosopher’s house with Akston, Galt, Francisco, Ragbeard, and Ragbeard’s Wife. The men reminisce about their time at Patrick Henry University, and that one time Galt came up with this crazy idea of living peacefully in a remote valley and oh yeah also destroying civilization because “Fuck you world.”

This reminds Dagny of her meetings with Dr. Stadler, the boys’ other mentor from Patrick Henry, the disillusioned man whose life-force finally atrophied because he… took a job funded by grant money? Ayn, we’re like 700 pages in here, could you please stop ruining evocative characterizations already? Ugh. Anyway if y’all think Stadler sucks now wait til you read the next chapter.

So Akston is like “If I could murder anyone on earth — not that I condone murder — but if I did want to murder someone — not that I do, because I definitely do not condone murder — I would totally murder Dr. Stadler. Theoretically. If I condoned murder. Which I don’t.” And Dagny just nods, because as fucked up as this place is getting, let’s face it: when you’re drowning in kool-aid it’s impossible not to drink some.

NEXT — 3:2 The Utopia of Greed cont’d, “The Second Rule of Right Club”

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3:1 Atlantis, “Meet John Galt”

As we all know, the global economy is collapsing from overconsumption. In the book, I mean. Unemployment, famine, drought, all that. Meanwhile, America’s captains of industry have all dropped off the grid except for Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Dagny has finally managed to track down the disappearing elites to their secret hide-out. The full recap of Parts One & Two here.

Dagny wakes up on the grass near her destroyed Cessna and sees a charismatic bronze Adonis staring at her. Immediately her thoughts turn to going down on this fine masculine specimen, even though she was just in a plane crash like five minutes ago. Cool it Dags, I’m pretty sure it’s the concussion.

This Sexy Capitalist Jesus informs her that he is the infamous John Galt, and then they start flirting, like, her legs are probably broken dude, a little more urgency here? He does presently pick her up and carry her over the crest of the little hill where she crashed, revealing a small town in the valley below.

Arriving at the scene are The World’s Greatest Philosopher Hugh Akston, The World’s Greatest Banker Midas Mulligan, and The World’s Greatest Oil Magnate Ellis Wyatt. They’re all, “Dagny, long time no see! Are you one of us now?” But Galt informs them she is technically an intruder.

Everybody keeps speaking cryptically about their almost religious devotion to life in this valley, which goes by the name Galt’s Gulch. Galt is like, “Okay okay, one step at a time boys,” and takes Dagny to his house to recuperate.

Once they’re alone, he gently mocks her for her previous belief that he was the villain of the story, The Destroyer of the World. “How did you know about that?” she wonders, but it’s becoming pretty clear that he and his covert fellowship have been stalking Dagny for the entire book. She’s cool with it, even though that’s actually pretty weird.

Soon The World’s Greatest Doctor arrives with some futuristic portable x-ray device (commonly known as a Tricorder), and is like, “Don’t worry, that fiery plane crash you were in only left some bruises and a sprained ankle.” Jesus, Ayn, you’re barely even trying anymore.

Galt offers Dagny a delicious plate of locally grown organic food to restore her strength. She asks where he got it, and he explains that in Galt’s Gulch, the CEOs of car companies and coal companies and so on are all now small farmers with specialty crops that everybody sells to each other, farmer’s market style. Their currency is gold and silver only, minted by Midas Mulligan, and nobody is allowed to share or give gifts. In fact the word ‘give’ is forbidden.

Even though that last part sounds kind of bizarre and cult-like (and compulsory), Dagny is fascinated by the unexpected dynamic of ruthless capitalists acting out hippies’ ideals of sustainable community living. She demands that Galt show her around the valley right away.

Their first stop on the tour is Mulligan’s house. In addition to banking he is now a tobacco farmer. He makes the $tamped cigarettes. Next they visit Sanders, the founder and CEO of let’s-call-it Boeing Aircraft. For some reason when Sanders left, the vast fleet of engineers and their industrial means of production at his company all forgot how to build airplanes, while he, who probably hadn’t picked up a wrench in a decade or more before coming to the valley, is able to single-handedly build electric tractors and, more relevantly, repair Dagny’s Cessna. Ayn, you suck. So hard.

Galt takes Dagny through some woods. They meet The World’s Greatest Contractor (contracts for WHAT, Ayn?), now the valley’s utility maintenance man. They see a beautiful woman by the lake whom was The World’s Greatest Author, who now does the town’s fishing. Galt calls her a “fishwife.” What is this, Dickensian London?

Past the lake they come to Ellis Wyatt’s place, where he has perfected an environmentally-sound method of fracking. Wyatt praises the valley’s ethos of self-sufficiency, innovation, and sustainability, and then gets dark and bitter about the outside world, which he calls hell.

So they keep visiting The World’s Greatest Rich People, who are all now happy manual laborers in this libertarian commune. Yes, it’s a commune. Fuck you if you say otherwise. They meet The World’s Greatest Actress, who earned that title by being the most prettiest and glamorous actress of them all. Seriously, Ayn? Weak sauce for a proto-feminist. Weak sauce.

Eventually Galt brings Dagny to Francisco’s house (he isn’t there), which is extremely remote from the rest of the town in a Zen monastery kind of way. She is reminded how much Frisco has sacrificed, including his relationship with her, in order to stop the consumption of earth.

But that doesn’t keep her and Galt from making eyes at each other as he takes her to the power plant where his revolutionary electric motor powers the entire operation. He won’t let her inside, because technically she isn’t a member of their secret society. Then they stare at each other some more and simmer in their sexual tension before heading back to town so Dagny can rest up.

That night, after Dagny’s nap, Galt takes her to dinner at Midas Mulligan’s. The other guests are World’s Greatest Doctor, Judge, Philosopher, Oil Man, Physicist, Coal Magnate, and Classical Musician (Richard Halley, Dagny’s favorite composer). They all flatter Dagny and talk up Galt’s Gulch as a wonderful utopia, not like the rest of the world which is an evil shitpile and everyone there should go die in a ditch.

Despite the return of the disturbing cult elements, Dagny is overwhelmed by how happy and satisfied all her peers are living this way, and how serene and peaceful the valley is. Still unsure of what to think, she asks them all if they regret abandoning their fields of study. But none of them have:

Dagny already heard Richard Halley’s latest composition in Chapter 1. The Judge is writing a treatise on legal philosophy that he proudly proclaims nobody will ever be allowed to read (retarded). The Doctor has developed medicine that prevents strokes, but all the stroke victims can fuck off as far as he’s concerned because, I don’t know, Medicare reimbursement rates weren’t high enough for his liking or something (asshole).

In fact, they all sound like colossal assholes. Dagny accuses them of giving up on humanity. The Philosopher argues that it is humanity that has given up on itself. Society no longer invents, produces, or grows. It now consumes itself and encourages individuals to behave like sheep. Everybody here has moved to Galt’s Gulch to save themselves from the spiritual atrophy of postmodern civilization.

Galt, who they all fawn over like a messiah, explains that they are on strike. He says nobody who’s ever gone on strike before deserved to, except these people here right now who agree with him. Asshole. Also he’s the de facto leader because he was “born without original sin” — he never felt guilty for being the smartest man in the world. Yeah I’m sure Newton and Einstein and Hawking all regretted their careers, dude. What a prick.

Even though the nature of this place as a cult of personality is pretty clear now, Galt goes on. He waxes rhapsodic about how the intellect has always been regarded as evil in the past, and how the Great Man theory of history has been neglected, etc.  Too bad nobody thought to invite The World’s Greatest Historian to this party, although I guess that would puncture the reality-averse ideological bubble all these people live in.

Dagny still struggles to reconcile the beauty of this place with the repellent beliefs Galt seems to have brainwashed everyone with. Ain’t that always the way with cults? Not that they don’t have a point about overconsumption. But even Dagny thinks their epic hatred of the outside world is, shall we say, irrational?

By way of rebuttal they all offer up their stories of quitting and coming to the valley. The best is Richard Halley’s, which is that he quit because when he finally became a successful musician he felt like a sell-out and hated his fans. Yeah you’re a real martyr, Dick.

Anyway Galt concludes the sales pitch by noting that consumer society is collapsing way faster than they expected — probably thanks to Francisco’s sabotage that YOU CONDONED, you bullshitter — and she can join them just as soon as she can dispassionately tell the other 7 billion people of earth to go fuck themselves.

But Dagny can’t bring herself to do it. She can’t forsake society as long as their is human potential in it to be cultivated. Galt is like, “That’s cool, take your time. We will eventually leave the Gulch, just as soon as society completely collapses,” which he assumes will somehow kill everybody who doesn’t abide by their specific moral code. What?

Her mind reeling from how completely fucked up this whole situation is, Dagny returns to Galt’s house after dinner ready to pass out for a long while. As he carries her to her bed, they both kind of glance over at his bedroom. She probably feels his hard-on against her tailbone, and Jesus Christ you were in a plane crash this morning, give yourself a minute. Also, he’s been STALKING you. And he preaches non-compulsory living even as he seeks to RUIN the lives of everyone outside his CULT. Goddamnit.

As she passes out in the guest room she sees that all of the other citizens of the valley have spent the night here once, as an initiation. They have all etched words of encouragement into the wooden walls, celebrating their conversion to Galt’s vengeful version of inner peace. This is, I assume, meant to be comforting, even though it is all CREEPY AS SHIT. Dagny falls asleep. Galt watches her from the doorway. At least he’s consistent.

NEXT — 3:2 The Utopia of Greed, “The First Rule of Right Club”

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