3:8 The Egoist cont’d, “Prisoner’s Dilemma”

PREVIOUSLY: John Galt was captured. 

But you’d never know it from his jail cell, which is the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria or The Ritz or whatever you want to call the fictionalized luxury hotel where Francisco used to live. I also assume this used to be Francisco’s room, but if it isn’t that’s a wasted opportunity.

Anyway, armed guards have sealed off and are patrolling the floors sandwiching Galt’s, and to explain this away, enter President Thompson.

The Prez plays the usual ingratiating games with ol’ John. “So glad to see you! Let’s strike a deal! We know you’re brilliant and we want your help– err, we want to help you. I’m willing to give you Wesley Mouch’s job, you can be Economic Dictator of America! Great, right? How would you like to be compensated?”

Galt laughs, not mockingly, just amused. He tells Thompson that the government has nothing to offer him. Thompson keeps insisting. Does Galt want to get rid of price controls? Bust all the unions? Whatever he wants.

Galt tells him he doesn’t get it: he doesn’t want that kind of power. He thinks nobody should have that kind of power.

Thompson still isn’t listening. John’s like, “Fine if you want to show you’re serious, then abolish income taxes and fire all the government employees, including yourself.” Thompson balks.

So the rest of the scene is a repudiation of the idea that you can work within the system. Galt doesn’t think he could take the job and, say, get rid of capital gains and corporate and income taxes, abolish the minimum wage, dismantle the bureaucracy, and then resign. Thompson’s reaction proves that Galt would meet too much resistance from entrenched interests, making the plan futile, and besides that if it spurred economic growth it would effectively bail out the moochers and looters like they always get bailed, and thus fall short of sufficiently “purifying” the nation*.

[*Hey, you know what’s creepy and has basically never been anything but a euphemism for genocide or generalized mass murder? The “purification” of a nation. So weird, right?]

Anyway, please be sure to note that this plan Galt rejects is more or less Paul Ryan’s explicit, name-brand plan. SO WEIRD, right? Whatever, I don’t know, maybe Paulie Blue Eyes just stopped reading after the Speech. Not that he absorbed the ultimatum in that either.

It’s now a week or so after Thompson’s visit, and the state-run media has been boasting headlines claiming John Galt has joined the nation’s leaders and promises to restore prosperity. The press secretary (and/or Minister of Propaganda) is losing his shit because this spin isn’t moving public opinion or boosting morale.

Thompson is holding a meeting in the hotel with the cabinet and some other national leaders, like Kinnan the Union Boss who was in the room when the cabal abolished the Constitution with an executive order. Whereas all the others are in a snit over Galt’s Zen approach to captivity, Kinnan is once again amused and clear-eyed about the nature of the situation. He kinda likes Galt.

SIDEBAR: I find it interesting that Ayn makes the labor leader the one who sees through all the bullshit. Dr. Ferris does this too, but he simply believes in the superiority of nihilism. Kinnan, as the elite representative of the working class, seems to be a man who believes in honest labor but accepts that his job colluding with the management is inevitably corrupting. Sort of the enabler that Galt refuses to be. Of course, one could take that to mean that Kinnan should have led his workers in a strike like Galt does to preserve his integrity, but Ayn says that all strikes in history prior to Galt’s were attempted by whiny entitled little bitches. So… Kinnan: interesting. Ayn: still a fuckface.

Where were we?

The Minister of Propaganda, let’s just call him Goebbels, wants Galt to make a public appearance to prove they aren’t completely full of shit. Dr. Ferris vetoes this idea as just asking for trouble. Kinnan and Thompson both express their begrudging admiration for Galt again, and Jim Taggart, who has been in a spiral of mental instability for about five chapters now, is lashing out hysterically whenever they admit this.

Ferris suggests they torture Galt until he cracks. Thompson rejects this idea outright, because he wants to believe that they’re better than that. Sadly, this lends him more moral integrity than a certain former real-life US president who shall remain named George W. Bush. Suffice it to say that this lowest bar of human decency having been cleared, Thompson adjourns the meeting.

Spinning newspaper montage! Mobs of farmers are systematically burning every mansion and government building in South Dakota. California has descended into a civil war between a “soybean cult of Orient-admirers” and some kind of Western theocratic movement composed of religious zealots and former oil men calling themselves The Republican Party “Back to God.”

President Thompson, having announced a new “John Galt Plan” for securing the nation, but still getting nowhere with Galt himself, visits Dagny. He asks her if, as the sole remaining asset the government has, she can think of any way to influence Galt. She lies without hesitation:

Now it was only a matter of making sounds, inarticulate sounds addressed to inanimate objects unrelated to such concepts as reality, human or honor.

And this is the heroine after she finally embraces the right values! And it goes on like this! The term “inanimate objects” repeatedly crops up as the proper way to view literally everyone who’s left. Ayn is a psychopath you guys. Like, textbook.

Dagny wonders if a single person would protest if the bureaucrats killed Galt. Dags, I’m pretty sure that the public likes Galt and — in case you hadn’t noticed — there is armed revolt and insurrection going on all over the place. You are maybe too difficult to please.

Cut to: Thompson, at Dagny’s double-agenty suggestion, showing Galt a bunch of confidential reports illustrating just how close the system is to complete collapse. He thinks this’ll make Galt feel guilt. Dagny knows it will help him see the light at the end of the tunnel. At this meeting Jim Taggart has accompanied POTUS, and while Thompson is still acting all friendly Jim can barely contain himself, frantically spewing incredulous accusations. I kind of like that Jim calls Galt out with the line “You don’t have a monopoly on truth!” but in general the terrified indignation is spilling out at the speed of verbal diarrhea. Thompson realizes Jim’s fucking it up and leads him out.

Cut to: Thompson, this time with Goebbels. Goebbels tells Galt that they agree, Galt is totally right on principle, but he should feel some pity for all the innocents being consumed in the chaos. He shows Galt letters pleading for his help signed by schoolchidren, crippled veterans, the elderly, single mothers. You know, real 47%ers. Galt brushes them off, asking rhetorically if they who ask for his pity ever had any pity for Hank Rearden. In response, I vomit all over the page. What a whiny, entitled little bitch!

Cut to: Thompson, this time with Dr. Ferris. Speaking of vomit… Ferris tells Galt that to address the issue of mass starvation, he will kill one third of the children and elderly of the country, and if Galt doesn’t intervene then the moral responsibility for it is on him. Galt won’t even say anything to this one and Thompson is horrified. He literally throws Ferris out of the room, and Galt’s just looking at him like, “See? Still think you’re better than that?”

Meanwhile, roving bands damage the Taggart Bridge, now the only route across the Mississippi. Some faction in California has taken the train depots there and are holding the eastbound supplies of food for ransom. At Taggart Transcon HQ, Eddie Willers steps his game up and tells Dagny he’s going out there himself to solve the crisis. Yeah Eddie! He bids Dagny a potentially permanent farewell. They shake hands and she acknowledges that she respects his feelings for her. How generous.

Back at Galt’s luxurious prison, Thompson is at the end of his rope and asks Galt straight up if there’s anybody he actively wants to talk to. Galt considers it and says he wants to see Dr. Stadler. Thompson nods.

Cut to: Stadler, arriving at the hotel in a snowstorm under orders to see the prisoner. He had an anxiety attack and refused to comply at first, but as has been true for quite some time now, he simply swallows his own instincts and does what he’s told. This willful passivity does nothing to quell the feverish delirium that grows the closer he gets to the door, scrambling his ability to think, making him dizzy and woozy.

He steps into the room, the door clicks shut behind him. Galt is standing in the corner staring out the window. Unprovoked, Stadler spills his guts, apologizing to Galt, making excuses for himself, saying a whole bunch of nonsense that’s intended to be an Objectivist parody of non-Objectivist nonsense. It’s nonsense. In short, Stadler has devolved into the scarecrow from Oz: a straw man who wishes that he only had a brain. As his tirade goes on it circles from an apologia to a resentful threat. He lashes out angrily at Galt and says Galt is the kind of man who must be destroyed for the world to function. And if you think about it, that’s true.

But Galt turns to him and says “I know you are, but what am I?” and Stadler retreats in fright, banging on the door until they let him out.

SIDEBAR #2: “I know you are, but what am I?” is essentially the entire public relations strategy of the Republican Party. If the Democrats accurately point out that the Romney/Ryan campaign is made up of two brazen liars disguising themselves as moderates to pursue a radical agenda that will fundamentally alter American society, the GOP messaging machine retaliates by winking at the base and saying “I know you are, but what am I?”

Aaanyway. Cut to: Goebbels coming by for a return visit. He has a couple of heavies with him. He commands Galt to dress in formalwear and come with them. Goebbels has got his wish: they’re going to force Galt to make a public appearance with them. One of the heavies jams a gun in the small of Galt’s back.

“Don’t make any false moves,” he said in an expressionless voice.

“I never do,” said Galt.

Okay fine, that line was great.

Goebbels leads Galt into the grand ballroom of the hotel, where all of the coutnry’s remaining plutocrats have gathered in cocktail dresses and tuxes and gowns and applaud wildly upon Galt’s arrival. Dagny is there, having something of a panic attack herself at having to maintain her dual identity when John is practically within arm’s reach.

The mood in the room is panicky in general. Everybody is doing their best to ignore how fucked up the atmosphere in this hotel is. Nobody has an appetite for the buffet except for Ferris, who I imagine just plowing down cocktail shrimp with a shrug while everybody else looks sad.

The TV cameras warm up, a huge LED panel behind the dais illuminates, and Thompson announces that they are about to roll out the John Galt Plan for Peace & Prosperity! The cameras pan across all the political leaders and settle on Galt, who obviously looks like Kennedy to everybody else’s Nixon.

Dagny thinks that there’s no way this sham ceremony could possibly work as each of the bullshit artists takes a turn giving a vacuous speech about how much they love John Galt and how proud they are to be working together. On stage, Thompson leans over to Galt and whispers that John will have to say a few words at the end to seal the deal. What an idiot.

So Thompson gets up and gives a whole speech about how there will now be three meals a day and a house and a car in the garage and free electricity for everyone forever, all thanks to John Galt and his wonderful humanitarian generosity, and then cedes the floor.

And shocking no one, John Galt leaps up, exposing Goebbel’s gun to the audience. Everyone gasps in shock. Galt storms the podium and barks at the world to “GET OUT OF MY WAY!” and the whole place erupts in chaos.

NEXT: 3.9 The Generator, “The Mindless Consumer”

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