Posts Tagged capitalism

3.7, This is John Galt Speaking, “Hype Machine”

PREVIOUSLY: Hank Rearden quit and joined John Galt’s hippie utopia.

Jim knocks feverishly at Dagny’s door at some ungodly hour of the morning to inform her that Hank has disappeared. Dagny is tremendously proud of Hank, and wonders why she persists in trying to save society if she feels so good about his leaving. Good question! She tells Jim she will not help track Hank down, and he leaves in a fit.

Scanning the day’s papers and seeing only brusque dismissals of any stories about social unrest, Dagny is chagrined. Propaganda!

It was strange, she thought, to obtain news by means of nothing but denials, as if existence had ceased, facts had vanished and only the frantic negatives uttered by officials and columnists gave any clue to the reality they were denying.

Silly Ayn, America’s problem isn’t an excess of negations, it’s an excess of positions. Facts don’t vanish, they just drown among fictions. If anything it’s a testament to how free our speech is! You’re probably thinking of Soviet Russia. You seem to get them confused. A lot. Anyway…

After a week, Dagny receives a short letter from Hank: “I’ve met him. I don’t blame you.” Dagny gets all wistful that she doesn’t get to hang out with them all in Galt’s Gulch.

At work our heroine has difficulty focusing on the task at hand. She keeps thinking of Galt down in the tunnels, all sweaty and muscular. She checked payroll and he was listed there under the pseudonym… John Galt. Wait. …What?

That’s not even a shitty cover, it’s not a cover at all! This is ridiculous. Wasn’t he just telling Dagny two chapters ago that the two of them boning is what would get him caught? You dumb shit. Ladies and gentlemen, Ayn Rand’s vision of the world’s smartest man.

Moving on to another spinning newspaper montage, things are really going to hell now. Roving gangs! States seceding! Seceding states collapsing into authoritarian feifdoms and violent chaos!

“The editorials went on speaking of self-denial as the road to future progress,” the narrator says sardonically, even though that’s basically the argument for fiscal austerity, a.k.a. the Republican (and libertarian) platform — not to mention a logically sound extension of Ayn’s beliefs that society’s problem is overconsumption and you can’t consume more than you produce.

As the situation grows dire(r), the White House announces that Mr. Thompson will give a special address to the nation on the global economic crisis. The speech will be simulcast on all radio and TV stations and the web, even though it doesn’t exist.

So it is set for the week of Thanksgiving, and Jim tells Dagny the President wants her there. She won’t speak on camera, but she’ll be part of the photo op and attend a policy conference with the President and other national leaders after the address (this being the reason the speech will be broadcast from New York and not DC). Dagny consents as long as she can bring good ol’ Eddie Willers as a body man slash mascot.

So that’s what she does. On the big night, she strides into the studio and scans the motley crew of pathetic villains before her. She is shocked at how aged — curdled, really — Dr. Stadler has become since completely selling himself out. He sees her with a look of “guilt turning into hatred,” and turns away “as if his refusal to see could wipe a fact out of existence.”

PAUSE. Isn’t the move from guilt to hatred basically the heroes’ character arc in this book? She specifically has Hank abandon guilt as naive, and what John Galt calls indifference I call bullshit, because he clearly wishes the masses ill. Ergo, hatred. Guilt turning into hatred.

And by the way, wiping facts out of existence by refusing to see them is what Ayn does on every page  — remember her fundamental logical fallacy. Apparently the result of her blindered M.O. is a lot of projection and transference of your own negative qualities onto innocent bystanders.

And one more thing! Ayn keeps saying that the moochers and looters’ unconscious strategy is to not do anything themselves as political leaders, let businessmen take care of all the hard work, and then take credit for governing well. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Rand fans, any guesses?

In the words of Nelson Muntz, “Stop hitting yourself, Ayn! Stop hitting yourself!”

PLAY. Where were we? Dagny decides she’s not going to participate in this charade after all. Jim has a conniption. Hey look! It’s the two sentences I’ve had to use in basically every recap. Thank God the book’s almost over; I’m running out of synonyms.

Just as she prepares to go, and just as the broadcast is about to start, the sound tech gingerly approaches President Romney Thompson and tells him that they’re having technical difficulties.

Specifically, there is some phantom signal that’s interfering with transmissions all across the country. Nobody knows what it is or where it’s coming from. Everybody in the studio is unsettled and perplexed.

Just then, the phantom signal itself goes live. A crisp voice, clear as day, calls out over every speaker in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen … Mr. Thompson will not speak to you tonight. His time is up. I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the world crisis. That is what you are going to hear.

Dagny, Doc Stadler, and Eddie all gasp. Dagny and Stadler exchange a look of recognition, because she knows he knows Galt and now he knows that she knows Galt too, and nobody knows how Eddie knows Galt but I’ll give you a hint: it’s fucking stupid.

For twelve years you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. … [A]nd if you want to know why you are perishing — you who dread knowledge — I am the man who will now tell you.

WOO! Bust out the popcorn people, and prepare for ENLIGHTENMENT. I only hope Ayn applies logic more consistently as John Galt than she does as herself. Because if  not this is going to be very embarrassing.

NEXT — THE SPEECH, “This is John Galt Whining, part 1

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Food for Thought #12: Thought for Food

In my last post I discussed the contradictory attitudes toward globalized industrial capitalism that Ayn Rand exhibits in Atlas Shrugged.  She sanctifies the processes and artifacts of this system while denouncing the consumerism and amorality that are its primary cultural effects. While this ambivalence doesn’t square with Rand’s political reputation, it’s implicit in her story in any number of ways, and there is no better issue with which to illustrate these tensions than the issue of food.

I’ve just finished reading Michael Pollan’s seminal Omnivore’s Dilemma, and about a third of it chronicles Pollan’s time spent on the farm of Joel Salatin, a self-described Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist. Salatin is a fascinating character, and many of his most memorable quotes could have come straight from one of Rand’s characters. But not all.

Salatin prizes personal independence, self-sufficiency, competence, and unwavering integrity. In this he embodies all of the positive aspects of Rand’s heroic archetype. And like Rand, he takes issue with the unsustainability of consumerism and the role of the government in perpetuating it.

Where Salatin and Rand diverge is that he detests economies of scale, global finance, mass industry and capital.  Rand is obsessed with civilization and progress, with the image of the railroad as a straight line shooting forward to infinity. She fetishizes the domination and exploitation of nature as overcoming the savage and irrational. By contrast, Salatin organizes his entire life around the self-contained and self-sustaining cycles of the natural world. His Christianity, which Rand abhors, plays some part in this philosophy.

Essentially, Salatin’s farm runs without the farmer having to purchase anything that he can’t produce there himself. All the waste on the farm is composted and fed back to the grasses that feed the animals that produce the waste.  All the animals eat the diet that they evolved to eat, and are moved frequently to keep the pasture (and their menu) fresh and varied. Like Rand, Salatin believes everything in his life should be an expression of his worldview. In Salatin’s case, it is.

But there is a dark side to this consistency. When Pollan asks Salatin how a place like New York City would get enough food in his idealized vision of replacing industrial agriculture with locally-grown organic farming and one-to-one farmer-customer relationships, Salatin replies that there just wouldn’t be a New York City. Pollan is perturbed.

This is, I think, inherent in the premise of Atlas Shrugged, insofar as the book is about an industrial world collapsing under society’s moral bankruptcy versus an intimate pastoral world that redeems human virtue. Yet Rand loves New York City and the industry it represents. The Galt cult expresses their intention to rebuild industrial society after its collapse without any consideration of how this might recreate the very problems they identify as justifying said collapse.

Another way in which Salatin is a purer, more honest libertarian than Rand is that his dislike of government is inherently tied to a perception that government policies are written by and for “Wall Street,” his (appropriate) shorthand for all corporate industry. He is wholly anti-institution. Once again, this is Salatin affirming a position that is implicit and unavoidable in Rand’s vision, one that she ignores. Sure, she glances sidelong at the corrupt collusion of big business and the legislature, but does not seriously reflect on how this real-world fact should affect her unqualified worship of ruthless capitalism or her indiscriminate vitriol toward public service.

Stepping back from Salatin and his non-partisan radicalism, the food industry as a whole serves as an equally apt demonstration of Rand’s merits and faults.

For example, government subsidies for corn farming put in place by the Nixon administration in the ’70s have contributed to an absurdly large and unnecessary surplus of the stuff, causing its price in the market to plummet and corn farmers to become ever more reliant on the subsidy to keep their heads above water. Point Rand.

At the same time, the corporations lobbying for this subsidy have capitalized on corn in wildly innovative ways. Agribusiness continually expands the annual yield of the raw material and the variety of the finished foods into which the corn is then chemically rearranged. But the toxin build-up in the soil, plants, and animals; the fossil fuels burned in massive quantities to assemble the meals; the calorie-rich, nutrient-light nature of the results — all have had a perverse effect on the food economy, stable ecology, and human health and nutrition. Industrial innovation producing rampant and spiritually hollow consumption? Rand’s point is deducted.

Also, because the cost of these side effects is passed on to the taxpayers, consumers, and health care providers, industrial food is priced artificially low. Not only does this violate Rand’s belief in market prices’ karmic integrity (even accounting for the tax subsidy side of the equation), but it obstructs the growth of organic food chains in the marketplace. Here we see that the miracle of capitalism that Rand praises is, basically, its ability to consume more than it produces and write off the difference as a negative externality — the behavior Rand vilifies.

But, finally, it’s worth emphasizing that our options for addressing these issues in the real world are not stark “Either/Or” propositions like Ayn Rand suggests and Joel Salatin endorses.

On the one hand, corn-related policies from the 1930s to the ’70s were far more sensible: the government bought excess corn from farmers in the years when the crop exceeded demand, and then sold the banked corn in years of drought or when the harvest was lean. This stabilized a volatile market without warping the natural equilibrium of supply and demand. The basic logic of Keynesian economics is similar, and similarly sound.

On the other hand, the vigorous entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector is undeniably necessary if we are to restore our food system to a Galt’s Gulch-like sustainability. As we speak, a cadre of former McDonald’s executives are launching a new venture that seeks to combine sustainable food practices with franchisable fast food convenience.

Which is to say the narrative of Atlas Shrugged, a direct product of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, is reflected most honestly not in the life of Ayn Rand but in the life of Joel Salatin. By studying the contrast between them, we see that Rand fails to embody her own convictions, to fully face reality and the logical consequences of her beliefs. She contradicts herself.  Which of her premises is false? Comfortingly, it is that the tensions between progress and social justice — between industrial and organic — are irreconilable. They aren’t. It isn’t “either/or.”  It’s “yes, and…”

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2:6 Miracle Metal, “The Communist Polemical”

PREVIOUSLY: With the global economy trapped in a death spiral of exhausted resources, governments everywhere have taken the opportunity to expand their power and radically restrict individual freedom in the name of preserving society from collapse. It’s going poorly.

In the shadow of the Washington Monument, everyone’s favorite evil cabal of corporatists and politicians have met to conspire some more. Besides the usual triumvirate of Taggart Boyle and Mouch, there are three notable attendees: Dr. Ferris, shameless sociopath of the State Science Institute; Fred Kinnan, head of America’s largest labor union; and POTUS himself, a man named Thompson, a complete political chameleon whose greatest electoral asset is his Generic Anglo-Saxon Face*cough*Romney*cough*.

Anyway the current item on the agenda is a drastic measure they have clearly all been anticipating with some trepidation. It is a proposal to stop the economic contraction by freezing growth at 0%. Prices and wages will be fixed at their current levels indefinitely; strict quotas will be placed on all production and consumption to match prior year amounts; any and all hiring and firing decisions must be approved by the state.

POTUS Not-Romney authorizes Mouch to write the executive order, then ducks out before the horse-trading can commence, presumably for plausible deniability reasons.

The order will be carried out by a new, all-powerful Unification Board. Kinnan the Labor Guy forces Mouch stack it with his men. He also proposes a jobs bill where the government just forces companies to increase the number of people on their payroll to 133% of current employment. Orren Boyle is like “That makes no sense.” Kinnon is like “None of this makes sense, so shut up and deal with it.” Fuck this is so stupid. I’ll give Kinnan this though, he’s not a bullshitter. He’s a cynic who knows these guys are poking more holes in a sinking ship, and he intends to hoard as many lifeboats for his people as he can, but he has no illusions about this being in the public good.

Taggart Boyle & Mouch, on the other hand, the three who set this whole chain of dominoes in motion, are panicky wrecks by contrast. They drank their own Kool-Aid and now they seem kind of appalled that it’s come to this. They shriek about how it isn’t their fault and they have no choice, and Kinnan finds it darkly amusing and the comfortably amoral Ferris is just smug.

Mouch reviews the list of policies they’re about to enact. On top of the economic controls mentioned above, all new inventions will be outlawed; R&D will be conducted by State Science only. No new writing shall be published, and all patents and copyrights will be signed over to the government by the holders through ‘voluntary Gift Certificates.’ This last bullet point strikes them as the most unrealistic and legally dicey of all the things on this list, even though patents and copyrights are government-issued to begin with and literally every other thing they mentioned is utterly insane.

The conspirators nonetheless believe they can get all the remaining patent-holders to relinquish their rights without much of a fight, as long as they can get Rearden to surrender rMetal to them. Jim mentions that he has some dirt on Rearden that should make this objective achievable. In exchange he extracts from Mouch a legal rate hike for Transcon trains. Thank god the real halls of power don’t run on shady quid pro quos, right?

The power players all feel the weight of the moment in solitary shame, and Jim lowers the blinds so they don’t have to look at the Washington Monument taunting them from the window as they sign away all of America’s founding freedoms.

One morning some weeks later, Dagny wakes up on the couch in her office and orders her secretary to get her a newspaper while she gets back to her paperwork. Everybody is walking on eggshells and she doesn’t know why, until Average Eddie Willers brings her the Times and she sees the news about America’s shiny new communist government, which was announced today, don’tcha know.

Her body drains of feeling and without conscious thought she marches to Jim’s office, throws the paper in his face and calls it her resignation letter. She tells Eddie she intends to get her Ron Swanson on and will shortly leave for a remote cabin in the Berkshires that’s been in the family for some generations. Nobody should be allowed to contact her, she tells Eddie, except for Hank Rearden.

Speaking of whom, she calls Hank and lets him know what’s what. Hank has adopted a pretty Zen, resigned attitude to this whole situation by now, and with two weeks letft until the patent-surrender certificates are due, he intends to see things through to the end. Go down with the ship, as it were, like a true captain (of industry).

To that end, one morning, two weeks later, Hank awaits the arrival of the feds at his office to coerce a signature from him. But it is Dr. Ferris, all by his lonesome, who shows up relishing the opportunity to corner Hank after his last failed attempt. They establish once again that Ferris is a self-aware villain who takes pride in his venal, relativistic philosophy, thinks it’s the way of the future.

Ferris bluntly explains that he is blackmailing Rearden with lots of photos and hotel room records proving his now two-year long affair with Dagny. He got them from Jim, who got them from Lillian. Hank realizes that his godforsaken wife has taken advantage of even the slightest pity he showed for her, that she and these totalitarian thugs share a standard operating procedure of exploiting the virtuous to sustain the vicious. And though Hank long ago gave up feeling guilty about his sham marriage and satisfyingly adulterous sex life, he realizes it would be unjust of him to make a self-righteous stand here if all the cost will be borne by Dagny, whose reputation will be ruined.

So he reflects on the very first time he met Dagny, and how they both sensed their chemistry, and how guilty and repressed he was about it at the time, and how clearly he can see the moral landscape now, and without a moment’s hesitation or regret he signs all his rights to rMetal away. It is henceforth to be called OurMetal and its production will be managed by Big Brother the Unification Board.

Welcome, Ferris’ smile seems to say, to the Fascistic States of America.

NEXT — 2:7 The Moratorium on Brains, “Flirting with Sociopathy”

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Food for Thought #9: Ahistorical Fiction

“Already we have far too much of this insipidity — masses of people … letting slip whatever native culture they had, … substituting for it only the most rudimentary American culture of the cheap newspaper, the “movies,” popular song, the ubiquitous automobile.” –Randolph Bourne in The Atlantic, 1916

This blog has touched on the end of the Gilded Age and rise of the Progressive Era before, albeit tangentially. As we begin to tackle how best to fuse liberalism and libertarianism here in the 21st century, it is worthwhile to revisit it, and to that end I’ll be drawing on Louis Menand’s excellent history of the period, The Metaphysical Club.

Menand chronicles how the rise of industrial capitalism radically intensified the disorienting aspects of modern life borne of relentless change and innovation. Politically, this turmoil manifested in the rise of progressivism as it sought to provide a necessary counter-weight to the opressively concentrated wealth of laissez-faire economics. Culturally — as illustrated by the quote above — it manifested as concerns about the corrosive effects of the new mass-produced consumer culture.  And philosophically it manifested in the creed of pragmatism, as developed most famously in the writings of William James and John Dewey.

Cut to Ayn Rand, writing from the 1950s, valorizing the Gilded Age laissez-faire society and condemning the rise of progressive politics as the death knell of actual progress. Like the thinkers of the time, Rand expresses concerns about vapid consumer culture — even though industrial capitalism is what made mass pop culture viable — while on the philosophical level, Rand’s Objectivism is a radical departure from the approach taken by that era’s great American minds.

What was their thinking? The school of pragmatism evolved as a response to intense mid-19th century debates about metaphysics, provoked by the rise of Darwinism and the attendant rise of material determinism.

Pragmatism took its name from the idea that as a philosophy it should be more than an intellectually satisfying  theory, it should be a practical system of thought useful for people in authoring their lives. To that end, it adopted a stance of metaphysical agnosticism. For example, pragmatists assumed free will exists, not as a claim about the metaphysical truth but for the simple reason that people experience situations involving decision-making all the time, so any philosophy that discards free will is void of practical application. 

Ayn Rand also believes in free will  (to put it mildly), but she asserts this as a given metaphysical truth, just like her claims about the moral nature of money are metaphysical claims not supported by logic.

"You know nothing of my work."

In fact her broadest and most problematic metaphysical claim is her ontology of logic, which we have already exposed as faulty here. The truth is that Aristotle’s First Law of Thought, that “A is A,” isn’t making a claim to metaphysical truth per se, which is how Rand wields it; it is claiming that for anybody to meaningfully communicate thoughts with anybody else, they must first agree on the meaning of the terms and symbols they employ in their language. It is a metaphysically modest claim grounded in pragmatic utility — the laws of thought are  not irrefutable truths about the nature of reality (that would make them the laws of reality), they are the rules regarding form that a human must follow to successfully convey content.

The man who founded the pragmatist ethos, Charles Pierce, said of logic’s role in human affairs, 

[Reasoning] inexorably requires that our interests … must not stop at our own fate, but must embrace the whole community. He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world is, as it seems to me, illogical in all his inferences collectively. Logic is rooted in the social principle.

Pierce’s premise here is that the collected observations and inferences of any one individual are inevitably insufficient for a comprehensive or verifiably accurate account of reality. A body of objective knowledge can only be built and sustained by a society dedicated to that common pursuit within and between generations.

Here we see that pragmatism, unlike Objectivism, is concerned with both liberty in the form of aiding man in the exercise of free will, and with the legitimacy of society as a whole. At the time pragmatism became ascendant, laissez-faire capitalism had reached a turning point. The economic right to freedom of contract had begun to violate the contract of freedom — the social contract.

Historical evidence of the dictatorial power of private parties to govern the lives of the masses during the Gilded Age includes JP Morgan’s centralized economic management as handled through the corporatization & conglomeration of formerly entrepreneurial and individualistic industry. But another key example is the Pullman strike, the national crisis that launched Eugene Debs to fame and first brought serious momentum to the labor and socialism movements in America.

In 1894, Illinois was the lynchpin of the nation’s railroad system, and the workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company all lived in the company town of Pullman. Facing a drop in revenues during a recession, Pullman cut their wages. But he didn’t lower their rent or the cost of goods in Pullman, all of which he obviously controlled. So it was very clear to the laborers that they were getting screwed, bearing the costs of the macroeconomy while those with enough power to better influence that economy simply preserved its benefits for themselves.

As with Morgan, the Pullman dynamic is ironically akin to the excess authority and impossible demands of Rand’s government planners. Not only that, but the strike was eventually broken by the government acting on the side of management, because the disruption of rail service itself threatened the macroeconomy. All of which is starkly opposed to Rand’s fictional government — not to mention her fictional 19th century.

Clearly the huddled masses couldn’t directly engage in fair negotiation with their corporate overlords. If they wanted real opportunities to exercise economic liberty, they would have to work through democratic institutions to petition for a renewal of the social contract.

The moral here is that while Rand’s view of anarcho-capitalism (as expressed by Rearden in 2:4) prizes economic liberty as an inviolate moral ideal, such fidelity produces blind spots — in this case that a social order emerging from the bottom up through privately-negotiated contracts can still produce despotic, top-down governing bodies as a practical reality. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Sure it works in theory, Marge. Communism works in theory.”

Another pragmatist quote, this time by the more well-known American philosopher John Dewey:

The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, … and in favor of the eternal forces of truth … underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top.

One could find support for Rand’s fears of dystopian statism in this quote about bigness, but one could also read into it a progressive’s suspicions towards dystopian capitalism. After all, both of these anxieties are rooted in the dangers of excessively concentrated power, and they both feel the need to support Davids over Goliaths in response. The schism is over what institutional arrangements best to mitigate this problem. 

First result in a Google Image search for "American Culture"

Pragmatism, of course, prefers whichever arrangement produces real experiential liberty for the most people. Since pragmatism is so, well, pragmatic, it is better suited to deal with the muddy compromises of reality than the theoretically pure forms of either libertarian capitalism or socialist democracy. As we see in the quote up top, in an era of eugenics and scientific racism, the Dewey-taught Randolph Bourne argues for a multi-cultural America with each race and ethnic group sustaining age-old traditions as a bulwark against spiritually empty consumerism. This is not dissimilar to the Deist founding fathers encouraging a religious populace for the sake of social cohesion. As always, the argument is a practical and metaphysically humble one. 

But this adaptability to circumstances leaves pragmatism open to charges of moral relativism, which is not entirely an accident. The thinkers who developed pragmatism came of age during the Civil War and its aftermath, and the lesson they took was that moral absolutism led to immense human suffering. Yet after the meaningless slaughter of World War I, this philosophy fell out of favor to make way for ideologies more proactive about asserting moral values once again. Nonetheless, I believe the pragmatists’ metaphysical agnosticism — which is to say their epistemic skepticism — was immensely valuable. Certainly the dogmatic ideologies that took hold in the 20s and 30s only contributed to greater atrocities, atrocities by design even, in World War II.

So as much as Rand idolizes the period out of which pragmatism grew, she has discarded the lessons learned by those who lived through it. This is self-evident in her fables about Nat Taggart, in which she portrays the era with willful inaccuracy. And to end this quote-heavy essay on a famous one by George Santayana, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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2:2 The Aristocracy of Pull cont’d, “Chasing Paper”

PREVIOUSLY: At Jim & Cheryl Taggart’s wedding reception, all the guests schmoozed for nakedly self-interested purposes of political networking, all while disingenuously praising Jim for his selfless progressive beliefs. Then Francisco D’Anconia showed up to stir the pot.

Upon Frankie’s entrance Jim gets all flustered and antagonistic, asking what Frisco is doing there a little too disdainfully. Francisco ignores it, insists on meeting the bride and chiding Jim’s manners. He treats Cheryl with extreme etiquette and deference, which is theoretically admirable, although he also seems motivated by the chance to humiliate Jim. So, two birds.

"Patience, ladies and gentlemen, I will get around to mocking all of you." -Frank D.

Francisco continues acting all facetiously chummy, thanking Jim for becoming his largest stockholder this past year. Jim is taken aback that he knows, since he invested under a number of shell companies and dummy corporations. But Francisco has kept close track of his stockholders and noticed that pretty much all of Washington’s most powerful people and the nation’s biggest political donors have been discreetly concentrating their capital in D’Anconia copper. After all, as the world’s oldest multinational it has been the safest bet in a global marketplace that’s been rocked by energy shortages and political interference.

So basically because Francisco was already at the very top of the 1%, he has become the primary beneficiary of the crony capitalism that Jim and his ilk love to practice through no effort of his own. For this, Frank promises Jim that his investment in D’Anconia will pay off handsomely, and then leaves to flirt wistfully with Dagny.

While Francisco’s arrival has momentarily lifted Dagny’s sour mood, her conscious efforts to wall herself off from him emotionally come rushing back when he invites her to gloat about the success of her innovative rMetal railroad. She tells him she is simply hurt that he’s sunk so low as to ‘despise achievement.’

Meanwhile, Rearden watches Francisco as he makes the rounds and feels his man-crush growing. Nobody can resist the charms of Frankie D!

Some social dilletante asks Frank what he thinks will happen to the world as industrial civilization consumes itself to exhaustion. Francisco says the world will get exactly what it deserves. If Ayn didn’t loathe mysticism I’d almost describe this faith in moral law as karmic. In fact I just did.

"Doom, DOOM, DOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!"

But this assessment upsets the guests, who mostly wanted to hear that everything’s going to be okay. Somebody says not to take Francisco seriously — money is the root of all evil and Francisco is ‘the typical product of money.’

At this dismissal, Francisco lets his frivolous facade lapse more than we have ever seen and launches into a passionate defense of money as the root of all good, and Fuck You for thinking otherwise. This, by the way, is the perfect example of Ayn’s abuse of the Law of the Excluded Middle

What Francisco is really defending here is a moral code. Money just happens to be its totem. He praises aspiration and perspiration as good in themselves. He praises the voluntary exchange of value for value as the proper ideal for human relationships. He praises honesty in negotiation as the foundation of civilized interaction. All of which is persuasive enough. Then he claims that money by its very nature incentivizes mankind to live up to this honorable morality, which is a significantly more dubious claim to say the least.

Hard money for some, miniature American flags for others.

Oh, he also throws in a little goldbuggery for whatever nonsense reason. Besides coming off as tangential at best, it’s stupidly anachronistic, like being nostalgic for mercantilism or something. You’re getting incoherent here Aynie and I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it through the mouth of the best character. ‘Kay thanks bye.

Anyway, yes, Francisco is basically saying that your bank account is like a karmic scorecard, with the caveat that it isn’t that money bestows virtue upon its possessor. Rather, it is a tool that demands of its owner a certain standard of virtue. It is made by those who earn it, kept by those who deserve it, and lost by those who fail it. Which, again… let’s put it this way. In the words of Ernie Hemingway, “isn’t it pretty to think so?”

How did we ever get this far without a "Greed is Good" screencap?

This sermon on mammonism ends on the grandiose note that since over the long term money is an accurate measure of karmic justice, any society that vilifies money will inevitably crumble, for that society vilifies its own ‘life-blood,’ and the bank accounts and investment portfolios of that society will eventually retain only the balances that reflect their owners’ true moral worth.

The assembled audience is deeply unsettled by Francisco’s speech. Probably from all the apocalyptic, ‘righteous vengeance’ overtones. Someone scoffs that this is a wildly inappropriate conversation to have at a wedding. Which it is.

But Rearden is eating it all up like a capitalist pig at a nutritionally dubious trough. He finds Francisco at the nearest opportunity and confesses his bromantic intentions with uncomfortably earnest hetero-flirting.

“Remember when we first met you expressed gratitude to me?” Hank says. “Well I want you to know that now I’m grateful to you. I’ve been waiting to hear a speech like that my entire life.” But, as always, his respect for Francisco’s brilliance only makes Francisco’s wasteful lifestyle all the more apalling. Rearden asks Frankie how he can live with his own hypocrisy.

"Don't be a puppet for The Man, man!" -Frank to Hank

Francisco says he isn’t a hypocrite. He actually exemplifies his own point — he has been a worthless playboy for years, and unbeknowst to all of his inside-trading investors the consequences of that behavior are about to be revealed. You see, Frank has finally returned to day-to-day management, but ‘apparently’ his expertise has ‘atrophied’ in the last decade. As a result, vast swaths of D’Anconia Copper’s holdings are about to break down or go belly up.

This news will hit the press and the markets tomorrow morning, by the way, and all of the corrupt, money-laundering guests at this wedding will wake up with their fortunes decimated because of his supposed incompetence.

Rearden cracks up laughing, even as he feels disturbed by his own giddy adrenaline rush at the news. Holy shit, this guy is some kind of insane evil genius! he realizes. D’Anconia must be some kind of economic terrorist, like Ellis Wyatt. And Hank is equal parts repulsed and compelled by this growing radicalism.

Yet Francisco made sure to stay subtle and subtextual with his admission that he deliberately plotted this impending economic disaster, such that Hank realizes it but all those who are inevitably eavesdropping on their banter only catch wind that Francisco fucked up and the stock of D’Anconia Copper is about to crater… just like Francisco wanted.

"If your net worth is about to plummet, make some noooiiiise!"

The scuttlebutt ripples throughout the reception hall and Rearden can see it manifest physically in the chaotic shifts of people’s body language. In a matter of minutes the crowd has become an undignified mob racing to reach the payphones find cell reception, the better to call their brokers and command them to sell, sell, sell everything!

The trigger pulled on his latest financial suicide-bomb, Francisco scans the room. Only he, Dagny, and Rearden are left, all exchanging looks. Frank himself is grimly satisfied. Dagny is nonplussed. Rearden is conflicted.

“So, look, I’m just throwing this out there,” he says. “What are your guys’ thoughts on menage a trois?” 

NEXT — 2:3 White Blackmail, “Shrug, Atlas, Shrug”

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1:8 The John Galt Line, “Consummate Professionals”

PREVIOUSLY: Congress passed an ‘Equal Opportunity’ law that forces Hank Rearden to sell his subsidiary companies to his failing competitors. He and Dagny were upset, but they sublimated their (sexual) frustrations by forming a start-up company, John Galt Inc, to finish their Rearden Metal railroad that could be the potential game-changer for industry and country that the nation desperately needs.

Hey it’s Everyman Eddie Willers! Remember his cafeteria buddy, the grease-monkey prole? From Chapter 3? Yeah, neither did I. But the two are chatting over lunch again and just like last time, Eddie rambles on about his ennui and inner turmoil while the lowly prole just listens. You know, guy, if you had a graduate degree you could profit from this. Anyway Eddie’s verbal diarrhea exposits that Dagny has officially “quit” Taggart Transcon to focus on the Galt Line and now works out of a dirt-cheap 1st floor office in the building next door. Eddie’s holding down the fort in her Taggart office, but in name only, and he feels guilty and kind of slimy for playing the stooge in this corporate shell game. The prole’s only contribution is that he likes Dagny’s ironic reference to the John Galt meme.

Cut to: Dagny, at her desk in her scuzzy new office, which faces a brick wall alley no less. She’s exhausted from constantly flying back and forth from New York to Colorado. I also think her blood sugar is low; her internal monologue is uncharacteristically whiny. She feels like all her disappointment with the world can be summed up by the fact that she’s never met the man of her dreams. Okay 1) I thought we agreed last chapter that you were going to stop moping; and 2) is this not a tad regressive an attitude for a strong-willed corporate businesswoman? I like you better as a feminist Dags. Woman up.

After some time spent staring blankly out her window Dagny sees a shadowy masculine shape approach and hover hesitantly at her door. Hey maybe it’s the man of her dreams! She watches curiously as the silhouette paces back and forth and eventually decides against… whatever it is. He stalks off; emphasis on the ‘stalk.’ Dagny runs outside to investigate, but the mystery man has disappeared.

Montage! Hank Rearden isn’t getting sidetracked by emo frivolity, though he is a coiled spring of rage. He stoically sells his ore mines to his spineless friend Larkin and his coal reserves to one Ken Dannager, a respectable and competent fellow. Then he meets with Eddie and restructures the debt that Taggart Transcon owes him, the better to help Eddie keep Taggart afloat until Dagny returns. This guy gets shit done, yo.

Montage part deux! This would be the one composed of spinning newspaper headlines and staticky clicks between TV clips. The media is buzzing with controversy and prophecies of doom over this highly abnormal rMetal project. Even though the Galt Line could be the first step towards solving the world’s energy and environmental problems, it’s so out of step with the conventional wisdom of rationing that people are knee-jerk doubtful and suspicious. Yet for all the “if it bleeds it leads” hype about potential catastrophe, it’s clearly got the country excited for once.

Behind the scenes, Dagny has decided to staff the Line’s pilot run with volunteers only, in the wake of a contentious meeting with the head of a rail workers’ union. Since the train itself will be leased from Taggart, Eddie posts the notice. Despite the sensationalized doom-saying in the media, pretty much every engineer at the company signs up for a chance. Dagny stops by her old VP office to draw the winner’s name from a hat and announces that she will ride along with him in the engine car. Roaring applause!

Next on the list is for Dagny to hold a press conference in her shitty current office. Hank thinks the idea is hilarious so he shows up to watch. She rattles off a list of technical stats and financial projections and the assembled reporters don’t know how to deal with such dry and/or substantive material. “Yeah yeah great but we need sound bites. What are the talking points? Do you have any spin to counter your critics?” Dagny rolls her eyes. “Only all those facts I just gave you.” But now that she’s annoyed she decides to throw them a bone and boasts about the obscene amounts of money she intends to rake in off this. Hank joins her in gloating about the potential profit margin. They just like getting a rise out of people though, they’re really in it because this is what they love to do. Hank announces he too will ride on the first train.

And lo and behold we’re in beautiful Colorado on the big day. The rails of what I will hereafter call rMetal are glistening in the sun. The crowd is large and abuzz with anticipation. Dagny steps onto the platform with that sort of zen serenity and lightness of being that comes from being in the moment of reward that you’ve imagined all along during your months or years of creative struggle. Nobody can touch her right now. She and Rearden lock gazes and see the joyous calm of satisfaction reflected back at each other.

Dagny congratulates team mascot Eddie Willers, who will be cutting the ribbon as the train leaves the station. She says he is Taggart Transcon now. I love it when Eddie gets treated like a peer. On her way into the lead car, a reporter calls to her for a sound bite. Even the press can’t help but get caught up in all the positive energy that is so rare for this goddamn universe. ‘Who is John Galt?’ he shouts.

We are!’ Dagny declares. She steps into the train where she, Rearden, and the two guys who will actually run the thing all share a “Let’s rock this” glance. Through the glass Eddie snips the ribbon; they roll out.

As the train cuts through the state like a laser Dagny reclines in a chair, just feeling how smooth the ride is. She and Rearden meet each others’ look again, and it is all eye-fucking now. Outside, a number of locals have stationed themselves along the track, their guns in hand, protecting the great progressive invention like the volunteer border patrol.

The train approaches the Rockies. As it corkscrews through the mountains and crosses the rMetal bridge, Dagny is overcome with love of life. She jumps up and steps into the engine room to watch the churning blood and guts of this enormous technological achievement.

Why had she always felt that joyous … confidence when looking at machines? … In these giant shapes, two aspects [of] … the inhuman were radiantly absent: the causeless and the purposeless. Every part … was an embodied answer to “Why?” and “What for?” … The motors were a moral code cast in steel.

They are alive, she thought, but their soul operates them by remote control. … [T]hat is the power which keeps them going — not the oil … not the steel … the power of a living  mind — the power of thought and choice and purpose.

Damn, Ayn, you’re gonna get me choked up. Who knew you could write?

She returns to the drivers’ car and exchanges another meaningful nod with Hank. The sun is low; we’re in magic hour. The train pulls up to its destination — Wyatt Junction. A beaming Ellis Wyatt and the company’s other investors are laughing and cheering.

Wyatt leads Dagny and Hank out of the celebrating crowd and the three retreat to his remote mansion for a toast. Salud, says Wyatt (emphasis mine): ‘To the world as it seems to be right now!’ Hmm, I don’t think they’re gonna get drunk from this, because that was seriously watered down.

In fact after they drink, Wyatt smashes his glass in a tantrum because the world can’t feel as awesome as it does today all the time. Jesus, what are you four? Grow the fuck up.

Wyatt takes his leave, pointing Dagny and Hank to the guest rooms. But standing alone under the portico, there is one inevitable thing left for them to do today and it sure as hell isn’t sleep.

The making out and grabbing of asses is rough, almost violent in its intensity. They are both immediately drunk on the heady brew of submission to and domination of each other. Hank pulls her into the room and tosses her onto the bed. He makes her say that she wants it, then gives it to her. They begin what I can only hope is a very long night with a simultaneous orgasm.

Wow. Ayn you should write about winning and fucking way more.

NEXT: 1:9, The Sacred and the Profane, “Motor of Love”

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1:7 The Exploiters and the Exploited cont’d, “Adventure Capital”

PREVIOUSLY: State Science released a politically motivated report that cast doubt on R-Metal, endangering Dagny’s vision of energy-efficient high-speed railroads. She appealed directly to the head of State Science, but the once-great man has soured into a timid and complacent figure, serving only as a cautionary tale.

Now that Rearden’s alloy has become a political hot potato, the large orders of it on Taggart Transcontinental’s books are causing the railroad’s stock to plummet. The construction of the Colorado line is suspended. Jim’s gone off the grid in a panic, but Dagny tracks him down at the old family estate, where he’s hiding among the mothballs.

Kubrick screencap, if you keep score.

There she informs him that she has a plan. She’s going to resign and form an independent company, which will buy the Colorado track from Taggart. Once the unfinished R-Metal project is off Taggart’s ledger the stock will rebound. Meanwhile Dagny will be free to pursue her vision unencumbered. Once her track proves successful, she’ll fold the company back into Taggart and triumphantly resume her post.

Jim loves the idea but makes sure to extract guarantees that he will be completely shielded from responsibility or risk. And who will run things while she’s gone? Well, Eddie Willers of course. He knows the biz inside and out. Yay, dignity for Eddie! And the name of Dagny’s indie venture? Dagny smiles. “The John Galt Line.”

That spooks Jim. The phrase connotes despair! Isn’t that some no-good hoodoo? Dagny scoffs. “Who is he, Voldemort? I’ll throw the name in everyone’s face. Fuck despair. Fuck John Galt. And fuck everything he stands for.” Gauntlet, thrown.

Next! Dagny is pitching Francisco on the role of angel investor. He’s never been in her office before and she guilts him about how seeing it would’ve meant a lot to him once upon a time. He knows what she’s going to ask, and asks her not to. But she has no choice. She knows that R-Metal infrastructure is the best investment opportunity in over a century. And yet it seems as if that’s the very reason nobody will buy into it. “Isn’t that fucking crazy?” she demands to know.

Sign the damn check Francisco.

Frankie seems unusually stressed out and again insists Dagny not ask for his help. She patiently explains that even if he does live a ‘depraved’ life, they still speak the same language, and he apparently doesn’t care about money anymore, so… if there’s even a little of the old Frisco in him, she’ll beg for it if she has to. The loan, I mean. Always with the kinky subtext this one.

Francisco is overcome. He takes her hand and kisses it. He calls her ‘my love.’ Then he says he won’t do it, and won’t explain himself. Dagny is getting real tired of Frankie’s contradictory attitudes, but he suggests that there’s no such thing as a contradiction, only faulty logic.

Thus he leaves, wishing her luck on the Rio Norte line, but she responds to his back that it’s called the John Galt Line now and he pulls a double-take at the door. “Whaaaat the fuck? Why?”

She repeats her speech about how she’s tired of everyone wallowing in humanity’s impending doom, so she’s going to turn the name John Galt into a symbol of a bright future instead. ‘I’m going to build a railroad for him. … Let him come claim it!’

Francisco smiles ruefully. ‘He will.’

Next scene! Dagny is in Rearden’s office renewing her contracts under the new John Galt title. Despite Francisco’s obstinacy, she’s scraped the venture capital together from Ellis Wyatt and the other Colorado new money. Rearden buys in for a million bucks on the spot. Look at all these cold-hearted business types pooling their resources to improve the community! That’s heartwarming shit right there. The dynamic duo huddles over the blueprints for their R-Metal bridge, but neither of them can stop thinking about how badly they want to fuck each other. Oh well.

Noooope.

Last scene. Rearden’s office again, but some days later. His mother barges in demanding a meeting. Brother Buster is in a bad way, she says, because relying on Hank’s charity has left him feeling insecure and worthless. So obviously Hank should give Buster a job. Yet Hank tells her off because that would be an even shittier form of charity and a drain on his business to boot. If Buster wants to improve himself, he can go right ahead and do it. No more hand-outs. Mumsy accuses Hank of being callous and selfish. ‘Virtue,’ she claims, ‘is the giving of the undeserved.’ He recoils in horror at that sentiment and kicks her right out. Aware that his family relations are curdling, but with no clue what to do, Rearden just represses the shit out of it.

To that end his next meeting wanders in, a humble factory owner from Minnesota. This guy’s steel supplier was bought out by Orren Boyle and now he can’t get his orders filled in time to keep his business afloat. He wants to cut a deal with Hank even though Hank’s mills are working full time on R-Metal. Hank respects the guy’s no-nonsense approach but is on the fence about the sale.

That’s when Hank’s secretary comes in and announces that Congress just passed the dreaded Equal Opportunity Bill. All of Rearden’s mineral stockpiles will be frozen and redistributed. Wesley Mouch’s lobbying firm cannot be reached. They are fucked.

The factory owner cries “Oh God, no!”  and seriously, the bystanders in this book need to chill out on the histrionics. Rearden defiantly tells the guy he’s going to get his emergency steel order after all, because Rearden intends to grind out as much as he can before the feds come down on him.

“I picked the wrong day to quit amphetamines.”

But at the end of the night, when Hank is all alone at his desk, he is paralyzed by a crushing hopelessness. His success is practically the only thing keeping the country from economic collapse and now his hands are being tied by the very people his work could sustain. “Isn’t that fucking crazy?” he demands to know. But as furious as the injustice makes him,

‘There are things one must not contemplate, he thought. There is an obscenity of evil which contaminates the observer.’

Spooky. So he focuses on the positive: how he’ll lead his employees and clients through this like a Boss. He only wishes he had a confidante of his own, an equal, somebody to lean on. And for whatever reason, Francisco is the first name that pops into his head. But Hank hates Frankie on principle, doesn’t he? Damn, he thinks, I must really need some sleep.

Then, just as he begins dozing off to dreams of his time as an up-and-comer, inspiration strikes. Like a man possessed he hastily draws a new schematic that will allow Dagny to finish the John Galt bridge faster and cheaper and with less material. There’s no time to lose! He calls her in a creative fit and they spend all night on the phone brainstorming plans to save the world from itself. But, you know, selfishly.

NEXT: Chapter 8 The John Galt Line, “Consummate Professionals”

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1:5 The Climax of the D’Anconias, “Enter the Charming Rogue”

PREVIOUSLY: Socialism is on the rise in America thanks to Jim Taggart and Orren Boyle. It’s on the rise in Mexico too but that isn’t working out as well for them. Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden have joined capitalist forces, by which I mean they are DTF. Alas, Hank is married.

Eddie Willers is reading the news. Turns out since nationalizing the D’Anconia copper mines, the Mexican government has discovered they are completely empty. Always were, in fact. The whole undertaking was either a huge blunder or a scam. Mexico is pissed.

When Eddie informs Dagny of this curious development she storms right over to Francisco D’Anconia’s hotel room to demand an explanation. But on the way she reminisces about her childhood again. For 25 pages. Fuck’s sake. Ladies and gentlemen, the bittersweet love story of Dagny and Fransisco:

Sebastian D’Anconia

The D’Anconia clan had been loaded for hundreds of years, ever since Sebastian D’Anconia (or Sebby Danks as the Pope called him) abandoned an earlier, even older fortune in the Old World to build one from scratch in the New World, thereby fulfilling the requisite ‘self-made man’ portion of his legend.

The family tree was forever after an unbroken chain of first-born sons, each more successful and charismatic than the last. All the women fertilized by D’Anconia seed developed temporary psychic powers like John Travolta in Phenomenon until their superhuman progeny kickboxed their way out of the womb. Francisco, current heir to the line and best human ever, didn’t just learn pre-natal kickboxing; he knew Krav Maga.

Every summer growing up, “Frisco” and his family spent a month on the Taggart Estate with L’il Dagny and L’il Eddie. He would opine about how awesome it was they were rich and perform amazing feats of stamina and intellect while Dagny and Eddie fawned over him. They all ignored L’il Jimmy for being a dweeb. Jim would try to ruin their fun out of jealousy from time to time, but spent most of his days pouring gasoline on stray cats or whatever. Nothing’s changed.

By the time they were 16 Dagny and Francisco had developed a very Dawson/Joey vibe. Sadly the precocious Frankie was off to college, as was dastardly Jim. When the two boys came back for break, Jim had fancy new ideas to back up his irrational hatred of the cool kids.
‘Forget your selfish greed and give some thought to your social responsibilities,’ he lectured Francisco. ‘The person who doesn’t realize this is the most depraved type of human being.’ For his part, Frisco told Dagny when they were alone that the most depraved human being was ‘the man without a purpose.’ Hint hint, Jim.
Together Dags and Frankie lamented the shitty aimlessness of the average person. She teased him with a joke about playing dumb to be popular. He backhanded her across the face for her insolence. Ah, young love. But it’s okay, because Dagny got off on it. She’s into the kinky shit. Yes it will come up again.

The next year Dagny started work at the railroad. Frisco surprised her at the station one night to walk her home. As soon as they were alone on the wooded path he pulled her in for a kiss and took her virginity right there on the grass. For a first time it was pretty hot. Dagny’s internal monologue was literally ‘Don’t ask me for it — oh don’t ask me — do it!’ And he did.

“Grease Lightning” being one of their favorite positions.

Then they fucked all summer, obviously. It was, like, a LOT of fun. Quoth the narrator, ‘they were both incapable of the conception that joy is sin.’ And for several years, even after Frisco graduated and began taking over parts of the family business, they stayed true across the distance, making passionate gymnastic love all night with the lights on whenever their paths should cross.

But present-day Dagny, who I promise is almost at the hotel, remembers the last time she visited him at this same location…

It was ten years ago, after Frankie’s father had passed, and Frisco was clearly keeping something from her but wouldn’t say what. He asked if she would abandon the railroad if he asked her to, which pissed her off. Then after dinner and what would turn out to be their last hook-up, she woke in the middle of the night to find him having a totally out-of-character nervous breakdown.

Dagny cradled him between her breasts as he babbled about how he had to ‘give it all up,’ how ‘it’s so hard to do’ but he ‘can’t refuse,’ how he couldn’t explain it to her because she was ‘not ready to hear it.’ He finally calmed down and in the morning he was in control again, relieved but still not talking.

He warned Dagny that he was going to change soon and she wouldn’t like it. It would hurt her, so he wanted her to know that he had his reasons. But after that night, she didn’t hear from him again.

For a decade there were only the stories in the papers about the insanely decadent parties he would throw all over the world. He left actual business to other people, even though his acumen remained — occasionally he would take over some sector or other just to amuse himself. Dagny was crushed. The worst part wasn’t the sense of betrayal; it was that there was clearly more to the story but he wouldn’t just level with her and say “Dagny, I’m Batman.”

Yet here she is, ten years later, at the same hotel (finally!), the scene of the crime, and as soon as she walks into the suite the old dynamic kicks in. He’s obviously missed her terribly and she’s calling him “Frisco” despite herself. Nonetheless she accuses him of intentionally creating the mining bubble.

He teasingly says maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just made a mistake. Dagny doesn’t believe it for a second. “Was it really worth losing millions just to see my brother shit a brick?” she asks. “Well that was pretty funny,” Frisco deflects.

“Babe, trust me, I am making very healthy lifestyle choices.”

Dagny is at a loss and wistfully reminds him of the times when they used to lie together listening to Richard Halley songs. That throws him off his game so he cracks more jokes about how he ruined the GDP of most of North America.

“Your brother and Orren Boyle’s investments? The Mexican government, plotting to take the mines over? They all wanted to get rich by relying on my work, doing nothing themselves. They were counting on one thing — that I wasn’t like them. But now their plans are ruined, because it turns out I’m just like them: a useless exec who doesn’t want to work! Come on, Dags. Why so serious?”

“Because you aren’t like them! Why do you act like you are? You did this on purpose.”

“It wouldn’t matter if I did, the end result is the same. Associated Steel, Taggart Transcontinental, and South America’s centralized economies are out millions, billions of dollars. The money that your brother and his kind craved so badly but didn’t want to earn turns out never to have existed at all. Oops! At least some of us can laugh about it.”

Dagny feels sick. Saying his purpose didn’t matter? Playing dumb to fit in? Reveling in failure? This isn’t the Francisco she knew! One last try: “Francisco, are you Batman why??”

Just like ten years before, he tells her she isn’t ready to hear it. So with nothing left to do but briefly acknowledge their mutual longing and frustration, Dagny departs. To her receding form Frisco calls, “You will be ready, Dagny. Some day. Some day hundreds of pages from now.” Jesus Ayn, get a goddamn editor.

NEXT: Chapter 6, The Non-Commercial, “Everybody Loves a Party”

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1:4 The Immovable Movers, “Attack of the Strawmen”

PREVIOUSLY: Jim Taggart and Orren Boyle agreed to rig the economy, but didn’t say so out loud. Dagny and Eddie gazed forlornly into the middle distance.

Dagny has just returned from an engine factory, where the boss-man spewed bullshit at her for two hours about how his plant’s delays are definitely not his fault. As soon as she walks into her office Eddie tells her their best contractor has quit his job and disappeared, mysteriously, forever, just like that middle manager Kellogg. It’s almost as if something fishy is going on.

The bad news sends Dagny right back out of the office to walk her dismay off amid the Manhattan streets. But she only sees signs of a crass and hollow culture all around her. She hears someone playing music with ‘no melody, no harmony, no rhythm,’ so… not music, then. Or possibly not a sound at all. Anyway, ‘if music was emotion and emotion came from thought, then this was the scream of chaos,’ she reflects. And since she has already botched the definition of music, and the premise that emotion comes from thought is arguable at best, I think ‘the scream of chaos’  might be a misnomer in this case but probably describes someone’s art… Ayn.

No Central Park view? Dagny you’re practically a hobo. 

So our intrepid heroine wraps up this Travis Bickle homage and goes home to her high-rise apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows. She puts on a little Halley song and wonders why her favorite musician had to go and quit and disappear, mysteriously, forever, eight years ago. Jesus Dagny, put two and two together. Collapsing on the couch with a sigh, her eyes fall on a newspaper, and the face of that no-good lothario Francisco D’Anconia is staring at her from the front page. Turns out he’s in town. Dagny just cannot catch a break!

Dagny’s brother, meanwhile, is similarly forlorn in his apartment. Some high-society chippy in the Paris Hilton mold is brushing her teeth and picking her wedgies, prattling on from the bathroom while Jim just slumps over in a chair like a miserable prick. He hadn’t even wanted to fuck this girl, it just seemed like the thing to do, and now he feels crummy. She wants Jim to take her out for Armenian food like a gentleman, but he refuses because of a very important board meeting. And just then he gets a phone call from his panicked Mexican lobbyist. You’ll never believe this: they’ve nationalized the San Sebastian railroad and mines.

Now that this plot ‘twist’ has finally happened, the ‘action’ speeds up.

Board meeting! Jim assuages the directors’ fears. Don’t you know, he had the marvelous foresight to move all their resources out of Mexico and leave only one shitty old train running once a day. Definitely him. Not Dagny. And he will make sure a couple of underlings take the fall anyway. The board polishes their monocles and mumbles their relief.

Jim seems less confident when he retreats to his office to hang with Orren Boyle afterwards. Orren reassures him that Francisco D’Anconia has lost a cool $15 mil of his own money in this debacle, and therefore will help them find a way to recoup their losses too. But at that very moment Jim’s secretary comes in and informs them Francisco has refused to take their calls, and will never take them again, because he finds them boring. Frank, if you’re the first character with a sense of humor I think we’re gonna get along real well.

Next scene! The National Alliance of Railroads is voting on a measure that would create regional monopolies, ensuring national coverage in these times of energy shortfall. Just as Orren and Jim planned, Taggart Transcontinental will now have the Colorado oil fields all to itself. But nobody says that part out loud; they all vote yes out of peer pressure. Because it’s for the greater good, you see. Everybody immediately shuffles out in shame while Dan Conway, the man who ran the up-and-coming Phoenix Durango railroad in Colorado, is left alone, shocked that his life’s work has just been ruined by committee.

Next scene! Dagny’s working; Jim busts in to gloat. “Guess what, bitch? I just saved our business through sleazebag politicking. Who’s ya boss now?” Dagny is furious, but rather than give Jim the satisfaction, she up and leaves without a word.

Next scene! Dagny visits Conway to encourage him to reject the NAR’s ruling. He is totally disillusioned with humanity now and says he’s going to move to Arizona and go fishing. Good luck with that, buddy. It’s a desert. Dagny tells Conway how much she looked forward to kicking his ass in Colorado, but not like this. Never like this. He gives her a pitiful smile. “I know, Dags. I know.”

Next scene! Dagny hangs up her phone having just scheduled a meeting with Hank Rearden. Colorado oil magnate Ellis Wyatt busts into her office. “Listen, we have to work together now, even though this is bullshit, so I want you to know I don’t fuck around. And if you fuck around, I will fuck you up. You feel me?” Dagny really wants to tell him how much she hates this new arrangement too, but instead she goes “Yes, sir, I feel you,” so as not to make excuses.

Last scene! Dagny is having her meeting with Hank Rearden, in his personal office. She needs her Rearden Metal order expedited so it’ll be ready when the Phoenix shuts down. He tells her he’s gonna hose her on the price hike, which gets Dagny kinda hot. She says that’s fine because she knows he needs her to prove his new invention’s potential to the world, which gets Hank hot. They flirtatiously congratulate each other for being such good capitalists, then deride Dagny’s brother and his ilk as ‘demented’ ‘looters’ and ‘moochers.’

Mr. Rearden, your stock is rising.

To lift their spirits in the face of this dangerous industrial cartel, they stand by the window and watch Hank’s first batch of alloyed rails being loaded onto a Taggart train in the distance. Oh yeah Hank, you like putting the rails to that Taggart train all right. Don’t deny it.

I’m pretty sure that’s his internal monologue, but externally he just boasts about the endless uses of his Metal, including airplanes that are lighter by several orders of magnitude and infrastructure with triple the life span. Which of course means way less jet fuel and increased energy efficiency, but they certainly don’t say that part out loud because these two hate to think there might be social benefits to their entrepreneurial largesse.

Which puts our no-nonsense workaholic protagonists on the same page, the same line even, and the subject is down and dirty hardcore business talk. So in this moment their loins are inevitably a’quiver. Their eyes meet, and Dagny gets her handjob grip primed to go, but Hank blanches and guiltily calls the two of them selfish. He’s probably thinking he shouldn’t cheat on his castrating wife, and Dagny is put out that she won’t get to put out, but this meek version of Hank isn’t as hot anyway, so they just go back to staring out the window at the highly phallic railroad tracks that are, so far, the only fruits of their labor.

NEXT: Chapter 5, The Climax of the D’Anconias — Enter the Charming Rogue

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1:3 The Top and the Bottom cont’d, “In Which Everyone Is Sad”

PREVIOUSLY: The world is falling apart because fossil fuels are running out. James Taggart and Orren Boyle decide to save their respective businesses by buying the law lobbying Congress.

Dagny Taggart is alone in her office late at night. I think technically she’s working but internally she’s ruminating on her childhood. Even at 12 she was a total hard-ass, and she’s damn proud of it. She started working for the railroad at 16 in an entry-level position but quickly rose through the ranks because everyone else in the world sucks at their job.

Young Dagny

Her dear old dad was really proud of her and secretly wanted her to be the next company president (probably; he implied it on his deathbad, which, dude, if there was ever a time to get right to the point…). But after he died James, as the eldest son, became the controlling stockholder. His very first move was to build the Mexico line to those copper mines (in which he’s heavily invested), and when the board approved it Dagny almost quit. She got promoted to VP of Operations to keep her from jumping ship.

But Backstory Theater is over because here comes Jim now, shitting a brick over the fact that Dagny diverted all their resources away from Mexico and made him look like a real limpdick in front of his skeevy friends. Dagny is like “You’re goddamn right I did, that line is a huge sinkhole of money and it’s gonna get nationalized.” Ayn, hon, it’s not really foreshadowing when it’s this explicit.

Jim goes on another defensive rant about how it’s important to boost the Mexican economy and bring civilization to those sorry bastards. Real white man’s burden shit. Plus his men in Washington have subtly encouraged his Mexico plans and he wants more sweet, sweet tax breaks. Dagny couldn’t care less, so then Jim accuses her of disliking the plan just because she has beef with the guy who owns the copper mines, Francisco D’Anconia.

Francisco, you cad.

Backstory Theater returns as we learn that Dagny used to have a big fat crush on D’Anconia, in the days when he was a workaholic hard-ass just like her. But now that he’s inherited his family’s centuries-old copper fortune he mostly sleeps around and parties like Bruce Wayne without the secret identity. That we know of… (see, now that’s foreshadowing). Dagny was super-disappointed in him and they’ve been estranged ever since.

Jim sure knows how to push his sister’s buttons, specifically the one labeled “bottomless pit of loneliness,” and Dagny has had about enough. She tells him she’s keeping all their operations focused on renovating the Colorado line, the Mexican line can go fuck itself, and if he wants to change that he can sit down with the books and do the work himself. Which he will never do, obviously, so he storms off while impotently cursing her name.

After that kerfluffle Dagny needs to relax so she goes down to the Terminal floor, where there is a huge bronze statue of her grandfather Nat that always makes her feel better. Nat was a self-made man. He built the railroad entirely by himself with one hand tied behind his back. He married the prettiest Southern belle in all the Confederacy land — and once put her up as collateral for a loan. He shat oak trees and pissed gold bullion. Oh, and he murdered a state legislator for being a charlatan and a huckster, as an example to all the others. Because why not?

Police sketch of Nat Taggart

Her spirits bolstered by her imaginary memories of the 19th century when men were men and railroad magnates didn’t have to worry about things like criminal law, Dagny wanders over to a news stand to smoke a butt with her token blue-collar friend, the Friendly Shopkeep.

Friendly Shopkeep is a cigarette collector, but now that there are only like four tobacco companies left on earth his collecting days are over and he’s bummed out. Sounds like somebody’s concerned about big business ruining local mom-and-pop-style economies. How liberal.

Shopkeep goes on to say that the hustle and bustle in the terminal seems more lethargic these days and finishes by asking ‘Who is John Galt?’ with a shrug (get it?), and Dagny makes my week by flipping out about how everybody keeps saying that and it’s freakin’ meaningless and totally annoying. Shopkeep agrees with her, possibly just to calm her down, and they ruefully take a drag together.

Meanwhile, Eddie is still at work too, and taking a break too, and enjoying the company of his own socioeconomically inferior pal too. This pal is a grease monkey rail laborer who Eddie occasionally runs into in the building’s cafeteria. So they’re eating gruel or whatever and Eddie is going on about how all his hopes for the future lie with Dagny, who is just so inspiring to him. I bet he’s a total mama’s boy. With Oedipal issues.

Eddie’s anonymous proletarian friend agrees that Dagny is the bee’s knees and asks if she ever does anything to treat herself for all that hard work. Eddie is like, “No. Maybe sitting alone at night with a glass of wine listening to Halley’s (four, definitely not five) Concertos, and tending to her dozens and dozens of cats.”  I made that cat part up.

Shortly thereafter, an angsty acoustic rock song plays on the soundtrack as we watch a montage of Eddie and Dagny leaving work and wandering the streets back to their respective homes, lost in melancholy thoughts.

The voice of a generation.

Fade to commercial.

NEXT: Chapter 4, The Immovable Movers — Attack of the Strawmen

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