Posts Tagged capitalism
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…”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
NEXT: 1:9, The Sacred and the Profane, “Motor of Love”