Posts Tagged communism
PREVIOUSLY: The now-infamous cabal of corrupt powerbrokers revoked all of America’s economic liberties as an emergency measure to halt the economic decline and implement a static, no-growth state. Rearden forfeited the rights to rMetal. Dagny quit and retired to a cabin in the woods.
Average Eddie Willers is getting lunch with his friend The Prole, who you’ll remember labors in the bowels of the railroad, and who I assume is real fucking tired of listening to Eddie bitch and fret. So beaten down by exploitive bureacrats is Eddie that he now wears the ‘smile of a cripple,’ like Ayn, give Eddie a break already, please. Everybody of any competence is disappearing in protest of the new forced-labor laws. Jim has some politically-connected crony holding down Dagny’s job, and for our purposes his name is Peter Principle. Eddie whimpers and mewls about it because Eddie, as the book’s symbolic Everyman, is nice enough but inexcusably pathetic.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden is walking home from work in solitude. He likes the quiet, because when he’s among people “the human shapes in the street were meaningless objects” to him, which sounds pretty sociopathic to me. In fact you could make an argument that this entire book is Ayn working very hard to define herself as a sociopath. Think about it.
All of a sudden Rearden is stopped by a shadowy figure. It’s Ragbeard the Pirate! Fucking FINALLY we meet this guy. Ragbeard has come to give Hank a bar of gold as recompense for the government’s abuse of the income tax. He has tons of gold, apparently, which he keeps in a bank. What kind of pirate has a checking account? Oh, the bank accounts are for all the aggrieved meritocrats who are being sucked dry by the government. Ragbeard hands the cash over to them whenever they join him off-the-grid. But he’s giving Hank a down payment because… respect. Or something.
By what principle does Ragbeard justify this mission? Well, get ready for this dear reader, because it is just an unbelievably epic kind of stupid. See, Ragbeard has an irrational hatred of Robin Hood, what with stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Nevermind that Robin Hood stole from unjust tax collectors and gave to their exploited victims, says Ragbeard, this is different! People remember Robin Hood for valorizing “need” over “ability,” and Ragbeard has dedicated his life to wiping the memory of Robin Hood from the planet. In short, Ragbeard is an idiot and a crazy person. He even says his allies (like his banker) kind of think he’s a weirdo, but hey, live and let live.
Ragbeard mentions that he bombed Orren Boyle’s rMetal factory so that nobody can make Hank’s precious invention if Hank can’t. That almost wins Hank over, but he still has the good sense to tell Ragbeard “Fuck off, you are a ridiculous joke of a man.”
He turns to go but some 5-0 rolls up, looking for the wanted pirate, and Hank is surprised to find himself covering for him. The cops drive off. Ragbeard is like “Haha, you kinda like me!” and Hank just grunts. Ragbeard departs for the sea. Hank, despite his earlier refusal to accept Ragbeard’s ill-gotten gains, shrugs and picks up the bar of gold Ragbeard left behind. Becuse it’s a fucking bar of solid gold, after all.
Cut to: Kip, a sleazy politico riding to a campaign stop in a private Taggart train car. He’s lazy and vindictive, and his campaign manager, let’s just call him Rove, insists that he must make his campaign stop on time. He says this in “[the] stubborn monotone of the unthinking which asserts an end without concern for the means,” which… are the heroes not constantly making demands of their business partners that end with “I don’t care how you do it so long as it gets done” and whatnot? This book’s bullshit quotient is multiplying rapidly.
In Rove’s defense, the train is running late. Kip thinks he’ll have Taggart Transcon fully nationalized for this. Then the train grinds to a halt because the worn-out track is straight-up broken and the engine car jumped it. Kip flips his shit. Don’t worry buddy, your train ain’t the only thing going off the rails.
The snafu makes its way back to the nearest Taggart office drone, who is another Peter Principle. He got his job because of a deal between Jim & Wesley Mouch, who “by their customary rules of bargaining, [squeezed] all one could out of any given trade,” which, again, the heroes do all the fucking time, proudly and explicitly. Dagny and Hank even flirtatiously threw that in each other’s faces once, back in the day.
Anyway, Kip’s rabid demands for a new engine car ASAP! bounce around the Taggart system for a couple hours, with all of the Peter Principles now staffing the company expending lots of effort to avoid responsibility, even the guy holding Dagny’s old job at the top of the food chain. On top of that, Kip’s train is very close to a miles-long tunnel with bad ventilation so they can only use a deisel train and not a coal train, but the only deisel engine in the region was moved to accomodate some other string-pulling politico. Looks like these guys are gonna have to cut some corners. I’m sure it’ll go fine.
The cowardly weasels apparently aren’t so sure. Knowing that it’s unreasonably dangerous, that they are almost definitely sending people to their death, the various middle managers look the other way and have a coal car sent to the tunnel to avoid the wrath of Kip and Operating Vice President Principle. Better to plead ignorance of a disaster than lose your job and fall at the mercy of the omnipotent Unification Board, right?
And so the Transcon flagship train barrels into a tunnel, driven by a coal car, the fumes from which cloud the air and poison everybody on board until they are dead.
But don’t worry! Ayn, whose misanthropy is also approaching toxic levels, goes on for like three pages about how all of the people on this train are vile political liberals and philosophical relativists, so you see they totally had death by asphyxiation coming to them. Obviously. Yaaaay…?
NEXT — 2:8 By Our Love, “Consumed”
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.
PREVIOUSLY: Dagny launched a one-woman investigation into the history of the mysterious clean-energy motor. Hank had a fight with his wife that may have broken the camel’s back. The Bureau of Economic Planning drafted several bills that would effectively stifle the booming Colorado economy.
Dags commences her investigation by meeting with Lawson, the former banker who now works for the Econ Bureau. She wants info on the condemned GM plant where she found the motor; he keeps throwing out irrelevant defenses of his piss-poor record as a banker. He did not know any of the R&D engineers at the plant but the company that ran it when he held the mortgage, the last company to run it before it went bankrupt, was
Bain Capital Associated Services. The head of A.S. was named Hunsacker.
Dagny tracks Hunsacker down in Illinois, where he’s now living as a lowly boarder and drafting an autobiography about which no one will care. He’s even more of a lousy whiner than Lawson. He recalls that when he first tried to raise the funds to purchase GM he applied for a loan from Midas Mulligan, the world’s richest man and one notorious for his impeccable investment record. One can only assume he paid less in taxes than his secretary.
Anyway, Mulligan turned him away for having no collateral or prior achievements and he sued Mulligan by exploiting an anti-discrimination law that was intended to protect day laborers. One Judge Narragansett ruled against him, but a higher court reversed the decision. Shortly thereafter Mulligan disappeared mysteriously forever. A few months later Judge Narragansett did the same. But Hunsacker got his loan from Lawson in the end, which worked out real well until they both went bankrupt.
Yeah yeah whatever, did Hunsacker spend much time at the R&D lab? No, not really. The founder, Jed Starnes, who was a self-made man (obviously), he was quite the innovator. But when his heirs took over some kind of wackness went down at the plant and the research staff abandoned ship. Hunsacker didn’t feel the need to reinvest in that department. The Starnes heirs? Oh, they live low-profile in Lousiana now. That’s all the info Hunsacker’s got. Dagny bolts.
Deep in the bayou our heroine uncovers the next lead. One of the Starnes heirs is a bitter drunk; another killed himself several years back; the third, Ivy, lives in a decrepit old manse studying Hinduism and, I’m just going out on a limb here, smoking a metric ton of weed. Ivy Starnes explains that she and her brothers also neglected the research & development team. Their innovation as managers was to implement a Marxist payroll structure where checks were written “from each each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Basically everybody at the factory voted monthly as to who needed money the most and who worked the hardest. The hardest workers were expected to log overtime hours without pay to cover the neediest employees’ generous salaries. If the industrious didn’t meet the output expectations of the payroll votes, they were fined to make up the difference. Dagny is apalled. Probably because this makes absolutely no sense. Everyone knows that communist countries didn’t abide by democratic votes! Allegory fail.
But I guess that’s kind of besides the point, which Dagny gets because she’s trying to drag the conversation back towards the R&D staff. The only name Ivy’s ganja-addled brain can remember is William Hastings, chief engineer. She remembers him because he quit pretty much immediately after the commie pay scheme was enacted.
Wyoming now, and Dags knocks on the door of Mrs. Hastings, who is the first dignified person she’s yet encountered in this little adventure. Unfortunately, Mr. Hastings passed away five years ago of a heart condition. But the widow Hastings remembers the last few years of his life quite well, and is happy to regale Dagny with the tale.
William ran R&D at GM for nearly two decades. Towards the end of his tenure he had a young assistant whom he constantly called a genius. The assistant had an idea for a revolutionary new motor, and Hastings helped him complete a prototype. But Jed Starnes died less than a month later and his hippie heirs with their naive ideals showed up to implement socialist theories of compensation, and so Hastings quit and refused to take another job.
He didn’t quite disappear mysteriously forever, though. Disappeared, sure. Mysteriously, yes. But temporarily, always. See, he and the missus continued their life together as usual except for a month every summer when he’d go on a vacation from which he returned in the fall sans explanation.
She does remember picking him up once and catching a rare glimpse of his enigmatic associates. One was the assistant engineer in question, the other a dignified older gent. Though she never learned their names, by pure coincidence she happened to run into the older guy again not too long ago. She remembers it clearly, because she was shocked to see such a dignified character working as the short-order cook in a roadside diner in Bumblefuck, Wyoming…
Bumblefuck, Wyoming. Dusty road, nothing for miles, just this one crummy diner. Dagny pulls up, steps inside, and orders a hamburger. She has butterflies in her stomach. This is it, she can feel it. The case is about to crack wide open.
There are two truckers at the counter and she waits for them to leave before she strikes up a conversation with the cook. “This is the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten,” she says. “Thanks,” he replies.
She sizes him up. “Come work for me. I’ll pay you $10,000 a year.” That $75,000 adjusted for inflation, by the way, but he turns her down flat. She doesn’t understand why. ‘I hate to see ability being wasted!’ she cries, and he says ‘So do I.’
She can tell by his tone that they’re simpatico and is suddenly overwhelmed with how much bullshit she’s had to put up with lately. She spills to him how impossible it is to find anybody worth dealing with anymore and how she’s trying so hard to make something good happen but everybody along the way is a total fucktard.
He takes all this in rather serenely and then asks what exactly it is she came here looking for. “Did you know the last man to serve as the assistant R&D engineer at GM?” He cautiously admits that he did. What’s it to you, lady? “He invented a motor. It’s vitally important I find him.”
The cook asks who she is and she tells him she’s Dagny Taggart. This whole scene makes a lot more sense to him now but he tells her ‘Give it up, Miss Taggart.’ He will not give her the name, or even tell her if the man is alive or dead. This is the end of the road.
“Who are you, anyway?” she asks him. “The name’s Akston. Hugh Akston,” comes the nonchalant reply.
Dagny’s mind is blown. “Hugh Akston the philosopher? Hugh Akston, Francisco’s former mentor? Hugh Akston who disappeared mysteriously forever years ago? What the hell are you doing frying eggs in the middle of the desert?! None of this makes any sense!”
Hugh Akston leans back against the counter and takes out a pack of cigarettes. He offers her one and then lights them both up. “I told you you hit a dead end. But I’ll give you one clue. There is no such thing as a contradiction. Only faulty logic. If your conclusions make no sense, go back and check your premises.”
A bell rings in Dagny’s head. Francisco told her the same thing when trying to explain his behavior the last time she saw him. She thanks Akston for the burger and the butt and leaves. As she steps into her car she stops to examine the cigarette in her hand. It belongs to no brand she can recognize. The only insignia is a tiny golden dollar sign stamped above the filter.
The time has come to give up and go home. Dagny arrives at the Wyatt Junction station to wait for the Galt Line to take her back east. But there is hubbub on the platform and she overhears somebody saying they don’t think Rearden will be able to follow all the new regulations at the same time. Some other guy is like “Hey fuck him, he’s rich. He can figure it out.”
Dagny’s blood freezes and she grabs the nearest newspaper. The Congress has given Wesley Mouch blanket authority to issue economic directives. He has placed production caps and price controls on nearly everything and levied extra taxes on Colorado businesses to subsidize the rest of the country’s failing infrastructure.
The memory of when she first met Ellis Wyatt leaps into her brain, the time he stormed into her office and threatened to fuck her up if she fucked around with his business. Another sudden recollection: the time he furiously smashed his glass after they toasted the opening of the Galt Line.
In a panic Dagny races for a pay phone, unsure what she’s trying to prevent but determined to do something. She dials Wyatt and starts screaming ‘Ellis, don’t! Don’t!’ but reaches only a dial tone.
Behind her, just past the station, the rolling hill with Wyatt’s estate and the vast expanses of his oil fields suddenly explode into a teeming wall of flames. All of the silhouetted derricks go up like torches. Dagny drops the phone in despair. He’s not there, she knows that much. He’s disappeared mysteriously forever. This is just his parting gift. One last “fuck you” for The Man. No more oil for you! Try running a techno-industrial economy now, sorry motherfuckers! Peace out.
REFLECTIONS ON PART ONE: The Logical Downfall of Ayn Rand
PART TWO, CHAPTER 1: “Storm’s Abrewin'”
According to an anecdote
on Wikipedia in Anne Heller’s 2009 book Ayn Rand and the World She Made
when 20-year old Soviet emigre Alisa Rosenbaum arrived in New York harbor in 1925 and first saw the Manhattan skyline, she wept. “Tears of splendor,” is the direct quote. And while there are many things about this woman that I find ridiculous, you can’t really argue with the pure American beauty of an immigrant story like that.
By then Alisa had already adopted Ayn Rand as her pen name and self-identified as a firm atheist rationalist. So let’s call her precocious. But of course she had her reasons to be opinionated — raised in St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution, 12-year old Alisa saw her father’s business confiscated by the Bolsheviks and her family forced into exile in the Crimea. After completing high school there, Alisa spent the third act of her bildungsroman back in St. Petersburg — now Petrograd — where she lived in the destitution wrought by Soviet rule.
In spite of the poor economic conditions, she attended Petrograd State (Go Grizzlies!) in one of the first co-ed classes admitted. She thrived at school, studying social pedagogy, and then just in case she had any lingering doubts about how much communism sucked, the university helpfully attempted to boot her and the other bourgeois students out just before graduation. It didn’t stick, and she matriculated in 1924 followed by a year of film school in Leningrad during which she was first published. Not long after that she would be going by her nom de plume and crying at the sight of America.
That picture-perfect image of Alisa in transition casts an interpretive shadow over the rest of Rand’s life. Just like a native-born U.S. citizen, she decided to cross a continent and pull herself up by her bootstraps in the most meritocratic of American mileu: Hollywood. There she met her future husband, Frank O’Connor, the man who was the love of her life except for that one time she had a decade-long affair with a younger dude. But both her husband and her lover’s wife knew about that and “consented,” which I’ll feel free to interpret as “went along quietly in fear of the terrible consequences to their social networks and personal lifestyles that would inevitably follow taking a stand.” You know, rational self-interest. Anyway, this is a radical tangent. Where were we?
Rand and Frank became political activists in 1940 when she discovered how much she loved shooting down hecklers at campaign events. Her writing career finally took off in the ’50s on the strength of two successful books, The Fountainhead and the subject of this blog, Atlas Shrugged. Naturally that whole second-love-of-her-life character entered the picture along with the fame and riches.
In the notes she kept while writing Atlas Shrugged, Rand remarks, “I seem to be both a theoretical philosopher and a fiction writer. But it is the last that interests me most; the first is only the means… the fiction story is the end.” And it sure was, in that after the book’s success she stopped writing fiction entirely and focused on her philosophy, codifying it into a dogma called Objectivism, with which she then led a cult of personality complete with unseemly polyamorous intrigue (see above), even claiming in a televised interview with Mike Wallace in 1959 that she was “the most creative thinker alive,” going on to add that she had tiger blood and Adonis DNA, etc.
Rand and her kept man broke up in a real burning bridges kind of way in the mid-60s. She and Frank stayed together until he passed in 1979, so maybe he was cool with the cuckold thing after all. Ayn herself died in ’81, decidedly not from lack of fulfilled ambitions. But I like to imagine that her last words were a muttered “Rosenbaum,” in the style of Charles Foster Kane, as a snow globe tumbled from her hands and images of young, starry-eyed scholar Alisa flashed before her steely grays.