Posts Tagged sex

Food for Thought #11: Rand Against the Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2:9 The Face Without Pain Fear or Guilt, “Twihard With a Vengeance”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny quit to protest the totalitarian takeover of the American government, but when she got word of a catastrophic train collision that killed hundreds of people on her former railroad, she felt compelled to return to society and keep the trains running on time.

Dagny arrives home, exhausted but resolute. Francisco knocks at the door and she is not surprised that he followed her back to the city. He is grim now, though, seems betrayed. He insists that she’s making a terrible choice. “Don’t you see Dags? You can’t fix the system from the inside! Join my off-the-grid shadow team and we’ll burn this mother down!”

But Dags demures. As long as the railroad makes opportunities possible for even one person who is destined for greatness, her effort is worthwhile even in a totally corrupt world. Francisco shakes his head in disappointment. “Well, now I’ve told you my plan to hit the self-destruct button on civilization, but you’re still on the side of that civilization, so… technically we’re enemies.”

Dagny & Francisco

It only now occurs to Dags that Francisco is the one she calls The Destroyer, the man who has been convincing all the other elite pillars of society to disappear. Frankie admits that’s part of his plan, but he isn’t in charge of it. She starts to quiz him but they keep getting distracted by the subtext of their haunted, bittersweet love.

Just then Hank walks in, nursing a big rubbery one in anticipation of nailing Dagny all night. Francisco’s presence really throws him off, although his dick only gets harder if anything. I assume. Anyway Francisco realizes what’s going on here and is clearly crushed. Hank is like “What the FUCK are you doing in here?”

Frankie, as is his wont, clams up and just takes another screed impugning his character from the people he most admires. Dagny tries to get Hank to calm down but he’s like “Blah blah blah machismo.” Specifically he calls Francisco a madman and a coward, a nihilist and an anarchist, and mockingly tells him his word means nothing, especially that time he swore to Hank his motives were pure, swore by the only woman he ever loved.

GASP, EPIPHANY! Hank totally realizes that Frank is in love with Dagny, is in fact her only former lover. He calls Frisco out and Dagny is really starting to feel like shit about all of this. In a fit of possessive jealousy, Hank slaps Frisco across the face. Slaps. Like, so much for your macho act, Hank. Francisco stoically takes it and then strides out of the apartment. Dagny realizes the extent of his self-discipline and feels even shittier. Then Francisco comes back in the room, but now he’s a sparkling vampire, and Hank turns into a werewolf, and– sorry, wrong pap.

Dagny & Hank

So now that they’re alone, and Dagny is pissed, she throws it in Hank’s face that she and Francisco used to make crazy animalistic love all day. In a jealous rage, he grabs her violently, and she’s pretty sure he’s about to kill her or beat her to a bloody pulp, but instead he kisses her hard and they start making out and Dagny has never wanted him more.  Ayn Rand has a lot of rape fantasies, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear. Frankly it almost makes too much sense.

And there they are some time later, sharing a post-coital cigarette, when the doorbell rings AGAIN. It’s the landlord and he’s giving Dagny a letter that arrived for her while she was off the grid. It’s from Q. He’s quitting. He doesn’t want to fix the ion drive anymore. Even if the drive could save the world from industrial exhaustion and environmental catastrophe, he knows it would just enable the villains who run this corrupted America, and he can’t be party to that.

Dagny dashes to the phone and immediately, desperately tries to reach Q. She finally get him on the line. “Q! Have you, by any chance, been approached by any shadowy charismatic anarchists lately?” “No, what the hell are you talking about?” Q replies. She makes him promise not to go anywhere until she can make it out west and change his mind.

Hank slowly realizes that he won’t be getting his usual nightcap of a sloppy blowjob, so he promises to join Dagny out west in a week and lets himself out. Dagny barely notices because she’s already packing and coordinating her train schedule with Eddie.

Soon Eddie is in the apartment facilitating Dagny’s travel plans. He’s a little flustered by being in her bedroom, presumably because he is meek and a virgin. And, as I always like to point out, the representative Everyman of the novel. Never forget.

Dagny & Eddie

While Dagny throws clothes into a suitcare, Eddie looks up from his Blackberry (or Moleskin, whatever) and happens to see a man’s bathrobe monogrammed “HR” and GASP, EPIPHANY! Eddie realizes Dagny has been getting a good dicking from Hank Rearden. Jesus Eddie, you’re her body man and she and Hank’ve been going at it for literally years at this point. Get a fucking clue.

Anyway he feels his heart sink in his stomach like lead. He’s basically the sweet nerdy kid who’s shocked and crushed when the cheerleader picks the quarterback instead of him. Eddie, I’m generally in your corner, but I will not abide emasculating Nice Guy stereotypes. And yet he keeps going, because he never even realized until this moment the degree to which he was in love with Dagny. Yep, definitely a virgin.

After dropping Dagny at the appropriate Transcon platform, Emo Eddie wanders in a daze down to the cafeteria, and wouldn’t you know his laconic friend The Prole is there, chain-smoking and apparently just waiting for Eddie to show up and vent and whine like a little bitch.

Never one to buck expectations, Eddie spills his guts to the lowly laborer, about how he loves Dagny, how Rearden is sleeping with her, how he’s now completely given up hope of the world ever recovering from this crisis, and how alone he feels now that Dagny has barreled off to save Q and unlock the secrets of the ion drive.

But that’s about all the pity party Eddie gets a chance to throw, because The Prole jumps up and darts off sans explanation. Eddie’s like “Wait, where are you going?”

“I have a costume change before Act Three!” The Prole fails to say.

NEXT — 2:10 The Sign of the Dollar, “End With a Whimper”

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2:4 The Sanction of the Victim, “Moral Vampires”

PREVIOUSLY: The feds charged Hank Rearden and Ken Dannager with black market trading. Dagny rightly intuited that the shadow faction of missing elites would pull Dannager off the grid, but she was too late to stop it. Francisco visited Rearden and was possibly recruiting Hank to the shadow faction too, but then Hank saved his life in a freak factory explosion and he backed off his agenda.

“I have nothing but contempt for you people. Especially you in the yellow polo.” -Hank

It’s Thanksigiving dinner at the Rearden’s! And in spite of all the luxury they have to be thankful for, they are even more passive-aggressive and hostile than your family. Tomorrow is Hank’s trial (two months from charge to trial? Awfully efficient for the government, no?). Lillian cites moral relativism as a reason for him to plea bargain or buy someone off. His harpy mother asks how could he put them through this. His brother outright says he’s guilty and should face a harsh sentence.

Hank is all about done with these people, thank you, and tells brother Buster to get the fuck out and never return. Everyone freezes and Buster immediately tries to walk it back, but Hank has had a moment of clarity. He sees now that his family uses guilt as a weapon, shaming him for his virtues so that he feels like he owes them something. Their entire value system is warped, he realizes, and Francisco’s speech about Atlas shrugging is ringing in his ears.

Throwing in the towel (or, napkin, I guess), Hank stands and announces he’s leaving for New York. Lillian, who has been overdosing on schadenfreude ever since she confronted Hank about his adultery, feels her grip on his conscience fading and commands him to stay. He does not. And now I bet the turkey’s cold, too.

On his drive to New York he mulls over how pervasive this sort of moral vampirism is. He figures his family is a lost cause, but he remembers that impressionable collegiate regulator that the state assigned to him. The kid turned a blind eye to Rearden’s black market arrangements with Dannager, even at the cost of his own career prospects. How selfless! There may be hope for the world yet… I mean, wait, no, selflessness means the world is doomed. Right? I think Ayn’s starting to lose the thread.

When Hank arrives in Manhattan he meets Dagny at her office, where she and Eddie are working late to minimize the damage from a terrible accident on the Transcon main line. Everything is falling apart in this country! On that score Hank tells Dagny that the next steel order for Taggart Transcon will be secretly doubled and full of rMetal. He has realized that their political enemies, just like his family, have no leverage if the likes of he and Dagny don’t subordinate their virtue in service to their vices.

Dagny is thrilled at Hank’s newfound enthusiasm for spiting the masses and takes out a bottle of lube to celebrate. Eddie is confused because he doesn’t know they’re diddling. Don’t worry Eddie, you’ll understand one day, when you’re all grown up.

“Objection! The protagonists are starting to act really douchey.”

JUDTJUT! That was the Law & Order noise, because we are at The Trial. The room is packed. There is no jury, just a panel of three judges at a card table or something equally unceremonious. The room suggests ‘the kind of meeting where a presiding body puts something over on a mentally retarded membership.’ Is that even a comparison to anything? I think Ayn just called you a scam artist. Or a retard. Either way, she’s not even trying anymore.

They ask Hank if he would like to make a statement in his own defense. Hank says NO, he will not make a statement in his own defense. BUT — and I know this might come as a shock — his version of “NO” is a lengthy, overwrought monologue praising anarcho-capitalism and condemning the court as a sham.

“Sustained.”

But he must be onto something because the jurists don’t hold him in contempt of court for, uh, ranting about his contempt for the court in great detail. They do not even recognize that he has waived his right to a defense. They are basically flummoxed by his bold “I will not defend myself, aside from this endless speech defending myself” approach, and they are cowed by his successful riling of the crowd. They let him off with a small fine. God this scene is just so dumb. Did David E. Kelley write this? I guess he was only one when the book came out, so… if the shoe fits.

Several weeks later. The dead of winter. Rearden is drinking alone in his hotel suite. He was popular for a minute there, after the trial. People remembered that he invented rMetal and built the Galt Line and told those lousy bureaucrats to fuck off. But the lamestream media got them back on talking points and all his fellow businessmen started asking him to cool his jets. He’s giving entrepreneurs a bad name, don’t you know. Don’t want to rile up more populist anger at the 1%.

This unthinking cowardice really pisses Hank off. Human emotion in general pisses Hank off, but whatever. The only person he really wants to see is Francisco D’Anconia, to thank him for inspiring his courtroom testimony. And Hank’s courage is liquid enough that he decides to show up at Francisco’s room unannounced.

Just two dudes, straight chillin’.

But of course Frankie welcomes him when he shows up, and they both clearly revel in their new, unspoken bond of friendship. They shoot the shit for a minute and Frank congratulates Hank for his court performance. Hank gives him all the credit, but admits he still doesn’t get Francisco’s angle. Between you me and the recapper, he wonders, what’s the deal?

Francisco weighs his options and decides to throw Hank a bone: he admits that his public persona is an elaborate ruse. He has gone to great lengths to convince the world that he is a spendthrift playboy, but really he’s never slept with any of the women he has been associated with in the papers. In fact, he’s loved only one woman his whole life. Hank is thinking like, “Me too! This guy so gets me,” except neither of them knows they love the same woman. I smell awkward revelations coming! Does this mean we have to split into ‘shipper Teams now?

Anyway Frisco justifies his celibacy with — yes, that’s right — a long speech. The gist is that people with self-respect will only sleep with other people they respect, while people who feel worthless will seek sex to boost their esteem and will fail because the sex will be hollow and demeaning. Truly groundbreaking stuff. The takeaway is that sex and desire and pleasure are therefore not sins, are in fact sacred, unless their life-affirming potential is perverted by self-destructive motives.

Hank has mad respect for this outlook, since he’s been such a tangle of contradictory impulses when it comes to his sex life (thanks, Catholic upbringing!).  As repayment for Frankie’s wisdom, he confesses to Frisco that he already came to trust him before hearing this admission of his true beliefs. He explains his plan to produce an rMetal surplus and sell it on the black market to Dagny, and pointedly adds that he ordered all the raw metals for this project from D’Anconia Copper, as a testament to their trust and friendship.

“Robin, you fool!”

Francisco’s face falls ashen. He shakes Hank violently by the shoulders. “You fucking idiot! What behavior of mine could have possibly made that seem like a good idea? You know nothing of my work!”

Hank is completely lost. Frank kicks him out, telling Hank that he likes him but this was a huge mistake. But the sudden about-face makes no sense to Rearden until a few days later, when he learns that his shipments of D’Anconia ore have been sunk to the bottom of the sea by the dread pirate Ragbeard.

Yeah Hank, I’m mad too — your author is being a real cocktease about this pirate plotline.

NEXT — 2:5 Account Overdrawn, “An Excess of Bullshit”

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2:3 White Blackmail, “Shrug Atlas Shrug”

PREVIOUSLY: Francisco drove the world’s oldest, most profitable company into the ground, the better to tank the fortunes of all his tax-evading, insider-trading, political-string-pulling billionaire investors. At Jim Taggart’s wedding the word got out, as Frisco intended. Panic ensued.

Twilight of the Godawful

Lillian Rearden is still freaking out about Francisco’s ‘irresponsibility’ as she and Hank return to his hotel suite. Hank is all “Yeah yeah yeah, shut up.” She wants to go home to Pennsylvania but he wants to stay in New York, so he drops her off at Taggart Terminal and then retreats to his very own Taggart terminal — Dagny’s apartment.

There, he apologizes for putting Dags in an awkward spot at the wedding, and she’s like “Dirt off my shoulder, bro. Your wife doesn’t enter into my personal equation. You do you, I’ll do me, and as long as we want to do each other, ‘s all good. You gotta chill out and enjoy yourself more.”

Hank is like, “That’s funny, Francisco D’Anconia told me the same thing once.” Dagny feels awkward for a hot second, what with having fucked Francisco for years and Hank not knowing, but Hank moves right along to speculation about what Frankie’s deal is. As much as his behavior often verges on outright evil, he’s full of life and one of the only exciting and interesting people they can still find in this hopeless, crumbling world.

The next morning Rearden returns to the hotel as the news about the D’Anconia crash breaks to the public. Upon his return he discovers that Lillian didn’t go home after all. She’s waiting for him in a robe, with a cold breakfast on the table and a look of spiteful triumph on her face. Finally, proof he’s been lying to her about his nightlife.

J’accuse!

Hank gets real stoic and tells Lillian to say what she has to say. She goes on a hateful, bitter tirade, just spewing years and years of bile at him. She scoffs that she was wrong to think he was sleeping with Dagny Taggart; no doubt he’s slumming it with whores in the Bronx or what have you. And by the way, she knew he didn’t love her from like year one of the marriage.

He genuinely asks why she stayed with him then, and she snipes that he has no right to ask that now. Not anymore. He realizes that it was because she loved him. Is… is that a character nuance I see? Quick, kill it!

Lillian proceeds to tell Hank that she will never, ever grant him a divorce. She won’t give up the life she’s accustomed to just because he betrayed her, and she specifically wants him to feel like a hypocrite every day of his life from now on — a private shame of a punishment. Her love, sadly, has curdled into hate forever.

Hank just stands there and takes it, a spring of coiled rage. He tells her to leave the city and actually go home this time, and she does. Then he gives himself a pat on the back for not, you know, murdering her. Way to set the bar high, buddy.

Next scene! A month later. Hank is in his office enduring a meeting. His guest is Dr. Ferris, the shamelessly cynical politico from the State Science Institute.

Ferris is following up on his order for rMetal — the order labeled Project X — that Rearden still refuses to fill. As far as Hank is concerned, there’s nothing more to discuss. But Ferris merrily tells Hank that he knows about the black market deals he’s been making with Ken Dannager to sustain his coal supply.

How can you not trust this face?

“You see,” Ferris explains, “you want to keep a secret, and State Science want to keep Project X a secret… so why don’t you just play ball and we can all get what we want.”

“Oh, you mean, blackmail?” Hank presses, and Ferris is hilariously like “Yes! Thank you! Glad we’re on the same page finally. So, you in?”

Hank is utterly apalled and balks. Ferris gets frustrated, like he simply doesn’t understand what bothers Rearden about this. “Look, you do this for us, and we can do some shit for you. You wanna fuck over Orren Boyle? He’s been swinging his dick around a little too much, come on board and we’ll take him down.”

But Henry Goddamn Rearden ain’t for sale, and he tells Ferris to go ahead and bring charges. Put him and Dannager on trial, whatever. Now Ferris is apalled. He gets ugly and hisses that they aren’t bluffing and they will totally ruin him. Hank has him escorted out.

“Hey buddy, I’m getting pretty tired of your whiny bullshit, okay?” -The Prole

Next! Let’s check in with good ol’ Everyman Eddie Willers, who is in the Taggart Transcon cafeteria again, talking to his anonymous proletarian grease monkey friend again. Again. He’s fretting about the Rearden/Dannager indictment that has just hit the newspapers.

Eddie exposits to the prole that this latest development has Dagny convinced Dannager will be the next titan of industry to disappear, and for once she thinks she can reach out to the victim before the shadow faction pulls him off the grid. Whatever mysterious cabal is sucking the lifeblood from society, she has taken to calling it The Destroyer and has made it her mission to defeat it.

Cut to: Dagny waiting in the lobby of Ken Dannager’s office. Based on the butts in the ashtray, she’s been here quite some time. The secretary feels bad about it, but Mr. Dannager specifically instructed her that he and his previous guest were not to be interrupted under any circumstances. “How long have they been in there?” Dagny asks, and the secretary admits it’s been hours.

Finally Dannager buzzes her in, and as Dagny enters she sees the private exit swinging shut behind him. As soon as she sees his face she knows she’s too late. He looks way too calm and relaxed for a dude under so much pressure and stress. He’s given up on the world. He’s getting out of the game; mentally checked out already.

“Yeeeah fuck this shit.” -Ken Dannager

And he knows she knows, calmly — even happily — dismissing her pleas that he stay and fight the good fight. He chuckles, all “Darlin’ if you knew what I knew, you’d leave with me. Oh, but just to be clear, I will not tell you anything even remotely useful, vis a vis, whatever it is I’m talking about.”

Dagny accepts this as totally reasonable for some stupid reason, maybe because she’s distracted by Dannager’s ash tray, in which lies the ashy remnant of a dollar-sign $tamped cigarette. By Jove a clue! She awkwardly asks to take it, and Dannager doesn’t care, possibly about anything anymore, so she does. Guess the meeting wasn’t a total loss.

Last! It’s night and Rearden is wistfully watching his mills from the office window, as he is wont to do, when who should saunter into his office but Francisco D’Anconia himself.

Francisco just thought Rearden might want some company, what with all the bad news lately, and Hank  welcomes him in, lamenting Ken Dannager’s disappearance. Frisco is sympathetic but clearly doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.

As they discuss it, the conversation quickly descends into a torpid philosophical dialogue, which is like the third one in this chapter alone. I swear to God, Ayn, you started out as a screenwriter, did you never hear the phrase “show don’t tell”? You managed to break that rule in a novel. For fuck’s sake.

Francisco encourages Hank to articulate his worldview, and hints at his own. He’s clearly leading the conversation down a particular road, trying to make Hank really Get It.

Frank takes out a $tamped cigarette* and lights it as he leans in. He asks Hank what he would say if he saw the mythic Atlas, buckling and straining, desperately trying to hold up the world even as his back is about to break. Hank doesn’t know. Francisco: “Shrug.”

*He doesn’t, actually, but he would if Ayn was a better writer.

But Hank refuses to cut himself any slack or give his bureaucratic enemies the satisfaction of seeing him quit, and Francisco is like, “Don’t you get it? They don’t want you to quit! They rely on you to do all the work that keeps their sick society functioning! How can you–”

Industrial-Strength Bromance

And then there’s an explosion at the mills and an alarm bell goes off. Without hesitation the two men sprint to the scene of the accident and selflessly join rescue efforts in the inferno, sealing off the leak, Hank even saving Francisco from dying in a pool of molten steel at one point. Sorry Ayn but one industrial fire does not make up for forty pages of stilted dialogue.

Well, it does for Hank; the adrenaline rush has left him with a sort of ecstatic, even religious after-glow. He and Francisco lock eyes with renewed appreciation and mutual understanding. They’re Bros 4 Life now. Hank is like, “What were you about to say, in my office?” And Francisco, with a painful smile, puts his agenda aside. “Never mind,” he sighs.

Then they kiss.

NEXT — 2:4 The Sanction of the Victim, “Saint Francis” / “Moral Vampires”

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2:2 The Aristocracy of Pull, “Sham Marriages”

PREVIOUSLY: A lot of stuff. Catch up.

It’s the night of Jim Taggart’s wedding! What the shit, you say? Yes, that’s right — in the months between Part One and Part Two, Jim has pitched his sketchy-ass woo at Poor Poor Cheryl (two different kinds of ‘poor’), and things have escalated rapidly.

Stuck in neutral, however, is Dagny’s quest to salvage the world-saving motor. She’s currently in her office going over the latest report from Quentin Daniels, her latest covert reverse-engineer (who shall henceforth be known as Q. Obviously). According to me Q, the motor is basically an Ion Drive, like spaceships use, and it’s pretty busted.

Dagny has also asked her cigarette-collecting friend the Friendly Shopkeep to track down the manufacturer of the mysterious dollar-sign cigarette, but he has found nothing. Though she is more certain than ever that some esoteric force is undermining society from the shadows, there is nothing else for her to do but go to her brother’s wedding.

Meanwhile, Hank Rearden has just concluded a business meeting with Ken Dannager, the country’s top remaining coal producer. The meeting was illegal because it wasn’t attended by the state Planning Bureau, but they’ve agreed to supply each other on the black market to keep the lights on and the trains running. Literally. Now alone in his hotel room, Hank fondles himself to thoughts of going to Dagny’s — yet who should bust in but his miserable wife Lillian.

See, she wanted to surprise him on one of his many, many New York trips. And maybe even catch him with a hooker or something, because she’s pretty sure he’s sleeping around on her at this point. But aaanyway, he’s coming to Jim Taggart’s wedding with her and there’s no two ways about it. It should be a spectacle if nothing else; the bride is some ill-bred shopgirl nobody. My, how absurd! she tuts while fanning herself.

And though Hank has given up feeling guilty for keeping Dags on the side, he can’t quite bring himself to blow up his own spot yet, so he consents to attend. Yay, tradition!

Poor poor Poor Poor Cheryl.

Cut to: Poor Poor Cheryl, standing before the mirror in her bare, slummy apartment, studying herself in her wedding dress and trying to figure out how she got here. It’s been such a whirlwind courtship, full of dazzling highs and morally unsettling lows. Cheryl recalls all the times Jim would show up at her place an emotional wreck, cuddle up beside her and vent his spleen about how vile and corrupt his colleagues are, and about how his behavior is different, right? Because it’s selfless, right?

Poor Poor Cheryl thinks back also to those times when she had to meet all of his social peers, and how terribly dismissive and condescending they were to her. How he seemed to relish rubbing her background in their faces, seemed almost disappointed if things didn’t get awkward.

Oh yes, and most of all she remembers the night he proposed to her, drunk, in the trash-strewn alley outside her apartment door.

I just want to say Cheryl, for Christ’s sake, wake up, get the fuck out, he’s going to make a coat out of your skin. But Cheryl is an idiot. She is so unbearably naive, and admires Jim because she thinks he’s responsible for the rMetal railroad, so she ignores all of the warning signs and departs for the ceremony.

Cut to: after the ceremony! Thank God we skipped that. The reception’s the good part anyhow. Jim is hobnobbing with all his cronies — Boyle, Larkin, Balph Eubanks, etc. He’s trying to discretely scan the room for Welsey Mouch but Mouch doesn’t seem to be there. Boyle can tell what he’s doing and needles him for it.

“Worried your pull in the capital is waning?” Boyle teases him. They have a pissing contest about who has stronger connections and who’s making the right moves to see their agenda enacted. It’s like a Varys/Littlefinger scene from Game of Thrones.

Meanwhile, Poor Poor Cheryl is wandering around in a PTSD haze and ignoring all the people at the party who are insinuating which political favors they’d like her to ask her new husband about. She sees Dagny and takes the moment to confront her. “Hey bitch, Jim tells me all the time about how you make his life a living hell, so you best step off because I’m the woman of this family now.”

Aw, Cheryl’s so cute. This just amuses Dagny, who replies, ‘That’s quite all right. I’m the man.’ Cheryl just Doesn’t Get It. Points for moxie though.

Hank, worn down to a dickless nub by having to stand next to his wife all night, has retreated to a corner. He observes Dagny’s awesome cattiness toward Cheryl with proud desire. Her sheer badassery makes him want to simply announce their liaison to the room and then nail her on the dance floor.

"We are shitty in similar ways." -Jim & Lil

Jim has likewise retreated to the corner to alleviate the pressure of shitty social obligations, and Lil Rearden approaches to congratulate him. She slyly hints that her gift to him is making Hank come with her — Rearden’s presence boosts Jim’s networking cache with the other guests and helps his appearance of influence. Jim is genuinely impressed at the way she works the angles and tells her she’s wonderful. She is pleased, and they realize for perhaps the first time that they see eye to shifty eye.

As Lillian leaves Jim’s side, she passes Dags and notices that Our Gal Dagny is wearing the rMetal bracelet that she took from Lil at the last big party they both attended. Giving in even further to her lashing-out-hate-spiral, Lillian steps up to D and all sickly sweet goes, “Oh, did you know Hank and I would be here tonight?”

Dagny’s like, “Uh, no. I could give two shits about this wedding.” Lillian’s detached facade is straining. “Well then why exactly are you wearing that bracelet? Is that not like a gag?” And Dagny proudly says she wears it all the time.

That’s Lillian’s last straw. She demands it back. Dagny refuses. Hank comes over but doesn’t break things up like last time. Lillian insists Dagny take off the rMetal. Doesn’t she know what people will think?

Dagny just whips out her enormous lady-dick. “Are you accusing me of fucking your husband?” Oh shit, son! Bald-faced. Lillian’s eyes panic and she immediately backs down, “No no no, never.” But Hank ups the stakes even more, and demands that Lillian apologize to Dagny for sullying Ms. Taggart’s good name. Wow kids. This is some pretty twisted gaslighting by our heroes.

So Lillian slinks away in defeat and Hank and Dagny eye-fuck forever.

Back at the center of attention, one of Jim’s sleazebag friends toasts the groom for being so selfless and progressive, a real moral paragon. It is a shame more businessmen can’t be like him. Jim takes the kudos and declares that he hopes to continue setting an example for his peers by which the ‘aristocracy of money’ can be replaced by —

‘The aristocracy of pull,’ chapter-name-drops Francisco D’Anconia as he walks into the reception unannounced, like he do. Awww this party just got started y’all.

NEXT — 2:2 cont’d, “Chasing Paper”

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2:1 The Man Who Belonged on Earth, “Storms a’Brewin”

PREVIOUSLY: Part One, otherwise known as “300 pages summed up in <1000 words.

"I haven't moved from this spot since it was the last screencap in Ch 6." -Stadler

Part Two opens on Dr. Stadler, the sour genius and head of the State Science Institute, as he keeps an eye on the weather outside his window. It is bleak and wintry, which is odd since it’s May. He finds this change in the climate unsettling. For some reason.

Anyway he’s taking a meeting with Dr. Ferris, his senior deputy, who has arrived late from a fundraiser in DC. Their conversation is strained; Stadler is petulant, Ferris condescending. The good doctor bitches about the oil shortage — not only has it disrupted the Institute’s experiments but his office is too damn cold! Ferris explains that his men (their men, technically) have been working to restore the Wyatt oil fields to no avail.

Stadler’s second complaint is that he’s seen mention of a “Project X” in his briefings and feels he’s being left out of the loop. “Project Xylophone,” explains Ferris. “That’s an experimental sound wave technology, don’t let it clog up your brilliant mind, sir. And also don’t mention it to anyone — it’s highly classified. Tell you what, just stay in your office and focus on theoretical physics, okay?”

Stadler lays out his real beef with Ferris. The junior scientist just released a pop-science book called Why Do You Think You Think? in which he cites Stadler’s advances in quantum mechanics to claim that reality is unintelligible, filtered as it is through the senses, and that consciousness and will are just meaningless chemical illusions.

"Oh yes, Project X, vonderful invention." -Ferris

Stadler is furious. All of his hard work, years of meticulous reasoned thought about the underlying orderliness of the universe, has now been sold to the masses as an excuse not to think, to ignore facts instead of learn them, to forfeit all sense of purpose. Such superficial clap-trap is a complete betrayal of his principles!

But Ferris just patronizes him and unilaterally cuts the meeting short. He admits that he doesn’t care about the specious reasoning in his book, because this is what sells and sales will help the Institute’s fundraising. The actual content serves only to comfort those who already want excuses not to think. You know, sheeple. So deal with it. Hey, can you tell how Ferris is a villain from the way he’s obsessed with money and has a low opinion of people? No? You can’t? In fact that might even lead you to mistake him for a hero? Well, he’s a villain anyway. So deal with it.

Stadler is left alone and miserable. He feels increasingly like a pet, or a zoo exhibit, instead of a leader. It’s no wonder, then, that when Dagny Taggart calls requesting his expertise, he leaps at the chance to visit her.

In her office, Dagny guts the Transcon spreadsheets. Every train except the flagship cross-country Comet is running on coal. But the country’s best coal supplier just retired and disappeared, of course, so even that is in short supply. Same goes for the founder of the up-start Colorado car company, Fauxrd. With no new cars and scarce fuel, Taggart trains are more strained than ever. And due to price controls and rationing, Dagny’s ability to adapt is hobbled, badly. The only thing keeping the books in the black is the boatload of subsidies and tax exemptions that Jim pulls out of Washington.

Ergo, when Stadler busts in, over eager for his appointment, Dagny is happy to put aside the task of which lines to close and which jobs to cut. Yet she remembers their previous meeting well, when Stadler’s cynical fatalism really creeped her out, so this time she plays her cards close to the vest.

She starts by handing him a dossier with everything she knows about the mystery motor. Thoughts, comments, criticisms? Stadler scans the brief and his jaw drops, his eyes light up. Applied sciences aren’t his thing, but even on the abstract level this is revolutionary. Whoever invented this motor discovered a new theory of electromagnetism on the way to making it work.

"Bowties are cool." -The Doctor. Stadler. Dr. Stadler.

Dagny wants to know if Stadler, as America’s pre-eminent man of science, has any idea who would be capable of this feat. Stadler does not, and the two of them lament the general terribleness of humanity, as all of the protagonists in this misanthropic book are wont to do.

Stadler asks to see the motor himself and Dagny obliges. They stand before it in its underground storage room like they’re in church for a funeral. I wonder if Ayn Rand masturbated to Popular Mechanics… wait, sorry, where were we? Oh right, Stadler refers Dags to a techie physicist named Daniels who might be able to reverse engineer the thing. She thanks him for his time and he slinks back to his pathetic life as an impotent figurehead, feeling more useless than ever.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Hank Rearden’s business is also buckling under the strain of government-mandated quotas. rMetal is now in demand like crazy, but Hank can’t even meet his previous commitments to Dagny and whomever else, because Wesley Mouch has sent an impressionable young lad fresh out of the Ivy League to determine which incoming orders get priority. Surprise surprise, all those who signed up with Jim Taggart & Orren Boyle’s lobbying group are winning the bids. Hank’s mills have effectively been nationalized, and he’s being pinned down as a figurehead just like Stadler.

But when a massive order crosses his desk stamped confidential and making vague references to a “Project X,” he draws the line. “Hell no! You can fuck right off,” is his answer to the Ivy League naif. So one of Ferris’ G-Men from State Science visits and very unctuously encourages Hank to cooperate. Hank refuses. You can come back with guns and steal as much as you want, he tells them, but he won’t play along as if he’s a willing participant in this deal. The G-Man seems pretty panicked that Hank would dare call a spade a spade and slinks back to his pathetic life as a spineless bureaucrat.

It’s clearly been an exhausting few months since Part One ended. Luckily for our two intrepid protagonists, they’ve still got booty calls at Dagny’s place for stress relief.

Hank in particular is really coming into his own now that he’s getting properly laid. For the first time since he got rich he’s living a little, indulging in the occasional luxury. He finds he likes luxury. Especially when ‘luxury’ means buying jewelry, and then making Dagny wear the jewelry, and nothing but the jewelry, while he ravishes her repeatedly all over the apartment. Yes that is quite luxurious indeed.

"God we are SO much better than everyone else. Let's get naked."

Quick sidenote to Ayn: Ayn, you clearly missed your calling as a writer of pulp erotica. You’re not nearly as good at this pulp philosophy bullshit. It’s stilted, and it’s ruining the mood. Stick to the smut.

Apparently Hank and Dagny don’t agree with me because upon his arrival for the booty call they unwind by comparing notes about Stadler and the other State Science lackey. The dialogue is didactic and extremely awkward. Like a sophomore term paper as foreplay.

But they quickly come to a mutual understanding. These men’s neediness comes from desperation to have Hank and Dagny validate their bullshit. When those with integrity don’t play along with the hollow men, the cowards are forced to face the truth about themselves and it terrifies them. And sadly, it seems even the once-great Stadler has succumbed to this weak-willed insecurity.

Hank ‘n Dags agree to never again feel guilty for being skilled and talented and responsible. Their excellence is its own reward and certainly shouldn’t be a burden. Dagny spreads her body along the couch like, “Speaking of which…” and as Hank feels the blood start to flow (to his penis), he finally has the epiphany that Dagny’s been pushing for since their affair started: sensuality can be a celebration of virtue and not just a shameful vice. Yay liberal sexual mores!

And then they fuck.

NEXT: 2:2 The Aristocracy of Pull, “Sham Marriages”

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1:10 Wyatt’s Torch, “Desperate Times”

PREVIOUSLY: Creepy-ass Jim met a starstruck young cashier named Cheryl at a Duane Reade in Harlem. Dagny & Hank acted out all of their most aggressive sex fantasies and took a discreet road trip through the Midwest, during which they discovered a revolutionary protoype for a clean-energy motor… but it’s been junked and raided for parts.

Dagny and Rearden are questioning the local archivist in Hooverville, WI about what happened to The 20th Century Motor Company, a.k.a. GM. “The 20th Century was sold out,” says the clerk. Cute.

Always follow the money.

The last owner was “The People’s Mortgage Company,” headed by a man named Yonts. The PMC heavily advertised its cheap credit. When Yonts acquired the GM factory he took out a loan against it, split up and sold off all the capital goods, then resold the mortgage without deleveraging the balance sheet and skipped town. The tangle of let’s call them “collateralized debt obligations” he left behind have bound the legal ownership of the property in enough red tape that it will be unspooling for years to come.

And did Yonts actually operate the factory before extracting all its value? No, says the archivist. ‘He wasn’t the kind that ever operates anything.’ I think they call those kinds of people “operators” actually. Or “confidence men.”

Speaking of confident men, Hank cuts to the chase. Where are all the records on this? The archivist shrugs. They’ve all been scavenged by the destitute locals for kindling. For kindling. Look I know the economy crumbled here but why in God’s name would people need to burn public records for fire in America’s breadbasket? Has the earth been salted and scorched? Did all the flora die? Has the climate… changed or something? Anyway the only lead our heroes can get from the archive-less archivist is that the guy who sold the factory to Yonts is a mayor in another nearby ghost town.

"You guys got any money?"

Mr. Mayor is like one of Nucky’s lackeys from Boardwalk Empire, sporting a gaudy pinky ring and shamelessly recounting how he acquired the property through graft and could not care less what Yonts did with it. In fact he always liked Yonts. He was a charmer. As far as leads go, Mr. Mayor bought the mortgage from a banker named Lawson who also gave out an irresponsible amount of cheap credit, but he was just a putz who was too nice for his own good, not a scam artist. He went out of business. Oh, and he works for the Bureau of Economic Planning in DC now.

Still without clues to who invented the motor, Dagny and Hank leave. They have the motor with them, under a tarp in the back of the car. Dags calls Eddie to arrange its shipment to New York, but doesn’t even get a word out before Eddie starts throwing a fit. The aforementioned Bureau is drafting all sorts of new bills to take control of Colorado.

Smash cut to Manhattan. Dagny’s hidden the motor in a defunct emergency generator room deep in the bowels of Taggart Transcon. Up in the executive offices, word is some labor unions want caps placed on the use of the Galt Line so that more commerce is forced to flow to other providers. Orren Boyle’s industrial conglomerate wants caps placed on the production of rMetal so that more commerce is forced to flow to steel. There are other legislative suggestions from other interest groups as well, the cumulative effect of which would be a ruinous clusterfuck for the Colorado economy — which at this point is basically the national economy.

"I am the one who blocks!... your... ideas. ...Shut up."

Dagny actually turns to Jim for help. “Hey fuckface, this lobby stuff is your wheelhouse, are you making sure we don’t get bent over or what?” But Jim has his usual obstinate knee-jerk reaction to anything Dagny-related. ‘You can’t expect to run the national economy to suit your own convenience,’ Jim sneers at her. The gall of that sentence coming from James Taggart leaves her speechless, so she decides to keep investigating the motor instead.

Meanwhile, Hank is at home in PA and mired in similar bullshit. Since he now has to buy what used to be his iron ore from the spineless Larkin, he’s not getting his shipments on time. Larkin has fully succumbed to being Jim and Boyle’s crony, basically, and the resulting gaps in the rMetal supply chain have forced Rearden to make his own bribe-riddled deals to keep the mills running. He does not like that at all.

So in the evening he retires to his room to just get away from everything, and naturally this is the night his wife shows up in new lingerie desperately seeking affection like a neglected pet.

"Try and ignore me now, ya dick."

Poor Lillian tries to be flirty but he’s curt. She says she just wants to hang out and catch up but he bluntly admits he doesn’t give a shit about her high-society gossip. Starting to get upset, she wishes he would just lie to make her feel better, which he finds even more unattractive.

They get into a tiff and similar to Hank’s mother in Chapter 7 Lily claims that loving someone for their vices and shortcomings, and not for their virtues, is what makes love valuable, because in so doing one forfeits one’s own virtue and consience for the sake of their beloved. Hank is repulsed, but it also causes a rush of guilt in him for fucking Dagny on the side. He is suddenly struck that Lillian’s furtive cruelty is ‘not a method of torture, but a twisted form of despair.’ She loves him. And she knows he doesn’t love her back. And that, ultimately, is what has turned her into the harpy he sees before him. Fuckin’ light dawns on marble head, Hank. Jesus.

The scene only grows more pathetic when Hank asks her flat-out what it is she wants, what would make her happy. Because that always helps when arguing with a woman. She points out that the fact he has to ask such questions is the very problem. And yes, she’s noticed that despite the nightmare going on in his business life he seems less tense lately, which I take to mean she suspects the affair.

But she’s here trying to bridge that gap, allowing him to see her vulnerability, despite all the wounded pride and bruised dignity. She slides in for an embrace, runs her hands down his arms. He reflexively shoves her away. Ouch. Cold, Hank.

He immediately knows that was too much. He apologizes and asks her genuinely what she considers her purpose in life. What is it that she really wants? Seriously. He will try his best to give it to her.

‘You.’

Aaand he literally does not understand what she means. Fuck you Ayn.  asks her to explain and that’s the last straw for Lillian. She storms out.

"My life sucked, now I do too. Ask me how."

Goddamn, this is so much like the Draper marriage you might as well just watch a Mad Men greatest hits compilation. Right down to the part where you feel terrible for the wife until you eventually have to admit that victim of emotional abuse or not, her once-innocent love has curdled into miserable bitchery and it’s too late for her. But, at least in my version, this was her one last chance, her truly sad and tragic moment.

Hank seems to have reached the same conclusion actually, except he believes so much in the sanctity of contracts that he once again punishes himself with guilt instead of considering a divorce. Nonetheless, his thoughts drift to Dagny and how much seeing her would make him feel better. If only she hadn’t left for DC to question that Lawson character…

NEXT: 1:10 cont’d, “Desperate Measures”

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

PREVIOUSLY: The John Galt Line, Dagny & Hank’s game-changing high speed railroad, opened in Colorado to phenomenal success. Dagny & Hank celebrated with some highly cathartic adultery.

Dagny Taggart: Lady in the Street, Freak in the Bed

Dagny wakes up the morning after in a post-coital haze. Completely content, she watches Hank getting dressed. Then he turns to her and is like “I want you to know I hate you now, and I hate myself even more. We are depraved animals. I act like a principled man, but I want nothing more than to make you my fuck puppet. It’s disgusting.” Dagny, progressive at heart and decidedly not as… married, laughs in his face. “What is this, the real 1950s? We live in the steampunk ’50s, stop being so repressed. I want to be your fuck puppet, baby. I want to be your fuck puppet all day. Now creep up on this.” And he does.

That night on the east coast, Jim Taggart is wandering aimlessly around New York. The success of the Galt Line and Dagny’s imminent return to Taggart Transcon with the Line’s fresh business in tow have sent Taggart stock sky-high again. As CEO, Jim is getting all the publicity, but the accolades make him feel like shit because he didn’t really do anything. To avoid acknowledging his self-disgust, he projects all his hatred and resentment onto Dagny and Rearden. But with nothing to keep him busy at night, introspection is harder to avoid.

At the corner of Shame & Self-Pity

So that’s how he finds himself in some ghetto-ass neighborhood in the rain, coming down with the sniffles. He steps into a run-down bodega for some tissues. Inside, the place is unsurprisingly barren under pale fluorescents but the girl behind the counter is staring at him like he’s radiating sunlight. She timidly asks if he’s THE James Taggart.

Why yes, yes he is. And it turns out this blue-collar ingenue is Cheryl, your classic small town girl who moved to the big city to make it and found herself working the night shift at a corner store in… Harlem? Is it racist to assume it’s Harlem? Either way she is utterly starstruck that the guy on the front page of the day’s paper is buying Kleenex from her. He is in turn struck with perverse fascination at how innocent she is. The poor thing actually believes his company’s media talking points for Christ’s sake. He flirts with her in his vaguely sociopathic way and convinces her to come back to his place.

Alone at his apartment, Jim quizzes Cheryl on her backstory. She lived somewhere in the blighted midwest and decided she had to move away before inertia settled her permanently into white trash mediocrity. And how’s that working out? Not well obviously, but she still believes in pulling herself up by her bootstraps.

“I am in an awful mood.”

Jim confesses to her that he’s in an awful mood. She can’t understand why. Shouldn’t he feel completely triumphant after tasting the fruit of all “his” labor? No. He can only talk mad smack about Dagny and Hank for being self-absorbed and conceited, and about Orren Boyle and his other friends for being corrupt cowards. He hates everything. Poor naive Cheryl can’t square it. The American economy finally has a shot at recovery thanks to “his” achievements. Why does it upset him? Would he rather society collapse?

I bet nothing bad happens to this character.

Jim lashes out — he didn’t say that! Don’t put words in his mouth! And who cares about that material bullshit anyway? Why can’t the news promote proper values? Spiritual values! Think of all the suffering in the world… frankly, being unhappy for the sake of others is the real test of virtue. Yes, a great capacity for unhappiness is what truly makes one great, Jim decides. Cheryl is like “Golly Mr. Taggart, that sure is swell of you to be so hard on yourself when you’ve already done so much. I wish I had all your fancy book-learnin’.”

Taggart just stares at her in cynical awe. What a rube! Dawn is breaking so he takes her back to her apartment. She thanks him profusely for not taking advantage of her. Will she ever see him again? He does not say. But he knows she will, because he is still grotesquely mesmerized by her free spirit.

A couple weeks later, Dagny and Hank meet up at her place for a brunch-time bone. He orders her to tell him about all the other men she’s fucked while he bangs her. Dagny’s like, “There was only one other man and I’m not telling you who it is.” He likes it when she talks back. In all seriousness if you had to make this book 1100 pages Ayn, you should’ve made at least 800 of them sex scenes.

Meanwhile one of Dagny’s former contractors, one of the guys who was afraid to buy rMetal, is watching the factory across the street from his get liquidated for parts. He starts up a chat with one of the day laborers hauling the scrap, lamenting how every local business he knew growing up is collapsing and all the rest are hauling ass to libertarian Colorado. He’s all over the place politically, wishing the government hadn’t shut down competition among the railroads because it cost him business, but wishing that it would subsidize legacy companies like his so he can stay in business now.

Wah-wah.

He mentions an oil man in Oklahoma who had to stop pumping his fields because he lost all his business to Ellis Wyatt, which makes absolutely no sense. A guy with oil supply in a time of scarcity would find demand, period. The vagrant worker offers his own counterpoint, citing Rearden’s mills in Pennsylvania that are booming with rMetal production.

Fair enough. Mr. Contractor asks his name. “Owen Kellogg,” says the vagrant. Hey wait a minute, that’s the corporate suit who handed Dagny his resignation in Chapter 1. Didn’t he disappear mysteriously forever? Why is he roughing it as a hobo now? How curious.

But the name means nothing to the nostalgic contractor. He simply hopes the latest government initiative will help him keep his business afloat. You see, to manage the Equalization of Opportunity that is now required by law, the Congress has commissioned a Bureau of Economic Planning. And it will be headed by a brilliant young policy wonk taking his first job in the public sector. His name? Wesley Mouch.

What Mr. Contractor doesn’t know, because he gets his news from the same press that reprints Taggart’s PR memos, is that Mouch is a well-connected former lobbyist. The foxes are running the henhouse, people!

Nex– oh, Dagny and Hank are having sex at her apartment again? Well, they’re about to. Hank just got in from some awards ceremony honoring him for inventing the now-popular rMetal and saving America, but everybody there was just a hanger-on or a fair-weather fan. Dagny sympathizes. Hank has an idea to cheer himself up, though. The two of them should go on a month-long off-the-grid vacation, roadtripping around the country in cognito. Dagny thinks that sounds awesome.

This not-decaying route: brought to you by the federal government.

So cut to them on the open road, tearing down the decaying routes of the blighted midwest, touring the abandoned factories and warehouses of the Rust Belt. This is your guys’ dream vacation? You are the shittiest. They watch the natural beauty speed by all around them and Hank literally goes “You know what this view needs? Advertising. Where are all the billboards?” Ugh, blow me. I’m trying to revise you into a likable character Hank, and you’re making it really hard.

Their journey takes them to the condemned campus of The 20th Century Motor CoGM. The surrounding ghost town is full of dull-eyed impoverished zombies who have given up on improving their lives or leaving, if they were ever inclined to do either in the first place. One lady is wearing a potato sack for a dress. Not an exaggeration.

Seriously. THIS is your vacation.

The factory itself is a skeleton. Or so it would seem until Dagny notices an unusually futuristic coil amid the wreckage in the old R&D lab. She digs out the machine to which the coil belongs. Though it has been looted for parts it is recognizable as a motor. A crazy cyberpunk motor, trapped in this dying steampunk world. Venturing further into the rubble she finds a yellowing report on the device, mostly illegible.

Hank hears Dagny screaming for him and runs to the R&D lab. She shows him the gutted device and the shred of paperwork describing how it works — or how it would have worked. The coil, you see, would draw static electricity out of the air to drive the gears. Simple, clean, brilliant: it is in essence a low-cost carbon-free completely renewable energy solution. Or it would have been, if it hadn’t ended up as junk.

Hey look, a MacGuffin!

“Fuck, this could revitalize the entire infrastructure of modern civilization! Fossil fuels would go right out the window! Imagine this motor paired with rMetal construction — we’d be living in a prosperous utopia of economic efficiency! This is what the world needs!” Dagny is spazzing out like a true tech nerd.

“Yeah but Dags, why is it here? Why is it buried, broken, and lost? What cruel fate could have befallen the inventor that such a work of genius was covered up?” Hank responds ominously. The two grimace at each other, suddenly aware they are up against much darker forces than they had imagined.

So… vacation canceled then?

NEXT: 1:10, Wyatt’s Torch — “Desperate Times”

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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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