BEAST philosopher-at-large Michael Caigoy reads Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, so you don’t have to
While it’s definitely not a favorite (it’s not even passable), Atlas Shrugged tops a few lists for me. It has the flattest, least engaging characters I’ve dealt with. It makes the Brave New World lineup seem dimensional in comparison — and that’s saying something. It’s also the most humorless, insistent, ridiculous manifesto I’ve encountered — and I’ve read plenty of those. Worst of all, this might be the longest book I’ve ever fucking read.
There’s a simple reason for that. Yes, the reason is simple. Yep, no mystery behind the simplicity of said reason. Yes, yes — simpleness.
Annoying? Welcome to the last couple weeks of my life. That’s the answer behind Rand’s verbosity: pure, horrific repetition. Listening to Rand prattle relentlessly about the idiotic features of the artifices she’s constructed for the convenience of her fable is like being trapped in an elevator with Kim Peek — just after he’s been force fed Jolly Ranchers and meth (Rand was on meth! Speed, anyway). It’s hard to follow the story, since the novel launches into bullet time whenever Rand gets distracted by some minute detail, and spends the next few paragraphs interrogating Jim Taggart’s hairline, some trailer trash woman’s muffin top, or the inspiring train schedules on Dagny’s wall. Leave it to a Russian author to freeze all the dust mites midair for inspection.
Nothing compares in the asininity of reading the word “Rearden Metal” dozens of times, explaining its myriad uses (it doesn’t help that it has as stupid a name as her characters — or her!). It’s great for everything to do with railroads, apparently; but it’s also suitable for uses even more exciting than rails, couplers, and junction switches. Did you know a “Rearden Metal” toilet seat is 12% less icy to the ass on a brisk Denver morning? Or that “Rearden Metal” toothbrushes will make you piss rainbows and ebullient jubilation?
“Rearden Metal, Rearden Metal, Rearden Metal! Fuck you! You peons!”
Contrary to anything recognizable in the real world, Hank Rearden is apparently the Swiss Army Knife of research and development, company management, and marketing (not to mention rape!). No need for petty realism, like fastidious research teams being separate from the empty suits and bleating P.T. Barnums, armed with wondrous misinformation.
I mean, the Colonel Sanders of American inventors, Thomas Edison, neither conceptually invented the light bulb, nor did he alone perform the rigorous testing that lead to a viable product. He also fought desperately against the current the electrical standard, AC; using animal, and human, executions to demonstrate its danger versus his precious direct current.
I guess there’s Apple’s Steve Jobs left to admire. Oh wait. Here’s a blurb from “Apple confidential 2.0″:
“He was the only person I met who knew more about electronics than me.” — Steve Jobs, explaining his initial fascination with Wozniak
“Steve didn’t know very much about electronics.” — Steve Wozniak
Yeah, maybe Jobs exploited Woz, and was really more of a showman and aesthetic fascist than an engineer, designer, or programmer (really, any role having to do with the actual development of technology), but that doesn’t make him any less singularly responsible for the products, does it? Verbally abusing one’s staff, and doing gee-whiz presentations is the same as doing something single-handedly, right?
Well, anyway, there’s still Woz. He’s cool. But he’s more of a genius nerd who repeatedly got swindled by his buddy Jobs. So he’s specialized, too.
Oh, but what if we conflate them, and every other person working at Apple, outside the assembly line, into a single person?! Problem solved!
That’s the foundation of Rand’s argument; a rationalization of the unrealistic importance, independence, and indispensability of her individual protagonists (not just to their companies, but the entire fucking world). I haven’t encountered characters this black and white in their moral and intellectual stratification since The Clansman. Not to directly equate Rand with Dixon; the former ostensibly hated racism, calling it the lowest form of collectivism (though homophobia was A-OK). Still, they share common traits.
For centuries, the superiority of the “Anglo-Saxon race” (honkies, crackers, WASPs; those neither brown nor Catholic) was a “scientific fact.” It wasn’t just “obvious” at the time that human evolution was a progression toward some ideal end (whiteness), but coincidentally, the researchers who’d determined this found that they belonged to the very ethnic group they’d concluded to be the apex of all life on earth. Bully for them! Likewise Rand pictures herself among the capitalist chosen ones. All the manufacturing and transportation executives are gonna need a terrible novelist to play minstrel, and serenade them with affirmations. The elite’s — and presumably Rand’s — big gripe about the masses is that they refuse to know their place.
Incidentally, since 800K copies of this stinker are sold each year (barring those folks either coerced by collectivist teachers, tricked by the glassy-eyed zealots in their lives, or overcome with paroxysms of morbid obligation — i.e. me), there’s apparently an enormous chunk of humanity ready to join the select few — the elect, so to speak.
Which raises the question of what constitutes “superiority,” since so many people are burdened with unwarranted confidence in their abilities. Here on Earth, the economy is complicated, and fucking with regulations can create opportunities for an economic minority to game the system; regardless of the bill of goods Randroids are being sold about merit (by billionaires growing fatter on subsidies and tax breaks). Our economy collapsed partly in thanks to the repeal of Glass-Steagall; a law meant to protect the hard-earned money of the middle and lower classes — while it appreciates at a miserably slow rate in commercial savings accounts — from the risks surrounding the disposable capital wealthy dick-heads stick into investment banks.
The top 25 hedge fund managers make $800K an hour, while the purpose of their jobs remains largely obscure, apart from their — and their clients’ — bottomless avarice. It’s like a video game; it happens because it can, because of bugs, loopholes and mistakes, not because it makes sense. A person can have a billion dollars, but I don’t believe anyone can earn it — unless they squirt fucking cancer vaccine.
Still another of Rand’s ironies is her further rationalization that people dislike “Rearden Metal” not because it’s being deployed without field testing, but because it’s just too goddamned awesome. Any critiques spring from resentment, according to her. She’s an atheist, and yet this is a classic fallacy used in Christian apologetics. It’s the Objectivist equivalent of “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God!” It’s bullet-proof circular reasoning. The half dozen people important in the Randverse love “Rearden Metal” (ugh — that name!) because it’s awesome. The lice (everyone else on earth) hate it — also because it’s awesome. Great way to avoid acknowledging criticism. This could well be a microcosm of Rand’s outlook in general (i.e. regarding her deluded, insecure self).
“I am convinced that the clearest and probably conscious fear in his mind was the fear of admitting that I was ‘too much for (Branden).’…I was too much for him – in every sense of the phrase […]” — Ayn on Nathaniel Brandon’s meta-infidelity
If only she were this funny intentionally.
The justification granted to Rand’s characters is totally predicated on the ideas that: (a) the collateral benefit to society, which is incidental to the heroes’ solipsism (e.g. transportation, affordable and quality goods), outweighs their antipathy to that same society; and (b) that these few could do it all themselves if they wanted to, relying on an interchangeable workforce solely for menial labor (justifying exploitation). I gather that in Ayn’s view, most people scarcely deserved to live, let alone earn a wage that’d grant them opportunities to pursue ambitions beyond mindlessly grinding away their lives for the rich.
But this isn’t Gattacca; career counselors don’t scan fetal DNA to determine job potential. As soon as the playing field is skewed by things like class, race, and geography, the pure ideal of a meritocracy flies out the window. Reality is messy, so she tries to force it into the architectural planes that get her so hot and bothered.
If Rand is wrong about how the world works, her heroes are just assholes, rather than assholes with a supposedly just cause. Unfortunately for us, people take this drivel seriously, and we’re living in her world now.
You won, you morons.
To be continued…