"Totally coup, yo."

Caigoy Shrugs, Part III

Jan

05

by

BEAST philosopher-at-large Michael Caigoy reads Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, so you don’t have to


Part Three: Ayn and the Ghost of Dead Prose
(read part one and part two)

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Courtesy of ideologically_abhorrent_tattoos.com


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…

  • Jimmy

    I wonder who the #1 most loathsome person would be? Doing someone who was #1 in a previous year=Jumping the shark, so I don’t think it should be the recipient in ’07, ’08, or ’09.
    A Gingrich would do fine, and in the case that it’s not, a crying Boehner.
    I guess I would just have to wait until Monday. I’m fine with that.

  • Ozinator

    Rand may have said she wasn’t down with racism but even if the “practical” reason given isn’t considered racism, her views on Arabs is hard to ignore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uHSv1asFvU

  • Jimmy

    Her “practical” reasons to racially discriminate aren’t racist, per say, but they are extremist and enable segregating racists.

  • Ozinator

    Jimmy,
    I was responding to this,
    “Not to directly equate Rand with Dixon; the former ostensibly hated racism, calling it the lowest form of collectivism…”. being against it for these reasons seemed “practical” as opposed to moral…which in itself could be racist if not socio (but I wasn’t going to argue it, and instead showed some good old fashioned racism of hers in the link)

    I agree with your point

    cheers

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Speaking of assholes, you will note that every single character in A.S. is one–the heroes, the villains, the walk-ons and the extras.

    You will also note that the entire thousand-page extravaganza completely subverts itself from page One. If you’re writing a critique of “society,” you can do one of two things: Either show an extraordinary person in a realistically-drawn world, to highlight the distinctions between them (e.g., Stranger in a Strange Land, The Man Who Fell to Earth, etc.). Or, show a stylized society and its effect on a realistic person (e.g, 1984; Brave New World; etc.).

    Rand puts stylized, melodramatic heroes (and villains) in a stylized, completely un-realistic world (in which, among other things, the major countries of the world have become “People’s States”), turning what she fancies is social commentary into the world’s longest, and worst, and most unsatisfactorily-illustrated, comic book.

    Again: the most amazing this is not how horrible the book is. It’s that so many people revere it and take it seriously.

  • ryan costa

    the repetitiveness in Atlas Shrugged is an hypnotic rhythm…like trance or techno music. it slowly stokes the emotions of weakmined people and wraps them around an array of nonsensical precepts. These nonsensical precepts and revisionisms constitute the ideological platform of libertarians.

  • Jimmy

    I got my headphones back, so I watched the video. What a racist old hag. She may as well be Michael Savage’s aunt.

  • Jimmy

    Mr. Wonderful-Having read about a page of it a few years back, but knowing the story’s premise and run-down, I’m as surprised it’s so popular as I am of Twilight.
    How could something so far out of the mainstream be so well-respected?

  • Jerold Tabbott

    Wow. The average IQ of readers on this site must be below 90. So many morons. Jimmy must personally drop the average by over 10 points.

    I’ve rarely seen such total ignorance.

  • Tom

    Yeah, I read this back in Nixon’s first term, when I was young, bored (I was in the Army) and didn’t know better. I was also reading a lot of Camus at the time. And anything else I could get my hands on. Besides, I like reading about railroads. In that respect I was disappointed because Dagny Taggart’s railroad is about as realistic as an HO-scale layout.
    I eventually made it through except for the 50-page John Galt monologue. Try as I might, back up and take a running leap at it, I could not make headway into that molasses-like swamp of verbiage. It was like reading a term paper by Sarah Palin.
    There’s a line in “Alice in Wonderland” about having to believe 17 impossible things before breakfast, and that captures the twisted world that Ayn Rand describes. A world in which pirates are roaming off the coast of a mid-20th-century America, in which there are only four, count `em, four bridges across the Mississippi River (Wikipedia lists about 16 in Minnesota alone, and another half-dozen that would have been in use when Ayn wrote this groaner)….sorry folks, this is just…a…BAD…novel. I’ve gone back and reread many favorites from long ago, but this ain’t one of `em.

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Jimmy–

    It’s well-respected by idiots, ideologues, and people with horrible taste in literature, for whom it’s a kind of ideological pornography. Flannery O’Connor wrote to someone that Ayn Rand “makes Mickey Spillane seem like Dostoevsky.” Have you ever read Spillane? It’s more lurid than you can imagine.

    You might like this: http://tinyurl.com/9u7zbt

  • Jimmy

    Tom–
    No, no, no. Not Sarah Palin. I’m sure Ayn was “educated” per say. Ann Coulter. Ayn Rand. Ann Coulter. Ayn. Ann. Both of them h8 Muslims and are read considerably by the far right who thinks they’re legitimate.

  • Jimmy

    While neither has anything of value to say.

  • Jerold Tabbott

    LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LMAO!

    Dear admin,

    Apparently, when this site’s admin is apparently too witless to come up with an intelligent comment or even an excuse for its self-denial, its solution is to make another false representation, hide its face, and squelch all opposing views. Ho-ho-ho!

    Now, just leave another childish, ignorant, smart-assed remark, and you can congratulate yourselves on your cleverness. Don’t worry at having whacked another 10 points off your reader’s IQ’s. There wasn’t much left there anyhow.

    … and, Just Punting, it is certainly within my rational self interest to want to see the IQ of those who I deal with higher than the 90% mark that seems to dominate this site. It is no pleasure to deal with fools. Fools screw everyone, again and again, out of stupidity. Of course, you don’t really understand the concept of “rational self interest” (nor care to), so how would you know.

  • http://bookspromiscuouslyread.blogspot.com/ Nullifidian

    Jerrold, for your information, IQ points are not assigned on a percentage basis. When you claim that the IQs of people here are at the “90% mark”, what you are actually implying is that they have a higher intelligence quotient than 90% of the population. That’s what having an IQ score in the ninetieth percentile means.

    It really does your absurd and hilarious pose of intellectual superiority no good at all to misunderstand something so basic.

  • Jerold Tabbott

    nullifidian

    I never said it was a percentage. I do know that 90 or less is considered to reflect functionally retarded. Those frequenting (and publishing) this site seem to be inexcusably stupid. It was meant as an insult, you see.

    Didn’t think I’d have to explain it.

    Does everyone here rely on fabricate false statements in order to make their responses sound intelligent?

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      “I never said it was a percentage.”

      from comment #15:
      “the IQ of those who I deal with higher than the 90% mark”

  • http://bookspromiscuouslyread.blogspot.com/ Nullifidian

    I never said it was a percentage.

    From Message #15:
    “… and, Just Punting, it is certainly within my rational self interest to want to see the IQ of those who I deal with higher than the 90% mark that seems to dominate this site.”

    I do know that 90 or less is considered to reflect functionally retarded.

    Congratulations. That’s another thing you’ve got wrong.

    Frederick Terman’s categorization of intellect by IQ points had the “normal” range of intellectual development between 90-110.

    Nowadays, “retarded” is defined as an IQ below 70, and the gradations go as follows: 50-69 Mild, 35-49 Moderate, 20-34 Severe, <20 Profound. People with IQs between 70-89 are of borderline intelligence, most often fully capable of caring for themselves and holding down jobs (albeit not very complex jobs) as anyone of a higher IQ.

    Those frequenting (and publishing) this site seem to be inexcusably stupid. It was meant as an insult, you see.

    Oh thanks. That wasn’t sufficiently clear.

    Frankly, the only thing Randroids have is invective—following their ‘intellectual’ heroine St. Ayn—so the fact that you were resorting to it is hardly worth comment. It’s merely the inept way you went about it, then the outright denial of what’s there in black-and-gray for everyone to read that makes this so notable.

    Does everyone here rely on fabricate [sic] false statements in order to make their responses sound intelligent?

    I don’t know. You seem to have your finger on the pulse of intelligent responses. Did I say “intelligent”? I meant “illiterate”. Sorry, those words beginning with “I” get me confused sometimes.

  • John

    This article is just…awful. First, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, I had a phase of Ayn Rand…but I’m over it. I disagree with Objectivism quite strongly. Still, this article is depressingly bad. It’s just pages and pages of lexicon-stretching vitriol. I’m all for a witty riposte but at no point is anything said beyond schoolyard insults writ in polysyllabic words.

    To make things worse is the constant distractions and stretched jokes that link to other things. “wow, that’s almost as stretched as THIS WOMAN’S BOOBS (CLICK HERE FOR BOOBS!).”

    This is as unreadable as Atlas Shrugged and for the same reason: repeating the same…goddamn…fucking…shit. A reason the writer of this article was aware of in Rand, but woefully did not learn from.

    • admin

      Dear John,
      I think Caigoy’s up to a few thousand words by now, and he’s absolutely eviscerating a book that’s how long again? Right. Please die.

  • Thlayli

    Poor Woz.

    If it weren’t for Jobs, Woz would be drawing his HP pension after his recent retirement, puttering in his garage and showing his projects to his friends like he’d done his whole life.

    Instead, that horrible Jobs made him a multimillionaire.

    Shame, really.

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