Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast

OK! I made it through the first chapter of Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged.

While reading I was reminded of the case made in the article Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand that in fact Rand's heroes are anti-capitalists.

It isn't clear because the world of Atlas Shrugged is incoherent, and she gives lots of lip-service to capitalism - or rather the glory of selfish commerce.

Dr. Stadler is one of the few characters in the novel who isn't completely part of the great dichotomy that runs throughout the book - you're either a moocher or a Superman. Dr. Stadler was in with the Supermen, but he won't stand up to the State Science Institute in its presumably anti-science crusade.

Strangely enough, although the SSI is presented as a sham science organization with metallurgists who can't do anything right, Stadler is thinking in the first page of Part 2 (subtitled "Either-Or" - how's that for a blatant dichotomy?):
Five days of stillness, he thought, with the great laboratory motors stopped and irretrievable hours wiped out, when his staff had been working on problems that involved the heart of the universe.
Now if this was any other novelist I might think Rand was being humorously ironic. So is Stadler so delusional that he thinks that his staff really is working on problems that involve the heart of the universe? And we're suppose to think he's a fool? But even Dagny Taggart thinks he's smart, she calls him in to have a look at the magic motor she found.

Stadler meets with Dagny's approval because he loves machines and scientific achievement as much as she does (and his three favorite students were d'Anconia, the Norwegian terror of the seas, and John Galt) - but then he reveals his fatal character flaw:
...By the time he raised his head - and before he saw the look of admiration in her eyes, the open look he had begged for, the look of forgiveness - he destroyed his single moment's atonement by adding in a voice of drawing-room sarcasm: "Apparently the young man had no desire to work for the good of society or the welfare of science. He told me he would not take a government job. I presume he wanted the bigger salary he could hope to obtain from a private employer." 
He turned away, not to see the look that was fading from her face, not to let himself know the meaning.
So Stadler knew the effect it would have on Dagny, for him to criticize someone for not caring about society or the welfare of science, because immediately after he says it, he avoids looking at her response.

So if he wants her admiration so much, why didn't he just stop himself from blurting out something that he knows will repulse Dagny and just let her admire him for their common love of applied technology?

Because everybody blurts out exactly what they think in Atlas Shrugged, all the time. Even the neurotypicals (i.e. moochers) - and we know that Stadler is a neurotypical and not an Asperger's Syndrome Superman because towards the end of the chapter Dagny and Rearden are trying to puzzle out Stadler's behavior:
"Dagny, they're doing something we've never understood. They know something we don't, but should discover. I can't see it fully yet, but I'm beginning to see parts of it. That looter from the State Science Institute (not Stadler somebody else) was scared when I refused to help him pretend that he was just an honest buyer of my Metal. He was scared way deep. Of what? Public opinion was just his name for it, but it's not the full name. Why should he have been scared? He has the guns, the jails, the laws - he could have seized the whole of my mills, if he wished, and nobody would have risen to defend me, and he knew it - so why should he have cared what I thought? But he did. It was I who had to tell him he wasn't a looter but a customer and friend. That's what he needed from me. And that's what Dr. Stadler needed from you - it was you who had to act as if he were a great man who had never tried to destroy your rail or my Metal. I don't know what it is that they think they accomplish - but they want us to pretend we see the world as they pretend they see it. They need some sort of sanction from us. I don't know the nature of that sanction, but, Dagny - I know that if we value our lives, we must not give it to them. If they put you on a torture rack, don't give it to them. Let them destroy your railroad and my mills, but don't give it to them. Because I know this much: that's our only chance...
...Yes," she said. "yes, I know what you've seen in them... I've felt it too - but it's only like something brushing past that's gone before I know I've seen it, like a touch of cold air, and what's left is always the feeling that I should have stopped it... I know that you're right. I can't understand their game but this much is right: We must not see the world as they want us to see it. It's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast - and the key to break it is: to check every premise they teach us, to question every precept, to - "
Dagny is cut off because this speech has made Rearden horny and they go at it until the end of the chapter.

I don't know how Ayn Rand could make it any clearer that she has some kind of autism-spectrum syndrome and can't understand the way most people perceive the world - or as Dagny and Rearden prefer to say: "the world as they pretend to see it."

Lacking the ability to see things from another's perspective, Rand thinks that the sympathetic fellow-feeling that the moochers want from other people is a pretense - of course the moochers don't really feel that way if Rand doesn't feel that way. Or as a writer with Asperger's put it:
When I think of Theory of Mind, I think of an amusing, but of course very inaccurate, belief I harbored as a young child.  While playing games like hide and seek, I used to think, "If I can't see them, they can't see me."  Of course, I learned very quickly that that was not the case.  However, the mindblindness of individuals with autism or Asperger's can be similar - "If I can't/don't feel it or perceive it, then they can't/don't feel it or perceive it" (or vice versa).
And this is definitely Rand declaring her beliefs - she was always using the phrase "check your premises" which Dagny proposes as a method that she and Rearden can use to keep out of the clutches of the neurotypicals.

The give-away this isn't some political view, but more elemental, is this passage: "it's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast."

Yes, ancient and vast as the neurotypical culture that Rand lives in and cannot comprehend, like an alien. And "alien" isn't my concept as a neurotypical - the most prominent Autism community blog is called "Wrong Planet."

And Stadler didn't actively work against Dagny and Rearden. He simply didn't take steps to stop the activities of the SSI or the government. Because, obviously, he loves his job as the head of the SSI. Stadler thinks it's doing work involving "the heart of the universe." But for Dagny and Rearden to see Stadler's actions as sincere self preservation rather than pretense covering malice would mean they'd be forced to acknowledge the complexity of human interactions - which, if they could do that, would destroy their Superpowers and render them mere neurotypicals.

But back to Rand's strange attitude towards capitalism. Rearden can't just sell his Metal and let it go:
"I created that Metal. It is my moral responsibility to know for what purpose I permit it to be used"
As the author of Defending Capitalism says:
In Part II, Chapter 10, Dagny says that Nathaniel Taggart, supposedly the archetypical capitalist, “couldn’t have worked with people like these passengers. He couldn’t have run trains for them.” But no one running a train line, even in a socialist economy, could possibly consider the moral worth of its passengers, or any consideration besides their paying for the ride.