Saturday, June 15, 2013

More on chapters 4 & 5 of Atlas Shrugged

When I blogged about chapters 1 - 3 of Atlas Shrugged I said:
The funniest bit so far though, is Rand's imagining how non-angular businessmen talk, as in a scene from chapter 2:
And I quoted some of the things uttered by these "businessmen."

But in chapter 4-5 I discovered that there's an even more implausible way to talk about business - the way that angular businessmen talk. Here's Dagny telling Dan Conway:
I intended to give you the battle of your life, down there in Colorado. I intended to cut into your business and squeeze you to the wall and drive you out, if necessary.
If you've ever worked in business in any capacity, you know that this is how human beings in business do not talk. The primary hallmark of business talk is niceness. Even if you are trying to do something nasty, you talk nice. And so of course Dan Conway responds in a way that is typical of no businessman ever:
He chuckled faintly; it was appreciation. "You would have made a pretty good try at it, too," he said.
It should be noted that Ayn Rand was never a businesswoman - she was a screenwriter and a novelist. Her husband was an actor and a painter. Rand researched the railroad business for Atlas Shrugged not by working with the people who actually ran the business, she researched the business by hanging around Grand Central Terminal and driving a train.

But back to Dan Conway - lest you think he's not an angular businessman, Rand establishes his angular bona fides early on:
 Dan Conway was approaching 50. He had the square, stolid, stubborn face of a tough freight engineer, rather than a company president. 
Conway has a square face. A square, of course, is composed of four right angles.

But back to Rand's representation of the way successful business people talk. Here is Dagny with Hank Reardon (we've already taken the measure of his hypotenuse):
"Pretty steep, Hank. Is that the best price you can give me?"
"No. But that's the one I'm going to get. I could ask twice that and you'd pay it."
"Yes, I would. And you could. But you won't."
"Why won't I?"
"Because you need to have the Rio Norte Line built. It's your first showcase for Rearden Metal."
He chuckled. "that's right. I like to deal with somebody who has no illusions about getting favors."
"Do you know what made me feel relieved, when you decided to take advantage of it?"
"That I was dealing, for once, with somebody who doesn't pretend to give favors."
His smile had a discernible quality now: it was enjoyment. "You always play it open, don't you? he asked.
We've already met Dagny's unlikely brother, James, a loser in every way, starting with his lack of angularity, and probably the bastard of a wayward government employee. Here he is in the childhood flashback speaking to Dagny and Francisco d'Anconia:
"Don't you ever think of anything but d'Anconia Copper?" Jim asked him once.
"It seems to me that there are other things in the world."
"Let others think about them."
"Isn't that a very selfish attitude?"
"It is."
Actually, no, it isn't. How can not caring about other things in the world be characterized as "selfish"? Boring, maybe. But it's only selfish if his interest in d'Anconia Copper somehow prevented other people from enjoying the contemplation of copper mining and processing. And ironically, d'Anconia shortly after this exchange, tells James that "words have an exact meaning."

But James must accuse d'Anconia of selfishness, just as Mother Reardon has to accuse Hank Reardon of selfishness, because Rand's heroes are virtuously selfish - and so the anti-heroes must be against selfishness, incessantly. Even if it means sacrificing the mot juste to describe Francisco d'Anconia's attitude towards his ancestral copper company, which would be "monomania."

So Rand considers monomania a good thing, and lacks insight into the motivations of human beings. Is it possible that Ayn Rand had Asperger's

I looked it up and discovered that although there's no record of her getting an official diagnosis, at least one of her admirers thinks so. In his review of two Rand biographies libertarian Stephen Kirchner writes:
...It is almost certain that Rand had Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition that has only come into greater awareness since the early 1990s... 
...It is possible that neither  author knew enough about Asperger’s to make the necessary connections, but there is abundant evidence for this proposition, particularly
in Heller’s description of Rand’s childhood. It is perhaps just as well that neither author explicitly considers this possibility, because it would be all too easy to pathologise
Rand, leading to a reductionist psycho-biography that would have done disservice to her ideas and influence. 
No surprise, Kirchner hates Paul Krugman, believing apparently that he played a successful round of gotcha with Krugman over some variation in the cover art of one of Krugman's books, while making common cause with crackpot Krugman-obsessive Donald Luskin.

The competing neuro-atypical theory is that Rand was a sociopath.