I was all cocky for the first 200 pages of Atlas Shrugged, having a good time mocking Rand's incessant iteration of the simplistic dichotomy that is the basis of her "philosophy" which she uses to replace story-telling.
But now it's just grinding me down. I was determined, though, and I slogged through all the way to the end of Part 1. I won't say it didn't cost me - it was a brutal, bitter, sneering contemptuous struggle - much like Dagny and Rearden having sex.
The simplistic dichotomy is best expressed in the scene between James Taggart and his nineteen-year-old admirer who thinks he's responsible for the success of the John Galt Line. It's set up like a seduction scene, but in the end James Taggart is just too feeble to want sex. Just like Rearden's wife, who makes a play for Rearden when he shows up after months of screwing Dagny - Mrs. Rearden doesn't actually want to have sex with Rearden, she says she was simply doing it out of her wifely duty.
But back to the simplistic dichotomy. This is James Taggart talking to his admirer:
...I'm not so sure it was great - inventing this complex new Metal when so many nations are in need of plain iron - why, do you know that the People's State of China hasn't even got enough nails to put wooden roofs over people's heads?"So there it is. You can either help people, or you can have technological innovation. The concept of helping other people through technological innovation is inconceivable.
"But... but I don't see that that's your fault."
Somebody should attend to it. Somebody with the vision to see beyond his own pocketbook. No sensitive person these days - when there's so much suffering around us - would devote ten years of his life to splashing about with alot of trick metals."
I have to admit that James Taggart's admirer gave me a brief moment of hope - when her character was introduced I felt a sense of lightness because it seemed that the relentless dichotomy had ceased for a moment - here was a character who could not be put into either the Superman or moocher category, but existed purely for novelistic interest.
What a fool I was. As you can probably guess from the quote above, the admirer is a larval-stage Randian Superman. Her backstory is that she escaped from her moocher family to come to New York City to make something of herself.
Speaking of moochers, it turns out that "Rearden's Washington man" Wesley Mouch, has turned against him and joined the moochers. Wow, who could have seen that coming?
Speaking of Washington - I keep expecting Rand to give us some insight into the dastardly machinations of the government, which produces the various Bills that crop up ("The Equalization of Opportunity Bill", "The Anti-Dog Eat Dog Bill") whenever the Randian Supermen need to be temporarily thwarted. But except for the brief meeting among the non-angular businessmen (also attended by Mouch) in Chapter 2, there is virtually nothing.
And it is the most extraordinary government devised - we've already seen how it generates all-powerful Bills while incapable of forcing the John Galt Line to abide by infrastructural testing regulations or zoning laws. It's a government that is able to provide foreign aid, but unable to stop a Norwegian pirate from stealing it all. The government allows a free market, and a free press - that is, no evidence has been presented that it is the government that is preventing the press from reporting on facts, like the success of the John Galt Line. It seems as though it is simply a societal consensus that facts should be suppressed, the government has made no efforts to directly control the news, like the Soviet Union and Pravda.
As a result, it's impossible to get a handle on the government in Rand World. But I'll let Ayn Rand herself describe it:
(Dagny) had made an appointment to (go to Washington to) see Eugene Lawson, but she told herself she would cancel it and postpone her quest - if she could think of some action to take against the things that she had found on her return to New York, the things Eddie begged her to fight.
She had tried to think but she could see no way of fighting, no rules of battle, no weapons. Helplessness was a strange experience, new to her; she had never found it hard to face things and make decisions; but she was not dealing with things - this was a fog without shapes or definitions, in which something kept forming and shifting before it could be seen, like semi-clots in a not-quite-liquid - it was as if her eyes were reduced to side-vision and she were sensing blurs of disaster coiling towards her, but she could not move her glance, she had no glance to move and focus.Exactly. We don't see the machinations that produce one irresistible Bill after another - it's an inexplicable fog and then suddenly a Bill pops out.
And whose fault is that? Ayn Rand's - she won't explain how the government works - or possibly isn't able to express the complexity of governmental machinations because she only understands simplistic dichotomies.
But Ayn Rand's avatar Dagny doesn't like human machinations anyway - she's only interested in machine machinations, as spelled out in the chapter where Dagny and Rearden take a road-trip/vacation together:
The earth went flowing under the hood of the car. Uncoiling from among the curves of the Wisconsin hills, the highway was the only evidence of human labor, a precarious bridge stretched across the sea of brush, weeds and trees. The sea rolled softy in sprays of yellow and orange, with a few red jets shooting up on the hillsides, with pools of remnant green in the hollows, under a pure blue sky. Among the colors of a picture postcard, the car's hood looked like the work of a jeweler, with the sun sparkling on its chromium steel, and its black enamel reflecting the sky.I guess local officials are too busy taking bribes to engage in governmental road-building - Rearden believes that "the man" built it.
Dagny leaned against the corner of the side window, her legs stretched forward; she liked the wide, comfortable space of the car's seat and the warmth of the sun on her shoulders; she thought that the countryside was beautiful.
"What I'd like to see," said Rearden, "is a billboard."
She laughed. He had answered her silent thought. "Selling what and to whom? We haven't seen a car or a house for an hour."
"That's what I don't like about it." He bent forward a little, his hands on the wheel; he was frowning. "Look at the road."
The long strip of concrete was bleached to a powdery grey of bones left on the desert, as if sun and snows had eaten away the traces of tires, oil and carbon, the lustrous polish of motion. Green weeds rose from the angular cracks of the concrete. No one had used the road or repaired it for many years; but the cracks were few.
"It's a good road," said Rearden, "it was built to last. The man who built it must have had a good reason for expecting it to carry a heavy traffic in years ahead."
"I don't like the look of this."
"I don't either." Then she smiled. "But think how often we've heard people complain that billboards ruin the appearance of the countryside. Well, there's the unruined countryside for them to admire." She added, "They're the people I hate."
It isn't just people admiring nature that Dagny hates. It's quotidian human needs desecrating the beauty of machinery:
...(Dagny) felt the anger trembling within her, the hurting, helpless anger that answers the signs of desecration. She wondered whether someone's diapers hung on a clothesline made of the motor's missing wires - whether its wheels had become a rope pulley over a communal well - whether its cylinder was now a pot containing geraniums on the window sill of the sweetheart of the man with the whiskey bottle.Oh the humanity - babies with their shitty diapers, and drinking out of community wells and the enjoyment of flowers. But don't worry - they'll get theirs.
Once again I was struck by the evidence of the Asperger's point of view. Rand describes a nightmare scenario:
Rearden had to decide how much he could risk to invest upon the sole evidence of a man's face, manner and tone of voice...In other words, Rearden must be able to "read" another person - that skill used in all face-to-face business transactions, from haggling in a Moroccan souk to cutting deals in a Manhattan boardroom. But for someone with Asperger's, it is impossible.
But don't worry, this inability is actually a sign of Rearden's moral superiority. Cue the simplistic dichotomy on the next page:
"I guess I'm not smart enough to make the sort of deals needed nowadays," he said in answer to the unspoken thoughts the hung across his desk.It's looter-types who possess the power to read people. Not producers.
The purchasing manager shook his head. "No Mr. Rearden, it's one or the other. The same kind of brain can't do both. Either you're good at running the mills or you're good at running Washington."
"Maybe I ought to learn their methods."
"You couldn't learn it and it wouldn't do you any good. You wouldn't win in any of those deals. Don't you understand? You're the one who's got something to be looted."
And another Objectivist responds to this blog with the usual rational arguments (see comments).