Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Atlas Shrugged is such a whirling merry-go-round of awfulness that it’s difficult to find a starting point to grab onto...

Before I get into John Galt's long-ass speech, I want to quote from this humorous but for the most part accurate description of the strange entity that is John Galt in Atlas Shrugged in the Uncyclopedia...
...His second career was that of a track laborer at Taggart Transcontinental... There he apparently worked for twelve years, never getting laid. Ever. At all. He took his minimal wage track laborer's salary and used it to finance a multi-thousand dollar lab in his slum apartment and to fund his cross country trips to every industrialist, artist and scientist in America. He not only had the extra cash for these train trips, but plenty of vacation time to take those trains to every state in the union. And plenty of cash to stay in hotels while persuading rich men to give up all they own and live in the wilderness of Colorado. 
Evidence of his staggering super-proselytizing power is evident in that he could take a vacation not only for one month each year, but also any other time he pleased. Stationed in New York City, he could get time off to take a train trip to Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah...
...It was at this point that he was able to persuade Michael "Midas" Mulligan to buy a huge patch of wilderness in Colorado, and hide it with super futuristic ray screens to camouflage it. Then all the formerly rich folk moved there. And with no prior training or ability, were able to live off the land, becoming farmers, sheep herders, cattle ranchers, fishermen, miners, smelters, blacksmiths and a few dozen other highly specialized trades that take years of training and far more than just common sense and an HGTV video series. 
We are to imagine here that they all funded their little homes and factories and businesses in the middle of nowhere themselves, though perhaps Midas loaned out a lot of gold -- gold to people who had no place to spend it but amongst their currently assetless selves. 
Plumbing and electricity found its way there, all the machines and materials pretty much just appearing. Or Midas bought it all and had it super secretly shipped in. And again gave it away to assetless people. Hoping that they'd duplicate two centuries of industrial progress quickly enough to pay him back with interest. And without the thousands of manual laborers necessary for the construction of even a small foundry, the 'men of the mind' constructed power plants, factories, aircraft mechanic shops and -- seriously -- a mint. How? Somehow. Don't start that again!
Sometime in all of this, he peeped at Dagny Taggart, Vice President of where he worked. And by "peeped", this is literal. He first spied her legs as she was walking down some stairs in a dress. As most guys know exactly what they are likely to see when staring up stairs while women in dresses walk down, this seems to have been a special hobby of the J-Dawg's. Though as he's not been laid in the entirety of his life, this may perhaps be forgiven, though feared. 
In any case, having seen Dagny's legs, and then the rest of Dagny, he knew -- as does any Randian hero -- everything he needed to know about her philosophy, morality and outlook on life. A Randian hero always knows these things just by looking at faces, and in the J-Dawg's case, he had seen her legs, too, so he also knew how she voted and what her favorite color was. I guess. 
Interestingly, he was aware that his old college buddy Cisco had laid Dagny. And that Cisco was still carrying a torch for her. A torch that Cisco was willing to carry forever, and had carried for at least 12 years, never laying a single other woman... 
...J-Dawg, like most sixth graders, shows he likes a girl by torturing her. Fully aware that Dagny is trying to keep the industrialists working, so that her life is easier and the world works well, he deliberately uses his super-proselytizing powers to remove each industrialist that she relies on. 
Of course, if he was just about some noble mission, he'd persuade each industrialist to quit in a more logical order, and at least, do so in order of ease of reaching them - he being confined to a train and his track laborer's salary. That and his foreman is getting tired of the endless and weekly vacation requests. 
Or, if pure and decent love was his motive, he'd persuade Dagny first, then get the rest of the industrialists. But seeing how well the plan "torture first, win her love later" had worked for his buddy Cisco, he decided to do the same.
J-Dawg... told Dagny that there were "no rules" but then immediately told her yet another rule. 
  • "Our first rule here, Miss Taggart, is that one must always see for oneself." (A "first" implies a "second", last I checked.) 
  • "Miss Taggart, we have no laws in this valley, no rules, no formal organization of any kind. But we have certain customs which we all observe..." (The word "but" is used to negate what just preceded, especially with the word "all" instead of "most of us" used, and if there are "no rules", what happened to the "first rule" he already told her of?) 
  • "I'll warn you now that there is one word that is forbidden in this valley: the word, 'give'." ("warn"? "forbidden"? Wow, sounds pretty free, Kim Jong Galt!) 
  • "We have no rules of any kind, except one. When a man took our oath, it meant a single commitment: not to work in his own profession, not to give to the world the benefit of his mind." ("except" negates the concept of "no rules", and note that the "one" rule is different than other "one" rules!)
The "customs" that "all" observe seem rather vague and all encompassing. And to mean whatever J-Dawg wants them to mean at any given time. 
Apparently then Galt's Gulch is a monarchy with the concept of "benign neglect". In other words, if J-Dawg's not paying attention, it's benign, otherwise, words are forbidden, jobs regulated, communications prohibited, learning from bitter experience required, and the love of your life hit upon.

Since I'm on this non-original work binge, I might as well quote from this blogger's brilliant critique of Atlas Shrugged:
John Galt’s most impressive feat isn’t that he stopped the motor of the world, it’s that he stopped  the motor of the world in his spare time, during his month-long annual leave from his job as a railroad laborer in Taggart Terminal.  Say, since when did railroad laborers get month-long  vacations?  As Daffy Duck once declared (really), “strong union!”  Not only did America’s unions “bring you the five-day work week,” they gave John Galt the freedom to build his Gulch in the bargain. John Galt is an inspiration and mocking rebuke to every wannabe author convinced that his day job is the only thing between him and that Great Novel inside him.   
You have to love the irony. Almost as much as the irony that Ayn Rand was able to overcome sexism, anti-Semitism and poverty and go to college thanks to the Bolsheviks.

And then this blogger, the Wit Memo, to my delight, calls out that whiny bitch Richard Halley:
It’s through Richard Halley, and her rendering of other artists, that Ayn Rand reveals the most about herself. In reading the following two passages, keep in mind that according to a November 2009 NYer article, Ayn Rand was personally devastated by poor reviews and never quite made it as a screenwriter, her initial dream.  First, right before the Comet train explodes in Taggart Tunnel, Ayn presents a roster of the doomed Looters occupying the train’s sleeper compartments, making clear through hokey, bilious descriptions that they well deserve their imminent, fiery deaths.  She saves her most curious choler for a playwright... 
The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling, little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.
Jump from there right to Richard Halley’s rant against a certain type of artist, at page 728:
This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth --- as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he's an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he's not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel---he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard! 
Wit Memo likes to think of that “flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard!” part as the icing on a deliciously diagnostic cake.  
Although my favorite part is the first claus of this paragraph:
“Atlas Shrugged” is such a whirling merry-go-round of awfulness that it’s difficult to find a starting point to grab onto, so we might as well begin with the Bad Guys, the villains.  Selling Big Ideas in a work of fiction requires credible antagonists to be vanquished by heroes exemplifying the Big Ideas, and the antagonists in “Atlas Shrugged” don’t sell because they’re simply not credible.  
"Whirling merry-go-round of awfulness." Perfect.

And how timely - in the latest New Yorker: John Hodgman: Ask Ayn.  Best bit:

I do not approve of the so-called hippies, but I do not approve of any government control over drugs. The government does not have the right to tell any individual what to do with his or her health and life. You probably know that I received a prescription for the stimulant Benzedrine, or “speed.” I can say rationally that it increases my happiness and my productivity. For example, some time ago I went to Studio 54, because I love to dance on speed. I took fifteen speed pills, and I got into a contest with Liza Minnelli over who could roar most like a jaguar. She simply sounded like a stupid lion. 
Then the inside of my head began to sound like a jet engine and so I went to the bathroom. I took maybe ten more speed pills and sat in a stall and wrote a new chapter of “Atlas Shrugged.” Perhaps twenty-five thousand words, all on toilet paper. I cannot include these words in a new edition, alas, because I did not write them so much as encode them on the toilet paper by biting it. 
As I write this, I am drinking speed, and you cannot stop me. You cannot stop me, America, with your altruism and your Alan Alda and your Fresca cans biting at my skin. I shall speed across this country like a great high-speed train and the U.S. shall be forever changed in my wake.