Friday, July 05, 2013

...the lettuce and oranges had to be dumped into the East River

Before I began reading Atlas Shrugged I had seen this piece in The Awl entitled When Alan Met Ayn: "Atlas Shrugged" and Our Tanked Economy, which begins like this:
That pill-popping, boy-crazy nincompoop Ayn Rand has got a lot to answer for. Indeed, it's not too much of a stretch to say that we owe at least part of the recent economic crisis to her and her philosophy of Objectivism, since former Fed chief Alan Greenspan was a lifelong disciple of both.
And wow, I have to admit, the more I read Atlas Shrugged, the more I agree she was a nincompoop.

There are some who claim that we shouldn't judge Atlas Shrugged for its literary value because as this otherwise hilarious cataloging of the nincompoopery of the novel says:
...If Atlas Shrugged is taken as just a fictional representation of several philosophic themes that Ayn Rand is trying to get across, it generally works. At least in the sense that as boring as it might be at times for a novel, it's by far the most interesting philosophy text book you'll ever read! In that sense, it is a fantastic achievement for teaching people philosophical ideas without them needing to pour over often times dry and complex text books.  
Why Galt and the others seem so silly, illogical and oft times mean is for them being taken as real by readers who should know better. You see, there is an enormous difference between made up characters acting in odd fashions so as to move the story or the point along, versus real people.  
It makes sense for Galt not to sleep with anyone till he meets the "ideal woman", as he is portrayed here as an "archetype". In life, such celibacy would typically mean some deep psychological problems. Thus if this book is taken as a blueprint for life, it fails quite miserably. 
You probably know this. If you are not a "college bred pansie", that is. Randites - or those who take Rand not as an author but as some kind of secular Messiah - do not. They have "Biblified" her books, most notably "Atlas Shrugged", and seek to claim that what is described is "what would really happen if the geniuses went on strike". They believe that all that the heroes in the book do is moral. I would suggest they... lol..."check their premises".
But according to the testimony of Rand's friend Mary Ann Sures:
She reminded me that her goal was to write fiction, to create the kind of characters she admired and wanted to see in real life, and that all her work as a philosopher was for that purpose. She stressed the importance of pursuing values in the way one finds most interesting and gives one the most pleasure—as she had done. She said that over the years she had been criticized for not writing her ideas in nonfiction form; some people said it was her duty to do so. She said she would never have given up fiction to write philosophical treatises, that doing so would have been self-sacrificial. In that conversation she stressed the importance of pursuing personal values, and not undertaking any battle as a duty.
As far as Rand was concerned Atlas Shrugged operated equally as a novel and as philosophy. Both together reveal the essence of Ayn Rand's thinking: rigid and binary.

But it is a great mystery why she's so popular, as this review of two Rand recent biographies (written by non-sycophants) says:
Ayn Rand is one of America's great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that "the masses"—her readers—were "lice" and "parasites" who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is "evil" and selfishness is "the only virtue," she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?
Although I haven't seen any evidence that Rand wore a wig.

In any case, I am hoping that eventually I will figure out the mystery, in part by reading the two biographies, which I've ordered.

I should have moved on to the next chapter of Atlas Shrugged by now, and only commented on Rand's bizarre re-telling of the Prometheus myth. I'm still not even half-way through the book. But I am too amazed by the other gaping logic holes in this chapter to let them pass without comment.

At the beginning of the Part 2 Chapter 5 we see that the country is going to hell in a handbasket - snowstorms leave behind piles of corpses and the train system - which seems to be the only long-distance delivery system in operation has broken down...

(I suddenly realized the reason that Rand has the country suddenly switch over from oil to coal - so cars and trucks are not issues she has to address and can stick to trains because trains can run on coal but cars and trucks don't - they could technically but coal liquifaction is expensive compared to gasoline - especially when this book was written, when it was about 30 cents a gallon.)

...including the system of getting supplies into Manhattan:
When the train reached New York, the lettuce and oranges had to be dumped into the East River: they had waited their turns too long in the freight houses of California...  Nobody but their friends and trade associates noticed that three orange growers had gone out of business in California, as well as two lettuce farmers... When people were starving, said the newspapers, one did not have to feel concern over the failures of business enterprises that were private ventures for private profit.
So in the middle of all this death and privation, in the middle of February, Lillian Rearden and James Taggart...
"...met in a distinguished, high-priced restaurant, much too distinguished ever to be mentioned in the gossip columns."
OK so from where is the distinguished high-priced restaurant getting its food? Are there supposed to be massive greenhouses around New York City? The restaurants are replacing fillet mignon with alley cat? Subway rat?

It seems we are to ignore the big song-and-dance she's been making for the entire chapter about how all of America is crippled by the failure of the rail system and just accept that restaurants in New York are not impacted in any way.

And why would oranges be dumped in the East River? Oranges from California would be coming from the west so they'd be dumped into the Hudson River. Especially since the tracks ended either on the west side of Manhattan or in New Jersey.

When she wrote this, Ayn Rand was living on the east side of New York, blocks away from the East River and so had to know that it was the wrong direction for trains to be coming from to deliver oranges from California.

Anyway, so Lillian decides to have two dozen roses sent to Hank Rearden at the Chicago depot of the Taggart Transcontinental (the Comet line if you really want to know). So my eyes are popping out - in spite of everything else we've been told, the floral delivery system is completely intact.

But then I got to this and I thought finally, finally, Rand is going to repair the disconnect between the railroad failure-induced shortages and the intact urban infrastructure...
It was late afternoon when the florist telephoned her. "Our Chicago office sent word that they were unable to deliver the flowers, Mrs. Rearden...
  • Because the starving people of Chicago looted the local greenhouses and ate them?
  • Because the roses from California bound for Chicago had to be dumped into the East River?
Of course not.
...he said, because Mr. Rearden is not aboard the Comet.
It is in this way that Lillian figures out that Hank is having an affair with Dagny.

And that nincompoop Ayn Rand couldn't think of any better scenario than one in which the FTD and its delivery system is the only private business for private profit that still stands, in spite of the raging squalor everywhere.

Well I'll end this post with yet another hysterical piece about Atlas Shrugged. Rand's work does serve as the source of inspired humor, so it isn't completely useless.
Obviously, it's a polemic, so you're going to have to grit your teeth and take it, but, then, is this not our great question? Shall we write polemical novels? Is it acceptable to write polemical novels? Are they ever any good? Rand, of course, insists that Atlas Shrugged is a love story. Which, okay. I was happy that Hank Rearden cheated on his horrible wife with Dagny. I was kind of happy for Hank and Dagny. Dagny clearly has a lot of shit to put up with at work, and Hank is surrounded by losers, so it's nice they found each other, prior to John Galt weirding everything up. PLUS, Hank doesn't rape Dagny, which immediately makes this the Free to Be… You and Me of Rand's oeuvre.