Saturday, July 27, 2013

They hate him for his greatness

I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged!

I started this task while blogging about it all the way back on May 6. There were long stretches at the beginning where I stopped reading it but I've been really pushing myself for the past couple of weeks to get it done - I wanted to get on with my life.

There's not a whole lot to tell about the rest of the novel after John Galt's long-ass speech. The US goes downhill rapidly, and the parasite characters just keep getting progressively more hysterical and screechy and at last James Taggart loses his marbles and realizes why he and the other parasites hate John Galt and by extension all the other Randian Supermen:
...he knew it was Galt's greatness that he wanted to torture and destroy.
So the rest of the novel is Rand settling accounts with everybody who has committed a thought crime against Objectivism - Robert Stadler is killed by the parasite destructo-machine, but then we always knew that he could never fit in down at the Gulch - he's initially described as bald and homely.

Rand liked to claim that Objectivism was a philosophy for living on earth, but actually it was a philosophy for Ayn Rand living on earth, built on Rand's preposterously high self-regard and personal mythologizing that, as she states explicitly in the afterwards to Atlas Shrugged:
No one helped me, nor did I think that at any time it was anyone's duty to help me.
Nobody except the Bolsheviks, her family in Russia, her extended family in Chicago, Cecil B. DeMille, her husband, her sycophants, Bennett Cerf who admitted he despised her belief-system, but published her novel any way, the Social Security Administration, and a whole bunch of others. But like all those who receive government aid who believe that they are self-made, Rand simply takes it all as a deserved entitlement.

This belief-system is encapsulated in the behavior of John Galt, who is hired to work for the Twentieth Century Motor Company, where he designs a motor. Please note that John Galt was not an entrepreneur - he designed the motor while on the clock for this company, using their equipment and resources, and if it's like any other company, working under some kind of agreement that the company has rights over his motor. So Galt takes off when he doesn't approve of the company's new management structure (they hilariously collectivized their own factory) and conveniently he's the only person who knows how the motor works.

And this is why you should always hire technical writers for any technological project.*

But like Ayn Rand, John Galt is convinced that he did it entirely on his own - nobody helped him. Which is why he's so pissed off, like Richard Halley, for never being properly appreciated and in just the right way.

I think that this blogger sums up Galt and the book pretty well:
The fact that apparently a very large number of people don’t recognize Galt as the genocidal prick he is suggests a) Rand’s skill at stacking the story-telling deck is not to be discounted, and b) as with any audience with a large number of nerds in it, a non-trivial number of Atlas Shrugged readers are possibly far enough along the Asperger spectrum that they don’t recognize humanity does not in fact easily suss out into Randian capitalist superheroes on one side and craven socialist losers on the other, or that Rand’s neatly-stacked deck doesn’t mirror the world as it is, or (if one gives it any sort of genuine reflection) model it as it should be.
As for Rand herself, whether she had Asperger's or not, at heart she was an authoritarian, and that particular trait become more pronounced as she aged, as the Heller biography notes:
From the Blumenthals and Leonard Peikoff, she demanded a foot soldier's forfeiture of privacy. "She was relentless in pursuit of psychological errors" Allan (Blumenthal) recalled, and she seemed abnormally preoccupied with uprooting all deviations from her convictions and aesthetic tastes. Throughout the 1970s she needled Allan about his penchant for playing Beethoven and other pre- or post-Romantic composers privately, on his own piano, and ridiculed Joan (Blumenthal) for her appreciation of painters including Rembrandt... After an evening's bickering about the immorality of the Blumenthals "sense of life," she would phone the next day to find out if they had reconsidered their opinions; if not she renewed the argument the following evening and the evening after that. She questioned their choices of travel, entertainment and friends and accused them of being secretive when they withheld information from her... 1978 these friends of twenty-five years' standing phoned to tell her they would no longer see her. She talked of 'denouncing' them but was persuaded that another public falling-out might further undermine her reputation. They were quietly designated enemies and Allan was written out of her will.
 (Rand's secretary) Barbara Weiss resigned. Over the course of fifteen years, Weiss had looked on as dozens of hapless followers had endured interrogation and humiliation. At first, she had attributed her employer's anger to a blind, passionate, highly charged moral temperament. Later, "I saw how repressed she was, and I knew [her anger] had to come from fear." Weiss said, echoing an observation made two decades earlier by Random House copy editor Bertha Krantz. "I decided she was possibly the most fearful person I had ever met." After the Blumenthal's departure, Weiss decided that Rand was not, after all, unconscious of the turbulence and pain she had caused in the lives of people who had cared for her, including Frank (O'Connor, Rand's husband). "She just robbed him of everything," the secretary said. "I [came to] look on her as a killer of people."
Sad. But when you think of her severe personality limitations, Ayn Rand had a much better life than anybody could possibly expect. But it's not because no one helped her. And they didn't hate her because of her greatness.

In addition to the two Rand biographies, I also got a copy of Rand's play, NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. It had a run on Broadway - and has an entry the Playbill Vault and you can watch what looks like a college performance of the play here.

But I think I deserve a break from Ayn Rand, for a little while.


And if you still haven't had your share of Rand fail, check out the ongoing analysis of Atlas Shrugged over at Daylight Atheism.

*I have been earning my living for the past 20 years as a technical writer.