Monday, March 9, 2009

Ignorance is strength.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 245-344

I keep promising stories of sexual deviance, so let me follow up on that first. Hank Rearden seems to think that sexual impulses are despicable and disgusting, and to give in to them proves that you are an animal that cannot control its bodily desires. In addition to that, the act of giving in to them also invalidates your rational actions and accomplishments. It's really pretty messed up. Rand isn't advocating that view or anything, because Dagny Taggert laughs in his face and admits that she's definitely an animal and wants him for his body, but it's still a little disturbing that she includes it in the character of one of the protagonists. Nice that he's complex enough to have serious flaws, though.

To move on to new material, since we left the celebratory intercourse of Dagny and Hank, orders have poured into Rearden's company for Rearden metal, and public opinion has turned around about both the metal itself and Taggert Transcontinental. Unfortunately, the government and all of the completely illogical, ludicrously exaggerated (not that I have any opinions about the writing or anything) socialists in charge of industry in this hypothetical future United States have decided that Rearden would make far too great a profit if he were allowed to sell the metal as he sees fit. Not only are they controlling his industry by telling him how much metal he can sell to whom, but they're doing the same for the products of the coal, iron ore, and oil industries as well.

In the midst of this rather disastrous turn of events, Hank and Dagny go off on a pleasure tour of the country, which ends up being more like a tour of old factories that either or both of them might want to buy. At some point, they end up at the broken-down husk of what was once the greatest automobile factory in the country and discover in one of its abandoned workrooms the design for an engine that draws power from the static electricity in the air. (Physicists - does this seem possible to you? Because I was pretty annoyed by the illogical nature of the idea. I get that it's a symbol of a great new technology, rather than something that's meant to be realistic, but I like a little science in my science fiction, if that's where you're going to go with it.) This engine had the potential to revolutionize all industry all over the world - life itself, in fact - but was abandoned in the planning stages.

At this point, Dagny checks in with her office in order to learn about the fate of the automobile company and is informed that a bill has been passed that requires all companies in Colorado (the major location of the oil, iron, and coal companies) to give the government five percent of their sales. (This spells ruin. Look, don't ask me to explain it, it just does.) Their bizarre pseudo-vacation cut short, she and Hank return to deal with the fallout of the situation, and Dagny also vows to find the engineer who designed the engine so that she can make the plan a reality. As the industries of Colorado slowly collapse (and the CEO of the biggest oil company sets his own wells on fire, which is kind of awesome), Dagny searches unsuccessfully for the elusive engineer. She talks to several people in locations all over the place, but is eventually forced to give up after following all of her leads. Her last clue peters out in a discussion with a famous philosopher who has become a fry cook in a diner, and who once knew the engineer but won't tell Dagny his name. He espouses the futility of trying to accomplish anything with society in its current illogical state, and tells Dagny that when the engineer wants to find her, he will. (Raise your hand if you think the engineer's going to turn out to be John Galt. Oooo! Me! Me!)

That's pretty much where we are, with a little extra economic collapse thrown in. The Rearden Company just got a request for 10,000 tons of metal from the government for a secret project, and Hank is refusing to honor it, which I'm sure is going to end in trouble and possibly his downfall. The rebellious idea of refusing his metal to a government responsible for his personal ruin is nice, though. I'd be more on his side and enjoying that rebellion, honestly, if the opposition were at all logical, instead of a caricature of Rand's ideas of everything that can go wrong.

So, obivously, my major problem with this book still stands. Well, actually, let me amend that. Even if I were to look at the novel as a pure political treatise, I would find it, so far, to be a failure. An argument is not convincing if the counter-argument is so absurd as to be unrealistic. Therefore, Rand's argument is failing to convince me because of the fact that the opposition to it in the book is portrayed as nonsensical and hyperbolically illogical. If the book showed a government closer to that of the United States now, and illustrated the subtle and logical shift toward socialism and the negative results thereof, it would be far more persuasive and effective. Instead, because it reduces everything to black and white without quarter for intelligent compromise, it makes itself ridiculous. It reads like overdone propaganda; it's as though it were published by the Ministry of Truth. (Of course, the postage-paid postcard for more information from the Ayn Rand Institute that's glued into the middle didn't help with that.)

Only 724 pages to go.

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