Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To a logical yet absurd conclusion

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 747-1070 (end)

The satisfaction I get from the above parenthetical is not to be underestimated. I'm so incredibly, soul-relievingly glad to be done with this damned thing that I cannot properly express it, even in the ever-so-eloquent and unfailingly apropos prose which it is my habit to employ and to which you, dear readers, have become accustomed. ::modest cough::

Guess what? More infrastructure collapses in the last 300 pages. (I know, I know, how could we possibly have seen it coming, right? Well, Ayn Rand keeps you turning the pages, you know. As fast as you can. So that they'll be over. Finally, finally, over. Ok, I'll move on to actually describing what little plot there is.) Basically, things continue to get worse and worse until the nation grinds almost to a complete halt. At the same time, the government unveils the secret Project X (the one for which Rearden's metal had been demanded). It turns out to be a sonic weapon that can completely destroy both living and non-living objects remotely and at a great distance. (Rand seems to be commenting here that the government is spending money on useless scientific projects when the people are starving. Which is not what I would have expected, but does fit with Objectivism in that giant weapons are not, in fact, sources of profit. Well, not in a worldwide recession, but one could make an argument that there are circumstances in which they would be...)

Eventually, economic circumstances manage to beat Dagny and Hank Rearden down so that they, too, want to join John Galt in his valley of fun instead of continuing to run businesses of which the solvencies are thwarted time and time again by the government. (Yes, that sentence was quite awkward. But I used the word thwarted, so I call it a win.) At this point, John Galt interrupts a nationwide radio broadcast and gives an address to the nation that summarizes all of Rand's point and ideals and lasts for 65-95 pages, depending on your edition. I'd clock it at about 120 minutes of uninterrupted philosophizing. (There were several surprising points in it which I will discuss shortly, and most of which I disagreed with vehemently. (And vocally, because my husband worked from home today. I'm sure he can tell you all about it.))* The speech galvanizes the nation, which I find perhaps the most farfetched moment in the book (Even worse than the cloaking device, really. That's right. Romulans are far more believable than this next bit.), because when was the last time the nation was galvanized by two hours of philosophy over the radio? I mean, really. Anyway, everyone turns against the government, and as a result, the government decides that it needs to have John Galt as speaker and supreme leader. Of course, rather than take up the mantle of leadership, Galt refuses on the grounds that he'd be working for those he most loathes.

Then (And oh, man, you are not even ready for the super-dramatic ridiculousness of this...or maybe you are, because subtlety would be far more of a surprise than absurd histrionics at this point) they arrest and physically torture John Galt with electricity to try to make him solve their problems with his philosophy and intellect. In a bunker. I'm not joking. (Seriously, Ayn Rand? I mean, really, seriously? Are you kidding me with this?) So, anyway, Frisco and Ragnar Danneskjold and Dagny come cowboying (Yes, that's totally a word. Because I say so.) in to save the day, and spirit themselves and Galt back to the magical cloaked valley of money, where Dagny and Galt will be husband and wife and everybody will pay everybody else for everything forever. There, they all rest and recuperate while the country finishes both crumbling and accepting Galt's philosophy, and then vow to go out and rebuild the world in the name of the almighty dollar. (Do you think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. Let me share with you the stunning last sentence: "He [John Galt] raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar," (1070). Gag me with a free market economy.)

Well, guess how I liked it? To add a grain of salt to my vehemence, there are pieces of Objectivism that make sense to me, and I'm not a supporter of Communism because of its inherent practical flaws, but frankly, Objectivism carried to this level is just as flawed as its opposite. Extremes of this nature are pretty much universally impractical to suggest within a framework of realistic application.

In John Galt's speech, he demanded that people think for themselves and apply logical and rationality to their decisions. I'm for it. To take that principle and draw from it the conclusion that rationality must rule every decision and that everything else that might influence any decision is not only stupid, but evil, however, is both unrealistic and morally flawed. Yes, I realize that Objectivists would argue that morality, especially as it relates to emotion, is an invalid set of standards, but think about it this way. If one were to make the decision to go outside on a beautiful day instead of stay inside and work for one's own profit, one would technically be choosing the irrational course of action, because in Rand's world, the profit would make one happier, in the end, than the beautiful day, and personal happiness is, after all, the only logical goal. But would it really? Isn't choosing the present, emotional pull of the sun and blue sky really the more rational decision because it makes one happier in the moment? Is it wrong, then, to make a much more concrete financial decision based on the same principle? If one chooses to forsake thousands of dollars in order to return to the person one loves a year earlier than one would if one took the money (as your beloved authoress once did) is that an invalid or even evil decision because it hurts one's personal financial stability, or is it the correct decision because it increases one's personal happiness? Even Objectivism might have trouble coming down on a side on that argument because of the fact that happiness can be difficult to quantify, but the point that I'm making is not that my decision was the right or wrong one because I thought through it logically and came to a conclusion based on a rationally considered set of criteria. I didn't. The point that I'm making is that logic didn't come into it. My love and my heart and my soul left me no choice. And that's ok sometimes. Sometimes emotions are better criteria for decision than logic and rationality. Because we're humans, god damn it. Objectivism would not agree, and it's for that that I am left no alternative but to reject it.

My other main issue with Galt's speech and the Objectivist tenets it embodies was the part where he claims that to every issue there is a right and a wrong side, and to stand anywhere in the middle ground is both a form of idiocy and an expression of evil. For god's sake, a child could refute that claim in its sleep. I'm not even dignifying it with an argument.

Finally, I was surprised at how vehemently anti-religion Galt's speech was, not so much because it didn't fit with Objectivism, but because of how widely embraced this book is by the Conservative world. I mean, he basically comes out and says that faith is form of abject stupidity, and that those who support and encourage faith are parasites on the ignorant public. He's referring to both religious faith and faith in the institutions of government, but still. I can't see that playing well with the religious establishment.

I'm done talking about this now. Pretty much forever. Until I have to read the next Rand book on the list. That will be a dark, dark day. Let it be a symbol of my loathing for this book that I am looking forward to the F. Scott Fitzgerald that's next on the list. Pity me, dear readers.

*Grammar mavens (if there are any of you out there aside from myself), if you are wondering whether I am aware of the fact that brackets are the prescribed form of punctuation to enclose a parenthetical within another parenthetical, I am, and I flaunt my double parentheses in flagrant violation of said prescription. Flagrantly I flaunt them!


  1. I actually skipped the entirety of Galt's speech. I started to read and just couldn't take it. Yuck.

  2. I read the whole damn thing, but all these years later, I forgot which of the characters made the speech. I was thinking it was Francisco. On the upside, Wind in the Willows is next followed by Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I really liked. Willa Cather in general is one of my favorite authors. So, I see that it's going to be 58 degrees there today. Maybe I'll talk to you while you're out walking. You're done!



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