Atlas Shrugged

Atlas ShruggedAs mentioned last post, it’s been crunch time at work, and this morning, for the first time in a over a week, I plowed through the non-work email inbox, and found a warm and friendly, if concerned, note from PunditMan (to the tune of Hendrix):

Hey Joe,

Where you going with that book in your hand?

His was a reference to a recent reference of my own, namely a confession to reading that oft critically panned but ever popular classic, that grand expansive endorsement of completely unregulated capitalism, that deluxe affirmation of self-interest as best for everybody concerned and, like Gordon GekkoGordon Gekko told us (just before the savings and loan debacle tabbed US taxpayers for $32 billion a year for the next 30 years): “Greed is good!” — yes, that of which I speak is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Check out Punditman’s own review of Atlas Shrugged.

Fact is, a good portion of my non-work spare time has been with my nose stuck in Ayn Rand’s book…

I first heard about Atlas Shrugged years ago after taking one of those Carl Jung inspired Myers-Brigg personality type tests, found out I was an INTJ, and then — as if to validate my diagnosis as introspective — I delved into about every site that tries to explicate what the hell an INTJ looks and feels like so I would know what I was supposed to look and feel like. Most of those sites mentioned Ayn Rand, and strongly suggested I would like her writing, Atlas Shrugged being her magnum opus. But I kept putting it off because all of the reviews and spin virtually tagged the novel as the darling favorite of the most sorry type of human — you know, like self-entitled AIG execs, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity — that sorry sort of coddled smug little jerk.

All dodging aside, after hearing one of my dad’s friends remark that it was his favorite book (even though my folks and their friends live in Tupelo, Mississippi, where the trees sprout leaves imprinted with Clinton jokes, where the very wind bashes Obama…), curiosity got the best of me. I succumbed to what every marketing guru and every CIA-employed propagandist worth their salt knows as the The Rule of Seven: a subject needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action. (not coincidentally, a sky-high proportion of Americans who watched seven or more Sunday morning TV talk show appearances from Dick CheneyDick Cheney/Condoleezza Rice/George W. Bush are still convinced that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the September 11, 2001 attacks and was on the verge of crop dusting US cities with anthrax, despite zero tangible evidence.) So, the next time I was browsing Barnes and Noble, I picked up the book.

Now I’m hooked. But not on Rand’s Objectivism philosophy. As far as Objectivism goes, I disagree with her belief that reality exists as an objective absolute independent of the thoughts of men, and I disagree based on the findings of eminent physicists like the late John Archibald Wheeler who provided hard scientific proof that human consciousness shapes not only the present but the past as well. In other words, the universe doesn’t, in fact, exist if nobody is looking.

I also disagree with Rand’s penchant for total separation of government and the economy.

In my opinion, the defect in her argument is her irrational (Rand irrational?!) belief that we should all have the same desires and morals and abilities if we’d only apply ourselves. But this is America, and I believe everybody is free to pursue happiness in whatever way makes them happiest — whether it’s running a billion-dollar hedge fund or spending forty hours a week cultivating a window garden or gambling — as long as their pursuit doesn’t exceedingly infringe on the pursuits of happiness by others. And ever since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 deregulated insurance companies and banks, it’s clear some CEOs’ ideas of pursuing happiness — namely choking on bad debt, asking for no-strings-attached taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, and then blowing their welfare payments on hookers, fast cars, and all-expense-be-damned pleasure excursions — do infringe mightily on the pursuits of happiness by other Americans.

As further witnessed by any number of economic crises from the Great Depression to the S&L Crisis to Japan’s Lost Decade (evidence of what happens when the government doesn’t get involved with rescuing the economy…), pure capitalism can be as evil as pure socialism.

Joseph McCarthyI mean, let’s get real: those who argue for pure capitalism would support sending their senile parent, incapacitated spouse, and/or their children to the street in the event of their own hard-up demise, and history shows no matter how hard you work, everybody is one well-directed backhanded swipe of fate from a penniless end. So, don’t get all righteous and McCarthyistic on me when I say I’m in favor of a government that walks a fine-tuned line balanced between complete capitalism and complete socialism. And please forgive me for being harsh with the truth, but if you can’t understand the need for balance, then you’re an idiot, and that’s the reason the founding fathers created a constitutional republic for us instead of a true democracy, to have built-in protection from idiots like yourself :-) who might otherwise destroy the USA with good, however imbecilic, intentions.

But back to Rand’s novel…the story, the journey, the tale — that’s what has me hooked. For a 1000-page supposedly right-wing philosophical manifesto, there’s a lot more plot turns and twists than I’d expected, and I’m just really digging the slightly-but-not-quite-out-of-style 1950′s phraseology — there’s a captivating old-school quasi sci-fi noir feel to the whole business that’s ironically refreshing and striking primarily because that style of stodgy writing is rare these days.

Edward HopperMaybe most appealing of all, Rand paints a pretty picture around the plot. Reading Atlas Shrugged so far (I’m about a third of the way into it) is like walking through the attractively stark world of Edward Hopper, filled with our parents’ and grandparents’ gas stations, motels, restaurants, theaters, railroads, and city sidewalks, where people wore hats and suits to work, talked like Bogart and Bacall, and shared a smoke in the cafe after dinner.

Also, as witnessed by the recent propensity of Atlas Shrugged to jump off bookstore shelves, the novel is filled to the brim with mostly inversely apropos — but timely nevertheless — themes and situations. But I have another theory why it’s popular: like the black-and-white era it hails from, there are few gray areas in this story. In today’s world, where nearly every debate seems filled with more gray areas than black or white, a simplistic world like the one in Atlas Shrugged is a refreshing escape from our current convoluted state of affairs. And that’s a big reason people read books: escapist entertainment. On that front, Atlas Shrugged delivers.

So, have no fear; just because I’m enjoying Atlas Shrugged, I’ve not gone to the dark side anymore than I endorse the real-life mafia while savoring Don Vito Corleone‘s every word and gesture each time I watch The Godfather. I’m just enjoying a good read with larger-than-life characters. I mean, it’s fun to root for imaginary elitist bourgeois industrialists, like it’s fun to pull for renegade cops like Harry Callahan; you just wouldn’t want to see these characters running around in the real hard-boiled world.

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31 Responses to Atlas Shrugged

  1. pelmo says:

    I received an emal from a friend with a reprint of an article in the May edition of The Atlantic titeled the Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson. I suggest you take your nose out of the book and read this article.

    I think you will find it as interesting as I did, and can better understand why the people involved in this financial mess say and do the things they do.

    I would do a link to it, but as you may have guessed, i don’t have a clue as how to do it.

  2. JoeC says:

    Here’s the link, Pelmo (you can just type or paste it in):

    One thing that is evident from this article: despite the hot air from many that still blame this on dumb poor people who bought houses they couldn’t afford, they weren’t the reason for the collapse of the system, but were just pawns (and not all were dumb poor pawns — there’s still a sign up on a highway near my home with a phone number to call to “learn how to flip houses!”, and there were many very well-to-do Republicans around here caught owning several homes they were trying to flip…so it wasn’t all dumb folks on food stamps who shoulda known they couldn’t afford a quarter million dollar house…) being used by the elite bankers (many who repeatedly revolve between private banks and government administrations) in their manic drive to inflate the boom bubble as large as they could. In their denial that the boom bubble would one day go boom, they spun a heckuva convoluted web that isn’t going to be easy to unspin, and it’s musical chairs and hot potato time till a good portion of them are either bankrupt or behind bars or both. The bad thing is that a big portion of those responsible will (and already have…) reached a safe haven by revolving from the private sector back into government where they can help decide which of their former buddies takes the fall and when. As usual throughout history, the taxpayer will again pick up the tab for all of this, but we’re not blameless, either, because many of us common taxpayers did profit a bit from the years those crooks were blowing too much hot air in the bubble…

    I think Obama has got to walk a fine line…if he doesn’t pump money into the system, it will crash and the plane will be ripped to shreds and all lost and an entirely new plane built from the ground up (and some people want this new revolution…usually people without kids and family to protect…) On the other hand, if Obama pumps too much money into the system, the plane gets no closer to the ground and everybody goes back to watching their in-flight movie — until the money runs out, and then all of a sudden the plane drops like a rock and all is lost. No, Obama and Co. have got to pump just enough money into the system to land the plane largely intact, and then fix the fuel leaks so we can take off again.

  3. Good point, Joe. The fact that Obama is forced into a corner with no choice but to do something he would never do except under these extraordinarily peculiar circumstances, is lost on a majority of his critics.

  4. JoeC says:

    Yep. And, furthering the airplane metaphor, the most important thing is to bring the plane in for a landing, but it would be really good if the current administration could fix the leaks on the way down rather than after the next takeoff.

    Hmmm…I just saw CEO Rick Wagoner set to resign from GM. Just curious, did anybody else see Who Killed the Electric Car? Hint: ultimately, it was Rick Wagoner who pulled the plug (pun intended) on the popular oil-free EV1. SO, good riddance…I don’t care how nice a guy he may be, glad to see this short-sighted, all-for-me-and-one-for-myself, private-jet-flying self-serving corporate dinosaur get out of the way so Americans open to change and a new dream can take the wheel.

  5. pelmo says:

    Joe and Indigo I have to disagree with you both. Obama has surrounded himself with the old guard, and in reality he has given the keys to the inmmates of the asylum and permission to run it as they please.

    I realize that one needs a few of the devil’s deciples to make one’s cabinet run. When they become a majority of your advisors then I begin to worry.

  6. Xman says:

    I agree with your last three lines of your first comment, Joe.

    Pelmo, I worry about who they guys are that write Obamas briefing papers. Most of it sounds old guard, so far.

  7. It’s a sticky wicket, and, if it were possible to get everyone on the same page, it might be possible to maneuver this battleship like a canoe. Yet, too many are more concerned with reviving poliical parties, and moribund careeers, than in resuscitating the country.

    Obama is trying to do what he can with what he’s got, he’s having trouble just staffing positions because of the backlash of last administration. He needs time. I think it’s a bit unfair to take potshots at this point. Time will tell. I’d prefer a complete overhaul of the way we go about things, but, given the situation, I’d settle for a lesson learned well.

    I saw Who Killed the Electric Car?, and it confirmed my sense that we’ve been hung out to dry. I don’t really believe anybody can save us.

  8. Xman says:

    I saw Who Killed the EC, too.
    I did feel it was a little light on why GM decided to kill it.

    btw, I saw a quick video of something like a 1970 Datsun B-210 doing 110 mph at a track somewhere. Electric.
    This may have been it:

  9. pelmo says:

    Indigo I think that it is time to not only take pot shots, but demand answeres and not long winded speeches.

    I want to know why Obama is making such a big deal out of GM and Chrysler? Why make them jump thru all these hoops for pocket change. yet allow all these bankers to back up and let them fill semis with hundreds of billions with no questions asked? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  10. JoeC says:

    I know why…because the banks own the ATM machines, not GM and Chrysler ;-)

    I think another thing is that the banks have a strategy that’s always made money historically: they lend money and get it paid back with interest; there’s an existing profitable formula, they just need to get back to following it and quit being so greedy with the derivatives. But, for the auto industry, the formula they’ve used for the past hundred years is no longer viable. I think you have to consider these points when comparing the auto and bank bailouts.

    Now, for the cynical analysis, you also have to consider that the auto industry has been lazy and hasn’t placed as many government insiders in place in this administration, and the bankers are well represented, and it’s paid off, because it’s easier to slam somebody when they’re not in the room with you. But this sort of crap has gone on since Andrew Jackson fought a war with the bankers, and I’m sure it’s gone on ever since there has been private industry and government all the way back to Rome and before. I don’t think there is a way to cut government corruption out completely, anymore than making marijuana illegal has eradicated drugs from the USA. However, I think there is a way to reduce it to a point that we can live with it…and that’s why we need to keep the heat on the Obama administration. At the same time, if we don’t let somebody take the wheel and drive, we’re going to be in the ditch for sure.

  11. There’s certainly a mystery to the madness, I can’t figure what they are ultimately trying to achieve? To get back to the path that brought us here? Like I said, I believe the system is flawed, geared to elevate the megalomaniacs and sociopaths, while keeping the decent folk on the ropes.

    Peter Schiff has a ore educated opinion, and puts it in perspective here:

    President Obama and the majority of our leadership on both sides of the aisle are confident that the right mix of monetary and fiscal policy can restart the spending party that defined America for a generation. And as the bleary-eyed revelers wisely reach for a cup of black coffee or stumble into a rehab center, Obama is pouring grain alcohol into the punch bowl hoping to lure the walking zombies back onto the dance floor…

  12. pelmo says:

    One thing Obama doesn’t have the slightest clue about, and that is the REAL world most of us live in. He doesn’t understand that saving manufacturing is far more important then saving a few big banks.

    The only time we have had REAL prosperity is when our industrial base was humming and people had jobs and money to purchase things and even save some of that money

    We started to ship all those jobs overseas starting in the 80′s and we started to live on credit and made up economic bubbles that keep breaking. And each time one breaks, things get just that much worse.

    We don’t need all of these money making schemes of Wall Street, just a lot of manufacturing jobs that pay living wages.

  13. LaSirena says:

    I’m skipping all of the usual political commentary and going back to the subject of your post, Atlas Shrugged.

    I started reading it when I was 15 but I lost my copy — rather, my uncle’s copy. We were having a dining room table debate and I quoted Marx at him. (I was 15, so AT him is an accurate description.) He pulled out a collected works of Ayn Rand paperback box set, read over the titles a few times and handed me “Atlas…” Then he told me we would continue our conversation after I had read a “real philosophy”. His action made me feel put-down and flattered at the same time which was cool.

    So I hungrily tore in — I remember her writing something in the introduction about how good men should have their good deeds rewarded with material considerations and I remember that even my juvenile mind could grasp that if you do something for a reward it isn’t necessarily a good deed in essence. And also that material concerns should not be a reward but a required, within limits. Also she included a quote about artistic creation in that intro which I am embarrassed to say was my senior quote. Embarassed because it was from her first written work and rather hyperbolic and grandiose — maybe not so surprising.

    But I love her writing style. It does have a very descriptive sparseness and I enjoy reading a female author who can describe urges and urges and not emotional needs. That said, I have tried to read “The Fountainhead” multiple times — I always get a little further but I am incapable of accepting Howard Rourke as the nietchzean superman/ god until the end of the novel, it would seem. I keep wanting to tell him to find a good therapist to help him deal with his schizoid personality disorder.

    So I guess what I’m saying is you’ve inspired me to look for “Atlas Shrugged” and give it another whirl. My uncle is estranged from the family now. Maybe he would come by again if I could have a “real” philosophical conversation with him. Probably not, but it’s a strangely comforting type of 1950s thought.

  14. LaSirena says:

    Excuse me, I should have said “…I enjoyed reading a female author who describes urges AS urges and not emotions…”

  15. pelmo says:

    Joe if you enjoyed that article in The Atlantic, I suggest you take a look at This weeks Bill Moyers Journal with Bill Black who analyzes corruption in America’s banks. And the second half is just as great as two Izzy award winning journalist discuss our media today. Both segments are fantastic.

  16. JoeC says:

    LaSirena: I guess when I hear people praising or thrashing Atlas Shrugged based on any philosophy, it’s like if somebody stood up during the middle of Star Wars and praised or bashed it for propagandizing The Force. At the same time, if George Lucas did the talk-show rounds and wrote twenty nonfiction books about Jedi philosophy, it might sour Star Wars a bit…I guess I enjoy Rand’s book because I read it in the context of great pulp fiction rather than a major philosophical work, and for me it works awesomely as pulp fiction…but, yeah, as a philosophical work I think it fails horribly — a bit like Superman fails as a psychological thriller, or like Psycho fails as a romantic comedy :-)

    Pelmo: Thanks for reminding me to watch Moyers. I like hearing them call the truth on the banks; “Fraud” is what they sold, and they knew about it every which way there is to know they were committing fraud. Deceit is deceit, and stealing is stealing. Also enjoyed the piece on the winners of the I.F. Stone award winners…not only do Greenwald and Goodman both put the mainstream press to shame, but I was thinking while listening to them, that they could put a few TV reporters out of business too…very articulate couple of journalists.

  17. LaSirena says:

    Hahaha! You had me at the Star Wars analogy. Pulpy is wonderful — I like it in my OJ, my paper and my novels.

  18. Xman says:

    In my first year of high school I read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Can’t recall much about them, except being seduced by them. But, the seduction eventually left me in a state of melancholy when I realized how unrealistic she was. I thought I had found profound answers to life and was let down. Letdown is a big thing when you are a teenager looking for an identity and a road map.

    But, I have always tried to make the best burgers in the world. Which of those two books was that? The hamburger joint in the mountains.

  19. Greed sucks.

    Hamburgers are good.

  20. pelmo says:

    Hamburgers are good, but good hamburgers are hard to find.

    Xman when you were in Frisco way back when, did you ever try a Clown’s Alley hamburger. It was a little hut which just served burgers off of a big grill and chips.

  21. Xman says:

    I don’t recall doing so, Pelmo. But then, they say if you remember the 60′s…you weren’t there.
    I love those kinds of places though. Patties made by hand, real fries cut from potatoes, long sliced pickles on the side, shakes made with real ice cream…and cute, smiling girls delivering it all to you. I always noticed when a girl seemed to like her job.
    There was a place at the Calistoga airport/Gliderport like that. I think it was called Big Daddy’s.
    I think it is gone now…but between the burger description in Rand’s book and places like Clown’s Alley and Big Daddys, I leqrned how to make one hell of a burger. Just planted what promise to be some real tasty tomatoes. Heirloom of some kind that are supposed to be like the old days. The girls next door came over and helped with the preparation and planting yesterday.

    An Iranian friend sent me some real Persian melon seeds which I will be planting against the brick, south faces side of the house for extra heat.
    Did anyone’s mouth just water, like mine did?

  22. pelmo says:

    Xman I am jealous. I still have to wait a month or so before I can plant. The best tomatoes I ever planted were the Cambell soup variety. The factory here in Chicago would give away thousands of the plants and a neighbor would go there and bring back a few for me.

    The secret to a good burger is a hot flame and sear both sides so the juice stays inside and the burger doesn’t dry out. As an alternative to a pickle, get a couple of fresh pickle sized cucumbers, peel and slice it in half and salt and let sit in fridge for a few hours. Diffrent but just as good as a good pickle.

  23. Xman says:

    Yeah, I’m supposed to wait another month, too…but I never do and it seems to work out okay. Haven’t seen the campbell soup kind. I’ll look for them on google….son of a gun!

    “Grow Your Own Soup” website:

    I’ll try the cucumbers the way you suggest.

    Watched andrew zimern’s most bizarre foods last night.
    Burgers topped with peanut butter and mayo. He raved!
    I don’t know if I can bring myself to waste a burger patty. I don’t like P-butter that much.

  24. pelmo says:

    Thanks for the web site, going to get some.

    I just like mayo, tomatoe and a thick slice of onion on mine. If it’s a good hamburger you don’t want to much stuff on it and ruin it.

    In Lithuania my uncle had tomatoes at the end of May. It is very popular to build simple framed hot houses out of 2×2′s and cover it with plastic sheating. Not very fancy, but worked great.

  25. Xman says:

    Yep. I have my tomatoes in old wine casks covered with plastic…a little cold protection and also gives a growing boost.

    I mixed chopped bacon in my patties the other day…mmmmm….mmmmm!

  26. pelmo says:

    Ok everybody, we have to pick the day and meet at Xman’s house for a burger party,and I will bring the beer.

  27. Xman says:

    This crew is welcome anytime.

  28. JoeC says:

    After reading this, I would be starving if I hadn’t just got a share of a big family bucket of KFC. That’s pretty cool that the Campbell’s site has the give-away tomato seeds…wonder if KFC has give-away chickens? :-) I AM in the mood for a good burger now though. There used to be (I guess there still is…) a place in Tupelo called Johny’s Drive-In, and they had the best thin burgers…don’t know what they put in them…but as a kid, my sister and I loved when Mom and Dad took us there to eat…that was back before Sonic came to town, and it was quite a hoot to go to a drive-in and eat burgers and shakes in the car with the radio on.

  29. pelmo says:

    Happy Easter to all. We do have a nice crew here. Some serious discussions, some fond memories, but best of all it is always done with a friendly tone. If only others could get along as well as we do.

  30. Xman says:

    Same to you Pelmo.
    I agree on the easy discourse. Try writing a blog critical of Israeli policies, though. To some people it equates to anti-semitism. I’ve been getting a lot of hell from family and friends. Most have no idea Palestinians are semites also….and the laws against them are so similar to those imposed on other cultures in US/world history.

    By the way: watched Global Trekker last night. A short section on Lithuania. Sheds full of cool, huge statues of old Communist leaders. There is also an outdoor museum using some of these statues. Don’t think they talked about beer.

  31. libhomo says:

    Rands rantings were basically an attempt to rationalize and glorify her Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The fact that the Randroids never figured this out amuses me no end.

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