[ExI] LONG! Re: Attacking Rand

Stefano Vaj stefano.vaj at gmail.com
Wed Jun 10 11:26:41 UTC 2009

On Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 1:17 PM, Stefano Vaj<stefano.vaj at gmail.com> wrote:
> Why, my own is here:
> http://victoria.tc.ca/int-grps/books/techrev/bkatshrg.rvw.

OK, on second thought I cut-and-past it below:

<<Ayn Rand is known as the darling of the right-wing crowd, as evidenced
by numerous jokes about the Monstrous Monolithic Multinational
MegaCorporation (and the drafting committee for the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment) with its daily readings from the works of Ayn
Rand.  I was somewhat surprised to note the adulation for Miss Rand
that appears on the net, given that most companies see the Internet as
a haven of wild-eyed lefties.  Initially I attributed this fan club to
the recent surveys indicating that netizens are a fairly fascist crowd
after all, but having been prompted to actually read some of this
stuff I understand the attraction.  Rand's work, in similar manner to
"Terminal Compromise," is geek wish fulfillment writ large.  (In the
case of "Atlas Shrugged," very large indeed.)  The book not only
preaches that creating new things is an automatic path to riches, but
that *all* other human activities are inessential.  This relegates to
trivia such considerations as social skills, etiquette, other people's
feelings, any exertion outside of your own narrow focus, and possibly
even personal hygiene.  Sounds geek to me!

Rand's fictional works are formed (one hesitates to say "informed") by
her philosophy of objectivism.  The tenets of this dogma are a
determination on "objective reality" (seeing things as they are),
logic, and an almost fanatical devotion to capitalism.  Somehow, out
of this mix, she determines that selfishness is a moral imperative.
Objectivism seems to be a rather desperate attempt to justify an
ingrained fear of communism.  Only one of the ironies of Rand's work,
life, and philosophy is the rigid insistence that any thought should
conform to objective reality coming from a woman who only ever wanted
to write fiction for a living and married an actor.  The world of John
Galt does not conform to any kind of reality: scientific, social,
fiduciary, or managerial.  (Heck, I've even worked on a railroad and
that is *no* way to run one.  Early in the story a P takes personal
responsibility to order a train onto the main line against a red
light, thus ensuring that the Comet continues its unbroken on-time
record.  As any reader of the RISKS-FORUM Digest could tell you, in
real life the instant the passenger train hit the main track it would
collide with an eighty mile per hour extra carrying the only available
shipment of antitoxin for an epidemic in Chicago.)

(In regard to objective reality, I find an irresistible urge to
digress into Rand's view of nature.  She hates it.  Nature's only
purpose is to provide raw material for factories.  A beautiful park is
only as good as the crops you could grow on it once the trees were cut
down.  Here in BC we once had a politician refer to the cloying and
unhealthy stench of pulp mills as "the smell of prosperity," and Rand,
with her endless belching smokestacks, would be in full agreement with
that position.  That contempt has to flow from ignorance: on a night
only twenty four hours after a full moon the moonlight will easily be
bright enough to walk down a railroad track.  If I may be permitted a
little armchair psychology, could it be that the fact that any blade
of grass has more fine detail than the most skilled jeweller on earth
could match is just too much competition?)

(This despite for nature extends to the human body.  These people live
on caffeine, nicotine, and fried cholesterol.  None seem to get more
than a few hours sleep per month [unlike the models of Ford, Edison,
and Churchill they don't make it up in naps] and there isn't even a
pretence of exercise.  There would be no need for them to "disappear:"
in the real world they would be dying off at an extraordinary rate.
If cancer didn't get them, they would all, Type As that they are, be
having coronaries left, right, and sideways.)

A central and vital element in Rand's philosophy is logic.  To a geek,
that sounds quite reasonable.  Logic is a fine tool.  To a
philosopher, it sounds a bit bizarre.  Logic is one of the four
classical elements *of* philosophy, so how do you found a new system
of philosophy on it?  Indeed, as Godel and his buddies found, there is
an inherent contradiction in attempting to create a system of logic
that internally proves itself.  (This came as a bit of a shocker to
the mathematical world, and it put paid to all those sci-fi stories
where you give a supercomputer "1+1=2" and it deduces the universe.)
However, while Rand does try to have the book exhaustively "prove" her
philosophy (while I haven't timed it, I can well believe that Galt's
sixty page speech goes on for three hours), the more obvious problem
is the simple internal inconsistency of it, as amply demonstrated in
the book.  Go ahead.  Try to reproduce Galt's speech in symbolic
logic.  Logic?  Mr. Spock would have cat fits.  (Well, no.  Of course
Spock wouldn't have cat fits.  Spock would raise one eyebrow and
murmur "Fascinating."  Which, in view of some of the passages of the
book, is fascinating.)

The book has some beautiful and very moving tributes to persistence,
hard work, the fruits of the human mind, accomplishment against great
odds, and the joy of a job done superlatively rather than merely well.
The very phrasing of the exchange of one's best efforts for the best
efforts of others has a poetry almost unheard of when speaking of
commerce.  Unfortunately, it also has a great many very long passages
of antagonistic characters spouting pathetic garbage so that it can be
knocked down by Rand's heroes.  These protagonists (which for the
purposes of this paper, we will refer to as P) are capable, confident,
productive, athletic, ruggedly good looking (oh, sorry, Dagny), and
pretty much universally rich.  They are task-oriented and aggressive.
They are the "drivers" in many versions of that particular personality
grid, and they are at the outermost tip of the quadrangle.  Rand's
books are built on the conflict between the Ps and the antagonists
(which, because ASCII can't do the little bar over the letter
designating "NOT," we will call P').  P' characters are unproductive,
lazy, illogical, whining, hypocritical toadies who are generally also
physically loathsome.  The speech of a P' may reflect a kind of low
cunning, but generally they are incapable of forming complete and
grammatical sentences, and one suspects that they should not be let
out on the streets on their own lest they fall into the traffic.  It
is these straw men who turgidly attempt to express (or caricature)
ideas that Rand disagrees with, so that the Ps may wittily demolish

Now, Ps are not geeks, or, rather, most geeks are not Ps.  While task
oriented, geeks tend to the passive side of the scale.  However, this
is where geek wish fulfillment comes into play again.  Most geeks
*wish* that they were more aggressive, that they were the movers and
the shakers.  And geeks would love to have the impossible happen as it
does in the book.  We have the girl who, single-mindedly dedicating
her life to running a railroad, when she *does* go to the ball is not
only the most naturally beautiful woman there, but, not having studied
any of those things is an expert on cosmetics, conversation, dancing,
fashion, and everything else that goes into being the toast of the
town.  When they all get to the P Shangri-La to live happily ever
after, everyone willingly turns their hands to all kinds of mundane
jobs, and they are all perfectly expert at them.  In the real world,
of course, geeks would be too single-focussed to have learned anything
about farming, sweeping, or plumbing, and Ps, of course, would never
have sat still long enough to learn any of it.

The character of the P is arbitrary and, despite the extreme
insistence on reason in all things, unreasoning.  One P character
takes an understandable dislike to a P', but out of all proportion to
the offense, and acts upon it in an indirect, useless, and unfair
manner.  This action, of course, is merely human, but it flies in the
face of Rand's (emotional) insistence on reason and logic in all
things.  The insistence itself is unreasonable, since any strong human
drive, be it the will to create or the love for a good woman, is
emotional.  Logic does inform, but it doesn't impel.

Rand also assumes that, since she can internally prove the validity of
her philosophy (mistake number one), all reasonable (qv logical) men
(qv Ps) will agree.  On pretty much anything.  (BIG mistake.)
Therefore, life among the Ps is amicable and friendly, even among
rivals for the same woman.  The importance and primacy of self-
interest?  The book is positively Buddhist in its abnegation of

The concept of trust is handled very oddly.  One P character is asked
to trust another on the basis of no evidence at all, while a few pages
later yet another insists that he will not demand that the second take
him "on faith" (despite a significant history of consistent
behaviour).  Yet much of the business of Ps seems to be conducted on a
"handshake" basis.  On a fourth hand, a P who prides himself on never
breaking a promise has no interest in keeping his vows to his wife,
and seems to absolved from those vows since his wife isn't, after all,
a P.

Money, according to the P creed, is based on honour.  Ps would be much
happier with a gold standard, since gold has intrinsic value.  (Since
gold's interesting electrical and corrosion resisting properties would
not seem to justify the value of the gold standard, particularly to a
copper refiner, I am at a loss to explain the logic underlying this

Business operations are subject to rather incredible contradictions.
Inflating prices because you know your customer to be in need is
acceptable P behaviour.  Trading in information is not.  Making a
profit on someone else's lack of information is quite OK: a number of
sharp deals are cut where it is said that the buyers did not know what
they had.  Putting pressure on someone is OK, but using political
pressure is justification for murder.  Nobody should use force against
anyone else, except one P does, but that is OK because his victims are
of the P' persuasion.  The question of fraud simply never arises.
(Unless you think that fraud is just a special case of ignorance on
the part of the buyer, which would make fraud quite OK.)

Management is a bit of a problem.  It appears to be limited to barking
orders.  There are never any personnel difficulties, aside from a bit
of a labour shortage.  There is never any training.  In fact, the one
person in the entire book who tries to improve her situation commits
suicide in the end.  The pension plan isn't much better: the perfect,
loyal, lifelong employee is abandoned in the middle of nowhere.

Grand sounding sermons are sprinkled liberally throughout the book.
With yet more irony they preach logic, but appeal to emotions.  These
diatribes seem to be completely unaware of internal contradictions.
As only one example, having shown a visitor that invention, commerce,
and ownership exist among the hidden Ps, their leader insists that
they have among them no invention, commerce, or ownership.

Both family and sexuality are rather hideously portrayed.  First, is
it ridiculous to call a woman a misogynist?  Rand seems to rail
against the "keep 'em barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen"
mentality, but also manages to put women very firmly in a subordinate
position.  Sexual activity (tame as it is) seems to be more of an
"acquiescence to rape" than any kind of romance.  (One also suspects
that Rand was into bondage, considering a great many of the
descriptions and comments.)

Marriage vows in an objectivist church would probably run along the
lines of "Do you promise to attempt to dominate and subdue this woman
until such time as you grow bored?"  "Maybe."  "Close enough.  And do
you promise to applaud this man`s production until such time as you
find someone with a bigger ... corporation?"  "Whatever."  "By the
power vested in me by having scammed you guys out of a marriage
license fee, I now pronounce you man and appendage.  May you be
unencumbered by small persons."  Having almost no idea of Rand's
family life (I do understand that in spite of the "Miss Rand"
references she did get married at some point) I still feel confident
in saying that nobody who has ever actually raised children could ever
talk about "the virtue of selfishness" with a straight face.  The
discipline and self-sacrifice (oh, dear!) necessary to spend ten
years, part time, developing a new alloy is rather pallid beside the
investment made by any mother.  However, the objection never arises,
since almost nobody seems to have any children.  As a grandfather, I
really have to pity Galt and his friends.

But enough of the soft stuff, what about the technologies?  Railroads
dominate all, with no room for trucking, shipping, or air freight.
(1957 wasn't *that* long ago.)  We have superlatively hard alloys made
chiefly of soft elements.  The amount of oil you can remove from a
given piece of shale seems to be limited only by the imagination.  The
fact that steam engines can outpull diesel-electrics seems to have
been forgotten.  Neglected aviation fuel tanks don't fractionally
evaporate, and don't get contaminated with water condensation.  Hidden
valleys are possible in the second most extensively mapped country in
the world.  Visual cloaking devices cover huge tracts of land.  Sound
waves that can destroy bridges at a range of a hundred miles don't
damage the transmitter (but eventually do).  Dozens, or even hundreds,
of planes flit about the eastern seaboard completely unnoticed.

(Ah, but while I've been saying that this book is about geeks, in the
end it is the philosopher who lives happily ever after and the
greatest scientist of the age who dies a horrible death.  Well, it
just so happens that eight years before "Atlas Shrugged" was
published, a fellow by the name of Albert Einstein published a paper
called "Why Socialism Works."  Too bad, because I am sure that Rand
would have hated quantum theory as much as Einstein did: God not
playing dice with the universe and all that.  Except she would have
disagreed about the God part.)

The ultimate object in this book, and the one we return to time and
time again, is the motor: the "motor of the world" as we are
repeatedly told.  More specifically, it is John Galt's motor.  And
this is where we reach both the final departure from objective
reality, and the central contradiction of Rand's philosophy.  The Ps,
P values, and even the P hideout itself are all dependent upon this
magical motive power.  Those to whom the very word "gift" is a hissing
and a byword rely on a gift from that oh so exploitable nature.  In
direct violation of the laws of thermodynamics, the great motor gets
its power from "out of the air.">>

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