Atlas Shrugged: Marge vs. the Monorail

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter V

The last section of this chapter skims over a few years in flashback. We’re told that Dagny was twenty-four the last time she saw Francisco, in New York. That night, while they’re in bed together, he seems wracked by some inner struggle and makes a strange request – “Help me to remain. To refuse. Even though he’s right!” – but then won’t explain what he meant by it or what’s troubling him. The next morning, before he leaves, he says that he’s going to do things she’ll condemn him for and asking her to remember that he told her this in advance. Soon thereafter, he retreats from the business world and starts throwing bizarre, lavish parties like any other irresponsible playboy.

Back in the present day now, Dagny enters Francisco’s suite at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel (Rand’s version of the Waldorf-Astoria), furious and determined to find out what’s going on with him.

She was certain of the anger when she knocked at his door. She heard his voice, answering, “Come in.” She jerked the door open and entered.

Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián sat on the floor, playing marbles.

Nobody ever wondered whether Francisco d’Anconia was good-looking or not; it seemed irrelevant; when he entered a room, it was impossible to look at anyone else…. His body seemed designed as an exercise in consistency of style, a style made of gauntness, of tight flesh, of long legs and swift movements. His features had the fine precision of sculpture. His hair was black and straight, swept back. The suntan of his skin intensified the startling color of his eyes: they were a pure, clear blue. [p.114]

As you’ve probably noticed, Francisco is the latest in a line of tall, thin, blue-eyed heroes. There seems to be a bit of Author Appeal going on here.

Dagny confronts him, accusing him of botching the San Sebastian project deliberately, digging the mines in the full knowledge that they were worthless. Francisco doesn’t quite deny it, but asks innocently if she’s sure he didn’t just make a mistake:

“But haven’t I the right to be what is now accepted as human? Should I pay for everybody’s mistakes and never be permitted one of my own?”

“That’s not like you.” [p.117]

When she refuses to accept that he did what he did accidentally, he laughs. Strangely, it’s this that convinces her he’s not the spoiled rich brat he’s seemingly become:

The capacity for unclouded enjoyment, she thought, does not belong to irresponsible fools; an inviolate peace of spirit is not the achievement of a drifter; to be able to laugh like that is the end result of the most profound, most solemn thinking. [p.117]

This line always reminds me of the Christian evangelists who say that no one can be really and truly happy without Jesus, that atheists may experience occasional pleasure but not the deep, meaningful joy they claim to possess. As with all cultic philosophies, Rand commits to the claim that only people who believe as she does can have genuine happiness, that no non-Objectivist can ever find real fulfillment or meaning.

Since it’s germane to this chapter, here’s a minor spoiler that I mentioned in the comments earlier: Although he’s deliberately running his company into the ground, Francisco is one of the good guys. He’s secretly working for John Galt and the other vanished capitalists, helping to destroy the looters’ economy by enticing the villains to throw their money away on bad investments, resulting in market crashes and economic chaos. (Why doesn’t he just tell Dagny this? Because reasons.)

The San Sebastian mines were one of these projects. The Mexican government is infuriated that they seized them and found them to be worthless, accusing Francisco of defrauding them, which he finds tremendously amusing. But there’s more, as he confides to Dagny: as part of the deal, he also built a multimillion-dollar housing development for the workers, which was also seized. But not to worry, he says, because he built it as shoddily as possible:

“Well, those steel-frame houses are mainly cardboard, with a coating of good imitation shellac. They won’t stand another year. The plumbing pipes – as well as most of our mining equipment – were purchased from dealers whose main source of supply are the city dumps of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I’d give those pipes another five months, and the electric system about six. The wonderful roads we graded up four thousand feet of rock for the People’s State of Mexico, will not last beyond a couple of winters: they’re cheap cement without foundation, and the bracing at the bad turns is just painted clapboard. Wait for one good mountain slide. The church, I think, will stand. They’ll need it.” [p.120]

Francisco seems to take delight in this, acting as if it’s a grand joke that he cheated the Mexican government of the property they planned to confiscate. And if you believe property is all that matters, I suppose you might see it that way.

But especially since the mine is worthless, won’t the looters want to get something out of their seizure? Unless the cheat is detected right away – and I don’t think we’re meant to conclude that it will be, given that the whole point of this section is that Randian villains are utterly incapable of telling the difference between good and bad work – isn’t it likely that there will be people living there when the houses collapse and a landslide wipes out the settlement? Francisco seems to think as much, since he says they’ll “need” the church. Why will they need it if not to hold funeral services for the people who’ll be killed by his shoddy construction? Neither Francisco nor Dagny seems to be troubled in the slightest by this thought.


They probably deserved it.

This whole section reminded me of something, and I finally realized what it was: the golden-age Simpsons episode “Marge vs. the Monorail“. In it, Mr. Burns – with the bold disregard for obstructive Big Government that typifies Randian heroes – is caught dumping toxic waste in a public park and fined $3 million.

At a town meeting, while the people of Springfield are arguing over what to do with the windfall, a cheerful con artist named Lyle Lanley shows up and persuades the town (via a catchy song-and-dance number) to use the money to build a monorail. Lanley cuts every corner and uses the cheapest, lowest-quality parts possible so that he can embezzle the cash and skip town. The monorail goes out of control on its star-studded maiden voyage, nearly causing a catastrophe that’s only averted by some heroics from Homer Simpson (and, possibly, Leonard Nimoy).

In this chapter, Francisco d’Anconia is playing the same role as Lyle Lanley. He’s the one who’s cheerfully deceiving the gullible masses, getting them to throw their money away on shoddy, dangerous construction in order to serve his own ends. The only difference is that here the moral compass is reversed, and Rand means us to conclude that he’s the dashing hero and the hapless populace are suckers who deserve whatever they get. By contrast, in the Simpsons episode, Lanley eventually gets his comeuppance. That’s because the writers of The Simpsons have a better moral sense than Ayn Rand.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • David Cortesi

    When I first read this I was very young and very stupid and the implications of the Francisco’s San Sebastian ploy zipped right by me. To Rand, “the workers” are not people, just markers, puppets. And with the momentum of the story and my own naivete I accepted that: yuck yuck, the government baddies and cowardly bureaucrats are getting their comeuppance. But Francisco has lured men into the mountains with the promise of work and housing, and is now abandoning them. How many men suddenly out of work? How many ordinary lives wrecked? And think of the waste of labor and materials in building a town that will be an uninhabitable, unrecyclable eyesore.

    Rand’s intended point is that he built a honeypot and it successfully tricked some blowflies. But the cost of the honeypot in wasted material and wasted lives is immense. What did the workers do to merit being yanked around this way? Nothing, but they are faceless extras in Rand’s epic.

  • Snoof

    If the “looters” are really that stupid, then Francisco’s hardly a genius. He’s just taking advantage of extremely gullible people.

    Also, if they’re that stupid, why is he even bothering to destroy their economy? Once the Real Capitalists leave they’ll be completely unable to maintain their own society, so deliberately harming them seems like nothing malice for its own sake.

  • smrnda

    I tend to find that most Objectivists, and even quite a few libertarians don’t think of ‘workers’ as human beings. The reason? They’re not workers, don’t know any workers, and the assumption is that workers aren’t just people born in bad situations without privileges but a lower class of being who isn’t fully human. I’ve never known a person from either group who really seemed to care what happens to the vast majority of people who are workers, and most seem to get angry if you even talk about what life is like for workers. The Randians say “why should I be held responsible for their lives?” Why? Because it’s upper class people who decide what conditions workers live in.

    But it is disgusting. Let’s say another businesses, hoping to sabotage a Randian protagonist, sold them some faulty equipment as a strategy of destroying your competition. I would imagine that Rand would see this as wrong and evil and deceptive, but yet if the people getting killed are workers just so that a person whose entire ideology can be summed up as’gubberment == yucky’ .

    So Rand’s idea is that it’s okay for rich people to lie, deceive, cheat and sabotage things and even cause a loss of life through deliberate negligence, but making rich people pay taxes is an outrage.

  • busterggi

    Was Charles Ponzi one of Rand’s ‘heroes’ in real life? She seems to be 100% behind his sort of racket.

  • Shawn

    There are parallels here with the murder of that corrupt state legislator by the original Taggart which somehow doesn’t count as initiation of force – I know that Objectivists are theoretically against fraud, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that anyone who gets cheated or defrauded is so stupid they deserve it. You see this especially when people are talking about eliminating regulators that deal with serious information asymmetry, like the FDA.

  • Bdole

    Geez, do you write sitcoms on the side or something. How do you know so many TV tropes? I once spent a few hours on that site and still can’t, readily, recall any.

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    To me the most iconic chapter of Atlas Shrugged has always been the train wreck, where a whole bunch of random people die. But before they die, Ayn Rand JUSTIFIES their death by running through the train, cabin by cabin, and showing that they privately harbor an abhorrent (non-objectivist) philosophy, which indirectly caused the train to crash. So really, their deaths are all part of some grand karmic scheme, and you shouldn’t feel bad for them.

    That figures in here too. I suspect that Rand could easily argue that the workers DO deserve to be jerked around, because they’re willing participants in the same scheme to screw over Francisco. Bottom line: There are no innocent people in the Randiverse. There are heroes, and there are moochers.

    On an unrelated note, I have not seen that Simpsons episode as far as I recall. The AV Club article you missed has several great clips, and the one where Marge visits the bleak ghost town where the last scam was run, is strikingly similar to the ghost town Dagny and Rearden will eventually visit in their quest for Galt’s amazing motor. Interesting inversion of morals there.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Not only does d’Anconia have blue eyes, Rand very explicitly makes damn sure you wouldn’t mistake him for a Latino – you skipped over that bit. I think it’s worth mentioning:

    Nobody described his appearance as Latin, yet the word applied to him, not in its present but in its original sense, not pertaining to Spain but to ancient Rome. His body seemed designed as an exercise in consistency of style, a style made of gauntness, of tight flesh, of long legs and swift movements. His features had the fine precision of sculpture.

  • James_Jarvis

    I am considering inventing a new quiz game called Objectivist or Calvinist. Both of these ideologies believe in an elect, a supreme power God and/or the market and both believe that sinners/looters deserve death because of their total depravity. The also believe work defines your worth and that riches are your earthly reward for being truly moral.

  • smrnda

    I met an objectivist who said consumer protection laws were ‘stupid.’ I asked him why consumers, who certainly outnumber producers, should be prevented from passing laws they feel are necessary. Apparently, a small minority of rich people should simply get their way, democracy be damned, according to that objectivist.

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    I’m not sure who said it, but I think someone mentioned that Rand allowed for some measure of respect to the worker/laborer/C Ark classes that she considered to be actually productive. Is there any hint in the books that any of these people are disappearing? I know a few of them show up in Galt’s Gulch later, but these summaries and the movies make it look like only wealthy captains of industry are vanishing. And the only trouble Dagny has comes from the government and from the disappearance of her top people–she doesn’t have any difficulty with the actual construction of the railroad. So most of the working class can’t possibly be looters; if the average worker wasn’t producing at least as much value as their salaries, the company would have bigger problems than CEOs vanishing. (Are we meant to believe that a handful of superhumanly good workers are literally performing the job duties for dozens of layabouts each? Because I don’t think construction jobs work like that, no mattter how dedicated you are. And if so… why are they still around? If I was Galt, I’d snap up the great workers first. The Gulch needs someone to build infrastructure first, plus it would be easier to convince them.)

  • Science Avenger

    In the cases of the Francisco scams, they deserve it – per Rand – because they were being “second handers”, relying on Francisco’s judgement instead of making the decisions for themselves. This is a recurring theme in Rand’s work.

  • Science Avenger

    I believe there are a few mentions of middle talent like top foremen quitting, and while the focus is definitely on the top. it is strongly implied that there are many many others coming along for the ride, like Owen Kellog.

  • Helix Luco

    no, see, Dagny built the railroad. whole thing. driving spikes and blasting, laying ties, with her teeth. this is the only possible way, or else this story doesn’t make any sense.

  • Nancy McClernan

    It’s not surprising that these summaries would not reflect examples of the laborers who are not parasites so far because he’s following along with the book from beginning to end and he’s only up to chapter 5 by my count, and so far the book hasn’t had any discussions of laborers.

    So *spoiler alert*

    Much of the working class are parasites. In the world of Atlas Shrugged there is a small subset of people who do all the work in any group, and thanklessly at that, and everybody else are parasites. That is why, after the Starnes family trick the workers into collectivizing the Starnes’ own factory, people like The Bum, who is the one who tells Dagny the story of the Starnes’ Twentieth Century Motor Company, are forced to work extra long hours.

    The fact that Rand has set up an implausible labor system isn’t the fault of those who are reporting it. The book is a mountain of implausibilities, since Rand rigs the world of the book to reflect her philosophy, a philosophy that is not based on any deep understanding of the way socio-economic systems work.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Perhaps this is why Rand’s work is so popular in the US – because it is so compatible with the Protestant work ethic.

  • Shawn

    I doubt we even disagree, really, but I feel obligated to point out that James Taggart and his crew were portrayed as a bunch of weenies for asking to do due diligence on the Reardon Metal contract not that many pages ago; the message there was that Real Businesspeople look people in the eye, read their hearts, and make immediate decisions. They probably should have done more investigation on this D’Aconia deal, but if he’s set out to trick them (and he has), based on what we’ve seen so far it’s unlikely that they would be able to outsmart him and see through his deceptions. I also don’t hold it against them that they didn’t assume that D’Aconia was deliberately trying to waste their money to make an ideological point.

  • smrnda

    So if I pay someone for a service which includes supplying their judgment, I deserve to be given false information? That seems to pretty much invalidate any idea that there can even exist ‘fraud.’

  • smrnda

    This should be reason enough to reject her work as anything anyone should base any real life policies on. I always get the randoids defending ‘slight distortions to make a point’ but she’s really distorting things further than most fantasy novels go. If I read a book where someone summoned a dragon using black magic to battle some zombies, I’d be reading something closer to reality than Rand’s work.

    I think Rand, like many dimwitted middle class people, just doesn’t know or care about the level of physical work that has to be done to keep society running, mostly since upper class people try hard to make those workers invisible.

    The contempt for the working class that privileged people display makes me think a good idea would be that anyone born into an affluent family should be legally prohibited from attending college anywhere unless they put in some months of mandatory proletarian labor in ahead of time. Once you actually do all of those shit jobs you realize something – poor people always work harder than rich people.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I absolutely agree that Atlas Shrugged is more implausible than fantasy novels. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote that goes: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged …” and the punchline is “The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    I would argue that Rand so dehumanizes the “parasites” in her novel that in fact both books involve orcs.

    And then there is the matter of romantic triangles. The characters in The Lord of the Rings respond to romantic disappointment (Eowyn/Aragorn) in a much more identifiably human way than Rand’s Ubermensch characters do.

    That’s an interesting suggestion about attending college/ proletarian labor. Speaking of going to college, Ayn Rand was always claiming that nobody ever helped her, but when you read biographies of her it’s clear that she had plenty of help from many sources including extended family members and Cecil B. DeMille – but the most interesting is how she was able to go to college. According to “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” by Anne C. Heller:

    “…she benefitted from the Bolshevik regime, since Lenin had adopted Kerensky’s policy of offering educational opportunities to Jews and women, while doing away with tuition fees and reducing the full term of study to three years. These changes were meant to help factory workers, but they made it possible for her to get the kind of education, and degree, that her parents could have only dreamed of.”

    Oh the sweet, sweet irony.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I agree, Rand’s thinking is probably that anyone who moved into the town was effectively condoning the theft by using Francisco’s stolen property, and therefore deserves what they get. The idea that some of them may just have been poor and hungry and didn’t really care where the housing had come from, I suspect, is something she’d either never have considered or dismissed as irrelevant.

    If you haven’t seen that Simpsons episode, you should! It’s one of the show’s greats, in my opinion (also one of the handful written by Conan O’Brien). I’m pretty sure it’s floating around on the internet, on Hulu or some such site.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yes, there are a few people quitting who aren’t captains of industry – like some of Dagny’s contractors and midlevel railroad employees – but only a very few. The vast majority of the people we meet in Galt’s Gulch are super-wealthy business owners. IIRC, Rand estimated the total population there at a thousand people or so, so even if he was taking midlevel workers, it couldn’t have been more than a very, very small fraction of them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yes! Thanks for pointing that out. It’s ironic, because Francisco is the only even plausibly non-white person we meet in this book who’s on the side of the good guys (or at all, really), and Rand takes pains to point out how not-brown he is.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I may or may not have wasted large amounts of time on that site. I plead the 5th.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Francisco’s not even the worst of the lot, in that respect. There’s also Ragnar Danneskjold, who’s actively waging war on them; we’ll meet him later.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes it takes very little for a parasite in Atlas Shrugged to receive a death sentence. This is from the infamous Taggart Death Train chapter:

    “…woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives which she defended by saying: “I don’t care, it’s only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children.”

  • smrnda

    I think the real issue is that Rand herself, and Objectivism, really aren’t consistent, and they’re really just some flimsy mental scaffolding used to justify whatever behavior you want in a particular context.

  • smrnda

    Rand also collected social security as well, and thanks for the more detailed info on how she benefited from a regime she later demonized. Her characters are just cardboard cutouts meant to spout some propaganda points.

    The other thing (which I argued with someone on a previous thread) is that she doesn’t even address how business or engineering decisions are made in anything approaching a realistic fashion. Randoids tell me I’m missing the point, but if you’re going to editorialize about a topic, you had better do research and be accurate.

    I get kind of disgusted with affluent or even middle class people and their claims to have ‘made it on their own.’ I grew up pretty privileged, which accounts for 100% of why I’m where I am today. Affluent people can’t get what they do without lots of people being pissed and shat on. In the end, when workers do try to stand up, the rich get some hired guns to shoot them.

    My take on Rand is that she’s a shallow and not very bright narcissist and a pretty hackish writer, and her appeal is exclusively that she makes people feel better about being lousy people. Some writers I disagree with (Heinlein had some rightist libertarian tendencies) but he can at least write interesting characters and his stories aren’t just propaganda.

  • DavidMHart

    I hovered over your links cautiously to see where they led, and saved myself at least an hour of my life that would otherwise have slipped into that vortex. Sweet genius, those guys have created the crack cocaine of websites.

  • ORAXX

    For far to many on the right, workers are just another commodity.

  • digitalatheist

    Hence the term: Human Resource. In other words, “if we could have slaves we would, but since the govmint says we gotta pay a minimum wage…. well.. we still want slaves.:

  • Science Avenger

    Rand’s view was that you shouldn’t do that, you should apply your own reason to everything. This is libertarian boilerplate: we don’t need those “stupid” consumer protection laws because word will get out about unscrupulous businesses and consumers will act accordingly. Of course, this works fairly well with frequent-purchase items of little importance, but not at all well with rare, significant items like a home or doctor.

    On this subject, Rand’s problem wasn’t inconsistency, it was the unwillingness to deal honestly with those sorts of exceptional situations.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Hee hee – “question their premises” – just like Ayn Rand was always saying.

    Perhaps my favorite Rand quote about questioning premises comes from a book by a couple of Rand sycophants:

    ***

    One day, she was in the kitchen getting lunch, and I was at my typing table. She called to me, asking if I could come in and help her. I didn’t know what I could do to help the author of Atlas Shrugged, but I was pleased by the request. I went in and saw that she was holding a hot dog, and she asked me if I thought it was edible. When I asked why, she said that it had been in the refrigerator for a while and it was shriveled. So I examined it; it was wrinkled but I pointed out that the color was good and it didn’t have a bad odor. So, I told her that if it were immersed in boiling water, it would plump up. I asked her if she wanted me to do it, and she said, “Oh, no. You have work to do.” That amused me, because my work consisted of typing up her brilliant thoughts while she was going to cook a hot dog!

    Some minutes later, she came out of the kitchen, holding up a plump hot dog speared by a fork. “You were right,” she said, and thanked me for the suggestion. I said something to the effect of “from each according to his ability.” Her immediate response was, “Check your premises!”
    ***

    http://facetsofaynrand.com/book/chap1-working_for_ayn_rand.html

    I discovered the Sures book via the always amusing Ayn Rand Fun Facts web site. Here’s a good one from that site:

    http://aynrandfunfacts.tumblr.com/post/30249616039/ayn-rand-fun-fact-27

  • Science Avenger

    Can you expound on a specific example of any of your objections to Adam’s work? What makes you think he doesn’t want property rights? What means of wealth is he rejecting? What cause of freedom does he reject?

    As it stands, your post is little more than esoteric Objectivist platitudes and ad hominems.

  • smrnda

    The problem is that it’s impossible for one person to be an expert on everything. I’m a great software developer, but I’m not a biologist and not a doctor. A viewpoint like that is just childishly ridiculous and anyone espousing it is clearly already dependent, in a life and death fashion, on the fact that we expect people to deliver the correct information when we pay for it. When I pay $$ for a train ticket, I’m paying for the service of getting me from A to B safely. Her view takes ‘DIY or DIE’ to a level that makes civilization unsustainable.

    Note – I find objectivsts I meet always seem to feel entitled to poo poo and whine over times when someone didn’t give them exactly what they paid for, but expect to be exempt from the same expectations.

    I don’t understand why the exchange of information should be treated as different than any other exchange. If you ask me for information and I provide you with information that is highly inaccurate, it’s as if you ordered a steak and I sent you fish. It might be defensible if the steak isn’t precisely 12 oz. or whatever, but we’d expect that I’m at least sending you the right type of meat.

  • smrnda

    Does she ever think that the rich people are already hurting others far more than the government regulations hurt the rich?

    It seems like her books are just a blatant ‘the rich should own us all’ diatribe. I can’t see how a defense of what’s effectively slavery or feudalism can gain so many followers.

  • smrnda

    I’m willing to put up with private property rights with limits that are open to debate and modification. DUDE, can you imagine the idea of rights that are not ABSOLUTE? You seem to be arguing that it’s all or nothing. Your ‘premise’ is that all rights must be ABSOLUTE or not at all.

    Government should have the power to restrict harmful behavior. What behaviors should be restricted and how much is open to debate and modification. This is why laws change. This is why it took a while before smoking was banned in certain places, and why it’s taken a while for marijuana to be legalized, and why some places prohibit the use of cell phones while driving.

    Freedom comes from preventing those with the most power from crushing others. This requires some form of checks and balances on all those who wield power – government itself, those who control resource allocation, employers. “Freedom” which emerges from government non-intervention is really just feudalism, where you become a serf of whoever you work for.

    Wealth, in the end, comes from the use of resources, which means that those who control resource allocation will prosper and those who do not will starve. This is what goes on in a State controlled economy, and it’s what goes on once private sector ownership becomes too concentrated as well. Once too few people control what resources are used for, everybody else is screwed. Humans require resources to acquire skills – those who control resources seek to limit access to things like education to prevent having to compete. Do you really think that passive ownership should be the means of achieving wealth the most reliably?

    All said, lots of inflated prose that seems to have ZERO connection to anything real or concrete. Could you possibly explain to me, without the use of such ridiculous rhetoric, why the standard of living in the US is lower than the standard of living in nations which are less Randian, that have move government intervention, higher taxes and a more robust welfare state?

  • smrnda

    Maybe I should be more specific -

    Workplace safety laws gave workers more freedom. FMLA and ADA give people with serious medical conditions and disabilities more freedom. Universal health care tends to make people more free since they are less tied to employers. Truth in labeling laws provide consumers with more freedom because you can’t make informed choices on things you don’t know. Environmental protection laws protect our health from people who put other people’s health as a lower priority than making a profit. Government funded public transportation makes ME more free since I am disabled and cannot drive.

    We could even take a more mundane and less rich/poor loaded case of a regulation – noise ordinances. They do tend to make it easier to sleep at night, though I find some areas have different rules depending on the cost/benefit as assessed by the local population.

    I find that Randoids tend to believe in the importance of ‘metaphysically sound axioms’ or something that they put in place of a concern for reality.

  • GCT

    Oh poor you. It’s so horrible that you have to pay taxes!

  • Science Avenger

    The three amigos represent IMO what Rand considers the only legitimate ways to deal with an immoral society: withdraw, use their evils against them, or fight them directly. And as we’ve discussed before, the problem with her position isn’t the logic: I think we could all agree that certain groups in certain situations in history would have been most justified in having their own Galt, Francisco and Ragnar doing as they do. It’s whether or not this applies to our society, or the one Rand invents that is the crux of the matter.

  • Science Avenger

    “I don’t understand why the exchange of information should be treated as different than any other exchange.”

    Because in Rand’s world, information is only reliably obtained by reliance on one’s own reason. She was a throwback to the classic philosophers (she idolized Aristotle), and still seemed to believe one can derive a lot of information about the world simply by thinking about it. That’s one reason her heroes seem to know things through magic. Rand thinks she’s illustrating their reasoning prowess, but as usual, she’s light on the details of just how exactly they do this.

    So to Rand, trading a fish for a steak is a legitimate exchange, worthy of due honesty (as Rearden displays in his business dealings), but trading money for “thinking” isn’t, so Francisco is not held to the same standard.

  • Science Avenger

    No, no, a thousand times no. This is a trap too many Objectivist critics fall into. While it may be true that Rand’s philosophy leads to an oligarchy of the rich, that is certainly not how she saw it. Galt is not rich, nor are many of the heroes in AS, nor was Mike, a construction worker who was good friends with Roark in The Fountainhead. The people Rand worshipped were the productive, and those who worshipped the productive as she did, not the rich. She just incorrectly thought that the one would inevitably lead to the other, in the absence of government propping up the Orren Boyle’s of the world, seeing our society as 100% economically mobile. Rand Paul sees the world in exactly these terms, which is why this subject is important to represent accurately. Those who need to hear reasoned critiques will shut off immediately otherwise, and our efforts will be for naught.

  • GCT

    Oh, how well science/technology would progress if we all had to rely on figuring everything out independently from deriving first principles…

  • GCT

    Galt is not rich, nor are many of the heroes in AS, nor was Mike, a construction worker who was good friends with Roark in The Fountainhead.

    No, but they *should* be. And, given their talent, they should be able to do what they want, regardless of how any untalented person is affected. I don’t think distilling that down to ‘the rich should own us all’ is all that off the mark, because the rich moochers shouldn’t be rich according to Rand. (IOW, Rand would have the rules be the rich people who only got that way because they are super-human.)

  • Science Avenger

    It’s way way off the mark, and you’ll rightly be criticized for attacking straw men doing so. There is nothing in Rand’s writings that suggest the rich, or anyone else, should own anyone. And again, its the productive, and those who respect that, not the rich, and not the talented, that she promotes. To Rand, what determines your moral status is not what you do, or even what you believe, that matters. It’s the kind of person you choose to be.

    In dealing with subjects like this, its best to look at it as I do with some of my older relatives. When they say they are praying for me, to me that amounts to “I’ll think happy thoughts and that will make it better”. That may even be determined someday as the absolute truth of what they are saying. But regardless that is not their position. Their position is that appealing to the supreme creator of the universe may persuade Him to save us through His grace. Likewise with Rand…she has to be judged by what her views actually were, not what we think they amount to, or what we think they will ultimately become. Fruitful dialogue with the other side in any argument is impossible otherwise.

  • GCT

    It’s way way off the mark, and you’ll rightly be criticized for attacking straw men doing so.

    No, it’s not. Rand takes pains to point out that the people who are the ubermensch should be running the world. These people should also be able to do what they want. It’s the constant theme running through the book. If Dagny wants to run a train through a red light, well then you better do it. If you don’t act this way, think the right thoughts, don’t have talent, then you deserve death, or at least to be ruled by your betters.

    There is nothing in Rand’s writings that suggest the rich, or anyone else, should own anyone.

    If you have to resort to hyper-literalism, then you’ve lost. C’mon. No one is talking about actual slavery. We’re talking about the rights of the rich to figuratively own everyone else and do what they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences. If you die because some rich person wanted to make more money, it’s your fault for not being a captain of industry. It may not be actual “ownership” but it’s not far off and I have no problem speaking figuratively about it.

    And again, its the productive, and those who respect that, not the rich, and not the talented, that she promotes.

    Again, I said that there are rich people that she loathes because they didn’t gain their money in the right way. But, that’s part of it, isn’t it? She thinks that the real heroes are those with enough talent to become rich, in the right way. So, yes, she does value talent, else the characters in her book wouldn’t be superhuman, but simply hard workers (Eddie Willers gets so far ahead for working hard, doesn’t he?)

    To Rand, what determines your moral status is not what you do, or even what you believe, that matters. It’s the kind of person you choose to be.

    That’s not correct. The kind of person you choose to be is entirely wrapped up in your beliefs. It *is* about what you believe.

    Likewise with Rand…she has to be judged by what her views actually were, not what we think they amount to, or what we think they will ultimately become. Fruitful dialogue with the other side in any argument is impossible otherwise.

    Sugar-coating her vicious views to make them sound less barbaric and immoral in order to placate her followers is not something I have any interest in doing.

  • J-D

    Obviously it’s easier to win an argument if you get to decide what the other side’s position is as well as your own.

    But it’s cheating.

  • J-D

    I gather that’s supposed to show the mother’s guilt, but what about the children?

  • Nancy McClernan

    That’s a good question.

    And also, although Rand clearly feels that this woman’s decision to put her marriage and her children before Objectivist principles indicates she deserves to die on the Taggart Death Train, what would it mean if she had decided that she would rather divorce her government-money-earning husband, and, instead of thinking of her children, consider the plight of the rich people?

    If she had put the needs of the rich people before her own needs, would that have not been… altruistic?

  • Nancy McClernan

    I think the talented view is right considering that Richard Halley is one of the Ubermensch, and the first one mentioned in the book. He only counts as “productive” if you consider someone who wrote a lot of music as a producer.

    Furthermore, Rand considered artistic taste to be as much an aspect of Objectivism as anything else. She would harangue friends of hers who admitted to enjoying the work of Beethoven or Rembrandt. In fact, one of the excommunicated members of her inner circle, Murray Rothbard, wrote a satire of Rand and her sycophants called “Mozart Was A Red.” You can watch a performance that was given for Rothbard’s 60th birthday here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIk5C2qsRH8

    Although the sound quality is bad and the actors are under-rehearsed, so you might prefer to read it instead:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/1970/01/murray-n-rothbard/an-evening-in-ayn-rands-livingroom/

    Also noteworthy in the play is the way Rand’s husband is portrayed – as a nice guy who puts up with the nastiness because basically, that’s how he makes his living. Rand was the primary – and eventually sole breadwinner their entire marriage.

  • J_Enigma32

    That’s not a Starwman – that’s a Strawmoon!

    That’s some hideous Purple Prose, kiddo. Maybe you should go back to Comp 101, and then take a few courses in how logic ACTUALLY WORKS.

  • smrnda

    In that case, she’s a throwback to a bullshit idea that everybody sensible has long since dismissed. I seem to recall Rand bashing scientists because of their ‘empirical biases’ since, apparently, the right way to think is to just reason from principles known a priori to be correct. (I think this was in her rant against relativity, which only proved she was scientifically illiterate.)

    No wonder Rand surrounded herself with mindless yes-droids. It would have been really amusing for someone t ask her factual questions, or to solve simple problems and then see how far she went based on her ‘classical assumptions.’

    This might explain why objectivists and libertarians are so immune to evidence that their worldviews don’t work. They know they work, the real world is just an illusion put out by ‘looters’ to deceive people.

  • smrnda

    Given that Rand clearly knew nothing about science or technology, it doesn’t surprise me that she got that all wrong. What surprises me is that nobody called her out on it.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for that insight. Would it then be better to point out that you can’t meaningfully distinguish between ‘producers’ and ‘non-producers’ so clearly? Or that a person’s capacity to produce depends a lot on access to education, capital and resources?

    Randoids also seem to have a very narrow view of what’s ‘constructive’ or productive labor. Is it worth trying to point that out? I mean, if mothers weren’t tucking kids into beds (something they don’t get paid for) civilization would collapse.

  • Science Avenger

    If you have to resort to hyper-literalism, then you’ve lost.

    You’ve also lost if you insist on attributing views to Rand that she laid out in black and white that she did not believe. It’s dishonest, plain and simple.

    No one is talking about actual slavery. We’re talking about the rights of the rich to figuratively own everyone else and do what they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences. If you die because some rich person wanted to make more money, it’s your fault for not being a captain of industry. It may not be actual “ownership” but it’s not far off and I have no problem speaking figuratively about it.

    Well don’t be surprised if you are dismissed as someone who attacks straw men. There is a world of difference between thinking some should have authority over other and thinking they are slaveowners, and its silly to pretend otherwise.

    Again, I said that there are rich people that she loathes because they didn’t gain their money in the right way. But, that’s part of it, isn’t it?

    Yes, exactly. What I can’t understand is why you think that supports your view when it clearly supports mine.

    That’s not correct [that to Rand, what determines your moral status is not what you do, or even what you believe, that matters. It's the kind of person you choose to be.] The kind of person you choose to be is entirely wrapped up in your beliefs. It *is* about what you believe.

    You seem to have difficulty distinguishing between what someone believes and what is true about the world. I’m talking about the former, you keep shifting the latter. Obviously I don’t think Rand’s views hold up to scrutiny, which is why I’m critical of her.

    Sugar-coating her vicious views to make them sound less barbaric and immoral in order to placate her followers is not something I have any interest in doing.

    Don’t be ridiculous. I’m simply saying you should take the plain meaning of her plain words at face value. The woman had her faults, but dishonesty and vagueness about her beliefs weren’t among them. You don’t get to take the views of someone who doesn’t believe in welfare and say “You want children to starve” simply because you believe that will be the result. It’s dishonest, and you’ll simply end up talking to yourself with that approach.

  • Science Avenger

    Rand indeed believed that Objectivist principles were the only proper framework in which to live, and deciding to live otherwise was to embrace a philosophy of death.

  • David Simon

    That second link is an awesome read, thanks for linking it! It’s particularly interesting as one of the few references to “militant atheism” that isn’t absolute hyperbole; Murray’s break from the group was precipitated by his refusal to find a non-theist wife!

  • smrnda

    I’m not sure the view that Objectivism endorses slavery is that off the mark. It puts workers in a position where they can end up with zero rights by the kind of ‘company town’ model – there’s no limit to what the company can demand of you, including requiring that you attend the company church, shop at the company store, and get paid in company money. Company town proponents always argued that their model was *totally not slavery* because the workers could, hypothetically, go leave for another company town. No Objectivist really can deny that their philosophy would not be okay with the company town.

    In fact I think this is the big difference in how libertarians think – they view choices as totally free, even between two parties that are totally unequal.

    As for the idea that ‘you want children to starve’ – it’s true that Objectivists don’t actually say ‘we want children to starve’ but attacking the real-world consequences of an ideology based on evidence is totally valid. I find lots of Objectivists prefer to keep the discussion *away* from real world consequences since, if they’re arguing abstractions it’s easier to win, since they can argue that (theoretically) nothing can prove that their ideas don’t lead to maximum prosperity for all.

  • Science Avenger

    Absolutely. When Mitt Romney spoke of 47% of the population being moochers who refused to take responsibility for their lives, and the remainder as the noble producers, he was channeling Rand. She saw this (and most every other subject) in black-and-white terms, which is clearly out-of-touch with reality. It’s similar to the way the Right looks at gun control, where “the good people who should own guns” are easily distinguished from “the bad people who shouldn’t”.

  • Science Avenger

    Amen to that. Sadly, Many, if not most of Rand’s critics that I’ve read over the years, fell into the same trap.

  • GCT

    You’ve also lost if you insist on attributing views to Rand that she laid out in black and white that she did not believe.

    Don’t you call me dishonest for pointing out the logical conclusion of her views. Either retract that or point out where I’m being dishonest.

    Well don’t be surprised if you are dismissed as someone who attacks straw men.

    If you can’t face up to the end result of Rand’s ideas and other Randroids can’t, that’s hardly my fault.

    There is a world of difference between thinking some should have authority over other and thinking they are slaveowners, and its silly to pretend otherwise.

    Now who is being dishonest? I clearly said that we weren’t talking about literal slave owners.

    Yes, exactly. What I can’t understand is why you think that supports your view when it clearly supports mine.

    It doesn’t support the straw man version you’ve set up of my view. It also doesn’t support your view. You refuse to take the whole argument into account.

    You seem to have difficulty distinguishing between what someone believes and what is true about the world.

    Now you’re just being a condescending and arrogant jerk. Fuck off.

    Don’t be ridiculous.

    I’m not the ridiculous one here.

    I’m simply saying you should take the plain meaning of her plain words at face value.

    If you insist that I am not allowed to put 2 and 2 together and make 4, then too bad. I’m going to do that, and I’m going to point out that 2 and 2 make 4 regardless of how much you like it or not.

    You don’t get to take the views of someone who doesn’t believe in welfare and say “You want children to starve” simply because you believe that will be the result.

    If they are pushing views that really will result in children starving and continue to do so with that knowledge in mind, I fail to see why the fuck I can’t say that.

    It’s dishonest, and you’ll simply end up talking to yourself with that approach.

    What’s dishonest is sugar-coating people’s ideas in order to not show them how bad they really are. What’s dishonest is pretending that 2 and 2 are not 4 just so that you don’t offend the person who really doesn’t give a fuck if children starve.

  • GCT

    Oh FFS, will you come off it already? Just because you don’t get the arguments and refuse to take them to their logical conclusions doesn’t mean that her critics produce a load of straw men. You’ve posted this shit in every single thread on this book, multiple times. We get it. You think no one can counter Rand properly except you. Get over it and get over yourself. You are not the supreme ruler of the kingdom of Understanding Rand.

  • smrnda

    I know people do say that, but that doesn’t strike me as a particularly valid point. It’s like theists saying a life without gods is empty – argument by assertion from subjective preferences.

  • smrnda

    Is it worth pointing out that Rand gets how knowledge works wrong, and she clearly doesn’t understand how science, engineering, or even business really work? A problem I have is that people tell me ‘well, that’s the way things SHOULD work’ but that’s like saying an internal combustion engine should function at 100% efficiency.

    My own experience as a software designer has shown me that civilization is more reliant on mediocre people who keep showing up to work than the occasional genius,mostly since if we were that dependent on a handful of super-geniuses to sustain civilization, civilization would have collapsed a long time ago.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Isn’t it fascinating stuff? I was so excited when I found out about “Mozart was a Red” through one of the two biographies I read – the Heller book and also “Goddess of the Market” by Jennifer Burns.

    Rand had exactly the kind of personality you might expect from the person who wrote Atlas Shrugged – entirely self-absorbed, absolutely certain she was right at all times and about everything, and devoid of any sense of humor and autocratic. And IMO both biographers go out of their way to try to be sympathetic to Rand – Heller in particular – she seems to find the negative reviews of Atlas Shrugged to be unfair, although I don’t recall her actually explaining why she thought the reviews were unfair. And she seems not to have read it very carefully, because she writes in Rand’s defense:

    “But Rand’s certainty that she alone understood the truth and that people who lived by other convictions, especially liberals, religious adherents, and public intellectuals, were mystics of spirit, savages, looting thugs, beggars, parasites, gibberers, carrion eaters, cavemen, and headhunters did have the ring of Big Sister, even if the ideological content of the novel did not.”

    I mean, that IS the ideological content of Atlas Shrugged. Rand never stops excoriating “people who lived by other convictions” throughout the entire novel.

    Atlas Shrugged is the expression of the eccentric mind and idiosyncratic worldview of Ayn Rand rather than a coherent socio-economic critique of then-current political systems. Why rightwingers have made it one of their Bibles is what is really mysterious.

  • Science Avenger

    Right, but its called “Objectivism” for a reason – Rand believed she had solved the is-ought problem and had developed an entirely objective morality. She had a hard time understanding the difference between her strongly held subjective preferences and objectivity – such as her obsession with smoking, as if any person could objectivly decide to do that.

  • Science Avenger

    Damn man, straw men indeed, you weave them by the bushel, and I’ve got better things to do than argue with someone’s imaginary versions of my intentions. You’re clueless.
    For the record, I’m simply trying to provide a service, along with Adam, of informing people here of what Rand actually argued from an Objectivists POV, since most here won’t ever read her stuff (no criticism there), and most Objectivists aren’t keen on these sorts of discussion.
    My hope is to better equip people for when they confront Objectivists and those influenced by them, so that they may better address the arguments and squelch this infection in our body politic. My efforts have seemed to be well-received, with one noteable exception.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    There’s way too much unnecessary personal hostility in this thread, I’m afraid.


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