Atlas Shrugged: Job Satisfaction

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VIII

The day has finally come for the maiden voyage of the John Galt Line, and Dagny and Hank are on the platform in Cheyenne, beaming with pride, amidst a scrum of reporters and spectators. The one person who isn’t there is James Taggart, even though he wanted to come, because Dagny forbade it: “If you come, Jim… I’ll have you thrown out of your own Taggart station. This is one event you’re not going to see.” [p.222]

Jim is Dagny’s boss and the head of the company, so it’s not clear how she manages to make this stick or why he doesn’t punish her for this blatant act of insubordination. (OK, according to the legal fiction that the John Galt Line is a separate company owned by Dagny, she may still technically own the track. But the station is Taggart property, as Dagny says herself.) As always, when Rand’s heroes really want something, they can get it through pure willpower, even when that makes no sense.

As she started up the rungs on the side of the engine, a reporter thought of a question he had not asked.

“Miss Taggart,” he called after her, “who is John Galt?”

She turned, hanging onto a metal bar with one hand, suspended for an instant above the heads of the crowd.

We are!” she answered. [p.224]

What follows is a long, triumphant descriptive sequence, spanning several pages, of the train racing through towns, around mountainsides, and across the bridge, while all the time Dagny and Hank exult at their success and contemplate how awesome capitalism is. Here’s a small excerpt:

She had been aware for some time of the human figures that flashed with an odd regularity at the side of the track… She had had the track guarded since completion, but she had not hired the human chain she saw strung out along the right-of-way. A solitary figure stood at every mile post. Some were young schoolboys, others were so old that the silhouettes of their bodies looked bent against the sky… They were the sons of Taggart employees, and old railroad men who had retired after a full lifetime of Taggart service. They had come, unsummoned, to guard this train. [p.227]

This passage raises a few questions: Does Taggart really have that many “old railroad men”? Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to lay off employees when they start to age, and replace them with younger ones who’ll work harder for less? Also, for the ones who do last, what’s their retirement plan? Do they get pensions? It seems improbable that a Randian hero would approve of such a plan. (You can just hear Dagny’s incredulous tones: “They expect to still get paid when they’re too old to work?”)

Following its far-too-fast-to-be-safe journey, the train rolls into Wyatt Junction to a hero’s welcome:

[Dagny] was halfway down when she felt the palms of a man’s hands slam tight against her ribs and waistline, she was torn off the steps, swung through the air and deposited on the ground. She could not believe that the young boy laughing in her face was Ellis Wyatt. The tense, scornful face she remembered, now had the purity, the eagerness, the joyous benevolence of a child in the kind of world for which he had been intended. [p.232]

At this point, I have to highlight something that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the author. This idea of Rand’s that achievement is its own highest reward, that everyone should enjoy their job for its own sake and take joy and pride in doing it… that idea is very, well, communist.

Look, it’s a great thing to have a job you genuinely enjoy, and some people do. There are a lucky few who get up each morning and can’t wait to go in to the office. But work is often boring, stressful, taxing, or otherwise unpleasant. That’s why they pay you for it, after all. But in Rand’s view, the money is almost beside the point; all good capitalists love their jobs, and the only reason anyone might not like their job is because they’re one of the evil socialists who hate all accomplishment.

Ironically, by erasing this distinction, Rand elides one of the clearest differences between capitalism and communism. If there’s one area in which capitalism is clearly superior to communism, it’s that capitalism has a clear answer to the question of how we motivate people to do jobs that are unappealing but necessary. The theory of a communist utopia, by contrast, is that serving the state is its own reward, that everyone will be motivated to succeed at their jobs by a selfless desire to work for the benefit of one’s fellow citizens, and that the praise and adulation of others should be all the compensation anyone needs.

You can draw your own conclusions about how likely it is that this would work in reality. But with a few minor alterations (like substituting “corporation” for “state”), this could be Rand’s view as well. It just goes to show, again, that extreme views on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum have a strange tendency to loop back around and meet each other.

So much for the train ride. Now, for a little levity, let’s read this classic column by conservative writer George Will about why liberals love trains. It turns out that it’s because we’re all villains from Atlas Shrugged:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

…the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

You see, when you ride the railroads, you have to travel when and where the people who set the schedule want you to travel, which is just Step One in our evil scheme of reducing people to sheeplike conformity! (Insert villainous, mustache-twirling laugh here.) It would doubtless have come as a great shock to Ayn Rand to find out that Dagny Taggart, her heroic, hard-driving railroad executive hero, was in fact a sinister agent of collectivism all along.

Image credit: A Soviet locomotive, via Shutterstock

Other posts in this series:

Why Atheism Is a Force for Good
ISIS Is Bleeding Human History
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
About Adam Lee

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

  • Lagerbaer

    I agree completely with your review here, but regarding job satisfaction I’d like to go on a little tangent.

    It’s a Western phenomenon, particularly in the US, that the most common job advice you hear from people is “follow your passion”. But this is wrong and dangerous, since it assumes that everyone has a pre-existing passion that they have to find.

    The author here: argues that job satisfaction doesn’t quite depend on the specifics of the job and rather on factors such as autonomy, and how good you are at the job.

  • James_Jarvis

    OMG, Atlas Shrugged is The Secret disguised as “philosophy.”

  • arensb

    The society of people who all love doing their job is a common trope in science fiction, notably in the Star Trek world.
    When I encounter one of these societies, my usual question is, what motivates the cleaning crew to get up in the morning and rush to work? Do they really love washing toilets and cleaning up people’s vomit?

  • Jim Baerg

    A comment on George Wills column about railways as the technology of the past or the future:

    Electric rail is one of the very few means of transportation that doesn’t depend on petroleum. As the easily extracted oil gets rarer, the future of transportation is more rail & less road & air.

    I suppose there are a lot of people who wouldn’t want to admit that the French of all people ;^) got something right with their electric trains running on power generated by nuclear reactors, but that’s how it looks to me.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Excellent new post – worth waiting for.

    Krugman also remarked on George Will’s remarks in his own blog, delightfully entitled Dagny Taggart Wept.

    And the job satisfaction issue adds to the theory that Atlas Shrugged, and Objectivism in general have nothing to do with coherent analyses of real-world socio-political systems and everything to do with Ayn Rand’s idiosyncratic predilections.

    I think it’s worth noting something you left out of the AS quote. It’s the little details like this that make right-wingers believe that Rand is their spokeswoman:

    Some were young schoolboys, others were so old that the silhouettes of their bodies looked bent against the sky. All of them were armed, with anything they had found, from costly rifles to ancient muskets.

    Although why were they armed?

    They had come, unsummoned to guard this train.

    But from whom were they guarding it? We already know that the train has been allowed to run through residential zones at high speeds because local officials were either outargued, bribed or threatened. And there’s nothing in the book, unless I missed it, indicating that there were any groups, including government parasites, out to stop the train. So how did these unregulated militias get the idea that the train needed guarding?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Oh, and apropos of laissez-faire capitalism, here is Jon Stewart’s recent take-down of Stuart Varney, in case you haven’t seen it. With one of the best lines ever said by anybody on television around 6:35:

  • Enopoletus Harding

    But with a few minor alterations (like substituting “corporation” for “state”), this could be Rand’s view as well.

    -This statement is very ironic in its falsehood. Has Mr. Lee ever glimpsed at Atlas Shrugged Chapter X?

  • Alex SL

    Admittedly I am not cleaning toilets for my living but I find that beyond the level that allows a, say, lower middle class standard of living (rented flat, one old car for the family) it is mostly job satisfaction and the respect of my peers that motivates me to give more.

    And I would suspect that this works similarly in at least some other areas. There are many people who are not paid based on performance (e.g. German school teachers) but some of whom will still work hard to do their job well simply because they take pride in it. At the uppermost end of the scale, does earning $200K more really make any discernible difference to somebody whose base salary was already $500K? Would they stop doing quality work, whatever that is in those professions, if they did not get the $200K performance bonus?

    All in all it seems doubtful that the problem with communism is a flatter salary scale.

    May I also express some skepticism at the idea that extreme ideologies loop around and meet each other? It generally seems to be based on cherry picking a few isolated outward similarities. Some communists say the same about liberal democracy and fascism: they are both based on private ownership of the means of production, so they are basically the same.

    But the problem starts earlier: what is an ‘extreme ideology’? There surely does not appear to be an objective standard. If you were transported back two hundred years or to Saudi Arabia today, you would be considered a dangerous extremist for your currently mainstream beliefs, even without mentioning the atheism.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    So I wonder how long your edit to Stuart Varney’s Wikipedia page will last.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I find that if the Wiki stormtroopers don’t stomp on your entry in the first few hours, it’s unlikely to be disturbed.

    I would certainly contest it if they did – there’s not a thing wrong with my addition.

    Anyway, in my experience it isn’t content that makes the Wiki fanatics go nuts – it’s the slightest deviation from the rules of formatting.

    They haven’t removed my contribution to this entry from almost two months ago.,_to_each_according_to_his_need

  • Antigone10

    I think in the Star Trek universe (can’t prove it, but pretty sure) the shittiest jobs have been tech-sourced. It seems that given their level of technology tedious jobs like cleaning and dangerous job would be outsourced to robots. In Voyager, for instance, you learn that the technology that created the EMH was reprogrammed to do some sort of nuclear waste-equivalent clean up.

    Ted Kasitski, for all of his craziness, did make a scary amount of sense in his predictions of the future. I don’t believe in stopping technology (even if we could) but more and more people are working in jobs that can be easily tech-sourced soon enough. We really are inching closer to Star Trek, RepoMan or MadMax (with the rich people living in cities) as our possible futures. I’m pulling for Star Trek, personally, but we’re going to have to start moving away from work = money if we want a high level of human happiness.

  • arensb

    the shittiest jobs have been tech-sourced.

    That’s most likely the party line, but I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen a guy in the background of one of the movies, mopping the floor behind Kirk or Picard.

    more and more people are working in jobs that can be easily tech-sourced soon enough.

    Perhaps more than you think: I was recently at a conference for system administrators, where one of the running themes was that “we ought to be automating ourselves out of a job.”
    In reality, of course, what was meant was that we ought to be automating everything that can be, freeing us to do more interesting (read: not routine) things, like design, planning, building new systems, and so forth. A lot of this has already happened: in my first job as a sysadmin, I had to change tapes for the backups to run. These days, we have tape robots. It used to be that we had a step-by-step process for setting up, say, a machine to be used as a web server. These days, we just create a virtual machine on the fly (or rent some processing power from Amazon) and have a script set it up the way we want it.
    This is all well and good: humanity, freed from menial drudgery, can now control the machines and programs to do the interesting things that we actually want to do, like invent new art forms or, well, invent new metals to build continent-spanning railroads with.
    The danger I see, however, is that these cool projects require skill and training, and what do we do with the people who don’t have the requisite skills yet? If all of the burger-flipping jobs are done by machines, will we run low on jobs that can be done by teenagers with few or no marketable skills, still unsure of what direction they want to take in life?
    Presumably the answer is some sort of widespread apprenticeship or training system, but we’ve got a lot of groundwork to lay for that to work.

  • Alex SL

    Economist Paul Krugman is currently discussing the potential for massive economic growth from another industrial revolution, the AI/digital one in this case. He literally mentions only unemployment and death by SkyNet as the only dangers:

    Funny how in these futuristic scenarios resource limits never seem to be an issue. Where is the metal for all those robots going to come from, where the energy to build and run them? Will the technological singularity magically make more aquifers and fertile soils appear? Will it replenish fish stocks?

    Unless perennially 30 years-in-the-future fusion power unexpectedly drops into our collective lap real damn soon, I would suggest that unemployment will be the least of our issues 100 years from now. I fully expect oxen drawn ploughs and horse-carriages to make a major comeback before then, and many more humans will have to do manual labour again.

  • skyblue

    I don’t get the criticism of railroads as being “modifications of other people’s behavior”. Isn’t that an inherent part of any public transportation? Does Will think that you can show up at the airport and demand a 10:35am nonstop flight from Billings to Pensacola, and one will magically appear?

  • skyblue

    Good point. I have no problem believing that there are situations in which people will take unsafe or unpleasant jobs for low pay, we see it all the time. It’s the delusional joy that makes this bizarre.
    And in Rand’s world, apparently these jobs are so great that even the children of the employees come out to pay tribute to her speeding death train? Yeah, makes no sense.

  • Leeloo Dallas Multigrain

    “So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago?”

    Because when a technology was first developed has nothing to do with whether it’s the best solution to a problem?

    I assume George Will travels exclusively by Segway, rather than relying on moldy old technologies like cars and planes which have been around for over a century.

  • Izkata

    The EMHes were mining for dilithium, but yes, this is essentially what happens in the Federation in Star Trek. Other societies, such as the Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians, may or may not do this.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Where is the metal for all those robots going to come from, where the energy to build and run them?

    You do realize that metal isn’t the primary issue here, it’s silicon. And have you heard of solar power?

    Will the technological singularity magically make more aquifers and fertile soils appear?

    It’s happened before. Are you familiar with the Green Revolution? Although it wasn’t “magic.”

    And of course you must realize that the Skynet reference is a joke.

    If you are interested in Krugman’s speculations about the future, try this, which he wrote in 1996.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Why don’t you tell us exactly what part of Chapter X you mean, instead of expecting us to guess what you are talking about?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Well there is no objective reality, as Ayn Rand admitted when she said:

    “I will not die, it’s the world that will end.”

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Because you obviously know what I mean. Nevertheless, I will tell you:

    It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars-rotten, whining, sniveling beggars, all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earnings, his work didn’t belong to him, it belonged to ‘the family’, and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his ‘need’ -so he had to beg in public for relief from his needs, like any lousy moocher, listing all his troubles and miseries, down to his patched drawers and his wife’s head colds, hoping that ‘the family’ would throw him the alms.

    -Emphasis added. Does this sound anything like

    achievement is its own highest reward, that everyone should enjoy their job for its own sake and take joy and pride in doing it

    No. That’s something an Atlas Shrugged villain would say.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Children armed to the teeth, it should be noted.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The weirdest statement on those who rely on public transportation comes from Rand herself, in the Taggart Death Train incident, when she’s recounting the sins against Objectivism of the train passengers:

    The woman in Roomette 6, Car No. 8, was a lecturer who believed that as a consumer, she had “a right” to transportation, whether the railroad people wished to provide it or not.

    I just can’t figure out what Rand is thinking here. Presumably the railroad people wish to make money with their railroad, and presumably as a consumer the lecturer was paying for her transportation.

    And yet Rand seems to see an Objectivist problem with this standard capitalist transaction. And later on in the book there is another commentary about these presumptuous train passengers who think they have a right to transportation.

    I think this libertarian commentator gets at the issue very well:

    Nevertheless, the economic decisions of the heroes of Atlas Shrugged are constantly motivated by the human element. That is true even of the one major character in Atlas Shrugged who is a pure capitalist, Midas Mulligan. He says he joined the strike because of a vision, in which he “saw the bright face and the eyes of young Rearden . . . lying at the foot of an altar . . . and what stood on that altar was Lee Hunsacker, with the mucus-filled eyes” (III.1). In Part II, Chapter 3, Francisco asks Rearden: did you want the rail you made for the John Galt Line used by your equals, like Ellis Wyatt, and by men such as Eddie Willers, who do not match your ability but who “equal your moral integrity” and “riding on your rail — give a moment’s silent thanks”? Rearden answers Yes. Francisco then asks, “Did you want to see it used by whining rotters?” Rearden answers, “I’d blast that rail first.” Francisco then explains that by “whining rotter” he means “any man who proclaims his right to a single penny of another man’s effort.” But no economy, whether socialist or capitalist, could function for one day if producers acted in this way. In Part II, Chapter 10, Dagny says that Nathaniel Taggart, supposedly the archetypical capitalist, “couldn’t have worked with people like these passengers. He couldn’t have run trains for them.” But no one running a train line, even in a socialist economy, could possibly consider the moral worth of its passengers, or any consideration besides their paying for the ride.

  • Alex SL

    Thanks for the link. It is interesting to see that 17 years ago he appeared to be more aware of the issue than today.

    I am surprised to read that factory robots and self-driving cars consist mostly of silicon. I would have thought that would lead to structural integrity issues. Likewise, I was completely unaware that the Green Revolution replenished our aquifers and averted soil erosion; guess I have to read up on it.

    Or do you mean how it increased agricultural output? In that case, do you believe that this can be increased further and further for ever? So how many people do you think this planet can feed, clothe and house before it turns out to be too small? Seven billion? Ten billion? Fifty billion? And at what standard of living, in each case? (Looking at what we are doing to natural resources and habitats now, my own bet would be that the sustainable number of people on this planet is somewhere south of three billion, less than one billion if you want something approaching first world luxuries.)

    You are also aware that every renewable source of energy – including solar power – has a much lower return on energy invested than oil and coal? That very few of them may turn out to be worthwhile investments when they are not subsidized by cheap fossil fuels any more? I am fairly sure the future of energy will be regenerative. Just don’t know if we can expect it to support anything more than a first half of 19th century standard of living. (Which is fine; we don’t need all that electronic crap or cars to live a meaningful life.)

    And I wish I knew what your other reply has to do with anything I wrote.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I am surprised to read that factory robots and self-driving cars consist mostly of silicon.

    I was responding to your comment about robots – you didn’t say factory robots or anything about self-driving cars. But yeah, they can make lots of stuff without metal. And likely even more in the future. The robots of the future are likely to use less metal than the robots of the present, especially when you consider that category includes nanorobots.

    Likewise, I was completely unaware that the Green Revolution replenished our aquifers and averted soil erosion; guess I have to read up on it.

    You changed your story again. You originally said

    Will the technological singularity magically make more aquifers and fertile soils appear?

    Let’s review what Wiki says:

    Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1960s, that increased agriculture production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.[1] The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution” credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.

    It was a technology-based approach to increasing agricultural production. How is it that you are so certain that there can never be additional technological solutions to food supplies?

    And as far as magically making more aquifers appear, true, technology can’t do that. But nothing can. Why are you mad at technology for that?

    Or do you mean how it increased agricultural output? In that case, do you believe that this can be increased further and further for ever? So how many people do you think this planet can feed, clothe and house before it turns out to be too small? Seven billion? Ten billion? Fifty billion? And at what standard of living, in each case? (Looking at what we are doing to natural resources and habitats now, my own bet would be that the sustainable number of people on this planet is somewhere south of three billion, less than one billion if you want something approaching first world luxuries.)

    Do I think anything can be increased further and further “for ever”? No. Can we stick to plausibility now?

    So your real problem is overpopulation, and I guess you’re mad at Krugman for not explicitly discussing overpopulation in his brief blog post, only the potential employment issues associated with technology.

    Do you think that’s reasonable to be mad at Krugman for not addressing every potential problem of the future in one blog post addressing one specific issue?

  • Nancy McClernan


    You are also aware that every renewable source of energy – including solar power – has a much lower return on energy invested than oil and coal? That very few of them may turn out to be worthwhile investments when they are not subsidized by cheap fossil fuels any more? I am fairly sure the future of energy will be regenerative.

    Why are you so certain that the return on energy invested in solar power will always be what it is now? It’s been improving all along. Are we living in the end of history?

    And not only that, so much of the way we live is based on un-renewable energy assumptions of cheap oil. Homes could be heated and cooled with a much greater energy efficiency if they were built in such a way as to take advantage of geothermal, biothermal and solar energy possibilities. The thing that is stopping people from living in such houses is not that they can’t be built, it’s that it’s still much cheaper to live in homes built without such considerations – they already exist in mass quantities.

    Why couldn’t an economic boost be had in sustainable architecture, among other energy-conscious technology initiatives?

  • Jason Wexler

    If the secret isn’t “philosophy” to start with what is it?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Magical thinking.

  • Jason Wexler

    With due deference to Richard Carriers interesting Skepticon 6 lecture, is there a difference between “philosophy” and magical thinking?

  • smrnda

    Will, like most conservatives, doesn’t seem to be open to the idea that some choices actually are better than others, and that a government probably should push people towards the better choices. He can only see this ideologically – trains are collectivist and egalitarian, whereas cars are individualistic and show status.

  • smrnda

    Wow, solipsism at its finest.

  • smrnda

    People say all kinds of things, but there is more merit in some comparisons than others.

    I don’t think extreme ideologies always overlap – extreme libertarianism would end up resulting in some kind of feudalism, where you’d work in your company town now that your employer has been freed from all stifling legislation preventing him from paying you in company scrip, and where a weak central government would mean no federal police state, but instead, company ‘security forces’ which would look very different and likely have very different objectives and styles of corruption. That would be distinctly different than Fascism or Communism, though a weak central government might make such a place ideal for a stronger more centralized state to move in and make it a colony.

    To me, ‘extreme ideology’ is marked by a belief that ideological purity is an intrinsic good, and that a system can be ‘right’ even if most people living under it are doing terribly. If a Communist can see a bunch of people in bland jumpsuits working 60 hour weeks and call it ‘glorious’ they’re a nutter, and if a libertarian sees the standard of living drop about 100 years and wax poetic about how there is now finally meaningful freedom, they’re a nutter.

  • smrnda

    Rand obviously never worked for years and years at some shitty, manual labor job. I don’t think most railroad workers, miners or factory workers want to see anything of their former employer after retirement, no matter how well they were paid.

    George Will, I remember that column. He seems to be against the idea that there might exist objectively better choices than others, and that you can sometimes do a cost/benefit analysis and actually decide which mode of transportation will move people where they are going more efficiently than others, will fewer bad externalities. He’s got to frame it as ideology : the collectivist train and the individualized automobile.

    The guy might as well argue that it’s wrong for the government to demand warnings on packs of cigarettes. After all, not dying of cancer is just some liberal preference, it’s just as rational to want to be so addicted you head out in subzero weather for to smoke something that will kill you.

    In Will saying ‘railroads are the future 200 years ago’ – the guy must never travel outside of the US. Today’s trains are not the steam locomotives of 200 years ago.

  • smrnda

    Rand is just rambling. I think her ideology is motivated mostly by emotion, narcissism, and a desire to show contempt for the most people possible, and that the logic and reason are retrofitted on later.

    I suspect her idea is that the lecturer thinks the State should provide trains based on where people want to travel, whereas the ‘right way’ is to let private individuals decide to go where they want to go, even it if means not serving a huge chunk of the population. Despite believing in capitalism, she seems to be the type to think that Ford should have just made all the cars black and damn what the customer wants.

    I suspect that to be consistent, Rand would have to support racist red-lining as the ‘right’ of capitalists not to invest in non-white people if they don’t want to.

  • Loren Petrich

    Or moldier ones like riding horses and horse-drawn vehicles, about 4 or 5 thousand years old.

    Or the ultimate in moldiness, walking. It’s much older than our species, nearly 400 million years old, judging from fossils of real-life “Darwin Fish” like Tiktaalik.

  • Loren Petrich

    For all we know, George Will does all his long-distance travel by flying a private plane.

    But more seriously, airliners have all the collectivism that he decries in trains, and if anything, they are worse. I once wrote a satire in which I imagined that air travel is liberal social engineering and conditioning people to be dependent on government.

  • Loren Petrich

    Or even in the US itself. Amtrak may be an embarrassment by the standards of many other industrialized countries, but it’s still plenty modern, with no steam locomotives in sight.

    I almost can’t believe that George Will was serious. Could he have been trolling?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Sure. In fact philosophy might be the opposite of magical thinking, when it’s done right.

  • smrnda

    As a tech person, I also think that deciding to automate tasks can create messes of new problems to solve that weren’t anticipated.

    On re-skilling. There seems to be a huge disdain to train anyone on the job for anything these days, which, especially for some tech jobs seems idiotic to me. If I have someone who can say, program in Java but can’t program in C#, that gap in skills isn’t so huge that it can’t be covered in a short time (and IDEs can make that transition even faster) but yet many companies have some dream-list of requirements and won’t take anyone.
    A lot of the problem is our education is based on the idea that you start on your chosen career path as a teenager, and that the skills needed don’t change drastically later. The needs of adults who need more training aren’t being addressed properly at all.

  • smrnda

    As a person who is legally blind and who is therefore, dependent on public transportation, I get a bit irritated by people who keep making it sound like cars with individual drivers are ‘freedom.’ The fact that so much of the US exists under the assumption that you drive everywhere means entire parts of this country are inaccessible to me by any meaningful standard because I cannot drive.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And a direct contradiction of one of the pillars of Objectivism as defined by Rand herself.

    “Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.”

    Leonard Peikoff explicitly states his rejection of “the notion that consciousness is the creator of reality.”

    I’ve yet to find any discussions of Rand and Objectivism that point out this blatant contradiction between Rand’s recorded statement above and the claims of Objectivism.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I don’t know if Rand had a desire to show contempt for the most people possible, as that she did have contempt for most people, because most people didn’t agree with everything that Rand believed.

    And I don’t think Rand’s attitude towards the lecturer was based on geography. I think it was based on morality. As passages quoted by the libertarian that I linked to demonstrate, Randian Ubermensch resented the idea that any company would be expected to serve any customers whom the owners of the company decided did not have enough moral integrity to deserve the privilege of using their products/services.

    Here is how Rand describes the passengers on the Taggart Comet which comes to a dead halt at night in the middle of the desert because its crew disappeared:

    The unnatural pallor of the moonlight seemed to dissolve the differences in their faces and to stress the quality they all had in common: a look of cautious appraisal, part fear, part plea, part impertinence held in abeyance.

    Now these are people who are rightly concerned about being in a precarious situation as a result of a screw-up in the service they had paid for. Dagny has no sympathy for them whatsoever:

    …We are on a train that has been abandoned by its crew. There was no physical accident. The engine is intact. But there is no one to run it. This is what the newspapers call a frozen train. You all know what it means – and you know the reasons.

    Now we already know that the newspapers years ago decided never to report on the facts out of a post-modernist frenzy, which is why they won’t talk about the John Galt line maiden voyage. But since it’s suddenly narratively convenient to have newspapers that actually report on facts, they suddenly do. But I digress…

    …Perhaps you knew the reasons long before they were discovered by the men who deserted you tonight. The law forbade them to desert – but this will not help you now.

    She is surly towards her railroad’s customers and implies that they should have known better than to take her train, since the newspapers have reported on frozen trains. Through no actions of their own, except buying a ticket on the Taggart Comet, and because they express negative feelings about the interruption in their train ride Dagny has decided that they’re transportation-mooching parasites. And of course, since this is the world of Atlas Shrugged, they are parasites and we know it by their appearance. To continue directly from the last quoted item…

    A woman shrieked suddenly, with the demanding petulance of hysteria, “What are we going to do?”

    Dagny paused to look at her. The woman was pushing forward, to squeeze herself into the group, to place some human bodies between herself and the great vacuum – the plain stretching off and dissolving into the moonlight, the dead phosphorescence of impotent, borrowed energy. The woman had a coat thrown over a nightgown; the coat was slipping open and her stomach protruded under the gown’s thin cloth, with that loose obscenity of manner which assumes all human self-revelation to be ugliness and makes no effort to conceal it. For a moment Dagny regretted the necessity to continue.

    Dagny informs them that she has to go to the emergency telephone and asks for volunteers to go with her and none of the passengers offer to go because they’re all cowards, of course, as well as being ugly, and so Owen Kellogg, one of the Ubermensch offers to go with her. And then…

    “Just where are we?” asked a bulky man with too expensive an overcoat and too flabby a face; his voice had a tone intended for servants by a man unfit to employ them. “In what part of what state?”

    Why “too expensive” an overcoat? Good question. But again, I digress…

    “I don’t know,” she answered.
    “How long will we be kept here?” asked another, in the tone of a creditor who is imposed upon by a debtor.
    “I don’t know.”
    “When will we get to San Francisco?” asked a third, in the manner of a sheriff addressing a suspect.
    “I don’t know.”

    Now you would think that at the very least the Operating Vice President of the railroad would have some idea what freaking state they are in. So why wouldn’t they think she was just stonewalling them?

    “This is perfectly outrageous!” yelled a woman, springing forward, throwing her words into Dagny’s face. “You have no right to let this happen! I don’t intend to be kept waiting in the middle of nowhere! I expect transporation!”

    “Keep your mouth shut,” said Dagny, “or I’ll lock the train doors and leave you where you are.”

    It’s striking that the only times Taggart railroad customers are described, they are stupid, ugly, cowardly, hysterical, demanding moochers – and Rand is either explaining why they deserve death, or Dagny is offering to leave them in a locked train in the middle of the desert to die. The very idea of passengers on her trains seems to fill Rand with a murderous rage.

    I think that as with anything involving the mind of Ayn Rand, we’re talking about something much stranger and far more idiosyncratic than garden-variety sociopathy.

  • Michael

    Most libertarians support deontological rather than consequentialist ethics, so their system would indeed be judged by its purity, whether or not most people living under it were miserable. While they do also claim people would be better off under it, that’s a secondary issue at best for deontological libertarians. I would like someone to admit it though: “Yes, my system would probably result in a miserable life for most people. It would still be right.” Not much chance of that.

  • Jason Wexler

    Well I think, I am not sure, but I think that’s why philosophy was in quotes. I think the quotes was a euphemistic way by the OP James Jarvis, to distinguish philosophy from what Richard Carrier called pseudo-philosophy. Because I assumed that was his meaning, I used it in that sense as well, so I think “philosophy” what ever meaning was meant by adding quotes, can be said to not include “done right”.

  • smrnda

    It’s also worth noting that a job that’s not your passion, but which pays alright and gives you enough time and money to enjoy life is possibly a far better and more realistic goal.

  • smrnda

    My take is that any philosophy which says that it answers all of life’s questions and provides no contradictions is going to, eventually, be shown to be full of shit. Simply put, people are not so simplistic, and we do have competing values and goals and part of life is negotiating the tradeoffs.

  • smrnda

    Well, I have had libertarians tell me that I’m relying on consequentialist rather than deontological ethics, and then try to defend the deontological choice which is really just a pretentious way of getting around admitting the obvious.

    Now and then someone will point out that you do get ethical dilemmas with consequentialist ethics, but that is news to absolutely nobody, and many hypothetical scenarios have little chance of having a practical impact.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Well, I don’t think any philosophy has answered all life’s questions, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make the attempt. And I don’t think those who make the attempt necessarily believe people are simplistic.

    But certainly Ayn Rand thought her “philosophy” of Objectivism had all the answers. And she never worried about being challenged, because if you challenged her too much she would stop talking to you.

    Rand was surrounded by enablers though, which was sweet for her.

  • Michael

    In my opinion, deontological ethics always seems to contain hidden consequentialist thinking, as very few deontologists I’m aware of defend their views if they cause disastrous consequences. Though Kant said “don’t lie to a murderer at the door” which has pretty obvious bad consequences, otherwise he seemed to feel it would be best if everyone followed the categorical imperative, not in accord with the “good will”.

  • smrnda

    Oddly, that could appear to be a strangely pro-labor passage. In a sense, workers in any industry can decide not to work and point out to the customers and their employers that they really do have power and can ask for their demands to be met.

    The odd thing is Rand is pretty much depicting a walk-off strike but imagining it as the workers acting out against the customers, as if your average worker gives a shit who the customers are. I have a feeling that if workers had walked off the job and left customers stranded as an act of defiance against management, she would completely see it as a heinous and evil act, and she would then point out how horrible and inconsiderate the strikers are to the customers they are inconveniencing, and in that case she wouldn’t bother with a moral evaluation of the customers.

    The other thing is, if you pay money for something, you expect the service. Rand seems to argue that expecting something for nothing makes you a moocher, but when even paying customers *become moochers* you’re looking at either insanity or stupidity, or basically both. So pretty much, anyone becomes a moocher the moment The Big Person in Charge decides you are.

    This completely blows the fuguewriter guy’s argument that there is no means to faith test in a Rand style capitalist system, since Rand obviously believes that The Business has a right to pretty much break contract whenever they feel like it.

    And this is what I also don’t get. Everybody owes The Movers everything, but when you pay money to The Movers and they stop the job halfway through, aren’t they proving that nobody should owe them anything and that “The Movers’” are just assholes that, if everybody quit listening to them and just quit respecting their claims to authority we would all be better off?

    In the end, Rand is just deciding that Good People by Definition Are Right, regardless of their actual behavior.

    Ayn Rand seems like a dimwit who, regrettably, never got put in her place by someone pointing out her lack of knowledge and who, unfortunately, found admirers. She isn’t the only writer like this. I think Henry Miller is nothing but narcissistic whining and misogyny.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Well Rand has no problem slanting every single situation in Atlas Shrugged. Whenever one of the moochers screws up on the job, she naturally describes them as ugly incompetent losers who whine “it’s not my fault!”

    We all know what Ayn Rand must have thought of Han Solo.

    But although Dagny of course is beautiful and dignified and not a whiner, in fact she is the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, has no idea what state they are in, and takes no responsibility for the predicament. She knew about the frozen train phenomenon too, why didn’t she plan ahead by offering bribes to the workers? She has no trouble bribing (or threatening) small town officials when it suits her.

    And on top of taking no responsibility for her train line’s failure to provide the paid-for service, she threatens her customers with violence for daring to complain.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And the best part is that Rand had an alternative to this whole scenario.

    The reason the train becomes “frozen” right here is because it’s close to Galt’s Gulch. But Rand has introduced the idea of “gangs of raiders” which is why Dagny asks for people to accompany her to the phone. Rand could have had gangs of raiders show up, could even have had the raiders shoot up the train, killing off the parasites, while Dagny and Owen run for help. It would have been so much more exciting than what she presents.

    But Rand was too poor a writer, and more importantly too obsessed with hammering in her Objectivist message, to miss an opportunity to show how loathsome Taggart Train passengers are.

  • J-D

    When Dagny tells Jim she’ll have him thrown out of the station, isn’t she threatening to initiate the use of force? I thought that was supposed to be a no-no.

  • Laughing Giraffe

    I’m with you. I’m physically capable of driving a car, but I can’t afford to. If I didn’t have public transit in my city, I’d have to walk everywhere – bicycles are limited by the weather – and that would severely impair my employment options (not to speak of my social, medical and exercise options). In fact, I’ve read that in some places in the States unemployment is significantly worsened by the fact that jobs are available but not enough workers can physically access them.

  • Leeloo Dallas Multigrain

    Wow, he’s like the “No soup for you!”-guy of the transportation industry.

  • Azkyroth

    All ethics are inherently consequentialist. If you doubt this, find me an argument against consequentialist ethics that does not, if pressed, eventually appeal to the alleged consequences of adopting them.

  • Azkyroth

    Would you like some dressing with that word salad?

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Wow, that was some website. I had forgotten that a lot of libertarians hate Lincoln.

  • Alex SL

    Krugman was mentioning self-steering cars as one of his examples, when cleaning jobs being done by robots was mentioned in this thread I assumed that more than a silicon chip would be involved, and how moving from aquifers and soils to aquifers and soils is “changing my story” is really the least clear to me.

    I am not mad at technology (have yet to meet that person), nor at Krugman. The point is that before everybody starts arguing whether the future will be (1) mass unemployment through robots or (2) utopia through robots one should first figure out whether robots on that scale are an affordable proposition once fossil fuels are gone. We will have a hard time running all those combination harvesters once there is no oil any more, so cleaning machines and cars will be waaaay down the list of priorities.

    The general approach in these discussions all too often seems to be:

    1. Invent artificial intelligence.
    2. ????
    3. Resource limits don’t matter any more.

  • unbound55

    Keep in mind that conservatives, by definition, do not desire change, and the vast majority of them will never acknowledge that change is ever necessary. From their standpoint, oil will always be available (even if it is a bit harder over time to get to it), so electric rail is nothing but a liberal conspiracy for {insert latest theory}.

  • Michael

    Agreed, I was attempting to make that same point.

  • Ricker

    I didn’t get the same impression as you regarding job satisfaction. Thinking back to the first 2 books, I recall several passages where the protagists state their goal is simply to make money.
    Why did Rearden make a better alloy? To make money.
    Why did he revise his (already good) bridge design? To make money.
    Why did Dagny build the JG line? To make money.

    As I’m reading through the last book, all the monologues seem to be based on 1 principle: that the individual should be able to reap the rewards of his labor. Yes, most of the characters sought to do something they enjoyed, but the reason one after another left was because they weren’t allowed to reap the monetary benefits of their exceling at what they enjoyed.

    I would actually argue against your observation. The entire premise of the books seems to be that ability should be monetarily rewarded. Rearden Metal is a great example: Hank stated on several occasions that his goal, his purpose, was to invent a better product then charge as high a price as he could so he could make as much money as he could.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Your Underpants Gnomes construction doesn’t work – number 3 is always a result, with an exclamation point. It should be something like ” 3. Endless supply of resources!”

    Krugman shows how its done. This is from 2010.

    Watching some liberal members of the House explain why they won’t do what’s necessary, and pass the Senate bill, I was wondering what they imagine will happen. Then the answer came to me: it’s the Underpants Gnomes business plan. In its original form this was:

    1. Collect underpants.
    2. ?????
    3. Profit!

    The current version is:
    1. Reject the only bill that can be enacted any time soon.
    2. ?????
    3. Universal coverage!


  • Nancy McClernan

    Really? I did not know that – I’ll have to examine that web site more thoroughly.

  • arensb

    deciding to automate tasks can create messes of new problems to solve that weren’t anticipated.

    True, but in practice, automating things (and fixing the automation when you’ve screwed it up) fixes more problems than would be caused by, say, forgetting one step of the recovery procedure when you have to do it at 3:00 a.m., or making a typo and feeding in the wrong config file.

    There seems to be a huge disdain to train anyone on the job for anything these days

    I’ve run into this problem in the past, but it seems to be becoming rarer. Heck, even pointy-haired managers can figure out that they didn’t have an iPad five years ago, and so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect techies to have five years’ experience with iPads; and by extension, that maybe it’d be a good idea to train people in new technologies coming down the pike.
    Though I’ll add that it’s probably fair to expect techies to be self-starters who’ll learn C# (to use your example) without being told to by management.

  • smrnda

    1. We did that a long time ago, and we progress in getting computers to do more and more tasks all the time. We have not “invented AI” in the science fiction HAL sense of a computer that has truly human like intelligence, but many machines can do jobs that we used to think would be nearly impossible. The sci fi AI is no longer much of a goal since most people who develop AI technology are looking to solve some concrete problem.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yep. So far we have three or four examples of Rand heroes initiating force.
    1. Nat Taggart throwing a government rep down three flights of stairs for offering him a loan. This only counts if you don’t think it’s merely a legend though. But we know Dagny admires him regardless of the possible truth of the legends.
    2. The John Galt line inaugural 100-mile per hour run made possible through the outarguing, bribing and threatening of local officals.
    3. Dagny threatening to detain her railroad’s passengers for daring to complain.
    4. Dagny threatening to throw Jim out of the station.

    I imagine there are more. These might have been caught, had Rand permitted the Random House editors to do their jobs.

  • smrnda

    My take on the problems caused by automating tasks were more the social problems, in which we create a world where we don’t need 100% of the labor force working full time to meet consumer demand so unemployment becomes a more persistent problem which becomes harder to solve, other than changing assumptions about the nature of work itself. The assumption that everyone will work 40 hrs and such is just not going to work for long.

  • smrnda

    I’d also say that, unless you are some kind of Platonist, deontological ethics makes no sense since it implies ‘virtues’ existing independently, outside of our human conception of them as Eternal Forms or something.

  • smrnda

    The only way around it is Rand seems to think anything goes as long as the ‘right person’ does it.

    Now, good writers will make a point of showing that their heroes do occasionally do things that are a lot like what the villains do, but good writers do this to explore how people are morally ambiguous, and to show how hard it is for any person to truly choose to be good all the time, that the villains aren’t 100% bad and the heroes aren’t 100% good, and that circumstances can force people to do what they think is wrong.

    This is the opposite of what Rand does, which is to just pretend these conflicts don’t exist, which then requires her to handwaive her heroes doing things that are, according to her, bad. It’s why I feel like her moral code and her definitions have this slippery quality, they seem designed to be vague enough to mean whatever she wants them to mean.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I could certainly accept that Dagny might be in a bad mood. And maybe later we could be privy to her internal monologue, regretting that she wasn’t more sympathetic to her paying customers. But that doesn’t happen, because Rand felt the passengers should be grateful they got any transportation at all from Taggart Transcontinental, being the ugly stupid cowardly incompetent parasites they are, regardless of how much they paid.
    Yes, I think slippery is a good way to put it.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I thought you were talking about chapter X in part 1. The bum on the train doesn’t show up until part 2. This is why you need to be specific instead of making vague references. Especially when there are three chapter Xs.

    More importantly, what does Rand’s straw-man description of Communism have to do with what Adam was talking about?

  • rmric0

    Maybe the unemployed segment of the workforce is part of a colonial draft? I always got the impression that much of the UFP was a make-work project.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    I think her moral code is simply designed to flatter and serve the interests of the elite. The elite have the right to use force to get their way, the masses don’t. She obviously doesn’t state things this way, but the many contradictions in her moralistic facade make it clear what she’s really getting at.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    What makes it especially stupid is that no one is going to make George Will ride a train. If you have a train, you have an additional transportation option. Having more options makes you more free to be an individualist
    choosing your own path, not less.

    The right-wing love affair with the automobile and disdain for trains or bicycles has nothing to do with any high-minded principles, it’s simply a desire to maintain the status quo of suburban sprawl with its SUVs, McMansions, and traffic jams. And of course, sneering contempt for people who don’t want to conform to that way of living.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    They were the sons of Taggart employees, and old railroad men who had retired after a full lifetime of Taggart service. They had come, unsummoned, to guard this train.

    Wait a minute. These people, due to some kind of sentimentality for their former employer (or their fathers’ employer), came out to guard the train for free? What kind of charitable pansies are these people? Don’t they know you’re supposed to demand payment in exchange for services, that simply giving stuff away enables the moochers?

    Surely, Rand expects this kind of loyalty and friendship between worker and employer to be a two-way street, that employers owe their workers considerations and compensation above and beyond the letter of their contracts, right? Or is it only the workers who owe the capitalist thanks for their employment, while the capitalist can treat the workers as commodities to be dispensed with at will?

  • smrnda

    And, I like to point out to all of them, sneering contempt for anyone who, for reason of any disability, cannot drive a car. I always have to point out how much conservatives hate people with disabilities.

  • arensb

    Two words: Soylent Redshirt.

  • Alex SL

    I agree that hard AI is actually quite pointless (why would I want a machine to be controlled by a computer that might wonder about the meaning of it all?) but there is a whole bunch of singularitarians who wouldn’t.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Actually, his argument was that, at least at this point in time, there was no reason to think that they WERE better choices, so the insistence on taking the train option and no other had to be ideological.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Will actually lists reasons why liberals want trains:

    Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

    And then instead of addressing whether or not each reason is worthwhile, Will simply dismisses them all as flimsy. This way he can get to the real motive of his political foes: what those people really want is… MIND CONTROL!

    And while Will may not share Rand’s love of trains, he shares her conviction that there are no true, honest, well-meaning if misguided reasons for why ideological opponents do what they do – they act out of pure malice.

    That’s why her analysis of Communism isn’t to examine their desire to make the world better for the greatest number of people, or end national strife or any of the other number of reasons Communists give for why they want Communism. Rand’s given reason for why Communists really do what they do is nothing more nor less than pure sadism.

    And with that outlook, it’s no wonder that all the ideological opponents of Objectivism in “Atlas Shrugged” are these ugly, stupid, evil freaks, who hate Objectivists “for their greatness” as James Taggart hates John Galt.

    I have to wonder how common is this paranoid dehumanizing view of ideological opponents among conservatives.

  • smrnda

    My take on AI is that I get machines to solve problems for a living, so the sci fi AI isn’t that interesting to me.

    If we get that kind of intelligence out of machines, we’ll have to deal with it when it happens. I just think people underestimate how much of human intelligence is driven by our biological makeup.

  • smrnda

    I think trains have beat other means for a while. There are some problems with rail not servicing some areas, but I can’t think of a single rail trip I’ve taken that would have been cheaper in terms of $$$ by car. Cars also tend to impose costs all the time.

  • smrnda

    All the ‘flimsy reasons’ are actually quite solid. In Chicago, I took trains. Street were already congested enough – taking the trains away would have made it worse.

    Will just says the reasons are flimsy without saying why. Argument by assertion is not valid.

  • smrnda

    I wanted to add, some libertarians, like Lew Rockwell or Mark Rothbert, are find with talking about all the domination that would go on. They delight in the coming inequality and the return of (as Rockwell said) the right ‘natural hierarchy.’

  • smrnda

    The problem is, in the real world, we have people whining that they’re only getting 10 billion for paying other people to innovate, rather than 10.001 billion or something like that. We also have people making lots of money off innovations that aren’t so great, and a great deal of relevant R and D being done with government money. Think of the operating system. Edsger Dijkstra is way more important to the OS world than Bill Gates ever could be, but Dijkstra was a professor and researcher, not a business person.

  • Michael

    Yes, quite true. Rothbard was supportive of the New Left in his early days, but went further right over time, eventually throwing in his lot with Pat Buchanan and Rockwell.

  • decathelite

    I also don’t get how the guards could have possibly been effective. If someone or group is bent on sabotaging the train, all they’d have to do is take out one kid with a rifle. Plus, a “solitary figure at every mile post” still leaves a lot of land where no one is watching, even taking into account a track that is entirely straight.

  • Science Avenger

    Goedel would agree with you.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Another good point!

  • smrnda

    Actually, it sounds like a bunch of entitled whining from people who have no idea what real hardship is who *think* that because they must pay taxes, follow rules and respond to the needs of others that they are being horribly oppressed.

    Also, all work is collective in nature. People in positions of authority will always claim that *their share should be so much bigger.* Read Animal Farm?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    I then apologize for assuming you knew what I was talking about. I haven’t read the book in over two years, so I’ve forgotten a little about how it’s organized. Wasn’t Adam talking about how Randism compares with Communism above?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    In Atlas Shrugged, those words weren’t put in the mouth of a rich character or one in a position of authority. I do think Part II, Chapter X of Atlas Shrugged is really the most powerful part of the book.

  • smrnda

    I have better things to do than real toilet paper propaganda which is designed to do nothing but to create increasing scorn for other people who are *moochers*, based on an entirely false concept that there exist some tiny # of great people we all can’t do without, written by someone who clearly has little exact knowledge of anything and who clearly can’t write characters who are anything like anyone I would ever want to deal with.

    If I want to know what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it, then I’d prefer to listen to actual people who are struggling, not read this nonsense. Rand gets the whole human condition wrong, and completely cannot grasp the collective nature of almost all work.

    The other things is, hey, Rand openly said the genocide of First Nations people in North America was okay, and that it’s *racist* according to some white person I guess, to say it’s wrong for white people to kill people if the people they kill haven’t developed the notion of absolute property rights yet. I don’t think a person with such a bankrupt morality has anything to teach anyone, and is someone I should probably ignore.

    The other thing is, Rand has no interest in actually trying to understand other people who are not exactly like her, which means her work is full of either Mary Sues or one-dimensional villains. She can’t write any character who isn’t a CEO or some hotshot inventor which shows real poverty of imagination. She can’t conceive of a meaning to life beyond what a person does for for profit work. She denounces or ignores most of what human beings do that makes life worth living – relationships not built around business deals. She can’t write a single sentence about a person taking joy in some small pleasure (except when it’s *her* habit of smoking.)

    JG Ballard said he once heard a quote that some writer said the enemy of being a creative person was ‘the baby in the pram’ – that a good writer is some bohemian type who isn’t interesting in what *ordinary people do.* Ballard dismissed this thinking as nonsense, and said the ability of a writer to handle everyday responsibilities and relationships was what makes good writing possible. Rand, with her *look at me!* bohemianism is just the type of person who can’t write out anything but variants of “I’m special we’re special and YOU’RE NOT!” Come on, that’s what high school seniors do in a creative writing class.

    The other thing is, Rand is not an economist, never ran a businesses, and is not a scientist or engineer, and her incompetence in these areas makes the events of her books laughably absurd. I wouldn’t take a book about WAR written by someone who was never in a war and who was also ignorant of military history and strategy seriously, so I can’t take Rand seriously.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    If you don’t plan to read it, why comment on it?

  • Nancy McClernan

    It was my understanding that Adam was pointing out that because Rand’s heroes often feel that achievement is its own reward rather than a means to money they have an attitude that is actually what Communism aspires to.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Really? You think that Rand portraying Communism as a scheme by which the bourgeoisie collectivize their own factory for the single purpose of sadism is powerful, rather than the most laughably idiotic thing you’ve ever read?

    Please explain.

  • jded

    Another point: I can drive but I don’t like to since I’ve been in an accident. I don’t like the risk and the inherent responsibility for the lives of my family and strangers on the road, and I don’t enjoy worrying about the technical troubles and unforseen costs connected with owning a (cheap,used) car. Ability to get anywhere without worrying about the risks and potential car troubles is freedom to me.

  • Nancy McClernan

    This libertarian writer notes in his essay Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand that Rand’s economic fantasies have more in common with the big Communist projects than with actual capitalist considerations:

    Rand used “grocery clerk” to symbolize the antithesis of her ideal (1964: viii; 1975: 84). In her first novel, We the Living, when the heroine, Kira, sees her future lover Leo for the first time,she observes that “[h]is mouth . . . was that of an ancient chieftain who could order men to die, and his eyes were such as could watch it.” However, Leo says to Kira, with bitter humor, “I’m nothing like what you think I am. I’ve always wanted to be a Soviet clerk who sells soap and smiles at customers” (I.4). Again, Rand reversed Communism and capitalism. Men who could order others to die and watch their death calmly characterized Communism. Smiling clerks, who sell unimpressive products, characterize capitalism. –

  • pbrower2a

    I figure that the toilets and floors wash themselves — or unseen robots do the work. Those robots are not programmed to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ anything.

  • pbrower2a

    There will never be a shortage of silicon for industry. Maybe the energy for processing it, as most of it is available in the form of sand.

  • pbrower2a

    The most enjoyable long-distance trip that I ever took was on the California Zephyr. I could get material on a remake (or resetting) of It Happened One Night on that experience. I saw a wide variety of people of average-to-above intelligence. I saw people playing Scrabble — and the words that they used were consistent with “STANFORD” on their sweaters. I met exchange students from Brazil and Germany. I had some spectacular views of eastern Utah and western Colorado. I took about 50 photographs.

    The trip was slow and it stalled several times, but what the heck? At least I wasn’t sandwiched between people who were not going to talk under any circumstances in an airplane in a holding pattern. It wasn’t unending miles of featureless expressway in northern Illinois or some clogged artery of insipid sprawl like the Tri-State Tollway that I can make tolerable only with friends like Wolfgang, Ludwig, Gustav, and Sergei on the CD.

    Would I do it again? In a minute!

  • Science Avenger

    From what I’ve read and experienced, for most people money is the primary motivation only when they lack enough of it for their basic needs. After that, motives shift more towards autonomy, developing skills, and achieving some desired goal.

  • Science Avenger

    It doesn’t sound like you’ve spent much time around true believers, and good for you. But I assure you, many would rather the heavens fall than give up their ideology.

  • Science Avenger

    In particular, many Objectivist/Libertarians, when confronted with the reality that their policies would likely result in more people living in slums, will respond with something like “Better people living in slums as a result of their efforts than living in the suburbs as a result of mine.”

  • Science Avenger

    Rand: ‘The woman in Roomette 6, Car No. 8, was a lecturer who believed that as a consumer, she had “a right” to transportation, whether the railroad people wished to provide it or not.’

    Nancy: “I just can’t figure out what Rand is thinking here. Presumably the railroad people wish to make money with their railroad, and presumably as a consumer the lecturer was paying for her transportation.”

    A crucial aspect of Rand’s worldview is that once something is deemed a right, then those who provide it essentially become slaves, because if you have a right to X and I’m the only one who can provide X, then I’m not allowed to do something else, or nothing.

  • Nancy McClernan

    But that’s what’s so weird – not many people go around claiming they have a “right” to transportation, any more than they have a right to any other service that’s available on the market.

    I mean if you buy a ticket to a movie, when you sit down in the theater, you expect to see a movie. Because that was the deal.

    And I don’t remember ever reading in one of Rand’s books that somebody is considered a presumptuous parasitic moocher fool for expecting to get what they paid for – except for train rides.

    And I don’t think there’s a single instance in Atlas Shrugged of the passengers of a Taggart train not portrayed as the standard ugly stupid cowardly incompetent corrupt looter/moochers/parasites. In the two instances where she portrays train passengers, she sends the first group to their gruesome deaths, and the second batch are threatened by Dagny for daring to complain that they didn’t get the service they paid for.

    I think Rand had a very weird proprietary attitude towards trains. Maybe there’s something in her biography that explains it, kind of like her bizarre obsession with parents telling their children to give their best toys away to strangers is explained by her mother giving her mechanical chicken away to an orphanage.

  • pbrower2a

    Obviously anyone who hates his job will sour on about everything else about his life from the community in which that job is, the vehicle that gets him to the job, the stuff that he buys as compensation… and it will probably wreck his marital life and family life.

    The old “I’ll work at the auto plant, retire at 55, and be a free-lance photographer” plan died with the demise of the middle-income factory job. The current ‘growth’ jobs in numbers if not living standards are the sorts that barely feed one, barely keep one clad in rags, and barely protect one from the elements so that one can support tycoons and executives in opulent splendor. The Ayn Rand dream is being realized in America, which is vastly different from the old American dream. Obviously it is a dream for about 1% of the population and horrible for most of the rest.

  • pbrower2a

    It’s huge. Ayn Rand is a philosophical crank, the mathematical equivalent of people insisting that pi is still a rational fraction. Rand uses philosophical garb to express a political agenda, basically the mirror image of Marxist ideology — that capitalism must be a cruel order but that such is a good thing.

    Philosophy includes several different studies, one of which is ethics. One aspect of ethics is to show possible consequences of behavior. History has empirical evidence of what happens when an economic order works solely for the indulgence of a tiny elite. One likely consequence is that the masses become disloyal and aid any conqueror as a liberator. The other is that when the political system faces a crisis there might be a violent revolution in the name of the masses.

  • Science Avenger

    Ah, but you see, if you have a right to something, then it can’t be on the market, because you can’t be denied what is yours by right. It has to be given.

  • Science Avenger

    I’d argue that this is one place where Rand has something of a point, because there are a lot of people in our body politic who act as if declaring something a right automatically makes it appear, and the whole process of who has to provide it is conveniently glossed over.

  • smrnda

    I’m commenting on the excerpts presented, and when I was much younger, I read some of her philosophical essays. Despite being wrong on almost everything, she has incredible influence on many people in the US, which means I kind of have to be willing to at least comment on her ideas. It’s the same reason why I try to stay on top of creationist arguments, but can’t bother to read everything that Ken Ham writes.

    Despite disbelieving in the Bible and *not* being from an Xtian family, I read the NT because, for good or ill, it’s an influential book. I read some Xtian apologetics. At some point, I have to say “I’ve read *enough* and nothing I’m being shown that’s new is really new.” If you read CS Lewis, William Lane Craig, Lee Stroebel and a few others, the recommendation that I need to read 1 new apologist seems to be just excusing the ones I’ve read for being so bad.

  • smrnda

    I have heard that one, but the problem is, given the collective nature of work, it’s hard to know whose effort I’m really succeeding by. I work a lot in cafes with wireless, so, in a way, my ability to write new machine learning algorithms is dependent on people who brew coffee and sell pastries and simply *pay* for wireless.

  • smrnda

    Though the problem here is that the person on the train is a paying rider. Rand states that this lecturer thinks transportation is a right, whether or not the train wants to provide it, but without making it clear that by ‘right’ she means ‘right whether or not she pays’ (given that she is a paying customer) it ends up being confusing. I’m going to chalk that up to shoddy writing.

  • $90142399

    I bet you’re right in the vast majority of cases, but railroad people are nuts. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve encountered who work shitty manual labour jobs on the railroads…and then volunteer on hobby steam railroads on the weekend.