Atlas Shrugged: Strawman Has a Point

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter X

Hank and Dagny’s search for the inventor of the motor has hit a dead end, so they go their separate ways and return to their day jobs. The political climate is growing increasingly socialist and hostile to businessmen, but Hank does his best to get back into a normal routine of running his steel mills during the day and hiding from his family at night:

It was late when he came home and hurried soundlessly up the stairs to his bedroom. He hated himself for being reduced to sneaking, but he had done it on most of his evenings for months. The sight of his family had become unbearable to him…

He closed the door of his bedroom like a fugitive winning a moment’s reprieve. He moved cautiously, undressing for bed: he wanted no sound to betray his presence to his family, he wanted no contact with them, not even in their own minds.

He had put on his pajamas and stopped to light a cigarette, when the door of his bedroom opened. The only person who could properly enter his room without knocking had never volunteered to enter it, so he stared blankly for a moment before he was able to believe that it was Lillian who came in. [p.284]

It’s rich the way Rand writes as if Lillian’s never coming to Hank’s bedroom was by choice. As we’ve been told multiple times, he despises her, wants to know nothing about her life or her interests, and has been purposefully avoiding her for months. No normal person could fail to pick up on these signs and conclude that their presence is unwelcome. For truth’s sake, we just learned that Hank has set up a separate bedroom for himself in his own house. What clearer signal could he possibly send to his wife that he wants nothing to do with her? Can you really blame her for not “volunteering” to be around him under those conditions?

“I know I shouldn’t introduce myself to a stranger,” she said softly, “but I’ll have to: My name is Mrs. Rearden.” He could not tell whether it was sarcasm or a plea.

He asks what she wants, to which she replies:

She laughed. “My reason is so unusual that I know it will never occur to you: loneliness, darling. Do you mind throwing a few crumbs of your expensive attention to a beggar?” [p.284]

This scene is notable, if only because it’s one of the rare occasions in this book where the characters act in ways approximating normal human beings. Of course Lillian is lonely. Why wouldn’t she be? Her husband has all but abandoned her. He just got back from what appears to have been a several-week vacation, without giving her any notice of his whereabouts. Under these circumstances, missing your husband and wishing for a little more of his attention strikes me as a perfectly understandable reaction.

Now, Rand takes it for granted that Lillian’s profession of loneliness is insincere. The message that she wants us to take away from this is that she’s an evil looter who’s only trying to inspire pity in Hank because that’s how she controls him. But even if that’s what she intended, that isn’t the way the scene is written. In fact, it’s remarkable how understated her behavior is; how little of an attempt she makes to shame or guilt him. Her dialogue is poignant, even sweet. Among other things, she says, “I actually came here only because I kept thinking that I had a husband and I wanted to find out what he looked like.”

Lillian has one more argument, and it’s a very good one:

“The side you represent – what is that slogan you all use so much, the motto you’re supposed to stand for? ‘The sanctity of contract’ – is that it?

…Do you want me to remind you that you once swore to make my happiness the aim of your life? And that you can’t really say in all honesty whether I’m happy or unhappy, because you haven’t even inquired whether I exist?” [p.286]

Granted, Rand tries to poison the well by having Lillian say that, in her view, love requires the intentional sacrifice of all your good qualities for the sake of the other person. (All Randian villains believe this.)

Nevertheless, the core of her complaint is completely reasonable. When Hank married her, he swore a vow of fidelity to her, and he’s blatantly ignoring that promise – neglecting her as much as he possibly can, answering her questions with teeth-gritting contempt or mumbled monosyllables whenever he’s forced to spend time with her – simply because he’s met someone else he likes better. And then she brings up an even better point: Hank Rearden is supposed to be one of the good capitalists who believe in voluntary contracts! Does he behave this way in the business world? Would he sign a binding contract with a supplier and then break it if he finds someone else who can give him a lower price?

TV Tropes calls this phenomenon “Strawman Has a Point“: when a story depicts an antagonist’s position as more reasonable than the hero’s, in spite of the author’s intent. It’s a total mystery to me how Rand could be blind to this. Did she really believe that anyone reading this scene would side with Hank rather than Lillian? If so, why? Did she just think it was self-evident that her heroes are entitled to act however they want because of their superior skill at making money?

One more passage I have to highlight, just to complete the picture:

She came closer and, with an amused smile that seemed to mock them both, she slipped her arms around him.

It was the swift, instinctive, ferocious gesture of a young bridegroom at the unrequested contact of a whore – the gesture with which he tore her arms off his body and threw her aside. [p.287]

Let me stress again that this is Ayn Rand’s idea of a hero. He’s a workaholic corporate boss who doesn’t object to child labor and doesn’t think pain or exhaustion are reasons to miss work. He holds his wife and his family in undisguised contempt; he neglects and abandons her; when she tries to touch him, he becomes physically violent. He cheats on her and lies to her about it, and even with his mistress, he’s violently jealous, possessive and controlling.

In any other book, Rearden would be not just the villain, but a laughably cartoonish villain. Yet in this book, we’re expected to sympathize with him. And the only thing he gets in the way of character development, the only lesson he learns, is that he was too sympathetic to his wife and family, that he let himself be stifled by unnecessary pity, and that in the future he should be less conflicted about doing whatever he wants. How is this not the viewpoint of a sociopath?

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.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    There’s no better way to not betray your presence to others than firing up a cigarette just down the hall.

  • 8DX

    Asshole. Dump him. Take half of what you both own and more.
    This is not the behaviour of a villain, it’s the behaviour of a part-psychopath, part spiteful man-child.
    (I hope to be at least man-teenager although not manly-man).

  • fuguewriter

    > political climate is growing increasingly socialist

    We don’t know it’s socialism. Rand walks a line between fascism and socialism, with some bias toward “It Can’t Happen Here” fascism.

    > Lillian’s profession of loneliness is insincere.

    Not textually supported. She’s a contemptible character but is not constantly a liar.

    > Hank Rearden is supposed to be one of the good capitalists who believe in voluntary contracts!

    Yes. This issue is brought up when it occurs to him that a contract without consideration exchanged is void.

    > Does he behave this way in the business world?

    That’s what he comes to realize. That’s part of the point.

    > Did she really believe that anyone reading this scene would side with Hank rather than Lillian?

    Rearden isn’t a good man in this scene – but Lillian, as depicted, is a villainness throughout the marriage. Rearden remains true for, I believe, a decade.

    > this is Ayn Rand’s idea of a hero.

    Overly broad. He’s heroic in his business work and distinctly non-heroic in his personal life – something she was very opposed to. This is part of the point. Rand is making a point about the split.

    > doesn’t object to child labor

    Where does he take a position on child labor? And child labor in the 19th century was better than starvation. And there was lots of child labor before – those who survived …

    > doesn’t think pain or exhaustion are reasons to miss work.

    His own, yes.

    > He holds his wife and his family

    Who hate him and hold him down – and he married Lillian in excitement and attraction.

    > in undisguised contempt

    Not only, or even mainly. Weary duty.

    > he neglects and abandons her

    After years of her starving him of passion and love. His mistake was in not ending it sooner.

    > How is this not the viewpoint of a sociopath?

    The eternal payoff line today.

  • busterggi

    Thank you for demonstrating the psychopath’s position on Rand’s work.

  • Science Avenger

    “…his wife and his family…hate him.”

    Who wouldn’t? He’s an unimaginative workaholic bore. For him playing a game of chess would be the equivalent of dancing drunk and naked down his street.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Rand’s point is that nobody should sacrifice themselves for other people. But in order to make that argument she makes the people Rearden is sacrificing for utterly evil – stupid, whining, useless fops As you yourself admitted, Lillian is a villainess.

    As always Rand has to rig the system to make any of her beliefs work. Because her “philosophy” is too utterly simplistic to work in the real world. She had to create straw characters and straw governments instead.

  • fuguewriter

    Rand has many points. With Rearden, an essential and specific point – looking at the novel and at her notes (which will be a fertile source for Nancy’s cherry-picking activity) – is that he has a split between mind and body, which leads to misery in his personal life and the eventual near-loss of his professional life.

  • Ricker

    Maybe I ought not admit it, but I actually half-side with Hank in terms of his relationship with Lillian.

    Whenever Rand has portrayed scenes that involved Lilian, they always show her as a cruel and manipulative woman. She knows the particular code that Hank lives by (up until this point it was a loyalty to what he perceived his duty was, whether he liked or agreed with the duty or not) and exploits it at every turn. His mother is especially vicious. In the scene when we are first introduced to them, had I been Hank I would have thrown them out at that moment. Rand does go into some detail about their beginning relationship, how Hank was originally attracted to Lillian.

    Regarding the contract issue you brought up, if the amount saved through the new supplier is greater than the cost of breaking the contract, the short-term sensible business decision would be to break the contract. Of course, that could have negative long term implications by making suppliers less likely to do business or to making contract violation terms higher or maybe charge a higher price sans contract, but all those long term items could be argued based on a speculative basis.

    I don’t condone AT ALL Hank’s actions or believe they were moral. Quite the contrary; cheating on his wife, especially in the manner he did, is rather immoral. However, neither Hank nor Lillian are passably good examples of moral people. Based on Rand’s portrayal of them, Lillian clings to the marriage out of spite (although this is never explained. You don’t all of a sudden wake up and hate your spouse, but Rand leads us to believe that’s what happened) and Hank clings to the marriage out of a warped sense of duty. By any standards, they should have divorced long ago; I’d even argue that based on their feelings for each other not divorcing was an immoral act.

  • Ricker

    See, I don’t think the portrayal of Lillian was that terribly rigged.

    I don’t think there are very many people that are like her, but my own mother shares many similarities with Lillian. For many of my early adult years, she was constantly attempting to manipulate me through guilt and shame, much like Lillian does. My mother would appeal to my “religious duty” as the son to honor and respect her, which basically translated into doing what she wanted.
    Of course, the answer to that kind of person is not weary resignation but taking action to remove them from your life.

  • Oob

    This guy is a sociopath,but I don’t get why being “boring” is such a sin. I’m boring, so what?

  • Nancy McClernan

    This is what I find curious. When Lillian says

    “The side you represent – what is that slogan you all use so much, the motto you’re supposed to stand for? ‘The sanctity of contract’ – is that it?”

    Who does Lillian mean by “the side you represent?”

    She has nothing to do with Hank’s life and Hank himself hasn’t hooked up with the Gulchers and Lillian doesn’t know about Dagny.

    It seems that Lillian has been granted precognition. And since nobody was permitted to edit Atlas Shrugged it was left in the final draft of the book.

  • Donalbain

    Doesn’t the fact that you don’t know the political system of the USA in this book worry you? That this author is so very very bad at world building that you can’t tell if the country it is set in is more like modern Sweden or Nazi Germany. In a book that is essentially a political one?

  • Science Avenger

    The line preceding it is “If we’re talking politics…”, so I think she’s just referring to political parties, or their partisans.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The political parties who believe in the sanctity of the contract? Which political party in Atlas Shrugged believes in that? And how can you tell if it does? As fuguewriter points out (not intentionally, I’ll grant you) the government in Atlas Shrugged is a mere plot device which can be fascist or socialist as needed. You’re unlikely to find it consistently standing for anything – especially anything good.

    That’s the entire reason why the Übermensch had to go Galt – there were no political parties to represent their interests.

    Lillian says “that slogan you all use so much” – I have yet to find anywhere in Atlas Shrugged up to this point where a single person uses that slogan, let alone “all of you” using it “so much.”

  • J-D

    When you write that Lillian, _as depicted_, is villainous _throughout_ the marriage, shouldn’t that mean that her behaviour as depicted in this scene is villainous? I ask because I’m not seeing that. A wife asks her husband for attention: doesn’t seem villainous to me.

    And when you write about the time that Rearden remained ‘true’, what do you mean by ‘true’? That he didn’t have another sexual partner in that time? The obligations attached to marriage, whether by ritual or by law, typically extend beyond that.

    The observation that ‘a contract without consideration exchanged is void’ is not a universal principle. Contracts without consideration exchanged are void when the law says they’re void but they’re valid when the law says they’re valid. The law, of course, in both directions is made by the government. If we take the issue outside the realm of law and government, I don’t think most people would agree that you only have to keep your promises if you’ve been paid to do so.

  • UWIR

    “The observation that ‘a contract without consideration exchanged is void’ is not a universal principle. ”

    But if we’re accusing Rearden of hypocrisy, the question is not whether it’s a universal principle, but whether it’s an Objectivist principle. I disagree with fuguewriter on the facts of the case (Lillian did offer consideration), but as far as principle is concerned, this is a valid argument. If consideration is exchanged, then not upholding the contract is defrauding the other party of that consideration. If no consideration is exchanged, then the other party is not being defrauded.

  • fuguewriter

    > shouldn’t that mean that her behaviour as depicted in this
    scene is villainous?

    No. “Throughout” doesn’t mean every single second in every possible respect. Villainousness is on a different moral level than the journalistic moment to moment, as Ayn Rand might say. That is, Lillian could even speak truth or even do something locally nice and still be very bad. Abusers do miss their victims.

    > what do you mean by ‘true’?

    He did not cheat for a long time despite long-time misery and frustration – caused by a wife who, though he knew not, wished him ill.

    > The obligations attached to marriage, whether by ritual or by law, typically extend beyond that.

    How about by human happiness? I’m not seeing the reason for the slow-paced chewing. The Rearden marriage was bad. Hank behaved very badly, including being a two-timer. Lillian behaved even more badly (and cheated). It never should have existed. The difference between them is that Hank didn’t want to bring Lillian down and was trying to be an honorable man. Lillian has no honor and wants him suppressed. Once again, these analyses, as with the sex scenes, are decontextualized and thus always missing of the mark.

    > The observation that ‘a contract without consideration exchanged is void’ is not a universal principle.

    In U.S. law, and Anglo-American common law. No reason to think that changed in the time Rearden was growing up or having that thought. Thus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consideration

    > If we take the issue outside the realm of law and
    government, I don’t think most people would agree that you only have to keep your promises if you’ve been paid to do so.

    Not a relevant comparison. Lillian isn’t keeping her end of the agreement – and doing so consciously. Rearden is caught in an honor trap.

  • Nancy McClernan

    By “cherry picking” he means I actually provide sources on which I base my statements, but which fuguewriter finds unpleasant.

  • Nancy McClernan

    You must not be very familiar with Atlas Shrugged. That the entire narrative is based on the Great Dichotomy is Ayn Rand 101 – her heroes are all virtuous, smart, brave, strong, talented and beautiful. Her villains – which is most people – are ugly, stupid, weak, incompetent and ugly. And basically subhumans which is why Rand refers to them as parasites and vermin and gleefully kills them off.

    And Lillian isn’t just manipulative, she’s evil. And not just evil, she’s eeeeeevil. She basically tricks Rearden into marrying her by pretending to love the sight of smelting metal as much as he does (which is ALOT), and then spends the rest of her days trying to destroy him. Because she isn’t a human-like character, she’s evil incarnate. The only character more evil than Lillian is Ivy Starnes, whom we have met in this chapter already but Adam unfortunately skipped over her.who is coming up soon and I hope Adam gives her the attention she deserves, for she is the key to the entire novel.

  • fuguewriter

    No. Interesting question, though. I think it was a wise structural decision on her part: broadens the applicability. Thus, in her view, things couldn’t be charged off to, “Oh, well only the Republicans could do that” or “Thank heaven’s we’re socialistic.” I don’t think she’s trying to world-build in the Tolkien-sense: the world is background to the heroes.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Adam did skip over the part where Rand reveals that she hates actual capitalists as much as collectivists. Before Rearden goes home to Lillian, he has a moment with a purchasing manager where he admits that he isn’t cut out to be a businessman. But Rand has the unnamed purchasing manager assure him that this is a sign of his virtue:

    Rearden glanced up at him. “I guess I’m not smart enough to make the sort of deals needed nowadays,” he said, in answer to the unspoken thoughts that hung across his desk.

    The purchasing manager shook his head. “No, Mr. Rearden, it’s one or the other. The same kind of brain can’t do both. Either you’re good at running the mills or you’re good at running to Washington.”

    “Maybe I ought to learn their method.”

    “You couldn’t learn it and it wouldn’t do you any good. You wouldn’t win in any of those deals. Don’t you understand? You’re the one who’s got something to be looted.”

    “Making deals” is what capitalists do all the time. But in Ayn Rand’s peculiar little mind, making deals is what government officials do and True Capitalists simply work in their mills, thrilling to the sight of smelting metal.

    It couldn’t be clearer that Ayn Rand’s conception of economics is a bizarre morality play, peopled by angels and devils, having nothing to do with the way things work here on planet Earth.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Lillian clings to the marriage out of spite (although this is never explained.

    It’s because she’s eeeeeeeevil. If she had a mustache she’d twirl it every time she appeared.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Lillian behaved even more badly (and cheated). It never should have existed. The difference between them is that Hank didn’t want to bring Lillian down and was trying to be an honorable man. Lillian has no honor and wants him suppressed.

    The difference is that Hank is an Ubermensch and Lillian is pure evil. The only reason for her existence in the book is to temporarily thwart Hank with her pure evilness. She married Hank to hurt him. Period. She is never ever presented as having any other motives in life than trying to destroy Hank.

    Because, as Adam pointed out, she is a straw man. She’s created to represent people who Ayn Rand hates, and like anything Ayn Rand hates is presented in Atlas Shrugged as “objectively” evil. No shades of grey – just pure evil.

    The reason that Lillian speaks of love is just another aspect of her evil. Rand presents the parasites in the novel as not only stupid, ugly, incompetent, etc. but incapable of love. They only use talk of love to manipulate the Ubermensch – because unlike their parasitic selves, Ubermensch are capable of love and empathy, which of course they feel for the parasites only at their grave peril.

    Anybody who opposes Rand’s philosophy is evil and must be wiped from the face of the Earth, which she eagerly does by the end of the novel – and taking a few out along the way by gassing them.

    Ayn Rand was a fearful, hate-filled person and Atlas Shrugged is a perfect reflection of that – and her issues with her mother. And right-wingers worship her for it.

  • Science Avenger

    Point taken. If he was only boring, that’d be one thing. But righteous and workaholic and boring is insufferable. I guess workaholics annoy me. They confuse the means with the end.

  • Nancy McClernan

    In spite of the absolute incoherence of the world of Atlas Shrugged, Rand proclaimed it was prophetic. And the prophecy had nothing to do with somebody building a motor that provides limitless energy, or invented a super metal or is the best VP of a railroad ever.

    But of course True Believers can’t accept that Rand was incompetent – oh no, she wanted to create something completely incoherent – it was all part of her ingenious plan!

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    …if the amount saved through the new supplier is greater than the cost of
    breaking the contract, the short-term sensible business decision would
    be to break the contract.

    In marital terms, I believe this is what’s called getting a divorce. Maybe there are good reasons elucidated in the text for why Hank hasn’t done this (I haven’t read that far), but this would be vastly more honorable than his persistently shitty treatment of a wife he doesn’t love or respect.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    This issue is brought up when it occurs to him that a contract without consideration exchanged is void.

    Are you suggesting that Lillian did not offer her own wedding vows?

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

    He does divorce her, (much) later in the book. I don’t recall any reason ever being given as to why he didn’t do it long before he actually does.

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

    Whenever Rand has portrayed scenes that involved Lilian, they always show her as a cruel and manipulative woman. She knows the particular code that Hank lives by (up until this point it was a loyalty to what he perceived his duty was, whether he liked or agreed with the duty or not) and exploits it at every turn.

    The thing is, while Lillian isn’t depicted as an especially pleasant person, none of the requests she’s made seem at all unreasonable. She wants Hank to meet her friends and learn about her interests; she wants to go out to dinner with him on their wedding anniversary; she wants him to talk to her and show her some affection when she’s feeling lonely. These strike me as perfectly ordinary, normal things that would happen in any healthy marriage. But Hank (and Rand) treat them as horrendous, unreasonable impositions on his time.

    She’s not greedy, asking him for luxuries he can’t afford. She doesn’t demand that he quit his job running the steel mills, only that he find a better work-life balance so he can spend more time with her and with his family. It seems that her biggest sin, the thing that Rand expects us to accept as evidence of her evil soul, is that she doesn’t love her husband’s business as much as he does.

  • X. Randroid

    There’s a reason given, but it’s a lame and unconvincing one. What we’re told is that Hank thinks of his marriage as a contract, and he is a man who does not breach contracts. (Unlike Ryker above, Rand apparently doesn’t approve of effiicent breach.) He thinks he can only divorce Lillian if he has cause, i.e., if she breaches the contract.

    At one point it does occur to him that a contract requires mutual consideration. Rather inexplicably, however, he fails to take the next logical step and ask what consideration he is receiving from Lillian. As Rand portrays it, the answer would be none, since all she does is belittle him, entertain his enemies, and be the “inanimate” object of his sexual attentions when he’s so inclined.

    The real reason is that Rand’s “clever” plot requires Rearden to do something that makes zero sense just so he can be blackmailed a year and a half (story time) from now.
    By the way, Adam, thanks for highlighting this scene. When I reread Atlas Shrugged as an ex-Randroid, I had exactly the same response: Lillian is the sympathetic character here.

  • X. Randroid

    Yep. As we will see, her sole purpose in life is to destroy the living. I’m not quite sure how one chooses such a purpose, but that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

  • X. Randroid

    I think the “sides” in question can be described as “heroic businessmen” and “evil government looters/moochers.” For Rand, that was the essential political conflict, mirroring the deeper ethical conflict between egoism and altruism.
    I wonder if, by having Lillian say “the side you represent,” she meant to imply that Lillian understood the conflict better than Hank. Or it could just be Rand’s usual carelessnes about what the author knows versus what her characters know.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    But the weird thing is that while Lillian may not be upholding her end of the bargain, Hank certainly isn’t. He’s not being a husband to her in any real sense, and hence he’s not honoring his contract. I get that Hank has “issues”, but this seems like a no-brainer. (If it’s all just a lame plot device, then, well…)

  • Nancy McClernan

    I very much think the latter, not only because nobody has actually said “the sanctity of the contract” but how could Lillian know there are others? She barely has anything to do with Hank and he barely has anything to do with the other Ubermensch (besides Dagny, obvs) except strictly for business. And at this point in the book he hates d’Anconia, in spite of feeling strangely drawn to him. It’s a huge leap to assume that Lillian knows enough about Hank’s business associates to believe that he’s their comrade in arms with a motto, no less. I could understand if she said that was Hank’s motto, alone, but there is no “side” at this point.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Consider Rearden’s anniversary party – I don’t think he had a single friend show up – they were all Lillian’s friends. If Hank already had a “side” wouldn’t we have seen some evidence – like maybe one of them being invited to the massive soiree thrown at Rearden estates?

  • Nancy McClernan

    You’d think Rand could have made some attempt to give Lillian a tiny sliver of dimension – she doesn’t even give her a rich fop hobby other than wearing gowns in the yellow-green end of the spectrum and insincerely simpering.

  • J-D

    I don’t understand what you mean by ‘throughout’ if you don’t mean ‘in every scene’. To me, ‘throughout’ has to mean something different from ‘on balance’ or ‘taking one thing with another across the board’.

    In this scene that we’re discussing right now, Lillian is paying attention to Hank and trying to get him to pay attention to her. If I remember rightly what Adam has written about earlier scenes, Hank has pretty much stopped paying attention to Lillian. I think most people would regard paying attention to each other as fundamental to a marriage. Many people might regard it as more fundamental than sexual fidelity, and they might give Lillian more credit for trying to maintain a level of communication in the relationship than they would Hank for abstention from adultery.

    Exceptions, in US law, to the principle that contracts without consideration are void can be found here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consideration_under_American_law#Exceptions_to_the_Consideration_Requirement
    and here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deed

    But in any case, if you’re basing your position on the specific provisions of a particular legal system, your point becomes moot, since under US law marriages are not contracts at all and are not governed by contract law.

  • X. Randroid

    I will grant you that this is what Rand intended to show. The question is whether she did a good job of showing it.

    I don’t think so, because the character as presented just isn’t believable as a human being. What Rearden suffers from is a bizarrely extreme disconnect between how he manages his professional life and how he manages his personal life.

    In his professional life, he demands value and operates on the Trader Principle and is everything Objectivist ethics says he should be. He’d throw anyone (including his mother) out of his office in a heartbeat if they dared to suggest that he should act altruistically even in a small degree. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks of him or his methods; he only cares about doing what he wants to do (making his Metal); the only judgment he listens to is his own … and he never once doubts that this is the right way to act.

    But somehow that entire mindset/attitude/belief system goes right out the window the instant he leaves the office. Outside the office, he’s suddenly willing to accept without question that it’s his duty to put up with people he considers worthless (including his mother) and to worry about what people will think if they find out he’s an adulterer and to defer to how everyone says he should act.
    And this brilliant inventive self-made genius keeps this up for ten-plus years, apparently never even asking himself if there’s an alternative … until Rand decides it’s time to hit him over the head with a ton of his own steel to show him how stupid he’s been.

    Nancy’s right. Rand scores her points by rigging the system, presenting characters and situations that have little or no connection to reality. “Essentialization” is just another name for distortion.

  • X. Randroid

    You forgot interior decorating. :-) We are told Lillian does do that. There was a bit in Chapter VI where she adapted something from a French palace for a nook and it only took Hank three weeks to notice, and the Thanksgiving table is coming up … so there’s that.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Thanks, I’d forgotten Lillian’s interior decorating.

    Well no doubt Lillian’s place settings are a malevolent universe. And this is before Martha Stewart.

  • fuguewriter

    Rand would agree with you re. believabiliy, actually – granted your premises. Believability wasn’t what she was after. It gets interesting when one debates that issue – why is that important, and what function does it play in the art experience. But in her school of writing, that wasn’t a value. Look at her hero playwright Rostand, or Hugo’s works. As usual, I’m sticking with her premises, since they’re regularly discussed in a pre-distorted manner. That helps no one.

    > What Rearden suffers from is a bizarrely extreme disconnect between how he manages his professional life and how he manages his personal life.

    She would agree – see her notes for the novel – but we have to remember the different time in which the novel was set. The Sexual Revolution was an enormous thunderclap which we’re still deafened by. If you look at movies, etc. of the time, extremely dead and static, duty-bound marriages were not uncommon.

    > somehow that entire mindset/attitude/belief system goes right out the window the instant he leaves the office.

    Right. Rand is not a realist, especially of the social school. She herself said she abstracted elements and then heightened them to pure forms. (One of my pet theories is that she was a surrealist and didn’t know it.)

    > worry about what people will think if they find out he’s an adulterer

    Well, mostly for Dagny’s honor.

    > to defer to how everyone says he should act.

    I think you’re overstating there. Rand shows him being largely dutiful, silent, repressed. He does bring Lillian a present, which she rejects.

    > Nancy’s right. Rand scores her points by rigging the system, presenting characters and situations that have little or no connection to reality.

    The question is if that’s rigging. She’s not presenting inductive sociological field data.

    > “Essentialization” is just another name for distortion.

    On a realist premise, sure. But we wouldn’t be talking about her if she were a realist.

  • fuguewriter

    > I don’t understand what you mean by ‘throughout’ if you don’t mean ‘in every scene’.

    Why? Do you not understand the concept of “underlying and demonstrated character”? If a wife yells at her husband, “You’ve been lying throughout our marriage!”, is she saying that he never once told her the truth?

    This is the problem of pedanticism, as in the discussion a few posts back of Galt’s Motor. You *want* to find something wrong.

    > To me, ‘throughout’ has to mean something different from ‘on balance’ or ‘taking one thing with another across the board’.

    It emphasizes “consistently and fundamentally across a swath of time.”

    > Hank has pretty much stopped paying attention to Lillian.

    Ripping things out of context – par for the course. The woman has been sexually cold to him throughout the marriage and ignores him – and she initiated it. See her behavior re. the Rearden Metal necklace, which is largely our introduction to her. You won’t catch Rand on such matters of construction. She already thought of it.

    > Exceptions, in US law

    Which indicate the fundamental to which they are exceptions.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And yet in spite of Rand’s incoherence and lack of realism she claimed the book was prophetic. How is that possible if the book is full of straw characters, straw governments and deliberately unrealistic scenarios?

    And then there’s the indisputable fact that right-wingers such as fuguewriter believe that “Atlas Shrugged” has something insightful to say about real-world social programs – like Social Security – in spite of the complete disconnect between AS world and this one.

    Once again, the logical dissonance boggles the mind.

  • Nancy McClernan

    This must be the funniest thing I’ve seen in this entire series:

    You won’t catch Rand on such matters of construction. She already thought of it.

    As we’ve seen Rand has Lillian talking about the “motto” that Hank and his “side” “always say” when there is zero evidence in the book to support this assertion – because Rand had not thought it out.

    But there’s a bigger issue with “construction” here. There’s no construction necessary for the Lillian character – everything she does is the result of her being pure evil. So of course you won’t “catch Rand” on anything. The vast majority of readers believe that when there is a character named Lillian speaking of love, it’s really about love. Only those who have studied Rand thoroughly realize that the reason Rand has Lillian speaking of love is to present one more facet of Lillian’s evil.

    This is a character who married someone in order to destroy him. You really can’t expect anything recognizably human to come out of such a “construction.”

    So fuguewriter will always have the upper hand when arguing with those who claim to sympathize with Lillian – because he’s operating on the level of Rand’s actual intention – to create an avatar of evil. The problem is that most humans cannot accept that the “novel” they are reading is as bizarre and simplistic as that and they keep trying to turn the characters into recognizable human beings. And that cannot happen on the page because it could not happen in the mind of Ayn Rand.

    And BTW – if you need to search for something in “Atlas Shrugged” the most convenient option is a Russian site which presents the entirety of Atlas Shrugged (in English, not Russian) on a single web page – so convenient.

    http://www.e-reading.mobi/bookreader.php/138015/Rand_-_Atlas_Shrugged.html

  • Nancy McClernan

    Thanks to the Russian web site that presents “Atlas Shrugged” on a single page, it’s possible to discover fun facts about the novel:

    The word “vermin” only appears once, to my surprise. In reference to a tax collector – that was not a surprise.

    The word “parasite” appears 23 times.

    The word “moocher” appears only 7 times. Big surprise – I would have thought it showed up at least as much as parasite.

    “Looter” shows up 115 times – I thought looter and moocher were used almost equally.

    “Sneer” appears 16 times.

    The word “chuckle” appears 133 times.

    “Contempt” appears 109 times.

    “Hate” appears 309 times.

    “Angular” appears 24 times.

    “Shapeless” appears 15 times.

    “Gold” appears 110 times.

    “Despise/despised” appear 45 times.

    “Evil” appears 236 times.

    “Cigarette” appears 98 times.

  • J-D

    Fundamentally, marriage law is not contract law, so fundamentally it makes no difference to a marriage what the fundamentals of contract law are. Contract law is not more fundamental than marriage law.

    I haven’t read the whole book. I’m going by the extracts posted here. If there’s text in the book that hasn’t been quoted yet and that confirms that Lillian has been frigid from the beginning of the marriage, it would alter my evaluation.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Oh good, a chance to play with my new toy.

    http://www.e-reading.mobi/bookreader.php/138015/Rand_-_Atlas_Shrugged.html

    And after reviewing the text, my new theory is that Lillian is a Pod Person.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pod_People_(Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers)

    Hank reminisces:

    Why had she married him?—he thought. It was a question he had not asked himself on their wedding day, eight years ago. Since then, in tortured loneliness, he had asked it many times. He had found no answer.

    It was not for position, he thought, or for money. She came from an old family that had both. Her family’s name was not among the most distinguished and their fortune was modest, but both were sufficient to let her be included in the top circles of New York’s society, where he had met her…

    Well of course a Pod Person is not interested in position or money, are they?

    Here we see evidence that the human host at one point tried to expel the Pod Person:

    It was Lillian’s austerity that attracted him—the conflict between her austerity and her behavior. He had never liked anyone or expected to be liked. He found himself held by the spectacle of a woman who was obviously pursuing him but with obvious reluctance, as if against her own will, as if fighting a desire she resented.

    It was she who planned that they should meet, then faced him coldly, as if not caring that he knew it. She spoke little; she had an air of mystery that seemed to tell him he would never break through her proud detachment, and an air of amusement, mocking her own desire and his.

    Hank of course is into BDSM but doesn’t know what to call it:

    But there were times when he felt a sudden access of desire, so violent that it could not be given to a casual encounter. He had surrendered to it, on a few rare occasions through the years, with women he had thought he liked. He had been left feeling an angry emptiness—because he had sought an act of triumph, though he had not known of what nature, but the response he received was only a woman’s acceptance of a casual pleasure, and he knew too clearly that what he had won had no meaning. He was left, not with a sense of attainment, but with a sense of his own degradation. He grew to hate his desire. He fought it. He came to believe the doctrine that this desire was wholly physical, a desire, not of consciousness, but of matter, and he rebelled against the thought that his flesh could be free to choose and that its choice was impervious to the will of his mind. He had spent his life in mines and mills, shaping matter to his wishes by the power of his brain—and he found it intolerable that he should be unable to control the matter of his own body. He fought it. He had won his every battle against inanimate nature; but this was a battle he lost.

    It was the difficulty of the conquest that made him want Lillian.

    She seemed to be a woman who expected and deserved a pedestal; this made him want to drag her down to his bed. To drag her down, were the words in his mind; they gave him a dark pleasure, the sense of a victory worth winning.

    He could not understand why—he thought it was an obscene conflict, the sign of some secret depravity within him—why he felt, at the same time, a profound pride at the thought of granting to a woman the title of his wife. The feeling was solemn and shining; it was almost as if he felt that he wished to honor a woman by the act of possessing her.

    Lillian seemed to fit the image he had not known he held, had not known he wished to find; he saw the grace, the pride, the purity; the rest was in himself; he did not know that he was looking at a reflection.

    We don’t get any information about the host before the Pod Person took over, only Hank’s view of the host/Pod. In any case, the Pod Person senses it’s time to make its move. The Pod Person knows by now how much Hank loves the sights and sounds of smelting metal. And so:

    He remembered the day when Lillian came from New York to his office, of her own sudden choice, and asked him to take her through his mills. He heard a soft, low, breathless tone—the tone of admiration—growing in her voice, as she questioned him about his work and looked at the place around her. He looked at her graceful figure moving against the bursts of furnace flame, and at the light, swift steps of her high heels stumbling through drifts of slag, as she walked resolutely by his side.

    The look in her eyes, when she watched a heat of steel being poured, was like his own feeling for it made visible to him. When her eyes moved up to his face, he saw the same look, but intensified to a degree that seemed to make her helpless and silent. It was at dinner, that evening, that he asked her to marry him.

    Oh Pod Person, you are so evil, mimicking Hank’s smelt-watching O face. We immediately jump from the proposal to this:

    It took him some time after his marriage before he admitted to himself that this was torture. He still remembered the night when he admitted it, when he told himself—the veins of his wrists pulled tight as he stood by the bed, looking down at Lillian—that he deserved the torture and that he would endure it. Lillian was not looking at him; she was adjusting her hair. “May I go to sleep now?” she asked.

    She had never objected; she had never refused him anything; she submitted whenever he wished. She submitted in the manner of complying with the rule that it was, at times, her duty to become an inanimate object turned over to her husband’s use.

    She did not censure him. She made it clear that she took it for granted that men had degrading instincts which constituted the secret, ugly part of marriage. She was condescendingly tolerant. She smiled, in amused distaste, at the intensity of what he experienced. “It’s the most undignified pastime I know of,” she said to him once, “but I have never entertained the illusion that men are superior to animals.”

    Pod Person thought bubble: Oh Hank, why must we have so much of your human sex?

    So Lillian doesn’t want to have sex with him, being a Pod Person, but in spite of that Hank has sex with her out of some kind of bizarre abstract duty to wifeness.

    His desire for her had died in the first week of their marriage. What remained was only a need which he was unable to destroy. He had never entered a whorehouse; he thought, at times, that the self-loathing he would experience there could be no worse than what he felt when he was driven to enter his wife’s bedroom.

    He would often find her reading a book. She would put it aside, with a white ribbon to mark the pages. When he lay exhausted, his eyes closed, still breathing in gasps, she would turn on the light, pick up the book and continue her reading.

    He told himself that he deserved the torture, because he had wished never to touch her again and was unable to maintain his decision. He despised himself for that. He despised a need which now held no shred of joy or meaning, which had become the mere need of a woman’s body, an anonymous body that belonged to a woman whom he had to forget while he held it. He became convinced that the need was depravity.

    He did not condemn Lillian. He felt a dreary, indifferent respect for her. His hatred of his own desire had made him accept the doctrine that women were pure and that a pure woman was one incapable of physical pleasure.

    Through the quiet agony of the years of his marriage, there had been one thought which he would not permit himself to consider; the thought of infidelity. He had given his word. He intended to keep it. It was not loyalty to Lillian; it was not the person of Lillian that he wished to protect from dishonor—but the person of his wife.

    Since Hank has never been with a woman who liked sex he thinks that women are incapable of physical pleasure. Except that Rand had already written this:

    but the response he received was only a woman’s acceptance of a casual pleasure,

    Oops! Guess Rand forgot to go back and re-read what she already wrote! Oh Ayn Rand, you are so careless!

  • fuguewriter

    Remember, what we’re talking about is a passing thought on Rearden’s part. The essence is: the marriage was dead, and Lillian was the “prime mover” there. Our first glimpse of Rearden as husband was bringing his wife a supreme gift: the first thing cast of a great work of his own mind. If she’d responded appropriately, I think the marriage would have been a much different thing. Lillian isn’t bad for being dissatisfied with Rearden or his behavior; she’s bad for holding him down and starving him of passion.

    Rand was arguing, by the by, for a radical recasting of marriage and, by extension, marriage law.

  • X. Randroid

    Believability wasn’t what she was after.

    Disagree. There is a famous (in Objectivist circles) incident from NBI’s heyday in the 1960s where someone in an audience questioned the plausibility of Rand’s fictional heroes, saying something like “men like that can’t exist.” Rand responded with outrage: she existed, Nathaniel Branden existed … and that, for her, was proof that her characters were realistic.

    She would describe them as “stylized,” meaning that they were reduced to essentials for artistic purposes. But she absolutely rejected the notion that this made them unrealistic.In fact, she labeled her novels an exemplars of an artistic school she called “Romantic Realism.” (Gluttons for punishment can read The Romantic Manifesto and find out all about this.)

    So yeah, she absolutely was trying for believability, and she absolutely believed she had achieved it.

    It gets interesting when one debates that issue – why is that important, and what function does it play in the art experience.

    Believability is important if the question is whether Atlas Shurgged can tell us anything about how to order our lives and societies in the real world. Implausible characters who do not act like human beings can tell us very little about ourselves, or our societies.

  • fuguewriter

    You’re punning on “realistic.” Realistic doesn’t mean “possible.” It means, as she’d say, “journalistic reality, i.e., a statistical average.”

    None of which adds up to naturalistic believability (i.e., “someone like that exists/could exist and I can empathize with them”) – a concept she had nothing to do with and one she’d have rejected on various grounds. The empathy one is something she largely has nothing to do with, which is why she rubs so many the wrong way. (I prefer more empathy in writing; one reason Rand is not my favorite novelist personally, though she’s endlessly fascinating to study.)

    AR would maintain that Lillian was *fundamentally* realistic, in instancing what AR thought was a true character trait or complex thereof. But she’d happily say that you wouldn’t ever meet a Lillian in concrete reality.

    You’re free-associationally weaving between similar words: believable, plausible, realistic, etc., and latching them onto Rand’s differing usages.

    If you want to get down to brass tacks, what she said in the NBI incident was that she, NB, Barbara Branden, and Frank O’Connor existed, and thus that the heroes of which she wrote did exist. She’s all about the essentials, which, of course, she had a method of extracting. She came to misery over NB and BB, as is well-known.

    Basically this disagreement takes place at the empathy v. icon divide. She was a Russian iconicist. (There’s a preview for you of my one-day-to-be-written book on her, just for you.)

  • Azkyroth

    …Ayn Rand’s protagonists all remind me of Dean Koontz’s villains. O.o

  • James Yakura

    Is it true that later on, we see that all of the villains are acting against the heroes because they know that society can’t function without the heroes and just want to destroy everything? If that’s the case, it makes perfect sense that one of the villains would know that Hank is on a different side than her.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I haven’t read Koontz so I don’t know – although this isn’t exactly a recommendation…

  • Nancy McClernan

    Well she’s on the side of the Pod People, so it makes sense.

  • J-D

    A split between his mind and his body? I don’t understand what that means. His body is walking around taking actions that his mind does not endorse, but his mind can’t do anything about it? That doesn’t sound right. But then what?

  • fuguewriter
  • J_Enigma32

    ” the world is background to the heroes”

    Everything is background to the Mary Sue superhuman cast.

    Her world building is as extensive as Samuel Beckett’s, with the exception that Beckett was a much better writer. I normally wouldn’t even list them in the same sentence, but it highlights how cardboard her world actually is.

  • J_Enigma32

    This distinction of capitalist type is very important.

    Once upon a time, a political author identified two types of capitalism (actually four, but the spectrum is bookended by the only two people ever remember): supercapitalism and heroic capitalism. Supercapitalism is described thusly:

    “a capitalist enterprise, when difficulties arise, throws itself like a dead weight into the state’s arms. It is then that state intervention begins and becomes more necessary. It is then that those who once ignored the state now seek it out anxiously.”

    “At this stage, supercapitalism finds its inspiration and its justification in a utopia: the utopia of unlimited consumption. Supercapitalism’s ideal is the standardization of the human race from the cradle to the grave. Supercapitalism wants all babies to be born exactly the same length so that the cradles can be standardized and all children persuaded to like the same toys. It wants all men to don the very same uniform, to read the same book, to have the same tastes in films, and to desire the same so-called labor-saving devices. This is not the result of caprice. It inheres in the logic of events, for only thus can supercapitalism make its plans”

    Meanwhile heroic capitalism is a system of the individual, with the focus on production and dynamism. It generates technology, innovation, and wealth, and while he didn’t think that they had room for it, he still valued its contributions.

    Sounds a lot like Rand, doesn’t it?

    The only difference is that this author was intelligent enough to know that capitalism inevitably degenerated into the later form, regardless how heroic it started. Rand never realized it. Other than that, the split sounds a lot alike, doesn’t it? You might even go so far as to say that all of Rand’s criticisms of capitalism aren’t towards capitalism but towards this specific form of capitalism, supercapitalism.

    But the name of this political author?

    Benito Mussolini.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes and Rand’s characters have about as much to do with living Americans in 1957 or now as Russian icons.

    The great mystery is why right-wingers think that her essentialist, incoherent, idiosyncratic revenge fantasy has anything to tell us about any New Deal program, or really, anything else about American life.

    None of us would care about her unedited book-length screed if it wasn’t used as some kind of evidence for the superiority of the gold standard, or any other number of wacky Libertarian schemes.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Please explain the apparent logical disconnect.

    Here you maintain that Ayn Rand did not write characters that could exist, deliberately:

    It means, as she’d say, “journalistic reality, i.e., a statistical average.”
    None of which adds up to naturalistic believability (i.e., “someone like that exists/could exist

    And yet here you admit that Ayn Rand did say that she and her husband and friends were examples of her heroes and thus her heroes could exist.

    what she said in the NBI incident was that she, NB, Barbara Branden, and Frank O’Connor existed, and thus that the heroes of which she wrote did exist.

    Are you misrepresenting Ayn Rand here, or was Ayn Rand clinically insane?

    And BTW she made this claim on more than one occasion:

    Toward the end of her life, Rand listened as a prominent psychologist stood onstage and dismissed her fictional heroes—those idealized steel barons and physicists and composers —as implausible. Soon she’d had enough and stood up in the crowd, outraged.

    “Am I unreal?” she shouted. “Am I a character who can’t possibly exist?”

    http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/60120/index2.html

  • fuguewriter

    >> ” the world is background to the heroes”

    > Everything is background to the … cast.

    She would say, “Thank you for understanding me to that extent.”

  • fuguewriter

    Oh, and more specifically, she was appalled that men who were highly competent at their jobs didn’t enjoy life more, and in particular were emotionally repressed, especially around romance and sex. She was quite forward-looking there. Thus: http://books.google.com/books?id=31xclri1vZkC&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=ayn+rand+emotional+repression&source=bl&ots=0Yn8dTp06c&sig=e18WwSdCBDWO8Q4Awprt6lQGDNA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=E37uUtvgMcaayQGI2oG4AQ&ved=0CFIQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=ayn%20rand%20emotional%20repression&f=false

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    The world can’t be this blank and serve as a background to the heroes. Take Tolkien, for example. The actions of his heroes (Aragorn, Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, etc.) only make sense in the context of the world he’s built around them. If he didn’t have that background and history, the heroes would fall apart, and people wouldn’t like or understand the book. Or look at The Wizard of Oz vs. Wicked – the designation of ‘hero’ only makes sense in context of the world the author has created. Avoiding the creation of that context doesn’t help the reader.

  • J-D

    Although it’s outside my personal experience, I have read accounts of women who have been educated to believe that sex gives no pleasure to women and that it is a marital obligation for wives to submit to the desires of their husbands.

    If I think of Lillian as a woman like that, I think it’s a sad situation, but I see her as a victim, not a villain.

    If I think of Hank as a husband unequipped to overcome his wife’s early training in frigidity, I think that’s also sad and also that he’s another victim. I see them both as set up for failure and I don’t blame either of them for it.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I still say my Pod People theory provides a more plausible explanation.

    And again, J-D, Lillian did not marry Hank for any other reason than to destroy him. Denying him sexual pleasure is part of how she is trying to destroy him. I think fuguewriter will back me up on this – as absurd a plot point as it may seem.

  • Azkyroth

    I’m almost afraid to ask, but…um, what’s “inappropriate” about being less than thrilled when someone gives you a gift that would make THEM happy without taking the time to consider whether it’s of any use or interest to you?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Because the gift is objectively wonderful because Ayn Rand and Mary Sue Dagny think so.

  • Science Avenger

    Eleanor Roosevelt: “Sex is something to be endured”

  • Science Avenger

    No search for “mock”? (I mockingly mock).

  • Nancy McClernan

    Excellent suggestion – thanks. And let me know if you think of any more words to search for.

    It turns out that there are 70 instances of “mock” which includes mocking and mockery. It seems like an undercount – although of all the words searched for so far, it shows up earliest in the book – the first thing after “Who is John Galt”:

    The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still—as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.

  • Nancy McClernan

    With FDR anyway. Her personal correspondence seems to indicate she was involved with at least one woman.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/09/charms-eleanor-roosevelt/?pagination=false

  • X. Randroid

    Exactly. Rand’s conceits include the notion that there is such a thing as “objectively wonderful.”

  • X. Randroid

    Oh, come on … should the producer who creates the gift be subservient to the whims of the mooching recipient????
    </sarcasm>

  • X. Randroid

    Actually, there is another reason I care, beyond the politics. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of Rand’s ideas on her most ardent followers — the capital-O Objectivists. Arrested emotional development, stunted creativity, seriously underdeveloped critical thinking skills in what are otherwise intelligent, articulate people. It ain’t pretty.

    The Ayn Rand Institute (yes, there is one) has an ongoing campaign to get high-school and college students to read Rand. I’m hoping some of them will find Adam’s series. it’s an excellent antidote.

  • X. Randroid

    You’re punning on “realistic.” Realistic doesn’t mean “possible.” It means, as she’d say, “journalistic reality, i.e., a statistical average.”

    If I’m punning, then so was Rand. She’s the one who coined “Romantic Realism” and claimed her novels were examples.

    The problem with her “stylized,” “essentialized” (or whatever you prefer to call them) characters is that because they are so far removed from anyone who ever existed (even Rand did not get close to her own ideal), they can’t tell us much of anything about ourselves or the world we inhabit.

    By way of analogy, let’s say I’m a CGA artist trying to model a herd of cows tumbling down an uneven but fairly steep slope during an earthquake. To make the problem more tractable, I use spherical cows of uniform density to calculate the physics. How well is my model going to approximate reality?

    Same applies to Rand’s characters, who, as you say “instanc[e] what AR thought was a true character trait or complex thereof.” Her villains are all spherical humans of uniform density. Her heroes are tetrahedrons and their density is an imaginary number. Rand thought such characters could tell us things about the true nature of reality. But they can’t because they’re too far removed from any actual human being.

  • fuguewriter

    The whole discussion took off on “believability.” Realism here is being used equivocally.

    > because they are so far removed from anyone

    who ever existed … they can’t tell us much of anything about ourselves or the world we inhabit.

    This is what she would call Naturalism. I think they can shed some fascinating new light on things precisely because they are not old, conservative, or status quo characters. She’s going somewhere new,

  • sealiagh

    And with that it is time for this:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged . One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ― John Rogers

  • Ricker

    I agree that many of her requests are seem reasonable. However, the first time that Rand presented her, she did so in such a way that colored my future perceptions of Lillian. In the first scene, Lillian’s interaction with Hank was filled with patronizing contempt. Every time she “defends” him, she does so in a manner that is dismissive. She defends him by insulting and mocking him.

    The anniversary party was what solidified my dislike of Lillian actually. I agree that it is quite reasonable to ask for acknowledgment of a wedding anniversary; it’s really a shame that she had to ask for it in the first place. Reading about the party and her interactions with him gave me the impression that she wanted the party merely for her own enjoyment and as a means to make Hank uncomfortable though. While there’s nothing wrong about inviting people your spouse might not enjoy being around, I cannot see any justification for inviting people, however few in number, whom your spouse detests and who vocally and publically attack your spouse. Ask yourself what motiviation you would have, what justification you could create, that would drive you to knowingly invite people like that.

    I agree that Hank is a terrible husband, but I don’t see Lillian as a blameless victim. I feel as bad for her as I do for Hank, both of them trapped in a marriage they don’t enjoy, unwilling to leave for reasons that don’t make any sense.

  • Nancy McClernan

    fuguewriter likes to channel Ayn Rand, although Rand herself would have quit this discussion long ago in a rage over our impertinent analysis of her work.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m familiar with the ARI especially since fuguewriter keeps posting links to their Ayn Rand lexicon.

    I don’t know if you have the arrow of causation going in the right direction about Rand’s influence. Couldn’t it be rather that those who have the personality traits you described are drawn to Rand because of having those traits? When Rand’s follower Mary Ann Sures was asked what drew her to Rand she said it was because Rand had certainty.

    And you quit Rand as a result of your own thought experiment which I think says more about you than it does about Rand’s work.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I completely agree about the importance of this series because it fills a niche – I would advise Adam to turn it into a book when this series is over (in another 2 years at its current pace.)

    It’s really quite striking how little analysis has been done on Atlas Shrugged and so claims about the book are most often made by True Believers. And like Christians who point to the Bible as a source of goodness, the True Believers for the most part don’t even know what’s in the book except for a general sense of the plot and a few quotes about gold or work.

    One reason is because AS, like the Bible, is long and dense and many have not actually read either thoroughly. How often do atheists have to point out to Christians that far from condemning slavery the Bible is actually a how-to guide on the care and feeding of slaves, and their all-knowing, all-good Jehovah doesn’t have a word to say against it. Their minister has never mentioned it so they didn’t know.

  • eyelessgame

    “Learned sociopathy” is what Objectivism *is*, so the characters learning to be sociopaths is the same thing as them learning to be Objectivists.

  • smrnda

    The problem is that political critiques have to be made of specific political systems. If your story has political critiques, and you imagine that it would be equally valid in nations with very different political systems, then you are either writing platitudes like ‘politicians lie to make people like them’ that are trivially true, or else you just don’t understand the world well enough to see the differences. She doesn’t broaden the applicability, she just pretends that distinct systems are all the same.

  • smrnda

    Beckett at least gave us a very convincing tree.

  • smrnda

    So, you’re admitting that the world is totally unrealistic, and poorly developed? That the author doesn’t know enough to make a convincing world? That the author is actually stupid, not just ignorant? Ignorant means not knowing. Stupid is not knowing, not caring, and imagining you really understand everything.

  • smrnda

    If your book is supposed to have something to say about the real world, realism and believability matter more than what you say, because if you don’t get those right, you can’t possibly be saying anything valid.

  • fuguewriter

    > political critiques have to be made of specific political systems

    She’s criticizing statism, and thus is at the proper level of generality.

  • smrnda

    Characters who are not believable and not possible might be entertaining fantasy, but they can’t provide sensible models for real world behaviors. I mean, asking myself ‘what would Superman do?’ is pretty dumb.

    The best characters that aren’t realistic (like say, Dr Benway from Naked Lunch) work because they are caricatures – they exaggerate the essence of real people so that their defining features are exaggerated to absurd levels.

  • smrnda

    That’s kind of a universal problem, we just tend to find ‘problems in personal life’ stand out more in a famous scientist or artist than in the Ordinary Guy who Works at the Store. Any other person would realize that it’s simply that high abilities in certain areas don’t do anything about personal issues – being a great computer programmer doesn’t mean my relationships stand any greater chance of success than those of someone who is far more ordinary (except maybe the influence of $) because relationships and such are a skill set of their own.

    Only someone who knows nothing about the human condition can imagine that being great at say, designing buildings means you’ll have a better sex life.

    I wanted to add, it’s also possible to be great at some talent (like writing software or designing cars) and be a terrible person who is just an asshole, so that nobody likes you.

    Also, it’s quite possible for people who have achieved a lot to be unfulfilled and the reason Rand can’t *get this* is that she sees PRODUCTIVE WORK! as the absolute purpose of life. She couldn’t imagine someone who is productive, successful in a business/financial sense but who is unfulfilled, probably because she never bothered to listen to what anybody says. You can have a lousy personal life because 1. you aren’t well connected socially 2. your work requires such long hours you are isolated 3 .you may lack social skills or 4. you may be a poor fit for the people around you. No, Rand imagines that it must be MOOCHERS LOOTERS leeching off the productive, because she can’t imagine another dimension to life.

  • smrnda

    Great point. When people argue that you can have ‘capitalism’ without say, ‘crony capitalism’ I just find it laughable. Once a business becomes huge, it can present its own failure as a failure that is too big to let happen – GM can’t go under without taking too many people with it, but the dollar store down the street can go under without taking as many people with it, therefore the first has to be helped, the latter can be ignored.

  • Nancy McClernan

    When Rand writes absurdities and incoherencies, fuguewriter’s take-away is always that Rand is being fiendishly clever, and simply too far above the heads of parasites like you and I.

  • X. Randroid

    On the arrow of causation, I think it goes both ways. Yes, there are budding sociopaths out there who take Rand as a validation of their pre-existing tendencies. I’ve met some of them.

    There are also a lot of teenagers out there who were raised by authoritarian (usually religious) mentalities. They figure out it’s screwed up in some way, and they’re looking for something that makes more sense. (I know that for me as a teen, a lot of my interest in Rand came just from the fact that she argued that morality did not require a god — something I had not considered possible up to that point.) They fall into Rand’s trap and think they’re now thinking for themselves … because they don’t know what really thinking for themselves would look like. They’re not naturally sociopaths, and many of them end up practicing a kinder, gentler version of Objectivism — which basically amounts to rationalizing how being kind and/or charitable (even to strangers), not to mention loving their children, is actually in their own self-interest. They don’t approve of “forced” charity (government safety-net programs), but they’re huge fans of the voluntary kind.

  • Science Avenger

    Don’t underestimate the validation Rand gave to those who were socially out of step, especially those who were otherwise successful in life. It validates one’s awkwardness in a way few works could, turning a point of discomfort into one of pride. I know many of you are fond of saying no real people think and act like Rand’s characters, and for the villains you have a point, but I assure you the heroes are very real in every way except their magical ability to be right all the time. To people who really think like them, they can be the people in literature one can relate to the most.

  • Science Avenger

    I think by any objective (heh) measure, Rand was very intelligent. Hell, she’s writing in her second language. She’s very clearly insane, probably made worse by her drug abuse.

  • Science Avenger

    But her whole theory of value emphasizes the personal nature of value – “to whom for what”. Now I suppose something could have universal appeal, but I don’t think that’s what the whole bracelet scene was about. It was showing the shallow nature of Lillian and what she valued. We are supposed to see her rejection of the bracelet in the same way we might react to someone being given Tesla’s first electric motor and rejecting it because it wasn’t shiny and pretty and didn’t impress her friends.

  • eyelessgame

    I’m wondering – not having read the book – whether Rand intended to do a “villain reveal”… whether it is revealed later that Lillian only married Hank because she hates people and is part of the anti-life equation and whatever, and that this revelation was intended to be a surprise? Where she acts here like the loving, neglected wife, and later on rips the mask off and reveals she’s one of the Psychlos. Is it possible there was some attempt to do this elementary level of misdirection?

    But that would have required Rand to be a whole lot better at characterization than she was; it looks like she wasn’t able to disguise her contempt for the character to preserve any sort of surprise.

  • Nancy McClernan

    You have to whom for what in quotations – is that a direct quote from Rand?

  • Science Avenger

    As near as I can recall, yes.

  • smrnda

    I could say that I am *fiendishly clever* in writing a fairly realistic story where, halfway through, a character comes up with a plan for a perpetual motion machine on a napkin that instantly solves all the problems we’ve encountered so far, not explaining how the perpetual motion machine solves both marital problems, psychological problems, and prevents a local band from breaking up – these things just are magically FIXED a few scenes after the napkin moment, the explanation left out, but yet somehow it’s clever.

    I think that would at least be an improvement over “Atlas” in length.

  • smrnda

    I dunno. I can think of writers who wrote better in 3rd of 4th languages.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m not convinced. Learning a second language is not such an astounding intellectual feat especially if you’re immersed in the language and your economic prospects hinge on it.

    Rand had a few areas of interest and she stuck to them. The fact that she never got evolution is an example. And AS makes it clear that she never bothered to understand the US government or the stock market. But thanks to her early experiences under the Bolsheviks she knew communism was Bad and capitalism was Good. But she never bothered to analyze either system enough to understand how those systems developed or why people would choose one over the other. Her ultimate explanation for Communism, in the person of Ivy Starnes was sadism. You can’t get more simple-minded than that.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And thanks to her mother giving away her mechanical chicken – a trauma she was still stewing over when she wrote Atlas Shrugged so much she included a thinly fictionalized version of the incident in the book – she learned altruism is Bad and selfishness is Good. She made up her mind young and never changed it. She might have had the potential for intelligence but her rigid personality restricted the acquisition of knowledge as she aged.

  • smrnda

    She seems to have no real understanding of either system, nor of the motivations for either one. Worst to me is that in praising technocrat entrepreneurs, she’s clearly got no idea how engineering works, nor how businesses are run.

  • smrnda

    Even in totally unrealistic books, believability at least in terms of the characters having psychological plausibility and understandable emotions is very important.

  • smrnda

    ‘ she, NB, Barbara Branden, and Frank O’Connor existed, and thus that the heroes of which she wrote did exist.’

    Of these people, did any of them run a business or invent a useful new technology? Her and her fan club certainly seem to be a bit less epic in stature than her heroes, and the idea that they are the same in *essentials* but just not in scope is absurd. She’s a pulp writer who seems to be stuck writing as if she was being paid a quarter cent per word, and her fans seems to have accomplished almost nothing of value.

  • smrnda

    I overheard a guy yakking about this book once. I decided to chat him up a bit and not talk much about my opinions, and so we got diverted into me yakking about writing software. In the end, I ended up telling him the book might be useful as a doorstop.

  • smrnda

    Heinlein’s characters can be kind of the same, though he’s a far better writer. He also doesn’t try to make heroes PERFECT.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The competing systems in Atlas Shrugged are Ayn Rand’s kind of people, which she calls producers and everybody else, whom she calls parasites. Because of her bad experiences in Russia she aligns capitalism with producers but the connection is actually extremely tenuous. And that’s why Rand has to make up the difference by turning the producers into Übermensch and everybody else into sadists and morons.

  • Azkyroth

    Except she’s A) using the term “statism” unironically but B) not fingerpainting her critiques.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The state in Atlas Shrugged is dysfunctional and does not have a social safety net. Who would not criticize the straw state that Ayn Rand has created?

    How is it that Rand fans are not able to process this piece of information? How is it possible they think she’s making a case against the New Deal and the Great Society when there are no equivalents in the fog government of Atlas Shrugged?

    Are you seriously suggesting that because Ayn Rand threw the Atlas Shrugged government and the actual US government into one pot she labelled “statism” that she is making a valid critique at that “level of generality”?

  • unbound55

    This appears to be a “poisoning the well” approach on Rand’s part. It is a powerful aspect of our interactions with others that we put a tremendous weight on initial impressions. This can result in unfairly judging people if we meet them at an unusually bad time and can also result in defending people that are unusually friendly / nice upon initially meeting them but demonstrate bad behavior afterwards.

    Something key (for me anyways) is understanding that we are introducing Lillian in the middle of her story. We don’t meet her when they are dating, much less her life before even meeting Hank. Assuming that Hank has been consumed by his work for a good while (which is a good bet), it becomes harder to blame Lillian for her behavior at this stage of their marriage as being solely manufactured of her own accord.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I think you should read the book. You can’t understand root canal fully until you’ve had it. The nice thing about this series is you’ll have others to commiserate with about the experience.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    In other words, asking yourself, “What would Superman do?” is unrealistic, since you can’t do the things that Superman can do. But you can ask yourself, “What would Superman think about what I’m about to do?” because his beliefs and emotions are comprehensible.

  • smrnda

    The problem is ‘statism’ is a label normally only used by Randoids and anarcho-capitalists and it’s so broad that it simply lumps a mess of diverse systems together all which have different salient differences with what Rand is promoting. It’s like Christians saying that there is either LIFE (the Christian faith) or some kind of ‘pro sin death bondage’ (everything else.) She’s not depicting any government that actually resembles a real one.

    Additionally, critiques should be made of specific existing systems and what their weaknesses are, and how the proposed system is better. She keeps things vague because she’s too stupid to understand any government, and because her solution is a combination of magic and a bunch of assumptions about human beings, human nature, and the nature of producing goods and services that are inaccurate and false.

    Her critiques fail to address ways that nations that she would consider ‘statist’ actually function without falling apart. She seems to assume that they inevitably crumble, but nations more ‘statist’ than the US are kicking our asses. Understandably the prophets of Rand are out going ‘BUT IT’S UNSUSTAINABLE!’ but they’ve been arguing the sky is falling for years now.

  • Science Avenger

    Far better. Jubal Harshaw would kick John Galt’s ass.

  • Science Avenger

    You could say the same for Tony Robbins and everyone like him. Their only life accomplishment is in convincing people like them that what they have to say is important.

  • Science Avenger

    Intelligent people who believe simple-minded things when it suits their interests or emotional predilections are a dime a dozen. Rand’s vocabulary and argument structure, however bizarre and blinkered, still reveals an intellect easily above average. Have you hung out with a group of <100 IQs recently? It can be quite a shock if you are used to people like those reading this blog. :)

  • Science Avenger

    Rand’s biggest intellectual crime was being intellectually lazy. I know a lot of people like her, they make up the bulk of the Free Market wing of the GOP. They greatly overrate their ability to figure out how the world works merely by idly thinking about it, which they get away with precisely because they are very intelligent. They are engineers and computer scientists who you’d think were clearly very bright people making casual conversation. But when the subject of governments comes up, they start talking out of their asses. They don’t investigate the science on anything they think because they don’t think they need to. They’re smart, and they already reasoned out what the answer must be, so what’s the point of doing the science?


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