Atlas Shrugged: Indian Givers

FirstThanksgiving

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IV

After unleashing a tirade at his family during Thanksgiving dinner, Hank Rearden decides he’s had enough of them. He stands up and announces that he’s going to New York, knowing that Lillian understands exactly what this means:

“Why do you wish to go to New York tonight?”

“I think, Lillian, for the same reason that makes you wish to stop me.”

“Tomorrow is your trial.”

“That is what I mean.”

He made a movement to turn, and she raised her voice: “I don’t want you to go!” He smiled. It was the first time he had smiled at her in the past three months; it was not the kind of smile she could care to see. “I forbid you to leave us tonight!”

He turned and left the room.

This is one of those times where it’s worth stepping back to see the big picture. A ruthless multimillionaire executive is having Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, wife and brother, sitting in stony silence even though he’s due to stand trial tomorrow on serious charges. His family tells him that he ought to be ashamed for what he’s done; he snaps back at them that they’re worthless parasites and he doesn’t care if they live or die. Then he storms out to go visit his mistress.

Rand stacks the deck by depicting her villains as ungrateful, grasping freeloaders and all her heroes as flawlessly moral and principled (although see below about that). Even so, there are places where the inherent unlikability of her protagonists bleeds through in spite of all she does to suppress it.

It was half past nine when he reached the city. Dagny’s apartment was dark, when he let himself in with his key. He picked up the telephone and called her office. Her own voice answered: “Taggart Transcontinental.”

“Don’t you know it’s a holiday?” he asked.

“Hello, Hank. Railroads have no holidays. Where are you calling from?”

“Your place.”

“I’ll be through in another half-hour.”

“It’s all right. Stay there. I’ll come for you.”

Dagny is at work at 9:30 PM on Thanksgiving, just in case you missed that. The text mentions that it’s because of another wreck in Wyoming, but the company doesn’t seem to be in crisis mode: when Hank gets there, there’s no one in the office besides her and Eddie Willers. And while emergency workers and salvage crews might have a job to do at the scene, it’s not obvious what she can do about it. (It’s certainly not to talk to the media, whom she despises.) It’s interesting that even Hank implicitly questions this workaholic behavior, although maybe that’s just because he’s annoyed that she’s at the office when he wants to be having sex with her.

“We won’t talk any further about my trial, tonight. You don’t happen to have anything to drink in your office, have you?”

“No. But I think my traffic manager has some sort of a bar on one shelf of his filing closet.”

“Do you think you could steal a drink for me, if he doesn’t have it locked?”

“I’ll try.”

He stood looking at the portrait of Nat Taggart on the wall of her office — the portrait of a young man with a lifted head — until she returned, bringing a bottle of brandy and two glasses. He filled the glasses in silence.

Wait, what? If I’d been drinking a glass of water while reading this, this would’ve been the place for a spit take.

Hank and Dagny, the two cast-iron capitalists who respect private property above all else, just stole private property from one of Dagny’s employees. Theft is practically the worst crime an Objectivist can commit; it’s pretty much the only crime an Objectivist can commit. Are we meant to conclude that because the traffic manager’s liquor was paid for by his salary at Taggart Transcontinental, that makes everything he owns the property of his boss? Or is this scene – like Dagny’s looting a valuable piece of machinery with no idea who the rightful owner is, or that time she bribed a judge to let her seize a bankrupt company’s operations for her own benefit – another argument for the conclusion that, whatever principles Rand claims to advocate, the ones she actually espouses are that her heroes are entitled to do anything they want?

“You know, Dagny, Thanksgiving was a holiday established by productive people to celebrate the success of their work.”

The movement of his arm, as he raised his glass, went from the portrait — to her — to himself — to the buildings of the city beyond the window.

In the sanitized Ayn Rand version of history, the Pilgrims were brave and fearless capitalists – a boat full of Dagny Taggarts and Hank Reardens with muskets and hats with buckles – who planted their flag on a foreign shore, tamed the wilderness, and then held a great feast as a way of celebrating how awesome they were.

The reality is that the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth Harbor in December 1620 were utterly unprepared for survival in the new land. They had no shelter suitable for the frigid winter, no horses or cattle, and not nearly enough food. In the first winter, famine stalked the colony: half the original settlers died, and many of the survivors were weak, ill and malnourished.

It’s possible they all would have died, if not for the help of the Native Americans. Part of that help was inadvertent: the Pilgrims stole (or, as Ayn Rand might, say “looted”) food from Native American settlements in Cape Cod. More famously, they had the help of an ambassador from the Wampanoag confederation: Tisquantum, or Squanto as he’s better known. At the bidding of his chieftain Massasoit, who apparently helped the Europeans in the hope of enlisting their aid against a rival alliance, the Narragansett, Tisquantum taught them how to plant corn, where best to fish, and how to fertilize the soil with fishmeal so their crops would grow better. It was thanks to this help that they survived to celebrate the first Thanksgiving.

We know the sad story that came next. The Wampanoag’s hopes of an alliance came to naught, as imported European diseases decimated the native population of Massachusetts, and later waves of settlers with guns finished the job. Their reward for their help was extermination.

Ayn Rand believed that Native Americans were squatters and savages who had no right to the land they lived on, to be swept aside as soon as European capitalists arrived. (More on that later.) This clashes with the reality that, at least for the first few years, the Europeans were the moochers who survived on charity, and the Native Americans were the “productive people” who knew how to make the land yield the necessities of life. Later on, the phrase “Indian giver” became racist slang for people who give gifts and then want them back; but if that’s the standard, then how much more harshly should we judge those who asked for charity, received it, and then slaughtered their saviors?

Image: “The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Leon Gerome Farris; via Wikimedia Commons

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Donalbain

    He right up and calls it stealing as well. That is what shocks me. He doesn’t use a euphemism, or come up with a justification of why he has rights to this drink.. he just asks her to steal.

  • http://www.Kamenriderrecap.com Sneezeguard

    Obviously her traffic manager should have invested in better locks. Or paid for a private security company to protect his alcohol if he really cared about it that much.
    Though the reality of it is that Ayn Rand would view a hungry man stealing a loaf of bread to survive as a crime against humanity. But a rich man stealing liquor because he just really wants some and doesn’t feel like taking the time to procure it legally is fine because… reasons.

  • Doug Langley

    Hah. Foolish traffic manager. Doesn’t he realize our super-geniuses could defeat the security of Fort Knox if they put their minds to it?

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    They could, but they wouldn’t. Hank says “if he doesn’t have it locked.” Apparently, establishing property rights to one’s booze requires locking the door to the cabinet where you keep it.

  • arensb

    stealing liquor because he just really wants some

    One important plank of Rearden’s/Galt’s/Rand’s morality is “just because you need something doesn’t make me obligated to give it to you.”
    But apparently “I need a drink” is reason enough to loot help oneself.

  • UnsaltedSinner

    “Though the reality of it is that Ayn Rand would view a hungry man stealing a loaf of bread to survive as a crime against humanity.”

    Speaking of bread thieves, I’ve always found it baffling that Rand loved the novels of Victor Hugo. I can only assume that she read “Les Miserables” as the tragic but inspiring story of a brave and principled police officer who was driven to suicide by revolutionary moochers and looters.

  • Vang

    My guess would be that she thought that the tragedy of Valjean wasn’t that he was being pursued past what was just, but that he was a Maker who should have been left alone specifically because of his skills as factory owner. If he’d just been Joe Schmoe, then screw him. But instead, it was the rousing story about how the takers unjustly pursued this vibrant captain of industry to take him down.

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

    Yep. When Hank was young, poor and hungry, stealing fruit from a sidewalk vendor would have been an unforgivable sin. But now that he’s rich, he can apparently take from lesser mortals without a qualm. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Rand considers stealing more justifiable the less you actually need whatever you stole.

  • J-D

    A version of the Matthew principle, perhaps.

    For he that hath much, does not his abundance shew his worth? verily, he may take as much more as seemeth good to him. But he that hath little, of what worth is he? yea, even the little he hath may be taken away.

  • Sue White

    “Don’t you know it’s a holiday?” he asked.

    She should have said “Don’t *you*?”

  • Doug Langley

    Normally, snitching a bit of booze wouldn’t be a problem. It barely qualifies as petty theft. But Rand establishes an extremely picky philosophy where even the most fleeting thought corrupts irrevocably. Remember the scene where Rand boastfully points out that Reardon wouldn’t dare steal an apple, even though he was starving, because to do so would throw him into The Dark Side.

    This is more evidence than Rand wrote stuff without even reading it. I guess she wanted a scene where Dagny and Hank are toasting each other . . . but Dagny’s such a workaholic she can’t leave her office and go to a diner (if one were open in this parallel universe) . . . and she doesn’t keep any in her office because God forbid she indulge in something that would corrupt her mind. She really painted herself into a corner.

  • Shawn

    This could have been easily solved with a line of dialogue about how Dagny lets the traffic manager’s stash slide as long as he shares it with her when she wants some – see, mutual negotiation, mutual benefit. Either way, of course, we’re left to wonder why exactly she lets her traffic manager drink on the job. Seems unwise if he’s, you know, routing trains.

  • Doug Langley

    “I think my traffic manager has some . . .”

    Dagny runs the tightest ship around, and she doesn’t even know if the guy routing trains is sloshed???

    Reportedly, some years after writing Atlas, they were fussing with trying to turn it into a movie or tv series. The partner wrote the line, “I think . .” and Rand exploded. “Dagny is NEVER unsure! She always knows!!” Yet “I think” is all over Atlas. She couldn’t even meet her own standards.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    The partner wrote the line, “I think . .” and Rand exploded. “Dagny is NEVER unsure! She always knows!!”

    And when the trailer for Atlas Shrugged Part I came out a few years ago, featuring a clip where Dagny tells Hank she’s “gambling” on his metal, the howls among the Objectivist faithful were loud and long. Dagny never gambles! She knows!!

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I’m also reminded of Rand’s insistence that nothing in Atlas Shrugged is accidental and that she uses words with exact mathematical precision. Taking her at her word, we must conclude that Rand is condoning theft of an underling’s booze. After all, Hank uses the word “steal,” and Dagny doesn’t do anything to correct him (e.g., explaining that she has permission to raid this particular “bar of sorts”).

    This scene is further proof that Rand was kidding herself. How hard would it have been for a careful writer to clean up this dialog? And why did she ever imagine Hank Rearden, champion of property rights, suggesting theft? Didn’t that just jump off the page as out of character?

    What’s interesting is that Rand fans never seem to notice this transgression against her oft-stated principles. I’m sure if you pointed it out to them, they’d find a way to whitewash it out of existence. Maybe relying on the “if he doesn’t have it locked” qualifier … as if leaving the door unlocked somehow makes it not a real theft.

  • Verbose Stoic

    It’s relying on this sort of contradiction that makes me think that the analysis here is a rhetorical one, not a philosophical or even a literary one. This really isn’t that big an issue because it is, in fact, very easy to resolve, as words like “swipe” and “steal” can easily be used as euphemisms for “Take something that you can’t return but that you’ve compensated them for or have a clear right to take”. For example, talking about stealing some more napkins and the like. And with the strong character moment for Rearden to refuse to take an apple that he couldn’t compensate the owner for, we definitely should assume that that isn’t what he means here, or that if Dagny thought that was what he meant she’d chide him. The only other option is that Rand means to show these people becoming corrupted in some way, but that seems highly unlikely.

    Thus, there are easy ways to work this out. The easiest one is that he or Dagny will compensate whoever owns this for what they take, or don’t have to because of who is the actual owner (it might be the company). None of this should reflect any serious challenge to what Rand explicitly states both in the book and in her philosophical writings … but it SOUNDS like a serious contradiction at first glance.

    Now, Rand’s comment that every word was precisely chosen is about the only serious challenge you can make here, but certainly a charitable reading here would be that she exaggerated how precise every single word was and that while in a lot of cases she chose words carefully — which you have to do when making philosophical points — in a lot of cases she either didn’t or bowed to style instead of precise content.

    In general, the first thing to do with any work is to assume that they won’t directly contradict themselves. This example is an example of that and so should be viewed with suspicion. Now, contradictions due to IMPLICATIONS are much more credible, because people don’t always notice all of the implications of their statements, but even then you should try to exhaust all options for making it consistent first before dismissing it. After all, attacking a philosophical position due to contradictions in it is the cheap and uninteresting way to do that; it’s much more satisfying and interesting to take the view that’s as consistent as it possibly can be, in its strongest possible form, and point out that, even given that, it’s still wrong.

  • GCT

    Thus, there are easy ways to work this out.

    Sure, you just beg the question and then post-hoc any rationalization you can to save the story.

    It’s relying on this sort of contradiction that makes me think that the analysis here is a rhetorical one, not a philosophical or even a literary one.

    Substitute “contradiction” for “logically fallacious argument” and the ball’s squarely back in your court.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Now, Rand’s comment that every word was precisely chosen is about the only serious challenge you can make here, but certainly a charitable reading here would be that she exaggerated how precise every single word was …

    Rand would be deeply offended at the suggestion that she exaggerated. She had a lot of illusions about her own perfection and was extremely hostile to those who dared to challenge them. Further, she was never one for giving a charitable reading to any expression of an opposing view. So I’m not inclined to cut her any slack on that front.

    As far as whether these issues are rhetorical (implying insignificant) or literary, I suppose it’s a question of how one should evaluate a “novel of ideas.” Should we just stick to the content of the philosophical speeches (what the author tells us), or is it fair to also look at the characters’ actions (what the author shows us) and whether they match up? Seems like such discrepancies are fair game for literary criticism.

    And there’s more, as it’s not just this one scene. Adam links this to other instances of Rand’s heroes acting as if they are above the law—not just the law of their (corrupt) government but also the moral law Rand is purporting to establish.

    The existence of this pattern strikes me as significant in terms of what Rand was really thinking. I think it’s a residue of her “Nietzsche phase.” Rand claimed she got over him, but did she really?

    And even if the point about stealing booze is purely rhetorical, it goes to a question many Objectivists puzzle over: why do so few of the many intelligent people who read Atlas Shrugged find it persuasive? This “above the law” action pattern may have something to do with that.

    Is this sort of thing the strongest argument one can make against Objectivism? No, of course not. But does that make it insignificant?

  • Verbose Stoic

    Rand would be deeply offended at the suggestion that she exaggerated.
    She had a lot of illusions about her own perfection and was extremely
    hostile to those who dared to challenge them. Further, she was never one
    for giving a charitable reading to any expression of an opposing view.
    So I’m not inclined to cut her any slack on that front.

    Well, in doing the analysis, I don’t really care. We know that people exaggerate and she seems to be doing that here. Additionally, to not accept that leaves the question of her deliberately having one of her main characters actually directly contradict himself, refusing to steal an apple to live but being willing to actually steal alcohol, in his own mind. Unless we have something from her to show how she’d defend it, it’s certainly the better assumption that she wouldn’t directly contradict herself and focus more on what her philosophy itself actually says. And as for her not giving her opposition charitable interpretations, again I don’t really care. That she isn’t charitable doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be,

    As far as whether these issues are rhetorical (implying insignificant) or literary, I suppose it’s a question of how one should evaluate a “novel of ideas.”

    I don’t really imply “insignificant” here, but more that it is aimed more at convincing people that the views are wrong and less at actually taking the views apart. Philosophically, these contradictions, particularly in a “novel of ideas” won’t really defeat her philosophy, as if she insists that her “exemplars” ARE held to the objective moral standard all this would reveal, at best, is that she is inconsistent in actually living by her own principles … which, to be honest, is the case for almost all moral philosophers [grin].

    Should we just stick to the content of the philosophical speeches (what the author tells us), or is it fair to also look at the characters’ actions (what the author shows us) and whether they match up? Seems
    like such discrepancies are fair game for literary criticism.

    Literary criticism merely examines it as a work of art, and how well it works at that, and what it might be trying to convey. To actually refute Rand here, you need to do a philosophical analysis, at which point the philosophical speeches would certainly get more weight. But in either case, you won’t go against the stated intent of the author, and that’s what you have to go against here to push that point. That’s why it works better as a rhetorical analysis than as a real one against her philosophy; her inconsistency here wouldn’t in any way actually prove that her stated and intended philosophy doesn’t work, and at best would show that the one she outlines in their actions isn’t that one.

    And there’s more, as it’s not just this one scene. Adam links this to other instances of Rand’s heroes acting as if they are above the law—not
    just the law of their (corrupt) government but also the moral law Rand is purporting to establish.

    I have read them, you know, and they aren’t anywhere near as clearcut … and again, even then, all that shows is that her characters don’t represent the view she is talking about, meaning that she did a bad job of writing her characters. If her characters undercut her explicitly stated philosophy, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble trying to wring a consistent philosophy out of this, and have no way to figure this out. Which is why I’d rather see more references to her actual philosophical writings in interpreting this, and not just relying on one of her books.

    (Note: I’ve started reading some of it, but haven’t gotten that far yet. But far enough that I think a Hobbesian framework is the best way to analyze her view, at which point a lot of the problems go away).

    The existence of this pattern strikes me as significant in terms of what Rand was really thinking. I think it’s a residue of her “Nietzsche phase.” Rand claimed she got over him, but did she really?

    Maybe she hadn’t, but the question would be “What impact did that have on her PHILOSOPHY, as opposed to the impact on her CHARACTERIZATION”? The latter is relevant for a literary analysis, the former for a philosophical analysis, and to not ask at all leaves it as a rhetorical analysis.

    And even if the point about stealing booze is purely rhetorical, it goes to a question many Objectivists puzzle over: why do so few of the many intelligent people who read Atlas Shrugged find it persuasive? This “above the law” action pattern may have something to do with that.

    I’d hope the reason that so few intelligent people find it persuasive is because the underlying philosophy is fundamentally flawed, not because they don’t like the main characters. Ultimately, the philosophy rests on the idea that what defines the moral is one’s own self-interest, which is a view that most intelligent people were rejecting for thousands of years before Rand and will continue to reject for thousands of years into the future.

    Is this sort of thing the strongest argument one can make against Objectivism? No, of course not. But does that make it insignificant?

    But I argue that it isn’t an argument against Objectivism, the philosophy, AT ALL, because all it says, at best, is that Rand didn’t write the book clearly. Objectivism doesn’t seem to contain, as a philosophy, this “above all moral law” attitude and, in fact, explicitly contradicts that. Thus, you need to take it on using what it actually holds as principles, and not by finding ambiguities in her writing that you can turn into a contradiction. As I pointed out with the other examples.

  • J-D

    Using the word ‘steal’ when what the intended literal meaning is ‘take’ is definitely a synecdoche and could also be a cacophemism, but is definitely not a euphemism.

    I suppose euphemism is generally a form of synecdoche, so using the word ‘euphemism’ when the intended literal meaning is ‘synecdoche’ could itself be an instance of synecdoche.

  • Nik Pfirsig

    The capitalist/libertarian take on this would be that the traffic manager leases himself to the company during his work hours, and extend the claim of ownership to include any personal property stored at the office. Rand doesn’t do this.
    Rand has established that her heroes and heroines are exceptional people, and as exceptional people they are not bound by the same laws as mere mortals.

  • UnsaltedSinner

    Once again we see what fun it is to be a Randian hero: Holidays are best spent at the office. Ayn Rand must have been the only person in the world who watched Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and thought the initial state of that city looked like paradise.

  • Doug Langley

    To be fair, a number of jobs require working through holidays. ER staff, police, fire dept, hotels, airports . . . but it’s recognized as a burden and managers often try to work out fair schedules.

    Only in a Rand story would the hero spend Thanksgiving by rushing away from his horrible family dinner and settle into an office with a sigh of relief.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Some also offer additional pay to employees who have to work a holiday. Mine does and it’s sometimes well worth it to work on those days.

  • AstroUltra

    I think the idea with the traffic manager is that he isn’t really supposed to have the alcohol at the office in the first place, so it’s alright for Dagny to take it (because he shouldn’t have brought it in anyway). Kind of like how, if a high school student brings a cell phone to a school with a policy against them, the school can confiscate the phone.

    I don’t think this really works, but I think that’s what she was going for.

  • Doug Langley

    I’m constantly reminded of how Rand had been a Hollywood screenwriter. Atlas keeps working like a feature film, where, if a character needs something, it magically appears, then vanishes. Like Dorothy suddenly sees a bucket of water when the witch threatens. Or Luke Skywalker suddenly finding a grappling hook when he needs to cross a chasm. Need something? POOF!

  • KBQ

    I think the idea with the traffic manager is that he isn’t really supposed to have the alcohol at the office in the first place…

    Might you be superimposing modern work values over a different time period here? Even as late as the 60s and 70s, it seems that it was okay to drink at work, at least for some people in the company.

    On top of that, when I’m in conversations about drinking at work with people who were in their 20s and 30s during the 1970s, they’re usually not at all shocked at the idea that an executive would have a drink at work or serve one to a visiting business associate as a hospitable gesture.

  • Cactus_Wren

    Attitudes towards drinking were a lot looser in the 1950s than today. I’m thinking of the scene in Lolita where a thoroughly liquored-up H.H. sideswipes a car on the way to the hospital, gets into a drunken brawl on arriving there, apologizes to the COPS, explains to the doctors (!!) about “the liquor I bolstered too freely a tricky but not necessarily diseased heart with” … and is allowed to drive away.

  • Martin Penwald

    Here is an old french advertising for an alcoholic beverage (from the following article http://rhcf.revues.org/109 ) probably from the ’50s.

    http://rhcf.revues.org/docannexe/image/109/img-6.png

    « The railwaymen, who need all their mind, have immediately adopted the Blah-Blah »

    Nowadays, it looks particularly inappropriate, but it was not the case even 40 years ago.

    And you are right too about executives, there are a lot of movies depicting this practice.

  • Cerebus36

    I have to admit I was stunned by how Ayn Rand (through Dagny) recast the purpose and significance of Thanksgiving. Recasting it as “…a holiday established by productive people to celebrate the success of their work” is so woefully wrong-headed and inaccurate. It ignores the actual historical and political context of the holiday as well as the religious roots of Thanksgiving. You gotta wonder, if it’s a holiday of the “productive people”, to whom are they giving thanks? Of course, I also wonder how Rand would have recast Easter and Christmas?

  • Doomedd

    As a Canadian, I wonder if Rand’s version of thanksgiving is simple ignorance or a deliberate attempt to retcon history like many conservative actively do.

  • Doug Langley

    According to Rand, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, you better start sending us royalty payments.

  • Martin Penwald

    But Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier in the year, so I guess it is the US which owes royalties to Canada.

  • Doug Langley

    Obviously, it takes 11 months for you to copy what we did the previous year. :)

  • Doug Langley

    Somewhere in her “non fiction” articles, Rand acknowledged that Thanksgiving originated as celebration of harvest. Of course, she extrapolated that into a celebration of all productive work.

    There’s no mention of Easter or Christmas in Atlas Shrugged, and since that book is supposed to cover the whole of man’s existence, she clearly didn’t feel they were important. I vaguely recall some mention that personally she found Christmas charming, mainly for the gift swapping.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Yes, she was a fan of Christmas. She liked the “benevolent, non-sacrificial” expression of goodwill and giving of gifts and, not surprisingly, the commercialization.

    For more, see here: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/christmas.html

  • Doug Langley

    ” . . . The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure.”

    Sigh. The one time Rand turned soft hearted and cuddly and unfortunately I can’t agree. I once worked retail (was desperate for work). Guess what was the busiest day of the year? Nope, not “Black Thursday” after Thanksgiving. It was the day after Christmas. Every single worker had to man the trenches. Customers flooded the store to return the gifts they’d been given. They hated them, had to get rid of them, swap them, anything. All day long, a mass of bitter people. And the next day. And the next. It took a couple of weeks for it to fizzle out.

    It just KILLED the last bit of sentiment I had for the holiday.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    Thanks, Cerebus36. I was going to post on this myself but you beat me to it.

    Rand writes the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving (and the “giving” too).

  • Doug Langley

    I’m a little surprised she didn’t try to rename it the “Thankme” holiday.

  • Doomedd

    Maybe I have wasted too much time playing a strategy game recently but what Adam quoted and wrote reminds me of feudalism. The employee seek a job from the exalted capitalist king. If the CK deign to accept the lowly job seeker, the employee need to be loyal and useful to the great capitalist. In exchange, the corporate lord will provide a salary.

    I think the justification of the thief: everything and everyone below the top liege belong to the top liege, therefore, Dagny own the booze…so long she manage to silence any complaints. Real life politics can get complicated in a tyranny.

  • Iphigenia

    Hank’s statement about Thanksgiving surprised me too, but for a slightly different reason: I was surprised that Ayn Rand didn’t understand why the Puritans had Thanksgivings. I’m using the plural form because Puritans had a Thanksgiving every time something good happened to the community, whether it was a result of their own efforts or a stroke of good luck (the end of a drought, for instance). The community wasn’t “giving” their “thanks” to each other, but rather to their God.

    The Puritans, as Calvinists, subscribed to the belief that everything that happened to them was foreordained by God at the time of the Creation. That meant that God is ultimately responsible for all events, good and bad; “your” success is not really yours, but just something that God has allowed to happen to you.

    As a committed atheist and humanist, Rand should have considered the original Thanksgivings to be celebrations of an abhorrent superstition that takes the rightful credit for success away from “productive people” and gives it to a lie. But of course she would have had to know what Thanksgivings actually meant to the people who first held them.

  • Doomedd

    I have not read AS but I encountered few bigoted people. A key to understand them is not to assume hypocrisy but to assume some of their concepts are a little off. For example, if you speak about human rights with racists, their definition of human can be very narrow. They may agree that humans have basic right but “people of color” are sub-human, therefore have no inerrant rights. That coherent but more horrible than naïve bigotry.

    I have 3 questions:

    Do Dagny’s employees are parasites? If not, I can’t find a rational for the thief and the following questions are pointless. I remember that a train was stopped for a while, not good for the traffic manager status.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2013/04/atlas-shrugged-signal-passed-at-danger/

    Do parasites/looters have propriety rights? As far as I know, Rand dehumanise comments against parasites may indicate they may be sub-humans or at very least, not worthy of propriety.

    Do parasites have earned their propriety? This is not exactly as above, looters have the right to posses, they just cheated, stole or did something that make that somehow disqualify them for ownership. It is not too different from who most of us wouldn’t think a drug baron has earned it mansion.

  • Doug Langley

    The employees, such as Eddie Willers or Owen Kellog, were not regarded as parasites. The main characters treated them respectfully. They’re considered as, not great, but good. (OK, there’s little details, such as Cheryl committing suicide and Eddie left in the middle of nowhere while Dagny completely forgets about him.)

    Of course, Rand spends so little time talking about them that you really have to scour the story to find any mention.

  • Jeff

    Eddie’s crime was that, when forced to choose between retreating with the strikers from the ruin they created and staying behind to salvage what was left, he chose the latter. As such, he deserved to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    According to the Cliff’s Notes (written by a devout Randroid), Eddie’s fate is intended to dramatize how the ordinary man is dependent on the “great minds” for his very survival. So you could say that Eddie’s “crime” is failing to be a genius like Dagny.

  • Jeff

    I always interpreted Eddie as the audience surrogate character. No reader could possibly be as awesome as the protagonists, so Eddie was there so that the average person could have someone more like them on the side of the good guys. To me, his presence was a signal that *anybody* could be a good, productive, greedy-but-not-the-wrong-kind-of-greedy member of society, even if they’re not endowed with physical and intellectual perfection. But Eddie was too altruistic, too noble, too sentimental to cut ties with the society that was crumbling around him, so he got buried in the rubble.

    Of all the things I hated about this book, Eddie’s fate is at the top of the list.

  • Doug Langley

    “Eddie was too altruistic . . .”

    That’s a really weird point. Taken literally, Eddie was exactly the type of person Rand said she hated: the second hander. He had no original ideas, no personal goals. No wife, no girlfriend, no hobbies, no life. He lives solely for Dagny. He is, basically, a Peter Keating clone.

    Which still doesn’t excuse the fact that at the end of the book, Dagny has not the slightest recollection that he ever existed.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    By the end of the novel, Rand will expressly label her parasites/looters as sub-human. She will go so far as to conclude that they do not even have a right to not be gunned down by her heroes, let alone the right to hold property. To answer your second and third questions, Rand would say they haven’t earned their property and they have no right to it.

    In the specific case of the traffic manager, however, there’s no reason to think that Rand intends to relegate him to the rightless-parasite category. While we know nothing about him beyond that he has a bar in his filing closet (I don’t recall a “traffic manager” being mentioned apart from this scene), we know that most Taggart employees are generally competent at their jobs, which is enough to make them non-parasites. The exceptions are friends of Jim’s, like the division superintendent Dagny blames for the stopped train in the opening chapter.

    Apart from the novel, Rand’s willingness to dehumanize seems a bit more selective. She’s quite willing to declare that Native Americans and “jungle savages” possess no rights that “civilized” people are required to respect, ditto for totalitarian governments (and, at least arguably, citizens of totalitarian states). But in the case of, say, stealing personal property of the director of the Internal Revenue Service … I think she would not condone it, although I can’t recall her directly addressing the question of “when does person A get to decide that person B has no rights?”

  • Pacal

    What is also doubly fascinating is that Rand actually had little to no idea about Indian society or politics or culture at the time Europeans arrived in the New World. Her comments were not just bigoted but where deeply ignorant. For example she said stupid nonsense like the Indians had no property rights, which is ignorant crap, that Indians were under the absolute authority of their Chiefs and that Indians were virtually all nomads. All of which is utter nonsense. I suspect her pontifications about “Jungle Savages” was similarly fact free.

  • Doug Langley

    It’s not just that Rand didn’t know much about, say, Indians. What’s amazing is how she presumed to know all about them – or any subject. She presented a confident, even adamant, view on any subject. She kept reducing every subject to “philosophy” – that is, good or evil – and considered all details to be secondary.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    She presented a confident, even adamant, view on any subject.

    With the notable exception of the theory of evolution. In an essay called “The Missing Link” (first published in 1973) she wrote: “I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent.”

  • Doomedd

    Dunning–Kruger effect

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    Also, having a cult like entourage focussing on you doesn’t help.

  • Doug Langley

    Definitely a textbook case of DK.

    As for the entourage, she deliberately selected only those who fawned over her. Any opposing opinions and boom, you were out the door. So she had only herself to blame.

  • EchoChamberEscapee

    I suspect her pontifications about “Jungle Savages” was similarly fact free.

    Yep, starting from her failure to identify a single specific example of who she meant by “jungle savages.”

  • Questioner

    It should not be Indian givers. It should be white givers.