Friday, November 17, 2006

Atlas Shrugged; JohnMcG Reviewed

Upon leaving my last job, the VP recommended I read Atlas Shrugged, so I would remember that there would always be a use for my technical skills. Part of why I left that job is that there was that I perceived that there wasn't much correlation between producing value and rewards. I guess he wanted me to know that my skills would always be valued.

In any instance, as a philosophical treatise, I found much to like. The vision that those who produce value should be rewarded for it not feel guilty about it is quite attractive to me. And while we might not go on strike, we do get disincented from producing more than we could at maximum effort. So, it's an attractive notion.

I think Objectivism has some holes, notably children and others who, as Cathy Young noted, are "helpless and dependent through no fault of their own." Rand would say a person's virtue is their only claim on us. What about the orphan and the widow?

But I'm not a philosopher.

As art, the first two thirds of the novel were a challenging but enjoyable read, but by the last third, it had become a chore.

Perhaps it was because Rand had already said what she had to say, and at this point was repeating herself.

Spoilers ahead…

But I think the problem was the introduction of the John Galt character -- Rand would have us believe that Galt was perfection personified, and from this reader's perspective, that title was unearned. I found the other characters' deference to and admiration of him to be incredible.

For example, after Galt's speech (which I confessed I skimmed -- I found it ironic that an author would expect the reader to indulge her a 60+ page speech about, in part, how people shouldn't be guilted into doing things they don't want to), everyone on both sides is in agreement that Galt must be made supreme ruler of the economy, to the point where the villains torture Galt to try to get him to assume dictatorship. Then, in what for me was the most incredible event of the novel, Galt, whose defining philosophy is that he will not use his mind for the benefit of others, tells his torturers how to repair the generator that is powering the torture machine they are using to torture him!!!! But Rand couldn't help herself from giving us one more example of how smart and wonderful Galt is, even at the cost of him violating his creed.

To me, Galt comes off as a bit of a blowhard. Yeah, the motor's cool and all, but I don't get why other characters whom I likes better, Francisco and Rearden in particular, are so deferential to him, and why Dagny puts them aside for Galt. I just don't buy him as a hero.

Also, considering Rand's atheism, the parallels between Galt and Jesus are interesting. (and it's surprising to me that others haven't noted them). Both work in obscurity for most of their lives, then go to the desert. Both deliver a manifesto (I'd say the radio speech was Galt's Sermon on the Mount). Both are captured by ineffective leaders who don't know what to do with them, and end up turning them over to be tortured. Both of their names are used as an expletive. I guess Galt is better than Jesus (or had better taste in friends), since his friends didn’t run away and deny knowing him, but launched a brave rescue.


Keifus said...

John, go find the book Sewer, Gas and Electric by Matt Ruff. It lets you get the gist of Atlas Shrugged without actually having to read the massive doorstop of a thing. It's also got the benefit of being hilarious, smart, and even-handed.

K (that's Ayn as in "mine", not Ayn as in "sane")