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    If you've ever read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, you really have to wonder at the people who take it as a recipe for a better world. Sure, it's an epic tale with Good Guys (and Girls) acting on only the purest motives in defense of a higher truth, facing Villains driven by nothing except greed and... self interest? Wait a minute - doesn't the Hero John Galt proclaim that self interest is the only real basis for Morality?

     I guess it works for him because he's the smartest guy in the entire book (as Rand makes clear), so how could he be wrong? It's easy to see why he'd appeal to other people who think they're the smartest guys around. Like Ted Cruz, economic wizard Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, and of course who could forget these guys, or this genius putting Randism into practice?

      Hmm. Almost looks like some kind of pattern there.

       Well, never mind. Rand tells us repeatedly that Galt is the hero; he is the one person who truly understands the way the world works and he does end up with the girl (after some really bad sex scenes.) His prediction comes to pass - he and his followers, cult members, fellow objectivists know they have won because they see the lights of New York City go out as they fly off to their superhero mountain lair, secret base, intellectual hippie commune, retreat in the depths of the Rockies to await the inevitable collapse of an America no longer being carried on their backs.

       There's a little epilog at the end of the book, where Rand shows her select bunch of heroes quietly enjoying the life of the smug righteous, secure in the knowledge of their inevitable triumph, and calmly planning the glorious deeds that will ensue when they return to the world to share their smarts on their terms. "We can go back now" Galt proclaims to the admiration of the One Woman Smart Enough To Be His Mate as he gazes out into the darkness.

      There's just one teeny-tiny little problem: Rand never really follows up on the logical consequences of total societal collapse, at least not explicitly. The world Galt plans to return to is one where nothing works any more. Millions have died in starvation, civil strife, disease outbreaks, and worse. Where there isn't total anarchy, there are pockets of petty tyrants and warlords ruling over neo-serfs; feudalism is perhaps the best possible outcome for many as desperate people trade away everything for a little security and a bare hope of survival - but nothing more.

      There's no power grid, no transport systems, no web of laws to keep order, no education system, no healthcare... It's the world of Mad Max It's the embodiment of the conservative's Hobbesian world view, where life is nasty, brutish and short.

      And that's on a good day.

      Rand doesn't dare look too closely at the objective cost of what it would take for John Galt's vision to be realized, the tremendous toll of lives, loss of resources, and damage it would take generations to undo. John Galt, with his superior morality backed by his superior intellect (and his magical free energy machine) has coldly calculated this is the price that must be paid - and he's good with that.

      Because, after all, the victims have only themselves to blame for not bowing to the unassailable rightness of his views, backed up by the entire power of the Natural Order of Things (as explained by Galt at length in the book.) Besides - Galt had to destroy the world. It was a simple case of self-defense. It's kind of hard to turn it into a Happy Ending if you include all the nasty details though.

        It's a fantasy world, and it's easy to see why it still appeals to certain types. People with power fantasies, egomania, and a certain kind of paranoia about the world not recognizing just how special they are, live and breathe this stuff. The blood, the bodies - not their problem. These guys nearly wrecked the world back in 2008 and yet you can read something like this in 2013, and it's not snark. (And what kind of a name is Harry Binswanger? I swear you can't make this stuff up.) The people currently doing their best to destroy government today are all on board with it. They don't see the inherent contradiction in destroying something to 'save' it. They believe!

      Of course, not all of them are idealists. Some of them are just into screwing the world because that's the way they roll. Granted, it's hard to tell them apart if you just look at the results. For John Galt, acting purely from self interest (often mistaken by others as Being A Dick) is okay because he's up front about it. All of the bad guys in book who also act purely from self interest are bad guys because they lie to themselves and everyone else about it. Certainly not to be confused with these guys who never lie.

        (Rand has a real problem with the idea that just maybe, acting from self interest sometimes requires putting group interests ahead of your own immediate desires. That whole "We the people" thing just doesn't work for her.)

      John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey has what is still the best take down of Atlas Shrugged:

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.
Republican versus Democrat, Red versus Blue

Originally posted to xaxnar on Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 07:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers and Community Spotlight.


Have you ever read any Ayn Rand?

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