Category Archives: Writing

In which I discuss my writing process, including research and related issues.

The Origin of John Galt

statue-1515390_1920-1200x900Here’s another Atlas Shrugged fanfic from yours truly!  One of the fascinating things about these characters – now that I’ve got a little distance from the novel – is that Rand leaves them as nearly blank slates.  Even when some of the characters do having living family, like Hank Rearden, their family seems to have no real relationship with the character, evidenced by Hank’s mother’s name, in the novel, is literally “Hank’s mother.”  She has no proper name.  And while both Francisco and Dagny are obsessed with long dead ancestors, we learn almost nothing about their immediate family and nothing at all about their fathers.  Ayn Rand has daddy issues that burn so brightly that people are Jupiter are blinded by them.

Why I’m Writing a Parody of Atlas Shrugged

I’m reading about Ayn Rand because I intend to write a parody of Atlas Shrugged, which takes the form of a novel that occurs immediately after the end of Rand’s novel (albeit changed enough to remove the threat of copyright infringement, and strengthen a fair use defense in case something weird happens). The purpose of the parody is to create a rejoinder to the political, philosophical, and economic principles that Ayn Rand lays out in the novel.

It is simply uncontroversial that Ayn Rand’s followers, particularly those at the Ayn Rand Institute, use the novel Atlas Shrugged to spread Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism A to Z, Atlas Shrugged is quote dozens if not hundreds of times to illustrate the philosophy of Objectivism. The Ayn Rand Institute has given hundreds of thousands of copies of Atlas Shrugged to schools with the express purpose of introducing new generations of readers to Objectivism. John Galt’s long speech in Atlas Shrugged is considered to be the first complete expression of Objectivist principles. It is also my personal experience that followers of Ayn Rand quote Atlas Shrugged the same way Christians quote the Bible – at nearly every turn for nearly any occasion.

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John Galt: Cult Leader

statue-1515390_1920-1200x900John Galt looks a lot like a cult leader.

After having read the first couple of chapters of part three of Atlas Shrugged, something started to look mighty familiar from my research for Simon Peter: John Galt has nearly every characteristic of a doomsday millenarian cult leader.

First, John Galt approaches people – or has them approached – when they’re psychologically vulnerable. He targets people who are in the midst of exceptional crises, in this case, generally the failure of their business or some other great professional failure.

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Reinterpreting Atlas Shrugged: Galt’s Gang

statue-1515390_1920-1200x900Apropos my previous, serious post about reinterpreting Atlas Shrugged, there’s something kicking around my head: how the actions of Galt’s guys are similar to the work stoppage. After all, if I say that people are doing work stoppages to prevent the US from benefiting the USSR, it is also clear that Galt and his guys are also contrary to the USSR.

No.  They’re not the same thing.

In many times of political crisis and chaos, bandits and warlords arise. The bandits are the enemy of both the invaders and the people – they aren’t motivated by a desire to see their country free of foreign influence, but their own personal profit.

Galt’s goons fit that description. America is going to hell in a hand basket, and what they’re worried about is how individual businessmen can’t make enormous piles of money. They take advantage of the weakened state, and further weaken it, to create the conditions where they can take profit from America’s misery.

That Galt’s goons have an ideology hastily pasted onto their terrorism is normal. Many bandits say that they’re looking out for people, or fighting an unjust system. The Shining Path rebels mouth Marx while shipping drugs, for instance. The Contras in Nicaragua said they wanted to “free” the people from socialist tyranny. The Taliban talks about creating a Caliphate. So what? Ideology doesn’t magically transform bandits into freedom fighters.

Galt and his associates are just bandits, terrorists, and criminals.

Serious alternate interpretation to Atlas Shrugged: an American work slowdown

altas3For Atlas Stumbled, one of the things I’m going to provide is a larger context for Atlas Shrugged. While reading Atlas Shrugged, I noticed along the way that Rand will invent things she doesn’t need to invent. So she will create fictional philosophers when, you know, there are real ones to choose from. She does things like this because it is exceptionally hard to argue about these fictional sources. What does the fictional philosopher really say? Only the snippets we get from the characters in a novel, they are our only source of interpretation! If you use a real philosopher, well, now people can actually look into what they said and see the nuances or see how Rand misrepresents their work.  Thus, Rand is careful to avoid specific references to Kant and Nietzsche because people might legitimately argue her interpretation and what this means to the story overall.

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Thoughts on opposing Rand’s work with reality and the need to take her seriously

It’s very easy to just make fun of Ayn Rand’s work. This is a problem that liberals and leftists have had since they started being critical of her work. Her books and ideas are so ridiculous, so devoid of artistic merit, so lacking in consistency, so void of rigor that we have a hard time grasping that her books and ideas need anything more than a little ribbing. Certainly, we say, when we expose how bad they are, how laughable they are, people will understand that we’re telling the truth and abandon Rand.

That doesn’t happen. What happens, instead, is that her books spread despite our humor. Her acolytes run the Federal Reserve, they spread through the Tea Party, they form the foundation of the libertarianism  in both the Libertarian and Republican parties. Despite all our humor, Ayn Rand’s ideas and works flourish. In a survey, 29% of Americans say they’ve read Atlas Shrugged. In contrast, only about 20% of Americans have read the Bible from start to finish. When one counts Rand’s other books, it’s fair to say that Ayn Rand is more popular than the Bible in the US, and considerably more influential.

Her ideas are also more relevant. The Bible says nothing about the ethics of mercantile activity, industry, much less specific economic systems like capitalism. Rand does. At great length. Her books are still highly relevant (though the specifics are increasingly weird; American’s just don’t feel the significance of railroad like we used to, for instance).

And her ideas are held not only by Americans who have read her, but those who have learned of them second-hand.  Who argue that all regulation must be stopped but can’t identify the source, or who say that the only proper function of government is protecting the right to own property (a right that is not mentioned in the Constitution).
So while I think there is a place for humor in the debate of Ayn Rand, we must also be prepared to counter her ideas with other, better ideas. And if you really want to show the flaws in her thinking, counter her ideas with facts.  Facts – or, more precisely, the gulf between reality and the idealism of Rand’s followers – are like kryptonite to Ayn Rand.

So in Atlas Shrugged, the action in the story is totally divorced from reality. In my book, Atlas Stumbled, I’m going to base many of the characters are actual businesspeople from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The one in particular is Howard Hughes. Hughes is really the closest you’re going to get to an actual Randian hero. He was this rugged individualist, communist-hating billionaire who would take wild chances with his money – and usually came out alright. He was also thin, tall, and good looking. If you’re going to look for an actual Randian hero made flesh, Hughes is the guy.

He was also a drug addict and nutjub recluse who thought that Mormons had “germ free blood” and was getting transfusions, and saved his piss and shit in jars.  But until the very end, despite his madness, he made savvy business decisions.

That kind of specificity is poison, I think, to Rand’s works. It isn’t that I’m looking for business people with exceptional flaws – but that every business leader out there is an actual human being in defiance of Rand’s idealism. Whether it is Henry Ford’s literal Nazism or Steve Jobs rejecting science to fight his cancer with herbal remedies, even brilliant businessmen are nevertheless human.  If anything, their wealth insulates them from the consequences of their actions to such an extent that their flaws are allowed to grow out of control – sometimes called “affluenza”, or the idea that wealth is very much like a mental illness that creates lack of empathy and grandiose thinking.  And all of this without even talking about how businessmen holding laissez-faire ideals are often intensely corrupt – guys like Kenneth DeLay and Bernie Madhoff, or those who orchestrated the farce at Lehman Bros. or AIG.  (I know their counter is that there has never been a perfectly capitalist system.  But that is, itself, a flaw.  A system that requires perfection to work will never work.)

Rand’s heroic business leaders lack the human flaws, and certainly the humanity, of their non-literary kin. So Rearden is like Howard Hughes in his ambition and success, but unlike him insofar that he has none of the troubles that Hughes grappled with all his life.  To the extent that Rearden has problems, he can just discard them to live his perfect Objectivist life in a way that no human being actually can.

I believe by creating links between the real world, our world, and the highly stylized fantasy of Rand – populated only by virtuous heroes and contemptible anti-heroes, without any basis in realism or possessing any nuance – that it is possible to do real damage to Atlas Shrugged, which is the primary vector of transmission of Rand’s ideas for young people.

And the most important thing is to make it a good book. To make it a book people WANT to read, because I’m fighting an uphill battle, here.

The trick of philosophical novels is that they’re not philosophy

One of the interesting things about Objectivism is that its primary method of transmission is novels – particularly Atlas Shrugged, but to a lesser but still serious extent The Fountainhead.

I don’t like philosophical novels. I don’t mind books with philosophy in them, as a sort of undercurrent, but when the characters start preaching platitudes, my eyes glaze over. So, one of my favorite novels is Dune by Frank Herbert, but by the time we get over to God-Emperor of Dune, I’m just bored. Leto’s long, dull as speeches rehashing a primitive Nietzschean fantasy are uninteresting. So, unsurprisingly, I’m also not fond of Atlas Shrugged and its even longer, even more overtly philosophical speeches. But, philosophically, they’re a trick and nothing more.

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A few thoughts on corruption and neocon economics

As Goddess of the Market reminds me, one of the key features of Atlas Shrugged dystopia is “corrupt businessmen” who buy favors from the government.

Corruption in these neocon philosophies has always struck me as interesting because they largely ignore it. Some of it is the inevitable distancing from reality that goes along with almost any philosophical endeavor. But despite the significance of corruption to real economics, as far as I know there is no theory of corruption.

So Objectivism doesn’t actually explain why a businessman would become “corrupt” other than personal venality . . . even though selfishness is a virtue.  Some might see this as a contradiction.  I certainly do.

Continue reading A few thoughts on corruption and neocon economics