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May 20, 2014

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It has always seemed to me that the attraction of AS is the same attraction engendered by misreading [IMHO] Nietzsche: YOU are the special snowflake being held back by policies designed for the unintelligent [or morality, in Nietzsche's case]. YOU can identify with the protagonists who, if left unfettered by the lowest-common-denominator world, would be superproductive and enlightened forces for growth.

It's as simple as that. Dunning-Kruger effect in spades. No one who likes (or "likes") AS thinks they are *not* of this class.

NB: Rand's prose is indeed dreadful.

I wonder if Rand's attraction is that typical 14 year olds are feeling constrained -- by their parents, mostly. (And they should be, at least to some degree, but they don't see it that way.) So they can connect to writing which tells them that constraints (by government) are evil and should be fought against.

Most 14 year olds grow up eventually, and accept that their parents were trying to do well by them. Those that don't, if they were exposed to Rand, become radical libertarians.

Those 14-y.o's would be better off reading SLAN; same "special snowflake" vibe, better writing, and at least it wouldn't result in a stunted adulthood.

But kidz these days just ignore the classics, and get offa my lawn also, too.

"Not only does Moore -- an adult with a degree in economics -- think that Rand's economic philosophy is a practical basis for policy, he thinks AS is well-written enough to be persuasive."

Stephen Moore is a hack with a Ph.D. Don't think that his possession of an econ Ph.D. means that AS is worth something. It's more that Stephen Moore is not worth anything.

I'm seconding bob is boring on the D-K of it. Even moreso because in AS the top 1% in brains and blah blah blah aren't the Real Elite. The 1% die like just like the proles when the Real Elites withdraw.

I stumbled across
this, from a columnist in a San Francisco area paper. It sums up the whole "trigger warning" situation better than I could.

Yeah, bob_is_boring is dead on, imo. I don't even personally know anybody that respects Rand's work, so I can't really comment on what the appeal is at all.

I couldn't even make it through atlas shrugged. The prose is awful. Also, the relevant xkcd:

http://xkcd.com/1049/

with mouseover text: "I had a hard time with Ayn Rand because I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with the first 90% of every sentence, but getting lost at 'therefore, be a huge asshole to everyone.'"

I read AS my freshman year in college, lo these many years ago, and I liked it in the same way I liked some science fiction with interesting/fun/crazy ideas but poor writing: thought experiment as a novel. Or perhaps a 700-page long comic book. (And the way she treats science as magic is very comic book-y i.e. she has no real understanding of it - she makes up physics out of whole cloth).

I don't get the people who think the book is some kind of template for existence, though. The utopia that Rand describes is completely impossible without an unlimited, clean and free (!) source of energy. And considering that one of the catchphrases of the book is "check your premises", Rand does a woefully poor job of doing that herself.

And I think a lot of the special snowflakes are deliberately misreading the book, else they'd realize *they* are the freeloaders and moochers on others' effort. Where the f*ck do they think their knowledge, resources and infrastructure come from?

Jane Smiley wrote an essay for Harpers where she preferred Uncle Tom's Cabin to Huckleberry Finn. I think it's probably better not to get into discussions of which is better--I agree that Uncle Tom's Cabin is much better than people give it credit for. It still has passages that make one cringe, but it was written in 1850. Stowe was far ahead of most whites in her day.

One of the attractions of Rand's sociopathic "philosophy" is its extreme simplicity. Another is that it is clearly liberating to be told "You have no responsibilities to or for other people" when one is chafing at the adult bonds of social responsibility.

And a vast class of sometimes-readers seem to have no interest in literary value, and not much ability to identify it in the wild: they just want to read something that confirms ideas they already have, and portrays bad things happening to people of the sort that they already don't like. Viz. the immense "popularity" of the truly excrable LaHaye/JenkinsLeft Behind series.


So: UTC and Huck challenge one's prejudices, while the purpose of AS and LB is to confirm them. Many people seem to strongly prefer the latter.

Stephen Moore is another perfect instance of politically correct, Republican/Libertarian affirmative action as practiced by the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily editorial pages.

Ayn Rand:

I can't think what else to write about her that I haven't already on these boards.

Yes, I can.

First, after William F. Buckley went to all of the trouble of exiling her from the conservative movement, we can thank Phil Donahue and his booking agent, notorious and demonized liberal media elitists, for bringing her back into the public eye and reversing the flagging of her book sales.

This, after she was forced, I say, forced, to apply for Medicare through her husband's (apparently a nice man, as cuckolds tend to be) account, not that I blame her.

After all, conservative red states will be clamoring to hop on the ObamaCare bandwagon in a few years as armed medical indigents in their states show up en masse at conservative public meetings in future off-year elections.

I'm fascinated by her ascension in Hollywood during her career as a screenwriter, which kind of gives the lie to the notion of Hollywood crawling solely with Commies.

If you get a chance, watch "The Fountainhead", based on her earlier novel and for which she wrote the screenplay and hung around the set sharply monitoring Director King Vidor's loyalty to her script, like Stalin hovering over and censoring the artistic output in postwar Eastern Europe.

It's a very strange movie, at once unwatchable and captivating, with Gary Cooper as Howard Roark issuing forth with the obligatory and long-winded, multi-page perorations on individual architectural integrity and the evils of communal thinking, which ends with him blowing up his own building because some lesser collectivist lackeys stuck some balconies on the side of the thing, thus marring his conception, which seems O.K, if you like terrorism, but then it occurs to the viewer/reader that "consumers", those purveyors of the lowest common denominator in all things objectivistedly sacred, might like a balcony on which to relax and view the sunset while sipping a gin martini, shaken not stirred, though no doubt the American proletariat, like their Russian counterparts, would opt to mix vodka martinis in garbage pails on the unsightly balconies, from which Rand would have them debalconized to the collectivist-funded pavement below.

You also think how modernist architecture has been in no way prevented or watered down in Western cultures or by governments since World War II, if you look at contemporary skylines and you catch on that Rand was frying fish that would have been better served had she remained in the Soviet Union and that her hyper-earnest ideology is simply silly in America, though understandable, albeit unreadable, given what the Bolsheviks did to her father's business.

Dominique Francon, played by Patricia Neal, is a strange (I can't think of a better word) creature too with her crypto-sexual and crypto-ideological longings and seethings for Roark and everything he stands for (and in: his trousers).

There's the scene with Roark inside a quarry choosing the rock for his structure and Dominique gazes down at him with throbbing hotness and he gazes up with that odd Gary Cooperish shyness and matching hotness and it could have been one of those passages in any other book that the teenaged boy (or girl) would bookmark and return to during lonesome down times, but the whole thing is so exquisitely overwrought that orgasms of laughter are all that ensue.

It's like opening Architectural Digest and finding out it's been edited by Jenna Jameson.

Then there is the dramatic tossing by Dominique of the tacky sculpture from her tony apartment on the 20th floor, symbolic of something, perhaps, well, who knows, but now that I recall, it may have been from a balcony, for which she paid extra, capitalism being what it is.

Oddest of all in the movie is the character Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey), Roark's nemesis (lots of those) of sorts and his devotee (even more of those), but ultimately a traitor to everything the protagonist stands for in hot trousers.

Massey speaks in character with this oddball, hyper-earnest cadence that is so .... not human, no one talks that way ... that you see, if you haven't already, that Rand is divorced from any sort of human reality and is dealing in cartoon prototypes, perhaps encountered in Plato's philosophy, which is all the more odd given Rand's hankering after Aristotle's hot toga.

One more funny thing about Rand. In her non-fiction essays about Objectivism, she quotes, besides Aristotle (briefly), her own fictional characters as if they were real sources, and at the same yawn-inducing length as they chat us up in the novels.

At least Flaubert kept it short when asked who was Madame Bovary: "C'est moi."

On last thing (words neither Roark not Galt ever uttered), it was Ayn Rand who mounted a ferocious campaign agaisnt the Frank Capra classic "It's A Wonderful Life" for its allegedly collectivist sentiments, and even tried to have it banned.

You know, the one starring World War II hero and Brigadier General ah-ja-ji-Jim-ja-Jimmy Stewart, also anti-Communist and later Ronald Reagan devotee.

That Ayn Rand and her work is so highly regarded in this country is like finding out the French believe Jerry Lewis is an artist of the first water, which he is, if you live in Claven's Gulch, which I do.

Another book that I believe changed American thinking was Griffin's now-mostly-forgotten 1961 Black Like Me.

Griffin, a Northern white man, dyed his skin and ventured into the Jim Crow Deep South, and wrote about the experience. This opened the eyes of many Americans, and I think it was an important enabler for the civil rights struggle.

I read and was impressed by Black Like Me not long after it was published.

If I remember correctly, the author took a drug, with the risk of liver damage, to darken his skin.

I just want to say "from which Rand would have them debalconized to the collectivist-funded pavement below" is the best clause I have read this month.

Actually, Charles, per Wikipedia, it doesn't just increase the risk of liver damage, but is outright carcinogenic when coupled with A-wavelength UV radiation - and he was spending many hours a day in a tanning bed in conjunction with taking the drug, though one assumes this was a later finding.

And Joel, he was a Texan, not a northerner.

(Having said all this, I've never read BLM.)

[Griffin] was a Texan

Thanks for correcting my lazy error.
Apologies for the misinformation.

Silent Spring should probably rank somewhere on a list like this.

One story I remember that I think is from BLM was about a black man in Georgia who had save his money and bought a new car. But, then he couldn't drive it because the local whites wouldn't tolerate a black person driving a better car than they had.

I read Black Like Me and it was very important in my socio-political formation, although a few years later it came to be superseded in my (and the public's) imaginary by actually black writers like James Baldwin and Claude Brown Manchild in the Promised Land. But the point is that at the initial stage I wasn't quite ready to imagine myself as black, yet I could put myself in the place of a white man who made himself black, so BLM was a necessary bridge for me, even though I think its historical moment was short.

"And Joel, he was a Texan, not a northerner."

I could have used a trigger warning on that one. ;)

Speaking of alerts, in the past 15 minutes near downtown Denver the following has happened in quick sequence: glowering bruise-colored storm clouds moved in low, the tornado sirens went off, cars pulled over to the side of the roads, followed by a five-minute snow blizzard white-out right out of Dr. Zhivago, which stopped just as abruptly, and then the sun came out and just as quickly we're now close to back to normal for May 21 weather.

That's what you get for living in a geographically transitional place. Mountains or plains - pick one, instead of being on the edge where the two meet and trying to have it both ways.

One thing that always bothered me was Ayn Rand's influence on Neil Peart of Rush, but this makes me feel better.

I would submit The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but that would date me.

Also Catch-22

In contrast, I truly don't understand why Atlas Shrugged is so influential...

Because the rather limited number of special snowflakes that like it tend to have all of our money.

Three main flavors of libertarianism: classical liberal, hard, or thin, (Randian) libertarianism and neoclassical liberal (bleeding heart libertarianism).

...Rand hated libertarians, calling them a “monstrous, disgusting bunch of people.”

She pretty much felt that way with just about anybody who dared to disagree with her.

Charles:

I'm noticing 5 flavors in your list of 3. Or am I just missing the proper grouping?

Also, yep:

She pretty much felt that way with just about anybody who dared to disagree with her.

Sorry, to be clearer...

Three main flavors of libertarianism:

1. Classical liberal
2. Hard, or thin, (Randian) libertarianism
3. Neoclassical liberal (bleeding heart libertarianism).

I personally think it should be required reading in American high schools, if necessary in place of Huckleberry Finn.

Come on, Dr. S. Surely there are weaker works than Huckleberry Finn that could be replaced - like maybe everything else.

Also Catch-22

Yes, definitely.

I too found it utterly unreadable. I must have been about 17, and was urged to read it by my younger brother, then about 15, who loved it. 40 years later, & I'm still as liberal socially & politically as I was then... my brother is rabidly right-wing, so much so that we never talk politics, otherwise we'd never talk at all. I've always thought it's a type thing, Rand appeals to a particular personality type that is already fixed by the time of their mid-teens.

Robin:

Rand appeals to a particular personality type that is already fixed by the time of their mid-teens

I don't know about that. I too was urged by my brother to read Rand back when were both teens.

He's now fairly liberal and holds Rand in poor regard.

I personally think [Uncle Tom's Cabin] should be required reading in American high schools, if necessary in place of Huckleberry Finn.

Over my dead body.

And if you think today's kids are turned off by the language in Huck, just _try_ to get them to apprehend sentences such as this one:

The general prevalence of agricultural pursuits of a quiet and gradual nature, not requiring those periodic seasons of hurry and pressure that are called for in the business of more southern districts, makes the task of the negro a more healthful and reasonable one; while the master, content with a more gradual style of acquisition, has not those temptations to hardheartedness which always overcome frail human nature when the prospect of sudden and rapid gain is weighed in the balance, with no heavier counterpoise than the interests of the helpless and unprotected.

You and Jane Smiley can go form a club; but leave me out. Huck is the American novel, superior in every way to Uncle Tom's Cabin. (Well, if you ignore the final few chapters of Huck, in which Tom Sawyer reappears and the entire narrative up to that point is basically junked.)

Of the novels I was required to read in HS, the one I remember best certainly isn't Huck. I remember it in very broad strokes, but it didn't really imprint on my psyche, and this despite generally liking Twain's style. No, the one that dug in and left marks was To Kill A Mockingbird. Make of that what you will.

I read Black Like Me when I was about fourteen. I didn't know any back people. I knew about the Civil Rights Movement because I was raised in a lefty religious activist home, but it was all sending money to pay bail for Freedom Riders. We didn't actually know any black people. Black LIke Me was like going on a trip to a foreign country that I had only read about.

I followed up with The Autobiography of Malcom X, Manchild in the PRomised Land, and TO Be Young, Gifted and Black.

Still I went all the way through college and was well into middle age before I ever had more than the most superficial acquaintance with an African American.

Weird, huh? We are still a pretty segregated society.

The social novel, also known as the social problem (or social protest) novel, is a 'work of fiction in which a prevailing social problem, such as gender, race, or class prejudice, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel'. More specific examples of social problems that are addressed in such works, include poverty, conditions in factories and mines, the plight of child labor, violence against women, rising criminality, and epidemics because of over-crowding, and poor sanitation in cities.
[...]

Social Novel

it didn't really imprint

Amply repays re-reading as an adult.

In high school, I didn't think much of Julius Caesar. I was wrong.

"I wonder if Rand's attraction is that typical 14 year olds are feeling constrained -- by their parents, mostly."

I think that's it, but only part of it. There are basically two reactions you can have to constraint: Either find constraint objectionable, or aspire to be the one doing the constraining. Rand appeals to the sort of person who, when given an arbitrary command, thinks, "How dare you!". Not, "Wait until the tables are turned!" To support freedom, or demand sensible dictators.

It's notable that the reaction of libertarians to constraint was not to aspire to be the one imposing it, but to free everybody of it. That the problem libertarians have with the ACLU, for instance, is not it's defense of liberty, but that it is subject to unprincipled exceptions.

There comes, however, a point in reading Rand's works, when one has to notice that Rand herself took the wrong side of that fork. An epic case of those who escape some horror bringing it with them. Of the dragon hunter becoming the dragon. Most who read Rand do NOT end up as Objectivists, and this is as much from learning her lesson better than she really intended, as from rejecting it.

I think she gets unfairly criticized for the cartoonish nature of her characters; It's not that she couldn't write real people, but that she wasn't trying to. She was trying to write in archtypes. Gilgamesh and Enkidu aren't exactly normal people, either, but the saga works. That's the sort of thing she was aiming for.

I read Rand because I thought her ideas were important, not because I thought she had wonderful literary style.

After some consideration, though, I realized (back in my teen years) that her ideals were a bit disturbing; that she subverts pretty much everything to the value of the (mythical) maximally capable person, and that love and loyalty and tenderness are just so much chaff. But real people aren't like that. The world isn't like that. You can't just take all of the competent, driven people off to a valley in Colorado and magically find all of the resources that you need, and magically be able to disguise it from the rest of the world, and oh by the way magically invent a machine that creates energy out of nothing. You also don't have artists whose works are all embodiments of the highest human values and aspirations that everyone will want to own, and that know exactly what they are doing, and are not instead exploring their own interpretation of their subject matter. People are learning creatures. Very, very few of us emerge into adulthood knowing all that we need to know in order to invent, create, or run a successful business. And even people who do know a lot make mistakes, because you never have all of the information you need to make decisions that must be made. Objectively correct courses of action are very rare, even in hindsight. Probably more often there are objectively wrong courses of action.

Her world is not the real one. It's an archetype of the world that can't be made real, nor can the real world be morphed into the archetype.

Thank God. Among other things: Rand's ideal of human romantic relationships just isn't going to line up with everyone else's.

Rand herself was a real person attempting to mimic her idealized characters, and failing. Because she blinded herself to the facts of the matter: that she was a human being, with human failings, and that thinking people would be able to see that she was pretending to be one of her characters, and in actuality was not.

I think this is the real value of AS and Rand's works: that fictional constructs of an idealized world that fail to model human beings (not to mention the rest of nature) accurately are doomed to fail when the attempt is made to instantiate them in the real world.

There are basically two reactions you can have to constraint

Dude, you need to learn to count higher.

But real people aren't like that. The world isn't like that.

This is generally true of idealisms, of any stripe.

Propagandists make bad artists.

If we're leaving literary merit aside, I suppose we have to give Rand's work props for being influential. Or, at least, popular. I don't think that says anything good about us.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was certainly influential in its time.

But if we're talking about "influential American novels", where "influence" is measured by social impact, we will need to count much, much higher than 2.

Not mentioned so far: Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle, The Crucible (a play), dos Passos U.S.A Trilogy, right off the top of my head. If you give me an hour, I'll probably come up with 20 more.

FWIW, I'm reading Catch-22 now, for the first time. Amazing how many of the threads of post-war American life show up here.

I think Rand was a person who had a couple of legitimate insights, and tried to turn them into a complete, all-inclusive philosophy. And they weren't enough to do that.

But they were real insights, and well worth understanding and taking to heart:

1. The world runs on logic, whether you like it or not. If you've got a theory, and it's not internally consistent, it's wrong no matter how much you wish otherwise. (This is the reason libertarians reject positive liberties: They're the moral-logical equivalent of permitting division by zero, in terms of generating internal contradictions.)

2. A morality for living beings must be a morality which is possible to follow without dying. While thriving, even. If your morality tells you that you ought to work yourself to death while living on a starvatin diet, so that you can support the worst off on the other side of the globe, there's something wrong with your morality. Even if you cope with this by ignoring what the rules you claim to embrace actually imply.

Good points, but not enough to design a whole philosophy of life around.

I am not sure how we define influential, On the Road, The Times they are aChangin (sorry that's a novel set to music, I suspect the Foundation Trilogy was more influential than most. But, before those, the Hardy Boys were probably as influential as anything.

"I think she gets unfairly criticized for the cartoonish nature of her characters; It's not that she couldn't write real people, but that she wasn't trying to. She was trying to write in archtypes. Gilgamesh and Enkidu aren't exactly normal people, either, but the saga works. That's the sort of thing she was aiming for."

I don't buy this for a couple of reasons. First, her literary hero is Victor Hugo. Hugo wrote larger than life characters, but he also managed to write sympathetic portrayals of characters whose ideals were very different from his own. Second, and this overlaps with the first, she hates her liberal characters with a fiery passion. None of them are good but misguided people. They are all parasites or at best, thugs. The only one she comes close to respecting is the union boss, who is a corrupt gangster who doesn't pretend to be anything but what he is. He at least is strong and she admires strength.

The irony is that she wrote a utopian novel where her capitalist heroes explicitly and deliberately cause a catastrophe which is, if anything, greater than anything in the annals of communism. Her imaginary USA during the capitalist strike resembles the Soviet Union circa 1920 or so, during the civil war and the period of war communism. Can't have an omelet without breaking eggs, I guess. In that respect she has the same mindset as a fanatical Bolshevik.

I think you failed to understand Atlas Shrugged, if you think the heroes of the story caused a catastrophe. They didn't cause anything, that was the point: They just walked away, and let the rest of humanity experience life without them.

If you dis your auto mechanic, and he refuses to work for you anymore, and after a year without oil changes your engine seizes up, did he destroy your car?

No, you did. He just stopped saving you from yourself.

The world runs on logic, whether you like it or not.

FAIL, right from the get.

On the Road

A seriously great call.

before those, the Hardy Boys were probably as influential as anything.

Encyclopedia Brown, for me.

They just walked away, and let the rest of humanity experience life without them.

That sounds like less of a failure to understand than looking at the situation differently. I didn't read the book, so maybe I'm off here, but "just walked away" sounds too spontaneous and uncoordinated. I'm guessing here, but part of the unreality at work may be that all the capitalist agreed to up and leave together, at the same time, and that what happened to them afterward left them better off somehow.

If you dis your auto mechanic, and he refuses to work for you anymore, and after a year without oil changes your engine seizes up, did he destroy your car?

More unreality. I'd either get someone else to change my oil or I'd do it myself. Or are you proposing an alternate universe with one auto mechanic who is the only source of motor oil?


Encyclopedia Brown, for me.

Me, too.

Or are you proposing an alternate universe with one auto mechanic who is the only source of motor oil?

Maybe one where all technically competent people are sociopaths with a remarkable attachment to collective action ?

I would prefer this one:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swift
...which I would propose has had more impact on US society than Encyclopedia Brown.

"In that respect she has the same mindset as a fanatical Bolshevik."

Different archetypes (though I think this word delivers more importance to her characters than merited; Mickey Mouse is an archetype of a mouse with a high voice), but expressed as a cheap, propagandistic confection, very similar in style to Stalinist propaganda in art, literature, and journalism during the Soviet era.

Sculpted, strong-jawed men and women gazing determinedly into an ideal future wherein all contradictions are resolved, all human nature subsumed into the world's internal logic, as defined by humans, who in the aggregate are not at all logical.

On the other hand, the world run by internally consistent logic, beyond that of gravity, without some element of human passion, would look a little like the world depicted in "Invasion of The Body Snatchers", which is my favorite scary guilty pleasure nightmare, that everyone around us, and maybe even we ourselves, are not who they, and we, say we are.

Even our loved ones, the people closest to us, are ultimately unknowable -- ciphers.

That's not logical, Spock.

After all, gravity itself is used by human beings to commit an illogical act -- suicide, which can then perhaps be termed a logical act given the mad circumstances of existence.

Of course, a logical system based on mistaken or malignant assumptions, passionately pursued, could end up looking like Ukraine caught between Hitler and Stalin last century, or Cambodia in 1971, or the Confederacy, or right now, right here.

I love "On The Road", re-read it on road trips every other year or so. Truman Capote said Kerouac wasn't a writer, but rather a typist.

That particular book is some glorious, inspired typing, IMHO.

Re-read "Catch-22" last year and I have to admit that time has worn down the edge on that book for me. I can't explain why, but it seemed a little repetitive this time around and the gags have aged.

Nevertheless, no book captured the horror and empty stupidity of war in what, at the time, was a fresh language, that of the ironic, slapstick, absurdist narrative point of view developing as the country headed into the 1960's.

Now, of course, we sprinkle irony on our oatmeal, it's a prime ingredient of soap and we bathe in it, I think they put it in wallboard and paving materials, and irony power plants emit a fine silt of irony into our water supplies. Despite the efforts of Jon Stewart, the Onion, Letterman, etc and other pop culture current day ironists, irony itself can't quite keep up with the relentless onslaught of present day effing earnest bullsh*t in America, where bullsh*t has its own Constitutional Amendment or two, or three.

Heller wrote about World War II like no other veteran or our parent's generation was able to.

He allowed Stanley Kubrick, I think, to frame World War III in a similar cinematic language in "Dr. Strangelove", and had to have influenced Kurt Vonnegut in finding a voice for "Slaughterhouse Five".

Both novels were in the works for decades after World War II.


It is a rather remarkable phenomena, is it not, that AS envisions a group of fierce individualists all acting collectively? Perhaps Rand explains that somewhere; I found AS utterly unreadable, so I don't know if the subject even arises. Perhaps someone can explain....

"I think you failed to understand Atlas Shrugged, if you think the heroes of the story caused a catastrophe. They didn't cause anything, that was the point: They just walked away, and let the rest of humanity experience life without them."

No, I understood that. She's fantasizing about the apocalypse brought about because a tiny handful of CEO's leave their posts. Millions or more will die and it's all their own fault for not recognizing the ubermen who should be running things due to their superior intellect. It's like fundamentalist Christians who fantasize about all the billions who will die after the Rapture and it's all their own fault, and I suspect quite a few communists thought that the millions who died under communism died because it was their own fault.

Lest Brett accuse me of still misunderstanding the book, I know it's not just captains of industry who go on strike--it's artists, engineers, and so forth. The men and women who use their minds, Rand would say, abandon the less intelligent, the parasites, the mediocrities, and the thugs, all of whom need this lesson to understand that they need the ubermen, and the ubermen don't need them.

" but expressed as a cheap, propagandistic confection, very similar in style to Stalinist propaganda in art, literature, and journalism during the Soviet era.

Sculpted, strong-jawed men and women gazing determinedly into an ideal future wherein all contradictions are resolved, all human nature subsumed into the world's internal logic, as defined by humans, who in the aggregate are not at all logical."

Yeah, that captures Atlas Shrugged perfectly.

They just walked away, and let the rest of humanity experience life without them.

At which point, the "rest of humanity" breathed a sigh of relief, made themselves a nice picnic lunch, and went fishing.

They just walked away, and let the rest of humanity experience life without them.

The trouble with this view is that it ignores one detail. Admittedly it is a detail that has eluded elites and aristorcats throughout history.

Simply put: whenever the elites step back, whether thru leaving, being largely wiped out, or just allowing social mobility, the same thing happens. All those teeming hordes which had been so dispised serve up a bunch of extremely capable and creative individuals, who do just as well as the old elites did. And Rand's elite would discover the same thing, in the implausible event that her initial vision came to pass.

"If you dis your auto mechanic, and he refuses to work for you anymore, and after a year without oil changes your engine seizes up, did he destroy your car?"

I don't know. Maybe after I dissed him for leaving my oil cap off .. again .... in the very market/customer satisfaction survey he provided to me ... he left my oil pan plug only partially tightened out of spite before firing up his 36-foot cabin cruiser prominently displayed beside his garage and sailed for Galt's Gulch in a snit, the poor baby.

I hate driving into my auto mechanic's parking lot. I'd like an oil change but he sees me coming and dollar signs roll up in both eyes and he figures I'm good for another grand.

Heck, the first thing auto mechanics Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Car Guys, ask of their callers on National Socialist Radio (yet another breath of fresh collective air to fumigate the stink of another profession that is a conspiracy against the laity) is whether their mechanic who wanted to do the $2500 valve job owns a boat that is in need of an expensive major overhaul.

I kid. Car mechanics are just takers like the rest of us. They lose their job or business and they collect unemployment and turn to Obamacare.

Few make it to Galt's Gulch.

Maybe choose another profession as an example of a bunch who don't deserve dissing.

Attorneys? ;)

Maybe hedge-fund managers. Bigger boats.

before firing up his 36-foot cabin cruiser prominently displayed beside his garage and sailed for Galt's Gulch in a snit, the poor baby.

i think i've seen him around.

"The world runs on logic, whether you like it or not. If you've got a theory, and it's not internally consistent, it's wrong no matter how much you wish otherwise. "

Gawd. The reason I included the second sentence is that over on the Same Fact blog, Brett supported voter suppression, with an amazing lack of logic and facts. Which is actually quite consistent of him.

Oh, I agree that you'd never get a large enough fraction of the population to "go Galt" to cause the sort of collapse in Atlas Shrugged. If the top fraction of a percent went on strike, life would go on, it would just stop improving, and eventually get kind of sucky, because a tiny fraction of the population are responsible for advances, but it only takes the modestly superior to keep things running.

You'd need hundreds of thousands, maybe even a million or two, of the top people striking to actually get a societal collapse, and we're talking people who are about as easy to herd as cats.

Never said it was a realistic scenario, just that it wasn't Rand's productive causing a catastrophe, it was them demonstrating that they daily prevented one by their labors.

The difference between your auto mechanic putting sand in your transmission, and his just walking away to demonstrate to you that you're too dumb to change your oil yourself.

However, what you CAN realistically get, is a society that deprives the truly inventive of the rewards of being inventive, so that they don't bother exercising their full capacities, and just operate at the level necessary to get by in comfort. A society where Elon Musk doesn't build rockets, because society won't let him profit from doing so, is quite plausible.

Donald Johnson: "It's like fundamentalist Christians who fantasize about all the billions who will die after the Rapture and it's all their own fault, ..."

Fred Clark on Slactivist spent years reviewing the 'Left Behind' series, and noted that thread of thought. A theme of the whole series was 'when we're gone, you'll see that we were right, and wish that you had listened to us!'. Just like a teenager, with the addition of sociopathic blood lust.


"Lest Brett accuse me of still misunderstanding the book, I know it's not just captains of industry who go on strike--it's artists, engineers, and so forth. The men and women who use their minds, Rand would say, abandon the less intelligent, the parasites, the mediocrities, and the thugs, all of whom need this lesson to understand that they need the ubermen, and the ubermen don't need them."

In short, the largest voluntary, coordinated, simultaneous collective action ever undertaken. More fantasy.

Would a vote for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle be out of order?

I admit that I read all of Rand's fiction, starting with Anthem. And listened to a lot of Rush. But there's more to life, philosophy and music than Howard Roark and Geddy Lee.

I started watching Atlas Shrugged, part 1, and just couldn't do it. Could. Not. It was even less realistic than the book, and that is saying a lot.

My formative years had Hardy Boys and Tom Swift in generous proportions, with some Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein thrown in for good measure. Plus We Were There.

High school was Dickens, everything on the sci-fi section shelves, Rand, Sinclair Lewis, C.S. Lewis, and Penthouse Forum.

College was...not much reading outside of Engineering Electromagnetics, Engineering Circuit Analysis and Design, Digital Control Systems Design, etc. Since then I have diversified out into various books about historical topics (bonus if they involve explosions; Krakatoa, frex).

In short: my formative years are not yet behind me.

"Brett supported voter suppression, with an amazing lack of logic and facts. Which is actually quite consistent of him."

Actually, my position on voter ID, not suppression, is that it is perfectly reasonable, when somebody asks to cast Bob Soandso's ballot, to ask them to demonstrate that they really are Bob Soandso. I seriously doubt that much vote fraud takes place by personal identity fraud, that's kind of labor intensive. Everybody knows absentee ballots are where the fraud rubber hits the road. But the question is not whether we require people to identify themselves, but what sort of identification we accept. A matter of degree, not kind.

I'd prefer secure ID, and couple that with measures to make sure everybody's got it, because such ID does, after all, have uses outside the context of voting. So, wouldn't it be better to get people without ID their ID, instead of just demanding we take it on faith that people are who they claim they are?

Really hilarious when a guy working in a building you can't enter without photo ID calls it racist to demand photo ID to do anything.

Second point: You think it's outrageous to demand photo ID before somebody exercises a civil libery? Unconstitutional to burden the exercise of a civil liberty that much? Well, I can think of a civil liberty that's a hell of a lot more burdened, and the same people whining about photo ID to vote support those burdens.

So, here's the deal I propose: We drop the photo ID requirement for voting, and you drop the FREAKING FBI BACKGROUND CHECK for buying a gun. They're both civil liberties, after all. Treat them the same.

If you're willing to burden my favorite civil liberty, I know you don't actually have a principled objection to burdening the exercise of civil liberties, and I don't want to hear your whining about voter ID.

"i think i've seen him around."

Outside the buoys, no doubt.

I wonder if the Coast Guard answers his Mayday calls.

"However, what you CAN realistically get, is a society that deprives the truly inventive of the rewards of being inventive, so that they don't bother exercising their full capacities, and just operate at the level necessary to get by in comfort. A society where Elon Musk doesn't build rockets, because society won't let him profit from doing so, is quite plausible."

Thar's the rub for Ayn Rand. She emigrated to the wrong country, because Elon Musk does his thing just fine and profitably.

Even the government shovels money at him so he can enjoy pretty decent profit margins. On the other hand, if he lived in Soviet Russia and built rockets, he'd have a dacha and would have received a top flight education in science, engineering, and math at state-run schools.

In fact, Rand emigrated to a society that allowed/encouraged her to be inventive even at her subpar level and to profit handsomely, if Alan Greenspan is any proof.

She produced dreck, IMHO, like a Bible Belt TV Evangelist, and had it made in the shade.

So what's the effing complaint?

America is Galt's Gulch.

Odd that her output is so virulently popular in a society that has no need of the advice.


I'm confused: is Brett saying that auto mechanics are the Makers, Creators, Elites, One-Percenters, Roarkes, Galts or whoever the hell Rand was on about?

--TP


What's confusing you, is that it was an "analogy". I should have realize that you're unfamiliar with those.

If the top fraction of a percent went on strike

Top fraction of a percent of what?

because a tiny fraction of the population are responsible for advances

Advances in what?

However, what you CAN realistically get, is a society that deprives the truly inventive of the rewards of being inventive, so that they don't bother exercising their full capacities, and just operate at the level necessary to get by in comfort.

Somebody else would do it.

The folks who create real innovations are generally not primarily motivated by getting stinking filthy rich.

Mostly, they just like creating stuff.

The folks who want to get filthy stinking rich usually come along a bit later.

you drop the FREAKING FBI BACKGROUND CHECK for buying a gun.

Almost 60 comments to get from books to guns.

You're off your game today.

(I'll pass on replying to Brett on guns, because it'd be a derailing of the conversation)

Brett: "However, what you CAN realistically get, is a society that deprives the truly inventive of the rewards of being inventive, so that they don't bother exercising their full capacities, and just operate at the level necessary to get by in comfort."

True, and we're so far from that world that it's barely visible using the Hubble. Rand had a bit of an excuse, due to her experience in the USSR.

And listened to a lot of Rush.

Temple of Syrinx having the bake sale of the year.

I'd prefer secure ID, and couple that with measures to make sure everybody's got it, because such ID does, after all, have uses outside the context of voting.

It certainly does, Brett. Starting with making it enormously easier for the government to keep track of where you go and what you do. Either you are far more statist than you usually let on, or that is an extremely odd position for even a semi-libertarian to take.

A theme of the whole series was 'when we're gone, you'll see that we were right, and wish that you had listened to us!'. Just like a teenager, with the addition of sociopathic blood lust.

Nothing new there at all. The exact same sociopathic schadenfreude can be found in the writings of Tertullian (2nd/3rd century AD), in particular his 'de spectaculis'. He may not have invented the doctrine of fun=sin but he was the one who really popularized it.

"Almost 60 comments to get from books to guns."

Almost 59 to get from books to voter ID, you mean? Like I'm the one who derailed it.

"Top fraction of a percent of what?"

"Somebody else would do it."

Are you perhaps under the impression that people are interchangible, of equal capacities? Eliminate Einstien, and you still get general relativity? Eliminate Tesla, you still get the polyphase motor?

Maybe you think there's nothing needed to keep society running, indeed improving, that the average person couldn't do if he had to? Joe the plumber puts down his wrench, and steps up to keep the national power grid funning smoothly, come up with next year's flu vaccine?

The truth is, we live in a society too complex and intellectually challenging for the merely average human to keep running. Engineering, medicine, science, all depend entirely on the efforts of people who are NOT average, just to maintain the status quo.

Actual advances in these fields are the work of people who are right out at the feather thin tail of the bell curve. Just clip that curve even three sigma out, and technological advance would stall. Too sigma out, and modern society would collapse much like Rand portrayed.

It's actually pretty scary to think about. Our society rests on infrastructure that the average person is simply incapable of understanding well enough to keep running. And it's only getting worse every day.

We better come up with a way to boost IQ soon, or even the geniuses won't be able to hack it. In fact, maybe that's why we're not advancing as fast as we'd come to expect? Approaching the point where the natural run of humanity isn't smart enough to push on any further?

Are you perhaps under the impression that people are interchangible, of equal capacities?

No.

I'm under the impression that nobody's indispensable.

If the top fraction of a percent, or one percent, or ten percent, of the world's big achievers, however measured, all decided to take a hike, we'd soldier on.

Whatever it is they do, somebody else would do it. If not exactly the same thing, some sufficiently equivalent thing.

Hate to break it to you, but that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangible.

Question: Who cleans the toilets in Galt's Gulch?

The takeaway: The Randian utopia is self-refuting.

Claim: "Actual advances in these fields are the work of people who are right out at the feather thin tail of the bell curve."

Counterfactual: Nobody is indispensable.

Our society rests on infrastructure that the average person is simply incapable of understanding well enough to keep running.

1.) This is known as specialization. I believe Adam Smith had a couple of things to say about that.....2.)that and discovering and unlocking the energy of stored carbon gets us to where we are today.

The rest is footnotes....but we kill each other over them nonetheless! We need the entertainment.

that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangible.

Wherever did you study logic? It is entirely possible (not to mention reality) that people are not interchangable (being different). And that nobody is indespensible; although admittedly some individuals make a huge difference by being in the right place at the right time.

Consider (since we are doing analogies) an engineering construct with lots of redundancy. The parts are, obviously, not interchangable in general -- that's why it is an engineering construct and not just a pile of identical parts. And yet, no one part is indespensible -- that's what redundancy is all about.

Hate to break it to you, but that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangable(sic).

The BB hypothesis: Not all people are interchangeable, therefore some are indispensable.

The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

Lunch over...back to work.

Just clip that curve even three sigma out, and technological advance would stall. Too sigma out, and modern society would collapse much like Rand portrayed.

then it's a good thing that there's no way to 'clip that curve'.

"Eliminate Einstien, and you still get general relativity?"

You'd definitely get special relativity. As for GR, there's this other guy named David Hilbert who derived the equations at the same time.

Happens a lot in science--it is a sort of collective enterprise. If the Beagle had been hit by a rogue wave off the tip of South America, Wallace would still have given us natural selection, though arguably he didn't go quite as far as Darwin in thinking through the implications. But I agree that there usually just a tiny handful of people at a given time who make these huge breakthroughs, but no reason to think we have to live in a Randian paradise to have them.

So, government wasn't indispensable in the creation of the Internet?

Hate to break it to you, but that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangible.

I'm not sure that holds up.

In any case, assuming it were actually possible to "snip off" the human bell curve at some kind of intellectual two sigma, we actually do keep making new people all the time. The curve would not be "snipped off" for all that long.

Or, if we were to "snip off" the top percentiles of the highest achievers, some of the folks who are capable of doing what those "highest achievers" do, and are just doing something else right now, would fill the gaps.

In the worst possible case - if there were in fact some technology absolutely critical to society, and only a very small handful of people were able to make it tick, and those folks decided to take a hike - we'd do something else. Society would, of necessity, adapt such that that particular technical magic would no longer be absolutely critical.

That happens all the time, and will continue to happen, for reasons that have nothing to do with our elite geniuses going Galt.

In any case, the whole scenario is a will-o-Rand's-wisp.

As a simple practical matter, there is no indispensable person. Not even an indispensable percentage of people, certainly not one measurable in single digits.

Rand was a self-aggrandizing fabulist, and a strange, misanthropic, seriously FUBAR human being. I'm not interested in her fantasies.

Happens a lot in science--it is a sort of collective enterprise

Yes, in general innovations are sort of in the air. They are as much a function of context and circumstance as they are of individual genius.

I work in basic biomedical research. I work with some absolutely brilliant people. Not one of them is indispensable. If brilliant scientist A leaves, brilliant scientist B will take over. Maybe she won't discover the cure for the common cold in 2014 - maybe she'll discover the cure for polio, and scientist C will discover the cure for the common cold in 2016.

And if they all left for Galt's Gulch, how much brilliant stuff would they get done when they also have to clean and cook and raise their own food? Ain't nobody discovering a cure for anything any time soon if they're having to do the menial tasks required to live themselves. Maybe it's already been done, but some Nobel Laureate should be thanking the guy who emptied the waste basket and cleaned the bathroom - which enabled the Nobel Winner to do the work that won the acclaim. We're all in this together.

i like the idea of Einstein sitting there thinking "well, i could publish these groundbreaking papers for the good of science, or i could leave my government job and take my big beautiful brain and go hide in the mountains with a bunch of other smart people who refuse to do anything that helps the undeserving parasite class!"

All are dispensable!

(Wait a second. I didn't even eat the salmon mousse!)

Move along.

Hate to break it to you, but that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangible.

This begs for the famous DeGaulle line:

"The graveyards are full of indispensable men."

i first read "atlas shrugged" when i was about 15. i thought it was a monstrously evil book and i have read it once a decade since then to remind me of this evil thing some people use to excuse their own pettier evils.

Life is like a bowl of cherries. Also, it isn't. Brett's mechanic is like John Galt. Also, not. Analogies mean exactly and only what Brett wants them to mean. Glad we got that settled.

But I'm still wondering whether Brett thinks of himself as one of those thin-end-of-the-tail types without whom life would become nastier, more brutish, and shorter. He is an engineer, after all. He is one of society's Makers. Just like Elon Musk. Or not. Analogies are slippery.

--TP

So, government wasn't indispensable in the creation of the Internet?

Government is a way of pooling scarce resources on a vast scale, choosing collective goals, and trying to achieve them.

Corporations (note: creations of government) undertake to do essentially the same thing on a smaller scale.

No individual has unlimited wealth, and few are willing to undertake unlimited economic risk.

That the government wound up incubating and launching the internets is simply a matter of probability given the scale and risk of the task.

With this in mind, I leave it to you to answer your question.

interchangible

As concerns spelling skills, not so much.

Regarding influence, I can happily report that barely anyone has ever heard of Atlas Shrugs in Europe.

Shrugged

QED kinda

So, government wasn't indispensable in the creation of the Internet?

Actually, government - ponderous, bureaucratic government - probably *was* indispensable in the creation of the internet.

They were the only folks with both an interest in dealing with the problem that the original internet protocols addressed, and the funds to move the rock forward.

So, yes, in that particular case government was a key ingredient in making it happen.

Absent their involvement, we'd likely have networked comms, but they would probably be based on a rat's nest of competing proprietary protocols.

So, not quite the internet we have now.

Atlas Shrugs

Would that be the prequel or the sequel ?

As regards the creation of the Internet, the technology of it was in fact developed under the aegis of DARPA. Other bits of technology were developed in universities, most of which are sponsored by state governments. I don't know much about the actual wired/fiber network infrastructure, but I would guess that the government had a hand in coordinating that whole development as well.

I don't have any problem at all with that. If private industry had done that, we'd have a bunch of private networks that refused to talk to each other, most likely, and we wouldn't be able to order groceries from Amazon.

Not that I do that. But I think we'd still be waiting for online shopping, among other things. And blogs.

Hate to break it to you, but that some people are indispensable is the logical corrolary of people not being interchangible.

No. It's not.

Let's say I need electrical, plumbing, and carpentry work done at my house.

Jones is an electrician and a plumber.
Smith is an electrician and a carpenter.
Brown is a plumber and carpenter.

Not interchangeable, but none is indispensable.

Get out your linear algebra book.

I'd prefer secure ID, and couple that with measures to make sure everybody's got it, because such ID does, after all, have uses outside the context of voting. So, wouldn't it be better to get people without ID their ID, instead of just demanding we take it on faith that people are who they claim they are?

The minute someone with actual clout offers up such a program, I'll be happy to support it, even in the almost complete absence of a voter fraud problem that ID laws could fix.
Cue the crickets.

Slartibartfast: "As regards the creation of the Internet, the technology of it was in fact developed under the aegis of DARPA. Other bits of technology were developed in universities, most of which are sponsored by state governments. I don't know much about the actual wired/fiber network infrastructure, but I would guess that the government had a hand in coordinating that whole development as well."

The research university work was undoubtedly highly dependent on federal grants, especially as this was far-off, high-risk work with no obvious commercial value.

The research university work was undoubtedly highly dependent on federal grants, especially as this was far-off, high-risk work with no obvious commercial value.

I hope that you didn't read the statement you quoted as an argument counter to the Internet being developed using government funds.

I would bet good money that some of the work was done simply because people were curious. But a goodly chunk of it; the majority I would say: yes, under some kind of government grant or other.

For the internet protocols, specifically, many of the significant requirements came from the DoD.

Briefly, there was a perceived need for a comms infrastructure that was resilient in the face of calamities like a nuclear attack.

The mechanisms for distributed, decentralized routing and addressing mostly are a response to that requirement.

It's possible, but much less likely, that a similar design would have emerged from a purely private initiative.

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