If I read ‘Atlas Shrugged’, will you please go Galt?

Years ago, my 12th grade economics teacher — a nice guy, by the way — giddily assigned our class to read Ayn Rand’s book Anthem. His enthusiasm for Rand and her work was palpable and infectious. I couldn’t wait to read it myself. And then I actually opened it. To say Anthem is bad insults bad. For my money, it contains more crap per page – it clocks in at just 123 – than any work of literature I have ever encountered. And I will have you know that I have read one of the Left Behind books: “Tribulation Force.” I would gladly choose it over Anthem if forced to read one of them again by Dick Cheney’s torture goons.

Dallas Tea Party 2009Anthem is the Crash of books – a bizarre, self-important take on human nature crammed into narrative mess of pottage and absurdity. I keep a copy of the book around to remind myself of the power of human idiocy in much the way Opus Dei folks wear those pain-choker leg things to remind themselves of human wickedness.

In a sentence – and that’s all it needs – here is Anthem: the hero, a man/thing/wildebeast of some sort named Equality 7-2521 lives in world controlled by Barack Obama, errrr, some large government entity, refers to himself constantly as “we” and then eventually comes to call himself “I” and save the world or something. Its very last word – not making this up – is EGO – in all caps.

Star Trek blatantly ripped off Anthem – and greatly improved on its concepts- by creating the Borg. But, crucially, the show made them aliens. That’s because Anthem bears not even a halting attachment to actual human experience. The Matrix also borrows from Anthem, but it’s less farfetched.

Anyway, what does all this have to do with anything? Upon finishing Anthem and telling my crestfallen teacher that I found it utterly stupid – how could any little smart kid not love Ayn Rand? he cried – I basically wrote off Rand. I vowed never to put myself through that again.

However, I’m now rethinking. It has gradually dawned on me over the years that Ayn Rand is the heart of goofy modern conservatism. In the online world where I traffic for much of my information, there was much talk among glibertarians of “going Galt” following the election of Barack Obama because of his obvious hatred for productivity and business and neo-colonialism, etc., etc.

Going Galt is a reference to John Galt, the hero of Rand’s, gulp, influential epic “Atlas Shrugged.” I have not read it. But I can infer its story from the reverence in which people write about it. John Galt is some sort of supergenius – like Sarah Palin – who grows tired of all these whining moochers thinking he should pay taxes on the fruits of his superbrilliance. So he retreats to a canyon, I think they call it “Galt’s Gulch,” and begins to actively withhold his productivity from the moochers. He recruits others, who do the same, and soon the trains don’t run, children die in the streets, dogs and cats live together, etc. Humanity learns a hard lesson about screwing with Galtian supergeniuses with things like taxation and expecting them to adhere to the rule of law. One begins to understand why this country is where it is when one learns that Alan Greenspan evidently adored Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged.”

What’s implicit among people who love Rand, from what I can tell, is that they all personally identify with John Galt. Funny that no one ever identifies with the looters. They are supergenius, productive types unfairly subject to the ropes of Lilliputians. And Rand gives them the intellectual license to embrace it.

Anyway, I noticed at the recent Politics in the Park event that my old buddy Neil Combee, who collected a government check for either 16 or 18 years (can’t remember which) as a Polk County commissioner, was wearing a large “Who is John Galt?” pin on his shirt. I really like Neil; I thought he was a good, pretty honest county commissioner for Polk County. But I never really thought of him as a Galtian supergenius. That was more Bruce Parker. But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Neil is building some sort of potato reactor in his barn between Swiftmud meetings that will revolutionize energy supply. Or maybe not.

Let’s test it.

To all of you who fantasize about going Galt, let’s assess the enigmatic Ms. Rand empirically. I’ll promise to read “Atlas Shrugged” if you’ll promise to go away to a gulch somewhere and take your productivity – and your government pensions – with you. We’ll see who lasts longer — you in your gulches or we moochers in society.

Creative Commons License index photo credit: robert_carpenter | Creative Commons License interior photo credit: HeroicLife

12 thoughts on “If I read ‘Atlas Shrugged’, will you please go Galt?

  1. Silly comment here, but every single time I see the title Atlas Shrugged, I confuse it with a different book titled Alas, Babylon. It’s a completely different story and I’m always confused when someone references the storyline of Atlas Shrugged and I think, “what book were they reading?!?” Not kidding, this has happened maybe 50 times in the past year or two. Maybe if I read Atlas Shrugged this would stop happening? FWIW, Alas, Babylon is an interesting read, makes me feel a little uncomfortable living here in Lakeland, so close to Centcom in Tampa.

  2. Wow, Billy, you need to read a book before you write a synopsis of the story! “So he retreats to a canyon, I think they call it “Galt’s Gulch,” and begins to actively withhold his productivity from the moochers” is so unbelievably off center that if I were you, would be embarrassed I even thought it let alone wrote it for public scrutiny! The sad truth is that the story of Atlas Schrugged is indeed becoming the story of modern day America- which is apparantly exactly what our current administration wanted. I do believe President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have read the book…..

  3. As fiction, “Atlas Shrugged” fails. Rand would have been better if she had wrote essays.

  4. As expected, missed the point. Anyone can get the “plot” or synopsis, but it’s the actual meaning and intent of the story. Galt is not like Sarah Palin – he’s not a politician or anyone trying to rally support around a political agenda. He’s simply a business man (successful, which I know the whining moochers always despise – success of others). I wouldn’t even refer to him a super-genius. He doesn’t actively withhold his productivity, but rather goes somewhere where he can practice it without the heavy burden of regulation and taxation – he also doesn’t try to escape the “rule of law” but rather lives in a place where there is an equal balance of moral, ethical, financial and legal influence. He’s not a child who takes his toys elsewhere because he doesn’t want to share – that’s left to “modern liberalism” – rather he decides to go elsewhere, and produce as he always has. In the end the politicians who ran him to the “Gulch” come begging for his help, to undo the mess they’ve created. Who is John Galt is also misused. In the book it’s chanted by the “disenchanted masses” (kinda like “Hope and Change”) – they aren’t looking for him, they just drone on about it.

    Your comment on Alan Greenspan comes from left field as well. So the reason we’re in the economic trouble we’re in is because of Alan Greenspan reading Atlas Shrugged? That’s coherent and rational. I’ll be sure to FedEx my comments as I’m imagining the USPS will be out of business by then…

    • Conservapedia (you know, cuz Wikpedia is biased) tells me that Galt built a “prototype of a motor that could draw static electricity from the atmosphere and convert it to useful motion” and “devised a system of directed-energy beams, which he called “refractor rays,” that would heat the air seven hundred feet off the ground and create a one-way mirror in the air. From above, any pilot looking down into the valley would see nothing but a desolate-looking crater ringed by nearly shear cliffs.”

      I would say that qualifies Galt as a Galtian supergenius. Don’t sell him short.

      But I have to say, and it’s nice to see you acknowledge, that I actually pretty well nailed the synopsis. Woo Hoo. I went to check conservapedia after your comment to see what I got wrong and didn’t find much.

      I was, however, amused to see how important railroads are to the story. This may be too much minutae for your Galtian supergenius to grasp, but none other than the chief moocher himself, Jimmy Carter, pushed for and signed the Staggers Act, the 1980 de-regulation of freight rail. That saved the freight rail industry. Just ask CSX. Jimmy Carter was the best friend the Galt line ever had. That is rather funny.

      And Alan Greenspan, like Rand, apparently believed that turning the financial industry over to a bunch of Galtian supergeniuses who thought 30x leverage and non-existent lending standards was productive. Maybe they actually built a super-refracting fake mirror that kept anyone from seeing the garbage they peddled.

      Finally, on a final, someone serious note, I think it’s very sad that you look around this rather remarkable world and see a bunch of whiners and moochers while fancying yourself one of the very few productive ones. That must be a hard way to go through life. Or you must suppress it when you deal with other people. Either way, I’m still waiting for you take up my challenge and go hole up somewhere with your magis static electricty motors and refracting mirror beams and exciting sex – which apparenly is a big part of Atlas Shrugged, although conservapedia manages not to talk much about it for some reason.

      You can do it. You don’t want to live around the rest of us anyway.

  5. “- you can really tell that you’ve never read the book. Not even bothering to look up the Cliff Notes version?”

    Ah, well, you know, the title of the post was: “If I read Atlas Shrugged,”… My not reading the book is sort of the point. The wager, which a Galtian supergenius such as yourself should have been able to read and comprehend, was that I will read it if you promise to go Galt. A fiercely intelligent, self-reliant, supporter-of-the-world on your shoulders would have no problem bailing out on society. Take your productivity somewhere remote, send me a post card (Fedex if you can’t stand the government postal service) and then I’ll read the book and we’ll have a profound discussion.

    In the meantime, it’s kind of funny that neither of you actually cited any place where I got the synopsis of the story wrong – without even knowing it. Please feel free to correct. Be my Cliff Notes if you want.

  6. On what planet am I hating on Star Trek? Are you kidding? Resistance is futile? But not. Awesome. ST is a liberal’s paradise: beautiful, diverse people kicking butt and having intellectual arguments with aliens. It rocks.

  7. I’m actually reading Atlas Shrugged right now, at the request of my very conservative boyfriend, and I’m enjoying it fairly well. (I should state now that I see myself as a left-leaning moderate.) It took me about 200 pages to get into it though, and I have some serious issues with it, not the least of which is the way she portrays anyone with a hint of compassion for their fellow man as a mooching, looting, idiot, but it’s not as horrible as I would have thought. I find myself disliking both sides in the story. The “liberals” are ridiculous, and the “conservatives” are emotionally inept. Where I think people make the Greenspan/Ayn Rand connection is that his constant de-regulation of business was probably directly related to the influence of this book. This book is all about (unreasonable) government regulation to the point of communism, and as such, it serves as a fairly decent warning. It’s extreme, like 1984 but not nearly as terrifying, but sometimes literature has to take things to an extreme in order to get your attention about the way the world *could* go.

    • And if angry locust-like aliens arrive to smite us with their death rays, the earth might suffer. So “Independence Day” is also a fairly decent warning. I’m sorry. I know that’s a good faith comment you’ve made, but philosophy means nothing when it detaches itself from actual human experience.

      • I don’t think anyone would ever offer Independence Day up as literature, and it was certainly never meant to be a warning… :-)

        I don’t think Atlas Shrugged completely detaches itself from actual human experience. There’s part of the story that relates to theft of intellectual property — which, as an artist, I very much relate to. And I think that pretty much anyone can relate to the feeling of being wronged by not having your hard work acknowledged or rewarded. There’s where it very much is part of actual human experience.

        You also have to keep in mind the time in which it was written. Communism and Marxism were on the rise. It was published during the heyday of anti-communist sentiment. So, I think in that context, it also is embedded in human experience. I don’t think it applies as much today as a lot of conservatives seem to think it does, but I can see the connections being made.

        So that’s my 2c. To read or not to read, that is your question… but I think you should give it a shot, if for no other reason than to be able to argue against it with full understanding of what you are arguing against.

        • I will concede the point about its contemporary environment, but Orwell also wrote 1984 in that environment, which is brilliant. But my offer stands, if the modern Galtians have the strength of their convictions and go away, I’ll read it. :) Or maybe, I’ll decide to pick it up just for fun.

          Is true that Galt gives a 70-page monologue/speech/manifesto?

          • Yes, although if you had asked me I would have told you I remembered it being longer. I found the novel thought-provoking and effective up to that point, and when I realized he had been droning on for hours with no signs of stopping, and repeating the same things over and over, I concluded the novel as a whole was not going to say anything else new, either, so I put it down and never finished it.

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