An Ode to Ayn Rand
In today's Financial Times, Ed Crooks believes that Atlas Shrugged Part I goes easy on didacticism but captures her unique tone.
But he concludes,"If the film-makers really want to win over the public to Rand's ideas, however, they are going to have to do a lot more to turn Atlas Shrugged into a complete, coherent work, rather than a truncated half-successful experiment."
comments powered by Disqus
Mark Brady - 4/3/2011
Thank you for changing the subject line! And thank you for the extended quotation from William Morris. I was unaware of it and, given my abiding interest in the rights and wrongs of intellectual property, I shall remember it for future use.
Andrew D. Todd - 4/3/2011
About the idea that inventors have to be rewarded or honored, William Morris replied, succinctly, in chapter 15 of _News From Nowhere_ (1890):
" 'But no reward of labour?' said Hammond, gravely. 'The reward of labour is life. Is that not enough?'
"'But no reward for especially good work,' quoth I.
"'Plenty of reward,' said he - 'the reward of creation. The wages which God gets, as people might have said time agone. If you are going to be paid for the pleasure of creation, which is what excellence in work means, the next thing we shall hear of will be a bill sent in for the begetting of children.'"
I recommend chapter 6 as capturing the essence of Morris in a short space, though you might find chapter 15 interesting as well, in a rather didactic fashion.
Aeon J. Skoble - 4/2/2011
I agree with you about the book of nature being open to all - the point you're making in those 2 paragraphs I get, and I agree. But I think that's not what Rand is getting at. Even if we ultimately end up sharing ideas and so on, someone has to innovate and be creative etc. Rand's point is that this is something others ought to be appreciative of, as opposed to being resentful or regarding their efforts as something which is owed to the rest of us. So the strikers are allegorically showing what would happen if they didn't play along.
I haven't read the other book you mention.
Andrew D. Todd - 4/2/2011
Well, explain why Wyatt blew up his oil refinery, despite the obvious danger to the public, and why what's his name set out to wreck his copper mines. What impressed me was the protagonists' compulsion to destroy that which they could not control, what they could not turn into a source of power over other people. Actions speak louder than words. The high-minded speeches of Josef Stalin are much less important than the Great Terror. I tend to think of Rand as a kind of reverse image of Stalin, like a photographic negative, or a plaster cast. That, of course, was what the conservative writer Whitaker Chambers was picking up on, when he coined his famous description. Of course, Rand never had very much power, and was never able to do real damage.
I don't know if you've ever read William Morris, especially _News From Nowhere_. Discuss.
I'll probably shock you again, when I say that I believe Ayn Rand was a closet technophobe. Yes, she rhapsodized about technological _artifacts_, but she is profoundly hostile to the underlying philosophy of technology.
Technological secrets leak. Most fundamentally, they leak by the evidence of their use. If you start selling something, someone will obtain small quantities by black-market methods, and take it apart to find out how it works. The method by which it works will not be a bolt out of the blue, but an under-appreciated possibility: "so _that's_ how he's doing it." Beyond reverse engineering, there is industrial espionage. In wartime, captured war materiel is sent to laboratories which analyze it, not from the point of view of blind ignorance, but again, from that of under-appreciated possibility.
Let's take one example, the metallic property of stainlessness. A metallurgist thinks of stainlessness by treating an alloy as a kind of battery which puts a positive charge on some of its metallic constituents, and a negative charge on others. The respective metals have oxides which may be durable (aluminum, chromium), or non-durable (iron, copper, silver), with this understanding, a quick program of testing can systematically identify the possible stainless alloys of various different metals.
The book of nature is ultimately open to all, and given an approximate idea how something works, one can construct experiments to work out the details. Unless one thinks that one can economically exploit something within a short period of time, it is generally considered prudent to get a patent if feasible, even though that requires publishing a written description. Ayn Rand seems to think of technology as something which is inherent in the inventor's personality, a measure of his selfishness, which cannot be copied without the inventor's will. (*) One way or another, the other steel companies would have discovered what Rearden Metal was, and how to make it. Without a patent, they would have started producing Rearden Metal, and the dispute would have been whether Rearden was entitled to a patent or not, and if so, how extensive and enforceable a patent. Obviously, if you thumb your nose at society, you cannot expect much in the way of grants of legal privileges.
(*) This explains the passage in which Dagny goes searching all over the country for the mysterious inventor of the mysterious engine she had discovered in an abandoned factory.
Aeon J. Skoble - 4/1/2011
"work is so intrinsically degrading and worthless that a rational being cannot be rewarded by the intrinsic satisfactions of the work itself"
Solid evidence that you haven't read her novels. This is pretty much exactly the opposite of what her protagonists think. How on earth do you see yourself entitled to an opinion about something you haven't read?
Andrew D. Todd - 4/1/2011
Well, I made another effort to read _Atlas Shrugged_, and this time, managed to get seven hundred pages in, before grinding to a halt. That is enough. I still think it's a silly book. By "incredibly stupid error," incidentally, I don't mean just an error of fact, but an error expressive of hubris, the mistaken belief that one is a god. I have discovered various factual errors and technical errors, which I do not mean to enumerate at this time. Aeon Skoble would merely dismiss them as allegories, a sort of catch-all excuse. Rand's core philosophical error, however, lies in believing that work is so intrinsically degrading and worthless that a rational being cannot be rewarded by the intrinsic satisfactions of the work itself, but must commit suicide out of fear that someone might be benefiting from his labor without paying for it. In these terms, the alternative to suicide is to display pointless, all-consuming, symbolic greed. This naturally expresses itself ultimately in Rand's worship of the sex-killer William Hickman, a perfect predator.
Aeon J. Skoble - 3/28/2011
You decided she was terrible after 4 pages? Would you make that judgment about any other author?
In any case, it's not about the railroad industry. It's an allegory. Most cop movies make mistakes about the law (and about guns); that doesn't automatically make them bad movies.
Andrew D. Todd - 3/27/2011
More generally, if you 1) put the mouse on the link, 2) right-click, and hit "copy link location," and 3) paste the URL into Google, you will get the same results. Faced with the inevitability of retaliation from Google, the Financial Times (News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch) will back down from its paywall requirements. As the motto of a certain trade union says: "An Injury to One is an Injury to All." Not being a libertarian, I wouldn't know whether using Google as a bargaining agent is compatible with libertarianism.
Parenthetically, I have long thought that Ayn Rand was "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know." My father once told me that he had tried to read _Atlas Shrugged_, but had only gotten about four pages in, when he spotted an incredibly stupid error about railroads. Like George Bernard Shaw's Andrew Undershaft in _Major Barbara_, he held that if someone couldn't get their facts straight about a comparatively simple subject like railroads, they were bound to be totally out to sea about important and difficult stuff like Truth, and Humanity, and so on. As Shaw put it, "You can't tell me the strength of an iron bar, which is a comparatively simple matter, and you think you can tell me the strength of a man's soul!" I later tried to read _Atlas Shrugged_ myself, but I didn't get much further than my father had. It had all the turgid style of overly earnest teenage boys from Brooklyn selling pamphlets in airports.
Mark Brady - 3/25/2011
There's two ways to read it. 1) Go to Google, search for "An ode to Ayn Rand" and the second search answer should take you there. 2) Register for limited free access.
In fact there's a third way, take out an academic subscription (for somewhat more than $100 a year, tax deductible) that enables you to receive a hard copy of one of the world's best newspapers delivered six times a week to the address of your choice and access to five years' of the paper on their website.
Aeon J. Skoble - 3/25/2011
That link won't open to non-account holders. Do you have a work-around link?
- Michael Kammen, Historian of U.S. Psyche, Dies at 77
- Brooklyn Historical Society to Present Exhibition on Abolitionists
- Michael Kammen, Historian of U.S. Psyche, Dies at 77
- Western Michigan University history professors ask Board of Trustees to investigate provost
- Faculty Praise, Remember Esteemed Cornell Historian Michael Kammen