syrakusos

National Review: nothing changes in 50 years...

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So, I was in Google, looking for a reference and this from 2010 came up:

AUGUST 23, 2010 4:00 AM
The Greatly Ghastly Rand
From the Aug. 30, 2010, issue of NR.
By Jason Lee Steorts
‘From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged,” Whittaker Chambers wrote here 53 years ago, “a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’” What he did not write is that Ayn Rand throws in a gas chamber.
It’s about two-thirds through, in a chapter called “The Moratorium on Brains,” than which I reread no farther. (Our president seems to have inspired — which is not quite the word — half the country to read Miss Rand, and I wanted to remind myself what she was teaching them.) A train is carrying 300 passengers through the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco.

" I feel as I do when I dream I have done something unforgivable."

I have to ask: It that a recurring dream? I had a malignant tumor removed and later had nightmares. Apparently, I am not as resilient as I though that I was. But I never dreamed that I had done something unforgivable. I have dreamed (recurring) that I am walking naked in public, but no one notices. What does that say about me? What does his dream say about him?

There is the Girl Scout banality of Atlas Shrugged’s heroine, who seems to have escaped from the young-adult section.

Read as much as you care to, or as much as you can stand.

Conservatives are enemies of freedom, as much (if not more) than progressives.

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I read the whole thing. The Fountainhead section was commendatory and insightful, and gave me a new respect for that novel.

The Atlas section did psychologize Rand, but was mainly a literary review. Both parts were infused with the writer/reader's personal reaction to the books. If you had not told me I would not know if he was a conservative or a liberal. Just a novel reader.

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I read the whole thing. The Fountainhead section was commendatory and insightful, and gave me a new respect for that novel.

The Atlas section did psychologize Rand, but was mainly a literary review. Both parts were infused with the writer/reader's personal reaction to the books. If you had not told me I would not know if he was a conservative or a liberal. Just a novel reader.

I would agree with you. It could have been written by conservative or progressive, without distinction that I saw.

Also, JLSteorts has some admiration for and good understanding of TF.

He quotes Rand on her motivation for writing AS.

Rand: "I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers, and how viciously it treats them".

Then he writes:

"What I think is that because The Fountainhead is not primarily a social novel--because Rand was concerned primarily with presenting the ideal man's soul--she looked into herself and gave expression to the finest things she found".

[Excellently put, and accurate, I think]

However.

He goes on: "But in Atlas Shrugged Rand instead looked out and showed us the world of men as she sees them.

And she sees them viciously".

Doesn't Steorts get his self-contradiction? After his admiration of the idealism of TF and Rand's portrayal of Roark - why does he not recognise that 'Atlas' was conceived as a paean to that idealism...that those ideal men and women deserved the utmost moral defence from the genuinely "vicious" 'out there' - who'd break them and tear them down as human sacrifice. Of course she saw them viciously. What does he expect?

Perhaps, that the best in mankind - or in the virtue of an individual man- is a 'given', always returning to aid their fellows, whatever the human cost?

At the least, most disingenuous of him, or else a huge evasion.

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One point is valid: the gas chamber in the train tunnel is the weakest part of Atlas Shrugged.

It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was a professor of sociology who taught that individual ability is of no consequence, that individual effort is futile, that an individual conscience is a useless luxury, that there is no individual mind or character or achievement, that everything is achieved collectively, and that it's masses that count, not men.

The man in Roomette 7, Car No. 2, was a journalist who wrote that it is proper and moral to use compulsion "for a good cause," who believed that he had the right to unleash physical force upon others—to wreck lives, throttle ambitions, strangle desires, violate convictions, to imprison, to despoil, to murder—for the sake of whatever he chose to consider as his own idea of "a good cause," which did not even have to be an idea, since he had never defined what he regarded as the good, but had merely stated that he went by "a feeling"—a feeling unrestrained by any knowledge, since he considered emotion superior to knowledge and relied solely on his own "good intentions" and on the power of a gun.

The woman in Roomette 10, Car No. 3, was an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards, by teaching them that the will of the majority is the only standard of good and evil, that a majority may do anything it pleases, that they must not assert their own personalities, but must do as others were doing.

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No, 4, was a newspaper publisher who believed that men are evil by nature and unfit for freedom, that their basic instincts, if left unchecked, are to lie, to rob and to murder one another—and, therefore, men must be ruled by means of lies, robbery and murder, which must be made the exclusive privilege of the rulers, for the purpose of forcing men to work, teaching them to be moral and keeping them within the bounds of order and justice.

.

Why can't the victims on the Taggart Comet simply be human beings, a realistic collection of the ambitious and the indolent, the glamorous and the bland, the clever and the stupid? Rand insists on making them all self-righteous automatons of the altruist-collectivist axis.

This kind of gleeful schadenfreude doesn't make for good fiction or political commentary. The tragedy of socialism is that it cuts a wide swath through society. Even people who've read and understood all of Rand's books will suffer.

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There are 300 passengers on the Comet when its toxic smoke-spewing engine enters the eight-mile tunnel. Yet only a couple of dozen of the victims are described in detail. And the details aren't pretty: contempt for the individual, envy of success, hatred of ability, admiration for the the bold use of state power.

But what of the rest of the passenger list? Surely 300 out of 300 aren't altruist-collectivist specimens. Couldn't there be, say, a Henry Cameron, a Stephen Mallory, an Austin Heller, or a Mike the Electrician in the bunch?

The fact that none of the victims except the bad guys get put into the spotlight suggests that the most important fact the reader is supposed to take away from the train wreck is not that innocent people died senselessly, but rather that the dupes who put thugs like Kip Chalmers and Mr. Thompson in power are getting their comeuppance. Or, as you call it, "poetic justice."

Unless everyone on that train was a card-carrying member of the Looter's Party and was on his way to the World Congress of the Comintern, I'd say death by poisonous gas is a tad too heavy a price for poetic justice.

I admit that the chapter didn't phase me the first time I encountered it in my teens. But a second reading years later shocked me into the realization that Rand had handed Whittaker Chambers grist for his mill.

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But what of the rest of the passenger list? Surely 300 out of 300 aren't altruist-collectivist specimens. Couldn't there be, say, a Henry Cameron, a Stephen Mallory, an

Austin Heller, or a Mike the Electrician in the bunch?

Collateral damage.

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Collateral damage.

That's what I thought too and that's what nags at me.

Sorry for your discomfort.

Does not bother me at all.

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It should bother you. In a novel it is easy to despatch the wrong and the bothersome through plot.What if in real life the collateral damage is your cousin, your classmate, yourself?

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I don't quite understand the extent of all this shock and horror: that people who have lived unconsciously of from whom and where their blessings have flowed - without respect or recognition for that source, and moreover in contempt and hatred for that source - should have to face reality, when it's cut off.

Dramatic and sobering, naturally. Rand did that in other ways, too. For obvious reasons.

The literalism from erudite readers, still after all these years after first reading AS, is surprising to me.

I mean, "what if" someone near and dear dies in any fashion...in a shipwreck, shooting, car smash...whatever?

What if? beyond terrible, that's what.

One should remind oneself that reality bites hard sometimes. One should be exquisitely conscious that life, survival and 'flourishing' is not a foregone conclusion to any one person, or many. If one loses sight of the fact that it is a relatively minor number individuals who originate, or drive forward creation - and, in so doing, protect us from much of harsher reality - perhaps a 'wake-up call' is needed. Better from a novel, than in "real life".

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That contempt and hatred for the "relatively few" creators, is so common as to deserve general "collateral damage"--even in a novel. this is hard to swallow, and it is to Rand's credit as a novelist that she made it seem inevitable.

I agree with others however, that in driving home her point with his ruthlessly dramatic scene, Rand drew tha black and white line in the sand which her followers never dared to cross.

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Tracinski did a long critique of the Steorts piece. The observation I remember best is that it was an odd choice on the editors' part. The upsurge in Rand's popularity and influence in the Obama era was proof of NR's failure after decades of trying to keep this from happening. Why they wanted to remind to advertise their failure, and make it a cover story at that, is hard to fathom.

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That contempt and hatred for the "relatively few" creators, is so common as to deserve general "collateral damage"--even in a novel. this is hard to swallow, and it is to Rand's credit as a novelist that she made it seem inevitable.

I agree with others however, that in driving home her point with his ruthlessly dramatic scene, Rand drew tha black and white line in the sand which her followers never dared to cross.

Carol, You're introducing a mixed bag, there. What has the slavish adoration of a few/some of her followers to do with this? What "line in the sand"?

And "hard to swallow"? Which aspect: the scene's authenticity or its horror?

For authenticity, take a real life scenario, in which a country's majority regularly vote to power a loathsome dictator who brutalises some citizens, to the benefit of others. For whatever reason a neighbour attacks and overthrows the regime. The deaths of civilians in that war is the harshest judgment by reality they could receive - but it will happen. Justice in reality is not 'fair' and sentimental. It happens, with or without our approval.

Besides, from previous, I know it is the idea of 'prime movers' that offends you.

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, , true the followers have nothing to do with the leader, since she never asked them to follow her.

As we are talking of the novel, I spoke only of the matter-of-fact horror, I personally do not find authenticity there. It was a climactic, necessary plot point in the story of AS,

Prime movers do not offend me, but the idea that they are hated or resented by everyone who is not a prime mover, that offends me a lot, I admire prime movers but disagree with Rand that there are only a few. I know there are many,

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Good, we agree. I doubt though that Rand thought there were few prime movers. You underestimate her observational powers. As for AS, as Stephen writes: "...the author had to segregate it into too few critical people..."

You may admire prime movers, but look around - are they not taken for granted by most people? (And I'm not thinking of crony capitalists, who're anything but P.M.'s).

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Prime movers do not offend me, but the idea that they are hated or resented by everyone who is not a prime mover, that offends me a lot, I admire prime movers but disagree with Rand that there are only a few. I know there are many,

I just love the schizophrenic reactions to Atlas.

I find no authenticity in 300 citizens dying in a catastrophe that was completely caused by political whores who raised being a "second-hander" into a high art form.

That was the base of the "bomb," it was lit by fundamental cultural, psychological and philosophical elements of altruism as a state scheme of law and morality.

It was the absolute objective outcome of the rotted centre of a once great Republic.

The early analogy/metaphor of the Oak tree on the Taggart property that:

The great oak tree had stood on the hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought that it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree's presence; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it net morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; the was nothing inside -- just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it. [top page thirteen (13) of the 35th Anniversary pocket edition]

The shattering lesson for Dagny and Eddie as they he peered into the dead rotted centre of the Oak and realizing that the foundational essence of the Oak tree had died.

It was just a matter of time for the world to see it.

================================================

Now note that you challenge the "paucity of prime movers" in Atlas.

I think that Tony just addressed that.

A...

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Aren't most people taken for granted by prime movers? We are all people , taken as given, or granted, to or by each other.

No.

I feel that there would be a normal distribution of emotive and psychological states towards "most people."

A...

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Aren't most people taken for granted by prime movers? We are all people , taken as given, or granted, to or by each other.

I would hazard that the real PM has greater awareness than most.

Adam, some good thoughts, above.

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Aren't most people taken for granted by prime movers? We are all people , taken as given, or granted, to or by each other.

I would hazard that the real PM has greater awareness than most.

Adam, some good thoughts, above.

Thanks.

I am in good company.

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Aren't most people taken for granted by prime movers? We are all people , taken as given, or granted, to or by each other.

I would hazard that the real PM has greater awareness than most.

Adam, some good thoughts, above.

Thanks.

I am in good company.

Heh> You're similar to me: the passion stirs up the synapses.

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Collateral damage.

That's what I thought too and that's what nags at me.

Sorry for your discomfort.

Does not bother me at all.

The term "collateral damage" is a military euphemism for destroying things that rightfully should not have been destroyed. It represents a utilitarian calculus: some innocent lives and property may be sacrificed to serve the greater good. Or as the U.S. Department of "Defense" puts it: "Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack."

Since we are using military terms, then let's follow a military scenario. Suppose the killing of 300 people on a train is not the consequence of bureaucratic interference, incompetence and cowardice but of civil war. Suppose that in order to eliminate Kip Chalmers and two dozen other looters, a certain band of freedom fighters fires a mortar at the train.

To get at the intended target of 20 or so looters, 280 non-looters are also killed. The freedom fighters are not discomforted, "not bothered at all."

Would Rand have had John Galt pull a stunt like this?

"I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine -- unless the other man is riding on a train with looters that have to be exterminated."

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The novelist certainly did show the disaster bothering her heroine. Why is that ignored by our Mr. Not FF? No matter. Surely that can be spun away consistently with the picture of Mr. Chambers that the novelist was morally depraved (just beneath the surface, in favor of mass murder by suffocation, you know) and preached that depravity in this novel.

This does not account for the author's choice to make the loss of looters' lives the most significant take-away from the chapter. If Dagny was in tears over the many innocent lives destroyed, why not showcase them? Why not draw the reader's attention to the fact that most of the dead bodies belonged not to parasites but to people who were at one time intelligent, creative, productive, and deserving of a life on this earth?

Why not have thumbnail portraits of the innocent victims as the New York Times did for those who died on 911?

I venture that the explanation is that, as Mr. Selene suggested, the innocents were mere "collateral damage." The goal of the train wreck was to inflict "poetic justice" on those who embraced the twin evils of altruism and collectivism.

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