Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Atlas Shrugged 2: Shrug Harder

I don't know how many of you realize that Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's science fiction classic, is actually only book 1 of a trilogy? Hardly anybody knows this, because she never got around to writing the missing middle volume. She wrote book 1 in the series. She wrote book 3 in the series, but didn't explicitly label it a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, she and her agent marketed it as a stand-alone volume. She never got around to writing the middle volume that bridges the two. It's probably because she found it too depressing, the way that Heinlein never got around to writing The Stone Pillow, the missing volume in the Future History series that comes between "All You Zombies" and "If This Goes On."

Atlas Shrugged, for those of you who never read it, can be summarized entirely fairly as follows. Unknown to our viewpoint characters at first, an inventor named John Galt has invented a "free energy" machine, a motor that runs on ambient static electricity and the Earth's own inertia and puts out enough electricity in a fairly small unit to power almost anything, including vehicles, force field generators, energy weapons, even an invisibility cloak if you use a big enough unit. He invented this while working at a company where his contract gave them rights to stuff he invented on the clock, like most professional engineers and inventors, but he assumed that as the inventor, he was entitled to all of the profits from this fabulous new invention. The company's management and other employees, though, saw just how much resentment would happen if one company owned the monopoly on an invention this valuable, and started making plans for how to invest some of the profits into charitable ventures, so they wouldn't get the whole thing taken away from them via eminent domain. John Galt, outraged that anybody would even suggest that he or the company he worked for owed anything to the nation that provided his education, protected him from infectious disease outbreaks, protected him from Communist invasion, built the roads that got him to work each day, provided the police that kept him safe, and provided the court system that protected his property rights at all, sabotaged the Galt Engine, so nobody could have it.

Then he went further and, in a fit of offended pique, promised to "stop the motor of the world," to kill 90% or so of Earth's population by intentionally wrecking the economy. Which he then did. How? By finding every other competent engineer or manager in the US and persuading them to be just as selfish as him, just as unwilling to pay back or protect their country; he declared a covert "strike of the mind," as he called it. He hid them all in a secretive compound in the Rocky Mountains, protected by force field and invisibility cloak, and waited for the US economy to collapse, which, obligingly, it did -- because John Galt had carefully sabotaged the bridges and railroads that made it possible for fuel and seeds to make it from the coastal cities to inland farms, and make it possible for food grown on inland farms to make it to the coastal cities. And as chaos was breaking out, he and his fellow inventors hijacked every radio transmitter in the US to broadcast his manifesto: You all deserve to die, for asking us to pay you back even one nickel, because we are all so selfish we don't consider any of the things you all paid for out of your taxes and that you did with your labor to have been at all helpful to us as entirely self-sufficient brilliant inventors and managers. So die.

And that's where the series is interrupted. But from where the third book picks up, and by applying a little common sense, we can outline the main plot points, if not the characterizations, from the untitled middle volume, the one I'm whimsically calling Atlas Shrugged 2: Shrug Harder. When the previous book ran out, America was winding down to what was clearly going to be the last harvest, ever, and the Strikers were planning for the day that they, as the only people possessing any high tech or any capability of mass production of food or anything else, would ride out of their hidden Colorado fortress as humanity's saviors. They were pledging to themselves to build a new world based, as John Galt's manifesto had promised all Americans, on the virtue of selfishness. They assumed that a grateful (or at least desperately needy) and vastly reduced in number population would welcome them as liberators, chastened and having learned their lesson. Except that we know from the third book that that's not what happened, and anybody who knows human nature should have been able to predict that.

Outside the valley, the conversion to local subsistence farming and the work of scavenging the dead cities for any usable metal would have been rough. No time or energy would have been available to save even minimal technology. We're looking at a collapse all the way back to (at best) early iron age levels, maybe even all the way back to the bronze age, and nobody will even have time to teach the next generation to read and write. But one thing very clearly did happen, in every survivor's village, and became world-wide policy as soon as even minimal travel and communication made it possible for the chiefs of the scattered villages of survivors began to reunite society into any kind of a civilization, and that is a fierce determination to make sure that the next generation remembered who had done this to them, and why they had done it. They would have educated their children to remember the names and descriptions of every one of the hated Strikers who had personally murdered four and a half billion people for a political point. And they would have educated their children that one idea, one idea in the Strikers' twisted minds, had lead to those four and a half billion deaths, the greatest act of genocide in human history: selfishness. How far did they go to eradicate selfishness? They went so far as to eradicate the first person pronoun from the language.

Because she died without telling anyone, it's not entirely clear how Shrug Harder would have ended. We know that at some point, at least one of the Strikers does leave Galt Valley. He built a high-tech home, stuffed it with a library and all the wonders of the Strikers' science, and then (apparently) set out to make contact with the nearest survivors' village, assuming that they'd worship him as a god for his technological superiority, assuming they'd cheerfully feed him and provide him with anything he wanted for the products of his labor. And, rather obviously, they did what anybody would do: they executed him for crimes against humanity. His technological redoubt was never found. Did other Strikers meet the same fate, or are they all holed up in Galt Valley still? We'll never know. But that brings us to the book that would clearly have been relabeled once the trilogy was complete ... Atlas Shrugged 3: Anthem.

Anthem is actually the best book of the three. And it's a credit to Rand that she realized just how monstrous the real results of the Strike would be. Many, many so-called Objectivists and Libertarians, who only read the first book, thought they were supposed to cheer for the Strikers, believed the Strikers' personal delusion that the Strike, and the resulting mass genocide, would usher in a techno-libertarian paradise on earth. No, in Anthem we get a view of John Galt's Earth from the viewpoint of someone who grew up in the next generation, never having known a technological world, knowing only a world in which selfishness is labeled the ultimate sin. The massive die-off from John Galt's strike has resulted in the rise of the most vicious and backwards and cruelly unfair totalitarian regime in human history. And our nameless hero slowly has it dawn on him that the ruling council is so afraid of selfishness that they're retarding any attempt to restore human technological civilization, no matter how miserable and stunted low-tech life is, until they figure out some way to integrate technological progress into their civilization without anybody being able to claim credit for it. Which cannot possibly work.

Our nameless hero, having found working light bulbs and a working electrical system in the ruins of the city his farming town is built over, even offers to forgo personal credit for the discovery, offers to accept no credit for it at all. But their paranoia and terror that he's a prospective future Striker pushes them to hound him to the point where in desperation he and his girlfriend flee the city into the uninhabited wasteland ... where they find the technological trove, and the library, left behind by the unnamed Striker at the end of Shrug Harder. He and his now wife settle down to raise children, to use the subsistence farming skills they learned from their own civilization to sustain them, to gather any other stragglers who escape the cities, and to stay out of sight until they find a way to overthrow the horribly dictatorial Councils that rule the world and lead it to a saner middle ground, one that (presumably) knows to watch out for civilization-wreckers like John Galt but that also knows that giving personal credit is a prerequisite for technological advance. It is, if not an entirely happy ending, a hopeful one.

Oh, except for one thing. I made up the whole bit about the second book. I don't think Ayn Rand was aware enough of the limitations of her philosophy for her to realize that the communo-primitivist dictatorship of Anthem, not a techno-libertarian utopia, would be the inevitable outcome of a genocide of almost the entire human race by techno-libertarians. Oops. Never mind, then. Sorry!


( 246 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 6
<<[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] >>
May. 25th, 2008 07:38 am (UTC)
Ha. Nice, Brad. :)
May. 25th, 2008 07:56 am (UTC)
Oh man, thank you so much for that bit of summary and extrapolation. I wasn't really all that familiar with these rat-bags until one of them called me a parasite for having the nerve to force other people to save my life (Bob bless socialized medicine). In typical fashion two of them flooded my journal with over 200 comments in just a few days, each and every one of them derogatory and insulting. Just the fact that this "philosophy" consistently cranks out and attracts pure assholishness should be plenty enough to raise an eyebrow.
May. 25th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
one of them called me a parasite for having the nerve to force other people to save my life

Oddly enough, I remember reading an essay where Rand basically argues in favor of a form of socialized medicine, funded by the rich people paying the doctors and letting others be treated as well. Trickle-down kinda thing, which like any other philosophy works just grand in a vacuum.
(no subject) - connactic - May. 25th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - loosechanj - May. 25th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scentofkether - May. 26th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - filkerdave - Mar. 31st, 2009 01:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - david_deacon - May. 26th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kazoo_dog - Feb. 19th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atomicat - Feb. 19th, 2009 08:33 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 07:57 am (UTC)
Hmmm.... I wonder where humanity would be right now if we'd been objectivists right from the start...
May. 25th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
We'd have never existed; pack/herd/tribe/whatever mentality is something we inherited from our ancestors.
(no subject) - flewellyn - May. 25th, 2008 09:16 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 08:27 am (UTC)
... Dammit, you got me. =) You really had me going there right until the end.

Fascinating analysis. Randian philosophy is scary and offensive, but when viewed as an extreme then it's a good signpost, insofar as 'you know you've gone too far when....' When balanced against the opposite extreme, somewhere between Rapture and Communa you'll get Sanctuary: a safe, sane society.
Jul. 10th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, wow...wanting to live your own life free from coersion by other sure is scary and offensive!
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Nov. 13th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Yes, it is, when... - (Anonymous) - Jun. 3rd, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 09:25 am (UTC)
I have felt like smacking every Objectivist I have ever met. Interestingly enough, they were all advertising people.

May. 25th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
That's interesting. The Objectivists I've known were all computer nerds.

But Rand and Atlas Shrugged do get a couple of mentions in the recent AMC series Mad Men, about Madison Avenue ad executives in 1960.
(no subject) - nebris - May. 25th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - darksumomo - May. 25th, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - darksumomo - May. 26th, 2008 04:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 31st, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC)
Here via cargoweasel. Awesome. :-)
May. 25th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, when you put it that way...I need to read Atlas again. I really liked it the first time, but I'm not as muddle headed now as I was back then.
May. 25th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
I like Atlas Shrugged. Still. I think it's an above-average science fiction novel, and I really like the character of Dagny Taggart; her race against The Destroyer to save the world is gripping stuff. I like Anthem even better; it's possibly the best dystopian science fiction novel ever. If nothing else, it gets its point across in better language and more concisely than more rambling (and more unpleasant to read) dystopias like Orwell's 1984 or Brunner's The Sheep Look Up. I still count Anthem as one of the 10 great science fiction novels of all time, and re-read it often.

This doesn't change the fact that Rand's philosophy is ahistoric and completely bogus, nor does it change my disgust with people who treat Atlas Shrugged as the New Testament of their secular religion. But then, it's the same disgust I feel towards people who think that Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land as a utopian novel offering his philosophy to save the human race, rather than as what he clearly did intend it as, a way of questioning the unquestionable assumptions of his society.

I mean, I would have to have liked Atlas Shrugged and Anthem to have written this piece; it's practically fanfic.
(no subject) - loosechanj - May. 25th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - discogravy - May. 25th, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - discogravy - May. 25th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - sethg_prime - May. 26th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kip_w - Oct. 26th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Thank you - (Anonymous) - Dec. 20th, 2008 03:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Couterfactual historic SF - liddle_oldman - Jan. 30th, 2009 02:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - realinterrobang - Mar. 30th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pope_guilty - May. 25th, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
Atlas Shrugged goes so strongly against my experience of highly intelligent competent folks that if I'd read it as a teenager I would have had to write fanfic of me and all my friends as intelligent competent geeks who are approached by Galt and fool him into thinking we're on his side while we covertly rally the world to stop the Strikers, just to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Yes, it would have been as terrible as it sounds, but frankly it'd be far more realistic than what Rand churned out. . .
May. 25th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Why aren't I watching you? *click* Fixed.
May. 25th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
There's also this version...
May. 25th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, precisely what I was thinking when I saw this. :>
(no subject) - anfalicious - May. 24th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
Wow, did you have me going. It was a strange feeling to believe, for almost two minutes of my life, that Ayn Rand was anything other than a [string of expletives deleted] sociopath.

What really is amusing, though, is that there is ample room for someone to write that book and thus deconstruct both Atlas Shrugged and Anthem.
May. 25th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
hint hint brad
When I got to the end of Brad's post I thought "Hmmm, I wonder if this will make it into his book of Forgotten Lore". If her ever gets around to putting it out.
May. 25th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
Funny...but WTF?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - pseydtonne - May. 26th, 2008 08:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thraxarious - May. 28th, 2008 01:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anfalicious - May. 24th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
There are "intentional themes", and there are "unintentional themes". You, sir, have built the mental bridge where Anthem's deconstruction of Rand's own book appears in ways she probably didn't originally intend.

The problem with being a philosopher who writes sci-fi is that you can just write a book where all your theories are true.
May. 25th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
It never ceases to amaze me the degree to which Rand's very clear writing is so thoroughly misunderstood and misrepresented, or just viciously denied. The latter group so hate the minds that a) create the things they use to make their lives better (like the computers and software they use to rage against her) and that b) provide the jobs that sustain those who have not created them.

How absurd it is, to criticize, and glibly dismiss the creations of, today's creators by claiming they merely count on 'society' to achieve their goals, when society is running on the intellectual efforts of earlier creators!?

As for Galt casting millions back to the dark ages, that is precisely where you would be if everyone accepted your views. You need only look at history, or compare Muslim or communist nations with Western nations to see. The U.S. progressed economically, faster than the rest of the World, because creators there were free to gain from their inventions. That was the true American Dream, that all men were equally free to try. Now America and Americans (of the kind I've read here, including all three candidates in the present primaries) are wrecking that dream.

"It's a Republic [respecting the individual Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property], if you can keep it." Ben Franklin. Apparently there are few left who even know what he was referring to. Then there those who do not want to live by it, those who would rather see the successful and wealthy dragged down, than to build themselves up.
May. 25th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
OOoo! OO! I bet this is..
...parody, right Mr. Anonymous Objectivist?

Go on, pull the other one, it's got bells on!
(no subject) - litch - May. 25th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sk4p - May. 25th, 2008 10:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - flewellyn - May. 25th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kimchalister - May. 26th, 2008 05:36 am (UTC) - Expand
ragnar_rahl - (Anonymous) - Jul. 16th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: ragnar_rahl - doc_lemming - Mar. 30th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Good old Ben - epitrope - May. 27th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good old Ben - (Anonymous) - Jun. 18th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
someone normal. - (Anonymous) - May. 31st, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anfalicious - May. 24th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
The Sinister Folly of Ayn Rand:
Rand herself said that capitalism is the only economic system that is fully compatible with man's nature--but on the basis of what evidence?...

Today there is a very small minority of economists who take her ideas seriously. There are virtually no biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, ethologists, geneticists or evolutionary theorists who do. Her ideas about the individual simply do not fit the objective research about how our species behaves and prospers.

We are creatures with a long evolutionary history of social structure and social co-operation. This makes sense; we are predators without effective claws or teeth, and we can't run very fast. How did our ancient ancestors catch large elephant and buffalo? By working as a group, by co-operating and communicating.
Libertarianism: Because I'm meant to have it sounds better than I got mine, Jack!
May. 25th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC)
It's not just our species either - there are not a lot of mammals who don't show cooperative behavior. It's even beginning to look like most of the dinosaurs were more cooperative than we initially thought. Which strongly suggests that there are evolutionary advantages to cooperation, ones so strong they almost always show up in dominant species[1] starting from the first cells that formed colonies (or from the first organic molecules that formed into chains, depending on your perspective).

[1] This does not mean top of the food chain, this means ones that survive over the long haul. This, along with "survival of the fittest" meaning strongest, smartest, etc. (it actually means most able to adapt to our ever-changing world) are amongst the biggest misunderstandings of Darwin's theories amongst people who have never been arsed to actually read them.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 26th, 2008 07:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseydtonne - May. 26th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spiritualmonkey - May. 26th, 2008 09:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 26th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Huh? - hacksoncode - May. 26th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Huh? - thraxarious - May. 28th, 2008 01:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Huh? - anfalicious - May. 24th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 9th, 2008 10:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - june_miller - Dec. 7th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anfalicious - May. 24th, 2011 10:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
ragnar_rahl - (Anonymous) - Jul. 16th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Page 1 of 6
<<[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] >>
( 246 comments — Leave a comment )