Tuesday, October 16, 2007

 

Atlas Shrugged at 50

Captain Ed missed the point.

Kelley notes that even Rand saw the "producer's strike" at the end of the novel as a fantasy sequence. In one sense, it was even contradictory, since it involved organizing for the good of a group (the producers) and not of the individuals, a contradiction that few note. However, it has unfortunate echoes in history, of groups that run off to the mountains to bide their time and deliver the next revolution in human society. The Islamists do that now, and even Charles Manson tried something similar. The notion that all of human enterprise would crash to a halt awaiting the gurus of capitalism/hippieness/Mohammed is at once a staggeringly arrogant and completely unconstructive notion. Changing human behavior requires engagement, not taking one's ball and going home.


First, if you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, Spoiler Alert!

John Galt spends a good part of the novel running around to all the worlds most productive people convincing them to give up producing in the wider world and to join the rest of the strikers in a place where their production will not be confiscated. The ones that join him freely chose to do so for their benefit because the looters are taking from the productive. Captain Ed missed the point of the strike. It was to avoid being robbed. When you are being robbed you have two choices: continue giving or run away from the robber. (Of course you can chose to fight but it is assumed in the novel that it would be suicide to wage war against the whole world. Better to just let them try and muddle through without anyone to leach off of.)

I am left scratching my head at the comparison of the strikers in AS to radical Islamists and the Manson family. The strikers are removing themselves and their property from the world because they don't believe those who are left will be able to survive without the productive class. This isn't a violent act other than the destruction of their own property which can hardly be called violent against anyone else other than themselves.

Changing someone's bad behavior is not the responsibility of any individual. That is an important message. There is no individual responsibility to sacrifice yourself for another. In fact, it is immoral to expect this sacrifice. A lot of conservatives don't get this about Objectivism, Rand's philosophy. Her radical individualism flies in the face of all religious traditions which makes for a discomfort among collectivists on the right and left. It is not popular to defend the most productive members of our society. As a commenter on CQ said:

Would you like to take the Star Trek Challenge? Name an item of popular culture that has anything good and hopeful to say about science, technology and the future of humanity. If you can answer with anything but "Star Trek", you win.

No one's won yet. Ayn Rand's works are in a similar position regarding Capitalism. They aren't much, but they're all we've got.



That is where I would put Captain Ed's critique and it is the reason there is no small amount of conflict between libertarian leaning and religious conservatives.

All I can say it vive la difference.

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