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November 17, 2019, 01:56:48 am
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  The Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged
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Author Topic: The Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged  (Read 15104 times)
mathstatman
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« Reply #50 on: June 21, 2018, 05:41:09 pm »

At its core moral egoism doesn't really make sense. And I mean that not in a moralizing way but on pure logical grounds.

Could you expand on this?

Essentially, you can say that people ought to keep their own money even if they want to give it away. But that is pretty dumb.

Yes, nor does it really sound like moral egoism.

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Max Stirner wrote that people always do what's in their interest, but because they often do so without admitting to themselves that that's why they do it (for example, by saying that they donate to charity because it's "the right thing to do", rather than because donating to charity makes them happy, and being happy is in their interest), people's thoughts and actions are confused and contradictory. Those who recognize that self-interest is the be-all and end-all of life, and actually think and act accordingly, are called "voluntary egoists", while everyone else is called an "involuntary egoist".
Is that really true? When I was 11, I deliberately misspelled a word in a spelling bee so I wouldn't win. I was teased a lot about being "smart" and having "a computer brain" and felt self-conscious. Clearly, misspelling the word was not in my best interest, though it did help avoid some of the negative emotions (self-consciousness and embarrassment) that would have come from winning. I think "everyone is selfish" assumes people are much more rational, assertive, and self-assured than they are in reality.
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Smiling John
John Dule
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« Reply #51 on: August 08, 2019, 01:03:25 am »

Some thoughts on Atlas Shrugged that I wrote up a while back:

1) Despite her tendency to go on and on at times, Rand has a great knack for metaphor, magical realism, and imagery. The descriptions of the collapsing society are long-winded, but almost always captivating. Things fall to pieces very gradually, mimicking how these things happen in real life (socialism always works in the beginning, when there's still a lot of wealth to seize). One great line stood out to me: "The inhabitants of New York had never had to be aware of the weather. Storms had been only a nuisance that slowed the traffic and made puddles in the doorways of brightly lit shops... Now, facing the gusts of snow that came sweeping down the narrow streets, people felt in dim terror that they were the temporary intruders and that the wind had the right-of-way."

2) The mystery is built up expertly. Lots of fake-outs, which get irritating in an effective way-- they make you want to read more. When the origin of the phrase "Who is John Galt" gets revealed, it's immensely satisfying. In the last third of the book, the pieces start to fall together intricately, and in a logical, coherent way.

3) For all I've heard about how unrealistic and silly the book is, I can't put my finger on why it feels silly. It sure does seem ludicrous at times, but I'm still waiting on the argument that empirically explains that. Some people say it's ridiculous to imagine a situation where incompetent fools seize control of a country's agriculture, killing millions in a massive famine... except that happened in China. Some people say it's silly to imagine a country where the best and brightest are persecuted because they are the best and brightest... except that happened in Cambodia. Some people claim that it's insane to say that corrupt bureaucrats who are impotent and inept in every aspect of their lives could rise to power in a country, plundering the nation's wealth for themselves and killing those who protest their rule... except that happened in Russia. I think that, without the context of communism, the book seems pretty dumb to a lot of people. I guess they'll learn just how realistic it is one way or another.

The most ridiculous part of the book is easily the "strike" itself, where the nation's most productive individuals  off to Colorado while everything decays behind them. But this is just a description of the brain drain, only with a little magical realism. Rand even accounts for this by making every nation in the world a socialist "democracy," which leaves smart people with nowhere to run. Yeah, it's exaggerated... but it's got one foot in the realm of possibility.

4) A great lead character. Why is Dagny Taggart-- a genius railway executive who constantly outshines her talentless brother-- not considered a feminist icon? Maybe it's because Rand also uses her as a channel to work through her demented sexual predilections. Still, despite a few eyebrow-raising sex scenes, I found this character compelling. She has a very rational thought process that makes her relatable and human. Like all of Rand's characters, she's an archetype and an exaggeration, but I appreciated her ruthless competence and cutting wit.

5) Rand showed incredible foresight in mocking her detractors. Her critics (who have never read her works) call her "anti-social," "psychopathic," and "egotistical," which ironically makes them sound like villains in one of her stories. This creates a feedback loop in which those who critique her fulfill her prophecies. This woman was a legit troll. I find this whole situation funny.

Now the bad:

1) Given the existence of global warming, the book hasn't aged well. It literally ends with a judge writing a new amendment to the constitution, stating that congress shall pass no law restricting free enterprise. Really, Ayn? No law at all? So those people drinking flammable fracking water in Oklahoma have no legal recourse in your perfect world? I don't think the woman grasped the concept of unintentional externalities (as evidenced by her love of cigarettes). If she'd known about climate change, she'd probably think it was awesome.

2) A distinct lack of unique characters. Every "good" (see: selfish) character is handsome/beautiful, confident, and completely without any self-doubt. Every "bad" character has a loathsome, ugly name (Wesley Mouch), and the various bureaucrats are generally indistinguishable from one another. There are a few notable exceptions, but I think there are a lot more facets to human nature that Rand didn't bother to explore here. When a worldview boils everything down to a "two kinds of people" theory, you know it's flawed. All of the conflict is external to the characters; there's very little personal growth in the story, and Rand leaves no possibility of redemption for her villains. Also, in the entire US, there is apparently only one person capable of running a bank, one person capable of mining coal, one person capable of manufacturing cars, etc. It seems extremely half-assed.

3) A sixty-page speech. This comes right before the last hundred pages of the book, and makes the conclusion feel rushed in comparison. Hey Ayn, did you know that speeches of this length are indicative of megalomania? You and Qaddafi would have been best buds. I feel no shame in saying that I skipped this part (it's the only part of the book I did this with).

4) Going off of point number two, no characters change. In Rand's world, changing is seen as a weakness, and I somewhat agree-- but one should always alter their worldview based on contradictory facts (though not based on contradictory opinions). If a villainous "looter" character had seen the error in his ways at the end, that might've made Rand's tent a little more inclusive. But I don't think she has any interest in reaching across the aisle, as evidenced by her statement that "the midpoint between right and wrong is evil." As it is, the villains do ultimately see their own errors, though by that point they're essentially beyond saving. One character, an industrialist, does go through a change-- he learns to be less generous. ayy lmao

5) Despite some predicative power, the book conjures up some caricatures that are just patently ridiculous-- not the least of which is the preeminent scientist who denounces reason. 1000 pages later, and I'm still not sure what Rand was trying to say with that character.

6) The most conclusive argument against Objectivism appears to be its followers. Rand herself testified against communists for McCarthy-- a sin I can almost forgive, considering her personal history. Paul Ryan is a Rand-lover who appears to have no understanding of insurance, health care, or government in general. Donald Trump says he read The Fountainhead, a dubious claim at best, given that the book is well beyond his attention span of 140 characters. But then again, Rand's fans include Gene Roddenberry, who created the best television series of all time, and which incorporated some elements of her philosophy. Overall though, I don't think it's fair to judge a philosophy by its adherents, which is fortunate for Rand.
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