Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Posted on 03/28/2009 7:39:14 AM PDT by Publius
At the State Science Institute, Dr. Robert Stadler reflects on the harsh winter just ended. There had been rail incidents that affected society, a five day power outage at the Institute and talk about conserving fuel. What irks Stadler is the book on his desk, Why Do You Think You Think?. It demeans logic and rational thought, questions the very nature of reality, is written by Dr. Floyd Ferris, Top Coordinator of the State Science Institute, and is published under the Institutes aegis.
Dr. Ferris arrives half an hour late due to a car breakdown and the inability to find an open gas station on Americas empty roads. Stadler complains that Ferris is spending too much time in Washington and asks what is going on with the oil shortage. Ferris says the Institute has taken over the reclamation of the Wyatt oil fields while explaining to the country that Wyatt had never fired his fields but had perished in the accident that set them ablaze. The government is now operating those fields. Reclamation is going well, and Wesley Mouch has agreed to a larger appropriation for the effort with the concurrence of three other bureaucracies. But other than getting one well to give up six and a half gallons of oil, the effort is not a success.
One of Stadlers concerns is Project X. Ferris explains that X stands for xylophone, and it would be most inadvisable for Stadler to mention this top secret project.
But Stadler is most concerned with Ferris book, characterizing it as indecency. Ferris says it is a best seller. Stadler calls it the work of a drunken lout, leering with its hatred of the mind; it can be summed up by one word: Obey. He is furious that it has come from the Institute. Ferris says the book is not for scientists, but for the general public. Stadler is upset that Ferris has taken the work of Simon Pritchett and given it legitimacy by turning it into science. Ferris says that people dont want to think and that they will bless anyone who takes the obligation of thinking away from them; Wesley Mouch himself is pleased by the book. Stadler is unable to permit himself to think that the things suggested by the book are possible in a civilized society. Ferris says, That is admirably exact ... You cannot permit yourself. Ferris tell Stadler to stick to his science. Stadler heads to New York for a meeting with Dagny.
Dagny scratches a Colorado freight train off the Taggart roster as she has struck so many others. Lawrence Hammond has retired and disappeared, and Hammondsville will no doubt dry up and blow away as have the towns of Wyatt Junction and Stockton. With Wyatts fire, new operators had claimed the oil business until prices rose to the point where large customers turned to coal, and the government rationed oil and levied a special tax to subsidize out-of-work oil hands. Then the government subsidized the oil operators but just those with connections. Coal briefly became king until Andrew Stockton retired, closed his foundry and disappeared. The only thing that Dagny can discover is that somebody spent most of the night talking to Stockton before he vanished.
With the oil shortage, Dagny is running coal burning steam locomotives and depending on Ken Danagger for coal. Jim is getting a government subsidy for every train running, and those subsidies produce more revenue than Dagnys operations. Jim brags that he is responsible for the best six months in the railroads history.
Wesley Mouch has unfrozen the nations railroad bonds but only to certain people. A whole new profession of defreezing has been created by young wonders just out of college who know how to fill out the government paperwork and who have connections.
Dagnys engineers, who searched the abandoned plant of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, found nothing; they interviewed people who worked there and learned nothing. The Patent Office was yet another dead end. Dagnys friend at the Taggart Terminal cigarette stand cant even locate the brand of Hugh Akstons dollar sign cigarette.
Dagnys attempt to find an engineer to reconstruct the motor encounters people who dont think it will work, dont care if it will work, want too much money to make it work, or believe that if the motor works, it should be suppressed because of the harm it would do to the egos of lesser scientists. She decides to approach Dr. Robert Stadler.
Stadler is happy to see Dagny, but remembering her last meeting with Stadler, Dagny is extremely formal. Her statement that Stadler is the only great mind left in the world touches him deeply. Showing him the incomplete specifications of the motor, Stadler quickly becomes the consummate professional and is beside himself with excitement as he perceives what the designer has wrought. But Stadler cant think who could have designed the motor, why he would have designed it making a massive scientific breakthrough in the process at a factory in rural Wisconsin, and he is even more shocked that the designer didnt seek him out. His statement that even a greedy industrialist with no brains would have taken the motor to make a fortune prompts a bitter smile from Dagny. She asks him to recommend someone who could work on the motor, but Stadler tells her he cant even find the kind of simple talent possessed by a decent garage mechanic. He asks to see the motor.
Dagny takes him to the underground vault. Upon seeing the motor, Stadler is thrilled to see a great new idea that isnt his. He condemns the mediocrities who fear anyone with an idea better than their own and who envy achievement. He and Dagny briefly experience a meeting of the minds. Stadler recommends a young engineer named Quentin Daniels who works at the Utah Institute of Technology; he has no desire to work for the government but only for his own wealth. Utah Tech has gone under, but Daniels is still there.
As they walk through the underground warren, they hear a frustrated rail crew working on a repair, and one of the men says, Who is John Galt? Stadler doesnt like the expression but says he once knew a John Galt, now deceased. Had he lived, the whole world would have talked of him. Dagny points out that the whole world is talking of him. Stadler reacts in terror: He has to be dead.
Hank Rearden refuses an order from the State Science Institute for ten thousand tons of Rearden Metal for something called Project X. He has had problems with the Fair Share Law and ended up with an arbitrary government figure for what he could produce. He now has a backlog of orders for the next fifty years. The rights to Rearden Metal what we would call derivatives today are being bought and sold on a gray market by speculators with everybody making a profit but Hank. Those speculators who get the rights are those with connections in Washington.
The government has assigned him a bright young boy just out of college as his Deputy Director of Distribution; the plant workers call him the Wet Nurse. He offers Hank a shot at getting Rearden Metal to his friends with a little help from Hanks wallet for expenses. Hank rebuffs him after the Wet Nurses lecture on moral flexibility in the absence of absolute standards. He warns Hank about his rejection of the Institutes order.
Hank is visited by a paramilitary inquiring about Hanks reasons for refusing the order. Hank wont provide that answer and refuses to sell anything to the Institute for any purpose. The paramilitary explains that Hank must obey the law; Hank tells him to arrest him and steal whatever he wants from the railcars sitting in the steel mills yard. The paramilitary is horrified at how the public would react but tells Hank that he will regret his decision.
Hank gives Dagny a priceless ruby pendant, undresses her and puts it on her naked body. But his best gift is a fur coat he gives Dagny before they go out to dine in New Jersey. Hank tells Dagny that he is giving her these gifts for his own pleasure, and Dagny seconds that emotion. He tells Dagny that he was so cold and formal to her at the party at his house because he wanted her.
After a meeting with copper producers, Hank discovers that they are hamstrung by a sweetheart deal between the government and Francisco dAnconia.
Hank visits Dagny at her apartment, and she updates him on her meeting with Stadler about the motor. Hank tells Dagny she should not have met with Stadler because he was seeking validation for what he had been before he sold his soul. Hank is now penetrating the heart of darkness. He and Dagny are the intended victims, and the looters seek the sanction of the victim, forcing him to face the world from the looters perspective.
Derivatives and Hank Rearden
A derivative is a security whose value is derived from another security. As early as 1792, when the New York Stock Exchange opened for business, derivatives were sold as bets on the rise and fall of interest rates. It started as a form of hedging but ended up as the source of our first government scandal.
Alexander Hamilton had bedded a woman who was involved in a badger game with speculators on Wall Street as accomplices. In return for her silence, Hamilton was to give her accomplices advance notice of the purchase and sale of Treasury bonds. To his credit, Hamilton fell on his sword, admitted his infidelity and saw his political career go up in flames. From his perspective it was a small price to pay to preserve the credit rating of the infant United States.
Rand makes an interesting point here. Hank Rearden is the inventor and developer of Rearden Metal; by rights the profits should go to him. But thanks to government interference, he is not reaping the benefits of his labors; Wall Street speculators are. These are people who neither sow nor reap but profit from their connections in Washington. It is the epitome of immorality.
What Chapter Are We Living In Today?
This question came up when this project was conceived; essays and newspaper columns likened our time to the book. Well, look what happened in Olympia, Washington.
Six Democratic legislators in the Washington State Legislature introduced a bill to prevent Boeing from threatening to move out of state. That's right. Threatening.
Our tale begins with a different bill, one that would have forbidden any company from requiring employees to attend a meeting about labor issues. It was called the Worker Privacy Act, and it violated federal labor law. Although Boeing maintained a respectful silence, its friends said that this would be the last straw that would cause the company to move its production facilities to North Carolina. But then the Washington State Labor Council got caught sending threatening e-mails to legislators about it, e-mails that opened a window into corruption in Olympia. The governor and Democratic leaders in the legislature then publicly killed the bill and sent the e-mails to the Washington State Patrol for investigation.
Organized labor and its allies in Olympia were livid, so six legislators introduced a bill that would make it illegal to threaten the relocation of manufacturing jobs, especially jobs involving commercial airplane manufacturing. Boeing could leave, but it could not threaten to leave.
Do you remember Bertram Scudders Public Stability Law, later enacted by Wesley Mouch via administrative law? We have arrived.
Some Discussion Topics
Next weeks chapter contains Franciscos Root of Money Speech, one of the large set pieces of the book. It is a critical insight into Rands philosophy of Objectivism and a good primer on capitalism. There are three ways one can handle the speech.
The speech is important to understanding what Rand is trying to get across, so its critical to pay proper attention to what she is saying. Take your time, read it, and prepare to discuss it thoroughly.
Right you are my fluffy, absorbent friend.
(Fist stuffed firmly in mouth) - you are so right. I just re-read that chapter. Let's just say that it's very much in character for the guys doing it.
I'm doing my best to stay only a couple of chapters ahead this time through so I won't pepper the thread with spoilers, and it's getting harder and harder. I can see why people give up on the novel - it's taken, what, 500 pages to get the characters in place and the plot established to where you actually can anticipate move and counter-move. But we're there at last. The novel is like one of Dagny's trains, slow to pick up speed and impossible to stop once it does.
I sometimes wonder if Hank Rearden and his company are modeled after John Rockefeller and the Standard Oil trust.
Some interesting parallels there.
You are the first to refer to my rather odd screen name. I see you are truly ‘Still Thinking’!
First time visitor to this thread.
Good to have you. Go to Post #2 and check out all the other threads that lead to this one.
Well put, Mister Thedrill... I made comments myself similar to those upthread, that Rand 'really needed an editor' and such. But I found myself later in the book increasingly enjoying the very longwindedness of it. The last chapter was agonizing inasmuch as I knew that the story was at long last going to have to stop and I really didn't want it to. I wanted it to just keep going. Like Dagny's trains indeed.
Naah, Wesley Mouch = Barney Frank
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