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.
Removing tax exemptions from people who make too much money is an example, I think.
I am going to respectfully disagree with you. I think the whole "sanction of the victim" refers to trying to manipulate the victim - in your example, the tax payer - into believing that the punishment being handed out is not only good, but deserved.
I think the concept is better displayed in what was done to the big banks. Several of them were strong armed into taking the TARP because the government was afraid that if the TARP ony went to a few, those banks would be stigmatized and investors would turn away.
Now the government is telling the banks that were forced to take the TARP, "you have to run your business the way we tell you... after all... you took the money".
Worse than that, they now want to add taxes to non-green energy so that green energy will be "profitable".
Weve been living this chapter for several years now.
See 11 and 13 - can we agree that that is a good example?
That is a great example.
No, Barak Obama = Head of State Thompson, whom we will meet in a later chapter.
Remember, the victim has to go along with it because the victim is induced to see the world through the looters' eyes and accept his moral code.
So maybe yes, maybe no.
You should have moved out after the lady said, "The law is the law."
See the example related in #11, and the victim’s guilt in #13.
There is a delicious illustration of this later in the book, but I don't want to post a spoiler to my own thread.
We began heading down this road in the Seventies, and even then, college students at many schools had to take a course called "freshman bonehead English" to be ready for first year studies. That trend has only expanded over the past 35 years.
Why the terror?
I don't want to post a spoiler. Dr. Stadler has every reason to fear that John Galt is alive and well.
You can add ethanol to that, which is nothing but corporate welfare for Archer Daniels Midland.
I’d forgotten about ethanol.
Green energy is my pet peeve. It’s one of those things that tends to get me going, especially if someone starts spouting nonsense regarding wind or solar energy.
Here we are at the beginning of the second section of Atlas Shrugged, entitled Either-Or, a reference, as we have seen, to Aristotles Metaphysics and to the dilemma Rand is beginning to flesh out for us: can a society both possess its achievers and exploit them to death simultaneously? It will be one or the other, but were not quite there yet.
The chapter title is The Man Who Belonged On Earth, an invocation of an individual yet nameless but whose identity we finally learn in this chapter, those few of us who havent figured it out by now. Why he belongs and certain others do not is a topic it will take the rest of the novel fully to explore.
Dr. Stadler is becoming aware of just how corrupt his assistant/minder Dr. Ferris is he is, after all, a scientist who writes that knowledge is impossible - and how far he has bent the State Science Institute to the will of its political backers. Stadler has finally sensed that nature of his fall and hes finding it difficult to deal with. He deals with Ferriss book, however:
He picked up the book and let it drop into the wastebasket.
And thinks of the Man Who Belonged On Earth:
A face came to his mind a young face he had not permitted himself to recall for years. He thought: No, he has not read this book, he wont see it, hes dead, he must have died long ago The sharp pain was the shock of discovering simultaneously that this was the man he longed to see more than any other being in the world and that he had to hope that this man was dead.
Ambivalence doesnt come any more perfect than that. Still no name for this man, though, this ex-student, this hypotenuse of the dAnconia Dannerskjold triangle. But he appears to embody something Stadler finds that he has lost, and misses bitterly. So, apparently, does Dagny Taggart, for Stadler makes his way to her New York office in search of nothing less than his soul.
[Stadler speaking] He [the missing engineer] arrived at some new concept of energy. He discarded all our standard assumptions, according to which his motor would have been impossible. He formulated a new premise of his own and he solved the secret Do you realize what a feat of pure, abstract science he had to perform ?
Intentionally or not one hopes for the sake of humility that it was not Rand is describing here what she herself is attempting to accomplish with respect to philosophy. A new paradigm, a structure built on first principles that leads in a direction entirely different from that of conventional philosophy. Whether she actually achieved that will be the topic of future controversies, but it is quite clear that she is aware that it is what she is attempting.
And this Man Who Belongs, Stadlers and Akstons ex-student, who Stadler found himself hoping to be dead? It is John Galt, of course.
I knew a John Galt once. Only he died long ago He had such a mind that, had he lived, the whole world would have been talking of him by now.
But the whole world is talking of him.
He stopped still. Yes he said slowly, staring at a thought that had never struck him before. Yes why? The word was heavy with the sound of terror.
Who is John Galt? Ayn Rand is John Galt.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden is watching how the bounty given to the world in the form of his metal has been expropriated, throttled, and redistributed in accordance with current political doctrine. It is not how fortunes are made, but it is how they are stolen:
He turned away without a word when anybody mentioned to him what everybody knew: the quick fortunes that were being made on Rearden Metal. Well, no, people said in drawing rooms, you mustnt call it a black market, because it isnt, really. Nobody is selling the Metal illegally. Theyre just selling their right to it. Not selling, really, just pooling their shares.
Carbon credits, anyone? Rand was being exaggeratedly cynical with respect to metal; how incredulous would she be to learn that someone was seriously treating the very air we breathe as a commodity the rights to which may be bartered by those whose only power over them is granted by arbitrary statute? Had Rand placed that scam into Atlas Shrugged people would have laughed at its outlandishness. No ones laughing now.
We meet briefly a young man known derisively as the Wet Nurse a government representative empowered to see that Rearden Metal is distributed to the approved recipients. Earnest but deluded, a fully fledged product of the corrupt educational institutions of the day, he retains an innocence that Rearden finds amusing.
You know, Mr. Rearden, there are no absolute standards. We cant go by rigid principles weve got to act on the expediency of the moment.
Run along, punk. Go and try to pour a ton of steel without rigid principles, on the expediency of the moment.
It is an engineers answer to some of the sillier excesses of post-modern philosophy one may happily entertain the argument that there is no truth, that everything is contextual, a matter of interpretation between reader and word, and yet those of us whose lives depend on it would rather not drive over a bridge built on the assumption that the difference in tensile strength between steel and cardboard is merely a matter of opinion.
There is an entertaining cognitive dissonance there I have personally heard an apparently sincere assertion that words have no meaning coming from the mouths of people who moments later were outraged that the pizza delivered to them was not the one they ordered. Amazing. Think of this when dealing with theory-bound friends the principles that they actually believe arent the ones they asseverate; theyre the ones they act on. That isnt hypocrisy, its the unacknowledged recognition of the existence of objective facts by persons who steadfastly deny them.
One is similarly irritated by the commonplace insistence that societal convention is merely a chain that the intellectually liberated may cast aside at a whim and must cast aside in order truly to be free. One seldom sees advocates of this overheated nonsense make a habit of running red lights at busy intersections. You almost wish they would.
Enough of that. Stadler does leave Dagny with a name, someone who just might be able to untangle the conundrum that is the motor, a young fellow named Quentin Daniels. He wont, on principle, work for Stadler, which leads us to suspect that he just might be one of the good guys. Either way, its a lead that Dagny will follow up.
From this point in the chapter we digress into yet another Randian disquisition on human sexuality that frankly I am beginning to find a bit tedious. We see Dagny naked before a mirror with a blood-red ruby between her breasts (an image that appears, better done, in one of the most touching of Robert Heinleins Lazarus Long stories), Dagny half-naked and smothered in a blue fox cape, Dagny as a toy, as a kept woman, pretending to be all of those things she patently isnt and the two of them turning philosophical somersaults to claim sensuality as the legitimate birthright of the virtuous. One is tempted simply to scream at them in frustration Just shut up and ahem.
But there is, in the midst of all of this pre-coital slurping, a statement of one of Rands central theses regarding the maintenance of the corruption of society that it requires the sanction of the exploited:
He [Rearden] leaned forward. What he wanted from you was a recognition that he was still the Dr. Robert Stadler he should have been, but wasnt and knew he wasnt. He wanted you to grant him your respect in spite of and in contradiction to his actions. He wanted you to juggle reality for him and youre the only one who could do it
Because youre the victim.
It is a sanction that can be withheld, the result being that the looter no longer feels good about himself. For someone for whom self-esteem is deified that is a deadly blow. For the rest who really dont care for anything but the loot Orren Boyle, for example other things must be withheld. What sort of thing might that be?
Well, we cant complain that we arent being given hints. Industrialists are dropping out of sight at an increasing rate. (More impending notches on the Publius Body Count). Andrew Stockton the manufacturer for one, Lawrence Hammond the auto tycoon for a second. Ken Dannagger has his own game to play but hes starting to look like the last man standing. The boys in Washington are busy dividing the loot from a rapidly dwindling pile. Wealth is being redistributed, but it isnt being created. And the country is running down like a clock with a broken mainspring.
One side note before we wrap the chapter. Despite Rands notorious atheism not all of her characters appear to be of that theological bent. Hank Rearden expresses his approval of Ellis Wyatt
the words which he had not pronounced, but felt, were: God bless you, Ellis, whatever youre doing!
It isnt a slipup on Rands part, nor is the balance of Atlas Shrugged relentlessly anti-God. Far from it as I have previously commented, many of her ethical dilemmas are foundational issues in all of the great religions, discussed at length by their intellectual giants. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism all of these have to deal with the existence of evil and the true source of human ethics. These are fundamental issues that Rand will not be able to avoid.
I shall later take up the curious topic of a character written into the original draft of Atlas Shrugged but out of the final copy, a Catholic priest named Father Amadeus who was to be James Taggarts confessor. One might expect him to represent the evils of modern religion to an unrepentant atheist such as Rand, and one would be wrong he was, by all reports, a sympathetic character whose dialectical function would have been debate with John Galt himself. Rand explained that his presence would have made the narrative unnecessarily complicated, which it undoubtedly would. Perhaps, as well, she did not care to misrepresent her interpretation of Christian doctrine as the real thing. That may be intellectual cowardice, it may be scrupulous honesty, it is certainly prudence, and it spared us another 500 pages. At least.
Have a great week, Publius!
I disagree with that assessment since you aren't still paying the protection money.
Had you truly sold out your principles, you would have remained in Camden and continued to pay. While having to pay the money one time may have felt like selling out, your moving out of Camden confirms that you certainly still have your principles.
One of my co-workers is fond of saying,
“An optomist is one who sees the glass as half full;
“A pessimest is one who sees the glass as half empty;
“An engineer sees a glass that was designed twice as large as it was needed to be.”
You are right...Mouch is probably Rahm Emanuel
We have a local buisiness paper that I pick up sometimes.
Last week it was talking about the health of local banks...They were using not taking TARP money as advertising for their solidity.
This weeks article was about the staggering increase in FDIC insurance they were being forced to pay because of the trouble in other banks.
They weren’t part of the problem but they are paying for crimes of the looters.