Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Sign of the Dollar
Posted on 05/30/2009 7:31:15 AM PDT by Publius
The Comet rolls across Nebraska with Dagnys private car in the consist. Dagny hears the shout of the conductor throwing a hobo off the vestibule of her car, but she rescues the hobo and asks him to be her dinner guest. He vaguely remembers her as the lady who ran a railroad, and he has been roaming the country for the past six months looking for work. Jobs are being hoarded for the friends of Unification Board members, and he is heading west to avoid them. Farmers arent happy to feed hobos, what with tax collectors and gangs of raiders deserters from their jobs on the prowl. As dinner arrives, the hobo tells of his last job at Hammond in Colorado but mentions that he is a survivor of the disaster at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, and boy, does he have a story to tell! It was he who invented the telltale question, Who is John Galt? And so begins a tale...
The Starnes heirs had made speeches in favor of The Plan, and although few understood it, most felt obligated to vote for it. Hadnt every newspaper and movie and public speech spoken in favor of such sentiments? The hobo compares it to pouring water into a tank while a pipe drains it out faster than you can fill it; then the more you fill it, the wider the drainpipe grows until you are working without rest or hope. Its a vision of hell.
Twice a year, the workers voted on whose need was foremost after all, werent they all one big family? Soon everyone became a beggar, valuing his miseries above those of his fellow workers. As production fell, the workers voted on who were the best workers and made them work even harder. People werent paid by time, but by need. People watched each other like hawks, hiding their abilities and making sure no one worked better or faster than themselves. One man came up with a process that saved thousands of man-hours, got himself labeled as exceptionally able and found himself sentenced to double shifts. They had been told that the world of capitalism was vicious, but it was nothing like this, where people competed to do the worst job possible. People turned to drink, and the only thing they made was babies because that increased their allowance. People brought in every sort of shiftless relative to increase their need. The Plan had been put in place to facilitate love and brotherhood, and now people hated each other, spying and informing at will. Sick family members became a bane, one of whom may have been murdered because she was a drain on the collective.
Eric Starnes became the Director of Public Relations and spent his time fraternizing with the workers to show that he was one of them. Gerald Starnes was Director of Production and spent entire fortunes on parties. Ivy Starnes was Director of Distribution and evaluated the needs of her workers, paying them as she saw fit on a scale of bootlicking.
The best men left and the company fell apart. Gerald went to customers demanding they buy from Twentieth Century, not because the motors were good, but because the workers needed the orders. After four years, the experiment ended and the company collapsed.
Back at that first meeting when The Plan was announced, a young engineer quit, refusing to accept Gerald Starnes moral order and announcing that he would put an end to it once and for all by stopping the motor of the world. His name was John Galt.
Dagny awakens to find the Comet stopped somewhere on the tracks of the Kansas Western, and no member of the crew is on the train. But Owen Kellogg is! They are on a frozen train, abandoned by the railroads employees. Dagny is actually elated that her employees have rejected serfdom, but is dejected when she sees that it was old reliable Pat Logan who was driving the coal burning steam locomotive. Dagny informs the passengers of what has happened, and she and Kellogg walk down the line to find a working phone box. The hobo, Jeff Allen, is hired on the spot as the new conductor to keep order on the train.
As they walk, Dagny offers Kellogg a job on the railroad, but he refuses; the only job he would want with the railroad is menial work. He is helping Dagny because he needs to get somewhere for a months vacation with friends. They reach the first phone to find its broken; they must march another five miles to the next one. Kellogg offers her a cigarette; it bears the sign of the dollar. He wont tell Dagny where the cigarettes come from, but tells her the dollar sign is the current symbol of depravity. Dagny wants to buy the pack, and Kellogg agrees to sell it to her for five cents in gold.
Dagny and Kellogg finally reach a phone box that works, but find themselves in a struggle over the phone with the night dispatcher of the Kansas Western who is afraid to do anything until Dagny takes responsibility for his actions.
A short distance from the tracks is a bright beacon that marks an airstrip on which sits a Dwight Sanders plane. The airport attendant is no smarter than the night dispatcher, so Dagny writes him a check for fifteen thousand dollars and darkly hints at a secret mission from important men in Washington. That gets her the plane. Dagny takes off for Utah in the darkness.
As the sun comes up, she lands near Afton, the home of Utah Tech, and looks for a rental car. But she quickly discovers that Quentin Daniels is just now taking off with a stranger who came for him a few hours earlier. Dagny realizes its The Destroyer! She jumps in her plane, takes off and follows them over Colorado. Just when she thinks the plane with Daniels should climb, it banks and prepares to land, but where? The landscape appears to be jagged peaks. Then the plane disappears entirely. Dagny drops and circles, trying to find the plane, but discovers that the view of the valley floor hasnt changed at all, and the light doesnt seem right. Its an image a hologram! As Dagny penetrates it, a bright flash of light hits her, and the planes engine dies. Dagny goes in for a dead stick landing. As she hurtles toward the ground, she says, Oh hell! Who is John Galt?
Ping! The thread is up.
FReeper Book Club: Introduction to Atlas Shrugged
Part I, Chapter I: The Theme
Part I, Chapter II: The Chain
Part I, Chapter III: The Top and the Bottom
Part I, Chapter IV: The Immovable Movers
Part I, Chapter V: The Climax of the dAnconias
Part I, Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Part I, Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited
Part I, Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Part I, Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane
Part I, Chapter X: Wyatts Torch
Part II, Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Part II, Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Part II, Chapter III: White Blackmail
Part II, Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Part II, Chapter V: Account Overdrawn
Part II, Chapter VI: Miracle Metal
Part II, Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Part II, Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Part II, Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt
Being in a union is similar to communism in that it severs the cause-effect relationship of getting rewarded for superior work. Management is required to treat all workers as precisely interchangeable. Any preference is given on factors such as seniority and sometimes "pull" that bear little if any connection to the quality or quantity of work produced, and most insidiously, over which one has no immediate control. There's no proper way to better your own situation.
Now I'd say a bad union shop is ideologically about halfway around to the fully Communist management method being tried at 20th Century. Superior performance is still viewed as more desirable in theory, but this just leads to disrespect for any who excel in quantity or quality, because it might raise the performance bar for everyone else.
Now that's in a bad shop. I've also been around union shops in which most were pretty good people who were skilled and did very good work. But it wasn't BECAUSE it was a union shop, it was because they were good people, and avoided the pitfalls the union atmosphere might lead to.
In a sense I have a soft spot for unions conceptually, because to say unions shouldn't exist is to say that management, which surely has the advantage over any one individual, should have to face no equalization in their bargaining power, which seems wrong. As an example I worked in a small consulting business, the vice president of which made a negative comment about unionization and that it was bad because it made it impossible to reward the best employees. BUT, his company had a deal with two competitors in town not to hire each other's employees if they were looking to move. So it's bad if the individuals band together to bargain collectively with larger entities, but it's perfectly OK for several of the larger entities to band together and bargain collectively with INDIVIDUAL employees. I couldn't convince him this was a hypocritical postition. Doh! Now I said I had a soft spot for the theoretical union, and the first ones no doubt did serve a purpose in putting a check on abusive management, but that doesn't mean that I'm sympathetic to the real flesh-and-blood ones and how they normally end up operating.
I worked for a guy with a reputation for ruthlessness in business dealings, usually with competitors. He was honest in the sense that at least theoretically, he intended to give a good product for the money, and he wanted to be a good employer to his people (although now that I think of it, the ways in which he chose to do so often felt a little paternalistic to me).
Anyhow, his business was in serious decline, with maybe 20% of the number of employees that it had at its peak, and he was moving to make everyone, from engineers to machinists, into contractors. And not just in name, paying them by the hour and issuing a 1099, he was having people bid jobs at a flat price. So he was pissed when this one machinist was producing more than he ever did when paid by the hour, even though the piece rate for the part he was making resulted in the boss getting it for less than he did while paying hourly. "Why didn't he work that hard when he was on the clock?" he asked. I found the hypocrisy beyond limits. Everything he ever did in his professional life was to make money and better his own position, but if anyone else works harder when they can make more money, it's the equivalent of stealing from him. Moron. Besides, the company was likely to fold within the next year so it was also possible that the machinist was just making hay in the sunshine by working at a rate he couldn't have sustained indefinitely, which is the mindset you have to have as an hourly employee.
Management does not always have the advantage. I own an architecture firm in Fort Worth. Over the past few years, finding good employees was very difficult because the market was so hot. We decided to give pretty hefty raises to keep the people we had since we couldn't find anyone even marginally qualified. People were moving from firm to firm all over town. Employees had the upper hand.
Now the situation is different. We, as management, have the upper hand as the market cools. It's that same old supply and demand equation.
Well, I’m glad you get a turn at the helm, RQ. The first firm I mentioned was an AE firm doing mechanical.
Very good. And Gresham's Law also applies to victims, in that bad victims drive good victims out of the market.
(I should make that my tag line.)
I think I like it better the other way. Worrying about how to get it all done is better than worry about getting something to do.
In either case, I do my best to trade value for value and not try to abuse those times where I have the advantage. I think my employees know that and they didn’t try to take advantage during the boom times. Of course, we (I have a partner) tried to stay ahead of them instead of waiting for them to make demands. In return, they busted their asses when we got to chrunch time and couldn’t find new hires.
We have not had to lay anyone off... yet. I dread that because I have a really strong group.
I've always tried to live by the axiom "give two hours of effort for every hour of pay and you will never be in need for a job"
A century ago, 10,000 employees died every year on America's railroads. The railroad companies simply wrote this off as the cost of doing business. Life had no intrinsic value.
It was the unions that forced safety on the railroads, defining safety standards that still are in effect today.
As for myself, it was precisely the facets of office life that had no bearing on the job at hand, and conceptual hypocrisy like what I've described that led me to decide the corporate world isn't for me, and I struck out on my own. Nothing but my performance (and the level of demand in the market) has any effect on my compensation. Customers relate to you in a much purer, less political fashion as a contractor. If the work you did works, you're OK, here's your check. Very clean, and based on only proper factors.
The guy at the second place always presented himself as a big free-market conservative, abhored excessive regulation, etc, etc. But he was all for government projects whose beneficiaries he liked. For example, he was a big sports fan, and he was incensed that anyone would oppose municipal funding for a new pro baseball field. My attitude was that if there were a market for a pro baseball team in town, building a field would justify itself. Why should the taxpayers subsidize businesses whose business model is inadequate to the circumstances? So I always though of him as a faux conservative, or at least a fuzzy minded one. I recently learned that he was a big Obama supporter in 2008. Finally showing his true colors I guess.
Very true, but one can certainly reach unusual heights in a burst that is known beforehand to be limited in duration.
I don't have to deal with it very often, but sometimes I am required to use HUBs (Historically Underutilized Businesses). Instead of being free to use the best qualified, I am forced to select consultants based on their skin color or what is in their pants. The HUBs know the game and take full advantage.
Oops. “many” conservatives
I don't think that life as described in the next few chapters is any more realistic than the worker's paradise view from the collectivists. I concede the need for unions when that balance of power tips too far toward management's favor. But how is management protected when the balance shifts the other way?
Off to start Saturday chores. Thanks for the exchange.
If you know the job you are taking is dangerous, then, why is the company responsible? Did the company force you to take that job? Did they put you in chains and drag you unwillingly into serfdom?
If you have two competing companies offering identical wages, yet, one has a much better track record when it comes to safety, they’ll have no problems getting employees.
The less safe company will, more than likely, get the marginal employees and eventually go out of business.
Unions, as they’re currently constructed, would never have come about if big business wouldn’t have been in bed with government.
Government is supposed to play the neutral judge when it comes to companies and employees.
Instead, turn of the century companies had the implied backing of government.
Ah, good point. I had forgotten about that distorting factor.
Well, as I say, “Never underestimate the power of government to distort markets.”
I tend to sympathize with business when it comes to Unions..to a point.
However, business did it to themselves when they hired thugs to break strikes while government turned a blind eye. Evidently, “freedom of association” was not a right granted to the ordinary man during that period of time.
That is close to the legislation Ted Kennedy introduced yesterday. Did you see that? Universal disability coverage. Only $65 a month, to be taken from your pay. It will raise $350 billion a year. If you can’t eat, shower, or use the potty you can claim it. Somehow, I think he’s eligible.
I haven’t posted to this thread in a while, but it’s pretty damned depressing how accurately real life is paralleling Rand’s fictional novel. She doesn’t seem to have left anything out. Prophetic is putting it mildly.
If he has a sense of humor and you’ve made the point that unions trade freedom for safety, you might even say that since we all know the dial has been twisted FAR too far toward safety, abolishing unions might help restore the balance!
The greatest, in fact practically only, growth in union membership today is among government workers, where no such safety concerns have ever existed. It is only because unionists see that there is no limit to their demands, since their employers have effectively unlimited resources to meet them, and no alternative source of labor to turn to that this is so. In the private sector, unionism is practically dead. Even in the “worst economy since the Great Depression... or maybe since Jimmy Carter), public employee union membership is 5 times the rate of that in the private sector.
This is the unionism which poses the greatest threat.
...One man came up with a process that saved thousands of man-hours, got himself labeled as exceptionally able and found himself sentenced to double shifts...
This type of treatment currently occurs regularly in both union and non-union jobs. A 'double shift' is one form of this tactic but not the only one. An exceptionally talented/skilled individual will be given the most difficult task in any group endeavor. The praise is heaped on them and they will get 'attaboys from all around but in the end, they are no better off than the onlookers warming up their hands for the ol' pat on the back. I really hadn't questioned why this occurs until reading Atlas Shrugged. I am of the opinion that the capitalist system would be just as likely to embrace manipulation as does communism. The capitalist, being interested in profits, would understand that peer pressure is one of the great motivators of an individual in a group setting. The same thing is happening at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, with the resulting profit going ostensibly to the group instead of the capital investor. Group think, being what it is, is a powerful tool that can be used against the individual. The reason for the manipulation is what defines the hobos story.
I can recall many meetings in my past where praise for being a 'team player' was doled out profusely. The phrase gets to be about as welcome as fingernails on a chalkboard when you realize what is truly being said. I had always considered myself a free agent and brought my skills to the workplace with the intention of fair trade, but I can honestly say that it never occurred (under the current system of regulated capitalism) until I went to work for myself as an independent contractor.
So, if you recognize this as your own experience, take my advice - the next time you are praised for your wonderful work ethic and being a team player, don't walk, RUN to the nearest exit and don't look back. If you can recognize the value in yourself you will never regret leaving.
There. Fixed it.
The experience I had in 30+ years of computer programming for large banks and insurance companies was exactly what you stated. Risk and effort were not rewarded due to bureaucratized procedures that made reward impossible. Moochers or innocent bystanders would get credit for what you did. When an unqualified lady got a promotion that should have gone to me, I quit on the spot and retired. I have never regretted that decision.
Thanks for the addition Publius. I had tried using ‘regulated’ in that same position but felt that it was too vague so I took it out. You are spot on.
The fattest slob among us (probably me) can sprint pretty fast...over a short distance...
...and I’m willing to do so, if I know the distance ahead of time.
Your experience closely mirrors my own. See my post 13.
Yes, I relate to that entirely. One of my co-workers stated during the current budget crises here in Cali that people shouldn’t complain about tax raises, as the upper level people can afford. One community was voting on a local sales tax hike to pay for budget gaps. All of the local businesses were against it, as people will naturally go elsewhere. His view was “if you can afford a big ticket item, you can afford the tax.” Ok, thats all well and good. But when same individual worked a pile of overtime, and only saw a small increase in pay, well that was a different thing altogether. Now I like this person, think a lot of him, but it show the disconnect that some people have.
AND it's based on taxes that MAGNIFY rather than DAMPEN the fluctuations in the economy as a whole, income taxes with "progressive" rates. Economy ticks up 10% and tax revenues go up 20%, say. They gladly institute new programs, creating new constituencies inside and outside government with money that's not their own, and which a nine year old would know is transitory in nature. Then when the inevitable downturn comes, it's magnified into a larger fluctuation by their poor choice of a tax system, and they act like it's the TAXPAYERS responsibility to fix the problem they created and which was easily foreseen. If you object they say you're racist, selfish, homophobic or whatever else comes to mind.
But what I wanted to say was the library clerk asked me if Oprah had put AS on her book club list. The book has been extremely popular lately. I explained that the book is political, and seems to speak to people about what is currently going on. He said that he had read the book in high school (he was perhaps 20 or so) and knew it was political.
Even having read the book, he seemed truly puzzled about the reason for it's sudden popularity.
That's a shame.
I thought I remembered quite a lot of the story. But I got to the parts involving d'Anconia and either I've forgotten his portion of the plot (which would seem silly), or maybe I never quite picked up on his big picture goal.
I suspect that I noticed his "bad" deeds and simply dismissed him as a jerk. It will be interesting, as I continue reading, to see how much of the story I didn't pick up on before. If it's obvious, I'll feel like an idiot.
But this just goes to show how experience and perspective can affect ones view overtime, and I think when you can experience this with a book, it's a mark of good literature.
When you’re re-reading it, check in with the prior book club threads, enumerated above in Post #2. You can watch things evolve. Try your hand at some of the discussion topics.
Oprah. Wow. I would have either been utterly speechless or on the floor laughing.
Chapter 20 now, The Sign Of The Dollar, a chapter that couldnt contrast more strongly with the overstrained psychological drama and improbable dialogue of the previous one. It is Rand back in her stride chronicling the slow dissolution of a once-great land. Reading the two of them close together makes me wonder if perhaps they werent actually written together this one a polished gem, the previous a clump of ore that could have stood a few of the rough edges to be chiseled off.
I suppose I should confess at this point that this chapter is one of my very favorites in the book. In it Rand has, finally, resumed her dramatic stride and the thing begins to crackle once the focus is out of the bedroom and into the world. Things are clicking, pieces coming together. And to Rands great credit as an author her protagonist is not omniscient, but just enough behind the reader to make her credible. That is actually a very difficult thing to pull off.
Dagny has boarded a train that is running through a middle America as imagined by Hieronymus Bosch, islands of normality punctuated by the inimitable signs of decay.
she saw the ghosts between, the remnants of towns, the skeletons of factories with crumbling smokestacks, the corpses of shops with broken panes, the slanting poles with shreds of wire she saw an ice-cream cone made of radiant tubing, hanging above the corner of a street, and a battered car being parked below, with a young boy at the wheel and a girl stepping out, her white dress blowing in the summer wind she shuddered for the two of them, thinking: I cant look at you, I who know what it has taken to give you your youth, to give you this evening, this car, and the ice-cream cone youre going to buy for a quarter
I saw something else in my mind reading that, the face at the curtain of the train window not Dagnys, but of a horribly scarred World War II veteran, disfigured for life in the explosion that destroyed his tank in the hedgerows of Normandy. Rand might have known such a man. He would have known them. There was no WWII in Rands alternate history but Atlas Shrugged is pervaded with a sense of ingratitude toward the sacrifice that has brought a plenty taken for granted, and a sense of the fragility of that plenty in the face of that ingratitude. In that it is profoundly a post-war novel.
Enter the hobo. I use the word advisedly a hobo is not a bum, nor is he a tramp as Rand incorrectly terms him, he is a traveling man who supports himself with odd jobs, and Rand has already placed words of import into the mouths of vagrants. This one has a mouthful himself, twelve pages of a single story that we already know. One might think that would qualify it for the cutting-room floor. Hardly; in my opinion its twelve of the best pages in the book.
Dagny gives him a ride and she buys him his dinner, and in reward he tells her a story, the story of the six thousand workers at the Twentieth Century Motor Company and how they degraded and wasted their patrimony. There is no work for him in the East anymore, everyone is watched, no one is allowed to succeed unless it be through connections with the Unification Board. And everywhere he does manage to find a few weeks work, closes.
Anything you tried, anything you touched it fell. Anywhere you looked, work was stopping the factories were stopping the machines were stopping he added slowly, in a whisper, as if seeing some secret terror of his own, the motors were stopping.
And the odd catchphrase of despair and futility Who is John Galt? that has danced through the novel?
Thats it, maam. Thats what Im afraid of. It might have been me who started it.
Well, there are enough versions of this fable around already a woman at a cocktail partys, Franciscos (at least two of them, Prometheus and Atlantis), Hugh Akstons and now this, in the mouth of a vagrant, hardly a place to inspire confidence, and yet its the one true story. It is the story of a great enterprises slide into pride, sin, and failure. In twelve pages we have a precise description of a Randian Fall From Grace. No external entity may be blamed, no force of tyranny imposed from afar. The companys employees chose their fate, and it is not accidental that the hobo chooses to cast it in quasi-religious terms.
You know, maam, we are marked men, in a way, those of us who lived through the four years of that plan What is that hell is supposed to be? Evil plain, naked, smirking evil, isnt it? Well, thats what we saw and helped to make and I think were damned, every one of us, and maybe well never be forgiven.
They let us vote on it, too, and everybody almost everybody voted for it. We didnt know. We thought it was good. No, thats not true, either. We thought that we were supposed to think it was good.
A nice turn of phrase, that. I know personally a tragic number of American citizens who disposed of their vote in the past Presidential election based on that feckless premise.
The plan was that everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need.
Marxs shade is walking through Starnesville.
The meeting was held on a spring night, twelve years ago We had just voted for the new plan and we were in an edgy sort of mood, making too much noise, cheering the peoples victory, threatening some kind of unknown enemies and spoiling for a fight, like bullies with an uneasy conscience Gerald Starnes yelled through the noise. Remember that none of us may now leave this place, for each of us belongs to all the others by the moral law which we all accept! I dont, said one man and stood up . I will put an end to this once and for all, he said. I will stop the motor of the world. Then he walked out
When I hear them repeating that question, I feel afraid. I think of the man who said that he would stop the motor of the world. You see, his name was John Galt.
Well, well. Twelve years. It is a length of time that has been noted frequently throughout the novel with respect to a number of seemingly unconnected events. Twelve years. Dagny gives her sleeper to the hobo and sits alone, knowing that what she has just heard is the truth. The train is now shunted off course along a recently-acquired line and she frets about the lost time.
Ill get there in time, she thought. Ill get there first. Ill save the motor. Theres one motor hes not going to stop, she thought
Oh, no? Dagny has all the information the reader has but she hasnt made the connection yet. It is not her motor after all. It is literally John Galts.
Dagny wakes up. The train is frozen, meaning it has been abandoned by its working crew in the middle of nowhere with a full complement of passengers onboard. It is all very proper, the fires of the ancient steam locomotive banked, the brakes set, a warning lantern placed at the rear of the train to warn the next one along. That might, in these times of decadence, be days. And in the logbook of the locomotive Dagny finds a familiar name: Pat Logan, her engineer when she risked her life at a breakneck speed to prove the worth of Reardon Metal, logging out of his last Taggart ride.
Shell walk for help, then she has to get to Utah. But there are outlaws, raiders, deserters in these days when the only legitimate employment is for the looters, and the road is no longer safe. Who turns up but her old employee, the mystery man Owen Kellogg! He does seem to turn up at the oddest moments, doesnt he? But this one is legitimate, and Kellogg a perfectly legitimate passenger. Hes off for a months vacation at an undisclosed location and its the most important thing in his world. A months vacation. Now, isnt that interesting?
Hes the only one willing to accompany Dagny except for one other. Yes, its the hobo, whose name is Jeff Allen. She hires him on the spot to take charge of the abandoned train and its passengers until help arrives. Good help is so hard to find these days.
So what, exactly, is Kellogg doing these days?
Oh, many things.
Where are you working now? On special assignments, more or less.
Of what kind?
Of every kind.
Youre not working for a railroad?
That isnt going to work. Kellogg isnt talking, but Dagny is thinking. And she wants him back, desperately because good help
What I need is your
-mind, Miss Taggart? My mind is not on the market any longer.
She stood looking at him, her face growing harder. Youre one of them, arent you? she said at last.
Yes, he is. And hes laughing at her. Infuriating male. They walk, and they find a working phone, and she summons help for the gaggle of fools left on the abandoned train. That was her charge. Next is her mission. But along the way Kellogg absentmindedly offers her a cigarette.
She was about to take a cigarette then, suddenly, she seized his wrist and tore the package out of his hand. It was a plain white package that bore, as a single imprint, the sign of the dollar She caught a glimpse of his face: he looked a little astonished and very amused.
Where did you get this? she asked.
He was smiling. If you know enough to ask that, Miss Taggart, you should know that I wont answer.
I know that this stands for something.
The dollar sign? For a great deal. It stands on the vest of every fat, piglike figure in every cartoon, for the purpose of denoting a crook, a grafter, a scoundrel as the one sure-fire brand of evil. It stands as the money of a free country for achievement, for success, for ability, for mans creative power and precisely for these reasons, it is used as a brand of infamy Incidentally, do you know where that sign comes from? It stands for the initials of the United States.
Yes, actually, it does. Those who take that sort of thing for granted and place their beliefs in something their political enthusiasms tell them is a higher truth, do so at the risk of the sort of ingratitude that will bring the entire system crashing to the ground. That is Rands warning. That is the point of Atlas Shrugged.
Do you know that the United States is the only country in history that has ever used its monogram as a symbol of depravity? Ask yourself why. Ask yourself how long a country that did that could hope to exist, and whose moral standards have destroyed it.
Well, the country didnt. Certain of its self-appointed intellectual leaders have, just as they have in the novel, under the fatuous assumption that it is the currency that is being venerated and not the ability to earn it. It is, properly, a measure of merit, not merit itself. A lot of people possessing large quantities of it tend to forget that fact just as easily as an editorial cartoonist.
Dagny purchases an airplane at an airfield in the middle of nowhere, a Dwight Sanders airplane that has unaccountably been abandoned. Kellogg has remained, cheerfully taking responsibility for putting proper closure to the train full of demanding customers. And so Dagny continues her mission. Here Rands descriptions are obviously by an individual who has sampled the exquisite moments of general aviation but not, I suspect, as a pilot. They are evocative nevertheless. And Dagny finds herself using one checkpoint that is the brave flickering of Wyatts Torch.
She arrives at Afton, Utah, minutes too late.
Theres Mr. Daniels going now.
He went with the man who flew in for him two-three hours ago. Never saw him before, but boy! hes got a beauty of a ship!
It is impossible. They know. How could they know? No one outside her select circle knew about Daniels, and absolutely no one knew about his letter except for Eddie Willers. And a certain anonymous track-worker.
She gives chase, of course. The mountains of Colorado (or anywhere else that size) can be very dangerous flying country as this author can personally attest. Off-course, low on fuel, this is the stuff of disaster. Downdrafts can easily exceed the climb capabilities of a light aircraft, and when that happens, you go down, and where the ground is as much vertical as horizontal, that can be a very unhappy circumstance. The valley that she happens upon is the only thing that kept her alive.
It is a secret valley, a Shangri-La in the Colorado high country, and shes about to land there, because a sudden flash of light has disabled her engine and one thing you really dont want to see is the prop thats supposed to be pulling you along, stationary, grinning at you. The student pilot encountering these circumstances must first resist the temptation to shoot his instructor, although no true jury of his peers would ever convict.
Dagny fights it to the ground, because thats what you do. You trade airspeed for altitude, altitude for distance, and along the way youre hoping for that nice, green, smooth spot that Dagny spies. Before she strikes she knows shes got it, and the last thing to go through her head is a derisive, Oh, hell! Who is John Galt?
There is a truism that one shouldnt ask questions whose answers one isnt ready to know.
Have a great week, Publius!
I certainly am in agreement with you.
A fatalistic attitude permeates the workers in our country. It's the frog in the pot syndrome, the water being hot enough to be uncomfortable but not yet cooking the frog. Partly to blame is the specialization of skills needed for employment today. The hidden cost is evident in the inability to change and adapt to current circumstances. This leads to despair and at times rage. We have all heard about such events in the news.
The knowledge that one could change their own circumstances is foreign to many who are quick to complain about their lot in life. Who's fault is that? Education has always been a path to improving ones position but I fear, that due to the necessary specialization needed in today's world, an important lesson has been left out. That lesson being how to jump out of the pot. Perhaps the extra effort put forth into furthering ones career should be dropped in favor of gaining skills needed for starting ones own business or perhaps changing ones vocation.
I think, Still Thinking, that we both would rather work with a person who is aware of their own worth and empowered to change their circumstances.
My first job out of school, the boss told me that he always looked to hire people who wanted to start their own firm, even though he knew that meant they would leave him.
Here it is in a nutshell. The great John Galt Declaration of War against.........what exactly?
And what is "the motor of the world" that he will stop. Daunting questions. Especially for those of us who want to learn and understand how to cope and hopefully overcome the destruction of the world we see all around us.
According to Rand, Galt is declaring war against the philosophy of Altruism that forces some men to live for the benefit of other. Albeit willingly.
And for Rand the motor of the world is the entrepreneur. The creative genius. The man who goes where no man has gone before and succeeds. And in succeeding he brings all mankind up out of the muck pit. And the preeminent great man is John Galt.
John Galt. The man who will not sacrifice his life for another man nor ask another man to sacrifice his life for him. By convincing the afore mentioned entrepreneurs, creative geniuses and other successful men to stop using their minds for the benefit of the looters and political fixit artists. He withdraws the sanction of the victims. He pulls the plug on the world. And Rand wants us to believe that this is the Greatest Moral Act of History.
When I read AS and think about it....and it's implications for me personally and for the real world....I am faced with three critical questions....at least for me. I am sure others will have different questions but for me they matter most as a moral guide to how to live one's life.
1) Is John Galt a man I would follow?
2) Is the world better off that John Galt lived?
3) From where did the genius of John Galt come?
Here are the answers I have come with from a life lived as a small businessman and father and citizen.
1) No. I would not follow JG into battle. But not being a Philosopher I can only explain my answer in practical terms.
Every father and mother on this site knows that sacrificing yourself for your children is a great moral good. Every American, and fellow FReeper I dare say, knows about the sacrifices of our Founding Fathers.....most of us have read Rush Limbaugh's father's tribute to the Signers of the D of I and how each and every man among them suffered....and for whom? For us ! Every man who has ever experienced combat knows that the knowledge of the potential self sacrifice of his friends for the team is what keeps him going. I don't see John Galt pledging his life, Fortune and Sacred Honor to his fellows countrymen. Dangy's first impression is right. Galt is a destroyer.
2) Again I must answer no. In the end he was a net loss for the world. The millions and millions of people left to die because "The Great Man" removed the motor of the world is a testimony to his inner destroyer nature. By their fruit you shall know them. Compare the real life fruits of our Founding Fathers who sacrificed everything for us. And the young men of all the wars who sacrificed all their tomorrows so that we may have a free and happy today. John Galt insults that sacrifice by rolling hand grenades into the industrial plant of America.
3) My answer is GOD. AR never answers this question because she can't. Not only becasue she is an atheist but because to answer it would....must.... admit that Galt's great gifts of genius are just that. A gift. Galt is not a self-creator. Whether one believes in the Christian God or not....a honest man will admit that some people are born with great gifts....and this random, luck of the draw aspect of talent should not give a any man the feeling he is superior to his fellow man. And is why I have always, and will always, fear the concrete realization of a Randian World.
To fight what we are now called on to fight in modern day America will need something more rallying to bring men to our banner than a celebration of selfishness. Her title of another book said it all...."The virtue of Selfishness". I don't think men will die with that emblazoned on their flag.
I believe Rand is a great author. And AS is a great read. But we need Great Builders not Great Destroyers to beat what is coming our way in Obama Land. And dare I say it.....men who are willing to sacrifice for the common good ! As our ancestors did from Valley Forge to Normandy and beyond.
Thanks, Pub, for the oppurtunity to say my piece.
I couldn't agree more. I'm totally finished now, and it was with this chapter that I truly began to consistently enjoy the book.
This one has a mouthful himself, twelve pages of a single story that we already know. One might think that would qualify it for the cutting-room floor. Hardly; in my opinion its twelve of the best pages in the book.
Again, I agree. The full depravity of the situation can only be demonstrated from the POV of someone who lived through it, in fact someone who at first thought it might work out well for him.
Well, the most immediate think he was fighting was the "tyranny of the majority", the idea that a body of which he was a member could by majority vote, agree to take rights from one who voted with the minority. Sound farmiliar?
I'll attempt to answer your three excellent questions as they pertain to me: 1) Is John Galt a man I would follow?
Qualified "Yes". He fights with the only weapon he has access to which can hurt those who are unjustifiably hurting him. Does he have a right to do this? Do you have a right to shoot someone burglarizing your home and endangering you or your family? Now I agree that Galt and the gulchers get a little hypertheoretical about this and ignore the value of charity, freely given when needed. I had a conversation with Billthedrill about this.
2) Is the world better off that John Galt lived?
Yes, definitely. Yes, people died. So what? Americans and British died in the Revolutionary war. If you had the power to alter history, would we still be paying King George tax on tea with no seats in Parliament? Would Hitler still be gassing Juden and homos? The point is that people in general were better off with the FINAL results of Galt's decisions than they would have been had he gone along to get along. People allow their children to undergo painful operations or medical treatment because they judge that the long term results will be superior enough to make it worth the sacrifice.
3) From where did the genius of John Galt come?
I have to agree with you on this one, from God. Rand misses this, as she is doomed to do by her atheism. But take ancient Israel as an example. There was no law against becoming rich. Employees, slaves (more like what we would think of as indentured servants), and animals were all to be treated with kindness and respect. Provision was made for widows, orphans, and the legitimate poor to support themselves by their own labor (prohibition on gleaning right to the edge of a field), thus preserving their dignity. But there was nothing that said that a farmer who was smarter or harder working than his neighbor was a bad guy.
The biggest problem with unions today is that workers do not have a choice in the matter. Once a union is in, they collect the dues from everyone, including the workers who don’t want to be represented by the union. The result is a disconnect between the workers and the union bosses because the people running the unions know that they’ll collect the money regardless of their performance. If workers at union shops were free to leave the union, the union bosses would wise up PDQ.
I can't see holding yourself up in the Highlands of the Rockies, while the rest of the country goes down the shitter, as a particularly noble thing to do. Where would we be today if Washington and the boys just headed west to open up new territory and declare a new country instead of fighting it out east of the Appalachians. And in the process the 66% of the country ambivalent or opposed to the war being left to the tender mercies of the Red Coats. They didn't because they understood sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves
On your answer for question #2 I think there is a qualitative difference between soldiers dying in battle fighting for freedom and people getting crushed in a war of attrition by the productive elite against the looters. I see this as if I burned down my shop with some of my employees inside because I have the tax looters trapped inside also. I admit an imperfect analogy but you get my point. There are innocent people in Rand's world that are just trying to make a living. She pretty much rolls over them on her way to Nirvana.
My final point is that question #1 was a personal preference sort of thing. I would, personally, have trouble following John Galt. I get the feeling he would sacrifice all his troops to the last man to destroy his enemies. Sorry, but my guts and his glory, as they say, makes for a bad leader.
The quote at the head of my profile comes from this chapter. I think it sums up the whole book.
“She had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil, you should have seen the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who’d talked back to her once and who’d just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance. And when you saw it, you saw the real motive of any person who’s ever preached the slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
“This was the whole secret of it. At first, I kept wondering how it could be possible that the educated, the cultured, the famous men of the world could make a mistake of this size and preach , as righteousness, this sort of abomination - when five minutes of thought should have told them what would happen if somebody tried to practice what they preached. Now I know they didn’t do it by any kind of mistake. Mistakes of this size are never made innocently. If men fall for some vicious piece of insanity, when they have no way to make it work and no possible reason to explain their choice - it’s because they have a reason that they do not wish to tell. And we weren’t so innocent either, when we voted for that plan at the first meeting. We didn’t do it just because we believed that the drippy old guff they spewed was good. We had another reason, but the guff helped us to hide it from our neighbors and from ourselves. The guff gave us a chance to pass off as virtue something we’d be ashamed to admit otherwise. There wasn’t a man voting for it who didn’t think that under a setup of this kind he’d muscle in on the profits of the men abler than himself. There wasn’t a man rich and smart enough but that he didn’t think that somebody was richer and smarter, and this plan would give him a share of his better’s wealth and brain. But while he was thinking that he’d get unearned benefits from the men above, he forgot about all his inferiors who’d rush to drain him just as he hoped to drain his superiors. The worker who liked the idea that his need entitled him to a limousine like his bosses, forgot that every bum and beggar on earth would come howling that their need entitled them to an icebox like his own.”