Book Review

Atlas Shrugged

ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY

Only people who manage their lives according to reality and reason, and who strive to be productive on their own—with no help from others—are worthy of love (or assistance when they’re in a bad spot)

CAPTURE

  • Reality is the backstop to everything
  • Reason is how we go about finding the nature of reality
  • Selfishness is natural, and therefore not bad
  • Selfishness is not only ok, but it’s the natural state of healthy individual
  • There’s no such thing as doing something—in a healthy way—for someone else, unless you’re getting something in return
  • The “something” you get in return can be direct and monetary, or it can be something less tangible like the satisfaction that you’re seeing them grow up and become responsible and productive
  • You can also give to someone in this way knowing that they will pay you back later, but only if you truly believe that
  • Charity is considered a bad word in this work, but it’s ok to give to someone in need
  • The distinction is all about whether the person is deemed worthy or not
  • She doesn’t believe in throwing money after someone or a problem unless they are worthy of that assistance, which means they’re likely to be productive and able to reciprocate in the future
  • She believes love is also an exchange
  • She believes that if a woman adores her man, and loves him, and treats him like some kind of ubermench, then she is providing value that he can then respect and love
  • She is very anti-feminist in this way, believing that woman’s highest calling is adoring a man, and believing that man’s highest calling is being someone worthy of that adoration
  • But the main character of the book was actually a woman, and she was just as competent as any of the other heroes in the book. In fact she was more competent than 99% of men she met
  • So as a public intellectual herself (Rand) it seems that she’s saying women are just as capable as men, but that romantic happiness comes from being a sub to a worthy man, and that true happiness cannot be reached without that
  • At the end of the book she’s obviously going to be his woman, but also obviously to be the head of the new railroad as well, so it’s not as if she’s going to stop being a productive member of society (I don’t think?)
  • At the end someone is sitting and writing a new constitution, and instead of saying we won’t go against people’s human rights, it says we won’t infringe on people’s ability to make money (or something to that effect)

TAKEAWAYS, QUESTIONS AND IDEAS

  • I think this book is full of solid wisdom, but that wisdom is perverted and maligned in a way that makes it impractical and negative if actually turned into policy
  • I am 100% for teaching people that THEY must strive and excel and chase their dreams, and that they should not look for help outside of themselves
  • I’m also for the messaging that you need to be WORTHY of love to expect it, and that if you want it you should work on yourself first
  • This rings similar to a lot of Jordan Peterson stuff as well, clean your own room, take responsibility, etc.
  • I see a lot of contradictions and hand-waving in this philosophy
  • There’s a disconnect between telling a woman to be great like the main character, but also telling her to submit to a worthy man. When do you make the transition? Can you do both at the same time? What if you sub for too long and lose your ability to provide value in industry?
  • There’s a disconnect between unrestrained capitalism and good outcomes. Phillip Morris wouldn’t have stopped advertising cigarettes to kids because they wanted to, because Capitalism somehow made them moral. No, the government had to stop them.
  • Strong people who have a business can and will do things to stop competitors from entering their market, and that doesn’t require any physical violence, which is the only thing she says the government should protect us from
  • This means Walmart or EvilCorp—and the one guy at the top—could simply turn the knobs and pull the levers to keep everyone out of business, which would then harm the competition and Capitalism that she so adores
  • In short, all her points have some sort of merit, and some have a lot, but many of the main tenets seem to break at the extremes
  • Another example is how Francisco, Hank, and John all seem just fine with her being with any of them. Again, as if this worship of exceptionalism (which they all three have) will somehow conquer natural human jealousy
  • That idea is just as nice and impractical as Communism in the real world (it’s an ideal that doesn’t work in reality) and the fact that she has these blindspots is problematic
  • I think this book deserves a lot more respect, but not the religious worship it gets from some fans
  • I think nearly anyone can take something to support their own philosophy from this
  • There are feminist teachings (she’s a badass), anti-feminist (she wants to submit to a strong man), Capitalist, Libertarian, but also compassionate (she and Hank help a number of people they deem worthy)
  • I think this should probably be read along with Brave New World and 1984 as a different type of dystopian novel.
  • Brave New World warns against people being controlled by their desire for pleasure
  • 1984 warns against authoritarian governments and what they can do to your mind
  • Atlas Shrugged warns against the dangers of accepting weak people as a symbol of success, against rewarding or celebrating failure, and against growing an impotent government that reinforces those behaviors
  • The other dystopian novel that should be on that list is Animal Farm, and it compares to that book in a pretty remarkable way. Ayn was born in 1905 and grew up in Russia. It’s said that she romanticized old Russia and hated the Communism that replaced it.
  • Animal Farm is an allegory about the Russian Revolution, and basically warned against people claiming to come in and remove a hierarchal society to be replaced by a flat, egalitarian one. This is what happened in Atlas Shrugged and in Animal Farm, and it’s what happens in every situation where a Communist party tries to take over a government.
  • The result always ends up the same as well, which is a new oligarchy that has its own power structure with everyone else below them
  • She’s absolutely right about those things being bad, and you can see a lot of those dangers in today’s society. But just like Marx she nails the problem but misses on the solution
  • The solution is not to slide the slider from weakness to unbridaled Capitalism
  • The solution is a composite, something like what exists in Germany or Sweden or some European nation. I tend to think we need more of both Capitalism and SMART regulations. In other words, the better the regulations (like brakes) the more free the Capitalism can be
  • This is something I’m thinking a lot about right now, pursuit of ideal hybrids
  • The image I have is a giant shell of spherical magnets holding a molten core of plasma at the center
  • The plasma is selfless love, pure capitalism, and the belief in complete human autonomy and responsibility
  • The magnets are the knowledge that free will is an illusion, that we must invest in people and society’s infrastructure if we want thriving individuals, the regulations that require capitalism to remain benign, and the truth that love requires bi-directional value
  • This is highly congruent with my thoughts on General Absurdism, which is all about maintaining two understandings of reality in one’s mind (nearly) simultaneously
  • We must be the plasma while maintaining the magnets
  • We must love unconditionally while maintaining conditions
  • We must tell young people to take all the blame and all the responsibility, and to strive to be their ultimate selves
  • But we must also make sure they have as many of the tools as possible to make that happen
  • That means they have good families that help them learn these lessons, they get the education they need, they have healthcare, etc.
  • But we have to provide these things as the magnets, not as a negation of the plasma

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