Atlas Blogged #21: Heeeeere’s Johnny!
September 13, 2010
Part 21 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.
Chapter 21: Atlantis
Dagny is rescued from the wreckage of her aircraft by – drum roll – John Galt, the inventor of the static engine and the Destroyer she’s been pursuing all this time. Of course, he’s a paradigm of a man, handsome, gifted, and utterly free of guilt over his talents. Galt’s Gulch, the valley in which Dagny has landed, is home to all the titans who retired from the world, and Dagny meets old friends like Ellis Wyatt and Kenneth Dannager.
The premise behind the titan’s retreat is that of a strike of minds; what Rand claims to be the motivating force behind the world. Galt has been systemically persuading these minds to strike against the ‘looters’ and ‘moochers’ who refuse to engage in honest trade or productive work. Then they’ll see who they really need, runs the theory.
The obvious problem with Galt’s strike is something I’ve identified before: it only works in a Platonic world in which people are strongly divided by their qualities, rather than the real world in which talent and mindfulness are spread across the population. Titans going on strike in the real world just results in their deputies taking over – no company is reliant on any one man, except at the lowest end of the scale.
Bizarrely, the strongest clue to Rand’s theocratic elitism comes from a section in which the titans are talking individually about what caused them to go on strike, specifically the story of Dagny’s favourite composer, Richard Halley:
“I saw the impertinent malice of mediocrity boastfully holding up its own emptiness as an abyss to be filled by the bodies of its betters.”
Halley argues that the ‘looters-in-spirit’ extract the value from his music on the back of years of sneering at him because they did not understand it, only rising to acclaim his success when it is evident. He did not write his music for such as those, and so retreated from the world.
The implication here is subtle, but is echoed elsewhere in the book: commerce is only worthwhile with those who live up to Rand’s moral standards.
That’s right: people aren’t worthy to even be customers unless they sign up to Rand’s worshipping of talent. Otherwise they’re still looters or moochers, wresting one’s essence from one’s product.
Part 22 is here.