Monday, December 29, 2008

"Who is John Galt?"

I've just begun Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and i'm absolutely loving it.

the story is set in a fictional America (i'm not sure if fictional is the right word. it's like an America of a science fiction novel. the book was published in 1957, so it's kinda like the futuristic fantasy-ish America the author envisions, but it also has the feeling of being set in the past, probably because it was written in the fifties.) and the entire world is in shambles.

There are only protagonists and antagonists in the story, and it's very obvious who is "good" and who is "evil." the people who are "good" are capitalists. the "evil" people are socialists (though they aren't called that... they are called "looters.")

The main character, Dagny Taggart, is the VP of Taggart Transcontinental, the hugest railroad in the country. She fiercely tries to save the family railroad from ruin at the hands of her weak, looter brother. She makes unpopular business choices to save the company, such as building new railroad tracks made out of Rearden Metal, a revolutionary kind of metal that is stronger than steel, lighter than steel and is virtually indestructible, yet is unpopular to the looters, because it could take away business from them, the steel magnates.

Hank Rearden is the entrepreneur/inventor of Rearden Metal. The looters try to blackball Dagny and Hank, because their "up and coming" ideas may threaten their businesses. They make rules such as the "Anti-dog-eat-dog" rule (yes, it's really called that) that try to force out new businesses that do things differently than the status quo. It's like if Blockbuster tried to make Netflix illegal just for being a new idea that threatens Blockbuster's business.

Francisco d'Anconia is a copper magnate who is known as one of the shrewdest businessmen on earth. Inexplicably, he suddenly spends millions on a mine in Mexico, where there is no copper. The mine is nationalized by the People's State of Mexico, and when they find that there is no copper, they are furious at Francisco, though he claims ignorance. Even though they seized millions of his private property, the Mexicans feel justified that they have the right to be angry because what he did was "unfair."

Slowly, throughout the novel, the world's most brilliant minds in business, art, literature, and music suddenly "drop off the face of the earth." they mysteriously disappear, and we get the feeling that d'Anconia (and others we haven't met yet) is going after Hank and Dagny (who is also his childhood friend and former lover) to pull them "underground" with him and others. They are so fiercely capitalist that they resist, and don't understand that d'Anconia is on their "side" as well... that his going underground is the greatest act of resistance to the mob of looters that he can perform.

the whole novel is supposed to, through artistic expression, outline the author's personal philosophy of existence called objectivism. basically, it expresses that man is bound by no moral obligation except to one's own happiness. that one should selfishly pursue one's own happiness no matter the cost... that one cannot be happy without freedom. that individualism is the only way to be free and that collectivism, statism, and socialism are inherently evil. selfishness is a pure and moral behavior.

it's a very interesting philosophy, one that is explained even better by knowing the author's history. she was raised in Russia during the Bolshevik revolution. everything her family owned was confiscated by the Soviets (or the Bolsheviks... are they the same?) everything was about the State, not the individual.

you can see how someone who was raised in such a dark, scary environment would create a philosophy like objectivism. i think this book is especially timely to be reading now. the economy in crisis and the government's increasing role in the US today and the US of Atlas Shrugged are surprising parallels.
okay, enough of this... back to reading!

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