Saturday, January 29, 2011

Challenges Re: Atlas Shrugged

Main question: How does Atlas Shrugged "fit" with the philosophical ideas underlying it?

A couple derivative questions:

(1) The idea of the men of the mind going on strike is a good premise; however, would such a strike realistically play out like the strike in Atlas? (Could there be a more realistic depiction than the one we got there, and would such a depiction give Atlas more appeal than it has?)

(2) In the novel, the main hero delivers his message in such a way that a large segment of society became convinced of Galt/Rand's ideas rather quickly. In the case of Atlas Shrugged as a delivered message, meanwhile, it's been more than 50 years and not more than a minority segment of society has even become sympathetic toward that message. Don't these disparate examples (one fiction, and one reality) indicate namely one thing - that the depiction of events as they unfold in Atlas defy correct philosophical hierarchy? Rand's expectation in Atlas is that mass-intellectually-stunted minds would be able to listen to and integrate a three hour radio address in which things like fundamental principles of metaphysics are invoked. But this is a comprachico-ized audience Galt was addressing! How do you get anything other than mass incomprehension and probably a descent into barbarianism once society collapses like it does at the climax of Atlas?

How do Galt and the strikers at the very end of the book expect that they'd be coming back to a society ready to implement laissez-faire capitalism? They're not going to be coming back to a society that's been enlightened by the events they have just suffered through; societal change just doesn't happen that way - not when the society has been comprachico-ized.

There's a reason Ayn Rand ended up writing "The Comprachicos." It was a result of a long process of her coming to terms with how her rationally-compelling novel fell on so many deaf and dumb and evasive ears. For the first two years after her novel came out, it was mostly psychological torture for her, trying to come to grips with how there could be so amazing a national cognitive meltdown, such that she and her ideas hardly seem to stand a chance. How could there be so much fucking ridiculous irrationality out there? Why do prominent university professors even today ignorantly and incompetently bash her so? What the fuck has gone wrong with the world, that reason and values are spit upon so, with little to no effective recourse? How do you muster the will to fight on, and do so while not letting anger and bitterness get the best of you at times? There is most definitely an anger and bitterness coming out in "The Comprachicos," perhaps the most withering anger and bitterness in any of her writings, because of the tragic nature of the cognitive damage done to so many people as she describes there. If it weren't for fucks like Comprachico Leiter and derivative Comprachicos, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Anyway, I think there's a choice to be made between "The Comprachicos" and the plot of Atlas Shrugged. And I really fucking love "The Comprachicos" as a piece of philosophical analysis, in how well it gets to the essence and the root of a pervasive problem. It may well be her most significant non-fiction work after Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Let's put it this way: it's the most significant essay of her most intellectually-mature stage post-ITOE. There were certain things she had figured out by 1970 that she hadn't by 1957. (It helped that she was a full-time philosopher after 1957.) Among those things was an identification of the intellectual problem of rationalism, or the construction and treatment of ideas in detachment from their proper roots in sensory experience. One big conceit of rationalism - to wax Hayekian - is the idea that you could swiftly and beneficially make a new order in defiance of how institutions evolve over time. Rand's genuine expectation - one shared even more extremely and naively by a young Leonard Peikoff - was that Atlas would change the world fairly swiftly. She simply did not anticipate the kind of massive and widespread irrationality, incomprehension, injustice, pathological cynicism, etc. she actually found in response. The basic cause of that response, of course, was a cultural and institutional backdrop that simply requires time and a process of education in order to change significantly. And you really don't have such a process at the end of Atlas.

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