My Thoughts on Atlas Shrugged

Discussion in 'Books' started by Trefoil Knot, Oct 9, 2017.

  1. Trefoil Knot

    Trefoil Knot < x,y | x² = y³ >

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    TL;DR

    I'm going to talk about the book Atlas Shrugged and why it sucks at great length. This is gonna be long and autistic. Don't read if you don't care what a random faggot thinks. Kthxbye

    Introduction and Disclosure


    So I’m opening this can of worms. Atlas Shrugged is a polarizing book, but it’s not an even polarization by any means, with the lion’s share of people hating it. But like so many other things in this series of tubes, it has a rabid following of faggots that keeps it alive, a following which like so many others could be accused of autism and compared to cancer (whether this is fair or accurate or not doesn’t matter, the point is a few rabid people keep it relevant).

    I personally do fall into the “It’s bad” camp, however most of the objections I have seen to the book actually are off the mark as to why it’s a poor book. I do not wish to debate the political ideas per se, but rather discuss it as a book because that’s where I think Atlas Shrugged fundamentally fails. I will have to mention some of those ideas to make my point, but I will not argue pro or con here. Also I'll probably talk about the philosophy itself later, because it's part of the reason the book sucks.

    And for the record and disclosure purposes, I don’t want to go into all of my personal ideas and why I think what I do because then this will stop being about the book and more about me and it will just turn into a debate about politics which is not what I’m trying for here, but I do think it’s important to say that on paper, I sound like one of those autistic cancer faggots who should love Atlas Shrugged. It's fair to call me very libertarian in outlook. Again, not arguing pro or con here, just understand that's where my personal bias is and where I'm coming from when I criticize this book.

    Perhaps because I am an autistic cancer faggot is exactly why I have a problem with this book.

    To draw a parallel, I have seen over the years various homosexual, transgender and autistic people express a great deal of unhappiness that CWC, because of his internet notoriety, is something of an anti-mascot for these groups and they lament that their group is seen a certain way because people like him get all the attention and become the standard reference for many, who form their opinions thinking all “X” are like CWC or other internet lolcows.

    That’s kind of how I feel about Atlas Shrugged: it’s a bad but popular example of the ideologies it gets attached to (whether it actually represents those ideologies is something I could write a book on but it doesn’t matter here) and that’s frustrating.

    Despite all this, I do have some good things to say about the book I'll pepper in.

    This is a long book and I have a lot of things to say about it, so I'll try to add different parts in pieces so it's not so much.

    Point the First: Brevity, or, Write a Book Not a Manifesto

    Yes the book is too long. The edition I read was I think 888 pages or so, and really I felt like after I was done that it could have been 350 pages, possibly 300, and it would have been much better for it. This is hardly an original criticism, however I’m going to try to elaborate on it just a bit.

    The common criticism usually stops here, the book is just too damn long. The length and girth of the book however is in and of itself not really the problem. Other works are as long or longer and are considered great masterpieces, so what’s the real problem?

    The thing about a book, as Alan Moore has pointed out though I’m loosely paraphrasing here, is that it divorces notions of time and sequence from the length of its content. In other words, it can be read, reread, parts of it reread, you can skip back and re-read parts without having finished it completely, etc. This is important because this is the reason, imho, great works of literature are eventually recognized as such: subsequent re-readings reveal an artistry and coherence in the way the book is written, showing that the theme, the plot, and the characterization are a harmonious and cohesive whole.

    A truly well written book makes its points in the texture of the book, hiding the ideas of the story or the didactic rants of the author in symbolism, story, descriptions, and incidentals. The point of fiction is to tease out what should happen in a world where certain things are true (in this case, what would happen in a world with some minor science fiction elements where the most economically productive people all stopped working). I do think Atlas Shrugged has these elements, however the problem is when you have both the elements of a book and then triply redundant rants and 80 page long speeches by characters which are really just your political essays (which themselves repeat the same point twenty times), you just absolutely destroy all the art of the thing.

    Rosencratz and Guildenstern don’t make speeches and write newspaper columns about how the universe is indifferent to human suffering; the world around them makes that point in a deeper way than just saying it does. Even the wordy Dickens left it at “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.” He made his point by letting the character’s in universe experiences convey the consequences of his mishandling of his personal finances; Dickens didn’t take the next 300 pages to insert a personal finance book and rant about how it's stupid to borrow money you cannot afford to repay.

    If you want to write a rant or an essay, write a rant or an essay. If you want to write fiction, write fiction. You shouldn’t prepare the former and present it as the latter. When your characters just rant all the time as your personal stand in mouthpieces, it just makes anything you want to say watered down, weak and too transparent for the reader to suspend disbelief.

    Rand does create a somewhat interesting science fiction world in the book. However all that work is wasted because between the story/world building parts are shoved in non-fiction elements trying to dupe the reader into thinking they’re germane parts of this world. These parts are the only reason the book is so long. Atlas Shrugged would be a much more memorable book if it just told its story and was short and pithy (and its core story really is short and pithy), leaving all the ideas the story is trying to convey as the unstated rules of this fictional universe, rather than stating these ideas explicitly to such excess. The length itself is not the issue so much as the length is the byproduct of bad writing.
     
  2. TheVoid

    TheVoid Well-Known Member

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    I've always chuckled at the part where the guy is cooking a burger using exceptional skill and simple ingredients, and it's the best thing that has ever been prepared and eaten by anyone. Apparently, this is meant to say that even the poorest person can succeed by following Ayn Rand's philosophy, were it not for the fact that she makes an extra point of saying that the reason why the burger is so amazing is because the person was just born incredible at everything, or just making burgers, I forget which.

    So, the point of the section is, if you work hard to perfect your craft it doesn't matter because some people are just born to be better at whatever it is you do, and you should just give up and let them be awesome. Also, people are always going to hate the awesome people, but it doesn't matter because the awesome people will just be awesome somewhere else if people don't appreciate them.

    It's like reading proto-fanfiction at times.
     
  3. One Too Many

    One Too Many Sexual Orientation: Heavy Metal

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    Two of my favorite quotes about the book are:
     
  4. Princess Celestia

    Princess Celestia Your local techni-color horse.

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    I agree with many of Rand's thoughts but Atlas shrugged literally turned me off of reading for like a year. I've always held that overtly political works suck because they just don't make compelling fiction. All but the most close minded and confirmation biased seekers like that kind of crap. Unless a political discourse enhances the narrative its better left out.
     
  5. TheVoid

    TheVoid Well-Known Member

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    College students on the bus like to talk about things they learn at university or interesting facts they found online at full volume right next to my seat. There was one guy who said that he read the whole book, even though he started hating it early on, so that he could say it sucked without people retorting with "But you didn't read the whole thing and therefore didn't understand how intelligent it is."

    In all honesty, the reason why I read Atlas Shrugged is because Bioshock mentioned it, and the game mentions Ayn Rand when it explains that Andrew Ryan built Rapture to create a society that followed Ayn Rand's philosophies. I've heard people say that Ayn Rand was full of shit because her ideas failed when they were implemented in Rapture, which isn't fair. I think that Rand is full of shit because she attempted to start a movement by taking another ideology, applying a metaphorical coat of paint, and writing a book that (let's be brutally honest) predated the worst aspects of fanfiction which heavily features Sue-like characters while acting as propaganda to make her beliefs appealing to (again, let's be honest) teenagers.
     
  6. Princess Celestia

    Princess Celestia Your local techni-color horse.

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    I'm pretty sure most people who have read it after 2007 did so because of Bioshock.
     
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  7. Erika

    Erika RL incel hunter

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    I really liked your review, it's like the first time someone covered the book, as a book. Everyone manages to sperg pro con on the meaning and skips things like, as you said, it's too long.

    Thanks, and you now hold a world award for being the least autistic review of this book.
     
  8. Kine the Ocean Sunfish

    Kine the Ocean Sunfish The CWCki Club's resident Kirby fish

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    The only review I saw of Atlas Shrugged before this one was South Park's
     
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  9. Trefoil Knot

    Trefoil Knot < x,y | x² = y³ >

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    Continuing...

    Point the Second: Mary Sue Is a Bad Crutch

    There’s really only three characters in this book: the Mary Sues, the cardboard villains, and Eddie Willers.

    The thing is, that might be fine, if the first point was addressed of cutting the book down to its actual story elements. Mary Sues are okay sometimes and some Mary Sues are even beloved; it's all in the execution. We could forgive Mary Sues somewhat if the story were compacted. For example, I love The Twilight Zone, which often features flat, nondynamic characters, but that's okay because the story is over in a few minutes.

    But when you spend so much time with these characters over many hundreds of pages, the glaring flaw comes out that these aren’t really characters for the most part. Dagny, Henry, John and other less prominent characters from the “Galt’s Gulch” faction are all the same character: Mary Sue. The “Villains” suffer from a lack of nuance as well. They’re all just cardboard cutouts who only exist to oppose the Mary Sues; they're given no depth, nuance or reason, and none of them are sympathetic.

    That gets us to imho the best character in the book, Eddie Willers. Eddie Willers is not a great character, but he’s at least a character for the simple reason he has a morality and some goals, and he’s tragically human. Eddie is an honest hard working sincere guy who wants to provide a service to society by helping run the railroad, but he can't do it by himself and that makes him anxious and sad. I mean it's not much of a character, but it's a character, an actual legit character.

    Why is this important? Because by not having fully realized characters, it undermines the point of the book and what it could say.

    Look, Rand is clearly arguing that punishing people for creating large personal fortunes is socially perverse because it discourages people who are capable of such things from doing them and that harms society at large. Agree, disagree, doesn't matter, that's Rand's theme.

    The use of Mary Sues for the "Good" characters harms the point Rand is trying to make. A realistic human society composed of actual people and not pastiches of ideas would have some key people who will drive most of the wealth creation; however absolutely no one can run an entire railroad. There are no Dagny Taggarts. It doesn’t work like that. There are leaders and innovators yes, but not in the way the book argues.

    A famous essay has made the point that even something as simple as the production and selling of a simple wooden pencil in a modern economy is not entirely knowable by any single person. Economist Thomas Sowell has written in several of his books that most knowledge of how to make the economy function is not articulated (i.e. it’s all in people’s heads, habits, intuitions, experiences and skills including people who have very menial jobs). Everyone contributes some part often despite themselves. A company made solely of high performers can't perform (in other words, high performing people need others with different opportunity costs around them to create greater economic value than these parties could working separately).

    Even in my own experience, at one of my most menial jobs, I learned that something as simple as safely shrink wrapping a pallet for transport over the highway was not a skill an executive at the same company (a man with a six figure income) had, and without that capability that company couldn't function.

    Rand also ignores the phenomena of competition. No matter how strong you are in an industry, there is someone who is very talented who is gunning for what you have. They may not be as good, but really, can society tell the difference in many cases? When Bill Gates retired to be a philanthropist instead of a tech executive, did they shut down Microsoft? No, they installed the next best leader they had and kept going.

    The point being, losing someone with a great deal of knowledge will very adversely affect the economy, but it generally could not be a precipitous disaster as the book describes. Knowledge is not so concentrated, and while some people are uniquely talented, the idea the world would stop completely without them is comical.

    Now I think I understand the point Rand was trying to make was that if you get rid of Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, it's not that that their industries just vanish (since the next best person or company just fills in and life goes on), it's that we lose the very best possible outcome. I think she was trying to point out that by settling for the next best producer of wealth, you’re still settling and society is worse off. That does make sense, if you were to take away the 100 most innovative people in the US, yes we would suffer a great deal more than if you took away 100 people of mediocre skill.

    However that’s not the point the book actually makes because it relies on Mary Sues: the point the book makes is that you are evil and your entire life and prosperity are dependent upon a class of people superior to you in every way and you better not anger them or everything will go to hell instantly. Because everyone in this book besides Eddie Willers is either universally awesome or completely incompetent, the instant these people vanish society just falls apart instantly, and while I give her credit for her universe being that consistent, that consistency is only possible because the characters are so badly written. When the people in your world aren’t credible as characters, the consequences of their “going Galt” also aren’t credible and it undermines the whole story.

    I get that hyperbole can be effective, and if the book were meant to be hyperbole that would be okay, but hyperbole requires clever writing, and usually is best served in short, punchy doses. I don’t think having read the book however that Rand intended her characters to be parodies or exaggerations.

    It’s also a clumsy way to argue a point; if you want to make a political argument you have to be charitable and assume the best motivations on the part of your opponents and you have to assume their best argument and then attack their best case and show why they are still wrong. If you childishly reduce everyone you don't agree with to "parasites" or "Nazis" or whatever the word du jour is, you haven't really argued anything. "All the good people agree with me! All the bad people disagree!"

    A good book presents nuances and points out that even the antagonists have a reason for thinking and acting the way they do. Some people should actually read the book and identify with the "bad guys" more than the "good guys" if you've written the book well. And that's okay, it's sheer hubris to ever think everyone will agree with your personal beliefs, the point should be to get the idea out there. Rand of course was a noted egomaniac.

    What's more, there's no internal division within the protagonists: they all just stand around agreeing with each other, separated only by degrees of intelligence. Again, this is a very poor way to argue an ideal; good rhetoric will seek a 'proof by contradiction' argument, assuming the worst possible interpretation of the idea being advocated and then pointing out that the worst case scenario has good implications still. This goes back to one of the fundamental flaws of Objectivism in that it does not entertain the hypothetical, which is a necessary cognitive tool in any useful philosophy.

    One of the hardest things to grasp about human existence is we can all have the same evidence and experiences, yet all come to different conclusions while still acting in good faith. Rand is much like a SJW in her writing: everyone who disagrees is Hitler. In Rand's worldview, "Good" people can never ever disagree with one another, which doesn't make for very compelling characters.

    Again, this is why if you want to write a one sided political rant, write a political rant, and if you want to write fiction, write fiction. Rand's attempt to disguise a political treatise as fiction leads to this clumsy, uncreative and honestly childish characterization scheme which not only makes the book miserable to read, but it hurts the underlying point she's advocating.
     
  10. QuiltGuilt

    QuiltGuilt My 2-cent_garbage.com

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    Concerning your first part, it sounds like Rand completely and utterly fails at "show, don't tell".
     
  11. Kine the Ocean Sunfish

    Kine the Ocean Sunfish The CWCki Club's resident Kirby fish

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    Didn't Atlas Shrugged spawned three really shitty movies, with Glenn Beck in an cameo role in one of them?
     
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  12. Trefoil Knot

    Trefoil Knot < x,y | x² = y³ >

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    Point the Third: The Unfortunate Implications which are Collectively, Eddie Willers

    You notice I keep going on about Eddie Willers in the last post? There’s a reason for that. Spoilers ahead.

    So Eddie is described as a loyal, hardworking man who is as moral as the main characters and who believes in all of the same things, but he just isn’t quite as smart or gifted. However the Galt’s Gulch gang seems to identify Eddie as one of their own because he has the same values and they recognize him being a good man isn’t dependent on his skills in business.

    At the end of the book, we see Eddie lamenting the terrible future he has inherited that he must suffer in because without Dagny and the others, his contributions to the world can’t be fully realized, and he’s not gifted enough to make the world work on his own.

    Hidden in here is actually a good message: whether you’re rich or not has nothing to do with whether you’re moral or not, and just because you’re not a genius doesn’t mean you lack value as a human being. Note this is also true economically, it's a concept called comparative advantage.

    However it’s all undermined by the fact all the “good” characters just leave Eddie out to dry. I mean they just totally ditch throw him to the wolves. Seriously, after Dagny admits that Eddie deserves to be rewarded for his efforts, they fuck him. Up the ass. With a baseball bat with 100 grit sandpaper glued to it rough side out and no lube.

    So the real lesson becomes “Placate the talented and wealthy, or they will fuck you” and/or “Good people ditch their friends who aren’t as talented or smart as they are despite the fact from a purely utilitarian perspective their lives are better with them in it”.

    I mean holy fuck, how many people in your life are you indifferent to, even hateful toward, that you put up with because they are the reason you get paid? Is the point of Objectivism that people who genuinely seek to provide economic value to others are good, or that only people who produce lots of economic value to others are good? If the latter, where does the "culling" stop? What magic statistical point makes you one of the "good" people according to Rand? Are the top 10% of economic producers "good"? The top 1%? The top 0.1%? Incidentally, this is why nearly all economists make the point that all moral values are non-economic, and how upstanding, moral, meritous, pious, etc. somebody is has no meaning economically.

    But back to the book, if the whole point of Galt’s Gulch is to take the genuinely productive people out of society and let the leeches die off on their own, why in the blue hell would you not take Eddie Willers? The "good" characters admit at several points Eddie is one of them spiritually, he's just not quite as talented. They obviously think he has something to contribute.

    This to me more than anything, more than the attempts to disguise nonfiction as fiction, more than the bad characters, undermines the whole point of the book. Why, I would ask Ayn Rand, should I, a finite human being who isn't perfect, subscribe to your ideas if doing so simply leaves me in the same boat as the bad guys of this world who actively oppose your ideas?

    I mean fuck, she's all about her Objectivist philosophy, and here she's telling us "Follow this philosophy and you still lose!"

    Did Rand assume every reader would also have her massive ego and self-insert themselves into one of the Mary Sue characters or something? That’s the best I can figure.

    But most of the people who have read the book that I have talked to seem to empathize the most with Eddie, and why? Because Eddie is actually credible as a human being. There's not a lot of dimension to his character, but we like Eddie. He's a well meaning guy who doesn't know what to do in this insane world, people can relate to that!

    The character in your book who the reader has the most empathy for gets fucked for following all of the Randian ideas presented in the book. What the hell kind of message is that?

    That to me is the strongest reason for saying this book sucks a fat hairy chode.

    One more and I think I'll be done, I don't want my comments to be as long as the book.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2017 at 7:03 PM
  13. Princess Celestia

    Princess Celestia Your local techni-color horse.

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    Yah they were all super long too. It really goes to show how drawn out the book is.