2009-11-08

Atlas Shrugged


The first thing you need to know is that the 'Ayn' in Ayn Rand is pronounced to rhyme with 'fine'. Atlas is noteworthy as one of the few books where the heroes have Asperger's. I say hero rather than protagonist because the characters are heroic. Rand believes that humans can be heroic. Her morality casts a person as a trader. One should always act in one's own self-interest. A trade should not take place unless both sides gain. Charity and selflessness are dirty words to Rand. The Marxist slogan, 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need', is anathema to Rand. She appeals to the evolutionary vigilance against freeloaders.

Dawkins' Law of Adversarial Debate says that when two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

So, in disagreement with Dawkins, Marx and Rand, I think people that create wealth should be allowed to keep most of it, but some should be taken from them to give minimal support to the whole population. A good start would be to stop taxing the poor.



Patents

On patents she has the baddies say that they want to end the monopoly that Reardon had on Reardon Metal. I agreed with the baddies on this!

But later on in Galt's prolix radio address he says, 'it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one's sacrifice or loss'. Hear, hear!

So Rand seems to be ambivalent on patents.

In that same address, Galt says that you can't be responsible for something you have no control over, and in this way convincingly demolishes the idea of original sin.

At times I found Rand's arguments embarrassingly one-dimensional, a real sixth form-ish style of argument, often falling into the straw man fallacy. However, Atlas is a polemic and so I forgive it for overstating its case.

Another beef I have with Rand is that she mainly avoids democracy. When she doesn't avoid it she's denigrating it. Come on Rand, democracy is a good thing, there's no getting away from it. Plato's philosopher kings? Gimme a break.

By instinct I'm a right wing libertarian, and so I have an innate sympathy for Rand's ideas. This book was really on my wavelength, we think alike. I 'got' what she was trying to say. On the other hand, this view has shortcomings which I can't and won't overlook.

Btw, all the characters smoke, which is always a breath of fresh air.

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