Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"To a gas chamber - go!"

With the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged well upon us, several internet postings of the adulatory sycophantic fustian variety have already appeared to celebrate the occasion, and several of these postings have cited Whitaker Chambers notorious review of Rand's magnum opus, "Big Sister is Watching You", with its famous but often misinterpreted line: "To a gas chamber — go!" In an earlier posting at ARCHNBlog, I attempted, in vain no doubt, to clear up the misconceptions that so many of Rand's partisans entertain about the quote . Contrary to what so many Randian sympathizers believe, Chambers was not accusing Rand of being a genocidal maniac, eager to murder everyone who disagreed with her or committed palpable breaches of morality. He merely was noting that Rand's feelings toward people she didn't like were similar to those of a mass murderer toward his (or her) victims. Where would Chambers have gotten such an idea? That is easily answered: from Rand's evident approval, if not delight, in the demise of the villains of Atlas Shrugged. Recall Rand's commentary on the victims of the tunnel collapse on the train, the implicit upshot of which is: They all deserved to die!. In other words, while Rand certainly never wanted to murder anyone (nor did Chambers ever suggest that she did), she did, as far as we can tell, believe that people who didn't follow Objectivist "reason" would die and, more to the point, that such vile scum deserved to die. Here's Chamber's commentary on this disturbing facet of Rand's thought:
Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal... [R]esistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!" The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture-that Dollar Sign, for example. At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house. A tornado might feel this way, or Carrie Nation.

Now we can all argue over whether this passage overreaches or not. Chambers has clearly indulged in a bit of hyperbole to emphasize his point. But the point itself is well worth emphasizing! Atlas Shrugged does indeed exhibit, in the tone of the piece, a very disdainful contempt toward anyone who might be so horrid as to disagree with its author, and that in places it even exults in the deaths of those who refuse to follow Rand's moral ideals.

That Rand and her acolytes delight in the demise of those whom they regard as "immoral" can be demonstrated by quoting a letter Alan Greenspan sent to the New York Times in defense of Atlas, back in the fifties:
Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.

"Perish as they should"! Keep in mind that the phrase "parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason" is a rather wide abstraction that potentially includes, not merely the usual unsympathetic drunk hobos and intransigent shirkers and malingerers, but also the mentally ill, the retarded, congenitally poor reasoners, people who can't make up their mind, and people maimed and demoralized by tragedy. Such people, it is here suggested, not only will die, but should die. "Justice is unrelenting"!

- Greg Nyquist

28 comments:

Paul said...

What I find fascinating is the lack of hope for redemption: there is no pitying the dead who could not come around to embrace objectivism, nor is there desire for welfare of others in the hope they might stay alive to be redeemed. No, those who reject objectivism seem to be judged as defective forever, willingly discarding truth and worthy only of contempt.

Mark Plus said...

Atlas these days reads almost like a Peak Oil survivalist fantasy. Rand apparently accepted a form of Malthusianism which held that we have too many philosophically undesirable people in the world. Just withdraw the energy supplies (Galt's motor, Ellis Wyatt's shale oil, Ken Dannager's coal) that sustain them, and the resulting die off will restore Earth to its Objectivist carrying capacity.

Olivia Pierson said...

Where would Chambers have gotten such an idea? That is easily answered: from Rand's evident approval, if not delight, in the demise of the villains of Atlas Shrugged. Recall Rand's commentary on the victims of the tunnel collapse on the train, the implicit upshot of which is: They all deserved to die!. In other words, while Rand certainly never wanted to murder anyone (nor did Chambers ever suggest that she did), she did, as far as we can tell, believe that people who didn't follow Objectivist "reason" would die and, more to the point, that such vile scum deserved to die.

Re: deserving to die.

As a living organism, all human beings die for one reason or another. Sometimes it's their own fault, sometimes it is not.

When Rand writes the chapter about the Nat Taggart Tunnel collapse, to say that she thinks they "deserved" to die is an oversimplification - and a not very accurate one at that.

The chapter itself highlights the theme of evading responsibility.

As you all know, in Objectivism, evading responsibility is a moral abdication because responsibility must fall somewhere if the individual shrugs it off.

The victims of the tunnel tragedy had contributed toward a culture of responsibility evasion and then experienced the final consequences of that evasion ie; an untimely death.

If I decide to go snowboarding on a mountain range with fresh virgin powder snow without heeding the avalanche warnings, and I trigger an avalanche which kills me, would you say that I "deserved to die?" Probably not. But you would rightly say that I had evaded the responsibility of keeping myself alive by ignoring the obvious, which resulted in my death. And objectively, that would be correct.

This is the point that Rand is trying to labour.

Chambers also says: But the point itself is well worth emphasizing! Atlas Shrugged does indeed exhibit, in the tone of the piece, a very disdainful contempt toward anyone who might be so horrid as to disagree with its author, and that in places it even exults in the deaths of those who refuse to follow Rand's moral ideals.

Could you please show me examples where any of the heroes actually "exult" in the deaths of others?

Even when Dagny shoots the man toward the end of the novel in order to rescue Galt, exultation in the death was not part of the picture, but rather resignation at having to do it in order to save her highest value.
(Which one of us would not do the same to protect our loved ones from torture?)

Atlas exhibits not so much a tone of disdainful contempt to anyone who disagrees with its author. It does however exhibit contempt for anyone who tries to portray collectivism as a moral ideal.

Daniel Barnes said...

Uh, oh...bloody Pierson's shown up...here comes trouble...;-)

Daniel Barnes said...

Now it so happens that the crash of the Comet is one of the most interesting scenes in "Atlas." What I might do is type it out in full, or at least from Rand's authorial intervention, and offer it up for readers' comment. We've also got another good critical essay on AS to highlight.

Guru Banana said...

"Now it so happens that the crash of the Comet is one of the most interesting scenes in "Atlas." What I might do is type it out in full, or at least from Rand's authorial intervention, and offer it up for readers' comment."

Please do! Can anyone offer me a definition of 'mysticism' as used by Objectivists as it seems to me to have been broadened to the point of uselessness. Either that or I'm losing my marbles. In either case it's causing me a great deal of confusion.

Olivia Pierson said...

Yes Mr. Barnes... trouble happens to be one of my favourite pursuits (life, liberty and the pursuit of trouble) ;-) And I think you guys deserve it for pissing on my heroine!

G.B (forgive me for not being able to write such a preposterous name in full)...

Mysticism in Objectivist terms is the belief or claim to knowledge perceived by some form of unnatural or supernatural means ie: revelations arrived at not by reason.

Guru Banana said...

Thank you, Olivia! I think there are problems with excluding from consideration knowledge arrived at by non-rational means (if that's what the intention really is) but that's a row I'll hoe on my own.

Personally I find preposterousness entertaining but your mileage clearly varies! :-)

Daniel Barnes said...

GB:
>Please do!

Righto, I'll try to type it out tonight. I'm away surfing this weekend tho, so won't be able to comment for a while. I have my own view, but I'll be interested to see what people say.

OP:
>And I think you guys deserve it for pissing on my heroine!

What can I say? We're troublemakers too. But we don't really mean to piss on her - tho sometimes we definitely take the piss out of her! As we've said before, there's nothing wrong with viewing Rand as an inspirational writer in a broad, general sense; there's nothing wrong with reason, freedom, capitalism, individualism in the broad, general sense of those terms either.

It's whether the specifically Objectivist doctrines that relate to these terms are correct or not. In the ARCHNrview when closely examined these particular doctrines turn out to be mostly incorrect; and there are better and more coherent defenses of the above available.

gregnyquist said...

Pierson: "Atlas exhibits not so much a tone of disdainful contempt to anyone who disagrees with its author. It does however exhibit contempt for anyone who tries to portray collectivism as a moral ideal."

It's very difficult for people who like Ayn Rand and agree with her philosophy to appreciate the contemptuous tone in Atlas Shrugged, for the simply reason that the contempt is not directed at them. The most offensive part of the book in this respect is Galt's speech. Galt is always assuming the very worst about the audience he's speaking to (as if showing contempt for people you disagree will convince them to agree with you!). Hence we find Galt scolding his audience: "The most depraved sentence you can utter is to ask: Whose reason?" Or: "Death is the standard of your values..." Or: "Damnation is the start of your morality." Or: "Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil." Galt may be many things, but a gentleman he is not. What on earth does he (or Rand, speaking through him) thinks that he's accomplishing by assuming the worst about his audience and then scolding them like some termagent shrew? It's not only entirely futile to argue in this fashion, it's just bad manners.

Brendan said...

Olivia: “The victims of the tunnel tragedy had contributed toward a culture of responsibility evasion and then experienced the final consequences of that evasion…”

Not all of them. Some were too young or ignorant. But focusing on this moral and social point obscures the wider context which this passage highlights: the people on the train have no place in Rand’s vision for the radiant future.

Their abdication of intellectual and moral responsibility poses a threat to the creation of the moral and political culture that Rand’s heroes envisage on their return to the world.

Put another way, since altruism is always and everywhere parasitic on egoism, in order for egoism to flourish, altruism and its carriers must be exterminated root and branch. Only then can the true Randian hero flourish, free of the leeching parasites who exhaust his productivity. But of course human beings are not Randian heroes. They are fallible and flawed creatures who can rise to greatness or sink into depravity, or exist at all points between.

As the final passage makes clear -- “These passengers were awake; there was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of their ideas” -- human beings as they are have no place in Rand’s vision for the future.

This is not to argue that Rand is advocating genocide; no doubt she would regard such a suggestion as a smear and a slander. But it does show that despite her penetrating intellect, she was blind to the more unsavoury implications of her philosophy.

Brendan

Anonymous said...

Atlas Shrugged was a giant narrative of how a 100% parasitic society is not a stable arrangement. And how a 100% producer society is stable. Rand also believes that a mixture is unstable and must inevitably lead to one or the other extreme.

But it can also be shown, using game theory and evolutionary biology, that a less than 100% producer society can also be an evolutionary stable arragenment.

This line of reasoning will generally be criticized by randists because it abstracts away from man and treats him as mindless robotic computer simulations.

Anonymous said...

What evolutionary biology shows is how brutal the competition is for selfish genes. How tricky and manipulative these genes can be.

Genes are not just to evolve wings, claws, or thumbs. But how within the same species each creature is host to lots of genes that produce drives and instincts for exploiting others within the same species. Man most likely is host to many such exploitive traits. Many of these traits are hardly "producer" oriented. Many are parasitic in the sense that they involve deception, or physical force.

Rand's philosophy can't really cope with these notions.

Olivia Pierson said...

First of all, let me be the one to remind us that Atlas Shrugged is a FICTIONAL novel where Rand gets to portray her ideal women and men. To do this she had to introduce them against a backdrop of the opposite of those ideals... ie. the world turned over fully to collectivist parasites and all the ideas that has made it so.

Nyquist: It's very difficult for people who like Ayn Rand and agree with her philosophy to appreciate the contemptuous tone in Atlas Shrugged, for the simply reason that the contempt is not directed at them.

It is not so difficult to pick up the tone of contempt in Atlas. Just as it is not difficult to pick up the tone of contemptuous sarcasm running throughout any Jane Austen novel as she lays down the aspects of her society that she indeed held in the highest contempt. That is the privilege the fiction writer allows herself - it's called artistic license.

Galt may be many things, but a gentleman he is not. What on earth does he (or Rand, speaking through him) thinks that he's accomplishing by assuming the worst about his audience and then scolding them like some termagent shrew? It's not only entirely futile to argue in this fashion, it's just bad manners.

I don't think Rand was trying to portray the ultimate "gentleman" when she created Galt (she left that for the Austens and the Brontes). She had bigger things on her mind... like creating the perfect "individualist/inventor" with the capability to change the world. The Destroyer (Dagny's perception of him) and the Rebuilder (his perception of himself).

Brendan:They are fallible and flawed creatures who can rise to greatness or sink into depravity, or exist at all points between.

I can't agreee with your take on human nature here Brendan. Whilst we are most definitely fallible, that doesn't translate as "flawed." This is exactly what Rand rails against... and she's spot on. So long as man considers himself flawed by nature, this will be his expectation of himself and everyone else around him. In this mental state, he is certainly not deserving of a grander vision for his life, simply because he will not be capable of achieving it for himself.

Short of being a retard, a cripple, a mentally ill or insane sonofabitch... what is this "flawed" business all about that you blanketly cover all men with?

I get the impression that this is the very crux of this whole site's existence... hence the constant search for Rand's flaws.

Daniel Barnes said...

Awwright...! The Olivinator comes out blasting...;-)

But let's let the smoke clear and see if she's made any direct hits...

Olivia:
>First of all, let me be the one to remind us that Atlas Shrugged is a FICTIONAL novel where Rand gets to portray her ideal women and men...

Absolutely agree. The whole point of Greg's book, "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" is that Rand's philosophy is a rationalisation of a fictional ideal.

>It is not so difficult to pick up the tone of contempt in Atlas....That is the privilege the fiction writer allows herself - it's called artistic license.

It's not about the expression of contempt per se in Rand's art. What is interesting is the universality of her contempt, the enormous length and breadth of which the Winston Tunnel scene nicely summarises. Everyone from academics to businessmen to sleeping children to anyone who ever entertained a single Objectively Incorrect thought go to the fiery end they deserved. There is nothing remotely like the Winston Tunnel scene in Austen, or the Brontes for that matter. To compare this to Austen's stilletto-like mockery of the social mores of her era is rather like comparing a bottle rocket to an ICBM. One might perhaps look to the grotesqueries of "A Modest Proposal" or "Candide", but of course Rand is not being satirical. If anything, Rand's scene most resembles pomo philosopher Ward Churchill's infamous description of the victims of September 11 as "little Eichmanns", deserving of death for their indirect complicity in an evil society. Hence it is a line of moral argument to beware of.

>...what is this "flawed" business all about that you blanketly cover all men with?...I get the impression that this is the very crux of this whole site's existence... hence the constant search for Rand's flaws.

I can't speak for Brendan, but I would assume he merely means humans err. Whether you call that "flawed", "fallible" or, if you prefer, "contextually perfect" matters little - we are all talking about the same thing.

Hence you are quite right - we are constantly searching for Rand's flaws on this site. That's how you find them! Rather like engineers poring over a proposed bridge design, we're not worried about the lyrical frills and inspirational arches of the lengthy fictional sales brochures. We want to know if will stand up to basic logical and real-word tests - especially important given its designer's claims that all Western civilisation must pass over it to even survive! So far we've searched for, and discovered many serious flaws - where Rand, being human, has erred. And just like bridge design, sometimes these may seem obscure and technical, but this does not make them any less fatal. Hence despite Objectivism's initially impressive appearance on the blueprints and brochures, once you take a serious look at the structure you wouldn't run a metaphorical bicycle over it.

Of course, you will strongly disagree. Well, we are not infallible either! In the robust clash of views, you may end up ultimately right and I wrong. Well, so much the better! Whichever way, together we will get closer to the truth, and the truth will be the winner in the end; and that is to the benefit of even the losers of an argument.

Daniel Barnes said...

Errata: I meant to describe Ward Churchill as an academic. He's actually a historian, not a philosopher.

Anonymous said...

Olivia: “Whilst we are most definitely fallible, that doesn't translate as "flawed."”

As Daniel says, by flawed I mean prone to error, imperfect, both morally and intellectually. I’m also happy to go with fallible. Another way of describing human nature is to say that human beings have the capacity for both great good and great evil.

Kudos to R for focusing on the positive, but her “grand vision” invokes a disdain for human frailty and fallibility, because these attributes are an affront to the quest for moral perfection and godlike power.

That’s why the passengers in the train have to die – they stand in the way of progress towards R’s grand vision of uber-beings who feel no fear or guilt or pain. Hence Chambers claim: “To a gas chamber go!”

But fear, guilt and pain are part of the human condition. Eliminate them and you no longer have a rounded, whole human being. That’s why Galt’s character lacks substance. He’s a cipher who represents ideas. He has no inner life because he does not struggle against his frailties.

Brendan

Olivia Pierson said...

Daniel & Brendan

I can't speak for Brendan, but I would assume he merely means humans err. Whether you call that "flawed", "fallible" or, if you prefer, "contextually perfect" matters little - we are all talking about the same thing.

I don't think we are talking about the same thing. There is a great deal of difference between being "imperfect," "fallible" and "evil."

As Daniel says, by flawed I mean prone to error, imperfect, both morally and intellectually. I’m also happy to go with fallible. Another way of describing human nature is to say that human beings have the capacity for both great good and great evil.

See, human beings do not have the capacity for both great good and great evil. Only a good human being has the capacity for great good, and only an evil human being has the capacity for great evil. A refusal to make these kinds of distinctions between people only leads to a "we're all in the same boat together" mentality, which is one of the more revolting aspects of socialism.

We all make mistakes and this is rightly called error... but people respond very differently to the mistakes they make. Some will see it, admit it and correct it. Others will see it, cover it and continue it... whilst some others will not even try to see it but will instead evade it - with every ounce of their strength.

Only one of these people will develop character. And only one of them will possess "the capacity" for great good.

Kudos to R for focusing on the positive, but her “grand vision” invokes a disdain for human frailty and fallibility, because these attributes are an affront to the quest for moral perfection and godlike power.

Her grand vision invokes an intolerance toward human frailty and fallibility to be accepted as our most natural tendency. (As the Church historical has hammered home for over 2000 bloody years).

Rand accepted that frailty and fallibility was a small part of our human condition. But she rightly rejected them as being our dominant characteristics. If human beings accept these things as inevitable most of the time, they will simply live the life they deserve - a frail, fallible one.

We are born perfect. Absolutely PERFECT! And if we grow up with "right" ideas befitting us as human beings - we thrive and experience happiness as our natural, normal state!

Gentleman, with all due respect, a focus on frailty absolutely sux. And I say this as a person who has her frail moments. They pass. They don't need to matter - let alone define who I am.

G.P. said...

We are born perfect. Absolutely PERFECT! And if we grow up with "right" ideas befitting us as human beings - we thrive and experience happiness as our natural, normal state!

I cannot imagine a more distorted vision of human nature than this ...
How can you not take in account the myriads of ailments, both permanent and transient, whom a person has from his birth and the obvious impact they will have on his basic outlook ? Can't you understand that even basic defects like myopia can bring a person to be more timid and less prone to risk-taking, and there are infinitely worse ones ?

See, human beings do not have the capacity for both great good and great evil. Only a good human being has the capacity for great good, and only an evil human being has the capacity for great evil.

Another gem... Only a incredibly skewed definition of good could ever account for good and evil acts to be incompatible for the basic person. Have you never encountered an abusive husband who is also a serious, succesful and hardworking person ?

Anonymous said...

Olivia: “Only a good human being has the capacity for great good, and only an evil human being has the capacity for great evil.”

You’re putting the cart before the horse. The good exists in the act of being good, not as some pre-existing Platonic ‘good’ waiting to manifest itself in occasions of goodness.

If by character you mean it’s possible to develop habits of goodness, sure. But that does not negate my original point. In fact, I’m rather surprised, given Rand’s view of man as tabula rasa, that you could believe that man possesses anything more specific than general capacities.

“Rand accepted that frailty and fallibility was a small part of our human condition. But she rightly rejected them as being our dominant characteristics.”

I am not advocating a focus on human fallibility and frailty. But Rand goes to the opposite extreme and denies that fallibility has any import. That is a dangerous delusion that invariably leads to a fall. If Rand had been less grandiloquent about her abilities, intellectual and emotional, she may well have avoided some disastrous consequences in her own life.

Brendan

Olivia Pierson said...

G.P

How can you not take in account the myriads of ailments, both permanent and transient, whom a person has from his birth and the obvious impact they will have on his basic outlook ? Can't you understand that even basic defects like myopia can bring a person to be more timid and less prone to risk-taking, and there are infinitely worse ones ?

It is his basic outlook which will determine the severity of how much of an impact the ailment has on his life.

A while ago, I read a book called "A Sense of the World." It is the true story of one of the early 18th Century explorers, James Holman. He suffered horrendous swelling of the legs to the point of being seriously crippled for long periods of time. Not only that, he was struck totally blind at the age of 23.

He went on to travel the entire world, on foot and in solitary with nothing but a miserably small income and a cane to guide him. He passionately loved his life. He felt overwhelmingly safe in the world. To him the universe was a benevolent home - whether he was sick or healthy.

I ask you. Why can a man like that make the most of his life and literally walk the entire globe with ailments as severe the ones he had?

I believe the answer is because people like Holman have a deep sense of conviction about human greatness which makes human frailty pale to insignificance.

You may say that is a distorted vision of human nature G.P. But I say it is a wonderful truth of our condition - if we choose it for ourselves - so much as it depends on us.

Only a incredibly skewed definition of good could ever account for good and evil acts to be incompatible for the basic person. Have you never encountered an abusive husband who is also a serious, succesful and hardworking person ?

Using the example you have provided...

Serious, successful and hardworking do not equate to "good." I mean; hardworking at what?? I would say Hitler, Mao and Stalin were all these things.

Whereas with "abusive" (assuming you mean a man who beats his wife up) we are nearly always dealing with an act of evil... it is damaging someone else's life.

So is he a good man? No. He's not.
Is he an evil man? Yes.
Can he ever be a good man? Not if he evades the obvious evil of damaging another's life.

May I ask you G.P, what you think an accurate definition of good is?

Brendan:

If by character you mean it’s possible to develop habits of goodness, sure. But that does not negate my original point. In fact, I’m rather surprised, given Rand’s view of man as tabula rasa, that you could believe that man possesses anything more specific than general capacities

I'm sorry, I do not understand your drift with regard to tabula rasa. I do believe we arrive tabula rasa and am not sure what you think I've said that would negate that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Olivia: “I'm sorry, I do not understand your drift with regard to tabula rasa.”

In your post above, you made the comment: “Only a good human being has the capacity for great good, and only an evil human being has the capacity for great evil.”

This comment gives the impression that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are naturally occurring qualities in human beings, like height and colour. I’m fairly sure you don’t hold that view, in which case good and evil would be developed behaviours. If they are developed behaviours, then whoever develops them has the capacity to do so.

And since all human beings are one species, then all human beings have the capacity for both great good and great evil.

You may be thinking of something different, along the lines that being good is a matter of cultivating certain behaviours, and similarly with evil. I can agree with that, but it doesn’t negate my original claim about humans’ capacity for good and evil.

Why is this important? Ignoring one’s capacity for evil can lead to complacency or hubris in one’s action. I’m sure that when Rand embarked on her affair with Nathaniel Branden she believed it was a good move and that good would result. As it transpired, however, the long-term effects were deceit, heartbreak, damaged lives and broken friendships.

So by all means let us rise above our circumstances. But the higher we go, the further we can fall.

Brendan

IceManSaul said...

Sorry I am so late to this, since I only just found this web site.

Don't characters in ANY cautionary tale die? Ayn Rand was trying to illustrate the consequences of certain ideas.

Where do you interpret any "delight" in her description of the Taggart Tunnel disaster? She was a believer in the "show, don't tell" school of literature. She described the events almost clinically, allowing the reader freedom to react emotionally without the author's influence. Ayn Rand's description of the railroad disaster is dispassionate, almost clinical. Any "delight" you read into it is coming from you and Whittaker Chambers, not Ayn Rand.

gregnyquist said...

"Where do you interpret any 'delight' in her description of the Taggart Tunnel disaster?"

If you find "delight" too strong a word, that's fine. But Rand and acolytes like Alan Greenspan were clearly pleased by the justice doled out to passengers in the train. The event is not portrayed as a tragedy caused by corrupt and narcissistic politician; everyone on the train, Rand implies, were guilty and deserved to die, because they held "bad" ideas. Her descriptions of the passengers are loaded with venom. She calls one passenger a "a sniveling little neurotic." The sins of the passengers are mostly of an ideological persuasion. None of the passengers are murderers, rapists, torturers, genocidal maniacs, etc -- i.e., just the sort of criminals who would deserve to die. There are a few businessmen guilty of graft, but that's the worst of it. The rest are merely guilty of having silly ideas. Of course, I realize that many apologists for Rand regard the sin of holding the wrong ideas as a mortal one. But that's precisely what the rest of us are objecting to.

Michael Prescott said...

I certainly picture Rand chortling with schadenfreude as she penned that scene.

One of the Rand bios recounts how she would clap her hands with glee during the ridiculous "show trials" of dissident Objectivists that were held in her apartment. And check out her journal notes on her unwritten novel "The Little Street," whose hero was inspired by the sadistic child murderer Edward Hickman.

There was a deep vein of misanthropy and pure malice in Rand, which she rationalized in terms of her commitment to heroic ideals. Linus in the "Peanuts" comic strip spoke for Rand when he said, "I love humanity. It's people I can't stand!"

Cavewight said...

Greg,

Concerning Galt's "tone of contempt" I was surprised you didn't mention this line. "Sweep aside those parasites of subsidized classrooms, who live on the profits of the mind of others and proclaim that man needs no morality, no values, no code of behavior."

One would think this type of statement would be very off-putting to those "parasites"; on the contrary, a few million in donations from the ARI has softened up their attitudes enough to have an Objectivism department added to many a university curriculum.

Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...

Brendan,

One small point. The adults in the Winston Tunnel disaster suffered. The sleeping children did not suffer. It is easy to miss this point. Those who suffered and died were each culpable in their small way. The children died in their sleep and did not suffer because they were not culpable, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Note that out of all the villains in AS, Robert Stadler - the man of genius who relinquished his mind and joined forces with the looters - seems to have suffered most, even if for a few minutes, before he died in the ruins of Project X.

Suffering is Rand's goal and consequence for the parasites looters in AS, not simply dying.

Perhaps it should also be noted that most of the US suffered and died at the end of the novel, either directly from the destruction of Project X (which also killed Stadler whose own brilliant theories went into its creation), or from mass starvation due to the government-created famine.