Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Allegorical Atlas Shrugged

The Allegorical Atlas Shrugged

As more and more Americans take to the streets to protest the punitive taxation, reckless spending, and forced wealth redistribution that Congress and the White House seem determined to cram down their throats, the question, “who is John Galt?” keeps popping up in public discourse. According to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights sales of her opus magnum, Atlas Shrugged, have almost tripled since the 2008 election. On the grass roots level, conservative and libertarian bloggers are talking about “Going Galt.” Bumper stickers and T-shirts touting Rand’s enigmatic capitalist hero have been spotted. At the Tea Party protests around the country, Galt’s name is on protesters’ lips and on their signs. For fans of the 1957 novel, John Galt’s charisma is obvious; it feels like we are now living in some lost chapter of Atlas Shrugged.

Authoritarian leftists are quick to bash anyone who dares question the Obama administration or their utopian ideals. With a fierce hatred normally reserved for Joe the Plumber or Sarah Palin, the commenters on the left swooped in to stomp on the meme and crush the Objectivists’ spirit of resistance.

Blogger TBogg writes at firedoglake:

Um. No.

Atlas Shrugged is twenty pounds of shit in a 1200 page book, which makes it less than desirable or "totable" as beach reading. Not that it doesn't have its uses at the beach if, say for example, you needed to weigh down a canvas duffel containing the lifeless body of a libertarian who brought up John Galt one time too many and you needed that bag to stay submerged few nautical miles south of the Coronado Islands...but let's not talk about wish fulfillment.

The natives are getting restless again and are making muttered threats about about [sic] going John Galt and we are left to wonder how we will ever get by when the world grinds to a halt because Doug Bandow, Will Wilkinson, and the Ole Perfesser call in to say they won't be coming into work because they're feeling kinda "Galtish". Who will fill our "here's an interesting post by [fill-in your own obscure think tank professional wanker]" void?

As the kids say: Oh noes!

Um. No. For one thing, paper tends to float then rapidly disintegrate in water so a large heavy book is probably not the optimal object for weighing down a body, but good try; it sounded funny. The veiled death threat against libertarians for daring to espouse a point of view different from his is a nice touch, too. It conveniently makes my point for me.

He then moves on to deride the “natives” and their talk about going John Galt. He provides a link to one such native, Glenn Reynolds, law professor, record producer, and blogger at Instapundit. Clearly, Tbogg didn’t bother to read Reynolds’ post or even look at the giant graphic at the top of the page, or he would have realized that he just demolished his own post. Reynolds’ post displays a graph of the Dow-Jones Industrial Average following the passage of the stimulus plan. Judging by the plunging trajectory, more than a few investors are “going Galt” with the intended results.

The Dow plummeted 1200 points in 16 days.

As the kids say: Oh noes!

At the Village Voice, Roy Edroso writes:

President Obama has proposed ending the Bush tax cuts in 2011, bringing the top rates from 33 percent to 36 percent and from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. The lower of these hikes would apply to individuals making over $200,000 and households making over $250,000.

This is not really news, as Obama has been talking about it since last summer. What is news is the remarkable reaction of some conservatives, who declare that they (or someone else) will "Go Galt" in retaliation for this return to pre-Bush tax rates.

Alright, he gets credit for attempting to use some logic rather than just pure venom to make his point; none the less, his argument falls flat. I don’t think many of the tea partiers are full on anarcho-capitalists, neither was Ayn Rand. They recognize that some government and taxation is legitimate. The protest is not so much over the amount but over the idea that the purpose of taxation is to forcefully redistribute wealth; it is taxation for revenue vs. putative taxation. Yeah the limit is 250K right now, but we have perched ourselves on the top of a slippery slope. Clearly, the message is that success will be penalized.

True, some commenters might get carried away and start talking about generators and bomb shelters or throw out some otherwise silly ideas. Also, I would agree that refraining from tipping is not a good way to go Galt. The waitress earns her tip. However, we are brainstorming via the internet; some silliness is to be expected and welcomed.

On the other hand, rather than addressing the underlying philosophical differences and explaining their affinity for collectivism and their aversion to personal responsibility, opponents of Rand’s philosophy resort to ad homonym attacks against her fans. They gleefully point out: You didn’t invent a static electricity motor! You’re not a captain of industry! You’re just a stay at home mom! You don’t make 250K! If us ‘Randroids’ were all so stupid, it should be a piece of cake to engage the philosophy. Instead they resort to brilliant arguments along the lines of ‘you suck, too.’ It is a curious phenomenon that Rand’s detractors so readily self identify as “parasites” and “moochers.” It says more about them then it does about Atlas Shrugged.

A satirical Facebook page with over 200 members, “Go Galt Go!” popped up, mocking the idea of civil disobedience on the part of capitalists. The description reads:

We proudly salute "Dr. Helen," Glenn Reynolds, and Michelle Malkin, for identifying the only possible response to Barack Obama's victory - 'going Galt.' By withdrawing their creative and intellectual achievements from the economy and stopping tipping waitstaff, the schmibertarian right can surely bring the parasites and Democrats to their knees. We look forward to these three thought leaders striking the obvious first blow, by refusing to blog for the ungrateful masses and withdrawing to a secret compound until the world capitulates to their demands! Only a universal wingnut blogging strike can bring the moochers to their senses. John Galt lives!

After spending 8 years hysterically screeching that Bush is Hitler, Cheney is the anti-Christ, wearing face paint and orange jump suits, staging die-ins, and marching around waving giant papier-mâché puppets, they make fun of Dr. Helen, Glenn Reynolds, and Michelle Malkin for discussing literature and tax policy? “Schmibertarian,” that is so clever; name calling is always a convincing argument. I know critical thinking is a dying art, but who are the real anti-intellectuals, here?

“Only a universal wingnut blogging strike can bring the moochers to their senses. John Galt lives!” Once again, the author didn’t read the whole book and thus completely misses the point. The strike envisioned by Rand did not include a strike on speaking your mind, quite to the contrary. Near the end of the novel, in a scene that would look a little like Rush Limbaugh highjacking every television and cable network during Obama’s State of the Union, John Galt highjacks every radio station in the country to interrupt Mr. Thompson’s speech and delivers his own oration; it spans 56 pages in my edition. The internet wasn’t around when Ms. Rand wrote Atlas, but if it had been, there is a good chance that, in addition to being an engineer, Galt would have also been a talk radio host and prolific wingnut blogger. “Going Galt” means more Limbaughs, Malkins, and Instapundits.

One powerful snippet from Galt’s speech jumps off the page at me, that aptly describes the situation our country is facing:

You did not care to compete in terms of intelligence—you are now competing in terms of brutality. You did not care to allow rewards to be won by successful production—you are now running a race in which rewards are won by successful plunder. You called it selfish and cruel that men should trade value for value—you have now established an unselfish society where they trade extortion for extortion.

Atlas Shrugged’s plot is not to be taken literally; it is an allegory. Rand isn’t really instructing us to build hidden cities in the mountains; certainly, that element of fantasy appeals to the spirit of rugged individualism that many Americans still carry in their hearts. However, for protesters and bloggers “Going Galt” is a metaphor meant to symbolize nonviolent protest in the face of creeping socialism. Galt saw that the government would seize his life’s work. Instead of acquiescing, and surrendering himself to this novel form of slavery, he set in motion a bold course of direct action. Atlas Shrugged artfully declares that socialism is slavery, and the remedy is peaceful resistance.

No comments: