Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged


Ayn Rand discovered a few plain and precious truths:

1. Money is made.  Money is simply a way of trading the worth of your goods for someone elses.  It doesn't matter what your goods are - it matters if others are willing to trade theirs for yours.
Money is not finite, because all money is based on the worth of something your produce.  The more you produce and the better you do it - the more money is made.  Everyone can be rich at the same time.  There is no such thing as "one person became rich, and that made the rest of us poor."  There is no "pie" so when one person has a "bigger slice" it doesn't detract from anyone elses ability to make money as well. 

2.  Mercy cannot rob justice.  Both can be met - but never one at the expense of the other.

3.  Those who "produce" with their minds are often worth far more than those who "produce" with their bodies.  A blacksmith could make a steel beam in about three days.  But if someone develops the technology, that same blacksmith can use equipment and engineering to produce 100 steel beams in three days.
The blacksmith does the same "amount" of work - yet produces 100x more.  Who gets the profit?  The blacksmith doing the work, or the inventor who made it possible?
 - the answer is both.  Everyone benefits and makes more.  But her point is that - If no one has ideas, then muscle and production are pretty useless.  The metal and glass used to make an iPod probably cost about $15 as raw materials. - so why do we pay $300 for them?  And why don't those profits go to the makers of the glass and metal, or the workers assembling the iPods?  They make money - but they are not the reason the final product is worth so much.  It's worth so much because of what it can DO - what the inventors programmed into it!

The problem with Ayn Rand is that once she discovered these truths - she stopped searching.
She thought she could sum up the purpose and motto of life in one sentence:
"I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
She assumed she found the only truth there ever was - and she took 1168 pages to explain it.  The only moral principle is that of production.  There are no morals other than the moral of doing the best job you can do - nothing more, nothing less.
She openly mocks sexual morality in her book.  Caring for others, love, religion - there is no purpose to any of that.  There is no truth there, no morality, nothing.  You either produce or you don't.  That is your worth.

That is what destroys her book.  She realized something great.  She pointed out that you don't have to limit "the big guy" to make room for "the little guy."  If one person succeeds, that doesn't mean others fail. Profit is not evil.  It is those who produce who feed the rest of us. Corporations are not bad - they employ people and make money and products that all of us want and use.
Laborers aren't any better than thinkers.  It doesn't matter how you produce or contribute, it matters that you do - and that you do it well.

She is right - But she thinks you must ONLY produce.  You cannot be nice.  You cannot care about what happens to others.  You cannot love and you cannot live by standards.  You cannot believe in God.  There is one standard and one God to her - that is production.

The part that really disturbed me was her understanding of sex.  To Ayn Rand - sex is a prize, a reward to be given to the best producer and the most genius mind.  Literally.  Her protagonist sleeps with one man, then finds someone smarter and richer and starts sleeping with him - then finds the smartest man ever - and sleeps with him.

Then she tries to show all three men being perfectly happy and content with this arrangement.  The first two say "you found someone smarter and richer, I'm happy for you and still love you, and go have all the sex you want with the new guy instead of me - he deserves it."

That's just wrong on so many levels - I can't talk about it anymore.

Then she makes a rather glaring mistake in her book: She realized another truth, but refused to admit it.  She discovered that once people are independent, self sustaining producers - they gladly share and collaborate with others of their caliber. 
She writes vehemently that human beings should NEVER give each other ANYTHING.  Everything must be purchased, even between the closest of friends.  Yet - she shows them giving new-comers things for free, knowing they'll be able to produce on their own later, and pay back all the generosity shown to them.

Ayn Rand realized that motivated and driven people can be kind, and caring, and generous, and can give things freely to others of the same mind.  She ends her book with people risking their lives and fortunes to save those they love - but she just tried to cover it up and never admit it openly.

Some of Rand's characters are deep and real - but those characters are few and far between.  Most of her characters are uni-dimensional, artificial, and ridiculous.  They are over the top, overzealous, and they make the book feel like a parable instead of a good story.

This book does make you think.  It makes some great points - but it gets so bogged down teaching the same lesson 47 different ways, that it really isn't worth recommending.  If an abridged version exists - try that.  It wasn't worth the 1168 pages.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here are some good quotes from the book:

What's the most depraved type of human being? The man without a purpose.

"I've hired you to do a job, not to do your best—whatever that is." 

"You are an unusual, brilliant child who has not seen enough of life to grasp the full measure of human stupidity.”

Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth—the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. 

Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it.

“Miss Taggart, I can proudly say that in all of my life I have never made a profit!"
Her voice was quiet, steady and solemn: "Mr. Lawson, I think I should let you know that of all the statements a man can make, that is the one I consider most despicable."

Do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It's resentment of another man's achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone's work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal— for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you'd give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. 

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Anconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce."

Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can't consume more than he has produced. 

Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it. 

When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doom.

All your life, you have heard yourself denounced, not for your faults, but for your greatest virtues. You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements. You have been scorned for all those qualities of character which are your highest pride. You have been called selfish for the courage of acting on your own judgment and bearing sole responsibility for your own life. You have been called arrogant for your independent mind. You have been called cruel for your unyielding integrity. You have been called anti-social for the vision that made you venture upon undiscovered roads. You have been called ruthless for the strength and self-discipline of your drive to your purpose. You have been called greedy for the magnificence of your power to create wealth. 

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders—what would you tell him to do?"

"I . . . don't know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?"

"To shrug."
Robin Hood is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don't have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, has demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters.

There's no such thing as a lousy job—only lousy men who don't care to do it.

What were they counting on? Those who had once simpered: "I don't want to destroy the rich, I only want to seize a little of their surplus to help the poor, just a little, they'll never miss it!"—then, later, had snapped: "The tycoons can stand being squeezed, they've amassed enough to last them for three generations"—then, later, had yelled: "Why should the people suffer while businessmen have reserves to last a year?"—now were screaming: "Why should we starve while some people have reserves to last a week?" What were they counting on? 

Man cannot survive except by gaining knowledge, and reason is his only means to gain it. 

The name of this monstrous absurdity is "Original Sin." A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality.

'The public,' to you, is whoever has failed to achieve any virtue or value; whoever achieves it, whoever provides the goods you require for survival, ceases to be regarded as part of the public or as part of the human race. 

Every man is free to rise as far as he's able or willing, but it's only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he'll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. 

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