Friday, April 15, 2011

Atlas Shrugged and the Sphere, Part III

This is Part III of my response to Atlas Shrugged, to get you ready to see the movie that opens today. (See Wednesday and Thursday's posts for Part I and Part II.) Economically, the philosophy of the book is fairly sound. When you’re figuring out whether an economic policy is in the northern or southern hemisphere of the Spherical Model, the primary question to ask is whether the person who makes the money decides how to spend it. Ayn Rand’s philosophy definitely places spending power in the hands of the producer of the wealth. So, definitely northern hemisphere.

Socially/morally, however, there are essential pieces missing. The book claims self-interest and independence as the highest morality. But there’s much of life that this philosophy doesn’t reach.

Dagny symbolizes much of what the author is taking us through. So, what Dagny misses, we can assume Ayn Rand is missing. Dagny is sexual but infertile. She has a sexual relationship as a 17-year-old with the older D’Anconia (technically statutory rape, but presented here as a positive, with them both thinking it through as the logical behavior). There are no negative consequences for the out-of-wedlock sex, nor even a hint that there could be negative consequences. A pregnant teenage Dagny might not have become an industrial giant at 30.

Dagny later has a sexual relationship with the married Hank Rearden. It is consensual, and his marriage is a sham, portrayed as a trap caused only by the rules set by the looters (no possibility that the institution of marriage has values in itself beyond and before the looters’ search for power). This relationship goes on for a couple of years, ending only after Dagny meets John Galt and therefore turns her sexual desires to him, because as the most desirable female (based on her productive ability and problem-solving brain power) she must logically fit with the most desirable male.

Oddly enough, when D’Anconia, who (despite the playboy rumors he had been creating about himself) has been saving himself for the time when he can reunite in honor with Dagny, because there is no other woman for him, finds out about Rearden, he’s OK with it and concedes relationship defeat without resistance. Again, when he sees Dagny’s desire for John Galt, whom D’Anconia loves for his value system, he’s totally fine with that. He will, apparently, go the rest of his life without a mate, because he didn’t quite deserve Dagny, and no other woman could possibly be worthy. And he has no resentment or jealousy. Hmmm.

And when Rearden sees her again, after her month lost at the Colorado colony, he guesses, almost without a clue, that she has found someone else, and he simply has no problem with it. He will, apparently, go the rest of his life without a mate, because he didn’t quite deserve Dagny, and no other woman could possibly be worthy. And he has no resentment or jealousy. Hmmm. (Yes, that is an uncanny and unlikely repeat of D’Anconia’s behavior.)

The Colorado colony has very few women. Of those mentioned, one is a famous actress, very skilled in her craft, married to Ragnar Danneskjold, childless. The other is, ironically, a homeschooling mother; she left the outer world where the government was preventing her from teaching her children except as government required. (I related to her.) Almost all of the disappearing industrialists involved in the brain strike just happen to be unencumbered by wife and family. It is suggested that no more women are likely to be allowed into the colony. Galt mentions that husband and wife have a mutual agreement in what they offer one another, so marriage isn’t necessarily a parasitic relationship (a token respect for marriage, at least). So when Rand mostly excludes women from Galt’s world, it may be that she thinks women in large part are not logical enough, not independent enough, not self-interested enough, not productive enough. Men unencumbered by family tend to be better human specimens, in her view.

The colony men seem to be perfectly content with the absence of women. Heads up: a movement that does not/cannot reproduce and pass along its philosophy to the next generation will die off after the current generation.

If nothing else, Rand shows that she doesn’t understand the male mind, productive or not. Nor does she understand that industrial capacity is not necessarily the most desirable trait in a woman for every productive man. Nor does she understand or value procreation, which is absolutely essential for continuation of the human species, and that in its natural form with mother and father raising their own children into adulthood is essential for inculcating the values that allow for civilization.

The fact of life is that, when a parent brings a child into this world—which is the natural and likely consequence of a sexual relationship, no matter how unlikely Rand made it in 1069 pages—the parents then, for the sake of the child, for their own happiness as parents, and for the sake of civilization, owe it to that child to relieve the child of the impoverished, shelterless, unlearned state he is born in until the child grows to adulthood, at which time making the decision to be independent is an option.

Swearing Galt’s oath, not to expect anyone to live for him (provide for him) isn’t an option for a child. Swearing not to live for someone else isn’t even relevant when the youngster can’t even live for himself yet. Is the child immoral for this inability? I can’t wrap my mind around that possibility.

If, after bringing the child into the world by making decisions and acting in a way to beget the child, the parent keeps the oath not to live for another (provide for him), is that moral? It’s hard to imagine a culture larger than two people in which that wouldn’t be considered neglect.

I think we should be able to say, then, that Galt’s oath is not the most moral way in a society that includes children and therefore has the possibility of continuing. So there are limits to the morality of self-interest. Let’s consider that Galt (and therefore Rand) may be wrong about self-interest being the highest morality, and there may be a higher morality that he fails to recognize.

There’s another unlikely detail about the heroes in Atlas Shrugged: every one of the producers, even among more minor characters, is tall, slender, strong, brilliant, never ill or out of energy. Hmmm. Again, not real life.

In Rand’s world, “good” people, the ones who use their brains to solve problems and accomplish things, for which they rightly expect to be compensated, are never ill. So they have the ability to make the choice Galt requires of them. While not ideal, it is acceptable to be only smart and not brilliant, as long as one is faithful and hard working, earning one’s keep.

The Galt theory of economics is better than looters taking from the producers. In our current circumstances, this theory is so superior to the legalized theft being forced on us that it is very appealing. But its sterility lifts it, on the Spherical Model, only just above the equator, not above the 45th parallel. Producers should be free to profit from their work; but for civilization to result, there must also be religious and philanthropic people, giving freely not to looters or moochers, but to those willing but unable to produce for themselves: children, elderly, infirm—non-producers for no fault of their own. To ignore these groups and let them starve is immoral—as immoral as the unrealistic sexual promiscuity Ayn Rand supports. The choice to share must be voluntary, not imposed by guilt or legal theft; but Galt refuses to allow the giving, calling it immoral. He is wrong to prevent it, and so is Rand.

In short, Galt’s oath to “never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” is seriously inferior to, “I swear to live my life for the sake of God, protecting and providing for my family as He expects of me, and relieving the suffering of his weakest children as I am able, while I accept His redeeming sacrifice for me and try to live worthy of His love.”

4 comments:

  1. Ayn Rand is one of my favorite illegal immigrants

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  2. I'm laughing. I didn't know that about her.

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  3. I'm looking forward to it. I checked theater locations, but haven't made it yet. I enjoyed the first two, and hope this one is well done.

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