Atlas Shrugged

From Everything Shii Knows, the only reliable source

This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

Atlas Shrugged is a book that I will never read, yet I am writing a review of it here. This isn't like The Princess Bride where the author pretends to have never read the book as a plot device. I know that this book is pure shit, and will not read it, because of the premise.

That would make for a pretty short book review, huh? Well, I've heard enough about it that I would like to refute that stuff alone.


Plot summary

Someone invents some amazing thing and a bunch of leeches and scumsuckers want to take it away from him. His company gets it patented and tries to sell it but it fails. Everything has gone wrong and nobody knows why. It's the world's biggest mystery, and the whole economy is grinding to a halt! The genius inventor goes on an epic quest to get to the bottom of it, and eventually finds out that everything has ground to a halt because the CEOs of the world have gone into hiding. Yes, they are starting a CEO commune, because they are the only good people in the world and everyone else is just leeching off of them. The CEOs then destroy the city and everything goes up in flames. Great ending, huh? This is what happens next:

Is man natural?

<Shii> to hold onto things, and claim them to be you and yours, is denying that death will come and take all that away.
<lungfish> i can own a thing within the duration of my life
<lungfish> after i die its ownership is irrelevant to me as i am dead
<Shii> it's not necessarily even death that will change something.
<Shii> things will come from the outside to take you and yours away from you, not just death, and you will have to live with what happens.
<Shii> objectivism is an attempt to deny that. it says that your only purpose is to hoard.
<lungfish> alright, of course there are events that are outside of my control
<lungfish> i don't think that's what it says, where does it say that?
<Shii> but if you accept that some things are impermanent, and if you can let go, then you have a better understanding.
<lungfish> i can accept my life is impermanent, and therefore i desire to make it the best possible life for its finite time
<Shii> look, basically every word of this essay is about defense of you and yours.
<lungfish> i would agree with that
<Shii> there's no recognition that it's IMPOSSIBLE to keep everything you own for your entire lifetime.
<Shii> even if you theoretically could fight for all your property, things like your body and mind would still change.
<lungfish> i think that is an obvious concept
<lungfish> what's up for dispute is not that which we cannot control
<lungfish> it is that which we can
<lungfish> we're discussing ethics, here
<Shii> so, the question is whether ethics should reflect the law of nature or try to build against it?
<Shii> wow, this is really deeply linked into western civilization.
<lungfish> yes, well, rand believes man should take pride in its achievements
<lungfish> or his, rather
<Shii> of course, the way of constructing physical things in the west has always been to try to destroy nature.
 so, it makes sense to have an ethics like rand's if you like that.
<lungfish> let me ask you this about nature
<lungfish> is man natural?
<Shii> of course he is
<lungfish> well then
<lungfish> how can man destroy nature?
<lungfish> wouldn't that be nature destroying nature?
<lungfish> which is more natural, the nature of the nature that destroys that nature
<Shii> man is unique because he has the mental capability to choose whether to take without giving back
<lungfish> the nature or*
<lungfish> you think other animals do not choose that?
<lungfish> do you think other animals operate in a means that is not what they believe is their own interest?
<Shii> it can happen to animals, and it's happened in evolutionary history. but we have reason,
 and we can figure out whether it's a good idea.
<lungfish> indeed we can.
<lungfish> reason is a great thing
<Shii> so, to continue from that point
<lungfish> animals have created their own extinctions
<lungfish> we however have a unique weapon to help us against that
<lungfish> our reason
<Shii> civilization is mostly an experiment to see how much we can take to construct things for ourselves.
<lungfish> civilization is the product of men acting in their own interests
<lungfish> it is a natural occurrence
<Shii> sure, limited interests.
<Mike> i wouldn't say that
<Mike> yeah limited interests
<lungfish> just as ants build ant hills
<Mike> but there is definitely an interest in everyone to contribute as a whole to society
<Mike> no one is purely self motivated except sociopaths
<Shii> a few billion years ago there was a bacteria which was really good at reproduction.
 in its own limited self-interest it took over the entire ocean.
<Shii> then there was no more food, and it died out.
<Mike> bacteria did not have motivation
<lungfish> sure it did
<lungfish> its own survival
<lungfish> and like i mentioned before...
<Mike> there is no sentience in a bacteria
<lungfish> animals have created their own extinctions via overpopulation
<lungfish> it is a common phenomenon in history
<Mike> there is no intelligence in a bacterium
<lungfish> main overconsumption of their food sources
<Mike> now animals have self-interest
<Mike> they have greater self-interest than we as humans do
<lungfish> you're right they don't have a level of intelligence comparable to man's
<Shii> so what i'm saying is, because we have reason, we can recognize that even though we as a civilized species are fated to take as much as we can,
 we recognize that this is not the way to sustain an indefinite population, or a variety of life.
<Shii> lungfish, to some extent we will recognize threats as they occur. but relying on our own desires alone to bring up those problems
 will mean that we might not preserve what we want, or prevent the suffering that we're able to.

Francisco's Money Speech debunked

I have been specifically linked to one of the speeches from Atlas Shrugged to justify money worship. I will now debunk this speech line by line. Here goes:

"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."

Behold! Ayn Rand doesn't understand an metaphor that is so obvious it is a common saying. This is how clueless she is.

When people say that "money" is the root of all evil, they have never meant that using a commonly valued material to simplify voluntary exchange is the cause of everything that's wrong with the world. This is so retarded it makes me tear up in laughter.

The word "money" in this saying is shorthand for "things of value". Anything that is especially useful or conveys a social status can be substituted for "money" and you will often see modified versions of the saying which do precisely that. The word "evil" does not mean that people who like money are psychopaths. It means that loving money too much leads to bad decisions. In fact, the way the phrase usually goes is "the love of money is the root of all evil."

The context in which this phrase would be used is when someone is being taken over by greed. It doesn't mean that earning ten bucks to buy dinner makes you an evil person, and Ayn Rand is delusional for claiming otherwise.

"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. Is this what you consider evil?"

Ayn Rand now absurdly claims that if people say money is the root of all evil, then they're really saying that hard-workin' people are evil, and they therefore hate humanity. Or, they want to mooch off of humanity. This ideology is so wonderfully simplistic that I can imagine entire other speeches about the implications of "hating money = hating work." I'm sure this 1,000-page book is full of them. But this statement is delusional. It's so wrong that it's not even wrong: of course people are the root of evil. Where did you think evil came from? Trees? But that's not what she's trying to get at here.

The use of the term "evil" becomes more problematic in this passage than it was in the last one. Let's say someone really is claiming that owning any material goods beyond basic necessities is "evil". What kind of person would believe that? I imagine the Animal Liberation Front might. But equating that to liberalism is like equating libertarians with neo-Nazis.

Greed is evil. When the people of the world stand up against plutocracy of the sort found in Zimbabwe and Burma, it is not because they hate having to work for a living, nor because they despise people who use a commonly valued good to simplify voluntary exchange. It is because the "leaders" are blind to the needs of others and lust only to keep what they have and get more of it. The world should not wait for such irrational people to calm down and decide it's time to purchase useful things with their material and political wealth.

Another delusion is that you become rich and powerful through the sweat of your brow. The richest people in the world do not actually work. They do not produce anything except the management of other people. You don't need to be a Marxist to recognize that if a CEO personally grew an acre of corn, it obviously wasn't part of his job description. So, when Ayn Rand describes her CEO commune, she is talking about something that would never happen in real life.

This is why people who are "successful" in the business world do not waste time on Objectivism. Objectivism springs from the desire to justify your evil greed. The truly greedy do not bother justifying themselves. They simply do whatever they can get away with. Objectivists aspire to become these people, but they never will as long as they have a conscience.

"Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions--and you'll learn that man's mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth."

The earth has an endless bounty of beauty and most of it is not ours. We do not put a monetary value on things like the Northern Lights, a sunset, or a woodpecker (the EPA excepted) but a normal person nevertheless finds these things beautiful. In the classic movie Michael Clayton, the title character experiences his greatest moment of redemption seeing horses on a hill in the early morning and getting out of his sports car to go admire them.

Libertarians would call such beauty "romantic" and ask people to preserve it with their own property. But Objectivists go farther than that. Ayn Rand does not have any concept of beauty. For Rand, the most beautiful things are those which demonstrate as much value as possible. (No wonder she liked Art Deco so much: Rockefeller used it on his buildings.) For Rand, anything that cannot be put on a supply-and-demand graph is an inexplicable quirk of the dirty planet which only moochers are interested in. For Rand, human endeavors such as science are only means to the eventual production of wealth, and religion is a valueless vestige of a dark time when everyone was much stupider than they are now. Buddhist monks and Christian priests produce nothing and leech off of the general populace; they are, to her, scum. This is an anti-philosophy. It is an offense to human nature.

edit. My Objectivist friend tells me that Rand doesn't mean that. What she really means exchangeable material has its origin in human conceptions, not in the brute force needed to extract the material from nature. This gets into Ishmael issues: the idea that we can impose an order onto nature in general.

"But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. 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."

"When people think, money happens. If there's no money they aren't thinking hard enough." This is an absurd description of trade. The best way to "create" your own wealth is by scamming people. Scamming requires no physical product at all, only mental creativity. Good work, you have "created wealth."

Once again, if you can't put a dollar value on something, it is literally worthless. This is complete nihilism except for greed. Greed is the only thing that exists in the world.

<lungfish> if i make a farm and grow food, am i not creating wealth? 
<Shii> yes. you're converting something that's not immediately useful to other  people, into something that is.
<lungfish> so, wealth is created.
<lungfish> why don't the monkeys farm, then?
<Shii> because they have all the food they need.
<Shii> wealth is only a means to an end.
<lungfish> are you sure it's not because they don't know how?
<Shii> uh, yes, i am pretty sure
<lungfish> you think monkeys could farm if they desired to
<Shii> are you a creationist or something?
<Shii> why do you think there are still monkeys? is God keeping an eye on them?

The writing gets worse...


"To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort."

This nonsense passage, typical of Rand's writing, can be properly interpreted only when you put it into a context that she doesn't explicitly state. What she's actually saying here is that to judge the value of something by means other than money means you do not have good will and are taking people's property from them. Example: If you don't let someone pollute a river with arsenic because it will ruin the national forest around them, which is judgment based on the inherent value of life, then you are robbing that person of his God-given right to make as much money as possible. If an 1855 European government blocks cloth imports from the United States because they were produced by slavery, the government is stopping voluntary exchange. Money is the only unbiased judge of people who wish to act mindlessly.

"Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders."

My reading between the lines applies to this passage as well. Remember, if Ayn Rand didn't say the same thing five different ways, this book wouldn't be 1,000 pages long.

"Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss--the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery--that you must offer them values, not wounds--that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods."


No, seriously, what.

We have already seen that Ayn Rand has no sense of beauty. This goes so far beyond that that I can barely even comprehend how terrible a person Ayn Rand is. Anyone who thinks this book is somehow smart must be mentally deficient.

So, let's get this straight. There is no such thing as alleviating someone's suffering, except where money is involved. There is no such thing as hospitality, or kindness, only misplaced loans. Now, that's not to say that gifts are not generalized reciprocity. But gifts are offered because people share a common respect for life. People save wounded kittens because they recognize the suffering of a living creature and want to do something about it.

In the world of Ayn Rand, the alternative to making people pay for shit is apparently slavery. That's right: she equates kindness with slavery. This is disguised by saying that people must work for "their own benefit, not their own injury." But this is just a sneaky way of saying "I don't want to do anything unless there's something in it for me." To say something like this as a statement of universal philosophy, rather than aggravation caused by stress and overwork, is the pure opposite of expressing one's humanity.

"Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason."

People often complain about the poor writing present throughout Atlas Shrugged. But the words in this book are carefully chosen. The reason it reads so awfully is because what she's saying is awful.

This sentence doesn't make a lot of sense (how do you sell weakness?). But her intention is clear: any expression of generosity is "weakness" which caters only to "stupidity." Greed, on the other hand, is the performance of "talent" for "reasonable" people. It seems to be literally impossible for Ayn Rand to write a single sentence that doesn't ooze contempt for anyone who might demonstrate the slightest amount of kindness. She probably thinks Dickens' Christmas Carol is a tale of a hero getting beaten down by society and becoming weak.

"And when men live by trade--with reason, not force, as their final arbiter--it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability--and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward."

The reason she feels the need to write this down is because it is patently untrue. If it were true there would be no argument about it. The barest consultation of reality reveals some flaws with Rand's assertion.

(Hint: The easiest way to make money is to walk up to someone on the street and tell them you need a bus ticket to see your dying grandma. Or if you reject that argument, imagine how, according to this sentence, Rand would judge someone who spends his entire day selling hot dogs made secretly from stray kittens.)

"This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?"

What she has just described is pure greed, and yes, it is evil.

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality--the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind."

Apparently greed is good because of copyright law, or something. This probably ties into some other grand idea of Rand's which I don't even want to think about too hard at this point.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek."

Money does not do your dishes, or sort your CDs, or iron your shirts for you.

"Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent."

Success is measured purely in terms of money. If you can't make enough money for your needs, you are stupid, cowardly, or incompetent--most likely all three.

This toxic characterization of poor people as idiots has weaseled its way into popular political dialog. It's probably been popularized because it is indeed possible that someone can become poor through his own stupidity, cowardice, or incompetence. But it is also possible that someone could get ripped off or ruined by forces beyond her control, or something she could not have been expected to know. If someone without the money for a new car buys a used car and it's a lemon, you don't blame the buyer. You blame the seller, because he's an asshole.

"The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?"

If you use money to buy a solution, and someone rips you off, you got what you deserved. You had too much money; you deserved to be poorer so you could buy the shitty solution that was equal to you. Are you calling money evil because you are a waste of flesh? I bet you are.

At this point

my blood pressure got too high and I had to stop reading.

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