Don’t Like: People Telling Me I Have to Read Atlas Shrugged

Hint: I don’t.

For the uninitiated, Atlas Shrugged is a book by Ayn Rand. Let’s go to wiki: “first published in 1957 in the United States. It was Rand’s last work of fiction before concentrating her writings exclusively on philosophy, politics and cultural criticism. At over one thousand pages in length, she considered it her magnum opus.[1] Also, at approximately 645,000 words, Atlas Shrugged is one of the longest novels ever written in any European language. The book explores a number of philosophical themes that Rand would subsequently develop into the philosophy of Objectivism.[2][3]

Now.

My problem with Atlas Shrugged is not its length. Not liking a book because it is long, is well, stupid. One of the Harry Potters is 800+ pages for pete’s sake.  So why don’t I like it? I’ve actually tried to read Atlas Shrugged before and I got about a third of the way before deciding the whole endeavor is a waste of my time.

But how can I have an opinion then? How hypocritical of me to lambaste a book I haven’t even fully read.

Really, it’s because of the whole Objectivism thing. My smart friend Kevin can articulate his feelings/disdain/what have you toward Objectivism much better than I can. I tend to lump it in with my feelings of disdain for libertarianism, but this is kind of it’s own special brand of dumb.  In short, it’s a philosophy that combines   metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics as a way of justifying why you don’t want to pay taxes.

Okay, not exactly what it ends up saying, but it kind of is the end result. To Rand’s credit, you have to be pretty intellectual to understand the whole affair. It’s tricky, but it’s basically a version of philosophical libertarianism that doesn’t have the courage to outright dismiss the collective concept and instead opts for a completely nonsensical reason for how acting selfish really is good for other people.

Whatever, Ayn. If that is your real name.

I could discuss this all in actual detail, but I’m going to got a read a book I like now.

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23 Responses to Don’t Like: People Telling Me I Have to Read Atlas Shrugged

  1. lucidlunatic says:

    While I kinda sort of agree with some of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I find her books incredibly dry and hard to read. So I can sympathize.

  2. Curtis Plumb says:

    How can you “kinda sort of agree” with something that you can’t understand?

  3. Ken says:

    I’ve read Atlas Shrugged. The entire thing. I mean every damn word…ok, except for that really long-winded John Gault speech toward the end. By that point I could hardly take it anymore, but I was just so close to finishing. So I skimmed about 20 pages. I think that accounts for…1-2% of the book? Ayn Rand is not difficult to understand. She takes 1 idea and beats it into you for pages upon pages using slightly different wording.

    After finishing I felt like Officer Barbrady. Because of that book I seriously considered never reading again.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you read Atlas Shrugged and accept it as a long quest novel interspersed with philosophical essays on various subjects, then you would enjoy it. The quest is the search for complete personal, creative, spiritual, ethical, sexual, political and philosophical fulfillment by the protagonist, Dagny Taggert. The story telling is gripping, the plot compelling: ‘a man who said he woyuld stop the motor of the world – and did’ is a pretty good plot by any standards. What most readers object – no pun intended – to is Rand’s overwhelming certainty – which often gets interpreted as arrogance. Rand knew she was right and said so loudly. That irks some people – usually the less certain. Read Atlas Shrugged. It might make you a better person. It will only take a few hours. There’s only one lame scene in the whole novel – the pirate crashing through the window and introducing himself. Other than that the novel works well. Give it a chance. It’s a big book because it contains big ideas. Enjoy.

  5. mgss says:

    First off thank you for taking the time to care and respond with thoughtfulness. It’s always much appreciated.

    See the thing is, I’ve read enough of her essays on objectivism and other subjects to be well versed in her thoughts and philosophies. If I was merely reacting to her overwhelming certainty, I would be nothing more than a contrarian (which i hate… imagine it said in david brent’s voice https://stuffilikeandstuffidontlike.wordpress.com/2008/03/11/dont-like-contrarianism/). Like I said though, my problem is that I intensely disagree with her well-formulated opinions. It’s not that she’s “right” it’s that she’s so far far from being right that her hyper-intellectual take almost scares me. Consider Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Sociologically speaking, that’s what I consider objectivisms effect on the collective. Hell, she’s basically trying to disprove the notion of the collective (i imagine she’s not a big fan of jung).

    Anywho, I’m not so silly as to believe in the overwhelming vituousity of my own philosophy, but I believe in it strongly enough to justify it against certain opposing notions. And I certianly believe it enough to not read a didactic novel that’s just trying to justify the things I’ve already read.

    I hope that makes more sense.

    Thank you.

  6. rjdent says:

    It does. The thing is though, Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is not just an add on subject for her – it comes from her loathing and fear of Stalinist Russia, where her family remained – presumably at risk – when she fled to America – hence the name change. The political stance, which looks at first glance to be ultra-right, is in fact anti-collective, because Ayn Rand saw that every collective that had ever existed was fundamentally totalitarian – ie, collectivism advocated the eradication of the individual. She only had to take a quick look had Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian ang German history to see that that was very much the case. All collectives kill the individual. That’s what she was fighting all her life. She did it using her skills as a writer and thinker. She published her findings. She wrote of her fears in four novels and lots of essays, as well as screenplays, plays, recordings, lectures, etc. In short, in all available media. That’s what one has to do – if the well is poisoned, it’s your moral duty to tell everyone – loudly. Shout it out. Ayn Rand was on a mission. More people should listen. She wasn’t wrong. Try The Fountainhead, Anthem, We The Living, Night of January 16th, Think Twice, or Red Pawn. She gets her message across better in her fiction. I say some of this in a more cohesive way on http://rjdent.wordpress.com/2008/06/15/what-ayn-rand-did-for-me/
    And on that note, I think that’s enough from me. Happy reading.

  7. mgss says:

    There is a huge difference between considering the collective to be the community and considering the collective to be communism. Of course Ayn Rand was right about communism, because she’s right about totalitarianism. Her warnings against communism are completely well constructed and you hit the nail right on the head that any STRICT-collective facist/communist gov. was bad news bears.

    I’m not a communist by any stretch of the imagination, but she basically goes on to do deduce that any measure or safeguard designed to protect a collective interest is folly. She believes that all people acting in complete self-interest balances out as an equal stasis. And THAT is what I’m saying wholly ridiculous. “Individualism” run amok is nothing short of anarchy (I know she’s not an anarchist, i’m just saying socio-economically it’s the equivalent anarchy). Like all things, it’s about balance. A balance of self interest versus the communal good. Russia didn’t care for self-interest. We do. It’s in our blood. But as our cities grow bigger/more impoverished in some areas and more wealthy in others, we need need to organize the communal NEEDS because the world does not work in the small-town 1 to 1 relationship.

    Ayn cherishes the 1 to 1 as most libertarians do, but we live in a world that has gone so far past the 1 to 1 that it’s impossible to think in those terms anymore. We need to organize our needs so that the individual does not unwittingly suppress more individuals. Even with that goal, we are DEFINED by our personal freedom. That’s being American.

    Balance.

    Once again though, thanks for the post.

  8. ben says:

    When you say ‘We need to organise our needs so that the individual does not unwittingly suppress more individuals’, are you being ironic, or deliberately tautological?

  9. mgss says:

    forgive the redundancy. I’m at work and can’t be as concise/succinct as I’d like right now

  10. clayclay says:

    Ben’s point raise a fundamental philosophical issue regarding ‘we’ and what you say ‘we’ ‘must’ do.

    When you say we, do you mean all of humanity, every human being, not one single person excluded? If so, what about the ones who don’t wish to be included. Are they all selfish bastards?

    When you say ‘must’ do you mean voluntarily must, or perhaps with a bit of coersion, be it emotional or physical? Your choice of the word ‘must’ seems a little idealistic on the one hand and rather threatening on the other. There is no universal ‘must’. There are merely the things we would like to do, the things we do, and sometimes the things we shouldn’t do. That’s all.

    And in this utopia you foresee, what of those who want no part of it, but simply want to live as individuals, not imposing their views or life choices on others ans wanting the same in return? Any room for them in your ‘we must’ world? And what of those who believe we must not? Or are they too not worth considering?

    Your anti-Rand philosophy is very dangerous. Of course anti-collective is not only anti-communist; it’s anti-totalitarian, anti-nazi, anti-fascist, anti-waco, anti-religious – which means anti ANY group that sets itself up as the arbiter of morality. ANY! Every single one of them is a threat to liberty. And that’s why everyone should read Ayn Rand.

  11. mgss says:

    Yikes Clay Clay.

    Utopia??? Are you kidding? Do imagine a democratic America as Utopia? Far from it.

    My concern is what is humanitarian-ly functional.

    Governments based on pure libertarianism collapse because there is no collective interest. It was called the articles of confederation and it failed miserably. Governments based on the pure collective collapse because there is no individual interest.

    How this is beyond so many people is amazing to me. No man is an island. What you’re suggesting AMOUNTS to “everyone is an island, and it’s my island! Get off”

    Philosophically speaking what you say has merit, but that’s not how the world operates. You, believe it or not, represent a collective group of your specific interest. Someone living in a different environment of this same country would have a completely different basis of needs. That’s what you’re missing. Your philosophy is not good for the “individual”… it’s good for you.

  12. clayclay says:

    We are all different and our needs and beliefs are different. I simply want to be able to co-exist with different-minded people as well as (some) like-minded people. I do not wish to be coersed into doing anything I do not wish to do. That is all. I know others who feel likewise, but who have vastly differing philosophical viewpoints. We co-exist peacefully enough. Our conversations contains points of interest.

    You say ‘that’s not how the world operates’ but of course it does and can when given the chance. I wish do live my own life, following my own path, free from any interference from anyone. I do (and will continue to) treat others likewise. There is no conflict; none is necessary.

    Sounds like a utopia of sorts.

  13. mgss says:

    I wholly agree with you on the subject of personal freedoms, but the only major subject of “coercion” I’m guessing would be… taxes?

    The other minor problem is that some people operate not with differing viewpoints, but differing actions. What happens when an opposing individual opposes you through coercion? What is the next step for the individual?

  14. rjdent says:

    Let me give an example of selfishness as a virtue.

    Stephen King, best-selling horror novelist first set to work as a writer in the late sixties. His first novel Carrie came out in 1974. In an interview he admitted to never having a day off work. He wrote every day. He says he came close to alcoholism, to losing his wife, etc. But he continued writing day in day out – and he is still writing. He said recently that he earns ‘about four million a year, in a good year’. Selfish? No, because he employs – therefore provides jobs for – many people, has set up a variety of scholarshipsm, bursaries, foundations, etc, all of which give vast sums of money to all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. All at King’s discretion,. of course. Also, he’s inspired millions of people to read. But as he says: ‘I have no intention of allowing [anyone’s] ideas to influence my behavior’.

    So you see, here’s an example of how the totally selfish man becomes the benevolent provider of many by being deliberately and incredibly selfish. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s individual behavior such as King’s that makes the world a better place.

    That, in a nutshell, is a concrete example of Ayn Rand’s ethics. Be selfish in order to help the world. I can’t be any clearer. Read Ayn Rand. Stephen King too.

    http://www.rjdent.com

  15. clayclay says:

    Coersion is force. The only logical reaction to force is to match it with force in order to defend one’s liberty. Once the opposing force is repelled, one can return to tranquility, calm, peace. Self-defence, that’s all.

  16. mgss says:

    Eh, I’ll bullet this one

    -I’ve read PLENTY of Ayn Rand. I just can’t get through Atlas Shrugged cause it’s more of the same and so didactic it feels like an insult to fiction.
    -Earning four million a year is not selfish. Not in the slightest. It’s his right as an individual. People have freedom to use their talents to pursue their own ends.
    -I happen to like a lot of early stephen king horror and his Dark Tower stuff later.
    -Stephen King is for all intents and purposes an artist for society
    -You says he has set up a vast sum of scholarships and bursaries and foundations, but that is THE OPPOSITE of being selfish. He has chosen to do this and I commend him for it. So there’s no paradox.
    -Most rich people do not donate their money as freely. A good deal do. A good deal give their money purely to avoid paying higher taxes. (you’ll see a lot of people who earn 233,000 giving away 7,000 to get below obama’s 227,000 mark). And then a good deal beyond that do not give money to charity at all.
    -so let’s look at a concrete example of Enron… how do the those who don’t give back all, those who rest at the top of companies, make millions off the labor of others, abuse their power, and lie to the public, and then close their company taking huge amounts of money while leaving their workers with absolutely nothing. All of which, is in their complete SELF INTEREST. And there is absolutely NO BENEFIT to the rest of the world. None.
    -In today’s corporate culture, which one is more the likely scenario?

  17. mgss says:

    “Coersion is force. The only logical reaction to force is to match it with force in order to defend one’s liberty. Once the opposing force is repelled, one can return to tranquility, calm, peace. Self-defence, that’s all.”

    Exactly. Now what if the individual is imposed by a collective? Whether it is two people or an entire group, to defend a personal freedom, you may find need another to align yourself with in the interest of self-defense.

    That’s essentially how we become a society. It’s inevitable because human nature, especially people seeking out their own selfish ends, threatens others personal freedoms. Civil rights for African-Americans was achieved as a collective against a collective.

    Remember a free market economy is defined by easy entrance/easy exit into the market. But Today, that’s the hardest thing to do in the “free’ market we have today.

    You seem to be fighting against that reality and fight to “remove yourself” from other’s influence, but the world is to big. You’ll be trying to do it your whole life.

  18. mgss says:

    Remember the biggest thing I’m arguing with is not the sound-ness of your argument, but the pragmatism of the results.

    Which has always been the biggest problem with Ayn Rand’s objectivism.

  19. rjdent says:

    Enron’s financial condition was sustained substantially by institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud. There are thieves all over the world. All we can do is be on our guard – and if they steal from us, we can try and get it back or learn from the experience. On being ripped off of early royalties, Keith Richards said: ‘It’s the price of an education’. Not all rich people are thieves.

    All my point is, is that not everyone wants to be a party member – whatever the party might be. Some want to be free of parties, groups, etc. That’s quite commendable really. To reject all institutions is merely to look to one’s self for guidance. One must steer one’s own life. I admire Ayn Rand for steering her own life her own way. I like her books, her fiction in particular. I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, But I enjoyed The Fountainhead and Anthem more.

    As a writer/teacher I feel that I have to recommend the books of the author’s I think have merit. That’s what I’ve tried to do here. In return you’ve raised a few important points for readers to ponder. It seems like a good place to finish, so I’ll end here. Thanks for the discussion.

    http://www.rjdent.com

  20. mgss says:

    It’s the old adage of the flag. “Is it the wind or the flag?”

    well, you know the rest

  21. mgss says:

    “To reject all institutions is merely to look to one’s self for guidance. ”

    Also, the lesson of Horton Hears A Who If I’m not mistaken

  22. clayclay says:

    ‘You seem to be fighting against that reality and fight to “remove yourself” from other’s influence, but the world is too big. You’ll be trying to do it your whole life.’

    Yes, it’s true, but it’s a cause worth fighting for. My life is a constant fight against all aspects of totalitarianism. Have you tried Karl Popper’s The Open Society? It gives good insights into how to spot the enemies of an open society. Once you know the signs, even a random sentence will alert you to a potential dictator.

    Give it a go.

  23. Interesting discussion… Everybody here should read Tucker’s humorous update of Atlas Shrugged for the present financial crisis:

    http://mcsweeneys.net/2008/11/20tucker.html

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