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Atlas Shrugged

I listened to a lot more of Atlas Shrugged last night. I actually didn't really sleep. I think I briefly dozed off, but I watched the clock most of the night listening to it. It was a crappy night for TV in the evening. I have about seven hours left to go, so I'm about 85% of the way through. I'm at the point in the story where Reardon has "disappeared" and Dagny is the only one left. I'm actually at the point where Galt is doing his radio address.

My reaction to the book hasn't really changed much. There are certain aspects of the book where I really agree with Rand. We do live in a culture that undervalues intelligence and achievement of an intellectual nature. People who succeed are assumed they got there by deception (which admittedly does sometimes happen, but certainly not everyone). I grew up to resent the suggestion that I ever needed to dumb myself down to be acceptable to the masses, or that I would fail to get hired for a job because I was "too smart". And I appreciate her appreciation for the rational and her rejection of superstition.

However, she completely loses me anytime she talks about economics. Working for money is not the highest virtue. I work hard, and I expect to be paid for my value (and I'm not paid nearly enough), but I don't work for the money. I work to do what I want. But the idea that I should take a day-laborer job because it pays more or because my intellect is not sufficiently appreciated... does it punish the stupid people or does it waste my talent? From my perspective, it punishes me.

She also seems to contradict herself. She rejects people relying on each other, depending on each other, and then turns around and extols the virtues of Galt's community by saying that they do rely on each other. The only difference is that the exchange is more tangible--and exchange of money person to person--than it is in the real world--through taxes. Our society has problems, but it is nothing like the world she portrays. And how moral is Galt, really, that he decided to not only leave the world behind, but to actively work to destroy it, rather than attempting to reform it? It seems very unAmerican for all his patriotic posturing. It also appears to me as though Rand views all forms of communalism as a kind of religion against which she is rebelling, and she does not really make what I would consider a clear argument against it. She certainly doesn't tackle any really serious objections.

The other problem I still have with it is something that I was listening to this morning. She sneers at the government experts, and yet doesn't have the same contempt for real experts like Reardon. There is no clear argument against why some experts should be listened to and not others; instead, she merely devalues the term. But what is clear from her text is that the government "experts" aren't real experts at all, but taking on the trappings of expertise and having no substance, no logic. On the other hand, in the real world, we do have to rely on experts. We can't, each of us, be informed enough about every subject to judge every topic from the same standpoint as people who dedicate their lives to a subject. We should not be afraid to question them, but neither does that mean that experts have nothing of value to contribute... but the honour of who we hold up as experts should be given grudgingly.

Look at the climate change issue. There are people running around pretending to be "experts" who are critics of climate change, but they don't have to requisite credentials... who made them "experts"? Whereas there are people who spend their lives studying climatology, and who are genuinely experts, and these people are dismissed as being part of some elitist intellectual establishment that is deserving of mistrust and extreme skepticism. This arrangement is irrational! And Rand perpetuates it.

The economics stuff is also really aggravating from an artistic standpoint when the characters go off on these tangents in the middle of emotional scenes. It's almost as absurb as breaking out in song like they do in musicals.

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