No. of Recommendations: 20
A few years back, I solicited recommendations for books of Classic Americana for my DW. Well, she hasn't gotten around to reading any, but I've just finished reading one that was recommended and to my surprise, I found it to be not only classically American, but also possessing FIRE significance that provided clarity to an aspect of my decision to leave employment that I couldn't previously articulate clearly. It isn't often that I feel inspired to write at this level and I know some of you might not like what I say, but that's never stopped me before, so here goes.

Many parts of this book brought momemts of revelation to me, but this part struck me the most:

She wanted to force upon him the suffering of dishonor--but his own sense of honor was her only weapon of enforcement.

She wanted to wrest from him an acknowledgment of his moral depravity--but only his own moral rectitude could attach significance to such a verdict.

She wanted to injure him by her contempt--but he could not be injured, unless he respected her judgment.

She wanted to punish him for the pain he had caused her and she held her pain as a gun aimed at him, as if she wished to extort his agony at the point of his pity. But her only tool was his own benevolence, his concern for her, his compassion. Her only power was the power of his own virtues. What if he chose to withdraw it?

Kudos to anybody who remembered/recognized that this is from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The name of this particular author probably just turned off some people whose defense mechanisms triggered a flight response, but c'est la vie (that's French for "who needs 'em" <g>). I've long been curious that someone I admire once told me that my philosophy was "almost Randian" and said it as a compliment, whereas several people who have impressed me as being plagued by irrational internal conflicts have called me a Randian and meant it as an insult. This is the first thing I've ever read by her and now I understand. I've only read very little about her, but after this one book, I can see that becoming a Rand "cognoscente" would not be a hard journey for me.

To those who assume this book is about politics, I will declare that you are wrong. No political parties are mentioned. I detected only two uses of the word "liberal" in a philosophical context and only one use of the word "conservative". This does not mean that the identities of these philosophies were hidden in the book. They were just recharacterized into the more accurate labels of "mystics of muscle" and "mystics of faith". In my terms, not Rand's, this book is about the differences between individualists and collectivists. Various types of collectivists are described, but never blatantly as socialists, communists, theists, atheists or any other -ist that I can remember. Individualists are characterized a couple of times by collectivists as "reactionaries". So, a whole lot of labeling occurs, but the accuracy of the labels is for the reader to decide.

To know if you meet my definition of collectivist, ask yourself if you feel that the "winners of Life's lottery" owe anything to the "less fortunate" for either leftist or rightist reasons. If the answer is yes, then proudly don the mantle of collectivist, but I doubt you will like the characterizations I'm about to offer.

An Individualist's only chosen interaction with others is collaboration and cooperation to mutual benefit through transactions. The individualist accepts that the reason for ensuring a benefit to the other is to produce or enable a benefit to himself. Collectivists tend to avoid open and obvious transactions in their interactions and are more likely to conspire to deceive themselves and each other and to attempt to destroy individualism in a futile attempt to fulfill unfulfillable needs. Both of those may seem unflattering, but the book doesn't use those terms, so don't let that stop you from reading it.

If you think you might fall under my definition of collectivist you will probably want to raise your shields to full strength soon after you open the book, because Ayn Rand swings the literary equivalent of an aluminum baseball bat at the beliefs of collectivists and hits with homerun force and accuracy every time--and in this book, she is tireless. If a collectivist reads this book and remains a collectivist, well then they remain a "somebody", at least in the collective.

If a collectivist reads this book and finds their way to individualism, then you must be prepared to become a nobody, just as are all individualists, except when needed by a collectivist, then you are a candidate for coercion. You will quickly learn that any future attempt to reason with a collectivist will result in being ignored, because the defense mechanisms of collectivists are very strong and designed to protect them from the individual inside them. To paraphrase Rand, a "blank-out" occurs when someone cannot become aware of something they can only subconsciously recognize as rational.

If you are an individualist, you will find the majority of this book excruciating. It is a very large book and it repeats the "clonk" sound of a whacked collectivist belief as much as 100 times in some of the paragraphs that last several pages. This is not a book for wimps. At 1170 pages, you might need to buy a robot just to hold it up while you read it, but you probably will not need to concern yourself about the possibility of this book or any other literature leading you to collectivism. That only happens to the very young and to people who are assimilated against their will into the collective by coercive force. If you'll reread the quote that I placed at the beginning of this, you'll see why that is the case. Collectivist arguments don't work against individualism. The individualist moral code recognizes them as contradictory and Rand is right when she says that contradictions can't exist and an apparent contradiction requires a false premise.

Before I get to my actual opinions about the story, let me say this about Rand. In a "takes one to know one" decision, I am convinced that Ayn Rand was emotionally impaired. I believe that for years and perhaps decades of her early life, her mind was occupied in a struggle for control with a manipulative control addict. I say this only because I believe she has shared an experience very similar to one I had when I was under the influence of a control addict. I believe a control addict has driven her to The Edge; the edge of Reason, the edge of Sanity, the edge where Life and Death become clearly delineated and a decision to go one way or the other can be rational either way, based on the cost,

It was during my trip to The Edge almost 3 decades ago that I became aware that I was the Enabler of my own destruction and that all of us are the Enablers of our destruction. My return from The Edge was surpassed in pain by only one event in my life. Paul was, without his knowledge, instrumental in my decision to do nothing more than admire the simplicity of the easy way out, without ever really considering it to be the solution for the moment. I very much suspect that Rand would understand that, because she would very much agree that we should strive to avoid giving any control of our lives to collectivists. To put this as clearly as I can state it, I think we've both had to devote much thought to effects without rational causes and rules and laws without apparent Reason.

I found it incredibly synchronic that Thurst implied that Rand could have been "Developmentally Disabled" while I was reading this book and shortly after I came to the conclusion that she is the first author I have read who appears capable of spending days, weeks or possibly months in a state of articulate clarity. As with the heightening of other senses that occurs when a sighted person becomes blind, for some of us (call us the NPDs if it makes you feel better) a heightening of mental focusing faculties occurs when one's sanity is threatened by irrational intervention with one's sense of self. I've read 1984, A Brave New World, Animal Farm, just about everything by Heinlein, Herbert, and a host of others and even Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Rand is different in a way that I am different.

Of course, I'm not putting myself in the league of any of those authors, but I can read pretty darn good. This gives me the confidence to state that the primary purpose of this book is to inflict pain on collectivists and to deliver you from that pain if you are up to the challenge of finding and walking the obvious but strenuous path. It's a trial by ordeal of your ability to be fully human, to integrate mind and body and to achieve the reward of living with a rational moral code instead of being chased to your death by an irrational moral code (the ultimate consequence of collectivism).

The book I read was checked out from the library and read in about 10 days. If you read the 35th anniversary edition, I do not recommend reading the special introduction because it contains plot spoilers. I chose not to first read her earlier book Fountainhead because I'm just special that way sometimes. Since Atlas Shrugged will be 50 years old next year, you should expect it to be dated. For example, there is much talk of factories and industry and virtually no talk about environmental pollution. Similarly, the society reeks of tobacco smoke and nobody is worried about lung cancer. Inexplicably, neither the individualist nor the collectivist characters have children, but all have plenty of sex. The book also seems dated because some of the characters talk and think abouts others as betters, superiors and inferiors. With today's sensibilities, this is a blatant violation of political correctness, because we all must accept that everybody is equal. This is proven by the fact that those who won Life's lottery must pay those who lost. Where a contradiction appears to exist, check your premises, one must be false.

Now to my opinions about the story. It quickly becomes the darkest and most tragic black comedy I have ever read. I don't know if this was her intention, but I cannot see how she could not have realized how tragically and desperately funny her characterizations and situations would be to an individualist. Her characters are exagerated to make her points about the absurdity of their lives, but I found myself identifying with each of the central individualist characters at different times. One of the central characters is a strong woman, almost certainly based on Rand's self-image, so it was particularly disconcerting when I found myself identifying with her. I also recognized many of the people I worked with in her collectivist characters. Therein lies the FIRE tie.

When I worked for Mobil, I created, designed and produced in a capital relationship with my employer. I never felt exploited by the shareholders and the higher level managers. I cannot see how so many others can speak in those terms about employers. We sell our products to buyers, nothing more. Anytime we don't like the deal anymore, it's out the door with hopefully no regrets.

The collectivists who plagued me during my career were coworkers and team leaders and supervisors who looted my future and sapped my enjoyment of life for purposes other than what my deal with my employer required (to help Mobil make money). I didn't need to listen to coworkers yap about their kids and my employer didn't benefit from my distraction. I didn't need to sit in meetings that my boss called to fill his attention needs and my employer didn't benefit from the wasted time. I didn't need the mounds of paperwork that nobody ever read, but questioning it was futile because, "that's the way we do things". In many respects, being expected to satisfy their needs very much decreased my employer's profit but more importantly, I could not enjoy trying to do my job to help my employer make money.

I found that coworkers in general break down into three groups; beggars, stealers and earners of attention. I had the pleasure for a brief while, of working as a member of a team of people who were all earners of my attention and my employer made money from exploiting our work. It was the most social and possibly the most productive period of my career. It was a satisfactory blend of E and I type people who were getting what they needed and trading what they were capable of producing. Six months of that out of an 18 year career was astounding to me, but the beggars and stealers invaded and intruded and helped me out the door.

Atlas Shrugged reminded me of the pooch humping that the collectivists did and how many times I was the pooch. In the book, the pooch humpers were industrialists who were really only interested in boardroom antics. And they were scientists who needed Society to fund "pure" research; nothing "tainted" by practical motives. And they were philosphers who couldn't find virtue in human thought, artists who couldn't find beauty in anything that wasn't made by them and so produced art that was "valued" only by those who could benefit from pretenting to appreciate it, writers who envied those who sold many books, but wrote only books that nobody wanted to read and decided that capping the number of books a writer could sell would level the playing field.

A bit more than halfway through the book, the story goes right through the looking glass and into Wonderland, only Wonderland is more like Sanityland for individualists; a world without collectivists. At this point, the currently central individualist is more like a person who is laid off or cast out of the tragicomedy, but for me, the trip through the looking glass was analogous to the day I stopped pulling the ExxonMobil wagon, loosened the lugnuts a little as it rolled by and found a path to where the collectivists weren't. In doing so, I played by their rules and looted their futures while stopping the looting of mine, simply by depriving them of what they wanted from me; my time, my attention, my effort in service of goals that were not mine or my employer's.

It was here in post-employment Sanityland that both myself and the story's individualist found ourselves courted by past and potentially future lovers. In the story, they are people, but in my case they were paths, options, courses of action, opportunities and destinations both known and unknown. All led into the future, but which were right for me? My values were my guide.

In my case, I've stayed in Sanityland but in Atlas Shrugged, the individualist felt compelled to return through the looking glass to make a stand to save the integrity of a career that served only looters. The tragicomedy quickly became even more surreal; very much like the transition between Mobil and ExxonMobil that vastly increased the looting of my future just before I found my way to Sanityland.

Toward the end of the book, one of the central characters gives The Speech. This book has many significant speeches, but they are mostly directed at only one character or perhaps a small group. The Speech is different. It has less to do with the story and more to do with Rand speaking directly to her audience. If you started this book as an individualist, when it becomes obvious that you are in The Speech, you can probably skip to about a page before the end of the chapter without losing anything significant. For you, The Speech will be mainly repetitious repeat of the teachings that were repetitiously repeated during the story.

If, however, you started the book as a collectivist, you should read The Speech in its entirety with diligent focus, regardless of whether you still consider yourself a collectivist. I read it because I hoped it would provide a hint about any possible weapon that would slay a demon I've kept caged since my trip to The Edge. I did not find that weapon and I don't think Rand found it either, but she did provide something that is very valuable to the collectivists who possess the focus to perceive it. The Speech exists for those collectivists who are ready to reclaim their minds from the pawnshops of authority.

I don't know if the collectivists will ever bring down ExxonMobil, the country or the world, but if enough individualists fully realize what is happening to them, that is a very real possibility. We are feeling the effects of the long slow slide, but the individualists I meet are, like me, content to lead our dual lives of denying the looters their loot while living as men and women of virtue; able to look a collectivist in the eye, listen to them whine and plead while guarding our wallets and our time commitments and then trigger their blank-out response by speaking honestly and without guilt.

I've tried not to reveal too much of the plot. I heartily recommend the book to anybody who can tolerate an ordeal on a quest for a better understanding of how rational virtues are used to our detriment by people who pretend to have a right to what is ours.

One last paraphrase from Rand: "The middle ground is not found where a thinker is forced to meet a fool halfway."

This review is dedicated to a dear friend whom I know will appreciate it. I wouldn't blame her a bit for saying, "It's about time!"

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