Atlas Shrugged

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Book: Atlas Shrugged
Author Ayn Rand
Publisher Signet
Buy from Amazon (collectors edition)
ISBN 978-0-451-19114-4
Keywords economy,finance,fiction

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I finally got around to reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand which has been on my reading list for over ten years now. It's touted as a master piece by libertarians and anarchists the world over mainly for its strong support for the free market with no state intervention. It certainly is an amazing story, and covers many concepts of society and mind, and I agree with a lot of her ideals such as being against forced redistribution of wealth, being repulsed by this modern attitude of rejecting rational thought and being against blind faith.

For me it was a great story that was very riveting at times, but was quite irritating at others, as she seems to have used it as an outlet for some serious frustration and anger. I didn't feel that it had been able to expand or refine my world-view, or my ideas about the social mechanism, which is what I was hoping it would do when I started it.

My criticisms

Galt's speech at the end was just absurd! It was a fifty page emotional dump by the author rather than the concise and to-the-point speech it could have been. In my view she missed an opportunity to make a really articulate and educational statement about how things are and how they could be, but she wasted it on an emotional dump.

No thought at all about the effects of the profit based model on the environment - e.g. Dagny standing in awe of the "battery of smoke stacks" in the utopia of Galt's Gulch. The fact that it was in the 50's when environmental awareness was not widely thought of is no excuse considering that Ayn Rand is a philosopher who should be no stranger to holistic thinking and full cost accounting. On a more general level, I have a criticism with the whole market paradigm which has the economic bottom-line problem built in to it, which leads to ever-expanding inequality and centralisation of power. Even though there are proposed reasons to be found elsewhere as to why a "true free market" wouldn't suffer from these problems (which I don't accept) such as is described by Samuel Edward Konken III, I believe it's very important for any work that's advocating the free market ideal to address this problem explicitly.

Another problem which is not raised with regard to the free market model (maybe it's not fair to judge people in the 50's for not foreseeing this) is that it's based on there always being enough employment for everyone. But we live in the age of automation and it would simply not be the most efficient solution for the social mechanism to be needlessly employing people who require more resource and work imperfectly and slowly compared to their machine counterparts. The market paradigm and all currently known variations of it needs to be upgraded drastically or even completely abandoned to cater for the fact that the social mechanism simply doesn't have a need for the labour of most of the population.

She believes that reason and thought are the highest qualities of being. She has no respect or even the slightest understanding of the incredible power of mind that the Taoist, Buddhist and some other spiritual traditions have attained through their intensive investigation of the nature of mind and being over thousands of years. These traditions have realised through thorough investigation and direct experience that thought is just a superficial product of the "coarse mind", and that there are many more subtle levels to mind which lead to a much deeper understanding of the universe and our being than that which can be obtained by mere rational thought.

She promotes extreme materialism (not a surprise since her philosophy, Objectivism, is a specific form of materialism) discarding any other possibility as irrational and being purely built on faith rather than reason. But as a philosopher it's really her job to present the argument between materialism and idealism as they stand in reality. In this book she has not mentioned at all that the idealist philosophies are just as capable of presenting a rational and logical foundation to our perceived phenomena as materialism is - and they clearly lead the way when it comes to explaining the phenomena of consciousness.

"Letting the greatest of countries be devoured by any scum from any corner of the earth" she says revealing that dispicable attitude of placing the USA above every other country, touting the typical bullshit about it being built on the highest moral principles of freedom and liberty. We all know that it's just another colony founded on brutal murder and genocide, and that it's extreme wealth was only possible by the wholesale theft of resource from other nations and then by the establishment of the petro-dollar. There's no shortage of throw-away racist comments throughout the book such as the "mystic muck of India", which she says without the slightest awareness that she could have learned volumes from much of this "muck" not only about the nature of mind, but about her own fields of expertise such as epistemology and ontology.

See also