Atlas Shrugged – its interpretations make me shrug

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August 24, 2012 by quirkyuncle

I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged several years ago. I thought it was a great story and found it quite inspiring; something I’m becoming ashamed to admit after what I’m reading in the press recently. It can be dangerous to like a book that has attained cult status, especially if your own interpretation does not match that of the literary and political “experts.”

Atlas Shrugged is a compelling story of larger than life heros battling a corrupt system. Rand presents a world of extremes with virtually no middle ground. This is fiction; this is OK. The book and its author have cultivated a near religious following over the years: Atlas Shrugged has become the bible of unrestrained capitalism.

This is what disturbs me. Interpretation of any fictional work should never be taken as gospel. The world changes and the messages we derive from books can become skewed by our evolving perspective. It is very easy for experts to second guess an author’s intent and very easy for an author to profess that their intent matches the sentiments of folks willing to purchase their books. In the end, it does not matter to me what Rand was trying to say, or what the “experts” tell me she was trying to say: all that matters, reading Atlas Shrugged for my own entertainment, is what I think of the book and how my perception of it impacts my life.

Rand wrote of a divergent society populated by parasites and producers. The parasites contribute nothing and live off the fruits of the producers’ talent and labor. Rand’s parasites are called the “looters,” who take things by force or by regulation (implied to be the government), and the “moochers,” who demand entitlement for the less fortunate (lazy bums and the bleeding hearts who love them, implied to be liberals). Certain political groups, of late, have taken Atlas Shrugged as their banner and run with it. I am embarassed to be associated with Atlas Shrugged as a result, because my view of the book does not at all match the current politicalization.

The producers in Atlas Shrugged are depicted as industrialists – folks that have built their success based on their own talent and initiative. The most notable producer is the pivotal character, John Galt. Galt becomes fed up with a world where he cannot reap the rewards of his efforts and decides to protest by withholding his talent, since sharing it brings him no personal gain. His actions start a revolution, of sorts, and the world starts to change. Yay!

A big issue with trying to apply the philosophy presented in Atlas Shrugged is that the fictional world of the book does not match our present reality.

Very few industrialists today match those of Rand’s image. Producers, such as the main characters of Dagney Taggart and Hank Rearden, are few and far between these days. Steve Jobs could be seen as a producer, for he created products that were visionary and changed the world. Other corporate executives might consider themselves to be producers, but I see them more as parasites, since they are typically nothing more than hired-hand managers whose only talent is making profit through skillful monetary manipulation and off the efforts of their employees. They do not possess vision and their actions are often to the long term detriment of the organizations that they control – Dagney or Hank would never have sold off the future of their companys for a handful of dimes at the end of the current fiscal quarter.

Dagney and Hank made something. Dagney and Hank were producers. Anyone that can point to something tangible at the end of each day that they created with their own hands or mind is a producer. (Sorry, meeting minutes, presentations, and spreadsheets are not something of enduring value, so they do not count.) Managers who enable their workers are producers, while managers who act as overseers are not. I submit that anyone who does not directly contribute toward creating somehting of tangible value is living off the fruits of someone else’s labor. They are drains on the organizations that they inhabit, impede progress, and are completely dispensable; yet, these are the ones who receive the most rewards while they systematically destroy all that is good around them.

In today’s world I see corporate entities as the biggest parasites that leech off of the producers. If profit, shareholder dividends, and executive compensation are at record levels while the producing staff is forced to constantly do more with no additional compensation, what further evidence is needed? Corporate control of government and the unfair labor practices they adopt seem to fit Rand’s definition of “looter” fairly well.

These “looters” have also done an amazing job of respinning the defintion of “moocher.” They started with changing the meaning of “entitlement.” If you are demanding any form of entitlement, you’re a moocher these days: lets get rid of Social Security, it’s an entitlement.

Personally, I think I am entitled to Social Security because I’ve been paying for it for the past 30 years! Am I entitled? Damn right!

Is the Senator who serves a single term entitled to a $150,000/year retirement for life? I think not. Are CEOs entitled to a huge increases in compensation each year when their employees get nothing? I think not!

Who are the biggest moochers? It seems I just answered that question. Mooches and looters have become one and the same.

I understand that there are always those who try to mooch off any system. However, the moochers most often labelled as such by society are not the greatest drain on the rest of us, it is the controlling entities that feel entitled to an unreasonable share of all that we produce and take it without hesitation or our approval.

Aside from the major government and corporate mooching offenders described above, I do not believe that most of the other so-called moochers are in that position by choice – how many people actually want to be poor and go to bed hungry at night? I see these people more as “prisoners” being held captive by circumstance. Interestingly enough, I’ve never met a producer that would deny one of these people assistance. Donations made by working people to charitible organizations are evidence of this.

The parasites are another story. These worst of offenders are always the first to assume ill intent on the part of others and make loud accusations. They redirect attention from themselves as they lay waste to their surroundings, like cockroaches. The parasites help no one but themselves and see prisoners and producers alike as barriers to their own gain.

Our problem is that the parasites have assumed control. They have the money and the power, enabling them to control us both economically and politically. They own the media, allowing them to influence and distort our thought. There is little one person can do, aside from shrug under the weight of their oppression. Once we recognise this, seek the truth, and band together, then, and only then, can things start to change.

I am Atlas. I am John Galt. I am a producer whose hands are tied. If you’ve read this posting to its conclusion, you probably are too.

Atlas Shrugged cover


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