hi.

Atlas, Rand, the Shrugging, All of That

3. In order to show readers the inherent danger of contemporary society, Ayn Rand wished to demonstrate that sometimes the intellectual girders that support society are not made of Rearden Metal, but of empty words spoken by greedy men.  John Galt’s plan to overhaul American society involves several painful (and often fatal) wake-up calls, and at times his high morals seem unrealistic.  But the point of the book is to present opposite ends of the spectrum of contemporary social thought.  Necessarily, to stress the contrast, Rand created hyperbolic personalities for her embodiments of the social poles, and her hyperbole extends to the title character.

The myth of Atlas demonstrates the severest cunning in Zeus when dispensing his wrath.  In the objectivist context, this legend can show that a structure as seemingly steadfast as the world (or in some accounts, the heavens) can actually have no broader base than a Titan’s shoulders.  In other words, one should not be surprised when the world tips; one should be surprised that it does not tip more often.  The reader may wish to easily assign an identity from the book to the metaphorical title character.  ‘Perhaps the intelligentsia led by Akston, or the producers led by Rearden, or even John Galt himself is holding the world aloft and stable,’ thinks the reader.  But the concept of the foundation being literally supported by a small force damages the objectivist argument because if even one ego tries to provide for the greater good, then the rest become defined in relation to it.  When one considers that Atlas’ fate was a punishment for a thwarted revolution, Galt’s quest becomes another attempt for the supporter to show the supported the peril of the whole state.  When d’Anconia, Wyatt, and the other producers remove their respective struts from the framework of industry, they are in effect making the Titan shake the foundation of the world.

Judging whether the Atlas metaphor is positive or negative depends on whether the reader shares the work ethic of producers like Dagny and Rearden.  They see that their role is to support society’s great weight, and they revel in production, in pursuit of self-fulfillment.  But Dagny and Rearden have given up what many would see as their social conscience.  Forgetting temporarily Rand’s opinion of what compassionate creatures become over time, a reader’s aesthetic critique takes place at the personal level (for the most part), and a reader may have difficulty identifying with Rand’s output-minded protagonists.  A positive assessment of the producer’s situation and Galt’s plan may indeed result, but a more-than-average impulse displacement will be required of the average reader in order to view Atlas’ suffering as anything but intolerable.  Conversely, objectivist idealists (who may be postulated as the primary audience for Atlas Shrugged) would philosophically lust after the chance to embody their ideals and use them as weapons against collectivist politics.  An occupation at the ground level of society, like railroading or steel production, would fuel the ego and force grounding on all thought and action.  To these readers, the comparison of the events in the book with Atlas’ plight would be not only apt but desirable.  In either case, Atlas is more than adequate to communicate the seriousness and scale of Rand’s conception.

Analyzing the author’s motivation for giving her Atlas metaphor such a prominent place in her book proves to be an interesting look at Ayn Rand, the writer, as opposed to Ayn Rand, the philosopher.  Quite possibly, Rand was preparing for the fact that many of her readers would be unable to grasp the immensity of the implications in her book without the initial hint of the familiar Greek myth.  The title of the book is taken from an exchange halfway through the book where it is suggested that Atlas’ proper response to his world-holding assignment would be to shrug off the burden entirely, which is a reaction that objectivists and laity alike could understand.  Of course, no comment is made regarding the fate of those who depend on Atlas’ shoulders for support.  But this omission is in holding with Rand’s philosophical purpose, in that she does not believe that Zeus had the right to force Atlas to aid the world.  In this way, Zeus’ ideology is reflected in the politics of the lawmakers in the later stages of Atlas Shrugged.  Rand demonstrates that forced benevolence only lessens the amount to be given, especially in the case of large groups of people.  Because of John Galt’s superior reason, he is able to accomplish a feat untried by the Titan: Galt convinces those who are forced to donate to society as a whole to shrug out from under their burden to society and be reborn as laissez-faire capitalists in the mountains of Colorado.

An interesting facet of this book’s evolution lies in the word “shrug” as used in the title.  At the time of Atlas Shrugged’s publication, the shrug had not been as fully entrenched into society as a casual gesture.  Readers in 1957 probably thought of shrugging as a response to a duty of some kind.  In the intervening years, as sarcasm and apathy blanketed the country, the duty being shrugged out of became the rudimentary act of dealing with the world.  In this way, the American plight has come to parallel Atlas’ even more over time.  This shrug evolution has changed the way contemporary Americans interpret Rand’s title.  This change has also added poetry to the title, in that with our modern definition of “shrug”, its place in the title has gained a twofold function: to anthropomorphize (and thus unify) all those who shake the world, and suggest a smallness and insignificance that is ironically opposite from the actual proportions of the events described.

Rand’s diction and metaphor choice create a literary realm where Atlas has some recourse against the weight on his shoulders and the unyielding god who placed it there.  Galt’s plan to stop the machinery of the world starts the machinery of freedom and reprisal that eventually vindicates the objectivist perspective.  The spectrum of modern philosophy is represented by the opposing camps of the producers and the politicians, and Rand utilizes this dichotomy to drive her point forward.  The structure of society is only as strong as each self existing within it, and this fact is proved by John Galt’s phenomenal plan to shrug off the ultimate burden.

Below is an excellent example of lying.  The Ayn Rand Society was soliciting essays in exchange for scholarships, not much, like 1000 bucks, but poor as I was in college, I jumped at it.  I believe that Atlas Shrugged is one of few books with no redeeming qualities; I hated every word and believed none of the authors philosophical leanings.  However, that didn't stop me from writing an essay in support of the author and the book.  This was written February 2002.  I didn't get the scholarship.  Probably because the essay is an almost unreadable lump of gobbledygook and jumbled sentence structure.

In order to show readers the inherent danger of contemporary society, Ayn Rand wished to demonstrate that sometimes the intellectual girders that support society are not made of Rearden Metal, but of empty words spoken by greedy men.  John Galt’s plan to overhaul American society involves several painful (and often fatal) wake-up calls, and at times his high morals seem unrealistic.  But the point of the book is to present opposite ends of the spectrum of contemporary social thought.  Necessarily, to stress the contrast, Rand created hyperbolic personalities for her embodiments of the social poles, and her hyperbole extends to the title character.

The myth of Atlas demonstrates the severest cunning in Zeus when dispensing his wrath.  In the objectivist context, this legend can show that a structure as seemingly steadfast as the world (or in some accounts, the heavens) can actually have no broader base than a Titan’s shoulders.  In other words, one should not be surprised when the world tips; one should be surprised that it does not tip more often.  The reader may wish to easily assign an identity from the book to the metaphorical title character.  ‘Perhaps the intelligentsia led by Akston, or the producers led by Rearden, or even John Galt himself is holding the world aloft and stable,’ thinks the reader.  But the concept of the foundation being literally supported by a small force damages the objectivist argument because if even one ego tries to provide for the greater good, then the rest become defined in relation to it.  When one considers that Atlas’ fate was a punishment for a thwarted revolution, Galt’s quest becomes another attempt for the supporter to show the supported the peril of the whole state.  When d’Anconia, Wyatt, and the other producers remove their respective struts from the framework of industry, they are in effect making the Titan shake the foundation of the world.

Judging whether the Atlas metaphor is positive or negative depends on whether the reader shares the work ethic of producers like Dagny and Rearden.  They see that their role is to support society’s great weight, and they revel in production, in pursuit of self-fulfillment.  But Dagny and Rearden have given up what many would see as their social conscience.  Forgetting temporarily Rand’s opinion of what compassionate creatures become over time, a reader’s aesthetic critique takes place at the personal level (for the most part), and a reader may have difficulty identifying with Rand’s output-minded protagonists.  A positive assessment of the producer’s situation and Galt’s plan may indeed result, but a more-than-average impulse displacement will be required of the average reader in order to view Atlas’ suffering as anything but intolerable.  Conversely, objectivist idealists (who may be postulated as the primary audience for Atlas Shrugged) would philosophically lust after the chance to embody their ideals and use them as weapons against collectivist politics.  An occupation at the ground level of society, like railroading or steel production, would fuel the ego and force grounding on all thought and action.  To these readers, the comparison of the events in the book with Atlas’ plight would be not only apt but desirable.  In either case, Atlas is more than adequate to communicate the seriousness and scale of Rand’s conception.

Analyzing the author’s motivation for giving her Atlas metaphor such a prominent place in her book proves to be an interesting look at Ayn Rand, the writer, as opposed to Ayn Rand, the philosopher.  Quite possibly, Rand was preparing for the fact that many of her readers would be unable to grasp the immensity of the implications in her book without the initial hint of the familiar Greek myth.  The title of the book is taken from an exchange halfway through the book where it is suggested that Atlas’ proper response to his world-holding assignment would be to shrug off the burden entirely, which is a reaction that objectivists and laity alike could understand.  Of course, no comment is made regarding the fate of those who depend on Atlas’ shoulders for support.  But this omission is in holding with Rand’s philosophical purpose, in that she does not believe that Zeus had the right to force Atlas to aid the world.  In this way, Zeus’ ideology is reflected in the politics of the lawmakers in the later stages of Atlas Shrugged.  Rand demonstrates that forced benevolence only lessens the amount to be given, especially in the case of large groups of people.  Because of John Galt’s superior reason, he is able to accomplish a feat untried by the Titan: Galt convinces those who are forced to donate to society as a whole to shrug out from under their burden to society and be reborn as laissez-faire capitalists in the mountains of Colorado.

An interesting facet of this book’s evolution lies in the word “shrug” as used in the title.  At the time of Atlas Shrugged’s publication, the shrug had not been as fully entrenched into society as a casual gesture.  Readers in 1957 probably thought of shrugging as a response to a duty of some kind.  In the intervening years, as sarcasm and apathy blanketed the country, the duty being shrugged out of became the rudimentary act of dealing with the world.  In this way, the American plight has come to parallel Atlas’ even more over time.  This shrug evolution has changed the way contemporary Americans interpret Rand’s title.  This change has also added poetry to the title, in that with our modern definition of “shrug”, its place in the title has gained a twofold function: to anthropomorphize (and thus unify) all those who shake the world, and suggest a smallness and insignificance that is ironically opposite from the actual proportions of the events described.

Rand’s diction and metaphor choice create a literary realm where Atlas has some recourse against the weight on his shoulders and the unyielding god who placed it there.  Galt’s plan to stop the machinery of the world starts the machinery of freedom and reprisal that eventually vindicates the objectivist perspective.  The spectrum of modern philosophy is represented by the opposing camps of the producers and the politicians, and Rand utilizes this dichotomy to drive her point forward.  The structure of society is only as strong as each self existing within it, and this fact is proved by John Galt’s phenomenal plan to shrug off the ultimate burden.

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