Atlas Shrugged twice and now we wait for a third shrug - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Atlas Shrugged twice and now we wait for a third shrug

There are things I do that some people consider a complete waste of time. Writing, for instance. But that’s usually a charge from people who don’t agree with my political or social views.

Then there are the things I consider a complete waste of time — two afternoons to be exact. Specifically, I watched Atlas Shrugged, both parts. It’s hard to stay awake through both movies, plus I paused long enough to watch hour-long music videos, like the making of Frank Zappa’s two stellar albums, Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation and the making of Steely Dan’s Aja. Both are highly recommended and do not constitute a waste of time.

If you are the least bit educated, or at least took some mildly advanced literature classes in high school, there’s a good chance you had to read either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. It’s a literary rite of passage, almost as gruesome as cleaning your first deer carcass.

Some might call it punishment, but people say that about Milton, Chaucer and Shakespeare, so it’s all a matter of taste.

The original, 1922 cover of James Joyce’s epic, Ulysses. (Photo via Wiki Commons)

The original, 1922 cover of James Joyce’s epic, Ulysses.
(Photo via Wiki Commons)

Remember in college, how proud you were to be lugging around that soft cover copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses? “That’s right mofos, I’m reading Ulysses and I understand it!”

Well, most people didn’t actually read Ulysses let alone understand it, other than what was cribbed from the Cliff’s Notes version. For those who have never encountered the book, it is very foreboding. Its word count is roughly 265,000 words and, believe it or not, Joyce used roughly 32,000 different words, making it literally the wordiest book ever written.

So no, many people who claim to have read Ulysses didn’t. They just glommed onto the Cliff’s Notes and caught up with it that way. But we loved to have a copy visibly on our person as we walked to and fro across the campus.

Unless of course you opted for that English class in which the only literature you studied for a semester was one book and you happened to choose Ulysses. You could have also chosen Shakespeare’s Henry V, which is a play not a novel, but still a wonderful read, or you could have chosen the poem Paradise Lost by Milton.

Or you could choose what some people did and do all three. Now that’s some intellectual masochism.

But, getting back to Atlas Shrugged, no one ever walked around campus with a copy of Ayn Rand’s most famous novel visibly tucked under the elbow for all to see. If you were in a literature class and it was on the reading list, well that was understandable. You have to read it for class, but you kept the book hidden in a backpack.

The author, Ayn Rand famously said, “I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.” (Photo Wiki Commons)

The author, Ayn Rand famously said, “I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”
(Photo Wiki Commons)

Ayn Rand’s “screw poor people and the Middle Class” philosophy is so offensive, who would want to brag that they were reading Atlas Shrugged? It comes out of your backpack when you’re looking around for a Snickers or a Trojan, and,  “Yeah it’s on my reading list this semester.”

Lunch/sex partner: “Ugh! I actually just read the Cliff’s Notes. I still have it if you want it.”

Then we split the Snickers and had sex like deprived (or depraved) rabbits.

So it came as a complete shock to me there are people in this world that take Ayn Rand and her “Objectivist” philosophy seriously. In fact, Ayn Rand and her two books of note really didn’t pique my interest or attention again after that semester — for decades.

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I never really dug into the deeper motivations of conservative-slash-Republican politicians or commentators until very recently, like last year when Paul Ryan was chosen to become Mitt Romney’s running mate. Yes, it is embarrassing to admit it never occurred to me where these people get their ideas.

From Atlas Shrugged; the headquarters of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. (movie still)

From Atlas Shrugged; the headquarters of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad.
(movie still)

We hear politicians and so-called conservatives talking on the news programs about St. Ronnie being their ultimate role model. On occasion they will mention economists, from Edmund Burke to Milton Friedman; the free market thinkers who put all their faith in a free market, unfettered by government intrusion (regulations) or taxes.

Once Paul Ryan was chosen to be Romney’s running mate and it was revealed he had much affection for Ayn Rand — and Atlas Shrugged was required reading in his office — all these Ayn Rand acolytes came pouring out of the woodwork spouting quotes from Atlas Shrugged and other Ayn Rand sources.

The author even spawned a real life “Flat Earth Society,’ called, quaintly enough, The Atlas Society.”

• Note: just Googled “Flat Earth Society” for yucks and there really is a society by that name dedicated to convincing everyone else the Earth is flat. Seriously.

Who knew, until it was revealed that Ryan spoke to the Atlas Society, glowingly, of Rand’s influence on his life. Maybe I  heard of it before, but just didn’t remember because, who do you know that brags about being a fan of Rand or her books? Or at least bragged about it before Paul Ryan made Ayn Rand publicly known again? It would be a good bet most of those people had little knowledge of Rand and her books before Paul Ryan came along.

Sean Hannity of FoxNews makes an appearance.  Do you think he had any idea who Ayn Rand was before Paul Ryan came along? (Movie still)

Sean Hannity of FoxNews makes an appearance. Do you think he had any idea who Ayn Rand was before Paul Ryan came along?
(Movie still)

Of course, now that Ryan is back to being his miserable congressional self, the fervor over Ayn Rand has cooled considerably. She’s hardly mentioned anymore and quite frankly that worries me. I’ve watched the first two parts, two separate movies and there’s one more part needed to make the movie version of Atlas Shrugged complete. And then I can waste another afternoon.

Anyway, the book Atlas Shrugged has three main parts and the first two movies are fashioned into reasonable images of the first two parts — but with completely different actors for some reason.

Someone in the film industry needs to explain to the producers of these Atlas movies the details of sequels. You need to have the same actors play the principle characters throughout. Gives the series more continuity.

So now that a few people have watched the movies (we can assume it’s a few because right wing Tea Party groups had viewing parties last year in hopes it would help put Mitt and Paul over the top) we need to see the finish. Dagny crashing into John Galt’s Utopia (Galt’s Gulch) just isn’t going to cut it! We want to see what happens next!

Of course we could read the book, or at least the final third of it and see what happens; read Galt’s stirring speech. It’s very dramatic, dontcha know, given in the framework of a radio address. Galt wants to be heard, not seen because this is serious business. And it’s an entire chapter.

Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden getting pestered by those pesky reporters. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler play Dagny and Hank in Part One. (movie still)

Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden getting pestered by those pesky reporters. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler play Dagny and Hank in Part One.
(movie still)

How many people really want to go through that? Not many. No, make Part Three and let us watch it, with that one chapter, the radio address, shortened. Really, when you boil down that entire chapter, it’s just not that interesting. It’s so melodramatic, like it was (poorly) written for the cinema. It’s the Objectivism philosophy writ large and in detail, it’s the “Greed is Good” philosophy on steroids. He’s like a terrible preacher on Sunday, droning on and on … “oh my god can someone tell him to shut the [heck] up all ready!”

Which brings up a good point: to really be an objectivist, you need to be an atheist. There’s no getting around that. People try to manipulate what is in the Bible to justify their greed and contempt for the poor, but as Stephen Colbert put it so succinctly, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Getting back to the original dilemma, the producers of the Atlas Shrugged movies plan on making the third and final installment. The last information said it would be released in the summer of 2014. Apparently the hang up was financing. Gotta love the irony of that —  Big Business’s wet dream being brought to life and nobody wants to finance it. Here’s the little secret: the movies are financial bombs and the third installment promises to be the same.

Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel) conferring in Part One. (movie Still)

Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel) conferring in Part One.
(movie Still)

Well, the producers say someone wanted to finance it because they are going into pre-production. Good for them, I just hope I still have Netflix when it is released so I can watch it.

Atlas Shrugged uses this dystopian society to advocate the laissez-faire business environment and that without it our society will fall into ruin, especially if all the “producers” go on strike.

Ironically we are moving ever closer to that Rand-inspired view of society. Right now corporations and the über rich pay the lowest taxes ever since the introduction of the income tax.  Some corporations, like General Electric, pay no income taxes and rich folk like Mitt Romney get away with paying 13 percent or less.

Their off shore holdings are protected by the tax code and banking regulations, thanks to representatives like Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. He isn’t the only one though. Wall Street and big business have plenty of lackeys in Congress. Schumer is the “go to guy” because he directly represents Wall Street and he recognizes that if he keeps that lobby happy he will get re-elected as often as he wishes to run.

Schumer is extremely progressive on other important issues, but when it comes to banking and the tax code, Schumer is in the pocket of big business and he’s the most powerful politician in that pocket.

Even before Schumer got into Congress the slide down to objectivism was in full gallop. It started with Ronald Reagan and the “trickle down” philosophy. Let the über rich become even richer and the fruits of their über wealth will trickle down to the rest of us.

Teller, of the famed magic duo of Penn & Teller has a speaking role in Part Two! (movie still)

Teller, of the famed magic duo of Penn & Teller has a speaking role in Part Two!
(movie still)

Well, it hasn’t happened. At best we’ve been pissed on by the wealthy. The median income for the bottom 80% has either flat-lined or gone down. Earlier this year the Brookings Institute did a study that found income disparity was not just growing, but it was becoming permanent and could end upward social mobility.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the top 1 percent earning households saw an increase of after-tax income of 275 percent. Their average tax rate has gone down 37 percent. Major corporations have had a similar boon and are at record levels of income and low taxes.

According to both the Brookings Institute and the CBO, the increasing income inequality is the reason programs like Social Security and Medicare are under funded.

Middle Class households saw their incomes increase just 40 percent while their tax burden has remained the same, with maybe a slight rise for some.

And yet if you want to believe what Ayn Rand and her acolytes are telling us, the rich and big corporations need even more of the same; and cut away the all those pesky regulations.

Regulations that are designed to keep our air and water clean; regulations that keep monopolies from grinding us into the dirt with their greed — well, those have mostly been removed, which is the primary reason we had the financial crisis of 2008. I know, some people want to blame it on the few people who bought homes they couldn’t afford — yadda, yadda, yadda.

Atlas Shrugged Part One movie banner. Someone shrugged and said, "yeah, sure, why not? Let’s throw some money down that hole and make Atlas Shrugged Part Three.” (Publicity photo)

Atlas Shrugged Part One movie banner. Someone shrugged and said, “yeah, sure, why not? Let’s throw some money down that hole and make Atlas Shrugged Part Three.”
(Publicity photo)

Yep, for some barely explainable reason I want to see part three of the Atlas Shrugged saga. Maybe it’s my Catholic need for self-inflicted corporal penance; who knows? I watched the first two, now I need to see the last one. It was like the three Star Wars prequels. All three sucked, but after watching the first two I had to suffer through the third.

The reality is, we’re already living in an objectivist society and it’s killing us. We don’t really need to see what would happen if the Randians had their way — we’re seeing it happen now.

If you’re not part of that 1% but you’re voting for the people who make it possible for the income gap to continue growing, I gotta wonder why.

Theoretically anyone in America has the chance to become part of the 1 percent. We advertise ourselves as the land of opportunity, but the system is rigged to keep the top 1 percent pretty static, no new blood needed. And to do that the wealth of our nation needs to continue flowing up disproportionately to the financial elites. Which means advancing into the Middle Class is going to be just as difficult.

Upward mobility is becoming a bygone fruit of our economy, just as Rand and her worshippers hoped. The next step is to completely disenfranchise the poor and with Congressman Paul Ryan’s recent budgets, the GOP has proposed to do just that. “Why can’t all those poor people just live in poverty and be happy? Get rid of the minimum wage and we can hire more of them!”

For the followers of Rand, charity is not a moral duty or a virtue, so it’s got me wondering: who would be charitable enough to finance part three of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy? Gotta love the irony of that.


About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.
  • Hash

    Pathetic disgusting smear job. What’s most interesting to me is how well Rand dissected these yellow-bellied slime bags posing as journalists, and how closely they follow the intellectually dishonest tactics she described.

  • NHLumpa

    The financial crisis was NOT caused by deregulation. Quite the opposite. CRA laws enacted by Clinton and the continued hubris (defended by Bawny Fwank) of fannie/freddie to guaranty loans given to ANYONE caused the financial crisis. It was not that the loans were sliced and reconstituted a bazillion times that was the problem. The problem was the volume of loans that should not have been written in the first place. If banks can sell loans to f/f and buy back the securities with a gov guaranty and no accountability if the loans are garbage, can you blame them? And you fault greed, but let people who took out loans that were ridiculously out of their budget off the hook. That’s greed too.

  • Scott DeSapio

    Where do you guys get this garbage? Why would you not simply read the book for yourself? Why are you just regurgitating the same tired old FALSE assumptions about objectivism and Ayn Rand’s philosophy?

    “Ayn Rand’s ‘screw poor people and the Middle Class’ philosophy…” – What are you even talking about? Have you ever read anything by Rand?

  • Sam West

    The degree of boredom that the author of this lengthy and mushy piece has experienced while watching Atlas Shrugged is incomparable to what I am suffering right now having read his entire tirade.

    Mr. Forkes cannot even get his facts straight. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not “screw the poor and the middle class”. In reality, her philosophy is what enables all people regardless of what social class they come from to live the best life they can. It just requires what the reality requires – that they work for it. We’re not moving closer to the society Rand envisioned. Had he done his research Forkes would have found many of Rand’s own statements that the closest we came to a such society was the XIX century US and since then have been moving away from freedom and towards fascism.

    Also, are there any editors left? The post incorrectly spells names of Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden several times. In the past, a writer was expected to at least read a book they were commenting on.

    • Timbini

      Curiously enough I saw the mis-spelling of Dagny Taggart’s name and really can’t explain why it didn’t get corrected.
      As for Hank Rearden’s name, I just missed those typos.

  • Jackdoitcrawford

    Bullshit from the word go. Read “Atlas” for yourself like the other half million people who bought the book last year.

  • John Galt

    Well, this is one person’s view. To be a bit more balanced, anyone that reads this article should also read this one by Brad Keywell:

    After reading both, see if your mind can grasp the premises and consequences of either position. Then choose how you want to live your life.

    “A Book that Changes Lives” – Brad Keywell:

    Everyone experiences a book that “changes their lives” – if you haven’t, then it’s time to read more provocative material. But for me, that book appeared in 1992 when a friend handed me a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and said I “had to read it.”

    But all I could do is stare at the 1,000-plus pages. And laugh.

    He wasn’t joking though, and thankfully I began my journey into Atlas Shrugged. The principles of the novel have since guided major parts of my life — the name John Galt has great meaning to me, and once you read the book it will be significant to you, too.

    Atlas Shrugged chronicles an entrepreneur’s epic journey in the midst of the U.S. economy almost collapsing from an overbearing government and widespread corruption. There’s action. There’s betrayal. There’s romance and suspense. Rand presents a philosophical and moral framework of life through a captivating story, placing the highest adulation on hard work and iconoclastic thinking.

    When I first read the book I was 22 years old and in law school. I was certain that I didn’t want to practice law, and I was contemplating the entrepreneurial path. By the time I turned the last page, I not only was sure I needed to create businesses, but I was convinced it was the best way for me to truly push the limits of my intellectual capacity.

    In just the last few years I’ve given more than 500 copies to young people, hoping they will also find something that uniquely speaks to their dreams.

    Why did Atlas Shrugged speak to me so clearly? These seven points resonated in my heart and mind:

    A new hero

    Many books cast businesses and non-mainstream passions in a negative light.

    But not this one.

    Atlas Shrugged creates a new brand of hero — one that embodies dedication, creativity, capitalistic achievement and excellence. The book defines a person’s greatness by his or her dogged pursuit of entrepreneurial success and refusal to accept political barriers, pessimism and the status quo.

    I had never before read a story about relationships — spanning those in circles of business, friends and romance — where everything centered on the quest of reaching one’s highest calling. The most respect, admiration and love went to those who had a clear definition of their purpose and who strove for it despite the odds.

    Profit as a moral goal

    While many look askance at people for seeking profit, Rand presents it as a virtue. Pursuing profit through innovation, creation and entrepreneurship is invaluable for mankind, as capitalism is the greatest economic framework we’ve seen thus far in the modern world. And while we are all free to do what we want with our finances – give to charity, spend, save, invest – it’s important no one feel guilty about making money. Rand affirmed my belief that when we achieve success we should be proud of what we earn, not apologetic. Profit is a healthy and vital aspect of capitalism, and is a worthy endeavor.

    Innovation is the highest human pursuit

    There is a power in creators — of revolutionary products, designs, medicine, architecture and more — but most of our society has a default setting to be skeptical of these talented people and doubt their motives.

    Disrupting the world through innovation is the greatest use of the human mind. It should be respected, not scorned. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand elevates the role of creator to mythical status and shows what a perfect civilization would be like by positioning the disruptive creator as the one whom society should cherish. When the value of the creator is respected, the power of collective imagination is unleashed and humanity is able to achieve radical advances. The book illustrates this ideal world, and provides a true “north” for anyone who burns with the fire of innovation and creativity.

    The proper role of government: Less is more

    Atlas Shrugged helped me imagine what it would be like if our government fully respected the power of individuals to solve societal problems – because the book paints a depressing picture of life under a government that inserts itself in the middle of commerce, stifles innovation and mutes individuals’ motivation. The characters seek the ideal, in which religious dogma and nonsensical regulations are not used by the government to hinder scientific progress or interfere with individual rights.

    People who earn money should determine how best to spend it. The government shouldn’t take their wealth and redistribute it. Atlas Shrugged clarifies the ideal role of government: to protect property rights, to protect us from violence and from each other and to limit its regulatory guidance beyond that. She demonstrates that government involvement is a slippery slope that gradually eats away at the human motivation for achievement and excellence.

    The greatest crime: Laziness

    Taking the easy way out is the greatest crime we can commit against ourselves. We all have a moral responsibility to challenge ourselves and reach our highest potential. Denying our innate gifts and giving up on goals and dreams only shatters our futures and that of the next generation.

    People who use their minds to create new things are the ones who move civilization forward – if we fail to explore those limits of our minds and efforts, we don’t just fail ourselves. We fail humanity. Atlas Shrugged illustrates the pursuit of greatness as a critical element of individual happiness and emphasizes the importance of hard work and persistence in overcoming all obstacles.

    Philosophy matters – a lot!

    Before Atlas Shrugged, I didn’t have an appreciation of philosophy or the imperative of having an explicit moral framework in life.

    But the book directed me toward insights about making the most of our limited time on earth, such as Aristotle’s conviction that the pursuit of happiness is at the core of human existence, and that the good life is one of personal fulfillment. Rand’s philosophy is built on Aristotle’s. Both agree that what we perceive around us is reality, that people are capable of dealing with this reality and pursuing a good life, and that humans are thinkers, and therefore, heroes who can achieve greatness. The book caused me to also understand that some philosophies can be inhibitors, like Plato’s doubting about whether we even exist and his denying that the material world is real.

    Having a clear philosophy and faithfulness to that foundation is the cornerstone of a full, inspired life. Atlas Shrugged provides an empowering philosophy – a key element of the novel that makes its impact so lasting.

    It matters who is on your team

    The story helps creators and entrepreneurs understand what to look for in a spouse or life partner – someone who affirms our values, who is morally-aligned with our vision of success and who understands that being a creator is not easy, but worth the fight no matter what the outcome. An ideal partner appreciates your dedication because they know that the opposite of you following your dreams is mediocrity – the equivalent to being dead while alive. Finding a partner who embraces your quest for greatness is romantic, empowering and a critical element in your journey. Rand’s heroes leverage the faith their partners have in them as they pursue their highest callings.

    My once-crisp hardcover copy of Atlas Shrugged has been transformed into a marked-up, underlined, lovingly dog-eared fixture on my bookshelf. I’ve poured over countless articles, speeches and other books analyzing Rand’s writing and philosophies. And while I may not subscribe to all of her Objectivism principles, I find truth and validation in her thinking.

    While Atlas Shrugged is not based on a true story, it’s as relevant today as it has ever been. This is a critical time for our nation and world, and we need to tap into to our greatest asset – the human mind – to solve our many complicated problems. Unleashing the power of human ingenuity is imperative, and it’s unethical (and immoral) for anyone, governments or others, to get in our way. We must remind ourselves that philosophy matters to help us recall the virtue in our pursuit and to help us persevere in the face of adversity and doubt. Certainty of purpose is the predicate to decisive decision-making and bold action, and we all could use more of both.

    So as you contemplate what book should next be on your nightstand, consider Atlas Shrugged. It just might change your life like it did mine.

    • Timbini

      Well written!