Unlike others, the Republicans and conspiracy theorists, I will not tell you to read Atlas Shrugged to find the truth. I will not tell you that Atlas Shrugged is a prophetic novel, misunderstood like Cassandra by its own generation. I will not plead that it is worth your time to abandon all other things to discover its truths. What I will say is that in the past week I have been reading the novel on my Kobo Reader, mostly because it is too unwieldy to carry around with me. I discovered a documentary on Ayn Rand on iTunes a few months back, and thought that it would be a good project to read this popular philosophical novel.
Rand’s vision of the future, our present, is dark and hollow. She paints a world of incompetent hangers-on who loot America by creating a state of fear, a welfare state to help the helpless, and a police state to take over the property of those few individuals still following the capitalist principles of working hard to earn more than your peers. Used by the Tea Party as a message from God to tell us that Obama is creating just such a destructive government, used by the Democrats to show that the creatives need to stand together to take back the country from the looters of the Bush Administration, Atlas Shrugged has become an odd horse that both parties back in political philosophy. I argue that while both parties may lay claim to their quotes, they both misread the true meaning of the novel and indeed of Rand’s philosophy. But then again, I assert that Rand misreads her own philosophy and the meaning of the work of art she creates.
To ascribe character comparisons between the novel’s characters and the political forerunners in the upcoming election would prove simplistic and fruitless. The key to reading Atlas is to understand how the extreme natures of the characters make you feel as an individual. How do you feel about ineffectual leadership that stems from the fact that most of our leaders today are not capable of doing, creating or even leading their constituents. Leadership is now a job position instead of an action; the verb became a noun. From my initial reading, I can only offer that like Orwell’s 1984, Rand’s novel will change how I understand the world around me for the rest of my life. Who is John Galt?
To further bum myself out I began reading a series from semiotext(e), a publisher that brought French political philosophy to American readers. Unlike Rand, these loose essays demand a strong reader and do not attempt to transmit their message in allegory or metaphors. Frankly, these are revolutionary pieces of writing, brilliant in their depth and translation. I am still in awe that these writings are readily available in our Police state where only a few book stores control the majority of the market. I ordered the entire series last week to ensure that my opportunity to read each book in the series is not taken away from me by censors. If you just smirked at the idea of such a thing occurring, as having books no longer sold due to their content, then I wish you luck.
The first book I read was “The Administration of Fear.” In an overly simple summary from my view, it examines how our society moves too quickly, too globally to retain a sense of community and security. Due to the digital revolution, humanity is now in a state of constant fear and panic as a way to deal with information overload. The second book, “Introduction to Civil War”, examines the relationship between the State, our human history of warfare as a natural response to evolutionary needs, and it purports that we have become emasculated, neutered slaves to a system that provides us with no opportunity to be human.
Obviously, my reading choices have led me to a rather dismal outlook this week. The paradigms of all three works are riveting, but they are also apocalyptic. The only hope is out through the other side, but the individual must make a stand in a room full of vipers who wish for change to be seen as either a constant necessity or an undesirable fear. Why read these? Why make myself upset? I read because I want to grow and become aware of the world. I do not read for pleasure and escapism. In an already short life, I feel like it is my duty to read only the best, challenging works. Sadly, the best works seldom make us feel mindless joy, but rather they force us to the lab to rethink our perspectives; deep reading is hard, destructive work, but it is through reading that I have grown. Growth has its inherent pains.