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A shameful confession

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A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:04 pm

Yes, I once read the entirety of Atlas Shrugged.

Including Galt's 500-page speech.

In my defense, I did it basically as a stunt. I knew in advance it would be wasting a week or so of my life, and sure enough, it was. But that's okay.

About the only useful consequence was that it kind of vaccinated me against libertarianism. As a middle-class aging white male nerd who read too much Heinlein as a kid and spends too much time on the Internet, I guess you could say I've got a lot of pre-existing risk factors for going libertarian. Fortunately, wading through Atlas Shrugged pretty much permanently immunized me against that.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby ArturoBandini » Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:26 pm

Ayn Rand on Donahue: Full Interview
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzGFytGBDN8

I have a copy of Atlas Shrugged, but don't have a week to read it (it would probably take me a month anyway). You think the book is a waste of time because of:
1) its poor literary value as a work of fiction,
2) its poor value as political/philosophical discourse, or
3) both?

I also have all the risk factors for becoming Libertarian, and I'm damn near there already. One hangup: I can't rectify faith in free-market capitalism with knowledge of natural resource limits (like oil, water, arable land etc). To me, libertarianism or strict individualism is probably a good way to witness an equal-opportunity apocalypse. Libertarianism likely can't provide a future that most of us are hoping for, even under the best assumptions. But also, I don't know what political ideology, if any, could guarantee much better in light of the same natural limitations. (e.g. is Keynesian economic policy square with the prevention of global warming?) My conclusion: we're probably hoping for the wrong kind of future...
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri Mar 20, 2009 6:59 am

ArturoBandini wrote:I have a copy of Atlas Shrugged, but don't have a week to read it (it would probably take me a month anyway). You think the book is a waste of time because of:
1) its poor literary value as a work of fiction,
2) its poor value as political/philosophical discourse, or
3) both?


Well, both, but mainly #1. It's bloated, over-written, and thickly padded with a lot of treacly emotionalism. I find it amusing that the same philosophical movement whose leading magazine is named "Reason" would also respond to this very emotional work with its romantic sensibility. It's very reminiscent of a poorly written teenage fantasy novel.

I also have all the risk factors for becoming Libertarian, and I'm damn near there already. One hangup: I can't rectify faith in free-market capitalism with knowledge of natural resource limits (like oil, water, arable land etc). To me, libertarianism or strict individualism is probably a good way to witness an equal-opportunity apocalypse.


I guess I'd say that I feel the appeal of libertarianism, but not enough to overcome several reasons for skepticism.

For one thing, if you looked back over the past couple of decades, you'd expect a libertarian to say that the US suffered from over-regulation in a lot of areas, but that one bright spot was the deregulation, vibrancy, and creativeness of our financial services sector. But obviously, that turns out to have been a disaster of breathtaking scope. To me, this suggests that most human beings are not really good at operating in this kind of unregulated environment.

One response from a libertarian would be that even after Reagan and Bush the US is still dominated by big government, so it's not a fair test of libertarian ideas. The problem is that sounds an awful lot like the few remaining Marxists who insist that the Soviet Union wasn't really a true test of Communism. In fact, I tend to be skeptical of people who want to remake society based upon some purely theoretical ideal. People have tried this lots of times (see: theocracies, marxism, various 19th-century utopian communities in the US) and it never works.

Ultimately, I think human beings are more suited to a society that muddles through with a mixed economy, rather than one that tries to hew to some kind of absolutist scheme. The appeal of a society based on very simple and absolute rules starts to seem kind of ... juvenile. As we leave the teenage years, we tend to get better at seeing gray areas rather than lumping things into black and white; thus, over time, I've become less enamored of libertarianism and more comfortable with the idea that society is always going to be wandering around in some middle ground between capitalism, socialism, democracy, freedom, regulation, progress, and conservatism.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby ArturoBandini » Fri Mar 20, 2009 12:10 pm

A reasonable, well-thought response. I don't disagree with anything, but I feel like there are some grey areas in your argument too.

On grey areas - I suppose it might be dangerous to insist that everything is a grey area. For some things, there may be black and white answers. Granted, this is probably the minority of "things", but I would try to stay away from absolutism in my irresoluteness.

I agree that we are probably better off, and definitely have no choice, to live and operate in a mixed economy with various competing ideological memes.

On the financial sector: I think that "simple rules" would have prevented much of the current disaster, not the overbearing and hasty regulations that we're about to experience. The main objective of the current plan (either donkey or elephant) is to get the economy growing again; to rekindle the cancerous swelling of all material things, but do so in a way that enables us to bleed off a little fluid when the whole thing is about to burst again.

We should make a drastic transformation toward a system that doesn't require growth to survive. One simple rule to help accommodate this would be the abolition of fractional reserve lending - you wanna talk about a revolution in the banking system? It would be tough to leverage when it's "one dollar in, one dollar out"

On "history" in general - do you think that any of the 20th century experiments in a given ideology (free market capitalism, communism, fascism...) were given time to reach a stable equilibrium? Especially with free-market capitalism - the model demands an occasional bloodletting, but we refuse to let that happen, and just revert to statism instead. We don't really have any proper controls for these 'experiments', but I don't think we have any hope of designing controls either. Dismal science indeed.

Long post, I am incapable of twitter-izing my thoughts.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:05 pm

ArturoBandini wrote:A reasonable, well-thought response. I don't disagree with anything, but I feel like there are some grey areas in your argument too.


You're right, I'm sure there are.

On grey areas - I suppose it might be dangerous to insist that everything is a grey area. For some things, there may be black and white answers. Granted, this is probably the minority of "things", but I would try to stay away from absolutism in my irresoluteness.


Yes, I'm certainly not arguing that there aren't such things as abstract right or wrong, or other absolutes. What I was referring to in Atlas Shrugged is a tendency to have all the "good" people be exactly the same (beautiful, strong, intelligent, sharing the same opinions, etc.). Likewise for all the "bad" people (cowardly, corrupt, weak, ugly, and they all have exactly the same vices). Even the weather contributes -- it always reflects the mood of the scene (dark, rainy, oppressive when Rand is writing about America sinking into a decrepit socialist hellhole; sunny and beautiful whenever the rugged capitalists are on stage).

That's what I meant when I compared the book to a teenage fantasy novel. The external world entirely reflects the subjective feelings of the characters.

On the financial sector: I think that "simple rules" would have prevented much of the current disaster, not the overbearing and hasty regulations that we're about to experience. The main objective of the current plan (either donkey or elephant) is to get the economy growing again; to rekindle the cancerous swelling of all material things, but do so in a way that enables us to bleed off a little fluid when the whole thing is about to burst again.

We should make a drastic transformation toward a system that doesn't require growth to survive. One simple rule to help accommodate this would be the abolition of fractional reserve lending - you wanna talk about a revolution in the banking system? It would be tough to leverage when it's "one dollar in, one dollar out"


I don't disagree with most of what you say.

I do get a bit leery of people proposing simple solutions to complicated problems. As I've grown older I've realized that I'm not actually an expert in most fields and consequently I've become more cautious about trying to prescribe cures.

That said, there are broad areas where I think we need to make big changes, and where those changes could probably benefit from some very straightforward and simple guidelines. For example, on health care financing, I'd rather look at lots of possible alternative systems, figure out what works best, and then wholeheartedly adopt it ... rather than messing around with incremental changes that merely complicate our existing flawed system. To my mind, that was one of the problems with the 1993 Clinton plan.

But the reason I think health care financing is amenable to radical changes is that we have lots of different examples already, from many different countries. That's different from what libertarians are proposing, which hasn't really been tried anywhere.

On "history" in general - do you think that any of the 20th century experiments in a given ideology (free market capitalism, communism, fascism...) were given time to reach a stable equilibrium? Especially with free-market capitalism - the model demands an occasional bloodletting, but we refuse to let that happen, and just revert to statism instead. We don't really have any proper controls for these 'experiments', but I don't think we have any hope of designing controls either. Dismal science indeed.


Eh. You're probably right, but I'm not really willing to live in (or force millions of others to live in) a too-radical "experiment" in political organization. Maybe there's a perfect theoretical system out there -- anarchy, theocracy, libertarianism, marxism, or something else. But I'm reluctant to gamble on that ... I'd rather try to improve things by incremental changes to our existing system, than by jumping to an extreme position and working our way back. Does that make sense?

I guess the one fly in the ointment here is your point about needing to transition to a system that doesn't require growth to survive. That, I think, is where we need to focus our attention, and it's the only area where I do think fundamental changes are urgently needed, despite having few or no existing models anywhere in the world to learn from.

Long post, I am incapable of twitter-izing my thoughts.


Remember, in comparison to the book that started this thread, anything less than 250,000 words would be regarded as concise.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby chainsawcurtis » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:14 pm

I like it when you guys get into philosophical discussions because I learn a lot - no, seriously.

I, too, read a lot of Heinlein as a kid as well as Asimov and Clarke. Their works could be taken as adolescent fantasies, too. Great science fiction works have always had elements of political philosophies in them but I didn't read Atlas Shrugged for that. Stranger in a Strange Land I read when I was fourteen, a couple of years after it was first published. It was good story which is not to say that Atlas was particularly good - there are parts that are spectacularly boring. There are parts of the Foundation Trilogy that are boring.

I read Atlas Shrugged in the early seventies because a friend told me it was science fiction. Writer and editor Brian Aldiss says good sci-fi has three elements: A technological development that we haven't seen yet, a society the reader is unfamiliar with, and a good story. Atlas is just an ok yarn told from Dagny's point of view. Rand wanted a strong female character and wrote one. That she wanted a strong female lead is obvious by the interview - Charlie's Angels indeed. Reardon metal was new high tech and Galt's utopia was stuff I never really thought about as a twenty-year-old. I knew nothing about right/left/libertarian leanings as a youngster and it wasn't until something like twenty years later that I discovered Rand's philosopy was some kind "movement."

I think a lot of folks would label themselves "liberals" if they had the time, energy, and maybe a little money to help their fellow man. I know I think of myself as "liberal" but it would be a lot easier to be that if the government would stick to fixing roads, making the environment cleaner for us and the kids and protecting our borders. But that would mean a lot less government.

Even though I've read it twice I may have to revisit Atlas just to see what the fuss is about.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Kenneth Burns » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:38 pm

Next read The Road to Serfdom and God And Man At Yale and you'll be all caught up.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:46 pm

Kenneth Burns wrote:Next read The Road to Serfdom


How much will you pay me?

In retrospect, I never should have waded through the morass of Atlas Shrugged unless someone were willing to cough up some dough for it.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby uwstudent » Thu May 14, 2009 11:53 am

Read the book twice. Thought it was awesome.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri May 15, 2009 8:03 am

Apparently there are a couple of audiobook editions of Atlas Shrugged.

One unabridged version is 51 hours long (it's a 42-CD set).
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Marvell » Fri May 15, 2009 9:11 am

Ned Flounders wrote:Apparently there are a couple of audiobook editions of Atlas Shrugged.

One unabridged version is 51 hours long (it's a 42-CD set).


Let me guess - that's the version read by Sarah Palin, right?
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Fri May 15, 2009 1:10 pm

Marvell wrote:
Ned Flounders wrote:Apparently there are a couple of audiobook editions of Atlas Shrugged.

One unabridged version is 51 hours long (it's a 42-CD set).


Let me guess - that's the version read by Sarah Palin, right?


I think Sarah would probably stick with the Cliffs Notes.

I wonder if there's an audiobook edition read by Pam Geller?

:shock:
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Marvell » Fri May 15, 2009 1:19 pm

Ned Flounders wrote:I wonder if there's an audiobook edition read by Pam Geller?


Yes. Only her version is titled Atlas Schlepped.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby Ned Flounders » Mon May 18, 2009 6:22 am

Marvell wrote:
Ned Flounders wrote:I wonder if there's an audiobook edition read by Pam Geller?


Yes. Only her version is titled Atlas Schlepped.


Or maybe Atlas Screeched.
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Re: A shameful confession

Postby blunt » Mon May 18, 2009 1:23 pm

I just read a Dean Koontz book.
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