Friday, March 13, 2009

Oh please don't go

I just read a great story about people who want to "Go John Galt" (like in the book Atlas Shrugged) but appear to be completely unclear of the concept.

None of the people Dr. Helen interviews is actually Going Galt. More to the point, neither is Dr. Helen. She claims to be "mulling over ways that she can "go Galt". Allow me to help her out (along with Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, et al.) To Go Galt, she should:

(a) Identify those things that she does that are genuinely creative and productive. If there aren't any, then the fact that it will be difficult for her to Go Galt is the least of her problems.

(b) Refuse to do those things in any way that allows society at large, as opposed to a small circle of like-minded individualists, to benefit from them.

It really is that simple. If she and the other bloggers who are calling on people to "Go Galt" don't do this, the only explanations are that they don't have the guts to do what they are encouraging others to do, or that they recognize that nothing they do counts as creative or productive, or that they just aren't thinking about what they write.

This is great comedy, see. At least in Atlas Shrugged, the people who packed up and left society were people who actually did stuff. They made steel, they ran railroads, they were engineers and inventors and manufacturers.

The people who are now saying "Let's leave and they'll all be sorry!" aren't even successful in Randian terms. They're pundits, untalented entertainers, professional bloggers, belief-tank chairmen, and people who make a living by shuffling small green pieces of paper around from one place to another.

Having such people withdraw from society is an empty threat. It's Douglas Adams' B-Ark. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, the planet of Golgafrincham got rid of a useless segment of their population by telling them that the planet was about to be destroyed. They led people to believe that the A-Ark would contain the scientists, inventors, artists, and thinkers; the C-Ark would contain the laborers; and the B-Ark would contain everyone else, such as insurance salesmen and management consultants.

There was no catastrophe. The people supposedly going on A and C arks stayed home, while the B-ark was programmed to crash land.

The people who now fantasize about "going Galt" have an inflated sense of their own importance to society, and few would be upset if they ran off to a similar fate.


While searching for references on this post, I discovered a post from yesterday by someone who had already made exactly the same connection.  I thought about killing this post, but hey, great minds think alike.


  1. Yay!! It is great to find someone who also understood the point of Atlas Shrugged. I have been trying to explain the point of the novel to a friend of mine and it frustrates me that today's 'capitalists' are using the book as a comparison to their own over-inflated egos. I am a capitalist; I am all for a company turning a profit and developing innovative ideas as well as the upstarts trumping them whenever they can.

    The fact that people obviously did not understand the point of the book is yet another example of how this country fails to adequately educate and it is a frightening indicator of things to come.

  2. I'm no great fan of Ayn Rand myself. I'm a capitalist to the extent that I think markets should be as free as possible, but not freer. I think the market is great at providing efficient matching of buyers to sellers for all kinds of goods, but it's not so great at preventing them from starving to death. Markets need a LOT more regulation than they've been getting lately in order to guard against unfettered corruption.

    Ayn Rand would have disagreed with me violently.

  3. Well, I think wanting to go off somewhere with your like-minded little friends because people fail to recognize your genius is childish and pathetic (which about sums up my feelings about Rand in general).

    If people don't appreciate my ideas, I'm not explaining them right for the audience I'm trying to convince, or I'm addressing the wrong audience with the argument I'm trying to use. I can hardly blame my intended audience for my own failure - I can only try to understand the issues more clearly, talk about them more engagingly and do better next time.

    If everyone thinks your ideas are lame, maybe ... just maybe ... it really is you. The problem with people from the B-Ark is they are incapable of recognizing they're on it.

    "Sorry, could I just ask you to run a bit more hot water for me? ... Do help yourselves to more drinks of course."

  4. Reminds me of this:

    BtAF's Classic Literature sequels: Atlas Shrugged 2: One Hour Later

  5. Michelle Malkin threatening to go Galt invites the same response that Deep Thought gave when Vroomfondel threatened a philosophers' strike: "Whom will that inconvenience?"

  6. Colbert did a phenominal segment of "THE WORD" titled "Rand Illusion"

    Btw he noted that a nation of everyone who wants to go Golt these days would be called the "U S of A holes"

  7. "The people supposedly going on A and C arks stayed home"

    What you ignore is the end of the Golgafrincham story. The people who stayed behind all died of a plague contracted from a dirty telephone. Telephone sanitizers were amongst those on the B Ark.

  8. Anonymous12:07 PM

    The cartoon you link to ( has a problem. Buried within the 1000+ pages of Atlas Shrugged are details that invalidate the premise of the cartoon. These problems were anticipated and addressed within the story. The cartoon looks like it was made by someone who read a half-page synopsis of the story and figured he had all he needed to know. (Or maybe he read it 20 years ago and has forgotten most of the details?)

    It's great to argue the merits of ideas, but it should be done on the actual merits of the actual ideas, rather than on a caricature of the ideas.

  9. Anonymous:

    You mention details, but don't give any. Could you please summarize the solution to the problem of needing a labor force?

  10. Anonymous2:58 PM


    You would like me to summarize a 1000+ page book for you here?

    The question of there being sufficient people to do the necessary work is addressed in the story. The issue of the main characters themselves doing manual labor is also addressed in the story.

    My point isn't to begin a long discussion on details of Atlas Shrugged, or to suggest that anybody should read the book. My point is that if someone wishes to criticize a story for a particular shortcoming, they should investigate the story enough to find if that shortcoming actually exists. There are plenty of legitimate points of contention in Atlas Shrugged that could be discussed (or ridiculed, if one is a cartoonist searching for fodder)

  11. Anonymous:
    You would like me to summarize a 1000+ page book for you here?

    Just the relevant points.

    Basically, all you've said is that certain problems are addressed in the book. You haven't said how they're addressed, so I can't tell whether the proposed solutions are halfway-plausible or not.

  12. Anonymous6:04 PM

    It's Ayn Rand. "Just the relevant points" probably span a hundred or more pages. She's not well known for being concise.

    My point has little to do with how plausible you find the story. I have no intention of getting into a discussion on the merits of Atlas Shrugged.

    You can read the book for yourself if you care to. Failing that, you can probably find some decent summaries online somewhere.

    If someone has read a book, and has criticisms of it, then they are free to discuss their criticisms. If they haven't read the book, then they should be more cautious with their criticisms. In the case of the angry flower cartoon, it's clear to someone who has read the book (unless it was a long time ago, and memory has faded), that the criticisms are just off the mark. It seem to me that the cartoonist either hasn't read the book, or is counting on his audience to have not read the book but still have a basic idea of the overall plot.

  13. (I'm "Anonymous" from above. I just noticed the option to provide my name without having an account.)

    I want to be sure I address this directly, in hopes of avoiding any additional confusion.

    "Basically, all you've said is that certain problems are addressed in the book. You haven't said how they're addressed,"

    That is correct. All I have said is that certain problems are addressed in the book. I haven't gone into any detail regarding how they are addressed. All I intended to do was point out that they are addressed, while the cartoon that was referred to implies that these problems are not addressed in the book.

    My motives are not about defending Ayn Rand or Atlas Shrugged, but rather about discouraging the use of ill-informed or bad faith arguments.

  14. Look, Eric, saying "Your criticisms of the book are shallow" rings incredibly hollow when you obviously can't defend your own points. Yes, it's true that Atlas is not a short book, but if you're going to say that it deals with the points in the cartoon then you still have to say how it deals with them. Otherwise, you're just saying "No it it's not" like John Cleese, which isn't an argument.

  15. Kazim,

    I gather from what you've said on the Atheist Experience that you have read Atlas Shrugged. I assume that you know what I mean when I say the angry flower cartoon is based on a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of the story. I don't see why you would think it rings hollow for that to be pointed out. I can understand someone who hasn't read the book, who then reads my initial comment here and misunderstand my point. But, as someone familiar with the story, I figured you would know what I mean.

    As I have clearly failed to properly explain that my point doesn't depend on the details of the story, I'll relent and provide a few points. Please don't take this to mean I want to get involved in a discussion on the merits of Atlas Shrugged, as I have earlier explained that I do not.

    (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read Atlas Shrugged)

    There are characters represented in the cartoon as not being willing or able to prepare food for themselves, and as having apparently given no thought to how they would survive without servants or other people they could pay to do things for them. In the book these characters are described, at great length, as hard working and capable. They have established a small society in the mountains that is shown (again, at considerable length) to be functioning quite well, albeit modestly. They plan so that they are able to sustain this secluded society without outside input before they complete their withdrawal from the larger society. They are producing their own food, clothing, shelter, transportation, energy, and art (and probably several other things I'm not remembering).

    There's a common caricature of the story, in which a group of spoiled rich people throw a temper tantrum, but the book is not quite that simple. The people involved are shown to have thought things through carefully and thoroughly. At the end, this group is shown months later to be preparing to leave their mountain society and return to the larger world to try to rebuild. That is, the "One hour later" and "Hard months later" time points in the cartoon are time points that are within the scope of the book, and are very different from the assumptions upon which the cartoon depends.

    This cartoon can be funny to someone who has heard the Atlas Shrugged story third hand. But to someone that knows the story, it's a lazy criticism. My point is, completely apart from the subject of Atlas Shrugged, if you are going to criticize a thing you should criticize the actual thing. If you can only criticize a misrepresentation of the thing, then you should carefully evaluate your position. (I think this point is very much in line with the initial post here, where people are praising and advocating 'Going Galt', while appearing to have little understanding of the context of the phrase, or of what 'Going Galt' would actually entail.)

  16. eric:

    Ah, okay. So your objection is not to the last panel, but to panels 4-6, which show the lack of forethought.

    So as I understand it, a Galt society, just like the last panel of the Bob the Angry Flower cartoon, would have a bunch of brilliant engineers, artists, financiers, etc. tilling the soil, weaving cloth, and churning butter, rather than doing the things they're brilliant at.

  17. arensb,

    My objection is to the use of ill-informed and bad faith arguments. The cartoon is an example of at least one of these (I can't know which one without knowing more about the author.)

    If you want to critique a story, that's great. I think you should do it, and I would be interested in any insightful critiques you may develop. Don't you think it would make sense to at least know what the story is about first? Don't you think you should learn enough about something to be able to construct an informed opinion? It seems that you have decided, for whatever reason, that you don't like this story. It also seems that you haven't either read the book or endeavored to learn about it through a decent summary. It doesn't make sense to be criticizing something you don't know about.

    I think there are many better books out there, and better ways to spend your time, especially if you have limited time available for leisure reading. However, if you really want to get involved in discussions of Atlas Shrugged, you should at least get the Cliff Notes or something so you have some idea what you are talking about.

  18. The post is here since years, but I only now stumbled upon it. I always thought that the story of Golgafrincham was an Anti-Galt. It's not the capitalist paradise of John Galt and his elite, served by a bunch of wage slaves, which survives. This paradise has a very short albeit interesting life.

    But the hapless, useless, narrow minded, procedure loving, unimaginative population of Ark B manages to survive on an alien planet after a crash landing and is able to build a new civilisation. And none of them grows beyond his limits. They make about every error in the book, their decisions have severe unintendend consequences, they stay the same bunch of people who will drive everyone into insanity with their stubborness.

    But they shall overcome.