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Weird Stuff In Rand's Fiction

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The Wrath
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There are a few events in some of her fiction novels which bother me, and I'm just wanting someone to give a defense/explanation of them.

1.) In Atlas Shrugged when she seems almost gleeful at the thought of a train full of people being blown up. I understand that many of them were immoral, but did they really deserve death--especially the children? It seems that if you make this argument, you have to argue that everyone currently on welfare deserves to die.

2.) Again, in Atlas Shrugged towards the end, Dagny kills a guard who "wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness." Okay, maybe he had some problems, but I don't really consider that a capital crime.

3.) In The Fountainhead when they blow up a privately-owned housing development. Note that I have not read this book yet, but I'm just wondering what the justification is for destroying someone else's private property.

4.) In all of the fiction that I've read, her sex scenes seem to be more like rape scenes.

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1.) The point is not that they deserved to die, but that their demise is due to their philosophy.

2.) In addition to 1, Dagny killed him in self-defense.

3.) The property wasn’t private, and it was a breach of contract.

4.) They aren’t.

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There are a few events in some of her fiction novels which bother me, and I'm just wanting someone to give a defense/explanation of them.

1.) In Atlas Shrugged when she seems almost gleeful at the thought of a train full of people being blown up.

What is your evidence for saying Ayn Rand was "almost gleeful" in thinking about this event in the plot? What logical argument leads you from those facts of reality to your conclusion?

What does almost gleeful mean? Or is that just a weasel phrase for making a claim and not making a claim at the same time?

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I too don't think the "gleeful" comment is justified. There's a certain sense of poetic justice present, yes, but a sort of terrible justice one thinks about when imagining tons of bombs dropped onto Nazi Germany, blowing up men, women and children into bits and pieces.

As for the other comments, such as Roark's destruction of the building, and Dagny's murder of the guard, I have two responses:

1) You're taking these books too literally, and clearly the main point of those scenes was not to teach that you should blow people's buildings up, or go around killing people you don't like. The main point of these scenes was to convey a certain sense of life, to help the reader experience the sense of exaltation permeating both books in yet another form. In each case, the villains get what they deserve, with interest.

2) With that said, the actual actions are nothing to be concerned with either. Dagny might have killed the guard in the end of the book, but Ragnar had been killing men like him since the beginning of the book, and even for years before the starting timeframe. Shouldn't that be an indicator that you're missing an essential component of the message AR is trying to say? In this case, the message is that the society Dagny lived in has completely converted to a brute rule by force, and she merely complied with their standards of living.

In Roark's case, the destruction of Cortlandt homes is an out-and-out highly stylized depiction of his adherence to his values, and I actually find very few people who attempt to interpret it as literally as you do.

Edited by Free Capitalist
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Free Capitalist wrote: "...Dagny might have killed the guard in the end of the book, but Ragnar had been killing men like him since the beginning of the book, and even for years before the starting timeframe."

I haven't re-read Atlas for a while, but I don't remember that Ragnar's pirating necessarily killed people. I dont' remember that such was ever explicitly mentioned in the book.

And to Moose's comments regarding Dagny killing the guard: I assign the guard the same moral responsibility of an MP at a Nazi concentration camp, which I would consider a capital crime.

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Perhaps I could raise another issue in the same general category as the questions at the beginning of this thread.

In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart asked "How thoroughly have you been watching me and for how long?"

Galt answered, "For years."

Why did Galt, for years, gather information about Dagny before she had even met Galt? Why didn't that make Dagny worried that Galt might have some kind of obsessive personality disorder? What made Galt think that there would be any chemistry between Dagny and Galt? What made Galt think that Dagny would make herself available by dumping Rearden?

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Joynewyeary, I suggest you look into how Ayn Rand describes the purpose of her writing. A great way to do this is to read the essay "The Goal of my Writing" in the book "The Romantic Manifesto". Or, better yet, read the entire book.

The purpose of Ayn Rand's art is to present a stylized, selective version of her view of the perfect man. Her purpose is not to merely reflect the world as it is. She is not a journalist.

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There are a few events in some of her fiction novels which bother me, and I'm just wanting someone to give a defense/explanation of them.
All of the examples you cite are textbook illustrations of taking something out of context.

Read the books, keep the whole context in mind, and you will, hopefully, come to understand that none of your examples are accurate descriptions of what is depicted in the books.

1.) In Atlas Shrugged when she seems almost gleeful at the thought of a train full of people being blown up. I understand that many of them were immoral, but did they really deserve death--especially the children? It seems that if you make this argument, you have to argue that everyone currently on welfare deserves to die.

No, everyone on welfare deserves to NOT be on welfare, since no one deserves to be robbed in order to fund welfare. What happens to ex-welfare recipients after having that source of unjust funding removed is their responsibility.

2.) Again, in Atlas Shrugged towards the end, Dagny kills a guard who "wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness." Okay, maybe he had some problems, but I don't really consider that a capital crime.
You omit almost the entire set of circumstances, including what he was guarding and why. He might not even have known what he was guarding, actually, and it wouldn't make any difference. That's exactly why Dagny gives him, quite benevolently, the benefit of the doubt, and offers him a chance to walk away unharmed. He chose poorly, and Dagny had the right to shoot him.

3.) In The Fountainhead when they blow up a privately-owned housing development. Note that I have not read this book yet, but I'm just wondering what the justification is for destroying someone else's private property.

Reardon made that private property possible, and did so on certain terms. Those terms were violated, so he revoked his permission.

4.) In all of the fiction that I've read, her sex scenes seem to be more like rape scenes.

The motivations of the individual characters involved makes it clear why the sex scenes go the way they do. The scenes in the books were mainly tense, charged, first encounters. Were you to extrapolate the lives of the characters beyond what is shown in the books, I doubt that after having been married for five years Rearden would still be throwing Dominique around as he did the first time, or that she throws things at him and resists him so energetically each time. In other words, it's not reasonable to conclude or imply that for Rand, sex is supposed to be generally an "almost rape-like" experience.

Context, context, context.

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Moose,

I had the same general type of reaction the first time I read The Foutainhead during the scene in which Steven Mallory attempts to take the life of Ellsworth Toohey, this, of course, is near the beginning of the book. Later, as it has been suggested here, the philosophic context of the action taken with the actions and premises of the lot of charachters in the story cleared up the confusion I felt earlier.

This is what I feel to be one of the masterful aspects of Rand's writing. She sets her readers up, and by doing so exploits (if you will) the deviant sentiments felt by the readers in the beginning. My boyfriend's younger brother is reading The Fountainhead now, and for a while he thought that Toohey was the good-guy, until the Stoddard Temple scene. Seeing the nature of a charachter that you once though good revealed makes the philosophic point that much more explicit. Its just a powerful literary device, and a good one.

And on a more philosphic note:

Your first three objections have to do with the nature of rights, if you are honestly interested in why Rand's ideal characters would commit such actions read the section in OPAR devoted to politics, or Locke's Treatise on Government . The first to discover more of what Rand's philosophy says about such an issue, and the second to more generally educate yourself.

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What is your proof of this claim?

Alright, I'm being facetious. However, the first time that Dominique Francon and Roark get it on is a pretty aggressive sex scene, you have to admit. Luckily, I have Atlas Shrugged right here and I happen to have flipped right to a passage that might highlight what I am saying:

"He twisted her arms behind her, holding her helpless, her breasts pressed against him; she felt pain ripping through her shoulders, she heard the anger in his words and the huskiness of pleasure in his voice: "who was he?"

She did not answer, she looked at him, her eyes dark and oddly brilliant, and he saw the the shape of her mouth, distorted by pain, was the shape of a mocking smile.

He felt it change to a shape of surrender, under the touch of his lips. He held her body as if the violence and the despair of the way he took her could wipe his unkown rival out of existence, out of her past, and more: as if it could transform any part of her, even the rival, into an instrument of his pleasure. He knew, by the eagerness of her movement as her arms seized him, that this was the way she wanted to be taken."

I realize my comment was made out of context, but I just wonder if Ayn Rand just liked rough sex. Nothing wrong with that. ;)

Just editing to add that that's from page 252.

Edited by drewfactor
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2.) Again, in Atlas Shrugged towards the end, Dagny kills a guard who "wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness."  Okay, maybe he had some problems, but I don't really consider that a capital crime.

Moose, you’ve identified the relevant principle that the author uses to justify Dagny’s action: she shoots the guard because he is indecisive and refuses to make a choice.

When Dagny confronts the guard, she identifies herself and says she has Mr Thompson’s permission to enter the building. The guard has orders from Dr Ferris to bar the door. There is no issue of self-defence, since the guard tells Dagny that he cannot shoot at her, because she is an emissary from Mr Thompson.

Dagny tells the guard he has to choose which order he will disobey. When he will not make a choice, she shoots the man “who wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.”

The point Rand is making is that we should take responsibility for making choices, and that some of these choices are a matter of life and death. Fair enough. Unfortunately, in presenting the issue the way she does, Rand undermines her argument.

How so? Well, in order that Dagny can present the guard with a choice, she must remind him of who she is, and with whom she appears to be allied. Otherwise, she could just be some random trespasser, and the guard would be duty-bound by the requirements of his job to bar her entry.

But in revealing her identity to the guard, she sets herself up as a rival authority to Dr Ferris. She also tells the guard he cannot know for sure whether she has orders from Thompson, nor that Thompson and Ferris may have a secret agreement agreed to let her enter the building. So in addition to her greater authority, Dagny has more information – the guard cannot know whether or not she is bluffing – and she is also willing to use force.

In other words, Dagny and the guard are not on a level playing field. Dagny occupies the high ground in terms of her authority, superior information and willingness to use force, but she insists that the guard take part in a charade of “choice”.

I think this is why readers find this passage disturbing. Our sympathies are supposed to stay firmly with Dagny, but because she presents the guard – and the reader -- with a Hobson’s choice, our empathy shifts from Dagny to the guard. As a result, his killing “feels” wrong, and an analysis of the scene shows why this feeling is justified.

Eddie

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As for me, I wasn't disturbed by that scene one bit. If you keep in mind the environment of martial law existing in America at this point in the story, choosing to deal with the bad men with the same method by which they propose to live is only sweet justice and nothing more.

Ditto. I know I was something approaching "gleeful" when I first read the scene with the train. The Justice was just so... tasty.

Then again, I liked the Punisher as a kid... ;):ninja::nuke::pimp:

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Moose, you’ve identified the relevant principle that the author uses to justify Dagny’s action: she shoots the guard because he is indecisive and refuses to make a choice.

When Dagny confronts the guard, she identifies herself and says she has Mr Thompson’s permission to enter the building. The guard has orders from Dr Ferris to bar the door. There is no issue of self-defence, since the guard tells Dagny that he cannot shoot at her, because she is an emissary from Mr Thompson.

Dagny tells the guard he has to choose which order he will disobey. When he will not make a choice, she shoots the man “who wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.”

The point Rand is making is that we should take responsibility for making choices, and that some of these choices are a matter of life and death. Fair enough. Unfortunately, in presenting the issue the way she does, Rand undermines her argument.

How so? Well, in order that Dagny can present the guard with a choice, she must remind him of who she is, and with whom she appears to be allied. Otherwise, she could just be some random trespasser, and the guard would be duty-bound by the requirements of his job to bar her entry.

But in revealing her identity to the guard, she sets herself up as a rival authority to Dr Ferris. She also tells the guard he cannot know for sure whether she has orders from Thompson, nor that Thompson and Ferris may have a secret agreement agreed to let her enter the building. So in addition to her greater authority, Dagny has more information – the guard cannot know whether or not she is bluffing – and she is also willing to use force.

In other words, Dagny and the guard are not on a level playing field. Dagny occupies the high ground in terms of her authority, superior information and willingness to use force, but she insists that the guard take part in a charade of “choice”.

I think this is why readers find this passage disturbing. Our sympathies are supposed to stay firmly with Dagny, but because she presents the guard – and the reader -- with a Hobson’s choice, our empathy shifts from Dagny to the guard. As a result, his killing “feels” wrong, and an analysis of the scene shows why this feeling is justified.

Eddie

I think this is a good explanation, but it has one problem. If I'm a security guard at an airport and someone comes up to me and says he has "permission from the airport director" to come through, even though the guy immediately above me says to let no one through, what do I do? He has more information than me and he, presumably, has an order from a higher authority. But I can't just let any schmuck in who says that they have authority to do so.

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I think this is a good explanation, but it has one problem.  If I'm a security guard at an airport and someone comes up to me and says he has "permission from the airport director" to come through, even though the guy immediately above me says to let no one through, what do I do?  He has more information than me and he, presumably, has an order from a higher authority.  But I can't just let any schmuck in who says that they have authority to do so.

Valid point but I think if you contrast the situation with Dagny and the one you mention, they do have a difference. Dagny established herself as a form of moral opposition to the people the guard was defending. So in a sense the guard did make a moral choice to whom his loyalties lied with. In the case of a security guard, your job is to protect the airport you'll have a series of orders 1 of which is bound to say "belief is verification". Now if the guard had tried to verify Dagny's story and found out what was really going on then yes it could have very well become a self defense situation. But then also sometimes giving an enemy a chance to get the first shot in is not the best idea.

I get this sort of quandry every day, a client trying to break a rule and saying they'll complain to our CEO (one of the truly rare ones who will actually talk to clients) or even that they were a personal friend of him and they'd call him at home to complain about me not letting them do ABC. Turns out that one was telling the truth about being a childhood friend but I didn't get into trouble because my first role is to protect the companies, and thereby our clients, assets. What they wanted to do would have placed us in a very tiny hypothetical risk but we don't differentiate risk based on size sometimes given that tiny things can blow up very VERY big in a heartbeat. And it was something very small and pretty petty in the whole great grand scheme of things but rules dealing with risk are there for a reason.

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I think this is a good explanation, but it has one problem.  If I'm a security guard at an airport and someone comes up to me and says he has "permission from the airport director" to come through, even though the guy immediately above me says to let no one through, what do I do?  He has more information than me and he, presumably, has an order from a higher authority.  But I can't just let any schmuck in who says that they have authority to do so.

I agree. My post may have been unclear, but I’m not defending Dagny’s actions. I’m not saying she has the moral high ground. Far from it. She is abusing her position to impose an impossible choice on the guard.

That’s why I say the passage undermines Rand’s argument that we should take responsibility for making choices. In this case, the choice is bogus, and also contradictory.

Dagny demands that the guard should ignore all authority and make his own decision. But in that case, he should also ignore her authority, and if he does that, the basis for her demand is negated – she is just somebody standing before him holding a gun.

And since she is holding a gun on him, she is interceding between his mind and reality. Yet Dagny is demanding that the guard act according to reality. In that context, the guard cannot make a rational choice.

Eddie

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I agree. My post may have been unclear, but I’m not defending Dagny’s actions. I’m not saying she has the moral high ground. Far from it. She is abusing her position to impose an impossible choice on the guard.

Eddie

Dagny was at war with the guard, as he was acting as an agent for an evil government. Her goal was the get on the other side of the door at any cost, not to debate with the guard whether or not to let her pass.

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Seems like the rational choice would be to obey the person who currently has a gun to your head.

but the gaurd can't just do that. if its rational to obey the person with the gun pointed at you, you're a pretty awful gaurd in the first place and there is no "rational" way to gaurd the door. i have always "chalked up" this scene as necessary use of force to an objective. the dialogue and "choice making" is all for literary effect to strengthen the argument for responsibility in decission making. the decission to eliminate the gaurd is no decission at all all. it has to happen. sometimes rational and practical don't sync up (--from a personal military standpoint, this is often the greatest distinction between a great general and a great sergent...if that makes sense to anyone--)

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