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Eddie Willers

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It should go without saying that pursuing something dear is not always selfish. The whole question is if Eddie was being selfish, rather than "possessed" by TT and pursuing the well-being of TT as though it was his master. You specifically distinguished Eddie as someone who wasn't in it for himself, which is by any definition not selfish.

I don't think that selfishness is the issue here but rather rationality. Eddie's valuation of TT was not rational.

Here's another quote from AS p. 453. Francisco is chatting with Reardon. Francisco says, "'When you felt proud of the rail of the John Galt Line,....did you want to see the Line used by your equals...?'

'Yes,' said Reardon eagerly.

'Did you want to see it used by ordinary men who could not equal the power of your mind, but who would equal your moral integrity --men such as Eddie Willers --who could never invent your metal, but who would do their best, work as hard as you did, live by their own effort, and--riding on your rail.--give a moment's silent thanks to the maan who gave them more than they could give him?'

'Yes,' said Reardon gently.

'Did you want to see it used by whining rotters who never rouse themselves to any effort, ...who proclaim that you are born to serfdom by reason of your genius while they are born to rule by the grace of incompetence....'

'I'd blast that rail first.'"

Here we see that Eddie Willers is not 'evil' and indeed has many virtues. His problem is misplaced values. This is illustrated earlier in the novel when as a youth Eddie declares that he thinks he would like to do great deeds and whatever is good. He has a hard time defining what is good. He had a hard time defining what disturbed him about the tree that was felled by lightning. He had difficulty understanding his own sense of unease about the calendar in the sky. Eddie does not evaluate his feelings and hence his own values. He places greater value to a corporation over his own life. Even Dagny did not do that.

Eddie is very much like most people who never evaluate their own feelings and values. They end up a hodge podge of irrational values, and while Ayn Rand did not explicitly kill him off, she left him to the wolves.

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She left him to his own devices, which in Eddie's case was being loyal to the ideal created by Dagny's father and preserved by her with his help.  Is there any serious doubt that once Dagny begins to rebuild her railroad she wouldn't want Eddie back at her side?  Does Objectivism depend on him failing?? Loyalty isn't on the list of objectivist virtues and Eddie substitutes loyalty for independence to the degree that even with all his remaining Objectivist virtues, he breaks down with the train in the desert.

 

We don't know if the wagon train that arrives contains good folk or bad, we only know at that point Eddie can't get off the train... yet.  Eddie is a very capable doer, but not a creator.  He makes me think of the subject being spoken to in Kipling's If:  "... or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools..."  It's not that he couldn't let it go, he chose not to let it go.  I see him continuing to try to get the train running again, and who knows, may be he does and gets another hundred miles out of it at which point he reunites with Dagny.  That would be my happy ending for him.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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She left him to his own devices, which in Eddie's case was being loyal to the ideal created by Dagny's father and preserved by her with his help.  Is there any serious doubt that once Dagny begins to rebuild her railroad she wouldn't want Eddie back at her side?  Does Objectivism depend on him failing?? Loyalty isn't on the list of objectivist virtues and Eddie substitutes loyalty for independence to the degree that even with all his remaining Objectivist virtues, he breaks down with the train in the desert.

Loyalty is fine, it is a specific type of integrity. But being loyal "to an ideal" is not the same as being loyal to values pursued for one's own sake. An ideal life as possible is sensible but to see an abstraction as the ideal to live for the sake of is a form of idealism as Kant believed. That isn't to say Dagny thought he was worthless, or that friends with misplaced values are worthless, but if a person is loyal to an idea differently than they are loyal to the "I", then that is not selfish at all. At the same time, if we are to take Eddie as morally equal to Dagny or Rearden, then there is still a major issue of how being a creator makes one's life better in the long run than being a capable doer. Who knows for sure what happens to Eddie, but he ended up losing after all his efforts - just as Dagny would've lost if she didn't learn to leave TT. But hey, if he left the train, the last piece of TT, he'd have a chance to live. If he irrationally clinged to TT like a captain staying on a doomed ship, then he'd definitely die (selflessly) for the sake of TT.

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John considered Dagny to be his greatest threat and it wasn't until she gave up the fight that his goal was finally achieved.  That says a lot about the power of determined resistance to letting go of an idea worth fighting for.  In "Philosophy: Who Needs It", Ayn Rand begins with a story about an astronaut similarly stuck like Eddie in a broken machine, and it doesn't work out too well for him to give up and join the first group that comes along.  She concludes her work with a chapter titled "Don't Let It Go".

 

I can't fault Eddie for not letting go of a life worth fighting for.  In the end it took the combined efforts of the greatest minds the novel had to offer to stop him from accomplishing his goal.  Dangy would have been proud of her childhood friend.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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I believe that there is an as-yet unresolved tension between "life as survival" being the standard of value, versus some other vision of "life," as played out in conversations such as these.

 

If survival is truly the standard of value, then I think it follows that one should never be willing to go down with the ship.  Valuing the ship -- or "freedom," or an ideal, or a romantic partner, or a child -- such that one would be willing to die (or risk death to some great degree) for its sake, must itself be irrational, for it would inspire these kinds actions which are ultimately self-destructive in the literal sense.

 

However, if "life" is not mere survival, if it is more than that, then it perhaps becomes either more reasonable or at least more understandable when people make choices -- fighting in the name of what they value -- which yet wind up costing them even their actual lives.

 

Searching for "Eddie Willers," I found this quote (though I'm not double checking, so I cannot vouch for its accuracy, or for that which was elided):

 

"n the name of some victory that he could not name, he had to start the engine moving....Don't let it go! his mind was crying....He was pulling at coils of wire, he was linking them and tearing them apart....He heard himself crying soundlessly – Dagny, in the name of the best within us...I must now start this train!"

 

I don't know about y'all, but this reads to me like a heroic sentiment, and I suspect it was meant that way.

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If survival is truly the standard of value, then I think it follows that one should never be willing to go down with the ship.  Valuing the ship -- or "freedom," or an ideal, or a romantic partner, or a child -- such that one would be willing to die (or risk death to some great degree) for its sake, must itself be irrational, for it would inspire these kinds actions which are ultimately self-destructive in the literal sense.

Life without survival isn't life at all, and life with only survival isn't much of anything. If life is the standard, it implies competency and ability to survive along with psychological well-being. Now, it's one thing to die in the process, but it's quite another to die in the name of an abstract ideal as Eddie seemed willing to do. To be selfish in Rand's sense is to live in the name of yourself towards abstract ideals that serve your life. So yes, to die -for- the sake of someone or some ideal is irrational, as you'd be serving the ideal instead. If anything, the above quote shows how Eddie was serving an ideal rather than using an ideal as an enhancement to his own life.

 

Dagny did not feel she had to "start the train" by the end, but earlier on she was probably saying "I must go back to TT in the name of the best within me, I must keep TT going!" She was a lot like Eddie, really. She learned that it wasn't selfish. So she fixed her ways. If we take Eddie as similar to Dagny, the difference at the end is that Eddie didn't learn. Maybe, just maybe, Eddie would fix his errors just after his last scene, he'd end up surviving and happy. In the context of the book, while Eddie's strength may be courageous, he isn't heroic or a moral paragon. He's decent, but no one you'd really point to as "Ah, he's an admirable hero!" Well, no - the paragons of morality undoubtedly survived and then thrived.

 

If Eddie is the average, decent person, it probably takes Eddie's last moments to realize his errors. Keating was like that in The Fountainhead, except Keating had numerous moral failings, not just misplaced values. It was too late for Keating's dreams with painting (Roark said as much, Keating agreed I think). Was it too late for Eddie? Probably not. I think -that's- the question most important question here.

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I think Ayn Rand wanted to categorically differentiate 'the Creators' from all other types of people. And perhaps that's why she even choose to make a martyr out of Eddie Willers, who is atleast 'a doer'. 

 

Nonetheless, I still think the world would be a better place, even if half of the people living are replaced by the likes of Eddie Willers. He may be irrational, but did no harm atleast to 'the creators'. 

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True. Also, each of the strikers made the decision at his own pace. When Dagny had to make hers, she was in the valley: she had seen the real, concrete alternative. She could have decided to stay or to return. One can rationalize her decision to return, but I doubt many readers thought "if I was her, at this point in the story, I would not stay in the valley, with all these cool people, with this cool life they have made for themselves" The outside world was already dangerous at this time.

So, imagine that we suspend the rationale of the plot after the point when Dagny leaves, and allow some tragedy to intervene. Imagine that she is arrested to put pressure on Galt to return, and killed by some incompetence on part of her captors. We might well say that her decision to return was a bad one, but we would not judge her whole life and character by that single decision. We would not judge her as immoral based on the last important decision. Of course there was a difference between her decision and Eddie's: she was trying to keep the looters' world running (being Galt's worst enemy) while Eddie had pretty much given up. If anything that would make her decision worse, even if not more immoral. But, in any case, the key is that one does not judge character based on a single wrong decision... particularly not based purely on the outcome that happens to transpire.

 

That is a damn good point.  

 

Her not returning from the valley really illustrates that story and drama are part of the equation of decision making.  

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Because Eddie did not live by the principles of the strikers. He was dedicated to an institution over his own life as illustrated by how the author left him to the wolves. He got what he deserved.

 

What?  No - Just no.

 

He did live by it.  His derailment is one of drama, dictated my the necessity of the story, not ethics.  We've already covered how in the novel she shows this and if that is not good enough you can go on her word on the subject.  

 

He was also not left to the wolves  - Even Rand said after the collapse Eddie would be one of the first to rebound since he was a good person who would be able to produce since he never accepted the altruist/collectivist ethics.

 

I'll have to find the quote - I think it's in her letters some place. 

 

Either way - This nonsensical trashing of Eddie needs to stop. As  explained - He is the symbol of a good person crushed by the collectivist system.  

 

I mean really - If you need another example just look to James Taggart's wife for good people getting hurt by the collectivist/altruist ethics.  Was her suicide Rand's way of showing her lesser stature too?  

 

There is a difference between tragedy and ethics, in philosophic terms as well as literary role. 

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Is it a trashing when I observe that Eddie, during his final moments, considered the train more valuable than his own life? 

 

Taggart's wife was not an ideal person. One would commit suicide only when one is riddled with pain, fear and guilt.

 

I think, that both of them had the choice to take their attention away from all the things that were bothering them and then choose to pay attention on the solutions - 'how to overcome the collectivist mongrels'. 

 

It is a question of philosophical literacy and psychological strength. I don't mean to trash anyone. I would say that innocence is usually accompanied by ignorance.

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Either way - This nonsensical trashing of Eddie needs to stop. As  explained - He is the symbol of a good person crushed by the collectivist system.  

Kira Argounova is this person. "We The Living" is a tragedy, as Kira was wholly good, and was literally killed by the "system". She tried damn hard to live. Eddie is not like Kira. He, apparently, lived and developed his morality directly from Dagny. He "aimed" at morality e.g. Dagny like Aristotle's Golden Mean, but didn't live it egoistically. I'd like to see the quote, but it sounds like Eddie could rebound - it depends on if Eddie, finally, decides to give up on TT.  I'm not trashing him, I'm saying he didn't develop into truly egoistic person.

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But, in any case, the key is that one does not judge character based on a single wrong decision... particularly not based purely on the outcome that happens to transpire.

 

I don't think that anyone has judged Eddie on his one decision to stay on the train past hope--a monumentally bad decision with life-threatening consequences. Dagny's decision to return from the valley was a bad decision with far-reaching consequences. However, we must judge this one decision on Eddie's part as this is the moral consequence of Eddie's core value. In AS, each character lives the consequences of his/her values. One might say that each character of AS represents the extreme consequence of a moral decision. Hank Reardon and Francisco have flaws that beg to be examined. Each character is subjected to the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality applied to Eddie, the serf of Tagart Transcontinental, leaves him still devoted to the rail line beyond hope or reason. Even those like Dagny who have loved the rails and dreamed great dreams over them have abandoned TT by that time. Eddie pulling at coils and wires is akin to a math student who does not know how to solve an exam problem. These students resort to all sorts of violations of math rules to just "do something". "To act without thinking is sin." Eddie's efforts to get the train moving while stranded in the desert are not virtuous. They are the logical, inevitable consequences of moral decisions Eddie has made his whole life.

Edited by aleph_1
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I have some additional quotes pertaining to serfdom.

 

The following is Dagny talking with Francisco.

 

"'That's what I came here for--to try to understand. But I can't. It seems monstrously wrong to surrender to the world of the looters, and monstrously wrong to live under their rule. I can neither give up nor go back. I can neither exist without work nor work as a serf....'

 

'Check your premises, Dagny. Contraditions don't exist.'"

 

This is a discussion Eddie could not possibly have had being unquestioningly committed to TT.

 

Another quotation refers to a "frozen" train Dagny was on with Owen Kellogg.

 

"They went the length of the train, finding no porters, no waiters in the diner, no brakemen, no conductor. They glanced at each other once in a while, but kept silent. They knew the stories of abondoned trains, of crews that vanished in sudden bursts of rebellion agains serfdom." ...." Her cry of desperate triumph broke out in answer to the shock of the sight: 'Good for them! They're human beings!'"

 

Eddie had not reached this state.

 

Dagny and John Galt, had this to say about his suggestion that he fix the interlocking system.

 

"'Would you like me to repair that interlocking signal system of yours within an hour?'

'No!' The cry was immediate--in answer to the flash of a sudden image, the image of the men in the private dining room of the Wayne-Falkland.

He laughed. 'Why not?'

'I don't want to see you working as their serf!'"

 

The last quotation concerning serfdom that I have found in AS concerns Galt's monologue. He says,

 

"Your code divides mankind into two castes and commands them to live by opposite rules: those who may desire anything and those who may desire nothing, the chosen and the damned, the riders and the carrier, the eaters and the eaten. What standard determines your caste? What passkey admits you to the moral elite? The passkey is lack of value....

"If you succeed, any man who fails is your master; if you fail, any man who succeeds is your serf...."

 

Eddie, through his virtues, is a serf.

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Kira Argounova is this person. "We The Living" is a tragedy, as Kira was wholly good, and was literally killed by the "system". She tried damn hard to live. Eddie is not like Kira. He, apparently, lived and developed his morality directly from Dagny. He "aimed" at morality e.g. Dagny like Aristotle's Golden Mean, but didn't live it egoistically. I'd like to see the quote, but it sounds like Eddie could rebound - it depends on if Eddie, finally, decides to give up on TT.  I'm not trashing him, I'm saying he didn't develop into truly egoistic person.

 

Kira is an interesting comparison but honestly it has been so long since I read that book I'm a little lost to follow up (I think it was 90?)  and I only read it once while driving at the time.  

 

The trashing comment wasn't necessarily directed at you either - It's just everyone is ganging up on him when I think people are reading to much into Rand taking dramatic license during the final action scenes of the novel.  

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I have some additional quotes pertaining to serfdom.

 

The following is Dagny talking with Francisco.

 

"'That's what I came here for--to try to understand. But I can't. It seems monstrously wrong to surrender to the world of the looters, and monstrously wrong to live under their rule. I can neither give up nor go back. I can neither exist without work nor work as a serf....'

 

'Check your premises, Dagny. Contraditions don't exist.'"

 

This is a discussion Eddie could not possibly have had being unquestioningly committed to TT.

 

Another quotation refers to a "frozen" train Dagny was on with Owen Kellogg.

 

"They went the length of the train, finding no porters, no waiters in the diner, no brakemen, no conductor. They glanced at each other once in a while, but kept silent. They knew the stories of abondoned trains, of crews that vanished in sudden bursts of rebellion agains serfdom." ...." Her cry of desperate triumph broke out in answer to the shock of the sight: 'Good for them! They're human beings!'"

 

Eddie had not reached this state.

 

Dagny and John Galt, had this to say about his suggestion that he fix the interlocking system.

 

"'Would you like me to repair that interlocking signal system of yours within an hour?'

'No!' The cry was immediate--in answer to the flash of a sudden image, the image of the men in the private dining room of the Wayne-Falkland.

He laughed. 'Why not?'

'I don't want to see you working as their serf!'"

 

The last quotation concerning serfdom that I have found in AS concerns Galt's monologue. He says,

 

"Your code divides mankind into two castes and commands them to live by opposite rules: those who may desire anything and those who may desire nothing, the chosen and the damned, the riders and the carrier, the eaters and the eaten. What standard determines your caste? What passkey admits you to the moral elite? The passkey is lack of value....

"If you succeed, any man who fails is your master; if you fail, any man who succeeds is your serf...."

 

Eddie, through his virtues, is a serf.

 

Or he simply spent 1100 pages getting beat upon and the logical thing happened - He broke.  

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You are right. Eddie was not a leech, but rather had misplaced values.

 

...

 

Eddie, through his virtues, is a serf.

 

A serf with misplaced values whose moral integrity equaled the heroes of the story...  but he's not a leech...

 

So what does that make him to those heroes who swore not to ask another man to live for their sake; a useful but misguided tool??

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The trashing comment wasn't necessarily directed at you either - It's just everyone is ganging up on him when I think people are reading to much into Rand taking dramatic license during the final action scenes of the novel.  

Dramatic license is putting Eddie in the situation. We can, however, evaluate Eddie as a person within the story apart from what Rand thought about Eddie. Of course I'm going to "read into" it, that's what books are for! I think Rand, by leaving his fate open, is allowing us readers to really think about Eddie and read between the lines. So far in this thread, I've seen more examples where Eddie acts according to a duty to TT rather than his self-interest to further his life. Dagny has a happy ending, while Eddie has an ambiguous ending as a struggle to survive at all.

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There is a sense in which it is a complete waste of time and totally missing the point to evaluate Eddie's actions.  The whole point of the novel is to illustrate what happens to men like Eddie when the looter class is in total control and the men of the mind have gone on strike.  Evaluate the world, not Eddie.  

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... So far in this thread, I've seen more examples where Eddie acts according to a duty to TT rather than his self-interest to further his life. Dagny has a happy ending, while Eddie has an ambiguous ending as a struggle to survive at all.

 

The relationship between Dagny and Eddie (outside of friendship) was employer and employee, and I think it's a mistake to view Eddie's actions as flawed in that context.  Dagny was the best kind of employer and Eddie was the best kind of employee, and the self-interest of an employee is best served by earning their pay for doing a good job.  Eddie never falters in that respect and to claim he wasn't furthering his life by working for someone else expresses a general criticism against employees for not being employers regardless of the abilities of the person in either capacity.  It smacks of a bias that isn't supported by the story or by how things work in the real world.  Employers like Dagny need employees like Eddie.

 

In one respect I can see how this bias is generated by the introduction of a truck driver (an employee) in Galt's Gulch who wants "something more" out of life,  What he wants isn't stated, so apparently a vague desire to be "more" than an employee is enough to gain access to Galt's world of movers and shakers.  The story shows Eddie as a fully capable, self-sufficient character whose moral integrity is equal to Hank and Dagny.  To compare some random truck driver's vague, as yet unrealized desire against Eddie's proven abilities to perform (several times on his own) as Dagny's right hand man, and say the former is "furthering" his life and the latter isn't is just plain silly.

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Dagny has a happy ending, while Eddie has an ambiguous ending as a struggle to survive at all.

It's been quite a while, so please forgive (and correct) me if I get something wrong, but...

In order to achieve her particular ending, wasn't Dagny approached, and brought to the Gulch, and weren't arguments made, and wasn't it a difficult internal struggle for her to come to the conclusions she did, regardless?

Without that intervention, don't you think it likely that Dagny would have remained as committed to TT as Eddie, even if the strike was bringing the world down around her ears?

If Eddie did not come to the same final conclusion as Dagny (and thereby reach the Gulch in some manner), is it necessarily down to his moral failing? Or if he's intelligent, but perhaps not quite so intelligent as to be able to draw all of these connections on his own (in the time frame required)... and if he's capable, but perhaps not quite so capable as to be demanded for the Gulch... then can't he be a moral man fighting tooth-and-nail for what yet represents life to him?

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In one respect I can see how this bias is generated by the introduction of a truck driver (an employee) in Galt's Gulch who wants "something more" out of life,  What he wants isn't stated, so apparently a vague desire to be "more" than an employee is enough to gain access to Galt's world of movers and shakers.  The story shows Eddie as a fully capable, self-sufficient character whose moral integrity is equal to Hank and Dagny.  To compare some random truck driver's vague, as yet unrealized desire against Eddie's proven abilities to perform (several times on his own) as Dagny's right hand man, and say the former is "furthering" his life and the latter isn't is just plain silly.

This would make sense if Eddie got to the gulch, too. But he didn't. I'm not going to chalk it up to Rand running out of space  in the book to explain his fate. It's crystal clear, though, that Eddie wasn't invited or else he rejected the offer.

Don, your response is exactly what I was driving at. I had a hard time phrasing.

One major difference between Eddie and Dagny is visiting the gulch. It changed Dagny. Eddie developed over time, but he wasn't shaken to the core as Dagny was. Dagny had a lot of internal struggle to finally say sticking to TT was not selfish. She was quite moral in thought and deed before, but she shifted her values upon this realization. Thanks to the gulch, Dagny acquired new knowledge first hand and improved her life even more.

Dagny didn't find the gulch from a moral success other than the take-action stance she had. Eddie was able to keep TT alive, and Dagny figured she'd save TT by finding the destroyer. Of course, what happened is that Dagny learned in the gulch. She learned things that Eddie didn't outside the gulch. It altered her values. Eddie wasn't really a "moral failure", he just lacked knowledge. But what happens if it takes too long to learn, or the opportunity to learn doesn't present itself? Someone with more knowledge is going to be better off in the long run. That person is Dagny.

Is Eddie truly blameless for his lack of knowledge? I think on some level, he refused to be open to the possibility he was wrong about TT.

Regardless of that answer, where does moral development come into play? Rand seems to present Eddie as a person who got his only moral education from Dagny and "absorbing" morality through osmosis in society. We see many examples of Dagny's moral education in her early years, and Eddie was more like an incidental sidekick (if you like South Park, he's basically Butters). It's reminiscent to me of how Nietzsche spoke about the importance of being well-bred and having good blood - not genetic superiority, but developmental superiority. Think of the tennis match between Dagny and Francisco, it's a pivotal developmental moment. It also reminds me of Rand's essay the "Comprachicos" where poor education destroys minds, and by implication less-bad education hinders minds.

 

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