Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dr. Helen, Malkin, GOP Get It Wrong on "Going John Galt"

I noticed a post recently at No Silence Here on the rather dubious and sadly empty-headed Defeated Conservative Conference - I mean the CPAC - where MIchelle Malkin and Dr. Helen called for their faithful followers to adopt a new catchphrase taken from character named John Galt in an Ayn Rand book called "Atlas Shrugged" published in 1957. Until recently, it was best known for prompting this review from writer Dorothy Parker: "This book should not be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force".

The CPAC panel's collective misunderstanding of so many topics and especially of the character of John Galt was staggering and rather typically shrill.

Hilzoy lays out their failure to understand the character and has links to the video as well posted at Washington Monthly today:

"
Dr. Helen has put up a video about 'Going John Galt' on PJTV, in which she interviews three people who claim to be Going Galt. (To see the relevant bit, follow the link, click the arrow to the right of the blue segment bar just below the video, and click on 'People Who Are Going John Galt'.) What's odd is that the people Dr. Helen interviews don't really seem to understand what 'Going Galt' means. Two of the people Dr. Helen interviews are trying to reduce their taxable income, and the third is trying to "follow Ayn Rand's morality as much as I can, and spread her philosophy as far as I can."

That's not what Rand meant by Going Galt at all. In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt decides to withdraw his creative and productive efforts from society. He is going on strike, and he convinces other creative, productive people to follow him. Here's what happens when someone Goes Galt in Rand's novel:

"He's quit! Gone! Gone like all the others! Left his mills, his bank accounts, his property, everything! Just vanished! Took some clothing and whatever he had in the safe in his apartment -- they found a safe left open in his bedroom, open and empty -- that's all! No word, no note, no explanation! They called me from Washington, but it's all over town! The news, I mean, the story! They can't keep it quiet! They've tried to, but...Nobody knows how it got out, but it went through the mills like one of those furnace break-outs, the word that he'd gone, and then...before anyone could stop it, a whole bunch of them vanished! The superintendent, the chief metallurgist, the chief engineer, Rearden's secretary, even the bastards! Deserting us, in spite of all the penalties we've set up! He's quit and the rest are quitting and those mills are just left there, standing still! Do you understand what that means?"

Rearden and his associates will not be paying a lot of taxes now that they've left. But that's not the point. Withdrawing their creative efforts is. In Rand's novel, it is they who keep the mills running, and without them, everything grinds to a halt and the world is plunged into crisis.

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.

They might respond by saying: we are doing something genuinely useful by making the case that people ought to Go Galt. So long as we are doing that, we can't Go Galt! But while this accords with Ayn Rand's actual practice, it does not accord with her views as expressed in Atlas Shrugged. John Galt did not need to go on the air to make his point. He made his case in private, to creative and productive people like himself. They went on strike, and as a result the world was plunged into crisis.

That's not a minor point. It's essential to Rand's entire view. Here's why Galt says that he decided to withdraw:

"Then I saw what was wrong with the world, I saw what destroyed men and nations, and where the battle for life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality -- and that my sanction was its only power. I saw that evil was impotent-that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real -- and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it. Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce, just as they were counting on my self-immolation to provide them with the means of their plan -- so throughout the world and throughout men's history, in every version and form, from the extortions of loafing relatives to the atrocities of collective countries, it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values -- the impotence of death. I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win -- and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was 'No.'"

By withdrawing, Galt was, essentially, testing this view. If he was right to think that an inverted morality could triumph only with his sanction, and that the parasites around him were helplessly dependent on his mind, and could survive only with the aid of his self-immolation, then once he and others like him withdrew, that fact would become clear. If not, not.

If Dr. Helen, Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of the bloggers who are talking up the idea of Going Galt had the courage of their convictions, they would make the same experiment. If they don't, it's worth asking why not.

As I said above, the three most obvious answers are: (1) they do not believe that anything they do is in fact creative or productive, or (2) they are urging other people to do something they don't have the guts to do themselves, like scam artists who convince people to invest their money in schemes they themselves steer clear of, or (3) they have not bothered to think about what they are saying, even to the limited extent required to see that there's a conflict between their words and their actions.

In a review of the book from the National Review from 1957 by Whittaker Chambers, he writes this book espouses class war in a purely political novel, and adds:

"Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked.

1 comment:

Southern Beale said...

Joe, perhaps you or your readers would like to take the Instaputz challenge:

"The first one of y'all lovely people to get on Dr. Mrs. Putz's show with an utterly bullshit "gone John Galt" story gets a prize.

"First prize: a t-shirt specially made for the winner that says "I Punk'd Putz." "

I SO want that T-shirt!!!