Chapter V – Part II

August 10, 2016

D’Anconia will meet Dagny at any time she wishes. As she walks along a desolate, twilight city street where “skyscrapers looked like abandoned lighthouses sending feeble, dying signals out into an empty sea where no ships moved any longer” and unmotivated snowflakes melt into mud, she wonders why she feels the urge to run and meet him like in the old days…

As a child, Francisco D’Anconia would come for one month of summer, enriching Eddie and Dagny’s lives immeasurably. Every year, as soon as Eddie spotted him they would run down the hill, racing in vain to be the first to reach the birch tree that stood between them. Frisco always won. Everything.

As the only son of a great family, Francisco was being raised around the world that was to be his domain. Summer offered his one certain destination: Time with his fellow heirs, the Taggarts, and a strict tutor.

“We are the only aristocracy left in the world – the aristocracy of money,” he said to Dagny once, when he was fourteen, “It’s the only real aristocracy, if people understood what it means, which they don’t.”

It is unclear that Francisco really merely means money…it would make more sense that he is espousing something more deeply attuned to a real production of value. Jim – the only other heir apparent in this equation — does not factor into Frisco’s system. However, Eddie seems to. It is emphasized that Frisco believes his value does not rest in his inherited wealth, but in growing his empire to surpass the greatness he is come from, “The reason my family has lasted for such a long time is that none of us has ever been permitted to think he is born a d’Anconia. We are expected to become one.”

It is not clear if one who was exceptionally skilled in simply parting fools from their money would qualify. Clearly he did just that in a whopping fashion with the San Sebastian mines. However, those victims are folks that we assume he, like Dagny, finds worse than fools.

We learn the story of his great ancestor, Sebastian, who threw his wine into the face of the Lord of the Spanish Inquisition when it was suggested that he should change his manner of thinking. He then left all his riches, including the love of his life, and escaped to the New World. There, he tacked his coat of arms to his shack in Argentina and spent years with a pickaxe breaking rocks, assisted by a few stray derelicts: deserters from the armies of his countrymen, escaped convicts, starving Indians.

We are not sure how Sebastian d’Anconia managed this, precisely. Like the story of Nat Taggart, sheer will, hard work and raw genius hardly seem enough to achieve either the major capital undertaking or the engineering triumph of a mine, much less to establish the pathways of commerce needed to get it running, especially in the South America of the 1500’s with no political connections save the very powerful ones who believe that he should be righteously executed. These practicalities aside, Sebastian is inhabiting a marble palace and running great mines, looking younger than ever, when his faithful love comes to meet him fifteen years later.

When Dagny returns, Eddie is tense, bewildered, and clutching a newspaper. He needs to speak with Dagny, even if she doesn’t like to talk about “him”…

It’s those mines. There’s nothing there, and no indication that anyone with any expertise could possibly expect there to be. The San Sebastian government feels ripped off and furious. Eddie is indefinably afraid. Dagny is trying to fathom…

Despite whatever else he may have become, they know that Francisco is no fool…

Dagny demands that Eddie set up a meeting with “the bastard”

“Dagny,” he said sadly, reproachfully, “it’s Frisco D’Anconia.”

“It was.”

 

They don’t like to show emotion, but we can feel Hank and Dagny getting turned on by their banter over having to get that rail laid in only three quarters of the time she thought she had. He knows he’s got her by the balls. He’ll take an extra $20 per ton for his service…or more? She knows he won’t go higher. He needs to use her as a showcase.

He loves a girl with no illusions about favors. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

He wants to break her. But then who would he have? That’s why…she’s the only one worth working…

She starts to worry about Ellis. She can’t let a guy on his trajectory miss a beat. Hank’s not worried. Doesn’t he care? Why? He knows she’ll do it. She smiles.

Those awful looters make them sick, but they’ll prevail. They’ll just…work…harder…while the idiots all while away…

She watched his tall figure moving across the office. The office suited him; it contained nothing but the few pieces of furniture he needed, all of them harshly simplified down to their essential purpose, all of them exorbitantly expensive in the quality of materials and the skill of design. The room looked like a motor – a motor held within the glass case of broad windows. But she noticed one astonishing detail: a vase of jade that stood on top of a filing cabinet. The vase was a solid dark green stone carved into plain surfaces; the texture of its smooth curves provoked an irresistible desire to touch it. It seemed startling in that office, incongruous with the sternness of the rest; it was a touch of sensuality.

If we weren’t certain her panties were wet yet, we’d know for sure when he shows his vulnerability. He does care. She reads the freight reports. She knows.

And then the tease – of course he’s planning to build a factory there so he can cut out her transportation charges…

Go ahead. I’ll be satisfied with carrying your supplies, and the groceries for your workers…”

Yes. She said that. The freight will be so heavy she won’t miss his steel.

He laughs. We know he’s hard. She’s not like any of those other girls…

…and then they get lost in Jim…she doesn’t understand him. He’s worse than stupid. Hank tells her not to worry about silly things like him. He gets her talking about how she’d survive if he refused to give her rail. He know she’d find way. He’ll never let her down, though…not so long as he’s in business.

…She was wrong about him. He DOES have emotion! He shares her joy. He shares her passion. He is someone she can talk to. This is the type of human she’s been looking for.

Together they watch her Rearden Metal being made. They, alone, share the knowledge of how awesome it is. We can imagine her heart skipping a beat when she sees her “TT” etched into his better-than-steel. He tells her how fast she’ll be able to go on his hard line. She wants diesels next. He’s going for things that really fly…

Chicken wire. Kitchen ware. Ocean liners and telephone wires. He’s been testing his metal and he’s ready to prove it. There’s nothing he can’t make.

They spoke of the metal and of the possibilities which they could not exhaust. It was as if they were standing on a mountain top, seeing a limitless plain below and roads open in all directions. But they merely spoke of mathematical figures, of weights, pressures, resistances, costs.

She had forgotten her brother and his National Alliance. She had forgotten every problem, person and event behind her…

She feels alive.

He made a step back and said in a strange tone of dispassionate wonder, “We’re a couple of blackguards, aren’t we?”

“Why?”

“We haven’t any spiritual goals or qualities. All we’re after is material things. That’s all we care for.”

She doesn’t understand that and is incapable of feeling guilty about it. She worries for him though…there’s danger here for him. He wouldn’t say anything if it didn’t mean something…though he did state it as a simple matter of fact. She looks at him. Her apprehensions vanishes.

“Dagny,” he said, “whatever we are, it’s we who move the world and it’s we who’ll pull it through.”

Back to work, fresh off the phone to make an appointment with Rearden, Dagny receives an unexpected visitor.

He was young, tall and something about him suggested violence, though she could not say what it was, because the first trait one grasped about him was a quality of self-control that seemed almost arrogant. He had dark eyes, disheveled hair, and his clothes were expensive, but worn as if he did not care or notice what he wore.

Ellis Wyatt,” he said in self-introduction.

She leapt to her feet, involuntarily. She understood why nobody had or could have stopped him in the counter office.

He is at her desk because he understands she’s the only one there with a brain. He is there in response to the news that the Phoenix Durango is being forced off line. His ultimatum:

“If you have the intelligence to keep this corrupt organization functioning at all, you have the intelligence to judge this for yourself. We both know that if Taggart Transcontinental runs trains in Colorado the way it did five years ago, it will ruin me. I know that this is what you people intend to do. You expect to feed off me while you can and to find another carcass to pick dry after you have finished mine. That is the policy of most of mankind today. So here is my ultimatum: it is now in your power to destroy me; I may have to go; but if I go, I’ll make sure that I take all the rest of you along with me.”

Dagny, bound to her own sense of honor, cannot bare her heart and swear allegiance to this kindred soul. All she can do is take responsibility. She does so simply and directly.

Wyatt seems slightly taken aback. In a good way. “All right. Thank you. Good day.”

Dagny appeals to Conway, a fifty year old self-made man who lives and breathes the railroad. She vows to fight with him to overturn the rule. Conway, to her great dismay refuses. He laments that the world is in a terrible state, but men need to get together. He will honor his oath and the majority rule. She understands honor, but have they the right to twist a promise of working for the common good into an oath to commit professional suicide?

“’If that’s the price of getting together, then I’ll be damned if I want to live on the same earth with any human beings! If the rest of them can survive only by destroying us, then why should we wish them to survive? Nothing can make self-immolation proper. Nothing can give them the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can’t be punished for being good. One can’t be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we’d better start slaughtering one another, because there isn’t any right in the world!’”

Dan, however, is defeated, tired, and bound to a promise of compliance. He can’t bring himself to think it’s right – he worked way too hard for this…but…“Who is John Galt?”

Might as well go back to his line in Arizona. Maybe take up fishing or read a book,

Dagny assures him this isn’t personal pity, or charity – both of which she reviles – but a sense of the right way to do things. She had looked forward to the fierce competition over Colorado. Now she doesn’t even want to look at the Rio Norte – “Oh God, Dan, I don’t want to be a looter!”

He says that she should have been born a century ago and implores her not to abandon Ellis Wyatt; that it will be harder to serve him without the spark of competition. Don’t feel guilty. The work is well cut out for her.

She wonders what destroyed this man…it couldn’t have just been her brother…

Chapter IV – Part II

March 21, 2016

Back to James, with a headache in his living room, too lazy to find shoes or his watch, or even to remember that he wanted to know what time it was. There’s a woman there, and the description of their relationship makes the lascivious sight Dagny noticed earlier seem somehow better. These guys aren’t even up to lust, let alone love. They copulate merely out of some sense that this is what people do.

Apparently the only things this one, Betty Pope, inherited as a member of “one of the very best families” is a sense of self importance and a condescending attitude. She laments her boring existence, asks Jim to take her to dinner, and chides him that she hears his sister is more the man of the family than he is.

Jim is rushing her out…not allowing her to clip her toenails. She doesn’t mind him coming in to the bathroom to do his business, too, as she twists herself into her clothes. Her day will be empty. He’s got a mission, though. He’s on his way to get Dagny upbraided for ordering that rail. The thought of undermining her progress lifts his mood…maybe he will take Betty out to dinner after all. She doesn’t like Dagny, either.

Then he receives a phone call. The caller, eager to make clear that this isn’t his fault, informs him that his pet San Sebastian line, as well as D’Anconia’s mines, have been nationalized.

Jim is quick to assure the board that his friends in Washington have his back, and that proper compensation will be awarded. He then proceeds to take full credit for Dagny’s reduction of equipment and service, while requesting the heads of a few folks he now blames for building the line.

“The men sat around the long table, listening. They did not think of what they would have to do, but of what they would have to say to the men they represented. Taggart’s speech gave them what they needed.”

“Motive power  — thought Dagny, looking up at the Taggart Building in the twilight. – was its first need;  motive power, to keep that building standing; movement to keep it immovable. It did not rest on piles driven into granite; it rested on the engines that rolled across a continent.”

Dagny has returned from a personal visit to those who should have provided those locomotives some year or so ago. The man spoke for two hours, seemed to find direct questions a sign of ill breeding, and in return had no clear answers to offer. Dagny shudders at the sight of precision machinery left to rot…the type of thing capable of magnificent works that it seems no one is any longer capable of taking care of, let alone producing.

She returns to the office to find a shaken Eddie who has more bad news: McNamara, the man who was to lay the Rio Norte’s tracks, is gone. With contracts left unfulfilled, the best contractor in the country has disappeared. No explanation. He just up and quit. Dagny is desperate to scream, but retains her composure. She’ll figure something out.

Hours later, she leaves the office. Normally satisfied to be the architect of her own satisfaction, this day has left her starving to see something of merit that someone other than she has created. The streets of New York offer nothing…screeching noise called a symphony, a book called “The Vulture is Molting”  about the depravity of corporate greed (which we are to believe is pure slander out to trash noble ones like her), a mindless movie, and a young woman with her dress hanging too low…not in daring but in disarray, the young man holding her arm not to romance her but “out to write obscenities on fences”.

She retreats to her apartment and the Fourth Concerto of Richard Halley. Through this art, Rand speaks her anguish:

“The Concerto was a great cry of rebellion,. It was a ‘No’ flung at some vast process of torture, a denial of suffering, a denial that held the agony of the struggle to break free. The sounds were like a voice saying: ‘There is no necessity for pain – why, then, is the worst pain reserved for those who will not accept its necessity? – we, who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?….The sounds of torture became defiance, the statement of agony became a hymn to a distant vision for whose sake anything “was worth enduring, even this. It was the song of rebellion – and of a desperate quest.”

…”The story of his life had been like a summary written to damn greatness by showing the price one pays for it. It had been a procession of years spent in garrets and basements, years that had taken the gray tinge of the walls imprisoning a man whose music overflowed with violent color. It had been the gray of a struggle against long flights of unlighted tenement stairs, against frozen plumbing, against the price of a sandwich in an ill-smelling delicatessen store, against the faces of men who listened to music, their eyes empty. It had been a struggle without the relief of violence, without the recognition of finding a conscious enemy, with only a deaf wall to batter, a wall of the most effective soundproofing: indifference, that swallowed blows, chords and screams – a battle of silence, for a man who could give to sounds a greater eloquence than they had ever carried – the silence of obscurity, of loneliness, of the nights when some rare orchestra played one of his works and he looked at the darkness, knowing that his soul went in trembling, widening circles from a radio tower through the air of the city, but there were no receivers tuned to hear it.

The critics, it seemed, thought his heroics and ecstasy passé.

His life had been a summary of the lives of all the men whose reward is a monument in a public park a hundred years after the time when a reward can matter.

However…Halley, it seems, lived to see a small taste glory. When he was 24, he wrote an opera. Phaethon. This was an adaptation of the myth where the reckless son of a permissive father did not crash and set the Earth afire, but succeeded. The booing and catcalls back then led to a depressing search for answers which he could not find.

At 43, however, a second opening night met a far different response. Dagny was there as the applause overtook the opera hall and spilled out into the streets. Halley stood there, with an odd and questioning look on his face. The next day critics credited his work “as the product and expression of the greatness of the people”. They say that it’s only right he should have suffered so long; that his suffering was proud and noble. Soon after, Halley quits, selling rights that could have ensured him a comfortable retirement for a modest sum and disappearing without a trace.

…Speaking of suffering, Dagny, lost in the brief ecstasy of this kindred composer, happens to glance at that paper she purchased. Francisco D’Anconia is coming to town. She tries to resist reading it, especially not to the music, but cannot. In it she reads that he says he’s coming for some hat check girl and a good liverwurst sandwich. He will grant an interview with the press, but has nothing to say about a divorce trial that he in the center of, having apparently been an attempted murderess’ lover and inspiration. The press is delighted. They thought he’d avoid this scandal. When asked about the allegations he says that he never denies anything, and adds one more reason for coming: “I want to witness the farce.”

Apparently, while neither the crumbling railroad nor her crippling solitude in competence can break our heroine, this guy can. Dagny collapses into silent, shaking tears.

We meet Hank Rearden, our proposed beacon of unappreciated light.

A nameless professor of economics muses, “Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?”

A journalist notes, “Hank Reardon is the kind of man who sticks his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Hank Reardon.”

We read that, “Ever since he could remember, he had been told that his face was ugly, because it was unyielding and cruel, because it was expressionless.”

Hank Rearden has lived a focused and driven life. He has sacrificed everything, overcome exhaustion, and accomplished much. He wants to be loved for his achievements; his building of an empire that produces steel where no-one else could, and his search for a newer, better material.

Today, he poured the first order of a new metal that everyone said was impossible to make, and then everyone apparently agreed never to use. He stood silently alone watching the metal pour, with apparently only one guy – still distant – who acknowledged his triumph with a silent salute.

We get the idea that he dutifully supports his family, including his mother and brother, and gets nothing in return. It is suggested that what they offer – human connection – would not be valued by Hank even if they didn’t seem so shallow and spiteful in their practice of it.

Outspoken in her resentment of his material focus, his mother nags that he’s a selfish, selfish man. At the very least, it seems, he has neglected to invest his time in their concerns. It seems that Hank might have conveniently forgotten dinner with this mother’s friend, more than got caught up in his triumph. This friend, we read, organizes underprivileged youth to learn craftsmanship. One wonders why he wouldn’t support that if he values people being put to some industry, particularly one that might use his metal. Perhaps their industry isn’t self-driven enough. Perhaps he feels the effort is a waste of time that is beyond his concern. We are generally asked to agree that his family’s interests – this woman and the children she teaches, his wife’s social engagements — are empty vanities compared to his substantive life. They, in turn, find his passion unsophisticated.

“…it’s just that a man of culture is bored with the alleged wonders of purely material ingenuity.”

Thus, we are offered an opposition: Those of material things, which Rand argues are all that matter; and those of human relations which, it is suggested, are baseless figments of value. His mother is mad because he broke a promise.  One gets the impression that he often says, “Yeah, sure. I’ll be there,” and then doesn’t. Based on the conversation with his wife who asks if he can possibly commit three months in advance to their wedding anniversary, it is possible that he consistently warns that he won’t commit and they just assume he should and hold him to it, anyway.

Perhaps a phone call was in order today. One might think that even a self-absorbed man would have made that call, just to allow himself the luxury of uttering the words of his accomplishment but, he didn’t. Instead, he walked leisurely home through the dark countryside savoring his feat.

“…he despised memories as a pointless indulgence. But then he understood that he thought of them tonight in honor of the piece of metal in his pocket. Then he permitted himself to look…”

We are offered a montage of empire building. We are brought to understand that this new innovation is apparently ultimately Hank Rearden’s alone…

“…the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure”

“ …the days when the young scientists of the small staff he had chosen to assist him waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging in the air: ‘Mr. Rearden, it can’t be done.’”

We are led to believe the accomplishment was all his; that he’s the only one of value here and that is why – even more than the passion and the joy of accomplishment and the self-identification that Hank has in his work – that is why his name should shine in giant letters above all his factories:

“He thought of the days behind him. He wished it were possible to light a neon sign above them saying: Rearden Life.”

 

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THE THEME

“It’s touching Eddie,” he said. “Your devotion to Taggart Transcontinental. If you don’t look out, you’ll turn into one of those real feudal serfs.”

“That’s what I am, Jim.”

“But may I ask whether it is your job to discuss these matters with me?”

“No, it isn’t”

“Then why don’t you learn that we have departments to take care of things? Why don’t you report all this to whoever’s concerned? Why don’t you cry on my dear sister’s shoulder?”

“Look, Jim, I know it’s not my place to talk to you. But I can’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know what it is that your proper advisors tell you, or why they can’t make you understand. So I thought I’d try to tell you myself”

And so begins Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged…with Eddie Willers. He’s not able to put it all together, but he’s looking and his heart is pure.

Before going in to the office scene quoted above he meets a smart, cynical bum who’s already apparently said to hell with it all. Have you known the type? I have…Together they are in this city that, to Eddie’s eyes, has always been crumbling.

The bum opens the novel with its mantra,“Who is John Galt?” Eddie’s stiff response reveals his discomfort at the question. He tosses the bum a dime and moves on, pondering the vague dreadful apprehension he now regularly feels and that this bum seems to actually understand.

Eddie then sees a giant calendar that the mayor erected over the city last year, telling him that it’s September 2nd. He doesn’t like it for that same reason he can’t put his finger on. Some cliché comes nearly to mind but remains out of reach. He walks on to see some lace curtains, a well driven bus and a prosperous fifth avenue where only a quarter of the stores are vacant. He relishes these signs of pride and productivity, unsure of why they are reassuring. He instinctively wishes they were better protected.

And then he arrives at Jim. Old, furrowed and childishly petulant at the beginning of middle age, Jim can’t stand Eddie’s habit of looking people straight in the eye. Jim is the oldest born and the son, right? That’s why he’s President of this company?

It seems this place, Taggart Transcontinental, is like Eddie’s oak tree from childhood…The one we read about that seemed so majestic and eternal and strong until lighting struck and the rot within was revealed. It was, for Eddie, a trauma that surpassed any other early experience of pain or death. It was, to him, a deep betrayal that he failed to understand and never shared. Eddie doesn’t see why that memory comes to mind, though we are supposed to. He doesn’t care for the memory. He prefers to recall the sunshine of his childhood; the rays he still feels even now sometimes.

He thinks of a day, long ago: “That day, in the clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, “Whatever is right,” and added, “You ought to do something great…I mean, the two of us together.”

“What?” she asked. He said, “I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires or climbing mountains.” “What for?” she asked. He said, “The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us?” “I don’t know.” “We’ll have to find out.” She did not answer; she was looking away, up the railroad track.

These are the words and mission of a man we are led to see as good but naïve; a guy who just doesn’t quite get it. We are to see the analogy. Eddie just sees the building’s rising lines and unbroken windows.

It would always stand there, thought Eddie Willers.

He does perceive enough, apparently, to break rank and go to Jim’s office, where he stands looking at the San Sebastian line with revulsion. Jim, however, doesn’t seem concerned about lost shipping contracts, including the one from Ellis Wyatt that Eddie finds very important. Rather than take any responsibility, Jim resents that oilman for favoring the Phoenix Durango rail line over Taggart Transcontinental. Jim thinks Wyatt’s a selfish cutthroat idiot who has betrayed him. Eddie, on the other hand, sees a guy whose genius is inspired and whose efforts fuel cities…and the Phoenix Durango. He sees a guy who might also still fuel Taggart if Jim would just get the Rio Norte line back from the brink of utter disrepair.

That line remains weak and outright dangerous because of Owen Boyle, who is supposed to deliver the track needed to repair the line. This shipment has been delayed indefinitely for reasons no one seems willing to take responsibility for. Jim doesn’t take any responsibility for his failing lines either. To his mind, none of these failings are anyone’s fault. It’s a national thing, a temporary condition that no one can do anything about. He cuts off any suggestion of using Rearden Steel instead before Eddie can even mention it.

Our brave serf leaves in frustration. On his way out, he stops to talk with an old clerk named Pop Harper about typewriters that aren’t worth a damn anymore and undershirts that simply can’t be found. The old clerk was trying to fix the machine himself, frustrated from waiting three months the last time he sent it out. Frustrated further, he tells the machine, “Your days are numbered.”

Eddie is given pause. He can’t recall why he remembers seeking that particular cliché. Pop suggests he go home, find a hobby, and not worry about anything. Everything’s going to hell, anyway.

Who is John Galt?”

 

On Altruism

August 3, 2012

I’ve been thinking of this Altruism thing — When has the U.S. been an Altruist nation? I haven’t seen it in my lifetime. There are moments where, as a people, yeah sure; but it takes a terrorist attack to produce the “love for fellow man” thing. And then of course it’s only for our fellow Americ- man. Not saying we’re a nation of Objectivism followers either, ’cause we ain’t. As a whole I’d say Americans are a self-centered, self-serving spoiled nation that believes they deserve things they haven’t earned and owe nothing to anyone; not gods OR man.

I’m speaking as a whole, of course there are individuals that aren’t in the “whole” but they are far overshadowed. So overshadowed the darkness swallows them up and the black cloud of apathy devours anything they try to say or do before it reaches the closed eyes and plugged ears of the rest.

 

~C.K.