03 December, 2017

I read Atlas Shrugged (and now you don’t have to)

I read Atlas Shrugged because it has had a significant influence on political thought in the 60 years since its publication, and I wanted to have an informed opinion on it. I’ll declare that I have little time or respect for the politics of those who cite Ayn Rand as an influence but for all I knew, it might just have been a good story that was hijacked or misinterpreted.

It’s not.

First, the good parts:
In its own way, Atlas Shrugged is an early feminist novel. The lead character is a woman who runs a highly successful national company, yet the fact she is a woman in such a position is hardly ever mentioned. Furthermore, she’s not ashamed of her sexuality or of using it to get what she wants. This was challenging stuff in the 1950s.

Also, the fact that Rand exalts the creators and producers above the mere paper-pushers is refreshing. It’s unfortunate that it quickly crosses the line between admiration and fetish.

The important thing to know about Atlas Shrugged is that it is not fiction, it’s fantasy. There is an important distinction. Regular fiction still takes place in the world as we know it, where the laws of physics, economics and human nature still apply. Atlas Shrugged does not take place in this world.

In order for her premise to make sense, Rand has created a world populated only by geniuses and idiots. Yet somehow, the idiots have managed to enslave the geniuses. Meanwhile, the geniuses all magically turn out to be of the same worldview and can easily find each other to have sex together. Importantly though, they can only enjoy the sex if they know for certain that their partner is doing it only for their own pleasure. Rand had a weird sub/dom thing going on.

And it is boring as batshit.

The book could be one third as long and still say everything it wants to say. The other 600 pages are padded out with interminable soliloquies that bash the reader over the head with Rand’s philosophy, and that’s not even counting the notorious Galt speech. It’s been suggested that this is how Rand chose to tell the story. I can only believe this if people are saying she made a conscious decision to write badly.

It could be considered innovative to present a socio-economic manifesto in the form of a novel – for that is essentially what Atlas Shrugged is – but the problem is that the author gets to write the counter argument as well. Rand is either in love with her characters or despises them, and it shows in the dialogue she gives them. She stops just barely short of labelling them “good guy” and “bad guy.” While some of the lead characters make it to a second dimension, the antagonists’ dialogue makes even a 60s-era Batman villain sound deep by comparison.

Take this line for example:
Scientists know better than to believe in reason.
To put such a statement in the mouth of a character who is supposed to be one of the nation’s top scientists, without any hint of irony or satire proves either,
a)    this novel takes place in some Bizarro World where ‘science’ and ‘reason’ mean whatever the author wants them to mean, or
b)    Rand doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Take your pick.

I have tried not to psychoanalyse the author, partly because many others already have, and partly because it’s tangential to the quality of the book. Still, it’s unavoidable in discussing the book as a whole. It’s clear that Rand does not believe her version of social Darwinism to be amoral. The piece of good left in her, Darth Vader-like, is that she recognises morality as a real thing which is to be aspired to and admired. So she attempts to flip the definition of morality – charity is evil; selfishness is a virtue; wealth is a measure of virtue.

She also addresses the problem mentioned earlier about fantasy versus fiction, stating on the about-the-author page:
I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written – and published – is my proof that they do.
Seriously? Tolkien could have used to same logic to argue that hobbits are real.
If this is the standard of proof considered acceptable by her acolytes, it explains a lot.

At best, Atlas Shrugged is simply the longest and most boring straw man argument in history. At worst, it may have caused the global financial crisis of the late 00s.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: Alan Greenspan was chairman of the US Federal Reserve for nearly 20 years and he exerted a huge influence on financial systems in the late 20th century. He was also a Rand groupie who read the first drafts of Atlas Shrugged, and a champion of the laissez faire capitalism the book promotes. When asked what went wrong, he had to admit that he had never considered that people would behave so irrationally – which brings us back to the laws of human nature. I would like to ask if he has ever met people. Better still, I would like to put to him the question that John Galt puts to the country in his radio speech:
“You have destroyed all that which you held to be evil and achieved all that which you held to be good. Why then do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you?” 


While fetishising industry and commerce, the speech also contains a passage that inadvertently contradicts Rand and her fans’ love affair with the rugged individual:
“When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product…”
In other words, you didn’t build that.

I am not going to give Atlas Shrugged a one-star review, not because it deserves better but because every 1-star and 5-star review will understandably be assumed to have a political motive. The only way anyone could possibly regard this book as good writing is to be predisposed to Rand’s philosophy. Even if I were sympathetic to her worldview, I would be embarrassed that this is the best argument ever put for it. Having approached the book with an open mind, I can objectively advise that whatever commentaries you may have read tell you as much as you need to know.

Whatever damage has been done by those whose confirmation bias led them to believe that Atlas Shrugged has any basis in reality, Rand is correct in this one exchange on page 327:
“But, good God! The feeblest imbecile should be able to see the glaring contradictions in every one of your statements.”  “Let us put it this way, Dr. Stadler: the man who doesn’t see that, deserves to believe all my statements.”
Indeed they do!


30 November, 2017

30 unpopular opinions

Last month, I hopped on board a Twitter bandwagon. For every ‘like’ the first post gets, you’re supposed to post an unpopular opinion you hold. My tweet got 29 likes, and here’s what I said:


  1. Milk in tea is a crime against humanity.
  2. Kevin Rudd was a good prime minister while he lasted.
  3. Liam Gallagher's only talent is his ego.
  4. India pale ale has become really overrated.
  5. I don't get reddit.
  6. Brioche buns can get in the bin.
  7. I will never understand why intelligent people are interested in football.
  8. Hillary Clinton was a mediocre candidate who ran a bad campaign. Not saying she wasn't treated unfairly.
  9. Fosters > VB.
  10. Hiwatt > Marshall.
  11. People should probably consider adoption before IVF.
  12. I like grey, drippy days more than hot sunny days.
  13. I don't get Dan Nolan.
  14. I liked Ricky Gervais better when he was funny.
  15. I adore Douglas Adams, but he certainly did make a little go a long way.
  16. Next Generation > Original series.
  17. People should be able to take their teddy bears anywhere they like without being judged.
  18. The Final Cut is a bloody good album.
  19. There's really nothing wrong with picking your nose.
  20. I don't like the brash sound of brand new acoustic guitar strings. Silk wound sound the sweetest.
  21. Beetroot is not a food.
  22. Seinfeld is not and was never funny.
  23. Punk was crap. And that was the point.
  24. I have no problem with the southern cross as a national symbol. It needs to be reclaimed from racists and bogans.
  25. Spike is Elvis Costello's best album.
  26. Covers bands suck. In what other pursuit can you steal someone's act an be applauded for it?
  27. Attack of the Clones is pretty good.
  28. Spotify sucks.
  29. A lot of people who fancy themselves well-informed and broad minded have no idea of or interest in life beyond the tram lines.

  30. And one bonus opinion:
  31. If you want to support quality media, turn your ad-blockers off and click the ads on articles you like. It costs nothing and might just save your favourite paper.

13 August, 2017

On uniting the right

Something that needs to be remembered about the nazi rally in Charlottesville this weekend is that it was promoted under the banner of “unite the right.”

We have spent the whole of the 21st century being told, mostly by those on the right, that Muslims are expected to renounce terrorism (as if they don’t) if they are to be considered members of society, and that leftists (whatever the hell that even means) must reject Stalinism if they are to be heard.

I only hold people to the standards they expect of others.

If you identify as conservative, or right wing, or a Trump supporter – and I know there are good people who do – I get that you’re not on the side of the Charlottesville fascists.

BUT THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE. And I humbly and respectfully suggest you seriously need to reflect on that.

Embed from Getty Images
If these are not your people, you need to say so.

I am not going to play a game of defining those I disagree with by the worst possible examples. No good can come from that. But for the whole of this century, the right has justified illegal and unnecessary wars by reminding us that all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

So what are you going to do?

You can no longer say that these are just a rowdy, unrepresentative minority who don’t reflect your views. They’re out there saying they do. You thought Trump would go away if you ignored him. Now he’s president and these crowds are angry because they don’t think he’s being crazy and dictatorial enough.

I call upon conservatives and the right to make this the moment that really does unite the right - AGAINST fascism.

I know you shouldn’t have to. Muslims shouldn’t have to say they’re not terrorists either, but that’s the world you have created, so how about it?

I know there’s good in you. At least, I hope there is.
 

28 May, 2017

The Latham Diaries

I had always intended to read Barking Mark’s parliamentary diaries ever since they were first published. It wasn’t until my reading habits improved that I eventually got around to it.

At the time they came out, I actually had a lot of sympathy with Latham. I felt he had been treated unfairly, especially with the Labor Party referring disparagingly to “the Latham experiment” after he had tried to modernise the party. It wasn’t until he signed up with Channel 9 to act as a serial pest during the 2010 election that I lost all respect for him. Almost everything that has happened since has just been an embarrassment. Even so, I still wanted to read what he had to say before he went completely insane.

Much of his criticisms of the party, which go back well before his leadership, are entirely valid and remain so even now. His frustrations with machine politics are quite understandable and in some ways, ahead of their time. So too are his annoyances with a media more interested in trivia than policy.

However, the seeds of his later derangement are visible. He has much to say on the need for the Labor Party to separate itself from socially conservative unions who no longer have the numbers to swing elections. A fair point, but he also writes of his preference for the company of the knockabout Aussie larrikin – an overly blokey type of character represented by the kind of unions he was trying to break away from. Also, in choosing to out himself as the unnamed MP who told a female journalist at a drinks function that he was “going home to masturbate,” he reveals that he might not understand the distinction between being a larrikin and being a dickhead. Elsewhere, he rejects the notion that his attitude to women is a problem, and then refers to Michelle Grattan as ugly in the very next paragraph.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the Latham of 2005 would make of the Latham of 2017. Although the diaries reveal an ability to justify contradictory points of view, I still think the author of this book would be disgusted in a bloke who took Murdoch’s dollar to talk about recipes on a news channel (Broccolini, Mark? What self-respecting knockabout Aussie larrikin has even heard of broccolini?) and makes videos of himself wandering the streets of western Sydney looking for non-English speakers to humiliate. He has become one of the leading purveyors of the “downwards envy” he rightly criticised throughout his diaries.

The biggest message of the book should be what a toll party politics and being an MP takes on a doting family man. Unfortunately, his description of Bob Hawke on page 158 becomes an even more apt summation of Barking Mark himself: “A tub-thumper who degenerated into a clown.”


26 February, 2017

He won, get over it

I have to admit, there are a lot of people who just need to get over the fact that Donald Trump won the election.

At the top of the list is the president himself.

Following close behind are the majority of his administration.

In third place are all his supporters.

I thought I’d seen some sore winners in the second Bush administration, but at the very least they got on with the job, however badly.

Stop complaining about people whose duty it is to hold you to account. Working the ref’ is for losers!

Stop saying “we’re gonna…” The time for that is over. You don’t get to “tick off” promises by saying you “will.” Tell us what you are actually doing. Tell us what you have achieved.

You have the executive, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Any impediments to your agenda are entirely your own fault.

Stop the pathetic whining and START DOING YOUR DAMN JOB!
  
 

17 February, 2017

What if Obama had done that‽ - Episode 3

Good evening everyone, it's Friday night again and it's time again to play the world's most beloved game show. Period!
WHAT IF OBAMA HAD DONE THAT‽‽

This week we have:
vs

You know the rules by now:
Simply choose the one that would have had Ann Coulter screaming TREASON! the loudest if Obama had done it. 

This week's prize is your own personal replica Situation Room mounted on a Presidential selfie stick.

10 February, 2017

What if Obama had done that‽ - Episode 2

Good evening everyone, it's Friday night again and it's time again to play the world's fastest growing game show, 
WHAT IF OBAMA HAD DONE THAT‽‽

This week we have:
vs

As you know, the rules are very simple:
Just pick the one that would have had Fox News and their viewers frothing at the mouth the most if Obama had done it. There is a trick to this one!

Choose correctly and you will move on to the bonus round:

vs

Make it through both rounds, and you will win a commemorative bust of Col. Henry Blake. (Who I hear is doing fantastic work, by the way. Everyone says so.)