Atlas Shrugged Chapter 17: The Moratorium on Brains


Chapter summary: The chapter begins with another monologue featuring Eddie and the workman, the third so far. There are then two primary episodes: First, Hank meets Ragnar on a country road, during which Ragnar offers him a bar of gold of his own money. Ragnar then gives a long speech during which, among other things, he malign Robin Hood. Next, a train on a failing line of Taggert Transcontinental has an engine fall off the track and die. A politician calls someone who calls someone who orders someone who orders someone to make the train go again with a coal engine, even though the tunnel the train has to pass through has inadequate ventilation for a coal engine. After much wishy-washing, the train is back on track. The chapter ends with Rand dyslogizing the passengers, suggesting they deserve their deaths (apparently of asphyxiation).

I have mixed feelings about the Robin Hood speech. It took me a day or so to put my thoughts into an obedient enough order to pinpoint my problem with it. The gist is this: Robin Hood may have started out as noble, but he’s since become a story the moral of which is, all rich people are evil and deserve to have their money stolen from them, and all poor people are needy and worthy and deserve to have money bestowed upon them for no work. Ragnar professes to be the anti-Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich that were stolen from.

The problem is, the implication is the opposite but just as partisan: That poor people are all sniveling whiners who don’t deserve help, and rich people all deserve their riches. Maybe that’s not what Ragnar meant, but hey, that’s pretty much what he said.

This is the most that Rand has thus far even talked about the poor, preferring to spend most of the time so far complaining about lobbyists, cronyism, and governments colluding with old school companies to block technological progress. The Eddie Willers conversations, as I believe I’ve noted before, communicate that the hard working poor don’t merit much presence. They are largely invisible in Rand’s world.

Despite Ragnar’s speech, though, he’s not really stealing from the poor, he’s stealing from the rich and powerful who became so through theft rather than through hard work. And the people he’s stealing from may be pretending to be Robin Hood, but they’re really closer in spirit to the Sheriff of Nottingham, stealing from everyone and holding onto the money and the power on the grounds that the rich don’t deserve it and the poor can’t be trusted.

In other words, how the Soviets operated.

The train wreck goes on longer than it really needs to. Rand makes her point, that people in the wake of the Unification Department have lost all sense of culpability and would rather pass the blame than fix the problem. Parallels to systemic problems with both Katrina and Deepwater Horizon are facile, and reinforce my belief that were Rand alive today, she would despise both Bush and Obama, despite people like the Atlas Shrugs blogger who seem to think that Bush was a fine president (and Obama is Everything Ayn Hated®).

At least Rand does provide the dyslogy list, a compact list of the sorts of hoi polloi Rand saved a special ring of non-existent Hell for. So that’s handy.

As an aside, I am disappointed in the Internet that nobody has thus far used “dyslogize” in a way that Google has tagged it. Considering our cultural love of speaking ill of the dead, especially dead celebrities, I would have thought I wasn’t the first to have created the word. Ah well, let this aside be a record for future lexicographers: I appear to have found it first!

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