Atlas Shrugged

I just finished reading Ayn Rand’s work, Atlas Shrugged, and I’m curious what reactions any who have read it might have. Comments on Fountainhead, perhaps a more approproate novel would also be welcome.

Why is this the place to ask?

Can the Roarkes, Reardens, Dagnys, and Galts (creative gods, producers, and only characters with soul) of the past exist in a modern context and still make sense?

Is there really a seperation between the producers and the mindless masses when so much of what is created seeks to please and is in a large part a reflection of the public want?

Is the role of consumer feedback, blog interaction, voting, focus group testing, and the suggestion box, merely just a manufactured perception of mass involvment that masks a larger, carefully manipulated reality?

How does a philiosphy such as Objectivism apply to design fields, where the commodity bought and sold is so subjective?

When have you felt genuinely appreciated for what you do? By whom? Have you ever passed on presenting your best idea because you knew it would be taken from you, torn limb from limb, and then paraded in front of a group who will never know the difference?

For more on objectivism:

Objectivism has some very good and rational insights, which tends to align with industrial designers thinking -pro industry, pro-consumerism.

However it is also openly anti-environmental (This term was even used by Rand ). It positions the mass consumerism as self-healing, and the earth will protect itself. This idealism IMO is outdated and dangerous, especially within our profession.

This brings up a good point of debate. We consider ourselves environmentally friendly -one of the good guys -but our raison d’être is still to proliferate the market. The more products we sell the more successful the design is.

I realize this is exaggerated; while we try to increase the sales (Marketing driven) we also try to improve the function and aesthetics. But there is far too little acknowledgement of the environmental affects of what we’re doing.

Objectivism is not the right direction from here forward.

I love Ayn Rand as much as the next idealistic egotistical mess, but her views work best in the black and white world of fiction.

There are a lot of great take always from all of her books, and objectivism has some good theories and principals, but don’t forget to take that grain of salt with you.

Try some Philip K Dick, Orwell, Heinlein (esp “For Us, The Living” awesome) and Huxely. I also recommend Anthem and We the Living by Rand, which give you a better perspective on where she is coming from (and they are both way shorter…)

The premiss of Atlas Shrugged is great though. Pretty funny in the abstract. I love that one line from Galt when they force him onto the news and he says “Stay out of my way” or something. Very Clint Eastwood.

“Stay out of my way”


Perhaps the most efficient use of words in the whole novel.

Not that it didn’t take a few thousand for those five to make sense, but none the less, basted in poignancy. An unlikely slogan, but I’d love to work for the company that adopts it and means it. I think it’d be a good time; an egotisitical, selfish, brilliance driven, and memorable time. Manufacturers would hate it.

That and

“…an idea unexpressed in physical action is contemptible hyprocrisy…”


“Do they ever think?”

(there’s some good ones about love and sex, but I think we’re covering enough ground as it is.)

I can see how the environmental issue seems to slip to the side in her arguments, ex. John Galt invents a way to pull infinite amounts of power from the atmosphere and in her version of paradise, there is still a guy producing oil. I reason this hiccup in logic as simply a matter of oversight. She is only human, after all (pun intended). One of the foremost tennets of objectivism is that one cannot deny reason or reality. It’s an “in your face” philosophy, and in light of this, I doubt an Objectivist could argue that an economic path that destroys the home of the consumers it’s grown to depend on is justifiable. Objectivism is THE philosphy for the coming years, as every person will have to come to terms with the objective reality of the struggling environment around them and the fact that continued abuse of its generosity will lead to a crossroads.

In a way, we are to the environment what the leaching masses were to the producers, constantly pulling from a resource that has a threshold we dilute ourselves into believing doesn’t exist.

Outside of the environment, I’m not so sure what you guys are saying.

Are we supposed to placate to the whims of an eternally Grey area, or are we supposed to lead the charge against a society that loves rounded edges? Is it as simple as paying the mortgage by doing something we pseudo-love, or is it a higher calling?

I’ve read 1984 and Stranger in a Strange Land. Can’t say either felt as useful as Ayn Rand’s work, but they are certainly relevent. Care to elaborate on why?


What does taking something with a “Grain of salt” mean in a creative profession?

I found Atlas Shrugged to be almost unreadable as a work of fiction, even though I have a lot of time for her ideas. It’s more polemic than novel. I much preferred The Fountainhead. I tore out a really good article about 10 years ago from The Independent about Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London. The story reminded me a lot of Howard Roark.

Good word.

Although, I would think agressive dialogue would fuel interest, not deflate it.

I think of Atlas Shrugged as the bigger picture version of Fountainhead. It represents a concept that I wasn’t previously exposed to. A concept that is outlined in her philosophy but means little without the imagry of a world of parasites devouring itself. It’s an extreme, obviously, but I think more saturated than fountainhead. Howard Roarke is by far the character I’d like most to meet in person.

Do you have a solid counter or reason for disliking the Argument she presents?

I don’t dislike the argument at all. As I said, I’m more or less in agreement with most of Objectivism. But judged solely as a work of literature, Atlas Shrugged was about as compelling as the Communist Manifesto. The book was sorely in need of a strong editor.

That is certainly true, but it still worked for me as a novel. I suppose it was the gawkers complex, an urge to see how fucked up her world could get. I didn’t lose momentum until Galt’s radio broadcast, which ran for about thirty pages, and said nothing new. I think if you mated Hemingway and Rand, you’d have something.

Have you ever passed on presenting your best idea because you knew it would be taken from you, torn limb from limb, and then paraded in front of a group who will never know the difference?

No, but then again, that best idea was something done for others in the first place, who were paying me dollars for skills, value for value as AR might put it, and it wasn’t my idea to fall in love with, or dynamite, to begin with.

I see the designers role as more akin to Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead, purveyors of what the public needs or calls for, spinning it to suit the motive of the day. I think very few of us designers, brand name designers and firms included, are at the mythical Rearden/Galt level of think/make/do of their own accord. Very few. Perhaps a more interesting tack on this argument would be to suggest industrialists or inventors who do fit this description. Maybe characters like Howard Hughes?

Can the Roarkes, Reardens, Dagnys, and Galts (creative gods, producers, and only characters with soul) of the past exist in a modern context and still make sense?

There’s a point in AS where Francisco says to Dagny “all that matters is being good at your work” or something like that. Similarly, in AR’s non-fiction essays she declares productive ability and work the most moral activity of man. There’s nothing inherently wrong, or unfamiliar, in that.

I feel though to understand more of AR’s work, a familiarity with the context she was writing within is important. Although her writing has a timeless appeal, she was writing as a Russian immigrant allured by the promise of America and in fear of the socialist currents present in the mid 20th century. Learning more about the times in which she was writing will be of some useful perspective or ‘context’. For an analogy, find the graphic novels ‘The Red Star’ by C. Gosset, about the promise of the early Soviet Union and Stalin’s corruption of an ideal.