Catch part one here.
In the second chapter of Atlas Shrugged, we meet our Superman.
And he’s kind of an asshole.
Let me back up and explain a little. In the first chapter we hear rumors of the brilliant industrialist Hank Rearden and the brilliant new metal he’s created that will save the rail company. Chapter two is all about Rearden. And how he’s abandoned his family and holds everyone in his life in contempt.
That’s not what it’s supposed to be about. But it is. Rearden is never home, he’s always at work. Rand tries to get us to sympathize with him, by making everyone in the family self righteous in a way that makes me more sure than anything that Rand didn’t really know how people react to things at all. Hank gives his bleeding heart caricature of a liberal brother ten thousand dollars for a farm co-op he’s in and the brother, instead of jumping up and down, responds with no emotion and then asks for it all in cash. What? Who would act like that? It all makes it seem less like Hank’s family are a bunch of ingrates, and more that a terrible family has produced a sociopath.
And let’s be clear, that’s kind of what we’re talking about. Hank is described as never having feelings (though he does apparently feel constantly sad), because feelings are a pointless indulgence. Aren’t feelings just sort of a thing that happens? I’ve never said “today I will feel things”, but this is how Rand seems to think they work. So that’s interesting. Family’s are another pointless abstraction with no real worth, as Hank views his wife as a parasite he shouldn’t have to spend any time with to be admired by. He’s completely confused about why he should have to show up to a party she’s planning three months in advance, because a conference call might come up between now and then.
Is the hero of this novel the absentee father from a Lifetime movie?
Yes. Yes he is.
And you’re a socialist for thinking that.
More importantly for the plot though, is that Rearden Metal has been poured for the first time. This is the alloy that will “be to steel as steel was to iron”. Which is where I get confused. When she was writing the novel, titanium had already existed for more than a century. It wasn’t being used for very much, but to be clear, the future that she was writing about was obsolete when she wrote it.
Also, trains and initial research are two of the most government supported things in our economy today. Trains need a lot of support and a whole lot of government oversight to keep them from being rolling death machines, not to mention the fact that the rail industry is one of the few still heavily unionized. Strange choice of subject matter for a follower of Nietzsche. And initial research is considered unprofitable and rarely done by most private companies outside of the pharmaceutical industry for the exact reasons Rand makes Hank’s efforts seem heroic: It takes a lot of time away from other business things and t doesn’t always work out.
This post wasn’t supposed to be this frustrated. But just…..goddammit. This is not a good place to set a market parable. And making a self-centered workaholic’s family a bunch of shrieking harpies does not make said asshole automatically sympathetic.
I promise a more lighthearted tone in our next installment. Just goddammit.