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A Disquisition on Selfishness

So, as you can see I couldn’t be buggered to try doing more Edge of Apocalypse stuff. In compensation I’d like to take a step back and do a comparison to another well-known work epitomizing the glorification of selfishness: Atlas Shrugged: Part I. Amusingly, at least one movie review has already panned it as being an over-the-top paean to the worst of humanity’s base instincts.

Not wanting to step on the toes of My Fellow Sporker Of Bad Crap, namely the one trying to go through Ayn Rand’s massive freakin’ tome (based on the nominal page count it weighs in at 1088 pages!) and deconstruct its implausible portrayals of human beings here — I want to just flip through the movie, and highlight scenes where I want to bring out similarities between the portrayals of the USA in the movie and that of Edge of Apocalypse. I’d also like to try and note the ways in which the movie holds up as virtues the same kinds of traits as the LaHaye and Parshall book does – in particular, how Josh Jordan’s behavior can be seen as essentially selfish and how that selfishness is nonetheless held up as a Christian virtue, just as Ayn Rand is known for holding up selfishness as a basic ethical system worth following.

The movie opens up on “September 2, 2016”, akin to the not-too-distant future of Edge of Apocalypse:

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As the book was written in the 1950s Ayn Rand focussed on trains as the major transport infrastructure and this motif continues in the movie. The similarity here is just as the book Edge of Apocalypse opens amid a (rather faintly sketched) portrayal of ongoing economic and political crisis for the USA (high inflation and unemployment, devaluation of the US dollar, a recent attempted nuclear attack, and so on), the movie greets us with scenes we’d easily recognize amid the ongoing economic problems the USA has experienced since the start of the housing crash in 2007.

A man says, “If it’s this bad for rich people, how bad do you think it is for people like me?”

Then people march, holding up signs *I* certainly find no quarrel with.

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An interesting note: The opening scenes have very washed-out, flat colors and are filmed in a way that’s reminiscent of rounded-off 1970s color photographs.

Then we see an oil and gas shortage, just as Edge of Apocalypse features fuel rationing in the USA. Incidentally, this is where I’d like to note a motif of selfishness: Josh Jordan thinks nothing of using a private helicopter or private airplane, both of which consume large quantities of fuel, at the drop of a hat and doesn’t even worry about how he’s going to get ration coupons, or how he’s going to pay for the cost of the fuel.

Must be nice to blow it all out the exhaust any old time he wants unlike 18-wheel truck owners who’re rioting because the government won’t let them get enough diesel to keep their trucks going.

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The movie notes a badly crumbling infrastructure and that rail travel is becoming a major player again. This ties the 2010s-era movie back to the 1950s-era book, and sets the stage for Dagny Taggart to do her thing.

Incidentally, the movie also notes the US government imposing wage and price controls, just as in Edge of Apocalypse. It’s really weird how similar the premise-setting is, though not surprising given that the political and economic background is a reflection of current anxieties about the state of affairs in the world.

Now, meet James Taggart, who’s telling us “We must act to benefit society as a whole”, on a TV show news hour.

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(He’s cute. 😛 )

The movie goes on to have the talking heads basically hashing out the SSDD from the book – train derailments, Jimmy Taggart’s screwing up his dad’s train company, etc. Oh, FYI, in this movie gas prices are $37.50 a gallon.

Now, we cut to a cafe where a businessman, Midas Mulligan, is accosted by a faceless fedora-wearing dude who talks about “working for yourself and not letting others mooch off you”; this is interestingly reminiscent of the way Josh Jordan’s Roundtable consists of people who’ve been clandestinely enlisted to begin creating the means to justify his prima-donna misbehavior in front of a Congressional committee, and also to oppose the “socialist second-rate USA” that he doesn’t like at all.

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The idea of an actual steel works in the USA being the first to turn out a new, experimental metal for railway lines is a little surrealistic, if you ask me, but it’s kind of cool, too.

Whereas Jimmy Taggart is the ineffectual CEO who has a good heart and is talked down to by Dagny (reminiscent of the way Abigail Jordan talks at Cal), we shift to Hank Rearden, who’s the no-nonsense CEO who smirks with his secretary as he arrogantly ignores the steelworkers’ union’s message for him. I can imagine Josh smirking with his secretary as he blows off the Pentagon again to go play with his new R&D toys, knowing his ass is covered because he’s buddies with Rocky Bridger.

The movie goes on in this vein of taking digs at altruism and helping others, making the selfish people heroes and the altruistic people look like bumbling divs. There is an imperfect analogy to Edge of Apocalypse, where the Democratic leaders in the US government are variously portrayed as self-centered, vainglorious, and in general nasty politicians out for themselves; LaHaye and Parshall have to pay at least lip service to Christian concepts of service to God rather than service to oneself, and also to Republican mythology that they, unlike Democrats, want what’s best for Americans and for the USA and not just for what lines their own pockets or political ambition.

That said, when a RTC is selfish or acts selfishly (Josh qualifies, since there’s no doubt by any means that the book series will have him converting to be one) it’s excused on the basis that he or she does so for Godly reasons. Similarly, Ayn Rand excuses selfish behavior on the grounds that any other rationale for acting is fundamentally a weakness rather than a strength.

The movie has a scene between one of Hank Rearden’s sidekicks, Jim Taggart and a couple of Washington lobbyists, who disguise their plan to keep Rearden Steel from dominating the industry and cloak the entire thing in quasi-leftist bromides and aphorisms. It’s funny how a movie like this portrays perfectly reasonable things in a distorted lens and uses it to further an ideological objective, much as Edge of Apocalypse portrays a bizarro world of its own (and I have expounded upon this at length in past blog entries) designed to alter perceptions of otherwise reasonable things to be sinister or malevolent instead.

EDIT: I also note that much of the “conflict” in the Atlas Shrugged movie is artificially created. The people opposing Taggart and Rearden provide only the flimisest of rationalizations that barely stand up by themselves and wouldn’t make any sense in a non-bizarro world. The idea of only one scientific institute anywhere in the world making flat-out false pronouncements about Rearden metal is completely unbelievable. Scientists in Canada or Europe would be able to prove its worthiness. Even scientists in the USA would be able to, if they took samples from the Rearden steel works.

The highly artificial nature of the conflict used to justify the actions of the “good guys” is again reminiscent of how Josh Jordan’s behavior is justified by a highly artificial conflict, created by people who have completely mischaracterized the basic nature of how military R&D funding works and have purposely ascribed motives to politicians in such a manner as to further the artificial conflict.

Bottom line: Atlas Shrugged (the movie) is full of people who, on screen, puff themselves up as the saviors of the world even as they calmly insist that they don’t give a damn about anyone else. The similarities between Joshua Jordan and the likes of John Galt and Dagny Taggart have to do with embracing a way of thinking that leads inevitably to seflishness: thinking only of oneself and having an exaggerated sense of one’s importance to the world at large, and letting the devil take the hindmost.


19 thoughts on “A Disquisition on Selfishness

  1. Did you see the DVD recall? They accidentally sent out DVDs with title sheets describing it as based on “AYN RAND’s timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice”.


    The thing I like about Rand’s characters over Jenkins’ is that they do at least admit that other people might have reasons for disliking them. They may despise the “weak”, but at least they don’t preach to them.

    • I heard about that recall! XD

      They may not preach, but from what I’ve heard of the Atlas Shrugged book, John Galt’s multi-page monologue more than makes up for it, and goes through the fourth wall in addition. (O_O)

  2. Well, the New Scum updates less than you do, so I don’t think you need to feel guillty about swiping this one 🙂

    I just find it fascinating how the Christian right has internalized Rand. I’ve seen a few blog posts by Christians that claim that atheists can’t be properly moral because they don’t use an unambigious (for a very, very specific definition of unambigious) unchanging (dito) standard of morality that isn’t based on silly things like human opinions. You’d think Rand would be an ideal example. Here’s a woman who, having no morality derived from the Divine, makes up her own morality, and it comes down to “Not caring about anyone but yourself is the highest virtue”. Sounds like they should be having a field day with it. But no, that’s actually a position they now like. Amazing.

    • That’s the unfortunate thing. But ‘Christianism’ seems to embrace ‘screw your neighbor, you got yours’ and that appears to be a central tenet of Objectivist social thinking. The amount of vitriol that Christianists express when called on this, the amount of rationalizing and double-downing is actually a little scary. These people aren’t Christian.

      The absolutely ridiculous thing is that not every person who is a critic of Rand’s philosophy is automatically a communist. It’s like there’s a switch that has two settings: ‘SAINT/OBJECTIVIST/SELFISH’ and ‘DAMNED/COMMUNIST/SELFLESS.’ When it’s a HELL of a lot more complicated than that!

    • Yeah. That’s one of those weird Mysteries of the Universe. Ayn Rand, as vicious & rabid an anti-theist as Madelyn Murry O’Hare whose Eternal Truth is basically Utter Selfishness, is now the Fourth Person of the Trinity among Born-Again Bible-Believing Christian Activists and Atlas Shrugged the 67th book of the Bible.

  3. He is cute. 😀

    Given Rand’s tendency to make the “scum” easily-spottable by making them physically unattractive, this casting surprises me.

    Then again, I think Hank Reardon’s got him beat.

    Check out the trailer:


    (Gawd, I’m lonely. 😦 )

    Your review is quite timely: I was just thinking that I’d like to see the movie. I have my fill of read-it-so-you-don’t-have-to with LaJenkins–I’ll be content with the film for this bit of horror. 😀

    • My advice? Watch it when you have nothing else to do and/or are really bored and don’t mind the train wreck syndrome. The “bad guys” act like such stereotypical straw leftists it’s bizarre as hell.

  4. Oh, and this is pretty funny, too:

    The best part is how butthurt the commenters are by any hint that the Atlas Shrugged movie was not PERFECT IN EVERY WAY.

    • hee! XD I can’t believe the movie only got like $5 million, too.

      I goess for all that Objectivists like to praise Rand, and that Republicans like to claim Rand’s virtues are valid, ordinary people really don’t like seeing rich greedy assholes engaging in an orgy of self-justification over “let the world fucking burn, 99%”.

  5. Also, as I said elsewhere: “I don’t care who you are, if you openly admire a SERIAL KILLER and call him a paragon of what humanity should be, YOU LOOSE ALL GODDAMN RIGHT TO SAY WHAT IS BEST FOR HUMANITY.”

      • Her idea of whatshisname was only in her imagination, too.

        (Based on him saying something she found inspiring in court, she immediately decided he was innocent of all charges against him, or if he wasn’t, it was all Society’s fault.)

  6. we shift to Hank Rearden, who’s the no-nonsense CEO who smirks with his secretary as he arrogantly ignores the steelworkers’ union’s message for him.

    Oy, this makes me wonder how carefully the filmmakers read the book? I’ll give Rand credit for this: IIRC from the one time I tried slogging through Atlas Shrugged, Rearden actually treats his employees decently enough that the only reason for there to be a union at all is that it’s legally required. This used to be true in many states, and would have been the case when the book was written. I think the whole “at will” thing really got going in the 1980’s.

    Now, this could be Rand showing that Rearden is not the perfect Randian hero, but I think it’s more consistent with the book’s demonstrated fetish for rewarding the productive.The truly most productive are the innovators like Rearden and Galt (in Rand’s eyes), but the people who actually make the product or provide the service are also productive although less so than the innovators and should be rewarded accordingly.

    Seriously, get rid of the assorted author filibusters, and you could make the story a parable about the modern economic situation and regulatory capture. Of course that would make the current Republican party and their corporate masters the primary targets, and we can’t have that. Also, the author filibusters undercut the lesson the book could be teaching.

  7. Let’s do a rough comparison.

    Clearly, Dr. Jonas Salk needed to be more Randian Objectivist. He needed to be appreciated more. If the rabble, the parasites, wanted his vaccine, he had to make them PAY for it. No freeloaders, dammit!

    Assuming a perfectly spherical ego, let’s go with the idea that Donald Trump is the Hank Rearden/Howard Rourke of the modern age. A man who is driven, a self-achiever *snerk* a go-getter, a man built by his own hands *giggle* and clearly one of the only legitimate entrepreneurs in the country today. *bwahaha!*

    Hmm… Somehow, I think more people would rather their society had a Salk than a Trump.

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