Preparation: Atlas Shrugged, Part 2

UPDATE: I got a little too much into Cube World this weekend, plus I’m considering the possibility of having someone else to help me cover it on Skype. Drop a comment if you’re interested in being that other person. If I don’t get any volunteers, I’ll do it by myself on July 20.

Last year, I slogged through writing that stream of consciousness review of part 1. Part 2 has made it onto Netflix, but this time, I won’t have my brother to back me up. He just doesn’t think he’ll be able to stand it. I should probably get myself psyched up and prepared for the horror when I go through it this weekend. I’ve never read the book, so I don’t know the fine details of where the story will go. Or linger in tight circles. Whatever. Cue commentators jealous of my innocence, providing dire warnings about how even indirect exposure via adaptation will fry my neurons.

One point of concern is that I’ve heard, at least in the book, this is where the legendarily bad, hours long author tract will be. I’m morbidly curious how the movie handled it. Trimmed down to minutes or even sound bites? Split up into voice-overs that parallel the “action” in the story? Relegated to DVD Special Bonus disk?

I am curious about something I heard was in the story, once. Most of the criticisms I’ve read were strictly about the crimes against literature and Ayn Rand’s economic and political naivete, but seldom much detail about the science. One science-related criticism I did read was pretty brief and went something like this: “If your ideal society depends on a free energy device, it’s time to rethink things.” Apparently Galt is such a self-made genius that he was able to violate the laws of thermodynamics because there was a market demand for it or something.I suspect I’ll be dealing with the “lone super-genius toiling in obscurity” trope in this, expanded to multiple such geniuses coming together for the sake of rebelling against the society that dared question their brilliance or “suppress” their research with peer reviews and ethics committees. In real life, this is the sort of hipster cliques we expect egotistical cranks to form when they’re too incompetent and out of touch to earn the respect of the scientific community.Once upon a time, it was possible for a lone scientist to unravel a lot of mysteries with powerful unifying theories that turn the scientific community on its head for a generation. They could do that because our ignorance was much more massive in the early days. These days, we’ve pretty much got all the broad strokes down. All that’s left are increasingly fine details like the bottom floor of particle physics and complex systems like those of biology. Researching those things require massive de facto collaborative efforts. Just knowing about problems in the first place often takes extensive research into the works of others, just to be sure no one else has already solved it, or to make sure no one else has already tried your hunch and failed. You don’t get to make your science from scratch like Cave Johnson.
Given the critiques of Ayn Rand’s books, I doubt she let scientific reality get in her way when she wanted to make a Mary Sue. If every scientist worked according to the lone genius trope, treating science like a private enterprise, I suspect we’d more likely be trapped in a dark age, with scientists acting like fantasy wizards. To avoid “theft,” they’d encrypt their knowledge alongside their misconceptions in deliberately obscure symbolism that only people indoctrinated into their tiny clique could decode. Knowledge so encoded would easily be lost if the clique died out or even if the younger generation couldn’t tie their brains into the same knots as their predecessors did to encode that knowledge. Put simply, science would devolve into a smattering of mystery cults. Thankfully, that’s not how scientists roll in this day and age.
The whole “Going Galt” trope smacks of obliviousness about the interdependency of humans, and I doubt watching the movie will smooth over the problems I have with the philosophy. I don’t expect the book to be any better, so I’ll pass on that for now. Yes, there are geniuses with natural talents out there who can do amazing things. They are arguably “superior” as individuals in terms of ability. But they can’t do those amazing things without an infrastructure that seeks out and nurtures those talents while negating their weaknesses. Not every genius can bootstrap themselves up, and in the vein of “what use is a child?”, genius isn’t obvious in childhood. Ironically, I think people like me stress equality of opportunity in hopes that all the geniuses will have a chance to demonstrate their inequality and use it to maintain and improve the system for their own sake as well as society as a whole.
So, that’s a lot of the problems I predict I’ll have with the movie and its philosophy.

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10 responses to “Preparation: Atlas Shrugged, Part 2

  1. Actually, Galt’s (the Gary Stu) invention was suppressed by him, more or less in a fit of pique at the way his employers were running the company (BTW, that’s the macguffin engine from part one). Most, if not all, of the alleged science in Atlas Shrugged is facepalm worthy. There’s even a bit of rubber science perpetrated by a government researcher although whether it’ll show up in the movie, I don’t know.

    There’s a weird nod to interdependency late in the book where a bumper crop of grain is unable to get to market due to the breakdown of the transportation infrastructure, but Rand uses it to flog her alleged philosophy rather than actually thinking through the implications.

    The sad thing is that in the hands of a competent writer, it could have been a nice little parable about the perils of regulatory capture. Instead it’s a bloated, nonsensical thousand page doorstop.

    Could you possibly get together with someone sympatico in your area other than your brother? Or failing that, hook up with someone via Skype?

    • I might consider trying Skype. Of course, I’d have to download the software and learn how to use it. Wonder if I could coordinate my viewing with the other person since I paused a lot the first time. I’m not all that fast at typing.

      • It wouldn’t be perfect, but you could coordinate things by saying, “pause” and “start” when you need to pause the video. Also, it might be worthwhile to find out if Skype allows for voice recording. Then you could MST the movie live and transcribe/edit your comments after the fact without worrying about pausing.

        I’ve been meaning to install Skype. If you absolutely can’t find anyone else to watch with you, I might be interested. I’d probably need to watch part 1, and I don’t know how important it is that your viewing partner not have read the book. I more or less skimmed it. I couldn’t stand to actually read most of her expository lumps (calling them infodumps is being charitable, especially since they’re incredibly repetitious).

      • Having skimmed the book is more than I’ve done. Part 1 is probably still on Netflix, so you can probably catch it that way. I can probably get some help from my brother with audio recording. At the very least I could borrow a decent microphone from him.

        Of course, I paused a lot to comment, since the stupid elements tend to be pretty densely packed, I love detailed dissections, so that might happen even with audio recording.

  2. Okay, I’ve signed up on Skype using the handle “rhoadan.” I still need to watch Part 1, but I should be able to get to that tonight.

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