I didn’t get around to blogging the 50-year anniversary of the publication of this great work, and I’d intended to kick off this morning with something else — but I’ll get to that. I was checking my friend Greg Swann’s blog and found I had missed this WSJ article by David Kelley.
Businessmen are favorite villains in popular media, routinely featured
as polluters, crooks and murderers in network TV dramas and first-run
movies, not to mention novels. Oil company CEOs are hauled before
congressional committees whenever fuel prices rise, to be harangued and
publicly shamed for the sin of high profits. Genuine cases of
wrongdoing like Enron set off witch hunts that drag in prominent
achievers like Frank Quattrone and Martha Stewart.
Acknowledged and existent truths like fraud, pollution, and corruption, combined with the truth of profit-driven motivation, make for a tantalizing scapegoat in capitalism and "unbridled free markets." This, in order to spin and weave a seeming internally consistent but narrow context where the biggest producers are deemed responsible for our biggest problems (some real, some conjured). The human potential for irrational and non proportional fear knows almost no bounds; culminating, finally, in a perfect-storm, positive-feedback frenzy to undercut a generally recognized moral principle: that individuals have the right to what they produce and earn.
So because the truths and facts seemingly point to affirmation of the underlying notion, or premise — that they really didn’t earn it, i.e., stole it — the moral principle of private property and disposition is inapplicable. It was produced either by means of the exploitation of individuals, or exploitation of that which is considered public property like "the environment." So, people get to have their cake & eat it, too. They get to pay lip-service to the innate human behavior turned moral principle — that what’s yours is yours — while morally sanctioning the exact opposite.
The problem with the former — individual exploitation: the big battering ram during Rand’s time — is that it’s increasingly obvious that individuals are benefiting from this so-called exploitation. And so the emphasis now is on the later, i.e., "public property" (most commonly recognizable in terms of the environment). But therein lies a built-in shortcoming. Now, it’s not just corporate America and global business enterprise at fault; it’s you, too. You’re benefiting: with your big SUV, big house, and "wasteful lifestyle" — all at the expense of everyone else. You share the guilt, now.
So the argument has morphed into a two-pronged advance: you’re both instigator and victim. How can that be? It’s the Tragedy of the Commons. So round and round it goes; individuals are increasingly productive and prosperous, but it’s at the purported expense of "common resources." We’re playing now, blithely ignorant of the future payment to come due. Or so it’s claimed.
But does history offer any real and ominous warnings along these lines, other than in very localized circumstances? And yet, hasn’t there always been some great big thing to fear, something purportedly big enough as to require powerful protectors? Were such fears of the past generally rational and proportional (or do we amuse ourselves, today, with how foolish people could have been, then?), or was there something else at work?
How about if you expand the context?
By contrast, the heroes in "Atlas Shrugged" are businessmen — and
women. Rand imbues them with heroic, larger-than-life stature in the
Romantic mold, for their courage, integrity and ability to create
wealth. They are not the exploiters but the exploited: victims of
parasites and predators who want to wrap the producers in regulatory
chains and expropriate their wealth.
With a context wide enough to actually imply a balance sheet, as opposed to nothing but liabilities (Do you see? The lie is not in the facts so much as in the narrowing of context.), the evidence suggests that in spite of these "thieving," profit-driven "monsters," we and others keep doing better and better; and now, even atmospheric pollution — the bugaboo of the 70s and 80s, but which was always a local thing — isn’t what it was. Yet we produce more and more and are wealthier and wealthier.
So global warming — or, now, "climate change" — is the epitome of the case against the productive. It’s virtually like Original Sin; in that it is our very nature as human beings — with the will to survive and prosper, along with the capacity to mold nature to serve that ideal — that is the purported cause of our likely future downfall. Do you see the hidden contradiction? Our natural will to survive is going to kill us, so let’s kill our primary means of survival. That critical and fundamental fault with the whole producer-as-exploiter argument is actually the seed of its downfall. Because this deals with an "original sin" that’s more down to Earth — and not just a fairy tale with a final accounting in the imagined hereafter — it pits man against his own nature. You can nevermind all the purported and increasingly suspect "data." People aren’t generally known to commit suicide over their sins against god, and they aren’t going to do so over their sins against mother Earth, even if they’ve been fooled into believing they’ve transgressed.
The essential problem is that you can’t really control the number of facts, and the number of integrated facts, or truths, determines the context. Politics, by necessity, demands that one set out with a pre-determined context in mind. Then one gathers facts to support that context, from which is derived a series of mutually supporting narratives — which humans are perfectly designed for grasping. But we always expand the context, eventually, because you can’t limit or control the facts.
One begins with "the truth," which amounts to a specific set of facts that logically draws a conclusion. Then, in terms of realpolitik, all new facts — except those that fit "the truth" — are dismissed, ridiculed, or their advancers smeared. This goes on for as long as it possibly can; until the shear weight of the contradictions and countervailing facts force one last push for "the truth," where it experiences its high water mark. Politics then moves on to a new "issue of the decade" to scare and fool everyone into promoting those masterful at this form of truth manipulation into positions of power. The cycle repeats: new "greatest challenge" bogeymen are identified and the troops (media, law profession, social elite, academia, ivory-tower intellectuals) are rallied in order to come up with the truths necessary to construct the new narratives which will serve as a primary source of income, influence, and access to political power for those same troops for as longs as the truths can withstand the relentless and sometimes all-too glacial advance of honesty.
This is the process of honesty, and how it works to undermine the manipulation of truth. You can’t manipulate honesty. It’s antithetical, a contradiction in itself; like a round square.