Brock Lorber

More About: Philosophy: Objectivism

Talk About Missing the Object Lesson

NRO's Jason Lee Stoerts quit re-reading Atlas Shrugged about two-thirds of the way through. Reaching the point of the novel where the Comet is sent into the tunnel behind a coal-fired locomotive and 300 people died, “it got too painful to look any longer, and so, exercising the right of any self-interested reader, I simply closed the book.”

I can't imagine the type of reader that wouldn't find that scene horrifying, for many, many reasons. The looter Kip Chalmers is insisting the train go through the tunnel immediately. The railroad employees and managers, who know better, are faced with the black-and-white choice of sending the train through the tunnel and condemning the passengers to death, or holding the train until a diesel locomotive can be found, thereby condemning their families to death.

Ultimately, the train is sent through the tunnel with the coal-fired engine and a drunk crew; everyone on-board died.

But, that's not the part that bothered Stoerts. No, he was willing to read on. What bothered Stoerts is Ayn Rand's insinuation that the passengers shared some sort of moral culpability in their own demise.

What Stoerts leaves out of his description of the scene is that, when apprised of the lethal danger of proceeding through the tunnel, Kip Chalmers dismisses the danger as “just theory.” It can't be proven that they will all die in the tunnel, so any notion of risk is conjecture.

Conjecture won't stand scrutiny before the Board of Equalization, so the railroad employees who might have erred on the side of caution faced the certain knowledge of dismissal and their families starving in the streets. In this way, the job of risk management is transferred from workers who know the risk to politicians and looters who know absolutely nothing about running a railroad.

Stoerts doesn't bother to mention that the entire novel, up to this point, describes in excruciating detail how the notion of competence was so completely turned upside down. In a nutshell, the lure of the mystics' woo and propaganda had turned vast swathes of the populace into enablers; the politicization of life and death decisions was not what the Comet's passengers wanted, but – to a person - it is exactly what they demanded and enabled.

In fact, Rand could have saved countless trees and innumerable hours of her readers' time by composing Atlas Shrugged as a one-page pamphlet that read simply, “be careful what you wish for.”

Stoerts describes Rand as “ghastly” for suggesting the Comet's passengers may have deserved what came to them but seems completely non-plussed by the ghastly societal order that had emerged as a direct result of the actions of the Comet's manifest.

It's as if he looked into the lighted window of the literary train wreck waiting to happen and saw himself staring back.

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