Commentary on Ayn Rand

Thread for discussing literature and media about Objectivism.

Irrational rulers can’t control the world how they want to. They can’t get what they want. Reason is required to be effective. But they can control and hurt others. They can put people in jail, redirect train cars away from a wheat harvest, or get someone fired and blacklisted from other jobs (as Wynand did). They can move off the gold standard and inflate the currency, raise taxes, use laws and lawsuits to stop you from starting the business you want to, deplatform you, debank you, defraud you, bomb or invade your country, regulate the products you buy so they’re worse and more expensive, etc. They can create disasters not only for themselves but also for others.

I don’t think it’s hopeless. I think you can make a try at a good life. If you don’t try to do something big, the elites/rulers/powerful are unlikely to try to squash you personally. If you’re good at stuff, you can often navigate society in a way where bad stuff affecting large groups doesn’t ruin your life (it helps to e.g. not be poor, which is reasonably manageable in Western countries today despite all the extra difficulty).

But I don’t think the drooling beast is just ignorable. If you put no effort into avoiding conflicts with power, and no effort into navigating life to avoid being squashed by Goliath, then you’re at high risk. Saying the beast doesn’t own the world in some moral or spiritual sense, and knowing the beast is not successful or happy, and knowing the beast can’t cause the outcomes it wants very effectively … helps some. But it isn’t the full issue.

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Is search engine optimization (making websites rank better on search engines) engaging with the drooling beast and treating it as having power over your life? What about marketing more broadly, in a society where the general public is irrational and has bad taste and bad preferences about communication?

What about tax optimization? What about paying someone else to optimize your taxes for you?

How and where do you draw lines about what to ignore and what to cope with (and thereby acknowledge has some power since you put work into dealing with it rather than just ignoring it)?

Is reading a book in Amazon’s mediocre Kindle app giving in to the drooling beast and allowing them to have power over your life (and also paying Amazon for the book)? Second-handers like Guy Francon do have a lot of control over what books are published in what formats. If you buy a paper copy and get it scanned and OCRed, they’re influencing your life too – that’s a bigger hassle and larger expense, and then you end up with OCR errors.

Is this not fundamentally important in some way? Having access to books is pretty important.

As far as I know, Ayn Rand’s books are not available DRM-free (Mises’ are). Partly the issue is companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Nobles. But it’s partly authors and rights holders like Peikoff and Trancinski who don’t publish in good formats. Part of the problem is that it isn’t just the elites who are irrational and awful; it’s ~everyone. But if you see the world as having virtually no readable books because all the authors are irrational, that’s dark and problematic. The content of most books is really problematic too but how they’re being published is a big deal by itself which exercises direct control over reader’s lives and how they read the books. You can’t just go buy a book and own it and do what you want with it – you can choose between an old, limited technology (paper) or the elites spending a lot of money to control your reading experience. (On a related note, they are working on technologies to do things like have a camera plus automated software constantly check how many people are in your room at home so they can figure out how much money to charge you for a movie you’re paying to watch.)

Another example is video games and software. They are taking so much control. You generally don’t just buy stuff on a physical disk and own it anymore. You have to play games on their servers – and you can’t play old patches, can’t play on LAN, can’t direct connect to your friend’s computer, and also can’t mod the game. You have to login to your desktop app from a cloud login. Lots of stuff is software-as-a-service with subscription pricing only. And due to how operating systems and technology keep being updated, even if you had your own copy of an old version of an app that doesn’t need to connect to anyone’s servers, good luck running it after 5 years – that mostly only works with windows and linux, not mac, ios or android, and it’s unreliable with windows especially now that they updated to win10 after having no major updates for many years.

So if your attitude is “if you don’t like what the elites are doing with that product, don’t buy it” … that broadly applies to books, music, TV, movies, software, YouTube, podcasts … and they are working on controlling websites and replacing “having your own website” with a few centralized sites like Facebook (speaking of which, my long time webhost, linode, recently was purchased by a larger company … you basically can’t have your own website unless you are willing to have a financial relationship with several companies like a web host, a domain registrar, and a payments company if you want to actually be able to engage in any capitalism). The point is, if you try to go your own way, there’s so little left. You can get a homestead and read paper books by lamp light while refusing to pay Comcast a dime (or maybe do business with a solar panel company, or be close enough to a city to get regular electric lines and do business with some god awful company like PG&E) and btw the publishers of paper books have huge issues too.

Or you can say “it’s not so bad” and deal with all that crap but then it does have a lot of power over you. There aren’t really reasonable alternatives. A lot of stuff is not optional. The world is too full and controlled by governments to have a secret valley with enough industry to build and repair cars and airplanes. Among many other issues they have satellite images of everything. They also have enough surveillance that you couldn’t just have a bunch of people go on yearly vacations to the same place without governments being able to catch on. Maybe you could go be somewhat left alone somewhere in Alaska but they have a ton of laws restricting hunting and I’m sure a million other things.

You can withdraw your brains and go on strike and not do work that contributes to the power of the elites and get by while putting up with all sorts of hassles do to their control over banks, healthcare, technology, commerce, etc. But if you do that, you are not having the life you’d live without their power and control. You aren’t free of them. You aren’t unaffected by them.

I think Rand’s idea is that you ignore them – think they don’t matter and are impotent (both the irrational rulers and the irrational masses) – in certain fundamental ways and be OK with life, but she isn’t very clear on exactly where and how to draw lines. You can try to do your work your way and be productive but a ton of fields are blocked. You can’t just be a doctor or banker or architect or many other things and do things your way. The science labs with good equipment have all sorts of control over them.

After having issues with the title, table of contents and brief Forward, I reached chapter 1. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Capitalism’s Epic

In 2007, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged prompted a flurry of articles about the novel—many of which, unfortunately, offered highly inaccurate descriptions of the novel’s meaning and significance. For example, a New York Times article about the influence of Atlas Shrugged among businessmen and CEOs contained one confused businesswoman’s opinion that “Rand’s idea of ‘the virtue of selfishness’ is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself.” It is hard to see how Buddhism—a religion of mystical asceticism—can be seen as equivalent to a philosophy of rational self-interest.

Some distorted views of Ayn Rand’s masterwork were motivated by spite. Most inaccuracies, however, are merely the result of the reporters’ awkward unfamiliarity with Ayn Rand’s ideas. It is perhaps no surprise that her philosophy, and the novel that first expressed it, are still so poorly understood, because it is precisely in this respect—the ability to confront new evidence about the world and grasp new truths—that Atlas Shrugged is so extraordinary.

There are many major problems. I’m not going to go into them but you might like to try. If you don’t see them, then it’s probably in your self-interest to e.g not read/watch anything political again until after you successfully learn a bunch of philosophy and rationality skills. Being fooled by political material is bad for your goals and values. Also, if you think you see the flaws but don’t write them down and have ways to objectively test the correctness of your view, then same conclusion.

Also I skimmed ahead (checking for chapter notes, end notes, bibliography, etc., which the book doesn’t have) and read a little bit of a section that’s way too positive about Elon Musk.

I read several more paragraphs. He says that opposing capitalism made sense in the past but the Industrial Revolution gave us new evidence, and Rand was a good observer of evidence to notice and reevaluate things unlike other intellectuals.

Then the specific intellectual he attacks, as an example, is Mary Shelley, daughter of William Godwin and author of Frankenstein. I’m now skeptical that he knows the book’s full title or that he’s read it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. Other people have definitely read it yet egregiously failed to understand it.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein —a story which portrays the quest for scientific knowledge as a kind of dangerous madness. Just as capitalism was propelling us forward into a technological future that would, among other advantages, double the average human lifespan, the intellectuals were looking backward to the Middle Ages and predicting that all of this new science and technology would bring disaster.

The book is an interesting social commentary that was dedicated to William Godwin, who wrote about topics such as his pro-science futurist view that scientific progress would make us immortal against aging. He also wrote a rebuttal to Malthus – Godwin believed that new technology would let us feed everyone even as the population went way up.


I started reading faster by interpreting most of what the book says as tribalist cheerleading. This framework accounts for a lot of the text.

I’m around 40% through chapter 2 now. Another thing I wanted to mention is that there are multiple factual inaccuracies about the plot of Atlas Shrugged.

When I try to interpret the book as scholarship – as a rational intellectual work – then there’s a big problem every paragraph or so. There’s something that doesn’t make sense to try to analyze.

But when I interpret it as tribalist cheerleading, it makes sense. Reinterpretting the goal removes the errors. It’s not full of errors for that goal. It makes more sense how anyone – author or reader – could like it. It’s not that they are trying but failing to be rational. They like tribalism. They like praise for their side. They like flaming the other side(s) in hyperbolic terms. The target audience especially likes this stuff if it’s dressed up with a superficial appearance of rational scholarship and objectively winning debates. That helps them feel superior even better than more basic cheerleading.

Is engaging with the public (as they are) engaging with the drooling beast? I don’t know. I do it some and I avoid it some even when I think it’d benefit me to engage more.

However, if engaging with the public is a goal and you want to succeed rather than fail, I think the marketing type stuff is necessary.

I think that’s self defense, specifically defense of property. I also include inflation optimization in the same category. And there tends to be some overlap (certain investments optimize for both taxes and inflation).

I think I’m more likely to avoid/ignore when the engagement is direct/personal, and more likely to cope when it’s indirect/impersonal.

Stuff like management, networking, schmoozing, interviews, phone or in person selling I tend to avoid or ignore. I am pretty sure I avoid that stuff more than I “should” in the sense of maximizing stuff like productivity / wealth.

Stuff like SEO, sales letters, email interactions, taxes, product and investment choices I’m more apt to try to engage with the world as it is even when I disapprove of it. I’m not sure if I engage less, the same, or more than I should to maximize productivity / wealth.

As a thought experiment I consider: What if instead of spending time arranging my financials I could save the same amount of money in taxes - legally - by spending that time schmoozing an IRS agent? Would I do it? Absolutely not! Even though the cost in time is the same and the benefit in money is the same, having to do a direct personal schmoozing interaction makes it seem way worse to me.

It depends on what you want to do, who knows and who cares, both about what you specifically want to do and about you personally/in general.

  • Tons of laws and de facto policies have the effect of allowing the government to fuck with whoever the government wants to fuck with.
  • Non-government people who want to fuck with you will use such laws to convince the government to fuck with you on their behalf.

I know of examples where people regularly/routinely do stuff that’s all manner of “illegal” but nothing ever happens about it because no one inside or outside of government cares about either them or what they’re doing.

I also know of examples where people were not apparently doing anything illegal, but were considered by someone to be a pain-in-the-ass. Government either on their own initiative or at the behest of “citizen complaints” went looking for violations, reliably found some, escalated beyond all reasonable measure, and ruined the people’s lives.

If you want to do things that will piss someone off - even if they’re entirely within your rights, reason, and the law - they’re dangerous in the world as it is. Because something you’re doing isn’t fully legal. There are just too many laws, they’re vague and conflicting etc.

I think “Alaska” is a proxy for low population density. The further you are from other people, the less chance of pissing someone off you have while doing a certain class of activities. Mostly low- or non- productive physical stuff though. You mentioned hunting & I’d guess that you could hunt more in Alaska than most other places regardless of the actual laws. So if hunting is what you want I’d guess that Alaska would be a good choice. If you want to build a house that doesn’t comply with building codes or live in an RV, forge iron or raise ostriches, those are best done in low population density areas.

I don’t think population density matters much for intellectual stuff and modern / technological productivity though. I think if you want to make software that pisses off Google you’re gonna get fucked with in Alaska about as much as in New York.

Chapter 3 is much better than the first two. The biggest difference is it focuses on Rand’s writing. The first two chapters had a lot to say about society and Rand’s detractors. That put the author’s tribalism on full display.

Chapter 3 still has writing flaws like frequent Objectivist cliches, exaggerations, imprecision, superficial comments and disorganization. It’d really help if Tracinski used section headings within chapters – primarily to better track what’s going on in his own mind and make his writing follow an outline, and only secondarily to guide readers. The exaggerations are less frequent than in the first two chapters when he was fighting with the outgroup.

Although many comments on Rand read as repeating cliches to me – kinda like how people like to repeat the slogans of their tribe – some of the main points in the chapter are more interesting.

The first paragraph of chapter 4 is flaming the outgroup (incorrectly, IMO) instead of discussing Rand’s writing. Fortunately it switches to talking about the book after that. The second paragraph calls Galt the “main hero” of the Atlas Shrugged (a view I’ve criticized).

Overall chapter 4 is OK. It’s pretty basic (nothing particularly interesting like chapter 3 had), but when Tracinski talks about the Rand’s books he isn’t too bad. The last few pages go back to praising the ingroup and attacking the outgroup, though, so they’re awful.

Chapter 5 opens by talking about Galt, not people who disagree with Objectivism. It starts talking about basic stuff again. When I think of a guide to Atlas Shrugged, I expect it to help one interpret what AS says, as well as study or practice AS stuff, so that one can learn it in more detail. This guide, however, seems to be written for people who barely remember most of the factual content of AS. It gives a lot of reminders of the plot, with pretty basic interpretation. That actually makes some sense, though. Most fans and readers of AS probably do know the plot a lot worse than Tracinski and need this kind of basic help. Other types of basic help are missing though. There’s no textual analysis.

It’s interesting to me how much Tracinski cares about physical appearance, voice tone and mannerisms – and expects everyone else to, too. That is not how I look at the world. Understanding a character in a novel, for me, does not mean having a picture of them in my head. I think I’m the outlier here. I know most people care a great deal about appearances. They judge people a lot by their clothes, physical appearance and fashion. And I’ve been thinking recently about how much video games are art (particularly visual, but also sound effects, musics and voice acting, as well as stories) and are judged as art. It’s not just that people enjoy seeing “cool” stuff or are willing to pay real money to buy cosmetic items. What I’ve figured out is that most of them can’t really math and are awful with numbers. So how do they interpret the skills/abilities of video game heroes and enemies? By what they look like, not by understanding the numbers. This is visible sometimes when the numbers and appearance don’t match – I routinely see people believe the appearance instead of the actual numbers, and fail to notice. This is one of the reasons people are OK with easy games – they can feel accomplished for winning, even if the numbers make the game easy (e.g. the enemies have low hit points), as long as the visual art makes the enemies look challenging.

Mid chapter 5, Trancinski gets distracted by mocking some people’s interpretations of Atlas Shrugged, rather than focusing on the book. I haven’t been sharing details but I’ll give one. Going into this mode of fighting with other people is so distracting for Tracinski that he loses the ability to count. He writes:

In roughly his first two pages of dialogue, he [John Galt] never speaks a sentence longer than six words: “I have known you for many years.”

That’s seven words.

Tracinski also lost the ability to quote. The book actually says (I checked two digital versions):

“I’ve known you for many years.”

So the numeric count is wrong about the words immediately following it, and the quote is wrong, and both errors get past Tracinski. But this doesn’t actually stand out given all the other errors Tracinski makes. It’s just one more example. I thought it was notable because it happened right when he switched his focus to fighting with people, and I’ve been observing how, when he does that, what he says is significantly lower quality.

This also reminds me of DD misquotes. It seems like some of his misquotes come from using a quote, then changing it while editing – basically editing it in the same way he’d edit his own text. That’s one possible explanation of how this error happened (so the count was correct when first written and was never reconsidered after editing the quote). I don’t understand how people could edit text in quotes and think that’s OK, rather than fully leaving quoted text alone during editing passes, but I’m suspicious that they do it.

A friend suggested to me that some misquoting could be due to using tools like Grammerly. That makes sense. I wrote about it:

Some misquotes could be due to misusing software and bad software design. You could take something like a grammar checking software and click “change all” and thereby become a misquoter. In fact, DD wrote his own custom software which is likely capable of causing misquotes because it has features to do automated mass changes to a book (it also crashed after I tested it briefly) (however I’m not sure if you’re supposed to ever save changes made in Concordance, or only use it as a viewer). One could also use find/replace or even spellcheck (if the original quote has a misspelled word or a non-dictionary word, then spellcheck could cause a misquote. this is a particular issue with quotes of old books or foreign language quotes). Software features like this don’t differentiate between quotes and non-quotes, so they can result in changes to quoted text. Even if you don’t use a “change all” type automation, these kinds of tools can lead to skimming through a long book and quickly making small changes to many parts without rereading the surrounding context. Like you use a “find” or a “go to next possible grammar or spelling error” or button to quickly review dozens of things in a text, it’d be pretty easy to be looking at some words, and edit them, without reading the whole paragraph and realizing they’re within a quote. Concordance does the same thing: it encourages you to rapidly review many different small parts of a book and one of the purposes is to make detail edits. Grammarly will show you suggested changes, one by one, rapidly, without even a full sentence of context, and it has a button to accept the change, so it’d be easy to introduce misquotes (and miscounting too) by using it because it encourages changing words without rereading the whole sentence, paragraph or passage that the words are in. I’m doubtful that this kind of software usage issue is the full explanation of these sorts of misquotes, but I now fear it is a cause of misquotes for many, many authors.

Another thing I noticed about many of Tracinski’s errors is that he makes them in passing while speaking briefly about something. His focus is elsewhere. He has some philosophical point he wants to make, which he’s trying to explain at length. He uses sub-points which he talks about briefly. The sub-points are often wrong but he never tries to analyze them; he just assumes them in service of his other goal which is where his attention is.

Overall, my impression is Tracinski is worse when dealing with disagreement with people, and better when writing thoughts/analysis that makes sense to him and isn’t meant to disagree with anyone. He’s bad at dealing with dissent or clashes of ideas where he doesn’t respect the other side. If two ideas in his own head clash, and they both seem reasonable to him, maybe he handles it better? Maybe if he disagrees with someone but thinks their position is reasonable, he handles that better too? idk. I don’t recall offhand examples in the book so far where he discusses a disagreement while respecting the other side.

I’ve noticed there’s something I disagree with about how Tracinski uses quotes but I wasn’t clear on what it was. I think I just consciously figured a big piece of it. He uses quotes to illustrate his points but doesn’t analyze them. He thinks they speak for themselves.

I thought this quote was particularly revealing:

This is what I mean by Galt representing so radically new a vision of man that it can take the reader a few attempts to get a sense of who he really is.

Tracinski thinks regular characters are understood after one reading of a book, and Galt is way more complicated so don’t feel bad if you don’t understand him after one reading – 2-4 readings is normal to understand his real nature.

Tracinski thinks the world is much less complex than I think it is. He thinks much less effort is needed to understand things than I think. Even when he’s saying it’s super hard, he then suggests what I consider a low amount of effort and thinks that should work (even for a regular person, not some great thinker).

This fits with the book as a whole, which is full of detail/precision type errors because Tracinski doesn’t look at anything in adequate detail and then thinks he’s done.

I finished ch. 5.

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I liked this part of chapter 6 of So Who Is John Galt, Anyway?: A Reader’s Guide to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”:

The abrasive genius [like Roark or Rearden] has actually become something of a genre in recent years, the most well-known example being the television series “House,” about a physician usually described as a “prickly genius” or “antisocial maverick.” This has become practically mandatory in the detective genre, where irascible quirks are accepted as the mark of a genius. The difference is that in the typical modern version, the protagonist is an “anti-hero.” His unsympathetic qualities are not mere eccentricities but serious character flaws. His genius can be accepted only when counterbalanced with flaws that excuse the reader or viewer from any pressure to emulate him.

The discussion of the first scene of Atlas Shrugged had some merit too. He picked up on the comparison between the oak tree with a rotten heart and Taggart Transcontinental’s rotten heart (James Taggart’s office). But, again, the parts talking about people in our society were tribalist and significantly worse than the parts about the book. Also I generally don’t like the first and last few paragraphs of chapters (which are more likely to be about society and to have exaggerated claims not analysis).

Also chapter 6 was bizarre because it talks about a hypothetical Atlas Shrugged movie. It seems to have written before the three-part Atlas Shrugged movie series came out (2011, 2012, 2014), and then never updated to mention them even though this book was published in 2019 after those movies. He could have at least said when the article was written and added a paragraph about the recent movies.

Chapter 7 has some real life quotes of people sounding like Rand’s villains in order to show that Rand’s villains, unfortunately, are realistic. This suggestion to abolish families because some families are better than others – or at least discourage parents from reading their children bedtime stories because some other parents don’t – is disturbing:

Let’s take another example, from “The Philosopher’s Zone,” a feature of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which examines the question: “Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?”

So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between individuals, and increasingly between families.

The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment…

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

“One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”

Swift ends up not going that far, but he concludes:

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”

In a follow-up, one columnist had the presence of mind to ask the reporter “if it might be just as easy to level the playing field by encouraging other parents to read bedtime stories.” His reply: “We didn’t discuss that.”

The book has some other good examples of real intellectuals being awful (and politicians – apparently after 9/11 Biden proposed sending $200 million to Iran, no strings attached, to show we’re not anti-Arab (he said offhand, but it wasn’t a policy that he formally proposed or pushed for)). But Tracinski also makes plenty of errors of his own, like this straw man attack on trans people:

(In our current cultural moment, you are most likely to hear it [social construction theories] from those who insist that “gender” is not biological but socially constructed, so that dressing up a man in women’s clothing makes him a woman.)

This is a straw man because no one believes that “dressing up a man in women’s clothing makes him a woman”. That is not advocated by the people Tracinski is flaming. His opponents instead believe that a mental state – who someone is on the inside (not on the outside like their clothing) – can make someone a woman. Connections between being trans and one’s identity and how one feels and thinks are well known. Different clothes are meant to follow from an unsuppressed identity, not cause it. Tracinski also ignores taking hormones and having surgery (which have problems but are different from just playing dress up like Tracinski evokes partly to make his opponents sound childish). The basics of this stuff is widely known so I don’t think Tracinski could plausibly plead ignorance (and if he were ignorant, he shouldn’t be writing about it in a book).

Overall, the chapter (7) on James Taggart has surprisingly little about James Taggart in it. It talks a lot about the novel’s other villains and real world villains.

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I started skimming in chapter 8 because I didn’t want to read Tracinski’s take on net neutrality. I think I should try to skip stuff that isn’t about Objectivism.

There’s a tone throughout the book like Tracinski is the expert who is telling us truths. Not like he’s fallible or grappling with hard issues and trying his best to imperfectly explain them (I think I have that tone some). If feels more like he knows the answers already and is stating them. It’s a common tone but I dislike it for difficult, complex subjects where I think it’s inappropriate (if it was a book on arithmetic, it’d make more sense for the author to be so fully confident). Tracinski doesn’t come off as having doubts or being in a process of learning. He does mention a lot of other people who have errors or aren’t done learning – like he’ll give short stories about the ideas of other Objectivists he’s talked with.

Chapter 10 talks about Atlas Shrugged type heroes in real life. His examples are: Uber, Airbnb, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, George Mitchell (the “father of fracking”) and black markets (“System D”).

I like Jobs a lot and I don’t know enough about Mitchell to say. The black markets example is weird. I disagree about Uber, Airbnb and Musk.

Chapter 11 opens by defending and praising Uber more, and this time Travis Kalanick specifically. Tracinski is dismissive of “Silicon Valley rumors about Uber tolerating sexist behavior from its employees” with no arguments. He seems unaware of all my other criticisms of Uber (many of which are unoriginal, nothing special, and stuff he could have found online), and he doesn’t address them. For example, he doesn’t say anything about the well known issue of whether Uber drivers are contractors or employees.

Again I’m running into some chapters that aren’t what you’d expect from a reader’s guide to Atlas Shrugged. They aren’t primarily about the book. The best chapter so far actually split its focus between Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, which is fine for me since I’m equally interested in The Fountainhead.

Chapter 12 compares Atlas Shrugged to sci-fi like Star Trek (and praises Star Trek for its alleged optimistic sense of life and positive vision of a future with human progress). Why won’t he just focus on the book itself? Where is e.g. the chapter explaining the details of Galt’s speech? I’d rather have a chapter on Francisco’s money speech than on Star Trek. I think maybe Tracinski simply can’t do deep dives on topics like those, and doesn’t have enough to say about Atlas Shrugged or add to it, so he has to bring up other stuff. I guess that makes sense. That’s hard and he keeps getting stuff wrong. The book has lots of errors but what’s missing from the book – what it doesn’t even try to do – is in some ways worse than the errors in the book.

Describing the future world of Star Trek as an “ideal workplace” is too narrow. It is a projection of an ideal society. Notice the characteristics of this ideal society: a focus on work, competence, intelligence, productivity, and rationality. This is what I mean about projecting what kind of people we will have to be to reach a super-technological future. Star Trek presents a world dominated by science and technology—and also dominated by rationality in dealing with others, which is the primary reason for its sense of a benevolent and optimistic future.

Did he fail to notice all the wars? Does he not think of other intelligent species as people? And he had nothing to say about the government. And what we do see, on the ship, is basically a military command structure with little capitalism involved in anything. I commented on some flaws in Star Trek in Curiosity – Analysis of David Deutsch’s The Final Prejudice. Tracinski goes on to say basically that modern Star Trek media ruined it by no longer having humans be the unambiguous good guys, and that humanity has war, racism and poverty solved and all major problems are other non-human people’s fault. Ugh.

In chapter 13, it occurred to me that Tracinski never questions Rand. Why could Kellogg or the brakeman be told about the strike but Dagny couldn’t? He writes:

Atlas Shrugged is full of mysterious characters with hidden motives, as well as characters we thought we knew and understood who suddenly act in a mysterious way for reasons they refuse to explain.

But it doesn’t seem to occur to him that this might be bad, and maybe they should explain. He doesn’t even consider that as a rival view to critique.

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So Who Is John Galt, Anyway?: A Reader’s Guide to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”:

Emotions are not thinking, but they are products and reflections of previous thinking.
Interestingly, since Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, this exact view of emotions has become the core of “cognitive behavioral therapy,” a school of psychiatry that is becoming increasingly dominant. Here is how Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe it in a 2015 article in The Atlantic.

The goal is to minimize distorted thinking and see the world more accurately. You start by learning the names of the dozen or so most common cognitive distortions (such as overgeneralizing, discounting positives, and emotional reasoning…). Each time you notice yourself falling prey to one of them, you name it, describe the facts of the situation, consider alternative interpretations, and then choose an interpretation of events more in line with those facts. Your emotions follow your new interpretation. In time, this process becomes automatic. When people improve their mental hygiene in this way—when they free themselves from the repetitive irrational thoughts that had previously filled so much of their consciousness—they become less depressed, anxious, and angry.

Ayn Rand anticipated this school of psychology (which had earlier roots but mostly came together in the 1960s), but on the philosophical level.

The suggestion to intentionally practice better interpretations/thinking/reactions in order to change your thoughts and emotions is good. I’ve made similar suggestions. You have to keep at it, on purpose, with conscious effort, until it becomes automatic/intuitive/habitual/etc (and replaces an old habit/automatization). This also requires (not directly mentioned above) slowing down – doing this mixed in with your other activities takes some extra time, and also you want to slow down your actions (and even mental reactions if possible) enough to think about and reinterpret stuff before you respond and act.

Besides my recent talk of practice, automatization, mastery, etc., see also Fallible Ideas – Emotions (from 2010)

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BTW I don’t agree with his tribalist bias to try to give Rand credit for being the best at everything, including CBT. I’m also not sure that the quote from The Atlantic is very accurate about CBT.

Various free-market economists, particularly Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, have chipped away at this façade of rationality in the realm of economics.

Outrageous. IMO Mises is great – which was also Rand’s opinion. But how does Tracinski not know Rand’s opinion of Hayek (poison, does massive harm)? Having read some Hayek to check, I agree with Rand.

Or does Tracinski know what Rand said about Hayek (and Milton Friedman, who she viewed similarly) and just not understand it, not believe her, not see it for himself … so he just ignored it with no mention that he’s contradicting Rand?

If Hayek were a socialist who partially agreed with classical liberalism, he’d be fine (well, being a socialist is bad, but he wouldn’t do any special harm unless he was a particularly prominent socialist leader). For a socialist, he’s rather good – highly exceeds expectations. But instead Hayek has a reputation as super pro-capitalism, which he betrays. And he got that reputation on purpose and misrepresented himself to the world.

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