Next steps with Atlas Shrugged

Project Summary

Summary: I’ve read Atlas Shrugged once through atm. I want to learn more and discuss it – some bits particularly – but I have doubts about how to start (I’m cautious of my intuition). This project is to figure out what next steps are good candidates and which I’ll take.


Goal: Have a plan about how to proceed w/ learning more about the ideas in AS.
Metrics: Number of possible next steps. Binary: whether I have chosen some next steps.
Broader goal: Learn more about AS, Oism, CF. Learn more about how to live well / morality.
Values: Knowledge + thinking; learning effectively
CF relevance: self-evident


Plan: Make this topic. Brainstorm ideas for next steps. Record specific goals that I want to achieve. Criticize/eliminate options. Choose one or two next steps (mb with more steps after that). Review as needed.
Project size: Small
Resource budget: a few hours (but I have excess capacity if more time is needed)
Asks: None (but suggestions, links, criticisms are welcome)
Offers: I’ll post here going through the plan above, post notes on things I brainstorm (why something is not a good next step)
Independence: High
Confidence: High
Follow through: high likelihood of no extended breaks b/c it’s a small project. specific actions that help me finish will likely all be posts in this thread.


Context: I want to write about and discuss AS and morality, particularly some stuff that clicked for me in Galt’s speech. But that feels like jumping into the deep end. I thought about making a project like “understanding AS”, but I don’t have a clear idea of what I’d write in that project. Going one step back, a preplanning project (this thread) is the logical thing to do.
Background: I’ve recently read AS (last 3-4 weeks)
Track Record: spotty. I’ve done and followed through on some CF things, but not on others. I’ve done some planning before (mostly private)
Priorities: I know reading AS has been something worth prioritizing that I’ve been putting off. I really enjoyed reading AS and want to understand it and oism more without just diving into a second reading or writing posts in a directionless/chaotic way. It’s important that I consider how I’m going to organize things from here on out.
Progress: I know a few things I want to discuss already, otherwise no progress / prior work.
Problems: See ‘summary’ and ‘context’ answers

Have you read ?

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Adding a bit to my answer for Progress:

So far, I’ve also:

  • done a broad (but not v deep) search for stuff about AS
  • Some background brainstorming (like looking for essay questions, or asking ppl here for suggestions on essay questions (or paying someone to write some) – basically pre-organized material so I don’t jump in too deep)

No. I think I mb knew that it existed once but I’d forgotten about it.

I’m tempted to just go there and abandon this project (at first glance it sounds like what I’m looking for), but I think I’d rather add that to the brainstorm list and finish the project. That way I can follow through and finish this.

If I did this, wouldn’t I be betting on @Elliot’s mind instead of using my own? How do I know that it’s the best option? If I just default to, and throw away the project – well that sort of defaulting to another’s mind is directly criticized in AS.

The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask: Whose reason? The answer is: Yours. No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it.

On the other hand, if I look at and think it’s a good place to start – then I have an uncriticized option. That’s all I need to proceed with my plan, and I think is a safe bet because Elliot wrote it. Will it benefit me to write a whole bunch of options down, many of which I know won’t be next steps anyway (but might be later on?)

Hmm, I think I’m jumping the gun and over thinking it. I should check the site out and proceed with my existing plan. Besides, “” isn’t a next step in and of itself – I need to add more to that like “read through LO and make notes, posting to a CF thread as I go” or something.

brainstorming options and crits

tree -- tab-indented
AS Next Steps - Brainstorming
	Find Existing Organized Material (made for this purpose)
			read through LO and make notes?
				or just read through LO at all
		ARI material?
			crit: ARI doesn't seem v good sometimes, would I trust their material?
		Google it / more research
	Write a post about something in particular (e.g. foundations of morality)
		crit: overreaching? rushing into what i want to do instead of focusing on a more structured oragnized way
		crit: chance of success low. will likely need to take a step back.
			Can come back to this later / soon.
	Read through AS again and make notes
		crit: need a break before doing lots of reading again
			crit: don't have to read a lot at once. e.g. just do one chapter
		crit: not really a "next step", more like a "next project"; needs to be broken down.
	Ask for suggestions
		crit: sorta already got one from Elliot already (LO)
	Post about AS more generally -- stuff I liked, etc
		crit: seems a bit directionless. it might be good to do, but does it really serve the broader goal? not really. Would need to do other stuff anyway.
AS Goals
	Discuss foundations of morality / write a post about how it's built up from axioms

specific goals

I really only have one atm – it’s what I would have posted about if I hadn’t posted this thread:

  • Discuss foundations of morality / write a post about how it’s built up from axioms

Some more options for next steps that I left out:

  • write a post about things I learned and things I changed my mind about
    • crit: since I didn’t keep a list of this, it’d be lossy
      • mb just post about specific things I changed my mind about
  • find writing prompts (like essay questions) or solicit them
    • this would start to meet a background goal of writing about AS topics
    • crit: involves doing more steps now (finding writing prompts) but I already have things to do directly (like read LO)

Another option:

  • type up my notes I made while reading
    • crit: does not feel like there’s much value in that. the notes are patchy, and pretty basic. Hundreds of words all up, and mostly stuff like “Ragnar: only loots looters?” – things I noted down along the way but there’s not really much analysis.

I can combine a version of this with reading LO: basically to read through and write notes or little essays as I go. Since LO exists and is already an organized source, it seems low-risk to read through it somewhat casually. If I get to the end of that and feel like it wasn’t as helpful as just writing about the stuff I first wanted to, then I can discuss that and try a post on something more specific (mb while also re-reading sections of AS). This gets me unstuck, at least.

Also, there was another option for a next step that I’d already tried a bit and rejected: I searched YT earlier today for “atlas shrugged” and clicked through a few videos. I didn’t think they were very good, though.

Okay, I think I have my next steps:

  • Read LO – discuss anything I disagree w/ or don’t understand
    • Optionally write some summaries of topics/themes, or thoughts about a situation as I go through LO
    • If LO makes complete sense and I think I already understand everything, then post about that – mb I’m making a mistake
  • Afterwards I can ask for other suggestions, or if I’ve found other material along the way I could read that.
    • Mb a bigger project thread

I think I’m going to leave this thread open until I’ve read LO and have a better idea of how these first steps have gone (or are going). Completing the project now feels premature b/c I can’t evaluate whether these next steps worked.

Partial evaluation of steps:

  • LO has questions throughout – i’ve started taking notes or writing little responses. I don’t think I’ll answer all the Qs but will answer some that seem more important, and maybe come back to others later.
sample of notes

There’s, apparently, something bad about asking who John Galt is, which bothers people. But why would asking about a person’s name be bothersome?

it’s the meaning behind the q of the name that bothers ppl. early on (while the Comet is stopped mb) it’s explained by an engineer/crew as something like ‘why ask questions that no one can answer?’

it bothers Eddie (like Dagney and some other heroic characters) b/c they refuse to think that there’s no hope / that they can’t do something. they believe in themselves too much and “who is john galt?” questions/challenges their confidence. (eventually we find out exactly how this question relates to their broader struggle: trying survive the looters, but their surviving is also how the looters survive. this is v similar to the way that Rearden’s is blackmailed – it only works b/c he is giving Lillian the weapon)

What kind of beggar isn’t interested in whether he gets money? That’s something we’ll learn a lot about in this book (if we pay enough attention and give the ideas enough thought).

  • Much later, James Taggart gives $100 to a beggar who doesn’t care either.
  • the Q “what’s the use?” (or similar) is repeated throughout the book, which has a similar meaning to “who is john galt?”. it’s questioning the futility of something, e.g., why should the beggar care b/c the dime Eddit gave him won’t change anything.
  • that ppl don’t really want/care to live is brought up a few times in the book – the beggar doesn’t really care if he lives or not.

The bum is weary and resigned, but is (or was) intelligent. In what kind of world does an intelligent person end up as a beggar? And how does that world compare to our own world?

Note: I don’t think I’m going to answer every Q – or mb I’ll come back to the ones I skip later.

I haven’t read LO yet but I plan to. A big downside I could imagine to using that as your primary resource would be that it’s a deep dive on the first three chapters of AS, which is like 5% of the book, and so even if you understood those chapters perfectly well, I imagine that there would be a lot more about Objectivism to learn. However, if your idea is that first you’d use LO to develop your skill of closely reading things, and then you’d follow that up by doing a close reading of the rest of AS on your own, that sounds reasonable to me.

Here are some suggestions for other ways you could proceed w/ learning more about the ideas in AS that haven’t yet been mentioned in this thread:

  • I don’t know if you’ve read The Fountainhead yet, but that definitely helps to understand AS.

  • Ayn Rand’s nonfiction is excellent, and definitely clarifies the ideas in AS. ET’s recommendations for AR essays on the FI books list seem to me like a reasonable place to start.

  • I also like OPAR and Understanding Objectivism, which are a bit more systematic than Rand’s nonfiction, though they are harder to read. They are also just not as good (in some way that I’m not sure how to articulate).

  • There are a ton of different Objectivism-related shows/podcasts that you can find at Ayn Rand Centre UK’s YouTube channel. Most are pretty light-hearted and easy to absorb, so you can listen to them while relaxing. Also check out this and this and this. There’s even more Objectivism-related media, but I don’t want to spam you with links. Most of this stuff is not a substitute for focused learning, but it’s good for getting better acquainted with the ideas.

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How is this a downside?

The first 3 chapters are not inconsistent with the other 27; and eventually, should I not seek to understand them all? If I’m not cutting off ways to learn the other 27 chapters, then is there really any risk?

I read it three years ago I think – around the holiday period of 2018.

I agree – I’ve read Philosophy: Who Needs It and some of the Virtue of Selfishness, and some miscellaneous stuff. Here’s an example of a post from when I was reading PWNI:

I’ll check out some of those links, but FYI I’m not so fond of ARI – the little I’ve experienced hasn’t been great (example:

(Note: this bit isn’t addressed to @lmf – it’s more a general commentary)

Watching the video in the linked post just now – it feels like a facade and betrayal of AR.

Example: How to Fill Your Life with Meaning (Dave Rubin Interview with Yaron Brook and Gena Gorlin) - YouTube

(quote via YT transcript)

it it also lets you connect with people in another way because if you if you surround yourself with great art and then someone walks into your home and acknowledges it absolutely you actually feel a connection with them

How is that not secondhandedness? It’s not someone’s appreciation of your choice of art that should ever matter – it’s someone else’s unguarded appreciation of some art, and expression of those aspects to you, that should matter; if they do that and you’ve happened to have chosen it for the same reasons, then there might be a connection.

Same, but they are not a monolith. Even the bad ones like HB are really good about some things. Also, even when ARI people are wrong or bad, they usually aren’t that bad—especially compared to some of the other things someone might be watching in their free time (like Dave Rubin).

I didn’t watch the video so maybe I’m misunderstanding something about the context, but from the quote alone it’s not obvious to me that this is second handedness. Like, what you think of as great art is a reflection of your values, and so if someone walks into your home and also thinks your art is great then you should feel a connection with them: They share your values.

A key part of my judgement is when I say “as your primary resource.” I’m not saying don’t read it or that it’s bad or anything like that. I just mean that like, if e.g. I wanted to understand what AR means when she says logic is the art of noncontradictory identification, it’s definitely in a place like OPAR or ITOE but I’m somewhat skeptical that it can really be found in a detailed reading of the first 50 pages of AS.

I just watched the 80 second clip from Gena that you blog about here, and I agree with her. I don’t think that what she said contradicts Rand in either of the two ways you describe. I don’t actually want to discuss this (not right now at least), but I thought I’d state my belief just so you know.

When you think HB or another ARI-aligned intellectual creates “really good” material, that is an opportunity. You could share it so others could enjoy it. If you shared your opinion along with the link, it would let other people agree or disagree with your opinion, and potentially share criticism.

Also, saying at least something bad is better than [bad thing people might spend their time on instead] is a problematic attitude.

I don’t agree, because I have in mind a context where the only alternatives are bad or worse. Less bad stuff is better than more bad stuff.

I have in mind a context of like, you’re relaxing and eating dinner or something, and you want to watch some quasi-intellectual entertainment.

There are many alternatives that are better and also popular. There are so many options that it’s hard to know where to begin or what’s going on with your perspective. Many books, in many genres, are better than Dave Rubin, and are not bad, while also being light/easy to listen to. Three more examples, from YouTube, are Veritasium, history explainer videos, or speedrun explanations. There’s no need for politics or bad philosophy.

Also, @Elliot has a couple hundred hours of video and audio content, which you could watch in a relaxed way rather than not watching it at all or saving it for indefinitely later. Or you could reread Rand’s novels and pay half attention or however much attention you have available. Light/easy/lossy passes on good material tend to be better than thorough passes on bad material.

I basically disagree with this if you mean alternatives to the mediocre Objectivism content. I think there are a lot of things of similar quality and not a lot of things that are better (consequently, I do think there’s a lot of stuff that’s better than Dave Rubin). I think maybe we have different perceptions of the number of errors being made by the media in question (or maybe we have in mind different material; I linked a lot of stuff to Max and it is of variable quality).

Personally, I tend to find that light passes on good material are more boring than thorough passes on bad material, but maybe I’m weird like that.