Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Myth of John Galt

“We never think entirely alone: we think in company, in a vast collaboration; we work with the workers of the past and of the present. [Across] the whole intellectual world, each one finds in those about him the initiation, help, verification, [and] encouragement that he needs”

Antoine Sertillanges, La vie intellectuelle, 1920

No one knows who it was that first discovered iron, but legend has it that a man named Magnes who lived in an area of Greece called Magnesia was the first to notice the phenomena of magnetism. His dog was probably named ‘Maggie’.

Less legendary are the writings of Lucretius and Pliny the Elder[i]. Later, it was Hans Oersted who showed that magnetism was related to electricity, and it was left to Maxwell to codify the phenomena and establish the basis for the electromagnetic theory.

From there, it was a whole cast of actors, over many years, each making their own contribution, that lead to the innovation of the electric motor[ii]. John Galt, hero of Ayn Rand’s second-rate work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged, ‘took’ these ideas and incorporated them into his imaginary ‘static motor’.

The same dynamic occurred with respect to machine bearings, without which any motor would be worthless.

Henry Timken is credited with the invention of the roller bearing, and was awarded patent number 606635 by the United States patent office[iii]. But roller bearings were actually invented thousands of years before Timken was even a twinkle in his mother’s eyes.

The first use of roller bearings was by the ancient Egyptians, to build the pyramids. And even they couldn’t have made use of the idea without the invention of trees, and there’s no consensus on who invented them.

One can now extrapolate this theme of continuity to the invention of Reardenite.

The point of all this is that no one stands alone in space and time, no solitary figure changes the course of history. And, when there is a need, someone will step in to fill that need.

Rand, who claims to espouse values that can only be derived through logic and observation, fails to notice the continuity of the innovative dynamic: one person improves upon another’s work; one person sees the possibilities that others overlook, or one person combines the work of several others and ends up with an entirely new product.

In each case, as it is in reality, one adds to what’s already there, made possible only because that previous person did the same thing. Collectively (that word!) this is called history, which is a function of reality, unlike Galt, which is not.

None of this would matter if not for the many acolytes of this 3rd rate fantasy. Too many of our current policy makers and influencer's read the silliness that is Atlas Shrugged (usually while at a young age, more susceptible flights of fancy) and decided that she’s right. And worse. Among many of Ayn’s acolytes are those who cherry-pick aspects of her worldview, discarding the very threads of logic that would otherwise make it whole. 

In the same way that the flu spreads from one person to another, so has Rand’s self-defeating philosophy spread, and the result is that today we have many people in our society who fancy themselves as clones of Galt, who espouse her philosophy.

Paul Ryan fits this bill. This man is in a position to affect every person in the country, yet demonstrates no abilities that would legitimately place him there. Sure, he’s graduated college, but he parasitically used his father’s Social Security benefits to so. And, true, he has managed to get himself elected to congress. So did Gopher, from The Love Boat. So, no bragging allowed.

The personal independence that the philosophy embraces would not be possible without the sacrifices and hard work of those who came before, in many cases the sacrifice of others was a product of altruism, a despised activity in her constructed universe.

Never mind that many of these same people have never accomplished anything on their own, at the time the book was read by them, and therefore had no real-life experience to compare the fiction to. For someone such as Ayn Rand, who repudiates the philosophy she’s invented through the sheer implausibility of the notion of the ‘independent man’, to inspire others to a pretended state of independence, the irony of it all is invisible and therefore unreal.

Just like John Galt.

[ii] For a very well defined and interesting timeline of the electric motor, see and