I completed Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. After 1000 pages and sitting through the philosophical discourses by John Galt ( what a fabulous speech in the end), Atkinson - the philospher, Fransisco the Copper Barron, a pirate, a car manufacturer, a music composer - I am still in one piece and I still love humanity - more later.
First Who is John Galt? This phrase gets asked by everyone in the book. John Galt is the intellectual who decides to stop the motor of the world - by withdrawing the forces that drive it - and he is successfull in doing so.
The whole story is about intellectuals going on strike. The intellectuals - producers,scientists,thinkers - are the one who are bearing the weight of this earth - like Atlas holding the earth. But they are not rewarded for what they deserve - the industrialists are accused of exploiting others for their wealth, the scientists are not rewarded for their inventions but ridiculed and stifled, the music composer is not appreciated "with the mind" but "with the heart".
Now these intellectuals decide to stop lifting the weight of the earth - they are like the Atlas and they take a shrug -they disappear or retire - and this exposes the lower lazy useless minds ( the looters - politicians, conning philanthropologists, lame writers, hollow philosophers..) to the world without intellectuals and how chaos and anarchy descends on the country.
The second half of the book is where all the action is. The build up to it is slow but methodical. In the middle all the retired intellectuals - each one of them - industrialist,musician,philosopher,judge - explains why he quit. I am in awe of Ayn Rand - how could she write with so much depth and detail - in every different profession?
And then there is the John Galt speech where he speaks to the country for 3 hours ( and it took a week to complete this stretch ). He talks about morality, rationality,integrity,independence,honesty,justice,productiveness,pride,happiness,love,relationships - almost the whole gamut of philosophical threads - from the view of one man, an individual. He goes on to talk about existence and consciousness. I still have not digested it well - needs a second reading and I guess I will keep going back to it.
Wondering what the book is all about? Some of the reviews I read said that it is anti socialistic - do not do any favours - it is a sin. But that is not what Ayn Rand says. Instead what she says is - do not do any favour when you do not get any value out of it - does feel like selfish but there is a deeper meaning in it. Lets say you are helping another "able" person as a goodwill expecting nothing in return. Now you are not helping him - but instead sinking that person more into the hell hole he is already in. You are not giving an opportunity for that person to climb out of the hell hole he is.
In context of the world, the developed countries give "alms" to the African countries - billions of dollars each year. But instead - had they paid the billions for the goods the African countries could have produced ( and yes they can very well ) - the need for alms would have stopped after a few years and the African countries could have developed really well and can stand on their own feet. Heck - over a period of time they can over take the so called "developed" countries.
Now you might wonder - what about a disabled person? Apply the same logic - you expect a value out of the disabled person - can he paint, can he make some handicraft? - I will pay him for it - I get something back, he earns his self respect - he does not feel miserable about the bad luck he has had.
Then the other lesson I learnt is - you have every right to earn the right value for the talent you possess. It was the same lesson I got when I read Fountainhead. You earn less than what you deserve - it is a sin - because you are doing an unreturned favour to whom you are doing the work. So, let the current economic crisis blow over - and ask for your hike :)
Finally - you need not feel bad about enjoying the fruits of your labour - do not feel bad that half the country is below poverty. You have studied hard, worked hard, used your intellect. Go ahead - buy that iPod you have been drooling for a long time.
And you should help the less privileged - but let them earn it - let them give back some value to you - so their confidence improves and they gain self respect.
And following is the mantra all of the followers of John Galt will have to realize when they retire and have to join John Galt's team.
"I swear-by my life and my love of it - that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."