Monday, July 23, 2012
"Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged": a timely documentary as "the movie in three parts" comes out
Imagine a documentary movie that starts with quoting a fictitious moral speech. “You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence for unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need.” This, of course, comes from John Galt’s speech near the climax of “Atlas Shrugged.”
The film “Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged” (2011, directed by Chris Mortensen, Mad Universe Pictures) begins with this arresting quote.
After going through Ayn Rand’s early life in Russia and her first novels and getting to “The Fountainhead”, it quotes her hero (Howard Roark) as saying, something like “I must love the doing and love my work first, not the people” (before I can actually help people).
By then, the film has shown images of America from the 1920s through the post War 50s, and makes the case that the problem is invisible, a “philosophy” (which turns into "prophecy"). America, at one time a fount of freedom, had been overrun by social consciousness.
The film then explains Rand’s concept that all the “doers” of the world go on strike.
The film further reviews Rand’s background, indeed how she had protected her parents’ family in Russia, but then goes beyond the idea that Communism is thuggery to attributing to victims the moral responsibility for their losses at the hands of others. Altruism, as commonly understood, becomes a moral evil in Rand’s world. The idea that “others are more important than me” leads to decay. But opposition to “self-sacrifice” is not the same thing as endorsing “piggishness” or short-term greedy behavior. As in a chess game, it’s sometimes not a good idea to grab pawns in the opening.
Eventually, the film develops the idea of personal autonomy or individual sovereignty. Do you own your own life? It certainly must no belong to “the state”. But does it somehow belong to “the community” in a personal sense for sustainability reasons. I start to wonder.
The film then covers the overwhelmingly negative reviews of “Atlas Shrugged” after publication. Random House had wanted John Galt’s speech removed. The most destructive review was from Whitaker Chambers. Yet the book became a commercial success, at one time rising to 4th Place on the NYTimes best seller list.
The film covers the Financial Crisis of 2008 as an example of how of some of Rand’s predictions came true. It describes 2008 as an example of the failure of “crony capitalism”. It then explains the term “objectivism”. One side idea is that regular people should take place in politics occasionally and then go back to being productive. Should writers and artists be expected to run for office?
In my own experience, a commitment to “individualism” is challenged by coercive pressure from others to actually be willing to support some of their goals personally, even at sacrifice of my own, if the “need is great enough. This includes openness to personal relationships that might have been rejected or ignored, if they are within some moral “goldolocks zone” of me. Why? Because I am ultimately dependent on “sacrifices” from others that I cannot see. Will the individualism of Rand enable people to work together in a way to give the whole planet sustainability? Can private interests protect the power grid from existential threats, or prevent climate change from destroying many areas of the world? Well, some of these problems might need individuals to invent things, just as Alan Turing did during WWII.
You can’t be your brother’s keeper when you no longer have anything to give. As in Greece right now, the “looting runs dry.”
There is still a division, my mind, between “altruism” (defined as participation in social capital or “eusociality”) as a moral necessity for sustainability, and the idea that government can enforce it (without becoming corrupt or “cronyized”). And there is a connection, however nuanced, between “altruism” and the way people seek and maintain relationships (influenced by the desire to procreate, or lack of such desire).
The end: “You believe in life. You want to fight for it, to die for it. I only want to live it.”
I reviewed “Atlas Shrugged: Par I” on April 15, 2011 on this blog. Part II should appear in Fall 2012. I’m rather surprised it isn’t a cable miniseries instead. The documentary discusses the films near the end, as long as earlier attempts to develop a film partly because of problems with Rand’s approving a script.
I 1998, I saw an earlier similar documentary “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life”, directed by Michael Paxton, during a visit to Dallas. That film had been distributed by Strand Releasing and Fox Lorber.
The film can be rented on YouTube legally for $3.99.
The official site is here.
(An alternate title is "Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged".)