Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Atlas Hugged: An Objectivist Recovery Manual"

This darkly light-hearted and over-the-top romp would be an indictment of Randian Objectivism, an exploration of the catastrophic results were it taken at face value and adopted universally - couched as fiction, of course. Moreover, it would advocate more inclusive, tolerant, reasonable, community-centric Humanist values as the only cure for what ails us, and as the best means to assure a productive, peaceful, and prosperous existence for every individual, our species, and whatever planets we inhabit.

The cover would show Atlas holding up the Earth, not on his back but on his shoulders, like a parent lifting a child so it can watch a parade. The Earth is heart-shaped, with cartoonish eyes and mouth. Atlas is looking up at it, beaming, as Earth looks down with a wink and a smile.

Like Rand's "magnum poopus" (coined?), Atlas Hugged would be structured in three parts, spoofing her incorporation of Aristotelian laws of logic in the section titles. (Ironically, Aristotle's rules, commendable as they were for two millennia, have been reassessed as severely limited, far from bullet-proof, and inadequate to most real-world applications - as Objectivism has been.) The novel's sections would be:

  • "Contradiction", in which the dystopian (and cacotopian) Objectivist America is put on display. The United States has descended into an authoritarian plutarchy, where a vanishingly small percentage of Objectivists - primarily Capitalists or those working with them - have attained personal fulfillment and now direct and restrict opportunities for anyone whose ideals and goals don't align perfectly with their own, including dissenting Objectivists with less property and influence. The lack of social services, criminal code, and market regulation result in considerable poverty, malnutrition, disease, theft, violence, and an increasingly under-educated work force. Culture and sophistication decline as resources are diverted into the hands of the corporate giants and emphasis placed on continued growth of business and production, thereby producing fewer thinkers, teachers, artists, and craftspeople; those it does produce who don't share the visions of the powerful elite are unable to find a voice or job. Brutal and bloody corporate competition are eroding the national infrastructure and economy, causing even more suffering;
  • "Why Not Both?", wherein the disenfranchised and trodden go on strike, refusing to support corporate interests above their own, and every citizen claims him- or herself an Objectivist. Basic services halt and production ceases as individuals abandon traditional responsibilities in favor of personal pursuits, most of which are impractical and unsustainable because no viable markets for their ideas materialize from the chaos. Food and energy supplies dwindle. Infrastructure and personal property are seized and cannibalized for impractical or purely personal purposes, like building a dream home or sculpture. Large-scale projects go unrealized as necessary laborers follow their own agendas. Competition arises for diminishing resources. Murder, rape, and domestic violence skyrocket. Children are cast out by parents who find caring for them an inconvenience. Starvation and fear force mass migrations and emigrations. States and then individual communities secede only to find their situation worsened. Finally, unspecified aggressive foreign interests begin to annex regions no longer able to protect or care for themselves;
  • "A Likes B In 'That' Way", in which allies of the former democratic U.S. rescue us from our Objectivist folly, and from the foreign "bad guys" who hoped to exploit our weakness. An interim government is established to transition us to a revised form of our former institution, one modeled after the blended Capitalist/Socialist systems seen in much of Europe. Basic needs, including food, health care, and education, are ensured for all, regardless of socioeconomic class or ability to contribute to the system. The definition and control of "utilities" is expanded to include all goods and services considered essential to a modern-day working community or nation, and are formally socialized - power, communications, mass transit, Internet, etc. Popular Democracy is reestablished under a reformed political process that controls and limits campaign funding, eliminates "pork" from legislative action, and sets term limits for all elected offices. A straight-forward and shelter-free tax code is created and rigorously enforced, designed to ensure that individual and corporate tax burdens are directly proportional to their material gains from the system. Reasonable regulations are drawn and enforced on civic, corporate, and industrial endeavors to minimize corruption, crime, waste, and hazards to personal and ecologic safety. Corporations and businesses are not considered people, and receive no civil rights as entities. Criminal code is federalized, the death penalty eliminated, and rehabilitation emphasized. Equal rights for all citizens are mandated. Tolerance and acceptance are fostered along with individual self-respect and community interest, as is respect for disagreement and dissent that don't undermine community welfare and security, nor infringe on others' individual rights. Incentives and material protections are offered for individuals and businesses contributing positively to the welfare and condition of their communitoes and to the nation as a whole, whether that help is in the form of charitable work, innovation that improves the standard of living for everyone, or in cultural enterprise. (And the list goes on, because there are reforms needed across every aspect of our current set of systems.) And when we're back on our feet our allies withdraw, welcoming us into an international partnership that finds its highest calling in the pooling of resources for mutual gain, in finding reasonable, respectful solutions to conflict and differences, and to the lifting of every person and every community to the highest possible levels of self-esteem, mutual respect, happiness, and prosperity.

Because, in the words of Brazil's Harry Tuttle, "Listen, kid, we're all in it together." The best chance we have as individuals and as a species is not in taking what we want from others to suit ourselves, but in reaping the rewards of what a whole community brings to the table. Become invested in your fellow humans, encourage others to do the same. You don't need religion to appreciate the value in that; it's not only logical, it's instinctive, as we are social, loving, empathetic creatures as much as we are selfish. (In fact, just eschew religion, as it's responsible for more divisiveness, hatred, intolerance, small-mindedness, and violence than any other human endeavor.) If you're going to proselytize an ideology, choose one that doesn't leave you alone, cold, and hungry in the winter when your house burns down, and no one invites you in or offers a crust of bread because your Objectivist neighbors recognize that it's "your problem" - or because your non-Objectivist neighbors see you accurately for the elitist, indulgent, short-sighted, intellectually dishonest, hypocritical asshole Rand would so like you to become.

As an alternative cautionary tale, Atlas Victorious: friendly aliens comes to Earth and help us implement the model Objectivist system globally in but a single year. And with the inevitable catastrophic results that virtually eliminate human civilization. See, the aliens aren't really Objectivists themselves, but do this to subjugate other species and prevent future threats to their own interstellar dominion.

I had crafted a much longer, saltier rant on Objectivism (a "Randt" [coined!], if you will...). But the "idiology" has already been discredited so thoroughly by philosophers, sociologists, historians, politicians, and even economists, that there's nothing I can say that hasn't been said elsewhere more profoundly, succinctly, and with significant expertise and citation. The fact that Objectivism is so often adopted by Whackadoodle Libertarians and fiscal conservatives is far and away a more telling indictment than anything I can produce. Objectivism is shit, Objectivists are shitty, and the worst thing I can wish on them is that they get what they themselves wish for - because in the every-man-for-himself Objectivist Shangri-La (where women are submissive and don't warrant or receive the benefits of Objectivism unless they enjoy being raped), those who don't starve will get eaten alive.

Besides, the best exploration of the naiveté and pointlessness of Objectivism may very well be Dr. Seuss's unintentionally germane, The Zax. Of course, this story isn't really about Objectivism - had it been, they would have murdered each other.

Monday, June 1, 2015

"... t ... i ... r ... e ... d ..."
~ A Nebulous Graphic Novel Concept ~

I have only the image of the front cover in my brain...

We see a casually dressed man and woman sitting on a couch. The man is on the left of the frame, legs straight out and leaning back heavily. His right arm is draped over the sofa's arm, and his head leans all the way back, his scruffy face pointing upward but mostly covered by his other arm. The woman is about halfway between the man and the sofa's other arm. She's pitched forward, knees together but feet apart and pointing slightly inward. Her left elbow is on her left knee, and her head hangs down far enough that her left hand rests on the back of it. Her right arm rests on her right knee, but hangs forward and down as if dead weight. The image is dark, heavily shadowed, perhaps black and white, or maybe just very muted colors, almost sepia tones.

The imagined story background is a familiar one: a supernatural (or perhaps alien/virtual) world on the edge of our own. But it is only perceptible when on the cusp of sleep or thoroughly exhausted, and the closer to that cusp the more we can interact with that world, and it us. Our protagonists have learned of (or discovered?) drugs that keep them in that state for prolonged periods, but of course this also limits their capabilities. Perhaps they have even become obsessed with this new world, and addicts to both the euphoria of sleepiness and to the drug that holds them there.

We never see the protagonists' full faces, not in one frame, and we never see their noses or full profiles so there's no way to put the separate images together to know exactly what they look like. The lighting is often very noir, with the eyes or mouth lit while the rest of the face remains in shadow or silhouette.

What have they found? How many others know of it? What are the dangers? What of that other side - what can they do, and what do they want? How much is real, and how much hallucination?

I don't have the answers. But now it's your problem - let me know when it hits shelves and I'll pre-order a copy!