Thursday, December 11, 2008

To Atlas: Shrug

Is anyone else who regularly reads this blog troubled by the flippant use of the term “bailout” by our government and media? Perhaps your hackles are raised because of the proposal itself, and the language is of no concern. But politicians and auto-executives carefully chose “bailout” to describe what is being asked of the taxpayer. I don’t mean to pick nits here, but let’s examine this word and see whether it’s applicable.

According to the good people at, bailout has the following meanings:
– noun
1. the act of parachuting from an aircraft, esp. to escape a crash, fire, etc.
2. an instance of coming to the rescue, esp. financially
3. an alternative, additional choice, or the like, such as, “If the highway is jammed, you have two side roads as bailouts.”
– adjective
4. of, pertaining to, or consisting of means for relieving an emergency situation.

What strikes me is that the above-listed definitions imply an act of finality. The guy who escapes a plane crash ends up safely on the ground, for instance. “Bailout” is synonymous here with “rescue” or “save.” To a Calvinist, and even week-kneed Arminobaptists, to be saved is to be saved permanently, without need for continual saving. Is that what Congress is asking of the people? Hardly.

Instead of a bailout, what is truly being asked of the American people, strike that, taxpayer is to issue a binding guarantee to the wee three automakers. The 15 billion dollars figure currently being tossed about by Congress is a mere down payment, less than half of what the automakers are even asking for. And let’s be candid, people requesting “bailouts” never ask for what they actually need up front, rather they ask for a less taxing number.

As I understand it, what our esteemed representatives are wanting to do is essentially a three-part plan:

1. Give the automakers 15 billion dollars;

2. Appoint a Car Czar to oversee how that money is spent; and

3. Recommend to Congress what to do after that money is flushed down the toilet.

In essence, then, we have an institution, Congress, that has put its constituents in debt to the tune of trillions of dollars, wanting to appoint a “czar” over three companies that are only billions of dollars in debt, with the charge of getting them out of debt. And they’re serious about this.

I don’t mean to seem curmudgeonly, but “car czar”? Really? Currently, we have a drug czar to oversee the war on drugs, a war czar to oversee the Middle East wars, a cybersecurity czar (nobody’s sure what he does), and even a terrorism czar. Technically, the last czar that ever lived was gunned down by the Bolsheviks, who in turn installed Communism for decades in Eastern Europe. Besides, “czar” seems like too regal a name for a fella in charge of bureaucratic pettifoggery.

Our politicians smother us in encomiums biannually only to heap opprobrious resolutions on us while in D.C. One need not be a sycophantic follower of Rand to repine that if only one piece of advice could be dispensed to Atlas right now, it would be to shrug.


Hal Brunson said... missed one definition: something an accomplice, dupe, or sleezy lawyer (no offense) does to get a bum out of the slammer; that's what "bailout" really means here.

Ayn Rand's play on words is not that Atlas shrugs, but rather that
Atlas is shrugged - "Atlas Shrugged" - by his society, and that is exactly what is happening here as the non-Atlian and cowardly weaklings in the governemnt are shrugging off Atlas, the free-market system.

Shane said...

Ouch, I resemble that remark.

By the way, I wasn't referring to the title of the book, but the dialogue within the tome. It's been a while since I've read it, but somewhere in the middle there's a conversation where one of the characters says, essentially, "If there's one thing I would tell Atlas to do right now, it would be shrug." I'd have to go back and look, but I took the comment to mean unload the burden. As if to say, if Atlas were to shrug, the world would fall. Given that, I took the title to mean that the book is about when Atlas is so fed up that he shrugs, which he did, not that Atlas is shrugging.

By the way, "shrug" is an awesome word; you can say shrugging with a frown.

I'm sure volumes have been written on this, and I could be way off. I just wanted to say that the allusion was to dialogue, not to the title.

Hal Brunson said...

I think the overall point of Rand's philosophy is that Atlas doesn't shrug. We need MP to weigh in here and straighten us out.

J. Matthew Brunson said...


after your last post, I think I will be frequenting the aforementioned - you have a great vocabulary, so much so that I don't know what the heck you're saying some of the time. To respond to your post, I have this recurrent horrifying image of Nancy Pelosi licking her chops at the government's increasing hand in so many aspects of America's commercial life. I'm so happy as a young physician that after my 4 years of undergrad, four years of medical school, 3 years of residency, and three to four years of future fellowship training, I may some day get to be a government employee!! (I hope you're picking up the sarcasm, because I'm laying it on pretty thick). Hooray for socialism.

Shane said...


Medicare: 100% payment of 10% of your bill. The future of medicine.

The Militant Pacifist said...

Here’s a brief quote from Ms. Rand’s magnum opus that may clarify.

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater the effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders—what would you tell him to do?"

"I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?"

"To shrug."

Shane said...


Vini vidi vici

Hal Brunson said...


Not necessarrily; one quote lifted out of context without any reference to (1) who said it, (2) to whom, and (3) why proves nothing; moreover, in the broader mythological context of the Atlas myth (he has never shrugged) and Ms. Rand's own philosophy (Atlas does not shrug and has not shrugged), it seems to me that, while your essay has a point, it is an aphoristic one, not an expositional one.

I'm worried about you and MP; you're treating Ms. Rand like Pelagius and Arminius treated Paul. Should I withdraw your blogging privileges, or perhaps change the name of this blog to Wesley's Pipe?

Shane said...

Sleezy lawyer was bad enough, but Wesleyan! Egad!

Shane said...

Is anybody on this site familiar enough with Objectivism and "Atlas Shrugged" to answer the following question:

Does Rand argue that at some point overtaxation and regulation will cause Atlas to Shrug, refusing to be gouged any longer?

And if the answer is no, can someone answer this question:

How do I get back all the time I wasted reading Ayn Rand when apparently I completely missed the point?

Seriously though, Hal have you read all of Atlas Shrugged? I admit I haven't, though I've read a good chunk of it. Exams got in my way, and I just never picked it back up. And if you have, are you completely confident that I mistook the point?

MP, chime in here bro. This is your bailiwick.

Hal Brunson said...


I began Atlas Shrugged and could not persevere; Rand is not to my taste; a typical 20th-century philospher, she lacks imagination and that sterilizes her writing; nonetheless, I think she is an intellectual par excellence, and her philosophy, despite the atheism, should appeal to any MAN worth his salt. MP put a wonderful book in my hand, For the New Intellectual, that excerpts critical sections from Rand's philosophical writings and novels so that the reader gets a succinct but firm grasp of Rand's ideas; that work is worth the read for the introduction alone, where Rand gives the most brilliantly succinct and insightful narrative of philosophical history I have ever read.

The Militant Pacifist said...

Ayn Rand would argue that only men like John Galt (Atlas types) ever shrug. These men are heroes.

Others, "moochers" and "looters" (looking to be looked after), never have the “intestinal fortitude” (ahem!) to shrug.

I doubt that any time you spent with Rand was wasted - certainly not when compared with a lot of the rubbish you had to wade through in law school.

Atlas Shrugged is a masterpiece - and anyone who gets through it will be changed. The Fountainhead is great as well, though much more perverse. Anthem (a very short read) also echoes several worthy "Randian" themes.

Many of her non-fiction works are interesting and thought provoking as well. Check out, "Philosophy: Who Needs It," "The Virtue of Selfishness," and "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal," if you have "Randian" interest.

Ultimately, Ayn Rand (though a great thinker) was a fool (she was an atheist). [Psalm 53:1]

Shane said...


Revini revidi revici!

I'll be making no comments tomorrow as I have a client-development lunch in Dallas.

Hal Brunson said...

The more I think about Shane's post, and after spending now several hours revisiting Rand, I think one or all of these interpretations of the meaning of the title, and thus the novel, is possible:

1. Atlas Shrugged connotes the strike in the novel as a literary commentary on the "brain drain" effected by collectivist altruism;

2. Atlas Shrugged refers to John Galt's "shrugging off" the stupidity and unproductivity of weak men;

3. Atlas Shrugged is a double entendre: as a verb, "shrugged" refers to the strikers; as an adjective it refers to how the society "shrugged" those "Atlases";

4. Atlas Shrugged is verbal irony, in that the novel's hero, like Atlas, never shrugged, that is, never buckled beneath the world's weight. This seems the most valid interpretation, since the book's hero never "shrugs" his responsibility as he personifies Rand's philosophy of "bearing the weight of the world" unless, one might argue, that Galt's "in your face" attitude means that he "shrugged" at the world, vis a vis, "I don't care about you, only about me."

Ayn Rand addresses this very topic in her lecuture, "Is Atlas Shrugging," but she provides us no insight to the meaning of the book's title.

You can hear the lecture here:

The Militant Pacifist said...

Rand was ambivalent that her works should be read and appreciated by thinkers - she had little regard for non-readers/thinkers, and she disdained to summarize her work for non-readers/thinkers (I empathize / sympathize).

After 2 readings of Atlas Shrugged, I would definitely advocate #2 in HB’s comment above as her “meaning.”

Also (my opinion), Rand would not have been concerned with such things as “verbal irony,” but would have had been much more focused on the realm of ideas…(i.e., a (true) philosopher trying to maneuver in the realm of poetry.

The literati have deemed her a failure, but…

J. Matthew Brunson said...

So I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, but I did read For The New Intellectual. Back to the cultural application of Shane's post - I'm watching news today about the Senate's rejection of the auto company bailout. Democratic senator after democratic senator is being interviewed on CNN (a politically polarized media outlet - just watch it for 5 minutes - although it's not as bad as some). Democrats are demonizing the Republicans' blockade of the bailout - which Democrats are now referring to as a "Small Bridge-Loan" - does that mean I'm gonna get my tax dollars back in the mail once they get back on their feet? I'm not an economics expert, but why is filing for bankruptcy such a horrible alternative for these companies? My guess alludes to my previous statement that the Democratic party will (consciously or unconsciously depending on the integrity of the individual) make every attempt to utilize the current economic climate in order increase the reach of Government's hand. When they are unsuccessful, they will do as they are doing now and paint their republican colleagues as elitists with little concern for the "common man."

Hal Brunson said...


Of course you're right about the Demoncrats. I chuckled this morning at the stock market. Last night when the news broke that the Senate had blocked the bill, stock-market futures plummeted over three hundred points, anticipating that the market would dip significantly today. Senator Harry Reid opined, "I dread seeing what the stock market will do tomorrow." So far, the market has thumbed its nose at Mr. Reid and is about even on the day, completely disregarding the Senate block, and telling my that more than a few Atlases are out there on Wall Street who think that bankruptcy for GM, Ford, and Chrysler is exactly what they deserve and need; also, I suppose our readers know this; it really wasn't the Republicans who killed the deal but the labor union bosses who refused to compromise their exhorbitant pay scale and benifits for blue-collar workers; that's when the Republicans backed off. Did you know that, if an AAW member gets laid off he still receives full pay for one year? The reason Hondas and Toyotas are cheaper, even those made in the USA, is because their workers work for less; the reason they are superior cars is because greedy unions turn workers into careless sloths. We can expect even more of the same type of capitalist bashing out of an Obama administration; socialist mediocrity and legislative thievery will thrive.

The Militant Pacifist said...

For a minute there, I thought that HB had misspelled “democrat”.

It seems that the clownish foolishness of Harry, Barney and Nancy (Larry, Moe and Curley?) coupled with the rank wickedness and profaneness of Governor Scumbagovich should be enough to shake those who maintain unwarranted confidence in human government.

Clearly, demoncrat was not a typo, and P.T. Barnum has an aphorism for anyone with confidence in these clowns.

JMB, I predict that you will never get your money back.

“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” - Mark Twain, a Biography

The Militant Pacifist said...

Bankruptcy Is the Perfect Remedy for Detroit

The Militant Pacifist said...

'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

The Militant Pacifist said...

Why ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Matters

The Militant Pacifist said...

With 'Atlas Shrugged,' Hollywood may have its first anti-bailout movie