Atlas Shrugged Always Relevant. And now a Movie.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2011

 The Slippery Slope to Socialism

Never have so many waited for so long for this moment in time.  And now it’s almost upon us.  But can it be true?  For we’ve long been teased about this day.  Not days.  Not weeks.  Not months.  Not years.  Imagine Charlie Brown trying to kick that football for decades.  Yeah, it’s been like that.  But no more.  We’re finally going to kick that football.  For this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for (see ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part 1′ Review: A Timely Must-See by Jenny Erikson posted 3/4/2011 on Big Hollywood).

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is an excellent reminder of the dangers of socialism in our current age of entitlement. The parallels between the story and our current political and cultural state are uncanny and more than a little bit unsettling. As a witness to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, author Ayn Rand was well aware of the tragedies of statism, and her most famous work of literature depicts what happens when the wealth is spread around in the name of fairness.

The movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged remains faithful to Rand’s themes of capitalism and the evils of collectivism. One major change from the pages to the screen was the decision to change the setting from a future fictional country to America in 2016. It was a good decision, in this writer’s opinion, as it illustrates the slippery slope of socialism our nation is teetering on.

The book is about a thousand pages long.  But well worth the read.  In fact, you have plenty of time to read the book before the film hits theatres on 4/15/2011.  Tax day.  How appropriate.  Rand fans will be in the proper mood.  So do yourself a favor.  Read the book (if you haven’t already).  And then see the movie.

The liberal left hates Ayn Rand.  With a passion.  Because she attacks Big Government.  With a passion.  And for good reason.  Rand emigrated from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution.  So she knows a thing or two about Big Government.  And their BS.  She’s seen all the lies before.  She saw firsthand what’s down the Road to Serfdom.  We’re on that road, too.  Only not as far down it.  Yet.

But really now, are we really on a slippery slope to socialism?  I mean, is our government lying to us?  

The Secret of Passing Obamacare was Lying to CBO

Can we trust the government?  You tell me (see HHS Secretary Sebelius admits to double-counting in Obamacare budget by Amanda Carey posted 3/4/2011 on The Daily Caller).

During a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) admitted to double-counting in the Obamacare budget…

The Obama administration and HHS have been criticized previously for double-counting. In a report last summer, HHS claimed a provision in the health-care law would extend the Medicare trust fund by 12 years. The Congressional Budget Office released a memo that said HHS’s math was more than a little off.

“[…] They cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs … To describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government’s ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings,” said the CBO memo.

The cost of Obamacare was the lynchpin.  CBO had to score it under a trillion dollars.  And, surprise, surprise, they did.  Apparently you can get what you want from CBO if only you send them fraudulent data.

They said they have $500 billion that they’re putting aside for Medicare.  To extend its solvency.  Then, unbeknownst to CBO, Congress and the American people, they used that same money to pay for Obamacare.  Well, you can’t do that.  You can’t have $20 in your wallet and use it twice for different purchases.  Once you spend the $20 it’s gone.  Ditto for that $500 billion.

So the Obama administration lied to us.  Had they told us, Congress and CBO about the true cost of Obamacare it would not be law today.  Hmmm.  A ‘compassionate’ government that lies to pass the biggest expansion of federal power?  Well, I guess you could say that we’re on a slippery slope to socialism.  You sure can’t call it capitalism.  And that pretty much leaves socialism.

Just one of many reasons why everyone should see Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.  Of course, you may experience a Charlton Heston moment.  In the Planet of the Apes.  When he saw what was down that beach in the Forbidden Zone.  So watch Atlas Shrugged at your own risk.  For you may see your future.  And you may not like what you see.  Just like Heston.  Of course there is a difference.  You can still make a difference.  Unlike Heston.  We can still hope.  And vote.

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LESSONS LEARNED #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2010

GOD WAS HERE before the Marine Corps. So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to The Corps.

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In Roman Catholicism, this is the doctrine of the two swords.  The spiritual sword is the Church.  The temporal sword is the state.  Martin Luther had the doctrine of two kingdoms.  The religious and civil.  Going back to the source, Jesus Christ put it this way:

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s 

The original separation of church and state.  Of course, back then, this was all intended to limit the state’s interference into spiritual matters.  Today it’s reversed.  It’s the state that is trying to hold the spiritual sword at bay.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  This makes them complex.  The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason.  And guess what we did during the Age of Reason?  We thought.  Rationally.  There was a philosophical revolution going on in Europe.  Simply put, things weren’t what they were because the Church said so.  There were other explanations.  Other laws.  And the Church could be wrong.

So, if the Founding Fathers had lived in the 20th century, they would have probably been fans of the rock group Rush.  And Ayn Rand.  Who influenced Rush.  Thomas Jefferson probably would have an iPod filled with their songs, including Tom Sawyer:

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government

They questioned ALL authority.  And some may have been Deists.  But they were not atheists.  Even Jefferson.  He may not have believed in the Trinity or Christ’s divinity, but he still believed in God.  And he worshipped Jesus in his own way.  As the world’s greatest philosopher, with his Sermon on the Mount being the best philosophy man could ask for.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Now the other part.  The thing that makes them complex.  The gentlemen part.  What did this mean in the 18th century?  Here are some adjectives that describe a gentleman.  Honorable.  Virtuous.  Reputable.  A gentleman strived to achieve moral excellence and righteousness.  He was ethical.  His life was a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code.  And when he served in public office, it was with selfless disinterest.  He would go out of his way to NOT gain personally from his time in public office.  Some did it better than others.  But all tried.  And when they fell short, they at least put on an appearance of disinterest.  It was that important.  And expected.

In a word, restraint.  This is what a gentleman practiced.  George Washington exercised this restraint to such a degree that many found him cold and aloof.  Few saw him smile.  Few saw public displays of emotion.  What they did see was an exemplary life of virtue, honor and moral excellence.  And they would forever look at him with awe and reverence.  We do to this day.

These students of the Enlightenment, then, espoused Judeo-Christian ethics.  They questioned all authority oppressing man, whether it be Church or state.  But they did not throw out the baby with the bath water.  They remained religious.  They just wouldn’t yield to it unconditionally.  Not to the Pope.  To a bishop.  Or any other tyranny of a minority, privileged elite.  Even after their Revolution.

And they would extend this restraint to the new nation they would found.  It would be a government that would govern with the consent of the people.  But it would not be mob-rule.  Not a true democracy.  It would be representative government.  The idea was to restrain the extreme passions of the people.  They would not exchange one tyranny for another.  There would be no tyranny of the majority.

FRANCE HAD PROBLEMS in the late 18th century.  The toll of war was bankrupting the country.  Their financing of the American Revolution didn’t help either.  Food was scarce and expensive.  Famine and malnutrition were commonplace.  Among the Third Estate (the poor).  The First Estate (the Church) was doing well.  The Second Estate (the nobility), too.  Unemployed and hungry, the poor looked at the clergy and the nobility who were not. 

The Church was largely exempt from paying taxes. And the Church was the largest landholder in France.  The Church levied a 10% tax (i.e., a tithe) on the general population.  A lot of that was collected in-kind (food crops).  So the Church had more land, money and food than the starving, suffering masses.  Who became an angry mob.  That demanded democracy.

The people stormed the Bastille.  Confiscated Church property.  Overthrew the monarchy.  And sent the king and queen, and many others, to the guillotine.  Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror.  They executed political enemies, including priests, and displayed their severed heads to the angry mob.  They de-Christianized France, destroying churches and religious symbols.  They tried to do away with the Church altogether and replace it with civic and community events and organizations.  It was a revolution against Church and state.  Against law and order.  Against restraint.  They would send Robespierre himself to the guillotine at the end of his terror.  Then another terror followed to avenge the previous terror. 

There’s more to the French Revolution.  But that should suffice for now. 

FRANCE WAS IN the epicenter of the Enlightenment.  Some of the great minds of the Enlightenment were French.  But France was older than America.  And more populated.  With centuries of wrongs to right.  It was anything but a blank canvas.  Egalitarianism soon devolved into angry mob rule.  Democracy.  They went from the tyranny of a minority to the tyranny of the majority without stopping in that fertile middle ground.  As was the case in America.  Why?

It’s that blank canvas thing.  We weren’t overthrowing our history to start anew.  We had little history.  Maybe a century or two of English colonists who literally started with raw earth.  There wasn’t a rich and privileged Church.  So there wasn’t a festering resentment against the Church.  No, the early colonists escaped religious oppression and came here for religious freedom.  Which they found.  And enjoyed.

The American Revolution was more restrained.  There were no bloody reprisals after the War.  There were isolated instances of mob violence during the War, but the ‘mob’ was never in control.  The ‘gentlemen’ were always in control.  Gentlemen steeped in Judeo-Christian ethics.  From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers built a new nation upon the Rule of Law.  And at its heart were the God-given rights enumerated in those documents.  That no man, or minority, or majority, or mob, could take away.

GOD WAS HERE before the United States.  So we can give our heart to Jesus.  But our ass belongs to the Rule of Law.

Or something like that.  We are a secular nation with a de-emphasis on the religious part.  Yes, legal punishment may dissuade you from doing wrong.  If you think the cops can catch you.  But it’s our morality that will keep us from doing wrong in the first place.  And the people at our founding were moral.  And Christian.  Or deists with Judeo-Christian ethics.

And to those who fear antidisestablishmentarianism, don’t.  I doubt the Catholics and the Protestants could agree on what an established church would be, let alone the myriad other religions peacefully coexisting with each other.  No, more religion would not result in an established church.  It may, though, result in government leaders who fear God and, maybe, they would be better leaders for it.  It sure beats us living in fear of them.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #13: “If you were to live under the socialist maxim ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’ you would find yourself surrounded by needy people with no ability.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 11th, 2010

“WHO IS JOHN GALT?”  If you can’t answer that I’m guessing you don’t like reading 1,000-page novels.  Or that you went to public school and had no conservative friends or family.

The book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  John Galt worked at the Twentieth Century Motor Company.  An engineer.  A pretty brilliant one at that.  He’s the hero of the novel.  The plot is the eternal struggle of individualism versus statism.  Private entrepreneurship versus state economic planning and control.  ‘Leave me the hell alone’ versus the all encompassing nanny state.  Good versus evil.  You know, the usual stuff.

Dagny Taggart is the heroine.  She’s the vice president of operations of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad.   If you like your women intelligent, strong, independent, feminine and sexual, then Dagny’s for you because she’s all that and a bag of Skittles.  She doesn’t take sh*t from anyone.

Anyway, Galt and Taggart do some brilliant things separately.  They have some mutual acquaintances.  They later meet.  Yadda yadda yadda, big climax and that’s the story.  I could tell you more but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you when you do read it.  And you should read it.  When people put together lists of books that have influenced lives, the Bible often lands in the #1 spot.  Atlas Shrugged often lands in the #2 spot.  A must read.  And when you make it through the 50+ page speech near the end, why, you’ll have some bragging rights.  Those of you who have read it are probably nodding your heads as you recall your own perseverance in reading that speech and your will to finish it.  But fret not, casual readers.  The other 950 or so pages are a breeze.

FROM EACH ACCORDING to his ability to each according to his need.  Great philosophy.  If you’re one of the needy.  Kinda sucks if you’re one of the able, though.  Big time.  Here’s how.

Let’s say there’s a husband and wife who are both brilliant doctors.  He’s a neural surgeon.  She works in the field of infectious diseases.  They are among the best of the best in their respective fields.  They are literally saving lives where people once had no hope.  They worked long and hard to reach this point in their careers.  And they continue to work and study.  They contribute greatly in research.  Workaholics both.  Being so dedicated in their careers they chose not to have children.  They felt the work they were doing was that important.  As did others.  Between the two, they earn in excess of $500,000 annually.  Talent like theirs is just so rare and oh so valuable.

Now let’s consider a 19 year old high school dropout.  He works as a bouncer at a strip club and sells a little weed on the side.  Lives in his mother’s basement.  Parties all night and sleeps in till 4 PM.  And he has 10 children by 9 different women.

Now, in the normal world, the doctors would have a nice home and drive Mercedes Benzes.  The bouncer would not.  But in the world where we take from those according to ability and give to those according to need, things would be different.  You see, the doctors don’t have very many needs.  They have no children and work most of the time.  The bouncer, though, has a lot of need.  Ten kids to support.  So can you guess how things would work in this Socialist Utopia?  That’s right.  We take from the doctors and give to the bouncer.  Fair, right?

It depends on your definition of fair.  If you’re just a leech that wants to suck on the teat of society, you have no complaints.  You find the whole thing pretty sweet.  Why, anyone running on that platform, they got your vote.

But what about the ones who spend 8 years in med school, struggle through sleep-deprived internships, residency, continuing education, who work long and stress-filled days and give up a lot of personal pursuits in the process?  What about them?  Shouldn’t we reward that incredible effort and self-sacrifice?  I mean, if we don’t, why do it?  For the good of the people?  Yeah, right.  If it’s all the same, why can’t the bouncer sacrifice for the good of the people?  Why is it always the ones who work hard that have to do all of the sacrificing?  And do.

So there it is, the Socialist Utopia.  Work hard and succeed and get…less.  Don’t work hard and be irresponsible and get…more.  This is the essence of Marxism/Socialism.  In economics, we call this a disincentive to succeed.  Anyone with half a brain will strive to show as much need as possible while showing as little ability at the same time.  Because if you don’t you can see where this ends, can’t you?  You get stuck doing all the hard work.  And if you don’t have a lot of need, you get bupkis for all your sweat and ulcers. 

But it gets worse.  If no one chooses to do those incredibly difficult and stressful jobs, what happens then?  Simple.  If you choose to say ‘no’ someone will simply says ‘yes’ for you.  And what do we call forced labor against one’s will?  We call it slavery.  Or servitude, if you prefer.  As in F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom which shows the progression from socialism to servitude when someone ultimately has to be the final decision maker in determining what’s best for the common good.

INTERESTING THING ABOUT socialism.  It has a track record.  Not a good one.  Everywhere it’s been tried it has failed.  Why?  It goes against human nature.  Ponder this, if you will.  Let’s say you’re going to dine at a fine restaurant.  There are two ways in.  One through the main entrance where the maître d’ greets you.  The other is through the kitchen.  If you come in through the kitchen, though, you’ll have to do some basic food prep for table 3 and wash the dishes from table 5 before you eat.  Now, which path do you choose?

Yes, it’s a silly example.  But it makes a point.  Only an idiot would enter through the kitchen in this example.  Why?  Because we choose the path of least resistance.  Always.  Even though helping with some food prep and washing some dishes is best for the common good we’re just not going to do it.  At least, not voluntarily.  And that’s why socialism has failed and always will fail.  The natural state for people is NOT slavery.  We don’t volunteer to do more for the same outcome.  People do that only when forced, for the state of slavery can only exist by force.  As Hayek so aptly shows in The Road to Serfdom with the rise of the Nazi and the Italian fascist dictatorships.

THIS IS WHY Atlas Shrugged is so enduring.  It is THIS story.  The eternal tug of war between individualism and statism.  The escalation of force.  Submission.  And breaking points.  Both Hayek and Rand warned of the same dangers and the ultimate consequences of our ‘altruist’ actions.  He by philosophical treatise.  She by narrative.  And one of her characters, Francisco d’Anconia, summed it up well in an exchange with Henry Rearden when he said:

“…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 his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him?”

Rearden didn’t have an answer.  D’Anconia did.  He’d tell him, “to shrug.”  To let go his burden.

And, of course, Atlas is a metaphor for those people with rugged individualism, the entrepreneurial spirit.  And the day they do shrug, we’re screwed.

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