Back in 1986 we didn’t have the internet. Finding off-beat books was much harder than it is today. If you truly wanted to veer from the beaten literary path, you had to look very, very hard.
Around that time, in the mid-80s, I saw an ad in a popular magazine for a company that advertised books that you couldn’t find in the public library. This company, called Loompanics, was based out of Port Townsend, Washington and specialized in controversial books.
Of course I ordered the catalog and I was not to be disappointed. The catalog that was sent to my house was chock full of just what I wanted to read: ‘how to disappear and live free’, ‘buy land cheap’, and how to ‘start your own country’ are just a sampling of the titles available. There were books on how to ‘survive in prison”, “write a porn novel”, and ‘create a fake I.D.’ Not that I had any desire to do these things, but for a writer, Loompanics was a treasure trove of ideas, and information. Within its black and white newsprint pages you could find books about survivalism, weapons, drugs and sex. These were books that contained practical how-to-do-it information that sometimes pressed the borders of legality. If you were on the run from the law, or if you had a burning desire to build a bomb shelter, or move to the woods and live off of the land, Loompanics could supply you with a ‘how-to’ book. Although aimed at the “left-wing-libertarian” audience (if that makes any sense at all), Loompanics also carried something for nearly every political persuasion, including the far right. Alongside the books, the catalog often featured a smattering of articles. It was here that I was introduced to Ayn Rand and the Objectiveness Movement.
Founded by Rand in the 1950s in New York City, the movement formed in the wake of Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. Interestingly enough, early members of Rand’s inner circle include Alan Greenspan. I must confess that I have never read The Fountainhead, but instead I moved directly to Rand’s 1957 classic, Atlas Shrugged. In case you haven’t read this book, it forms the cornerstone for much of the conservative thought in the U.S. today. People are probably more familiar with the phrase “who is John Galt” than they are of the actual fictional character in Atlas Shrugged. Attend any Tea Party rally in the U.S. today, and odds are you will find someone waving a John Galt sign. John Galt license plate frames are showing up more and more these days. So much so that I am wondering how many people have actually sat down and read Atlas Shrugged and if they have, has it been recently?
All in all, Rand, a chain-smoking Russian atheist, wrote a damn good book. A book so powerful in fact, that a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club resulted in dubbing it the second most influential book in America today (losing out to the Bible for the number one spot). So when Vice Presidential hopeful Paul Ryan declared his devotion to the principals espoused in Atlas Shrugged, it made me think back to my own somewhat long slosh through this tome and how I did not come away with any sort of Road to Damascus Conversion after reading it.
The title Atlas Shrugged references the Greek god Atlas who carried the world upon his shoulders. In this analogy, the productive people of the world (Atlas), are being held back because of all of the unproductive people of the world (mostly union workers, malcontents and assorted lay bouts). Atlas, in shrugging, is shaking them from his back, in fact dropping the world in the process. Clear now?
Do you have any thoughts on Ayn Rand, or Atlas Shrugged. If you do, I would like to hear from you.