Is Atlas Shrugged meant to be Ironic?
August 4, 2008 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Is Atlas Shrugged meant to be Ironic?

My political views are liberterian with leanings towards mutualism. A friend recommended I read 'Atlas Shrugged' by the Queen of the liberterian movment Ayn Rand.

However I found the book so laughable I couldn't finish it (first time ever not finishing a book). The main premise of the book seemed to be that the second law of thermodynamics had been broken and a man had invented a perpetual motion machine.

I understand liberterians don't like the second law of thermodyanmics, because it means the statement of "all property is theft" by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is true. But to resort to the childish scientific idea of perpetual motion as a solution to this beyond belief.

Did i leave the book too early? I started to think was it meant to be ironic? I noticed ayn rand repeatly used the phrase "motive power" a term often used in thermodynamics.
posted by complience to Writing & Language (69 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Unfortunately, no, it's really meant to be prescriptive.
posted by orthogonality at 10:28 AM on August 4, 2008


I understand liberterians don't like the second law of thermodyanmics, because it means the statement of "all property is theft" by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is true.

What?

No, she was quite serious, the book is not generally humorous in tone.
posted by phrontist at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I understand liberterians don't like the second law of thermodyanmics, because it means the statement of "all property is theft" by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is true. But to resort to the childish scientific idea of perpetual motion as a solution to this beyond belief.

What?
posted by electroboy at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dude. Read about the objectivist circles. They take it as Gospel. So did Ayn. Yeah.
posted by Beardman at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2008


You should have skipped to the end, which is even more ridiculous, though not intended to be.

That said, I don't think the Galt engine is intended to be a perpetual motion machine. Isn't it driven off of atmospheric electrostatic charge? That might be a fanciful idea, but it no more a violation of thermodynamics than solar power. Presumably, any tappable electrostatic charge in the atmosphere would be the result of atmospheric friction caused by weather systems which are in turn driven by the sun. The earth is not a closed system.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2008


Is ayn rand capable of not being serious?

As a non-objectivist who read Atlas Shrugged cover to cover, i would recommend just waiting for the movie if you are really curious. It really is just 1000 pages of the same idea over and over again.

also ayn rand=objectivist, not libertarian.
posted by traco at 10:39 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is no space for irony is objectivism. That would mean that you're seeing things that are subjective.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:40 AM on August 4, 2008


Ayn Rand does not tell jokes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:40 AM on August 4, 2008 [9 favorites]


Not ironic.

The book is horrible. It is written poorly. It espouses grotesque ideas of morality and intellectually dishonest ideas of philosophy. It is nothing I would recommend to anyone who actually enjoys reading, including libertarian-leaning friends.

But your major complaint is that it posits an accepted scientific law might not be true? Seriously? I suppose you never read any science fiction or fantasy. I guess you've never enjoyed the touch of the spiritual or supernatural in literature. No magical realism for you. Does Mary Shelley piss you off, too?

Look, we all have our hobby horses, our betes noires, our pet peeves, and our least favorite plot devices. This one happened to touch a nerve for you. That's fine. But maybe your first assumption shouldn't be that the author holds the same things dear to her heart, and therefore must be writing ironically if she abandoning them. She's stretching the bounds of reality in creating a work of fiction. It's not uncommon.
posted by aswego at 10:41 AM on August 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


Uh, what?

I've never heard of someone really getting hung up on that idea in the book, Galt's machine. Of course it can't exist, that is pretty much the point -- I think she wanted some idea that would stand the test of time and never be "invented". It's also coming from a writer who knows nothing of science (and it was written over 50 years ago). I wouldn't call that part the main premise! Lol, it's not a science book or even science fiction! The main premise is preaching Rand's doctrine, Galt's machine is just fluff. I have read the book 2x (over 10 years ago) and barely remember what the hell the machine was and never really cared.

Did you also leave star wars when they went into "hyperdrive"? I kid, I kid.

I used to really dig the book and know Objectivism well enough to know that it's not Libertarianism really, it's a little more extreme than that (or maybe a LOT more extreme). Any Rand hated being referred to as a Libertarian but she was insane.
posted by wolfkult at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2008


First of all, I would regret leaving a comment on this question without saying that your third paragraph is utterly baffling.

I've attempted reading Atlas Shrugged twice. The first time I made it maybe a quarter of the way through, and I didn't see the skeleton of a plot forming, so I got bored with it and stopped. That was when I was probably 16 or 17. I tried to read it again last year (20 years old), got halfway through, and once again got frustrated that I couldn't grasp whatever the plot was supposed to be, if anything at all.

I did get a similar impression that you did, though, in that much of the book seemed like it was supposed to be an ironic commentary on something about the world, or a parody of it... I just couldn't tell exactly what. Maybe one day I'll get all the way through it, but I doubt it.

I've read up on objectivism and Ayn Rand's life, and I guess that Atlas Shrugged is okay at fleshing out that viewpoint into characters to make it easy to understand, but it felt very one-dimensional to me. I really don't think I need a 1,200-page book to explain to me that there are a lot of people in the world who are greedy and selfish and have tried to make it okay by calling it a "philosophy".
posted by joshrholloway at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2008


No, definitely not intended to be ironic or humorous.

She wants the world to be like her books.

And, um, I don't think she's much of a libertarian. Certainly, there are Objectivist-Libertarians, but Objectivism doesn't allow the same heterogeneous cultures that libertarians would. Everybody in an Objectivist culture would have the same values and views; they're objective features of reality, after all.
posted by Netzapper at 10:54 AM on August 4, 2008


I understand liberterians don't like the second law of thermodyanmics, because it means the statement of "all property is theft" by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is true.

Here's my attempt at exegesis: if you have a perpetual motion machine, than the stores of energy are effectively infinite, so by taking some you are not reducing the amount available to others.
posted by limon at 10:58 AM on August 4, 2008


So then "all property is theft" is an objective fact?
posted by electroboy at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2008


I've never read anything of Rand's which even hinted that she might possess a sense of humor. I don't recall her ever writing that humor was inherently anti-mind and anti-life but she certainly acted that way. Certainly she didn't see Atlas Shrugged as being ironic in intent, except insofar as some of the villans bordered on being sarcastic caricatures even for Rand.

But Galt's motor was not a perpetual motion machine. And truthfully, I found that easier to swallow than the way some of the people acted.
posted by tyllwin at 11:02 AM on August 4, 2008


In Yugoslavia, we read it (as well as Anthem and The Fountainhead) as critiques of Communist ideology, which they largely are. (Stemming, no doubt from Rand's own experiences. Rand's family was fairly well-off until the Russian Revolution in 1917 caused a turn of fortunes.) The ideas of the importance of self-motivation and self-interest in the books made them popular sub rosa titles.

But even then, it was obvious that they were poorly-written and way, way over the top. (This is all second-hand information really, I was a bit too young for this stuff in Yugoslavia.) Apparently, one of the two longer ones - perhaps The Fountainhead - was available in an edition about half the length as the real one (without all the long philosophical diversions), which people devoured in much the same way as they do Jackie Collins novels. No one wanted any more ideological preaching than they already had in their lives.

I read all these books in America, and I didn't find them especially interesting or well-written. One thing I do remember about them though, is that they seemed even more dogmatic and inflexible in their philosophical stance as Marxism / Leninism / Titoism at their worst, which sort of made me laugh.

I'm surprised no one brought up other oddities, like Rand's belief that only tap-dancing was the only legitimate and worthwhile expression of dance. There are more examples of that sort of thing; Rand seemed to have a dictatorial position on even the smallest things.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2008 [14 favorites]


Ayn Rand never had any sense of humour. As Barbara Branden wrote in her biography on Rand, humour usually involves a leap in logic, and Rand couldn't make those leaps. She had a very mathematical mind (apparently she was brilliant in maths) and mentally she to progress from A to B to C and so on. Branden wrote that people tended to learn not to tell jokes around Rand because the experience of trying to explain a joke to her was not one anyone wanted to undergo twice.

All humour in Rand's books, aside from some one-liners contributed by her husband, is unintentional.
posted by orange swan at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


The main premise of the book seemed to be that the second law of thermodynamics had been broken and a man had invented a perpetual motion machine.

The bad news is that you missed the point. The good news is that you're probably better off this way.
posted by mkultra at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's not irony, it's a metaphor. Ayn Rand is aware that perpetual motion machines violate the law of thermodynamics. Her point here is that human talent and ingenuity, when unfettered, can change nothing into something - can create value out of things that would be valueless to the untalented or the fettered. To people who are part of the intellectual conversation Rand is participating in, this is simply a literary refutation of the Marxian labor theory of value.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


Rand didn't intend humor in her books, none of them. Which is kind of sad because I ended up laughing at some of the characters in Atlas Shrugged because they were so... mechanical. And it's kind of sad that I ended up being obsessed with her philosophy for a while.

Don't read the book for any hope of plot. In fact, don't read any of her books for plot. They are really philosophical preachings that are stretched out for too long, along her ideas aren't entirely fluff. Personally, I think her ideas would work - if we weren't human.
posted by curagea at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2008


I think it's safe to say that Ayn Rand didn't have an ironic bone in her body.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:24 AM on August 4, 2008


I understand liberterians don't like the second law of thermodyanmics, because it means the statement of "all property is theft" by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is true.

I considered myself a libertarian (though not an Objectivist) for many years. I never heard this from any libertarian I knew, or talked to, or read, etc. I was then (and still am) just fine with the second law of thermodynamics. I do hate when people take scientific principles and make erroneous extrapolations to the social and political realms. Just because evolution occurs doesn't mean social Darwinism is good policy, and the second law of thermodynamics has no bearing on whether we ought to recognize private property.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2008


So then "all property is theft" is an objective fact?

While what constitutes rights in property is obviously open to debate, one would hope that our common moral starting point would be the Lockean Proviso.
posted by yort at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2008


For those struggling to connect thermodyanmics with economic theory.

You have to remember e=mc2, mass is energy and energy is mass.

The concept that all property is theft is the fundmental argument between captalism and communism, to which they both have the a flawed answer.

Read Freeman's Commentary on Ginsberg's theorem:

Thermodynamnics = you can't win, you break even, you can't get out of the game.

O Capitalism is based on the assumption that you can win.
O Socialism is based on the assumption that you can break even.
O Mysticism is based on the assumption that you can quit the game.
posted by complience at 11:34 AM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


If that crap was meant, in any way, to any degree, to be humorous, then Ayn Rand was the greatest troll ever.

Ever.
posted by Flunkie at 11:34 AM on August 4, 2008 [7 favorites]


[a few comments removed - save your libertarian yuks for metatalk or email, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:34 AM on August 4, 2008


For those struggling to connect thermodyanmics with economic theory (...)
Translating science into English aphorisms ("you can't win" etc.) is at best inaccurate, and more typically fundamentally misleading.

But then translating science into English aphorisms and then into conclusions about sociology, economics, and politics? Uh, let's say I wouldn't suggest relying on any conclusions that you draw in that manner.
posted by Flunkie at 11:37 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ayn Rand is so far from ironic or humorous that it's really quite humorous. I would advocate destroying the book for the awful ideas in it and the interminable, dreary, bloodless way they are presented, but that would only suggest it was dangerous and potent. Line the cat box with its pages or something.

And it's worth noting that Rand didn't get along well with most libertarians, even on the capitalist end of the libertarian spectrum. Her vision is actually more of a misread of Nietzsche, IMHO, as an endorsement of a kind of elitism. Galt and his ilk are simply better than the rest of humanity in some key respects and they should both revel in their great(er)ness and not be burdened by the rest of us. While libertarians are not egalitarians about outcomes, they're not generally elitists of this sort. The key point to most right libertarian views is that we are imbued with some set of natural property rights and infringing on them is permissible only under a very restricted set of conditions, e.g. force or fraud, and otherwise we are all more-or-less equal players in the market. Some of us will have more property than others of course, but right-libertarians would say there is nothing unfair about that. (Rand would have thought left-libertarians should be shot on sight.)

There is nothing worse for me than meeting a student early in the semester who professes a deep respect for Ayn Rand. It means we are leaving the space of giving and asking for reasons and all is lost - for the student, for me, and for all those around us...
posted by el_lupino at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2008


Thermodynamnics = you can't win, you break even, you can't get out of the game.

O Capitalism is based on the assumption that you can win.
O Socialism is based on the assumption that you can break even.
O Mysticism is based on the assumption that you can quit the game.


The first is a statement about energy. The latter statements (at least the second and third) are statements about economics. "You can't win energetically" does not imply "you can't win economically," and anyone who tries to draw such a conclusion should not be listened to, either on physics or on economics.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:40 AM on August 4, 2008


It's definitely not meant to be ironic. I think it's supposed to be something of a polemic. For more on how Ayn Rand is not exactly a funny/ironic person, watch this interview; she's pretty serious about her whole objectivist meritocracy thing. I don't think you left too early; the rest of the book can be rather repetitive in its message. If you still want to read some (shorter) Rand, you could try reading The Fountainhead which is more of a story with an objectivist message. But if you read enough to understand the philosophy and found it laughable, you probably don't need to read anymore Ayn Rand.
posted by bluefly at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2008


There is nothing worse for me than meeting a student early in the semester who professes a deep respect for Ayn Rand. It means we are leaving the space of giving and asking for reasons and all is lost - for the student, for me, and for all those around us...

Right, because in an educational setting the last thing you'd expect is that you'll meet people with ideas different from yours whom you might be able to engage in some serious discussion that might change their opinions. Heaven forfend!

As others have stated, the book is most definitely not meant to be ironic. It does raise the hackles of left-wingers so it does have a fair amount of entertainment value.
posted by mattholomew at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Right, because in an educational setting the last thing you'd expect is that you'll meet people with ideas different from yours whom you might be able to engage in some serious discussion that might change their opinions. Heaven forfend!

I would fully expect that, experience it all the time, and welcome it. It's the Objectivists who seem to be a bit challenged by the idea, in my experience.
posted by el_lupino at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'd avoid making specious comparisons between science and political theory until you understand at least one of them. Your previous askme history includes:

Can someone please explain the The Second Law of Thermodynamics to me, with examples?

Explain further The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Interest rates and Inflation, does anyone actually understand it?

and

Determinist Liberterian needs your help to unify his two widely apposing ideologies.

Also, spellcheck, man, spellcheck.
posted by electroboy at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2008 [17 favorites]


When I read it I read it as science fiction and found it to be at least as entertaining as most R. Heinlein books. It floored me when I went to college and found people (besides my brother who gave me the book) who actually took it seriously (and what he took out of it was "it's good to be selfish"). The only thing I took out of my first reading of it was that your intellectual ideas are your property and you should be paid if others use them. Fine, that's why we have patents and copyrights and they are generally a good thing. It was the lengths required in the fictional society in that regard to protect their ideas that made it Sci Fi to me and also made it more of an anti-communist screed than a case for libertarianism per se.

That was like 30 years ago. Way too many people who have read way too few other books have taken it up as a cause since then. So to answer the actual question, I think she was completely serious in so far as it's an anti-communist and probably anti-Roosevelt rant. As far as being an actual prescription for how to run a society - yes but not so much.
posted by lordrunningclam at 12:31 PM on August 4, 2008


Capitalism is based on the assumption that you can win.

I strongly dispute this. Capitalism is based on the assumption that aggregation of the knowledge necessary to run a society centrally is impossible. If you haven't read Hayek, I highly recommend it. Most capitalists, including most libertarians (and I know a lot of libertarians) acknowledge that any system will have both winners and losers, but people who support free-market capitalism (which is a system dramatically different from the system we currently live under) do so based on the belief that over time, the gains from aggregating the distributed knowledge of all people through a market system will be greater than the gains from trying to make policy based on the centralized knowledge of a few decision-makers at the top.

Libertarianism isn't some monolithic system under which everyone believes the same thing. Most of the (adult) libertarians I know think that Rand's political philosophy is a load of crap. I have never met a libertarian who had strong views on thermodynamics that influenced her/his political views, so I have no idea where you get the sense that "libertarians don't like the second law of thermodynamics." I would venture a guess that most libertarians, like most people, don't think about the laws of thermodynamics all that often, but if they were asked to consider it, would generally give science a thumbs up.

Ayn Rand is an influential novelist (Atlas Shrugged came in #2, after the Bible, in a Library of Congress survey about books that made a difference in readers' lives), but her personal political views bear little resemblance to the political views of the majority of modern libertarians. There are Objectivists running around, but most libertarians don't find Rand's politics persuasive. And you can certainly be a libertarian and think that Rand's ideas are a joke. I know I do.
posted by decathecting at 12:31 PM on August 4, 2008


The first is a statement about energy. The latter statements (at least the second and third) are statements about economics. "You can't win energetically" does not imply "you can't win economically," and anyone who tries to draw such a conclusion should not be listened to, either on physics or on economics.

To amplify this point, if it were true that "you can't win" economically, it must also be true that you can't lose (if you can lose, you can not-lose, and not-losing is indistinguishable from winning in the absence of an arbitrary set point -- similarly a positive-sum game could also be called a "negative-sum" game). This would mean that by mismanagement, war, chaos, destruction, etc., you can't reduce the wealth of society. ORLY? Check out Zimbabwe. In general, if you think war destroys wealth, then implicitly peace creates wealth, which means that not all wealth is had at the expense of someone else.

One early formal demonstration that economics is positive-sum is due to David Ricardo.

I agree with posters upthread who argue that 1) Rand wasn't trying to be funny, and 2) the example of the free-energy machine was chosen for polemical reasons, even though Rand probably knew it was impossible.
posted by grobstein at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2008


Bob the Angry Flower: Atlas Shrugged 2 is intended to be humorous.
posted by SPrintF at 1:16 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness is a good summation of the way she thinks and can be read in a couple hours if you need a quick overview of what she's trying to get across in Atlas.

Objectivism is certainly a "cold" philosophy on the outside, but only because it's focused entirely on reason and judgement, the heart and emotions be damned. It's pretty interesting if you consider the fact that EVERYBODY is selfishly motivated – the altruistic among us simply get off on the fact they are helping other people. Those people could never come to terms with that, of course.

No worries though. You'll see a real life version of Atlas Shrugging when Barack Obama wins and tries to socialize this great country in its entirety.
posted by BirdD0g at 1:17 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's pretty interesting if you consider the fact that EVERYBODY is selfishly motivated

Sure, if you redefine "selfish" so broadly that every action becomes, by definition, selfish. No, wait. It's not interesting at all to do that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:27 PM on August 4, 2008 [5 favorites]



There is nothing worse for me than meeting a student early in the semester who professes a deep respect for Ayn Rand. It means we are leaving the space of giving and asking for reasons and all is lost - for the student, for me, and for all those around us...

I certainly don't want to jump into a debate because it's utterly not my cup of tea. I like philosophy, but I loathe debating. However, I did want to respond to the above comment. I think it's a tad unfair -- it's a blanket statement, if you will, el_lupino. And certainly not to single you out, but for the fact that you expressed this sentiment here today -- many many people feel this way.

I am always reading Ayn Rand, and have actually always enjoyed her writing. I had plenty of professors in college try to belittle me for admiring her. Unlike hardcore Objectivists who do indeed take her ideas as gospel, I simply saw her ideas as a springboard from which I learned how to observe the best in myself. Many criticize the importance she places on the Ego and selfishness, that these ought to be considered evil because they are not in the best interest of others.

Well, if it weren't for Ego and selfishness, I wouldn't be the woman I am. I have allowed my Ego to flourish because it is required to wake up every day and care about my life and the world, and to do justice to my abilities and my existence. I am selfish because I need to make decisions in my life which will be most true to my morals and values.

That being said, I am a very caring, giving, compassionate person. I think it is unfair to posit that anyone who sees value in Rand's ideas will cause us to "[leave] the space of giving ... [that] all is lost." I care about myself, I care about others and I care about the world. It doesn't have to be one or the other; i.e.: admiring Rand OR caring about others/the world/being giving.

I think people would derive more positive thoughts from Rand's work if they kept in mind that even though her concepts aren't applicable/feasible in the real world, the basis of some of them are very useful for self-growth and positive thinking.


Right, because in an educational setting the last thing you'd expect is that you'll meet people with ideas different from yours whom you might be able to engage in some serious discussion that might change their opinions. Heaven forfend!


Thank you for this point! It always made me feel so disrespected when professors pigeon-holed me. They were always quick to insult me for what they assumed were my thoughts, yet they were never wont to ask me what I actually believed. Such reactions always came across like they assumed I was too young to understand how things really work.

Anyway, my two cents. I would hope that even if one regards her philosophy on the whole to be terrible/evil/disgusting [insert negative superlatives] ... whenever someone mentions that they read/admire Rand, it won't be automatically assumed that they are half-cocked, empathy-challenged thoughtless jackasses.
posted by diablo37 at 1:37 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you haven't read Hayek, I highly recommend it.

I agree, but mostly because the mix of ideas might blow the mind of American right-wing types. His The Road to Serfdom in a nutshell is:

(1) Socialism would be terrible and evil (here they go YAAAY!)
(2) It is transparently obvious that the government should have a guaranteed minimum income.
(3) It is transparently obvious that the government should give everyone a basket of social insurances.

(here the American right-wing types are very confused, because they've never meant "socialist" when they said "socialist")
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:44 PM on August 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


*facepalm* you can't apply scientific laws that have to do with molecules to economic philosophy. It just doesn't work that way. It's like the people who read The Selfish Gene and go around talking about how life is all about selfishness when it's about genes being "selfish" and there are tons of examples of animals who utilize survival strategies that involve individual self-sacrifice.

There is nothing worse for me than meeting a student early in the semester who professes a deep respect for Ayn Rand. It means we are leaving the space of giving and asking for reasons and all is lost - for the student, for me, and for all those around us...

Don't give up hope, some people do grow out of it.
posted by melissam at 1:53 PM on August 4, 2008


alot of people have been saying you can't apply thermodynamics to economics.

because economics is about money and thermodynamics is about energy.

If your one of those people.. you don't get it.

The two things are one in the same.

money is always linked to physical a commodity (normally gold) either directly or indirectly.
No one gives money for non physical commoditys, unless they think that commodity will help them get an actual physical commodity.

E=Mc2

Mass is energy and Energy is mass
Money and Energy are one in the same thing.
posted by complience at 2:41 PM on August 4, 2008


Anyway, my two cents. I would hope that even if one regards her philosophy on the whole to be terrible/evil/disgusting [insert negative superlatives] ... whenever someone mentions that they read/admire Rand, it won't be automatically assumed that they are half-cocked, empathy-challenged thoughtless jackasses.

And I wouldn't disagree, and I had the same sorts of experiences with bad professors. I've certainly never punished anyone for adhering to her views in particular. My point was simply that Rand is herself a very dogmatic writer and thinker and there is a regular current of people who see her work as the beginning and end of all philosophical discussion. (Too curtly put on my part in the original.) While I've had a wide spectrum of challenges with students over the years, a disproportinately high number of those have fallen into a pattern of students who were dogmatic and abusive towards me and their fellow students that they then proudly attributed to Rand's work. Those students end up producing just the opposite of the environment both you and I would want. Having strong views is no crime in itself; arriving with them and then refusing to give and ask for reasons while dismissing everyone around you as chattle doesn't merit the same sort of respect. Whether or not you agree with her views, my impression is that the tone of her writing encourages this and it can be corrosive to a healthy, open academic environment.

But if this conversation is to continue, we should probably move it to MeFiMail. There are important points about thermodynamics at play here that we wouldn't want to derail.
posted by el_lupino at 2:46 PM on August 4, 2008


Money and Energy are one in the same thing.

Even if this is true (which it's not), energy is not conserved on the earth, since the earth is not a closed system. That is, the amount of energy on the earth is not constant. There's a constant flux of 1367 W/m^2 impinging on the surface of our planet, so by your theory, the amount of money should be increasing at a similar rate.

No one gives money for non physical commoditys, unless they think that commodity will help them get an actual physical commodity.

I did not think that my ticket to The Dark Knight last weekend would help me gain any actual physical commodity. I would bet that the same is true for the vast majority of theatergoers.

Dude. Just set down the bong.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2008 [9 favorites]


because economics is about money and thermodynamics is about energy.

If your one of those people.. you don't get it.


No, you don't get it.

It's true that things with mass cost money. (And that mass and energy are convertible.) This does not mean that mass (or energy) is identical to money. If your interpretation were correct, items that had the same mass (and thus could be converted to the same amount of energy) would also have the same economic value. A kilogram of gold would be exactly as valuable as a kilogram of lead.

Are you arguing that a kilogram of gold is exactly as valuable as a kilogram of lead? If not, how do you reconcile that with your "energy=money" argument?

I argue that a kilogram of gold is more valuable than a kilogram of lead, and thus, mass (and hence energy) are not equivalent to money. Money is associated with items that have mass, of course, but "associated with" is not the same as "equivalent to." Attempting to apply economic principles to energy, or physical principles to money, would only be valid if the two were equivalent--merely being associated in some vague way isn't good enough.

No one gives money for non physical commoditys, unless they think that commodity will help them get an actual physical commodity.

This is patently untrue. I pay for my internet service, phone service, and cable TV, even without any expectation that they will indirectly help me get a physical commodity.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:14 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


*headdesk*

Econophysics has been in use for quite some time. Self-organizing systems might have different substrates, but their behavior is modeled from (some of the) same damn equations.
posted by LimePi at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2008



Econophysics has been in use for quite some time. Self-organizing systems might have different substrates, but their behavior is modeled from (some of the) same damn equations.


So? Econophysics uses physics to attempt to create models. It uses physics as a template and then tweaks it with pretty limited success. Econophysics and Thermoeconomics are fun, but they haven't proved to be very useful so far.
posted by melissam at 6:29 PM on August 4, 2008


Since I've been in many many graduate econ classes, I've met quite a few physics undergrad/econ PHDs. Some aspects of physics are useful, but mostly they do well because of their mathematical skills. Lots of economists apply scientific models to economics. I have a degree in Ecological economics, which has some intersections with Thermoeconomics, so I obviously think this has some worth. But applying laws from one discipline to another does not always work and if it does, it often involves some serious tinkering. Most economists recognize sciences like physics as a tool, not as equivalency. And many, if not most, of these econ-science hybridizations turn out to be useless.
posted by melissam at 6:41 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


It may not be that they don't "get it," but rather that they see the connection as far too reductionist or multidisciplinary to be of any possible use. You're advancing a certain reading of the text (that the "engine's" physics is a link between the political/economic views of Rand and certain precipts of science), so your task is not to convince AskMe readers that your reading is correct, but to explore the established literary criticism surrounding Rand for anything that might bolster your claim -- or, if you think you have an original perspective, you should finish the book and collect more textual evidence to support it.

Right now there is just so much metaphysical hand-waving in the thread. If indeed you think your point is worthy, you'll take the time to give it some scholarly authority and persue it as you see fit. Otherwise, reiterating your point as obvious fact will only further make this thread more combative and unsatisfying.

In any case, I think you've gotten your answers.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:46 PM on August 4, 2008


Since IANE, I'll leave the response to an expert.
posted by LimePi at 6:51 PM on August 4, 2008


I have shiny mechanical engineering degrees, and I think the analogy is very flawed.

I see you have previously received some very excellent explanations of the Second Law, which, from your replies on those threads, I am not certain you fully understand.

I read LimePi's linked article, and I still don't see where it says the Laws of Thermodynamics apply to money.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:15 PM on August 4, 2008


Limepi, where in that article is anything that supports your original argument? He basically concedes that few financial models approach the models of physics. It's funny because economists would love it if their models were nice like in physics and then the other sciences would take them seriously. It's a good article though and the OP should read it because it has a very simple title that distills his points

Finance isn't physics
posted by melissam at 8:50 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Objectivism and libertarianism are quite different. There is overlap in philosophy or spirit at times, and many individuals hold both philosophies as ideal, but one does not necessitate the other. For example, I'm of the libertarian/minarchist persuasion and at my most idyllic an anarchist. I don't consider myself an objectivist, though there's great value in understanding what the philosophy is really about and I agree with many points of it or otherwise accept the value of the beliefs. Unfortunately, you're more often to run into smug leftists who use it as the butt of every genuinely humorless joke or half-cocked insult they throw at libertarian types.

Few would say it's a wonderfully written book or that the story itself is particularly great. Its reputation both positive and negative is on the basis of the ideas it was created to espouse. If you find yourself agreeing with the objectivist philosophy as you read the book then you're likely going to think positively on it. It's also not the best-written or best-story Rand's written by any stretch. If you're interested in something easier to digest, you should check out the fairly solid adaption of Fountainhead starring Gary Cooper. It's a pretty good movie, moreso than it is a faithful adaption.

The rest of what you're saying is either very confusing or very ridiculous.
posted by rob paxon at 9:34 PM on August 4, 2008


Overlook my clumsy wording, I'm a bit out of it.
posted by rob paxon at 9:36 PM on August 4, 2008


The major reason that economics isn't physics, is that the underlying particles have a bad habit of doing what they want to do, rather than what the model says is in their best interests to do. (Come up with a model for predicting what they'll want to do, though, and you might have something going.)

While Objectivism is a very funny thing indeed, the joke is always at the Objectivists' expense. If you want to see the humor in Objectivism, play BioShock.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:37 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I went to see "dark knight" also, personally id rather not have a whole cinema dumped on my head seemed rather like a large physical commodity to me. - you miss the point

Wealth and value are relative and abstract concepts 1litre of water is worth more than all the diamonds in the world to a man dying of thirst. - you miss the point.

We don't live in the world, we live on the world in a universe - that is a close system.. probably. - you miss the point


Finance isn't physics
so what is finance?
so what is physics?

I don't understand the 2nd Law of thermodyanmics? probably not.. currently I define it as "you can't convert one form of energy into another, without some of it turning into heat.
posted by complience at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2008


Wealth and value are relative and abstract concepts

Yes, and energy is not. Which is a further reason why physical principles cannot be arbitrarily applied to finance.

1litre of water is worth more than all the diamonds in the world to a man dying of thirst.

I agree--but this only illustrates my point further! Unlike monetary value, energy is not subjective. The detonation of "Little Boy" over Hiroshima released more energy than burning a gallon of gasoline does. Unlike the question of the value of diamonds vs. water, there is no person for whom the opposite is true.

you miss the point

What is the point, then?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:51 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


so what is finance?

The science of the management of money and other assets.

so what is physics?

The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two.

Clear?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:33 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is the very point because those things are abstract, it doesnt matter what value you or I give them, wheather those things be Diamonds or Water.

The second law of thermodynamics doesnt care, it carrys on regardless as DevilsAdvocate so clearly pointed out.

now thats objectiveness
posted by complience at 1:54 PM on August 5, 2008


I'm trying to understand your point -- you seem to be saying something along the lines of:

Money is related to matter.
Matter is energy.
Energy's flow is described by thermodynamics.
Money is described by thermodynamics.

Uhm, this is only true insofar as:

Sheep are made of matter.
Matter is energy.
Energy's flow is described by thermodynamics.
Thermodynamics is the study of animal husbandry.

Is true; that is to say that thermodynamics might describe some processes in sheep (though you might want to consider the difference between equilibrium and non-equilibrium thermodynamics), but it really tells us nothing useful about sheep.

I feel that this analogy is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by thermodynamics, and is not a useful analogy, but one that is forced because someone thinks it is a grand thing to say.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:03 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have a family member who has become A Staunch Objectivist. As part of my effort to understand him, I spent some time following this discussion list. I can tell you with some authority that, in the 1970s, Ayn Rand told jokes in the privacy of her apartment on several occasions. I do not think she intended her novels to be ironic.

You are still confused about thermodynamics.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:00 AM on August 6, 2008


A couple people linked to that Bob the Angry Flower strip that always comes up, and I have to point out (again) that it's rubbish. Atlas Shrugged does address how the people in the Gulch will feed themselves and still have time to do everything. It's handwavy and ridiculous, BUT it is in the book. The strip does not have a point.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:35 AM on August 6, 2008


It's worth noting that Stephen Notley, the creator of BTAF, hadn't even read Atlas Shrugged when he wrote that strip.
posted by vernondalhart at 3:04 PM on August 6, 2008


Any Rand should be taken very seriously and criticized deliberately, because she writes so poorly and has a true believer following because of it. She somehow managed to replace god with absoluteness and then called it reason (instead of the repression it is). In effect she established a pseudo-atheism and pseudo-philosophy in her life's work as a novelist. Ironically, her political ideals are the same feudal private power estate that revolutionary America established itself against, by constitutionally employing the collective consent of the governed. The hijacking is present and real, and privatization water boys like George Bush are never properly credited with her cult brand of shit.
posted by Brian B. at 7:05 PM on August 6, 2008


I had no idea people had such a problem with the concept of Objectivism.

Seems to me all Rand is doing is applying the Freudian 'Pleasure principle'

I always assumed it was a widely agreed upon concept, whats the debate?
posted by complience at 6:23 AM on August 7, 2008


Seems to me all Rand is doing is applying the Freudian 'Pleasure principle'

No, she goes way beyond that. Can you use the pleasure principle to show that "altruism" is wrong?

The other problem is that the pleasure principle doesn't have much predictive content because you can't give a sufficiently detailed account of its interaction with other psychological principles. You can of course analogize from the pleasure principle to produce a metaphysical stance whereby any chosen action is by definition selfish (see above). But once you've done this you've destroyed all of Rand's prescriptive power. How can you prefer industry over "altruism"? After all, they're both just "selfishness." How can you prefer one scheme of government over another? Etc.
posted by grobstein at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2008


I don't think the pleasure principle or ayn rand suggest that 'altruism' is wrong.

Only that it isn't actually possible, unless you are ignorant to your true motives.. and ignorance is always wrong.

Again I thought this was a widely agreed upon point of view
posted by complience at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2008


The Ayn Rand Lexicon contains several extended quotations on altruism. "Altruism is evil" is a recurring theme on the discussion list I mentioned above, though it only appears in one recent title.

Going back to your original question, the lexicon doesn't contain any quotations for "irony." However the quotations selected do suggest that the only value of humor is for "belittling" the "contemptible."
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:47 PM on August 7, 2008


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