Friday, May 13, 2011

Luskin and Greta's I Am John Galt

One of the first images that came to mind reading Don Luskin and Andrew Greta’s new book I Am John Galt: Today’s Heroic Innovators Building the World and Villainous Parasites Destroying It was the Zen saying, “On the withered branch a blossom appears.”

The Zen meaning is that after you meticulously observe your own delusions in a committed and ongoing way for years on end you begin to find increasing freedom to make intelligent choices that allow you to create and contribute wealth of your creativity to the accumulative capital of the glories of human achievement rather than being a pain in the ass to yourself and everyone around you like the destructive parasites we are all too often tempted to be. Like so many of our political overlords.

I Am John Galt is a blossom appearing on a withered branch in another sense: The withered branch of utterly decadent regimes of government, business, academia, the media and just about every other significant institution in society ,and the complete fail of our leadership classes. Out of this withered mess I Am John Galt comes as a most welcome blossom.

Luskin and Greta pose the question “Who do you want to be?” in the framework of characters and villains of Ayn Rand’s monumental Atlas Shrugged. Each character is associated with an actual hero or villain in the great dramatic crisis of the present age in which it is not at all certain that we will continue to grow in freedom, prosperity, and creativity in all fields of human endeavor. We may well be headed towards a neo-Dark Age of decayed institutions, decaying buildings, and invasions of deer in the town square.

So who do you want to be?

The Individualist (Chapter 1)?

Steve Jobs as Howard Roark, the man who reinvented four whole industries just because it was so cool.


The Central Planner (Chapter Three)?

Barney Frank as Wesley Mouch, the politician who meddled in the economy and almost destroyed it.

You need not have read Atlas Shrugged to have your mind turned down into your guts to actually do something with your life in relationship to the utterly fail institutions and leadership we find around us. I Am John Galt will do the job just as well.

Full disclosure: I have not read Atlas Shrugged and probably won’t. I feel I have sufficiently “read it” by a contact high osmosis from reading and Don Luskin’s late lamented blog The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid, without doubt the best-named of blog in the entire blogosphere. (Fortunately Don and Andrew are now blogging at I Am John Galt.)

I get my excitement from non-fiction and would rather spend my time reading Milton Friedman. When I really feel out of the Atlas Shrugged discussion I repair to the Wikipedia Clift’s Notes. I prefer to get my Rand cinematically channeled by the ever-gorgeous Alida Valli in We, The Living, and in the recently released Atlas Shrugged Part One.

But Luskin and Greta are at the service of the Ayn Rand-impaired. Their introduction covers everything you need to know about Ayn Rand, her ideological stances, the major criticisms and controversies, her appeal and her disappeal.

Each chapter makes abundantly clear the connections between the novel and contemporary heroes like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Milton Friedman and villains like Paul Krugman, Barney Frank, and the sellout Alan Greenspan ( or maybe double agent).

All of this altruistic service to the reader, I might add, is purely in Luskin and Greta’s self-interest, as it is in ours to buy and read them, these mutually resonating and reinforcing self-interests fissioning into an explosion of insight, pleasure, and, one hopes to God, action to stop the madness of the Unfolding Catastrophe before the deer invade Golden Gate Park and drive out all the hippies.

The over-all tone of the book is a wonderfully effervescent optimism the likes of which we haven’t seen since it was morning in America with Ronald Regan.

Luskin and Greta propose heroes as models. Real heroes. People who have actually created and accomplished things, who created a more alive, dazzling, beautiful world of Iphones, Ipads, Whole Foods, online communities, and at every turn, the freedom to chose.

A certain stereotype images the Randian libertarian as the myopically self-absorbed. But Luskin and Greta show us that the self-interest of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates is maximizing the self-interests of their customers. Self-interest and mutual self-interest is win-win.

But of course Adam Smith knew that. We just keep forgetting; and I Am John Galt brings us back to remembrance.

Over and over they invite us to learn from the examples they present. This is the relentlessly self-interested altruism of the McGuffey Reader, the “Chose Life or Chose Death” of the Hebrew scriptures, of all men created equal with an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

These issues are beyond right and left. For Rand “liberal” and “conservative” were often inimical to freedom. What we need is not empty rhetoric about hope and change. What we need is the dazzling energy of the creativity of “the heroic innovators building the world despite the villainous parasites destroying it.“

This energy I Am John Galt provides in abundance. Huge insight and enjoyment await its readers.