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Atlas Shrugged is a novel that was written for the purpose of expressing Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Generally speaking, barring those setbacks placed in their way by non-Objectivists, the Objectivist characters of Rand's books ultimately accomplish great things and live happy lives. The non-Objectivists, on the other hand, make one bad decision after another because of their lack of rationality and inability to see the world as it really is. This is true even when the decisions they make are extraordinarily ill-advised, like rerouting trains so that the only shipment of wheat does not make it to the East Coast, setting up many to die of hunger (Part Three, Chapter V). It almost makes it feel like the non-Objectivists in Atlas Shrugged are mere straw men.

I don't think it's true that most people are irrational at that level, or that they would continue on an irrational path when faced with utter disaster. So, I wonder if Rand meant the antagonists of her books to portray real-life non-Objectivists (meaning, she really believed them to be that stupid), or if she exaggerated their irrationalities for the purpose of illustrating her philosophy.

Did Rand think that people in the real world were that stupid?

  • I know that the chapters are long, and that it might take you a while to find the passage I cited. I'm working on a meta post about accurate and helpful references, and hope to post it soonish. (But anyways, page numbers will only help you as long as you have my particular edition of the book, so...I think I did the best I could, here :-) – Shokhet Feb 21 '17 at 2:40
  • Your comments believing humans are not irrational fly directly in the face of evidenced scientific research proving that they are. In addition history is littered with examples of human beings taking no action when faced with utter disaster. Human complicity was one of the driving factors of the Genocide. Even now, humans will typically vote irrationally in democratic elections with nostalgia for "the past" and unwilling to accept the future. – Venture2099 Feb 24 '17 at 11:07
  • I downvoted this question because the phrase "people in the real world were that stupid" is very vague, which makes it hard to answer this question. I think maybe this question would get better answers if you did some research into objectivism (which isn't a real philosophy BTW) and gave a definition of irrationality consistent with Rand's objectivist ideas. Or you could reframe this question so it asks about how the actions of certain characters who you describe as stupid relate to objectivist ideas. – user111 Feb 24 '17 at 16:22
  • @Hamlet 1) Thank you for you clear explanation of the DV. That is appreciated. 2) I don't know if Objectivism is really relevant to this question. I want to know about how Rand viewed the intelligence of the masses. I only mentioned the (pseudo?) philosophy to substantiate my understanding that the masses in the book correspond to (her understanding of) the masses in real life, because the author intended to convey a message about real life and how her way of thinking was superior to that of most people 3) I did mention a particular example of abject stupidity in the book: the wheat shipment – Shokhet Feb 26 '17 at 19:38
  • Do you think the example needs to be fleshed out a little more? @Hamlet – Shokhet Feb 26 '17 at 19:38
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While researching this question, I found a sort of answer. According to the novel's Wikipedia page

Rand herself stated, "My characters are never symbols, they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. ... My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings".

The citation goes to an article by Robert James Bidinotto, and does not (as far as I could tell) indicate where Rand wrote the above.

The only criticism of this as an answer to the above question is that Bidinotto only references the Rand quote with regard to her Objectivist heroes (Hank Rearden, in particular); it is unclear whether that rule of character creation applies also to the antagonists or humans in general in the novel.

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I think your second hunch is closer to the truth: "she exaggerated their irrationalities for the purpose of illustrating her philosophy".

Although a huge fan of Atlas Shrugged, I have often been bothered by the far-fetched stupidity of many of the antagonists. But upon deeper reflection, I have concluded that these antagonists are caricatures that were constructed to illustrate irrational traits that actually do exist in those with the looter mindset to this day, albeit more subtly. Taking it one step further, I believe Rand was utilizing Plato's Theory Of Forms in constructing these exaggerated models of human archetypes.

So, while you'd be hard-pressed to find people in the real world who are actually very much like any of the antagonists in Atlas Shrugged, each antagonist has philosophies and traits that can be discovered in many people in the world, both then and now. If Rand had kept her characters more realistic and subtle, much of the literary power of the book--and her ideological aims--would have been diluted.

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