After Dagny Crashed

So back in October, Atlas Shrugged Part II came out. I said since the very beginning that this is a significant step, since if Part II failed to cross the finish line it would’ve been a simple matter for Part I to pass into history as a cinematic brain fart, but now that the first two installments have become reality, Part III is an inevitability. Time will tell on that; the box office figures are terrible, just awful. But the point remains that there’s a new momentum built up that was not present before.

The producers subtitled the film “The Strike,” which I recognize as the original name of Ayn Rand’s novel. In published book form, Atlas Shrugged is broken into these three parts which already carry their own titles, and they’re named after the fundamental Laws of Thought which are attributed to Aristotle. I wish to inspect more closely here the Law of Thought tied to the third film installment, the one which is not yet made. As anyone who’s seen Part II will understand by now, the story will pick up after Dagny Taggart crashes her airplane and is found to be injured but alive. Who finds her and saves her, and where she is, are two pivotal questions that launch the subsequent events, which in turn explain everything else. And, as anyone who’s read the book will know, it would be a great loss if Part III fails to materialize. That really would make the first two film offerings nothing more than a combined brain fart.

The first two installments, without the third, are nothing. Just like the Laws of Thought represented by those two parts, without the Law of Thought represented by the third, would be completely useless. So let’s look at what Ayn Rand was trying to say here.

Part III of her novel, covering the events after Dagny’s plane crash, is called “A IS A” and it has this connection with the Law of Identity: An object is the same as itself. It is whatever it is. This seems at first to be such a fundamental “law” that it shouldn’t be a law at all. Seems like pure redundancy. Well, we can test that by way of need; just like in municipal codes, it becomes reasonable to entertain the notion “there ought to be a law” if & when we find examples of people violating it, and danger or damage taking place as a result.

It gives me no joy to observe it, but such transgressions are taking place all the time, and the damage is considerable. Not a week goes by when someone with a loud voice, angry keyboard, or overly-enthused cultural or political agenda, entirely forgets that A is A.

On Tuesday blogger friend Rick put up a story about a church in Wisconsin that decided for some inexplicable reason to stop being a church. There follows exactly the sort of damage I’m describing…

A Waunakee church that pushed the concept of “casual worship” to new levels didn’t draw enough interest and has closed.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 5757 Emerald Grove Lane, sought to attract people put off by the rituals and trappings of traditional worship services. Parishioners ripped out the church’s pews, pulpit and communion rail four years ago and installed coffeehouse tables, easy chairs and a cappuccino machine.
The church motto was, “Casual about church, serious about God.”

When I interviewed [Rev. Randy] Hunter and other church officials four years ago, there was much excitement about the new concept but also a realization that it was something of a gamble. The concept was intended to woo “the unchurched,” as opposed to poaching members from other Waunakee churches. That turned out to be a hard demographic to attract, Hunter said.

I appreciate Rev. Hunter’s positive attitude, but there was no call for surprise here. As I summed it up over at the Hello Kitty of Blogging:

Aristotle’s law of identity: A thing is whatever it is.

Freeberg’s law of Aristotle’s law of identity: A thing does not become more popular through its attempts to pretend to be something it isn’t.

Things become a bit clearer in this case if we elevate our simplistic thinking from the object-identification, to the next more complicated level and start thinking about missions and objectives. What was the goal here? To reach the “unchurched.” Well, I should point out by way of full disclosure that this would include me. In my case, the things that turn me off about church service are not avoided or obviated in any way, by new creature comforts like easy chairs or fancy coffee. Worship is a thought exercise, and some of us do our better thinking alone.

Now, to whatever extent this concern manages to speak for anybody else, and I’m going to take it as a given that I’m not likely to be an isolated case here, we can see what a “fail” this was in terms of outreach. Pointlessness continued, with a few comfy chairs thrown in? Pass. But, the more fundamental thought infraction — a church trying to draw in new members by pretending not to be a church. Freeberg’s law of Aristotle’s law of identity.

About that: There are more examples. The gunman who tore in to Sandy Hook Elementary School with his bullets, horrifying the country…obviously, this is not productive behavior to say the least, and it is abundantly clear he did not see the school, and the children in it, the way the rest of us do. Perhaps he didn’t see the children as children. It’s too late to ask him about any of it. So a saddened nation is left without any answers, just lots of clean-up and grief. I see this kind of tragedy as the ultimate stopping point of law-of-identity infraction, of pretending A is not A.

One of the leftward-leaning bloggers to whom I subscribe, is fond of arguing for action to fight global climate change in these terms: It is the deniers and skeptics, or whatever you prefer to call people like myself who are opposed to such action, who seek to conduct a reckless “experiment” on the Earth’s climate by allowing it to continue heating up, and seeing what happens. On the other side of the net, those who push for these new United Nations initiatives, the carbon offset vouchers, exchanges, special taxes, and conferences in Bali or wherever — they are not agitating for some harebrained experiment, but quite to the contrary, trying to opt out of one. Proceeding from that completely-flipped-around premise and set of understandings, he then proceeds to make the insane look sane, and clearly relishes his ample cumulative talents in doing so. I haven’t found this to be too persuasive, because whether he realizes it or not, the point he seeks to make is “I look like I’m right, when we agree to pretend things are not what they really are.” It may therefore be reasonably inferred that: This is what is required. Okay, so noted.

Republicans are being pressured to do all of the compromising on this “fiscal cliff” nonsense. The polls say that is what should happen, and they can’t be wrong, can they? So this is just more of the same: Republicans should not be Republicans; this will spare them from some of the public anger, sort of dig them out of that little hole they’re in, make them more popular. Freeberg’s Law begs to differ. A spending problem is suddenly not a spending problem, it’s a “revenue” problem. Higher taxes will, therefore, fix everything. Eh, I don’t think so.

This one is particularly entertaining: “‘Right to Work’ Isn’t a Civil Right. But Unionizing Should Be.” Oh, my. We finally have an answer to that question, “How do you put out some talking points, that you’re fighting for the ‘rights of the working man’ when you’re actually trying to obstruct those rights?” And here is your answer: Progressives have lately discovered the deleterious effects of freeloading, and they are opposed to freeloaders. And that is the argument. The collective bargaining is a necessity that costs money, and when the workers vote against unionization they still benefit from it, without paying in to the system. And if there’s one thing we can’t have in this country, it’s people drawing a benefit from a system without paying in to it, giggle snort.

So, to protect your rights, we have to force you to do things. A is not A.

Feminine fashion accessories for men, and “meggings”: More of the same. Men are not men. Aristotle’s law tells us this is wrong, of course, but more importantly than that, Freeberg’s law says this isn’t gonna catch on. Hope that’s right, but I have my doubts. This thing about getting men to wear dresses has been burning away at the periphery for awhile now, and I’m seeing more and more examples of it.

This is not right. This is not good. There’s no reason for a man to wear a skirt, unless it’s a kilt worn as part of a costume or ceremonial dress of some kind. As a fashion accessory, it just isn’t fitting, nobody really wants to see this. It is an abomination, because it founded on an exercise in pretending something is other than what it really is. I realize that it has its enthusiasts; that is a big part of the problem, you have to have some pre-existing emotional bias to conclude anything positive about it. Furthermore, these seem overall to be the same people who are crusading for women, the beautiful and the otherwise, to wear pant suits all the time all day every day. And if such a link is there, ponder the implications. Men looking like women, and women not looking like women. I can’t see such a thing as anything but a cultural attack upon the Law of Identity.

Here & there I have made occasional reference to decision processes that are mistaken, that may produce a correct or beneficial outcome with less frequency than another process confronting the same range of options, but driven purely by random chance — producing a good answer less often than a Magic-Eight ball, I’ve said sometimes, or a monkey throwing darts at a spinning wheel. More than once I’ve thought, I should come up with a word to describe this encumbrance upon our ways of noodling out basic problems and making basic decisions, like “subrandom” or something similar to that. With all the formal study and exploration into probability theory, it boggles my mind that such a word would be needed. Well, let’s see: We have the sub, in which the decider, consciously or otherwise, is repelled away from what is obviously the correct decision…for example, by some desire to appear part of an intelligent elite, sort of an “If Sarah Palin isn’t wrong then I don’t wanna be right” kind of a thing. Two and two may make just about anything, we’ll ponder that awhile, but first & foremost we must rule out four. And then we would have the equal-to-random, in which the decider is not so repelled from the obviously correct answer, so much as engaging in a thought process that has no chance of arriving at this answer except by luck, because some critical error was made right out of the gate and all the thinking that takes place subsequently is nothing better than gibberish. Like, computing Pi out to a hundred digits, with a day spent on each digit, but you screwed the pooch when you calculated, say, the eighth or ninth one. Well, this is a quotient reached by long division; it is a linear process that works like a Jenga tower, with each element completely dependent on the one that came prior, you can’t count on the tenth digit being right if you didn’t get all the previous ones right. That’s how decision-making works, it’s a linear process.

Violations against the Law of Identity are both sub-random and equi-random, that is the take-away from all that. They are equi-random because you can’t competently evaluate what to do with, or to, some thing without recognizing what the thing is; it’s like calculating the tenth digit of a quotient when you’ve bolluxed the ninth. The identity of the objects, is like the very first digit. And they are sub-random because, once some ego energy is invested in the idea that a thing is something different from what it really is, that same energy will likewise be invested in arriving at some remarkable and exotic — wrong — ultimate conclusion. Say again, “If Palin’s not wrong then I don’t wanna be right.” That leads to nonsensical, almost deliberately-wrong things like we have to spend money to keep from going bankrupt.

So I do hope the third part of Atlas Shrugged gets made. As far as the story Ms. Rand was trying to tell, this is what ties it all together, clarifying what exactly all the fuss has been about. Without that, the first two amount to just so much libertarian grumbling. But the Law of Thought it represents, is my favorite out of the three. It is most important, it lays down the ground rules. People who fail to follow it, fail to arrive at correct decisions. And people who sell bad decisions for a living, have a tendency to kick off their efforts at swindling and bamboozling by way of corrupting this Law of Identity, presenting objects in the decision process as something other than what they really are.

There’s quite a bit of this going on, lately, and it should bother people a lot more than it seems to.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Rotten Chestnuts.

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