Progress and masculinity

by Andrea Elizabeth

Chapter 3 of Atlas Shrugged is very painful to read because it is difficult to totally vilify technology and efficiency. If something is ineffecient, it is usually because of negative reasons such as poor construction, poor planning, or misguided goals. Rand goes too far in saying that nature is less efficient than technology. Slowness isn’t the only criteria for inefficiency. Tolkien provides the antidote for this mistake of hers, but even he gets impatient with the Tree Ents. Still, I can’t help but find this passage compelling:

“What she [Dagny Taggert] felt was an arrogant pleasure at the way the track cut through the woods: it did not belong in the midst of ancient trees, among green branches that hung down to meet green brush and the lonely spears of wild flowers – but there it was. The two steel lines were brilliant in the sun, and the black ties were like the rungs of a ladder which she had to climb.”

Manifest Destiny and Immanent Domain both seem tied to the above. There is something inevitable about “progress”, at least to the western mind. However stone age cultures quickly adapted when they were introduced to iron age tools.  But they were content before that, and didn’t seem to sense the importance of progress.

The above passage also makes me ponder the idea that nature is feminine and progress is masculine. Villifying progress seems to vilify masculinity. Indeed, one might characterize the expansion of the railroad as rape. But does that make men in “uncivilized” cultures feminine? No, they exert their energies towards territorial disputes and raiding. The same characterization can apply there too. What is the difference between the Genesis command to “fill the earth and subdue it”, and that characterization? The former requires permission from the feminine first, I suppose. Can you ask a tree what it wants to be used for? I believe so, but it takes an artist and a poet to properly hear the answer.

And there is also the issue of communication, which is a very human and natural thing. We crave access and sharing, which technology makes easier. Too easy in some cases, I’m sure. But to be against it is to close oneself off and make oneself unavailable. One may not like the invasive nature of railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, and highways, but even the pony express cut through Indian lands requiring the building of forts in the western frontier to protect them. White man’s communication trumped the preservation of Native American life. We should have befriended them and asked them to send smoke signals for us. And paid them for it. In higher technology?

This chapter also gets into international trade with Mexico. The argument for being our brother’s keeper is criticized very strongly. Again the vagueness of who our brother is is brought out. As is the amount of state control instead of free enterprise said brother is under. I believe in private property, so in that way I agree with Rand. But her heroes don’t come across as greedy, which I think is a side effect that needs to be addressed. They may say they only care about money, but their lifestyle is much more spartan. Resentment and envy is the greed of the less fortunate. Characterizing the less fortunate as lazy and inept sounds too harsh, but I wish the left would sound more like they valued hard work and that they believed laziness is a vice. Laziness and ineptitude alone do not account for poverty, however. There are tons of other variables in the equation. But to blame it all on rich people’s self-serving policies sounds too deflective.

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