Day 92: I’m Going To Talk About Atlas Shrugged

I’m going to preface this post with the fact that I’m very liberal. When I first picked up this book, I had no idea it was associated with right wing politics or any politics for that matter. A co-worker had recommended it and I was due for a good book. So onto my Kindle it loaded and read I did.

Most of my friends who have read this book strongly disliked it because there’s a lot to dislike. I am going to take a loud stance here and say: Most people read this book wrong.

If you know me, you know I’m insistent that people should know themselves well enough to leave bad advice behind. As you walk along your road, you will surely see and hear things along the way. Advice, philosophies, and ideas will line your path and it’s up to you to know which ones to pick up and carry with you, and which ones to leave behind. There is a lot to pick up in this book, and there is a lot to leave behind.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive and her brother James, the president of the railroad. Dagny is a woman living in the sixties who runs a railroad in a time where women didn’t run railroads. James sits high up in constant fear of losing his position, which makes sense since that’s pretty much all he has. He’s a character lacking in creativity, innovation, and courage. Meanwhile, his sister Dagny is flush with all three.

“She was fifteen when it occurred to her for the first time that women did not run railroads and that people might object. To hell with that, she thought—and never worried about it again.”

Right away, I felt I wanted to be a Dagny. I wanted to be someone who wasn’t afraid to take risk or work hard. I wanted to be someone who built something of value. Someone who contributes and creates and walks fearless through the world.

“He had never been afraid of burdens, because he had known his ability to carry them.”

As the country is weight down by the James type, the Dagnys’ of the world start to disappear. Leading giants in various industries who were amazing at what they did start to simply vanish, leaving their empires to collapse and the rest of the world to pick up their pieces. Meanwhile, these industry giants show up as a fry cook at a local diner, or mechanics at the car repair shop. But they’re not just any run of the mill cooks or mechanics. They’re the absolute best at what they do. Because of the inner quality of these people, they take so much pride in their work, that it’s not so much what they do, but how well they can do it.

“What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.”

The characters in this story are split between hardworking, exceptional creators and mediocre, “just trying to keep the status quo” parasites. And that’s where most people get lost. Because the thing to remember is, all of us are a bit of both. The world isn’t split up into giant creators and complacent freeloaders. We are all a mix of both and then some. The goal isn’t to be perfect, the goal is to be better. So when a fictional story comes along that uses extremes to make a point, we shouldn’t expect it to fit into the real world.

And that’s how I recommend reading this book. In a way that improves you as a person. Read it to be motivated on a personal level. Read it to feel like you can create something huge too. Not to be selfish or to sit on some proverbial throne, but because you live in this world and you want to contribute to it. I don’t read this book thinking, “Man… everyone else should really step up their game.” I read this book thinking, “I can do so much.” I read this book thinking, “I am perfectly adequate to stand on my own two feet.” I read this book thinking, “When I stand on my own two feet, I can empower others to want to do the same.” It inspires confidence and fearlessness and resilient strength and motivation.

“No matter what night preceded it, she had never known a morning when she did not feel the rise of a quiet excitement that became a tightening energy in her body and a hunger for action in her mind—because this was the beginning of day and it was a day of her life.”

Can you read this book and walk away thinking, “I’m never giving to charity again and taxes are morally wrong!”? Yes, you can. Easily. Can you read this book and walk away thinking there’s no place in modern society for the disabled? Unfortunately, yes, you could. Those are pieces to leave behind. My belief is that the message to take away from this book is that you are full of power and strength and amazing ideas and you should live your life with confidence and joyous energy. I believe the message is that whatever you are, be the best one. It’s not about them, it’s about you. What do you want for yourself?

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” 

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris