On June 1st of year 39, an intrepid search party of one embarked on a mission. Its goal was to rescue a brilliant young man from the grips of his would-be captors. It turns out that her prey had taken refuge inside a newly established and barricaded cop-free enclave. Dagny Taggart was forced to crash their party and remain as an uninvited guest for 30 days. This begins Atlas Shrugged, Part III – titled “A is A.” Existence exists.
We last visited her in the April 17th installment of this series that began “Dagny burst out laughing.” For her, watching her corrupt brother lose his mind to his corrupt friends was Poetic Justice, and funny. However, losing the incorruptible mind of Quentin Daniels to her own mysterious destroyers was intolerable. Yet it was during Dagny’s Summer of Love (so dubbed by Seattle’s mayor) that she discovered the existence of several “community organizers” who had disappeared from traditional society. One of those had been her biggest, most reliable, and demanding customer – oilman Ellis Wyatt.
In a culture governed by the morality of life, where mind and body are an integrated system for independent and productive living, community organizers are traders. They voluntarily exchange values in networks of friends, employees, and customers for the mutual benefit of everyone. Virtue is admired, and Ellis Wyatt was a prolific community organizer. To prove it, he torched all of his oil fields, crippled the railroad industry that hauled his product, (ostensibly) sent the American economy into a tailspin, and disappeared. A paradox that Dagny could not understand, and such is the mystery of Atlas Shrugged.
Wyatt and Dagny Taggart had enjoyed great mutual respect for each other, their trust was inviolable, and despite her stoic resilience, no one was more personally crushed by his loss. So imagine her astonishment to find him productively alive and well in the seclusion of CHAZ.
It was a wall of laminated rock with a complex chain of pipes, pumps and valves climbing like a vine up its narrow ledges. But the machinery did not resemble the installation of an oil derrick. This was oil drawn out of shale by some method men had considered impossible. Ellis Wyatt stood on a ridge, saw the car stopping below, and called, Hi Dagny! Be with you in a minute.
Working with Wyatt were two young employees, and one of them Dagny recognized. “She felt certain that she knew this face, and as if to help her, he whistled softly the first notes of Halley’s Fifth Concerto. It was the young brakeman of the Comet. Do you know that I stole him from you? said Wyatt. He used to be your best brakeman and now he’s my best grease monkey. Neither one of us is going to hold him. He’s Halley’s best pupil.” Dagny was still taking it all in,
I know this is a place where one employs nothing but aristocrats for the lousiest kinds of jobs. – They’re all aristocrats, that’s true, said Wyatt, because they know there’s no such thing as a lousy job, only lousy men who don’t care to do it. – She asked, Shale oil? That’s the process you were working to develop while you were on earth? – He laughed, While I was in hell, yes. I’m on earth now.
Consider the stark contrasts between Ayn Rand’s fictional version (Part III, Chapter 1 is titled Atlantis), aka Galt’s Gulch; or Seattle’s literal hell hole. Aesthetically, there is the romanticism of Richard Halley’s piano compositions; or the nihilism of Raz Simone’s hip-hop. Metaphysically, the choice is Ellis Wyatt’s ingenuity that nurtures the higher needs of his community; or the zeroes whose primitive needs are sated by their truly evil appeasers in government and media.
Ethically, young people journeyed to ‘Atlantis’ to earn their keep and improve their lives; or to Seattle to blank-out their minds with primitive slogans, sloth, and anger. While both advocate certain ideals, they are moral opposites. Because one example benefits from being fictional, and the other is exposed to real-life scrutiny, the political comparisons can be set aside. As Dagny and Ellis discuss,
A note of sadness came back into her voice: It’s the process by which you once intended to fill five tanks a day. – Dagny, one gallon is worth more than a tankful back there in hell, because this is mine. – You’re hidden in the wilderness, she said bleakly. You could have flooded the world with it. – What for? To feed the looters? What’s wealth but the means of expanding one’s life? I’m manufacturing time.
Ellis Wyatt has treated us to an enlightening example of Economics in Atlas Shrugged. His mind and body produce a commodity that is essential to his customers. Also, he can enjoy the increased efficiency of his productiveness as he sees fit because the profits are not being used to support his destroyers. “Every hour I save is as pricelessly mine as if I moved my grave further away.” Continuing, Rand explains Say’s Law of Markets in Wyatt’s unique style,
Only those who produce, not those who consume, can be anybody’s market. I deal with life-givers, not with cannibals. Here, we trade achievements, not failures – values, not needs. We’re free of each other, yet we all grow together. What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow.
The only alternative are lives that stagnate and rot. Independence and ability derived from reason; or demands for rewards derived from mere wishes. This avoidance of reality is the progressive left’s morality of death, it sacrifices people who think long-term to any short-term thinking coward who joins a mob.
By removing the nature of existence from their minds, Wyatt’s looters had abandoned the concept of property. Not only were they unable to operate Wyatt’s oil fields without the minds needed to give them value, they couldn’t extinguish his last oil field fire that shone brightly over Colorado, and the world.
Poetically, Ellis Wyatt left behind a beacon for Dagny, and an enduring and unassailable reminder of his virtuous act of arson. Like Lady Liberty’s eternal flame graces New York Harbor, Wyatt’s Torch lit the way toward the bright future anticipated by Atlas Shrugged.