Stephen Goldstein (Author)
5 Stars, often hilarious June 15, 2012
The Florida Sun Sentinel has for many years been rather unique, as a corporate newspaper with a regular columnist who's actually good, and I don't mean just good for the context, but actually worth reading even if the masses of South Florida weren't reading along. Happily, they are.
Stephen L. Goldstein has just published a book, also worth reading, called Atlas Drugged (Ayn Rand Be Damned!) It's fiction, often hilarious fiction, aimed at debunking the notion that Ayn Randian “free-market” trickle-down crapitalism can coexist with basic human decency. “This is a work of fiction,” says the back cover. “But any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely intentional. The names have been changed but, hopefully, not enough to protect the guilty.”
In fact, while the book takes rightwingerism to an extreme, it blends in plenty of elements from reality. Imagine the most outlandish carrying of so-called conservatism to its logical conclusion, and abandoning New Orleans to a hurricane, or watching a fire department stand by while a house burns (because the owner didn't pay the proper fees) fits right in.
The opening scene is basically a CPAC conference set in a world in which normal had become one of today's CPAC conferences. The speeches of the fascists who populate this book ought to echo in the reader's head when he or she later hears the speeches of actual politicians, because the former are just slightly exaggerated versions of the latter.
The heroes of the book are part Occupy Wall Street, part Anonymous. People march by the millions. They organize and inspire. They shut down all the department stores owned by a particular plutocrat, simply by “shopping” en masse, without actually buying anything. But other tactics, from stunts involving animal dung (you have to read it) to hacking into the sound system at important events, rely on a small, secretive band of super-heroes — too much so, I suspect. A real revolution is more likely to come through a combination that relies more heavily on popular action and less on the secret heroics of beings who fuse together Julian Assange with the Yes Men and MacGyver.
I also wish there weren't quite so much nationalism in what is after all a fantasy of an ideal future at war with a kleptocratic dystopia. But if you're going to go all in for the founders and the red-white-and-blue, it would have been better to remember the one thing the founders got most right that we have most forgotten: you don't give a single individual power. You can't solve tyranny through a presidential election, replacing a bad tyrant with a good one. You have to divide and check power, reducing the president to an impotent executive. In fact, one would hope that after a couple of centuries we would be able to at least fantasize about moving further toward direct democracy, and away from monarchy.
Be that as it may, it's not as if “Atlas Drugged” is going to move people in the direction of pinning their hopes on presidential candidates more than they already do (a physical impossibility). It is, however, going to deservedly and comically drag through the mud of its own making the disgustingly stupid idea that greed and selfishness are the smart way to be kind and generous. The result, I hope and expect, will be a greater ability to spot the absurdity of the political philosophy being satirized. If THIS is where free-market principles lead, if the catastrophe carved out by the job-creators in this book is what we're consciously attempting to arrive at, then we'd better reject as absolutely evil many of the assumptions and claims we encounter every day in the rhetoric and the policy coming from our politicians, including of course — this being reality after all — both of our leading candidates for president.