Atlas Plugged: Defending Iron Man from Gold Woman

“Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat.” -Hermann Goering

Anyone who’s read Ayn Rand* knows her idea of a good time: take one filthy rich man, one brilliant inventor, one hot stud, and one heroic loner, and then make sure they’re somehow the same guy. Name this dude something tough-sounding but smart, something stark, and show him getting pissed off at all the hangers-on and haters outside his door, ready to slay the golden goose. Then have the golden goose make endless speeches explaining to the haters, through the door, why they’re not invited to the golden goose’s eggstravaganza, as the haters slowly die from golden egg withdrawal and speech overdose.

Guns + Butter = Powerful + Fat

Last night I joined the metastatic “I Saw Iron Man” club. I knew my eyes had tasted excellence by the third minute. That same impression rode me like a spider monkey through the rest of the movie. But by the halfway mark, I’d begun to sense another presence, off to the side of the spider monkey: Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand, or a Spider Monkey, I’m Not Sure Which

She was as fascinated as I was by this martial mogul Tony Stark, one very filthy rich man, brilliant at inventing, hot at studding, and heroically lonely. At one point, Stark’s almost offed by an enemy who’s in it for the money but doesn’t have a single idea of his own, and the enemy explains to Tony that he’s quite consciously Killing the Golden Goose, after taking one more golden egg. For any current or former student of Rand’s, this was a key moment-Tony was being cast here in almost exactly the same light as one of Rand’s supermen, a Prometheus to whom we haters owe everything, from whom we get everything, and on whom we dump totally undeserved tons of expectation, obligation, taxation, and all the other things Ayn thinks Atlas should shrug off.

But Tony’s not Ayn’s kind of Atlas. He doesn’t shrug. In fact, this Atlas is shown taking on for the first time the burdens of the world, the Great Responsibility that got bundled back in the day with every copy of Great Power, without anyone asking him to do so. His Girl Friday, Ms. Potts, doesn’t encourage him; his assistants, being robots, have nothing to say in favor of his newfound activism; his coworkers don’t take kindly to it, to say the least.

Iron Man Act 2 Approximated with Stock Photograph

And Tony doesn’t speechify. In fact, all Tony Stark has to say for himself, in accounting for his change of heart, is that he Knows in His Heart What’s Right. And what’s right to Tony just doesn’t jibe with what’s right to Ayn Rand. Ayn tries to define sin as sacrifice, as doing what you don’t think is profitable, as destroying what you think is most important for something less important. For Ms. Rand, this always, in every case, means charity, means doing or producing good things and asking nothing in return from the beneficiaries. Ayn can’t imagine charity feeling good, and so she can’t imagine charity being good. And so her heroes don’t fly off to Afghanistan to knock weapons out of the hands of monsters. Because there’s no profit in that.

Defending himself against a pure profit motive, Tony can’t invoke any brilliant formulas outlining the moral cost-benefit ratios involved or cite the third-generation game-theoretical frameworks within which he’s now working. His best argument for his heroism is, it’s right. His backup argument? It feels right. In his heart. Aw, shucks. This near-total pap from a guy who invents free energy the way other people invent excuses for why they’re playing solitaire on the company computer. Let’s be clear here: Tony Stark is one mussed hair away from omnipotence. And this because he’s a few female conquests, a couple graduate degrees, and one unified field theory away from omniscience. He’s no slouch.

Which makes for a really sad situation, with Tony on screen feeling awesome about squat thrusting the world, and Ayn Rand’s ghost screeching like a spider monkey next to me, throwing rhetorical poo at the screen, and me in the middle, helpless to justify to Ms. Rand why Tony’s up there on the screen executing a 540 kickflip away from all that she finds holy.

Only I’m not helpless. I have this website. It’s for any potential Tony Starks out there. It’s for the greatest minds of my generation, self-destructing on distractions, heading half-asleep toward strange combinations of omniscience and omnipotence and total, lethal failure, and in the meantime getting wasted, mostly, and wasting everything in reach. Maybe this doesn’t describe you, but I know it describes a lot of us. I know it firsthand, secondhand, thirdhand. Yes, we rather sophisticated smarties need a brain-break as much as the next guy; but considering how much it seems to be some sort of historical crunch time, and considering our Starklike positions of privilege, can’t we at least follow up our fun ride through Iron Man with a little look at some of the questions the movie raises?

We sure can. As far as I can tell, the biggest questions raised by Iron Man are: What do we do with omniscience and omnipotence once they arrive? And: How do we even survive in their presence?

I think Ayn Rand’s implicit answer to these questions has some merit: she dares dream that we can be gods, can be all that plus bags of chips, and thereby deal with omniscience and omnipotence. Which would be great, if the gods she imagined took any pleasure in the well-being of their neighbors.

Tony Stark’s answer to the same questions-protect the powerless, work for justice, right wrongs, even without monetary gain-isn’t perfect; there’s a lot of moral midgetry mixed in with this mental giant’s gall and gadgetry. But it’s a start. And what Tony’s trying to do, i.e. make the world a better place for as many people as possible, deserves a better defense than the arguments he raises to his Ms. Potts and Obadiah the pariah. And that’s a big part of why I’m putting up so many posts on this site about love, human nature, human destiny, utopian visions, ethics, memetics, game theory, and on and on.

I realize they’re not always as fun to read as, say, my analyses of John Candy’s grimaces throughout his oeuvre. But I’m right here, right now begging your patience and attention for these posts that are less Big Screen and more Big Picture. Because without offering a big picture, without offering abstractions backed up by logic and evidence, you can’t win whole minds, can’t convince potential Tony Starks to aspire to, as it were, Iron Manhood, for much longer than the run time of your summer blockbuster. You can’t actually convince anyone a tenth as smart as Tony Stark to turn himself into a human gun, firing away at the world’s evils, however metaphorically, however little effort such stabs at heroism might involve. Instead you just sell a whole lot of buttered popcorn. And make a killing.



*Ayn Rand gave herself the last name “Rand” because it means “gold.”

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “Atlas Plugged: Defending Iron Man from Gold Woman”

  1. ? Says:

    What the fuck are you talking about? And the picture with the kid in the wheelchair is lacking of taste and makes you look ignorant. No one will take your blabbing seriously. Stay off line.

Leave a Reply