Chernobyl and Other Collectivist Catastrophes

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Submitted by Olivia on Sun, 2020-01-19 22:30

By Olivia Pierson

If anyone has watched the riveting HBO series Chernobyl, you’ll have experienced one of the most brutally powerful TV dramas about living under Soviet Socialism. As the worst nuclear accident in history unfolds in the town of Pripyat, Soviet Ukraine, the diabolical themes of manipulating misinformation and lies, aka ‘fake news,’ at the expense of human lives were vividly portrayed. One received the message clearly that individuals must be sacrificed in cold service to an even colder state. Truth was an enemy that couldn’t be tolerated, thus showing that fake news really was, and remains, the enemy of any people.

“Disaster? What disaster? It’s just a small radiation leak, no more dangerous than a chest x-ray!”

“The reactor core can’t explode – that’s impossible – and you won’t damn-well say that again, do you hear me?!”

Of course, the point of all the deceit was to block the world, especially America, from knowing how poor, incompetent and backward the USSR actually was. The Soviets called this deceit “state-craft.” All of its nuclear power plants were constructed the same way as the one at Chernobyl had been, therefore they knew they were sitting on multiple time-bombs placing the whole of Europe and Asia at risk.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986. Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand defected to the United States in 1926 and died in New York in 1982. Everything she ever wrote was to instruct people about the evils of communism – in particular, its central organising principle of collectivism over and above individualism, a “principle" which Rand considered to be morally evil because everywhere this was practised resulted in a complete disregard for individual human life and flourishing. Collectivism, according to Rand, also created a society devoid of individual accountability; an incompetent society without proper justice.

Chernobyl’s monumental, man-made catastrophe would have been no surprise to Rand. She knew the Soviet system intimately from its abstract philosophical premises right down to its concrete day-to-day practicalities (or lack thereof). In her magnum opus, the novel Atlas Shrugged, Rand described its overarching theme as: “the role of the mind in man’s existence.”

The book is a romantic, political, epic warning to America, rich in details of how the trends in the Washington swamp of 1957 (the date it was published) would negatively impact American businessmen and producers, whom Rand considered to be the driving creative force of a capitalist country. Despite how many people deeply hated Rand’s narrative – and still do – the insights of Atlas Shrugged were hard to ignore, not least because, being a Russian, Rand could spot a communist trend 100 miles out and write piercingly and ferociously to counteract it, but also because the book is still the most influential tome in America, second only to the Bible.

The book’s heroine is Dagny Taggart, who runs a transcontinental railroad which was the proud achievement of her tough-minded, industrialist grandfather, Nathaniel Taggart.

One of Dagny’s greatest foes is her co-owner, her brother Jim, who constantly schmoozes with the “boys in Washington,” liking to keep all his options open with powerful people. Dagny despises any government meddling in her business, solely relying on her own smarts, competence and hard work, along with that of the thousands of men in Taggart Transcontinental employ. To Dagny, competence and accountability translate into safety, efficiency and good profits. Her only wish from government is that it gets the hell out of the way to let her get on with the business of running a railroad to the best of her formidable abilities.

But her decisions are stymied under government Directive 10-289: from the purchase of Rearden metal – a revolutionary new hard steel for track upgrade – to the mass improvement of the railroad’s tired and unreliable signal system. Dagny constantly battles Jim and his power-hungry Washington friends as inch-by-inch they seek to wrest control of the family business. She resigns in fury.

Then disaster strikes heavily in the form of the Winston Tunnel tragedy, resulting in the deaths of 300 people inside Colorado’s Rocky Mountains on the new Taggart train, the Comet.

Dagny always kept a spare diesel-electric locomotive ready to pull trains through the eight-mile tunnel, as the older coal-burning engines were not safe. But Jim had lent the spare diesel-electric to a Washington friend in order to get him around the country on a “morale boosting” tour to counteract the public’s discontent over Directive 10-289.

When the Comet derails on a corner of track inside the tunnel, a treacherous corner that did not receive Dagny’s planned repair, an old coal burning engine was sent by her new replacement into the poorly ventilated tunnel to pull the Comet on its way. All the passengers – men, women and children – asphyxiate before being annihilated in a crash by another oncoming train.

Rand completed this chapter by describing the beliefs of some of the passengers who died:

“It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was a professor of sociology who taught that individual ability is of no consequence, that individual effort is futile, that an individual conscience is a useless luxury, that there is no individual mind or character or achievement, that everything is achieved collectively, and that it’s masses that count, not men.

The man in Roomette 7, Car No. 2, was a journalist who wrote that it is proper and moral to use compulsion ‘for a good cause’ who believed that he had the right to unleash physical force upon others – to wreck lives, throttle ambitions, strangle desires, violate convictions, to imprison, to despoil, to murder – for the sake of whatever he chose to consider as his own idea of ‘a good cause’,which did not even have to be an idea, since he had never defined what he regarded as the good, but had merely stated that he went by ‘a feeling’ -a feeling unrestrained by any knowledge, since he considered emotion superior to knowledge and relied solely on his own ‘good intentions’ and on the power of a gun.

The woman in Roomette 10, Car No.3, was an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards, by teaching them that the will of the majority is the only standard of good and evil, and that a majority may do anything it pleases, that they must not assert their own personalities, but must do as others were doing.

The man in Bedroom H, Car No. 5, was a businessman who had acquired his business, an ore mine, with the help of a government loan, under the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.

The man in Drawing Room A, Car No 6, was a financier who had made a fortune by buying ‘frozen’ railway bonds and getting his friends in Washington to ‘defreeze’ them.

The man in Seat 5, Car No.7, was a worker who believed that he had ‘a right’ to a job, whether his employer wanted him or not.

The woman in Roomette 6, Car no. 8, was a lecturer who believed that, as a consumer, she had ‘a right’ to transportation, whether the railroad people wished to provide it or not.

The man in Roomette 2, Car No. 9, was a professor of economics who advocated the abolition of private property, explaining that intelligence plays no part in industrial production, that man’s mind is conditioned by material tools, that anybody can run a factory or a railroad and it’s only a matter of seizing the machinery.

The woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her two children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying, ‘I don’t care, it’s only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children.’

The man in Drawing Room B, Car No.15, was an heir who had inherited his fortune, and who had kept repeating, ‘Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to manufacture Rearden Metal?’

The man in Bedroom A, Car no. 16, was a humanitarian who had said, ‘The men of ability? I do not care what or if they are made to suffer. They must be penalized in order to support the incompetent. Frankly, I do not care whether this is just or not. I take pride in not caring to grant any justice to the able, where mercy to the needy is concerned.’

These passengers were awake; there was not a man aboard the train who did not share one or more of their ideas. As the train went into the tunnel, the flame of Wyatt’s Torch was the last thing they saw on earth.” (Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged,” p566-568)

What Rand makes beautifully clear in this chapter is that the fashionably collectivist ideas of her day had been duly swallowed into every nook and cranny of the culture, from university professors to housewives.

At the end of 1957, Whittaker Chambers of the National Review wrote a strong essay condemning Rand’s bestseller. He titled it “Big Sister is Watching You.” It remains Chambers’ most famous essay. He wrote:

“From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”

It is a most twisted and ungenerous summation of Rand’s work.

Rand claimed that her only intellectual debt was to Aristotle. Chambers claimed that Rand's intellectual debt was primarily to Nietzsche, but this was to miss the point of her whole narrative.

Aristotle advocated for the Great Souled Man; Nietzsche for the Ubermensch or Overlord. Philosophically speaking, the Great Souled Man is morally superior to the Overlord because he does not require underlings to fuel his distinctive greatness – and he is highly conscious that he possesses a self-made “soul,” a sum total of selfhood profoundly grounded in his own conscience and experience. The much-deserved honour of this type of man is forged, not from any desire to lord-it over others, but instead from his virtues which make him a natural leader: courage, temperance, knowledge, wisdom, generosity, strength and justice.

It is these virtues in a man which inspired Rand’s philosophical narrative all throughout her writings and she knew deeply, viscerally and from experience that these virtues were totally absent the men of the Soviet Union – its overlords, its rank and file and its underlings. That’s why she fled at first opportunity to the United States, for she had meticulously studied history all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

If such men had have existed in the USSR by the time 1986 rolled around, instead of being systematically squelched through the spirit-crushing system of unbridled collectivism, the Chernobyl disaster would not have even been possible.

And if Rand had not died by then, she would have written one of her frequent, piercingly powerful, journalistic essays on the disaster – and would’ve arrived at the same conclusion that the HBO drama writers arrived at: what causes a nuclear reactor core to explode? Lies.