It is with great reluctance that I have chosen a highly controversial woman – one whom I have harbored a love-hate relationship with for a while now – as an illustration for this column. She is none other than Ayn Rand, an infamous and brilliant personality who emerged from the height of the Cold War.
For those unfamiliar with her work, she was a popular novelist and philosopher who gained most of her notoriety (and infamy) in the 1950s. The best known of her books is the epic – an understatement at over 1,000 pages – “Atlas Shrugged,” a novel that serves as a giant allegory for her ultra-conservative beliefs.
For those familiar with this book, one of two reactions has already occurred: praise for referencing Ayn Rand or a burning desire to gut me with a Soviet hammer and sickle.
So why risk this frightening of public backlash? It's because some 30 years before the first Congressional hearings on global warming, Mrs. Rand inadvertently predicted our current environmental quagmire. Her fiction has entered our reality.
In 1997, General Motors introduced 650 electric cars called EV1s. They were leased to customers that ranged from middle class Americans to Hollywood royalty, and within two years became so popular there was a waiting list for over 4,000 people.
However, by the end of 2001, only a handful of celebrities, politicians and wealthy clients were allowed to renew their contracts. As for the other EV1 owners, they returned their cars to GM, but only after continuous threats of criminal prosecution.
And what happened to the world's first marketable electric car? It was completely and systematically destroyed.
The tie-in to Ayn Rand's “Atlas Shrugged” is, if one is familiar with it, very clear. Nine chapters into the novel, a unique engine is discovered in the remnants of a car factory. The motor was not powered by gasoline but by static electricity. It was the cleanest and most effective means of transportation known to man, but it could not be utilized.
Its creator gutted the invention before disappearing and left no clues as to his identity or how to fix the engine. The story's heroine, Dagny Taggart, suspects this person has joined a conspiracy to dismantle the country by depraving it of its greatest thinkers and therefore its vital technology, hence the title's reference to Atlas, the Greek god who holds Earth on his shoulders.
Mrs. Rand's symbolic “Atlases” – industrialists, philosophers and artists – refuse to allow a corrupt government to exploit their talents.
And therein lies the problem. Those responsible for destroying the EV1 didn't do so because it would be misused. In the face of a global climate crisis, corporate CEOs pulled this car – one that would have been incredibly popular – and gave incentive for other companies to follow suit in order to protect oil interests.
This is not how America should work. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, capitalism. And regardless of political affiliation, we can all agree that a rapidly applicable alternative to fossil fuel is necessary for the survival of our planet.
The changes we need so badly will not arrive unless we begin to change this asinine way of doing business, unless, in the words of Ayn Rand, businessmen and politicians realize that wealth should not be the product of maintaining the status quo, but in “one's capacity to think.”
And that's something we have, for quite some time now, stopped doing.Tweet
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