I will give only two examples. If anybody considers it necessary to see more than two examples, then it should be possible to find more examples.
The first example is in Atlas Shrugged, chapter 3 “Anti-Greed” of part 3 “A is A.”
(It seems that page numbering isn’t standardized for the various printings of Atlas Shrugged.)
There’s some dialogue about a train carrying grapefruit.
Now, the point is that a planned train trip to transport coal is cancelled in order to transport the grapefruit, and it’s supposed to be clear that the decision is bad.
Now, it seems that grapefruit is a somewhat specialized kind of fruit. If we were to look at the quantities of apples, oranges, or bananas consumed in the USA every year, we would probably find that the total mass and total spending for each is greater than for grapefruit.
Thus, grapefruit are actually existing fruit, and a more specialized example than something like apples, oranges, or bananas.
The way that grapefruit appear in Atlas Shrugged is as a kind of frivolous thing that intrudes into the story because of government interference with the economy.
The second example is tennis (a specific sport) in the Fountainhead. It appears in the context of an architect who had hired Roark partly because he had assumed that Roark played tennis, and he was disappointed to discover that Roark didn’t play tennis. (I’m writing that from memory without consulting the text, so if that’s not accurate, then I welcome corrections).
In this case, the point is that Roark is supposed to be a great architect, and tennis has no connection with either his work or his spare time. In that context, tennis appears to be something ridiculous.
What does all of this mean? I imagine a Quaker dressed very plainly and told to look through a very high-powered telescope. The Quaker sees that the stars, that ordinarily appear to be plain white, actually have a variety of colors. The Quaker might cry out, “I hope that God doesn’t find out about this!”
Now, I ask the question because of something near the end of chapter 2 “The Aristocracy of Pull” of Part 2 “Either-Or.” It’s a speech by Francisco to Rearden:
“They do it, because they want to avoid effort. You do it, because you won’t permit yourself to consider anything that would spare you. They indulge their emotions at any cost. You sacrifice your emotions as the first cost of any problem. They are willing to bear nothing. You are willing to bear anything. They keep evading responsibility. You keep assuming it. But don’t you see that the essential error is the same? Any refusal to recognize reality, for any reason whatever, has disastrous consequences.”
In that speech, Francisco seems to be speaking for the author (i.e. for Ayn Rand). However, it seems that the author habituated readers to focus attention on large-scale phenomena and patterns, with specialized things — regardless of their reality — serving almost as a kind of comic relief.
There seems to be some tension between that established pattern and the explicit message: “Any refusal to recognize reality, for any reason whatever, has disastrous consequences.”
Did the author deliberately choose to create that tension? How should it be resolved?
WRT the “grapefruit incident”, Cuffy Meigs ordered the Comet taken off the schedule for two days in order to have it pick up some grapefruit:
“And he’s cancelled a coal train in order to get cars to lug grapefruit?”
“Dagny, ‘why’ is a word nobody uses any longer.”
After a moment, she asked, “Have you any guess about the reason?”
“Guess? I don’t have to guess. I know.”
“All right, what is it?”
“The grapefruit special is for Smather brothers… The Smather brothers have friends in Washington… We’re supposed to pretend to believe that ‘public welfare’ is the only reason for any decision – and that the public welfare of the city of New York requires the immediate delivery of a large quantity of grapefruit.” He paused, then added, “The Director of Unification is sole judge of the public welfare and has sole authority over the allocation of any motive power and rolling stock on any railroad anywhere in the United States.”
The absurdity is the sheer arbitrariness of it. On what basis is grapefruit suddenly more needed than coal or passenger transportation? If you live in a society where virtually all goods and services are in very short supply, would your first thought be “gee, I really need some grapefruit”? What if someone nowadays cancelled a shipment of coronavirus vaccines in favor of, for example, kiwi? (Decisions were, of course, based first and foremost on who happened to have the most political clout at the time, not on reason).
In another incident, train cars that were supposed to transport a bumper crop of wheat were instead used to transport soybeans (which turned out to have been ruined by poor farming techniques) grown by – that’s right, someone with political clout.
So yes, I think that this tension was deliberate. The “grapefruit incident” was intended as an almost comical example of the loss of perspective that can happen when decisions are made in such a manner.
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