Thursday, March 7, 2013

Atlas Drugged by Stephen L. Goldstein

I am about to show what a drab, fun-less, plodding reader I am: I don’t like most fiction. For me, it is usually a waste of time because it doesn’t convey factual information. Clearly, the warm summer sun of recreation does not shine in my brain or thaw the ice in my heart.

But occasionally I will break this pattern and pick-up a work of fiction. If the book is historically important (i.e. Tolstoy’s War and Peace), or expresses a philosophy that has impacted culture (i.e. Camus’ The Stranger), or has some relevance to current events (i.e. Hosseini’s The Kite Runner), I may read it.

Stephen Goldstein’s book Atlas Drugged is one such novel for which I have made an exception. It is a response to Ayn Rand’s mammoth ode to corporate greed Atlas Shrugged. In his dystopia, the author represents what would happen if Rand’s characters had attained their results in the U.S. This book has the chilling propensity to be correct in anticipating our own current events.

One example illustrating prescience is how it anticipated the response of America’s financial sector to Hurricane Sandy. Goldstein’s book shows corporations buying-up real estate after a disastrous East Coast hurricane devastates the properties in its’ path. Sound familiar? No, Goldstein is not Nostradamus. He is simply a rational observer who understands how greed works in the business world. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that current events are Dr Goldstein’s stock and trade. He is a columnist for “The Sun-Sentinel” in Florida.

Atlas Drugged
came out at the beginning of 2012. Another plot line involves a power drink called the Atlas Energy Drink, which has less than healthy consequences for those who drink it on a prolonged basis. In November of 2012, in the real world, the FDA began investigations of energy drinks, where suspicions that some of them may have caused deaths were revealed. Amusingly, Goldstein presents his accurate predictions of our country’s misadventures with greed, using the same polemical style, soliloquies and stark language format, that Rand uses in her tome.

Finally, there is the issue of John Galt’s Strike. In both Atlas Shrugged and Atlas Drugged, Ayn Rand’s conservative hero successfully brings the country’s economy to its knees. While not an exact mirror of the GOP-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, there are enough parallels to make a reader take notice. Both the GOP and Galt reveal attempts to force an economic downturn for their own purposes. We will soon see if the Republican unwillingness to compromise has an effect similar to that produced in both books.

I’m not a political Pollyanna. I recognize that human beings are selfish. This isn’t a judgment, it’s a biological reality. Humans did not get to the top of the food chain by sitting around a camp fire with the antelope singing “Kumbaya.” If a Cro-Magnon tribe controlled a water hole in the middle of a desert, they fought to keep it against invading tribes. The healthier, more cunning, more ruthless tribe, drove the losers into the desert where they would perish. The winners would survive to reproduce their winning traits, including selfishness. If you want a more scientific explanation concerning the origins of human selfishness, read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.

It is because human beings are selfish, and because capitalism rewards selfishness, that one of our government’s chief duties is to police capitalism. Atlas Drugged presents a dystopia where unrestrained capitalism harms the public. Its examples only appear to be magically prescient to those who do not understand the nature of human beings or capitalism. Dr Goldstein does understand, so his book’s scenarios pan-out in real life. In addition to being an amusing piece of fiction, Atlas Drugged has proven to be an accurate portrayal of what happens when corporate greed goes unchecked.

Goldstein, Stephen L. Atlas Drugged. Ashland: Grid Press. 2012.

For more political books by Stephen Goldstein, see