Illuminatus! vs Atlas Shrugged

As has been widely noted, the twenty-first century is strange, worrying and makes very little sense. Help is at hand, however, because the late twentieth century produced two huge novels which shed light on our current predicament. These two books are polar opposites, yet oddly similar - opposed twins, in other words, like Cain and Abel.

Both novels are ridiculously long. Both were largely ignored by the literary and educational establishments, due to their unmistakable whiff of madness (This fear of insanity is, of course, why the literary and educational establishments always miss out on all the good stuff.) They have both, however, found a devoted readership, been hailed as life changing, and have remained in print since publication. Between them, they explain much of our current twenty-first century world, from the underground anarchism of Anonymous and the shift from hierarchies to networks, to the Tea Party and neo-conservative hijack of American politics and the massive shift in wealth distribution towards the super rich.

These two books are, of course Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy (Co-written with Robert Shea, who I'm rudely leaving out of the picture in order to portray a false RAW/Rand dichotomy).

But - which is which? Fear not, the following guide will explain all:



Illuminatus!

Atlas Shrugged

Opening line: 
“It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton.”

Opening line: 
“Who is John Galt?”
804 pages

1184 pages.
Superficially a sci-fi tinged mystery novel, but really the philosophy of Discordianism in fictional form.

Superficially a sci-fi tinged mystery novel, but really the philosophy of Objectivism in fictional form.
Views the world through the metaphor of the Greek Goddess Eris.

Views the world through the metaphor of the Greek Titan Atlas.
Has been known to turn previously sane readers into paranoid schizophrenics.

Has been known to turn previously sane readers into sociopaths.
Portrays hierarchical systems abstracted to the point of absurdity, although some readers find that absurdity plausible.

Portrays individual liberty abstracted to the point of absurdity, although some readers find that absurdity plausible.
Written by a sane man who believed he was insane.

Written by an insane woman who believed she was sane.

Portrays powerful men as utterly deluded about their influence on world history.

Portrays powerful men as utterly pivotal due to their influence on world history.
Characters who lack a sense of empathy and connection find sex devoid of meaning.

Characters who lack a sense of self-interest and purpose find sex devoid of meaning.
Author never makes things simple for his readers.

Author never makes things difficult for her readers.
Has the ability to make those who haven’t read it bemused.

Has the ability to make those who haven’t read it extremely angry.
Completely unfilmable.
Completely unfilmable (see the 2011 film Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 for more details)

Portrays the powerful elite in ways utterly removed from how the powerful elite actual act.

Portrays the proletariat in ways utterly removed from how the proletariat actual act.
Views government as dangerous and deluded.

Views government as dangerous and parasitical.
Author is so extreme that they were at one point accused of being an undercover CIA agent working to discredit conspiracy theories.

Author is so extreme that they were at one point accused of being a Soviet sleeper agent working to discredit capitalism.
At one point, a character fucks a giant apple.

No-one fucks any apples.
Considers an individual’s belief that their personal philosophy is the only true philosophy to be the cause of all the confusion, misery and problems in the world.

Considers the author’s personal philosophy to be the only true philosophy.
It is seemingly impossible to find anyone who knew the author who has a bad word to say about him.
*shudder*

  



(Students of bias may wish to note that, whilst at least one review of my novel The Brandy of the Damned noted the influence of Robert Anton Wilson, no review of any of my books has yet mentioned influence from Ayn Rand.)

Comments

  1. Atlas Shrugged also has the power to make those who HAVE read it extremely angry.

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    1. "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

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    2. Illuminatus! changed my world.

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  2. This is hilarious! It's also perfectly accurate. I have read both books, and I can confirm that there is no apple fucking in Atlas Shrugged.

    Thank you for this. You've gained a follower. Who shall I kill?

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  3. @ Mark Donahue - You will be contacted. Await instructions.

    @ Pensive Penguin - Yeah! No arguments there

    The more I think about it, the more I think that the Ayn Rand Foundation are missing a trick but not using the advertising slogan: 'Atlas Shrugged: Nobody fucks any apples.'

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    1. Great stuff. Bob Wilson met Rand once in the early 50's, I think. She had read or heard something involving General Semantics he had done, and, as Bob put it, "He was summoned into the presense." In demonstrating some point he started to put some equations on the chalkboard. Rand replied, "I do not believe in modern mathematics." This attitude led Bob (with tongue in cheek) to suggest the Princess Anastasia, fleeing communism which she hated so much, created a competing atheistic religion called Rationalism and changed her name to Ayn Rand.

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    2. Oops, "religion called Objectivism".

      Also, I love the satire of Atlas Shrugged in Illuminatus! called Telemachus Sneezed which begins "What is John Guilt?"

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    3. I've been looking for that quote, do you have a source?

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  4. Wow, that's a fantastic story. "I do not believe in modern mathematics." You could spend hours pondering that.

    But the thought that they met is amazing. That's up there with Huxley meeting Crowley in Berlin in 1930. On one level it seems amazingly unlikely but on another it seems almost pre-ordained and makes complete sense.

    Great stuff. Thanks for that Eric!

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    1. Thanks, and I loved your book on Tim Leary.

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  5. One thing worth mentioning is that Atlas shows up twice in Illuminatus!, once as parody (the novel Telemachus Sneezed) and once as homage (Hagbard Celine is a cross between Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjold).

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  6. This could have been done much better. Obviously the reviewer hates Rand, but also doesn't understand her.

    For instance, "Author never makes things simple for his readers" is equally true of both of them.

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    1. Rand goes out of her way to make it simple. Thinking that Rand is complex or has some subtext besides the obvious is ludicrous.

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    2. Disagree also. I think the author has an accurate view of Rand and doesn't necessarily hate her.

      For example, there's one point in Atlas Shrugged where a character, John Galt in point of fact, describes his exact philosophy for over 60 pages straight. Over sixty! Without a break!

      While I disagree very much with Ayn Rand's philosophy, one cannot deny her skill as a writer in making this even possible.

      But one can't say Ayn Rand made it very difficult for her readers to understand where she was coming from.

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    3. Rand's novel is interspersed with diatribes a few dozen pages long in which the author, through her characters, says "This is exactly what I mean and what my reasoning is."

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    4. Well I don't think it's easy to read 60 pages of philosophy in the middle of a novel.
      The *subtext* is prechewed; the *text* is like eating an elephant.

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    5. metasailor, I disagree slightly. I can (and do) deny her skill as a writer. But I allow no peers to her skill as a ranter.

      As for making things simple, it depends on what you mean. Reading Rand is difficult in that she constantly insults and affronts anyone whose thoughts don't align with hers. However there's no difficulty at all in discerning what her thoughts are.

      Wilson and Shea are just the opposite. They constantly mock anyone who thinks they know The Truth, and play games with the reader about what "truth" even is, let alone about what they think it is. Atlas Shrugged is one long slog through Objectivism, while Illuminatus! is a constant game of hide and seek.

      Illuminatus! can be summarized by a Discordian maxim: "Everything is true in some sense, false in some sense, and meaningless in some sense." If Ayn Rand had even tried to write that I believe her hair would have caught fire.

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    6. I agree with Paul. There's a scene in Illuminatus! that refers to Atlanta Hope's book Telemachus Sneezed with the 900-page speech by character John Guilt.

      It took me a long time to find all of the Illuminatus! books, which I attributed to a conspiracy trying to keep me from acquiring the full set...

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    7. I got them all in the book section at the Lucky's supermarket down the street from my childhood home. This would not happen today.

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    8. Really, JGD? What part of "Communism is bad!" repeated ad nauseum for over a thousand pages didn't you get? Rand had a flair for describing scenery, but everything else in that book was a pathetic tantrum.

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  7. Go fnord yourself Mr. Galt.

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    1. If Mr. Galt doesn't see the fnords, that will read like you're cheering him on.

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    2. I feel compelled to point out that the fnords are not, themselves, spelled "fnord".

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    3. Yeah you spell them:

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    4. I suddenly feel very anxious and fearful...

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  8. @ BeserkRL - That's a point, it hadn't occured to me that Hagbard could be seen as a Randian hero.

    @ John David Galt (John Galt! Oh, I hope that is your real name, it would be brilliant if that was your real name) - The difference that I was trying to get across in the "Author never makes things simple/difficult for his/her readers" comments is that Objectivism is definite, certain, black and white. As the name suggests, knowledge and values are condsidered to be 'objective'. Discordianism is the opposite. It is drenched in relativism. It's never either/or, it's always both and more. To quote RAW, "Only the madman is absolutely sure." From that angle, one is 'simple' and the other is tricky as all hell.

    That said, both perspectives can be very difficult to _accept_ so from that angle I agree your point is a good one.

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  9. "Objectivism is definite, certain, black and white"

    Have you read Chris Sciabarra's _Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical_? He makes what I think is a convincing case that Rand's actual views (as opposed to her rhetoric) are the antithesis of black-and-white thinking -- that rejecting/transcending artificial dichotomies is one of the central themes of her thought.

    As for "objective," remember that for Rand that term itself is the rejection of a dichotomy (intrinisc vs. subjective). Her position is that while intrinsic phenomena belong to external reality part from mind, and subjective phenomena belong to the mind apart from external reality, objective phenomena inhere in the relation between mind and reality.

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    1. Ah, clearly you have a far greater knowledge of Rand than I do. That 'dichotomy rejection' seems reasonable as you describe it, but I had never associated it with her.

      I think the problem for people with a more superficial understanding of Rand, like myself, is that most of what you hear about her comes from supporters who ignore much of her viewpoint (the anti-religion stuff, etc) and focus on one aspect (the 'sod others' bit).

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    2. John,

      YES, you are 100% right with this: "I think the problem for people with a more superficial understanding of Rand, like myself, is that most of what you hear about her comes from supporters who ignore much of her viewpoint (the anti-religion stuff, etc) and focus on one aspect (the 'sod others' bit)."

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    3. I see your point about "dichotomy rejection" in one sense, but in another, very real sense Rand rejects dichotomies by saying "There is only one right worldview, and this is it."

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  10. Brilliant chart! Hilarious! You're obviously Aluminum Bavariati, no?

    From RAW's Cosmic Trigger Vol 2, 2nd ed:
    "The first new dogmatism I embraced after rejecting the Marxist BS (belief system) was Ayn Rand's philosophy (not yet called Objectivism in those days.) _The Fountainhead_ had exactly the appeal for me that it has retained, decade after decade, with alienated adolescents of all ages. (The average youthful reader of _Thus Spake Zarathustra_ decides he is the Superman, and the average youthful Randroid decides she is an Alienated Super Genius.) LIke most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the the Rand dogma and imagining I was an 'individualist.'

    "Some years later, after becoming a published writer, I actually was invited to meet Ayn Rand once. (I was 'summoned to the Presence,' as Arlen said.) I confessed my doubts about certain Rand dogmas and was Cast Out Into the Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud. It was weird. I thought the Trots and Catholic priests were dogmatic, but Ayn Rand made both groups look like models of tolerance by comparison.

    "I thought she was a clinical paranoid. It was nearly 30 years later that I found out Rand was merely on Speed all the time, which creates an effect so much like paranoia that even trained clinicians cannot always tell the difference, and some even claim there is no difference."
    -pp.133-134

    Another difference:

    Author wrote on cannabis, and at times dabbled liberally Author was a speed freak.
    in entheogens/psychedelics.

    Matt Ruff's novel _Sewer, Gas and Electric_ has two characters debating about Illuminatus versus Umberto Eco's Foucualt's Pendulum, and Ayn Rand plays a HUGE role in crazy novel. Anyone who likes to see Rand parodied (Ruff give sher much more of a hearing, methinks) wd like this novel.

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    1. That explains so much.

      I must get hold of CT vol 2(and 3), they are really hard to find here in the UK. Hopefully his entire body of work will be made available on ebook sooner rather than later.

      *heads to eBay*

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    2. What! "Shrugging" is NOT a laissez faire metaphor for "giant apple fucking"?

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  11. Then there's the ultimate Rand parody:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mGpMpaHGM4

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    1. That's great!

      Also - thanks to our changed relationship with smoking compared to the mid eighties, all that 'rational smoking' stuff ("this is a particulaly rational brand") has an added layer of satire - it now mocks the idea that "I know I am right because I am rational."

      Or it does to me, anyway.

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  12. Probably all the apple-fucking was in the 5000 pages her editors cut out.

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    1. Unless I see cast-iron evidence to the contrary, I'm going to take the view that this is exactly what happened.

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  13. Replies
    1. How'd you do that? I tried to make a blank post and it didn't work.

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    2. You did see the period, right?

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  14. Dunno about movies but Ken Campbell's Illuminatus staging is legendary. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Illuminatus!_Trilogy

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    1. Oh yeah... there's some great stuff about this in Michael Coveney's book about Ken Campbell, where Bill Nighy tells of how RAW arrived for the London performances, dressed in a safari suit and giving all the cast acid for breakfast.

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    2. Of course, Bill Drummond of The KLF and Justified Ancients of Mu Mu was a set designer on that play, and was also hugely influenced by RAW, as his musical output has shown.

      And if you are on Facebook, drop by the Eris page, which I moderate there.

      https://www.facebook.com/HailErisFnord

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    3. I'm not on Facebook, sorry Kallisti, something about it creeps me out too much. Good to hear that the Discordian flame is being tended within its walls though.

      By the way, I've got a Thing coming out in September which I'm not supposed to announce yet, er for some reason, but I strongly suspect that it is going to be your cup of tea...

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  15. Illinatus is not given out at no costs to high schools. Atlas Shrugged is given out freely to high schools.

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    1. Which seems incongruous for both.

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    2. Can we fix that?

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    3. Funnily enough I once suggested in The Guardian that anti-drug campaigners should distribute RAW's Cosmic Trigger to schools.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/aug/02/top10s.psychedelic.nonfiction

      They didn't fall for it though.

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    4. True, but enlightened (dare I say Illuminated?) people tend not to proselytise that much. I've yet to see, say Druids on street corners handing out pamphlets on saving the trees...but Erisians do celebrate Eris in Music (The KLF, etc), and art (The Discordian Colouring Book), and Stage (the above mentioned Ken Campbell production).

      But I do admit, I once created a Discordian Recruitment pamphlet...but in self defence! At the time, I was living in Toronto, and one of the street corners on Younge St near the Eaton Centre tended to attract religious types trying to sell their brand of faith, and as I frequently had to run this gauntlet of proselytisers to get to my favourite lunch destination, I got tired of them pushing their pamphlets on me...so I took a few pages out of the Principia Discordia, such as the Discordian membership form, and when they would hand me one of their pieces of literature, I would give them one of mine. Within a week, they started avoiding me.

      Mission accomplished!

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  16. Did you see the recent xkcd comic about Atlas Shrugged?

    http://xkcd.com/1049/

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    1. Could have been any book the cartoonist didn't like.

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    2. Nope. You missed the footnote, which is often the best part of XKCD.

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    3. "Therefore, be a huge asshole to everyone" seems to be the major logical consequence of her "philosophy," so I don't know what the cartoonist is talking about. It's like saying "Hitler had some good ideas, but I just can't get behind the Jew thing."

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  17. There are 23 comments; you should delete mine and lock the comments in place.

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    1. damn... anonymous bastard blew the number curve before I could post...

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  18. John Rogers:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

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  19. I read 1984 and Brave New World as a teenager. I can still remember them though it is high time I revisited them.

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  20. I first read the former at 9 years old. It was a terrible mindfuck, but I have been in love ever since. I read the latter, much later -- at 15 or 16; briefly flirted with passion for it, and then grew up. Thank, Frank (and Bob). Blogged bookmarked, with much thanks!

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    1. Whoa! You read Illuminatus at the age of nine? That's extraordinary. Did the rest of your school education seem really dumb? And out of interst, do you currently own a submarine?

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    2. I don't think I was nearly cynical enough, or worldly enough, to understand Illuminatus! at nine years of age.

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  21. Neither discordianism or objectivism are actually philosophies. Hope this helps.

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    1. You should let Wikipedia know.

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    2. Ayn Rand actually referred to Objectivism as a philosophy. In fact one of my favorite Rand quotes is her rejection of Libertarianism (I love it because so many Libertarians idolize Rand).

      "For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called 'hippies of the right,' who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultanteously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs."

      http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/libertarians.html

      Besides identifying Objectivism as a "philosophy" in Rand's own mind, it's interesting to read her concern about the younger and more foolish of her readers being "snared" and led astray. It sounds a great deal like a prophet lashing out at heretics who lure believers away from the One True Faith.

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  22. I do have a nitpicky disagreement with this characterization of "Illuminatus!":

    "Portrays hierarchical systems abstracted to the point of absurdity, although some readers find that absurdity plausible."

    This was an intentionally satirical abstraction, as part of pointing out that paranoid conspiracy theories are just as likely to be wrong as any other theories about anything.

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    1. I know! Did I imply otherwise?

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    2. That's the impression I got, just because it was equated with Ayn Rand's unintentional self-satire through her *serious* extreme abstraction of individual liberty...

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    3. I just couldn't resist really, sticking RAWs satirical approach next to Rand's ever-so serious approach like that, and letting them stand together. It was just too tempting.

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  23. Yikes! I really hope Matt Smith wasn't trying to make Dr. Who look like Ayn Rand when he chose the Fez! I skimmed Illuminatus for the sex when I was 9 or 10. From that perspective, it crushes Atlas Shrugged.

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    1. Ayn Rand didn't complete the look with a mop, did she? It's a shame really, she would have looked good with a fez and mop.

      My guess is that Matt Smith wasn't consciously referencing Rand, but now I think about it Davros has had some distinctly Randian dialogue over the years.

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  24. Cain and Abel weren't twins. Perhaps you mean Jacob and Esau? They were definitely opposed twins. Either way, it's a weird biblical reference to make.

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    1. I just meant that they were opposites, my mistake if I implied they were actual twins. I'm not really up on all that bronze age stuff, to be honest.

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  25. Hi, is there an alternative location where I can find your book, The Brandy of the Damned? Do you have a direct purchase from your site that I am not finding? Thanks.

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    1. Firstly - thanks yourself! Secondly, the paperback isn't out for a few months and you can only get it on Kindle at the moment. But if that's no good, drop me an email or DM me your address via Twitter and I'll send you a free .pdf. How does that sound?

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  26. You could add: characters worship a golden apple vs. characters worship a golden dollar sign

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  27. These reviews make me want to read both books, and I'm actually more interested in Rand's.

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    1. AR died for you society5 June 2012 at 03:02

      Exactly as planned... Muahahahaha!

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  28. This is great, you've made me want to read RAW and my disinterest in Rand is about the same as it ever was.

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  29. Actually the character Atlanta Hope from "Illuminatus!" is an allusion to Ayn Rand as well as her fictional book called "Telemachus Sneezed" mocks the title of "Atlas Shrugged".

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  30. Have you read this?

    "The Unlikeliest Cult in History" - http://www.2think.org/02_2_she.shtml

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  31. This thread is filled with pretentious narcissism and the haughty superiority that I associate with people who have not achieved happiness, but in their frustration mock and belittle others who still strive for it. There's almost an attitude of glee here which I found sickening the first few times I saw threads like this. The fact that many of you are willing to criticise an author and her philosophy based purely on what her critics have said, without reading her work yourselves, shows a lack of intellectual honesty and integrity. I can't imagine what the payoff of behaving like this would be, but it can't be worth the cost.

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    1. Funny, Paul, I was going to ask "Girma Orssengo, is that you?"...

      BJ.

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    2. Happiness is not something you strive for. That may be your problem right there. Robert Anton Wilson fans are just happier, more well adjusted people. They have a sense of humor. Sorry you feel mocked and belittled. But not that sorry, really.

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    3. I've read all of Rand's books, including the ones no one talks about anymore, and the haters are right.

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    4. I read the first third of Atlas Shrugged before giving up in disgust. Rand was a sociopath and proud of it.

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    5. yes, rand is horribly offensive. the question is that if she/the OP have it all so right why would they care what anyone else thinks of their philosophy? the undisciplined hippie communists can go frolic in their ignorance and organic gardens while randroids support the morality of big business by eating only heavily processed foods and meatstuffs which receive no government regulation, the way it should be-- everybody wins!

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  32. Anyone else reminded of Deus Ex?

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  33. So, I read this little comparison yesterday and for the past 24 hours I've been giggling about it. Really great work. You've got yourself a new blog follower!

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    1. Thank so much Stephanie, that's a lovely thing to hear. Much appreciated.

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  34. I met RAW many years ago. Other than a propensity for quoting his own books repeatedly, he seemed quite pleasant.

    For people with a familiarity with both books, I found "Sewer, Gas, & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy" to contain a number of highly amusing references to both.

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    1. He quoted himself a lot, something I've noticed in many authors who also do a lot of public speaking. I think many of his essays are verbatim from lectures and addresses he gave, especially in the later years. So he would tell some of the same stories, crack the same jokes, because he was speaking to different audiences. No harm, no foul, until it came time to write them down.

      I can sort of give him a pass on this too, because he was so far ahead of just about everyone that who else was he going to quote?

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  35. fear and hate are strong with this post and these comments... yeesssss

    /yodavoice

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  36. fear and hate are strong with this post and these comments... yeesssss

    /yodavoice

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  37. I loved Illuminatus so much that I tried to write fan fiction bringing the characters up to the early 2000s. It's sort of on the backburner, but I haven't given it up. It seems such an obvious candidate, with all the quirky, intriguing people in it.

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  38. The one thing I'll give that vile woman credit for is that--unlike other wingers--she didn't even pretend to care about the teachings of the Man from Nazareth. She was a rat*, but no one could call her a hypocrite.

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  39. I once recommended to a theocratic conservative that he read Atlas Shrugged on the grounds that it was defense of freedom by someone just as narrow minded as he was.

    I suspect that the nuttier Objectivists were already nuts and the major effect was to aim their lunacy in a mostly harmless direction.

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  40. I've read and enjoyed some of Bob Shea's subsequent historical fiction, but I'm convinced Illuminatus! is mostly RAW.

    .

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    1. I've read that Wilson and Shea took turns, trying to out-crazy each other. And RAW mentions in some interview or other that they were writing this as Watergate details were emerging daily. He said they couldn't believe how bizarre reality had become.

      fnord

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  41. Just lie down on the floor and keep calm. Because, "John Dillinger Died for Your Sins".

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  42. I read both novel's, and BECAUSE I read both, it just screwed-up my world-view and made me much more confused than I would have been hadn't I only just read one novel, or neither at all (BTW, I'm a Libertarian who recognizes that Ayn Rand WAS NOT one).

    If confronted with the chance to read both books, it's best to choose the book your parents wouldn't want you to read, and make the most of your literary rebelliousness!

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  43. pithy and accurate. Bookmarking for future reference. (about things that are not apples and the intercourse with/of)

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  44. spot on, and full of win. you sir have gained a new reader.

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  45. This is fantastic. My friend, you have acquired yet another new follower.

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  46. As a reform Discordian who plans to read Atlas Shrugged this year in honor of a Liberation friend who died trecently, I don't feel qualified to assess this article properly. But as someone who has reread Illuminatus multiple times I will caution the unwary that the Multivesre you inhabit is subject to change with each reading and these changes can range from the subtle to the near cataclysmic.

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