Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 11 - chapters XII and XIII - iron rails vs. steel rails

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

In Chapter XII, the iron vs. steel conflict took center stage. Steel was demonstrated to be more brittle than iron and thus more dangerous for rails. That iron would be less breakable than steel surprised me. I know that my understanding of metallurgy is incomplete, but I am still expecting some form of clarification later in the story.

Chapter XIII focuses on the economic benefits of steel. Rails made from steel are cheaper than those made from iron. This cheapness allows the railroads to extend to new areas. Civilization thus extends far beyond its previous boundaries, as food can now be brought great distances from where it is grown. (pp. 114, 120):

In a way that becomes clear with a little reflection, a surplus of steel caused a surplus of nearly everything else - food to begin with. There was a great surplus of food because steel rails opened suddenly to the world the virgin lands of the American west. The iron age had foreshortened time and distance. The steel age annihilated them.
p. 120

The consequences were such as become fate. They were tremendous, uncontrollable, unimaginable. They changed the face of civilization. Vertical cities, suburbs, subways, industrialism, the rise of a wilderness in two generations to be the paramount nation in the world, victory in the World War, - those were consequences.
p. 114

Aaron's speech (part 9, pp. 67 - 71) thus comes to fruition. But modern professors, bureaucrats, "journalists" and politicians think only of "exploitation of the worker," "American imperialism," "global warming," "obscene profits," etc. when they consider the consequences of the steel revolution.

Enoch and the iron industry fight steel. The fight is described in a sequence (pp. 121-122) that is eerily similar to the fight to stop Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged (although no language was copied). Steel is denounced publicly as unsafe. Public hysteria is aroused. Laws are passed. The difference in Atlas Shrugged is that Rearden Metal is superior to steel and iron in every way. The fight in Atlas Shrugged demonstrated the evil of government interference in the market. The fight in Cinder Buggy was merely an extension of the personal battles among the characters. (pp. 112-113). To the extent that Garrett made a deeper point, he was demonstrating the historic role of invention and progress in the survival and prosperity of mankind. Aaron's speech (part 9, pp. 67-71) seems to be emerging as Garrett's main philosophical point. It is a point that, while basic to the message of Atlas Shrugged, is far more simple and rudimentary than the themes that Ayn Rand explored (although far more complex and advanced than the history lessons that modern education and culture are capable of teaching today).

Garrett's more fundamental emphasis reflects Cinder Buggy's status as being written before the New Deal drew the battle lines between capitalism and anti-capitalism in every aspect of culture. That the importance of the discussion on pp. 67-71, 114 and 120 would be lost on modern Americans reflects 80 years of post-New Deal education.

The battles on pages 121-122 also demonstrate how fundamentally Ayn Rand's detractors miss the point. Rand's enemies accuse Rand of plagiarism because one of the main characters in The Driver is named "Galt," even though the plot of Driver differs greatly from anything Rand ever wrote. But those same detractors miss the great similarity between the Rearden Metal storyline and Cinder Buggy's iron vs. steel storyline. Perhaps if there was a character named "Galt," "Taggart" or "Rearden" in Cinder Buggy, Rand's simplistic detractors would have noticed Cinder Buggy (but probably still failed to recognize the similar subplots).

At the end of Chapter XII (p. 118), Garrett identifies the date as 1883 when the steel rail superseded the iron rail. But before New Damascus and the characters reach that point and that date, much is still left to happen in Cinder Buggy .

Click here to see part 12, as the conflict among the characters intensifies.

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