Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Capitol of Panem is Galt's Gulch

Mrs. G. and I are working through the Hunger Games trilogy, as are many around the world. The story of a slave rebellion in a dystopian future America is gripping.

The inspiration for Panem, the brutal dictatorship in which the Capitol forces the oppressed Districts to send children to die in gladiatorial combat, is obviously the Roman Empire. Suzanne Collins, the creator of this world, says her inspiration came from watching a juxtaposition of a reality show and the Iraq war on television.

I have had another strong feeling while listening to the story, though: The Hunger Games is a kind of sequel to Atlas Shrugged.

In Ayn Rand's novel of a dystopian future America, the competent few are besieged by the incompetent many.  The competent must run everything and invent everything to maintain the little worlds of the helpless masses.  These Atlases carry the world on their shoulders.  All they ask is to be unrestricted in making a profit and living as they please. I will not be spoiling the plot to reveal that these Atlases get tired of carrying the world, and shrug it off, to let it collapse into Dark Days.

Atlas Shrugged is the most preposterous story I ever finished, for reasons I have detailed here.

The place these Atlases all sneak off to is an impregnable valley in the Rockies known as Galt's Gulch.

The Capitol of Panem is an impregnable location in the Rockies.

I can see a direct line of continuity between the little city of the competent few who should rule over the incompetent many, and the brutal capital of a police state in which the technologically advanced control the many, whom they regard as incompetent.

I don't mean that Suzanne Collins intended Panem to be derived from Atlas Shrugged.  But I can see how the descendents of the intentionally selfish John Galt and Dagny Taggert could become the intentionally cruel President Snow.

6 comments:

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

I'm no objectivist, but this is a terrible straw man of what Rand pushed in that book. Her ideas had nothing to do with ruling over anyone. It was all about choice, to an extreme libertarianesque extent, and from what I've read about Hunger Games, that isn't anything like what the government there is. The government all but didn't even exist in Galt's Gulch.

gruntled said...

I agree that Atlas Shrugged imagines that a nation, or at least the hideaway of its "creatives," could exist without government. As I think ahead, though, to what might actually happen in the sequel, I think that they would have to develop some government to carry on to the next generation, unless they were sterile (a real possibility).

Whatever happened in the world of drones, it would potentially threaten the world of the Atlases unless they took measures to protect themselves - the most normal course of which would be for the technologically advanced minority to assume control over the infrastructure of their backwards neighbors. In such a situation it would be likely that the overlords would need to be increasingly heavy-handed to achieve sufficient order without making themselves vulnerable. If the hinterlands revolted, as they do in the backstory of The Hunger Games, then the transition from libertarian retreat to full-blown dictatorship would be complete.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You're making huge assumptions about them that they wouldn't make. I counted myself among the objectivist / neolibertarian crowd for most of my college years, and I can assure you those people have zero interest in ruling anyone. If there was a revolt of some kind, their reaction would be to pull back into some defensible position and merely trade with any outsiders that would do so in a mutually beneficial manner. It goes against EVERYTHING they believe in to use force in such a way.

Ben Friedman said...

Forgive my lack of memory (last time i read Atlas Shrugged was a good 10 years ago or more), but from whence did the resource inputs for Galt's Gulch come? Was it utterly self-sufficient? I haven't read/seen HG yet, but as i understand the whole foundation of the socio/econo/political compact in Panem is that the rest of regions send natural resources to the Capitol to support it.

Also, did AR ever posit a genetic link for "creativity" (creeping towards eugenics?)? I tend to agree with Beau that over the generations in galt's gulch, it's not hard to imagine that in place of productivity and creativity, complacency and cruelty might reign. In the historical record, how many children of regal kings or great "producers" have proven to be the opposite?

As a matter of intellecual imagination, I can't dismiss the linkage in my mind.

Arthur said...

I used to be a libertarian, too, and I think gruntled is right that Galt's Gulch probably would devolve into an authoritarian dystopia despite the fact that "it goes against EVERYTHING they believe in to use force in such a way." That's because I came to the conclusion that what they want (and what I used to want) is a utopian impossibility. And when people attempt the impossible, they fail. If they are creative people with a strong sense of superiority and self-importance, their capacity for rationalization will be considerable. Probably the first generation would stick to its principles, the second would approach them "creatively," and the third would totally reverse them while redefining terms to maintain the illusion of continuity. Libertarians have a habit of inflating human autonomy by deflating social and historical context, or at least I did, and in a funny way, this actually reduces their freedom by blinding them to the social contingencies that frame their ideas.

pittance said...

Just like today the government and the media are the villains...