Very likely it is a common occurrence: attending an OCON induces in me, from the first day to the closing banquet, a state of mind that permits me to forget the “outside” world for a while, at least in a selective sense. It is out there, but I feel no compulsion to read a newspaper or watch TV news or don mental “body armor” to deflect the slings and arrows of Christians, Muslims or statists or maintain the hide of a rhinoceros when dealing with my fellow men. It is Galt’s Gulch for a week and a half, regardless of its venue. It is safe to say that most attendees, and even most OCON speakers, look forward to the respite such a conference promises, to be immersed, for all too brief a time, in a social and intellectual milieu in which one doesn’t need to fight or be in a constant combative mode. The “ominous parallels” of the outside world are left behind.
This year’s conference celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It was held, appropriately, in the high reaches of the Rockies, about an hour and a half’s drive from Ouray, the little town that served as a model for Galt’s Gulch, where in the novel the “best and the brightest” – and the most rational – retreated from a cannibal world they chose no longer to “serve.” The official attendee count was 515, the largest attendance ever.
This is not to say there weren’t sour notes. Mountain Village, where most of the attendees stayed and which was a ten-minute gondola ride up the “hill” from Telluride, apparently reneged on its contract with ARI, so that lecture rooms and other facilities were abruptly not available because of renovations (although I observed no renovations being done in the hotel). This resulted in many of the events, including breakfasts, lunches, meetings and lectures, having to be held inside a circus-size tent erected in the plaza outside the conference center.
The other gaffe was the lunch arranged in Ouray itself. The staff at the Elks Lodge where it was to be served underestimated the appetites of some 300 Objectivists who were bussed there, leaving many attendees to find their own midday meals in town. I don’t think many attendees complained; everyone on the side trip seemed to be happy to tread the streets where Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor walked in 1948. I hope ARI is refunded some of its money on both counts.
I went separately with some friends to Ouray that same day, arriving about two hours ahead of the bus convoy. When we parked, I immediately noticed a hand-made wooden sign in a shop window: “Galt’s Gulch, Colorado: Elevation 7,705 ft.” I went inside and asked the girl clerk about it. She knew the significance of the sign – her father, the shop’s owner, had read Atlas years ago – and said that only five of them had been made. All she knew was that some Objectivists were expected to visit the town. I warned her that she should expect to be mobbed and that she would sell every one of them, even at the posted price of $145 each.
When we returned to Ouray at the end of the day from our jeep safari to 11,700 feet, the shop window now sported an “Ouray” sign. The girl told me, with a residue of happy incredulity, that not only had she sold every one of the “Galt’s Gulch” signs (“we were wall to wall people!”), but that she had taken orders for dozens more, and had spoken with someone with ARI to make smaller reproductions of the sign for sale through ARI. As Felix Leiter once remarked to James Bond, “Nothing propinks like propinquity.” Especially in the fellowship of trade.
The main attraction of the conference was Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s six-lecture presentation, from his forthcoming book, on his DIM theory (Disintegration, Integration, Misintegration), of how to evaluate philosophical, cultural and political trends. Tore Boeckmann, Darryl Wright and Shoshana Milgram talked about the uniqueness of Atlas Shrugged as a literary work and as a philosophical phenomenon. Optional courses covered mathematics, economics, American and British history, the history of science, Plato’s Laws, property rights, the giants of law from Babylonian times up to the 19th century, and great plays. Dr. Milgram’s talk was especially fascinating; she discussed the literary origins of John Galt.
A highlight for me was Dr. John Lewis’s “The Meaning of Victory: 1945,” in which he presented the U.S.’s policy of dealing with a vanquished Imperial Japan. The principles he explicated in those lectures could just as easily have been applied to Nazi Germany, and were to a limited extent – except that the underlying irrational philosophy that governed Hitler and German culture has not been eradicated root and branch, as it was in post-war Japan by MacArthur. Dr. Lewis might agree with me that the de-Nazification of Germany should have been broadened to include a program that “de-Kantized” Germany. But, that would have been a task for a philosopher, and none practicing at the time had the proper credentials.
The same principles and policy could have been applied to a defeated Iran and Saudi Arabia, the chief state sponsors of Islamofascism, our most immediate international threats today, had our political leaders ever chose to acknowledge them and acted on that knowledge. Which is not likely now. Most of the anti-intellectual rubes, short-rangers and power-seekers in Washington want to throw in the towel in the “war on terror” and focus more on how to bring full-scale socialism to the U.S., among other statist dreams.
Coming back to the “real world” – one that we didn’t need to take seriously for a week and a half, or at least have to contend with at every corner – was as depressing an experience as I guess it was for Dagny Taggart, when John Galt dropped her off in the middle of nowhere after spending a month in “Atlantis.”
At least she didn’t need to undergo a body frisk and a baggage check.