This week’s recipe: Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
My favorite piece of news, and yours, this week has been the retirement of Paul Ryan. Yes, the zombie-eyed granny starver (© Charlie Pierce) is slinking back to Janesville to spend more time with his owners family. Don’t worry, he’s young; after a few years at a lobbying or think tank gig, he’ll come back to the Washington he so hates to ever-so-reluctantly take up the mantle of leadership. After all, once the enormous debt bomb he planted last year goes off, we’ll need someone to do the hard but necessary work of destroying the social safety net.
I hate Paul Ryan. I think I hate him even more than I hate Mitch McConnell. At least everyone, McConnell included, knows that he’s a cynical bastard who cares about nothing but power. But Ryan managed to fool a lot of people for a long time. He was a policy wonk who didn’t care about the details of policy. He was a deficit hawk who gave the nation’s least needy citizens an enormous unfunded tax cut. He was a devout Catholic who ignored everything Jesus ever said about the poor. He was a Washington outsider who’d been working in Washington since he was 22. He was a family man who was fine being a “weekend dad” when his kids were young and needed him most, but feels compelled to spend more time with them now that his political future looks dim. But to me, his worst crime will always be that bizarre devotion to Ayn Rand that all but our most sociopathic citizens outgrow by their early 20s.
Yes, dear readers, I have read Atlas Shrugged. All of it! Do you know how long the audiobook of Atlas Shrugged is? 63 HOURS! Do you know how long John Galt’s famous speech is when it’s read aloud? THREE HOURS AND 38 MINUTES! This would be offensive enough, but it’s even more distressing to know that there are so many people high up in our government whose life philosophy was heavily influenced by this crap.
An entirely Objective summary for those of you who have never read it: Atlas Shrugged takes place in an alternative version of America, which is now a socialist hellhole that also has free elections and open trials, one where rich assholes are allowed to make lengthy speeches comparing themselves to victims of human sacrifice and the worst that happens is that their enemies sputter at them impotently. It’s a world where the government simultaneously oppresses supercapitalists to the point where they feel the need to withdraw from society, and where that same government is incapable of preventing those same supercapitalists from building transcontinental railroads. In this world, there are only a few dozen people on earth who are capable of running entire industries; without those people, precious natural resources like copper, oil, and coal simply stay in the ground. Weirdly, it is a world where none of these genius industrialists who are great at everything have managed to invent commercial air travel, so everyone gets everywhere by train. The vast majority of people appear to have stopped breeding shortly after our heroine Dagny Taggart was born (children being the ultimate moochers); not that it matters, because children in this world are just miniature adults. Any time there’s a flashback to one of the heroes’ childhood, we find that he or she speaks, thinks, and acts like an adult, and probably works in a copper mine as well. (Yes, in this world, all of these millionaire heirs are so eager to continue the family tradition of productive achievement that they can’t wait to start at the very bottom when they’re in their early teens and work their way up through grit and hard work alone. Just like in real life!)
The novel’s heroes–railroad tycoon Dagny and the various male industrial tycoons who want to fuck her–can go several nights in a row without sleeping, regard the human need to eat as an inconvenience, and never exercise other than deliberately striding across their offices, throwing their shoulders back, and/or energetically raping each other, yet they are the healthiest, most attractive people in America. The government wants them to share their toys so they follow John Galt, a junior-level engineer at a now-bankrupt auto company and a nondescript track worker at a railroad and a 38-year-old virgin, and withdraw from society. Only they don’t really withdraw; they go away for one month out of the year and spend the rest of the time actively sabotaging the nation’s industry. It’s the difference between going on strike and burning down your place of work. But whatever. They all go live in a valley where powerful businessmen, skilled artisans, brilliant composers, eminent professors, renowned surgeons and the like happily do menial labor all day, and without their brilliant efforts, society collapses and millions die. You know, a happy ending.
Sounds like an enjoyable enough potboiler, if you’re a sociopath or an asshole. So what makes it crap? Let me count the ways. For starters, there’s the physiognomy-is-destiny characterizations that prevail in both fairy tales and Atlas Shrugged. Just as beautiful princesses are kind and virtuous and ugly crones are wicked witches or jealous stepmothers, you can immediately tell the ideological orientation of a Rand character from his or her first description. If someone is tall and angular, with a shapely body, ice-like eyes, and a smile of pure contempt curling on their lip, they are one of the good guys. If someone is shapeless and doughy with thinning hair and piggy little eyes, they are a moocher. Thank goodness for that, we wouldn’t want to have to deal in complexity!
Speaking of which, another way in which it resembles a fairy tale is the absolute delineation between good and evil. There are two characters—count ‘em—who are neither ubermentsch industrialists nor wicked looters (not coincidentally, they are the only two characters who are described as neither entirely angular nor entirely doughy). Otherwise, they are strictly divided into heroes, who are incapable of doing anything wrong, and villains, who are incapable of doing anything right. The heroes are the best at everything they do, up to and including flipping burgers, even if they’ve never done it before. Rand will have a good character and a bad character do literally the exact same thing but with wildly different outcomes. Without consulting anyone, Dagny unilaterally decides to build the Rio Norte line using a new metal alloy that has never been used to make anything more important than a bracelet, and it’s a brilliant business decision. Without consulting anyone, her brother James unilaterally decides to invest in some copper mines, and it’s a huge debacle. Dagny is late for a business meeting and demands that the train she’s on run through a red signal even though the engineer tells her it’s too dangerous, and she gets to the meeting on time. Politician Kip Chalmers is late for a rally and demands the train he’s on run through a tunnel even though the engineer tells him it’s too dangerous, and 300 people get asphyxiated. Et cetera, et cetera. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, you either got it or you ain’t, “it” being the author’s thumb pressed heavily on the scales in your favor. We’re supposed to admire the heroes’ bold, decisive natures, but who wouldn’t be bold and decisive if their risks paid off 100% of the time?
Then there’s the fact that no one is likable. This is obvious with the villains, all of whom say things that no one would ever say and who are motivated by things that no one would ever be motivated by. Plus, of course, they’re ugly. But the heroes are not any better. Each of the male heroes of the book did one of the following:
a) Cheated on his wife and then, when his wife confronted the mistress, demanded that she apologize to said mistress
b) Smacked his girlfriend so hard that she bled because she made a joke he didn’t like
c) Sank ships full of food aid for starving people
d) Intentionally causes civilizational collapse and the death of millions, all because he felt underappreciated at work
And these are the heroes!
There’s so much dumb, poorly thought out, clearly hypocritical nonsense in these books, nonsense that could understandably appeal to teenage boys with no life experience and an inflated sense of their own worth and abilities, but no one else. If Ayn Rand likes smoking cigarettes, then smoking cigarettes must be objectively good (a particularly striking example because, in reality, cigarettes are as close to an objectively bad consumer good as exists). As capitalists and free marketeers, Rand’s heroes believe that the best way to conduct business is to refuse to serve anyone who doesn’t fit into extremely narrow ideological parameters, reject government contracts, and generally vandalize your own property in order to make a point. They claim to abhor the use of physical force to get their way–except when one throws a man down the stairs for offering him a government loan, or when Galt’s speech inspires a man to fracture a woman’s jaw when he overhears her telling her kid to share his toys (both actions presented approvingly to the reader). Most ironically of all, any character who publishes a book to push a political agenda is met with the most sneering authorial disdain, because using the freedom of the press for ideological means is for me, not for thee.
But the worst part of the book is the overall malice and lack of charity that Rand shows any character she deems unworthy. I understand she grew up in the Soviet Union and that much of Objectivism is formed by intellectual and emotional backlash to Communism, but as manifested in Atlas Shrugged, it reproduces some of the latter’s worst tendencies. This is most evident in the famous scene in which an entire train full of passengers gets gassed in a tunnel, right after Rand lists what every person on the train had done to (it is heavily implied) deserve their fate. This includes a businessman who got a government loan; a playwright who wrote negative things about businessmen; a housewife who exercises her democratic right to vote (I’m not exaggerating); and even some sleeping kids who no doubt carried out heinous thought crimes of their own. This mode of thought—that anyone who is ideologically impure or even ideologically impure-adjacent deserves to die—sure sounds like it was cribbed from the USSR of Rand’s youth. Rand constantly uses “contempt” or “contemptuous” as positive descriptors–constantly, try to turn it into a drinking game if you want to get messed up–and venomous contempt for those she views as lesser beings drips off every page. It’s extremely ugly, and made worse by Rand’s certainty that she has a monopoly on the meaning of existence and love of life. But hers is a worldview that has no room in it for children, the elderly, the infirm, discrimination, rent-seeking, subsidies, America’s history of slavery and dispossession, physical force, human error, not entirely informed decision making, etc etc etc. In other words, it has some pretty big holes, and it is simply maddening to try to talk to anyone who thinks that it’s a guide for living life in the real world.
Finally I will say that Rand badly needed an editor, and so even though I could probably rant about how much I hate Atlas Shrugged for several more pages, I will do what she never could, and restrain myself.
So anyway, here’s some soup. This soup is so creamy, you won’t believe it’s vegan! Mark and I FINALLY got a Vitamix, courtesy of a neighbor who was moving to the UK and selling hers for half off, and this was the first thing I made in it. It made short work of a whole head of cauliflower, I was quite impressed. I know I am behind the times but the idea that blended cauliflower and cashews can taste so similar to cream is a revelation to me, one that will hopefully result in many delicious and healthy soups in the future.
Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
From Vitamin Sunshine
- 3 cups cauliflower roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup cashews soaked overnight and drained
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic fresh, chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped
- 1 carrot peeled, chopped
- 2 15-ounce diced tomatoes cans
- 3 cups water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable boullion
- 1/2 cup basil leaves chopped
- sea salt & black pepper to taste
Soak cashews in water overnight. Drain when ready to use. If there isn’t time for this step, soak cashews in boiling water for 1 hour and drain to use.
Add cauliflower to a steamer, and steam over medium high heat for 15 minutes.
In a blender, add steamed cauliflower, soaked cashews, and 3/4 cup water. Process until a very smooth cream is formed. Set aside.
In a saucepot, add olive oil and onion and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes until lightly browned.
Add chopped carrots and celery, and saute another few minutes, then add diced tomatoes, water, and vegetable bouillon . Bring back to a boil, and then simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.
Reserve 1/2 cup of the “cream, then add tomato soup to the blender, and process until very smooth.
Return soup to pot, mix in fresh basil, and season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Garnish soup with “cream”, and then add extra fresh basil and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese if desired.