“Who is John Galt?” is the opening line of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Perhaps as an homage to the famous question, “Who is Atlas?” posters riddle the walls of the dystopian society that is painted for us in 2K Games’ BioShock, released in 2007.
Although not revealed until the last third of the text, John Galt is an inventor and philosopher, who has become frustrated with the oppressive bureaucracies and socialist ideals that he feels have run ramped. Therefore, he encourages society’s leading industrialists to go on strike and retreat with him to Galt’s Gulch, where they can escape the overregulation that prevents the individual from reaching their full potential.
BioShock takes place in the fictional underwater city of Rapture, where like Galt’s Gulch, the world’s greatest minds are brought together by a man named Andrew Ryan. While Ryan makes many parallels with cartoonist Walt Disney and aviator Howard Hughes, his name is actually an anagram for Ayn Rand.
“I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”
Also, like Rand, Ryan originally hailed from Soviet Russia, but fled the country as a child when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar. After settling in the United States, Ryan still found himself unsatisfied; as he felt that the communist ways of his old home had seeped over into his new home during the fight against fascism and Nazism. So, he then asked himself, “In what country is there a place for people like me?” Ryan realized there was no country like this, and decided to build one himself.
Ryan’s own political theology is based on Ayn Rand’s philosophical concept of Objectivism, which is built on capitalism, reality, reason and self-interest. Objectivism is defined as the tendency to lay stress on what is external to or independent of the mind, or, the belief that certain things, especially moral truths, exist independently of human knowledge or perception of them.
Later in life, Rand referred to religion as, “the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.”
While her ideology is certainly atheistic in nature, Rand believed heavily in what Adam Smith referred to as the “invisible hand;” a metaphor used to describe social benefits resulting from individual actions. Perhaps, in a loose form of income redistribution that bears a resemblance to “trickle down” economics, which was popularized during the Regan era. These two counterweights mirror the beliefs of Bioshock’s antagonist. “I believe in no God. No invisible man in the sky. But, there is something more powerful than each of us, a combination of our efforts, a great chain of industry that unites us,” Ryan preaches.
Rand’s publications have also had a significant impact among libertarians and American conservatives. Paul Ryan, the Republican Party nominee for Vice President in the 2012 election, once stated, “I grew up on Ayn Rand.” Lee Lawrie’s sculpture Atlas has long been seen as the symbol for the Objectivist movement and is often associated with Rand’s most famous novel. The bronze statue is in the Art Deco style and sits in front of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, New York City, across Fifth Avenue from St.. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Once Rapture was finally out of government control, scientific progress expanded greatly. However, one of the many unregulated businesses in the supposed utopia was the ADAM industry, whose product is extremely scarce, alters the user’s DNA and grants them super-human powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis.
“There had been tremendous pressure to regulate this plasmid business. There have been side effects: blindness, insanity, death. But what use is our ideology if it is not tested? The market does not respond like an infant, shrieking at the first sign of displeasure. The market is patient, and we must be too,” Ryan argues.
Despite the declarations of Rapture, social distinctions began to arise, and the criminal mastermind Frank Fontaine, who has significant influence over the lower class, plans a coup of the city under the sea. Fontaine is also revealed to be John Galt’s counterpart, Atlas. With the help of Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum, Fontaine creates a cheap plasmid industry by mass-producing ADAM. This then creates an army of addicts that Fontaine plans to lead in the overthrow of Ryan and the ruling elite. This conflict comes to a head on New Years Eve of 1958, which leads to the inevitable destruction of Rapture.
Ayn Rand once stated, “Every horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive. Has any act of selfishness ever equaled the carnage perpetrated by disciples of altruism?” This is very similar to the musings of Ryan. “What is the greatest lie ever created? What is the most vicious obscenity ever perpetrated on mankind? Slavery? The Holocaust? Dictatorship?” asks Ryan. “No. It’s the tool with which all wickedness is built: altruism.” Ryan then goes on to ask, “How many catastrophes were launched with the words ‘think of yourself’?”
Like the communist and socialist goals of both Rand and Ryan’s birthplace, there was a major effort to create a classless society where everyone was equal and nobody would be exploited. While these intensions may have been noble, they would go on to justify some of history’s worst cases of genocide, where the numbers of the dead are still being debated to this very day.
But, as Rapture’s history shows, radical self-interest and unregulated lassie-faire capitalism, which both Rand and Ryan were stanch advocates of, will only lead to the downfall of the highly motivated individual and those around them.
While Ayn Rand and Andrew Ryan share many similarities, they both met very different ends. Ryan is ultimately bludgeoned to death with his own golf club by Bioshock’s unnamed protagonist, and Rand, passed away from heart failure in 1982. At the time of her death, she was sick from lung cancer, and was ironically collecting Medicare and social security from an institution responsible for creating a culture of dependency, also known as the United States government.