Torture, starvation, sleep deprivation, brainwashing, I could handle, but if their plan is to break me with boredom, they just might succeed. John Galt turned away from the view of the city several stories below and crushed the last of his cigarette into the ash tray next to him on the window seat. He estimated it was about time for one of their messengers to pay their daily visit. Who would it be today? He hoped it would be anyone but that Chick Morrison again. If he or Jim Taggart came in, he might actually have to resort to requesting they be sent away. He was almost tempted to hope Fred Kinnan might return; that conversation had unquestionably been the most interesting if just as irrational and pointless as the rest. He often let himself wonder what would happen if they sent in Robert Stadler, despite the fact that he knew there was no way his old professor would let that happen. Knowing no irrationality was beyond them, there was a time every day where he wondered if Dagny would walk through that door, and he didn't know if the emotion he felt when someone else stepped in was relief or disappointment.
He missed her. He missed his friends. He missed his laboratory and driving through Mulligan's Valley every day making repairs and adjustments and installations and upgrades. He missed dining and talking with Eddie Willers. He missed rational conversation and the company of people who shared his values. He wondered if any of the others would try to send him a message (perhaps the cigarettes had been a test run) but was sure they wouldn't; they would know it was too dangerous.
But since when has that ever stopped us? He thought of all the months of anxiety and concern Ragnar put them through on a regular basis with his dangerous exploits and smiled as he wondered how his friend was handling being on the other side of it this time. He hoped Dagny had some means of telling them he was all right, for now, physically, at least. If only he could determine how much longer they intended to let his mind stagnate here, he almost wouldn't mind it at all.
Galt folded his arms as he turned back to face the window. Lacking paper and a pencil, he began thinking aloud, "How long will it take them to realize they have nothing to offer me that I'm interested in? Are they even capable of coming to such a rational conclusion? To do so, they'll have to understand what motivates me. If what I said on the radio didn't teach them that, nothing will..."
"Indeed – how can they expect to hit their target when they don't know what they should aim at?" Galt's calculations came to an abrupt halt as he turned behind him to face the source of the voice. An old man he didn't recognize had just walked through the door; he turned half around, nodded at the guards outside, and closed it behind him. He held a small book under his right arm; he walked forward and placed it on the table in the center of the room where Galt had sat through many a tedious meeting with the looters and then stood expressionlessly facing the prisoner with his hands behind his back.
Galt tried and failed to put a name to the newcomer's face. "Excuse me," Galt said with a smile, "I can't recall – have I had the pleasure of meeting you before?"
"No," the stranger answered. "But even if you had, you would have forgotten – men like you can never be bothered to think of men like me."
Galt shook his head. "Is flattery the approach today? I thought you grew tired of that one long ago."
"They have run out of ideas."
Galt noted the pronoun and asked, "So you volunteered to try some of your own?", wondering what his interest in the case was if he didn't consider himself part of Mr. Thompson's inner circle.
The stranger pulled a chair out, sat down at the table, and began drumming his fingers on the cover of the book. "I've been curious to meet you ever since your radio program and deeply hoping for a chance to speak with you ever since I first heard of your capture... excuse me, your real capture. So, naturally, I had to wait until they came and begged me for my help, then refuse them several times, until I reluctantly agreed to an interview (only because they promised to leave me alone afterwards) and warned them not to expect much as I had no strategy and no hope of success."
The man's relaxed posture, steady tone, directness, and choice of words intrigued Galt (he spoke more confidently and less evasively than the looters), and he got up from the window seat and joined his visitor at the table so as to be better able to get a reading on him. As he sat down across from him, Galt noticed the title of the book he'd brought. It was one of the most popular books in Atlantis, the one that had taught him the necessity of keeping his love for Dagny a secret. Did they know that? Or was it simply a subtle way of hinting what their next steps would be if he still refused to cooperate? Well, they certainly did their homework, even if they lost points for originality.
The stranger either didn't notice Galt's glance at the book or saw no reason to comment on it and continued, "The fools had better hope as much as you do that they don't find someone who will succeed in breaking you – once they did, you would be useless to them."
"Then you don't intend to try to convince me?" Galt asked, crossing his arms as he scrutinized the old man.
"Of course not, but would you kindly keep that between us? There might be unpleasant consequences for me if they knew I wasn't here to help them."
"Then what is your goal in coming here?" Galt asked, genuinely intrigued for the first time since his captivity began.
"To learn what motivates you."
"Isn't that exactly what they've been trying to learn?"
"For the wrong reasons, which is why they have failed. They want to find a way to control you; I'm simply searching for the data necessary to complete an equation for my own use."
"It sounds like you already have a theory."
"I've narrowed it down to two possibilities."
"Really? I'd love to hear them."
The stranger leaned back in his chair and said, "The most obvious and therefore least likely possibility is that the man they say is impervious to fear or pain or guilt is driven by a quite mundane, common, unsurprising motive – the desire for power."
Galt shook his head in disappointment. "So you're finally playing the Not-So-Different Card. I have to confess, I underestimated you – I expected you all to resort to that desperate tactic on Day 1."
"So they didn't?" the stranger asked, sounding genuinely surprised. "I overestimated them – I was sure it would have occurred to them from the first, given how boldly you flaunt your supposed 'selfishness.' "
"If you'd listened to what I said on the radio, you would know..."
"Yes, yes," the stranger said impatiently, waving his hand. "Tyrants and dictators and those who crave power over others, exploit and abuse others for their own gain, and rob others of their freedom and of the fruits of their labor are not 'selfish' because such actions prove they are not self-sufficient. Those who harm, enslave, and use others and control others by force, fraud, or coercion are not 'selfish,' according to your new definition of the word. I'm quite familiar with your pointless semantic arguments."
"How is a 'semantic' argument different from any other argument?" Galt asked.
"An argument would be 'Selfishness is good or bad, and here is why." A semantic argument is 'Selfishness is not selfishness.' Why do you waste time on them? Changing a term does not change what the term refers to; a concept remains the same even if you call it something else. The concept you call 'selfishness,' the majority of the English-speaking world would call 'independence' – regardless of the term that designates it, you consider that concept a virtue. The concept that the majority of the English-speaking world would call 'selfish' – having no qualms about harming and exploiting others for your own personal gain – you do not call 'selfish' but consider a vice. You see, however, the language barrier your tactic erects – since 'selfish' means something quite different in our language than it does in yours, by advocating 'selfishness,' you send the message that you advocate a concept both you and we consider a vice, not the completely different concept you consider a virtue."
"But your theory is that I truly do advocate this vice – the practice and philosophy followed by your power-hungry looters?"
The old man shrugged. "You've certainly been more successful at obtaining power than all your enemies have, combined." Galt sighed in boredom and looked aside nonchalantly as the stranger continued: "Their chief hatred for you comes not from fear but envy. You managed to do what they've been trying and failing to do for years: convincing the prime movers of the world to sacrifice their talents and the fruits of their labor for a greater good." Galt was only partially succeeding at containing his own laughter, but the man talked on, as calmly and steadily as ever: "Hank Rearden wouldn't surrender his mills or the fruits of his mind and labor to his government, but he left them for you. Ken Danagger wouldn't surrender his mines or the products of his efforts and labor to the government, but he abandoned them for you. Francisco D'Anconia wouldn't let the government take his copper mines, but he sacrificed them for you."
The word "sacrifice" showed the necessity for a clarification. "Your theory is based on the premise that I've demanded, collected, and accepted 'sacrifices' just like the looters, but your premise is faulty because, as you would put it, the word 'sacrifice' means something different in my language than it does in yours," Galt explained. "In my language, a 'sacrifice' is the exchange of something of value for something of lesser or no value. Your governments and the looters who run them demand hard-working, brilliant industrialists, thinkers, and inventors surrender their ideas and profits therefrom in exchange for nothing. I offered them something – we'll call it Freedom and Rationality – and they decided the price was worth it. I never coerced or forced anyone to join me with threats of force, fines or jail. No one ever joined me against their will..."
"Spoken like a true manipulator." Galt turned and looked the other man directly in the face, his right eyebrow raised in puzzlement, as he listened: "No man who ever sought power admitted he was doing it. No one who wanted to control others effectively would resort to brute force or blackmail but rely on subtle manipulation so that they seem to make the choice you made for them. Freedom is never securely conquered when it's stolen but only when it's given up freely. True power is not forcing others to do something against their will but changing their will. Anyone who wants to control others, be it a single friend or the population of a country, knows that the only way to do so is to claim you're doing the opposite. 'The enemy is the tyrant who wants to enslave you; follow me, obey me, and I'll set you free.' 'Don't ask me for my advice, it's all up to you. No, I'm staying out of it, the choice is yours. I don't intend to tell you what to do, but in my opinion...' 'I have no interest in the matter, it's none of my concern, I have nothing to gain, but if I were in your place...' No one desires power more or strives harder for it than those who declare most passionately that they are not interested in power."
The old man shook his head as he continued: "I can't believe Mr. Thompson wasted his time offering you the position of Economic Dictator. No man who wanted true power would openly accept an overt offer of a position of power. It wouldn't be real; those who put him in it would have complete power over him. Besides, why would he accept the rule of a kingdom far inferior to the one he already had?" He raised his head and looked right at Galt. "That's what I envy most about you. I can make every weak, incompetent man on the planet follow me, but you – the strong, the able, the intelligent, the confident, the proud... they're the ones you've convinced to follow you..." It was Galt's turn to shake his head now; he knew his smile must look as insulting as it felt, but the stranger went on: "The more you tell them that religion and worship are evil, the more devoutly they worship you. The more disdain you show for power, the more power they give you. The more you tell them they should never live for the sake of other men, the more quickly they leap to live for your sake. There's nothing the least bit surprising about such results, of course, but therein lies the puzzle: the outcome of such a strategy is so predictable, it's incomprehensible to me how your disciples could fail to see it themselves. Why would the men who spent their lives refusing to bow to others suddenly bow to you?"
"I've never asked anyone to bow to me," Galt reminded him.
"Yes, I know," the stranger answered shortly, as if he'd asked a sincere question and received a sincere albeit unsatisfactory answer. "An effective but unoriginal strategy – I would think it wouldn't be enough for them... but perhaps I overestimate them. Perhaps they haven't been duped; perhaps they're fully aware of the double-standard they've embraced and simply do not care but are happy to make sacrifices for you that they would hate to make for anyone else."
"You haven't checked your premises. I'm a trader, not a looter," Galt explained, once he stopped laughing. "We exchange things of value for something of equal but different value. I never ask someone to make a payment or accept an offer they don't consider worth it, and if I have to convince them that it's worth it, it's only by making them aware of objective facts they need to know to make a proper judgment. I don't make sacrifices, and I don't accept them."
"So you hold yourself to the same standards you hold your followers?" the stranger asked.
"We both know I do, and I can't wait to hear the rhetorical question designed to twist something around to make it appear as if I do not."
"There is nothing rhetorical about it," the stranger assured him. "I'm simply trying to comprehend how any of you can treat each other fairly, under such rules. For example, if you and a friend were in love with the same woman, by your standards, it would be wrong for you to sacrifice your happiness for your friend's, give her up, and let the two of them be together... but why wouldn't it be wrong for your friend to sacrifice his happiness for you, to give her up, and let the two of you be together? Would you consider it wrong for you to make the sacrifice, but not he?"
"Faking reality in any way whatsoever is wrong, and such an action would be faking reality – therefore, yes, it would be very wrong," Galt answered calmly. "If she didn't love him in return but loved me, it would be no sacrifice on his part, simply yielding to reality..."
The old man smirked and asked, "When was the last time you yielded to reality at your own expense, Mr. Galt? When has objective reasoning ever led to your loss and another's benefit as a result of that loss? Why was it wrong for you to make a sacrifice but perfectly right to accept his sacrifice?"
Galt took careful note of the lack of segue before asking, "Are we speaking of the word 'sacrifice' in my language or yours? Because in my language, there was no sacrifice involved." To ignore the transition from the hypothetical to the actual would have been to acknowledge danger.
The stranger looked aside and sighed contentedly and said, "Ah, yes, there is no greater tool for faking reality than semantics." Then, as if he hadn't responded at all yet, he turned his head back to face Galt and said, "Of course, 'generosity run amok' in a love triangle is no virtue, as Jane Austen taught the world over a century ago. The fact that you could teach men like Hank Rearden to be – what we call in my language – 'generous' while at the same time not expecting you to be 'generous' is what makes it impressive."
"What does Hank Rearden have to do with this?" Galt asked in completely unfeigned confusion.
The old man laughed for the first time since the interview began. "There's no need to insult my intelligence, Mr. Galt. A Destroyer makes the great businessmen of the world disappear; Dagny-Taggart-Transcontinental disappears for a month and is later found in his apartment. Dagny Taggart, one of the most brilliant, rational minds in the world, never before prone to rash, foolish acts, is outsmarted by Mr. Thompson, falls for a ploy of his so classic, she'd never be able to bear the thought of it if she were in her right mind. Dagny Taggart, the woman who shuns all government handouts and flees from any money earned any way but by the sweat of her brow and the working of her mind, accepts the reward for your capture when she's found there. Anyone with half a brain would know what drove her to take Mr. Thompson's bait and what she now needs to hide. Fortunately for you two, your enemies don't have even half a brain between the lot of them."
"I must warn you, you're mistaken in your calculations," Galt said in complete honesty as the picture of his visitor's incomplete version of the situation and the parties involved became clear.
"No doubt, I am, in some degree," the stranger answered without concern. "Never falling victim to the weakness myself, love is one of the variables I cannot always predict accurately, as my past experiences have taught me. They've also taught me enough about the way your kind's minds and hearts work to comprehend more than my hopeless colleagues can. By your kind's standards, you and Miss Taggart are a perfect match."
"Don't insult my intelligence by what you're implying, sir," Galt replied, matching the other's condescending, amused tone.
"Your performance is commendable, I admit... you would have made a wonderful politician," the stranger observed almost wistfully. His tone abruptly changed as he said, "You needn't worry about your secret's safety. I can't risk the chance the fools might believe it and break you before I get the answer to my puzzle, although I doubt I could make them believe it even if I wanted to, after your speech..."
Galt was sure the stranger had seen some reaction his eyes. He'd thought of the one line he'd said on the radio that hadn't been in the speech he'd written beforehand: "Do you hear me, my love?" He'd known as soon as he'd said it that it could be his undoing, but he didn't care – it didn't reveal enough for them to learn the whole truth, and she had to hear it... no, he wanted her to hear it. The odd thing was, according to the stranger, his speech had had the opposite effect on his audience, which Galt found curious. "Why do you say that?" he asked sincerely.
"Come now, Mr. Galt – in spite of the language barrier between our kinds, surely you must know what conclusions my kind would draw from how devoutly you worship reason, logic, and rationality," was the answer. "Passion and emotion are the enemies of reason. Surely the spokesman for logic and reason isn't vulnerable to such irrational emotions as passion and romantic love?"
"Do you think I would be ashamed to admit it? To point out how sexual and romantic attraction is a manifestation of one's values that cannot be denied without faking reality?"
"Certainly not – I would have been deeply disappointed if you didn't have some semantic justification for finding passion compatible with reason," the stranger said, bemused. "An effective way of protecting your secret, too, I must admit. To the entire world, you are the man who advocates reason and shuns anything that dampens reason, including physical passion, just as Miss Taggart is the tragic heroine bravely bearing the loss of her lover Hank Rearden. I don't see how I could convince them that Hank Rearden has given himself to the man who stole his beloved."
"I see you don't think much of Miss Taggart's intelligence, either, if you think she would choose a supposed power-hungry second-hander over Hank Rearden."
"What is there surprising about a woman being attracted to a sociopath? Women have been falling for them for centuries, despite the efforts of the likes of Jane Austen and Anne and Emily Brontë to enlighten them. They can't help it, of course; they're programmed to seek strong genes for their offspring, and sociopaths – those who are immune to fear and pain and guilt – seem strong. I've only had the pleasure of knowing three people immune to fear and pain and guilt – myself, Dr. Ferris, and my niece, although it took me several years to cure her." Galt wasn't surprised the man noticed how he stiffened. "Do you disagree?" the stranger asked. "Do you think Dr. Ferris has ever been afraid of Hank Rearden (the fear of one who knows he's facing a force that can destroy him, not a nuisance he knows he can destroy if only by using its own strength against it), or felt the slightest prick of pain or guilt over what he's done to him and all those like him?"
Galt instantly answered, "No."
"What about me? Your kind learn everything you need to know about a person at first sight, don't you?"
"Yes, we do," Galt answered just as promptly, but he thought for a moment before adding, "No, I don't believe you've ever valued anything besides your own power enough for anything to cause you fear or pain or guilt."
"But immunity from such weakness is a virtue in your language, is it not?"
"Is it in your language?"
"My niece would say so. She used to be so tiresome, more concerned with her own happiness and future with the man she loved than in serving her fellow men. It took her awhile, but eventually she learned that nothing matters, and that the mature way to handle problems is to forget them, never letting yourself be bothered by fear or pain or guilt but to know that your pain and fear mean nothing. She's learned to live for everyone's sake but her own... and to value no one and nothing. To value, to love, to care, is to make oneself vulnerable. Only the heart that maintains a value of zero can be immune to fear and pain and guilt."
Galt yawned. "You eagerly waited all this time for an interview with a zero?"
The stranger stroked his chin. "I haven't learned enough to determine that yet, although I've seen nothing to make that theory any more likely."
Galt gave the man a matching smirk. "I'm sorry I could give you no signs of the fear or pain or guilt you hoped to kindle."
"Don't be – I never expected to find a weakness."
"Then this must be the part where you tell me that the fact that I have no weakness is a weakness, that it proves I'm unfeeling and inhuman, incapable of passion, love, friendship, and value, and try to turn the fear of that possibility, the pain of that knowledge, or the guilt of such hypocrisy into a weakness to use against me."
The stranger shook his head. "On the contrary – I'm on the verge of solidly concluding which strengths can be used against you."
"You mean which virtues will make me most vulnerable to blackmail, like Dr. Ferris did to Hank Rearden?" Galt asked icily.
The stranger shook his head again and said, with a satisfied smile, "No, not like Hank Rearden. Hank Rearden is the type of man nothing can break, not in the way that matters. They only got his signature on that Gift Certificate precisely because he is unbreakable, because nothing can alter his loyalty to his values or his pride in himself, his values, and his virtues. Breaking a man doesn't mean forcing him to do what you want but to think and feel how you want. They could make him sign, but they couldn't make him ashamed of the reason why he signed."
Galt smiled back. "He had nothing to be ashamed of. Neither do I."
"Are you sure about that?"
"I don't accept 'your kind's' irrational moral code that..."
The stranger interrupted him: "Not by ours, by yours. Are you sure your own standards of morality don't make you ashamed of who you are, what you're doing, and why?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me why they should." Now thoroughly bored, Galt removed a cigarette and matchbook from his pocket.
"Because my accusation that you're after power just as much as I am didn't bother you."
"Which means?" Galt asked once he'd lit his cigarette.
"That my other theory must be the correct one."
Galt blew a stream of smoke in the direction of the window, then looked back at the old man. "Which is?" he asked before lifting the cigarette back to his lips.
"That you're a noble, selfless hero who's dedicated his life to saving the world, protecting the innocent, and fighting evil, at no material benefit to himself, and is willing to sacrifice his freedom and his life to protect his friends because he cares more for them than for himself."
Galt knew the cigarette had given him away, that the stranger had noticed his hand stop mid-motion for a split second before he caught himself and brought it the rest of the way to his mouth. The stranger was no longer looking at Galt's face but at his hand. As he slowly placed the cigarette in the ash tray on the table, Galt kept his own eyes locked on the old man's to prevent himself from looking down at his shaking hand.
The old man broke the silence by saying, "You hated being a slave to this world. You could have disappeared and lived out your life in safety, in whatever hiding place you've found. But you didn't leave everyone else behind to suffer. You rescue people you perceive as innocent victims of an unjust, tyrannical system and take them to a safe hiding place. You strive to bring down a regime that can't harm you but that you intend to stop from harming others. Here, in the custody of your enemies, you refuse to betray your friends and reveal their whereabouts and sell them back into slavery in exchange for your life and freedom. You refuse the offer to become Economic Dictator, to rule over other men and force them to obey you or follow you, not even under the guise of sacrificing individuals for the greater good, because it would be morally wrong – you care about the freedom of people you've never met more than your own. You'd rather suffer here than harm your friends or innocent strangers – a beautiful, brave, selfless gesture, in my language. Your morality is no different than ours, Mr. Galt – you simply call everything by different names because it gives you a sense of power, creates the illusion that you follow your own rules and no one else's."
There was a pause which Galt was sure was only intended to let him be aware that there was a pause, a tiny interval of silence in which he didn't respond. The stranger finally said, "This is the part where you tell me that everything you've done had a selfish motive, to protect the things you value, to create the world you want, to destroy what you hate, that you've never done anything that didn't make you happy, that you didn't want to do, or paid any price you didn't think was worth it..."
Galt suddenly realized that he had stopped himself from making that very speech. Why? Because he knew it would be redundant. As if he read his mind (and disagreed), the stranger shook his head and gave his own explanation: "... but that would make you guilty of what is known in my language as the virtue of humility."
Galt was thinking of Ragnar and the story of his encounter with Hank Rearden. Rearden had accused him of the same thing. They don't understand the concept of rational self-interest, he thought. He narrowed his eyes and said firmly, "I serve no one but myself and do nothing for anyone's benefit but my own. If I work to protect anyone or relieve anyone's suffering, it's because I selfishly value them. I fight to selfishly protect what I love."
The stranger yawned. "Come, my friend, surely you can come up with something more original than that." When Galt didn't respond, he went on, "Very well – I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, your area of expertise is science, not history or literature. You probably don't know how often men insist they care about no one but themselves because they consider love and kindness and friendship unforgivable weaknesses, because, to get anyone's respect, they believe they must be above such petty emotions. But in the end, those who insist most strongly that they don't care about anyone but themselves are always the first to make the heroic sacrifice for the ones they love."
"It's not a sacrifice if you value your loved one's life or well-being more than your own."
The stranger simply smiled and nodded. "Of course – it's okay to live for the sake of another man as long as doing so is not a sacrifice to you."
Galt could tell by the stranger's expression that he began to answer more quickly than he should have when said, "If it's not a sacrifice, it's not living for the sake of another man but for your own."
"By living for theirs."
"Because you value them."
"More than your own life?"
"Your values are part of your Life, and to sacrifice them is to betray your Life."
"So the ability to love others more than yourself and place your love for them above the instinct of self-preservation is not evil in your language?"
"No, and it's selfish," Galt declared confidently.
The stranger stroked his chin again and asked, "Tell me, is that faking reality via semantics again, or simply humility?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
The stranger let his hand fall on the table and said, in the tone of a scientist solving a difficult equation, "All right... No, you can't twist and redefine words to hide the truth from yourself unless you know the truth first. You honestly believe it. You honestly do believe you're not a hero, that you care only about yourself, that you're a selfish egomaniac who lives only for your own sake and no one else's. Which either makes you all the more noble or a hypocrite. I'm inclined to think the former..." He looked far more smug and content than Galt thought he had a right to look as he said, "Perfect."
"How do you arrive at that conclusion?" Galt asked without a hint of sarcasm.
"Because this is the theory that, unlike my first, you fear is true."
"Actually, it's just too absurd a notion for me to seriously consider it."
The stranger laughed again. "That's really a bit too much, Mr. Galt. We both know you consider it every minute of every hour of every day – why deny it now?"
Galt almost laughed himself as he said, "I can't wait to hear how you figure that."
"Because you feel the need to remind people how selfish you are every minute of every hour of every day. Because you spent six hours telling the country how you are motivated only by self-interest. Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, Ellis Wyatt, Kenneth Danagger, they consider themselves selfish and are proud of it, but they don't feel the need to shove it in people's faces – they simply lived and acted the way they pleased. But that's not enough for you. You need to make sure everyone knows how selfish you are; you are driven to constantly remind them of this fact... that is, to reassure yourself of this fact."
Galt was still planning his response when the stranger continued: "Before you ask, that is how I judged the situation to be perfect for the purposes of those who will try to break you."
"Of all the tactics they've tried, this is one approach they've never taken. I've been accused of a lot of things, but this is one thing I have never been accused of." Galt hadn't planned to say it, and the realization was discomforting. He tried to regain control by asking, intentionally this time, "Do you think I'm lying again?"
"Oh, no," the stranger assured him, gesturing towards the door. "It may very well never occur to those half-wits. Rest assured, I don't intend to enlighten them."
Galt crossed his arms and gave the stranger a look he almost never gave to men – a glare of open hostility. "I thought your goal was to discover the secret to breaking me."
"I have. As I said before, I don't intend to share it – I'm here on purely selfish motives."
Galt shrugged and said, "If your plan hinges on the fact that my greatest weakness is my supposed selfless heroism, so much the better for me, I suppose."
"You haven't been paying attention, Mr. Galt. Your nobility, integrity, courage, love, and willingness to sacrifice yourself for those you love are actually your greatest strengths. Your weakness is that you're so ashamed of them, you must either deny them or use semantics to prove they are anything but what they truly are, and that is why you will break." He stood up and began walking around the room; Galt remained seated. "You said that no man can survive recognizing himself as irredeemably evil. You're absolutely right. But what about a man who couldn't survive recognizing his own virtues? If you could make him hate himself by convincing him he's upright, moral, and virtuous? Either he has to deny it and accept that he's evil, or concede and accept that he's weak."
"Love and friendship are not weaknesses," said Galt.
"But caring more about friends and loved ones than yourself is," the stranger said.
"Love is a reflection of your values, and protecting what you value is selfish."
"Why is it so important to use a word commonly associated with the opposite of that concept?"
"Kindness is not a sin in our..." Galt stopped, realizing anything he said in his own defense would be construed as proof of his reluctance to believe he was motivated by a selfless desire to help and protect others.
The stranger turned around and walked back. He stood and faced Galt from across the table. "One day," he said, "you'll have to face what a brave, honorable, selfless hero you truly are. For most men, this would strengthen them, but for you, it will destroy you. Then, you will either accept it and adjust your perception of the world and the moral code necessary to survive in it accordingly, or you will try to deny it, and alter your feelings and relationships accordingly to convince yourself of your selfishness, independence, self-reliance, and immunity to fear and pain and guilt. You will have to prove to yourself that you have no interests that aren't selfish, that you care about no one but yourself, that you need no one to be happy and fulfilled, that you are the only one who matters to you. When you do... well... it's only a short distance down the slope from the man who believes he must never live for the sake of other men to the man who believes he's entitled to ask other men to live for his."
Some instinct made Galt rise to his own feet now, as he asked, "You think you can make me ashamed of what I value?"
"Of course not," the stranger answered, "only of the fact that you value it more than the life you say ought to be your highest value. When you find yourself in Room 101, what breaks you won't be having your head placed in a cage of starving rats and hearing yourself scream, 'Do it to Julia! Not to me!' but hearing yourself scream, 'Do it to me! Not to her!' "
Galt distantly heard his voice saying something about how that would still be a selfish response with a selfish motive, the act of a rational being, his tribute to the value of life, but the sound was soon drowned by the stranger's laughter.
"That's why I don't want them to destroy you yet, Mr. Galt," he said. "You're a master of the art of rationalization. You can come up with any argument, no matter how circuitous or convoluted, to prove that selflessness is selfishness, that black is white, that B is A. You can rationalize anything. You would have made an excellent lawyer – the profession that thrives the most in the world of the irrational and the looters. But if you will not join us, I can't let them destroy you until I've learned everything I can about how you do it – it's a skill men such as myself need to know... but then, you already understand that, don't you?"
It seemed to Galt like a long time passed while he thought of what to reply. What he finally said was: "Who are you?"
"A collector of souls... just like you." With that, the stranger bowed and turned as if to go.
Galt remained standing where he was and said, "Tell your colleagues that I will selfishly defend the friends I value and the world that should be ours as long as I live, that dying for the cause of Life is a far cheaper price to pay than my pride and my integrity, that acting rationally is not sacrificial, that showing kindness towards or caring about others is not unselfish as long as it's your free choice..."
The old man turned back around, waved his hand and scoffed, "Would you kindly spare me any more of your semantic arguments? You should save them for your subjects. After all..." He dropped his hand back on the table and let it rest on the book. "Language is power." He tapped his hand on the book one last time before turning and walking towards the door. He opened and left without another word or a single glance back.
Galt stood and waited without moving, expecting Mr. Thompson or one of the others to come in to see if any progress had been made during the interview. When the door remained closed, he sat down again and stared at the book. It was the first thing they had ever left with him besides clothes, food, and cigarettes. The stranger had obviously left it for him on purpose, and Galt's mind was instantly occupied with the question of what that purpose was. He knew what effect they (foolishly) expected the petitions and newspapers they'd brought him to read to have, but why this? He picked it up and opened it, half-expecting to find a concealed message or hidden compartment, but the book seemed normal.
On the title page, however, the title had been crossed out, and written next to it in black ink was: A Guide to Breaking the Human Spirit. Handwriting on the inside cover – Property of Ellsworth M. Toohey – had also been crossed out and replaced with: Property of John Galt. Galt turned a few pages, scanning them quickly but closely. He didn't have to go far before finding one with more handwriting. In the center of the page, between two paragraphs, were the familiar slogans:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Scrawled next to them in red ink, however, were three additional slogans:
POWER IS UNSELFISH
PASSION IS RATIONAL
KINDNESS IS SELFISHNESS