Dr. Dawg

Guest Post: Lac-Mégantic and the virtue of selfishness

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Megantic fire.JPG

[By Brian Busby*]

Every major 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? ~Ayn Rand

Who is John Galt?

The answer, of course, is Ed Berkhardt, Chairman of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. Look to the Objectivists of the Atlas Society for confirmation. Hell, look to Berkhardt himself, a man who blamed government employees for the derailment in Lac-Mégantic: “I think the fire department played a role in this. That’s incontrovertible.”

Ed Berkhardt believes his thoughts are incontrovertible… which is why we haven’t heard him apologize for laying false blame.

I don’t think I’m being a shit in drawing attention to a fifteen-year-old article published in the Atlas Society’s magazine; after all, they’ve still got the thing up on their website. ‘A Better Way to Run a Railroad’ by Frank W. Bryan writes of Berkhardt and the group of unnamed investors “who mortgaged their homes, withdrew personal savings, and arranged additional financing” in building the multinational corporation known as Rail World Inc.

Okay, so they didn’t build it exactly - pretty much everything, including the track, the rolling stock, and the real estate, was sold cheap by governments hell-bent on privatization - but they did have some late nights.

Bryan gives a good account of Berkhardt’s story, including his struggles to slash workers by introducing that contradiction in terms known as the “one-man train crew”.

“Inevitably, the success of Wisconsin Central attracted the animosity of those who resent achievement”, writes Bryan. He’s referring here to those who dared comment on the 1996 derailment of sixteen cars carrying liquefied petroleum gas, propane and sodium hydroxide.

“One car exploded, but the heroic efforts of the train’s conductor minimized the extent of the fire”, writes Bryan.

The conductor, of course, being the very same position that Berkhardt had been working to eliminate.

Avert your eyes, look instead toward government bureaucrats who evacuated 1700, and “in a power play impervious to any rational risk/benefit analysis, refused to allow the railroad to take steps that would have minimized the disruption to the public.” Yes, look at the “rational risk/benefit analysis” - there was a better than fifty percent chance that those people would’ve been fine if they’d stayed put. And, hey, that fire only burnt for fourteen days.

“In any case, all of this has a price”, writes Bryan. He’s referring here to the detrimental effect that the derailment had on fourth-quarter earnings.

Yes, all of this has a price. Wisconsin Central was sold to CN in 2001.

As a retired guy who liked to play with model trains, convinced of the commercial viability of his plastic 1:48-scale corporation, Bryan knew value. He wrote only one other piece for the Atlas Society. It has just as much to do with trains, but even more to do with Atlas Shrugged. I’m certain he would recognize this John Galt quote:

“No one’s happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy.”

Remember that one when you think of the people who sat in Musi-Café last week.

I’m betting Frank W. Bryan also knows these words of wisdom from his fantasy man:

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

In those early hours of July 6, Lac- Mégantic’s firefighters sacrificed their lives for the sake of others.


* Brian Busby: “A writer, ghostwriter, écrivain public, literary historian and bibliophile, I’m the author of Character Parts: Who’s Really Who in CanLit (2003), and editor of In Flanders Fields and Other Poems of the First World War (2005) and War Poems (2010). There are many other odds and ends, some of which I dare not speak. My most recent project, A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Translator, Memoirist and Pornographer, was published in 2011 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.” Brian blogs at The Dusty Bookcase.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 14, 2013 10:59 PM.

American right-wing blogger writes elaborate essay to remind us why Lac-Mégantic means we don't need to talk about better regulation was the previous entry in this blog.

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