December 1, 2021

‘Atlas Hugged’ A response to Ayn Rand

Freeville biologist writes first novel based on his research

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

David Sloan Wilson of Freeville, author of “Atlas Hugged,” at his home on Oct. 26.

FREEVILLE — David Sloan Wilson of Freeville is all about humans working together, for the greater good, but how to promote these ideas so people pay attention?

He created a fictional story to counter the ideals of self-interest found in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

The professor emeritus of biology at Binghamton University, 72, has self-published “Atlas Hugged,” a fictional autobiography of John Galt III, the grandson of the main protagonist of Rand’s novel, and his quest to defeat the Evil Empire by his father, grandfather and grandmother, Ayn Rant.

“Atlas Hugged” espouses cooperation, working together in groups, while Rand’s book promotes the idea that one’s self-interest, or greed, as Wilson would say, is the ultimate goal.

Wilson has studied human evolution and human culture, veering into economics, religion and psychology. “I can study people that way. I can go anywhere,” he said Oct. 26 at his home. “I have written books on all these topics.”

The professor has written seven other books, but this is his first fiction piece.

“There’s something very personal about a novel, compared to nonfiction. I’ve written three trade books and four academic books,” Wilson said. “You want them to succeed. But a novel is bearing your soul.”

Wilson’s father was a novelist, he said of Sloan Wilson, who wrote many books, including “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” and “A Summer Place” in the ‘50s. Both were best sellers and were made into feature films.

“I know how powerful stories are, compared to nonfiction,” Wilson said.

“Ayn Rand did something with ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ She took a dry philosophy, individualism: greed is good … She turned that into a story. With ‘Atlas Shrugged’ it reached millions of people.”

The book came out in 1957.

“I was interested in a different world view,” he said. “How can cooperation succeed, especially if we achieve a whole Earth ethic. That’s what I was trying to do as a scholar. And to convey that as a novel, that is alluring, if I can do it with a story.”

“I am active with the nonprofit, Prosocial World. I am in the trenches, working to (bring about change),” Wilson said. “What happens in the novel is what I am trying to accomplish in real life.”

Prosocial World, which Wilson directs, promotes the idea of looking out for the welfare of others, according to www.prosocialworld. It has a process to make groups function better: becoming aware of one’s thoughts, focusing on the quality of relationships and paying attention to the cultural agreements people create.

“Someone said, shouldn’t someone do for our world what Ayn Rand did for her time?” Wilson said.

“That’s all I needed. Ever since, I worked on it whenever I could. It was a long process. It took about seven years.”

He snatched time to write while traveling, in hotels, in airplanes. When he wasn’t writing: “It was percolating in my head.”

He’s getting good feedback, with reviews posted on the book’s website.

“A lot of the book came from my life. Much more came from my work,” he said. “Mostly I am trying to embrace my scientific work.” But he’s got characters that resemble the likes of Bill Moyers and Steve Bannon and then there is Ann Rant. Some students and associates are barely disguised.

The power of the group

“One theme is the importance of small groups of people, working to get something done. That’s a fundamental concept we’ve lost sight of. Evolution tells us: Humans have never lived alone. We’ve always lived in small cooperative groups. Even when we’re warring with other groups. It’s what makes small-town life so good.”

The Dryden Rotary Club had Wilson as a featured speaker about a year and a half ago and the club did some self assessment exercises as a taste of his ideas, said Evan Kurtz of Dryden, past president of the Dryden Rotary Club.

Kurtz appreciated it. “He was a lot of fun.”

Many in the club felt Dryden Rotary was already functioning well as a group, and similar in ways to Wilson’s premise.

“Our motto is service above self,” Kurtz said. Rotary Clubs here and across the world are always getting together to provide a service to the community. “You feel good about helping the community. We do a highway cleanup two times a year. It’s a thankless task. But it needs to be done.”

Cover says it all

Wilson’s book cover has four symbols: a dot, signifying the individual, tiny, at the bottom; a circle, bigger, representing a small group, above that, an American flag, bigger than that, representing the country, higher up, and planet Earth, up top, the biggest.

“The top of the stack is the symbol of Earth. Everything we need to do needs to be oriented toward the health of the Earth,” Wilson said.

Being part of smaller groups is important.

“But they need to be coordinated so they lead to the higher good. That’s a very multilevel world view and an alternative to individualism. That’s the main (concept) that the book and all my work is attempting to convey.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor
Several of David Sloan Wilson’s books. “Atlas Hugged” is his first fiction piece. He’s trying to bring dry philosophy to life through a story.

Group work at its best

Wilson was asked for an example on being “in the trenches” with this group work.

One of his most successful projects was setting up a school within a school at Binghamton City School District for at risk youth around 2010-2011. The requirement to get in: Flunk all your classes. Wilson was looking for 120 students. Only 60 would get into his special school. The other 60 would go the route in the school district they’d normally take.

“We organized them to cooperate, nurture and protect … and protect students against bad behavior,” he said. “We used our science to organize this school.”

The students in the protective group fared better than the control group who didn’t have special supports. And Wilson’s students did as well as the mainstream successful students.

“This was wonderful validation,” Wilson said. “You can go to school or business or church. You can help it work better with these principles.”

He invites the public to get involved with a prosocial world.

His work now:

“Bringing the vision of the novel into reality.”