Chapter 17: The Moratorium on Brains
When the Taggart Comet is derailed near Winston, it faces the disgrace of being late by maybe 18 hours--a stigma that's never happened before. There is no diesel nearby to do the task of carrying it forth. Yet, the tunnel is eight miles long, with horrible ventilation, and a coal-burning engine would basically suffocate everyone aboard the train. On the most superficial level, the tragic catastrophe of the Winston Tunnel happens because a coal-burning engine is sent in despite the promise of catastrophe in the act.
The moratorium on brains does not imply that there is a lack of brains everywhere. While it's true that after the local train people panic and contact New York--James Taggart and Locey--the executives only end up issue ambiguous orders more or less along the lines of "just do it; I don't care the means, but you're screwed if you don't do it." Superiors are supposed to be ones with superior abilities--and in this case, they should have been able to provide directions on how to do it. But, they couldn't, and it's up to the locals. The locals, however, do have brains, and it is heart-wrenching to observe their forced bar on their own thought processes.
The foreman realizes that if he loses his job, his family would bear the burden. His family is his greatest pride and love, and he can't let them starve. Because of the Unification Board, if he loses this job, he wouldn't be able to find another one, even though he is a competent man. But, the restrictions of Directive 10-289 has put him in a bad rut: He is faced with the decision of sacrificing either his family's livelihood or the lives of the anonymous on the Comet. He goes with his family's. He knows that if he does not summon the engine, the board would take it out on him. The policy of the day requires obeying orders and restrains a man from thinking. If he thinks, the products of his labors would be futile because he wouldn't be able to follow suit with his logical deduction.
Even Dave Mitchum, the lackey who spent his whole life complaining that no one told him to do it and that it was just bad luck that he had trouble getting a job, is capable of thinking. He reasons out the consequences of sending the train into the tunnel with a coal-burner, and he reasons out the consequences of failing to do action. His direct orders from Locey (who, after sending the order had run away from the world) is to send Mr. Chalmers into the tunnel without delay. He comes to the idea that he could follow suit directly, sending Chalmers' car into the tunnel, but then the danger of the situation would have been obviated. While that would be the most rational thing to do, as apparently Chalmers does not realize the dangers of sending a coal-burner into the tunnel and wants the train to be moved despite the blatent impossibility of it, Dave does not go with it. Instead, he realizes that he must do the thing he does best. He, too, follows the trend of sending ambiguous orders to his lessers--ambiguous because otherwise blame would be attached to him. He realizes the ponderous nature of the matter and makes the excuse of going off to a nearby station to find a diesel. When the rest of the staff in the station quits, he leaves a boy in charge of making the decision to issue the order to send the coal-burner.
It is said that catastrophes are the result of pure chance. Yet, the thought processes of each local are far from random. The state of affair of the country itself--the fact that the Directive has been enacted and the fact that the railroad executives are morons--are all key factors affecting the affair, and arguably sources fueling its potency. It isn't randomity that allowed those events to happen... And, it is with fatalistic beauty that a boy who follows order based on the faith of the competence of railroad executives would be the one who tells them to send the dastard into the oblivion of the tunnel. The boy who is a victim working for his despoilers has to be the one to make the final decision because there are only two types of people left in the world, and looters can't do jack.
The moratorium on brains is essentially due to the restraints put on brains from following their own common sense--people are prevented from carrying out the product of their logical thought. Instead, the credo of the day is that one shouldn't think, one should just obey. The last thing those on the train see is Wyatt's Torch--a symbol representing the ultimatum "brain then life or no brain then death." The fettered brain leads to myriad deaths.