Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why I love Ayn Rand...


When I put down "The Fountainhead" after nearly a week of reading interrupted by those everyday activities like working a job and keeping my grumbling stomach filled, I found that I had a severe headache. Everything that I had known and accepted as a given were safely tossed out of the window. So when everyone gushing over with enthusiasm after reading Ayn Rand's body of work were right after all. It was really about to give my life a new meaning as it had done to millions of readers (So said the blurb... Must be true), and right then it had my head in a twirl.

After I had recollected my thoughts in a few hours, I came around to analyzing what had left me so stirred. The first thing that occurred to me were the long, long dialogues in the book. Dialogues about what has been wrong with humanity for the past centuries, dialogues about the greatest men being the most selfish of individuals and dialogues with the sheer intensity of propaganda. A good book in my opinion should never preach, it should rely on the intelligence of the reader to make that call. The opponents of Howard Roark, paper-thin characters like Peter Keating the social climber with minimal personal talent, Ellsworth Toohey the evil genius only concerned with the destruction of individuality and Gail Wynand, the media baron sold out to the masses. No wonder Roark seems like "The man" to follow in contrast. No shades of grey whatsoever only black and white. Like Hitler against the Jews or Osama against the 'kafirs'. Primary issue with the book, "IT SHOUTS" and in keeping with the school of individualism which Ms. Rand claims to subscribe to, I will not be dictated to.

No doubting the fact that creativity is a very selfish activity. It cannot be and should not be a committee decision. It's an individual expression be it in any form and any tinkering with it will destroy its very purpose. The world is indeed too hard on anyone who tries to break away from the conventional. But applying selfishness to every single sphere of life, I am not digesting that. I am sure that anyone who has just popped out of the birth canal and grown up like a tree on the sidewalk to be a great architect or whatever can ridicule words like "sacrifice" which seems like what has happened to Ayn Rand. For the rest of us who have had parents, friends and any mentors who have guided us on the long road to maturity, it should not be a simple thing to accept.

Every moment of special care, attention given to our whims and curiosity represent a small sacrifice, a investment which will serve no tangible return to the self. With sweeping statements berating "sacrifice" as an ailment afflicting humanity, the author ridicules every great human being (and we are talking the conventional 'great' here) like parents who raise a mentally retarded child knowing fully well that at no point in time will the child be able to return even a small part of the love and attention showered on him/her. Why don't they give him up to a mental asylum where he will live in chains for the rest of his life and being out of sight slowly fade out of the minds of his parents? Rendering sacrifice laughable is laughing at every noble human being who has died fighting for a cause or a country, and offering inane statements like "One man's martyr is another man's terrorist" does not suffice. Just because a few men use it as a cover for their madness does not justify dismissing the importance of the concept. Sacrifice wounds and wounds in a way which can never heal, but that is where lies its glory. If it were as easy as ensuring one's survival by running away from it or blending in with the masses, all there would be no charm in it at all. In fact, irony of all ironies, Howard Roarke would have been such an ordinary fellow had he not sacrificed conventional success to his love for the art of architecture (But of course it was a sacrifice to match up to his ideals, but a sacrifice nonetheless).

Coming to the point that had me the most peeved. It is not a case of 'Us and them' between the genius and the ordinary masses (The second-handers as Rand calls them). The world may be be a little put off by the eccentricities of the genius from time to time but it does not hate them with the vitriolic hatred that the author seems to project. Just as much as genius flourishes in its own peculiar ways defying most of the conventions of the world, the rest of the world is also mostly happy tolerating them with a wry smile knowing at the back of their mind that genius is what will take the world onto the next step.

More importantly, human life is a painting in which you never know what colour is going to show up next. Life does not treat everyone equally and never will. Which is why "pity" is such an important concept. Its not a feeling of overwhelming superiority over the unfortunate but more a sense of how lucky we are to be where ever in life we are today. Getting back to a Howard Roarke example... What if he were to lose both his arms in a car accident? What architecture would he pursue then? Would he be cast away as just another handicapped person crying for undeserved privileges?

Innumerable potential successes are ripped apart by the tides of time and fate. Many a dreams have been stifled as life's priorities climb over them like ivy and engulf them. Yet in that sadness of broken dreams lies a fact like an old man died happy having his son by his bedside instead of earning a lot of money in a country far away; that an orphaned child got to know her brother both as her father and mother and a million other little stories that never get told. They may not be the stuff of legends but they are great people nonetheless, honest and faithful to the roll of the dice that fate handed them. And not everyone of them is angry at other people's success. Calling them 'second-handers' is an unforgivable insult.

This is not to say that each one of us has the potential to be a Prime Minister or a CEO or whatever the conventional parameters of success may be. No, not at all. Talent is a complicated equation and definitely not everyone is blessed with equal amounts of it. All men are equal not because they have an equal claim to greatness, but because we all share this complicated, messed up world of probability that is our earth and are subjected to the same injustices in one way or the other. Some of us make it, some don't... Some by will-power, some by luck, some by both. As long as a man has remained honest in what he is doing (Come on, don't tell me now that you appreciate Dawood Ibrahim because he found a way to break a way out of his poverty and ensured his personal happiness), the man who sells Mickey Mouse balloons by the Statue of Liberty is as worthy of respect a human being as the person who designed it, not by virtue of his skill but by his desire to live an respectable life (using another simile from the book). Expecting a person who has spent his childhood on the railway platform to reveal his inner Einstein is a bit too fairy-tailish but at least accept the fact that he deserves a better life.

"Survival of the fittest"... I hear you say. Well, if we were just governed by the law of the jungle, Ayn Rand wouldn't be writing books on philosophy. She would be the seventh wife of an alpha male taking care of his children and washing his bear-skin. The very proof that humans are now beyond Darwin's principle is that we take care of our handicapped, are in the process of giving equality to women, our old are not left on the streets to die and our young are raised with equal attention irrespective of how intelligent or strong they may be. The times when we do fall in line with the rule of the jungle are occasions of great shame for us as human beings.

Selfish is the man who steals money from the funds of earthquake afflicted people and from little poor kids who want to go to school("Who cares if they live or die, I get to live my life and support my family."), selfish are the men who walk by a crowded street as a girl gets assaulted and groped in full public eye ("Why should I put myself at risk?") and selfish is the rapist who takes advantage of a dark alley and a vulnerable victim ("I get my pleasure, who cares for the consequences?"). Selfishness, the ideal excuse for all namby-pamby cowards to turn their back at all things wrong where raising their voice would have made a world of a difference or to justify their deplorable deeds. We all live in a world where there are a lot of things gone wrong, lets not add one more by endorsing utter selfishness as some kind of intense heroism. Selfishness in creativity I couldn't agree more, but selfishness everywhere? Well, you've just heard my opinion haven't you?

Which is why I just love Ayn Rand; for showing me everything that is right within me and how after trying to shout down my thoughts for the 400 odd pages of "The Fountainhead" she still couldn't convince me. As for the living the philosophy of objectivism and the "Virtues of Selfishness", I think I'll ignore the opportunity!

27 comments:

On Da Rox said...

Hey royy...briliant man!!
I think you just spoke for the billions who love Ayn Rand for her writings,but totally and explicitly disagree with her view. You ought to put forth this message to Ayn Rand's institute of objectivist. Maybe you'll get some food for thought for the next post from 'em....

Varun Reddy Sevva said...

hi boss...

wat a loooong post!!! i'll read it soon... hw r u??

debottom said...

Too fucking good bro ... gave me the goose-pimples while reading. We just can't afford to be utterly selfish in our lives, if we have the least bit of humanity in us. No second thoughts about that. Period.
Expecting more from you.

Shivnit said...

Excellent post. Just one comment: The examples of selfishness you used in your penultimate paragraph are addressed by Roark's defense towards the end of the book. He says that the selfishness of the creative genius differs from the way we think of selfishness in that the creative genius does not rely or depend on others in any way. This is ultimately why Wynand is a second-hander in Roark's mind: his quest for power, by definition, implies subjugation of others. A rapist can only achieve his selfish ends by putting another life in danger, whereas Howard Roark's brand of selfishness does not bear on the feelings of others at all; he lives only for himself, whereas a rapist arguably lives to hurt others. So in fact, Rand is not condoning the brand of selfishness illustrated in your examples of the rapist or the thief. She is advocating a brand of selfishness defined only by an individual's desire to architect his life on his own terms.

dipen said...

Selfish is the man who steals money from the funds of earthquake afflicted people and from little poor kids who want to go to school("Who cares if they live or die, I get to live my life and support my family."), selfish are the men who walk by a crowded street as a girl gets assaulted and groped in full public eye ("Why should I put myself at risk?") and selfish is the rapist who takes advantage of a dark alley and a vulnerable victim ("I get my pleasure, who cares for the consequences?").

Miss Rand Says :

" The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man's survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the "aspirations," the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment. "

"Survival of the fittest"... I hear you say. Well, if we were just governed by the law of the jungle, Ayn Rand wouldn't be writing books on philosophy. She would be the seventh wife of an alpha male taking care of his children and washing his bear-skin.

Well those were the most idiotic lines for me in the whole blabbing ..


This is not to say that each one of us has the potential to be a Prime Minister or a CEO or whatever the conventional parameters of success may be. No, not at all. Talent is a complicated equation and definitely not everyone is blessed with equal amounts of it. All men are equal not because they have an equal claim to greatness, but because we all share this complicated, messed up world of probability that is our earth and are subjected to the same injustices in one way or the other. Some of us make it, some don't... Some by will-power, some by luck, some by both.

You sure seem to be from india, typical school of thought .

Getting back to a Howard Roarke example... What if he were to lose both his arms in a car accident? What architecture would he pursue then? Would he be cast away as just another handicapped person crying for undeserved privileges?

Speculation .. You don't get the point do you ?

the world may be be a little put off by the eccentricities of the genius from time to time but it does not hate them with the vitriolic hatred that the author seems to project.

World is terrified of such people, hate has some element of purity .. Keating, toohey were scared of him .. hatred is a feeling which can be exercised when you are at equal level .. Rest is complex,inferiority and fear ..

With sweeping statements berating "sacrifice" as an ailment afflicting humanity, the author ridicules every great human being (and we are talking the conventional 'great' here) like parents who raise a mentally retarded child knowing fully well that at no point in time will the child be able to return even a small part of the love and attention showered on it. Why don't they give him up to a mental asylum where he will live in chains for the rest of his life and being out of sight slowly fade out of the minds of his parents?

Such an idiot .. Really .. baaaaaaaah

i am not wasting anymore time ..

Roy said...
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Roy said...
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Roy said...

It's a dificult world we live in... There are these people who fervently believe that everything and I mean everything that Ayn Rand said is the absolute infallible truth, and there are those who would say the same for Karl Marx or for some XYZ philosophy/philosopher. Its for these people that I really worry. No opinion of their own(Perhaps they consider it inconsequential) and feeding blindly off borrowed ideas shouting out anyone who disagrees even slightly. I thank Ayn Rand for the ideal word (though I am sure she meant it differently) for such people who refuse to accept more than one source of wisdom and claim that only their opinion is correct which incidentally isn't even theirs - "Second-handers"!

Roy said...

One more point... the selfishness I mention in my post is the definition as per its conventional use in the English language-Eg: A man who walks past a drowning man without feeling a need to help him is 'selfish'. Don't know what word Ayn Rand would use for such a man, but I use 'selfish'. On the other hand, there's the other "rational selfishness as defined by Ayn Rand" concept. I would rather wish that she would create a completely NEW word for her noble virtue because the existing word selfishness has a necessarily negative overtone to it even though it is at times absolutely essential.

Deepti said...

One more point... the selfishness I mention in my post is the definition as per its conventional use in the English language-Eg: A man who walks past a drowning man without feeling a need to help him is 'selfish'. Don't know what word Ayn Rand would use for such a man, but I use 'selfish'.

** The man who walks past a drowning man without feeling a need to help **

**If there is a possibility of my dying / severely injuring myself when I help the drowning man, and yet I still choose to help him, I would call it 'stupidity' **

**If there is a possibility of my dying / severely injuring myself and I do not choose to help the drowning man, I would call it 'rational selfishness'( though personally it is a gross misuse of the word and totally taken out of context ) **

**If there is no possibility of my dying / severely injuring myself in helping the drowning man,and yet I chose to walk away I would call it 'indifference',more than 'selfishness' **

You seem to miss the point... Ayn Rand's philosophy is about 'You', not 'We'.

Roy said...

Ahemm... Yes, I guess indifference would be a better word to use in the aforementioned drowning man example. Practically speaking, you are not responsible for the man falling into the water in the first place, so naturally why should you feel guilty when you watch him drown in front of your eyes!! All very logical and correct you see , but its strictly my personal opinion that as highly evolved animals capable of greater things than just satisfying the basic food, shelter, reproduction needs like other animals, we ought to think a little better. So you see I'll never get it!!

Pointless said...

Random stranger passing by..hope you don't mind a comment.

Brilliant post. I'll tell you where you go wrong though. The criticism to objectivism, I feel, cannot be perfectly put together with absolute logic..but rather with *feeling*..The stress you put on pity and so on, is best put in making the reader *feel* why absolute selfishness is NOT the zenith of human greatness.
In a way, I feel, to understand why objectivism doesn't cut it, one needs to read something like "The idiot" by dostoevsky..

On a philosophical note, if we were to look at objectivism as merely people being completely rational in each circumstance (ignoring the self-interest part for a second..and assuming that as miss rand says, an individual does completely rational things when he cares for only his rational self-interest) that too, I feel, doesn't really work fully. We only think that some act is rational because our perception leads us to believe so..and at the end, each person's perception is nurtured by the society he/she is raised in, thus making 'rational' a meaningless term.. An objectivist might best be handed with a doctrine on historicism and made to answer the implications of that trend of thought..

Sam said...

good read!! unfortunately.. i haven't read the foutainhead, else my comment would have been quite meaningful and probably the context too would have been clearer.
Have you gone through Atlas Shrugged??
May be if you do come up with an opinion on it, we could interact thoroughly!!

Pravesh said...

The problem wit people like you is , because of your terrible lack of intelligence you end up producing a shit like this. Nevermind.

You haven't got an idea of what objectivism means and you are pouring out your stupid "arguments" here.

Objectivism recognises man as a man. Not man as a sacrificial animal for the "community".

Think before you post dude.But even if you don't it doesn't matter.

Roy said...

Tchh... I must be really bad at putting my point across! I did mention in my post that I COMPLETELY agree with Ms. Rand on the artistic integrity being necessarily ego-istic. All I wanted to say is that not ALL great tasks are driven by selfishness and that not every act done by man for the much reviled 'community' is a horrible failure in terms of man achieving his TRUE potential.

I revile the 'Black & White' or 'With us or with them' approach towards objectivism adopted by Ayn Rand and that's why I feel that it reads like propaganda!

chandy said...

I just read this today.
After reading " The fountainhead" -it felt like a lot of noise about nothing.
I think people like Ayn Rand for her idea of individualism (one minor aspect of objectivism).
I consider individualism a virtue( not selfishness), and thank George Orwell's 1984 for that not The Fountainhead.
Personally, I despise The fountainhead as a book more than it's philosophy. It's a pain to read -the last part ends in a lot of noise like a Bollywood movie.
BTW, Ayn Rand was largely skeptical of evolution as it actually has implications that debunk some of her tenets.
I like the article because it is what I feel- but this is in the realm of philosophy and I know many objectivists who will just rip it apart. Personally, all discussions in metaphysics are just an exercise in mental masturbation.
All said, The Fountainhead is 750 pages( not 400) and at the end all I could say is:
"EMPTY VESSELS MAKE A LOT OF NOISE"

Srinath said...

Amazing post man... Threw some light on what really 'bothered' me about this book. . In some ways, a better read than The Fountainhead itself :)

Fasaud said...

Totally agree, great work. (I know it's 3 years old but still.)

I liked Atlas Shrugged, though fully agreed about her 3-4 page 'diatribes'; she was basically overtly injecting her politics, which I think would have been more eloquently and impactful if she had used some sort of subtlety instead of having her characters rant for her every chapter.



I agree with a lot of her tenets, but shes far too extreme. I mean, even Alan Greenspan finally admitted that it's a flawed economic model. People who wholly subscribe to her beliefs seem to think the fantasy world from Atlas Shrugged somehow exists in the real world.

If the Randians believe taxation is 'immoral' they should perhaps offer a workable, real world alternative, practical economic principals, not philosophy, real world solutions.
How do we build roads? Street signs? National defense? Anything currently created through taxation?
Is a Wal-Mart, freed of regulations going to step in provide these services to us in their own self interest?

Also, why would Dipen bother to quote you, than offer no argument, against what you stated, and just call you names?

Roy said...

@Chandy: I agree. When talking of exposing the horrors of communism, Animal Farm and 1984 are true gems. Ayn Rand neither manages to create believable characters nor believable situations. All in all, a total loss.

Roy said...

@Srinath: Thanks buddy! Finally you saw some sense in criticizing Ayn Rand too.

@Fasaud: This is an old post but every once in a while a Rand-head like Dipen shows up to keep things interesting, so I keep checking this post out. Thanks for your praise and yes, the fundamentals of Rand's philosophy are so ridiculous that it's incredible that so many people fell for it!

Pot said...

I can always tell when someone has read only a portion of her works. She knew that "The Fountainhead" didn't cover everything, just a portion of her philosophy. Hence, she wrote "Atlas Shrugged". Even then, it was a novel.
Try reading "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" and "The Virtue Of Selfishness", where she strips away the story and just gives you her philosophy. In those books she covers your arguments against her works and destroys those arguments.
As for me, she didn't change my mind about anything, merely gave me the words to express my convictions.
And you have let people redefine "selfish" for you.
"the selfishness I mention in my post is the definition as per its conventional use in the English language." But that's not the literal definition. How many other words do you choose to define as you, and society, please? (I'm picturing a doctor trying to do that with medical terms- NOT a good idea).
I'm not criticizing you. I'm just saying you should read more before you assume you know all the ramifications of her ideas.
Thanks.

Roy said...

@Pot: That I've read only part of her works i.e. only "The Fountainhead" is the closing statement of my post so I don't think it is too difficult to 'tell'! :) I don't think I have the patience to go through any more torture in terms of her 'I am right, everybody else is wrong' rhetoric. Opposed to all the blustery monologues on reason by her hopelessly caricatured characters, she is probably the most unreasonable person I have ever read! If you have the answers to any of my questions, I'd definitely love to know from her 'believers' but I do not deserve the punishment of going through more of her work. That she is partially right (Howard Roark is a very noble idealistic character and I respect that but the others are plainly demonized to make Roark come good), I already concede but accepting everything that she says to be true is pure hogwash.

Pot said...

Honestly, I don't have the intellect she did, so to in order to respond I'd basically have to quote her. I think it's wise not to 'take her words' as gospel. I just happen to agree. And that is what she did not want. She didn't want anyone to 'trust' her. She wanted people to judge for themselves, and use their mind. There's actually an essay that I thought had errors in the logic, but that was by Nathaniel Brandon. However, she put it in one of her books, and I think it's faulty.
But, by and large, I agree with her philosophy. Thanks for reading my comment. I look forward to future blogs by you.

Roy said...

@Pot: Glad you appreciated my point of view. You seem to be the only 'rational' Ayn Rand fan I know. Every other fan of hers I've come across is of the "Either you worship her or you are the scum of the earth" variety. Be it Karl Marx or Ayn Rand, there are ridiculous amounts of flaws in their fundamentalist philosophies based on the framework of conveniently selected truths. It's best to accept these flaws as flaws and not to try to pass them off under the pretext of ideological purity.

hangu said...

ayn rand says happiness is to be achieved. howard roark is not a man actually but the first font of FOCUS.then focus is followed by identifiction, which can be done only by an individual by observing and examining. for ex. she says we can eat togather but not collectively digest !. ok then identification is followed by drawing conclusions. then acting on it which is followed by evaluations and finally emotions. feelings and emotions are the final out. a second handed, in order to achive the emotions borrows, steals or begs, cheats, cons does anything to achive the end emotions which is cheating himself and he is peter keating. so it is not about genius and ordinary people. roark, mike and guss webb are all same type with difference in intelligence. so pl study the book like very carefully, and draw your conclusions. you will realize who you really are !!!

Roy said...

@Hangu: I lost you midway through your comment but I think I get the gist of it. "I should read more of her work." is what you are trying to tell me. Sorry, but I'll pass. For her, reason is the only way to absolute truth. But what she fails to see is that there is nothing called absolute reason. Even the best scientific discoveries are always 'theories' and when someone says that she and she alone has the right to define the "perfect/ideal" way of life for this complicated thing called a human being, I go "Nyaaaaaaaah! I don't think so..."