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!