Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Fountainhead - Objectivism made simple

“Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world--to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.”
--- Ayn Rand


I am a huge fan of Ayn Rand and her book 'The Fountainhead'. Until I had read it, I used to feel that I was abnormal because I was so different from the people around me. Then I read it and right from the first chapter I saw myself in Howard Roark, the protagonist of this book (I say this without a shred of presumption). Every single thing that Rand says in this book made me feel that these were my thoughts exactly that she had somehow intuited and written down. The way Rand points out and deals with the problems with our society left me completely speechless. First, because she talks about a way of life, the Objectivist philosophy, without once seeming to preach. And second because I could identify with so much of her philosophy.

Since then, I've tried many times to explain the concepts of Objectivism to others. And everytime I end up looking stupid! After all, its not easy to convince a person programmed by our society that selfishness is not such a bad thing! So instead of actually explaining anything, I've decided to post the best bits from the book here. Its the best way to share the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Her way of thinking is best summed-up by her attitude to religion. According to Rand, the essence of religion should be the great aspiration of the human spirit toward the highest, noblest and the best. The entire philosophy of the book revolves around three types of people - man-haters, man-worshippers and second-handers.

Man Hater:

One who regards man as a helpless, depraved and contemptible creature and struggles never to let him discover otherwise.

Here are some quotes of a man-hater (Ellsworth Toohey) that crystallize his way of thinking:

--- A man braver than his brothers insults them by implication. Let us aspire to no virtue which cannot be shared.

--- Not by what we are shall we be judged, but by those we serve.

--- Don't set out to raze all shrines - you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity - and the shrines are razed. Reason can be fought with reason. How can you fight the unreasonable?


The problem with this kind of thinking?
--- Where theres sacrifice theres someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there is service, theres someone being served. The man who speaks of sacrifice speaks of masters and slaves. And intends to be the master!

The opposite of a man-hater is a man-worshipper...

Man Worshipper:

One who sees man's highest potential and strives to actualize it. One who is dedicated to the 'exaltation' of man's self-esteem and the 'sacredness' of his happiness on earth. The chief man-worshipper and the hero of 'The Fountainhead' is Howard Roark. The other man-worshipper is Dominique Francon.

The mindset of a man-worshipper:

--- The egotist in the absolute sense is not the man who sacrifices others. He is the man who stands above the need of using others in any manner. In all proper relationships there is no sacrifice of anyone to anyone. This is the only possible form of relationship between equals. Anything else is a relation of slave to master, or victim to executioner.

--- A person who accepts anything is not the true lover of mankind! The person who loves everybody and feels at home everywhere is the true hater of mankind. He expects nothing and so no form of depravity can outrage him.

--- Love is reverence, and worship and glory and the upward glance, not a bandage for dirty sores.

--- Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea

--- Howard Roark wondered why ineptitude should exist and have its say.

--- People meant very little to Mike, but their performance meant a great deal.


Howard Roark : "I don't usually let things happen to me"

Howard Roark : "I can find joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But best is a matter of standards, and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may perhaps stand at the beginning of one."

Howard Roark : "Never ask people. Not about your work. Don't you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know? How can you let others decide for you?"

Roark to his Dean : "I don't care whether you agree with me or not."

Dean : "Who will let you?"
Howard Roark : "Thats not the point. The point is, who will stop me?"

Dean : "Everything beautiful in architecture has been done already. We can only choose from the great masters. Who are we to improve upon them? We can only attempt, respectfully, to repeat."
Howard Roark : "Why?"
Dean : "But its self-evident"
Howard Roark : "Why is it so important - what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right - so long as its not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is the truth made a matter of arithmetic - only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else?

Roark to a scupltor he admires : "Your figures are not what man is, but what men could be and should be. Because you've gone beyond the probable and made us see what is possible. Because your figures are more devoid of comtempt for humanity than any work I've ever seen. Because you have a magnificient respect for the human being. Because your figures are the heroic in man."

The last and the most pathetic type of people are the second-handers...

Second hander:

People who do not have the strength or the integrity of man-worshippers nor the clever wickedness of the man-haters. They are a kind of parasite of the society. A majority of the people in our society are second-handers. Peter Keating is the chief second-hander in 'The Fountainhead'

The mindset of a second-hander :

--- He was certain it was profound because he didn't understand it. "A thing is not high if one can reach it, it is not great if one can reason about it; it is not deep if one can see its bottom" - this had been his credo. It spared him any attempt to reach, reason and see.

Dominique Francon to Peter Keating : You have to flatter people whom you despise to in order to impress other people who despise you.

Dominique towards Keating : A glance so gentle that it could mean nothing but contempt. She could not pay him the tribute of hostility!

Peter Keating : "Why do you hate me?"
Howard Roark : "I don't hate you."
Peter Keating : "Well thats it. Why don't you hate me at least?"
Howard Roark : "Why should I?"
Peter Keating : "Just to give me something. I know you can't like me. You can't like anybody. So it would be kinder to acknowledge people's existence by hating them."
Howard Roark : "I'm not kind, Peter."

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