The Fountainhead-2

One of my favourite sections of the book is a conversation between two characters, Gail Wynand and Howard Roark.
Gail “What have you been thinking about these past weeks?”
Howard “The principle behind the dean who fired me from Stanton.”
“What principle?”
“The thing that is destroying the world. The thing you were talking about.
Actual selflessness.”
“The ideal which they say does not exist?”
“They’re wrong. It does exist–though not in the way they imagine. It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating.”
“You look at him. I hate his guts.”
“I’ve looked at him–at what’s left of him–and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness–in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy–all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up. But everybody calls him selfish.”
“That’s the pattern most people follow.”
“Yes! And isn’t that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he’s honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he’s great in the eyes of others. The frustrated wretch who professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to establish his own superiority by comparison. The man whose sole aim is to make money. Now I don’t see anything evil in a desire to make money. But money is only a means to some end. If a man wants it for a personal purpose–to invest in his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury–he’s completely moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to entertain, to impress others. They’re second-handers. Look at our so-called cultural endeavors. A lecturer who spouts some borrowed rehash of nothing at all that means nothing at all to him–and the people who listen and don’t give a damn, but sit there in order to tell their friends that they have attended a lecture by a famous name. All second-handers.”
“If I were Ellsworth Toohey, I’d say: aren’t you making out a case against selfishness? Aren’t they all acting on a selfish motive–to be noticed, liked, admired?”
“–by others. At the price of their own self-respect. In the realm of greatest importance–the realm of values, of judgment, of spirit, of thought–they place others above self, in the exact manner which altruism demands. A truly selfish man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn’t need it.”
“I think Toohey understands that. That’s what helps him spread his vicious nonsense. Just weakness and cowardice. It’s so easy to run to others. It’s so hard to stand on one’s own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is the strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence–such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.” Pure brilliance!

It gives me a big headache to even think about the book and compile these quotes into a blog post. What sort of thoughts must have gone through Ayn Rand’s mind when she finished writing this book? How did she feel when publishers rejected her book initially? The book continues to grow on my mind (in spite of wiser ppl telling me to snap out :)) and there are lots of questions that keep popping up in my mind. What’s the trade-off between the guilt of wasting your talent (well, atleast something that you think you are good at) vs the guilt of losing your self respect? Is there truly something that every person in this world is good at? Fundamentally, is everyone in this world equal? How would the world be if it was filled with Howard Roark-s? Is there a purpose to every person’s life? Or is life inherently meaningless? What is happiness?

@Ayn Rand .. Thank you. Period.

One thought on “The Fountainhead-2

  1. Pingback: Opinion: Self and Selfishness « Shreenaath's blog

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