Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

Egotism and altruism may be opposite poles representing two very different ways of being, but let's not forget that there is also a sliding scale. Ayn Rand writes in The Fountainhead: "All that which proceeds from man's independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man's dependence upon men is evil." She may be playing devil's advocate to illustrate a point, but my conjecture is that this is what she really believes. All power to her, and to her fervent followers, for that matter. I simply do not count myself to be one of them.

The novel, first published in 1943 by Bobbs-Merrill, is a story of one architect's dedication to being himself in a world that disapproves of him in every way. Each situation and circumstance is employed to paint a picture of why the author regards man's ego to be the fountainhead of human progress. Rand is an excellent, logical writer well able to capture your attention and hold it for the more than 700 pages of this book (which in itself is quite an achievement). She also describes man and society in a probing, debate-inducing way. Notwithstanding, I find her perspectives to be too extreme.

Human beings, by nature and inherently, are social creatures. In each of our own pursuits of happiness, we do and will depend on other men to make ourselves happy. Contrary to Rand's view, there are many people who actually genuinely enjoy being altruistic because they derive pleasure from the (private and personal) knowledge that they are making a positive contribution to society. Not all acts of charity are acts to seek or gain approval from others. Moreover, it's not possible or practical to be entirely selfish all the time, for to do so inevitably and ultimately infringes upon others' pursuit of happiness.

What Rand speaks of are ideals in a substitute world. It is good to have your own ideals and to live by them. That is the crux of integrity, and I very much respect her ability to clearly elucidate hers. But even if I were to follow her line of thought and "reason...alone", I would still disagree with the application of her drastic principles. So by nature of her argument that we should be independent thinkers, she actually encourages us to be free to pick and choose ideas and philosophies from various thinkers, ourselves included. And that freedom, perhaps, is what I feel most compelled to accept from this classic piece of literature.

Rating: 5/5

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