Today I asked myself what right I had to call someone ‘conceited’ when I am the very embodiment of that adjective. I’ve just finished with the novel, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – 33 days after I started it – and ended with some rather profound reflections. I felt like writing something about it, and suddenly an urge to use an ink pen after so many years grabbed me. The desire to see lines written on crisp white sheets of paper in blue ink was so intense, that, I rushed to buy one – 9:20 in the night! At the store, I chose the costliest – a Parker – without a moment’s hesitation; as if my words deserved no less…As if a humble Rs. 20 pen wouldn’t be worth my words - these words.
But justifications abound- as always.
The Fountainhead has impressed me; enough to be written about with a ParkerJ.
It impressed me so, for in it, I saw a near perfect description of me. Ayn Rand has articulated my innermosts with the precision of an ace archer; and boy has it struck home!!
Not a very racy writer, but Rand successfully made me persist through the 700 odd pages with her glorification of ‘my’ elements. With infallible logic, Rand made a virtue of selfishness and a vice of altruism – as I nodded my head in greedy agreement.
Rand’s argument against those ‘do-gooders’ is that, the prerequisite for doing good for someone is for that someone to suffer. The defence of the egotist, in Rand’s words, is his complete independence – in act and in motive. The creators and the second handers is what Rand calls the egotists and the altruists respectively by virtue of the style of their existence. The second handers are those parasites that feed on the ideas of other men for survival. The world is almost full of these leeches – the kind where one man depends on the thoughts / opinions / judgements of his neighbour; and his neighbour depends similarly on his neighbour, till it comes back a full circle. The few who stand out of this parasitic chain are the originators – those men and women of genius who start from ground zero. They have nothing to take and nothing to give. Creation, for them, is an end in itself with no proclamations of purpose. It is they that swim against the current and smirk internally at pointed fingers. It is they who defy the accepted that are condemned, stoned, jailed, exiled, or better still killed – but there’s never a trace of self doubt. This is the soul of the sacred, the innocent, the selfish, the egotist. Rand strips the preachers of sacrifice and bares their lust to be serve; for where one serves, there is one to be served. She condemns the relationship of bargain, its premises of give and take and its implications of a slave and a master. She speaks of the co-existence of two ‘independents’ as the only form of an equal and open relationship. The truly independent man’s will is free; his purposes entirely for himself. His actions stand alone, independent of the needs of other men. This is the celebration of conceit – of thinking ‘too much of oneself’ - in all honesty.
This is where the cord struck and this is where it has reverberated with the most. People who know me well enough have heard me call myself ‘selfish’ – and with considerable pride. But I was really never able to accept myself as such completely. Teachings, learning and conditionings had been playing their parts in managing to plant that one inconspicuous little seed of guilt, each time I acted in my interest. Duty, albeit impregnated with distaste, kept nagging until I did what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I bore the weight of my dishonest smiles and their fake gratitude. I let ‘me’ take a backseat and social expectations rule the roost when the stakes seemed high. I ask myself now how high these stakes are really - A severed/embittered relationship? A lost job? Gossip? Are these really worth dragging my integrity/independence to the sacrificial altar?
Have I strength enough, like a Howard Roark, to be put to trial by society time and again? Learn to be unmoved by criticism because I trust myself in all entirety? Can I really ever learn to not compromise or co-operate (and take kudos for it), for they are not really possible (not in the real sense of the term)? Can I really live for myself as all those of an independent spirit ought to?