Thursday, November 07, 2019

The dichotomy of Fountainhead

The fashionable ideas these days: to follow your own heart, do what you like, find your passion and the iconic Stay Hungry Stay Foolish have one thing in common. All of them collectively owe some part of their origin to one book: Fountainhead. It is one of those books which have had influence across generations. One of the most influential books of 20th century, Fountainhead talks primarily about the triumph of the individual over society. The book  splits the world into two kinds: the first hander who relies on his own thinking and the second hander who borrows from ideas and values from the independent thinkers

Howard Roark is the epitome of the first hander man. He stands up for himself and his ideas. He does not follow the laid down norms of society. For Roark, his individualism is the way he contributes to the advancement of society. He truly believes in his values and more importantly, he is willing to stand for them against the society. He considers originality as the highest ideal for humans to achieve.He is a man who has the potential of greatness and is willing to risk everything to achieve it. Roark considers the individual contributions of the people as the reason that humanity has been able to make any advancement. He fiercely guards his own values and judgments. The trouble with Howard Roark is that he does not give society what it wants. The society expects submission to its rules and norms and he does not give in to the compulsion.

Peter Keating on the other hand is painted as the unoriginal man who gets success merely because he knows his way around the world. His focus is on giving the society what it wants to get the fame and success in return. He wants to win the admiration of people even if it is not his own work that is giving the success. To put it dramatically, he wants Keating wants the admiration of men, while Roark wants the admiration of Gods. Peter does not have the strength to stand for his ideas. He seeks validation so desperately that he is willing to trade anything for it, his friends, his wife even his own self. Ayn Rand terms him as the self 'less' man in a very literal sense that he has given up on his own self. The only thing he wants is the prestige and admiration in the eyes of others even if it comes at the cost of his own ideas.

It is pretty evident that Ayn Rand wants people to be a first hander and to go with their individual thought. According to her, collectivism is the root of all the evils in society from Fascism to Communism to World War.

But being a  first hander also comes with its own set of challenges. A glaring example would be the duo of Tesla-Edison. Nobody could be more original than Tesla but in his final days he died alone in a hotel room. Nobody could be more derivative than Edison and he is celebrated like anything in this world to the extent that all of us have read about his 1000 failed attempts to invent a bulb which apparently taught him 1000 ways to not make a bulb instead of de-motivating him.

We really cannot say what is right or wrong and like everything else in life it is really difficult to paint the picture black and white.The world cannot be so easily divided into binaries. But yes, this is a line of thought that is worth pondering over.  Ultimately, it is you who makes the decision about what you want .The two characters of Howard Roark and Peter Keating portray the extreme ends of the spectrum and I feel most of us are in the middle. The key here is not to find the perfect point on the spectrum but to find  your own self on the spectrum and be true to it.

Friday, April 19, 2019


When you think about the world, it becomes really difficult to find meaning in anything at all. Religion, family, society used to be the pillars on which the world used to stand upon, they served the purpose of providing meaning and guiding the people, not anymore. The most obvious thing that looks logical is to acknowledge the meaninglessness of the world. The absurdity of it all, that there is no meaning and ultimately it is you that has to create your own meaning. This realisation is really daunting  as well as empowering at the same time.

It removes the crutches that you were using in life to make decisions like family, religion because if no one knows anything then every choice is right which means there is no right choice.There is no  one hand holding you.You are on your own. You do not have the comfort cushion of a long standing line of thoughts agreed upon  by a large number of people to fall back upon. You have to make your own rules, values, morals.This can lead too the dilemma that Ivan had to deal with in Dostoevsky's last novel Brother's Karamazov. If anything is right then a criminal can  use this argument to justify his crimes saying that if everything is right then so am i, whatever I may do. It is really a difficult thing to deal with with no right answers.Everyone has his own morals and you can just hope and expect that they might be having similar morals consistent with your own but yes you can not force anything on anyone.

On the other hand it can be liberating as hell that you do not have to confirm to some one else's standards and that you can make your own decisions.It frees you up to make any decisions that you might want to make but it also puts the onus squarely on you that what you are doing is only by you and you are the only one responsible for it.

In the end it is about the perspective that you have.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


The question about God's existence has always been puzzling and divisive.People on both ends of the spectrum tend to be so extreme that it becomes difficult to distinguish them from one another.Each of them convinced that they are the ones with the true knowledge about the world and so convinced in their beliefs to not even listen to the other side.

The irony with liberals is that they become conservative in their liberalism.So many times it appears that atheism could be just another kind of fundamentalism,that you are wrong i am right,no god exists ,end of discussion. They are ready to fight over it just like religious fundamentalists do.  On the other hand, are the theists who would have you believe that service to God is the one-stop solution to everything and any objection to it invokes vigorous response from them to the point of violence.

Among all this extremism agnosticism comes as a stream of sanity.The belief that there is no certainty about the existence of God and it could or could not be there. It gives breathing space to everyone. If you get your strength from the concept of God you can have it, if on the other hand you believe that God is just a story that we like to tell ourselves to feel good about ourselves then welcome aboard you can be a agnostic. Obviously this can be said to be taking an easy or rather, an escapist position but it is better to be aware of one's ignorance than being ignorant.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

General Elections

I think I don't love anything as much as I love elections.I have always been excited about them.I guess the reason for this is that I have always wanted to understand how the nation functions.I have wanted to be a part of this process by which the nation is run.Now that the elections are around the corner once more, I feel like writing again on it.

The champion:
No doubt that the undisputed king of the jungle right now is Modi. He is the man to beat not just for Congress but every major political party, not part of the government. The impact of Modi has been so huge that it has come down to the survival of some of the regional parties .The questions about Modi's past (read 2002) have largely been buried in the storm of 2014.Almost all of Modi's tactics have worked successfully and there seems to be no one near his stature in Indian politics.He has become the pivot around which the Indian politics revolves.

The performance:
Modi himself has done pretty well in the last 4 years. Electrification, High way building, Infrastructure projects all have been taken up with a sense of urgency. I also feel that he has done much for India's foreign policy. I don't buy this criticism that he has wasted taxpayers money in foreign junkets. In fact, he is the first PM in a long time who has taken steps to establish Indian relations with long lost countries. He has gone about the world as a salesman, pitching India as a destination to do business with and that zeal is something no PM has ever shown in India. Even if a fraction of  all the MoUs with all of the countries are materialised it would be enough , because it goes a long way in establishing the  impression to the world that India means business.

The caveat:
What might work against Modi is the issue of unemployment. If the opposition is able to successfully build a narrative around him and that he has not been able to provide jobs, then it can harm him. And it is true to  a certain extent that this is a serious concern facing the Indian nation irrespective of the party lines. The demographic dividend that we keep on harping about, in comparison to ageing population of Japan and China would amount to NIL if this demographic does not have quality education and if they are not given jobs.So this is going to be a concern for any party.I don't think Congress could have done anything drastically different for this problem but since Modi is in power it will be counted as his failure.

The challenger/s:
It seems that there is no challenger as of now. Its just a rag tag bunch of parties who are aligning together for their survival more than anything else. It would still be a folly to undermine them, we should not forget that there was a time when BJP was called a party of 5 PM candidates and there was a lot of heart burn before Modi was announced as PM candidate. So, yes even though the opposition might be leaderless but they might galvanise around someone post the results and Indian elections have never been Presidential style traditionally.So the opposition can theoretically pose challenges to the government.

If Modi  does win then it would be interesting to see if it was indeed that easy for him to go and win the elections as it has  been predicted by some.He might fundamentally change the Indian nation because no one other than Congress would have got that much time at the helm of nation. And if he loses then it would be even more interesting to see how the opposition was able to win the match in which they clearly were the underdogs at the beginning.Any which way the results come out, it is going to be a blockbuster!Waiting for it with a popcorn bucket!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Joker Question


Joker is a fascinating character.I feel very awed by him and his ideas every time I see Nolan's Dark Knight.He is not your  run of the mill, trigger-happy villain who wants to conquer the world or has a backstory justifying his evil. He is evil just because he is, like  a force of nature, he just exists. Anarchy and Chaos are the corner stones of the philosophy which he abides by.

He describes himself as an agent of chaos and he really is. The dilemma that he puts  Gotham in, with two ships having the trigger for each other's bomb asks real soul searching questions.The civil behaviour and morality it seems is a pretence that people put on because they are not allowed to behave otherwise. Push the people sufficiently, and they will throw away the facade or at least think seriously  about it. Now it is a subjective question, whether we will be pulled down into chaos like force of gravity as Joker puts it or we ultimately let our nobler instincts prevail as it happens with the people of Gotham.

But it is an interesting thought, if we really are civil and moral due to our choices or due to compulsion. The overwhelming conviction of Joker is that we behave ourselves just because that is what is allowed in our society, the artificial rules are what hold this world together.And if we let it all loose we might see the people in the truest sense, stripped of the pretence and back to animalistic behaviour. He was successful to a large extent in revealing the moral vulnerability  of humans by changing the outlook of Harvey Dent. But the extent of human nature is such that it never ceases to surprise us.The world is replete with examples where people have shown  examples of kindness in the face of extreme strife and also we see comfortable people behaving in most inhumane ways.So we can't be sure if we will eat each other up  in case food on Earth runs out but it is indeed a distinct possibility.

Facing such a potent villain or rather an idea, Batman did not just have to defeat Joker in the material sense but in a deeper philosophical battle. The only weapon to counter it would have been hope and that is what Batman uses, even if based on a lie. Joker's questions over human nature are answered by Gotham itself when the ships  do not blow each other up. But the light is not lit everywhere, Dent does fall prey to Joker's machinations and embraces his dark side. To defeat Joker, to keep the hope alive, Batman has to lie to make the people believe in themselves, in their own humanity.He has to sacrifice his own self to achieve that.

It really boils to each one of us and where do each one of us wants to go.Its like a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we do think that we will blow the other boat then we might be the one who might get blown up.As for me, I am still hopeful of the world amidst all the strife, I still believe that hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Times They Are A Changin'

There was a time when it appeared that everything was collating, connecting and joining.The world was getting smaller.I used to think that eventually the world would become one entity.The powers of globalization and liberalism appeared inevitable like a law of nature.

The recent happenings in the world with Brexit, Trump and the Rise of xenophobia across Europe have made me question whether these assumptions are right or not.Add to this the recent regime change in Brazil and you now have a world where every major country is closing its borders , the people are okay even if their leaders don't always say the most politically correct things and in general it is okay to distrust and attack people who are not like them.

To a large extent the reason things are changing this way is that for a long time the world was on the path of globalisation, of inclusiveness, of trusting the people who said the politically correct things and look where it led the world to. The 2008 crisis made the people question the powers that be and this current scenario is really a result of the people wanting the power back to them or at least the appearance of it. A common pattern in all of these political changes is that the new leader is always projected as the outsider, the one not part of the “system”, the one not scared to say what everyone is secretly thinking.

This makes the future so much more unpredictable.I don't know what is going to happen with the world when in the past I thought I knew where it was going.And you never know when something is just an ideology or a rebellious cry and when it becomes an accepted norm.

For example, today you can't say anything against women in general or consider them inferior or degrade them in any way.But back when it started, if you were a feminist then you were the one who had a different opinion than the majority, you were a rebel and you would have to fight it out with the society but now it is so entrenched within all of us as if it is a rule of nature and considered a basic law just like universal franchise where everyone has an equal vote.

Things change so quickly and before you know it there is an entire new world around you and you need to change yourself according to it. We need to keep ourselves one with the times because times, they are a changin'.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On original thought

What is originality?This is one of the fundamental questions that very few people bother to ask.What is an original thought and what is its importance?What people think and believe is affected by so many things that after a point it becomes really difficult to separate the adopted thought  from the genuine.

The fact is that there is a general level of acceptance about certain things like if a politician says that women should not have voting rights he would be shred to bits on prime time news because the general acceptance in the society is that men and women are equal at least that is what everybody in principle has  to pretend no matter what they think in their private lives.But  if the same politician had said the exact same words a 100 years back they would not have evoked sharp criticism only raised brows may be and if he had said the same thing 200 years back it would have uninteresting even dull responses because he would be stating only the accepted norm of the  society. So the point  is that there is a certain unwritten common  code of acceptable behavior which the society follows and it cant be codified

But fast forward 200 years and the accepted norms are changed.The question arises how do these changes arise and why do we as a citizen blindly follow the accepted norms the prevailing society.If for example a person holds the opinion of equality of men and women because it is what everyone says .Should that person get credited for holding such broad views about women or is he merely a function of the society that he is born in ?.It raises the serious question whether  our thought is only reliant on the prevailing society or are capable of independent thought process of our own?And if so where does our influences end and original thought begin?