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.


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