“In An Era of Selfishness”Posted in Articles, Big Business, Democracy
Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness,” affirms the right of the individual to live on his own terms and to not bow to the collectivist principles of altruism by serving the interests of others.
Every person has a basic right to put first his own interests before the group’s interests, to pursue”the ends justifies the means” approach to life. One need not apologize for such selfishness for it is indeed good, as greed is good, and anything augmenting the needs of the individual before any and everyone else is also good.
The altruistic put downs decrying egotistical self-centeredness, megalomaniacal, self-glorification and precipitous pretensions to wealth and power be damned. This is at the heart of Rand’s Objectivist Philosophy.
All this may sound good but when truth is told no man or woman is an island. No person ultimately stands alone. All actions and thoughts always have rippling, tricking, residual effects on others in society.
While the egotist may not cower to the whimsical seductions of the group by independently exerting his will to power, the impact will always affect far more people than just his person. He may think that he is solely acting on his own and may even delude himself into believing that he is “all by his lonesome,” but there is always somebody, somewhere who has helped him along the way. He will always be indebted to someone else who helped him to be successful, and if honest, he must help someone else in need because it is the right thing to do.
A corporate CEO for example, may presume to act only in the interests of his stockholders, but the decisions he makes will ultimately impact society’s stakeholders.
Every person is a stakeholder in society but not every person is a stockholder in a corporation. Decisions by individual stockholders almost always adversely or positively impact the larger group of shareholders in society such as decisions affecting the environment.
While the egotist many not implore the endorsement of the group as a warrant for his actions, his individual decisions will almost always impede or make easier his life and others along the way.
Enter architect Howard Roark of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, “The Fountainhead.”
Roark is his own man with his own personal vision who will not conform to any aggregate notions of what is good architecture, or what is beautiful in the eyes of society even if it means working as an unemployed architect in a stone quarry to make ends meet.
He will construct buildings according to his own personal revelation of what is good and will harness his own creative powers by carving into mortar and stone his singular, august vision.
He will not cower to the demands of mass consumerism nor will he worship at the altars of orthodoxy for the sake of collegial acceptance.
He will be true to “the grain of his own wood” and will not forfeit his soul, relinquish his integrity or slavishly capitulate to the speakeasy oracles of artificial intelligence.
He is what he is and does what he does, and if necessary, will move through those purifying fires which are the true tests of gold but not languish in self-induced purgatories of the soul. He will rise phoenix like from the ashes of personal despair or ascend like Sisyphus to the apogee of the summit before the boulder’s dreadful descent back to the base of the mountain only to start all over again. This he will do to preserve his right to choose the course of his own life and his own destiny even if the sum total of his decisions put him at odds with his peers and ultimately lead to a solitary existence.
Moreover, Roark is driven neither by fame or fortune but by an inner quest to give something of himself to the world that will help it take the alternative view; a view that once established will appreciate in value and solidify its power to stand alone, but also inspire others to greater dreams and higher heights, propelling them onward to the razor ridges of risk and upward to roads not yet taken.
He will thus tower over other men as his buildings stretch to the farthest horizon. He lives not just for himself, but also for posterity that they too might relentlessly and restlessly drive toward the higher vision against those inertial forces that would abort their ethereal flight to loftier ground.
The “old world” hammer-smith in feigned tribute to his own ego would not fossilize himself into monuments to his own glory, but would duly renounce the solemn creeds of a perilous collectivism that would mandate to him what to create and how to feel in the act of creating in order to curry favor to the solicitations of his would be patrons.
He will not relinquish the alternative vision of those exceptional creators who dare to act and to do differently by boldly and proudly transforming the drab and dreary landscapes into true works of art and beauty in a city called life.
Amid all the credits of selfishness relegated to Rand by some interpreters of her work, particularly those who have recently suborned themselves into a new political ventriloquism, or those claiming her work as stepping stones to their unbridled quest for greed and power, many of them forget, that indeed there is a larger purpose beyond themselves for which we should all strive and live; that the alternative vision and dreams, in the end, must be for the greater good of most, if not all, to thwart civilizations backwards creep into barbarism.
Howard Roark’s steely refusal to perish his vision or vacate his higher aspirations by adapting his life to the archaic blueprints of what others believe he should become and how he shall become it, a man, is a metaphor for who would bravely chart their own course by chiseling in bold relief their own unique imprint on a world still cackling with the cacophonies of strict conformity as polite genuflections to power.
Yes! whoso would be a man must first be a non-conformist, which requires a level of egotism for the sake of altruistic purposes, but there is something to conformity as means to greater stability and a deep anchoring of the self in the moorings of our past which still have sacred and ancient value, and still should be vital to present and future generations. To get along we must sometimes go along, but not at the expense of our souls.
It is therefore not selfishness for selfishness sake in an era of selfishness or greed just for the thrill and chill of being greedy, but in the end are actions which must lead to a more just and wholesome society for all.
We must dare to do and act alternatively which means at times selfishly but also at times altruistically with the greater good at heart.
In this era of political selfishness we need selflessness. We need men and women with strong egos who will freely give themselves over to the fresh impulses of altruism, who will stand tall and firm; with tensile strength, who will keep to the higher vision and the greater promise of excellence by proclaiming the alternative vision which gives pride to creative thinking, and a place for the nonconformist, in a nation which should now be enthralled, if not intrigued, with creating new possibilities amid the current disabilities of democracy which stifle the gifts of many and become liabilities in the end for all in the name of the few.