A Story of the Ideal Vigilante
What story tells the tale of a vigilante better than The Fountainhead, masterfully told by Ayn Rand? Admittedly, not the kind of physically violent vigilantes that some of our imaginations have spent no time bringing up, but another calmer-appearing kind of vigilante, that is equally dangerous, nonetheless.
(More about that, later ;])
This piece of writing is an amazingly unsettling novel. Never have I come across a novel that has attained its level of success in making one so uncomfortable about the way one lives one’s life. It puts you on edge and continuously pokes you to do something with yourself that is gratifying not to other people, not to friends, not to teachers, parents, acquaintances, but only yourself.
It is, perhaps, impossible to remain unaffected after having read this book, in its entirety. Even if one does not wholly agree with the philosophy the book proposes, it is rather difficult to imagine that one could remain wholly unmotivated to change one’s own life in any way, to become a little bit selfish, think about the self and perhaps, make a few decisions that have nothing to do with others around you.
The book proposes, through the character of Howard Roark, in much the same way as Catcher in the Rye does with the character of Holden Caulfield, that happiness is an altogether selfish notion, and that it should be. Duty to one’s self is greater than the duty to anyone else. To find happiness within oneself and for oneself, without letting the basis of finding it be defined by general societal norms or expectations, is such an inspiring idea, so simple that one wonders why one hadn’t reached the conclusion, on one’s own.
Often, it is thought that happiness depends on success, fame, money, deep romantic relationships, emphatically moving and amazing friendships and that till one is able to find all of these, one can’t find true, genuine and satiating happiness. One only has to look to Howard Roark and the way he lives his life to question one’s idea of happiness. One’s own idea of happiness, is often interpreted to be greatly and utterly influenced by the society’s mold of happiness that is believed to be a perfect fit for everyone’s situation and everyone’s temperament.
The book makes you realize all too well that waiting and hoping for happiness is not going to get it to you. That’s not how happiness works and that’s not how it’ll work for any one special snowflake in the world.
One has to make a conscious effort to find happiness, by constantly finding things that excite and move them. You have to find it. And by finding it, I do not mean that one should immediately embark on an insurmountably massive quest, at the end of which the beautifully powerful ring, the ring of the societal pressures that define you FOR you, will be thrown down the lava, and peace shall once again be brought to the world and along with it, the Shire. If you want happiness in your Shire, a better strategy than sacrificing your Frodo to the evils of the ring, might be simply ignoring the ring, letting it lie forgotten, somewhere, being so involved with yourself and your happiness in the Shire that the admittedly great, poisonously sweet and inviting pull of the ring becomes easily ignored, in much the same way as the chirping of birds becomes part of the morning, so wholly, that its distinct attraction is incomplete without the aid of other things that define the morning.
The insistence that one must not lose one’s self to the greater, more powerful calling of the ‘general’ opinion of the masses that the media so effortlessly and carefully creates, is a great responsibility, and indeed a mechanism to achieve happiness, itself. One must strive to not become a second-hander, a taker of opinions instead of a maker of opinions.
“They [second-handers] have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egotists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life.”
There are, however, a few things in the book that cannot be agreed with. While it is easy to appreciate how Howard Roark finds happiness, it must also be acknowledged that his absolute, total and haughty selfishness are adequately numbered factors to be disagreed with.
Toward the end of the book, Howard Roark comes to know about alterations to a building that he had designed on the condition that no such alterations would occur. Howard Roark could not, of course, look at a building for which his design was not accepted wholly. He decided, in all seriousness, that since he didn’t find the building aesthetically pleasing and that the alterations were such that were against the purpose of the building, he would blow the building up. Now, at his trial for this preposterous, ridiculous and amazingly stupid act, his speech, that while in itself was a rather great and awesome speech about the selfish nobility of creativity, failed to make his point for the destruction of perfectly usable and limited resources. His decisions, taken for the apparent betterment of the world, without the consultation of anyone else who constitutes the great human population on Earth, are rather conceited and pointless.
“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive.”
What creativity achieves greatness, if not useful and inspiring to the world? Such an entirely bigheaded approach to creativity and how it is for the self, only is rather conceited and absolutely abhorrent. Howard Roark’s assumption that the building was his to destroy was senseless.
“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.
“I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others.”
Yet, did he think he had the right over the labor of those who spent days and days building, what for him was only a design on paper, that their labor could be ignored, its fruit destroyed, because he could not bear the injustice of having his design altered? Did he think that he had the right to destroy what was going to be home to many, because it just was not the kind of home he wanted for them?
Vigilantes are better off in a fictional world, according to me, and the existence of a Roark Batman in the world would be rather vile and repulsive. The fact that he finds happiness for himself by protecting a notion of the self that undeniably inspires and motivates those who read about him, does not give him the right to destroy what other people have a right to, a right that perhaps, is far greater than his own to it.
The appreciable notion of the self that Rand introduced through this brilliant character of Howard Roark was taken too far. The idea of selfishness stretched so much that one ‘self’ became better than all the other ‘selves’, that one self could decide so abominably what all the other selves should want, should be searching for.
This completely ludicrous act of his, goes against his own principles of letting people make decisions for their own selves, without depending on the opinion of others. He wanted HIS opinion to take precedence over all the rest, for his opinion to be accepted, welcomed by the whole world as the SUPREME opinion!
I can only take only so much away from this brilliantly exciting book, that happiness, perhaps, is a selfish concept and that selflessness might not be the most virtuous of virtues. However, to make this an extreme, supreme philosophy of one’s life may be ill-advised. Of course, to each their own.