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If Picasso displaces an eye to make a portrait jump into life, that is one thing. If I displace a word to restore some of its freshness, that is a far, far more difficult thing.
-- Jean Cocteau


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If you've read much of my words, you'll recognize some of what will follow, although it will be in the voice of Ayn Rand. I've finished my read of The Fountainhead, which is probably the most important fiction book I have ever read. Perhaps this is true because of the non-fiction truth set behind its story. At the end of the book, the chief character, Howard Roark, lets loose and what he says is worth repeating here:

Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give what has not been created. Creation comes before distribution - or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement.

Men have been taught that their first concern is to relieve the suffering of others. But suffering is a diease. Should one come upon it, one tries to give relief and assistance. To make that the highest test of virtue is to make suffering the most important part of life. Then man must wish to see others suffer - in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism. The creator is not concerned with disease, but with life. Yet the work of the creator has eliminated one form of disease after another, in man's body and spirit, and brought more relief from suffering than any altruist could ever conceieve.

Men have been taught that it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to swim with the current. But the creator who goes against the current. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to stand together. But the creator is the man who stands alone.

Men have been taught the the ego is the synonym of evil, and sleflessness the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egotist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge, or act. These are functions of the self.

Here the basic reversal is most deadly. The issue has been perverted and man has been left no alternative - and no freedom. As poles of good and evil, he was offered two concetpions: egotism and altruism. EWgotism was held to mean the sacrifice of others to self. Altruism - the sacrifice of self to others. This tied men irrevocably to other men and left him nothing but a choice of pain: his own pain borne tfor the sake of others or pain inflicted upon others for the sake of self. When it was added that one must find joy in self-immolation, the trap was closed. Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal - under the threat that sadism was his only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetuated on mankind.

This was the device by which dependence and suffering were perpetuated as fundamentals of life.

The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination. The choice is independence or dependence. This is the basic issue.

Rand's character then explains that those who are independent can survive, and those who are dependent are incapable of surviving. Therefore, anything that leads a man toward dependence is ultimately self-destructive, and therefore evil.

She's right.

Think of nature. In nature, animals do not act parasitically with others in their species. The food chain is not cannibalistic. In nature, if a creature is unable to fend for itself, it dies off. Independence is expected and life sustaining. Dependence is self-destructive.

Roark finishes with this:

I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society.
I came away from this book affirming some of my tendencies and feeling recriminations of other tendencies. Where I land, after considering the weight of the book, is that in that area of my talent where I find my own voice and I feel no need for the opinions of others, that's where my contribution is best applied. For me, I'm gaining my voice in my art. I know more instinctively what I need to paint in expression and how I want it done.

Others have other abilities. In those talents, they don't ask others how to do what they do. They simply know how to do it and they are confident in that skill. This should be the goal of every person: to realize that unique skill that they have and ply themselves to it passionately. The rest of us should encourage that - but here's the thing: if it's truly that thing wherein we find our voice, we will do it anyway. Encouragement be damned! It's simply not necessary because we have no choice in the matter. It is the expression of our soul.

I wrote recently of Four Adjectives, the idea that we might want to winnow down to a simple descriptive list those things that we need in a mate. I think it goes without saying that all of us need in a mate someone who will not trounce our voice, but is rather someone who can sit back and delight in watching our expression. And vice versa. It's not necessary that they aid us, but rather that they want us to be free to voice our creativity and passion. Therein lies the notion of "fit," that chemistry we seek where the blend is better than the singular because the individual voice can be made stronger. Not a muffler. Not a chorus. But a megaphone. (This might seem off-topic, but this is where "rejection" is not an offense, but a relief for the truth it speaks.)

Howard Roark again:

It's so easy to run to others. It's so hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can't fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is the strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It's easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It's simple to seek substitutes for competence - such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.

That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They 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. That's the emptiness I couldn't understand in people. That's what stopped me whenever I faced a committee.They've been taught to seek themselves in others. To seek joy in meeting halls. I think the only cardinal evil on earth is that of placing your prime concern with other men.

Self-sufficiency matters. It leads to achievement. It's sustainable and life-giving.


by Brett Rogers, 2/12/2006 9:23:30 PM



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