Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at cf.Objective() 2009 (Minneapolis, MN) with:

A Moment That Touched Me - The Fountainhead

Posted by Ben Nadel
Tags: Books, Life

I'm in between audio books right now, so I'm listening to bits and pieces of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. I can't quite articulate why I love the book so much, but I find it to be hugely moving and inspiring. This morning, on the way to work, I listening to a passage that almost moved me to tears. Out of context, it might not have much meaning; but, for those of you who like the book, you might appreciate this (from Howard Roark to Steven Mallory):

. . .

You're a goddamn fool! You have no right to care what I think of your work, what I am, or why I'm here - you're too good for that. But, if you want to know, I think you're the best sculptor we've got. I think it because your figures are not what men are, but what men could be, and should be; because you've gone beyond the probable, and made us see what is possible, but possible only through you; because you're figures are more devoid of contempt for humanity than any work I've ever seen; because you have a magnificent respect for the human being; because your figures are the heroic in man; and so, I didn't come here to do you a favor, or because I felt sorry for you, or because you need a job pretty badly - I came here for a simple, selfish reason - the same reason that makes a man choose the cleanest food he can find. It's a law of survival, isn't it? To seek the best. I didn't come for your sake, I came for mine.




Reader Comments

That's definitely a significant moment in the book. It's one of the few times where Roark really gets angry: he never shows much anger with any of his opponents in the book because they're not worth his anger.

That said, it's sometimes hard to practice what Roark says at the beginning of the quote: to not care about what others think about your work, to do the work solely for yourself.

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Thanks for the though-provoking post.

Objectivism is deeply flawed. It's predicated on the same basic falsehood as communism: Wouldn't it be great if we could all just get along in a way that we don't? Just as Communism (what Rand referred to as Statism) fails because it plows the rights and opportunities of the individual asunder, Objectivism and Libertarianism fail in ignoring thousands of years of freely available information on the predictable negative results of the individual being accountable to no one but himself. One who tells you that every motive is selfish is not informing you of a basic truth of human nature as much as a fact about where their own development ended.

Every man wants to think of himself as the epic hero of his own narrative, the Howard Roarke, the John Galt, as it were. The rhetoric that Ayn Rand spun addresses this in the vaguest possible terms, allowing it to be a bit of everything to everyone. But there is no feasible framework, no counterproposal, no real economic understanding or discussion. Just long-winded pathos about the self. None of us is capable of existing independently of the others. Without construction workers the Architect is little more than a draftsman. Even this craft of programming is useless without power plants, chip foundries and so forth.

The guys at Tank Riot recently did a great overview of her life and works on their podcast. They were much more neutral about her than I've been; praising what was interesting in her and critical of what was not:

http://www.tankriot.com/2009/079/

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@Brian,

No relying on others opinions and not taking anything personally (also one of the agreements in "The Four Agreements") is definitely very hard; I think, in fact, one of the hardest of all things.

@Andrew,

As with many things, I think you have to take what speaks to you and discard the rest. The things Ayn Rand writes about might be flawed - heck, they might even be impossible - but, I think we can still take away inspiration.

Thanks for the link to the Tank Riot podcast - I'll definitely be checking that out.

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I just read the fountainhead an enjoyed it as well. Rand does a great job warning about the dangers of collectivism, and the consequences of little actions that lead down that road, just like in Atlas Shrugged.

There were a few really strange parts of the book, like the rape sequence that lead to love. I've never really understood the motivations of her characters when love was concerned, same goes for Atlas shrugged. I had several WTF moments while reading that book too.

Worst love scene writer of all time: Tom Clancy.

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"As with many things, I think you have to take what speaks to you and discard the rest."

Ben, there's a manga stocked at every chain bookstore when I've taken the opportunity to look for it, about a dedicated samurai who's framed the shogun's assassin clan, and who prepares for his revenge by building a warchest and accepting every challenge as an assassin, called Lone Wolf & Cub.

There are amazing scenes like where he'll frustrate a retired cop from capturing him, where the samurai will wrap the cop in his own clothes, bark orders to bystanders to fetch a doctor, and walk off in his underwear. I think if you pick up the first volume, you'll collect all 28, and discard none of it.

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Also, calling someone a fool demonstrates as much concern over what they think as anything else.

Ayn Rand's estate really belongs to me.

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Ayn Rand is a joke within philosophy. How anyone intelligent can waste time on her simplistic dichotomies is baffling. She's like a hooker who read some JS Mill between tricks.

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@Andrew,

I listened to the Tank Riot pod cast yesterday. Other than the fact that they only spend like half the time talking about Ayn Rand, it was interesting. One thing that I don't quite understand, however, is that they several times mentioned that in an "Ayn Rand" world, there would be no one to mow the lawn. I feel like the people on the show understood Rand to say that in her perfect world, there would only exist people of intellectual superiority and that that world could not function as there would be no one to mow lawns or collect garbage.

That's an interesting take on it, but for me personally, that's not what I take away from her writings. I don't think she requires everyone to be these genius people; for me, what it comes down to is what she talked about in Atlas Shrugged, as there are Looters and non-looters; this classification does not, in and of itself, require one to be anything more than moral.

In fact, in Shrugged, I think she even talks about Eddie Willers as someone who is not as smart as the rest of the main characters, but he is a good and honorable person and how people like that should be respected... but it's been a while.

@Jeff,

Yeah, I agree, the rape / love scene was a bit confusing. I just accepted it as two people who were so intellectually matched that this was like some chess match in which every single move was calculated to perfection. While I am still not crazy about it, I have been able to think of it as being deeply romantic in so much as that they know and understand exactly what the other is thinking and what the other wants. But, a bit odd, nonetheless.

@Mike,

Thanks, I will check it out.

@Ziggy,

There is something about her writing that makes me want to be a better, more self-confident person; I can't imagine that getting that from anything is a waste of time.

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"Ayn Rand is a joke within philosophy."

Saying this is like saying the Bible is a joke within atheist circles. If you mean within philosophy to mean within academia, ie philosophy departments and their journals, then yes, and there is a good reason for that. Academia is full of liberals who abhor Ayn Rand. If you live near a university, go poll the philosophy department and see who they vote for. At its very core, liberals believe it is the right and responsibility of government to force you to sacrifice for other people. This is a direct antithesis of Ayn Rand's philosophy and the primary reason why she is marginalized by liberals. Just search the news for universities that have tried to setup centers that study Rand's work and observe the outrage in reaction to it by faculty.

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Sorry to vent all over your post. If I knew a guy like Roarke, I'd never invite him to a party (he wouldn't come anyhow), and I'd push my grocery cart three aisles down to avoid eye contact. I just wanted to kick him the entire way through the book. It would be fine if we each had a 1000x1000 plot of land and never ventured out, but we don't. The story evokes the same useless and temporary emotions as a confidence building self-help book, but it's very well written to disguise the suspicion.

America is America because there are very few Roarkes.

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@Justin,

If you were an architect, you might invite him to a party :) I don't know - I never throw parties (I don't care for them that much). I have to believe, however, that I would enjoy hearing anyone talk passionately about anything (hence the huge appeal of TED talks).

As far as the comment about America, I am not sure if that is true. Or at least, in every sense. Care to expand on that concept? Are you referring to the labor force that built things? Or to those that were driven and innovative? I am not sure what you mean.

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I really don't want to string this out as I will be out maneuvered by the more astute posters. However, blogs are for opinions, even plebes, right?

If your pursuit for self-fulfillment interferes with my pursuit for self-fulfillment who gets to be fulfilled?

My "America is America" statement could be said of any modern capitalist/socialist hybrid country. Given that I'm just stones throw from you, I thought I'd use our country.

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@Justin,

Certainly, we don't have to go overboard - I agree. After all, I just wanted to post a passage that I found moving. And, as with anything that is moving, it is that way to some and not to others (as someone who doesn't enjoy watching baseball, I'm sure there are plenty of people who think I'm nuts for not watching the world series).

As far as fulfillment being in conflict, I believe that part of her (Rand's) philosophy was that one could not pursue things that asked others to sacrifice themselves. As such, I am not sure what kind of scenario could conflict.

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"I believe that part of her (Rand's) philosophy was that one could not pursue things that asked others to sacrifice themselves."

Agreed. That's one of the important points people tend to overlook when they complain about the selfish/self-interested nature of Objectivism. Others should not pay the price for your success.

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@Ben and @Brian,

Someone will have to sacrifice. There are just too many people living too close together. We can't ignore that reality.

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@Justin,

I suppose it comes down to what we define as sacrifice. I don't think Rand talked about delivering a quality life style to everyone; I think she merely talked about one not being able to actively affect someone in a negative way. Any passive affect I think was something she was not concerned with.

But again, we don't have to get into this :)

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Well, I'm just going to go back to your mind blowing jquery single page application code. I feel better there.

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@Justin,

I think we can all agree that jQuery rocks the party that rocks the body :) Yeah, let's concentrate on that.

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IMHO the ideal is where self interest is accepted and nurtured, yet where the only common belief is that the best way to achieve your selfish goals is to help others achieve their goals. Like the most successful code is cohesive & de-coupled (self interested); and yet it's purpose is to serve other parts of the code - and the better it does this the more likely it is to survive. This philosophy is also scalable ;o)

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re: Cooljj:

Any example of Rand's "genius" anyone has ever cared to share that I've seen -- like Roarke calling someone a fool completely overlooking how he's demonstrating as much concern over what someone else thinks as anything he protests -- has been reliably inconsistent. She's so wrong, it's completely flabbergasting to know where to start.

Deregulation is one dimensional, which is to say that any deregulation is progress toward complete deregulation. Well, the last 8 years have been ones of massive deregulation, and those who benefited most from that deregulation were the first in line holding out their hands for the bailout. 6 weeks after John McCain was last on record as a champion of deregulation, Sarah Palin was insisting he had a strong record for regulation, and telling Katie Couric she'd have to get back to her with the examples she was referring to. I can only hope I can connect the obvious dots and say she was "stoopid with 2 ohs" without invalidating Ben's account of his appreciation of her books.

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Is this a Philosophy forum or a jQuery forum?? Either way I like talking about both :) good post, haven't read the book but it definitely sounds like a book I would like to get my hands on. jQuery and Philosophy all in one book?? How awesome us that ;)

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>>Academia is full of liberals who abhor Ayn Rand.

Like all the phil profs doing "conservatives" like Plato, Kant, Heidegger, Strauss, etc? Philosophy - which she claims to do - has nothing to do with the quotidian disputes of US politics.

>>universities that have tried to setup centers that study Rand's work and observe the outrage

Rand writes simplistic 2nd-hand drivel and centers to study her are as much of an outrage (to philosophers at least) as would be acting centers dedicated to promoting the genius of Steven Seagal.

The other day a review of the new biography about Rand had something so ignorant and overstepping it almost made me ill:

-------
"At bottom, her individualism owed much more to Nietzsche than to Adam Smith (though Rand, typically, denied any influence, saying only that NieĀ­tzsche "beat me to all my ideas"). But "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" never sold a quarter of a million copies a year."
-------

Go and actually read Benjamin Constant, Mill, Nietzsche and the anarchists if you want to think about the roots of freedom and power that Rand vulgarizes into a soap opera.

Constant, for example, is a beautiful writer on these issues that you (cooljj) would love: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Constant

>>There is something about her writing that makes me want to be a better, more self-confident person; I can't imagine that getting that from anything is a waste of time.

I hear people say that about Scientology and the Bible all the time. Once you see it for what it is, however...

The only people who are not offended by what is said in churches are those who either go all the time or never at all.

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I was in a band named Fountainhead, there's probably many, but ours was in Buffalo. The book had affected the lead song writer strongly and so we adopted the name. It was a little ironic as the band changed though because we all ended up working together to make the songs... so it was sort of like "The Lone Rangers".

We've sinced changed the name to "Photos of Wagons".

<shamelessPlug>

myspace.com/photosofwagons

or just

photosofwagons.com (still under construction)

</shamelessPlug>

Well I just felt like sharing that.

Thanks Ben!

~ Kosko

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Dude, what is up with the Ayn Rand haters? She rocks. Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book of all time.

I don't understand the people who disagree with her and get all emotional. Calling her a whore? Come on, grow up.

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@Josh - it's a simple formula:

1) people fear what they don't understand
2) fear leads to anger
3) anger leads to hate
4) hate leads to suffering.

pt 1) can be applied to all socio-economic philosophies. And object orientated programming.

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I'd like to thank the Ayn Rand supporters for not invalidating my plain, unambiguous, & not-at-all-subtle observations of reality.

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>>1) people fear what they don't understand

Yeah, I know I'm afraid of Steven Seagal because I can't understand his acting genius. Same with Ayn Rand.

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Ben,

Glad you enjoyed the podcast. Yeah, the Tank Riot guys can get really chatty during the episodes, but that's part of the charm of it for me. They've covered everything from Nichola Tesla to Charles Fort to Walt Disney, so I've stayed pretty hooked.

I think the point of bringing up who'll mow the lawn is that the only ones who can "go Galt" are the financially independent. Additionally, they are actually dependent on the people that they want to escape. If everyone behaves in an objectivist way, nobody gets to be Galt. Steve Notley pointed this out in the following cartoon: http://www.angryflower.com/atlass.gif

Her reasoning had more fundamental problems. She seems to have missed the entire point of love, compassion and the real benefit of owning a pre-frontal cortex. She wanted to conclude that selfishness is a virtue and the rest of the tortured logic she hung on that notion reflects that. It's classic projection that she imagined everyone else's heads work the way hers did. There are simpler and better explanations of why evolution selected for our instinct to form groups, cooperate and empathize with each other.

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@Andrew,

It's possible that I missed the point of what Rand was trying to convey (heck, I'm a programmer not a scholar), but to me, it had nothing to do with financial freedom or status in society or ones job. I don't believe any of those things conflict with the philosophy that Rand was describing.

For me, what I took away from it, was a main points:

1. Logic is required - it is held above everything else.

2. One's own happiness cannot be had at the explicit sacrifice of others.

3. Don't be a "looter."

4. Sexuality is an extension of intellect.

I keeping it as simple as I can here, but those are some of the major points that I take away. Now, to me, none of this speaks about finances or societal standing. It speaks only to self-respect, behavior, and mentality.

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I've been avoiding commenting on your blog because I'm already all over your stuff in other places (shh. You know what I mean ;-), but this couldn't be passed up. <u>The Fountainhead</u> is without question the single literary work which has had the most impact on who I am as a person and how I choose to live my life.
When I visit again, we are SO sitting down and talking about it. :-)

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I happened to stumble on this site, just pure luck. That passage that you have put there from the book is really the law of the world. We all are selfish and we all want the best , nothing else ; and our justification :- "survival". The author has done a good job telling it in a different way.

Good job on sharing it with us Ben

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This quote (as well as many other quotes from this truly unique book) speaks to everyone who has ever felt power within to create thing now one has ever done, and yet found himself slowed down by being concerned too much about others' acceptance of his work.

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