Archive for June, 2013


When we speak of Ayn Rand and her theories, we often forget that she wrote almost 70 years ago when the world was a very different place. Most of us as teenagers have found her rivetting, and as adults we have found holes in her theories. Many of us as mature middle agers are able to sift her hysteric passion and see the core of what she was trying to say and thereby rediscovered a naked honesty about her that is humbling and disconcerting. Her ‘conspiracy of mediocrity’ is so subtle and insidious in life around us that most people miss it and label it  corruption, nepotism, lack of leadership etc. You have to be a Dagny or Roark to understand the predicament.

Love her or hate her, those are the only options.  Rand cannot be ignored. She has an indelible place in the history of thought that no one can take away. People have put on her doorstep the selfishness and woes of the world of baby boomers and hippies and post war materialism. Marx too could be held responsible for the excesses of communism and Gandhi will probably be held to account for the sluggishness of India’s progress on the world stage. But, are those reasons for not studying an ideology dispassionately for its merits and flaws?

All theories have holes and can be put to scrutiny and test – even die-hard scientific ones. Rand’s theory too bears testimony to this truth. I agree that collectivism is necessary for life to function on the planet. Many make an argument on inter-dependence of life that invalidates the selfishness theory. The question is this: Is altruism a genuine and natural or a conditioned and acquired virtue? Scientists have lately discovered the feel-good gene that inspires altruism and this is closely connected to the survival instinct. 

Selfishness cannot be easily wished away. Even something as basic as reproduction and continuity, with the responsibility and labour pains it entails, would have found few takers, had it not been for the instinct of selfish orgasmic pleasure. Therefore, selfishness does rule us in basic and altruistic endeavours. Power rules us too and power is a selfish need of the ego which is essentially selfish.  Rand is hated because she dared to speak for selfishness and validate it, when every moral and religious teaching was decrying it. Followers continued their selfish pursuits even as they vociferously mouthed social commitment.

If we indulge in socialistic pursuits, they again come back to our cyclical interdependence on the collective to indulge the individualistic. So is there anything at all that is not selfish? Even the love of a mother for her child, which is perhaps the most unselfish of loves there is, is selfish. They say you can only be as happy as your most miserable child. So then if I make sacrifices for  my kid , am I not in everyway ensuring my own happiness?

If there is the call for the individual to fulfill his needs, pleasures, wants, it is an ideal not an idea and like all ideals, be it democracy or communism or socialism or religion, there will be flaws that will decry the possibility of them ever succeeding as a body of thought. There will be people who will misinterpret, abuse and corrupt these systems to ensure that we lose faith in their core values and truths. As for individuals, fulfilling a larger collective need is an undeniable truth, whether it is the assembly line in a factory or a hierarchy in a family or different arms of an administration. If each individual does what he is born to do, why would there not be peace on earth? But ofcourse, that is an ideal. Rand in her rabid style did overstate her cause in most screeching tones, but the basic truth of what she says is not to be overlooked.

 Critics of Rand also point out to her own life – that she lived disastrously. They  show this up as an example of her flawed theory. This of course is illogical and does not befit the objective scrutiny of a thought or philosophy uncoloured by the creator’s persona, a feature that all good criticism must bear.  You can hate her for her personality traits but do listen to what she is saying without splitting hair and indulging in character assassination or ideological bias.

We are more comfortable with the aphoristic ‘little drops make an ocean’ than we are with the Randian ‘virtuous selfishness.’ Is there a difference? The oxymoronic choice of those words, the connotations they manifest, our own moral conditioning will not let us accept them without protest. The ‘moral obligation’ often termed ‘duty’ is what so many of us are labouring under in every field, where there is silent suffering, a lot of misgivings and unhappiness, and a collective approval of this ‘destiny’. In fact, suffering is made into a virtue so that we do not analyse or scrutinise it closely. To add to this there is dishonesty in feeling one way and behaving another, often without any real conviction except traditional learning.

 Anyone who speaks up against this collective will be shot down by the collective, which can be as lethal as a totalitarian coterie, or the megalomaniac dictator. It dictates our lives in rituals, beliefs, values, knowledge, ethics and morality. We do not recognise it because it is a collective of everyday people, and our education states that all collectives made up of huge numbers, must be good and safe. Aren’t moral police collectives? It is only after the upsurge of fundamentalism that we have even begun to recognise how collectives that are apparently advocating ‘godly causes’,  or even ‘righteous causes’ can be pernicious, haven’t we?Image

Mediocrity is a collective conspiracy. Look around you and you will see it everywhere. Among educators, administrators, heads of states, business organizations – everywhere. Meritocracy is blatantly and shamelessly abandoned, yes, collectively abandoned. They pay lip service to excellence but they do no espouse it in their daily lives as part of practical practices. Then, the agendas seep in and as a whole, there is a rejection of anything or anyone who will upset the apple cart. Follow the fortunes of Roark in Fountainhead to see this in action.


Rand has miserable plots, and her characters are impractical ideals.  However, if you can catch glimpses of these ideals, even in some people that you see around you, the truth of what she says will strike you between the eyes. And truth is bitter. It is discomforting. It is easy to reject. The rejection would be the triumph of collective narrative over the individual’s uniqueness.  


Rand could be a failed writer (quality, not sales) and a failed life (not living up to her own ideals) but Rand’s  thoughts must be read with patience, and Rand’s views must be filtered with some indulgence. If this can be done, what is left behind is a small nugget of truth, rare and perhaps unpalatable, humbling and necessary – an integral part of real morality.


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