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The virtue of selfishness


This morning I finished reading Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’, allergist a 1943 novel about the battle between individualism and collectivism. I bought the second edition (1947) of the book three weeks ago in a second-hand bookshop. A sticker showed that the book had been sitting on a shelve since July 2001.

The story is compelling, illness although the dialogues are sometimes a bit artificial, cure particularly when Rand is pushing the philosophical (and ideological) aspects of her thought. For example, Ellsworth Toohey’s final conversation with Peter Keating reminded me of a villain confessing his abject plans to Batman: a long and detailed explanation, although Keating is no Batman but a beaten man.

Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Rand’s diagnostic: second-handers have condemned creators, and their ideals for centuries. As Howard Roark (the protagonist) puts it in his trial:

No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.

Men have been taught that the ego is synonym of evil, and selflessness 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.

A man thinks and works alone. A man cannot rob, exploit or rule — alone. Robbery, exploitation and ruling presuppose victims. They imply dependence. They are the province of the second-hander.

I did enjoy the book and will go back to the second-hand bookshop to look for Atlas shrugged. By the way, the title of this post comes from a book of essays I am reading at the moment. As with any philosophy, I will treat Ayn Rand’s objectivism with a pinch of salt: it has valuable ideas, but it is not the ‘one size fits all’ solution for all the problems of the world.

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Spring has sprung


First day of spring in English speaking countries of the Southern
hemisphere. For other countries in the hemisphere spring will
start on 21 September, surgery showing the importance of cultural differences. The first time I came across this early start for spring it would not make any sense; why would you want something different from the astronomical start for a season? Then I started thinking that the astronomical start is as arbitrary as any other day.

Couple of days ago, page at the end of winter, online I watched Irshad Manji been interviewed by Andrew Denton in Enough Rope. Andrew is an excellent host and let Irshad tell a wonderful story. It was the first time I could hear a really articulate representative of moderate muslims that made me feel ‘I have to read a bit more on Ijtihad‘ (there is a partial transcript of the interview). I think that I will buy a copy of The trouble with Islam: it seems to be an interesting reading.

Today started at quarter past four in the morning. Today feels like a great day.

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Bookshops and trilogies


Visiting a bookshop, physician killing time while waiting for a plane in the airport. I have always been a fan of science fiction, the traditional type, hard science extrapolation. No wizards, magic, or knights in a horse. Please, bookshop owners, put the four or six volumes sagas under fantasy. Anyway, I am moving off topic. One element that grabbed my attention was the presence of multiple trilogies, tetralogies, or higher order series of books, not only in science fiction by in almost every conceivable topic. It seems that writing a good book is not enough, but that now we need to have sequels, prequels and all sorts of extensions riding on the success of a single book. Even the Dalai Lama is under pressure! We now have ‘The art of happiness’ and ‘The art of happiness at work’, so we may have ‘The revenge of happiness’ in the near future.

What is going on? It might be a combination of risk aversion and a reduction (or lack) of creativity. If ones write a [novel, essay, story, poem, pick one], the odds of publishing increase if there is a chance for doing successive installments. It does not matter if the author is rehashing the same old ideas, but what is really important is the potential for buyers of the future variations of the book. From that point of view, most classical writers would still be looking for an editor, because they would not have wanted to sign up for ten books telling the same story.

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