The Best Decision Concerning Your Life Recides Within You
Man’s fabric, biblically, is dirt. Under the misnomer of “soil,” this substance signifies filth; yet it is essentially pure until Man soils it himself, with blood or spit or footprints, just as Eve first laced it with the juice of an apple. Biologically, the zygotic recipe for a human results from two other humans’ animalistic urges, hormones, and, sometimes, emotions. This act, like dirt, can remain beautiful or become tainted. Thus Man harbors responsibility for his own cleanliness and significance. If he holds a handful of the soil that made him, or observes through a microscope the haploid his cells sprang from, and declares it insignificant or filthy, he has declared himself the same; if he finds beauty, greatness, and potential in his roots, he has discovered these within himself. The latter, classified as “man-worship” by Ayn Rand in her introduction to The Fountainhead, is practiced by several characters, particularly Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, and her protagonist, Howard Roark.
The Fountainhead outlines three basic classes of power: traditional, reversed, and apathetic, applied by Wynand, Toohey, and Roark, respectively. The salient similarity between these men and their techniques is their firm belief in the aforesaid concept of man-worship: the ability to see “not what men are, but what men could be” (328). Each man’s expression of this complements the way in which he commands power, as well as his goals in doing so.
Traditionally, attaining power results from outward superiority and intimidation. Such is the practice of Gail Wynand. Born into poverty with “nothing but his two fists” (400), he utilizes his physical strengths for power over his gang, and his intellectual strengths to influence adults; the latter continues into his own adulthood. By the age of fifty-one, Wynand has gained everything he wanted as a child and more. He is also contemplating suicide. Men fear Wynand; by threatening their reputations and businesses, he threatens their security. They feel compelled to give him what he wants in order to save themselves. Yet Wynand also has a sort of “charming complaisance about being used” which lulls others into a false sense of security, only to realize “they had been used instead” (411). This same sort of charm links Wynand to his adversary, Ellsworth M. Toohey.
Toohey, like Wynand, learns his preferred form of manipulation early on in life; unlike Wynand, Toohey veers towards his intellectual supremacy. Rather than assert himself as the more powerful person, he humbles himself, even as a child, so that others view him “like a martyr” and treat him with “a respectful solicitude” (294, 295). He instills in others that same sense of safety as Wynand, as well as a deep sense of trust. Also, by admitting his faults openly before others can point them out, Toohey subconsciously convinces others that, in reality, he has no faults. This and, essentially, all of Toohey’s methods, work because of reversal—doing the opposite of what is obvious. Rather than say what he wants people to do, he makes subliminal suggestions until that person thinks he or she not only wants the same thing, but conceived the idea alone. Indisputably, Toohey’s greatest tool is reverse psychology. His motives can sometimes provide justification, such as his exploitation of Hopton Stoddard in order to acquire a home for subnormal children; the fallacy in his charitable intentions, however, is its lack of true function. The home has no true purpose after its conversion from Roark’s temple. Its inhabitants, in fact, “had to be taken from other institutions” while, out in the street, “children from the slums nearby would sneak into the park of the Stoddard home and gaze wistfully at the playrooms, the gymnasium, the kitchen beyond the big windows. These children had filthy clothes and smudged faces…and eyes bright with a roaring, imperious, demanding intelligence” (385). A great deal of Toohey’s endeavors produce the same sort of results, and one begins to question if his goal is truly humanitarianism, or silly entertainment. Either way, intentional or inadvertent, Toohey is driven by oxymoronic motivations: those which are useless.
Following his expulsion from architectural school, Howard Roark stands at the edge of a cliff, admiring not the view, but the cliff itself—its material, its structure, the angles jutting from the rest of the landscape—and realizes “these rocks…are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice…waiting for the shape my hands will give them” (16). Immediately, Roark establishes a crucial principle in Rand’s philosophical school of man-worship: the earth is at Man’s disposal. This is not to say Roark endorses the frivolous waste of natural materials, but rather, wiser, more complete usage. Roark stresses simplicity and integrity, in both men and buildings; unlike most of his mainstream colleagues, e.g., Peter Keating, Roark refuses “to choke [a building] with trimmings” and “sacrifice its purpose to its envelope” (165). He uses only what is needed—much like his lifestyle. Wanting only what he needs and not needing much, Roark frees himself through simplicity; likewise, through apathy, Roark remains emotionally unfettered by societal judgment. These two elements become the source of Roark’s power. Obviously, having obtained it unconventionally, Roark does not harbor the conventional idea of power—that is, influence over others. Instead, he possesses something rarer: influence over himself. Following his graduation, Peter Keating contemplates his future through others’ opinions. When he turns to Roark, he asks, “‘How do you always manage to decide?’” to which Roark responds, “‘How can you let others decide for you?’” (33). The contrast of these two young men, the complete divergence of their previously shared path, is as evident here as it can ever become. Keating continues through life like a lump of clay, taking form from whatever hands touch him, “‘a mirror…to reflect [people] while they’re reflecting too’” (426). Roark, on the other hand, allows few external influences into his life, if any; it is difficult to say if Cameron, Mallory, and Dominique shape him, or vice-versa.
Wynand, Toohey, and Roark represent three drastic variances of Man and his assertion of power. Each, however, sees his world from an “aerial view,” able to scan it for strengths and weaknesses without any restrictions. What distinguishes one man from another is what he decides to do with his “view,” be it blatant exploitation, underhanded manipulation, or a silent, subtle revolution.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. 50th Anniversary ed. New York: New York, 1993.
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