Individualism and Ayn Rand

I am reblogging this from my Soapbox blog. I think it has relevance here too.

My Soapbox

eric_michael_johnson_anthropologist-175x175 Eric Michael Johnson

While I wrote my rebuttal of Ayn Rand‘s philosophy some time ago, more rebuttals are being written, each with it’s own slant. Two by Eric Michael Johnson (Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong about Altruism, Selfishness, and Human Nature, and Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies) take a very different approach from my own. My approach started from the question of what is the origin of wealth. Ayn Rand says we all have access to the resources of nature. What differentiates each of us is how we  use our minds. Rand would have us imagine ourselves alone in the wilderness, all grown up, with unlimited access to resources. Her paradigm is wrong on several counts.

  1. We are all products of our societies, not separate individuals in the wilderness.
  2. We did not appear full-blown adults ready to show what we can do. We were all helpless…

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The Fountainhead

williamhickmanWho Was the Real Psychopath?

It has become popular to say that the character of the hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, was based on a serial killer, William Edward Hickman. Mr. Hickman was a very cruel murderer, indeed.  He kidnapped a 12-year-old girl and extracted ransom from her father.

“At the rendezvous, Mr. Parker handed over the money to a young man who was waiting for him in a parked car. When Mr. Parker paid the ransom, he could see his daughter, Marion, sitting in the passenger seat next to the suspect. As soon as the money was exchanged, the suspect drove off with the victim still in the car. At the end of the street, Marion’s corpse was dumped onto the pavement. She was dead. Her legs had been chopped off and her eyes had been wired open to appear as if she was still alive. Her internal organs had been cut out and pieces of her body were later found strewn all over the Los Angeles area.”

“Fate, Death and the Fox” in

roarkThose who read and liked The Fountainhead and found the character of Howard Roark admirable find this puzzling to say the least. Roark was a creator, someone who built architectural structures of great merit. He wasn’t about murder or sadism.

Much has been made of a passage in which Roark’s friend, Heller, tries to persuade Roark of the importance of learning how to talk to people, the better to get commissions from them.


“You must learn how to handle people.”

“I can’t.”


“I don’t know how. I was born without some one particular sense.”

“It’s something one acquires.”

“I have no organ to acquire it with. I don’t know whether it’s something I lack, or something extra I have that stops me.”

aynrandSpeaking of Hickman, the killer, Rand said he had “A wonderful, free, light consciousness” born of the utter absence of any understanding of “the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.” This lightness was due to the fact that “he has no organ for understanding” those things. Psychopaths are born with a differently structured brain than “normal” folk. We also have a “free, light consciousness” marked by absence of anxiety or depression. It is beginning to look like Rand is molding Roark to be the archetype of a psychopath.

People have been calling Ayn Rand a psychopath for a long time based on her philosophy which preaches selfishness, rationality and individuality. She proclaims that the individual is solely responsible for hir survival and well-being having no right to expect others to help hir out nor does the individual have a duty to help others unless s/he wants to. That philosophy is compatible with psychopathy but, as I pointed out in an article, Libertarianism and Psychopathy,  there is no logical necessity for psychopaths to agree with Ayn Rand. This is a big subject, not one I plan to delve into here. Most people who call Rand a psychopath don’t like her politics. But there are psychopaths all over the political map. Another article in which I explore politics and psychopathy is Donald Trump & Ayn Rand.

tooheyThe thesis of this article is that there is only one character in The Fountainhead who is a true psychopath and it isn’t Howard Roark. The psychopath in The Fountainhead is the arch villain, Ellsworth Toohey. Many readers will find that a mind fuck because Toohey is the man who preaches all of the values which Ayn Rand detests and which most liberals agree with such as compassion and equality.

peterkeatingThe novel follows the careers of two architects who start at the same time. Peter Keating is the son of the landlady of the place Roark stayed while in college. She is a flaming narcissist and, so, as usual, her son grows up to be one too. We first witness him at his graduation. “The crowd was there, thought Peter Keating, to see him graduate” um, as if nobody else was graduating that night. His whole life is dedicated to living up to the image of his false self. Even his chosen occupation, architecture, was chosen by his mother rather than what he wanted to do. He has a girlfriend whom he loves but he is ashamed of her image which isn’t up to the one he aspires to for himself. In the course of the novel, he stand up to women he loves on what was supposed to be her wedding day because he has an opportunity to marry a woman who meets his ideal image even though he doesn’t love her and she makes him unhappy.

Roark loves architecture and knows exactly how he wants to design buildings, that is, originally. He is an authentic human being who doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks of him or or architecture. He isn’t interested in gaining power over other people. His self-esteem is such that he doesn’t need that.

Ellsworth Toohey is a perfect villain. He seduces with ideas most people agree with. But he has his own plan.

cobblerEllsworth’s relations with his fellow students were the most unusual of his achievements at Harvard. He made himself accepted. Among the proud young descendants of proud old names, he not hide the fact of his humble background; he exaggerated it. He did not tell them that his father was the manager of a shoe store; he said that his father was a shoe cobbler. He said it without defiance, bitterness or proletarian arrogance; he said it as if it were a joke on him and—if one looked closely into his smile—on them. He acted like a snob; not a flagrant snob, but a natural, innocent one who tries very hard not to be snobbish. He was polite, not in the manner of one seeking favor; but in the manner of one granting it. His attitude was contagious. People did not question the reasons of his superiority; they took it for granted that such reasons existed. It became amusing, at first, to accept “Monk” Toohey; then it became distinctive and progressive. If this was a victory Ellsworth did not seem conscious of it as such; he did not seem to care. He moved among all these unformed youths, with the assurance of a man who has a plan, a long-range plan set in every detail, and who can spare nothing but amusement for the small incidentals on his way. His smile had a secret, closed quality, the smile of a shopkeeper counting profits—even though nothing in particular seemed to be happening.

Toohey’s mask comes off in one spectacular scene where he reveals himself to Peter Keating. He arrives unexpectedly at Keating’s home and is ushered in by Peter’s mother.

“Look, Petey, look what a guest I have for you!”
'Are you looking to pawn or sell your soul?'Keating lifted his head. He sat at a littered table, bent under a squat lamp that gave a poor light; he was doing a crossword puzzle torn out of a newspaper. There was a full glass on the table with a dried red rim that had been tomato juice; a box containing a jigsaw puzzle; a deck of cards; a, Bible.
“Hello, Ellsworth,” he said smiling. He-leaned forward to rise but forgot the effort, halfway.
Mrs. Keating saw the smile and stepped out hastily, relieved, closing the door.
The smile went, not quite completed. It had been an instinct of memory. Then he remembered many things which he had tried not to understand.
“Hello, Ellsworth,’: he repeated helplessly.
Toohey stood before him, examining the room, the table, curiosity.
lucy“Touching, Peter,” he said. “Very touching. I’m sure he’d appreciate it if he saw it.”
Not very talkative these days, are you, Peter? Not very sociable.
“I wanted to see you, Ellsworth. I wanted to talk to you.”
Toohey grasped a chair by the back, swung it through the a broad circle like a flourish, planted it by the table and sat down.
Well, that’s what I came here for,” he said. “To hear you talk.”
Keating said nothing.
“You mustn’t think I didn’t want to see you, Ellsworth. It was … what I told Mother about not letting anyone in … it was on account of the newspaper people. They won’t leave me alone.”
“My, how times change, Peter. I remember when one couldn’t you away from newspaper people.”
mocking“Ellsworth, I haven’t any sense of humor left. Not any at all.”
“That’s lucky. Or you’d die laughing.”
“I’m so tired, Ellsworth,…I’m glad you came.”
The light glanced off Toohey’s glasses and Keating could not see his eyes; only two circles filled with a metallic smear, like dead headlights of a car reflecting the approach of something from a distance.
“Think you can get away with it?” asked Toohey.
“With what?”
“The hermit act. The great penance. The loyal silence.”
“Ellsworth, what’s the matter with you?”
“So he’s not guilty, is he? So you want us to please leave him do you?”
Keating’s shoulders moved, more an intention than the reality sitting up straight, but shrinkstill an intention, and his jaw moved to ask:
“What do you want?”
“The whole story.”
“What for?”
“Want me to make it easier for you? Want a good excuse, Peter? I could, you know. I could give you thirty-three reasons, all and you’d swallow anyone of them. But I don’t feel like making it easier for you. So I’ll just tell you the truth: to send to the penitentiary, your hero, your idol, your generous your guardian angel!”
“I have nothing to tell you, Ellsworth.”
“While you’re being shocked out of the last of your wits you’d hang on to enough to realize that you’re no match for me. You’ll talk if I want you to talk and I don’t feel like wasting time. Who designed Cortlandt?”
”I did.”
“Do you know that I’m an architectural expert?”
“I designed Cortlandt.”
“Like the Cosmo-Slotnick Building?”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you on the witness stand, Petey. I want you to tell the story in court. Your friend isn’t as obvious as you are. I don’t know what he’s up to. That remaining at the scene was a bit too smart. He knew he’d be suspected and he’s playing it subtle. God knows what he intends to say in court. I don’t intend to let him get away with it. The motive is what they’re all stuck on. I know the motive. Nobody will believe me if I try to explain it. But you’ll state it under oath. You’ll tell the truth: You’ll tell them who designed Cortlandt and why.”
cross-exam“I designed it.”
“If you want to say that on the stand, you’d better do something about your muscular control. What are you shaking for?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Too late, Petey. Ever read Faust?”
“What do you want?”
“Howard Roark’s neck.”
“He’s not my friend. He’s never been. You know what I think of him.”
“I know, you God-damn fool! I know you’ve worshiped him all your life. You’ve knelt and worshiped, while stabbing him in the back. You didn’t even have the courage of your own malice. You couldn’t go one way or the other. You hated me—oh, don’t you suppose I knew it?—and you followed me. You loved him and you’ve destroyed him. Oh you’ve destroyed him all right, Petey; and now there’s no place to run, and you’ll have to go through with it!”
“What’s he to you? What difference does it make to you?”
gotcha“You should have asked that long ago. But you didn’t. Which means that you’ knew it. You’ve always known it. That’s what’s making you shake. Why should I help you lie to yourself? I’ve done that for ten years. That’s what you came to me for. That’s what they all come to me for. But you can’t get something for nothing. Ever. My socialistic theories to the contrary notwithstanding. You got what you wanted from me. It’s my turn now.”
“I won’t talk about Howard. You can’t make me talk about Howard.”
“No? Why don’t you throw me out of here? Why don’t you take me by the throat and choke me?  You’re much stronger than I am. But you won’t. You can’t. Do you see the nature of power, Petey? Physical power? Muscle or guns or money? You and Gail Wynand should get together. You have a lot to tell, him. Come on, Peter. Who designed Cortlandt?” .
“Leave me alone.”
“Who designed Cortlandt?”
“Let me go!”
“Who designed Cortlandt?”
“It’s worse … what you’re doing … it’s much worse .. .”
“Than what?”
“Than what I did to Lucius Heyer.”
“What did you do to Lucius Heyer?”
“I killed him.”
“What are you talking about?”
prisoner“That’s why it was better. Because I let him die.”
“Stop raving.”
“Why, do you want to kill Howard?”
“I don’t want to kill him. I want him in jail. You understand? In jail. In a cell. Behind bars. Locked, stopped, strapped-and alive. He’ll get up when they tell him to. He’ll eat what they give him. He’ll move when he’s told to move and stop when he’s told.  He’ll walk to the jute mill, when he’s told, and he’ll work as he’s told.. They’ll push him.. if he doesn’t move fast enough and they’ll slap his face when they feel like it, and they’ll beat him with rubber hose if he doesn’t obey. And he’ll obey. He’ll take orders. He’ll take orders!”
“Ellsworth!” Keating screamed. “Ellsworth!”
“You make me sick. Can’t you take the truth? No, you want your sugar-coating. That’s why I prefer Gus Webb. There’s one who has no illusions.”
Mrs. Keating threw the door open. She had heard the scream,
“Get out of here!” Toohey snapped at her.
She backed out, and Toohey slammed the door. ”
Keating raised, his head. “You have no right to talk to Mother
that way. She had nothing to do with you:
prisoner1“Who designed Cortlandt?”
Keating got up. He dragged his feet to a dresser, opened a drawer, took out a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to Toohey. It was his contract with Roark.  Toohey read it and, chuckled once, a dry snap of sound. Then he looked at Keating.
“You’re a complete success, Peter, as far as I’m concerned. But at times I have to want to turn away from the sight of my successes.”
Keating stood by the dresser, his shoulders slumped, his eyes empty.
“I didn’t expect you to have it in writing like that, with his signature. So that’s what he’s done for you—and this is what you do in return.  No, I take back the insults, Peter. You had to do it. Who are ‘you to reverse the laws of history? Do you know what, this paper is? The impossible perfect, the dream of the centuries, the aim of all guiltyof mankind’s great schools of thought. You harnessed him. You made him work for, you. You took his achievement, his reward, his money, his glory, his name. We only thought and wrote about it, You gave a practical demonstration. Every philosopher from Plato up should thank you. Here it is, the philosopher’s stone—for turning gold into lead. I should be pleased, but I guess I’m human and I can’t help it, I’m not pleased, I’m just sick. The others, Plato and all the rest, they really thought it would turn lead into gold. I knew the truth from the first. I’ve been honest with myself, Peter, and that’s the hardest form of honesty. The one you all run from at any price. And right now I don’t blame you, it is the hardest one; Peter.”
He sat down wearily and held the paper by the comers in both hands. He said:
“If you want to know how hard it is, I’ll tell you: right now I want to burn this paper. Make what you wish of that. I don’t claim too great a credit, because I know that tomorrow I’ll send this to the district attorney, Roark will never know it-and it
would make no difference to him if he knew—but in the truth of things, there was one moment when I wanted to burn this paper.”
lemmings_confession_560535He folded the paper cautiously and slipped it into his pocket. Keating followed his gestures, moving his whole head, like a kitten watching a ball on a string.
“You make me sick,” said Toohey. “God, how you make me sick, all you hypocritical sentimentalists! You go along with me, you spout what I teach you, you profit by it—but you haven’t the grace to admit to yourself what you’re doing. You turn green when you see the truth. I suppose that’s in the nature of your natures and that’s precisely my chief weapon—but God! I get tired of it. I must allow myself a moment free of you. That’s what I have to put on an act for all my life-for mean little mediocrities like you. To protect your sensibilities, your posturings, your conscience and the peace of the mind you haven’t got. That’s the price I pay for what I want but at least I know that I’ve got to pay it. And I have no illusions about the price or the purchase.”
“What do you … want … Ellsworth?”
dictator.jpeg“Power, Petey.”
There were steps in the apartment above, someone- skipping gaily, a few sounds on the ceiling as of four or five tap beats. The light fixture jingled and Keating’s head moved up in obedience. Then it came back to Toohey. Toohey was smiling, almost indifferently.
“You … always said … ” Keating began thickly, and stopped.
“I’ve always said just that. Clearly, precisely and openly. It’s not my fault if you couldn’t hear. You could, of course. You didn’t want to. Which was safer than deafness-for me. I said I intended to rule. Like all my spiritual predecessors. But I’m luckier than they were. I Inherited the fruit of their efforts and I shall be the one who’ll see the great dream made real. I see it all around me today. I recognize it. I don’t like it. I didn’t expect to like it. Enjoyment is not my destiny. I shall find such satisfaction as my capacity permits. I shall rule.”
“Whom … ?”
Chicken Soup For The Soul's Soul.“You. The world. It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man ‘s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in; get your fingers on, it—and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip—he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse-and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself. Want to know how it’s done? See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t heard, all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine, There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use, it against itself. Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. Tell men, that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as, the noblest virtue and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, Of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration; all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one devilcan’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self-respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain. He feels unclean. That’s one, way. Here’s another. Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny the conception of greatness: Destroy it-from within: The great is the rare, the difficult, the’ exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept-and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence; to perfection. Laugh at Roark and hold Peter Keating as a great architect, You’ve destroyed architecture. Build up Lois Cook and you’ve destroyed literature. Hail Ike and you’ve destroyed the theater. Glorify Lancelot Clokey and you’ve destroyed the press. Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed.
laughingdevilThen-there’s another way. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It’s simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle. He’ll obey and he’ll set no limits, to his obedience—anything goes—nothing is too serious.
Here’s another way. This is most important. Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained. and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you. Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. Take away-from them whatever-is dear or important to.them. Never let them have what they want. Make them feel that the mere fact of a personal desire is evil. Bring them to a state where saying, ‘I want’ is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission. Altruism is of great help in this. Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for-support, for escape. Nature allows no vacuum. Empty man’s soul—and the space is yours to fill. I don’t see why you should look so shocked, Peter. This is the oldest one of all.
Look back at history. Look at any great system of ethics, from the Orient up. Didn’t they all preach the sacrifice of personal joy? Under all the complications of verbiage, haven’t they all had a single leitmotif: sacrifice, renunciation, self-denial? Haven’t you been able to catch their theme song—’Give tip, give up, give up, give up’? Look at the moral atmosphere of today. Everything enjoyable, from cigarettes to sex to guiltambition to the profit motive, is considered depraved or sinful. Just prove that a thing makes men happy—and you’ve damned it. That’s how far we’ve come. We’ve tied happiness to guilt. And we’ve got mankind by the throat.—Throw your first-born into a sacrificial furnace-lie on a bed of nails-go into the desert to. mortify the flesh—don’t dance—don’t go to the movies on Sunday—don’t try to get rich—don’t smoke, don’t drink. It’s all the same line. The great line. Fools think that taboos of this nature are just nonsense. Something left over, old-fashioned. But there’s always a purpose in nonsense. Don’t bother to examine a folly. Ask yourself only what it accomplishes. Every system of ethics’ that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and filled millions, of men. Of course; you must dress it up. You must tell people that they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don’t have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’—’Eternal Spirit’— ‘Divine Purpose’ -— ‘Nirvana’— ‘Paradise’— ‘Racial Supremacy’—”The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’  Internal corruption, Peter.
That’s the oldest one of all. The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it. Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice-— run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice; there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master. But if ever you hear a man telling you that you must be happy, that it’s your natural right, that your first duty is to yourself—that will be the man who’s not after your soul. That will be the man who has nothing to gain from you. But let him come and you’ll scream your empty heads off, howling that he’s a selfish monster. So the racket is safe for many, many centuries. But here you might have noticed something. I said, ‘It stands to reason.’ Do you see? Men have a weapon against you. Reason. So you must be very sure to take it away from them. Cut the props from under it. But be careful. Don’t deny outright. Never deny anything outright, you give your hand away. Don’t say pursuithappinessreason is evil-though some have gone that far and with astonishing success. Just say that reason is limited. That there’s something above it. What? You don’t have to be too clear about it either. ‘The field’s inexhaustible. ‘Instinct’-— ‘Feeling’-— ‘Revelation’-— ‘Divine Intuition’-— Dialectic Materialism.’ If you get caught at some crucial point and somebody tells you that your doctrine doesn’t make sense-— you’re ready for him. You tell him that there’s something above sense.-— That here he must not try to think, he must feel. He must believe. Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him. Can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want any thinking men.”
Keating had sat down on the floor, by the side of the dresser; he had felt tired and he had simply folded his legs. He did not want to abandon the dresser; he felt safer, leaning against it; as -—  it still guarded the letter he had surrendered.
“Peter, you’ve heard all this. You’ve seen me practicing it for years. You see it being practiced allover the world. Why are you disgusted? You have no right to sit there and stare at me with virtuous superiority of being shocked. You’re in on it. You’ve
your share and you’ve got to go along. You’re afraid to see it’s leading. I’m not. I’ll tell submityou. The world of the future. The world I want. A world of obedience and of unity. A world the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of the brain of his neighbor who’ll no thought of his own but an attempt to guess the thought next neighbor who’ll have no thought-— and so on, Peter, around
the globe. Since all must agree with all. A world where no man will hold a desire for himself, but will direct all his efforts to satisfy the desires of his neighbor who’ll have no desires except to satisfy the desires of the next neighbor who’ll have no
desires-—around the globe, Peter. Since all must serve all. A world in which man will not work for so innocent an incentive as money, but for that headless monster-prestige. The approval of his fellows-—their good opinion-—the opinion of men who’ll be allowed to hold no opinion. An octopus, all tentacles and no brain. Judgment, Peter! Not judgment, but public polls. An average drawn upon zeroes-—since no individuality will be permitted. A world with its motor cut off and a single heart, pumped by hand. My hand, and the hands of a few, a very few other men like me. Those who know what makes you tick-you great, wonderful average, you who have not risen in fury when we called you the average, the little, the common, you who’ve liked and accepted those names. You’ll sit enthroned and enshrined, you, the little people, the absolute ruler to make all past rulers squirm with envy, the absolute, the unlimited, God and Prophet and King combined. Vox populi. The average, the common, the general. Do you know the proper antonym for Ego? Bromide, Peter. The rule of the bromide. But even the trite has to be originated by someone at some time. We’ll do the originating. Vox dei. We’ll enjoy unlimited submission-from men who’ve learned nothing except to submit. We’ll call it ‘to serve.’ We’ll give out medals for service. You’ll fall over one another in a scramble to see who can submit better and more. There will be no other distinction to seek. No john_galt___atlas_shrugged_by_lightsofreasonother form of personal achievement. Can you see Howard Roark in the picture? No? Then don’t waste time on foolish questions. Everything that can’t be ruled, must go. And if freaks persist in being born occasionally, they will not survive beyond
their twelfth year. When their brain begins to function, it will feel the pressure and it will explode. The pressure gauged to a vacuum. Do you know the fate of deep-sea creatures brought out to sunlight? So much for future Roarks. The rest of you will smile and obey. Have you noticed that the imbecile always smiles? Man’s first frown is the first touch of God on his forehead. The touch of thought. But we’ll have neither God nor thought. Only voting by smiles. Automatic levers-all saying yes … Now if you were a little more intelligent-—like your ex-wife, for instance-—you’d ask: What of us, the rulers? What of me. Ellsworth Monkton Toohey? And I’d say, Yes, you’re right. I’ll achieve no more than you will. I’ll have no purpose save to keep you contented. To lie, to flatter you, to praise you, to inflate your vanity. To make speeches about the people and the common good. Peter, my poor old friend, I’m the most selfless man you’ve every known. I have less independence than you, whom I just forced to sell your soul. You’ve used people at least for the sake of what you could get from them for yourself. I want nothing for myself. I use people for the sake of what I can do to them. It’s my only function and satisfaction. I have no private purpose. I want power. I want my world of the future. Let all live for all. Let all sacrifice and none profit. Let all suffer and none enjoy. Let progress stop. Let all stagnate. There’s equality in stagnation. All subjugated to the will of all. Universal slavery-—without even the dignity of a master. Slavery to slavery. A great circle-—and a total equality. The world of the future.”
“Ellsworth … you’re …”
insane“Insane? Afraid to say it? There you sit and the world’s written all over you, your last hope. Insane? Look around you. Pick up any newspaper and read the headlines. Isn’t it coming? Isn’t it here? Every single thing I told you? Isn’t Europe swallowed already and we’re stumbling onto follow? Everything I said is contained in a single word-—collectivism. And isn’t that the god of our century? To act together .. To think-—together. To feel-—together. To unite, to agree, to obey. To obey, to serve, to sacrifice. Divide and conquer-—first. But then-—unite and rule. We’ve discovered that one at last. Remember the Roman Emperor who said he wished humanity had a single neck so he could cut it? People have laughed at him for centuries. But we’ll have the last laugh. We’ve accomplished what he couldn’t accomplish. We’ve taught men to unite. This makes one neck ready for one leash. We found the magic word. Collectivism. Look at Europe, you fool. Can’t you see past the guff and recognize the essence? One country is dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the collective is all. The individual held as evil, the mass-as God. No motive and no virtue permitted-except that of service to the proletariat. That’s one version. Here’s another. A country dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the State is all. The individual held as evil, the race-as God. No motive and no virtue’ permitted-—except that of service to the collectivismrace. Am I raving or is this the cold reality of two continents already? Watch the pincer movement. If you’re sick of one version, we push you into the other. We get you coming and going. We’ve closed the doors. We’ve fixed the coin. Heads-—collectivism, and tails-—collectivism. Fight the doctrine which slaughters the individual with a doctrine which slaughters the individual. Give up your soul to a council-—or give it up to a leader. -—But give it up, give it up, give it up. My technique, Peter. Offer poison as food and poison as antidote. Go fancy on the trimmings, but hang on to the main objective. Give the fools a choice, let them have their fun-—but don’t forget the only purpose you have to accomplish. Kill the individual. Kill man’s soul. The rest will follow automatically. Observe the state of the world as of the present moment. Do you still think I’m crazy, Peter?”
Keating sat on the floor, his legs spread out. He lifted one hand and studied his fingertips, then put it to his mouth and bit a hangnail. But the movement was deceptive; the man was reduced to a single sense, the sense of hearing, and Toohey knew that no answer could be expected.
submittooheyKeating waited obediently; it seemed to make no difference; the sounds had stopped and it was now his function to wait until they started again. Toohey put his hands on the arms of his chair” then lifted his palms” from the wrists, and clasped the, wood again, a little slap of resigned finality. He pushed himself up to his feet. ‘
“Thank you, Peter,” he said gravely. “Honesty is a hard thing to eradicate. I have made speeches to large audiences all my life. This was the speech I’ll never have a chance to make.”
Keating lifted his head. His voice had the quality of a down payment on terror; it was not frightened, but it held the advance echoes of the next hour to come:
“Don’t go, Ellsworth.”
Toohey stood over him, and laughed softly. “That’s the answer, Peter. That’s my proof. You know me for what I am, you know what I’ve done to you, you have no illusions of virtue left. But you can’t leave me and you’ll never be able to leave me. You’ve obeyed me in the name of ideals. You’ll go on obeying me without ideals. Because that’s all you’re good for now …. Good night, Peter.” 



Morality in Popular Fiction

blackbeautySociety has many ways of conditioning its members to embrace its core values. Flat out preaching only leads to resistance. Conditioning is so subtle, we hardly know it’s happening. Of course parents and teachers play a big role. But entertainment also plays a vital role. When I was a child, reading was still a major source by which we are informed and entertained. Core moral values are so deeply embedded in the character of a culture, we hardly know they even exist.Who remembers when s/he “learned” s/he owed other people so much loyalty and concern? It was taken for granted.

lassieAs a child, I read the books written for kids of my age group. Many favorites existed in serial form. There was Heidi, Black Beauty, Sue Barton, Student Nurse and Lassie. The main character always had challenges in hir life and we would be at the edge of our chairs, breathlessly waiting to find out what was going to happen. Since kids are usually at the mercy of caregivers, usually parents, the main characters in children’s books were as well. Most kids identify with the main character although some laugh at their pain.


louisStories read by adults are more nuanced as to the moral character of the folks we read about. The characters are divided into “good” and “bad.” The reader is led to identify with the “good” ones. But the sympathetic characters are killers (Interview With the Vampire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Interestingly, one is a vampire but he is tormented with guilt. The other is a vampire slayer. A lot of attention is given to stressing that Buffy only “slays” vampires, not people. She keeps reminding us that “a slayer isn’t a killer.” The two words really mean the same thing but Buffy makes a distinction between who or what is being killed. Both Louis and Edward are vampires who choose not to kill humans. They kill animals which is OK with them. Harry Potter kills nobody. Even in the final showdown with Voldemort, he doesn’t kill his foe. Voldemort’s killing spell is automatically deflected from Harry and turned on him.

Ever since Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice, I have been a fan of popular fictional series. Of course, Interview wasn’t a series in the beginning. It was a lovely gem of a novel. Only later on, did Anne Rice write a sequel which led to further sequels. Her vampire series joined another series she had written about a family of witches. I actually have friends now whom I met as a result of our collective love of these series.

Since Anne Rice, there have been more series. Harry Potter is read and loved all over the world. Many of these books have been made into movies. Another series started and finished as a TV series. I’m talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Twilight was another trilogy of novels that became movies. Another TV series that I would exclude from my forthcoming discussion is Sex and the City, which is refreshingly free of moralizing. The rest, not so much.

Interview With the Vampire

interviewInterview introduced the abomination of a vampire with a conscience. Eeeuuuuwwww! How gross is that? I don’t have a conscience but I also don’t have the supernatural powers of a vampire. What I could do with that! But lots of readers just fell in love with Louis. Poor thing! He “fed” on rats rather than take human life, happy in the assumption that human life is sacred and animal life expendable. My friends and I spent hours, days, weeks, months, years debating issues of morality that came up in the Vampire Chronicles. Louis’ foil was Lestat, the vampire who gave him the “dark gift” and made him into a vampire. Lestat was free of any such pesky thing as a conscience. He manipulated Louis by making a little girl into a vampire to give Louis someone to love and care for. That way, Louis would stay with him and be his lessor half, a partner Lestat could control. The little girl, Claudia, was as amoral as Lestat. Both Claudia and Lestat died in the end. Lestat was reborn in the following novel, called The Vampire Lestat.

claudiaSince he was now the hero of this novel, Lestat was somewhat redeemed. He only killed “evil doers” it turned out. Interestingly, in the movie, Lestat said he killed “evil doers” because they tasted better. Hollywood must have realized how lame it was to make a vampire so pro social. If Lestat only killed the evil doers because they tasted better, he could still be amoral. But Anne Rice had to make vampires “good” or, at least, not so bad. Another vampire who had a big following among readers was Armand. He, it turned out, only killed those who longed for death.  No evil predators here.


bellaandedwardJust like Interview, Twilight features a vampire who only kills animals because he doesn’t want to be a “monster.” He disapproves of vampires and resists strenuously Bella’s request to be made one. He finally gives in but Bella is a “good” vampire, only killing animals (mostly mountain lions). The vampires in Twilight don’t sleep but they can have sex. Edward restrains his sexual desires for Bella through the first three novels. Finally, in the fourth book, after they are married, Edward is persuaded to try it with Bella while she is still mortal. They both love it but Edward is tormented by a few bruises on Bella’s arm. When she is impregnated, Edward is filled with self-loathing. Bella’s heroic insistence on going through with the pregnancy despite the fact that a half-vampire fetus is incompatible with her body could be a shout-out to the pro life movement although she is actually exercising choice in her decision to have the baby. But once the baby is born and Bella made into a vampire, she and Edward are able to enjoy sex with abandon, finally. Bella, of course, refrains from killing humans.

Harry Potter

harry_intenseHarry Potter was an orphan living with a family who hated and abused him, a classic tale of an underdog.  The story begins when he learns that his true identity is that of a wizard who is loved by a whole community he hadn’t known even existed. What’s more, he is a champion of good people against an evil wizard, Lord Voldemort. Harry goes to Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards where he encounters both good and evil people but stays firmly on the side of the good.

Harry is sorted into Gryffindor, the house associated with heroism. He is tested early with choices. Draco Malfoy, who becomes Harry’s enemy, is sorted into Slytherin, the house that is considered evil although they won’t come out and say so. Harry has to choose between loyalty to his new friend, Ron Weasley, another Gryffindor, and Draco.

But what is “good” in Harry Potter and what is “evil?” Well, the Slytherins cheat at sports and look down on people. Gryffindors are fair and inclusive. But Harry is better than even the average Gryffindor. His goodness amounts to selflessness and takes the form of his not wanting anyone to risk any harm on his own behalf. Since he was their hero against the evil wizard, Voldemort, it was necessary that the others protected his life above their own. He was their best hope of survival. But he immediately tried to veto the idea of a group of them disguising themselves as Harry to distract from the real one so he could get away safely.

“No!” he said loudly, his voice ringing through the kitchen. “No way!”

“I told them you’d take it like this,” said Hermione with a hint of complacency.

“If you think I’m going to let six people risk their lives — !”

polyjuiceThe polyjuice potion with part of another person mixed in would turn the drinker into an exact replica of that person. Naturally, Harry being so saintly, “the potion began to froth and smoke, then, all at once, it turned into a clear, bright gold.” They reached safety with a great deal of trouble and at the expense of some lives. Yet, in his place of safety, Harry said, “I can’t stay here.” The whole point of the exodus they had just been through was to get him there and, Mr. Selfless immediately wanted to leave, not for his own sake, of course, but because he couldn’t stand anyone endangering himself for him. Later, Dumbledore tells Harry that is is “a remarkably selfless person.” Selflessness is the philosopher’s stone as it is in each of these series I am discussing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

buffyBuffy is a typical teenager until once day her dharma is thrust upon her. She is the “chosen one,” the Slayer. There is one out of every generation, yada yada. She, alone, has to fight the vampires and demons. When one slayer dies, another one is called. Why one has to fight all of them is never explained. Plain unfair, in my opinion. Furthermore, she is not allowed to reveal her sacred identity to anyone else except her “Watcher,” a man from the Watcher’s Council that supervises the whole thing. Somehow, Buffy’s secret mission becomes known to a small circle of friends who work with her to help her slay vampires and demons. Every year, her foes become more dangerous and harder to overcome until, in the fifth year, she comes up against Glory who is more than a demon. gloryShe is a god. Glory came from a hell dimension and is now exiled from that dimension. What’s more, she has to share the body of a nice man, Ben, who only wants to be a doctor and help people. The body is under the control of each of them alternatively. Neither one can control when the other one will take control. Glory wants to return to her hell dimension where she can reign again. There is a key that can unlock the door between dimensions. An group of monks has taken possession of the key. They have “pressed” it into the form of a teenage girl, Buffy’s sister, Dawn. They imprinted false memories of this sister on everyone who knows Buffy, including her mother and friends. Dawn also has these false memories and has no idea what she really is. An order of knights thinks the key is unspeakably dangerous and their mission is to destroy it. In the beginning, nobody knows the truth about Dawn but they find out. Buffy is set to protect Dawn both from Glory and the knights who want to destroy her.

dawnWe are never told why the monks created a human being out of the “key.” I think the knights are right. The key is dangerous. It can turn the universe into a place of torment when the different dimensions “bleed” into each other. To get back to her dimension, Glory has to perform a ritual where she slowly bleeds Dawn on a certain day and time. If Dawn were to die quickly, the walls between the dimensions will only be down briefly and the universe will be able to heal. But Glory wants Dawn to bleed slowly to give her time to get back to her dimension. It’s obvious that, once the ritual starts, a quick death for Dawn is the only hope for everybody. Otherwise, everyone will suffer horribly, including Dawn. Even Dawn realizes this. But glory1Buffy is possessed with the idea that she is going to protect Dawn to the end, even if it means destruction for the universe. Giles, her watcher, says at one point, that he is proud that she always follows her “heart.” Despite this, even Giles knows Dawn must die to prevent chaos and torment. But Buffy irrationally follows her heart and says, “Then the last thing she will see is me protecting her.” In the end, it turns out Buffy has another alternative. She can die in Dawn’s place since the monks made Dawn’s blood out of hers. That really makes no sense since Dawn is already bleeding and Buffy’s suicide won’t make her stop bleeding. But never mind that. Buffy’s suicide is accepted as the way the world got saved. Dawn’s life is spared, she goes on living while Buffy is honored as a martyr.

Finally, we have the Twilight series about a whole family of vampires who refuse to kill humans and live off the blood of animals.

What’s the Message?

slytherinThese series are entertaining but they are also conveying a message(s) about right and wrong. In every case, we are confronted with a being who has supernatural powers. In every case, the powerful being, be s/he a vampire or a hero or a wizard, has a conscience that limits hir use of power. The idea that human life is worth more than animal life is seen in Interview, Buffy, and Twilight. Harry Potter introduces us to the value of “selflessness.” But it’s not all that new. We have been told from day one that selfishness is bad and selflessness good.

Most of us have been told by adults to be “unselfish.” We are urged to share our toys and restrain our desires for the sake of others. These novels reinforce all those messages. It is therefore interesting to note that a significant number of Harry Potter fans decide to side with those characters who are clearly marked as the bad guys. I congratulate those people on their independence of mind.