In Praise of Egoism
Notice how they’ll accept anything except a man who stands alone.- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
This is a tribute to the egoist. Since the birth of history he has been maligned and despised. Misrepresented as the epitome of immorality, he has been tortured, burnt at the stake, censored and regulated. For the crime of thinking and acting on his own, he has been thrown to the mercy of the very masses whose existence he made possible. He was judged by those who were envious of his mind and of his talent. He was judged by God, by the state, by the people. But although the names of his jurors changed, their verdict never altered. Guilty. Guilty of the sin of facing the universe alone. Guilty of possessing a confidence in his own judgment as absolute as his love of truth and beauty.
His name was Socrates. He ridiculed the pretence of the establishment of his time, using his own brilliance to expose their ignorance. Above all else he wished to know what was true, what was right and what was just. His own mind was to be the judge of this truth, not the opinions of his feeble interlocutors. His passion was for nothing else but his rational mind which he delighted in using in the same way a young child delights in playing with a new toy.
But frightened by his mind and by the way he used it to expose the Athenian elite for the intellectual frauds they were, his jurors put him to death. Tragically, he accepted their right to do so, and willingly drank the poisonous hemlock they gave him. They voted - democratically - to extinguish this bright flame which had been burning in Ancient Athens and which would, despite them, continue to burn throughout human history.
His name was Galileo. His reason was heresy in an age driven by faith. His rational mind sought the facts, and nothing more. He put his mind to the task of understanding, not the afterlife, but the universe in which he lived. The earth revolves round the sun, this heretic said, and revolves on its axis too. He knew that facts are facts, that reality is what it is regardless of whether the Church wished it so or not. The Inquisition believed that if the egoist could be forced to renounce the judgment of his mind, their worldview would remain unthreatened. Galileo knew better. He did as they wished and recanted his heresy. But after recanting, he whispered to himself: "But it still moves, just the same." He knew it. And the threat of force could never alter it.
Force and reason were polar opposites for him. The idea of those who held the reigns of power meddling in his pursuit of scientific truths was a horrific one for this scientist. "This would be as if an absolute despot, being neither a physician nor an architect, but knowing himself free to command, should undertake to administer medicines and erect buildings according to his whim - at grave peril of his poor patients’ lives, and speedy collapse of his edifices," he said. He asked only one thing from his society - to be left free to think.
His name was Oscar Wilde. His brilliance, wit and love of life came naturally to him. Yet it was as if he were a Greek god - a dancing, wine-drinking Dionysus - transported into the greyness of the Victorian era. He was a beam of sunlight bringing life into the stuffy, puritanical dullness. His pen was his weapon against a society that would seek to strangle him with its boredom. His words brought subtle satire to an establishment sorely in need of it. But his refusal to conform to the puritanism of his times brought this egoist to trial. Society told Wilde they despised him for his sexual ‘improprieties,’ and in the joyless, soulless, sexless climate of his time they certainly did. But was it this that turned him into a social pariah? Or was it a more fundamental hatred of his independence, his love of life, and his charming uniqueness that provoked society’s attempt to break the soul of this non-conformist?
His name was Bill Gates. His drive and ambition had seen him soar above the masses, while offering them technologies once unimaginable. And the higher above them he soared, the more they despised him. In the name of what was termed ‘justice’ he was put on trial. It was a show trial, throughout which one theme was clear. His crime was his ability, his productivity, and his achievements. His sin lay in being too able, too productive and too great an achiever.
He was an Atlas who would not shrug. He granted to the state a fundamental right to his mind, his effort, and his product. He argued every legality possible - but never argued the justice of his plight. Despite the brilliance of his mind, he did not assert his right to think by and for himself, and to own the fruits of his mind’s labour. He gave up that right. Like Socrates two millennia earlier, he willingly drank the hemlock.
This is a tribute to every egoist at any time in human history. Your obstacles were many, and your courage overwhelming. Your ego has created every glory on the face of the earth. This is a call to the egoists of our own time and to those of the future. Shun humility, and make no apologies for your creative spark. Do not make the mistake of Socrates! Do not accept society’s claim to own your life. Learn from Galileo! Do not recant the truth when faced with the mindless hordes who will try to torture you into believing that A is non-A. Think of Oscar Wilde and never take the deceit of soulless power-lusters to heart, lest you lose your passion for life. Do not surrender like Bill Gates! Do not grant them any moral right to the product of your intelligence.
Stand up for your right to your own life. Selfishly. Egoistically. And let the symbol of your cause be an image of Socrates sweeping the hemlock to the ground in angry defiance.
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