tHE fountainhead and the myth of choice

Sofia is a brilliantly talented writer who is currently studying at the University of Leeds. As well as kindly writing for us, she also writes for her awesome blog 'Sun, Sexism and Suspcious Intentions'. The blog focuses on Sofia's interests with subjects spanning from poetry to Tinder, interviewing artists and bakers.

This month, Sofia talks about the role of 'Choice' within the capitalist state:

Do we limit our own choices by helping others?

Or is it more likely that this is a necessary evil given the questionable distribution of labour and reward?

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Ayn Rand is author of novels such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and is a figure with a long and contentious history. Her work, namely her philosophy Objectivism, is of almost godly proportions to many with Right-Wing beliefs: Sajid Javid reads the courtroom speech twice a year. The focus of this philosophy on selfishness and the ability of all to achieve personal success is based upon misplaced and mythical notions of choice.

Objectivism argues against altruism. Rand holds that to be selfless is to be literally selfless, to be without a self. That as individuals, if we think selflessly of others we lose a sense of ourselves; when we are altruistic (paying taxes to provide provision for housing or benefits) we limit our own choices and chance at success. Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘It’s Time for Real Change’ Manifesto which proposed an increase in tax for salaries over £80,000 would, according to Objectivism, have been a smite on all of those bankers and their chances at (further) achievement.

Why should the successful have to sacrifice their wealth to give to those who haven’t achieved as much? This not only ruins the chances of the successful but also does little to help those less fortunate, for “independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn’t done for others.”

To demonstrate this supposed truth Rand utilizes her protagonist Howard Roark who is born into poverty but, due to his innate talent and individualism, creates great success. By using this single and frivolous example Rand dangerously, and quite without subtly, creates a mythical sense of choice in which success and poverty are decisions as simple as having sugar or not in our tea.

Such is the simplicity of this recipe that a Laissez-Faire rather than ‘nanny-state’ must be needed for ubiquitous achievement. We must ‘leave alone’ so the talented can succeed. Those that accept or call for a universal wage or proficient benefits are “second-handers” and “parasites” to this potential success.

Jeff Bezos is an Objectivist’s dream: wildly wealthy due to his initiative and use of the Capitalist system. It would be unjust for us to demand high taxes or charitable donations from him, parasitic even. Yet, if Bezos makes billions by treating his workers poorly, providing a basic wage and unfair working conditions, is it the workers or he who is the true “second-hander”?

Rand denies that Capitalism is based upon exploitation, holding that this system is mutually beneficial: we work to be paid. But Capitalism’s need for exponential profit means that shoes are made by someone who is paid three times less than what they are sold for. Bankers habitually receive millions in bonuses whilst civil service staff face a decade long pay freeze.

In the infamous courtroom speech, Howard Roark argues: “We can divide a meal among many...we cannot digest it in a collective stomach.” But this philosophy acts as a guise: it argues the importance of individualism when there is no collective meal to begin with, and certainly not everyone is given the choice to eat. Rather, nepotism and exploitation bibs the wealthy and blames the poor. It seems a sardonic joke, one with hardworking and vulnerable people as the punchline, to suggest that this is a system of abundant choice and an honest chance at success.