Nate Smith

Every Loneliness Is a Pinnacle

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I'm curious what others think about this quote from The Fountainhead. Though it comes from Toohey, it sounds like one of his rare moments where he acknowledges a truth he doesn't subscribe to.

Does this quote represent represent something Rand believes? That's my assumption, though I'm not sure. It's an interesting line, but I'd like to have a fuller understanding of its meaning.

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What does it mean to you?

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There is no question in my mind that Ayn Rand meant that the independent mind is lonely. That is, it works alone. And in our culture, loneliness is inevitable for a creative mind. Loneliness implies one is different from the herd. Toohey is saying that. He knows it. However, it is poetic. The hermit may be lonely, and that can be a pinnacle. But the loneliness and self imposed isolation of the Unibomber is hardly a pinnacle. Of course, one could claim he wasnt really lonely. Just crazy.

William W. Kaufmann

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I think that acknowledging such a thing is a sign of weakness. I've never experienced it, tho, so I can't really say for certain. While I very much enjoy the company of a few people, I'd much rather be alone than find myself beset by the mindless chatter of most drones, er, people, that is.

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What does it mean to you?

The quote is very limited in context, so it could mean a wide variety of things. For example, coming from Toohey it could mean a call for self-sacrifice. Since we are social animals, and we do desire friendship and companionship, this could be a way of him teaching people to stop their "selfish pursuits" by convincing them these desires are weaknesses. But given how Dominique was intrigued by it, I don't think that was his intent.

This quote makes me think of a line that appears often in Nathaniel Branden's work--that it is important for an individual to accept his fundamental aloneness. The process of maturation is one towards learning to think for oneself, choosing one's own values, and living according to one's own mind. In doing so, one is essentially alone during this process. That's the sense in which this is a pinnacle.

The word "loneliness" raises questions though. Generally that word has negative connotations. One definition states that to be lonely is to be "affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone." That certainly isn't a pinnacle. It could be the case that this is a word that has evolved in recent decades since Rand used it. Given the dominance of altruism, few people can appreciate what Rand is talking about here, and it causes many people to dread how someone like Howard Roark lives--hence the "depressing feelings."

All that being said, if I were to push back against this quote, I would argue that it seems to suggest a false dichotomy. It seems to suggest that we can either have our social needs and desires met, or we can live as individuals, but we can't have both. Why can't it be the case that in thinking for oneself, one isn't alone? In a perfect world, I'd like to think humans could be raised by wise and nurturing parents (and in a likewise society) that help them achieve eventual independence. Certainly Rand was alone in developing Objectivism, and I'm sure that was hard at times for her, but I don't that's a necessary rite of passage. While I like elements of the quote, it also has a ring of Dominique's negative view of life.

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Everything good in all of human action comes from such aloneness -- from the man who faces reality alone, who weighs the truth or falsehood of his convictions with a regard for nothing but fact, who is dedicated to the uncompromising conviction that he must concern himself not with men, but with what is right (i.e., what corresponds to reality). It can require inordinate bravery to abandon the false comfort of what others think and concern oneself with the autonomous grasp of what is true.

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I don't think we should confuse "alone" or "aloneness" with "loneliness."

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