Rebirth of Reason


Daily Linz 20 - Vanity vs. Self-Esteem
by Lindsay Perigo

Likely those of us who’ve been around Objectivism for a while have met one or more of them. If we see one coming we cross the road or hide behind a tree. If we see one at a table we sit at another. Willingly to expose ourselves to him would be an act of masochistic self-sacrifice. We wish to make ourselves invisible to him because invisible is the way he would treat us, save as a platform on which to strut. He may be intelligent and knowledgeable, but his sole concern is to impress us with his intelligence and knowledge. He has no interest in changing the world, merely showing off to it, holding court for as long as we’re prepared to sit in silent genuflection. He is the Objectivist monologuer. He is a bore and a boor. He is vanity personified. He lacks self-esteem. He thinks vanity is self-esteem. He thinks Objectivism mandates and validates his vanity, notwithstanding that Objectivism’s founder said that “vanity is the most selfless of qualities.”

In my article, Seven Deadly Sins, I wrote of him as a solipsist. I said:

“Solipsism. Philosophically, this is the belief that the only thing one can be certain of is one’s own existence. Behaviourally, it is acting as though one’s own existence indeed were the only existence … or more accurately, the only worthwhile existence! Solipsism is the flip side of the altruist coin. An altruist treats others as though only they exist, to his own detriment; a solipsist treats others as though they exist at best peripherally, as sounding boards for his soliloquies and towels for his solitary ejaculations—again, if he but realised it, to his own detriment.

“Solipsism is especially insidious in that it can superficially seem similar to rational egoism of the kind espoused by Objectivism. It is attractive to pompous boors who can practise solipsism and justify it as egoism, thus giving the latter a bad name. Symptoms of solipsism include not listening when ostensibly engaged in a conversation, talking over the other participants, dragging every conversation back to oneself, chronic attention-seeking (paradoxically), and generally behaving as though the world would stop spinning if one ceased existing. There is literally a world of difference between treating your own existence as the most important thing to you and believing that you are the only important existent in the universe. The former generates a sunny self-confidence; the latter, an obnoxious and groundless conceit.”

The “paradox” alluded to, of course, is that while displaying such outlandish self-importance, the monologuer is dependent on others to feed it. He is your classic second-hander.

Ayn Rand’s first proposed title for The Fountainhead was Second-Hand Lives. Here’s an excerpt from her character notes, as reproduced in Journals of Ayn Rand:

“Peter Keating: … A perfect example of a selfless man who is a ruthless, unprincipled egotist—in the accepted meaning of the word. A tremendous vanity and greed, which lead him to sacrifice all for the sake of a ‘brilliant career.'

“Attitude toward life: Vanity grown out of all proportions. A vanity expressed in only one manner: to convince others of his superiority. Never a thought given to how he himself feels about things or values them—always, what others will think of him; and an overwhelming, burning anxiety to have them feel envy.” (Emphases Rand’s.)

Self-esteem, of course, and by contrast, is the pride one feels in one’s own achievements, regardless of how those achievements are assessed by others. It is reliance on one’s own judgement, not primary concern with, or automatic acquiescence to, that of others. It impels one neither to braggartry nor false humility (nor, even worse, true humility) since braggartry and humility are two sides of the preoccupation-with-others coin.

A classic, real-life first-hander, a man of authentic self-esteem, is former tennis champion Chris Lewis, of whom I have previously written:

“Whenever he'd been interviewed as a sports star, Chris had been a cut above your stereotypical athlete or any other kind of celebrity. He reeked of individualism. He was serious-minded, high-minded and single-minded to a fault. He was articulate and fierce and proud. He didn't utter the usual sickening bromides about how he owed it all to everyone else. He had, in fact, literally slept on railway benches during his quest for tennis ascendancy. He had, as it turned out, read The Fountainhead as a youngster and been inspired by it for life.”

When he decided to retire, Chris was besieged by hordes of presumptuous clamourers telling him he simply couldn’t. Whose career, whose life, did he think it was—his own?! He refused to be moved. At the end of his career, as throughout it, he made his own decisions, for his own reasons. Had he been a seeker of glory for its own sake, he might well have acted differently.

Why do I speak of this? Because we should eschew the ways of the monologuer. Why? Because the monologuer is the enemy of the self. Why does the self matter? Let Ayn Rand tell us:

“If humanity, for twenty dreary centuries, has been battered by Christianity into believing selflessness is a virtue and into considering as ideal things which are inherently impossible to it—all idealism is gone. All ambition toward an ideal, that which makes men wish to attain the highest possible, is gone, since that highest, as preached by Christianity, is unattainable. … Until man’s ‘self’ regains its proper position, life will be what it is now: flat, gray, empty, lacking all beauty, all fire, all enthusiasm, all meaning, all creative urge.”
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