“In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self?
What was his aim in life? Greatness – in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy – all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. It’s his ego that he’s betrayed and given up. And isn’t that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self.
Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he’s honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he’s great in the eyes of others. The man who wants money for a personal purpose – to invest in his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury – he’s completely moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to entertain, to impress others. They’re second handers. Aren’t they all acting on a selfish motive – to be noticed, liked, admired – by others? They place others above self… in the exact manner which altruism demands. A truly selfish man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn’t need it!
It is so easy to run to others. It is so hard to stand on one’s own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence – such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.
That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not merit, but pull. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgement, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality.
Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it… If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire… he’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not even struggling for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – PRESTIGE. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggles and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I WANTED IT, not because it made my neighbors gape at me. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy. Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched.
I think the only cardinal evil on earth is that of placing your prime concern within other man. I’ve always demanded a certain quality in the people I liked. Now I know what it is. A self-sufficient ego. I COULD DIE FOR YOU. BUT I COULDN’T AND WOULDN’T LIVE FOR YOU!”
Ayn Rand / The Fountainhead