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Of Skyscrapers and Hubris 25 January 2006

Posted by VARANGALI in Culture, VARANGALI.


Humility is not among the virtues of modern man. We rip into the earth for minerals, stack cattle in factories as if potatoes in a sack, and tear the ozone with our progress. This is not ignorance, or even indifference towards the environment. It is arrogance: this earth thrives or wilts at our mercy, and nothing is sacred beyond our fleeting nihilistic comfort. And skyscrapers are our rebel yell, beacons of metal and mirror that confirm our lordship.

Ayn Rand completes her novel The Fountainhead with a single act that epitomizes her ideal of man as proud avatar, responsible solely and completely to his own desire and ambition. She has her hero, Howard Roark, build the city’s tallest skyscraper:

“I like to see a man standing at the foot of a skyscraper… It doesn’t dwarf him, it makes him greater than the structure. It reveals his true dimensions to the world.”

Howard Roark was not the first: Haman was ordered by the pharoah to build a structure so tall that he could see the God which Musa (as) spoke of. Just as the pharaoh wanted to see Allah (swt) from his perch, we stand atop skyscrapers to look down upon fellow humans and nature alike, much like feudal lords of old surveying their possessions.

Unlike ordinary high-rises that compensate for lack of space by building vertically, skyscrapers are exercises in vanity. And just as our vanity dies with us, the fruits of it also wither with time. Percy Besse Shelley describes this well in his sonnet “Ozymandias,” wherein a traveler comes across the remains of an ancient monument (interestingly, Ozymandias is the Greek name of Ramses II, thought by certain Western scholars to be the pharaoh of Musa’s (as) time):

“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”



1. The Turk - 26 January 2006

So true. However, there two problems with this.

One no takes notice of it. Our power mad hungry rulers over the years never understand or follow it.

Also if everything will pass into the sands of time, why don’t we all go to the desert and become the bedouin.

Our wants drive us further. Some of our wants are huge. So come the skyscrapers. The problem is when our wants deprive others. That why I always tell abd to pray for millions. Allah(swt) can grant anything without depriving anyone. I have wants big as any ruler ever born but I don’t want to deprive anyone. So I ask Allah(swt) and wait..

“Serene, I fold my hands and wait
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.”

2. VARANGALI - 28 January 2006

Salam. I do not think it is a question of rulers – I believe it was George Orwell who noted that people tend to get the rulers they deserve. Pride is in all of us, people in a position of power just have more ability to portray it in large monuments and such.

Of course, we should all pray to Allah (swt) to not let our wants deprive others of theirs. But legitimizing desires by making sure they do not impede others’ is a utilitarian argument (JS Mill: my right to extend my fist ends at your nose), and is one I disagree with. The legitimacy of a desire depends on the desire itself, and is to be measured along Islamic lines, i.e. would Allah (swt) approve. As such, I think that we should also pray that our desires be in keeping with what is intrinsically right, and that we be able to control our desires so that we rule our wants, not vice versa.

3. The Turk - 28 January 2006

I understand where you’re coming from. However, the heart wants what it wants. If you crave for chocolate; you can overpower the urge but the urge or desire still remains. I am 28 year old man and unmarried. I have certain desires but I can withstand them. However, the desire remains. You can’t be a man without those desires.

Desire has no right or wrong. Its a desire; once its put in action the judgment comes. So my desire for money maybe wrong if I act on it by becoming drug kingpin or President/PM of 3rd world country who’s stealing money from country for his Swiss bank accounts.

However, if I wait for Allah(swt) to miraculously to shower me with money or inspire me in some way to make a drug which help people lose their excess weight which would make me billions. Then its not wrong.

Also once I have the money I still have to follow the rules. So the money is not going to be spent so called “bling bling”. I would spent the money wisely and happily. Very happily. :)

Also money is not forbidden. Say I was asking for someone marriage to fail so I profit as I am divorce lawyer or something. Then that desire is wrong.

Money is an accepted desire. We all desire wealth and financial security. Or we would be the Bedouin or something similar.

4. Irving Karchmar - 29 January 2006

Salaam Alaikum:
Wow, what a blog :) As both a one time fan of Ayn Rand and a writer, may I commend to you my book, Master of the Jinn: A Sufi Novel. I think you will like it. It has been translated and published in Russia, and will soon be translated and published in Indonesia, into Bahasa, the national language.
You can view the book and read an excerpt at http://www.masterofthejinn.com

Ya Haqq,


5. VARANGALI - 29 January 2006


Thank you for your comment. Per Google, we are now in the august company of seven other blogs (and counting) to have received this message, almost verbatim. ;)

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