Of Skyscrapers and Hubris 25 January 2006Posted 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.”