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What are the "three gilded balls" mentioned in FH?

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Kent Lansing : "... And yet, If I were asked to choose a symbol for humanity as we know it, I wouldn't choose a cross nor an eagle nor a lion and unicorn. I'd choose three glided balls" (The Fountainhead, p. 313)

I'm not sure I understand the last sentence. What does he mean by "three glilded balls"? what does it represent?

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And the pawn shops in turn represent the trader principle, which is how all men should interact.

I'm not sure I agree with that sentence. As I see it, the tone Kent's using suggests something negative about the way humanity live their lives.

Take a look at the preceding sentence in the book:

"Thinking is something one doesn't borrow or pawn. And yet, If I were asked to choose a symbol for humanity as we know it..."

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I think the pawn shop symbolizes abandoned dreams and values. Pawn shops are only visited when a person is at their most desperate, when they are willing to sell their once highly valued possessions for "pennies on the dollar." They don't symbolize the trader principle even though they represent voluntary transactions. They symbolize the tragedy of a person giving away what they once loved for pittance.

This is what most people do with their minds, values and their very lives.

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Three gilded balls (in a triangular arrangement, I think) are apparently a very old, traditional symbol for pawn shops.  And the pawn shops in turn represent the trader principle, which is how all men should interact.

They stand for the people who sold their values and convictions because they are too lazy to sustain their own existence.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I don't know that I would say that everyone who uses a pawn shop is "too lazy to sustain their existence." There are times in life when someone finds themselves in dire straits financially despite their hard work. I think Argive99's explanation hits closer to the symbolic mark of the quote.

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"The light came from the window of a pawnshop. The shop was closed, but a glaring bulb hung there to discourage looters who might be reduced to this. He stopped and looked at it. He thought, the most indecent sight on earth, a pawnshop window. The things which had been sacred to men, and the things which had been precious, surrendered to the sight of all, to the pawing and the bargaining, trash to the indifferent eyes of strangers, the equality of a junk heap, typewriters and violins — the tools of dreams, old photographs and wedding rings — the tags of love, together with soiled trousers, coffee pots, ash trays, pornographic plaster figures; the refuse of despair, pledged, not sold, not cut off in clean finality, but hocked to a stillborn hope, never to be redeemed. 'Hello, Gail Wynand,' he said to the things in the window, and walked on."

The Fountainhead, PB p. 658

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  • 3 years later...

This is an old topic but I have to comment and say I disagree with the answer given here.

I joined the site just to clarify this.

I don't believe Rand meant for the gilded balls to represent a pawn shop.

In fact, they only came to be a symbol for a pawn shop later on.

Originally the 3 gilded balls were the symbol for Merchants.

"The heraldic shield of the Medicis with its three balls quite possibly derives from a family affiliation with St Nicholas, but their own family legend explained it otherwise. Before they were bankers, the Medicis were originally engaged in the medical profession; Averardo de Medici, an officer under Charlemagne, slew a giant named Mugello, on whose mace were three gilded balls, and Averardo adopted the three golden balls as the device of his family. Later, other merchants involved in monetary dealing adopted the balls as their symbol, with the three balls coming to symbolise the entire profession."

Kent Lansing is not being cynical, he is being sincere. He is saying that he wouldn't choose an animal or beast to represent man, but a more evolved symbol, 3 gilded balls which were used to represent Merchants, to represent men who live by a rational standard of trade and exchange with each other.

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Kent Lansing is not being cynical, he is being sincere. He is saying that he wouldn't choose an animal or beast to represent man, but a more evolved symbol, 3 gilded balls which were used to represent Merchants, to represent men who live by a rational standard of trade and exchange with each other.

Context, please. By the time Ayn Rand wrote Fountainhead the three gilded balls were the symbol for a pawn shop (in America, at least; in mexico we use the word mount). Next, Lansing was a cynical character, as far as regarded board, commitees and such. Remember he tells Roark they don't really exist, they're one or two ambitious men and a lot of ballast. Finally Lansing is talking about essential things "one doesn't borrow or pawn" when he suggests three gilded balls as a symbol for humanity.

Lansing doesn't like most people, but he knows how to handle them to get what he wants. By humanity he means the large bulk of people, people unlike him or Roark, people he doesn't like. He's not complimenting humanity by choosing that symbol, he's condemning it.

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Context, please. By the time Ayn Rand wrote Fountainhead the three gilded balls were the symbol for a pawn shop (in America, at least; in mexico we use the word mount). Next, Lansing was a cynical character, as far as regarded board, commitees and such. Remember he tells Roark they don't really exist, they're one or two ambitious men and a lot of ballast. Finally Lansing is talking about essential things "one doesn't borrow or pawn" when he suggests three gilded balls as a symbol for humanity.

Lansing doesn't like most people, but he knows how to handle them to get what he wants. By humanity he means the large bulk of people, people unlike him or Roark, people he doesn't like. He's not complimenting humanity by choosing that symbol, he's condemning it.

Yes you are correct.

It was bothering me so I went to the bookstore (I don't have a copy at home) and read the line within its context and its clear that he is being cynical and referring to the fact that men pawn and take their thoughts from others rather than think for themselves.

I'm sorry if I caused any confusion.

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  • 1 year later...
  • 1 year later...

Dr. Peikoff, in his most recent podcast - Episode 188, October 31, 2011 - addresses this statement by Kent Lansing:

01:08: "'In The Fountainhead, Kent Lansing says, "If I were asked to choose a symbol for humanity as we know it, I wouldn't choose a cross nor an eagle nor a lion and unicorn. I'd choose three gilded balls." Is this a reference to a pawn shop, and if so is it a positive or negative meaning?'"

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  • 9 years later...

The meaning of the balls is negative. In this same paragraph where the balls are mentioned, Lansing says “And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor’s pocket? No, it’s not as easy as that. If that were all, I’d say 95% of humanity were honest, upright men. Only, as you can see, they aren’t” (321) This shows Lansing has a negative opinion of most of humanity.

He goes on to say, “Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn’t BORROW OR PAWN” (321). This shows that Lansing thinks that most people do not think. Most people borrow or pawn ideas from others. 

The cross, eagle, lion, and unicorn would be grand symbols, meaning perhaps sacrifice, freedom, bravery, or purity. Instead, humanity’s symbol is three gilded balls, a symbol of borrowing/pawning. Most humans are borrowers/pawners, not sacrificing, free, brave, or pure. This view is in line with Rand’s/Roark’s later words in this book about second-handers. Things in a pawn shop are second-hand. Howard Roark speaks poorly of second-handers. They are a negative thing, just like the pawn shop, just like the gilded balls.

Edited by Liberty Bell
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