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Rand was haunted by this quote

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I would like to explore more on a quotation that Ayn Rand said haunted her:

The state of todays culture is so low that I do not care to spend my time watching and discussing it. I am haunted by a quotation from Nietzsche: 'It is not my function to be a fly swatter.'

That was written in her last article for The Ayn Rand Letter titled, 'A Final Survey'.

So, I'd like to start exploring, with context.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra we get a context of what I think she's referring to, in Part 1, 12 titled 'Flies in the Market-Place' :

Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you deafened with the noise of the great men, and stung all over with the stings of the little ones.

Forest and rock know how to be silent with you. Be like the tree which you love, the broad-branched one -- silently and attentively it overhangs the sea.

Where solitude ends, there begins the market-place; and where the market-place begins, there begins also the noise of the great actors, and the buzzing of the poison-flies.

In the world even the best things are worthless without those who make a side-show of them: these showmen, the people call great men.

Little do the people understand what is great -- that is to say, the creator. But they have a taste for all showmen and actors of great things.

Around the creators of new values revolves the world: -- invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and the glory: such is the course of things.


Far away from the market-place and from fame happens all that is great: far away from the market-place and from fame have always dwelt the creators of new values.

Flee, my friend, into your solitude: I see you stung all over by the poisonous flies. Flee to where a rough, strong breeze blows!

Flee into your solitude! you have lived too closely to the small and the pitiful. Flee from their invisible vengeance! For you they have nothing but vengeance.

No longer raise your arm against them! They are innumerable, and it is not your job to be a flyswatter.

Innumerable are the small and pitiful ones; and rain-drops and weeds have been the ruin of many a proud structure.

You are not stone; but already have you become hollow from many drops. You will yet break and burst from the many drops.

I see you exhausted by poisonous flies; I see you bleeding and torn at a hundred spots; and your pride refuses even to be angry.

They would have blood from you in all innocence; blood is what bloodless souls crave -- and therefore they sting in all innocence.

But you, profound one, you suffer too profoundly even from small wounds; and before you have healed, the same poison-worm crawls over your hand.

You are too proud to kill these gluttons. But take care lest it be your fate to suffer all their poisonous injustice!

They buzz around you also with their praise: obtrusiveness is their praise. They want to be close to your skin and your blood.

They flatter you, as one flatters a God or devil; they whimper before you, as before a God or devil; What does it come to! They are flatterers and whimperers, and nothing more.

Often, also, do they show themselves to you as friendly ones. But that has always been the prudence of cowards. Yes! cowards are wise!

They think much about you with their petty souls -- you are always suspect to them! Whatever is much thought about is at last thought suspicious.

They punish you for all your virtues. They pardon you entirely -- for your errors.

Because you are gentle and of honest character, you say: "Guiltless are they for their small existence." But their petty souls think: "Guilty is every great existence."

Even when you are gentle towards them, they still feel themselves despised by you; and they repay your beneficence with secret maleficence.

Your silent pride is always counter to their taste; they rejoice if once you are humble enough to be vain.

What we recognize in a man, we also irritate in him. Therefore be on your guard against the small ones!

In your presence they feel themselves small, and their baseness gleams and glows against you in invisible vengeance.

You did not see how often they became silent when you approached them, and how their energy left them like the smoke of a waning fire?

Yes, my friend, you are the bad conscience of your neighbors, for they are unworthy of you. Therefore they hate you, and would rather suck your blood.

Your neighbors will always be poisonous flies; what is great in you -- that itself must make them more poisonous, and always more fly-like.

Flee, my friend, into your solitude -- and there, where a rough strong breeze blows. It is not your job to be a flyswatter.

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

"Flee, my friend, into your solitude [...] It is not your job to be a flyswatter."

Look at all the characters of Rand that fleed into solitude, or apart from society. John Galt. The strikers. Kira fled. Also did Prometheus and Liberty. So then they are not 'flyswatters'. I wonder if this quote was haunting her when she wrote them? She did, afterall, have some appreciation of Nietzsche in regards to her own philosophy:

But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man’s greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms.

Perhaps that was what she was doing, putting that whole passage into different terms. I don't know.

Edited by intellectualammo
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I see more of the hatred of the good for being good in the passage you selected. The fleeing into solitude rather than being a flyswatter, perhaps a recognition that those who do not recognize reason cannot be defeated by it. In this sense, living by reason would be for one's personal edifice, that the task of changing the culture is not accomplished by being the flyswatter, but through becoming a lighthouse, providing a beacon of light to illuminate where the dangers lie for those who are trying to navigate their ships on the sea of life.

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  • 1 year later...

The long quote above tells us what Nietzsche meant, but it's no guarantee of what Rand meant. If she'd meant all of that, she would have quoted more and summarized the rest as an expression of her own belief. She thought it was a snappy phrase, and she added her own meaning and her own context, which is the rest of the article and pretty much everything she published in the last several years of her life.

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