Second handers

“Second hander” is a term that I trace back to Ayn Rand. My late Grandfather gave me a copy of The Fountainhead when I was about 14, with the warning that the first half is very boring, but that some great insights come through in the second half. Just as he said, I found the first half of the book immensely tiring and boring; the second half was gold.

Perhaps I was too young to read it, but it seemed to express ideas that I had always believed tacitly, and much of the philosophy of Objectivism I subsequently integrated into my outlook on life. Fortunately, I grew up a bit and started noticing the limitations of the philosophy, but I remain stuck with a few concepts that I still really like!

A ‘Second Hander’ is someone who lives for others, not someone who serves others because they want to, but someone whose system of values and motivations are given to them by others. Rand regarded these people as being the lowest of the food chain, arguing that we should all, instead, think for ourselves and do what we want to do.

Have you ever met someone who was intelligent enough, though driven by ambition enough to know that if she sucks up to the right people and tows the ‘party line’, she will get somewhere? This is second-handed, as most people aspiring for power and significance usually are. Rand noted that those aspiring for power over others are usually the worse second handers of them all.

Sometimes I wonder how to handle such people. Part of me wants to pop their delusion of living a life of perceived significance and help them realise that the only meaningful life is one that is internally driven. Another part of me wonders whether such a desire is more founded upon wanting to prove other people wrong and prove myself right – upon my own ego and my own fears and my own doubts.

  • Is this person really happy? And, if they really are happy, should I interfere?
  • How can I judge whether they are really happy?
  • What if I interfere, and force them to accept the complexity and confusion that so much of life has… Surely their life would be easier and simpler if they stayed ‘plugged in’, rather than actually really thinking for themself?

A dilemma…