Deep thoughts visit me when I stand at the kitchen sink and wash dishes.
My most recent visitor observed that my opinions about public figures are not mine. The opinions of other people have shaped them.
If you asked for my opinion about Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead, I would have automatically babbled something about a cold, unsympathetic woman who promoted the individual’s needs over the collective’s needs.
Had I read any of her books to support my opinion?
Our Opinions Are Rarely Our Own
I adopted my bias against Ayn Rand from people who appeared much smarter than me. When you are young, there is terror in standing separate from your peers. You identify yourself as a troublemaker if you hold ‘the wrong’ opinions.
Ayn Rand was sketchy, so there was no need to read any of her books.
I am now old enough to grasp there is less time ahead than behind me. So, holding ‘the right’ opinions no longer has power over me.
Also, my kitchen sink revelation fills me with a sense of urgency. How much rubbish in my head does not belong to me? I decided to finally read The Fountainhead to find out if it was a terrible story written by a horrible person to promote a ruthless philosophy.
I Must Be a Bad Person Because I Think The Fountainhead Is Excellent
The Fountainhead was published in 1943, but its themes are relevant to anyone with an ounce of life experience in 2023.
The story follows the career of Howard Roark, an architect possessed by excellence. Unlike his peers, he refuses to compromise his artistic vision.
For Howard, delivering the best work he can is his single focus. He pours his energy into each of his architectural creations and sets them apart with the sheer power of his talent.
Howard’s pursuit of excellence ruffles the feathers of his fellow professionals. It also puts him on a collision course with Ellsworth M Toohey, a public intellectual who has devoted his life to destroying the careers of people like Howard Roark. People who stand out from the crowd.
The characters in The Fountainhead often give long speeches to impress upon others the rightness of their worldview. The effect is never dull, but these speeches did remind me of the monologue villains deliver within the pages of a comic book.
Okay, speaking of comic book villains, the Disney film, The Incredibles appears to owe something to The Fountainhead. That animated film is about a family of superheroes forced by society to be like everyone else. The villain, Syndrome, in the The Incredibles monologues about his plan to create a world that no longer has any place for exceptional individuals. Syndrome bears more than a passing resemblance to Ellsworth M Toohey, the chief villain of The Fountainhead.
After I completed The Fountainhead, I checked myself. I found myself in agreement with most* of the author’s philosophy, brought to life primarily by her character, Howard Roark. Am I a bad person?
Maybe, but I see the world presented in The Fountainhead reflected in my world. I am aware of an ever-present contempt for people who devote their lives to excellence. While this contempt is not overt, it is there, just like the subtle chirp of bugs on a summer day.
If you pursue excellence, you will encounter pushback from society. You will also discover your competition rarely comes from equals but from people devoted to the mediocre. This is because the world insists on the safe and predictable, so mediocrity is the preferred choice.
Brilliant people are troublesome because they threaten the status quo. Individualism is dangerous, and people do not dare decide if they like something. They look to their peers for a clue as to the correct opinion.
Anyway, The Fountainhead is excellent. I’m off to find another Ayn Rand book to read.
*While I loved Ayn Rand’s book, the relationship between Howard Roark and Dominique Francon is odd. It goes to some brutal and masochistic places.