A few days back I read once again Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, when I had read it earlier as a school going child I had not understood it at all. I had found it silly and boring; the old copy was still lying in the corner of my father’s bookshelf. My hand stretched involuntarily to pick up the yellow-paged old book a few days back. I started reading it late in the evening and kept at it into the night to finish in a readathon (like marathon) manner. This time I saw the book anew. It was fresh and ringed of issues and thoughts which are relevant even today, as they were at that time, in 1957, and I think they will be still relevant for years to come.
The Russian immigrant writer was strong-willed, intelligent and years ahead of her time. The philosophical novel which she wrote then invited much criticism but soon it gained lots of popularity and sold millions of copies. I feel the story of the protagonist though larger than life, why I am saying larger than life as the feelings, conditions, the circumstances which he goes through are little hard to find in today’s world. Many people go through times when they have to succumb to societal pressures, make deal with their ideas, priorities and sooner or later they do it for the sake of their family, friends, careers and what not. But Fountain head’s hero is not ready for a compromise. Not as a student, never as a professional. He is at war with the complete society. He does not give up even after being jobless, alone and broke.
It is an amazing read, and I will not venture further. Those who have read it will understand the points which I have mentioned. Those who have not read it, I suggest should read it.
Here I want to draw out the philosophy of Fountainhead. Ayn Rand supports individualism on the face of collectivism. It is hard to digest for an Indian, as all other societies but predominantly Indian’s have always been supporting collectivism. We have been always taught to sacrifice, bend, compromise for the sake of family, society, organization and many more. As psychology says a man is a social animal and likes to live in groups. Since the period when a man was a caveman he learned a lesson that if he has to survive then he should live in groups, otherwise he does not have a chance in front of the wild animals. The lessons taken in the jungle worked wonderfully till man dwelled in a cave. It gave him security, protection, recognition, power and many more. But once the wheel was made, the fire was ignited, mines were dug, and houses were constructed things changed.
The civilized world came into being, with it came rules and regulations. Discipline was ingrained and customs and traditions became prevalent and then staunch for the smooth running of the society. But, then it was possible for a man to live independently, think independently and work also. When I say independently it does not mean, to live like Robinson Crusoe alone on an island with no contact with the world. That is something totally different; it is a disorder if you choose to do it while living in this usual friendly world. When I say think independently means to take certain decisions, which could be distinct, advanced and revolutionary. It may not fit in with the run of the mill, prevalent set of thinking or working culture of a particular society. But if an individual finds it correct, if he or she has complete faith in his work, concept, project or whatever decision he or she has taken then that individual should go ahead with it with complete confidence. In short ‘dare.’
In our own country, India and a huge list of foreign countries we have examples wherein we can see that since time immemorial society has ridiculed, tortured, outcasted individuals with advanced ideas which were completely strange, foreign to that generation. There is a long list, right from Galileo, the Wright Brothers, Edison, Marie Currie, Edward Jenner and many more had to go through great pains and efforts to make people realize the importance of their work. In India as well there have been many great men and women who have been educators, reformists, social workers, businessmen whose work was at first trashed but later on understood and hence accepted by people.
Why is it so that people are not ready to accept anything new? I think one of the problems which I can perceive lies in the psyche. We humans or even animals get conditioned to a certain routine, habits, weather and almost everything. If we are doing a certain chore every day, or we have been listening about a certain notion over the years, coming down from parents, grandparents and so on; then our mind and even our body accept it without any resistance. In other words, we can say this is the training of a kind. Our body and mind get prepared to see and then accept certain things in a certain way. As in Fountainhead, the Americans of that time were used to see and hence build completely orthodox, conformist kind of buildings which is why they were not liking and hence opposing the innovative ideas of Howard Roark.
Some are so influenced by a certain style of living, that they get upset and so angry and jealous to see innovation. Sometimes, these sensitive minds can see or judge that the idea in front of them is fantastic but they are not willing to change, they do not want to come out of their comfort zone. Here again, I will give an example of the manipulative journalist Ellsworth Toohey of Fountainhead. Just because he didn’t appreciate or understand Roark’s independent thinking, his revolutionary ideas, Toohey tried his level best to finish Roark. In the real world also, where we dwell, there are certain elements like Toohey who do not welcome fresh ideas. But I firmly believe that if we look at today’s world analytically, the progress which it has made in leaps and bounds is because of a germ of an idea, vision, a dream seen by an individual. It is very rare that a dream is carried forward by a society as a whole. It is always initially an individual dream, may be taken up by the society much later. If the individual manages to convince the society of his dream then it propels into a nationwide, statewide revolutionary idea, but never in the beginning.
With assurance, I say that individualism, (as in liberty to try new things, set on a new path, try new ways at looking at this good old world) is much greater and better way of living. It should be allowed, helped, propagated and seen as navigators of the progressive world. Collectivism may have helped us in certain situations; where great upheaval is required to turn the old world structure into a new one. But here, I must point out; even this great revolution is always started by one man, one situation. To be always be trapped in the shackles of society’s beliefs, their likings, their fears, their conceptions or misconceptions, how far one can carry this heavy load. There will always come a time when one would like to dump the load and think and move freely. After all, we are genetically distinct from the sheep which follows each other with precision. We are at the peak of the ecosystem because of the structure of our brain.
This boiling pot requires fresh ideas for sustenance, as only change is constant and always needed. A caterpillar which is green colored transforms into iridescent blue and does not stay green.
By Anuradha Singh