When I told my friend I was reading The Fountianhead by Ayn Rand, she asked me ‘Why? Do you hate your life?’ I was flabbergasted. I was only about 100 pages in, and was absolutely loving it.
Turns out, she had never read the book. She had only read articles about the book but formed an opinion from someone else's filtered opinion of the book, and I realized that comment was very coincidental as I read.
The book is all about creating and sticking to your own opinions and thoughts.
The Fountainhead is an introduction to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, which is based on the idea that reality exists independent of consciousness and that ultimately, the only moral battle worth fighting for is the pursuit of your own happiness.
What about this indicated that I hated my life?
Reading The Fountainhead reaffirmed an idea I had for years, but never quite had the words for. I always thought it was ridiculous to decide your major, or decide where you wanted to live or do for your life based on what someone else thinks you should do.
Who cares if your parents want you to be a doctor? Do what makes you happy in life. Get that liberal arts degree. Be a writer. Be a social worker.
Rand gave me validation for this belief, which became a paradox.
The want for validation kind of makes that point moot, though, because the book is all about having individual thoughts and ideas and actions and not being influenced by anyone else.
Still, I loved the book.
Here’s why I think all college students should read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Reason #100: Her views on being an individual.
There’s this character in Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey. He controls popular opinion with groupthink. As an extremely influential writer, he raises mediocrity up crushes excellence, making everyone believe that mediocrity is better. He’s so conniving. I’m pretty sure his motive is to destroy everything good in the world.
He represents one side of a major theme: groupthink.
Howard Roark, the famous and unpopular architect, along with a few other characters, represent the other side: individualism. They do want they want despite the the public's unpopular opinion of them. Howard designs buildings experts don't like, even though his buildings are the most modern and efficient. They fight against all odds to retain their individualism.
Groupthink is so powerful because it influences a society so much, but Fountainhead is about what happens when a few individuals oppose that society.
This theme sets the characters apart. It makes you ask the question: where do you get your opinions from?
But, Hannah, that’s an easy question. We form our own opinions.
Let’s think about that in every-day terms.
We often ask our friends what we think of movies before we see them, we read review after review of books and movies and often form opinions of things we’ve never consumed.
Here’s the catch: if you form an opinion on something based on an article, you’re actually forming an opinion on not what that writer thinks of that something, but how they wrote about that thing and how you perceived how they wrote about that thing. That person's mind and what they wrote are two entirely separate things, and that article is entirely different from the actual something.
This is one of my main arguments about why most people misunderstand feminism. Read it here.
Take ratings of movies on popular sites, like IMBD and Rotten Tomatoes. I know many people who won’t see a movie based on those ratings.
Although, college students, rejecting everyone’s opinions isn’t what Rand is preaching.
One thing I realized while struggling to understand these philosophies and apply them to the modern day world, was that she’s telling readers seeking opinion’s is fine, as long as it’s from a reliable source.
But, Rand’s characters in Atlas still do what they think is right for themselves, despite what their like-minded self-actualized acquaintances may think.
AKA You always know what’s best for yourself more so than anyone else. You can listen to your friends’ opinions, but always form one of your own and take that as canon.
Reason #294: Her books are full of paradoxes which aren't actually paradoxes.
I love the irony of a book supporting individualism being read by millions of people. If everyone gets the same thoughts about being an individual from one book, from one person, are the audience members still individuals?
I think so.
Someone’s telling us to be an individual, which I suppose means you can choose not to be.
It also leads me into the next book, Atlas Shrugged. This book is basically a capitalist’s bible.
Wait, don't leave me. Read me out.
I don’t identify as liberal or conservative, or as Republican or Democrat. Those terms encompass too many ideals for me to completely fit in one or two.
But reading this book, it’s tough not to identify with the capitalists.
Don’t compare modern day capitalists to Rand’s capitalists. All the business owners are in it to make money, yes, but they’re doing it to see their work come to fruition, not solely to make billions of dollars.
Howard Roark isn’t an architect to impress people, he’s in it to create buildings. Hank Reardon isn’t the best steel producer to make billions, he’s in to make the best steel in the world.
Besides, I don’t have first person POV access into Steve Jobs or Donald Trump’s head. I can’t tell you how they think or what motivates them.
Also, in Atlas, there are only a handful of productive business owners, maybe 20-30. It’s set during a time when there are only a few industrial leaders. Modern day civilization will not stop if one train breaks down. The same cannot be said for the world in Atlas.
That’s one important lesson, college students. Know when to apply fiction to the real world and know when to stop.
Reason #244: They make you want to work.
Seriously, all her main self-actualized characters have the most astounding work ethic. They live to work and work to live. This is such a different mindset from common day America.
Take to mind the idea that you get what you work for and no more. Take to mind the idea that the amount of money you earn isn’t an indicator of if you have the moral high ground with someone in a different socioeconomic status. Take to mind the idea that no one else’s opinion matters more than your own.
Before you post two pictures of yourself on Facebook, one with blue hair and one with pink, asking people to weigh in on what they prefer because you want to change your hair again, ask yourself who you’re actually trying to please.
Reason #230: Help yourself before you help others.
Her views on charity are frightening at times, and very against today’s society, but they’re definitely worth discussing. Rand’s belief with charity is that it enables the charitee and only hurts the charitor.
Rand wants to destroy the legacy of Robin hood. She wants to destroy the idea, not the person. They're two completely different entities.
For example, Peter Keating is one of the main characters in The Fountianhead, and by all counts, he’s a looter. He craves recognition but he doesn’t want to do any of the work. Howard enables him by drawing famous buildings and structures and allowing Peter to put his name on it. His decline is startling but not surprising. In the end, Peter becomes a hollow shell of a lost creature who still does what he’s told to receive recognition for something he hasn’t done.
Peter and Jim Taggart are very similar, except Jim is type A and more devious and outspoken than Peter. Jim loots of his sister’s smarts, while enabling all of the looters in the world by bending to their will and trying to appease the masses. Selflessness gets promoted and it's ultimately the downfall of society. It shows that if everyone depends on wealthy people's charity, the money will dry up and society will go to ruin.
Reason #299: She views work as art.
Howard Roark, the best architect in Fountainhead, creates the most amazing buildings that are economically stable and efficient.
In Atlas, Hank Reardon has a passionate love for making the best steel and designing the best industrial systems. It’s an art to him.
They spend hours doing their work because they love it.
This tells the reader that work doesn’t have to have the bad connotation as work. It can have a wonderful, self-fulfilling connotation as art, passion, and love.
Reason #301: Her ideas of need tell us that having a need is not the same as having a right.
One main point in Atlas Shrugged, and one incredibly startling one, is the idea that a company or country cannot run by paying its employees or residents based on need.
When you keep giving people something because they need it, Rand is saying they’ll keep needing more and more and feel entitled to things because of it. They’ll suck a country and company dry. This is what happened to the Twentieth Century Motor Company, and automobile factory. The owners decided to pay the employees based on need and they went bankrupt in a year.
This is the starting point to a myth and the end of civilization.
Of course, this is fiction. But she writes such possible scenarios with very real human interaction and motives, it’s entirely possible.
I’m not saying all charity is bad. Rand did raise a valid point about welfare, though. It can help a majority of people get out of a rough patch, but a lot of people abuse the system.
Ultimately, she's saying help yourself before you help others.
Reason#500: Selfishness triumphs over selflessness.
This is one of my main points, and something I remind myself constantly. Take it as radically as you can, but I take it to mean I'm the most important person in my life.
This doesn't mean I don't care about others. This means I am my first priority and I'm not going to spread myself for the sake of others when I'm not getting anything in return.
This is the mantra for the productive people who disappear: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
College students, I can't tell you how to internalize that statement, and neither can Rand. My interpretation is as literal as can be: I live for myself because I have respect for myself, and I don't expect others to live for me.
Also, students, these books will teach you that freedom is not freedom if it’s given. It must be taken.
Here’s some real world shit. When you graduate college, or maybe even now, you'll realize the world we live in is not free. By default, if freedom is given or controlled then it's not freedom. Don't have delusions about this being a free world. It's not.
However, if you want actual freedom, by all means you can leave everything behind and go create your own society. Seriously, do it.
Yes, Ayn Rand is known for being a bit of a downer. She wouldn't care, though. She believes as seeing the world as it is, not trying to believe in some false reality.
Plus, do I seem that down in this post? I'm definitely not down because of these books. I love both very much. They inspire me to live for myself and to work hard every day.
I asked my friend why she asked if I hated my life when I revealed I was reading The Fountainhead. She said she forgot she ever said that. I thought it was so funny, me stressing about a little comment she entirely forgot she said.
In summary, (because this is aimed at college people, remember?) you should read Ayn Rand because she supports individualistic thinking, creativity, and a strong work ethic. These three traits are so important, especially during college when most people are so impressionable.
In the most banal terms possible, Ayn Rand tells people with a looting and group think mindset to fuck off. She does it most convincingly, with desperate politicians who are only politicians because they have the right friends, easily-avoidable man-made disasters no one wants to take responsibility for, self-actualized creative protagonists who endure the world sucking at their souls and wealth just because they’re wealthy, and this overlying theme of being able to make yourself happy, whether you’re head of the biggest steel producer or a foundry worker.
They're some of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read.
Like I said earlier. I’m not a democrat, republican, liberal, conservative, donkey, or elephant, or any of those labels. I do strongly believe in getting what you work for and that no one else is entitled to the money you make just because you make more.
But, because one crucial theme is forming your own opinions on things, don’t just take my opinion as canon. Read it yourself.