COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Oct. 12, 2012

Jessica Iron Joseph
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“You won’t like what she has to say about Indians,” warned my husband, referring to my book.

I was 100 pages into my classic novel, and really enjoying it. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was coincidentally all over American news. Her philosophy, Objectivism, which had roots in The Fountainhead, was being credited for influencing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Republican running mate.

The second I heard that Paul Ryan loved Ayn Rand, I knew my love affair with her was over. At that point in time, I hadn’t yet grasped what Objectivism was — but I knew it couldn’t be good if either Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan subscribed to her doctrines.

I don’t care much for politics — not in Canada, not in the U.S. But my husband loves American politics and follows it religiously. I like to tease him by requesting tales of Mitt Romney antics at bedtime. Nothing puts me to sleep faster.

In any case, I continued reading my novel; albeit now wary of the characters and the direction they might take. Naturally this annoyed me, as I had previously found Rand’s style of writing intelligent and refreshing, regardless that The Fountainhead had been first published in 1943.

But I didn’t want my opinion marred just yet. I wanted to see where Rand would take the story before I studied her personal prejudices with what I knew might be inevitable disgust.

I had to wait until nearly the end of the book.

I had been willing to go along with the plot, with all the characters out to destroy the intransigent hero, because that is typical storyline fare. He was the hero. He would overcome them and be the shining beacon of fortitude to set example for all of us. He was Howard Roark, after all. He was the brilliant and daring architect that I wished could design my dream home.

Then he opened his mouth and all my admiration for him rapidly dissipated. Roark was selfish, egotistical and judgmental — nothing like the hero I envisioned him to be. I was partly to blame. I placed him on a pedestal, and one day he proved he was infallible, much like the disturbing discovery of a precious role model who is only human and capable of mistakes, like anyone else.

When I got over the disappointment and disillusionment I was ready to face Ayn Rand’s opinions on American Indians. She stated in a lecture, at her infamous Address to West Point in 1974:

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using … What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.”

Rand was spewing this racist vitriol in 1974. I would like to think we’ve come a long way since then, but the frightening reality is that our neighbours to the south could actually elect a vice-president who is comfortable espousing the tenets of someone so brazenly ignorant.

I can’t say I was astonished to read her obscenities. After Howard Roark made his smug speeches on the value of individuality, debasing collective rights, I already knew what Ayn Rand would say about Indians.

Not surprisingly, much of her knowledge of American Indians was based on Hollywood stereotypes. Her asinine Objectivist arguments which promote capitalism are full of bigotry and contradictions.

On the one hand, she decries men who blindly follow others, but on the other hand she appeals to those very men, as she envisioned the masses would conform to her wild ideals.

I could not help but feel a pervasive loneliness when I read The Fountainhead. To be so biased and singular in your beliefs that you would push everyone away as you clamber to the top seems both bleak and isolating.

After I finished all 727 pages of The Fountainhead, I was profoundly grateful to be born a Cree woman. Having witnessed what it is like to be a part of such a beautiful and formerly repressed culture, I am privy to the joys of compassion and humility. Having always been an underdog in both race and gender, I understand the value of every person around me and I appreciate the interconnectedness of everything in nature.

Though I may while away my days in solitary confinement, it is a sacrifice I understand necessary to my craft as a writer. When I close my laptop and emerge from my room I like to connect to those around me. I still feel a part of something — something greater than me. Perhaps I am still in awe of the magnificent splendour that is all of Creation, and likely I always will be.

I think The Fountainhead endorses dated ideals. However, I could see how its elitist drivel would appeal to younger, more impressionable crowds. For someone who is mature and discerning, after serious and essential contemplation, this might be the book to reinforce your convictions and oddly enough, reinstate your faith in mankind.


Geographic location: Canada, U.S., West Point Hollywood Cree

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