Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to reconcile all the competing views and opinions out there? How many times have you found a writer or thinker you love, and then found out that they are intransigently opposed to someone else you have taken into your heart?
As a case in point, I was recently reading a collection of essays by Ayn Rand. Now I admire Rand’s work enormously (as do millions of others – Atlas Shrugged is considered one of the 20th century's most influential works), so I was dismayed to read that she wouldn’t consider reading any Tolstoy: it was a case of good vs evil.
Reading his writing was, she said, Iike stepping into someone’s unkempt backyard – it was on the nose. Tolstoy may not be for everyone, I thought, but he is not to be dismissed like this – he is one of the giants. If he is degenerate, then so are millions of us who think he touches on universal truths.
That was just the start of my troubles. Like most of my generation I recall reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and can keenly remember the protagonist Phaedrus denouncing Aristotle as a pedant, and emblematic of everything that had sucked the Quality out of life.
I may not have gone out and bought a BMW motorcyle, but I like Pirsig, and so he went into my 'good' file, alongside Miss Rand. The problem is, Miss Rand loves Aristotle. Uh oh, it's good versus evil again, and I am stuck with another seemingly irreconcilable conflict.
Maybe its just Rand, I think – maybe she is just unusually combative, just a little bit ‘out there’. I wouldn’t be the first to think so: remember the Simpsons episode where little Maggie tries to escape the Rand kindergarten (where the blocks spelt out A = A).
But it goes deeper than that. How do I reconcile the left wing and right wing in politics? How do I reconcile my own contradictions: I want world peace, but I can get so angry I want to run another motorist off the road. Even in myself I see good versus evil.