From: David Buchanan (DBuchanan@ClassicalRadio.org)
Date: Sat May 14 2005 - 04:17:17 BST
Discussion Topic for May 2005 - "the question of individual worth"
Sam quoted ZMM, where the Narrator writes:
"I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of *this* American
resource - individual worth. There are political reactionaries who've been
saying something close to this for years. I'm not one of them, but to the
extent they're talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse
for giving more money to the rich, they're right. We *do* need a return to
individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really
The Narrator is here giving the notion of individual worth a clear degree of
Quality, ie it is a good thing, it is something which should be nurtured and
affirmed. The question I'd like to explore is: where does this fit in with
the MoQ? Or is it something to be left behind?
Left behind? Heck no! As Mark pointed out, ZAMM and LILA are very different
books. But I think we don't have to look very hard to see that the spirit of
the sentiment remains through both of them. In the quote above, he is
talking about personal integrity in contrast to big, top-down programs for
improvement. And in LILA we see a "history is biography" theme at work
throughout. In both cases, the individual is very much at the center. Both
works even press the idea that social health and cultural evolution depends
on the individual. Because the real motorcycle you're working on is your
self and culture-bearers are usually just working out their own personal
problems, you know?
At which level does individual worth fit? Or is it a product of a
combination of levels (the forest of static patterns)?...
A tension arises for me because if the characters in the novel represent the
levels, and the levels are hierarchical, then to accept the MoQ would seem
to imply that we should make ourselves more like Phaedrus in terms of our
static patterns (which certainly seems to be the aim amongst some members of
the moq.org community).
More like Phaedrus? In an evolutionary morality, sure, an individual can be
more or less developed. I don't think that means we get to skip the social
level, however. While there are certainly such a thing as awkward
intellectuals and shy nerds and such, I think the ideal is to be excellent
at each level. As i understand it, each level of development depends upon
some kind of success, a minimum of mastery at the lower levels. And when we
try to cheat these pre-requisites, it usually shows. I realize that some
members are offended by something so "elitist" as an evolutionary hierarchy,
but that's just because they're knuckle-dragging cave-dwellers. ;-)
But this leaves me with a question. If the Narrator is dominated by social
patterns, does this mean that all the things he says within ZMM - such as
the comments about individual worth - are compromised? This would seem truly
bizarre, in that the Narrator is clearly operating intellectually throughout
the book (he is manipulating symbols). And just as clearly the Narrator is
analysing society (think of overlooking the freeway and describing the
expressions on the faces of drivers). So..?
Yes, its bizzare. All this business about a social level narrator makes no
sense to me at all. If you're looking for a social level character to
examine why not just look at Richard Rigel? You're stretching things way too
....So you could say that the relative status of metaphysics has changed
between the character of the Narrator in ZMM and the character of Phaedrus
Right, well in the second book he decides to go ahead and talk about the
mystical reality. He makes "Quality" more intellectually explicit. I think
the vagueness of the first book provided too much room for
misinterpretation. The second book doesn't allow that so much. The tension
some see might be a result of that difference more than anything else. Or
maybe its just that I don't see it...
Sam argued that:
This is a rejection of traditional metaphysics, the history of western
thought. The Narrator is objecting to the raising of dialectic over rhetoric
- and it is THIS which underlies the maxim at the beginning of the book,
'and what is good.', because the point is that you don't need a definition
of the good in order to know what the good is.
But in Lila, the status of Socrates has changed. Now he is once more the
martyr to the independence of intellectual patterns from the social level:
that 'truth stands independently of social opinion'. Instead of being an
instrument of evil, he has become an instrument of a higher evolutionary
level, and therefore more moral than those who oppose him.
This line of reasoning seems to take us even further away from the topic,
but its your question this month, so what the heck. Here I don't think
you've really identified a problem in Pirsig. I think a proper understanding
allows us to see Socrates (Plato) as BOTH the hero who asserted intellect
over society AND as the evil one who tried to turn the Good into a fixed
idea. See, in the first case we are talking about a battle of static
patterns and there is where the hierarchy makes him a hero. But when the
Good, which is to say DQ, is turned into a fixed idea, then that same
hierarchy makes him a villian.
You've somehow equated rhetoric with the Good, but its just that the
rhetoriticians didn't try to fix it intellectually or otherwise. ZAMM 332...
"His (Phaedrus') Quality and Plato's Good were so similar that if it hadn't
been for some notes Phaedrus left I might have thought they were identical."
"The difference was that Plato's Good was a fixed and eternal and unmoving
idea, whereas for the rhetorician it was not an idea at all. The Good was
not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, and ultimately
unkowable in any kind of fixed, rigid way." ZAMM 342
So what is the problem? The problem is the question that I began with: where
does individual worth, arete, fit in with the MoQ? Or is it something to be
The ZAMM idea of Arete is deepened and expanded to rht, the cosmic order, in
LILA. And I think that its not just about mastering static patterns so much
as seeing through them making them an invisible part of the task. I mean,
with help from Kingsley, Campbell and certainly Pirsig, there is the idea of
dynamic skill. The pre-Socratics called it "metis", as Kinglesy tells it.
Cambell puts it in terms of "following your bliss". I think Pirisg rides a
motorcycle and sails a boat to depict this sense of unpredictable motion, of
skilled flight, if you will. Add to this the four levels and Pirsigian idea
that we are free to the extent that we follow DQ. If you have mastered the
static and ride the dynamic, then I'd say you're in harmony with the cosmic
order. This gives us a picture, I think, of individual excellence in the
......Or is arete the equivalent of DQ, that which can't be defined?
Possibly - but clearly it can be taught, and there were settled ways of
teaching it, through rhetoric, which are static patterns. So the question
comes - what is the proper classification of those static patterns?
Keeping in mind what I said above, I see no reason why we should return to
rhetoric or any other particular method from the past. If we can find it in
the gears of a motorcycle and the petals of a lotus flower equally, why are
you putting your chips on rhetoric or other social level forms? Are we not
philosophers? And why do I detect a reactionary attitude in these questions?
What lies behind all these questions is the notion of philosophical ascent,
our pursuit of Quality. It has always seemed to me that the Narrator is a
voice of wisdom, and he resembles Wittgenstein in many ways, whom I also
revere as a deeply human guide. In terms of what I wish to pursue in my
life, it is precisely that pursuit of Quality, the 'wholeness of life',
which corresponds to arete, or individual worth, or (as I put it in my essay
on moq.org) the eudaimonia which I find to be of high Quality, both static
and dynamic. Whereas the intellectualism of Phaedrus, and the construal of
the fourth level as represented by that character, I find to be sterile, of
I just don't see any conflict between intellect and arete or the "wholeness
of life". Quite the contrary. I think life without a rich intellectual life
is neither excellent nor whole. I think that rich life has to be in accord
with the rest of your life too. Its that cosmic harmony thing, it all has to
I suspect that Pirsig himself pursues a broad and rich understanding of
arete. This is why he didn't wish to be identified with Phaedrus, the
character in Lila. Yet somehow, the structure of the MoQ has elevated
dialectic above arete, and there is this consistent tendency, especially in
MD, to glamorise Socrates, and to dismiss the social level as contemptible,
which has always seemed profoundly unwise to me.
I've never seen anyone "dismiss the social level as contemptible" here. But
I have complained about putting social values over intellectual values,
about anti-intellectual postitions and statements, but that's hardly the
same thing. See, put you have interpreted things so that intellect is the
enemy of the Good. That is just not at all what Pirsig is saying. Intellect
is a species of the Good. That's what you've got to learn to see. You've
confused Pirsig with Spock the pointy-eared Vulcan.
Is the arete that we are to pursue an intellectual one? No. Is it to be
identified with DQ - partly, surely, but does that mean that there are no
accumulated static latches that can be absorbed to gain insight and develop
our individual worth? If so - what about ZMM itself?
Huh? Why is intellectual excellence ruled out here?! Jez, do we ever live in
different worlds. Personally, I find intellect to be one of the most
important requirements. I won't go so far as to say that all excellent
persons have a highly developed intellect, but come on? Why rule it out as a
part of human righteousness? I think that's crazy.
Surely we are to pursue individual worth, precisely the 'individual
integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption' that the Narrator
praises, the 'duty towards self' which is the good translation of dharma,
the 'wholeness of life' which Kitto refers to. That, it seems to me, is what
the highest level of the MoQ should be about. Individual worth is not to be
left behind, it is, in fact, right at the heart of all that has Quality. It
just seems that the way the MoQ is dominantly interpreted pushes it to one
side, in favour of dialectic and that parvenu called Socrates. We must
return to the rhetoric of the Sophists.
Well, I think the "dominant" interpretation is anti-theistic and not
anti-intellectual whereas yours is the other way around.
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