From: Mark Steven Heyman (email@example.com)
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 16:52:17 BST
I don't often contribute to MF because I feel restricted by the two posts a
week limitation. I prefer to shape a dialogue in real-time, not inertly
listen to a lecture, which is why I prefer MD, even with its bickering.
However, Sam's "lecture" is thoughtful and full of questions and beautifully
written, and I can't resist the opportunity to interject a thought or two of
my own. So let's see what happens.
On 10 May 2005 at 23:23, Sam Norton wrote:
In ZMM 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
But nowhere does he say that the happiness of an individual takes precedence
over the well-being of a society. In fact, I suggest that an individual's
concern for his own happiness (self-satisfaction) is biological, not social,
and certainly not intellectual, as the Randians will try to argue. The only
thing that takes precedence over the fixed ideas of a society is a better,
more Dynamic, idea.
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?
IMO, the question of individual worth is one that is decided in the
battle between the biological and social, and is left behind once the
intellectual level becomes dominant. For the fully-realized human
being, a sense of his own individuality all but disappears.
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).
Yet Pirsig, in Lila's Child, talks about his displeasure at being
identified with the character Phaedrus..
I think what Pirsig the man thinks is irrelevant to the philosophy
expressed in his novels. Does anyone care what the historical
Shakespeare really thought about MacBeth? When we place undue
emphasis on the author of a novel, rather than the novel itself, we
really do run the risk of becoming what an MD regular has described
as a "cult movement." So I'll skip most of the stuff about Pirsig
being upset because some readers equated him with Phaedrus.
pirsig via sam:
"One interviewer asked me, "Are you really Phaedrus?" The
answer was, "Yes I really am Phaedrus. I also really am Richard Rigel. I
also really am Lila. I also really am the boat".
sam via sam:
In other words, the 'I' of Robert Pirsig is composed of all the
different levels in greater or lesser patterns of harmony.
Right. We are all composed of the different levels in GREATER OR
LESSER patterns of harmony. That is, some of us are dominantly
biological (Lila), social (Rigel), or intellectual (Phaedrus). This
doesn't man that Lila and Rigel don't have ideas, or that Phaedrus
doesn't enjoy getting laid. It just means, in terms of the
Metaphysics of Quality, that Phaedrus is further along the
evolutionary path. He understands what Lila and Rigel are about,
while they are totally baffled by him.
This all suggests to me that individual worth in the sense that the Narrator
praises in ZMM is not to be identified with one level, but is the product of
a combination. However, another strand in Pirsig's writing tends against
that, and might suggest that character is a wholly third level pattern. In
the foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of ZMM Pirsig comments that the
Narrator is dominated by social values - and, of course, the passage from
ZMM that I quoted at the beginning of this post are the words of the
Here I think Sam has nailed the dividing line between his and my own
interpretation of the Metaphysics of Quality. I think Sam is
suggesting that everyone is made up of more or less equal doses of
biological, social, and intellectual influence, and that these three
doses contribute equally to the concept of individual worth. I'm
suggesting that individuals are dominated by one of the three levels,
and that when an individual is dominated by the intellectual the idea
of personal worth, that is that one individual is more valuable than
another, fades to near nothingness.
Second, there is clearly a sense in which the Narrator IS dominated by
social values. The Narrator's personality is one that was constructed whilst
in hospital in order to satisfy the doctors that he was not insane, and was
therefore at liberty to leave the hospital. And in that sense the eclipse of
the Narrator is a positive development within the story.
On the contrary, I think the Narrator's decision to tell the doctors
what they wanted to hear, in order to get out, was an example of
intellect dominating social convention. Exactly the opposite of what
you suggest! So, IMO, nothing Phaedrus says in ZMM is compromised in
This is getting long, so I'll post now. But I think this divide in
our interpretations of ZMM, between a compromised and uncompromised
Narrator, is at the root of most of our differences regarding the
importance of the individual in the cosmic scheme of things.
Best to all, for now,
Mark Steven Heyman (msh)
InfoPro Consulting - The Professional Information Processors
Custom Software Solutions for Windows, PDAs, and the Web Since 1983
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"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why,
why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he
understand." - Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
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