Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Thu May 12 2005 - 16:52:17 BST

  • Next message: David Buchanan: "Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth"

    Hi MFers,

    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 community).

    Yet Pirsig, in Lila's Child, talks about his displeasure at being
    identified with the character Phaedrus..

    msh says:
    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

    msh says:
    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.

    msh says:
    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
    any way.

    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
    Web Site:

    "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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