Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth

From: Glenn Bradford (
Date: Mon May 16 2005 - 05:12:08 BST

  • Next message: Sam Norton: "Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth"

    Narrator in ZMM:
    "We *do* need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and
    old-fashioned gumption."

    In one of the afterwords of the 25th Anniversary Edition of ZMM, Pirsig was
    asked if this quote was intended to provoke a political reaction. Pirsig's
    dumbfounded response is

    "I don't know of any political reaction that opposes 'individual integrity,
    self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption'.
    Both Republicans
    and Democrats seem to claim that is their position.
    Nobody takes the
    stump to shout 'What we need is more dull conformity!'"

    Not to mention graft, free-handouts, and laziness. To suggest, as Sam's
    question seems to, that the MOQ might be leaving integrity, self-reliance,
    and old-fashioned gumption behind is truly puzzling.
    The answer is 'no'. Sam's argument that arete (and self worth?) is a solely
    social construct and cannot co-exist with intellectual ideas was not
    compelling to me.

    First, Pirsig's own claim that the narrator of ZMM is dominated by social
    values is hard to believe, as he spends way too much time in his head. For
    example, while he seems to have a keen intellectual awareness of his son's
    problems, he doesn't make any attempt to connect with him socially.

    Second, Sam is at least partially incorrect to think that Pirsig has
    enthroned into the MOQ the Socratic idea that intellectual ideas are
    independent of society. Pirsig is only stating that this idea gained
    popularity historically as it was necessitated by a political battle, but
    his own opinion is that it is a myth.
    Recall his line that
    Descartes' ideas depended on French culture. Of course in another part of
    the book he does speak about the levels growing apart and taking on an
    independence, but he does so then without reference to Socrates.

    It seems to me that Sam is troubled by the intellectual level. Pirsig is
    certainly ambivalent about it himself, as it has spawned so many ideas that
    he takes issue with, such as materialism, amoral science, Marxism,
    causation, Neo-Darwinism, and objective reality. In fact the only
    intellectual ideas he specifically endorses in Lila are freedoms defined by
    the American Bill of Rights.

    While individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption are
    cliches that the narrator speechifies to win general approval of his
    audience, as Pirsig readily admits, we should be confident in believing also
    that he means them to be something the MOQ encourages.


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