Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2005 - individual worth

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Thu May 26 2005 - 14:21:09 BST

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    On 23 May 2005 at 15:13, Sam Norton wrote:

    MSH post of 16 May:

    > 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
    > do."
    > msh:
    > 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.

    Where did the idea of individual happiness come from?

    msh May 26, 2005:
    It's what the Randians are REALLY talking about when THEY spout about
    a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned
    gumption. (This probably crossed over from what we are discussing in
    MD, sorry.)

    > 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.

    Well, if Shakespeare discussed the ideas in Macbeth for the rest of his
    life, and said that there was a web discussion group where there were some
    people who were amongst the few who understood what he was trying to express
    in Macbeth, then your analogy might be more exact. Whilst I'm happy to
    accept some measure of authorial independence from a text, I think it is a
    bit of a stretch to say that what Pirsig the human being thinks is
    irrelevant to the MoQ. What about his letters to Ant McWatt helping him with
    this thesis?

    msh May 26, 2005:
    Yeah, my analogy is weak here. I just love Shakespeare and, of the
    tragic heros, I see myself as MacBeth, perplexed by the shifting
    Birnam Wood. That is, when I'm not seeing myself as Lear on the
    storm-blasted heath, more sinned against than sinning. :-)

    Still, I say it's best to think of Pirsig as a contributor to the
    MOQ, not its suzerain and final arbiter. Don't know for sure, but
    I'll bet he'd agree.

    > msh:
    > 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.

    I think you've missed part of the point. Individual integrity and
    self-reliance etc are static patterns. Where do they fit into the hierarchy?
    I get the impression that you think that they are social patterns, in which
    case the determinant of individual integrity is (ultimately) social assent.
    Which seems to evacuate the concept of meaning, but I could be wrong.

    msh May 26, 2005:
    Yes, I think, as I've said before, that the concept of
    "individuality" is an illusion of selfishness stuck in the muck of
    the social and biological levels. And "individuals" stuck in that
    muck do indeed rely on others to measure their integrity, which is
    kinda sad. At the Intellectual Level, the idea of individuality
    disappears, despite the Objectivist noise suggesting that it does
    not. So, IMO, at the intellectual level, there's never a question of
    personal integrity because the idea of distinct individuals has long
    ago evaporated.

    > 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.

    Hmm. I think you've characterised my view fairly well. But what your
    argument seems to boil down to is that the idea of no-individual is of
    higher quality than the idea of an individual. Is that right?

    msh May 26, 2005:

    > 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.

    I think this is a good point. The one quibble I would have is that the
    end-product (ie the personality that the doctors were happy with) was
    socially conditioned all the same.

    msh May 26, 2005:
    Ok. The personality was socially conditioned, but intellectually
    inspired. I can live with that.

    > ... 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.

    Or, the difference in perception of the worth of an individual lies behind
    our different readings of ZMM.

    msh May 26, 2005:
    Fair enough. On the eye chart, I perceive an "E" and you see an "M".
     If we take a few steps forward there's some truth to be revealed.

    MSH part 2
    > Sam now sets up a distinction between the ZMM Narrator and the character
    > of
    > Phaedrus in LILA, ....I think Sam sees these somewhat contradictory themes
    > as evidence of a contradiction in the Metaphysics of Quality, a
    > contradiction that is not
    > apparent to me.

    It is to do with the status of metaphysics, or Platonism, and therefore of
    the notion of 'philosophical ascent'. It therefore includes the answer to
    the questions 'how should I live', and 'what sort of person should I be'. It
    seems to me that the answer to those questions that can be gleaned from ZMM
    is significantly different to the answer that would be gleaned from Lila,
    and that, in one sense, the sort of person that ZMM would produce would be
    like the narrator; the sort of person that Lila would produce would be like
    Phaedrus. It's because I find the Phaedrus of Lila quite unsympathetic,
    having massively identified with the Narrator/Phaedrus of ZMM, that I have
    been driven to explore these questions.

    msh May 26, 2005:
    I too am much more attracted to the N/P of ZMM. The Phaedrus of LILA
    is a different cat, for sure, but he's slapping at the same bag of
    catnip and trapped in a philosophical quandary of his own making.
    The catnip will be his once he's rid himself of his own pointy ears.
    In LILA Pirsig says here's a map of how to be and live; in ZMM he
    says you already know how to live and what sort of person you should
    be, so stop asking.

    > msh says:
    > Again, for me, areté fits in at the social level, and is left behind once
    > the intellectual becomes dominant. For me, the desire for areté, rooted
    > in
    > competition and war, plays a vital role in the battle between the
    > biological and social levels, and in the various skirmishes within the
    > social level
    > itself. As Kitto says, areté is "what moves the Greek warrior to deeds of
    > heroism." Once the cultural illusion of self-reliant individuals is
    > shattered by intellect, there remains little need for areté, unless one
    > finds oneself suddenly needing to "beat a young braggart at throwing the
    > discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running;
    > flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox."
    > msh says:
    > This assumes that a dominantly intellectual person is one dimensional. In
    > fact, an intellectual might recite poetry or play chess, or prepare haute
    > cuisine, make love and money, and even skin an ox if necessary. That is,
    > the dominantly intellectual individual exists atop the other levels, not
    > apart from them.

    But Phaedrus is basically one dimensional, and intentionally created as such
    by Pirsig in order to heighten the contrasts between the levels. What you
    have described is exactly the wider understanding and enjoyment of life that
    is called eudaimonia. But this comes on to the question of where DQ fits in.

    msh May 26. 2005:
    Ok. So we agree. The one-dimensional LILA-Phaedrus is the wrong way
    to go. I just don't think the one-dimensional LILA-Phaedrus exists
    anywhere in the universe, except on Star Trek.

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)

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