MOQ Online: Forum

The Good in everyone

by Samuel Palmer

1. The Use and Abuse of MoQ

If the Metaphysics of Quality is assumed to be absolute in and of itself, and without its own need for criticism and refinement, then we restrict ourselves to a static pattern of iterations and paraphrasing, which in excess reveals a lack of comprehension of the intent and concept of MoQ itself.

While the MoQ is a necessary and useful approach to philosophy, it cannot be used as a replacement of all pre-existing philosophies. If anything, the MoQ is a well-prepared "philosophical toolbox", which provides the scaffolding and welding gear needed to tweak what is already there. In the larger scope of philosophy, the MoQ itself is merely a 'Quality Event' which gives us a starting point for making it better.

2. Why this came about

The work of Pirsig reflects a grave need to develop a philosophical framework that can include all areas of human investigation, whether it be science, the arts, religion, politics, or personal relationships. His own personal experiences leave well-documented account of the downfalls of the fragmented, compartmentalized views of quality, which eventually led to his own hospitalization.

It is the severity of this fragmentation that seems to have driven the undertaking of the MoQ in the first place. To date, what Pirsig has sought to do is take some of the different angles on quality, and find the intersection point. I don't think we are there yet, but I do think he has successfully made the case for demonstrating the necessity of it.

3. The Fall from Grace

Pirsig's personal story documents a series of events that end ultimately in the disintegration of his personality, which he is left to piece together from what he calls "fragments" in the years after repeated electroshock treatment.

Many mythologies, especially creation stories, include a well-documented fall from grace, which involves the descent from a pristine state of being, into a less-than perfect world, which usually involves a struggle to restore ourselves to that pre-fall state.

Pirsig's story also draws parallels to a mythological aspect of the "Personal Quest", prevalent in North American Native Mythology, and literature such as Walden, Siddhartha, not to mention Jesus Christ and the Buddha. These personal quests often involve a complete departure from society altogether, and a return to society with an insight that brings a variety of reactions, some are inspired, others feel threatened, and ultimately the protagonist will find themselves subjected to some form of persecution, which ultimately brings about the their own end.

Pirsig's choice of Phaedrus is completely appropriate here, because it tells much of his own story, while setting the stage to draw upon the whole history of philosophy.

4. The Division Bell

As a work of literature, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZMM) is a story of recovery. For Pirsig, this recovery is taking place on a personal level, and in this process he came to discover how the events that brought about the destruction of his personality point to problems on a much larger scope.

In LILA: An Inquiry into Morals, Pirsig seems to take up from where he left off in ZMM, and points out how the world at large is in need of recovery.

The concept of Quality seems to be the fulcrum on which all Pirsig work is balanced. This is appropriate because it refers to the most basic and immediate levels of our own perception, and provides a basis for spelling out the differences in perception among the sciences, the arts, religions, etc...

Pirsig brings up the concept of quality because he knows it's the one thing no one can agree on. It spells doom for all of us. It is the one single line along which all opinion is divided. What is good, or what is better, or what is best? Quality is the division bell, the Tower of Babel which leaves us scattered through all our little opinions and viewpoints.

5. The Fat Lady sings

To make things even more interesting, Pirsig has taken a shot of his own at defining Quality, a formidable task. I think it is important to bear in mind that from the outset, Pirsig makes clear that his definition of Quality is little more than an "excercise in degeneracy". Not to mention the sum of money that was paid while LILA was still in progress, which I won't mention here, but if you're paid well to write about whatever you want, chances are Pirsig is going to write more about Quality. I think that's a useful tip for all of us, a little caveat not to take it all too seriously.

Having said that, we see some remarkable insight with the re-division of Quality. Formerly he had used the classic/romantic split, which is in many ways relevant to the hip/square divisions that were apparent in the 1960's. The static/dynamic split is on an even more abstract level, and is therefore applicable a much broader range of perception.

The division of static and dynamic quality has the potential to create more complexities than it solves. And it is nearly impossible to pinpoint. We look at a pebble and by all accounts it is static. But if we look at a pebble on a beach we see the pebble is being subjected to all kinds of dynamic forces. And if we were to look at the pebble on an atomic scale, we see electrons spinning at a tremendous pace, and all kinds of thermodynamic exchanges taking place than contribute to the aging of the pebble.

It is harder to find anything around us that is not undergoing some kind of dynamic process right now. For us, it's easier to assume some things are dynamic and others are static, on the basis of observation. What we percieve seems to depend on what scale we are observing. In that sense, static and dynamic quality are really just qualities of our own perception. The reality is, nothing is truly static.

What we do get to observe is a latency in certain patterns, and the proliferation of patterns from one scale to another. We take it for granted that glass will stay in the window pane, even though it is a liquid, slowly dripping out like honey. But on our own scale of observation, glass has enough of a latency that we can call it static, and be reasonably comfortable with that observation.

6. Babble On

To further develop his concept of Quality, Pirsig has offered an interesting angle on morality, and treated it as an observable and definable phenomena.

I find the Inorganic-Biological-Social-Intellectual hierarchy to be both fascinating and puzzling. Certainly a lot of questions are raised, like, does society develop as a result of intellect, or vice versa? And where do electrons, protons, and quantum physics fit in?

Perhaps it is simpler if we take this division and treat is not as absolute, but as a good example of how Morality can be demonstrated. Pirsig theorizes that at some point, chemicals began to bond into patterns that brought about biological life because it was morally "better" to do so. Although some scientists may laugh at this idea, they aren't really in a position to dispute it either, because they still don't know how it happened.

The development of biological life is in itself a fantastic puzzle that can neither be observed or reproduced. In fact, there is no evidence that it still happens at all. As far as we know, biology could be the result of a chemical fluke that happened only once! In this light, the suggestion that Morality may have had a hand it it seems to hold more water.

7. Phone the Pope

Pirsig seems to like the way Hierarchies work. He describes the functions of his motorcycle with a Hierarchy, and makes no bones about doing the same with Quality. The Inorganic-Biological-Social- Intellectual hierarchy is definitely relevant to us as members of the human race, but I think this Hierarchy can be extended indefinitely on both sides, for example, below the Inorganic there would be the atomic, the sub atomic, quantum mechanics, etc. And as evolution continues, we can only expect that Morality will play a part beyond the realm of the Intellect.

Whichever level we are observing along this hierarchy, there is an obvious pattern that has been taking place all along. Regardless of what scale that is being observed, the tendency of all things seems to be to assemble into something that operates on a larger scale. So the subatomic assembles into the atomic scale, the atomic assembles into the compound scale, compounds assemble into the organic scale, organic cells assemble into multi-celled organisms, and multi-celled organisms take evolution to a whole other scale which ultimately brings about social and economic patterns, which operate on yet a larger scale.

Pirsig's concept of Morality involves the proliferation of a larger scale into the operations of a smaller scale. That can mean many things for many people, but the concept is really simple: Find your place in the big picture, wherever that may be, and you will be doing good. Morality is the "Quality Event" that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

8. Speak of the Devil

For centuries we've sought clues about the creation of the universe, either in our Myth, or from Science. In fact both Science and some Mythologies suggest an event that began with a single, undivided source which metamorphasized into a multitude of things, either by a process of division or outright explosion. No one knows the exact process by which the universe itself is taken from the pure state to the profane state of our plasma, gas, liquids and rocks, but there seems to be a Moral imperative to pick up all the pieces and go back to our cozy chair.

Pirsig's cozy chair seems to be in the realm of the intellect. For sure, this is undoubtedly where evolution is on the cutting edge. We can only imagine where things go from there - but the process of Morality seems to suggest things will only get bigger, and better.

9. Good is a noun

The Metaphysics of Quality can certainly keep us busy for a long time. But I think it important to bear in mind that with or without it, evolution is inevitable and carries on regardless of how we may slice and dice it. I believe the thrust of Pirsig's work is towards the process of unification. This can only be taken further and further. He has some wonderful observations, and I think the MoQ could use a few of our own. We all have some good to bring.

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