Hello to everyone, and good bye!!
This is likely to be my last message. Things have been quieting down, and recently I have refractured some bones in my left wrist, at the Gym, that never properly healed from an earlier break two years ago. It doesn’t affect typing, but it would be better to put that hand in a splint and leave it alone for a while. So I will wish you all good bye now, and thank you for being a group to write my thoughts to during this time.
Things are quieter, but not in the sense of slowing down, as in ceasing to accelerate. Times have been different for me since the start of this trip. I thought of describing some of those differences – as evidence that the foregoing has not been merely words – but every example could likely be explained away in other terms by someone choosing to do so. So I leave my poetry as the only evidence of the way life looks to me now.
The following essay examines the concept of dependence in the light of what has gone before. In The Fountainhead, the character of Howard Roark is completely disconnected from the world. This lack of any connection causes resentment and fear in the majority of the other characters. The essay below attempts to analyze the nature of this disconnection, why it is in fact the natural state of human beings, and why there should be fear at perceiving or considering such an independence.
In the meantime, I have been reading parts 3 and 4 from Zen. Now that I am going back again, after all this progression of thought, I am amazed at how much is there. There are epiphanies of intense character on almost all of the pages that talk about Quality. I’ve kept most of this excitement to myself because it’s all there for anyone else who wants to read it. And it would be only a description of my excitement anyway.
What Pirsig only barely touches on is what happens when an individual who is devoted solely to Quality encounters people who are devoted to ideas about it. This is the difference between independence and dependence, as I discuss below. Probably he omits this because his own main character is already disconnected from the world, although at the same time self-isolated even from interaction with it.
The clash between quality-focused and idea-of-quality-focused people is exactly where Rand picks up. She does not spend her time proving the existence of value – and so the two authors complement each other beautifully. Pirsig dwells on quality and the individual, and Rand, on striving for quality in a world that denies it.
To show how much these authors connect, here are a few more quotes from Pirsig. In the following paragraph he practically writes a summation of The Fountainhead!!
My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. God, I don’t want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There’s a place for them but they’ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We’ve had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out of gumption. And 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 right, they’re right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption.
Every time I read this, I could swear he was influenced by reading Atlas Shrugged. Some of those ideas are almost straight out of that book.
Here’s another, which Pirsig quotes a Greek historian:
“What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism,” Kitto comments, “is not a sense of duty as we understand it – duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate
virtue' but is in Greek aretê,excellence’… we shall have much to say about aretê. It runs through Greek life.”
When you compare the later description of Ulysses in terms of arete with Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged, you can see that Rand’s heroes are Greek heroes: “excellent all-rounders”, excellent in everything that they do. Compare with the Bahá’í ideal of “excellence in all things”.
Further, one last quote that sounds as though it jumped right out of Atlas:
The Church of Reason, like all institutions of the System, is based not on individual strength but upon individual weakness. What’s really demanded in the Church of Reason is not ability, but inability. Then you are considered teachable. A truly able person is always a threat [Howard Roark]. Phaedrus sees that he has thrown away a chance to integrate himself into the organization by submitting to whatever Aristotelian thing he is supposed to submit to. But that kind of opportunity seems hardly worth the bowing and scraping and intellectual prostration necessary to maintain it. It is a low-quality form of life.
The mechanism of dependence
Earlier I had written that “When we want anything from another person we create a dependence on them in regard to that thing”. I think further that we cannot ever justifiably want things from people. We cannot ask them to be rational, for example, because they are always free not to be. We cannot ask them to think of us as good, because such attributes do not pertain to us – only to their image of us. We cannot ask that they appreciate something we’ve done, because this must occur between them and the thing alone. And if they do like it, this has nothing to do with us. We can neither predict their response nor take credit for their capacity to experience it.
What we can take credit for is the work’s existence – but not for its quality in the eyes of others. With respect to its value, it has a separate meaning for each person, according to their capacity, even if it has its own degree of perfection according to its ability to satisfy that capacity. None can say the exact degree of this perfection, either; we have only the measure of our own capacity, and our knowledge that it is good enough to satisfy us. But this knowledge cannot in any way be influenced by others.
So our relationship to others can only exist on the plane of free exchange of value: A value of ours they accept, for an offer of theirs we recognize as having value (i.e., as making possible by relation to it the experience we refer to as “value”).
Other than this, our respective beings can have no point of conjunction. Any such connection that is imagined must be one that been stated and believed in with respect to definitions about the self – i.e., the ego – but such statements cannot establish a connection where none can exist.
This fits Sartre’s conception of the for-itself, because he says that a being of awareness can only be aware. In what manner would a connection or dependence for such a being be possible? We do not need others to be aware, and even if we tried, association with them would not sharpen our basic faculty of awareness. They could, by presenting us value, give us something to be aware of that would foster our growth, but this an offer from them to us – not the form of a bond. This is because we are always relating to value, not to the person who presented us with that value.
By these terms it is impossible to relate to other beings directly. We are aware only of value, and our understanding of the forms of that value. This is the solipsism I mentioned parenthetically a while back: Look for another’s being and you cannot find it, because their being also is the nothingness of awareness.
What, then, is the nature of the connection we imagine to exist and feel bound to? These are not connections to us, but the feelings of a connection we try to make but cannot. That is, we feel bound because we must constantly exert energy in order to maintain the illusion of such a connection. And owing to our innate sense of justice, any claim we make on another causes us to believe in their right to a counter-claim, and thus we feel as though we ourselves had been bound.
For example, if I desire others to be rational, I have committed folly because they do not need to be rational. A mature relationship would be one where I seek those who offer rationality as a value, and then I give it in return. If they stopped being rational, I would have to seek it elsewhere. But when I expect it, I make a claim where none can exist. If they are not rational now, it affects me; it bothers me. I seek every way possible to return them to a rational state because I “depend” on them to be rational to satisfy my expectation. They can still choose not to be at any time, and this is why I feel the ties that bind: by own expectation that they not be free to be whatever they desire, and hence I cannot justly expect that I am free to do whatever I desire.
As I condemn their freedom by making a claim on it that cannot fairly be made, my sense of fairness balances the matter by condemning my own freedom and causing me to feel equally bound in the same respect. Said inversely: if I believe myself constrained to be rational, I expect others to be likewise constrained. Now not only am I bothered if they are irrational, but I am bothered if they think that I am irrational. I need for both of us to be rational, and both to agree that we are, since artificial contracts of this type only exist in the schemes of definition that each party accepts. (i.e., if what one considers rational is what the other considers irrational, it is still regarded as irrational).
This is the nature of the “bond”, and why one feels obligated to another not only to be rational, but according to their own definition of rationality!
Since both parties are at all times free to do as they wish, and since the reality of their being will not admit of definition, this entire structure can only exist within the mind of each individual himself – its basis being the desire that another being not be free. This situation can even occur between humans and other objects – even abstractions – but in that case only one half of the dynamic is visible since the other half is not capable of making judgment; this is the feeling that life “owes us something”, such as making sense.
The collapse of this whole scheme happens through detachment. Remove the desire. The writer who feels bound by the expectations of others – in terms of his writing – has bound himself by a desire for a world that recognizes and values his writing. If he expects nothing of people – not even their literacy – he would feel an equal lack of expectation from them.
This mirror effect can be further reduced by returning to an earlier point: We cannot be aware of another’s awareness, but can only interact with them by a trade of value. With this said, there are no “others” to be aware of. When the writer feels the expectation of others, he is actually feeling an expectation he has placed upon himself. Again, we bind ourselves by our desire, while we experience freedom through detachment. A writer without expectations as to the recognition of “good writing” has only himself and his own pleasure to refer to. Then the only question with merit is, “Do I like it?” This goes back to another essay on this subject.
The individual, then, binds himself by his attempt to restrict the freedom of his own being. Psychologically this must be horrifying to admit, so the restriction is felt by projecting it onto the larger population, and feeling as though we owe them something to satisfy their expectations of us.
What cements this whole mess in place is that just as we are doing this, others are doing it also! Our projections come to life and we hear other people voicing, of their own will, the very expectation we had projected upon them in the form of our constraining desire. This does not change the dynamic, but it makes it seem more real than it is. It also makes it incredibly difficult to see the nature of the dependency, and for the individual to see that really he has bound himself to his own idea of himself. His soul is captivated by his ego [Peter Keating].
Why would anyone restrict themselves in this way? After all, everyone complains of it. There is not one artist, starting out and not yet popular, who does not loathe this scheme to tears. It is, for everyone involved, torture, and the pressure of it ultimately squeezes the life out of some, until the whole of their energy is spent maintaining these illusory bonds. Why would a free being do this to itself, and undermine the very freedom that distinguishes it from the rest of creation?
This, also, has been referred to earlier: It happens in order to escape the responsibility of that freedom, and because recognizing the implications of such a freedom require accepting our complicity in every compromise we have ever made with the world. A painful step, but much more liberating than it is condemning. We will all face it on the Judgment Day, we are told, so what harm is there in getting a head start.
To use the writing example again: having an externally defined standard, apart from individual recognition of value, is simply easier that having constantly to rely on our own ability to recognize value. We may barely be able to see value at all. A “standard” rescues us from acknowledging that. Even though many hate the standard, and write works conforming to its exact opposite, yet it still exists in the mind, and serves as a relief from the horror of one’s having no one but himself to turn to.
This should not be a horror at all, but a joy, if we had been raised to understand and respect the nature of our being. But it is described as terrifying so universally and graphically that even the suggestion of being fundamentally, completely alone – independent and without any possible connection to others – is enough to frighten people. This is why a character like Howard Roark, who incarnates the ideal of freedom, is frightening. Never mind that no one has ever disappeared as a result of this freedom, and that we may now interact with them far more honestly – each according to his own sense of value – but just the word “alone” is so anathema, somehow the scheme of mutual binding of self-images has come to seem preferable.
In conclusion, the nature of our freedom makes connection impossible. If we were connected in any way, we would not be free. Birds don’t fly with strings attached. This does not mean that we do not interact, but only that such interaction must be negotiated in terms of value – not the perceived identities of the individuals themselves.