A quote popped up on Take Root last month that struck me like a hot whip of ethical emotivism. Allow me to share:
The result is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of ‘style’ to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology: stylized cars and stylized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes. Stylized refrigerators filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized houses. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
The quote comes from Robert M. Pirsig’s novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book was written over thirty years ago (1974) and yet it lends thoughts on still-relevant issues plaguing the American population. This excerpt embodies the problem of what became the prevailing approach towards the question of “how to live.” Stylization. Valances of overwrought-ness. A self-awareness to the point of counterfeit personalities.
What a sham! What a shame!
Hopefully the pendulum will fast realize its approach to an extremity and swing in the opposite direction–towards the earnest and sincere. In the meantime, perhaps we can usher in that event by reading Zen in its entirety.
The novel is a meditation on philosophy, religion, and science; it enters into philosophic investigations on approaching life in terms of being truly genuine and containing quality. The protagonist, appropriately named Phaedrus after one of Plato’s dialogues, is presented with such questions of epistemology in an odyssey involving a motorcycle road trip across the American Northwest with his son. Through maintenance of the motorcycle, Pirsig illustrates how a cold piece of hardware, a product of rational technology, can be handled and understood with the precepts of artistry and spirituality. It’s a wedding of realms–science and religion and humanism–that people sometimes forget are better understood when juxtaposed and aligned than when separated.