Re: Responsible?

Bruce L. Smith (bsmith@midway.uchicago.edu)
Tue, 3 Dec 1996 17:32:35 -0600

>I would like to bring a different point of view in from a book called "Zen
>and the art of motorcycle maintenace."
>Robert Pirsig, the writer, pushed himself to madness using logic
>and definitions to understand a highly relative issue - quality.

First off, I should acknowledge that Pirsig's _Zen_ stands as one of the
two or three most engaging and influential books I have read in my life.
While I hardly consider myself an expert on Pirsig, I do have to challenge
(redirect, give my own perspective on) your application of it here. Even
after describing its initial impact on him, does Pirsig argue that we
should abandon the search for Quality altogether? I think not. To be
sure, it's easier to define "quality," or "responsibility," or whatever as
a relative term: but in his other book, _Lila_, Pirsig himself explodes
(or implodes) the falsity of subject-object dualism (i.e., he exposes
"objective reality" to be an oxymoron). The search for Quality, for value
and meaning, is in one sense who we are, and all we have. In this pursuit,
logic must fall short, but that does not imply that we must foreswear its
use.

>It's my impression that we might be having fun talking about the definition of
>a responsible person, but our answers which will only be temporary are not
>tools. What can definitions be used for in education other then to limit our
>own understanding? In other words... If we say: a responcible person is this.
>then we are limiting our understanding.

On the contrary, if our goal is motorcycle maintanence, understanding,
wholeness, or whatever, we should welcome all potential tools that might
facilitate our reaching this goal. Yes, "definitions limit our
understanding," but in a most necessary and positive sense! They help us
refine our knowledge by eliminating the false: indeed, one could even go
so far as to apply a metallurgical analogy, that of refining ore into metal
by removing the impurities. Our temporary answers _are_ tools to the
extent that they lead us to the next level, to a slightly higher
understanding. We only limit ourselves in a negative sense when we
mis-take a narrow, tentative definition of a term as the be-all and
end-all.

As for such discussions as these being fun, I would concur, but also
suggest that "fun" is a sign of Pirsigian Quality.

I hope the above is sufficiently relevant to the spirit of this list. If
you find yourself wondering what place these ramblings have in a discussion
on responsiblity, I ask you to consider it an examplar. It is just this
sort of spontaneous thinking and enthusiastic exchange which I believe
Sudbury represents (not to reduce Sudbury to the level of shooting the
breeze, but rather to depict it as an envigorating empowerment of the
curiosity native to us all).

Bruce

-------------------------

"If a person is determined to learn, they will overcome every obstacle and
learn in spite of everything...but if you bother the person, if you insist
he stop his own natural learning and do instead what you want him to
do...between 10:00 and 10:50 and so forth, not only won't he learn what he
has a passion to learn, but he will also hate you, hate what you are
forcing him to do, and lose all taste for learning."

-- _'And Now for Something Completely Different':
An Introduction to Sudbury Valley School_