Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Part 2

I am about ¾ of the way through Z&TAOMM. I won't try to cover too much ground. Read it. It is worth the time.

Last time I read it, I was in high school, or maybe the first year of college. In other words, I was a kid with no experience and not much education. It is a bit more interesting now (I recognize the references to Hegel and Poincare.

But I would like to say a little something about what Pirsig calls the Romantic/Classical divide. Why people hate technology. Remember this was published (or at least written) in the 70s. Before the personal computer. Before the MP3 player. Though not quite the dark ages. Some of it still applies.

People's vision of technology was power plants - nuclear or otherwise. The space program. Their cars scared them less. Though they needed to be tuned up constantly, most people (men anyway) had the skills and tools to do some of the basic stuff at home. No computers in the cars back then. So, when Pirsig says people were frightened or "turned off" by technology, he was thinking of the way computers were coming to control more of the records of daily life, the impact of the new power plant or the plans to build that new garbage incinerator.

The disconnect between the way things look and the way they work is powerful for some people. Why do people assume that if an airline doesn't clean the interior of its plans, it doesn't maintain the engines? The truth is that every dollar spent shampooing the upholstery is a dollar not available for maintaining the airframe. But that doesn't impact what people believe.

Today, part of this the state of the schools. In the 50s, when the Beat generation started, it was probably a reaction to the rigid conformity society wanted (demanded?). Life isn't neat, and the Fifties wanted things to be neat, like in "Father Knows Best."

Today the disconnect is still with us, though people don't see all technology in the same light. They hate the power plant, but love Google, which makes more power plants necessary. They love their iPod, smart phone, big screen TV and surround sound. They celebrate the compact fluorescent bulb, and fail to understand how power is generated and distributed or the impact of mercury on the environment. In short, people don't hate all technology. Just the kind they are most dependent on. So the clamor for everyone to use CFLs, and leave their air conditioning on in the summer time. (There aren't too many people driving 55 MPH on the highway today, even though you would get much better gas millage if you did. Today it is a choice, the minimum speed is still 45 MPH. You could do your part.)

Of course they could install solar systems - thermal systems are more cost effective today than photovoltaic systems. But it is easier (though not as practical) to insist that the utilities "go green." That way they don't actually have to do anything or change their lives in any way. A comfortable fantasy, but probably not too realistic.

Anyway the book seems to have stood up to the years pretty well. I may have to find a copy of "Lila," Pirsig's 2nd book.

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