I made a post to Twitter last night about how I was thinking more and more that Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintencence is a crock of bullshit. Which sucks, because Sirus got me a copy with lovely graphic art on the cover7. While I summed up my response to “but why?!?!!!@” with a <140 character "Main Character Complex", here is the longer explaination. First, a disclaimer or two: I’m “reading” this via Audible, which I love. I do not have page numbers, but I can get you minute markers. And I have not finished it. One of my greatest joys of no longer being in school is that when a book sucks, I can put it away – I don’t have to finish it. So if he learns some great lesson, or the focus shifts or something, let me know and I’ll actually keep reading.
What at last did me in, so far as not being able to listen to any more: his discourse on Science. About how all science is ineffectual because (as his “ghost” narrative device discovered) so many hypothesis are born as you test the first one, and there’s no way to test them all, so you create this whole set of unknowns. And as science is about creating truths, and you can’t test all of them…
Wait, what? Science is about creating truths? Someone hasn’t been looking at science. Science is about proving things false. Something is considered true (but not a law) until you’re able to disprove it. Laws (like gravity) are so morally independent, so long established (ie, tested against), and so universal that Scientific Law basically equals Taken As Granted.5
This is just one example of the underlying viewpoint that upsets me about this book. “Oh, look at this insight I have. I am so clever. You should examine your world, too. Question things!” Which yes, you should constantly be questioning the things around you, but for fuck’s sake, the “insights” provided are bullshit, and unless you spend as much time (if not more) examining your own assumptions, questioning the world around you just becomes a wank session. And one that ends in loneliness and The Crazy, not what wank sessions should end with, IMHO.
So this brings us closer to my own insight about the book, and the narrator1. He’s a narcissistic piece of shit. Oh sure, he speaks about different methods of inquiry, but his language and approach are seeping with judgements about those methods. His “inquiry into values” is always in relation to his own set of values, and there is always implied (or stated) moral high ground.
And maybe this wouldn’t bother me so much, but for recent life interactions, and a long-lived pet peeve of mine: Main Character Syndrom. This is my own way of explaining narcissism without bringing up that loaded word. People with this syndrom believe that they are the main character. Anyone they interact with is simply filling a supporting role. Every interaction, every discussion, -everything- has to do with them. Because why else would it be happening? Common symptoms include taking everything personally, being confused when people act “out of character,” or having unreasonable expectations.
A sub category of this is what I lovingly refer to as Narrator Syndrom, where an individual realizes they’re not the Main Character but still imparts their world view on the interactions they have with others. Symptoms include imposing moral values3 and assuming purpose/projecting omnipitence4.
Realize everyone is full of stories. Their own. That range from completely —completely— to mostly not about you. At all. Have nothing at all to do with you. An individual – one individual – has lived an entire life of experiences. Their life is just as (if not more) complicated as your own. Each individual is (mostly) internally consistent, has a set of values and goals which are legitimate (to them), given those experiences. Now think about how many other people live in your house, your apartment building, your neighborhood block. So many stories! AND YOU GET TO SHARE WITH THEM. We get to interact, to use that wealth of experience, to build our world. And that is what makes that individual insignificance so phenomenal. We are so much greater than the sum of our parts, as individuals and as a super organism.
1. I accept that the narrator might be the author’s own way of trying to get people to come to the realizations that I speak about here, so far as the meta level, narcissism, and examination. But if that’s what he’s going for, I already get it, and listening to someone experience it just hurts my fucking faith in humanity.
2. (Yes, I know there’s no 2 up there). I also hated Catcher in the Rye. Self-involved bitchfest. Whine whine whine with no constructive action in site.
3. Morals as opposed to ethics, which are malleable and socially based as opposed to dogmatic. One of the few things Freud was not completely bat shit about.
4. The assumption of knowing where the plot is going/all the factors in any interaction, so any other viewpoint is null.
5. I am not at all saying science should not be questioned. That is, after all, what it is for6. It is imperative to question the cultural assumptions which support some scientific analysis. And what we as a culture value of course dictates what we even DO science to.
6. Well, actually it’s for describing things which exist, but whatever.
7. <3 to Sirus, who gave me the disclaimer that he hadn't read it, but liked the art and thought it might be about motorcycles, which I do like.
8. (Yes, another footnote without a reference to it). All the individualism in my last paragraph is not to get postmodern on you. Through SCIENCE (also see above) we are able to know we have a shared reality and that we must interact within it. The point I’m getting at there is that all the individual pieces are separate but interactive. There’s a reason I have “we are the machine” tattoo’d down my back – we are all interconnected, and through that interconnection, our superorganism is self-guided.
And since this post is already so incredibly long, here is a video to make me not be so ranty, which beautifully sums up a lot of that wonder and interconnection. Thanks, melodysheep!