Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday with McKenna: Zen and the Art of Blogging

It can be one of the truly beautiful things about growing old: the voice becomes clearer, the truth more timely. Thank you, President Carter.

And speaking of the quality that sometimes comes with age, here's Terry McKenna, with the first of a two-part piece on quality and policy.

Quality is Job One. If that is so, why don’t we use Quality to help us determine public policy?

Industry has invented many slogans to suggest that Quality comes first. But how do we know if something is good or bad? Is it by rational analysis, or do we make our judgments in some other way?

The other day I got caught in the rain, and so bought a cheap umbrella from a store on the way to Penn Station. The price was just $3. It’s hard to imagine anything so complicated costing just $3. I examined the umbrella that I bought with a sense of wonder. It had lots of small metal parts, and the fabric of the umbrella, though thin, was water proof. It was probably worth its low price, but even so, it was still a flimsy and cheap umbrella, a piece of junk.

Was my snap judgment typical of how we determine value? I think so. I believe that the value judgments come not from rationalization but from some other mechanism – one that resides outside of logical argument. Think of the manner in which you learn about the people you work with. You don’t make lists of the good and bad traits and then review your lists to assign values, you rely instead on your sense of how your encounters with others go – and based on your Quality sense, you create a private ranking of the folks you work with. I bet that if you compared your rankings with your peers, they would be strikingly similar.

Netflix, Inc.

My sudden interest in Quality stems from my reading the novel, Lila by Robert Pirsig. If you don’t know his name, perhaps you've heard of his other book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. ZAMM was released 33 years ago, and was a big hit at the time. Though its title now sounds New Agey, in fact, ZAMM is a novel with a serious work of philosophy contained within. My purpose is not to defend either book, but if you’d like to read about philosophy from a different point of view, read both. And by the way, read ZAMM first. (My son read ZAMM, and felt that it answered a question that is no longer being asked – maybe so.)

As I read Lila (and I’m only about 1/3 the way through) the most important insight is that Quality is central to understanding, AND forms the baseline from which all other characteristics can be understood. If you are familiar with western philosophy, this book moves us away from the subject/object discussions that are the basis for many philosophical ruminations. My intellect is not as sharp as is Mr. Pirsig’s, but from my perspective, his ideas sound compelling. Regardless, it is interesting to consider that value judgments may come first, at the beginning of recognition and understanding – AND NOT LATER.

So what? What's this have to do with politics or culture? Tomorrow, the answer. Or at least, one answer.

--T. McKenna

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