The Cave (sequel to The Day-Wreckers)
By Scott Welsh
Having been stimulated by Pirsig's works, I decided to write some of the results of that stimulation in the form of some small essays. They are very rough drafts with many holes I'm sure, but they are my fledgling attempts at putting some of elements of the metaphysics of quality in to "every day" use. Please give feedback as to whether this essay is interesting, banal, having some sort of potential or whatever. It would be much appreciated and very helpful. My e-mail address is: email@example.com.
"You want to be a champion? Well let me tell you, people don't want a champion. They want to eat cheeseburgers, play lotto and watch television." -Detective Somerset from the motion picture Seven
So what's the big deal? That is the response I get. Not understanding about the psycho parent or ludicrous fast-food connoisseur or the tobacco-inhaling driver savant. Not understand how dangerous these seemingly middling, little inconveniences can be. Not knowing there's trouble brewing and that people donāt seem to realize it. So let me put it a different way.
In a previous essay, The Day-Wreckers, I offered a few examples of how one's day can be ruined. For me, most often it is a crazy parent bent on living vicariously through delusional aspirations for his or her child. In other cases, a day can be destroyed by a person nit-picking a food order at Wendyās or someone who is more interested in smoking a cigarette at a red light than in making a wide-open right turn. My point in the essay was that circumstances of low quality can be suffocating, thereby taking away the possibility of living a peaceful, normal day. This is significant because we only get so many days on this earth and subtracting one is a sobering, even tragic, thought. To have a day ruined is to have some of one's life sucked away, and that to me is a legitimate lament.
Of course, some would just say, "Why donāt you just ignore them? So what if they don't seek Quality? That doesn't have to affect you." Which, on some level, is true. If you seek Quality wholeheartedly, then, theoretically others cannot bother you. Theoretically, you should be a bigger person than they are and be an example. If you don't like the way they are acting, then show them the way.
My question is: does someone who complains that are only three pickles on a junior cheeseburger instead of four really have any sort of real desire to seek quality? Granted, a burger with four pickles is a higher quality burger but in Pirsigās words, is that person striving toward the high country of the mind? Does that person have any inclination whatsoever to seek what is truly good? Does that person even want to find a better way? If not, then a mere example is not enough.
The other response to my rant is to say that some people are just "that way" and that I should save my breath for the ones who will listen. Help the ones you can. To me, that is a defeatist argument. If you keep giving up on the people you supposedly canāt help, all you're going to get is a huge (and growing) pool of undesirables. People are not living a high-quality life if the most important issue in their lives is hamburger with extra onions. Someone has to stop ignoring the issue and snap them out of it.
Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), that Quality fans out like ripples in a pond. One quality act leads to another which leads to another. And itās totally true. But so does anti-Quality. One crazed parent's complaint leads to a short fuse which leads to losing one's temper which leads to yelling at another kid which leads to a confrontation with your boss and on and on. The anti-Quality chain is very difficult to break and can be quite dangerous. If you are confronted with enough garbage, bad things can result. Someone once said that the only difference between and up-standing citizen and a homicidal maniac is a bad day. Just one bad day mixed with enough horrific low-quality events to get an explosion. What do you think happened years ago when that postal worker took a machine gun and sprayed his office? What do you think was going through those kidsā heads at Columbine? What was the unabomber thinking all that time? How many bad days had those people been through? How many times had they stood in line at a store while some idiot complained incessantly about nothing? How many times had he listened to a preacher spout irrelevant, hypocritical platitudes? How many times had he or she seen idiots glorified and the innocent squelched?
John Doe in the movie Seven was one of the most disturbing characters in recent memory. Most people thought of him as horrifyingly insane but was he really? At one point in the movie John Doe writes:
"On the subway today, a man came up to me to start a conversation. He made small talk, a lonely man talking about the weather and other things. I tried to be pleasant and accommodating but my head began to hurt from his banality. I almost didn't notice it had happened but I suddenly threw up all over him. He was not pleased. And I couldn't stop laughing..."
Crazy, right? Insane without a doubt. John Doe can be dismissed because he's a lunatic. Well, how about the time you stood in line at Meijer's for half an hour to buy a stick of gum? Or how about the time when you waited to cash your check at the bank for forty-five minutes while someone ahead of you was counting a hundred pennies out on the counter? What if someone had made small talk with you then? Would you have been pleasant? Or would you have felt like throwing up all over him? John Doe is not that far away from us. He is not as insane as you think. Everything matters. Nothing is insignificant. Every act of Quality, no matter how small, has merit and every act of banality has repercussions.
Anti-Quality unchecked is a force that must be reckoned with. To stop those consequences from coming to fruition, the chain has to be broken at some point. Quality has to step in. A little quality can usually turn the tide. The problem arises when it becomes difficult to see Quality. When you are completely inundated with manure, the stench can be almost too much to bear. Everyone needs an outlet; somewhere to go to recharge the Quality batteries. If an outlet isn't found, all that's left is to try to strike down the lack of quality in front of you, the thinking being: If the anti-quality is destroyed, maybe Quality will take its place. Sometimes those thoughts lead to violence.
The difficulty then becomes finding a Quality-recharger. It isn't easy. Kids try their parents, school, church. Sometimes they find it but most of time they don't. Kids then try their friends but sometimes that's no good either. Adults try sports, focus groups, religious organizations. Sometimes people will settle into one of these to soothe their souls. Far better to settle and give up the agony of searching. In this case at least the chain of severe anti-quality is slowed down. But mostly those places offer only trite placebos and limited options. This is the danger zone. When overwhelmed with anti-Quality, one needs desperately to offset that with Quality. Unfortunately our world doesn't seem to do a very good job in offering that solace. So where can you go?
In his book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray says, "When a Martian gets upset he never talks about what is bothering him. He would never burden another Martian with his problem...Instead he becomes very quiet and goes to his private cave to think about his problem, mulling it over to find a solution. When he has found a solution, he feels much better and comes out of his cave." What Mr. Gray was talking about was solving relationship snafus but he's on to something. By retreating into a cave, Quality can creep its way back into your life. If you're endlessly getting smacked by wave after wave of bad quality, you have to step back from the water. Eventually youāll dry out. Unfortunately we are all stuck in an impossible paradox. Human beings are ruined without contact with other people while contact with other people will ruin us. No man is an island but sometimes an island is the only way out. Pirsig talked about stuckness--how we get to a point where we can't continue. The way to defeat stuckness, Pirsig says, is to take a walk or go to a movie. In other words, get away from the problem. Gray's cave is a perfect getaway. By retreating for a couple of days, all you will encounter is silent quality. No distractions, no disturbances. Take a day on Walden Pond and come out refreshed. If the mind is left quiet the subconscious will seek out the good. It is only when the bad is incessantly layered on your psyche that it looks like all is lost. There are always solutions. The cave brings them to light. And once it has, anti-Quality just bounces off. Perhaps an understanding comment to the Wendy's worker to save his mood and sting the ludicrous patron. Maybe you confront the crazy parent with the truth and see if it shakes something loose in his or her delusional head. Maybe a polite honk on the horn will awaken the lost driver of her mistake. Whatever the solution, the cave will allow you to find it. And usually the better the cave, the higher quality of solution.
Do not dismiss the day-wreckers. They are multiple, they are dangerous, and they exist everywhere in your everyday life. They have the power to start the chain that can lead to disaster. But they cannot invade the cave, so guard it well. It may be the only place of pure Quality on earth.