Motorcycles, Beer, and Change

The last batch of beer that I bottled didn’t turn out so well. It was an American Brown Ale (I currently have a batch of Amber waiting in the fermenter, and a batch of Pumpkin Ale I’ll be brewing next week). And I screwed it up. I was off daydreaming about hops and Barley Wines and wasn’t being very mindful of the mash. I let the grains get way to hot, and some tannins were extracted (in beer, tannins = bad usually). So I ended up with some quite astringent beer. Besides that, the flavor was alright, but it was probably the worst batch I’ve ever made.

 What pissed me off about it all initially was the fact that I used the same system that I did before. I approached it in a different manner (which had a slight astringent problem, but nothing this bad) and got the same damn results. I’m not going to get into details about how my brewing method, as that would be even more boring than the rest of this post. Basically, even though my intention was to make a better ale by switching a few things up, I still fell into the same pattern as before and ended up with shit beer.

I’m fond of quoting Robert Pirsig. He’s the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s easily the most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years*. I’m currently obsessed (yup, an attachment) with Zen and the Art, and the whole way he approaches thought in it. After I was done beating myself up over my lousy batch of ale, something he said came to mind.

 “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

 I could easily write 20 or more pages on just this paragraph alone. I’ll probably reference it numerous times throughout this blog. But what I want to talk about now is approaching change. There certainly has been a lot of talk about “change” lately in the news, ever since President Obama took office. But how much change can we expect from him, and the political party that he represents? I say none. Nothing real. No real solutions to our problems. The root cause of our problems will not be addressed. This time we’ll use a blue band-aid, and in a few more years, it’ll be a red one. But band-aids to little to address the real cause of the affliction.

 We hear all the time about how “if it were a free-market system, things would be different.” Well, sorry. News flash: THIS IS a free market system. It is a free market system that led us to our present state. It certainly wasn’t communism, or totalitarianism, or anarchy. It was a free market system. It is this system that led to the controlling lobbyists. It is this system that led to a for-profit health care system. It is this system that led to Enron, the housing market crash, immigration problems, the wealth gap, the rampant depletion of natural resources, and just about anything else you can think of. So to make changes within the system, and expect another outcome is ridiculous. Eventually, it will all get fucked up, one way or another. A free market system must create disparity to survive, for if everyone were equal, there would be no motivation to progress anything.

 If we can’t make changes within the system to progress society, what then? According to Pirsig, we must change the whole thought process and rationality that created the system in the first place. We must not only throw out the present system, but throw away the rationality that produced it in the first place. Why? Obviously, that rationality was flawed. We could expect no less than yet another flawed system if keep the same patterns of thought in place. Our American Revolution simply handed over the crown to the American Government, and the American Banking interests. Meet the new boss……

 Here’s an example of a time when bucking the system worked, and proved beneficial to humanity at large. 2500 years ago in India, the prevailing rationality was that in order to achieve enlightenment, and end your cycle of rebirth, an aesthetic lifestyle was pretty much your only option. That only through extreme, disciplined aestheticism would you ever be able to achieve the clarity necessary to rid yourself of the illusion of self. Siddhartha Gautama tried this for many years. He tried everything the other aesthetics taught him, and he still did not reach his goal. So rather than find other methods within that system, he threw out that whole system, and figured out that the “middle way” was the true path to enlightenment. It was this break through that allowed him to realize his goal, and it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t change his rationality and approach.

A lot of bitching takes place on the Interwebs about “changing” a lot of the world’s problems. It is hopelessly non-constructive and self-defeating. Not only do people not propose any real, actionable solutions, they’re pissing in the wind when they do manage to think of something constructive to say (and not only that, they don’t get off their asses to do anything about it). We can’t hope to rid the world of poverty in our current free-market based societies. It ain’t gonna happen. It is built into the system.

 Many people have found the Zeitgeist movie online. Not as many have seen the second movie, or been to the Zeitgeist Movement website. Now, you and I may not agree with what they are proposing. That isn’t the point here. The point is that they are proposing a completely different system, (a solution!), a completely different rationality and unheard of approach; and they are being ridiculed for it. The main reason? People’s attachment to the status quo. Humanity has been so entrenched in this “me me me gimme gimme gimme money is the only motivator” system and way of thought for so long, that we can’t even comprehend how a different system would even be possible. But if we want real, actionable, sustainable change, we must embrace the total destruction of our present way of thought. It is imperative that we begin looking at society in a different manner altogether. We must throw out the Lockes and the Kants and the Platos and the Smiths, and start fresh. We need a new philosophy. I’m not saying that the Zeitgeist people have all the answers, but they are heading in the right direction. (on a side note, the second movie is much better than the first, as it deals less in conspiracies, and more in solutions).

If you really want a better batch of beer, you can’t just change up your recipe. You have to change your entire brewing method, and even your thought before you develop your brewing method. For this last batch, I did just that. Hopefully, it will be much more enjoyable, and I’ll be able to proudly share it with family and friends. Cheers.

 

*A comment exchange that took place when this post was first published and I felt was relevant to post here:

Anonymous said…

“…most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years”? That strikes me as telling people you just discovered they sell dog food in cans!

This book has sold 5 million copies in nearly 30 different languages. There are serious philosophical societies that have formed to focus solely on Pirsig’s ideas. He is an international celebrity in the world of philosophy. Most university philosophy departments recognize his work, and most read his books.

How is that “overlooked”?

September 24, 2009 10:18 PM

Adam said…Yes, certainly a poor choice of words, as that really didn’t convey what i meant. The book was a huge success; it says so right on the cover and obviously I can read.

I wrote this post over a few different days, and left out something that i was about to touch on. While it may be the greatest thing since sliced bread for the philosophy folks out there, it certainly hasn’t yet found it’s way into the real, actionable world, and i think it really needs to. This is what I started to talk about when I said overlooked. The more i think about it, the more i believe this is another post altogether.

Thanks for pointing that out anonymous commenter. I see the confusion that could and has caused.

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