A Cultural Values Series: #1 COMPETITION

This post is the first of a series of short intellectual analysis of different values. Competition is somewhat misunderstood and misused as a value within our culture. As with most values it's understood within our culture by the myths that support it. Below is a Metaphysics Of Quality (MOQ) based investigation into this value and a key myth that forms our modern day understanding of it...

Like to compete? I don't. Too numerous a time have I been hurt by someone competing without realising we were even doing so. Competition at the wrong time can bring down even the staunchest of competitors when, without realising, after trusting his teammate, he is suddenly blindsided by highly competitive and selfish behavior.

But beyond this kind of once off usurping of usually good competitors - constant competition within the workplace or within teams can be detrimental to team members mental health and physical wellbeing. Propagating continual stress and fear of losing out is not a good environment to be around and yet my experience is that it infects many a workplace and teams..

And so for this reason, I'd like to delve into this value some more and gain a better idea of the good and bad of competition and what, if any, insight the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) can bring..

As I see it there's two good things about competition.

  1. Competition supports the fact we are social creatures who value social status.
    We cannot ignore social values and the inherent social rankings that go with them. As human beings who are social creatures it is only natural that we enjoy a certain amount of competition and the potential increases in social standing that go with them. Therefore it's about finding the right kinds of competition that are 'healthy' and those that are not. Competition between teams for instance; with the right playful attitude can be very healthy and productive. That is whilst still allowing for intra-team or intra-company co-operation and all of the shared social and cultural benefits that go with it as well.
    But to be clear what it does not support is selfish individuals acting only for their own benefit at the expense of the larger group or team. Using the language of the MOQ - that is called putting ones own social standing or celebrity status above that of the team when it doesn't make intellectual sense to do so. In other words; that is called valuing social quality over intellectual quality and is immoral in the MOQ.

  2. Competition that comes about as a result of opening up a system is a secondary good to its openness.
    By avoiding groupthink or group polarisation, and opening up a system whereby different solutions can be created to a problem; the best solution will then be able to naturally arise. Once this has occured - each of the solutions could be said to be competing but that isn't necessarily a motivation for these 'competitors' and isn't necessary for different options to be proposed.

Capitalism actually works in this very way. It's not the fact that companies are competing with a love for the social value of competition that capitalism works (although this can help with the right kind of competition as described above in the first example). It's because capitalism is more open to Dynamic Quality and simply allows for multiple solutions to the same problem to arise. From those solutions it then has a built in monetary mechanism for rewarding the best solution.

Which brings us finally to the key modern day myth of 'selfish capitalism' that underpins many an immoral intra-company competitors thinking. It also happens to be a key myth which at least most layman have heard of and understand regarding captialism. And as I will explain it is an understanding that without moral context - allows the propagator to get away with immoral behavior.

'Selfish capitalism' - a myth named which, whilst not named this way by its proponents, is essentially what it is. This myth has a person, who is a ruthless competitor and who is only out for themselves, and who will do just about anything and break just about any moral code, all in the name of money.

This is the strength of capitalism a neoliberal might tell you. A kind of individual John Galt figure out against the world.

'A person who is only out for himself, competing, and succeeding, gaining celebrity and money. For how could they succeed any other way? Isn't that what capitalism is all about? Competition? Breaking and bending rules is all part of the game!'

A standard modern day capitalist.

But this myth with its roots in the value of competition - neglects the first good of the importance of healthy co-operation and the morality of respecting the health of the team and not valuing ones own social status over the team. And it completely ignores the second good whereby different solutions to a problem arise not directly because of competition but because capitalism is more open to Dynamic Quality than any of its alternatives!

But from this investigation we can see that the Metaphysics of Quality can morally support a new myth! One still of an individual within a capitalist system. But rather than selfishly competing - is healthily competitive yet isn't driven just by this competition; they know what's right and wrong; they appreciate that there's more to live for than money and social status; and also they can see the old myth for what it is and was - logically immoral.

Some great news for the week is that there looks to be a great Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance documentary in the works. See above a clip of an interview with David Buchanan who I've spoken with many times online over the years.

David has an unparalleled understanding of the Metaphysics of Quality - particularly around how it relates to the philosophical tradition of american pragmatism. I'm sure with his involvement (no matter how small) the quality of this documentary will be greatly increased!

I believe the creators are currently looking for funding which you can do whilst they travel the route of the book - here.

Best of luck to them and hopefully this will kick off some well needed - renewed interest in Pirsig's original book.

There's a great short documentary on the uniquely strong value the University of Chicago places on the intellectual value of free speech. And before I go on - there's actually much crossover here with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The university was attended by the author Robert Pirsig where he had an infamous showdown with the Chair of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods. And it was the universities president Robert Maynard Hutchins who was a close colleague of the Chair and who had reformed the university into a mirror of what Pirsig uniqely terms in ZMM 'Aristotilean Quality'. But as also mentioned in the book; this reform led to a clash against those who wanted a more value-free 'scientific' education, as well as an eventual clash with Pirsig who didn't agree with the low quality Aristotilean definition of Quality..

Phædrus didn't know quite what to make of this clash. But it certainly seemed to be close to the area he wished to work in. He also felt that no values can be fixed but that this is no reason why values should be ignored or that values do not exist as reality. He also felt antagonistic to the Aristotelian tradition as a definer of values, but he didn't feel this tradition should be left unreckoned with. The answer to all this was somehow deeply enmeshed in it and he wanted to know more.

Robert Pirsig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

And in along the same lines in the movie..

'Hutchins' envisaged something like a military academy for the mind. One grounded in a demanding core curriculum.'

Rob Montz - 'Silence U Pt. 3: Can the University of Chicago solve the campus free speech crisis?'

Despite a very clear disagreement about the metaphysical place of Quality - it's clear however, that the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) supports the University of Chicago's latest stand for free speech discussed in the documentary. As always - we can use the language of the MOQ to break down the problem into its core evolutionary components and beautifully show why it's moral..

Firstly, the MOQ agrees that students around the world shouldn't need to be shielded from certain ideas they find painful or confronting. Such thinking comes from one of biological suffering where society morally supports and comforts those in pain. But ideas are intellectual, not biological, and so it's moral for our culture to allow a voice to ideas that are challenging to confront and this will eventually change our ideas for the better.

'Those species that don't suffer don't survive. Suffering is the negative face of the Quality that drives the whole process. All these battles between patterns of evolution go on within suffering individuals.. And Lila's battle is everybody's battle, you know?'

Robert Pirsig - Lila

And secondly, the MOQ also agrees that students shouldn't demand universities refuse to 'give a platform' to ideas they disagree with. Whilst universities and colleges are cultural institutions, they are much more than this and seeing them as exclusively cultural, is to undercut the intellectual values they are set up to protect and preserve. In other words - it is true that who they give a platform to is in some way a cultural statement, however few cultural statements could be better than for an intellectual forum to actively demonstrate the intellectual value of free speach. Giving a voice to those ideas on the periphery or in opposition to those they agree with is just such an intellectual demonstration.

Thirdly, if they are concerned about the strength of certain bad ideas to take hold within the culture, then it's possible they have not appropriately confronted the issues themselves or rightly asked that of others. Which indeed according to the MOQ is the intellectually moral, and perhaps socially difficult thing to do.

And so finally, in this battle for free speech - in all cases it's clearly between those who are seeing things through a social lens at the expense of intellectual morality. Of course equipped with the Metaphysics of Quality - students could avoid grave errors in logic such as this and be far more likely to choose those ideas that are the best. But until that point, the MOQ still uniqely and rightly calls those seeing things through the social lens as immoral and acting against the intellectual quality of evolution and what's right.

Logically and Morally Guiding Political Correctness

In the absence of a metaphysics which places morality at its core - it's been necessary for our culture to have a traditional conception of political correctness to keep discrimination in check. Without some kind of contraints on our language to act as a continual reminder to treat others with dignity and respect - our culture would not have made the advancements it has in terms of improving the rights and wellbeing of minorities.

However, our culture is going through a bit of a re-evaluation of its relationship with political correctness. And I can identify three causes for this:

One. It has started to be taken too far. Originally intended to protect the minority - certain minorities have begun to make unreasonable demands seeing themselves as victims requiring continual and overly dependent support.

Two. Having spent the majority of the last 50 or so years on improving social injustice issues, american politics has neglected the importance of social equality and the rich/poor divide. Therefore this gap has grown so far that the disadvantaged and poor are fed up with the focus on Political Correctness and rightly see an exclusive focus on this as part of the problem. Recognising this trajectory - this was predicted by Rorty in his book Leftist Thought in the 21st Century, 1998:

"One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet."

Richard Rorty - Leftist Thought in the 21st Century, 1998.

Three. With our current metaphysics we're unable to easily determine the line between protecting what's good about a minority and validily criticising it from the standpoint of our culture so that it can assimilate into our culture. Whilst the Metaphysics of Quality doesn't resolve these disputes once and for all - it provides us with a beautiful logical language to discuss these issues.

For example, the MOQ provides us with a clear distinction between biological people and the cultural values with which they identify. One of those things does not matter and cannot change, but the other does matter and can change. Criticism of that which can change for something better is considered moral in the MOQ. Whilst criticism of a person simply, for example, because of the color of their skin is logically racist, evil and immoral.

So the general solution isn't to throw away the value of Political Correctness. As mentioned - it's moral and supported by the MOQ. Instead we should aim to solve these problems in a different way. Solving cause One would likely be with certain education reforms and certainly reform the way we have traditionally taught discrimination resolution.

Solving cause Two isn't to throw away political correctness but to simultaneously tackle social income inequality at the same time. In fact oftentimes, it's minorities who are economically disadvantaged as well - thus tackling both of these problems will likely take pressure off them as scapegoats for a suffering majority. This will also also improve their social mobility with a smaller wage gap between them and their neighbours.

Finally, solving cause Three would involve further cultural dialogue using the moral language of the MOQ to guide us in a better, moral direction.

Human rights don't logically exist.  But it's ok - here's the solution.

Well some must exist, surely? Nope. None. Not one. It's an uncomfortable truth but it's true. And the sooner we acknowledge this the better.

You could say that the articles of the declaration of Human Rights that all nations have agreed on, demonstrate that they do exist. But at a pragmatic level - words are so very easy to weasel out of. One country or culture says one thing, while another culture says and means something completely different. Who's to say something just isn't lost in translation? And unsurprisngly that's the exact problem continually facing the organisation put in place to implement Human Rights.

But beyond the written words of Human Rights that have been translated into hundreds of languages - there's no way to logically say something is a right for all people, and something else, is not.

Of course we can identify the main culprit here as our metaphysics. We have a metaphysics which fails to acknolwedge the importance of values and morality. There's historical reasons for this but this is the situation we find outselves in - in the 21st Century. This makes world governing bodies such as the United Nations often impotent in finding agreement amongst nations about what's right and wrong and what a violation is and is not. And this isn't a problem that's going to go away. In fact - it's only going to continue and become more and more apparent until we start to use a language and logic which transcends cultures and helps to shine a light on the right, and moral, path forward.

Luckily the Metaphysics of Quality beautifully provides just such a path and language. It's an elegant, logical, philosophical framework within which we can make such judgements across all cultures and languages and say (generally speaking) whether something is moral or not.

This is the what Robert Pirsig lays out in Lila where he writes:

There is no such thing as 'human rights.' There is no such thing as moral reasonableness. There are subjects and objects and nothing else.

This soup of sentiments about logically non-existent entities can be straightened out by the Metaphysics of Quality. It says that what is meant by 'human rights' is usually the moral code of intellect vs. society, the moral right of intellect to be free of social control. Freedom of speech; freedom of assembly, of travel; trial by jury; habeas corpus; government by consent - these 'human rights' are all intellect-vs.-society issues. According to the Metaphysics of Quality these 'human rights' have not just a sentimental basis, but a rational, metaphysical basis. They are essential to the evolution of a higher level of life from a lower level of life. They are for real.

Robert Pirsig - Lila

It's really very hard to understate the size of these words so I'll repeat them. There's no such thing as moral reasonableness or human rights. There's subjects and objects and nothing else (See The Story for why).

But sadly until very recently the unique insight and beauty of the Metaphysics of Quality in solving this particular problem of Human Rights has been largely ignored by the academic community.

Of course that was until a recent graduate - Matthew Lafontaine wrote a masters thesis called - 'Human Rights as the Safeguard of the Intellect Against Society'. It lays out a very thorough and concise explanation of just how the Metaphysics Of Quality provides a far superior foundation for Human Rights than our current understanding and metaphysics.

It has been posted online and if you're intellectually inclined - I recommend giving it a read here.

This is a great paper by Matthew and I hope that one day the insights provided in it are recognised.

All going well - one day at the United Nations (or similar) it will use the Metaphysics of Quality as a foundational language of morality across all nations. From it they will be able to determine and easily talk about what countries are indeed being evil and immoral vs those that are not. Not from a he said / she said metaphysically unsound perspective, but one that has a logical and moral philosophical foundation which cannot be denied.