Robert Pirsig — who wrote the justly celebrated ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’  — also wrote a follow up, generally not regarded as well as his first effort — ‘Lila, An Inquiry into Morals’ . It contains, in its attempt to declare what Quality is, virtually the same distinction between Eros and the Daemonic, only using different terms. Moreover, Pirsig comes to this differentiation by virtue of studying a conflict on Zuni tribal lands between the traditional Zuni priests and a disturbing Zuni shaman; the priests were upholding Eros and what Pirsig names ‘Static Quality’, whilst the shaman was upholding the Daemonic and what Pirsig names ‘Dynamic Quality.’ Thus by contrasting priest and shaman, or priest and prophet [who evolved from the shaman: 1 Samuel, 9, 9], there arises another way to revisit the distinction between the ‘Stable’ Eros, and the ‘Disruptive’ Daemonic. Pirsig’s primal differentiation of Quality into ‘Static Patterns’ and ‘Dynamic [patternless] Change’ will be examined, to see if it helps in the description of Eros and the Daemonic.
In short, Eros is similar, yet not identical, to: ‘Static Quality generating Stable Patterns’; whilst the Daemonic is similar, yet not identical, to: ‘Dynamic Quality generating [patternless] Change.’
Pirsig’s quest for the true character of Quality, and its primal position in human experience, leads him to the differentiation of Quality into two manifestations, Static and Dynamic. He is wondering about people who get labelled as misfit, outcast, outsider, beyond the normal order, and similar. He starts off by looking at what happened among the Zuni as illustration of how the insider/outsider division arises. The story, told by an anthropologist, goes like this.
At Zuni, in New Mexico, there was a striking person who stood out. In a society that distrusts authority, he had too much personal magnetism; in a society that exalts moderation and easygoingness, he was too turbulent and even violent sometimes; in a society that praises an accessible person who talks readily, he was too scornful and aloof. Zuni’s reaction to such people is to brand them witches. The deviant person was said to have been peering in through a window, a sure sign of a witch, or brujo in the local parlance. One day he got drunk, boasting that no one could kill him. At this, he was hauled before the priests, who promptly hung him up by his thumbs to the rafters, until he should confess to his witchcraft. However, he was able to get a messenger to the government troops, who saved him, though his shoulders were already crippled for life, and the authorities had no choice but to imprison the priests. One of these priests was described by the anthropologist as “probably the most respected and important in recent Zuni history and when he returned after imprisonment.. he never resumed his priestly offices. He regarded his power as broken” [pp 133-134].
The rest of the brujo’s life is a surprise. Did he go off in a huff, refusing to be a member of a society run by such domineering religious figures? On the contrary, he stayed at Zuni, becoming a master of cultic songs and stories, and eventually took over as governor. The outsider ended up as the leader!
The anthropologist recounting this happening concludes that had this troubled man lived among the northern plains tribes, his personal authority, turbulence, aloofness, would have taken him far. His personal unhappiness was simply because he was out of place in Zuni.
Pirsig thinks this analysis of a ‘fish out of water’ facile. It is too simple to say the man’s tormentors were evil and he was good. Nor was the man simply a misfit, whatever that means. How then did he take over the reins of tribal leadership? His path to the leading of his people was certainly dramatic, but what this drama portrays, Pirsig argues, is a cultural battle for the direction in which the tribe would go. The man was a brujo, and that means he was a shaman.
“This was not a case of priests persecuting an innocent person. This was a much deeper conflict between a priesthood and a shaman” [p 136]. Pirsig quotes from E.A. Hoebel:
“Although in many.. cultures there is a recognised division of function between priests and shamans, in the.. cultures in which cults have become strongly organized churches, the priesthood fights an unrelenting war against shamans.. Priests work in a rigorously structured hierarchy fixed in a firm set of traditions. Their power comes from and is vested in the organization itself. They constitute a religious bureaucracy. Shamans, on the other hand, are arrant individualists. Each is on his own, undisciplined by a bureaucratic control; hence a shaman is always a threat to the order of an established church..” [pp 136-137].
In the religion of the ancient Jews, the prophets evolved from Asian shamans, and lived in the same tension with the temple priesthood. Among Christians, it is a standing joke that no bishop would want to invite a living saint, especially if he were a desert wild man, part prophet, part shaman, to the parish council meeting. In the novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, Dostoyevsky tells the story of the Grand Inquisitor: a pope-like church boss is confronted by Jesus Christ returned to earth, and far from welcoming his ostensible spiritual master, warns him that he will have to be executed again, to prevent him doing immense harm to the Christian people in the church. After all, the church gives them stability and order, which is what they need and all they can cope with. By contrast, Jesus Christ offers them freedom, and all the upsetting realities, such as conflict, doubt, personal responsibility, that arise off the back of freedom. Christ trusts people too much, and so must not be allowed to come back..
But the case of Zuni reverses the common trend in the West in regard to the balance of power between priest and shaman. Pirsig concludes [p 137] that “a huge battle had taken place for the entire mind and soul of Zuni. The priests had proclaimed themselves good and the brujo evil. The brujo had proclaimed himself good and the priests evil. A showdown had occurred and the brujo had won!”
Pirsig goes on to argue that the political clout wielded by this Zuni shaman was because he knew how to relate to the biggest and most challenging change confronting the tribe– the white man. A new spirit had come, and as a person able to relate directly to spirits, he was better equipped than the priesthood to read their psyche and psychology, and make some accommodation with them that would preserve the ancient Zuni culture yet allow it to adapt to an altered situation.
Pirsig ponders this, and comes to a new, and interesting insight: “it became apparent there were two kinds of good and evil involved [p 138].” He elaborates this key realisation:
“The tribal frame of values that condemned the brujo and led to his punishment was one kind of good, ..which [can be termed] ‘static good.’ Each culture has its pattern of static good derived from fixed laws and the traditions and values that underlie them. ..In the static sense the brujo was very clearly evil to oppose the appointed authorities of his tribe. Suppose everyone did that? The whole Zuni culture, after thousands of years of continuous survival, would collapse into chaos.
But in addition there is a ‘dynamic good’ that is outside of any culture, that cannot be contained by any system of precepts, but has to be continually rediscovered as a culture evolves. Good and evil are not entirely a matter of tribal custom. If they were, no tribal change would be possible, since custom cannot change custom. There has to be another source of good and evil outside the tribal customs that produces the tribal change.
If you had asked the brujo what ethical principles he was following he probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you.. He was just following some vague sense of ‘betterness’ that he couldn’t have defined if he had wanted to” [p 138].
Pirsig points out that the kind of leadership exerted by the brujo was not a matter of him telling anyone to do this, or do that, but of just being himself. Yet because the culture was in a phase of significant transition forced upon it by fate, the brujo’s way of being and acting seemed of greater relevance, or, as Pirsig puts it, of ‘higher Quality’ to his brothers and sisters than the rather blind conservatism of the priests.
“In this Dynamic sense the brujo was good because he saw the new source of good and evil before the other members of his tribe did.. [Thus] whatever the personality traits that made him such a rebel from the tribe around him, this man was no ‘misfit.’ ..The whole tribe was in a state of evolution.. Now it was entering a state of cooperation with the whites.. He was an active catalytic agent to the tribe’s social evolution, and his personal conflicts were a part of the tribe’s cultural growth” [p 139].
Pirsig reaches his first broad conclusion: “Not subject and object, but Static and Dynamic is the basic division of reality. When A.N. Whitehead [the physicist who revisioned material things in terms of ‘process’] wrote that ‘mankind is driven forward by dim apprehensions of things too obscure for its existing language’, he was writing about Dynamic Quality. Dynamic Quality is the pre-intellectual cutting edge of reality.. and always new. It was the moral force that had motivated the brujo in Zuni. It contains no pattern of [pre-established changes], ..and its only ..evil is ..any pattern of one-sided, fixed values that tries to contain and kill the ongoing and free force of life” [p 140].
In short, Static Quality tends to see the Dynamic as evil, because the latter interferes with, and overturns, the former’s unchanging consistency. Those in Eros tend to perceive those in the Daemonic as demonic. But equally, Dynamic Quality tends to see the Static as evil, because the latter blocks and prevents the former’s changing inconsistency. Those in the Daemonic tend to perceive those in Eros as in denial.
As Pirsig suggests, what is ‘good and evil’ differs depending on whether you identify with Static Quality or Dynamic Quality. For the static realm, disruption is evil; for the dynamic realm, disruption is good. For the static realm, stability is good; for the dynamic realm, stability is evil.
“Static Quality, the moral force of the priests, ..is old and complex. ..Good is conformity to an established pattern of fixed values and value objects.. Its values don’t change by themselves. Unless they are altered by Dynamic Quality they say the same thing year after year. Sometimes they say it more loudly, sometimes more softly, but the message is always the same” [p 140].
Thus we have Static Good versus Dynamic Good, or the ‘bright’ spiritual point of Eros versus the ‘dark’ spiritual point of the Daemonic. For Eros, the wound inflicted by the Daemonic is a curse without any rationale. For the Daemonic, this wounding is a curse that contains a hidden blessing; it is a fate that renders existence absurd, yet accomplishes a vast and necessary spiritual change by ending the demand in all of us that life ‘add up.’ When it doesn’t, those who cling to Eros fall into despair, but those who let go of Eros to answer the call of the Daemonic find a different ground where they undergo a different journey and a different battle.
Static patterns become ‘the universe of distinguishable things.’ By contrast, Dynamic leaps beyond the usual and predictable run of things are called in indigenous cultures ‘wakan’, or ‘manito’, which means, ‘holy, mysterious, strange, out of the usual run of things, exceptionally skilled, blessing, luck, any wondrous occurrence.’ It is important to realise that wakan, or manito, can point to the Supreme Being, or Mysterious and Holy Spirit, as well as manifestations of divinity in nature and among human beings.
The Static is easier to make known, and people stick with the known because it cannot throw them. Its signposts offer us safe and secure paths through familiar terrain. But the Dynamic is a pathless trek into the unknown. Pirsig notes: “When you take steps forward into the unknown you always risk being smashed by that unknown” [p 355].
Yet at this point, Pirsig tries to correct his own radical bias in favour of the Dynamic, for he admits that in the past he had been likely “to think of Dynamic Quality alone and neglect static patterns of quality. Until now he had always felt that these static patterns were dead. They have no love. They offer no promise.. To succumb to them is to succumb to death, since that which does not change cannot live. But.. life cannot exist on Dynamic Quality alone. It has no staying power. To [reject] static patterns is to cling to chaos” [p 146].
This allows Pirsig to nuance his earlier conclusion about good and evil.
“Static quality patterns are dead when they are exclusive, when they demand blind obedience and suppress Dynamic change. But static patterns, nevertheless, provide a necessary stabilising force to protect Dynamic [forward movement] from degeneration. Although Dynamic Quality, the quality of freedom, creates [and re-creates] this world in which we live, these patterns of static quality, the quality of order, preserve our world..” [p 146].
The Dynamic is wild, the static is orderly. “..Although the Dynamic brujo and the static priests who tortured him appeared to be mortal enemies, they were actually necessary to each other..” [p 146].
Yet there is the wildness of the spirit and there is human destructiveness for its own sake. Similarly, there is the order that opens up a vast vista of interconnections, and the order that suffocates all complexity of meaning out of reality and therefore suffocates all complexity of meaning in us.
Hence, there is good and evil in each realm, Static and Dynamic.
There is a bigger and a smaller Static, a broader and more narrow Static, a Static identical to ‘the cosmic order of all things’, the implicit deep structure undergirding everything, and a static where logic has replaced logos, where an expansive reasonableness has been reduced to the mean ratio. There is holistic Pattern, the Whole, and there is analytical pattern, the parts without link up [Humpty Dumpty cannot be reassembled, once in fragments]. The bigger pattern obeys laws of formation, of gestalt interdependence, whereas the smaller pattern obeys laws of mechanism, of additive increment. Science, currently, is incapable of addressing the former, and only focuses on the latter. This means that science neglects the implicate dimensions of order, and only can deal with that which ticks over regularly and reliably.
There is a more mystical Eros, the Light of Love, and an Eros truncated to the formulaic, the conservative, the rigid, the explicit, the explicable, where there is neither love nor life, but a need to predict and control, to master and possess. There is the intricate web of interconnections and there is system, organization, hierarchy, reeking of top dog and bottom dog, unilateral influence, and the loneliness of disconnection. This also means there are greater and smaller priests, those who ‘see the light’ and those that defend a party line whose bigger dimensions they have rejected. The former serve what they respect, the latter kill what they admire. There is stability and stasis. There is conserving a ‘Tradition’ of handed on and proved veracity, and there is a bankrupt ‘traditionalism’ in which you sanctify the past, ignore its struggles and mistakes, and regard the present as just a repetition of what was already established in that over-idealised past. That we must go through our own struggles, and make our own mistakes, now, to keep going toward the future, is denied.
Equally, there is a true and false Dynamic, a Dynamic that conveys the Daemonic intervention of God and a Dynamic identical with chaos, degenerateness, and capable of conveying the deceptive interference of the demonic. This also means there are true and false shamans, true and false prophets; not everything that glitters is gold. The Dynamic is unstructured yet not chaotic, when trustworthy. The Dynamic is disintegrative, and unravels with glee anything ravelled with patience, care, and concern, when untrustworthy.
There is Good Static, and Evil Static. There is Good Dynamic, and Evil Dynamic.
There are decent people upholding the Static, and resisting the Dynamic; there are indecent people tearing down the Static, in the name of the Dynamic.
Discernment is needed.
The Daemonic God who, again and again, lays waste to the Jews, smashing them to reforge them, is not to be confused with the Panzer divisions of Hitler, nor with the Puritan armies of Cromwell, nor with the bullying and murderous fundamentalists and evangelicals of our day.
Socrates: “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness provided the madness is given us by divine gift.”