Thursday, August 13, 2009

Poo in the Brownie

Finished Zen and t.a.o. Motorcycle Maintenance, finally. Something to be said for unemployment, when you can really immerse yourself in a good book (and only have to wonder where your next meal will come from).

I forgot about a paragraph about 3 chapters from the end, in which the reader is blindsided by a *our-letter word. A big one. THE big one. and in that same paragraph, the long B word... It's a point he is trying to make, it is not language for the sake of language. It seems the author didn't feel that a more mild, but italicized word would suffice to convey his thought.

When I read it, I thought "oh man! he nearly had an entirely squeaky-clean book... why this?"

But even at that moment--in that moment--I recognized his technique and I knew why. It didn't take away my disappointment though. I would rather have read a full page of explanation than the F-word, as effectively and fitting as it was. It's something that I despise in myself, when I feel quite strongly about something, I get quite inarticulate about it, and if I feel especially passionate about it, I will probably highlight my statements with some strong words. I don't like the fact that I have trained myself to revert to shock value to emphasize my position--it makes me feel totally inept with words (usually a bit after the conversation). I think most of the time it's because the choice words come to mind, and I search for an alternate, give up, and the go ahead and swear. That is evidence of my ineptitude. And the clincher is that it is my OWN fault, I've trained myself.

Now, as to the title of this particular post... since finishing my book, being somewhat irked (this time around) by the single use of strong language, I have been thinking on the analogy of the poo in the brownie. If you haven't heard it, it goes something like this (it's more of a visual aid.. but I'll try to paint it clearly for you here.)

Imagine you have been given a pan of brownies. Scrumptious Brownies. they smell like a Brownie-scented Glade Plug-In in Heaven might. You can see that they are the perfect consistency; a paper-thin caramelized crust on top, and moist and chewy fudge beneath.
You want to relish them entirely so you ask "what's in them?" The response comes: "Flour...Sugar...Eggs...Vanilla.. Cocoa powder, more sugar... Oh some Poo... whipped milk chocolate frosting, a hint of mint, some--"
"WOAH!" you interupt "did you say there's Poo in these?"
And now you must make a decision. "Do I really want to eat these brownies?"

What would you answer?

The answer is obvious. The delectable brownies have been ruined. Never mind who put it in there, or why... it's not something you're going to ingest. I think I have done the analogy justice here. Lemme know if I'm wrong.

Now, I want to take a step back and take a good look at this analogy.

1. The tray of brownies can represent anything at all. For my purpose, I will call it the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

2. The poo represents something that offends. In this case, foul language.

3. All of the other ingredients represent wholesomeness.

I hope you'll follow me on this, it may rub you the wrong way, but I think there's truth in it.

I have been considering whether the analogy is a strong one, or simply a logical fallacy. I have concluded that it is the latter.

You see, even though I've read Z/MM before, reading it opens my mind to so much that I tend to take for granted. It helps me to see things in a light that furthers my understanding of not only the concepts in the book, but of nearly everything around me. I have a renewed appreciation for many many things in my life. And, I would say that it helps me move toward an appreciation of the things in my life that I, for now, am not open to.

Having read this book just prior to starting school again, I feel ready to face the challenges of academia because I have been given perspective--scope. I can focus on the real goal and not fret the technicalities and routines.

In short, this book changes my life every time I read it. I guess I mentioned that last time around, it led me down a road that I assumed was headed for a new kind of enlightenment. In reality it was one of those seldom-traveled mountain roads that took me right back to square one. But what a journey it was! okay... I'll talk more on that later. Back to the topic at hand.

This book (I highly recommend it, but only when you are prepared to immerse yourself in it), is actually exploring the very topic we are addressing here: "Quality". I'm not exactly going to borrow the thesis of the book here, but I do want to state something about quality. Quality is NOT Perfection. Maybe it may be said that Perfection is the ultimate quality, but quality is not a measure of perfection, or this world would have no quality.

Sorry this is all so scatter-brained, this is just how my brain works.

Let's take the Poo analogy and summarize it.

"A tray of brownies looses its appeal to a person when its contents are made known to said individual, who has an internalized standard of wholesomeness".

Does this sound fair? If not, please submit a more fitting summary. I am not trying to use any trickery here. That, I believe, is the point of the analogy. But I submit to you that it assumes too much, and that a better analogy is in order. This analogy, this object lesson, assumes this:

A subject's (brownie's) wholesomeness (worth) is determined by the absence of unwholesomeness(poo).

Sounds fair. It sounded fair to me for a bit. But something about it doesn't work.
Let's take this same logic and apply it to something else...

"A person's goodness is determined by the absence of bad." Or, in other words, there is no such thing as "redeeming qualities" you are the sum of the bad. Now, you're probably thinking "does he really think he can use logic to justify eating Poo Brownies?" I assure you, that is not the point I want to make.

my point is, it isn't reasonable to assume that undesirable attributes ruin desirable attributes. They can, definitely, take away from the desireability of something, but it is not a given fact that they (undesirables) ruin the good.

That's why I think the analogy needs reworking. The quality brought to my life by Z/MM is not fecal browny. I won't allow the correlation to the Poo analogy. Is foul language, in my book (my own book, "personal values") at the level of "poo"? probably not. Is foul language Poo? Sure, I wont refute that. Is it possible to blot out a bad word in a book? Yes (more on this in a moment). Is it possible to remove poo from a batch of brownies? no, it is not(unless the poo is added on top, and not blended into the brownies, in which case, I suppose the question one must ask himself is "Am I comfortable eating decontaminated brownies?" .. for me, the considerations would be the size of the tray, the location where the poo had been, and the quality estimated quality of the brownies, considering their former proximity to poo).

So, we have an alternative to the initial Poo analogy, and that is one where the poo is not necessarily an ingredient of the brownies, but an undesirable addition to an otherwise perfectly good batch of brownies.

If we take away the poo, and all the frosting it came in contact with, we're left with a blotch in the icing that serves as a reminder of what used to be there, which affects the appeal of the brownies. Now to get back to the proposal of blotting out a bad word. You can take a sharpie marker and strike the foul language from a book, but any semi-intelligent person would know not only what the blot means, but(most likely) the particular word that has been stricken. Has the solution been effective? Not entirely. Is the poo gone? It might not be as simple as that. The ability for one to correlate a spot of patchy frosting to the removal of something entirely detestable leaves us with what I guess could be called "mental residue". The brownies could be entirely uncontaminated, but the knowledge of what was removed still remains.

My parents would often screen what we watched and read for this Poo. My mom would use a sharpie marker in books, and the mute button or fast forward on films. Music (since she hated it anyway) was simply banned. An example of removing the poo from the brownie: my mom took me and my brother to see Titanic in the theater. When the nude scene was due, she had us stand outside the theater doors while she monitored it for when it was okay for us to come back in. Turns out there was not a whole lot of history to be learned from the movie. But (and now everyone will know my secret) that was the film that initially sparked my interest in film making.

I think I jumped the gun on putting down my thoughts on this matter, I have just expended all of the energy I have on the subject, so when my thoughts are put in order, I will lack the gusto to rewrite this.

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