Robert M. Pirsig: 1928-2017

Robert Pirsig died a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t big news. I can imagine that the LAST thing “the powers that be” would want is a resurgence in sales of Pirsig’s books.

When I broke down and bought a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the book was still relatively new. I was then, as now, a free-thinker. In those days (1977) being a free-thinker on a U.S. college campus meant being a follower of Ayn Rand and believing in something called “Objectivism.”

I caught a LOT of heat due to this, because 1977 was right in the middle of the counterculture movement in America. It may have started in San Francisco in 1965, but it really didn’t get rolling in the rest of the country until about 1970 and it was in full bloom from then until about 1980. The decade of the seventies were a decade of flower power on American campuses.

I rejected this. Being a nerd of mind-boggling stereotypicality (see?) I wore my button-down shirts and voted for Gerald Ford with pride. I was conservative, but, in true nerdy fashion, I was determined to be “fair minded” and listen to any reasonable argument from the opposition. William F. Buckley was a favorite of mine.

Then, one day, my “fair mindedness” caught up with me. I decided to buy a copy of the book that I was certain contained nothing but nonsense authored by an LSD freak–Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Hell, the cover was PINK!!

Boy was I wrong. Pirsig was a bigger nerd than I am (and that’s saying something). His reasoning was unassailable. His conclusions–rock solid. Pirsig taught me about something called “empiricism” and something called “idealism” and lot of other big words. I spent the next decade, mostly in the U.S. Air Force, trying to figure out where Pirisig was wrong. By 1991 I had dropped out of the military trip, bought his second book Lila and quit trying to fight the flow.

Pirsig was smarter than I’ll ever be. He took a flame thrower to my dumb ideas and was really nice about it. He admitted that he didn’t know the answers, but then again, neither did Aristotle. And certainly not Ayn Rand. I owe a lot of who I am to Pirsig. I even wrote a screenplay adaptation of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. So, if you, like, know Robert Redford, who whoever has the movie rights to the book–well, you know, just sayin’.

I have a screenplay. It’s good. Really.

Pirsig’s genius will not be eclipsed in our lifetime. He wrote about the reality of being way too smart for your own good. But mostly, he wrote about one of the primary issues of our time. The difference between being “right” and being “good.” It’s not the battle between “right” and “wrong” or between “good” and “evil” that will determine the fate of our world. It’s the battle between “right” and “good.”

Here’s an example.

This is the instruction sheet for my Heller Ouragan. It doesn’t say to glue the wings together and THEN glue the assembly to the fuselage, BUT THAT’S WHAT MOST MODELERS DO because that’s what the damned instructions always tell you to do.

That’s the “right” way. It’s the traditional way. It’s, um. right.

But it’s no good. Here is the good way.

You glue the wings “tops” to the fuselage, THEN let it dry good and solid, THEN glue the fuselage halves together (after doing the cockpit, landing gear, engine, etc.) and THEN (and only THEN) glue the lower wing part in place.

This eliminates the wing root gap. I know this. All the helpful souls who dog-piled on me to remind me that I didn’t invent this method (I did, but I didn’t invent it FIRST–SHEESH!) know this. Everybody knows this is a better way.

But I still see people struggle with doing it the “right” way– leaving a huge gap at the wing root that is difficult to fill and sand. Why? Why are human being so dedicated to being right instead of good?

Read Pirsig and find out.

Bob Pirsig. American genius. 1928-2017.

See you soon, brother.

3 Replies to “Robert M. Pirsig: 1928-2017”

  1. I will have to try this out. I have always done it the ‘right’ way, but with your way I have one query; Is it easy to get the right angle? I can see myself gluing the wing tops on and discovering I have a slight incorrect angle on one (or both) sides and having the tops not sit flush with the bottoms. Has this ever happened to you Dan?

    1. One thing I didn’t mention is that (fortunately) a typical kit has a wing root that “works.” The wing mates to the root properly if you attach it properly. On this Ouragan, I used the Micro Weld to attach it. This gave me a long period of time to adjust, look at in different light, then adjust again. Micro Weld dries slow and remains flexible. But putting it together initially is a bit of job. You give both surfaces several coats of the cement, then gently press them together, then let it “set” for an hour or two using a pencil or something to prop it up. Then go back and adjust the fit. It works on most kits. I can even use super glue on some kits when I’m in a hurry and the fit is easy to do. Some kits are more challenging than others– but a clean join USUALLY means a good fit.

      But, in rare cases, it just won’t work. The 1/72 Airfix FW 109D is like this. Can’t attach the wing to the root because it’s not made that way. It’s actually MADE to be filled and sanded. Made me so mad I threw the kit in the trash. On new Tamiya or Fine Molds kits I don’t do it this way. But on all others–I do if I can. The new Airfix Bf-109E in 1/72 is a case in point for another reason. Instead of too much gap there is not enough! Only after test fitting the wings did I see that there was no dihedral, and I had to remove a tiny bit from the wing roots. With that soft plastic it was hard to get it right.

  2. Very helpful riff on the very common wing root problem. Thanks.

    I’d like to put forward an Author and two books I have read. The Author is Gregory David Roberts, an Australian with True Grit and Zen, and a very strong mind. Look him up, read him, and you will be amazed and graced.
    The books are Shantaram and The Mountain Shadow. In the culmination of Shantaram the author writes about an expedition through the remotest mountains of Afghanistan on horseback and foot, guided by a homicidally insane man, made that way by the Russians and Afghan army wiping out his village to the last man, woman, child and dog. He alone buried every last one of them.
    A lot of the spiritual in the books is the question of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Mountain Shadow is ultimately about redemption and true love. Both books are based on the Authors years in Bombay after escaping from prison in Australia, and ending his Heroin addiction.

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