“Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word uttered to us might be sufficient to change the course of our lives. But if we don’t have enough personal power, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed to us and that revelation won’t make a damn bit of difference.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality on: Is Trump Evil?


I don’t know that there is any

A recent interaction with David on Twitter brought up the question Is Trump Evil?

David is making a great effort to present what Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality is and I have dedicated a section of my site to Pirsig’s Book Lila: In Inquiry into Morals.

While I generally agree with David about the view on Trump I have a reservation about the “Evil” conclusion.

David and I connected via email and started a debate chat … and with his permission I’ve moved the conversation from email to here so that it can unfold and be available to others. Most of the content will therefor be found in the comment thread below.



This entry was posted in inside, Quality. You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours


  1. Posted May 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Yes – I think that the actions of Trump are immoral and the beautiful thing about the MOQ is that he doesn’t need to be some amazing academic to know this.

    Everyone knows what quality is. It is true that some would find it hard to appreciate high intellectual quality however the ability to appreciate the general beauty of intellectual quality is not. This is because the rules of logic aren’t impossible to understand – any person with half a brain can be taught basic logic and make the inference that this logic is what creates much of our technological world. From this it’s also not impossible, in fact very easy, to see when something is being done in the name of power and when it isn’t. Again, you don’t need to be some amazing scientist to understand this. Everyone beyond a very young age experiences and understands this distinction.

    What the MOQ beautifully and logically shows, unlike our current metaphysical understanding, is that there is a moral choice being made by Trump and his followers here. When they choose to follow power, instead of using the logical rules of intellect, they are being evil and immoral. This isn’t true just for those who understand the MOQ like us, but for all people and things, everywhere.


    • Posted May 17, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      First, generally speaking I am in agreement with you. However, there is a subtle aspect here which I wish to zoom in on.

      Can you recall anywhere in Lila a reference to “Evil”? I cannot.

      I agree that Trump and his followers are making (poor) moral choices. Apparently, you and I would make different choices because as you frame it, their choices are immoral … and hence your conclusion they are immoral. However I believe that a flaw in your argument is that Trump is not you, and you are not Trump.

      Why do you believe that you make moral choices and Trump makes immoral ones?
      Why do you notassume that Trump makes moral choices within his grasp of morality?
      Why are you a “good” person while Trump is an “evil” one?

      “Evil” is a conclusion that concerns me. What can you do about evil?
      “Stupidity” (as in under-developed intellect) is actionable … education!

      For another perspective on this dilemma I would refer you to Pirsig’s discussion about insanity:

      “the insane person is running a private unapproved film which he happens to like better than the current cultural one. If you want him to run the film everyone else is seeing, the solution would be to find ways to prove to him that it would be valuable to do so.”


      Trump is not evil. Trump represents an ironic combination of patterns. He seems to be mostly outdated / primitive static patterns. A small part of him seems to be dynamic – the part that is calling out the hypocrisy and helplessness of our existing social and governmental structures.

      As for Trump’s followers … I would not bundle them with him. I believe many of them are dominated by social patterns and many are on the brink of domination by biological patterns. One of the best I’ve encountered on this is here: The Unnecessariat
      We are privileged to be able to have this conversation. I believe that we (the privileged and under-privileged) are in this predicament togetherbecause we (the privileged) have failed to deal with systemic problems that have demolished their (the less privileged) lives.

      • Posted May 18, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Actually I can cheat re ‘evil’ in Lila and search a pdf I have of the book. There are in fact many references to this. The key one I’m thinking of is at end of Chapter 13:

        “Morality is not a simple set of rules. It’s a very complex struggle of conflicting patterns of values. This conflict is the residue of evolution. As new patterns evolve they come into conflict with old ones. Each stage of evolution creates in its wake a wash of problems. It’s out of this struggle between conflicting static patterns that the concepts of good and evil arise. Thus, the evil of disease which the doctor is absolutely morally committed to stop is not an evil at all within the germ’s lower static pattern of morality. The germ is making a moral effort to stave off its own destruction by lower-level inorganic forces of evil.”

        And here’s another one on the Victorians who were a mostly social culture:

        “[Victorian morality] – the social code. Phaedrus thought that code was good enough as far as it went, but it really didn’t go anywhere. It didn’t know its origins and it didn’t know its own destinations, and not knowing them it had to be exactly what it was: hopelessly static, hopelessly stupid, a form of evil in itself.”

        And so what’s so great about the MOQ is that we no longer have to worry about whether someones ‘experience’ is different. We all experience quality and it’s something we all know and true for all people and things, everywhere:

        “.But the patient has moral precedence because he’s at a higher level of evolution. Taken by itself that seems obvious enough. But what’s not so obvious is that, given a value- centered Metaphysics of Quality, it is absolutely, scientifically moral for a doctor to prefer the patient. This is not just an arbitrary social convention that should apply to some doctors but not to all doctors, or to some cultures but not all cultures. It’s true for all people at all time, now and forever, a moral pattern of reality as real as H2O. We’re at last dealing with morals on the basis of reason. We can now deduce codes based on evolution that analyze moral arguments with greater precision than before.” (Start of Chapter 13)

        So to answer your questions:

        Why do you believe that you make moral choices and Trump makes immoral ones? – Actually I don’t believe I always make moral choices – mistakes are made of course. But what I do know for sure is that when Trump follows power over the option of a good idea – he’s being evil and immoral.

        Why do you not assume that Trump makes moral choices within his grasp of morality? – Because as Pirsig describes – our experience of value is as real as H2O. Trump experiences the same values we do – he just makes different, immoral, choices. Does he prefer power because of the culture and family environment in which he was raised? Most certainly the static quality of his life shows a history of this bias. But that doesn’t make the choices any less immoral. He has a choice – he is free to follow Dynamic Quality – and he knows better..

        Why are you a “good” person while Trump is an “evil” one? – I don’t think that I am only good and Trump is only evil. Of course, I make mistakes, and of course, there are decisions Trump makes in his life that are good. But far too often than not Trump sides with power for himself over a good idea that will benefit others when he makes a decision. That’s evil.

        Great question here too:

        ‘”Evil” is a conclusion that concerns me. What can you do about evil?
        “Stupidity” (as in under-developed intellect) is actionable … education!’

        To which I answer that evil can make a better decision and not be evil. Life isn’t binary once and forever. It’s an evolving battle between good and evil. Good people can be bad and vice versa.

        Yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Trumps supporters too. A great person who follows the ‘other half’ is @Chris_arnade on twitter. When you’re down on your luck you’ll just about take anything to get out of it – I can sympathise with that. But some choices are better than others and it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re following or celebrating power over a good idea, then that’s evil.

        “We are privileged to be able to have this conversation. I believe that we (the privileged and under-privileged) are in this predicament together because we (the privileged) have failed to deal with systemic problems that have demolished their (the less privileged) lives. “

        Yes I agree with that but sadly the view that we’re in it together isn’t the one commonly held amongst those in power in USA. Using the logicof the MOQ however, it’s shown that it’s only moral to care for the physical wellbeing of your fellow citizens over the evil of disease. It’s only moral that you support your fellow citizens right to assembly, vote, and mostly speak what they like in the name of intellectual freedom. These are moral choices and it’s only right that we have an intellectual and logical Metaphysics that supports what’s right! What a time to be alive and experience the early days of this great creation 🙂

        • Posted May 25, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          All the examples that you’ve given are consistent in that “evil” is exemplified in the relationship between two different tiers of morality. The doctor-germ example speaks to the relationship between social & biological patterns. The victorian example speaks to the relationship between intellectual & social patterns.

          This, in a way, goes to the heart of the matter. When you and I speak about Trump, I feel that we are applying a subtly incorrect assumption. That because he is human and capable of intellectual thought he must be able to witness the MoQ (which is an intellectual construct) and interpret the world through it.

          What I am suggesting is (and I DO NOT mean this in a derogatory way) that Trump is more like an animal than a developed human being. I do not expect him to have an advanced understading of morality much more then my dog would.

          When you say “our experience of value is as real as H2O” … who is this “our” that you speak of? you and I and Trump and my dog will all jump off a hot stove. But we will not all able to make moral choices.

          When I was thinking about this comment, I thought about Trump as a creature of social patterns but I couldn’t even latch that confidently. Again, this is not personal against him. I think that because of the long moral stagnation that we are in, that our social patterns are less evolved then they could have been. I feel that the animal and natural world can provide examples of social patterns that are more evolved than ours.

          Is a pack of wolves better organized than the pack that surrounds Trump? How about a group of dolphins?

          I believe that because we have been morally crippled for some time, that both our social and intellectual development have been hampered. As Daniel Schmachtenberger says – the cells in our body are better organized socially then we are … humanity is still basically a bunch of people bumping into each other … we have not yet found good ways to coordinate as a species on this planet: http://iamronen.com/blog/2017/02/19/emergence-daniel-schmachtenberger/

          Personally, to see the world through the lens of Metaphysics of Quality I’ve had to do some unlearning, to reject some new learning and to learn new thngs. When I speak of privilege I am thinking of the time, space, education, conditions and personal tendency to walk this path.

          • Posted May 27, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            You’re right – our point of difference appears to be around the distinction between biological/social and intellectual values. But as a guide I find Pirsig’s words in his letter to Paul Turner quite good at making these distinctions clear:


            By Pirsig’s definition – whilst Trump may not indeed be an Intellectual – he is still capable of using intellect. And this is where I think there is beauty in the MOQ where it makes it clear that Trump is all social level. Yes – Dolphins, like the higher primates, potentially do indeed exhibit social level values but I can assure you the people around Trump are doing so because of his social level standing and not his physical presence (like a wolf). Trump is all about social level power..

            I think the MOQ can be really beautifully explicit about exactly what is hampering our morality; Large struggles of morality are always between different moral levels. And the struggle we’re living through now is between society and intellect. As Pirsig writes:

            “Biology beat death billions of years ago. Society beat biology thousands of years ago. But intellect and society are still fighting it out.”

            But- you might say – ‘It seems as though society is really struggling right now as well’. But I think it’s not society but our culture (social and intellectual patterns combined) that’s suffering. Social values are rising at the moment at the expense of intellectual values. Intellectual neoliberal values have left the under-educated behind. As a result – the under-educated are angry and they don’t know of a value based Metaphysics which can point them in the right direction. Instead they’re going in the direction they know best – authoritarian social values.

            All things good however – our culture should support society in it’s struggle against biology but support intellectual values in all other instances! In other words – intellect should guide society – not have society destroy intellect (and devolve our shared culture in the process). This is what Trump and his social, authoritarian values are doing and the MOQ uniquely shows exactly how they’re immoral!

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