Being at the Front of the Train: Comprehending a Metaphysics of Quality

Perhaps Robert Pirsig’s work on the Metaphysics of Quality was one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th Century, and I include Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in that analysis.  He refined that metaphysics in only two books, one was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry in Values (1974), and the other was Lila: An Inquiry in Morals (1991).  Only a few very gifted individuals around the world have read and understood the first book written in 1971.  The book itself was a success, but practicing what one learned from it was far more difficult and many read it without being able to apply it to their lives. The 1991 book has an even more obscure audience—but is infinitely more complex and revelatory.  It is the work of genius without question, and tackles directly the problems we have in defining quality in any form.  I understood Pirsig easily—both books probably because I had a similar life experience as Pirsig as far as relationship to the outside world before electric shock pushed the core of his personality represented as Phaedrus deep within the author’s subconscious.  That is where he and I differ dramatically as I never have allowed myself to be abused the way he was by the static pattern system of an orthodox society.  I had one really good friend who was treated the way Pirsig was however, and I watched him go through the ordeal painfully.  However, my protection was my extreme rebelliousness, which preserved much of my youth for the benefit of my adulthood.  My work with bullwhips took me the rest of the way there and combined with the work of Ayn Rand put me in a special place that Pirsig didn’t have the advantage of.  It was hard for Pirsig to function as a genius in a world dedicated to static pattern commitment to systems defining quality as adherence to the pattern rather than intellectual assessment.  This is why I wrote the revelatory article about the ineffectiveness of Deming in business.  CLICK TO REVIEW.

Perhaps a decade from now I’ll write my own books about this Metaphysics of Quality. After all, I am in the middle of proving it applicable to modern society against the Deming addicts.  I think Deming’s work has been one of the great destroyers of capitalism instead of advancing quality, because quality is determined by a system of thought rather than a value judgment and this has afflicted perhaps 98% of the world into a sticky feet quandary of ineffectiveness.  I have been knocking on that Deming door for years looking for a way to break it down without destroying society, and I am presently undergoing that experiment.  The results will likely be reported in future books on the Metaphysics of Quality that I will write in my 50s an 60s that will be likely sequels Pirsig’s books only with an Aristotelian emphasis—instead of Plato.  Presently I am in the field with great opposition cast in my direction by those static pattern protectors of their own definitions of quality as defined by the statistician Deming.

Essentially the heart of Pirsig’s work is in his front of the train/back of the train analysis.  Deming is a back of the train guy, Pirsig is at the front.  CLICK HERE TO REVIEW—otherwise you will be lost dear reader.  There is no reason to rehash all that now for the sake of review.  This is a rather advanced article so the foundation understanding of the subject should be either read for the first time, or reviewed before proceeding.  Back of the train people are slow to act and think in a sluggish manner because they wait for analysis of the contents of the entire train before acting.  This is why our political system is in such a disastrous condition, because all of the Beltway politics is built around this back of the train positioning, intellectually.  Nothing is done before Deming types look statistically at all the data collected in a train and a consensus of action is built so a decision can be made.   However, this is extremely problematic because the trains we all ride through life are always moving, and decisions must be made far in advance to keep the train moving in the direction we desire.  With a long train especially, the front of the train is far ahead of the back of the train so by the time that those in the back analyze their data the decision points for the fate of the train have come and gone.  The right place to make decisions is at the front of the train, not the back.  Those in the back serve a function—a kind of retrospect analysis that can help with future decision-making, but they will not put the train on the right track.  So I won’t say they are useless, just ineffective in providing leadership.  They can tell you the score but they can’t tell you how to score.

Most of the world is crippled by this relationship and we are raised from little children to think from the back of the train.  We wait for politicians who are always late to the conclusions—because they wait for analysis of the train’s contents before speaking—to tell us how to conduct our lives which is a mistake.  We wait for poplar social magazines like People, Time, and US to instruct us how to live—again this is after the back of the train has reported the latest fashion trends and social priorities.  So we blindly accept a quality definition determined by analysis of where the train has been, but not where it’s going—and that sums up best the problems of our age.

I have an obsession with the leading edge of the great train.  For instance, before a very important meeting recently with very important people I was riding my motorcycle like I have everyday for the last 7 years.  Another driver ran into me randomly while I was sitting in traffic totaling my precious motorcycle with $10,000 in damage.  That in itself broke my heart and I was thinking about that as I evaded danger.  I had been watching the driver as I watch everyone while driving assuming always the worst, so before the crash, I did a dive roll off the motorcycle and ended up well out of danger before the crash.  Many looking at the crash from the police, witnesses sitting around me in traffic, and the insurance people assumed that because of the speed of the crash and where it occurred on my motorcycle that I had lost a leg, or that I should have.  To move so quickly out-of-the-way was not something that anybody could attribute to any known evasive action option.  All that they could say was that I was lucky.  But I wasn’t lucky; I was living at the front of the train of decision-making, and was well aware of the dangers around me.  So well before the driver carelessly ran into me destroying my precious motorcycle I was out of danger’s grasp before the occurrence had a chance to claim a victim.  That is the difference between being at the front of the train with our daily lives and at the back.  The back of the train—the Deming approach would have been to sit there, get hit and study the data so that new rules and regulations could be created to prevent the accident in the future.  I would have lost my leg; probably my life and much more would have been lost because of my vacancy.  But, as it turned out, I walked away and still made it to my meeting and executed the tasks of that day the way I needed to, without any excuses.  That is because I live at the front of the train and I climb out on that leading edge as far as I can.

Most people by nature are back of the train types.  Those who aren’t that way naturally, become that way from improper instruction from their childhoods. When a child asks “why” and the instructor says, “because I say so,” the poor child is being put at the back of the train of thought.  By the time they get to 8 or 9 years of age, they will just accept the static patterns of their society as reported from the back of the train and trust that system even to their own demise.  It’s a very sad condition.  But if the child is taught to make decisions from the front of the train based on their observed reality, then the answer might be, “because you can see that there are rocks across the tracks ahead and that we have to switch lanes before getting there, otherwise we’ll crash.”

As I said, I put this up now as a way to maybe help one or two people improve their lives.  I’ll do more with it later after I prove out some more concepts against the theater of reality, but until then this will have to do.  If you want to improve your life immediately, get out of the back of the train and come up to the front.  There’s plenty of room, and it’s much more comfortable.  All decisions in life should be made in the front, not the back. Because by the time the information gets to those analysis driven Deming types, the danger is already history, and nobody did anything to avert from it.  Understanding that is the key to success in life in every field.  Master that, and you will master the universe.

I’m just saying…………………………………….

Rich Hoffman


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I write, and write, and write. And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. I have too many hobbies. I read too many books and I don't sleep. There's just too much life to be lived to waste it for even a second.

4 thoughts on “Being at the Front of the Train: Comprehending a Metaphysics of Quality”

  1. Another point can be made that those at the front of the train have to take criticism. Those people at the back of the train usually criticize those that are smarter. They reject facts and truth vs lies told by their incompetent leaders. In my opinion, anyone that voted for BHO has been stuck in the back of the train for their entire life. These people are the masses that fall in line. They will be the same people that “trust” the liars in charge. The front of the train will always be occupied by the “thinkers.” The people that reject the easy road for the hard road to truth. I, for one, choose not to live in fantasyland. It is far better to accept reality and deal with it.


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