Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush as the Budweiser Beercan Shimstock

There's this great bit in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig tries to assist a friend who has a problem with his shiny new BMW motorcycle. The problem, handlebars that move in the adjustment clamps no matter how tightly the clamps are tightened, is trivial to fix, he says. The handle bars are just a mite too narrow, and need to be shimmed out with some shimstock, or strips of thin metal. By wrapping the strips around the handlebars under the clamps, the handlebar thickness will be increased, and the clamps will be able to grip properly.

Great, says the friend. Shall I call BMW to get some shimstock?

No need, says the author. I happen to have an empty Budweiser beercan here in my workshop. I'll cut a few strips out of it with tinsnips, and you'll have your shimstock!

Oh, says the friend, clearly appalled at the idea. Um, well, actually, you know, the handlebars aren't that bad. I can live with it a bit longer. Maybe I'll take the bike to BMW next week. And he rides off.

So for a certain type of person, the aesthetic of a solution is far more important than whether the solution works. It has to look and feel right. It has to fit in with preconcieved ideas about appropriateness. If it doesn't, then it's as if the solution doesn't really exist. It's not really available: the fact that it works is of theoretical import only.

I think this may be one of the many reasons behind the strangely high level of loathing that many people have for George W Bush in the role of President of the United States of America. Mr Bush has clearly succeeded in being elected President not once, but twice. Yet to many he is not aesthetically appropriate for the role. He would never be cast as the President in a movie. He isn't polished, urbane, sophisticated, or particularly well-spoken. He doesn't have a commanding, magisterial, or regal manner.

Now none of this is in any practical sense, important. It makes no difference to his effectiveness as President. But none of this matters to those who are offended by him, because to them he should never even have been considered. They shout at the red-staters: what were you thinking? He wasn't even an option! He had no business even presenting himself, such is his manifest unsuitability. His candidacy, in practical terms, did not exist! And you idiots went and voted for him! Twice!

It's like they're forced to look at that Budweiser beercan shimstock every time they take the motorcycle out for a spin, and it reminds them that the machine has now been completely degraded and contaminated, its beautiful aesthetics ruined by a bit of inappropriately sourced metal. And the fact that it now works as it was designed to, is just salt in the wound.


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