Sunday, December 03, 2006


I'm really starting to dislike driving. I've been learning with an instructor for about a year now (with a few long breaks), and it's all been generally OK up til recently.

What's changed is that I've been put on my parents' car insurance, so I can practice driving (with them supervising) at weekends and evenings. The problem is that the parental car behaves very differently from the instructor's car. The short version: it stalls a hell of a lot more easily.

Typically, it does this at roundabouts, and (in obedience to the inviolable dictates of Murphy's Law) when I have a long queue of assholes behind me beeping at me. Often, the pressure is just enough to make me respond instinctively, and I hammer the foot pedals in a fashion that, in my instructor's car, would cause major G-forces.

In my parent's car, it stalls me again.

By this point I'm somewhat freaked, but, being me, I still try to apply basic problem analysis - figuring out which thing I'm doing wrong. The problem is that, by this point, the number of things I'm doing wrong is so large that fault isolation is impossible. And typically the attempt to figure things out stalls me another four or five times.

Eventually I normally get it right (as much by fluke as anything), but by this point I'm mentally exhausted and sobbing with frustration. Remember how I said in the posts on geekhood that lack of control over my environment is a turn-off for me? Now compare that with lack of control over my own brain...

This situation is a fairly classic example of one of the most significant historical counterarguments to utilitarianism: what do you do when pleasure-seeking itself causes displeasure? Every step in my process for attempting to un-stall is at least vaguely sensible in the short term, but the overall effect is to really upset me.

The response to this counterargument is equally classic: if your pleasure-seeking is getting in the way of your pleasure, the fault is with the seeking not the goal. If you're tripping over your own feet, it's a sign that you're not thinking long-term enough.

I've come to the conclusion that I can best improve the Quality of my interaction with the other drivers by the paradoxical approach of not giving a damn about what they think. In future, I'll try not to get stressed out, not to let the honking horns and the worries about my own discourtesy push me over the edge into panic. Whilst in the long term I may be focused on making these people's lives easier, in the short term I'll be giving them a big metaphorical two fingers.

In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Pirsig draws a line between romantic and classic quality - the Quality of form versus the Quality of function. In this case, I've become far too focused on the poor romantic quality of ignoring the other drivers, thus ignoring the strong classical quality of this attitude as a means to getting the hell away from the roundabout. In a way, this is the same mistake that quacks and cranks and other non-reality-based individuals make - they base their long-term assessments ("I'll take homeopathy as my cancer treatment") on immediate stimuli ("I really don't like chemotherapy"). The result inevitably has overall poor Quality.

For me, that stops now.

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