Re: MD food for thought

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sat Sep 14 2002 - 19:23:25 BST


Once again, excellent observations and questions. And thank you for the quotes
on human rights.

You said:

>I don't think if you follow DQ that you thereby automatically become
>irrational. If you do become irrational as a result of following DQ, you fall
>back from the intellectual to the social or, more likely, the biological
>level (like the 60's Hippies). In any case, did you mean to leave the
>impression that postmodernism fosters and celebrates irrationality?

I think our view of irrationality is a little different. I think you are
arguing from a view of irrationality as the opposite of an absolute Reason. I
think. Here's why: rationality comes out of consensus in a historicist view.
That's why rationality changes over time and contexts. Pirsig talks like this
when he describes the (sometimes) inability of people to see DQ while its
happening. When Pirsig talks like this, and it is viewed from an historicist
position, all DQ is viewed as irrational until enough people decide to change
what counts as rational. Now, you are still using "irrational" in a
perjorative sense, while I'm just trying to describe how the
rational/irrational boundary would work. You seem to be arguing that anything
irrational is automatically bad (hence why I think you're using an absolute
Reason to balance it against), whereas I would argue that not all irrationality
is necessarily bad (some of it is, like in the case of eugenics, particularly
Hitlerian/Aryan eugenics). So, in the sense that I've just described,
postmodernism and Pirsig would foster and celebrate irrationality, in the sense
that they desire the proliferation of new metaphors or Dynamic Quality
(depending on what vocabulary you're using).

>As for the postmodern idea that rights and morality of other cultures
>past and present are relative and beyond criticism,

Ah, now this is a misunderstanding. I never said that cultures are beyond
criticism. Relativism is a strawman. As Rorty says, relativism "is the view
that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps any topic, is as good as every
other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative
freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an
important topic are equally good. The philosophers who get called
'relativists' are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such
opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought." ("Pragmatism, Relativism,
and Irrationalism") Rorty goes on to say that "if there were any relativists,
they would, of course, be easy to refute." A common refutation of relativism
is the claim that if you really believed it, you wouldn't be able to do
anything because you'd never be able to make a choice between A and B because
there is no difference that makes a difference between them.

However, I did not say this and Rorty does not believe this. I and most other
people can make the choice between A and B. A culture decides on matters of
morals and values according to its inherited traditions, a culture's final
vocabulary. From this we are able to say that the Greeks use of slavery was
bad, the Nazis extermination of Jews was evil, and Nietzsche's bashing of
democracy was pig-headed.

Now, Rorty then usually gets attacked as an ethnocentrist and Rorty
whole-heartedly agrees that he is and we all are. However, we in the west
(particularly America) are a particular kind of ethnocentrist: we are
ethnocentrists who despise ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is a closed shop,
reactionary-type mentality. Change is despised. Rorty says, however, that our
culture is better described as "anti-anti-ethnocentrism." He says, "We would
rather die than be ethnocentric, but ethnocentrism is precisely the conviction
that one would rather die than share certain beliefs." ("On ethnocentism: A
Reply to Clifford Geertz") So anti-ethnocentrism is part of our tradition, but
we're cought in the mudhole of thinking that this itself ethnocentric, so we
swing back to being anti-anti-ethnocentric, which poses the problem of becoming
little cultural, windowless monads that merely condescends the rest of the
world. Rorty argues, I think persuasively, that some cultures might be like
this, but that our's is not. We have a tradition of pluralism, a tradition of
openness. Our anti-anti-ethnocentism "does not say that we are trapped within
our monad or our language, but merely that the well-windowed monad we live in
is no more closely linked to the nature of humanity or the demands of
rationality than the relatively windowless monads which surround us."

So, when Pirsig says, "Cultures can be graded and judged morally according to
contribution to the evolution of life," I (and presumably Rorty) can only cheer
him on. Many traditions historically in the American culture have helped in
the evolution of life (liberalism, republicanism) and some have not (slavery,
supremacies of various types). Americans have been in the process of removing
these undesirable traditions. The removal process hinges on democracy, which
leads us to believe that democracy is fairly integral to the evolution of
life. Hence, we should feel pretty solid about the desire for democracies in
all nations.

Finally, you said:

> In fact, Matt, isn't it true (-: that Rorty would never accept Pirsig's major
> thesis that the world is a moral order? Isn't it true that postmodernists
> share the conviction that all morality is local, historical and socially
> constructed?

I think I would have to answer yes to both questions. I don't think Rorty
would personally accept Pirsig's Quality thesis. I think it would be too
metaphysical for him. However, that won't stop me from binding the two
together in an elucidating fashion. For instance, I think the Quality thesis
breaks down into a very simple, "everything makes choices." We know everything
makes choices and the patterns of these choices creates the contingent order in
the world today. When put this way, I think Rorty would find it palatable and
I think it is a point of contact between the two, a place to colligate them and
emphasize the pragmatic, historicist side of Pirsig, rather than the
systematic, Platonic, foundationalist side.

And yes, I would say it probably is true that most people who call themselves
or are called "postmodernists" (an, overall, very misleading term) share the
conviction that morality is local, historically and socially constructed.
However, when described in the manner I have above (and in past posts), I think
the perjorative sense of saying this is defused.


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