RE: MD Structuralism in Pirsig

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sat May 17 2003 - 21:00:28 BST

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    Steve, Matt and all MOQers:

    Steve asked Matt:
    Do you think that there is anywhere to get to? Do you think there are
    higher and lower levels of awareness? Higher and lower levels of cognitive
    ability? Higher and lower stages of moral development? Etc?

    Steve asked Matt:
    Do you personally find any use for the idea of transcendence? I think what
    makes me cringe is the sense that you don't see any perspective as better or
    worse than any other. It's the apparent lack of possibility of ascent in
    your philosophy that bothers me. ... You say that you don't say that but in
    your explanations I read you saying it again.

    dmb says:
    I'm not really sure what Matt was trying to say with the Geertz quote or why
    Levi Strauss should send shivers, but it sure prompted some interesting
    questions from Steve. And I'm glad that the topic of anthropology has been
    raised because I've been thinking about it lately. Specifically, I was
    thinking about what Pirsig said about the political role of "objectivity" in
    anthropology. I thought the idea of political struggle might relate to what
    were seeing in our own time. As is widely known, the various forms of
    postmodern thought are being used as a political weapon, as a means to
    expose, criticize and otherwise dismantle race and gender based hierarchies.
    Clearly, Matt is no political activist, but as Steve's questions
    demonstrate, its pretty easy to read him as generally holding the same sort
    of anti-hierarchical position.

    Side note: As I understand it, the Levi-Straussian kind of structuralism was
    a school of anthropology vaguely based on a linguistic theory of the same
    name. Its not a metaphysical term in that sense, nor does it refer to a
    hierarchy. Now back to our topic....

    Pirsig in chapter 22 of Lila:
    He saw that during the early decades of this century anthropology's
    unassailable Olympian "objectivity" had had some very partisan cultural
    roots of its own. It had been a political tool with which to defeat the
    Victorians and their system of social values.

    These books (Benedict's PATTERNS OF CULTURE and Mead's COMING OF AGE IN
    SAMOA.)were legitimate anthropological documents but they weres also
    political tracts in the new shift from social to intellectual dominance,...

    The cultural relativism became popular because it was a ferocious instrument
    for the dominance of intellect over society.

    dmb continues:
    Much could be said about these passages, but again I'm thinking about them
    with respect to postmodernism. It seems that the pomos are attacking
    Victorian social values too, which still exist today in the form of
    conservative and reactionary ideologies. Its no accident that Catharine
    McKinnon and Phyllis Schlafley are on opposite sides in the culture war,
    just to site one of a million examples in the war between 3rd and 4th level
    values. Likewise, when talk radio hosts make fun of the politically correct
    or complain about campus speach codes, this is a case of social and
    intellectual values in political conflict. Its the same battle Pirsig
    describes througout the book. This same battle manifests itself in zillions
    of ways and even in this forum. Its not a problem if intellectuals beat up
    on the Victorians, so much that the intellectuals keep wanting to replace
    the views of old-fashioned church bigots with a defective view. I think
    Pirsig's criticisms of SOM's amorality can equally be applied to
    postmodernism. It is equally nihilistic with repect to social values, which
    are regarded as an arbitrary construction and such. I think pomo has this
    same defect as SOM, and its no accident that Rorty is basically a
    materialist, a mind-brain reductionist. This is just the kind of thing
    classical SOM was bound to produce, a direct descendent of what Pirsig seeks
    to overturn.

    Pirsig from chapter 22:
    Now, it should be stated at this point that the MOQ SUPPORTS this dominance
    of intellect over society, It says intellect is a higher form of evolution
    than society; therefore, it is a more moral level than society. It is better
    for an idea to destroy a sociiety than it is for a society to destroy an
    idea. But having said this, the MOQ goes on to say that science, the
    intellectual patterns that has been appointed to take over society has a
    defect in it. The defect is that subject-object science has no provision for

    Thanks for your time,

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