From: David Buchanan (DBuchanan@ClassicalRadio.org)
Date: Sun Jul 11 2004 - 02:19:11 BST
Rick and all focusers:
Have you ever heard that old Graham Parsons tune, "100 Years From Now"?
From LILA Chapter 24:
"The end of the twentieth century in America seems to be an intellectual,
social and economic rust-belt, a whole society that has given up on Dynamic
improvement and is slowly trying to slip back to Victorianism, the last
I don't think Pirsig's quote is fully aimed at Republicans. Given the time
LILA was published (1991), and the fact the he addresses his comments to
"the end" of the 20th century, one may believe (as DMB does) that he's
referring to the social landscape of the Reagan-Bush I years (1981-1992).
He's not specific as to what he means by "the end" so I guess it's possible.
But I think he's including at least the administrations of Carter, Ford, and
Nixon as well. The passage is a comment on the fallout from the Hippie
movements that stretch back to the 60s, and he talks just a page earlier
about Hubert Humphrey and the 'intellectual' first half of the 20th century,
which all suggests that this something that is rooted at least as far back
as Humphrey's run for president (he was the democratic candidate in 1968).
Did I give you the impression that I think the quote is about the
Republicans, and specifically the Reagan administration? That's certainly
not what I was TRYING to say. In fact, I had specifically denied such a
narrow view by asserting that Reagan's "election and enormous popularity was
JUST ONE EXPRESSION of the culture slipping back to Victorianism". In any
case, I would guess that the end of the century would include anything AFTER
the hippies faded away, after the last large-scale moral movement failed.
(Maybe we shouldn't even try to be exact about the movements of history.)
Since the quote is describing the state of things at the end of the 20th
century, I think we have to look at it in the context of the entire century.
Its a big-picture kind of statement, don't you think? As I put it last time,
"if we look at the entire arch of the 20th century as Pirsig describes it"
we can see that it was long struggle to improve upon Victorian culture,
which was dominated by social level values. The struggle between social and
intellectual values, Pirsig says, is the theme-song of the 20th century,
days of evolutionary transformation as profound as the day the first fish
left the water behind. A quote about giving up, slipping back and rusting
out seems profoundly sad in that context, don't you think?
However, I also don't think it's likely that he was saying that liberal
influences were the culprit. Just a page earlier he talks of the social
dilemma in which society couldn't liberalize because it would just get more
hippies and also couldn't call for more social restraint because then it
would just get more neo-Victorian conservatives. This, I believe, is what
he's lamenting. Not hippies or conservatives, but EXTREMISTS. Those with
ideological values so rigid and uncompromising that they prevent society as
a whole from making evaluations based on quality (like the monkey with his
hand stuck in the coconut). Through force or filibuster, the extremists can
always find a way to substitute their dogmas for fresh evaluations or to at
least preventing others from doing so.
Extremists? I don't see it that way at all. I think he's talking about the
main currents in the culture. Let's put it on the table. The quote takes a
broad view of the century and is quite relevant to our elected question. I
also think it describes how the "end" of the century began....
"By the end of the '60s the intellectualism of the '20s found itself in an
impossible trap. If it continued to advocate freedom from Victorian social
restraint, all it would get was more Hippies, who were really just carrying
its anti-Victorianism to an extreme. If, on the other hand, it advocated
more constructive social conformity in opposition to the Hippies, all it
would get was more Victorians, in the form of the reactionary right.
This political whip-saw was invincible, and in 1968 it cut down one of the
last of the great intellectual liberal leaders of the New Deal Period. 'I've
seen enough of this,' Humphrey exclaimed at the disasterous 1968 Democratic
National convention, 'I've seen far too much of it!' But he had no
explanation for it and no remedy and neither did anyone else. The great
intellectual revolution of the first half of the 20th century, the dream of
a 'Great Society' made humane by man's intellect, was killed, hoist on its
own petard of freedom from social restraint."
If I may suppliment this passge with a brief sketch, I'd begin with the
cultural shift that occured after world war one. Wilson's League of Nations,
flapppers, booze, jazz, cars, movies, radio, planes and the many other
manifestations of anti-Victorianism marked the "roaring" '20s. The New Deal
era begins in the '30s and continues right through world war two and beyond.
The fifties gave us a mouthful of technological rabbit, which gave us the
Thanks to Anthony McWatt, we have Pirsig speaking to Tim Wilson and David
Chernick for CBC Radio's "New Ideas" Series, 1975:
'I was very sympathetic to the rebellion of the Sixties because I'd gone
through a very similar rebellion [in the Fifties]. My father couldn't
understand what it was that made me insist; well, not insist, but feel that
I had to get out of this country or go crazy. It - the whole idea - this was
back in 1950 - the whole idea that one should become another Ronald Reagan
and move up ahead - not Ronald Reagan himself but the roles that he played
as the all-American good guy; lives the happy, suburban life - was so
expected of people that anyone who felt that was inadequate was regarded as
suspicious, or at least a person with deep personal problems. The fact that
the problems might be the problems of the culture rather than the problems
of the individual would never have dawned on anybody back in the Fifties.'
Which brings to the 70's, when Pirsig made the comments above and the ones
below From ZAMM, Chapter 10:
"The cause of our current social crises, he would have said, is a genetic
defect within the nature of reason itself. And until this genetic defect is
cleared, the crises will continue. Our current modes of rationality are not
moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and
further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have
worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they
will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no
longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down
to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for
what it really is... emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and
spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be
at for a long time to come."
dmb finishes making the point:
Extremists? No, I think he's talking about "a genetic defect within the
nature of reason itself", he's talking about Reagan's all-American suburban
life, and about major political parties, their leaders, and their policies,
not about extremists. He's tallking about the heart and soul of what America
is dealing with right now and has been struggling with for at least a
hundred years. I'd say it pretty much defines the main streams of American
culture. He's referring to the whole society and the conflicts and
confusions about values that take place within it, don't you think?
.................................It's not a politically partisan comment
intended to glorify one set of political beliefs over another, rather, it's
a comment on the entirety of the subjective world (subjective here being
used as Pirsig's shorthand for social + intellectual). He's saying that
social and intellectual patterns are failing so we've fallen back onto the
use of force (though again, I think this is all just more soup).
No, he's not trying to "glorify" any political beliefs, but his descriptions
of the 20th century's struggles certainly clarify the various sets of
beliefs in terms of social and intellectual values. And that's one of his
main points isn't it? Is he not saying that the intellect's "genetic defect"
has led a "paralyzing confusion" that "dominates all thoughts about morality
and society totay"? Yes, I think he's saying that reason itself is not only
emotionally hollow and spiritually empty, but also lacked the ability to
distinquish between social and intellectual values, both of which were seen
as properties of biological man. Its this confusion of levels that doomed
the intellectuals of the '20s, who attacked social values blindly, and what
doomed the Hippies of the '60s, who rejected static social AND intellectual
values in favor of the Dynamic, but who ultimately confused that with mere
biological values. And so if this confusion is the problem, then
unconfusinating it is the most direct solution...
"The MOQ suggests that the social chaos of the 20th century can be relieved
by going back to this point of departure and re-evaluating the path taken
from it. It says it is immoral for intellect to be dominated by society for
the same reasons it is immoral for children to be dominated by their
parents. But that doesn't mean that children should assassinate their
parents, and it doesn't mean intellectuals should assassinate society.
Intellect can support static patterns of society without fear of domination
by carefully distinguishing those moral issues that social-biological from
those that are intellectual-social and making sure there is no encroachment
Apologies for the length and thanks for your time,
MOQ.ORG - http://www.moq.org
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