Re: MD Is Morality Relative? (some comments)

From: Arlo Bensinger (
Date: Thu Dec 09 2004 - 17:01:32 GMT

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    This got a bit lengthy, my apologies... :-)

    I'd like to add some comments to this discussion, so this is not intended
    to be a full response. I do have to say, I initially did not get respond
    because I took the question to be disingenous. That is, the question "until
    the MOQ is better understood, what is the best source of morality for a
    nation?" was just an attempt at a rhetorical "trap" that would allow Platt
    to propose (as his question intimates), following christian morality is the
    next best thing to a MOQ-based morality, until the MOQ is understood.
    (Perhaps I am wrong)

    Indeed, the question itself is somewhat misleading as it implies that
    nations can exhibit monolithic "morality" based simply on a forced
    "nationalistic" moral code. As we've seen, the theocracies of Europe in the
    Middle Ages and around the globe today exhibit no more "morality" than the
    autocracies so often used by some as examples of "evil secularism".

    Also, Platt's premise, I'm sure, stems from Pirsig's statement that the
    Intellectually governed societies (which are morally superior to socially
    guided ones) closed the door on DQ and thus stifled themselves.The question
    then becomes, does Pirsig (or anyone) advocate we then close the door on
    ALL Intellectual governance and allow only social-level guidance of
    society, "until such a time as MOQ is understood by all individuals?"

    As with all these arguments, there is always only two ways out in the
    dialogue (recall the left or right horns of the bull) one is to propose a
    fully Intellectually-governed society and deal with continual references to
    Stalin and Pol Pot (as if these were Intellectually governed societies), or
    propose full support for a socially-governed society and deal with what
    static social patterns should be allowed dominance. This dichotomy is an
    illusion that should be rejected upfront.

    Based on Pirsig, I see no evidence that the Intellect should be completely
    disjoined from its morally superiour role in governing society. What I see
    is the lesson that Intellectual governance, JUST LIKE its morally inferior
    counterpart social-guidance, can inadvertanly (or deliberately) neglect DQ.
    The society of the Brujo, for example, had strict static-social patterns
    that stifled DQ (the fact that of the entire population of the tribe, only
    the one lone individual was able to "break free" and bring about
    DQ-inspired change bears this out).

    There are several problems, as well, that need to be addressed with this
    line of dichotomous thinking.

    First and foremost is the implied notion that America was never governed by
    people "reasoning Intellectually" (until 2000, at least, this is false).
    The "free market" (in ideal, and not "American" in origin) was a product of
    enlightenment thinking, not of static religious patterns, or theology, or
    other social patterns. "Representative government" is a product of
    Intellectual guidance. The planned separation of church and state is a
    result of "Intellectual guidance". America is not different from the "dull,
    grey" cities of the Intellectual planners by contrast, it is different only
    in degree (and, this degree varies depending on the "arena", greater in
    some areas, less in others).

    The second implied notion is that America, in contrast to the "dull grey"
    cities, does nothing to stifle DQ. This places the entire realm of DQ in
    the realm of the business markets. And it ignores that the marketplace is
    only one realm where DQ can be stifled. Thus, simply by virtue of their
    economic markets, "nations" can be categorically placed as "DQ" and
    non-"DQ". Here I believe is one of the dialogic holds capitalism has on the
    current discourse, it places the economic "market" as the supreme arbiter
    of Quality.

    Third is the conflation of all the worlds cities into either "dull and
    grey" or "American". Certainly the cities of the socialist block countries
    (although I could certainly argue, and would do so, that these were simply
    autocracies masquerading as socialism) were very much dull and drab. But
    London, Rio de Janero, Kobenhavn, Berlin, Venice, Tokyo, Montreal, (not to
    mention Katmandu, Athens, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Cairo and many others)
    these could hardly be considered "dull". Indeed, "despite" social
    orientations in their governances (or a lack of comparable technological
    infrastructure), these cities exhibit just as much, if not more, vibrancy
    in the arts, theatre, music and comparable vibrancy in the marketplace.

    (And this is an interesting tangent. We may outperform the world in the
    production of consumerables (I'll concede this just to stand the issue),
    but it has been under monarchies in Europe and Asia (for example) and the
    "social democracies" of Europe, and the "theocracies" (Occidental, Oriental
    and otherwise) of the Middle East that the best art, the best theatre, the
    best literature and poetry, the best architecture in the modern period
    could arguably be said to have been created. Our greatest philosophies were
    laid out in "non-capitalistic, non-free market" areas, mathematics
    originated in strong form in Arabia, and so on. We may have cell phones
    that ring and blink blue and can play video games, but our arts and
    literature are pretty much tired and poor (no judgements on your art,
    Platt). I'll move further comments on this over to the Chomsky thread...)

    Again, the third problem with the above line of reasoning is the
    "America"-vibrant, everywhere else "dull and grey" dichotomy. While Pirsig
    may indeed have been lauding the vibrancy of New York City (a place I will
    not deny is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, if not at any rate
    America' most vibrant city (and they all voted Kerry, I may add)), but the
    stifling effects of static-social patterns blanketing America from DQ has
    created quite a lot of "dull and grey" (Topeka, Cleveland, Dallas,
    Buffalo...) not to mention quite a large map of "dull and grey" smaller
    cities, towns and areas. We may love hinterland America for its kitsch and
    it simplicity, but a place swelling with DQ it is most certainly
    NOT. Static social patterns, mostly conservative-religious, are seriously
    stifling DQ across the nation. To think that only "Intellectual pattern"
    guidances (as related to a "free market") can do this, is wrong.

    It should also be noted, of course, that Pirsig did not favor completely
    abandoning restrictions on DQ (social or Intellectual), lest one have
    completely chaos. Thus we are left with the understanding that some
    "restrictions" on DQ are necessary to prevent chaos and allow static
    latching. We are also left with the understanding that the survivial of a
    "society" is morally inferior to the surival of Intellectual patterns.
    Thus, if an Intellectual pattern destroys a society, so be it. It should.

    The fourth and final problem I have with the question, "until the MOQ...
    best source of morality for a nation?", is that it conflates all moral
    issues into one that can be addressed soley with static social patterns.
    Thus, issues of biological morality, social morality and intellectual
    morality are seemingly dealt with by adherence to one proposed "source" of
    morality, in this case static social patterns. Perhaps this is why Platt
    asked "until the MOQ", but even in a non-MOQ understanding it is not hard
    to reason that moral issues exist on multiple layers ("criminalizing
    murder" is a higher moral concern than the morality of conducting business
    on a Sunday in any non-MOQ reasoning, I would surmise). But this question
    again implies that ALL moral issues are best suited not only as monolithic
    (everyone in the nation acts the same way), but that the state should
    decide all "moral" matters.

     From all this I gather that the rules that govern society walk a
    precarious line between "excessive restriction" and "chaos". Those that
    govern society should recognize this and rely on Intellectual-level
    guidance to continually evolve these "rules", as the activity of a people
    is always in flux. Those that are governed should remain vigilant against
    "excessive restriction" (whether of social or Intellectual origin) and
    chaos. Very importantly, this applies not merely to the "marketplace" of
    commerce, but to all aspects of life where one can be expected to
    experience DQ.

    However, it should also be understood that these "rules" are also enabling,
    and not simply restrictive (this is the fundamental motive for the creation
    of the social level!!). For example, in a society that restricts "murder" I
    am freer in my life as I do not need to maintain constant effort to
    preserve my life (some, of course). A tax code can certainly become
    excessively restrictive, but one should also bear witness to the enabling
    effects it has (public roads and libraries, emergency medical care, police
    and military protection, improved access to higher education and general
    education, child protective services, support of scientific research, and
    so on).

    To this end, I favor MSH's proposal of (and arguments for) an
    Intellectually guided humanistic response to governing. As I've said, it is
    morally superior for Intellect to govern society. With vigilance against
    stifling DQ excessively, NOT ONLY in the marketplace but in the totality of
    activity within the nation. Some restrictions will always be necessary, of
    course, and are GOOD. What is odd, is that the basis for representative
    government and the separation of church and state, as well as the
    safeguarding of human rights, are the foundation for Intellectually guided
    secular humanism.

    To say more would only be redundant to previous exchanges and other's posts
    on this thread, so I'll leave it go with that.


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