RE: MD junk or politics on this list

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Mar 28 2004 - 20:53:36 BST

  • Next message: Wim Nusselder: "Re: MD quality religion"

    Wim, Platt and all MOQers:

    dmb said to Wim:
    'I think that you belittle the debate as "bickering" not because America is
    polarized, but because you deny one of Pirsig's central ideas; the idea that
    we are presently in a period of evolutionary change and that the social and
    intellectual levels are at war.'

    Wim replied:
    You (David B.) continue to discuss (20 Mar 2004 14:10:15 -0700) in a
    polarized political way (with Platt) 'about who tends to violate' the
    principle that the 'political Giant' should not 'corrupt intellectual
    honesty'. My 15 Mar 2004 08:18:45 +0100 assessment of your discussion as
    'bickering' followed your accusations of using as source 'politically
    inspired junk science' (Platt 14 Mar 200408:31:47 -0500) respectively 'a
    right-wing junk think tank' (David B. 14 Mar 2004 17:18:37 -0700).
    I cannot help but experience that type of discussion as low quality. You
    have no chance at all to convince each other in that way and you are
    lowering the standard of discussion in the MD list.

    dmb says:
    Junk? That's what bothers you? I think if we made a list of the most
    offensive words in the english language, "junk" wouldn't even rate in the
    top 1000. Besides that, the phrase "junk science" has become nearly as
    common as the word "pseudoscience". The phrase gets 75 thousand hits on
    google and the word gets 105 thousand. This is just how people talk, Wim. In
    fact you may recall that I quoted extensively from an article titled THE
    JUNK SCIENCE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr...
    "...the Bush White House is purging, censoring and blacklisting scientists
    and engineers whose work threatens the profits of the administration's
    corporate paymasters or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their
    radical anti-enviromental agenda. Indeed, so extreme is this campaing that
    more than 60 scientists, including Nobel laureates and medical experts,
    released a statement on February 18th that accuses the Bush Administration
    of deliberately distorting scientific fact "for partisan political ends"."

    Wim continued:
    This experience of mine is independent of my position regarding the issue
    whether political polarization in America (or on this list) reflects a
    social/intellectual tension or the issue whether 'war' is a fitting
    metaphor. If I translate your discussion into a discussion about how the
    polarized political climate in America reflects a tension between higher and
    lower quality intellectual patterns of value (about which side represents
    the higher quality patterns of value), I still don't experience it as
    constructive to call each other's sources 'junk' apparently just because
    they are 'left' or 'right'.

    dmb says:
    The news articles I've presented during the debate quoted the SCIENTISTS
    themselves. As explained in the quote above, junk science is in the news
    because scientists have been complaining. The statement issued by "more than
    60 scientists, including Nobel laureates and medical experts" who released a
    statement on Feb 18th is just one such example. It is the SCIENTISTS
    themselves who are complaining the distortion of scientific facts "for
    partisan political ends. I have tried to make this point several times
    already, but your complaint that its just left/right bickering demonstrates
    that the point has not yet registered. It doesn't matter what newspaper
    reports the story. Its not a battle of media outlets. ITS BETWEEN SCIENCE
    AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. Sorry for shouting, but it seems you've had
    trouble hearing that. ;-)

    dmb had said:
    'But then maybe this is all pointless to you, Wim, because your
    "definitions" are entirely different than Pirsig's and so maybe were not
    even discussing the same topic....'

    Wim replied:
    I would gladly discuss solely on the basis of Pirsig's definitions of the
    social and intellectual level and leave my alternative definitions out for
    the moment ... if we could agree on what 'Pirsig's definitions' are.
    He defined the intellectual level only in 'Lila's child' as 'the collection
    and manipulation of symbols, created in the brain, that stand for patterns
    of experience', but from your earlier writings (e.g. 23 Feb 2003
    15:58:51 -0700) I understood that you don't want to use that definition.

    dmb says:
    Uh, huh. And Pirsig also said that he didn't think a definition of
    "intellectual" was needed becasue anyone who is up to reading his book
    should already know what it means - and I can hardly express how much i
    DON'T appreciate your pretending it is a difficult concept. I think you've
    only confused the issue in doing so. Further, I think its literally
    preposterous of you to assert the Lila's Child definition as something
    different and opposed to what Pirsig wrote in LILA itself. Pirsig spends
    something like 20 CHAPTERS discussing the social/intellectual conflict,
    several of them specifically in terms of political conflict. This is where
    you'll find Pirsig's ideas that are most relevant to this particular debate.
    That's what I object to; pretending the LC definition undoes LILA. It only
    adds to it, clarifies it.

    Wim said:
    As far as I know Pirsig never gave a definition of the social level that
    clearly distinguishes it from the intellectual level (only from the
    biological level: as subjective versus objective). Tell me what definitions
    from Pirsig you want me to use and I will try to do so in this discussion.

    dmb says:
    While it may be difficult to find a single sentence or paragraph that
    defines the social level, again, Pirsig wrote page after page and chapter
    after chapter explaining these things. Why do we need something so neat and
    succinct before we can even begin? I think he explains the levels perfectly
    well and so if you have some doubts or questions about them, you'd have to
    be far more specific.

    Wim quoted:
    In 'Lila's Child' Pirsig writes about comparable conflicts ('the battle
    between the Zuni priests and the brujo', 'Joan of Arc' and 'the Catholic
    Church condemning Galileo'):
    'I think the conflicts mentioned here are intellectual conflicts in which
    one side clings to an intellectual justification of existing social patterns
    and the other side intellectually opposes the existing social patterns.'

    dmb says:
    Besides the fact that this description may not be relevant to the 20th
    century social/intellectual conflict described at such lenght in LILA,
    you're confusing form and content. It hardly matters if one clings to
    intellectual justifications for it, if one is defending social patterns then
    one is defending social patterns. Hitler sought intellectual justification
    for his social level values and so did the Victorians. As I've said several
    times before, this is only a matter of putting one's monkey in a tuxedo, a
    matter of stylistic verneer of intellecutal respectability. But as in the
    case of Bush's juck science, this kind of distortion and dishonesty only
    betrays their not so well hidden contempt for intellectual values. And if I
    use harsh language in complaints about such things it is only because I
    sincerely believe it is appropriate. Not only is it dangerous to ignore the
    warnings of science, it is morally outrageous.

    Wim said:
    According to me Pirsig may well have changed his mind about his
    interpretation of 'the theme song of the 20th century'. I don't see why
    interpreting the 20th century conflicts he and you refer to and present-day
    political conflict in America as intellectual conflicts would imply
    inflicting 'destruction ... on the MOQ's key terms' if Pirsig himself does
    so with comparable conflicts.

    dmb says:
    Changed his mind about the 20th century? I'm sorry, but its hard to take
    such a statement seriously. But let me say something about "destruction of
    the MOQ's key terms". I certainly have a much more clear idea of Pirsig's
    level's than yours, but its pretty clear that they are not the same. For
    example, it seems clear that Pirsig's descriptions of the social level have
    pretty much nothing to do with "unconscious copying of behavior". For Pirsig
    it is myth, ritual, language, the giant, the values that hold a society
    together, it is blue ribbons and saving face, it is that which controls and
    dominates biological values, it is the parent of the intellectual level. It
    is many things, but it is certainly not the "unconscious copying of
    behavior". Its hard to image how you could have come up with something so,
    um, ... well, its just plain weird. Where'd you ever get that idea anyway?

    dmb asked:
    'We shouldn't associate intellectuals with the intellectual level? Why not?'

    Wim answered:
    Maybe an argument that may convince you is contained in Pirsig's own words
    in his letter of 27/9/03 to Paul quoted in Paul's posting of 29 Sep 2003
    16:52:03 +0100:
    'Like so many words, "intellectual" has different meanings that are
    confused. The first confusion is between the social title, "Intellectual,"
    and the intellectual level itself. The statement, "Some intellectuals are
    not intellectual at all," becomes meaningful when one recognizes this
    difference. I think now that the statement "intellectually she's nowhere,"
    could have been more exactly put: "As an intellectual Lila is nowhere." That
    would make it clearer that the social title was referred to and the dispute
    about her intellectuality would not have arisen.'

    dmb replies:
    "Some intellectuals are not intellectual at all." This is very consistent
    with the quote above, where one side in the conflict is using intellectual
    justifications to defend social values. In both cases we're talking about
    the behavior of a pseudointellectual. And again, I'm fond of refering to
    such behavior as putting a tux on a monkey. Creationism springs to mind. It
    dresses myth with intellectual clothes, but its still a myth. It a matter of
    dressing up non-intellectual values in intellectual clothing and it is an
    entirely contemptable form of deception. And even more specifically, this is
    the very complaint I've raised with respect to junk science. Junk science is
    a very specific and current example of this dishonest practice. What I don't
    understand is why you think the quote answers my question. I mean, how does
    it follow that we shouldn't associate intellectuals with the intellectual
    level? I hope we'd all agree that "some intellectuals are not intellectual
    at all", but surely we'd also agree that most intellectuals are intellectual
    to some degree. We're only talking about an association, not that
    intellectuals ARE IDENTICAL to the intellectual level or anything so
    dramatic. Its like saying that scientists and philosophers are associated
    with it. Its just so obvious, no?

    Platt said to Wim:
    You're free, of course, to alter the MOQ any way you wish by saying, for
    example, the levels are not at war. But it wouldn't be the MOQ. DMB and I
    don't agree on much, but we agree that 'war' between the intellectual and
    social levels is indeed a fitting metaphor because it's Pirsig's:

    "Intellect is going its own way, and in doing so is at war with society,
    seeking to subjugate society, to put society under lock and key. An
    evolutionary morality says it is moral for intellect to do so,..."

    dmb concludes:
    In the time it would take me to type out all the Pirsig quotes that discuss
    the social/intellectual conflict a person could read LILA from cover to
    cover several times. And that's not just because I'm a mediocre typist, its
    also becasue Pirsig spends so much time on the issue. I don't think he gives
    as much space to any other topic. And so I agree with Platt. A metaphysics
    in which the levels do not conflict is something other than the MOQ. It
    can't rightly be considered a valid interpretation of the MOQ because it
    directly contradicts some of the most central concepts of the MOQ, such as
    the boundries of the levels and the conflicts between them.



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