From: Wim Nusselder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat Jul 03 2004 - 07:42:17 BST
Pirsig's quote probably reflects his experience in a period in which
conservatives/Republicans were in power. I'm no American and I don't fully
know in what other ways American society may have been slipping back to
Victorianism apart from what was reported about American government policy
in the Dutch media in that period. It doesn't really seem likely that he
meant liberal influences/state strengthening as the static ratchet-latch
America was slipping back to.
It's interesting that he is leaving behind in this quote the strict
level-interpretation of the terms 'intellectual' and 'social', by adding
'economic' in the same breath and by mentioning the Victorian pattern of
value as the one America was slipping back to (a pattern of value he earlier
classified as 'social').
A few sentences earlier he is also mixing things up:
'Just as the intellectual revolution undermined social patterns, the Hippies
undermined both static and intellectual patterns.'
Weren't 'intellectual patterns' also supposed to be 'static patterns'??
The quote is a summary of 6 preceding sentences:
'Today, it seemed to Phaedrus, the overall picture is one of moral movements
gone bankrupt. Just as the intellectual revolution undermined social
patterns, the Hippies undermined both static and intellectual patterns.
Nothing better has been introduced to replace them. The result has been a
drop in both social and intellectual quality. In the United States the
national intelligence level shown in SAT scores has gone down. Organized
crime has grown more powerful and more dangerous.'
So it doesn't refer to a struggle between social and intellectual patterns
of value in which intellectual patterns of value are losing ground. Both
social and intellectual quality have dropped! (In the 'intellectual
revolution', between the world-wars, maybe, but not in this period.) A few
sentences later he explains that what's gaining ground is:
'the old biological might-makes-right morality of prehistoric brigandage
that primitive societies were set up to overcome'.
I don't think this analysis is countered by Rick's examples of 'important
social events'. According to Pirsig America must still be this 'rust-belt'
that hasn't found its way back to Dynamic improving on 'biological
might-makes-right morality'. For me Afghanistan and Iraq and the whole 'war
on terrorism' seem a case in point. You Americans can add lots of domestic
examples, I guess.
'what sort of intellectual, social and economic "advances" could have
prevented the rusting?'
As argued in my 'economics of want and greed' (see link on www.moq.org):
gradual substitution of 2nd type social patterns of value (based on
enforcement) with 3rd type social patterns of value (based on economic
dependence) and of 3rd type social patterns of value with 4th type social
patterns of value (based on convincement).
Later in the same chapter Pirsig writes:
'The idea that biological crimes can be ended by intellect alone, that you
can talk crime to death, doesn't work.'
I don't agree that he calls these crimes 'biological', having defined the
biological level as latched in DNA copying elsewhere.
The idea he expresses in this sentence fully accords with my argument,
however: Trying to talk crime to death means directly substituting 4th type
social patterns of value for 1st type and (low quality) 2nd type social
patterns of value (based on race, mafia-type omerta to protect fellow
mafioso and criminals extorting from society a larger share of the pie
without working for it). It skips essential intermediary steps: higher
quality 2nd type social patterns of value (state enforced law) and 3rd type
social patterns of value (market discipline, having to work for your
So I don't agree either with Pirsig's quote later in the same chapter (which
also draws Pirsig's conclusion from the quote we are discussing here):
'Intellectual patterns cannot directly control biological patterns. Only
social patterns can control biological patterns, and the instrument of
conversation between society and biology is not words. The instrument of
conversation between society and biology has always been a policeman or a
soldier and his gun. All the laws of history, all the arguments, all the
Constitutions and the Bills of Rights and Declarations of Independence are
nothing more than instructions to the military and police. If the military
and police can't or don't follow these instructions properly they might as
well have never been written.'
According to me it is primarily social patterns of value we are talking
about, with laws, arguments, rights, declarations and such being
intellectual patterns of value that support some social patterns of value
against others. All social patterns of value try to control lower quality
SOCIAL patterns of value. A policeman or a soldier and his gun is the
instrument of conversation not between levels of static quality, but between
the 2nd type social pattern of value of state-enforced law and other social
patterns of value. It is moral when used to control lower quality social
patterns of value and immoral when it is used to control higher quality
social patterns of value (e.g. stifling freedom of enterprise and freedom of
By the way, Rick, why did you leave out the word 'arid' before 'economic
rust-belt' in your quote?
With friendly greetings,
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