From: David Buchanan (DBuchanan@ClassicalRadio.org)
Date: Sun Jul 04 2004 - 02:43:25 BST
Rick, Wim and all:
Here's a Reader's Digest version of the elected question...
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
Given that the 20th century (spread of the internet, the stock-market
bubble, computer technology, genetics, chaos theory, quantum physics, etc.
etc.)..is firmly behind us now, is it still fair to say that its end was an
intellectual, social and economic rustbelt? And if so, then what sort of
intellectual, social and economic 'advances' could have prevented the
Wim began our discussion:
Pirsig's quote probably reflects his experience in a period in which
conservatives/Republicans were in power. ...It doesn't really seem likely
that he meant liberal influences/state strengthening as the static
America was slipping back to.
Yes, the book was published at the twilight of Reagan's reign, but his
election and enormous popularity was just one expression of the culture
slipping back to Victorianism. (Its worth noting that the quote's main
analogy, the "rustbelt", alludes to the economic decay of America's large
industrial cities.) And its certain that he does not mean "liberal" when he
says "Victorian". If we look at the entire arch of the 20th century as
Pirsig describes it, I think the quote is basically saying that the century
long struggle to become an intellectually guided society was failing and
that America is moving back to social level values, as exemplified by the
Victorians and the Reaganites. (As well as Thatcherism and its counterparts
on the continent.) The overall picture is a failure of intellect itself,
done in by a fatal flaw. (SOM) And the movement toward conservatism
following the failed Hippie revolution was strengthened by the nation's
weariness following the war in Vietnam, the race riots, the assinations and
the Watergate scandal. The ascent of the Republican party was America
saying she needed a rest.
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'??
I think these questions reveal quite a bit of confusion on the part of the
poser, not Pirsig. I honestly can't imagine what leads you to think Pirsig
is leaving anything behind or mixing things up?
Wim quoted Pirsig:
"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. ..."
Wim commented on the quote:
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'.
Huh? He says, "the overall picture is is on moral movemnts gone bankrupt"
and then proceeds to describe the consequences of those failures. When
intellectual values fail, social and biological values take their place and
the quality is otherwise diminished. I think its not at all contradictory or
nearly as complicated as you suggest here, Wim. (Bankruptcy was rampant and
the national debt had reached record levels in this period.) The
might-makes-right value system takes over when social values are undermined
becasue that is the last static latch, the level one falls back upon when
social values have been undermined. According to Pirsig America must still
be this 'rust-belt'
Wim gets to his answer on the first question:
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.
The old biological morality describes gangs, murderers, pimps and the like,
not the neo-conservative architects of American foreign policy. I'm no fan
of the current administration, but describing their behavior as
"pre-historic brigandage" is too much even for me. They're more like an all
out glorification of social values and social authority. In any case,
America has only moved further to the right since LILA was published. Many
former Reagan officals and other Reaganite conservative Republicans have
expressed distress and alarm at the extremist nature of Bush and Company.
They say that neoconservatism is whatever Bill Kristol says it is, and with
respect to the war in Iraq, he's says that Bush has driven us into a ditch.
And these conservatives are not complaining because George is too liberal or
too intellectual, that's for sure. In that sense at least, I think the
country is getting rustier and rustier. And now she's living in fear too.
That's not likely to help matters.
Wim gets to his answer on the second question:
'what sort of intellectual, social and economic "advances" could have
prevented the rusting?' As argued in my 'economics of want and greed':
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).
Four types of social patterns? You seemed to be very far away from the MOQ,
imagining that PIRSIG is the one who has mixed things up even before you
added that, but now you've gone way too far. At this point I shall say
farewell to your comments and proceed with some Pirsig, also from chapter
"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
The dynamic revolutions failed because of a fatal flaw in the intellect and
the quote above tells us how to address that problem. This is how we get the
rusty rust of the rust belt of our national mood. In practical terms, I
think that the fundamentalists and other reactionaries will loose most of
thier anger and energy when their values are finally recognized and honored
for what the are by intellectuals. I mean, traditonal values feel that they
are under attack because they are. This doesn't mean they derserve to be put
back in charge of guiding society, but an intellectual system that denies
social values altogether only ends up committing sabotage upon itself. This
is what happened already and repeated attempts, without change in this
regard, are doomed to repeated failure. We MUST have and intellectual system
with some heart and soul, one that recognizes the validity of morality and
spirituality as such.
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