MF America, Dynamic Improvement and Soup

From: Valence (
Date: Wed Jul 07 2004 - 00:58:17 BST

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    Hi Wim, DMB, Amilcar, Mark and all:
    I've got too much from you guys to reply to all in one post, so here's a
    start from me...

    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
    static ratchet-latch."

    To be perfectly honest, I find this quote and much of the contextually
    corresponding discussion of the Hippies to be slightly suspect. Earlier in
    LILA, Pirsig had this to say...

    PIRSIG (LILA p.256)
    When you define morality scientifically as that which enhances evolution it
    sounds as though you have really solved the problem of what morality is.
    But then when you try to say specifically what is and what isn't evolution
    and where evolution is going, you find you are right back in the soup again.
    The problem is that you can't really say whether a specific change is
    evolutionary at the time it occurs. It is only with a century or so of
    hindsight that it appears evolutionary.

    So if this is the case, then how can Pirsig, during the end of the 20th
    century, so confidently dismiss the end of the 20th century in American
    society as a rust-belt? His own observations point out that he'd have no
    way of making this evaluation for a century or so. I'm not sure from what
    source he could claim to draw immunity from this need for a developed
    historical context against which to judge the evolutionary contribution of
    the various social, intellectual and economic conditions of the end of the
    20th century, but I think that when he's talking about the Hippie's and the
    rust-belt, he's simply fallen into the soup again.

    I'm not implying that we shouldn't try to evaluate the events of recent
    history and plan for the future accordingly, I'm just saying that I don't
    think those sort of evaluations should be claimed to be made on the basis of
    contribution to evolution. As Amilcar said:

     . . and just because people aren't reporting dynamism doesn't mean it
    isn't happening. What if it just isn't on their radar?

    That's damnest thing about dynamic improvements... they probably won't show
    up on your radar until 100 years after they've run their course. It's
    pretty simple, if we're going to judge something based on its contribution
    to evolution, we have to wait for evolution to proceed long enough to see
    whether a contribution was made or not. The rest is just more soup.

    > By the way, Rick, why did you leave out the word 'arid' before 'economic
    > rust-belt' in your quote?

    eh? In my edition, the word before 'economic rust-belt' is "a-n-d". Does
    it really say "a-r-i-d" in your edition?

    > 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.

    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).

    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.

    > The quote is a summary of 6 preceding sentences: [snip]

    As he's not citing any source for these assertions, they're kind of hard to
    analyze. But again, this just sounds like more of the soup to me. I mean,
    is he seriously suggesting that SAT scores are reliable index of the
    influence of DQ on social evolution? Heck, most of the teachers I know
    don't think it measures anything other than one's ability to take the SAT.
    As for organized crime, it has been powerful and dangerous through plenty of
    social periods that I'm sure Pirsig wouldn't describe as a rust-belt (ie.
    ancient greeks had powerful organized criminals and pirates, and they ran
    virtually unchecked in much of renaissance europe, etc, etc... examples far
    too numerous to list). Moreover, Pirsig also points out that the most
    dynamic places (like my own New York City) usually come along with a good
    deal of degeneracy to compliment their dynamic natures, thus making it quite
    puzzling why organized crime would be a sign of a lack dynamicism.

    > 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!

    I think this is the best reading. 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).

    > I don't think this analysis is countered by Rick's examples of 'important
    > social events'....
    > As argued in my 'economics of want and greed' (see link on
    > 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).

    But how would this substitution take place Wim? To me it sounds as though
    you believe economics is the defining social force, whether or not this is
    the case though, economies don't exist in a vacuum. Can you tell me for
    sure that overwhelming influx of ordinary Americans into the stock market in
    the late 90s, coupled with the increasingly open channels of world wide
    communication through the internet isn't the beginning of such an
    evolutionary progression? By Pirsig's (occasional) lights, we shouldn't be
    able to say for sure until 2090 or so.

    > 'what sort of intellectual, social and economic "advances" could have
    > prevented the rusting?'

    .. Trying to talk crime to death means directly substituting 4th
    > 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
    > social patterns of value (market discipline, having to work for your
    > sustenance).
    > 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
    > the 2nd type social pattern of value of state-enforced law and other
    > 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
    > expression/convincement).

    It sounds as though your making basically the same analysis Pirsig makes in
    his policeman quote, only collapsing it entirely within the social level.
    That being the case, I'm not entirely sure I see how this translates into an
    answer to the question. It sounds more to me like you are describing what
    you believe a "non-rusted" world would look like. But what I want to know
    is what sort of practical, tangible things could have been done to
    effectuate this ideal? Or is this all just another big bowl of soup?

    take care

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