RE: MF America, Dynamic Improvement and Soup

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Jul 11 2004 - 02:19:11 BST

  • Next message: Valence: "Re: MF America, Dynamic Improvement and Soup"

    Rick and all focusers:

    Have you ever heard that old Graham Parsons tune, "100 Years From Now"?

    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."

    Valence said:
    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).

    dmb replies:
    Did I give you the impression that I think the quote is about the
    Republicans, and specifically the Reagan administration? That's certainly
    not what I was TRYING to say. In fact, I had specifically denied such a
    narrow view by asserting that Reagan's "election and enormous popularity was
    JUST ONE EXPRESSION of the culture slipping back to Victorianism". In any
    case, I would guess that the end of the century would include anything AFTER
    the hippies faded away, after the last large-scale moral movement failed.
    (Maybe we shouldn't even try to be exact about the movements of history.)
    Since the quote is describing the state of things at the end of the 20th
    century, I think we have to look at it in the context of the entire century.
    Its a big-picture kind of statement, don't you think? As I put it last time,
    "if we look at the entire arch of the 20th century as Pirsig describes it"
    we can see that it was long struggle to improve upon Victorian culture,
    which was dominated by social level values. The struggle between social and
    intellectual values, Pirsig says, is the theme-song of the 20th century,
    days of evolutionary transformation as profound as the day the first fish
    left the water behind. A quote about giving up, slipping back and rusting
    out seems profoundly sad in that context, don't you think?

    Valence said:
    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.

    dmb replies:
    Extremists? I don't see it that way at all. I think he's talking about the
    main currents in the culture. Let's put it on the table. The quote takes a
    broad view of the century and is quite relevant to our elected question. I
    also think it describes how the "end" of the century began....

    "By the end of the '60s the intellectualism of the '20s found itself in an
    impossible trap. If it continued to advocate freedom from Victorian social
    restraint, all it would get was more Hippies, who were really just carrying
    its anti-Victorianism to an extreme. If, on the other hand, it advocated
    more constructive social conformity in opposition to the Hippies, all it
    would get was more Victorians, in the form of the reactionary right.
    This political whip-saw was invincible, and in 1968 it cut down one of the
    last of the great intellectual liberal leaders of the New Deal Period. 'I've
    seen enough of this,' Humphrey exclaimed at the disasterous 1968 Democratic
    National convention, 'I've seen far too much of it!' But he had no
    explanation for it and no remedy and neither did anyone else. The great
    intellectual revolution of the first half of the 20th century, the dream of
    a 'Great Society' made humane by man's intellect, was killed, hoist on its
    own petard of freedom from social restraint."

    dmb continues:
    If I may suppliment this passge with a brief sketch, I'd begin with the
    cultural shift that occured after world war one. Wilson's League of Nations,
    flapppers, booze, jazz, cars, movies, radio, planes and the many other
    manifestations of anti-Victorianism marked the "roaring" '20s. The New Deal
    era begins in the '30s and continues right through world war two and beyond.
    The fifties gave us a mouthful of technological rabbit, which gave us the

    Thanks to Anthony McWatt, we have Pirsig speaking to Tim Wilson and David
    Chernick for CBC Radio's "New Ideas" Series, 1975:
    'I was very sympathetic to the rebellion of the Sixties because I'd gone
    through a very similar rebellion [in the Fifties]. My father couldn't
    understand what it was that made me insist; well, not insist, but feel that
    I had to get out of this country or go crazy. It - the whole idea - this was
    back in 1950 - the whole idea that one should become another Ronald Reagan
    and move up ahead - not Ronald Reagan himself but the roles that he played
    as the all-American good guy; lives the happy, suburban life - was so
    expected of people that anyone who felt that was inadequate was regarded as
    suspicious, or at least a person with deep personal problems. The fact that
    the problems might be the problems of the culture rather than the problems
    of the individual would never have dawned on anybody back in the Fifties.'

    Which brings to the 70's, when Pirsig made the comments above and the ones
    below From ZAMM, Chapter 10:
    "The cause of our current social crises, he would have said, is a genetic
    defect within the nature of reason itself. And until this genetic defect is
    cleared, the crises will continue. Our current modes of rationality are not
    moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and
    further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have
    worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they
    will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no
    longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down
    to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for
    what it really is... emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and
    spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be
    at for a long time to come."

    dmb finishes making the point:
    Extremists? No, I think he's talking about "a genetic defect within the
    nature of reason itself", he's talking about Reagan's all-American suburban
    life, and about major political parties, their leaders, and their policies,
    not about extremists. He's tallking about the heart and soul of what America
    is dealing with right now and has been struggling with for at least a
    hundred years. I'd say it pretty much defines the main streams of American
    culture. He's referring to the whole society and the conflicts and
    confusions about values that take place within it, don't you think?

    Valence said:
    .................................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).

    dmb says:
    No, he's not trying to "glorify" any political beliefs, but his descriptions
    of the 20th century's struggles certainly clarify the various sets of
    beliefs in terms of social and intellectual values. And that's one of his
    main points isn't it? Is he not saying that the intellect's "genetic defect"
    has led a "paralyzing confusion" that "dominates all thoughts about morality
    and society totay"? Yes, I think he's saying that reason itself is not only
    emotionally hollow and spiritually empty, but also lacked the ability to
    distinquish between social and intellectual values, both of which were seen
    as properties of biological man. Its this confusion of levels that doomed
    the intellectuals of the '20s, who attacked social values blindly, and what
    doomed the Hippies of the '60s, who rejected static social AND intellectual
    values in favor of the Dynamic, but who ultimately confused that with mere
    biological values. And so if this confusion is the problem, then
    unconfusinating it is the most direct solution...

    "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
    either way."

    Apologies for the length and thanks for your time,

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