This post contains excerpts from Robert Pirsig's book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

The words are all his, the editing choices are all mine, the consequences of reading are all yours.

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Hippies

… [on] the doctrine that says ,’Science is not concerned with values. Science is concerned only with facts’ … the Metaphysics of Quality asks: which values is science unconcerned with? … A scientist may argue rationally that the moral question ‘Is it all right to murder your neighbor?” is not a scientific question.

But can he argue that the moral question, ‘Is it all right to fake your scientific data?’ is not a scientific question? … What the Metaphysics of Quality makes clear is that it is only social values and morals … that sciences is unconcerned with. There are important historic reasons for this: … [to] the ancient Greek belief that thought is independent of society … ancient Greeks such as Socrates & Pythagoras paved the way for the fundamental principle behind science: that truth stands independently of social opinion. It is determined by direct observation & experiment, not by hearsay.

Religious authority always has attacked this principle as heresy … The defenders who fought to protect science from church control argued that science is not concerned with morals. Intellectuals would leave morals for the church to decide … But the Metaphysics of Quality makes clear is that this political battle … was in fact a moral battle. It was the battle of a higher, intellectual level of evolution to keep itself from being devoured by a lower, social level of evolution. Once this political battle is resolved, the Metaphysics of Quality can then go back and re-ask the question, ‘Just exactly how independent is science, in fact, from society?’ The answer it gives is, ‘not at all’.

A science in which social patterns are of no account is as unreal and absurd as a society in which biological patterns are of no account … If the observer is totally objective and records only what he observes, then where does he observe a hypothesis? … Our scientific description of nature is always culturally derived. Nature tells us only what our culture predisposes us to hear … Descartes’s ‘I think therefore I am’ was a historically shattering declaration of independence of the intellectual … from the social … If Descartes had said ‘The 17th century culture exists, therefore I think, therefore I am’ he would have been correct.

The Metaphysics of Quality resolves the relationship between intellect and society, subject and object, mind and matter by embedding them all in a larger system of understanding. Objects are inorganic and biological values; Subjects are social and intellectual values … They have a matter-of-fact evolutionary relationship. That evolutionary relationship is also a moral one.

The intellect’s evolutionary purpose has never been to discover an ultimate meaning of the universe. That is a relatively recent fad. It’s historical purpose has been to help a society find food,detect danger, and defeat enemies. It can do this well or poorly, depending on the concepts it invents for this purpose … Knowledge has grown away from this historic purpose and become an end in itself, just as society has grown away from it’s original purpose of preserving physical human beings … and this growing away … towards greater Quality is a moral growth. But those original purposes are still there. And when things get lost … it is useful to remember that point of departure.

The Metaphysics of Quality suggests that the social chaos of the 20th century can be relieved by going back to this point of departure… Intellect can support static patterns of society without fear of domination by carefully distinguishing those moral issues that are social-biological from those that are intellectual-social … what’s at issue here … a clash of two entirely different codes of morals in which society is caught in the middle …

You have a society-vs.-biology cored of morals and … an intellect-vs.-society code of morals … In the battle of society against biology, the new 20th century intellectuals have taken biology’s side. Society can handle biology alone by means of prisons & guns & police & the military. But when the intellectuals in control of society take biology’s side against society, then society is caught in a cross fire from which it has no protection.

… The Metaphysics of Quality says … what’s good in life isn’t defined by society or intellect or biology. What’s good is freedom from domination by any static pattern, but that freedom doesn’t have to be obtained by the destruction of the patterns themselves.

… The Hippie revolution of the 60’s was a moral revolution against both society and intellectuality … children of well-to-do … people of the world who suddenly turned upon their parents & schools & society with a hatred no one could have believed existed … The reason this movement has been so hard to understand is that “understanding” itself, static intellect, was it’s enemy. Whatever the intellectuals of the 20’s had fought to create, the flower children of the 60’s fought to destroy … Drugs that destroyed one’s ability to reason were almost a sacrament. Oriental religions such as Zen & Vedanta that promised release from the prison of intellect were taken up as gospel.

… By the end of the 60’s the intellectualism of the 20’s found itself in an impossible trap. If it continued to advocate more freedom from Victorian social restraint, all it would get was more Hippies. 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 cut down one of the last of the great intellectual liberal leaders of the New Deal period, Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate for president … 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 constraint.

… this ‘Dynamic’ 60’s revolution made a disastrous mistake that destroyed it before it really got started. The Hippie rejection of social and intellectual patterns left just two directions to go: toward biological quality & toward Dynamic Quality. The revolutionaries of the 60’s thoughts that since both are antisocial & anti-intellectual … they must be the same. That was a mistake.

… When biological quality and Dynamic Quality are confused the result … [is] an extremely destructive form of degeneracy of the sort seen in the Manson murders, the Jonestown madness & the increase of crime and drug addiction throughout the country. In the early 70’s, as people began to see this, they dropped away from the movement and the Hippie revolution, like the intellectual revolution of the 20’s, became a moral rebellion that failed.

Today … the overall picture is one of moral movements gone bankrupt … the result has been a drop in both social and intellectual quality. The end of the 20th 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. More Dynamic foreign cultures are overtaking it and actually invading it because it’s now incapable of competing. What’s coming out of the urban slums … [is] the old biological might-makes-right morality of prehistoric brigandage that primitive societies were set up to overcome.

“The intellect’s evolutionary purpose has never been to discover an ultimate meaning of the universe. That is a relatively recent fad. It’s historical purpose has been to help a society find food, detect danger, and defeat enemies.”
“What’s good is freedom from domination by any static pattern, but that freedom doesn’t have to be obtained by the destruction of the patterns themselves.”
“..the overall picture is one of moral movements gone bankrupt...”