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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Indians & Cowboys

The new intellectualism of the 20’s argued that if there are principles for right social conduct they are to be discovered by social experiment to see what produces the greatest satisfaction … of the greatest number. For example, drink that causes car accidents or loss of work or family problems is irrational … a vice. On the other hand,drinking is not irrational when it produces social … relaxation.

Of all the ‘vices’ none was more controversial than premarital and extramarital sex … It was expected that with the new application of reason, sex could be handled much like other commodities without the terrible tensions and frustrations of social repression … through out this century we have seen over and over again, that intellectuals weren’t blaming crime on man’s biological nature but on the social patterns that had repressed this biological nature…[believing] that this would be the cure of man’s criminal tendencies …

… intellectuals became excited about anthropology in the hope that the field would provide facts upon which to base new scientific rules … Here in this country, American Indians were suddenly revived as models of primitive communal virtue … ‘anthros’ … swarmed to huts and teepees and hogans of every tribe they could find, jockeying to be in on the great treasure hunt for new information about possible new moral indigenous American ways of life. This was illogical since, if subject-object science sees no morals anywhere, then no scientific study of any kind is going to fill the moral void left by the overthrow of Victorians society.

Intellectual permissiveness and destruction of social authority are no more scientific than Victorian discipline … this lapse in logic magically fit the thesis … that the American personality has two components, European and Indian. The moral values that were replacing the old European Victorian ones were the moral values of American Indians: kindness to children,maximum freedom, openness of speech, love of simplicity,affinity for nature. Without any real awareness of where the new morals were coming from, the whole country was moving in a direction that if felt was right.

The western movie was another example of this change, showing Indian values which had become cowboy values which had become 20th century all-American values. Everyone knew the cowboys of the silver screen had little to do with their actual counterparts, but it didn’t matter. It was the values, not the historical accuracy,that counted.

“The moral values that were replacing the old European Victorian ones were the moral values of American Indians: kindness to children,maximum freedom, openness of speech, love of simplicity, affinity for nature.”