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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Intellect

Where the physical climate changes suddenly from high to low temperature … or … atmospheric pressure … the result is usually a storm. When the social climate changes from preposterous social restraint of all intellect to a relative abandonment of all social patterns, the result is a hurricane of social forces. That hurricane is the history of the 20th century.

… November 11, 1918 … the end of World War I … President Woodrow Wilson belonged in both worlds, Victorian society and the new intellectual world of the 20th century: the only university professor ever to be elected president of the United States. Before Wilson’s time academicians has been peripheral within the Victorian power structure … intellectuals were not expected to run society itself. They were valued servants of society … Leadership was for practical, businesslike ‘men of affairs’.

The Victorians social system and … morality that led to World War I had portrayed war as an adventurous conflict between noble individuals engaged in the idealistic service of their country: a kind of extended knighthood. World Wart I wasn’t like that … The Gatling gun removed the nobility and heroism. The Victorian painters had never shown a battlefield of mud and shell holes and … half a million rotting corpses … that many had been murdered in one battle alone. Those who survived … felt bitter toward the society that could do that to them. They joined the faith that intellect must find some way out of old Victorian ‘nobility’ & ‘virtue’ into a more sane and intelligent world.

In an instant it seemed the snobbish fashionable Victorian social world was gone. New technology fueled the change … shifting from agriculture to manufacturing. Electrification was shifting night into day and eliminating hundreds of drudgeries. Cars and highways were changing the speed with which people did things. Mass journalism had emerged. The mastery of all these new changes was no longer dominated by social skills … A horse could be mastered if your resolve was firm, your disposition pleasant and fear absent. The skills required were biological & social. But handling the new technology was something different. Personal biological & social qualities didn’t make any difference to machines. A whole population, cut loose physically by the new technology … was also cut adrift morally & psychologically from the static social patterns…No one knew what to do about the lostness … people raced from one fad to another … a chaos of social patterns only.

The events that excited people in the 20’s were events that dramatized the new dominance of intellect over society … abstract art, discordant music, Freudian psychoanalysis … contempt for alcohol prohibition … The test of what was good, of what had Quality, was no longer ‘Does it meet society’s approval?’ but ‘Does it meet the approval of out intellect?’.

The hurricane of social forces … was most strongly felt in Europe, particularly Germany where the effects of WWI were the most devastating. Communism & socialism, programs for intellectual control over society, were confronted by … fascism a program of social control of intellect. Nowhere were the intellectuals more intense in their determination to overthrow old order. Nowhere did the old order become more intent on finding ways to destroy the excesses of the new intellectualism … a conflict of levels of evolution … explains that driving force behind Hitler not as an insane search for power but as an all consuming glorification of social authority and hatred of intellectualism. His anti-Semitism…[and] communists …was fueled by anti-intellectualism.

In the United States … Franklin Roosevelt & the New Deal … became the center of a lesser storm between social and intellectual forces … at the center of it all was the belief that intellectual planning by the government was necessary for society to regain its health … it was also a new deal for the intellectuals of America … for the 1st time they were at the center of the planning process…were in a position to give orders to America’s finest and oldest and wealthiest groups …

Suddenly, before the old Victorians’ eyes, a whole new social caste … of intellectual Brahmins, was being created above their own military and economic castes … Social snobbery was being replaced with intellectual snobbery … academic foundations were taking over the … country … It was like the replacement of Indians by pioneers … too bad for the Indians but it was inevitable form of progress … from the idea that society is man’s highest achievement, the 20th century moved to the idea that intellect is man’s highest achievement …

The Ph.D. was on its way to becoming the ultimate social status symbol … academic fields were expanding into new undreamed-of territories … among the most rapidly expanding was … anthropology … [and it’s] unassailable ‘objectivity’ had some very partisan cultural roots … it had been a political tool with which to defeat the Victorians and their system of social values … The Victorians … presumed all primitive societies were early forms of “Society” itself & were trying to grow into a complete ‘civilization’ like that of Victorian England.

The relativists … stated that there is no empirical scientific evidence for a ‘Society’ toward which all primitive societies are heading … [they] virtually wiped out the credibility of the older Victorian evolutionists and gave to anthropology a shape it has had ever since … presented as a victory of scientific objectivity over unscientific prejudice, but the Metaphysics of Quality says deeper issues were involved …

intellect could now pass judgment on all forms of social custom … When people asked, ‘If no culture, including a Victorian culture, can say what is right and what is wrong, then how can we ever know what is right and what is wrong?’ the answer was, ‘that’s easy. Intellectuals will tell you … what they say is absolute … because intellectuals follow science, which is objective. An objective observer does not have relative opinions because he is nowhere within the world he observes’ … An American anthropologist could no more embrace non-objectivity than a Stalinist bureaucrat could play the stock market.

… the Metaphysics of Quality supports this dominance of intellect over society. It says intellect is a … more moral level than society. But having said this, the Metaphysics of Quality goes on to say that science, the intellectual pattern that has been appointed to take over society, has a defect in it … subject-object science has no provision for morals … is only concerned with facts. Morals have no objective reality. You can look through a microscope or telescope or oscilloscope for the rest of your life and you will never find a single moral. There aren’t any there. They are all in your head. They exist only in your imagination.

From the perspective of subject-object science, the world is a completely purposeless, valueless place. There is no point in anything. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. Everything just functions like machinery. There is nothing morally wrong because there are no morals. Now that intellect was in command of society for the 1st time in history,was this the intellectual pattern it was going to run society with?

“When the social climate changes from preposterous social restraint of all intellect to a relative abandonment of all social patterns, the result is a hurricane of social forces.”
“... from the idea that society is man’s highest achievement, the 20th century moved to the idea that intellect is man’s highest achievement …”
“Morals have no objective reality. You can look through a microscope or telescope or oscilloscope for the rest of your life and you will never find a single moral. There aren’t any there.”