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.

Table of Contents | How This Happened | Download PDF

Morals – Ideas Kill Societies

What the evolutionary structure of the Metaphysics of Quality says is that there is not just one moral system. There are many … ‘laws of nature’ by which inorganic patterns triumph over chaos; … ‘law of the jungle’ where biology triumphs over the inorganic forces of starvation and death; there’s a morality where social patterns triumph over biology, ‘the law’; and there is intellectual morality, which is still struggling in its attempts to control society.

Each of these sets of moral codes is no more related to the other than novels are to flip-flops. What is today conventionally called ‘morality’ covers only … the social-biological code. In a subject-object metaphysics this single social-biological code is considered to be a minor ’subjective’ physically nonexistent part of the universe. But in the Metaphysics of Quality all these sets of moral, plus another Dynamic Morality, are not only real, they are the whole thing.

‘It’s more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than to allow the germ to kill his patient’ … the patient has moral precedence because he’s at a higher level of evolution … This is not just an arbitrary social convention … It’s true for all people and at all times…a moral pattern of reality as real as H2O. We’re at last dealing with morals on the basis of reason … analyze moral arguments with greater precision than before.

… vegetarianism … it’s scientifically immoral for everyone because animals are at a higher level of evolution, that is, more Dynamic, than are grains and fruits and vegetables … this moral principle only holds where there is an abundance of grains and fruit and vegetables. It would be immoral for Hindus not to eat their cows in a time of famine, since they would be killing human beings in favor of a lower organism.

Is it scientifically moral for a society to kill a human being? An evolutionary morality would at first seem to say yes, a society has a right to murder people to prevent its own destruction. When the United States drafted troops for the Civil War everyone knew that innocent people would be murdered … an evolutionary morality argues that the North was right in pursuing that war because a nation is a higher form of evolution than a human body, and the principle of human equality is an even higher form than a nation.

When a society is not itself threatened, as in the execution of individual criminals, the issue becomes more complex … an evolutionary morality would argue that there is no moral justification for killing him. He is not even a defective unit of society. Whenever you kill a human being you are killing a source of thought… ideas take moral precedence over a society. They are at a higher level of evolution than social patterns of value. Just as it is more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than a patient, so it is more moral for an idea to kill a society than it is for a society to kill an idea.

The strongest moral argument against capital punishment is that it weakens a society’s Dynamic capability … for change and evolution. It’s not the ‘nice’ guys who bring about real social change … [they] look nice because they’re conforming. It’s the ‘bad’ guys, who only look nice 100 years later, that are the real Dynamic force in social evolution … static pattens that hold one level of organization together are often the same patterns that another level of organization must fight to maintain it’s own existence.

Morality is not a simple set of rules … it’s a very complex struggle of conflicting patterns of values. ‘Vice’ … is a conflict between biological quality and social quality … sex & booze & drugs & tobacco have a high biological quality … they feel good, but are harmful for social reasons. They take all your money. They break up your family. They threaten the stability of the community … this whole century’s been about … struggle between intellectual and social patterns. That’s the theme song of the 20th century.

Is society going to dominate intellect or is intellect going to dominate society? … Intellect is not an extension of society any more than society is an extension of biology. Intellect is going it’s own way, and in doing so is at war with society, seeking to subjugate society, to put society under lock and key. An evolutionary morality says it is moral for intellect to do so, but it also contains a warning: … an intellectual pattern that weakens and destroys the health of it’s social base also endanger it’s own stability.

“Just as it is more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than a patient, so it is more moral for an idea to kill a society than it is for a society to kill an idea.”
“It’s the ‘bad’ guys, who only look nice 100 years later, that are the real Dynamic force in social evolution...”