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

World War I

Intellect has its own patterns and goals that are as independent of society as society is independent of biology. Biology beat death billions of years ago. Society beat biology thousands of years ago. But intellect and society are still fighting it out, and that is they key to understanding of both the Victorians and the 20th century.

What distinguishes the pattern of values called Victorian from the post-World War I period that followed it is, according to the Metaphysics of Quality, a cataclysmic shift in levels of static value; an earthquake in values … of such enormous consequence that we … haven’t yet figured out what has happened to us … The 20th century collapse of morals is a consequence of it. Further consequences are on their way.

… Victorians were the last people to believe that patterns of intellect are subordinate to patterns of society. What held the Victorian pattern together was a social code. They called it morals, but really it was just a social code. As a code it was just like their ornamental cast-iron furniture: expensive looking, cheaply made, brittle, cold,and uncomfortable. The new culture that has emerged is the first in history to believe that patterns of society must be subordinate to patterns of intellect … The reason the Victorians sound so superficial and hypocritical to us today is because of this gulf in values … What we today call Victorian hypocrisy … was a virtuous effort to keep one’s thoughts within the limits of social propriety … The test of anything in the Victorian mind was,’Does society approve?”.. society was God … [they] feared scandal more than they feared disease.

… It explains why Victorians so despised the frontier part of the American personality and went to ridiculous extremes to conceal it … It explains why the Victorians were so vehement in their loathing of Indians… ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’ … The idea of extermination of all Indians was not common before the 19th century. Victorians wanted to destroy ‘inferior’ [evil] societies … Colonialism, which before that time was an economic opportunity, became with Victorians a moral course, a ‘white man’s burden’ …

But … once intellect has been let out of the bottle of social restraint, it is almost impossible to put it back in … and it is immoral to try. A society that tries to restrain the truth for it’s own purpose is a lower form of evolution than a truth that restrains society for it’s own purpose. Victorians repressed the truth whenever it seemed socially unacceptable, just as they repressed thoughts about the powdery horse manure dust that floated about them as they drove their carriages … They knew it was there … but didn’t consider it social proper to talk about it. Because it was evil to speak the truth openly, their apparatus for social self-correction became atrophied and paralyzed … Ultimately their minds became the same way … all avenues to any quality other than social quality were closed. And so this social base… helplessly drifted toward its own stupid self destruction … toward the senseless murder of millions of its own children on the battlefields of World War I.

“Biology beat death billions of years ago. Society beat biology thousands of years ago. But intellect and society are still fighting it out...”