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

New York

The metaphysics of substance makes it difficult to see the Giant. It makes it customary to think of a city like New York as a ‘work of man’, but what man invented it? What group of men invented it? Who sat around and thought up how it should all go together? If ‘man’ invented societies and cities, why are all societies and cities so repressive of ‘man’?

A metaphysics of substance makes us think that all evolution stops with the highest evolved substance, the physical body of man. It makes us think that cities and societies and thought structures are all subordinate creations of this physical body of man. But it’s as foolish to think of a city or a society as created by human bodies as it is to think of human bodies as a creation of the cells, or to think of cells as created by protein and DNA molecules, or to think of DNA as created by carbon and other inorganic atoms. If you follow that fallacy long enough you come out with the conclusion that individual electrons contain the intelligence needed to build New York City all by themselves. Absurd.

If it’s possible to imagine two red blood cells sitting side by side asking, ‘will there ever be a higher form of evolution than us?” and looking around and seeing nothing there, deciding there isn’t, then you can imagine the ridiculousness of two people walking down a street of Manhattan asking if there will be any form of evolution higher than ‘man’, meaning biological man.

Biological man doesn’t invent cities or societies any more than pigs and chickens invent the farmer that feeds them. The force of evolutionary creation isn’t contained by substance. Substance is just one kind of static pattern left behind the creative force. This city is a higher pattern than either a substance or a biological pattern called man. Just as a farmer raises cows for the sole purpose of devouring them, this pattern grows living human bodies for the sole purpose of devouring them. That is what the Giant really does. It converts accumulated biological energy into forms that serve itself. When societies and cultures and cities are seen [this way] the phenomena of war & genocide & all the other forms of human exploitation become more intelligible. ‘Mankind’ has never been interested in getting itself killed. But the super-organism, the Giant, who is a pattern of values superimposed on top of biological human bodies, doesn’t mind losing a few bodies to protect his greater interests.

Once you understand something well enough, you don’t need to run from it. From a Metaphysics of Quality point of view, this devouring of human bodies is a moral activity because it’s more moral for a social pattern to devour a biological pattern than for a biological pattern to devour a social pattern. A social pattern is a higher form of evolution. This city, in its endless devouring of human bodies, was creating something better than any biological organism could achieve by itself. Sure: dirty, noisy, rude, dangerous, expensive. Always has been and probably always will be … if you’re looking for stability and serenity, go to a cemetery, don’t come here! This is the most Dynamic place on earth!

“Biological man doesn’t invent cities or societies any more than pigs and chickens invent the farmer that feeds them.”

Leave a Reply