LS Moral precedence in the 4 levles

Jonathan B. Marder (
Thu, 6 Aug 1998 18:17:38 +0100

Hi Squad,
  Due to an apparent lull in incoming e-mail in the last couple of days,
I've had some space to think, rather than merely react to what others
have sent in. I also had another go at Chapter 24 of Lila, where Pirsig
talks about the place of morality in the interrelationships between the
4-levels. I'm sorry to say that I am now more troubled than ever.
Remember in ZAMM where Pirsig describes a lecture on one of Plato's
dialogues, where there seems to be something wrong in the explanation?
Well, that's how I feel about Chapter 24. Something is wrong in there,
and I can only partly put my finger on it. One of the most important
messages I've derived from Pirsig is that if something FEELS wrong, then
it IS wrong, either in explanation or in comprehension.

Some time back, when I was going on about morality and DQ/SQ, someone
noted that I took an essentially "human" view. Looking back on the
various discussions, I see that this is true of all of us, whether we
talk about driving, the evils of Nazism or the delicious taste of
chocolate. I suppose that is natural, considering that the first value
judgements we ever make as babies are completely egocentric. At the
other end of the spectrum, some of the most profound declarations about
moral principals are also primarily focused on the rights of the
individual e.g. the US Declaration of Independence or the UN
Declaration on Human Rights. I believe that man's survival instinct lies
at the centre of all this.

Sojourner's essay on the "Giant" talks about how we allow ourselves to
be become part of corporate entities, the basis of Pirsig's social
level. In my previous post to the LS, I discussed how social
organisation evolved to serve the biological level - I don't think
there's any real argument on this. Almost every social value I can think
of can be linked back to a biological purpose (actually, I'd welcome
some good counterexamples). Similarly, Pirsig himself states that
intellect evolved as a tool in service of the biological level - man's
survival. When Pirsig talks about Society taking moral precedence over
Biology, what does he mean? As I see it, most social values are values
of the COLLECTIVE. One doesn't settle arguments by violence because the
overall damage to individuals outweighs any gain. The basis of these
collective values is integration of individual rights, society in
service of biology. But when we talk about society taking on an identity
of its own, we are talking about the evolution of CORPORATE values -
flags, anthems etc. These values become far removed from any
"biological" purpose they may once have had. Is Pirsig really saying
that these corporate values should take moral precedence? I believe that
is a path towards Fascism, and I don't believe this is Pirsig's intent.

Thus, I come to the conclusion that full attention to the full ensemble
of individual rights within the collective must dominate social and
intellectual morality. I'm going to illustrate this with a couple of

1. In the 1960's the USA spent an enormous sum of public money to put a
men on the moon. At the time, dissenters claimed that the money could be
better spent to serve the community (education, health etc.). The only
counterargument I ever heard was that the technological innovation from
the space projects would ultimately prove worthwhile. Nobody justified
the project on purely "intellectual" grounds. It seems that everyone
assumed that "good to the community" took precedence.

2. Commercial television programming is designed to attract the greatest
possible number of individual viewers. Because the primary motivation is
advertiser satisfaction, little regard is paid to individual viewer
satisfaction. To have the average viewer content with 4 hours excellent
viewing per week would be considered WORSE than having everyone watching
12 hours of low-grade stuff (as long as they keep watching!). I would
argue that in this context, using public resources to provide an
alternative (public TV) is moral, because it primarily serves the
collective of individuals rather than the corporate identity of the

Coming back to Pirsig, he talks about morality in the resolution of
conflicts BETWEEN levels. I am talking about morality resolving
conflicts WITHIN levels. The morality of the biological is in Society
and the Intellect.

As I write this, a few Lila Squad items have arrived. Well done Maggie
for finding connections to Schumacher!

Jonathan B. Marder <>
Department of Agricultural Botany, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Faculty of Agriculture, P.O.Box 12, Rehovot 76100, ISRAEL
Phone: +972 8 9481918 Fax: +972 8 9467763
Web page:

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