LS Re: Relationship between intellect, society & biology.

Jonathan B. Marder (
Wed, 19 Aug 1998 18:17:55 +0100

Hi Ant, Bo, Squad,

>...what I'm going to
>do is try to explain what I think Pirsig means as society
>taking moral precedence over biology by going through your
>post of the 6th August.

>> Similarly, Pirsig himself states that
>> intellect evolved as a tool in service of the biological level -
>> survival.
>I'm sure he says social level here though reference me the
>quote from Lila if you are right and I'll look at it again.

You're probably right, but if Pirsig didn't say it, then let me say it
in my own way. From an evolutionary point of view, man's mental capacity
became a trait of major importance in ensuring his survival.

>> When Pirsig talks about Society taking precedence over
>> Biology, what does he mean?
>As far I see it he is getting at degenerative activities
>such as drugs, drink, adultery, even gambling which feel
>good BIOLOGICALLY but if taken to extremes (e.g. if everyone
>took LSD every day) would result in society falling apart
>and, in consequence, seriously threaten the intellectual
>level. ...
But all those examples (except perhaps gambling) are also BIOLOGICALLY
bad. That's why they threaten society. Individuals and subgroups who
practice BAD biological behaviour are strongly selected against, but
groups who evolve a social order to reinforce GOOD biological behaviour
survive as individuals and as a society. Society helps good biological
patterns to overcome bad biological patterns.

>For instance, why do you think no works by
>Protagoras survive, why did the art of making glass
>become lost? This is because unless you have relatively
>sober and self-controlled people to run offices, factories,
>the power and transport system, farming etc society won't
>work and the intellectual level, in turn, will not have any
>protection against biological degeneracy. To quote Pirsig
>from Chapter 24:
>"Today we are living in an intellectual and technological
>paradise and a moral and social nightmare because the
>intellectual level of evolution, in its struggle to become
>free of the social level, has ignored the social level's
>role in keeping the biological level under control."
>e.g. What's the best way to control football hooligans?
>Talking nicely to them, taking some time to explain why
>they shouldn't be kicking the head in of a fan from the
>opposing team or is the use force better, in the form of
>police in riot gear? I know which method I'd feel safer
>with at a football match.
Yes. Physical restraint is society's way to ensure that one man doesn't
do *biological* damage to his opponent by kicking his head in!

>>... 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?
>Yes and no. Yes, they should moral precedence over
>biological purposes and no, they shouldn't take moral
>precedence over intellectual purposes. I don't think
>Pirsig specifically had corporate values in mind when
>writing chapter 24 though it's clear that a corporation is
>going to be more profitable/effective if all the people who
>work within it co-operate with each other. Corporate
>values only become immoral/fascist when they overide the
>intellectual level. This "yes and no" answer is what I
>think Pirsig was attempting to explain in Chapter 24 i.e.
>Intellect over society, society over biology is correct
>morally but not intellect + biology over society which is
>what has been tending to happen in Western societies.

Sorry, I don't buy that. What are these "intellectual values" which must
Actually, your answer is pretty much what BO wrote on 9th Aug:-
Of course social value is far removed from Biology's purpose and
of>course SoPoV are the road toward fascism and each despotism there
are.......if not checked by Intellectual values. That's the Q idea 'par
exellance'! And of course individual rights - along with every other
"humanitarian" right which protects the individual from communal
arbitrariness (lynching, stoning, shooting at dawn) - ARE the highest
Intellectual values.
Now to me, lynching, stoning and shooting at dawn all seem to be
BIOLOGICALLY bad for the individual. Pirsig's list (in Lila) consisted
of "democracy, trial by jury, freedom of speech, freedom of the press".
But would Pirsig condemn suspension of elections and censorship during
wartime? I think not - survival comes first!

>> Coming back to Pirsig, he talks about morality in the resolution of
>> conflicts BETWEEN levels.

Pirsig explicitly mentions 5 moral orders:-
Chaos vs. Inorganic patterns
Inorganic vs. Biological
Biological vs. Social
Social vs. Intellect
and finally Dynamic vs.static patterns.

>>I am talking about morality resolving
>> conflicts WITHIN levels.
>That's fair enough Jonathan though more difficult
>intellectually to resolve.
>> The morality of the biological is in Society
>> and the Intellect.
>Though, I don't understand what this comment means.

That means when two people have conflicting biological interests e.g.
one man's smoke blows into his neighbour's window, then society and
intellect provide arbitration in the form of court and judge.

>Firstly, you have the inorganic level below the biological
>to be aware of and secondly, it seems very confusing to
>state that the morality of the biological is in society and
>the intellect. For me, the morality of the biological
>seems to be in the biological itself

i.e. survival of the fittest, right?

>... and in comparison with
>the other levels.
And that means?

One thing Pirsig was dead right about was that Society is caught in the
cross fire between two forces for change.
>From Biology, we have the force of EVOLUTION with its never ending
stream of sometimes brutal experiments.
>From the Intellect, we have DESIGN which sometimes turns out to be just
as experimental and just as brutal.
It seems to me that the correct balance between those two forces is the
basis of good government and management.


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