Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Islam Re: Social and Biological Quality

In a recent comment comparing Islam with Communism, Mr. Lawrence Auster asks: “How does Pirsig's biology/society distinction help us defend ourselves against Islam?”

I don't go along with demonizing Islam. I am more inclined to see how Muslims should want to defend themselves against us, than that we should need to defend ourselves against them. There is a long history of Anglo-American interference in their affairs and it is a very dark story of colonialism, neo-colonialism, racial arrogance, subversion of law and good faith, and betrayal of Western Christian values at every turn.

On the issue of 9/11, I believe it was engineered to make Muslims look bad in much the same way that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was engineered to make Catholics look bad. I am not satisfied with official explanations for either event.

This much being said, however, in terms of Auster's context (his anti-Islamic views) it's a fair question. Pirsig does have some thoughts about the subject, although he was writing long before the present wave of hysterical hatred being fomented against Islam by dual loyalists and morally corrupt Christians.

Historically Islam provided an enormous taming and civilizing force to the warring tribes of the Arabian peninsula. Pirsig remarks in Lila that some of the Muslim animus against the West is owing to the fact that Muslims perceive the West as aiding and abetting the release of those very biological forces that Islam has striven so hard to contain. [See note below.]

Distinguishing Social from Intellectual Quality might assist in sorting out Mr. Auster’s other comment. Communism was an intellectual ideology brought forward in the very heydey of Western materialism. It is a perfect example of how intellectuals turned against the very society that provided for them. Not only did Marxism deride and disparage static social values like marriage and religion, it also derided the “bourgeois” safeguards for Intellectual Quality – freedom of speech and press, trial by jury, government by consent, human rights. Thus it could not preserve social values from deterioration or prevent society from falling back into biology. Which is exactly what happened -- i.e. the rule of the strong, or re-barbarization.

Pirsig on biology and society, with comment on Islam:

“The central term of confusion between these two levels of codes is ‘society.’ Is society good or is society evil? The question is confused because the term ‘society’ is common to both of these levels, but in one level society is the higher evolutionary pattern and in the other it is the lower. Unless you separate these two levels of moral codes you get a paralyzing confusion as to whether society is moral or immoral. That paralyzing confusion is what dominates all thoughts about morality and society today.

“The idea that ‘man is born free but is everywhere in chains’ was never true. There are no chains more vicious that the chains of biological necessity into which every child is born. Society exists primarily to free people from these biological chains. It has done that job so stunningly well intellectuals forget the fact and turn upon society with a shameful ingratitude for what society has done.

“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. Intellectuals have failed to understand the ocean of biological quality that is constantly being suppressed by social order."

“Biological quality is necessary to the survival of life. But when it threatens to dominate and destroy society, biological quality becomes evil itself, the ‘Great Satan’ of 20th century Western culture. One reason why fundamentalist Muslim cultures have become so fanatic in their hatred for the West is that it has released the biological forces of evil that Islam fought for centuries to control.”
Pirsig, Lila, p. 353.

1 comment:

dmbuchanan said...


Don't you think there is a parallel in our own culture? It seems to me that christian fundamentalists in the U.S. are just one among many similar reactionary groups and movements. They too have that strange mixture of prudery, violence and chauvinism. They tend to exhibit anti-intellectual attitude and to glorify social authority, which is basically Pirsig's definition of fascism. I'm not saying that Pat Robertson is a terrorist or that Ted Haggart is a genocidal maniac, of course. There are grades and differences with the range of reactions, but they seem to be reacting to the same thing. Letting the biological genie out of the bottle, so to speak, has created problems. We can see this in their common characteristics. There is an emphasis on social level moral codes, especially the ones that control sexuality and other biological forces, in reactionaries from Franco to Osama. There is an anti-intellectual attitude here at home that breaks my heart. I imagine there are more than a few Islamic intellectuals who feel exactly the same way about fundamentalism.

Brighter days and Happy New Year!

I'm a bit worried that there will be another great war. Or rather it already started. It'll be OUR fundamentalists against THEIR fundamentalists. I don't about you, but I think we'd all lose no matter who won such a contest.

As I understand it, Pirsig sees the present period as a neo-Victorian moral decline, a falling back to that last static latch and a loss of intellectual leadership in the culture. This would take us back to a morality that can keep biological quality from getting out of hand, yes, but this is a morality that Pirsig calls hopelessly static and hopelessly stupid.

In any case, I think its an important issue, one that's dominated our national politics as long as I can remember. Its hard to think of an issue that is not, at least, colored by it. Every time I watch the news, which is almost every day, there it is.