[Excerpt from Lila, an inquiry into morals, page 345 -
The Hippie Revolution, by Robert Pirsig (www.moq.org)
Until World War I the Victorian social codes dominated. From World War
II until World War II the intellectuals dominated unchallenged. From World War II until
the seventies the intellectuals continued to dominate, but with an increasing challenge
- call it the “Hippie Revolution”- which failed. And from the early seventies
on there has been a slow confused mindless drift back to a kind of pseudo-Victorian moral
posture accompanied by an unprecedented and unexplained growth in crime.
Of these periods, the last two seem the most misunderstood. The Hippies have been interpreted
as frivolous spoiled children, and their period following their departure as “a
return to values,” whatever that means. The Metaphysics of Quality, however, says
that’s backward: The Hippie revolution was the moral movement. The present period
is the collapse of values.
The Hippie revolution of the sixties was a moral revolution against both society and intellectuality.
It was a whole new social phenomenon no intellectual had predicted and no intellectuals
were able to explain. It was a revolution by children of well-to-do, college-educated,
“modern” people of the world who suddenly turned upon their parents and their
schools and their societies with a hatred no one could have believed existed. This was
not any new paradise the intellectuals of the twentieth society were trying to achieve
by freedom from Victorian restraints. This was something else that had blown up in their
Pheudrus thought the reason this movement has been so so hard to understand is that “understanding”
itself, static intellect, was it’s enemy. The culture-bearing book of the period,
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, was a running lecture against intellect. “.....All
my New York friends were in the negative nightmare position of putting down society and
giving their tirish bookish political or psychoanalytic reasons,” Kerouac wrote,
“but Dean” (the hero of the book)” just raced in society eager for bread
and love; he didn’t care one way or the other.”
In the twenties it had been thought that society was the cause of man’s unhappiness
and that the intellect would cure it, but in the sixties it was thought that both society
and intellect together were the chouse of all the unhappiness and that transcendence of
both society and intellect would cure it. Whatever the intellectuals of the twenties had
fought to create, the flower children of the sixties fought to destroy. Contempt for rules,
for material possessions, for war, for technology were standard repertoire. The “blowing
of the mind" was important. Drugs that destroyed one’s ability to reason were
almost a sacrament. Oriental religions such as Zen and Vedanta that promised release from
the prison of intellect were taken up as gospel. The cultural values of blacks and Indians,
to the extent that they were anti-intellectual, were mimicked. Anarchy became the most
popular politics and squalor and poverty and chaos became the most popular life-styles.
Degeneracy was practiced for degeneracy’s sake. Anything was good that shook off
paralyzing intellectual grip of the social-intellectual Establishment.
By the end of the sixties, the intellectualism of the twenties found itself in an impossible
trap. If it continued to advocate more freedom from Victorian social restraint, all it
would get was more Hippies, who were really just carrying it’s anti-Victorianism
to an extreme. If, on the other hand, it advocated more constructive social conformity
in opposition of the Hippies, all it would get was more Victorians, in the form of the
The political whipsaw was invincible, and in 1968 it cut down one of the last great intellectual
liberal leaders of the New Deal period, Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate for
“I’ve seen enough of this” Humphrey exclaimed at the disastrous 1968
Democratic convention, “I’ve seen far too much of it!” But he had no
explanation for it and no remedy and neither did anyone else. The great intellectual revolution
of the first half of the century, the dream of a “Great Society” made humane
by man’s intellect, was killed, hoist on it’s own petard of freedom from social
Pheadrus thought that this Hippy revolution could have been as much as an advance over
the intellectual twenties as the twenties had been over the social 1890’s, but his
analysis showed that this “Dynamic Sixties” revolution made an disastrous
mistake that destroyed it before it really got started.
The Hippie rejection of social and intellectual patterns left just two directions to go:
toward biological quality and and toward Dynamic Quality. The revolutionaries of the sixties
thought that since both are anti-intellectual, why then they must both be the same. That
was the mistake.
American writing on Zen during this period showed this confusion. Zen was often thought
to be a sort of innocent “anything goes.” If you did anything you pleased,
without regard to social restraint, at the exact moment you pleased to do it, that would
express your Buddha-nature. To Japanese Zen masters coming to this country (USA), this
must have been really strange. Japanese Zen is attached to social disciplines so meticulous
they make the the Puritans look almost degenerate.
Back in the fifties and sixties Pheadrus had shared this confusion of biological quality
and Dynamic Quality, but the Metaphysics of Quality seemed to help clear it up. When biological
quality and Dynamic Quality are confused the result isn’t an increase in Dynamic
Quality. It’s an extremely destructive form of degeneracy of the sort seen in the
Manson murders, the Jonestown madness, and the increase in crime and drug addiction throughout
the country. In the early seventies, as people began to see this, they dropped away from
the movement, and the Hippie revolution, like the intellectual revolution of the twenties,
became a moral invention that failed.
Today it seemed to Pheadrus, the over-all picture is one of moral movements gone bankrupt.
Just as the intellectual revolution undermined social patterns, the Hippie undermined
both static and intellectual patterns. Nothing better has been introduced to replace them.
The result is a drop in both social and intellectual quality. In the United States the
national intelligence shown in SAT scores has gone down. Organized crime has grown more
powerful and more sinister. Urban ghettos have gone larger and more dangerous. The end
of the twentieth century in America seems to be an intellectual, social, and economic
rustbelt, a whole society that has given up on Dynamic improvement and is slowly trying
to slip to Victorianism, the last static ratchet-latch.
More Dynamic foreign cultures are overtaking it and actually invading it, because it’s
now incapable of competing. What’s coming out of the urban slums, where old Victorian
social moral codes are almost destroyed, isn’t any new paradise the revolutionaries
hoped for, but a reversion to rule by terror, violence and gang death - the old biological
might-makes-right morality of prehistoric brigandage that primitive societies were set
up to overcome.
Excerpt from Lila, an inquiry into morals. Publisher: Bantam 1992 / ISBN: