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  The Hippie Revolution - by Robert Pirsig | Excerpt from Lila

[Excerpt from Lila, an inquiry into morals, page 345 - 349]

The Hippie Revolution, by Robert Pirsig (

   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 faces.

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 reactionary right.

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 President.
“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 restraint.

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.

 Robert Pirsig

Excerpt from Lila, an inquiry into morals. Publisher: Bantam 1992 / ISBN: 0553299611