Robert Pirsig Writes About Integrity

Two very good books on exploring integrity are Robert Pirsig's two books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, and Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. Both are about "quality," which is another word for integrity.

To have a good quality experience, you need to be in a condition of integrity, or at least be exploring your own integrity.

Both books are semi-true stories, and are philosophical in nature, but very interesting to read. Reading either book is a high-quality experience.

Pirsig's second book is my favorite: Lila. One of the gems I got from the book is integrity-type values (like truth and accuracy) are more important than social values (like conformity and polite behavior). If the two values are in conflict, integrity must override society.

There is a kind of hierarchy of values and ethically speaking, the higher values must trump the lower values. Pirsig's discussion about this really clarified for me why the 60's rebellion didn't really pan out — it didn't create an ideal world, and seemed to simply devolve into a drug-and-criminal-culture.

The reason it all went wrong is because there was no distinction between rebelling against society's rules by realizing integrity was more important, and rebelling against society's rules by indulging in biological values. There is a big difference.

If a scientist (or anyone) discovers a new phenomenon, like genetic evolution, even though much of society in Darwin's time was ordered by Christianity, and this finding undermined the tenets of Christianity, Pirsig's point is that truth or integrity must be more important than society's values. It can't be otherwise. If Christianity was going to suffer, so be it. If society would have to change and might not have as much order or control or success, so be it. Truth must be more important.

But rebellion against society's rules merely to indulge in drugs or promiscuity is not a high enough value to override the values of society, such as marriage and law. Rebellion for the sake of rebellion is not justifiable. Society is more important than biological values. And integrity is more important than society's values. That's the hierarchy.

This is exactly what Emerson wrote about in Self-Reliance. If you make something below more important than something higher, you lose something really important without gaining anything important enough to justify it.

One of the most important values for social order is conformity. This was big in the 1950's. In fact, conformity has been one of the most important values of society since societies were invented.

Now ask yourself: Which has more integrity, conforming to what others expect of you, or doing what you want to do and being who you are? If one has to trump the other, which one should do the trumping?

Okay. How about this one: Which has more integrity, conforming to what others expect of you, or getting a pretty young unmarried girl pregnant?

Seen this way, I think you can easily see that integrity is more important than conformity. But conformity is more important than indulging in biological drives without regard for the consequences.

This is but one of the many interesting discussions in Lila. Pirsig is a genius. And he explores integrity with integrity, making his books some of the most profound ever written.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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