Those who survived suffered a stunnedness, and a lostness and felt bitter toward the society that could
do that to them. They joined the faith that intellect must find some way out of old Victorian 'nobility' and 'virtue' into a more sane and intelligent world. In an instant it seemed, the snobbish fashionable Victorian social world was gone.
New technology fueled the change. The population was shifting from agriculture to manufacturing. Electrification was turning night into day and eliminating hundreds of drudgeries. Cars and highways were changing the landscape and the speed with which people did things. Mass journalism had emerged. Radio and radio advertising had arrived. The mastery of all these new changes was no longer dominated by social skills. It required a technologically trained, analytic mind. A horse could be mastered if your resolve was firm, your disposition pleasant and fear absent. The skills required were biological and social. But handling the new technology was something different. Personal biological and social qualities didn't make any difference to machines.
A whole population, cut loose physically by the new technology from farm to city, from South to North, and from East to West Coast, was also cut adrift morally and psychologically from the static social patterns of the Victorian past. People hardly knew what to do with themselves. 'Flappers,' airplanes, bathing beauty contests, radio, free love, movies, 'modern' art . . . suddenly the door had been sprung on a Victorian jail of staleness and conformity they had hardly known was there, and the elation at the new technological and social freedom was dizzying. F. Scott Fitzgerald caught the giddy exhilaration of it:
There'd be an orchestra
Playing for us
To dance the tango,
And people would clap
When we arose,
At her sweet face
And my new clothes.
No one knew what to do about the lostness. The explainers of that period were the most lost of all. 'Whirl is King,' wrote Walter Lippman in his Preface to Morals. Whirl, chaos seemed to be in control of the times. Nobody seemed to know why or where they were going. People raced from one fad to another, from one headline sensation to the next, hoping this was really the answer to their lostness, and finding it was not, flying on. Older Victorians muttered about the degeneracy that was tearing society apart, but nobody young was paying any attention to old Victorians any more.
The times were chaotic, but it was a chaos of social patterns only. To people who were dominated by old social values it seemed as though everything valuable had ended. But it was only social value patterns being destroyed by new intellectual formulations.
The events that excited people in the twenties were events that dramatized the new dominance of intellect over society. In the chaos of social patterns a wild new intellectual experimentation could now take place. Abstract art, discordant music, Freudian psychoanalysis, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, contempt for alcoholic prohibition. Literature emphasized the struggle of the noble, free-thinking individual against the crushing oppression of evil social conformity. The Victorians were damned for their narrow-mindedness, their social pretentiousness. The test of what was good, of what had Quality, was no longer 'Does it meet society's approval?' but 'Does it meet the approval of our intellect?'
It was this issue of intellect versus society that made the Scopes trial of 1925 such a journalistic sensation. In that trial a Tennessee schoolteacher, John Scopes, was charged with illegally teaching Darwinian evolution.
There was something not quite right about that trial, something phony. It was presented as a fight for academic freedom, but battles of that sort had been going on for centuries without the kind of attention the Scopes trial got. If Scopes had been tried back in the days when he might have been tortured on the rack for his heresy his stance would have been more heroic. But in 1925 his lawyer, Clarence Darrow, was just taking easy shots at a toothless tiger. Only religious fanatics and ignorant Tennessee hillbillies opposed the teaching of Evolution.
But when that trial is seen as a conflict of social and intellectual values its meaning emerges. Scopes and Darrow were defending academic freedom but, more importantly, they were prosecuting the old static religious patterns of the past. They gave intellectuals a warm feeling of arriving somewhere they had been waiting to arrive for a long time. Church bigots, pillars of society who for centuries had viciously attacked and defamed intellectuals who disagreed with them, were now getting some of it back.
The hurricane of social forces released by the overthrow of society by intellect was most strongly felt in Europe, particularly Germany, where the effects of the First World War were the most devastating. Communism and socialism, programs for intellectual control over society, were confronted by the reactionary forces of fascism, a program for the social control of intellect. Nowhere were the intellectuals more intense in their determination to overthrow the old order. Nowhere did the old order become more intent on finding ways to destroy the excesses of the new intellectualism.
Phaedrus thought that no other historical or political analysis explains the enormity of these forces as clearly as does the Metaphysics of Quality. The gigantic power of socialism and fascism, which have overwhelmed this century, is explained by a conflict of levels of evolution. This conflict explains the driving force behind Hitler not as an insane search for power but as an all-consuming glorification of social authority and hatred of intellectualism. His anti-Semitism was fueled by anti-intellectualism. His hatred of communists was fueled by anti-intellectualism. His exaltation of the German volk was fueled by it. His fanatic persecution of any kind of intellectual freedom was driven by it.
In the United States the economic and social upheaval was not so great as in Europe, but Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, nevertheless, became the center of a lesser storm between social and intellectual forces. The New Deal was many things, but at the center of it all was the belief that intellectual planning by the Government was necessary for society to regain its health.
The New Deal was described as a program for farmers, laborers and poor people everywhere, but it was also a new deal for the intellectuals of America. Suddenly, for the first time, they were at the center of the planning process - Tugwell, Rosenman, Berle, Moley, Hopkins, Douglas, Morgenthau, Frankfurter - these were people from a class that in the past could normally be hired for little more than laborers' wages. Now intellectuals were in a position to give orders to America's finest and oldest and wealthiest social groups. 'That Man,' as the old aristocrats sometimes called Roosevelt, was turning the whole United States of America over to foreign radicals, 'eggheads,' 'Commies' and the like. He was a 'traitor to his class.'
Suddenly, before the old Victorians' eyes, a whole new social caste, a caste of intellectual Brahmins, was being created above their own military and economic castes. These new Brahmins felt they could look down on them and, through the political control of the Democratic Party, push them around. Social snobbery was being replaced with intellectual snobbery. Brain trusts, think tanks, academic foundations were taking over the whole country. It was joked that Thorstein Veblen's famous intellectual attack on Victorian society, 'The Theory of The Leisure Class,' should be updated with a new one called The Leisure of The Theory Class.' A new social class had arrived: the theory class, which
had clearly put itself above the social castes that dominated before its time.
Intellectualism, which had been a respected servant of the Victorian society, had become society's master, and the intellectuals involved made it clear they felt that this new order was best for the country. It was like the replacement of Indians by pioneers. That was too bad for the Indians but it was an inevitable form of progress. A society based upon scientific truth had to be superior to a society based on blind unthinking social tradition. As the new scientific modern outlook improved society, these old Victorian hatreds would be lost and forgotten.
And so, from the idea that society is man's highest achievement, the twentieth century moved to the idea that intellect is man's highest achievement. Within the academic world everything was blooming. University enrollments zoomed. The Ph.D. was on its way to becoming the ultimate social status symbol. Money poured in for education in a flood the academic world had never seen. New academic fields were expanding into new undreamed-of territories at a breathless pace, and among the most rapidly expanding and breathless fields of all was one that interested Phaedrus more than any other: anthropology.
Now the Metaphysics of Quality had come a long way from his days of frustrated reading about anthropology in the mountains of Montana. He saw that during the early decades of this century anthropology's unassailable Olympian 'objectivity' had had some very partisan cultural roots of its own. It had been a political tool with which to defeat the Victorians and their system of social values. He doubted whether there was another field anywhere within the academic spectrum that so clearly revealed the gulf between the Victorians and the new twentieth-century intellectuals.
The gulf existed between Victorian evolutionists and twentieth-century relativists. The Victorians such as Morgan, Tylor and Spencer presumed all primitive societies were early forms of 'Society' itself and were trying to 'grow' into a complete 'civilization' like that of Victorian England. The relativists, following Boas' 'historical reconstruction,' stated that there is no empirical scientific evidence for a 'Society' toward which all primitive societies are heading.
Cultural relativists held that it is unscientific to interpret values in culture B by the values of culture A. It would be wrong for an Australian Bushman anthropologist to come to New York and find people backward and primitive because hardly anyone could throw a boomerang properly. It is equally wrong for a New York anthropologist to go to Australia and find a Bushman backward and primitive because he cannot read or write. Cultures are unique historical patterns which contain their own values and cannot be judged in terms of the values of other cultures. The cultural relativists, backed by Boas' doctrines of scientific empiricism, virtually wiped out the credibility of the older Victorian evolutionists and gave to anthropology a shape it has had ever since.
That victory is always presented as a victory of scientific objectivity over unscientific prejudice, but the Metaphysics of Quality says deeper issues were involved. The phenomenal sales of Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture and Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa indicated something else. When a book about the social customs of a South Sea island suddenly becomes a best seller you know there's something in it other than an academic interest in Pacific island customs. Something in that book has 'hit a nerve' to cause such a huge public acclaim. The 'nerve' in this case was the conflict between society and intellect.
These books were legitimate anthropological documents but they were also political tracts in the new shift from social to intellectual dominance, in which the reasoning ran: 'If we have seen scientifically that they can have free sex in Samoa and it doesn't seem to hurt anybody, then that proves we can have it here and not hurt anybody either. We have to use our intellect to discover what is right and wrong and not just blindly follow our own past customs.' The new cultural relativism became popular because it was a ferocious instrument for the dominance of intellect over society. Intellect could now pass judgment on all forms of social custom, including Victorian custom, but society could no longer pass judgment on intellect. That put intellect clearly in the driver's seat.
When people asked, 'If no culture, including a Victorian culture, can say what is right and what is wrong, then how can we ever know what is right and what is wrong?' the answer was, That's easy. Intellectuals will tell you. Intellectuals, unlike members of studiable cultures, know what they're talking and writing about, because what they say isn't culturally relative. What they say is absolute. This is because intellectuals follow science, which is objective. An objective observer does not have relative opinions because he is nowhere within the world he observes.'
Good old Dusenberry. This was the same hogwash he had denounced in the 1950s in Montana. Now, with the added perspective on the twentieth century provided by the Metaphysics of Quality, you could see its origins. An American anthropologist could no more embrace non-objectivity than a Stalinist bureaucrat could play the stock market. And for the same kind of ideological, conformist reasons.
Now, it should be stated at this point that the Metaphysics of Quality supports this dominance of intellect over society. It says intellect is a higher level of evolution than society; therefore, it is a more moral level than society. It is better for an idea to destroy a society than it is for a society to destroy an idea. But having said this, the Metaphysics of Quality goes on to say that science, the intellectual pattern that has been appointed to take over society, has a defect in it. The defect is that subject-object science has no provision for morals. Subject-object science is only concerned with
facts. Morals have no objective reality. You can look through a microscope or telescope or oscilloscope for the rest of your life and you will never find a single moral. There aren't any there. They are all in your head. They exist only in your imagination.
From the perspective of a subject-object science, the world is a completely purposeless, valueless place. There is no point in anything. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. Everything just functions, like machinery. There is nothing morally wrong with being lazy, nothing morally wrong with lying, with theft, with suicide, with murder, with genocide. There is nothing morally wrong because there are no morals, just functions.
Now that intellect was in command of society for the first time in history, was this the intellectual pattern it was going to run society with?
As far as Phaedrus knew, that question has never been successfully answered. What has occurred instead has been a general abandonment of all social moral codes, with 'a repressive society' used as a scapegoat to explain any and every kind of crime. Twentieth-century intellectuals noted that Victorians believed all little children were born in sin and needed strict discipline to remove them from this condition. The twentieth-century intellectuals called that 'rubbish.' There is no scientific evidence that little children are born in sin, they said. The whole idea of sin has no objective reality. Sin is simply a violation of a set of arbitrary social rules which little children can hardly be expected to be aware of, let alone obey. A far more objective explanation of 'sin' is that a collection of social patterns, grown old and corrupt and decadent, tries to justify its own existence by proclaiming that all who fail to conform to it are evil rather than admit any evil of its own.
There are two ways to get rid of this 'sin,' said the intellectuals. One is to force all children to conform to the ancient rules without ever questioning whether these rules are right or wrong. The other is to study the social patterns that have led to this condemnation and see how they can be altered to allow the natural inclinations of an innocent child to fulfill his needs without this charge of sinfulness arising. If the child is behaving naturally, then it is the society that calls him sinful that needs correction. If children are shown kindness and affection and given freedom to think and explore for themselves, children can arrive rationally at what is best for themselves and for the world. Why should they want to go in any other direction?
The new intellectualism of the twenties argued that if there are principles for right social conduct they are to be discovered by social experiment to see what produces the greatest satisfaction. The greatest satisfaction of the greatest number, rather than social tradition, is what determines what is moral and what is not. The scientific test of a 'vice' should not be, 'Does society approve or disapprove?' The test should be, 'Is it rational or irrational?'
For example, drinking that causes car accidents or loss of work or family problems is irrational. That kind of drinking is a vice. It does not contribute to the greatest satisfaction of the greatest number. On the other hand, drinking is not irrational when it produces mere social or intellectual relaxation. That kind of drinking is not a vice. The same test can be applied to gambling, swearing, lying, slandering or any other 'vice.' It is the intellectual aspect not the social aspect that dictates the answer.
Of all the 'vices' none was more controversial than premarital and extramarital sex. There was no depravity the Victorians condemned more vehemently and no freedom the new intellectuals have defended more ardently. Scientifically speaking, sexual activity is neither good nor evil, the intellectuals said. It is merely a biological function, like eating or sleeping. Denial of this normal physical function for some pseudo-moral reasons is irrational. If you open the door to premarital sex you simply allow freedom that does nobody any harm.
Books such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer were defended as great salients in the struggle against social oppression. Prostitution and adultery laws were eased. It was expected that with the new application of reason, sex could be handled much like other commodities without the terrible tensions and frustrations of social repression exposed by Sigmund Freud.
Thus, throughout this century we have seen over and over again that intellectuals weren't blaming crime on man's biological nature, but on the social patterns that had repressed this biological nature. At every opportunity, it seems, they derided, denounced, weakened and undercut these Victorian social patterns of repression in the belief that this would be the cure of man's criminal tendencies. It was as a part of this new dominance over society that intellectuals became excited about anthropology in the hope that the field would provide facts upon which to base new scientific rules for the proper governing of our own society. That was the significance of Coming of Age in Samoa.
Here in this country, American Indians — who since Custer's Last Stand had been reduced to near-pariahs by the Victorians - were suddenly revived as models of primitive communal virtue. Victorians had despised Indians because they were so primitive. Indians were at the opposite extreme of society from the Europeans that the American Victorians adored. But now 'anthros' from everywhere swarmed to huts and teepees and hogans of every tribe they could find, jockeying to be in on the great treasure hunt for new information about possible new moral indigenous American ways of life.
This was illogical since, if subject-object science sees no morals anywhere, then no scientific study of any kind is going to fill the moral void left by the overthrow of Victorian society. Intellectual permissiveness and destruction of social authority are no more scientific than Victorian discipline.
Phaedrus thought that this lapse in logic magically fitted the thesis he had started with: that the American personality has two components, European and Indian. The moral values that were replacing the old European Victorian ones were the moral values of American Indians: kindness to children, maximum freedom, openness of speech, love of simplicity, affinity for nature. Without any real awareness of where the new morals were coming from, the whole country was moving in a direction that it felt was right.
The new intellectualism looked to the 'common people' as a source of cultural values rather than to the old Victorian European models. Artists and writers of the thirties such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, James Farrell, Faulkner, Steinbeck and hundreds of others dug deep into the illiterate roots of white American culture to find the new morality, not understanding that it was this white illiterate American culture that was closest to the values of the Indian. The twentieth-century intellectuals were claiming scientific sanction for what they were doing, but the changes that were actually taking place in America were changes toward the values of the Indian.
Even the language was changing from European to Indian. Victorian language was as ornamental as their wallpaper: full of involutions and curlicues and floral patterns that had no practical function whatsoever, and distracted you from whatever content was there. But the new style of the twentieth century was Indian in its simplicity and directness. Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Dos Passos and many others were using a style that in the past would have been thought crude. Now this style was a reincarnation of the directness and honesty of the common man.
The western movie was another example of this change, showing Indian values which had become cowboy values which had become twentieth-century all-American values. Everyone knew the cowboys of the silver screen had little to do with their actual counterparts, but it didn't matter. It was the values, not the historical accuracy, that counted.
It was in this new world of technological achievement, of weakening social patterns of authority, of scientific amoralism, of adoration of the 'common man,' and of an unconscious drift toward Indian values, that Phaedrus grew up. The drift away from European social values had worked all right at first, and the first generation children of the Victorians, benefiting from ingrained Victorian social habits seem to have been enormously liberated intellectually by the new freedom. But with the second generation, Phaedrus' own generation, problems began to emerge.
Indian values are all right for an Indian style of life, but they don't work so well in a complex technological society. Indians themselves have a terrible time when they move from the reservation to the city. Cities function on punctuality and attention to material detail. They depend on the ability to subordinate to authority, whether it is a cop or an office manager or a bus driver. An upbringing that allows the child to grow 'naturally' in the Indian fashion does not necessarily guarantee the finest sort of urban adjustment.
In the time that Phaedrus grew up, intellect was dominant over society, but the results of the new social looseness weren't turning out as predicted. Something was wrong. The world was no doubt in better shape intellectually and technologically but despite that, somehow, the 'quality' of it was not good. There was no way you could say why this quality was no good. You just felt it.
Sometimes you could see little fragments of reflections of what was wrong but they were just fragments and you couldn't put them together. He remembered seeing The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams,
in which one edge of the stage had an arrow-shaped neon sign flashing on and off, on and off, and beneath the arrow was the word, 'PARADISE,' also flashing on and off. Paradise, it kept saying, is right where this arrow points:
PARADISE --> PARADISE --> PARADISE -->
But the Paradise was always somewhere pointed to, always somewhere else. Paradise was never here. Paradise was always at the end of some intellectual, technological ride, but you knew that when you got there paradise wouldn't be there either. You would just see another sign saying: