You had to be a rebel without a cause. The intellectuals had preempted all the causes. Causes were to the twentieth-century intellectuals as manners had been to Victorians. There was no way you could beat a Victorian on manners and there was no way you could beat a twentieth-century intellectual on causes. They had everything figured out. That was part of the problem. That was what was being rebelled against. All that neat scientific knowledge that was supposed to guide the world.
Phaedrus had no 'cause' that he could explain to anybody. His cause was the Quality of his life, which could not be framed in the 'objective' language of the intellectuals and therefore in their eyes was not a cause at all. He knew that intellectually contrived technological devices had increased in number and complexity, but he didn't think the ability to enjoy these devices had increased in proportion. He didn't think you could say with certainty that people are any happier than they were during the Victorian era. This 'pursuit of happiness' seemed to have become like the pursuit of some scientifically created, mechanical rabbit that moves ahead at whatever speed it is pursued. If you ever did catch it for a few moments it had a peculiar synthetic, technological taste that made the whole pursuit seem senseless.
Everyone seemed to be guided by an 'objective,' 'scientific' view of life that told each person that his essential self is his evolved material body. Ideas and societies are a component of brains, not the other way around. No two brains can merge physically, and therefore no two people can ever really communicate except in the mode of ship's radio operators sending messages back and forth in the night. A scientific, intellectual culture had become a culture of millions of isolated people living and dying in little cells of psychic solitary confinement, unable to talk to one another, really, and unable to judge one another because scientifically speaking it is impossible to do so. Each individual in his cell of isolation was told that no matter how hard he tried, no matter how hard he worked, his whole life is that of an animal that lives and dies like any other animal. He could invent moral goals for himself, but they are just artificial inventions. Scientifically speaking he has no goals.
Sometime after the twenties a secret loneliness, so penetrating and so encompassing that we are only beginning to realize the extent of it, descended upon the land. This scientific, psychiatric isolation and futility had become a far worse prison of the spirit than the old Victorian 'virtue' ever was. That streetcar ride with Lila so long ago. That was the feeling. There was no way he could ever get to Lila or understand her and no way she could ever understand him because all this intellect and its relationships and products and contrivances intervened. They had lost some of their realness. They were living in some kind of movie projected by this intellectual, electromechanical machine that had been created for their happiness, saying
PARADISE --> PARADISE --> PARADISE -->
but which had inadvertently shut them out from direct experience of life itself — and from each other.
Emphasis is Pirsig's. ↩︎
—Robert Pirsig, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, p. 133