Food For Thought

A Collection of Heretical Notions and Wretched Adages
compiled by Jack Tourette

author index



[see also: NATURE, TREES]

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

Bible, Genesis 1:28

We do not inherit this land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Haida Indian saying

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
The Maine Woods, 1848

Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.

James Anthony Froude (1818-1894)
Oceana, 1886
Chapter 5

The earth...has a skin, and this skin has diseases. One of these diseases, for example, is called "man."

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1883-85
Second Part, Chapter 19 "The Soothsayer"

Complete adaptation to environment means death. The essential point in all response is the desire to control the environment.

John Dewey (1859-1953)
Class lectures on "Psychological Ethics"
29 September 1924

The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago...had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
The Dance of Life, 1923
Chapter 7

Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
Written in the Introduction to Silent Spring, 1962
By Rachel Carson (1907-1964)

You speak of 'pests' and the need to kill bugs, termites, flies, mosquitoes, and roaches; otherwise you fear they would very quickly take over the planet and make life impossible for humans. Are you aware that

1. Humans have destroyed countless forests, have overgrazed land and reduced it to uninhabitable deserts?

2. Humans have wiped out entire species of birds, fish and animals?

3. Humans slaughter wild animals for 'sport'?

4. That in historical times humans have deliberately destroyed the culture of other humans, have exploited them, enslaved them, and killed them by tens of millions?

5. Have you traveled through the U.S.A. and seen the city slums, the hideous approaches to U.S.A. towns, the bill-boarded highways?

By any definition of 'pest,' in terms of 'live and let live,' human beings would surely take first prize.

Scott Nearing (1883-1983)
Loving and Leaving the Good Life
by Helen Nearing (1904-1995)

One watches them on the sea-shore, all the people: and there is something pathetic, almost wistful in them, as if they wished that their lives did not add up to this scaly nullity of possession, but as if they could not escape. It is a dragon that has devoured us all: these obscene, scaly houses, this insatiable struggle and desire to possess, to possess always and in spite of everything, this need to be an owner, lest one be owned. It is too horrible. One can no longer live with people: it is too hideous and nauseating. Owners and owned, they are like the two sides of a ghastly disease. One feels a sort of madness come over one, as if the world had become hell. But it is only super-imposed: it is only a temporary disease. It can be cleaned away.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith
03 August 1915
The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: Volume 2, June 1913-October 1916, 1981
Edited by George J. Zytaruk & James T. Boulton

But all conservation of wilderness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.

Aldo Leopold (1886-1948)
A Sand County Almanac, 1949
Part II: Sketches Here and There
"Wisconsin: Marshland Elegy"

Scientists have an epigram: ontogeny repeats phylogeny. What they mean is that the development of each individual repeats the evolutionary history of the race. This is true of mental as well as physical things. The trophy-hunter is the caveman reborn. Trophy-hunting is the prerogative of youth, racial or individual, and nothing to apologize for.

The disquieting thing in the modern picture is the trophy-hunter who never grows up....

Aldo Leopold (1886-1948)
A Sand County Almanac, 1949
Part III "The Upshot"
"Conservation Esthetic"

When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man, we call him a vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God, we call him a sportsman.

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970)
Great Chain of Life, 1957

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

E.B. White (1899-1985)
"Coon Tree"
Essays of E.B. White, 1977

There are two kinds of satisfactory landscape. One is Nature undisturbed by human intervention. We shall have less and less of this as the world population increases. We must make a strenuous effort to preserve what we can of primeval Nature, lest we lose the opportunity to re-establish contact now and then with our biological origins. A sense of continuity with the past and with the rest of creation is a form of religious experience essential to sanity.

The other kind of satisfactory landscape is one created by human toil, in which, through progressive adjustments based on feeling and thought, as well as on trial and error, man has achieved a kind of harmony between himself and natural forces. What we long for is rarely Nature in the raw; more often it is a landscape suited to human limitations and shaped by the efforts and aspirations that have created civilized life. The charm of New England or of the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside is not a product of chance, nor did it result from man's "conquest" of nature. Rather it is the expression of a subtle process through which the natural environment was humanized in accordance with its own individual genius. This constitutes the wooing or the taming of nature as defined by Tagore and Saint Exupery.

Rene Dubos (1901-1982)
So Human an Animal, 1968
Chapter 6 "The Science of Humanity"

I differ profoundly from the more alarmist ecologists, like Paul Ehrlich, and where I fight with Barry Commoner, though we are very close friends. I always tell them that in my opinion, the danger is not that we will all be killed by pollution and overpopulation. What is going to happen is that we are going to accept the situation, and make some kind of adjustment to it. We may in the long run suffer physically as well, but the immediate danger is that we are losing our sense of what the environment could and should be....

[What then can be done?]

I cannot give you a single answer. I doubt whether adults can change their way of life. By the time you are adult you are conditioned by your past, you have made all sorts of commitments, you are almost a prisoner. So even though people may protest against environmental degradation, they won't do anything to change it -- which doesn't mean they aren't aware that something is wrong. But I am mush more optimistic when I consider the young people. The very young, around seventeen, are immensely aware of what is going on. They have not lost interest at all; if anything their interest has continued to increase, and they have become more articulate and better informed. But they do not have the power to act, and the people who do, those who manage the world, will not do anything to change it until we have a disaster.

Rene Dubos (1901-1982)
in Philosophers of the Earth; Conversations With Ecologists
by Anne Chisholm, 1972

We have to credit space exploration with the discovery that there is no meaningful life elsewhere in the solar system. This overcomes the earlier romanticism of other inhabitable places in the solar system. That throws more responsibility on us and the way we live on Earth, for there's nowhere else to go.

Wuthout this realization, this community of Earth, we might have settled down to plans for endless warfare. But there's a growing feeling that our relationships must change, because there's nowhere else to go.

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
Eugene [Oregon] Register-Guard
06 December 1972

Indeed, there is a very eminent scientist associated with Texas A&M who has written about nature laughing at us and, according to his research, if we totally eliminated all the man-made sulfur dioxide in the air today, we would still have two-thirds as much as we have because that's how much nature is releasing. I know Teddy Kennedy had fun at the Democratic convention when he said that I had said that trees and vegetation cause 80 percent, I said 92 percent, 93 percent, pardon me. And I didn't say air pollution, I said oxides of nitrogen. And I am right. Growing and decaying vegetation in this land are responsible for 93 percent of the oxides of nitrogen.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
07 October 1980, Steubenville Ohio
Confusing nitrous oxide (emitted by plants) with
nitrogen dioxide (emitted by smokestacks)?
Quoted in Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power, 2003
Part III "The Pursuit of the Presidency"
Chapter 30 "President"
By Lou Cannon

Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emissions standards from man-made sources.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
Sierra, 10 September 1980
(Reagan later amended this figure to 93%)

I have flown over Mount St. Helens out on our west coast. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that that one little mountain has probably released more sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
Sierra, 08 October 1980
(Actually, Mount St. Helens, at its peak activity, emitted about
2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day, compared with 81,000 tons
per day by cars.)

Washington, April 9 -- The Justice Department announced today that is would begin the systematic fingerprinting, photographing, and urinalysis of "all persons connected with the forces of conservation and environmental protection."

Attorney General John N. Mitchell said that "the violent incident of dumping on the property of a great American corporation proves that the conservation movement is a breeding ground of Communists and other subversives. We intend to clean them out, even if it means rounding up every bird-watcher in the country.

Mr. Mitchell labeled it "unfortunate" that "many innocent people would have to be investigated just because of the action of a handful of young punks."

"But", he pointed out, "that's democracy."

John Mitchell (1913-1988)
Life, 24 April 1970

Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination. For in a civilization equipped with immense technological power, the sense of alienation between man and nature leads to the use of technology in a hostile spirit -- to the "conquest" of nature instead of intelligent co-operation with nature. The result is that we are eroding and destroying our environment, spreading Los Angelization instead of civilization.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
"Psychedelics and Religious Experience"
California Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 1
January 1968

God put a tree on earth to be used not just to be cut down, but to be used...perhaps for birds to nest in, or simply to be looked at for mere enjoyment to restore the spirit and perspective of man. If a tree grows somewhere unused by man or animal it is somehow wasted. Like a human being, it must be needed by someone.

Wally Hickel (1919-2010)
The Irvine Lectures, Number 2
"What the Environment is all About"
12-28 October 1976
University of California

[Y]ou can't just let nature run wild.

Wally Hickel (1919-2010)
(Alaskan governor 1966-1969, 1990-1994, on hunting wolves)
"Editor's Notes" by George Bryson
Anchorage Daily News, 20 December 1992

Man is a blind, witless, low-brow, anthropocentric clod who inflicts lesions upon the earth.

Ian L. McHarg (b.1920)
"Ian McHarg vs. Us Anthropocentric Clods"
Life, 15 August 1969

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

1. Reduce and stabilize your population.

2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.

3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.

4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.

5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.

6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean and stupid.

7. And so on. Or else.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)
Fates Worse Than Death, 1991
Chapter XI

The good Earth -- we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)
Salon interview
08 October 1999

Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.

Gore Vidal (b.1925)
"Gods and Greens"
Observer, London
27 August 1989

Do we really hate the world? Are we really contemptuous of it? Have we really ignored its nature and its needs and the problems of its health? The evidence against us is everywhere. It is in our wanton and thoughtless misuse of the land and the other natural resources, in our wholesale pollution of the water and air.... It is in our hatred of races and nations. It is in our willingness to honor profit above everything except victory.

Our hatred of the world is most insidiously and dangerously present in the constantly widening discrepancy between our power and our needs, our means and our ends. This is because of machinery and what we call efficiency. In order to build a road we destroy several thousand acres of farmland forever, all in perfect optimism, without regret, believing that we have gained much and lost nothing. In order to build a dam, which like all human things will be temporary, we destroy a virgin stream forever, believing that we have conquered nature and added significantly to our stature. In order to burn cheap coal we destroy a mountain forever, believing, in the way of lovers of progress, that what is of immediate advantage to us must be a permanent benefit to the universe.

In order to protect ourselves against Russia or China, or whoever our enemy will be in ten years, we have prepared weapons the use of which will, we know, involve our own destruction.

A man cannot hate the world and hate his own kind without hating himself. The familiar idea that a man's governing religious obligation is to "save" himself, procure for himself an eternal life, is based on a concept of individualism that is both vicious and absurd. And this religious concept is the counterpart, and to a considerable extent the cause, of the vicious secular individualism that suggests that a man's governing obligation is to enrich himself in this world. But man cannot live alone -- he cannot have values alone, religious or otherwise, any more than he can live by bread alone. Such desires can live only at the world's expense and at the expense of one's own earthly life, which one inevitably devalues in devaluing the earth. So when a man seeks to live on the earth only for the eternal perpetuation, or only for the economic enrichment, of a life that he has devalued and despised, he is involved not only in absurdity but in perversion -- a perversion that has now become the deadly disease of the world.

Wendell Berry (b.1934)
"A Secular Pilgrimage"
A Continuous Harmony, 1972

Peace and the survival of life on earth as we know it are threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values. Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth's living things.

Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we know is the case only if we care for it.

It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past that resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations.

Clearly, this is a pivotal generation. Global communications is possible, yet confrontations take place more often than meaningful dialogue for peace.

Our marvels of science and technology are matched, if not outweighed, by many current tragedies, including human starvation in some parts of the world and extinction of other life forms. Many of earth's habitats, animals and plants that we know as rare may not be known at all by future generations. We have the capability and the responsibility. We must act before it is too late.

Dalai Lama (b.1935)
GreenPeace magazine
March/April 1990, page 10

My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns. We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.

James Watt (b.1938)
"Washington Post"
24 May 1981

We who revel in nature's diversity and feel instructed by every animal tend to brand Homo sapiens as the greatest catastrophe since the Cretaceous extinction.

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)
Chapter 28 "Sticking Up for Marsupials"
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History, 1980

One might wonder where there was room for so many people, and how there was enough food for them to eat. Indeed. We might call it the Hydrocarbon Culture, or the Oil Culture. Unimaginable quantities of coal and oil and gas were mined and burned. It was as if they were burning all of the forests in the entire country every four or five years, and doing this decade after decade. The hydrocarbon fires fueled giant machines, and these had to be tended by armies of workers. The Oil People created huge farms, covering whole counties and states, and forced food out of the ground by mixing explosives into the soil.

In effect, the whole earth exploded. In just three or four generations they brought the earth's savings of three hundred million years up out of the ground and into the air where it oxidized. The great conflagration affected every part of the globe, and everything that lived on it.

Dale Pendell (b.1947)
The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, 2010
"The White Death"

The rights of a species, any species, must take precedence over the life of an individual of another species. This is a basic ecological law. It is not to be tampered with by primates who have molded themselves into divine legends in their own mind.

Paul Watson (b.1950)
"The Politics of Extinction"
January 1998

After two and a half centuries of living with machines run on fossil fuels, most of us are committed to the notion of ever more powerful technologies. The thought that the high-energy age of fossil fuels may turn out to be a historical parenthesis is generally dismissed as ridiculous. Yet we should be open to that possibility. The age of fossil fuels has not just been a period in time, but a condition situated in sociopolitical space. It has provided a minority of the world's population with an unprecedented source of power -- in both a thermodynamic and a political sense. But we are now beginning to realize that the combustion of fossil fuels has represented an illusory emancipation from land. This illusory emancipation has two aspects. First, it has seemed to enable us to transcend the constraints of limited land area and soil fertility that so preoccupied the Physiocrats and other economic schools of thought prior to the Industrial Revolution. Second, it has until quite recently kept us largely ignorant about the negative consequences of burning fossil fuels for the long-term productivity of the biosphere as a source of human livelihood.

For two and a half centuries, the more affluent parts of the world's population have been building a technology based on solar energy accumulated on the surface of the Earth a very long time ago. Each year, we have been dissipating energy representing millions of years of ecological production over significant parts of the Earth's surface. In other words, we have relied on acreages of the past. What the contemporary scramble for so-called biofuels or agrofuels - such as ethanol - really represents is our determination to try to sustain that same technology on the capacity of presently available land to accumulated solar energy. There seems to be a general confidence that it can be done. It is just a matter of getting the technology right. But what if it can't?

Alf Hornborg (b.1954)
"Zero-Sum World: Challenges in Conceptualizing Environmental Load
Displacement and Ecologically Unequal Exchange in the World-System"
International Journal of Comparative Sociology
Volume 50, Numbers 3-4, June/August 2009

In the deepest woods,
lies the heart of our country
A people without forests
is a dying race
that is why
when a tree perishes we grow
another on its grave.

Verse on a Swiss forester's wall
Samuel Mines
The Last Days of Mankind, 1971
page 111



It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense.... They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society.

Adam Smith (1723-1790)
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
1776, Volume I, Book II, Chapter 3

...mere parsimony is not economy.... Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
A Letter to a Noble Lord on the Attacks Made Upon Mr. Burke and
His Pension, in the House of Lords, by the Duke of Bedford and
the Earl of Lauderdale, Early in the Present Session of
Parliament, 1796

These considerations should not lie beyond the purview of the economist. But they must be relegated to their right perspective. If I may be allowed to appropriate the term speculation for the activity of forecasting the psychology of the market, and the term enterprise for the activity of forecasting the prospective yield of assets over their whole life, it is by no means always the case that speculation predominates over enterprise. As the organisation of investment markets improves, the risk of the predominance of speculation does, however, increase. In one of the greatest investment markets in the world, namely, New York, the influence of speculation (in the above sense) is enormous. Even outside the field of finance, Americans are apt to be unduly interested in discovering what average opinion believes average opinion to be; and this national weakness finds its nemesis in the stock market. It is rare, one is told, for an American to invest, as many Englishmen still do, "for income"; and he will not readily purchase an investment except in the hope of capital appreciation. This is only another way of saying that, when he purchases an investment, the American is attaching his hopes, not so much to its prospective yield, as to a favourable change in the conventional basis of valuation, i.e. that he is, in the above sense, a speculator. Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. The measure of success attained by Wall Street, regarded as an institution of which the proper social purpose is to direct new investment into the most profitable channels in terms of future yield, cannot be claimed as one of the outstanding triumphs of laissez-faire capitalism -- which is not surprising, if I am right in thinking that the best brains of Wall Street have been in fact directed towards a different object.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936
Chapter 12 "The State of Long-term Expectation"
Section VI

If all the economists were laid end to end they would reach no conclusion.

Harper Sibley (1885-1959)
"Supreme Court of Banking Urged"
The [Baltimore] Sun, 20 July 1935
Often attributed to George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)


[see also: KNOWLEDGE]

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Aesop (620-560 BC)
The Lion and the Mouse

Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.

Aristotle (384-322 BC)
from Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Book V, section 19
by Diogenes Laertius (fl. 2nd century)

On one occasion [Aristotle] was asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated; "As much," said he, "as the living are to the dead."

Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Wisdom, Wit and Whims of Distinguished Ancient Philosophers, 1855
By Joseph Banvard

Train a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Bible, Proverbs 22:6

I'm sure the reason such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.

Petronius (d. circa 66 AD)
The Satyricon

Scimus te prae litteras fatuum esse.
(We know that you are mad with much learning.)

Petronius (d.c.66 AD)
The Satyricon
Chapter XLVI

On one occasion Aristotle was asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated: "As much," said he, "as the living are to the dead."

Diogenes Laertius (fl.2nd century)

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
An Essay on Criticism
Part II, Line 15 (1711)

'Tis education forms the common mind:
Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Moral Essays, Epistle I, Line 149

Some people will never learn any thing, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
The Works of Alexander Pope, 1847
"Thoughts on Various Subjects"
Edited by William Roscoe

Genius without education is like silver in the mine.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Poor Richard Improved, 1750

The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man almost nothing.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Elective Affinities, 1809
Part 1

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.

Henry Peter Brougham (1778-1868)
Speech to the House of Commons
29 January 1828

Anyone who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
"On the Ignorance of the Learned"
Edinburgh Magazine, July 1818

The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. Read over again all the accounts we have of Hindoos, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Teutons, we shall find the priests had all the knowledge, and really governed all mankind. Examine Mahometanism, trace Christianity from its first promulgation; knowledge has been almost exclusively confined to the clergy. And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your leggs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.

John Adams (1797-1801)
Essays: Boston Gazette, 1774-1775
The Portable John Adams, 2004
Edited by John Patrick Diggins

Le temp est un grand maitre, dit-on. Le malheur est quil tue ses eleves. (Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.)

Hector Louis Berlioz (1803-1869)
"Almanach des lettres francaises et etrangeres", 1924
Work published under the direction of Leon Treich

The education of a man or woman is never completed till they die.

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
Letter to son, Custus Lee
05 December 1860
Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee: Soldier and Man, 1906
Chapter IV "From the Mexican War to the war Between the States"
By John William Jones

Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions. After looking at the Alps, I felt that my mind had been stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity, and fitted so loosely on my old ideas of space that I had to spread these to fit it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858
Chapter XI

What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Journals, 1906
October/November 1850 entry

Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)
Abraham Lincoln, 1894, XIII

What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn.

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)
The Education of Henry Adams, 1907
Chapter 21 "Twenty Years After (1892)"

Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.

George Iles (1852-1942)
Canadian Stories, 1918
"Jottings from a Note-book"

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The Critic as Artist, Part I
In Intentions, 1891

A school should not be a preparation for life: a school should be life.

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915)
Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great: Scientists
Volume XII, 1916
"Humboldt", April 1905

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
"Maxims for Revolutionists: Education"
Man and Superman, 1903

As far as school education is a part of the required practical means, educational theory or philosophy has the task and the opportunity of helping to break down the philosophy of fixation that bolsters external authority in opposition to free cooperation. It must contest the notion that morals are something wholly separate from and above science and scientific method. It must help banish the conception that the daily work and vocation of man are negligible in comparison with literary pursuits, and that human destiny here and now is of slight importance in comparison with some supernatural destiny.

John Dewey (1859-1953)
Problems of Men, 1946

Education...has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading, an easy prey to sensations and cheap appeals.

George Macaulay Trevelyan (1876-1962)
English Social History, 1942
Chapter 18

Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing. The rest is mere sheep-herding.

Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972)
ABC of Reading, 1934

By the time a person has achieved years adequate for chosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948)
Save Me the Waltz, 1932
Chapter 4, Section 3

The purpose of education is to keep a culture from being drowned in senseless repetitions, each of which claims to offer a new insight.

Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978)
"The Cultural Situation Today"
Partisan Review, Summer 1972

The school system, custodian of print culture, has no place for the rugged individual. It is, indeed, the homogenizing hopper into which we toss our integral tots for processing.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
"Cervantes Confronted Typographic Man in the Figure of Don Quixote"
The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962

The State of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.

Thomas Szasz (b.1920)
The Second Sin, 1973

I argued that it was a teacher's duty to speak frankly to students of college age about all sorts of concerns of humankind, not just the subject of a course as stated in the catalogue. "That's how we gain their trust, and encourage them to speak up as well," I said, "and to realize that all subjects do not reside in neat little compartments, but are continuous and inseparable from the one big subject we have been put on Earth to study, which is life itself."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)
Hocus Pocus, 1990
Chapter 18

The paradox of education is precisely this -- that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.

James Baldwin (1924-1987)
"The Negro Child - His Self-Image"
Saturday Review, 21 December 1963

The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education.

Paul Karl Feyerabend (1924-1994)
Farewell to Reason, 1987

In education the search for consilience [the interweaving of all the academic disciplines to create a common ground of understanding] is the way to renew the crumbling structure of the liberal arts. During the past thirty years the ideal of the unity of a learning, which the Renaissance and Enlightenment bequeathed us, has been largely abandoned. With rare exceptions American universities and colleges have dissolved their curriculum into a slurry of minor disciplines and specialized courses. While the average number of undergraduate courses per institution doubled, the percentage of mandatory courses in general education dropped by more than half. Science was sequestered in the same period; only a third of universities and colleges require students to take at least one course in the natural sciences. The trend cannot be reversed by force-feeding students with some-of-this and some-of-that across the branches of learning. True reform will aim at the consilience of science with the social sciences and humanities in scholarship and teaching. Every college student should be able to answer the following question: What is the relationship between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?

...Most of the issues that vex humanity daily -- ethnic conflict, arms escalation, over-population, abortion, environment, endemic poverty, to cite several -- cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is....

A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of the consilience among them.

Edward Osborne Wilson (b.1929)
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
Chapter 2 "The Great Branches of Learning"

Although I have become, among other things, a teacher, I am skeptical of education. It seems to me a most doubtful process, and I think the good of it is taken too much for granted. It is a matter that is overtheorized and overvalued and always approached with too much confidence. It is, as we skeptics are always discovering to our delight, no substitute for experience or life or virtue or devotion. As it is handed out by the schools, it is only theoretically useful, like a randomly mixed handful of seeds carried in one's pocket. When one carries them back to one's own place in the world and plants them, some will prove unfit for the climate or the ground, some are sterile, some are not seeds at all but little clods and bits of gravel. Surprisingly few of them come to anything. There is an incredible waste and clumsiness in most efforts to prepare the young. For me, as a student and as a teacher, there has always been a pressing anxiety between the classroom and the world: how can you get from one to the other except by a blind jump? School is not so pleasant or valuable an experience as it is made out to be in the theorizing and reminiscing of elders. In a sense, it is not an experience at all, but a hiatus in experience.

Wendell Berry (b.1934)
"The Long-Legged House", Part I
The Long-Legged House, 1969

You know, in your life, you only get about two chances to learn from a 15-year-old bourbon. There's your first one, and you learn from it all along the time, and you put all that into the second one. By the time the second one's done, you're usually about done too.

Ronnie Eddins (c.1942-2010)
Buffalo Trace Distillery warehouseman
[Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey]
"Ronnie Eddins: see you later on, fella"
from Lew Bryson by Lew Bryson
13 October 2010

Sometimes it feels as if the world is divided into two classes: one very large class spurns difficulty, while the other very much smaller delights in it. There are readers who, when encountering an unfamiliar word, instead of reaching for a dictionary, choose to regard it as a sign of the authorís contempt or pretension, a deliberate refusal to speak in a language ordinary people can understand. Others, encountering the same word, happily seize on it as a chance to learn something new, to broaden their horizons. They eagerly seek a literature that upends assumptions, challenges prejudices, turns them inside out and forces them to see the world through new eyes.

Steve Wasserman
"In Defense of Difficulty"
The American Conservative, March/April 2015



One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
"The Logic of Elfland"
Orthodoxy, 1908

And if ever the suspicion of their manifold being dawns upon men of unusual powers and of unusually delicate perceptions, so that, as all genius must, they break through the illusion of the unity of the personality and perceive that the self is made up of a bundle of selves, they have only to say so and at once the majority puts them under lock and key, calls science to aid, establishes schizomania and protects humanity from the necessity of hearing the cry of truth from the lips of these unfortunate persons.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
Steppenwolf, 1927
"For Madmen Only"; "Treatise on the Steppenwolf"
Translated by Basil Creighton, 1929

The philosophical I is not the human being, not the human body or the human soul with the psychological properties, but the metaphysical subject, the boundary (not a part) of the world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Notebooks, 1914-1916
02 September 1915 entry
Edited by Anscombe, 1961

I say "me" knowing all the while it's not me.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
The Unnamable, 1953

The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we have of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999)
How to Become a Virgin, 1981
Chapter 2

Western science is now delineating a new concept of man, not as a solitary ego within a wall of flesh, but as an organism which is what it is by virtue of its inseparability from the rest of the world. But with the rarest exceptions even scientists do not feel themselves to exist in this way. They, and almost all of us, retain a sense of personality which is independent, isolated, insular, and estranged from the cosmos that surrounds it. Somehow this gap must be closed, and among the varied means whereby the closure may be initiated or achieved are medicines which science itself has discovered, and which may prove to be the sacraments of its religion.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
The Joyous Cosmology, 1962

How can the cortex observe and control the cortex? Perhaps there will come a day when the human brain will fold back on itself again and develop a higher cortex, but until then the only feedback which the cortex has about its own states comes through other people. (I am speaking here of the cortex as a whole. One can of course remember remembering.) Thus the ego which observes and controls the cortex is a complex of social information relayed back into the cortex - Mead's 'generalized other.' But this is social misinformation when it is made to appear that the information of which the ego consists is something other than states of the cortex itself, and therefore ought to be controlling the cortex. The ego is the unconscious pretense that the organism contains a higher system than the cortex; it is the confusion of a system of interpersonal information with a new, imaginary, fold in the brain - or with something quite other than a neural pattern, a mind, soul, self. When, therefore, I feel that 'I' am knowing or controlling myself - my cortex - I should recognize that I am actually being controlled by other people's words and gestures masquerading as my inner or better self. Not to see this brings about utter confusion, as when I try to force myself to stop feeling in ways that are socially unacceptable.

If all this is true, it becomes obvious that the ego feeling is pure hypnosis. Society is persuading the individual to do what it wants by making it appear that its commands are the individual's inmost self. What we want is what you want. And this is a double-bind, as when a mother says to her child, who is longing to slush around in a mud puddle, 'Now darling, you don't want to get into that mud!' This is misinformation, and this - if anything - is the 'Great Social Lie.'

Let us suppose, then, that the false reflex of 'I seeing my sights' or 'I feeling my feelings' is stopped.... It is hardly too much to say that such a change of perception would give far better ground for social solidarity than the normal trick of misinformation and hypnosis.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
Psychotherapy East and West, 1961
Chapter 3 "The Ways of Liberation"


It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure.

Horace (65-8 BC)
Epistles, Book III
(Ars Poetica), c.8 BC, line 25

I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Lettres Provinciales, 1657
Number 16

The aphorism, the apophthegm, in which I am the first master among Germans, are the forms of "eternity"; my ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book -- what everyone else does not say in a whole book.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
"Expeditions of an Untimely Man"
Aphorism 51
The Twilight of the Idols, 1889


[see also: PASSION]

The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Chapter 3

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.

George Santayana (1863-1952)
Dialogues in Limbo, 1926
Chapter 3

And what would happen to all our life, without negative emotions? What would happen to what we call art, to the theater, to drama, to most novels?

Peter Ouspensky (1878-1947)
The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, 1974
"Fourth Lecture" the emotional center there is no natural negative part. The greater part of negative emotions are artificial; they do not belong to the emotional center proper and are based on instinctive emotions which are quite unrelated to them but which are transformed by imagination and identification. [...] Positive emotions are emotions which cannot become negative. But all our pleasant emotions such as joy, sympathy, affection, self-confidence, can, at any moment, turn into boredom, irritation, envy, fear, and so on. Love can turn into jealousy or fear to lose what one loves, or into anger and hatred; hope can turn into daydreaming and the expectation of impossible things, and faith can turn into superstition and a weak acceptance of comforting nonsense.

Even a purely intellectual emotion - the desire for knowledge - or an asthetic emotion - that is, a feeling of beauty or harmony - if it becomes mixed with identification, immediately unites with emotions of a negative kind such as self-pride, vanity, selfishness, conceit, and so on.

So we can say without any possibility of mistake that we can have no positive emotions. At the same time, in actual fact, we have no negative emotions which exist without identification and imagination.

Peter Ouspensky (1878-1947)
The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, 1974
"Fourth Lecture"


Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about. Probably majority of people would even prefer not to hear about it. Yet it is the absolutely necessary counterpart of our world above. Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another's backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we 'must have coal', but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just 'coal' -- something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal. But most of the time, of course, we should prefer to forget that they were doing it. It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an 'intellectual' and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Lit. Supp., and the poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants -- all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.

George Orwell
The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937
Part 1, Chapter 2



We are born into the world of nature; our second birth is into the world of spirit.

Bhagavad-Gita (250 BC - AD 250)

Understanding others is wisdom. Understanding yourself is enlightenment.

Lao-tzu (c.604-c.531 BC)
The Way of Lao-tzu, 33

I gained nothing at all from Supreme Enlightenment, and for that very reason it is called Supreme Enlightenment.

Buddha (c.563-c.483 BC)

Then the Lord himself spoke and said: "If you can grasp what is meant by this, you will be delivered from the fear of Endings. So do not cease from searching. Yet, remember this; when you find that for which you are looking, you will at first be struck with horror and amazement. But after the horror will come understanding; and in the end you will find yourself to be set apart, and honoured above them all."

Gospel of St. Thomas (Apocryphal)

Students, even if you gain enlightenment, do not stop practicing, thinking that you have attained the ultimate. The Buddha Way is endless. Once enlightened you must practice all the more.

Dogen (1200-1253)
A Primer of Soto Zen: A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki
By Reiho Masunaga, 1971
Chapter VI

We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
Religio Medici, 1643
Part I, section 15

People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Emile; or, On Education, 1762
Book I

The mystic is too full of God to speak intelligently to the world.

Arthur Symons (1865-1945)
"Arthur Rimbaud"
The Symbolist Movement in Literature, 1899

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
Sand and Foam, 1926

All things in this creation exist within you and all things in you exist in creation; there is no border between you and the closest things, and there is no distance between you and the farthest things, and all things, from the lowest to the loftiest, from the smallest to the greatest, are within you as equal things.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
A Treasury of Khalil Gibran
Edited by Martin L. Wolf
Citadel Press, 1947, page 140

Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path."

For the soul walks upon all paths.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
Prophet, 1996

Nothing is unthinkable, nothing impossible to the balanced person, provided it arises out of the needs of life and is dedicated to life's further developments.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990)
"The Way and the Life"
The Conduct of Life, 1951

Any destiny at all, however long and complicated, in reality consists of a single moment: the moment in which a man once and for all knows who he is.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
A Personal Anthology, 1961
"Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz"

...he does possess one thing which "enlightened" people seldom or never possess, and that is a sense of responsibility. Enlightened people seldom or never possess a sense of responsibility.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
"Rudyard Kipling"
Horizon, February 1942

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.

Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994)
Decouvertes, 1969

As the retina enables us to see countless pulses of energy as a single light, so the mystical experience shows us innumerable individuals as a single Self.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
"Psychedelics and Religious Experience"
The Religious Situation, 1969
Edited by Donald R. Cutler

Mystics, prophets, holy men are all laughers because the religious revelation is a rib-tickling amazement-insight that all human purposes including your own are solemn self-deceptions. You see through the game and laugh with God at the cosmic joke.

Timothy Leary (1920-1996)
"The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook: A Review"
Millbrook, 1975
by Art Kleps
Chapter 33 "A Pitiful Incident"

...Nirvana or lasting enlightenment or true spiritual growth can be achieved only through the persistent exercise of real love.

Morgan Scott Peck (b.1936)
The Road Less Traveled, 25th Anniversary Edition, 2003
Part II Love, "More About Ego Boundaries"

...People who attain enlightenment...are silent. They are silent because we cannot understand them.

Terence McKenna (1946-2000)
"Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness"
Esalen Institute, California
December 1983

Spiritual development is seen as a threat to the worldly power structures because enlightenment renders individuals less susceptible to their manipulation.

Von K. Lechner
Salon No. 12


The evil which assails us is not in the localities we inhabit but in ourselves. We lack strength to endure the least task, being incapable of suffering pain, powerless to enjoy pleasure, impatient with everything. How many invoke death when, after having tried every sort of change, they find themselves reverting to the same sensations, unable to discover any new experience.

Seneca (4 BC - AD 65)
"On Tranquility of Mind"
Moral Essays, section 2, subsec.15


[see also: LAST WORDS]

Bury me not when I am dead
Lay me not down in a dusty bed
I could not bear the life down there
With earth worms creeping through my hair.

Aaron S. Burbank (1818-1883)
Epitaph 186
Over Their Dead Bodies: Yankee Epitaphs & History, 1962
edited by Thomas C. Mann & Janet Greene

We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

John Brashear (1840-1920)
and Phoebe Brashear (d.1910)
Paraphrase from "The Old Astronomer to His Pupil"
by Sarah Williams
See caveat

Think of the poorest person you have ever seen and ask if your next act will be of any use to him.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Inscribed over his tomb

I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)
On his gravestone in Herakleion, Crete

Excuse my dust.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Her own suggestion,
Vanity Fair, 1925

It is so soon that I am done for,
I wonder what I was begun for.

For a child aged three weeks
Cheltenham Churchyard

A zealous locksmith died of late,
And did arrive at heaven gate,
He stood without and would not knock,
Because he meant to pick the lock.

"Puritanical Locksmith"
Remains Concerning Britain, 1637
by William Camden (1551-1623)

Remember as you pass me by
as you are now, so was I
as I am now, you all will be
so be prepared to follow me...

Windhoek, Namibia

Vivi, mortuus sum, non curo.
(I lived, I'm dead, I don't care.)

Latin epitaph


Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called "equality".

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
The Art of Loving, 1956
Part II "The Theory of Love"
Chapter 2 "Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence"

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude toward one another, have varied from age to age; but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.

The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim -- for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives -- is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves, or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims. It would be an exaggeration to say that throughout history there has been no progress of a material kind. Even today, in a period of decline, the average human being is physically better off than he was a few centuries ago. But no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer. From the point of view of the law, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of the masters.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
1984, 1949
Part 2, Chapter 9


[see also: TIME]

Every situation -- nay, every moment -- is of infinite worth; for it is the representative of a whole eternity.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Conversations of Goethe, 1930
Monday, 03 November 1823

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921
Section 6:4311


Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country, as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
As You Like It, 1599-1600
Act III, scene ii, line 47

In refusing benefits caution must be used lest we seem to despise or to refuse them for fear of having to repay them in kind.

Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677)
Ethics, 1677, Part IV
Proposition 70: note

Good manners are a mirror in which everyone is reflected.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Elective Affinities, 1808
translated by David Constantine

There unfortunate tendency to confuse manners, which pertain to the outer person, with morals, which belong in such interior realms as the conscience and the soul. Religions generally put regulations about eating, dress, and washing in the same category as opportunities for sinning that promise considerably more fun.

Judith Martin (b.1938)
Common Courtesy, 1985

Cordiality is a much-underused tool for conveying a polite, nonspecific and sometimes devastating disinterest in someone.

Amy Dickinson (b.1959)
Newspaper column
22 September 2009



We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)
Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200
Opinion, Decided 02 May 1927

The eugenists constantly make the false assumption that a healthy degree of human progress demands a large and steady supply of first rate men. Here they succumb to the modern craze for mass production. Because a hundred policemen, or garbage men, or bootleggers are manifestly better than one they conclude absurdly that a hundred Beethovens would be better than one. But this is not true. The actual value of a genius often lies in his very singularity. If there had been a hundred Beethovens, the music of all of them would probably be very little known to-day, and so its civilizing effect would be appreciably less than it is. The number of first-rate men necessary to make a high civilization is really very small. If the United States could produce one Shakespeare or Newton or Bach or Michelangelo or Vesalius a century it would be doing better than any nation has ever done in history. Such culture as we have is due to a group of men so small that all of them alive at one time could be hauled in a single Pullman train. Once I went through "Who's Who in America", hunting for the really first-rate men among its 27,000 names -- that is, for the men who had really done something unique and difficult, and of unquestionable value to the human race. I found 200. The rest of the 27,000 were simply respectable blanks. Many of them (though certainly not all) were creditable members of society, but only the 200 had ever done anything useful that had not been done before.

An overproduction of geniuses, indeed, would be very dangerous, for though they make for progress they also tend to disturb the peace. Imagine a country housing 100 head of Aristotles! It would be as unhappy as a city housing 100 head of Jesse Jameses. Even quasi-geniuses are a great burden upon society. There are, in the United States to-day, 1,500 professional philosophers -- that is, men who make their livings at the trade. The country would be far better off if all save two or three of them were driving taxicabs or serving with the Rum Fleet.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Prejudices: Sixth Series, 1927
X "Dives into Quackery"
3. "Eugenics"

We are obliged to depopulate as part of our mission of preserving the German population. We shall have to develop a technique of depopulation. If you ask me what I mean by depopulation, I mean the removal of entire racial units. And that is what I intend to carry out -- that, roughly, is my task. Nature is cruel, therefore we, too, may be cruel. If I can send the flower of the German nation into the hell of war without the smallest pity for the spilling of precious German blood, then surely I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin! And by "remove" I don't necessarily mean destroy; I shall simply take systematic measures to dam their great natural fertility. For example, I shall keep their men and women separated for years. Do you remember the falling birthrate of the world war? Why should we not do quite consiously and through a number of years what was at that time merely the inevitable consequence of the long war? There are many ways, systematical and comparatively painless, or at any rate bloodless, of causing undesirable races to die out.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
The Voice of Destruction, 1940
by Hermann Rauschning, p.137-138

I see a divine hand in this AIDS thing.

Dr. John Wilke
President, National Right to Life Committee
"Planned Parenthood and Sex Clinics"
Fundraising Audiotape Mailout for Dr. James C. Dobson's
"Focus on the Family", Winter 1987,
(from "The Far Right, Speaking For Themselves,"
a Planned Parenthood pamphlet)


When good men die their goodness does not perish,
But lives though they are gone. As for the bad,
All that was theirs dies and is buried with them.

Euripides (c.485-406 BC)
Temenidae, Fragment 734

Wrong must not win by technicalities.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC)
The Eumenides, 458 BC

Every evil is easily crushed at its birth; when it has become of long standing, it usually gets stronger.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
"The Fifth Oration of M.T. Cicero Against Marcus Antonius"
aka "The Fifth Philippic"
Part XI
Select Orations, 1889
Translated by C.D. Yonge

The love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

All things are poison, and nothing is without poison: the Dosis alone makes a thing not poison. For example, every food and every drink, if taken beyond its Dose, is poison: the result proves it. I admit also that poison is poison: that it should, however, therefore be rejected, is impossible. Now since nothing exists which is not poison, why do you correct?

Paracelsus (1493-1541)
aka Theophrastus von Hohenheim
"Seven Defensiones, the Reply to Certain Calumniations of His Enemies"
"The Third Defence: Concerning the Description of the New Receipts"
Translated by Clarice Lilian Temkin (b.1906)
Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus, 1941
Edited by Henry Ernest Sigerist (1891-1957)

Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.... He who despises poison does not know what is hidden in it; for the arcanum that is contained in the poison is so blessed that the poison can neither detract from it nor harm it.

Paracelsus (1493-1541)
aka Theophrastus von Hohenheim
Paracelsus: Selected Writings, 1951
Volume I
Edited by Jolande Jacobi
Translated by Norbert Guterman

Every thing hath in it selfe his vertue and his vice: from one selfe flower the Bee and the Spider sucke honny and poison.

Henry Chettle (c.1560-c.1607)
Kind-Harts Dreme, 1592

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Julius Caesar
Act III, scene ii, line 79

Venture not to the utmost Bounds of even lawful Pleasures; The Limits of Good and Evil join.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734)
Introductio Ad Prudentiam: Or, Directions, Counsels, and Cautions,
Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life
, 1731
Number 437

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Attributed, 1599
Very doubtful source; see next quotation
See caveat

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, 23 April 1770

Since the generality of persons act from impulse, much more than from principle, men are neither so good nor so bad as we are apt to think them.

Julius Charles Hare (1795-1855)
Augustus William Hare (1792-1834)
Guesses at Truth, 1827

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Walden, 1854
Chapter 1, "Economy"

You may either win your peace or buy it; win it by resistance to evil; buy it by compromise with evil.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)
The Two Paths, 1859
Lecture 5

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Borrowed by Coffin (1924-2006), below?

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Under Western Eyes, 1911
Part II, Chapter 4

Evil comes to us men of imagination wearing as its mask all the virtues. I have certainly known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Estrangement: Extracts from a Diary Kept in 1909, 1926

If an all-good and all-powerful God created the world, why did he create evil? The monks said, so that man by conquering the wickedness in him, by resisting temptation, by accepting pain and sorrow and misfortune as the trials sent by God to purify him, might at long last be made worthy to receive his grace. It seemed to me like sending a fellow with a message to some place and just to make it harder for him you constructed a maze that he had to get through, then dug a moat that he had to swim and finally built a wall that he had to scale. I wasn't prepared to believe in an all-wise God who hadn't common sense. I didn't see why you shouldn't believe in a God who hadn't created the world, but had to make the best of the bad job he'd found, a being enormously better, wiser and greater than man, who strove with the evil he hadn't made and who might be hoped in the end to overcome it. But on the other hand I didn't see why you should.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
The Razor's Edge, 1944
Chapter 6, iii

As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.

Christopher Dawson (1889-1970)
The Judgment of the Nations, 1942

Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
Mein Kampf, 1925
Paraphrase from next quotation
See caveat

The goal of a political reform movement will never be reached by enlightenment work or by influencing ruling circles, but only by the achievement of political power. Every world-moving idea has not only the right, but also the duty, of securing, those means which make possible the execution of its ideas. Success is the one earthly judge concerning the right or wrong of such an effort, and under success we must not understand, as in the year 1918, the achievement of power in itself, but an exercise of that power that will benefit the nation. Thus, a coup d'etat must not be regarded as successful if, as senseless state's attorneys in Germany think today, the revolutionaries have succeeded in possessing themselves of the state power, but only if by the realization of the purposes and aims underlying such a revolutionary action, more benefit accrues to the nation than under the past regime. Something which cannot very well be claimed for the German revolution, as the gangster job of autumn 1918, calls itself.

If the achievement of political power constitutes the precondition for the practical execution of reform purposes, the movement with reform purposes must from the first day of its existence feel itself a movement of the masses and not a literary tea-club or a shopkeepers' bowling society.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
Mein Kampf, 1925
Volume One - A Reckoning
Chapter XII "The First Period of Development of the
National Socialist German Workers' Party"

But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons -- either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it -- money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong -- only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Mere Christianity, 1952
Book II "What Christians Believe"
Chapter 2 "The Invasion"

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one's fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
East of Eden, 1952
Part One, Chapter 8, 1

Banish Evil from the world? Nonsense! Encourage it, foster it, sponsor it. The world owes Evil a debt beyond imagination. Think! Without greed ambition falters. Without vanity art becomes idle musing. Without cruelty benevolence lapses to passivity. Superstition has shamed man into self-reliance and, without stupidity, where would be the savor of superior understanding?

Jack Vance (b.1916)
Magnus Ridolph

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)
The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: an experiment in literary investigation, 1973
Part I "The Prison Industry"
Chapter 4 "The Bluecaps"

Nobody can come to grips with the drama of history unless he recognizes that most of the evil in this world is done by people who do it for good purposes. Evil is not that popular. If one gathered together a lot of people and said, "Let us be evil together," it would not go over very well. Thanks be to God!....

Thus the question is not to balance judgment and mercy. Whenever one reads the Bible or theology, what I would call the "who-is-who" question always arises. Who speaks to whom and for whom? The mighty message of God was often heard in a wrong way because one listened in on the wrong message. There are many examples of this. Jesus did say, "Man does not live by bread alone," but he never said that to a hungry person. When he was faced with hungry persons he fed them -- 4000 or 5000. And he mass produced wine in Cana just to prevent the wedding feast from turning into a fiasco. It was to Satan that he said "Man does not live by bread alone," speaking for and to himself. The church, however, often quoted Jesus in the wrong direction -- to the hungry, in defense of the well-fed.

Who speaks to whom? For whom is judgment mercy? That is the question, and unless one understands it, even the most glorious dialectical understanding of theology becomes not only counterproductive but evil.

Krister Stendahl (1921-2008)
Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, 1976

A wise person accepts the challenge of the darkness and develops a catlike ability to see at night. Not much of significance is clearer in our world than it was in the world of the Wise Men. Good and evil continue their incestuous relationship. As always, nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, and nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

William Sloan Coffin (1924-2006)
Sermon, "What Made the Wise Men Wise?", 10 January 1982
The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin, 2008

We also have to work, though, sort of, the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in. And so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

Dick Cheney (b.1941)
"Meet the Press", NBC-TV
16 September 2001

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Legend related to the "Three Wise Monkeys"
carved over the door of the Sacred Stable,
Nikko, Japan, 17th century


Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone on cycling on according to the fized law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
On the Origin of Species, 1859
Chapter 15

Ontogenesis, or the development of the individual, is a short and quick recapitulation of phylogenesis, or the development of the tribe to which it belongs, determined by the laws of inheritance and adaptation.

Ernst Heinrich Haeckel (1834-1919)
The History of Creation, 1868
(Frequently quoted "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny")

Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realized that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a yiny speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable; this is associated in our minds with the name of Copernicus, although Alexandrian doctrines taught something very similar. The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world, implying an ineradicable animal nature in him: this transvaluation has been accomplished in our own time upon the instigation of Charles Darwin, Wallace, and their predecessors, and not without the most violent opposition from their contemporaries. But man's craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research which is endeavoring to prove to the "ego" of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1916-1917
Translated by J. Riviere

An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalisation would be just as well founded as the generalisation which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
A Free Man's Worship and Other Essays, 1976
Chapter 6

It is inconceivable that a judicious observer from another solar system would see in our species -- which has tended to be cruel, destructive, wasteful, and irrational -- the crown and apex of cosmic evolution. Viewing us as the culmination of anything is grotesque; viewing us as a transitional species makes more sense -- and gives us more hope.

Betty McCollister (1920-2002)
"Our Transitional Species"
Free Inquiry magazine
Volume 8, Number 1

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
Desert Solitaire, 1968


[see also: LIFE]

The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Prejudices: Sixth Series, 1927
III "The Human Mind"
2. "On Suicide"

Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, 1947
Chapter III "Human Nature and Character"
Section 1b. "The Existential and the Historical Dichotomies in Man"


I know not anything more pleasant, or more instructive, than to compare experience with expectation, or to register from time to time the difference between idea and reality. It is by this kind of observation that we grow daily less liable to be disappointed.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Letter, 27 June 1758
Life of Johnson, 1791
by James Boswell (1740-1795)

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.

John Keats (1795-1821)
Letter to George and Georgiana Keats
19 March 1819
The Letters of John Keats, 1958
Volume II
Edited by Hyder Edward Rollins

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it -- and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again -- and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Following the Equator, 1897
Chapter 11 epigram: Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

Our minds thus grow in spots; and like grease spots, the spots spread. But we let them spread as little as possible: we keep unaltered as much of our old knowledge, as many of our old prejudices and beliefs, as we can. We patch and tinker more than we renew. The novelty soaks in; it stains the ancient mass; but it is also tinged by what absorbs it. Our past apperceives and co-operates; and in the new equilibrium in which each step forward in the process of learning terminates, it happens relatively seldom the the new fact is added raw. More usually it is embedded cooked, as one might say, or stewed down in the sauce of the old.

William James (1842-1910)
Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1907
Lecture 5 "Pragmatism and Common Sense"

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892

To rear a boy under what parents call the "sheltered life system" is, if the boy must go into the world and fend for himself, not wise. Unless he be one in a thousand he has certainly to pass through many unnecessary troubles; and may, possibly, come to extreme grief simply from ignorance of the proper proportions of things.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
"Thrown Away"
Plain Tales From the Hills, 1888

Experience is not what happens to a man, it is what a man does with what happens to him.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Texts and Pretexts, 1932

Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you recognize a mistake when you make it again.

Franklin P. Jones (1908-1980)

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Last update: 03-July-2015
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