Food For Thought

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

author index



Catholicism baptized polytheism by substituting for the old pagan cults the cults of local and patron saints. Such cults can and have led to abuses, but they are infinitely more healthy than the cult of the fashionable film star or pop singer, which is all that Prostestantism has to offer in their stead.

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
A Certain World, 1970


Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

William Shakespeare
The Merchant ov Venice,
Act IV, Scene I


Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Sartor Resartus, 1833-1834
Book II, Chapter 4

What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.

Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
Mythologies, 1972

Labeling something as sarcasm utterly undercuts the effect. The whole point about sarcasm is that it's risky; it depends on your hearer getting the literal meaning and then seeing that you can't mean that so you must mean something else and working out what that other thing must be. Your hearer has to do some interpretive work, and that work is the effect.

Arnold M. Zwicky (b.1940)
soc.motss post
19 August 1992


[see also: GOD]

If the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
The Brothers Karamazov, 1879-1880
Book V, Chapter 4

An apology for the Devil: It must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
"Higgledy-Piggledy: An Apology for the Devil"
Notebooks, 1912

Sometimes the devil tempts me to believe in God.

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)
Unkempt Thoughts, 1962
Translated by Jacek Galazka
page 79

We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism...we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today...our battle is with Satan himself.

Jerry L. Falwell (1933-2007)


Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own, which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
The Battle of the Books, 1704

Satire should, like a polished razor keen,
Wound with a touch that's scarcely felt or seen.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
To the Imitator of the First Satire of Horace, c.1734
Book II

It is said that truth comes from the mouths of fools and children: I wish every good mind which feels an inclination for satire would reflect that the finest satirist always has something of both in him.

G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
"Notebook J", Aphorism 157
Aphorisms, 1765-1799

Satire dramatizes better than any other use of it, the inherent contradiction of free speech -- that it functions best when what is being said is at its most outrageous.

Tony Hendra (b.1941)
Going Too Far, 1987


I can't help detesting my relations. I suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves. I quite sympathize with the rage of the English democracy against what they call the vices of the upper orders. The masses feel that drunkenness, stupidity, and immorality should be their own special property, and that if anyone of us makes an ass of himself he is poaching on their preserves.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Chapter 1



Alas! can we ring the bells backward? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a march of science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat?

Charles Lamb (1775-1834)
Letter to George Dyer
20 December 1830
The Life, Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb, 1897
Volume III
Edited by Percy Fitzgerald

The day would fall, if I should attempt to enumerate the evils which science has inflicted on mankind. I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of science to exterminate the human race.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)
Gryll Grange, 1861
Chapter XIX

Science is Christian, not when it condemns itself to the letter of things, but when, in the infinitely little, it discovers as many mysteries and as much depth and power as in the infinitely great.

Edgar Quinet (1803-1875)
"The Roman Church and Science - Galileo"
Lecture, 07 May 1844
Ultramontanism, or the Roman Church and Modern Society, 1845

Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
The Poet at the Breakfast-Table, 1872
Chapter 5

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Life on the Mississippi, 1883
Chapter XVII "Cut-Offs and Stephen"

The old God was siezed by mortal terror. Man himself had been his greatest blunder; he had created a rival to himself; science makes men godlike -- it is all up with priests and gods when man becomes scientific -- Moral: science is the forbidden per se; it alone is forbidden. Science is the first of sins, the germ of all sins, the original sin. This is all there is of morality. -- "Thou shalt not know": the rest follows from that.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The Anti-Christ, 1895
Aphorism 48
translated by H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

So it is something of a homiletical commonplace to say that the outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where one question grew before.

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)
"Evolution of the Scientific Point of View"
Lecture at the Kosmos Club, University of California
04 May 1908
Published in University of California Chronicle, 1908
Volume X, Number 4

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Max Planck (1858-1947)
Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949

Academic philosophers, ever since the time of Parmenides, have believed that the world is a unity. This view has been taken over from them by clergymen and journalists, and its acceptance has been considered the touchstone of wisdom. The most fundamental of my intellectual beliefs is that this is rubbish. I think the universe is all spots and jumps, without unity, without continuity, without coherence or orderliness or any of the other properties that governesses love. Indeed, there is little but prejudice and habit to be said for the view that there is a world at all. Physicists have recently advanced opinions which should which should have led them to agree with the foregoing remarks; but they have been so pained by the conclusions to which logic would have led them that they have been abandoning logic for theology in shoals.


I think that the external world may be an illusion, but if it exists, it consists of events, short, small and haphazard. Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as are catalogues and encyclopedias.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
The Scientific Outlook, 1931
Part I "Scientific Knowledge"
Chapter IV "Scientific Metaphysics"

Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

I once said that 'a science is said to be useful if its development tends to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or more directly promotes the destruction of human life', and this sentence, written in 1915, has been quoted (for or against me) several times. It was of course a conscious rhetorical fluorish, though one perhaps excusable at the time when it was written.

Godfrey Harold Hardy (1877-1947)
A Mathematician's Apology, 1940
Footnote, page 120

...physics tries to discover the pattern of events which controls the phenomena we observe. But we can never know what this pattern means or how it originates; and even if some superior intelligence were to tell us, we should find the explanation unintelligible. Our studies can never put us into contact with reality, and its true meaning and nature must be for ever hidden from us.

James Hopwood Jeans (1877-1946)
Physics and Philosophy, 1942
Chapter I "What are Physics and Philosophy?"

I. It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term "scientific truth." Thus the meaning of the word "truth" varies according to whether we deal with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition, or a scientific theory. "Religious truth" conveys nothing clear to me at all.

II. Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.

III. This firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as "pantheistic" (Spinoza).

IV. Denominational traditions I can only consider historically and psychologically; they have no other significance for me.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"On Scientific Truth"
Gelegentliches, 1929
Answers to questions of a Japanese scholar

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
What I Believe, 1930

It is, of course, quite true that there is a region in which science and religion do not conflict. That is the region of the unknowable. No one knows Who created the visible universe, and it is infinitely improbable that anything properly describable as evidence on the point will ever be describable as evidence on the point will ever be discovered. No one knows what motives or intentions, if any, lie behind what we call natural laws. No one knows why man has his present form. No one knows why sin and suffering were sent into this world -- that is, why the fashioning of man was so badly botched. Naturally enough, all these problems have engaged the interest of humanity since the remotest days, and in every age, with every sort of evidence completely lacking, men of speculative mind have sought to frame plausible solutions. Some of them, more bold than the rest, have pretended that their solutions were revealed to them by God, and multitudes have believed them. But no man of science believes them. He doesn't say positively that they are wrong; he simply says that there is no proof that they are right. If he admitted, without proof, that they are right, he would not be a man of science. In his view all such theories and speculations stand upon a common level. In the most ambitious soarings of a Christian theologian he can find nothing that differs in any essential way from the obvious hocus-pocus of a medicine man in the jungle. Superficially, of course, the two stand far apart. The Christian theolgian, confined like all the rest to the unknowable, has to be more careful than the medicine man, for in Christendom the unknowable covers a far less extensive field than in the jungle. Christian theology is thus, in a sense, more reasonable than voodooism. But it is not more reasonable because its professors know more than the voodoo-man about the unknowable; it is more reasonable simply because they are under a far more rigorous and enlightened scrutiny, and run a risk of being hauled up sharply evert time they venture too near the borders of the known.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Prejudices: Fifth Series, 1926
VIII "From the Files of a Book Reviewer"
1. "Counter-Offensive"

The notion that science does not concern itself with first causes -- that it leaves the field to theology or metaphysics, and confines itself to mere effects -- this notion has no support in the plain facts. If it could, science would explain the origin of life on earth at once -- and there is every reason to believe that it will do so on some not too remote tomorrow. To argue that gaps in knowledge which will confront the seeker must be filled, not by patient inquiry, but by intuition or revelation, is simply to give ignorance a gratuitous and preposterous dignity.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Treatise on the Gods, 1930
Chapter 5 "Its State Today"

There is, in fact, no reason to believe that any given natural phenomenon, however marvelous it may seem today, will remain forever inexplicable. Soon or late the laws governing the production of life itself will be discovered in the laboratory, and man may set up business as a creator on his own account. The thing, indeed, is not only conceivable; it is even highly probable.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Treatise on the Gods, 1930
Chapter 5 "Its State Today"

Suppose that, in future generations, the most gifted minds were to find their soul's health more important than all the powers of this world; suppose that, under the influence of the metaphysic and mysticism that is taking the place of rationalism to-day, the very elite of intellect that is now concerned with the machine comes to be overpowered by a growing sense of its Satanism (it is the step from Roger Bacon to Bernard of Clairvaux) -- then nothing can hinder the end of this grand drama that has been a play of intellects, with hands as mere auxiliaries.

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
The Decline of the West, 1928
Volume II, Perspectives of World-History, p.505

We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that is not crazy enough.

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
To Wolfgang Pauli
Quoted by Freeman Dyson
"Innovation in Physics"
Scientific American
Volume 199, Number 3, September 1958

Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

The matter which we suppose to be the main constituent of the universe is built out of small self-contained building-blocks, the chemical atoms. It cannot be repeated too often that the word "atom" is nowadays detached from any of the old philosophical speculations: we know precisely that the atoms with which we are dealing are in no sense the simplest conceivable components of the universe.... We have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe.... I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large but also below us in the small.

Ernst Emil Wiechert (1887-1950)
"Proceedings from the Physics and Economics Society of Koernigsberg"
East Prussia, 1896

Science has "explained" nothing; the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
"Views of Holland"
Along the Road, 1925
Part 2

In the world of human thought generally, and in physical science particularly, the most important and fruitful concepts are those to which it is impossible to attach a well-established meaning.

Hendrik Anthony Kramers (1894-1952)
Statement at Princeton Conference on the Future of Nuclear Energy, 1946
Quoted in Physical Science and Human Values, 1947
Edited by K.K. Darrow

We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable. Consequently, society expects all earnestly responsible communication to be crisply brief. Advancing science has now discovered that all the known cases of biological extinction have been caused by overspecialization, whose concentration of only selected genes sacrifices general adaptability. Thus the specialist's brief for pinpointing brevity is dubious. In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual's leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others. Specialization breeds biases that ultimately aggregate as international and ideological discord, which, in turn, leads to war.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975
Introduction "The Wellspring of Reality"

May every young scientist remember (these incidents) and not fail to keep his eyes open, for the possibility that an irritating failure of his apparatus to give consistent or unexpected results may...conceal an important discovery.

Patrick Stuart Blackett (1897-1974)
"Reminiscences of Rutherford"
Nature, 233, pp.167-168
17 September 1971

The conflict between science and religion has a single and simple cause. It is the designation as religiously canonical of any conception of the material world open to scientific investigation.... The religious canon...demands absolute acceptance not subject to test or revision. Science necessarily rejects certainty and predicates acceptance on objective testing and the possibility of continual revision. As a matter of fact, most of the dogmatic religions have exhibited a perverse talent for taking the wrong side on the most important concepts in the material universe, from the structure of the solar system to the origin of man. The result has been constant turmoil for many centuries, and the turmoil will continue as long as religious canons prejudice scientific questions.

George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984)
This View of Life: The World of an Evolutionist, 1964

Truth, in science, can be defined as the working hypothesis best fitted to open the way to the next better one.

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989)
On Aggression, 1963
Chapter 14 "Avowal of Optimism"

To begin, we must emphasize a statement which I am sure you have heard before, but which must be repeated again and again. It is that the sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work - that is, correctly to describe phenomena from a reasonably wide area. Furthermore, it must satisfy certain aesthetic criteria - that is, in relation to how much it describes, it must be rather simple.

John von Neumann (1903-1957)
Method In The Physical Sciences, 1955

Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth "more absolute" than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is biassed on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period, as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.

Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)
The Act of Creation, 1970
Chapter X "The Evolution of Ideas"
"Boundaries of Science"

It would be a poor thing to be an atom in a universe without physicists, and physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an atom's way of knowing about atoms.

George Wald (1906-1997)
The Fitness of the Environment, 1959
by Lawrence J. Henderson

In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame a few years ago, General David Sarnoff [head of RCA] made this statement: "We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is the voice of the current somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, "Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value." Or, "The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines it value." Again, "Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply nothing in the Sarnoff statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium, of any and all media, in the true Narcissus style of one hypnotized by the amputation and extension of his own being in a new technical form. General Sarnoff went on to explain his attitude to the technology of print, saying that it was true that print caused much trash to circulate, but it had also disseminated the Bible and the thoughts of seers and philosophers. It has never occurred to General Sarnoff that any technology could do anything but add itself on to what we already are.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964
Part I, Chapter 1 "The Medium is the Message"

Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics.

Peter Brian Medawar (1915-1987)
Advice to a Young Scientist, 1979
Chapter 1 "Introduction"

"The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth." I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on. Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars -- mere gobs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere." I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination -- stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern -- of which I am a part -- perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988)
The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Commemorative Issue
Volume 1, 1994

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988)
"Cargo Cult Science"
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, 1985

I...reject the argument put forth by many fundamentalists that science has nothing to do with religion because God is not among the things making up the universe in which we live. Surely if a necessity for a god-concept in the universe ever turns up, that necessity will become evident to the scientist.

Ralph Asher Alpher (b.1921)
"Theology of the Big Bang,"
Religious Humanism, Vol. XVII, No. 1
Winter 1983, p.12

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.

Poul Anderson (b.1926)
New Scientist
25 September 1969

You can't study the darkness by flooding it with light.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto), 1989
Chapter 10 "Science and Technology"

Science is to computer science as hydrodynamics is to plumbing.

Stan Kelly-Bootle (b.1929)
Devil's DP Dictionary, 1981

The fathers of the field had been pretty confusing: John von Neumann speculated about computers and the human brain in analogies sufficiently wild to be worthy of a medieval thinker, and Alan Turing thought about criteria to settle the question of whether machines can think, a question of which we now know that it is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim.

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra (b.1930)
ACN South Central Regional Conference
Austin, Texas, 16-18 November 1984

It is very hard to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

Steven Weinberg (b.1933)
The First Three Minutes, 1977

It's an experience like no other experience I can describe, the best thing that can happen to a scientist, realizing that something that's happened in his or her mind exactly corresponds to something that happens in nature. It's startling every time it occurs. One is surprised that a construct of one's own mind can actually be realized in the honest-to-goodness world out there. A great shock, and a great, great joy.

Leo Philip Kadanoff (b.1937)
Quoted in Chaos: Making a New Science, 1987
by James Gleick

Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science; but men and women need both.

Fritjof Capra (b.1939)
The Tao of Physics, 1975

Sir Isaac Newton...secretly admitted to some friends: He understood how gravity behaved, but not how it worked!

Jane Wagner (b.1935)
"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe", 1986
Part II, Trudy, page 202

...But if we laugh with derision, we will never understand. Human intellectual capacity has not altered for thousands of years so far as we can tell. If intelligent people invested intense energy in issues that now seem foolish to us, then the failure lies in our understanding of their world, not in their distorted perceptions. Even the standard example of ancient nonsense -- the debate about angels on pinheads -- makes sense once you realize that theologians were not discussing whether five or eighteen would fit, but whether a pin could house a finite or an infinite number.

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)
"Wide Hats and Narrow Minds"
The Panda's Thumb, 1980

The progress of science is often affected more by the frailties of humans and their institutions than by the limitations of scientific measuring devices. The scientific method is only as effective as the humans using it. It does not automatically lead to progress.

Steven S. Zumdahl (b.1942)
Chemistry, 1989
1.2 "Units of Measurement"

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another which states that this has already happened.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980

Science is about skepticism.

Eugene N. Miya
comp.society post
11 January 1990

We live in a Newtonian world of Einsteinian physics ruled by Frankenstein logic.

David Russell


[see also: PRIVACY]

Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

Bible, Luke 12:2-3


He wished to gain immortal fame, and he thought of his own personal safety; a tame reflection, always adverse to every great and noble enterprise.

Cornelius Tacitus (c.56-c.120)
The Annals of Tacitus, Book XV, Section L
The Works of Cornelius Tacitus
Edited by Arthur Murphy, 1842

There is no stability in the world; it is like a house on fire. This is not a place where you can stay for a long time. The murderous demon of impermanence is instantaneous, and it does not chose between the upper and lower classes, or between the old and the young.

LinJi (8th century AD)
"Buddha Within"
Zen Essence, 1989
Translated and edited by Thomas Cleary (b.1949)

Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy
13 November 1798
The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 1907
Edited by Albert Henry Smyth

Many persons think that by hoarding money they are gaining safety for themselves. If money is your only hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability. Without these qualities, money is practically useless.

Henry Ford (1863-1947)
"Keeping Ideas in Circulation"
Reader's Digest, May 1933

People talk so much to me about the beauty of confidence. They seem to entirely ignore the much more subtle beauty of doubt. To believe is very dull. To doubt is intensely engrossing. The Apostle Thomas was artistic up to a certain point. He appreciated the value of shadows in a picture. To be on the alert is to live. To be lulled into security is to die.

Robert Smythe Hichens (1864-1950)
The Green Carnation, 1894
Chapter VIII
Oscar Wilde satire

Too many people are asking the Federal Government to perform the functions of state governments. Too many people want to lean upon the Government, forgetting that the Government must lean upon the people. Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death.

James F. Byrnes (1879-1972)
"Communism Can't be Defeated by Turning Socialist - Byrne"
[Spartanburg] Herald-Journal, 22 November 1949
Speech to Southern Governors Conference, Biloxi
21 November 1949

Security is mostly a superstition. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968)
The Open Door, 1957

There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

James Thurber (1894-1961)
"The Fairly Intelligent Fly"
Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems, 1939, 1940

One of the generalities most often noted about Americans is that we are a restless, a dissatisfied, a searching people. We bridle and buck under failure, and we go mad with dissatisfaction in the face of success. We spend our time searching for security, and hate it when we get it. For the most part we are an intemperate people: we eat too much when we can, drink too much, indulge our senses too much. Even in our so-called virtues we are intemperate: a teetotaler is not content to not drink -- he must stop all the drinking in the world; a vegetarian among us would outlaw the eating of meat. We work too hard, and many die under the strain; and then to make up for that we play with a violence as suicidal.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
America and Americans, 1966
"Paradox and Dream"

The chilling effect of Watergate is the possibility that agencies created to guarantee the national security could be used to subvert it. That would be nothing new in history. Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the magic cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous.

William Proxmire (1915-2005)
"The FBI and CIA: Need for Review"
Los Angeles Times, 10 June 1973

You don't go out and kick a mad dog. If you have a mad dog with rabies, you take a gun and shoot him.

Pat Robertson (b.1930)
About Muammar Qaddafi

One preliminary study finds that visible security elements like armed guards, high walls, and barbed wire made people feel less vulnerable to crime. However, when these same devices are instituted in the context of dealing with the threat of terrorism, their effect is to make people feel tense, suspicious, and fearful apparently because they implicitly suggest that the place under visible protection is potentially a terrorist target. In other words, they supplied exactly the effect terrorists hope to induce themselves.

John Mueller (b.1937)
"The Quixotic Quest for Invulnerability: Assessing the Costs,
Benefits, and Probabilities of Protecting the Homeland"
10 March 2008
Prepared for presentation at the National Convention of the
International Studies Association, San Francisco, California
26-29 March 2008

We can also expect continued efforts to reduce the country's "vulnerability" despite at least three confounding realities: There is an essentially infinite number of potential terrorist targets; the probability that any one of those targets will be hit by a terrorist attack is essentially zero; and inventive terrorists, should they ever actually show up, are free to redirect their attention from a target that might enjoy a degree of protection to one of many that don't. Nonetheless, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this quixotic quest so far, and the process seems destined to continue or even accelerate, even though, as a senior economist at the Department of Homeland Security put it recently, "We really don't know a whole lot about the overall costs and benefits of homeland security."

John Mueller (b.1937)
"Terrorphobia: Our False Sense of Security"
The American Interest, Volume III, Number 5
May/June 2008

When asked why we have not had a terrorist attack on US soil since 9.11, I give three reasons. First, the President's early decision to go after the terrorists wherever they could be found in the world weakened their capabilities and served as a powerful disincentive to strike us again. Second, the preventative and protective security measures taken by our Federal, state, and local governments -- coordinated and not -- have made it harder for terrorists to operate here. And, third, I believe that the hard-won Constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Americans, along with our unparalleled commitment to civil liberties embedded in law, work against the development of domestic terrorist networks that could be exploited by foreigners. In this context, America stands in marked and magnificent contrast to many of the regimes I covered daily and experienced on the ground as a CIA analyst. When I think through the implications of a nationwide domestic intelligence service under the control of the Executive Branch, I conclude that it is neither needed nor desirable in our society. At best, the proposal is premature.

Dr. John Gannon (b.1944)
"FBI Oversight"
Testimony before United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
02 May 2006

The commonly held notion that it is correct to surround children with love, security, and affection suffers a serious decline in credibility when it becomes apparent that kids reared thus are entirely unequipped for a world that is cruel, dangerous, and insecure. Enlightened parents begin experimenting with new forms of toys: teddies with sharp teeth, building bricks with abrasive surfaces, mildly toxic crayons, unsafe play areas.

Brian Eno (b.1948)
"Unthinkable Futures"
"Conceptual Trends/Current Topics" blog []
02:34 Wednesday, 18 June 2008

To live in fear of risk and wonder is to exchange life for a secure somnolence in which one dies by degrees.

Ken Carey (b.1949)
Flat Rock Journal, 1994
Chapter 5

Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven't seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are - by and large - small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society's very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response - just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too.

Bruce Schneier (b.1963)
"Terrorists may use Google Earth, but fear is no reason to ban it"
The Guardian, 29 January 2009

Back in 2002, science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer wrote an essay about the trade-off between privacy and security, and came out in favor of less privacy. I disagree with most of what he said, and have written pretty much the opposite essay -- and others on the value of privacy and the future of privacy -- several times since then.

The point of this blog entry isn't really to debate the topic, though. It's to reprint the opening paragraph of Sawyer's essay, which I've never forgotten:

Whenever I visit a tourist attraction that has a guest register, I always sign it. After all, you never know when you'll need an alibi.

Since I read that, whenever I see a tourist attraction with a guest register, I do the same thing. I sign "Robert J. Sawyer, Toronto, ON" -- because you never know when he'll need an alibi.

Bruce Schneier (b.1963)
"Robert Sawyer's Alibis"
Schneier on Security blog
07:24 Monday, 14 September 2009


[see also: GUNS]

Self-defense is Nature's oldest law.

John Dryden (1631-1700)
Absalom and Achitophel
Part I, 1680

I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
A Plea for Captain John Brown, 1853

Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate - and quickly.

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988)
Time Enough For Love, 1973
Intermission "Excerpts from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long"

After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)
"The War Universe"
Taped conversation published in
Grand Street, Number 37



If you want to know yourself,
Just look how others do it;
If you want to understand others,
Look into your own heart.

Johann von Schiller (1759-1805)
Tabulae Votivae, 1797

Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds. Each man seeks those of different quality from his own, and such as are good of their kind; that is, he seeks other men, and the otherest.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Uses of Great Men"
Representative Men, 1850

The profound thinker always suspects that he is superficial.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Contarini Fleming, 1832
Part IV, Chapter V

There's no one so transparent as the person who thinks he's devilish deep.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Lady Frederick, 1907

Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Of Human Bondage, 1915
Chapter 39

Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.

George Santayana (1863-1952)
The Ethics of Spinoza, 1910

You've no idea of what a poor opinion I have of myself -- and how little I deserve it.

Sir W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)
Ruddigore, 1887
Act I

I think it's one of the scars in our culture that we have too high an opinion of ourselves. We align ourselves with the angels instead of the higher primates.

Angela Carter (1940-1992)
Marxism Today, London
January 1985


[see also: CHASTITY, FUCK]

This trivial and vulgar way of coition; it is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life, nor is there any thing that will more deject his cooled imagination, when he shall consider what an odd and unworthy piece of folly he hath committed.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
Religio Medici, 1643
Part II, section 9

The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773)
Letters to His Son, 1774

"Sex" is as important as eating or drinking and we ought to allow the one appetite to be satisfied with as little restraint or false modesty as the other.

Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)
L'Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prosperites du Vice, 1797
Part 1

In every animal...a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually strengthens, develops and enlarges that organ...while the permanent disuse of any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.

Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829)
Philosophie Zoologique, 1809
Part II, Chapter 7

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

William Blake (1757-1827)
"Proverbs of Hell", Plate 8
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793

Prudery is a kind of avarice, the worst of all.

Stendhal (1783-1842)
De l'Amour, 1822

...the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys -- yet he has left it out of his heaven!

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
"Letters from the Earth"
Letters From the Earth, 1962
Edited by Bernardo DeVoto

Intercourse with a woman is sometimes a satisfactory substitute for masturbation. But it takes a lot of imagination to make it work.

Karl Krause (1874-1936)
Die Fackel, Number 229
Vienna, 02 July 1907

Everybody's sexual affairs are his own business. It is idiotic to set oneself up on a pedestal and turn up one's nose. My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
In an undated note to Barbara Back, 1934
Quoted in Maugham, 1980
Part V "1927-1940", Chapter 14
By Ted Morgan

The only unnatural sexual act is that which you cannot perform.

Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894-1956)

I regret to say that we of the F.B.I. are powerless to act in cases of oral-genital intimacy, unless it has in some way obstructed interstate commerce.

John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972)
Quoted by Irving Wallace, et al. in
Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, 1981

...I dwell upon [sex] only because there is a need to deflate the overrated, and nothing in our culture, not even home computers, is more overrated than the epidermal felicity of two featherless bipeds in desperate congress.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999)
and John Hofsess
Manners From Heaven: A Divine Guide to Good Behaviour, 1984

God built a compelling sex drive into every creature, no matter what style of fucking it practiced. He made sex irresistibly pleasurable, wildly joyous, free from fears. He made it innocent merriment.

Needless to say, fucking was an immediate smash hit. Everyone agreed, from aardvarks to zebras. All the jolly animals -- lions and lambs, rhinoceroses and gazelles, skylarks and lobsters, even insects, though most of them fuck only once in a lifetime -- fucked along innocently and merrily for hundreds of millions of years. Maybe they were dumb animals, but they knew a good thing when they had one.

Allan Sherman (1924-1973)
The Rape of the APE (American Puritan Ethic), 1973

It seems not only that the adult male becomes in face-to-face copulation, a surrogate suckling to the adult female by virtue of his position; but also that the adult female becomes a surrogate suckling to the adult male by virtue of her behavior, which is that of soliciting and receiving a life-giving liquid from an adult bodily protuberance.

R.W. Wescott (b.1925)
Culture: Man's Adaptive Dimension, 1968
edited by Ashley Montagu (1905-1999)

Classical copulation, belly to belly, was of course the true magical experience: the illusion of having solved the Great Mystery, simply because the parts seemed to fit. Antipodally, on the other hand, the parts no longer fit, and analogues had to be improvised. But, thus stripped of magic, it was closer to a pure mystical experience, for contemplation of the mystery was direct, enhanced by the strange fact that one could not imagine the thoughts of one's partner, since one could not, without repugnance, imagine the partner's perspective, being able only to feel -- literally -- the other's hunger and excitement, the other's joy. Though each knew, better even than any part of himself/herself, that concavity/convexity that he/she kissed, it nevertheless remained utterly unimaginable to him/her, impossible, always incredibly new.

Robert Coover (b.1932)
The Origin of the Brunists, 1966
Part 4, Chapter 3

Sometimes in my dreams there are women.... When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, "I am a monk." ...It is very important to analyze "What is the real benefit?" The appearance of a beautiful face or a beautiful body - as many scriptures describe - no matter how beautiful, they essentially decompose into a skeleton. When we penetrate to its human flesh and bones, there is no beauty, is there? A couple in a sexual experience is happy for that moment. Then very soon trouble begins.

Dalai Lama (b.1935)
"Inside Out: The Dalai Lama Interviewed by Spalding Gray"
Santa Barbara, California, 08 April 1991
A Simple Monk: Writings on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2001
Edited by Tom Morgan

We got new evidence as to what motivated man to walk upright: to free his hands for masturbation.

Jane Wagner (b.1935)
"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe"
Part II, "Howard Johnson's, Forty-Sixth and Broadway", Trudy
Page 133

At the moment of climax, there is a oneness with you and your husband and God. When you come together, it's like when the church is brought up to meet Christ in the air.

Anita Bryant (b.1940)
Playboy Interview, May 1978

If homosexuality were the normal way, God would have created Adam and Bruce.

Anita Bryant (b.1940)
Rolling Stone, 14 July 1977

I am, I must confess, suspicious of those who denounce others for having "too much" sex. At what point does a "healthy" amount become "too much"? There are, of course, those who suffer because their desire for sex has become compulsive; in their case the drive (loneliness, guilt) is at fault, not the activity as such.... When "morality" is discussed I invariably discover, halfway into the conversation, that what is meant are not the great ethical questions...but the rather dreary business of sexual habit, which to my mind is an aesthetic rather than an ethical issue.

Edmund White (b.1940)
States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, 1980
Chapter 2

Even them Christians who are born again Go out 'n' get pooched every now 'n' then.

Frank Zappa (b.1940)
The Man From Utopia, March 1983

But the fact is, when those used to regular sex have regular sex available, they have it. It's no more complicated than that. You can put it off a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. But beyond that, you are out of the precinct of morals and into the land of hormones, which have developed evolutionarily to make sure morals will never stand against them.

Samuel R. Delany (b.1942)
The Mad Man, 1994
Part II, "The Sleepwalkers"

Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them.

Madonna (b.1958)
Spin, May 1985

Phone sex is best approximated by stacking several dozen dollar bills on your bedside table, setting the pile on fire, and watching it burn while you masturbate.

Robert Rossney (b.1960)
"The Next Best Thing to Being There"
Wired 3.05, May 1995

...when it comes to exploring the sea of love, I prefer buoys.

Andrew G. Dehel (b.1967)
soc.motss post
18 February 1991

I am convinced that the religous rightís obsession with homosexuality is driven by their fierce joy at being able to condemn something by which most of us arenít tempted. They canít preach against pride, envy, gluttony, wrath, greed, sloth or lust for the opposite sex -- theyíre neck-deep in all of those. But love for people of the same-sex seems like a safer target. So not only do they condemn it as a sin, they blame it for all the ills afflicting our society.

Fred Clark (b.1968)
"Burt Gummer speaks"
"Slacktivist" blog
30 September 2004

One day the President and Mrs. Coolidge were visiting a government farm. Soon after their arrival they were taken off on separate tours. When Mrs. Coolidge passed the chicken pens she paused to ask the man in charge if the rooster copulates more than once each day. "Dozens of times," was the reply. "Please tell that to the President," Mrs. Coolidge requested.

When the President passed the pens and was told about the roosters, he asked "Same hen every time?" "Oh no, Mr. President, a different one each time." The President nodded slowly, then said, "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

Gordon Bermant
"Sexual behavior: Hard times with the Coolidge Effect"
in Psychological Research: The inside story, 1976
by Michael H. Siegel and Harris Philip Zeigler (editors)

Filling out job applications is so depressing. I was filling one out the other day and I got to the part that says "Sex?" Well, I prefer to 'F', but I'm usually alone, so I had to circle 'M'.

Unidentified comedian seen on television
rec.humor.funny post by Kevbo
19 April 1993


One of the most devastating enemies of the family is radical sex education in the public school. It is more explicit than necessary for the good of the child. Too much sex education too soon causes undue curiosity and obsession with sex.

Beverly LaHaye (b.1926)
President, Concerned Women for America,
In her newsletter, April 1981
(Quoted in "The Far Right, Speaking For Themselves,"
a Planned Parenthood pamphlet)

Sex education classes in our public schools are promoting incest.

Jimmy Swaggart (b.1935)
"Jimmy Swaggart Hour"
19 August 1984


[see also: CRAP]

"You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover up your excrement.

Bible, Deuteronomy 23:12-13

From the analyses of mixed human excreta made by Wolff in Europe and by Kellner in Japan it appears that, as an average, these carry in every 2000 pounds 12.7 pounds of nitrogen, 4 pounds of potassium, and 1.7 pounds of phosphorus. On this basis and that of Carpenter, who estimates the average amount of excreta per day for the adult at 40 ounces, the average annual production per million of adult population is 5,794,300 pounds of nitrogen; 1,825,000 pounds of potassium, and 775,600 pounds of phosphorus carried in 456,250 tons of excreta.

Franklin Hiram King (1848-1911)
Farmers of Forty Centuries; or, Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan, 1911
Chapter IX "The Utilization of Waste"

...civilization is reckoned as the distance man has placed between himself and his excreta.

Brian Aldiss (b.1925)
The Dark Light Years, 1964
Chapter 5

Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man's crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the Creator of man.

Milan Kundera (b.1929)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984
Part 6 "The Grand March", Chapter 3

The fact that until recently the word "shit" appeared in print as s--- has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can't claim shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of Creation. Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don't lock yourself in the bathroom!) or we are created in an unacceptable manner.

Milan Kundera (b.1929)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984
Part 6 "The Grand March", Chapter 5


This used to be among my prayers - a piece of land not so very large, which would contain a garden, and near the house a spring of ever-flowing water, and beyond these a bit of wood.

Horace (65-8 BC)
Satires, Book II, 30 BC
Satire vi, line 1

Destroy your primitivity, and you will most probably get along well in the world, maybe achieve great success -- but Eternity will reject you. Follow up your primitivity, and you will be shipwrecked in temporality, but accepted by Eternity.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard
1854 entry
Part 6, Section 3, Number 196
Edited by Peter Rohde, 1960

No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
Address, Atlanta Exposition
18 September 1895

The price we pay for the complexity of life is too high. When you think of all the effort you have to put in -- telephonic, technological and relational -- to alter even the slightest bit of behaviour in this strange world we call social life, you are left pining for the straightforwardness of primitive peoples and their physical work.

Jean Baudrillard (b.1929)
Cool Memories, 1987
Chapter 4


The gods
Visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.

Euripides (c.485-406 BC)
Phrixus, fragment 970

These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Bible, Proverbs 6:16-19

That which we call sin in others, is experiment for us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Essays: Second Series, 1844

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
The Devil's Disciple, 1901
Act II

"Hate the sin and not the sinner" is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life,
Work, and Ideas
, 1962
Part One "The Man"
Chapter 6 "Victory in South Africa"

1. Politics without Principle.
2. Wealth without Work.
3. Pleasure without Conscience.
4. Knowledge without Character.
5. Commerce without Morality.
6. Science without Humanity.
7. Worship without Sacrifice.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
"Seven Sins"
Gandhi and Social Order, 1972
by D.K. Misra, Shambhu Lal Doshi, C.M. Jain is not through sin that he opposes God. The Devil's strategy for our times is to make trivial human existence and to isolate us from one another while creating the delusion that the reasons are time pressures, work demands, or economic anxieties.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Those of us who were brought up as Christians and have lost our faith have retained the sense of sin without the saving belief in redemption. This poisons our thought and so paralyses us in action.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
The Unquiet Grave, 1944
Part I "Ecce Gubernator"

If there is a Devil, it is not through sin that he opposes God. The Devil's strategy for our times is to trivialize human existence in a number of ways: by isolating us from one another while creating the delusion that the reasons are time pressures, work demands, or anxieties created by economic uncertainty; by fostering narcissism and the fierce competition to be No. 1; by showing us the personal gains to be enjoyed by harboring prejudices and the losses from not moving out whenever the current situation is uncomfortable. Fostering in us the illusion of self-reliance, that sly Devil makes us mock the need for social responsibility and lets us forget how to go about being our brother's keeper -- even if we were to want to.

Philip George Zimbardo (b.1933)
"The Age of Indifference"
Psychology Today, August 1980


There is a kind of courtesy in skepticism. It would be an offense against polite conventions to press our doubts too far.

George Santayana (1863-1952)
"Reason in Common Sense"
The Life of Reason, 1905-1906
Chapter 4


[see also: LIBERTY]

Thus the movers of the tumult, finding that neither words or deeds had force sufficient to stir anyone, saw, when too late, how dangerous a thing it is to attempt to set a people free who are resolved to be slaves.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
The History of Florence, 1847
Book III, Chapter VII

They demonstrated forcibly how perilous it is to free a people who prefer slavery.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
The Story of Florence, 1532, iii, 51 A
Common variation of above; from another translation?

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
Letter to Mary Custis Lee, Fort Brown
27 December 1856
Lee Family Papers

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.... I have here stated my purpose according to my views of official duty and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Letter to Horace Greeley
22 August 1862

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Address to an Indiana Regiment
17 March 1965

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)
Speech at Civil Rights Mass Meeting
Washington DC, 22 October 1883

The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The Soul of Man Under Socialism
Fortnightly Review
London, February 1891

We must accustom ourselves to the thought of arms, to the sight of arms, to the use of arms. We may make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people; but the bloodshed is a cleansing and a sanctifying thing and a nation which regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. There are many things more horrible than bloodshed; and slavery is one of them.

Padraic Henry Pearse (1879-1916)
The Coming Revolution, 1913

A slave cannot be freed, save he do it himself. Nor can you enslave a free man; the very most you can do is kill him.

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988)
Double Star, 1856
Chapter 10


[see also: DREAMS]

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.

Plutarch (AD c.46-c.119)
Morals, "Of Superstition"

Death is the veil which those who live call life: They sleep, and it is lifted.

Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822)
Prometheus Unbound, 1818-1819
Act III, scene iii, line 113

Sleep...oh! how I loathe those little slices of death....

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Attributed but unverified
See Walter Reisch (1903Ė1963), et alia

The first moments of sleep are an image of death; a hazy torpor grips our thoughts and it becomes impossible for us to determine the exact instant when the "I," under another form, continues the task of existence.

Gerard de Nerval (1808-1855)
Aurelia, 1855
Part I, Chapter 1

I don't sleep. I hate those little slices of death.

Walter Reisch (1903Ė1963) and
Charles Brackett (1892Ė1969), screenwriters
Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959
Movie based on the Jules Verne novel


[see also: CAPITALISM]

If Socialism can only be realized when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924)
Speech at Peasant's Congress
Petrograd, 27 November 1917 is essential that the triumphant proletariat of the advanced countries should render real and essential aid to the toiling masses of the backward nationalities in their cultural and economic development.... Unless such aid is forthcoming it is impossible to bring about the peaceful co-existence and fraternal collaboration of the toilers of the various nations and peoples within a single world economic system that are so essential for the final triumph of socialism.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, 1921


[see also: CULTURE]

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Essays: First Series, 1841

No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.

Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994)
"The Playwright's Role"
Observer, London
29 June 1958

Examine...the structure of our society. How pleasant for the eye of the beholder to regard this geometrically perfect system! Down at the very bottom come the peasants and the artisans, above them the noblemen, then the clergy, and finally the king. How meticulously everything has been calculated! What steadfastness, what constancy, what harmonic order! What change could ever appear in this cut crystal from the hand of our divine jeweler? There is no structure in this world that is superior to a pyramid -- as any well-trained architect will confirm. ...When grain pours from a sack, it does not spread out flat in a plane area, but will form a so-called conical pyramid. Each little grain adheres to the next, trying to avoid the fall to the ground. And this is the way it goes with mankind. In their attempt to form some kind of entity, men must cling together, and inevitably they form a pyramid.

Arkady Strugatsky (1925-1991) and
Boris Strugatsky (b.1933)
Hard to be a God, 1973
Chapter 9


This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

Bible, Ezekiel 16:49-50



Solitude, though silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone.

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
Suspiria De Profundis, 1845
Part II "The Affliction of Childhood"

Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Essays: First Series, 1841

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
"The Theologian's Tale: Elizabeth, IV"
Tales of a Wayside Inn, 1863-1874
Part III

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Walden, 1854
Chapter 5 "Solitude"

There is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream -- a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought -- a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
The Mysterious Stranger, 1916
Chapter XI

Alone, even doing nothing, you do not waste your time. You do, almost always, in company. No encounter with yourself can be altogether sterile: Something necessarily emerges, even if only the hope of some day meeting yourself again.

E.M. Cioran (1911-1995)
"Strangled Thoughts"
The New Gods, 1969
Section 2


The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or his estate, which would more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
"Notes on Religion", 1776
Thomas Jefferson on Democracy,

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not the goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
A Psalm of Life, 1839

Man is not by any means of fixed and enduring form (this, in spite of suspicions to the contrary on the part of their wise men, was the ideal of the ancients). He is much more an experiment and a transition. He is nothing else than the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit. His innermost destiny drives him on to the spirit and to God. His innermost longing draws him back to nature, the mother. Between the two forces his life hangs tremulous and irresolute.

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



I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.

Publilius Syrus (1st century BC)
Maxim 1070

The speaker buries his meaning; it is for the hearer to dig it up again; and all speech, written or spoken, is in a dead language untill it finds a willing and prepared hearer.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Reflections and Remarks on Human Life, 1878
Section 3

...monkeys...very sensibly refrain from speech, lest they should be set to earn their livings.

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)
The Golden Age, 1895
Chapter 18 "Lusisti Satis"

Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both.

John Andrew Holmes (b.1874)
Wisdom in Small Doses, 1927

Language is civilization itself. The Word, even the most contradictory word, binds us together. Wordlessness isolates.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
The Magic Mountain, 1924
Chapter 6, "A Good Soldier"
Translated by John E. Woods

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Studies in Classic American Literature, 1924
Chapter 2 "Benjamin Franklin"


[see also: RELIGION]

As water turns into ice, so the chhi crystallise to form the human body. The ice, melting, returns to water, and man, dying, returns to the state of a spirit. It is called spirit just as melted ice resumes the name of water.

Wang Ch'ung (27-97 AD)
Science and Civilization in China:
Volume 2, History of Scientific Thought
, 1956
Chapter 14 "The Pseudo-Sciences and the Sceptical Tradition"
Part C "The Sceptical Philosophy of Wang Chhung"
by Joseph Needham

The spirit is to the body what the sharpness is to the knife. We have never heard that after the knife has been destroyed the sharpness can persist.

Fan Chen (c.450-c.515)
Thung Chien Kang Mu, Chapter 28
Translated by Leon Wieger (1856-1933)
Textes Historiques, 1905

A knife without a blade, for which the handle is missing.

G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
Gottingen Pocket Calendar, 1798
Describing an impossible existence

Alas! while the Body stands so broad and brawny, must the Soul lie blinded, dwarfed, stupefied, almost annihilated! Alas! was this too a Breath of God: bestowed in Heaven, but on Earth never to be unfolded!

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Sartor Resartus, 1836
Book III, Chapter 4 "Helotage"

Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Progress and Culture"
Phi Beta Kappa address
18 July 1876
Letters and Social Aims (1876)

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

It is the infinite for which we hunger, and we ride gladly on every little wave that promises to bear us towards it.

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
in The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902 (1961 translation)
by William James, p.55

On the American desert are horses which eat loco-weed and some are driven mad by it; their vision is affected, they take enormous leaps to cross a tuft of grass or tumble blindly into rivers. The horses which have become thus addicted are shunned by the rest and will never rejoin the herd. So it is with human beings: those who are conscious of another world, the world of the spirit, acquire an outlook which distorts the values of ordinary life; they are consumed by the weed of non-attachment.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
The Unquiet Grave, 1944
Part I, "Ecce Gubernator"

I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward a new consciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and all of creation.

Albert Hofmann (1906-2008)
LSD, My Problem Child, 1983
Translated by Jonathan Ott

It is becoming ever clearer that the terrors of war, hunger, despoliation are, obviously, neither economic, nor technological problems for which there are economic or technological solutions! They are primarily the spiritual problems of life versus death.

Frederick Franck (1909-2006)
Fingers Pointing Toward the Sacred, 1994

What if spirituality is the animal mind at work, using its supra-consciousness sensing ability to detect powers beyond rational perception? What would this say about the myth of Eden? Did the animal mind conjure it? Or did it exist? Is it an artifact of a time when animal mind did not perceive the struggle of the fittest as a horror?

James Balog (b.1952)
Anima, 1993


Sport in the sense of a mass-spectacle, with death to add to the underlying excitement, comes into existence when a population has been drilled and regimented and depressed to such an extent that it needs at least a vicarious participation in difficult feats of strength or skill or heroism in order to sustain its waning life-sense.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990)
Technics and Civilization, 1934
Chapter 6 "Compensations and Reversions"
Section 10 "Sport and the 'Bitch-goddess'"


[see also: GOVERNMENT]

So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no State.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924)
The State and Revolution, 1919
Chapter 5 "The Economic Basis for the Withering Away of the State"
Section 4 "The Higher Phase of Communist Society"

Of what importance is all that, if I range men firmly within a discipline they cannot escape? Let them own land or factories as much as they please. The decisive factor is that the State, through the Party, is supreme over them regardless of whether they are owners or workers. All that is unessential; our socialism goes far deeper. It establishes a relationship of the individual to the State, the national community. Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
To Herman Rauschning, pre-World War II
"Why Does Socialism Continue to Appeal to Anyone?",
Robert Hessen (b.1936)


I have three treasures. Guard and keep them:

The first is deep love,

The second is frugality,

And the third is not to dare to be ahead of the world.

Because of deep love, one is courageous.

Because of frugality, one is generous.

Because of not daring to be ahead of the world,
one becomes the leader of the world.

Lao-tzu (c.604-c.531 BC)
The Way of Lao-tzu, 67

Omnio fieri possent (Everything may happen).

Seneca (4 BC - AD 65)
Epistuloe ad Lucilium
Epistle LXX, 9

Thus I live in the world rather as a spectator of mankind than as one of the species.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
The Spectator, Number 1
01 March 1711

The three most important things a man has are, briefly, his private parts, his money, and his religious opinions.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
Further Extracts from Notebooks, 1934

When I put a seed into the earth, it grows and gets bigger all the time; it forms a stem, leaves and buds; and then a blossom, which in turn holds many seeds. All this is there already in the seed; it is the thought of the flower which transforms itself into substance. And so is every living thing a thought of God, and remains such a thought even when the substance in its individual shapes falls into decay. The essence of thought alone is real in everything, and what it forms is only its changing expression.


...that's why it is so important to have good and right thoughts. Each person creates his own spiritual surroundings. With many people these don't look at all pretty, and the dark forces that are related to these images hang onto them. But a good thought not only protects you yourself and helps your being to grow into the light. It is, at the same time, a power which reaches out farther. Through every thought of goodness, a wicked person becomes better, a wild animal less savage, and a poisonous plant less dangerous.

Manfred Kyber (1880-1933)
The Three Candles of Little Veronica, 1929
Chapter VI "The Miracle of the Toad"
translated by Rosamond Reinhardt, 1972

Neither fear or courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
"Gerontion", 1920
The Waste Land and Other Poems, 1934

The various "other worlds" with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements of totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
The Doors of Perception, 1954

The dying fire of enthusiasm should leave ashes to provide disguising make-up for our faces.

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966)
Unkempt Thoughts, 1962
Translated by Jacek Galazka
page 129


Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Le Discours de la Methode, 1637, I

Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.

Johann von Schiller (1759-1805)
The Maid of Orleans, 1801
Act III, scene vi the popular acceptation, common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
"Notes on Hacket"
The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1838
Volume III
Collected and edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge

Ordinarily he is insane, but he has lucid moments when he is only stupid.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
Of Savoye, appointed ambassador to Frankfurt by Lamartine, 1848

Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

There's a sucker born every minute.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891)
Attributed; No evidence found that he ever said this
P.T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man, 1989
by A.H. Saxon
Appendix, "Barnum Apocrypha"
See caveat

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915)
Philistine: A Periodical of Protest
Volume 23, Number 4, September 1906

Common sense isn't reflective in the least and in the end is nothing more than a collection of prejudices.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)
Durkheim's Philosophy Lectures:
Notes from the Lycťe de Sens Course, 1883-1884

Part I "Preliminary Matters"
Chapter 2 "The Object and Method of Philosophy (Conclusion)"
Edited and Translated by Neil Gross and Robert Alun Jones, 2004

Don't say that the idea of human equality is absurd, because some men are tall and some short, some clever and some stupid. At the height of the French Revolution it was noticed that Danton was tall and Murat short. In the wildest popular excitement of America it is known that Rockefeller is stupid and that Bryan is clever. The doctrine of human equality reposes upon this: That there is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid. That there is no big man who has not felt small. Some men never feel small; but these are the few men who are.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
A Miscellany of Men, 1912
Chapter XXXVIII "The Angry Author: His Farewell"

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Attributed (incorrectly? See Durkheim above)

Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
East of Eden, 1952
Part Three, Chapter 23, 2

Strange as it may seem, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and formal education positively fortifies it.

Stephen Vizinczey (b.1933)
"Europe's Inner Demons"
Review of Norman Cohn
An Inquiry Inspired by the Great Witch-Hunt
Sunday Telegraph, London, 02 March 1975

The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen...and stupidity. You may have read that epigraph on a button or on a graffiti wall somewhere. They always get it wrong. It's my quote. I thunk it up. You can find it in my autobiographical sketch in Who's Who. But when they swipe it, the schmucks always get it wrong. They say, 'The two most common things in the universe...' which ain't funny. Elements. Now that is funny.

Harlan Jay Ellison (b.1934)
Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, March 1995
Issue 1, page 22

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe. This is not a matter of 'pessimism' vs. 'optimism' - it's a matter of accurate assessment. Not only is there more stupidity than anything else in terms of universal quantity, but there is a wonderful quality to this stupidity. It is so intensely perfect that it completely overwhelms whatever it is that nature has piled up on the other pan of the scale. Stupidity is replicating itself at an astonishing rate. It breeds easily and is self-financing. The person who stands up and says, "This is stupid," either is asked to 'behave' or, worse, is greeted with a cheerful "Yes, we know! Isn't it terrific!"

Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989
Chapter 13 "All About Schmucks"

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.

P.J. O'Rourke (b.1947)
Give War a Chance, 1992
Second Thoughts: "Studying for Our Drug Test"


Slums may well be breeding-grounds of crime, but middle-class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
The Unquiet Grave, 1944
Part I, "Ecce Gubernator"


Success depends on three things: who says it, what he says, how he says it; and of these three things, what he says is the least important.

John Morley (1838-1923)
Recollections, 1917
Volume II, Book 5, Chapter 4

The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success - is our national disease.

William James (1842-1910)
Letter to H.G. Wells (1866-1946)
11 September 1906
The Letters of William James, 1920
Volume 2



The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great things, indicates a strange inversion.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Pensees, 1670
Number 198

Depend upon it that if a man talks of his misfortunes there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery there never is any recourse to the mention of it.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Life of Johnson, 1791
Volume IV, 1780
by James Boswell (1740-1795)

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1857
Drift-Wood section

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Crime and Punishment, 1866
Chapter V, Part III

Man needs to suffer. When he does not have real griefs he creates them. Griefs purify and prepare him.

Jose Marti (1853-1895)
Adulterous Thoughts, 1883

We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful than any other.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930
Chapter 2

Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.

Carl Gustave Jung (1875-1961)
Psychology and Religion, 1938
Chapter III "The History and Psychology of a Natural Symbol"

You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
The Collected Aphorisms
October 1917 - February 1918
Number 103

In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one day.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, 1951
Part 4 "Rebellion and Art"

Nowadays everybody tells us that what we need is more belief, a stronger and deeper and more encompassing faith. A faith in America and in what we are doing. That may be true in the long run. What we need first and now is to disillusion ourselves. What ails us most is not what we have done with America, but what we have substituted for America. We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality.

Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004)
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1961
Introduction "Extravagant Expectations"

Jesus said how awful life was, in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are they that mourn," and "Blessed are the meek," and "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness."

Henry David Thoreau said most famously, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

So it is not one whit mysterious that we poison the water and air and topsoil, and construct ever more cunning doomsday devices, both industrial and military. Let us be perfectly frank for a change. For practically everybody, the end of the world can't come soon enough.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Timequake, 1997
Chapter 1

While "suffering" is the conventional translation for the Buddha's word dukkha, it does not really do the word justice. A more specific translation would be something on the order of "pervasive unsatisfactoriness."

Mark Epstein (b.1953)
Thoughts Without a Thinker:
Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective
, 1995
Chapter 2 "Humiliation: The Buddha's First Truth"


There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away. This is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we men are a possession of theirs... And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example, took the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry with him, and would you not punish him if you could? ...Then, if we look at the matter thus, there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.

Plato (c.428-348 BC)
Phaedo, section 62

The advocates for suicide tell us that it is quite permissible to quit our house when we are weary of it. Agreed -- but most men would rather lie in a ramshackle house than sleep in the open fields.

Voltaire (1694-1778)
Lettres Philosophiques sur les Anglais, 1734

The Stoics, in the few fragments of their philosophy which have come down to us, sometimes talk of leaving life with a gaiety, and even with a levity, which, were we to consider those passages by themselves, might induce us to believe that they imagined we could with propriety leave it whenever we had a mind, wantonly and capriciously, upon the slightest disgust ,or uneasiness. "When you sup with such a person," says Epictetus, "you complain of of the long stories which he tells you about his Mysian wars. 'Now, my friend,' says he, 'having told you how I took possession of an eminence at such a place, I will tell you how I was besieged in such another place.' But if you have a mind not to be troubled with his long stories, do not accept of his supper. If you accept of his supper, you have not the least pretence to complain of his long stories. It is the same case with what you call the evils of human life. Never complain of that of which it is at all times in your power to rid yourself." Notwithstanding this gaiety and even levity of expression, however, the alternative of leaving life, or of remaining in it, was, according to the Stoics, a matter of the most serious and important deliberation. We ought never to leave it till we were distinctly called upon to do so by that superintending Power which had originally placed us in it. But we were to consider ourselves as called upon to do so, not merely at the appointed and unavoidable term of human life. Whenever the providence of that superintending Power had rendered our condition in life upon the whole the proper object rather of rejection than of choice; the great rule which he had given us for the direction of our conduct, then required us to leave it. We might then be said to hear the awful and benevolent voice of that divine Being distinctly calling upon us to do so.

Adam Smith (1723-1790)
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759
Volume II, Part VII "Of Systems of Moral Philosophy",
Section II, Chapter I

Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation, but from deliberation.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
The Present Age, 1962

Do not despair of life. You have no doubt force enough to overcome your obstacles. Think of the fox prowling through wood and field in a winter night for something to satisfy his hunger. Notwithstanding cold and hounds and traps, his race survives. I do not believe any of them ever committed suicide.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Thoreau on Man and Nature, 1960

We have no power to prevent ourselves being born: but we can rectify this error - for it is sometimes an error. When one does away with oneself one does the most estimable things possible: one thereby almost deserves to live.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The Twilight of the Idols. How One Philosophizes With a Hammer, 1889
"Roving Expeditions of an Inopportune Philosopher"

The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Beyond Good and Evil, 1885-1886
Part 4: Maxims and Interludes
Aphorism 157

One said of suicide, "As long as one has brains one should not blow them out." And another answered, "But when one has ceased to have them, too often one cannot."

F.H. Bradley (1846-1924)
Aphorisms, 1930
Number 48

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich -- yes, richer than a king --
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)
"Richard Cory"
The Children of the Night, 1897

I pass over the theological objections to self-destruction as too transparently sophistical to be worth a serious answer. From the earliest days Christianity has depicted life on this earth as so sad and vain that its value is indistinguishable from that of a damn. Then why cling to it? Simply because its vanity and unpleasantness are parts of the will of a Creator whose love for His creatures takes the form of torturing them. If they revolt in this world they will be tortured a million times worse in the next.

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

...between grief and nothing I will take grief.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Wild Palms, 1939
Chapter 9

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest -- whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories -- come afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
"Absurdity and Suicide"
The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942

A suicide kills two people, Maggie, that's what it's for!

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
After the Fall, 1964
Act 2

I stood looking down out of the window. The street seemed miles down. Suddenly I felt as if I'd flung myself out of the window. I could see myself lying on the pavement. Then I seemed to be standing by the body on the pavement. I was two people. Blood and brains were scattered everywhere. I knelt down and began licking up the blood and brains.

Doris Lessing (b.1919)
The Golden Notebook, 1962
Free Women: 2
"Two visits, some telephone calls and a tragedy"

Suicide has always been a good friend to me. For me itís something thatís very comforting: the notion that itís available. And also the notion that itís extremely difficult without doing yourself an injury. The options are really not very pleasant. High buildings have been my favourite for quite a time. But recently I was in a building and I was up eight storeys, and I could quite easily have jumped onto the tarmac below, and I decided against it. Because I have discovered at times of great despair itís usually a preamble to exciting things happening. So Iíve hung on.

Ivor Cutler (b.1923)
Interview by Alastair McKay
05 June 1994

I think it's very important to feel that life is something we choose every day. I don't think suicide is so terrible; in fact, I find it quite vital. Everybody should choose life every day. Some rainy winter Sundays when there's a little boredom, you should always carry a gun -- not to shoot yourself, but to know exactly that you're always making a choice. It's a small cure against anguish, and if the cure fails and you kill and free yourself, it's okay because the world is overpopulated anyway.

Lina Wertmuller (b.1929)
Interview by Marjorie Rosen
New Times
Volume 6, Number 5
05 March 1976 about life, being in fact the sincerest form of criticism life gets.

Wilfrid Sheed (b.1930)
The Good Word, 1978
Part I, Chapter 15

It was easy enough to kill yourself in a fit of despair. It was easy enough to play the martyr. It was harder to do nothing. To endure your life. To wait.

Erica Jong (b.1942)
Fear of Flying, 1973
Chapter 17 "Dreamwork"


[see also: BELIEF]

...the mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced. For this purpose, let us consider the false appearances that are imposed upon us by the general nature of the mind, beholding them in an example or two; as first, in that instance which is the root of all superstition, namely, That to the nature of the mind of all men it is consonant for the affirmative or active to affect more than the negative or privative: so that a few times hitting or presence, countervails oft-times failing, or absence....

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
The Advancement of Learning, 1605
Book II
Collected and Edited by James Spedding, et alia, 1854

The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Paraphrase of above? See caveat

But is superstition the greatest of all possible vices? In its possible excess I think it becomes a very great evil. It is, however, a moral subject and, of course, admits of all degrees and all modifications. Superstition is the religion of feeble minds; and they must be tolerated in an intermixture of it, in some trifling or some enthusiastic shape or other, else you will deprive weak minds of a resource found necessary to the strongest.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790

Superstition is the poetry of life.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Spruche in Posa, 1819

...I would rather dwell in the dim fog of superstition, than in air rarefied to nothing by the air-pump of unbelief, in which the panting breast expires, vainly and convulsively gasping for breath.

Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825)
Titan, 1800-1803

Superstition may be defined as constructive religion which has grown incongruous with intelligence.

John Tyndall (1820-1893)
"Science and Man"
Fragments of Science, Volume II

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Last update: 03-July-2015
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