The future is dark, the present burdensome. Only the past, dead and
finished, bears contemplation. Those who look upon it have survived
it; they are its product and its victors. No wonder therefore that men
concern themselves with history.
G.R. Elton, The Practice of
In England and the United States, in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, in
Switzerland and Canada, democracy is today sounder than ever
before. It has defended itself with courage and energy against the
assaults of foreign dictatorship, and has not yielded to dictatorship
at home. But if war continues to absorb and dominate it, or if the
itch to rule the world requires a large military establishment and
appropriate, the freedoms of democracy may one by one succumb to the
discipline of arms and strife. If race or class war divides us into
hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side
or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If
our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has
created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can
persuasively promise security for all; and a martial government, under
whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world.
and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, chapter X "History and
Government" (emphasis added by me)
The democratic will is vulgar; its laws, imperfect. I admit all
this. But if it is true that soon there will be no middle way between
the empire of democracy and the yoke of one man, ought we not try
rather for the former than submit voluntarily to the latter?
de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, quoted in Michael
Reid, Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America
When one hears about acts of extraordinary bravery in combat, it is
usually a sign that the battle has not been going terribly well. For
when wars unfold according to plan and one's own side is winning, acts
of exceptional individual heroism are rarely called for. Bravery is
required mostly by the desperate side.
Guy Deutscher, Through the
Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled
with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things
historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build
homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even
whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what
happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore
the banks of the river.
Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of
Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in
helpless misery, that country must be ill-policed and wretchedly
governed. Gentlemen of education, he observed, were pretty much
the same in all countries; the condition of the lower orders, the poor
especially, was the true mark of national discrimination.
Life of Johnson, quoted in Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express
We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed
killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and
massacres and missiles and irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties,
whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be
played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted
into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be
accomplished? The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how
magnificently he has risen.
Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, quoted in Michael Benson's Space Odyssey:
Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a
Masterpiece. [While "risen apes" is discredited, the essence of the
quote rings true to me.]
If civilization is to mean anything, people have to acknowledge the
humanity of their enemies.
John Hersey, author of Hiroshima
To watch the TV screen for any length of time is to learn some really
frightening things about the American sense of reality. We are cruelly
trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And
we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are
willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent
are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.
You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after
they've tried everything else.
apocryphally attributed to Winston Churchill
Character, Education, & Self-formation
Envy is wishing you were in their place; jealousy is wishing they
Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
Education is what's left over after everything that has been learnt is
James Bryan Conant, President of Harvard University
Man, unless he has experienced the influence of learning and
philosophy, is subject to impulses worse than those of a wild
beast. There is no beast more savage and dangerous than a human being
who is swept along by the passions of ambition, greed, anger, envy,
extravagance, and sensuality.
A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of
comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of intelligent
You may be better than [your undergrad students] at what you do, but
you have something to learn from every one of them.
[UC Berkeley CS
prof Manuel Blum, to Dick
are winners of the Turing Award)
Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win
unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
M. Nixon (farewell speech)
Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become
If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.
Shirley Chisholm, first Black Congresswoman
The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably
that which must also make you lonely.
You seldom get what you pay for, but you never get what you don't pay
Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Michael Benson's Space Odyssey:
Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece
When it feels like life is fucking you, keep changing positions until
it feels good.
John Leguizamo, from Latin History for Morons
Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to
continue that counts.
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
I have problems today that I did not have yesterday. I had problems
yesterday that I do not have today. Admission to the burning ruins,
George C. Tilyou, after Coney Island's Steeplechase
Park burned to the ground
We were speaking of the first steps along a path to which one could
affix the sign: REASON IN THE SERVICE OF THE URGES.
This because the overwhelming majority of the material products of the
mind were channeled into sybaritic pursuits. An ingeniously
constructed television set dispersed intellectual garbage;
sophisticated transportation technologies made it possible for a
degenerate, instead of getting soused in his own backyard, to dress up
a tourist and do the same in the vicinity of Saint Peter's
basilica. If this tendency were to lead to the invasion of the human
body by technological contrivances, undoubtedly the idea would be to
expand the gamut of pleasurable sensations to the maximum, and perhaps
even to bring into being&emdash;besides sex, narcotics, culinary
happiness&emdash;other, as yet unknown, kinds of sensual stimulation
Stanis\0142aw Lem, His Master's Voice, translated by
Religion & Philosophy
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others,
past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our
"The Revelation of Sonmi-451" from David Mitchell's
novel Cloud Atlas
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not
become a monster. For when you look deep into the abyss, the abyss
also looks into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Pray: To ask that the laws of the universe be temporarily annulled in
behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the
point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober
George Bernard Shaw
[Man is] the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts
his throat if his theology isn't straight.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the
rest of the world.
Only a Christian would think of our Buddha as 'just a man'. Our Buddha
is a being which all men can become---something greater than
himself---if he can overcome all his illusions. You cling to your
illusions---and call them faith.
from Martin Scorsese's film Silence,
based on the novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as
false, and by the rulers as useful.
Seneca the Younger
Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixement.
François de la Rochefoucauld
As an artist, you do not rake in a million marks without
performing some sacrifice on the altar of Art.
Franz Liszt, to his biographer
A man of education cannot live among farmers in the country. The
moment you leave the neighborhood of a city you are in the midst of
Sidney George Fisher (Philadelphia diarist), 1847
They talk very loud, very fast, and altogether [sic]. If they ask you
a question, before you can utter three words of your answer, they will
break out upon you again, and talk away.
John Adams, on his
dislike for New Yorkers, quoted in The Address Book: What Street
Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, by Deirdre
The kind of beauty that makes Paris charming can only exist where
private rights and personal liberty are or have been trampled on. Only
where the mob rules, or where kings rule, so that there is at one time
absolutely no respect for the property of the rich and at another time
for the rights of the poor, can the beauties of Paris be realized.