Food For Thought

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

author index



Idealism is the despot of thought, just as politics is the despot of will.

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)
A Circular Letter to My Friends in Italy, 1871

The realist's programme of political or economic reform may be impracticable, absurd, demonstrably ridiculous; but it can never be successfully opposed merely by pointing out that this is the case. A negative opposition cannot be wholly effectual: there must be a competing idealism; something must be offered that is not only less objectionable but more desirable.

Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)
Human Nature and the Social Order, 1902
Chapter 9



Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.

Isa Upanishad (800-500 BC)
(Sacred Hindu text)

I bid him look into the lives of men as though into a mirror, and from others to take an example for himself.

Terence (c.185-159 BC)
(The Brothers)
Line 415

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

Thomas a' Kempis (1380-1471)
Imitation of Christ, c.1420
Book I, Chapter 16

Nothing prevents our being unaffected so much as our desire to seem so.

La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
Sentences and Moral Maxims, 1678
Maxim 431
Translated by J.W. Willis Bund and J. Hain Friswell

[U]ntil a man can be found who knows himself as his Maker knows him, or who sees himself as others see him, there must be at least six persons engaged in every dialogue between two. Of these, the least important, philosophically speaking, is the one that we have called the real person. No wonder two disputants often get angry, when there are six of them talking and listening all at the same time.

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

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one's sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.

William James (1842-1910)
The Principles of Psychology, Volume I, 1890
Chapter IV "Habit"

Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.

William James (1842-1910)
Misattribution? See Holmes (1809-1894) and Karr (1808-1890)

One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Letter to his brother Theo
The Complete van Gogh, 1977
By Jan Hulsker

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
"The Critic as Artist"
Intentions, 1891

...when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars, would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Swann's Way, 1913
Translated by Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930), 1922

Gabe es ein Verbum mit der Bedeutung 'falschlich glauben', so hatte das keine sinnvolle erste Person im Indikatir des Prasens.
(If there were a verb meaning 'to behave falsely', it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Philosophical Investigations, 1953
Part 2, section 10

To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.

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

There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
Travels With Charley: In Search of America, 1962
Part Two

We are all serving a life-sentence in the dungeon of self.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
The Unquiet Grave, 1944
Part 2

Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.

Frank Leahy (1908-1973)
Look magazine
10 January 1955

The thrush in my back yard sings down his nose in meditative, liquid runs of melody, over and over again, and I have the strongest impression that he does this for his own pleasure. Some of the time he seems to be practicing, like a virtuoso in his apartment. He starts a run, reaches a midpoint in the second bar where there should be a set of complex harmonics, stops, and goes back to begin over, dissatisfied. Sometimes he changes his notation so conspicuously that he seems to be improvising sets of variations. It is a meditative, questioning kind of music, and I cannot believe that he is simply saying "thrush here."

Lewis Thomas (1913-1993)
"The Music of This Sphere"
The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, 1974

The configuration of my nervous system, like the configuration of the stars, happens of itself, and this "itself" is the real "myself." From this standpoint -- and here language reveals its limitations with a vengeance -- I find that I cannot help doing and experiencing, quite freely, what is always "right," in the sense that the stars are always in their "right" places.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
"Beat Zen, Square Zen, Zen"
This is It, 1960, page 88

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.

Alan Watts (1915-1973)
Life, 21 April 1961

It is far easier to be a "humanitarian" than to render your own country its proper due, it is far easier to be a "patriot" than to make your community a better place to live in; it is far easier to be a "civic leader" than to treat your own family with loving understanding; for the smaller the focus of attention, the harder the task.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986)
"Thoughts At Large"
The Montreal Gazette, 09 November 1978

How else do things work unless by imitation bred of the passion to be like? All the processes of society are based on it, all individual development. For some reason, it was something that we seemed to have a conspiracy to ignore or not to mention, even while most single-mindedly engaged in it. There was some sort of conspiracy of belief that people -- children, adults, everyone -- grew by an acquisition of unconnected habits, of isolated bits of knowledge, like chosing things off a counter, "Yes, I'll have that one," or, "No, I don't want that one!" But in fact people develop for good or for bad by swallowing whole other people, atmospheres, events, places -- develop by admiration. Often enough unconsciously, of course. We are the company we keep.

Doris Lessing (b.1919)
The Memoirs of a Survivor, 1975

This is perhaps the most distinctive Buddhist teaching, that suffering is the product of "the craving of the passions, the craving for existence, the craving for nonexistence." It is, however, far from an obvious truth. Certain cases of suffering are plainly due to craving, namely, those that are due to frustrated desires. Desires may be eased by satisfaction or extirpation; and one may allow that if one stopped desiring, it would amount to preventing all the suffering due to frustration. But this does not prove the general case.... Body, feelings, perception, mentality, and consciousness are separate sets of graspings. There is nothing that does the grasping. We are the aggregate of the graspings, not something, apart from them, that does the grasping. This is an interesting and startling thought.

Arthur Coleman Danto (b.1924)
Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy, 1972
page 67

"What is it?" we ask, meaning what is its name? This odd quirk of the human mind: Unless we can name things, they remain for us only half-real. Or less than half-real: non-existent. A man without a name is nobody. A man's name can become more important than his person. A plant, an animal, a thing without a name is no thing -- nothing. No wonder we humans like to think that in the beginning was -- the Word. What word? Any word. Any word at all, anything rather than the silence and terror of the nameless.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
"Sierra Madre"
Abbey's Road, 1979

Only that in you which is me can hear what I'm saying.

Ram Dass (b.1931)

When you look back over things which you yourself wrote a few years ago, you think "How awful!" and smile with amusement at the person you once were. What is worse is when you do the same thing with something you wrote or said five minutes ago.

Douglas R. Hofstadter (b.1945)
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979
Chapter VII "Minds and Thoughts"

A bird does not sing because it has an sings because it has a song.

Chinese Proverb


[see also: WORK]

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
"The Rotation Method"
Either/Or, 1843, Volume 1

This Civita Vecchia is the finest nest of dirt, vermin and ignorance we have found yet, except that African perdition they call Tangier, which is just like it. The people here live in alleys two yards wide, which have a smell about them which is peculiar but not entertaining. It is well the alleys are not wider, because they hold as much smell now as a person can stand, and of course, if they were wider they would hold more, and then the people would die. These alleys are paved with stone, and carpeted with deceased cats, and decayed rags, and decomposed vegetable-tops, and remnants of old boots, all soaked with dish-water, and the people sit around on stools and enjoy it. They are indolent, as a general thing, and yet have few pastimes. They work two or three hours at a time, but not hard, and then they knock off and catch flies. This does not require any talent, because they only have to grab -- if they do not get the one they are after, they get another. It is all the same to them. They have no partialities. Whichever one they get is the one they want.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Innocents Abroad, 1869
Chapter XXV

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has pleanty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859-1927)
"On Being Idle"
The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, 1889

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip.

J.M. Barrie (1860-1937)
Rectorial Address
St. Andrews University, Scotland
03 May 1922

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)


[see also: KNOWLEDGE]

Whoever interrupts the conversation of others, to make a display of his fund of knowledge, makes notorious his own stock of ignorance.

Sadi (1184-1291)
Gulistan, or Rose Garden of Beauties, 1258
Chapter VIII "On the Duties of Society"
Apophthegm 96
Translated by James Ross, 1823

There's none so blind as they that won't see.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Polite Conversation
Dialogue III, 1738

Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-1785
Query 6

To know anything well involves a profound sensation of ignorance.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)
Modern Painters, Volume I, 1843
Part I, Chapter 2

It is better to be able neither to read or write than to be able to do nothing else.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
"On the Language of the Learned"
Table Talk, 1821-1822

Good Heavens, from the wisest Thought of a man to the actual truth of a Thing as it lies in Nature, there is, one would suppose, a sufficient interval! Consider it, -- and what other intervals we introduce! The faithfulest, most glowing word of a man is but an imperfect image of the thought, such as it is, that dwells within him; his best word will never but with error convey his thought to other minds: and then between his poor thought and Nature's Fact, which is the Thought of the Eternal, there may be supposed to lie some discrepancies, some shortcomings! Speak your sincerest, think your wisest, there is still a great gulf between you and the fact. And now, do not speak your sincerest, and, what will inevitably follow out of that, do not think your wisest, but think only your plausiblest, your showiest for parliamentary purposes, where will you land with that guidance? -- I invite the British Parliament, and all the Parliamentary and other Electors of Great Britain, to reflect on this till they have well understood it; and then to ask, each of himself, What probably the horoscopes of the British Parliament, at this epoch of World-History, may be?

Fail, by any sin or any misfortune, to discover what the truth of the fact is, you are lost so far as that fact goes! If your thought do not image truly but do image falsely the fact, you will vainly try to work upon the fact. The fact will not obey you, the fact will silently resist you; and ever, with silent invincibility, will go on resisting you, till you do get to image it truly instead of falsely. No help for you whatever, except in attaining to a true image of the fact. Needless to vote a false image true; vote it, revote it by overwhelming majorities, by jubilant unanimities and universalities; read it thrice or three hundred times, pass acts of parliament upon it till the Statute-book can hold no more, -- it helps not a whit: the thing is not so, the thing is otherwise than so; and Adam's whole Posterity, voting daily on it till the world finish, will not alter it a jot. Can the sublimest sanhedrim, constitutional parliament, or other Collective Wisdom of the world, persuade fire not to burn, sulphuric acid to be sweet milk, or the Moon to become green cheese? The fact is much the reverse: -- and even the Constitutional British Parliament abstains from such arduous attempts as these latter in the voting line; and leaves the multiplication-table, the chemical, mechanical and other qualities of material substances to take their own course: being aware that voting and perorating, and reporting in Hansard, will not in the least alter any of these. Which is indisputably wise of the British Parliament.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Works, Volume V "Latter-Day Pamphlets", 1893
Number V "Stump-orator", 01 May 1850

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorances.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Synopsis of above?
Paraphrase from John Nichol (1833-1894)?

He had as profound a disbelief as Carlyle had in our own age in the collective wisdom of individual ignorances....

John Nichol (1833-1894)
Francis Bacon: His Life and Philosophy, 1888
Chapter V "Attorney Generalship (1613-1617)"

How is the ordinary man to know that the most violent element in society is ignorance....

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
"Anarchism: What it Really Stands For", 1910

Stupidity has a certain charm - ignorance does not.

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

Let's not be too tough on our own ignorance. It's the thing that makes America great. If America weren't incomparably ignorant, how could we have tolerated the last eight years?

Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
01 February 1989


[H]appiness is not an ideal of reason but of imagination.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, 1785
Second section - Transistion from Popular Moral Philosophy
to the Metaphysic of Morals

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affection and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not.

John Keats (1795-1821)
Letter, 22 November 1817

Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.

Jules de Gaultier (1858-1942)

But it is true that one could not go very far. It is not just a matter of distance. Threats accumulate; one yields and abandons part of the terrain to be conquered. An imagination that accepted no bounds will be allowed to function only according to the laws of arbitrary utility. Unable to bear this inferior role for long, around his twentieth year it generally prefers to abandon a man to his sombre fate.

Though here and there he may later try to pull himself together, having felt that he is gradually losing all reason for living, incapable as he has become of rising to an exceptional situation such as love...he will hardly succeed. This is because from now on he belongs body and soul to an imperative practical necessity that he will not be allowed to lose sight of. All of his acts will lack scope, all of his ideas depth. From what happens to him and might happen to him, he will not only be able to imagine what links that event to a multitude of events like it, events he did not take part in, abortive events. That is, he will judge them in relation to one of these events, one with an outcome that is more reassuring than the others. On no account will he see in them his salvation.

Dear imagination, what I like about you most of all is that you are unforgiving.

Andre Breton (1896-1966)
"Surrealist Manifesto", 1924

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

Attributed to Francis Bacon (1561-1626),
not found in his works


[see also: AFTERLIFE, LIFE]

If a man carefully examine his thoughts he will be surprised to find how much he lives in the future. His well being is always ahead. Such a creature is probably immortal.

Saint Augustine (340-430)
Quoted in Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
16 February 1827 entry

It is to a thinking being quite impossible to think himself non-existent, ceasing to think and live; so far does everyone carry in himself the proof of immortality, and quite spontaneously. But as soon as the man will be objective and go out of himself, so soon as he will dogmatically grasp a personal duration to bolster up, in cockney fashion, that inward assurance, he is lost in contradiction.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Quoted in "Immortality"
The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Volume VIII "Letters and Social Aims", 1876

To desire immortality for the individual is really the same as wanting to perpetuate an error for ever; for at bottom every individuality is really only a special error, a false step, something that it would be better should not be, in fact something from which it is the real purpose of life to bring us back. This also finds confirmation in the fact that most, indeed really all, people are so constituted that they could not be happy, no matter in what world they might be placed. Insofar as such a world would exclude want and hardship, they would become a prey to boredom, and insofar as this was prevented, they would fall into misery, vexation, and suffering.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
World As Will and Representation, 1819
Book 4, Chapter XLI "On Death and Its Relation to the
Indestructibility of Our Inner Nature"
Translated by E.F.J. Payne (1895-1983), 1958

The blazing evidence of immortality is our dissatisfaction with any other solution.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Journal, July 1855

If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be permissible, even cannibalism.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
The Brothers Karamazov, 1879-1880
Book II, Chapter 6

In every unbeliever's heart there is an uneasy feeling that, after all, he may awake after death and find himself immortal.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949

With the rise of Christianity, faith replaced thought as the bringer of immortality.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Speech, 05 December 1977


A Man may not marry his Mother.

Book of Common Prayer
A Table of Kindred and Affinity, 1662


[see also: EGO]

The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.

Japanese Proverb

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne (1572-1631)
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624
Meditation 17

...the fountain of content must spring up in the mind: and...he who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Rambler, Number 6
Saturday, 07 April 1750

My manner of thinking, so you say, cannot be approved. Do you suppose I care? A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others! My manner of thinking stems straight from my considered reflections; it holds with my existence, with the way I am made. It is not in my power to alter it; and were it, I'd not do so. This manner of thinking you find fault with is my sole consolation in life; it alleviates all my sufferings in prison, it composes all my pleasures in the world outside, it is dearer to me than life itself. Not my manner of thinking but the manner of thinking of others has been the source of my unhappiness. The reasoning man who scorns the prejudices of simpletons necessarily becomes the enemy of simpletons; he must expect as much, and laugh at the inevitable. A traveler journeys along a fine road. It has been strewn with traps. He falls into one. Do you say it is the traveler's fault, or that of the scoundrel who lays the traps? If then, as you tell me, they are willing to restore my liberty if I am willing to pay for it by the sacrifice of my principles or my tastes, we may bid one another an eternal adieu, for rather than part with those, I would sacrifice a thousand lives and a thousand liberties, if I had them. These principles and these tastes, I am their fanatic adherent; and fanaticism in me is the product of the persecutions I have endured from my tyrants. The longer they continue their vexations, the deeper they root my principles in my heart, and I openly declare that no one need ever talk to me of liberty if it is offered to me only in return for their destruction.

Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)
Letter to his wife, Beginning of November 1783
Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings, 1965
Compiled and translated by Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse

Can one thus resume one's self? Can one know one's self? Is one ever somebody? I don't know anything about it any more. It now seems to me that one changes from day to day and that every few years one becomes a new being.

George Sand (1804-1876)
"Final Comment by George Sand"
The Intimate Journal of George Sand, 1929
September 1868 entry

Nowhere (except in some monastic institutions) is diversity of taste entirely unrecognized; a person may, without blame, either like or dislike rowing, or smoking, or music, or athletic exercises, or chess, or cards, or study, because both those who like each of these things and those who dislike them are too numerous to be put down. But the man and still more the woman, who can be accused either of doing 'what nobody does', or of not doing 'what everybody does', is the subject of as much depreciatory remark as if he or she had committed some grave moral delinquency. Persons require to possess a title, or some other badge of rank, or of the consideration of people of rank, to be able to indulge somewhat in the luxury of doing as they like without detriment to their estimation. To indulge somewhat, I repeat: for whoever allow themselves much of that indulgence incur the risk of something worse than disparaging speeches - they are in peril of a commission de lunatico and of having their property taken from them and given to their relations.

There is one characteristic of the present direction of public opinion peculiarly calculated to make it intolerant of any marked demonstrations of individuality. The general average of mankind are not only moderate in intellect, but also moderate in inclinations; they have no tastes or wishes strong enough to incline them to do anything unusual, and they consequently do not understand those who have, and class all such with the wild and intemperate whom they are accustomed to look down upon.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
On Liberty, 1859
Chapter 3 "Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being"

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
"Song of Myself", Part 1
Leaves of Grass, 1855

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself
(I am large, I contain multitudes).

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
"Song of Myself", Part 51
Leaves of Grass, 1855

People fare badly only because they themselves live badly. And there is no more injurious thought for people than that the causes of the wretchedness of their position is not in themselves, but in external conditions. A man or a society of men need but imagine that the evil experienced by them is due to external conditions and to direct their attention and efforts to the change of these external conditions, and the evil will be increased. But a man or a society of men need but sincerely direct their attention to themselves, and in themselves and their lives look for the causes of that evil from which they suffer, in order that these causes may be at once found and destroyed.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
"To the Working People", 1902
Section 15
Translated by Leo Wiener

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Paraphrase of above?
See caveat

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)
"Individuality", 1873

Surely every human being ought to attain to the dignity of the unit. Surely it is worth something to be one, and to feel that the census of the universe would be incomplete without counting you. Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and all depths; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought; that your intellect owes no allegiance to any being, human or divine; that you hold all in fee and upon no condition and by no tenure whatever; that in the world of mind you are relieved from all personal dictation, and from the ignorant tyranny of majorities. Surely it is worth something to feel that there are no priests, no popes, no parties, no governments, no kings, no gods, to whom your intellect can be compelled to pay a reluctant homage. Surely it is a joy to know that all the cruel ingenuity of bigotry can devise no prison, no dungeon, no cell in which for one instant to confine a thought; that ideas cannot be dislocated by racks, nor crushed in iron boots, nor burned with fire. Surely it is sublime to think that the brain is a castle, and that within its curious bastions and winding halls the soul, in spite of all worlds and all beings, is the supreme sovereign of itself.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899)
"Individuality", 1873

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
The Way of All Flesh, 1903
Chapter 14

Deep down every human being well knows that he is in the world only one time, unique, and that no such strange chance will throw together a second time such a wonderfully many-colored assortment into a unity such as he is: he knows it, but conceals it like a bad conscience.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Schopenhauer as Educator, 1874
(Untimely Meditation 3)

Pernicious. -- The surest way of corrupting a young man is to teach him to esteem the like-minded more highly than the different-minded.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The Dawn of Day, 1903
Number 297
Translated by Johanna Volz

Independent self-reliant people (would be) a counterproductive anachronism in the collective society of the future [...] (where) people will be defined by their associations.

John Dewey (1859-1953), 1896
(Proponent of modern public schools)
"The Tyranny of Government Schooling"
by John Gatto, 1992

In America everybody is of opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1967)
Unpopular Essays, 1950
Chapter X "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind"

No affectation of peculiarity can conceal a commonplace mind.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Moon and Sixpence, 1919
Chapter XLII

No one can flatter himself that he is immune to the spirit of his own epoch, or even that he possesses a full understanding of it. Irrespective of our conscious convictions, each one of us, without exception, being a particle of the general mass, is somewhere attached to, colored by, or even undermined by the spirit which goes through the mass. Freedom stretches only as far as the limits of our consciousness.

Carl Gustave Jung (1875-1961)
Paracelsus the Physician, 1942
Psychological Reflections: A Jung Anthology, 1953
page 143, Volume 15

In each individual the spirit is made flesh, in each one the whole of creation suffers, in each one a Savior is crucified.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
Demian, 1960

And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does, or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps. Unluckily, it is a very inefficient machine. Many children, though squeezed diligently, do not take the standard shapes. Others have hides so oily that the most indelible of rubber-stamps is washed from them by the first rain, or even blown from them by the first wind.

It is my notion that surgery will one day find a remedy for this unpleasant and dangerous state of affairs. It will first perfect means of detecting such aberrant children in their early youth, and then it will devise means of curing them. The child who laughs when the Bill of Rights is read will not be stood in a corner and deprived of chewing-gum, as now; it will be sent to the operating-table, and the offending convolution, or gland, or tumor, or whatever it is will be cut out. While it is lying open all other suspicious excrescences will be removed, and so it will be returned to the classroom a normal 100% American. This scheme, if it turns out to be practicable, will add a great deal to the happiness of the American people. It will not only protect those of us who are naturally respectable from the menace of strange and disturbing ideas; it will also relieve the present agonies of those who cherish them. For the search for imaginary absolutes -- i.e., for the truth, that ghost -- is not pleasant, as poets allege, but intensely painful. There is no record in human history of a happy philosopher; they exist only in romantic legend. Many of them have committed suicide; practically all of them have turned their children out of doors and beaten their wives. And no wonder! If you want to find out how a philosopher feels when he is engaged in the practice of his profession, go to the nearest zoo and watch a chimpanzee at the wearying and hopeless job of chasing fleas. Both suffer damnably, and neither can win.

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

It is the individual only who is timeless. Societies, cultures, and civilizations -- past and present -- are often incomprehensible to outsiders, but the individual's hungers, anxieties, dreams, and preoccupations have remained unchanged through the millenia.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973
Aphorism 183

Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.

Archibald Leach (1904-1986)
Quoted widely. Grant's explanation is in
"Cary Grant - Still the Cream of Bristol"
by Al Cohn
Los Angeles Times, 11 January 1976

You are undergoing by accident and by your own fault a spiritual journey which many would consciously purchase at great price, but cannot buy. Your picture of yourself, your self-illusion, is in process of being broken. This places you in an unusual position, very close to the truth, and that proximity is part of your pain.

You describe your grief as a system. Indeed it is, a defensive system of mutually supporting falsehoods instinctively produced to defend your old egoistic self-image which you cannot bear to lose, you cannot bear its death which seems so like your own. Your endless talk of dying is a substitute for the real needful death, the death of your illusions. Your "death" is a pretend death, simply the false notion that somehow, without effort, all your troubles could vanish. This is where you are, and here a religious believer would pray; you must try to find your own equivalent of prayer. The word "will" rarely describes anything perceptible, but an act of will is needed here, an act of well-intentioned concentration.

I'm not telling you not to feel remorse and guilt, only to feel it truthfully. Truthful remorse leads to the fruitful death of the self, not to its survival as a successful liar. Recognise lies and reject them at every point. You want to unhappen what has happened, you feel anger and hate at what prevents this, and which you see as the cause of your "loss of honour." These old deep "natural" desires appear to you to be irresistible. Check them, see them to be illusions and lies. Move beyond them into an open and quiet area which you will find to be an entirely new place.

You say you live in pain. Let it be the pain of the death of the old false self, and the life-movement of the new real truthful self. We are all wrapped in silky layers of illusion which we instinctively feel to be necessary to our existence. Often these illusions are harmless, in the sense that we can still go on being reasonably good and reasonably happy. Sometimes, because of a catastrophe, a bereavement or some total loss of self-esteem, our falsehoods become pernicious, and we are forced to choose between some painful recognition of truth and an ever more frenzied manufacturing of lies.

Live at peace with despair. Live quietly with your sense of guilt. Sit beside it, as it were, and regard the frightful wound to your self-esteem as the removal of deep illusions which existed before and which this chance has torn. If you keep checking any lie and resisting the anger which deforms the world, you will gradually realise that the poor old wounded self, with its furious whining and its hatred of itself and everything else, is not you at all. That self is dying, but another self is watching it die.

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)
"The Prodigal Son"
The Good Apprentice, 1985

The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy - and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live - only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs - is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity.

Thomas Szasz (b.1920)
The Untamed Tongue: A Dissenting Dictionary, 1990

Americans are the only people in the world known to me whose status anxiety prompts them to advertise their college and university affiliations in the rear windows of their automobiles.

Paul Fussell (b.1924)
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, 1983
Chapter IV "About the House"

There is no ache more
Deadly than the striving to be oneself.

Yevgeniy Vinokurov (b.1925)
Translated by George Reavey (1907-1976)
The New Russian Poets: 1953-1966, 1966

"We" consists of "I". There's the word "I." No wonder,
In me, it is hostile to non-being.
It's deep within me. At one blow it was hammered
Into me, right up to its head, like a nail.

Yevgeniy Vinokurov (b.1925)
Translated by George Reavey (1907-1976)
The New Russian Poets: 1953-1966, 1966

In social institutions, the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. There will never be a state as good as its people, or a church worthy of its congregation, or a university equal to its faculty and students.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto), 1989
Chapter 3 "Government and Politics"

You can't build smart institutions out of dumb people or honest institutions out of crooks. You can't design a system to override a person's behavior. If you could, communist prison keepers, executioners and propagandists could have retired long ago.

Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there only are individuals.

Charley Reese (b.1937)
"Mechanical-man Fallacy Puts Emphasis On Systems, Not People"
The Orlando Sentinel
29 July 1987

July 21, 1978: I think it must be the case that each fall I enter the world of a new novel in order to counterbalance the tremendous pull of the external world, in which I move about, evidently as an unusually "sensitive" person...fascinated by others...yearning to know them, to become close with them...utterly entranced, at times, with the mere fact that there are other people, and that they experience themselves as the primary center of consciousness just as I do. That fact alone...Well, that fact alone is staggering.

Joyce Carol Oates (b.1938)
The New Yorker, 26 June and 03 July 1995

A man is a success if he gets up in the mornin' and gets to bed at night and in between he does what he wants to. What I want to do is make music.

Bob Dylan (b.1941)
Quoted in "Scarred Bob Dylan is Comin' Back"
By Michael Iachetta
Bob Dylan: A Retrospective, 1972
Edited by Craig McGregor

We tend to see our own experiences as the normal process, so we are often amazed that anyone could have taken a different path. But when we do meet up, it's always fascinating to compare notes about the different ways to get there.

Daniel Gilly
Internet newsgroup soc.motss
Posted 25 July 1991



There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851
Chapter 5 "Psychological Observations"
Translated by E.F.J. Payne (1895-1983), 1974

Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening. [...] The average American (should be) content with their humble role in life, because they're not tempted to think about any other role.

William Torrey Harris (1835-1909)
U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889
The Tyranny of Government Schooling
by John Gatto, 1992

Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.

John Dewey (1859-1953)
Democracy And Education, 1916
Chapter 7 "The Democratic Conception in Education"

As far as I can see, the greater amount of education which a part of the working class has enjoyed for some years past is an evil. It is dangerous, because it makes them independent.

J. Geddes (1865)
British glassworks owner
Quoted in Capital, Volume One
Chapter 15 "Machinery and Modern Industry"
Section 3, Part A, Footnote 59
by Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Originally from "Children’s Empl. Comm., Fourth Report",
London, 1865, p.253

What are our schools for, if not for indoctrination against Communism?

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994)
An Evening with Richard Nixon, 1972
By Gore Vidal (b.1925)

In what he called the "great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells," Reagan reproached the movies, television and young parents for failing to indoctrinate American youth in 200-proof patriotism, the way they did in his day. "If we forget what we did," said the man who still can't remember trading arms for hostages, "we won't know who we are." The section ended with this weird passage: "And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do."

Hendrik Hertzberg (b.1943)

I have lovely young daughters, and I'd rather see them blown to Heaven in a nuclear war than to live in slavery under Communism.

Pat Boone (b.1934)
"Anti-Red Crusade Rallies at Garden; Anti-Red Crusade Meets at Garden"
By Charles Grutzner
New York Times, 29 June 1962



To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

William Blake (1757-1827)
"Auguries of Innocence", line 1
Poems from the Pickering Manuscript, c.1805


[see also: GENIUS, TALENT]

...the street finds its own uses for things.

William Gibson (b.1948)
"Burning Chrome"
Omni, July 1982


That which thy fathers have bequeathed to thee,
earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Faust, 1808

Of course, money will do after its kind, and will steadily work to unspiritualize and unchurch the people to whom it was bequeathed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
English Traits, 1856


[see also: ACTION]

God helps them that help themselves.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Poor Richard's Almanac, 1757


Only the old are innocent. This is what the Victorians understood, and the Christians. Original sin is a property of the young. The old grow beyond corruption very quickly.

Malcolm Bradbury (b.1932)
Stepping Westward, 1965
Book 1, Chapter 1


[see also: CURIOSITY]

To what purpose...should I trouble myself in searching out the secrets of the stars, having death or slavery continually before my eyes?

Anaximenes (d.c.500 BC)
Writing to Pythagoras, quoted in
"Of the Education of Children", 1580
Translated by Charles Cotton, 1685

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
Finem di dederint.
(Do not try to find out -- we're forbidden to know -- what end the gods have in store for me, or for you.)

Horace (65-8 BC)
Odes, Book 1, number 11, line 1

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song if their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens.... The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1596

So we keep asking, over and over,
Until a handful of earth
Stops our mouths -
But is that an answer?

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
Lazarus, I, 1854

There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.

Soren Kierkegaard (1833-1855)
Journals of Kierkegaard, 1959
17 January 1837

"...I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not. I want to find out why evil exists. I want to know whether I have an immortal soul or whether when I die it is the end."


"But Larry...people have been asking those questions for thousands of years. If they could be answered, surely they'd have been answered by now."

Larry chuckled.

"Don't laugh as if I'd said something idiotic," she said sharply.

"On the contrary I think you've said something shrewd. But on the other hand you might say that if men have been asking them for thousands of years it proves that they can't help asking them and have to go on asking them. Besides, it's not true that no one has found the answers. There are more answers than questions, and lots of people have found answers that were perfectly satisfactory for them.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
The Razor's Edge, 1944
Chapter 2, iv

Everything Faustian is alien to me. I place myself at a remote starting point of creation, whence I state a priori formulas for men, beasts, plants, stones and the elements, and for all the whirling forces. A thousand questions subside as if they had been solved. Neither orthodoxies nor heresies exist there. The possibilities are too endless, and the belief in them is all that lives creatively in me.

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918, 1964
Diary IV, March 1916 to December 1918, Entry 1008, Munich 1916
Edited and translated by Felix Klee

...inquiry is fatal to certainty.

Will Durant (1885-1981)
The Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith, 1950
Chapter XXXVIII "The Age of Romance: 1100-1300"
Section VII "The Romances"

It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits -- like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits - involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding - inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990)
"Woman's Hour" radio broadcast
05 August 1965
Muggeridge through the Microphone
"Failure", 1967

We must dare to think "unthinkable" thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about "unthinkable things" because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless.

James William Fulbright (1905-1995)
Speech in the U.S. Senate
27 March 1964

When the Lord created the world and people to live in it - an enterprise which, according to modern science, took a very long time - I could well imagine that He reasoned with Himself as follows: "If I make everything predictable, these human beings, whom I have endowed with pretty good brains, will undoubtedly learn to predict everything, and they will thereupon have no motive to do anything at all, because they will recognize that the future is totally determined and cannot be influenced by any human action. On the other hand, if I make everything unpredictable, they will gradually discover that there is no rational basis for any decision whatsoever and, as in the first case, they will therefore have no motive to do anything at all. Neither scheme would make sense. I must therefore create a mixture of the two. Let some things be predictable and let others be unpredictable. They will then, amongst many other things, have the very important task of finding out which is which."

E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977)
Small Is Beautiful, 1973
Part IV "Organisation and Ownership"
"A Machine to Foretell the Future?"

Do not worship, revere, or be afraid of any person, group, space, or reality. An investigator, an explorer, has no room for such baggage.

John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001)
The Center of the Cyclone, 1972

The cultural role of philosophy is not to deliver truth but to build the spirit of truth, and this means never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense, always to suspect that there might be "another side" in what we take for granted, and never to allow us to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it.

Leszek Kolakowski (b.1927)
Modernity on Endless Trial, 1990
Part III "On Liberals, Revolutionaries, and Utopians"
Chapter 12 "The Death of Utopia Reconsidered"

Primitives are too self-centered to ask the important questions, until suffering forces them to ask.

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007)
The Universe Next Door, 1979

The "just say no" campaign at this point is a lot like drawing sea-monsters over certain unexplored areas of the map and expecting people to stay away. It may work for some, but explorers live for this kind of thing.

Terence McKenna (1946-2000)
Paraphrase? See caveat


[see also: MIND, REASON]

The spiritual perfection of man consists in his becoming an intelligent being -- one who knows all that he is capable of learning.

Maimonides (1135-1204)
The Guide for the Perplexed
Chapter 3

I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations. This must be especially true in those sciences of which but the faintest trace (and that consisting of conclusions) is to be found in the Bible.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, 1615
Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, 1957
Translated by Stillman Drake

Il est encore plus facile de juger de l'esprit d'un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses.
(It is easier to judge a person's mental capacity by his questions than by his answers.)

Pierre-Marc-Gaston de Levis (1764-1830)
"Maximes et Préceptes", Number XVII
Maximes et Réflections sur Différents Sujets de Morale et de Politique, 1810

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.

William Drummond (c.1770-1828)
Academical Questions, 1805

Nature shows that with the growth of intelligence comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence that suffering reaches its supreme point.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
"Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life"
Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
"The Choice", stanza 1
The Winding Stair and Other Poems, 1933

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence....

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Education and the Social Order, 1932
Chapter 8 "Religion in Education"

Ladies and gentlemen, our age is proud of the progress it has made in man's intellectual development. The search and striving for truth and knowledge is one of the highest of man's qualities - though often, the pride is most loudly voiced by those who strive the least. And certainly we should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve; and it is not fastidious in its choice of a leader. This characteristic is reflected in the qualities of its priests, the intellectuals. The intellect has a sharp eye for methods and tools, but is blind to ends and values. So it is no wonder that this fatal blindness is handed on from old to young and today involves a whole generation.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"The Goal of Human Existence"
Broadcast on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal
04 November 1943
Out of My Later Life, 1950
Chapter 51

Science and art are only too often a superior kind of dope, possessing this advantage over booze and morphia: that they can be indulged in with a good conscience and with the conviction that, in the process of indulging, one is leading the "higher life."

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
Ends and Means, 1937
Chapter 14

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
"The Crack-Up"
Esquire, February 1936

An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. "Can they be brought together?" This is a practical question. We must get down to it. "I despise intelligence" really means: "I cannot bear my doubts."

I prefere to keep my eyes open.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Notebooks 1935-1951
Notebook I. May 1935 - September 1937


[see also: ECOLOGY]

Couples are wholes and not wholes, what agrees disagrees, the concordant is discordent. From all things one and from one all things.

Heraclitus (c.540-c.480 BC)
On the Universe, fragment 59

There are causes for all human suffering, and there is a way by which they may be ended, because everything in the world is the result of a vast concurrence of causes and conditions, and everything disappears as these causes and conditions change and pass away. Rain falls, wind blows, plants bloom, leaves mature and are blown away; these phenomena are all interrelated with causes and conditions, are brought about by them, and disappear as the causes and conditions change. A child is born by the conditions of parentage; its body is nourished by food, its spirit is nurtured by teaching and experience. Therefore, both flesh and spirit are related to conditions and are changed as conditions change. A net is made up by a series of ties, so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties. If any one thinks that a mesh of a net is an independent, isolated thing, he is mistaken. It is called a net because it is made up of a series of connected meshes, and each mesh has its place and responsibilities in relation to other meshes.

Buddha (c.563-c.483 BC)
Buddha, Truth and Brotherhood, 1934
Chapter One "Causation"
Edited by Dwight Goddard (1861-1939)

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir (1838-1914)
My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911
Chapter VI "Mount Hoffman and Lake Tenaya"


The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

John Gilmore (b.1955)
Quoted in "First Nation in Cyberspace"
by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Time Magazine, 06 December 1993


You remain silent and it speaks;
You speak and it is silent.

Yoka Daishi (665-713)
"Song of Enlightenment"
Manual of Zen Buddhism,
by D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)

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Last update: 03-July-2015
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