WIST is my personal and ever-growing collection of quotations. Please feel free to browse and borrow. More info and contact information is available under "About WIST."
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I am an agnostic partly because I don’t think it is part of the human condition ever to have very much certainty about anything but moments of pleasure and of imminent and immanent death. I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and am aware that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?
“On Good Friday, I may not have faith, but that doesn’t make me an atheist,” The Guardian (29 Mar 2013)
One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics. The Declaration of Independence is the grandest, the bravest, and the profoundest political document that was ever signed by the representatives of a people. It is the embodiment of physical and moral courage and of political wisdom.
Personally I think that being a minority is actually a strength. We have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born out of it.
‘Patriotism is not enough.’ But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.
There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.
“Sproul Hall Sit-In Address” (2 Dec 1964)
When we are strong, we are always much greater than the things that happen to us.
Style is the garb of thought.
There’s a fine line between audacity and idiocy.
Strong, responsible unions are essential to industrial fair play. Without them the labor bargain is wholly one-sided. The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized and that their organizations must be recognized by employers as a condition precedent to industrial peace.
In The Curse of Bigness: Miscellaneous Papers of Louis D. Brandeis [ed. Fraenkel and Lewis] (1965)
We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 8, 12 Aug 1904 (1929)
We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment in the case of persons whom we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.
Our companions please us less from the charms we find in their conversation than from those they find in ours.
Are we like the God of the Old Testament that we can decide, in Washington, D.C., what cities, what towns, what hamlets in Vietnam are going to be destroyed? … Do we have to accept that? … I do not think we have to. I think we can do something about it.
To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul.
Arguments only confirm people in their own opinions.
Please not thyself the flattering crowd to hear;
‘Tis fulsome stuff, to please thy itching ear.
Survey thy soul, not what thou does appear,
But what thou art.
Let us not torment each other because we are not all alike, but believe that God knew best what He was doing in making us so different. So will the best harmony come out of seeming discords, the best affection out of differences, the best life out of struggle, and the best work will be done when each does his own work, and lets every one else do and be what God made him for.
MILNE: No matter how imperfect things are, if you’ve got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
RUTH: I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.
Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de très bon foi, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.
When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.
I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.
There is no method more likely to cure passion and rashness, than the frequent and attentive consideration of one’s own weaknesses: this will work into the mind an habitual sense of the need one has of being pardoned, and will bring down the swelling pride and obstinacy of heart, which are the cause of hasty passion.
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
Selective ignorance, a cornerstone of child rearing. You don’t put kids under surveillance: it might frighten you. Parents should sit tall in the saddle and look upon their troops with a noble and benevolent and extremely nearsighted gaze.
The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech, Rochester, New York (5 July 1852)
Autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn’t last.
I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes are theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.
“Tax Frenzies and How to Hose Them Down,” Whatever blog (26 Sep 2010)
It also happens to me that when I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity. St. Paul, who was the first to speak to the Gentiles, the pagans, to believers in other religions, was the first to teach us that.
The Wall Street reactionaries are not satisfied with being rich. They want to increase their power and privileges, regardless of what happens to the other fellow. They are gluttons of privilege.
Speech, National Plowing Match, Dexter, Iowa (18 Sep 1948)
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
If you can’t stop the bad thoughts from coming to visit, at least you can make fun of them while they’re hanging around.
We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
Quoted by Raymond Lonergan in Irving Dilliard, Mr. Justice Brandeis, Great American (1941).
“It looks to me,” he went on in a melancholy tone, “as if they was too much noise an’ smoke about pathritism in America f’r the good ib th’ country.”
“Freedom and the Fourth of July” (1897)
That what cannot be repaired is not to be regretted.
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 4 (1759)
Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood or appreciated.
Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.
The Vision of Buddhism: The Space Under the Tree (1989)
Frequently misattributed (with "your body") to George Carlin.
In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.
“Speech on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” (5 Jul 1926)
It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.
Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.
Sometimes I don’t know if my life is complicated, or if it’s that I just think too much about things.
Don’t excuse yourself by accusing Satan.
We acquire the strength we have overcome.
Style has to do with the way in which ideas are believed and advocated rather than with the truth or falsity of their content.
Added on 7-Oct-14 | Last updated 7-Oct-14
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As a rule, people aren’t good at handling power. And the second you start to think you’re better at controlling your power than anyone else, you’ve already taken the first step.
If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.
Speech, Emily’s List PAC, New York (22 Sep 2014)
I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:
1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.
“The Truth About Death,” Journal of Genetics, Vol. 58, page 464 (1963)
Review of The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960. Referring to the stages a scientific theory goes through.
For I know not why we should delay our tokens of respect to those who deserve them, until the heart that our sympathy could have gladdened has ceased to beat. As men cannot read the epitaphs inscribed upon the marble that covers them, so the tombs that we erect to virtue often only prove our repentance that we neglected it when with us.
Letter to F. T. Mappin (25 Sep 1855)
Quoted in The Illustrated London News, Vol. 27 (6 Oct 1855)
In the words of the old saying, every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.
The Pursuit of Justice, “Eradicating Free Enterprise in Organized Crime” (1964)
A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images. And in a good novel, the whole of the philosophy has passed into the images. But if once the philosophy overflows the characters and action, and therefore looks like a label stuck on the work, the plot loses its authenticity and the novel its life. Nevertheless, a work that is to last cannot dispense with profound ideas. And this secret fusion between experiences and ideas, between life and reflection on the meaning of life, is what makes the great novelist.