Quotations about   chaos

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You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.

John Buchan (1875-1940) Scottish novelist, poet, and politician; Governor-General of Canada (1935 -1940)
The Power-House, ch. 3 (1916)
Added on 29-Jun-22 | Last updated 29-Jun-22
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History is a jangle of accidents, blunders, surprises and absurdities, and so is our knowledge of it, but if we are to report it at all we must impose some order upon it.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
The Nature and the Study of History, ch. 5 (1965)
Added on 11-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy: the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and eminently, the finish of a voyage.

John Galsworthy
John Galsworthy (1867-1933) English novelist and playwright
Over the River, ch. 1 (1933)
Added on 4-Dec-20 | Last updated 4-Dec-20
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What is said by great employers of labor against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression. One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding hatred. But oh this isn’t the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. And I’ve said, in so many instances, that as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over the world struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using violence in their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Violence isn’t the way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (17 Nov 1957)
Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 16 (1907)
Added on 3-Nov-16 | Last updated 3-Nov-16
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In a book, all would have gone according to plan. … but life was so fucking untidy — what could you say for an existence where some of your most crucial conversations of your life took place when you needed to take a shit, or something? An existence where there weren’t even any chapters?

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
Misery (1987)
Added on 24-Aug-16 | Last updated 24-Aug-16
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Music and silence — how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell — though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express — no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise — Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile — Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
Added on 18-Nov-15 | Last updated 18-Nov-15
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Change based on principle is progress. Constant change without principle becomes chaos.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican National Convention, accepting the presidential nomination (23 Aug 1956)
Added on 4-Jun-15 | Last updated 4-Jun-15
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Absolute freedom mocks at justice. Absolute justice denies freedom. To be fruitful, the two ideas must find their limits in each other.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Historical Murder,” The Rebel (1951) [tr. Bower]
Added on 22-Sep-14 | Last updated 22-Sep-14
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Since we cannot hope for order let us withdraw with style from the chaos.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Lord Malquist and Mr Moon, ch. 1 “Dramatis Personae and Other Coincidences” (1966)
Added on 12-Sep-14 | Last updated 12-Sep-14
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There must be either a predestined Necessity and inviolable plan, or a gracious Providence, or a chaos without design or director. If then there be an inevitable Necessity, why kick against the pricks? If a Providence that is ready to be gracious, render thyself worthy of divine succour. But if a chaos without guide, congratulate thyself that amid such a surging sea thou hast a guiding Reason.

[Ἤτοι ἀνάγκη εἱμαρμένης καὶ ἀπαράβατος τάξις ἢ πρόνοια ἱλάσιμος ἢ φυρμὸς εἰκαιότητος ἀπροστάτητος. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἀπαράβατος ἀνάγκη, τί ἀντιτείνεις; εἰ δὲ πρόνοια ἐπιδεχομένη τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι, ἄξιον σαυτὸν ποίησον τῆς ἐκ τοῦ θείου βοηθείας. εἰ δὲ φυρμὸς ἀνηγεμόνευτος, ἀσμένιζε ὅτι ἐν τοιούτῳ κλύδωνι αὐτὸς ἔχεις ἐν σαυτῷ τινα νοῦν ἡγεμονικόν.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 12, #14 [tr. Haines (1916)]

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Either fate, (and that either an absolute necessity, and unavoidable decree; or a placable and flexible Providence) or all is a mere casual confusion, void of all order and government. If an absolute and unavoidable necessity, why doest thou resist? If a placable and exorable Providence, make thyself worthy of the divine help and assistance. If all be a mere confusion without any moderator, or governor, then hast thou reason to congratulate thyself; that in such a general flood of confusion thou thyself hast obtained a reasonable faculty, whereby thou mayest govern thine own life and actions.
[tr. Casaubon (1634), #11]

Either the Order of Things are fixed by irrevocable Fate, or Providence may be worked into Compassion, or else the World Floats at Raondom without any Steerage. Now if nature lies under immovable Necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of Providence is to be gained, qualify your self for the Divine Assistance: But if Chance, and Confusion carry it, and no body sits at the Helm; be you contented and Ride out the Storm patiently, for you have a Governor within you , though the World has none.
[tr. Collier (1701)]

Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director. If then there is an invincible necessity, why dost thou resist? But if there is a providence which allows itself to be propitiated, make thyself worthy of the help of the divinity. But if there is a confusion without a governor, be content that in such a tempest thou hast in thyself a certain ruling intelligence.
[tr. Long (1862)]

Either the order of things is fixed by irrevocable fate, or providence may be worked into compassion, or else the world floats at random without any steerage. Now if nature lies under an immovable necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of providence is to be gained, qualify yourself for divine assistance; but if chance and confusion prevail, be you contented that in such a storm you have a governing intelligence within you.
[tr. Zimmern (1887)]

Either the Necessity of destiny and an order none may transgress, or Providence that hears intercession, or an ungoverned welter without a purpose. If then a Necessity which none may transgress, why do you resist? If a Providence admitting intercession, make yourself worthy of assistance from the Godhead. If an undirected welter, be glad that in so great a flood of waves you have yourself within you a directing mind.
[tr. Farquharson (1944)]

Fatal necessity, and inescapable order. Or benevolent Providence. Or confusion -- random and undirected. If it's an inescapable necessity, why resist it? If it's Providence, admits of being worshipped, then try to be worthy of God's aid. If it's confusion and anarchy, then be grateful that on this raging sea you have a mind to guide you.
[tr. Hays (2003)]

Either predetermined necessity and unalterable cosmic order, or a gracious providence, or a chaotic ungoverned mixture. If a predetermined necessity, why do you resist? If it is a gracious Providence that can hear our prayers, then make yourself worthy of divine assistance. If a chaotic ungoverned mixture, be satisfied that in the midst of this storm, you have within yourself a mind whose nature it is to govern and command.
[tr. Needleman/Piazza (2008)]

Added on 26-Mar-13 | Last updated 30-Mar-21
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[T]imid men […] prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Philip Mazzei (24 Apr 1796)
Added on 4-Jul-11 | Last updated 2-Aug-22
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All things are in motion, and nothing is at rest. … You cannot step into the same [river] twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.

[Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει]

Heraclitus (c.540-c.480 BC) Greek philosopher [also Heracleitus]

Paraphrased by Socrates in Plato, Cratylus, l. 402 [tr. B Jowett (1894)] and by Diogenes Laërtius in Lives of the Philosophers Bk 9, sec 8

Alt trans.:
  • Everything flows, nothing stays still
  • Everything flows and nothing stays.
  • Everything flows and nothing abides.
  • Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
  • Everything flows; nothing remains.
  • All is flux, nothing is stationary.
  • All is flux, nothing stays still.
  • You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in.
  • You cannot step twice into the same stream. For as you are stepping in, other waters are ever flowing on to you.
  • You cannot step twice into the same river.
  • It is impossible to step into the same river twice.
  • No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.
Added on 23-Apr-09 | Last updated 14-Mar-17
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Most of us lead lives of chaotic improvisation from day to day, bawling for peace while plunging grimly into fresh disorders.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989) American anarchist, writer, environmentalist
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1991)
Added on 5-Dec-07 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) English philosopher
Leviathan, Part 1, ch. 13 (1651)
Added on 22-Oct-07 | Last updated 6-Nov-20
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MERLIN: When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.

John Boorman (b. 1933) English film director, writer
Excalibur (1981) [with Rospo Pallenburg]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Sep-16
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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“The Second Coming,” ll.1-8 (1920)

More examination of this quotation: The Best Lack All Conviction While the Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity – Quote Investigator. See also Russell and Bukowski.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Sep-21
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It’s not easy taking my problems one at a time when they refuse to get in line.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-15
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