Quotations about   humanity

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The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do and, in addition, will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people. They say “no” to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds, but in their quiet refusals to commit villainies. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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People don’t alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher
Creative Evolution, ch. 1 (1907) [tr. Mitchell (1911)]
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Added on 26-Nov-18 | Last updated 26-Nov-18
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At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique human being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
“Schopenhauer as Educator,” ch. 1 (1874) [tr. Collins]
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Added on 26-Nov-18 | Last updated 26-Nov-18
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Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Col. Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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It can truly be said: Men are the devils of the earth, and the animals are the tormented souls.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
“On Religion,” Parerga and Paralipomena (1851)
Added on 15-Oct-18 | Last updated 15-Oct-18
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Phryne was feeling most displeased with a species to which, she reminded herself, she belonged. She took an egg sandwich and a gulp of tea and strove to adjust her philosophy.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Urn Burial (1996)
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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Tolerance, good temper and sympathy — they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 12-Sep-18 | Last updated 12-Sep-18
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I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’’re telling the truth about the human being — what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) American union leader, activist, socialist, politician
Statement to the Court (18 Sep 1918)
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On being convicted of Sedition. Often paraphrased: "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Added on 25-May-18 | Last updated 25-May-18
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Man is a clever animal, who behaves like an imbecile.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) Alsatian theologian, philosopher, physician, philanthropist
(Attributed)
Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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Yet there is still this difference between man and all other animals — he is the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied.

Henry George (1839-1897) American economist
Progress and Poverty, Book 2, ch. 3 (1879)
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Added on 7-May-18 | Last updated 7-May-18
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Man is a successful animal, that’s all.

Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915) French poet, novelist, critic
Promenades Philosophiques (1908)

Alt. trans.: "Man is merely a successful animal."
Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Summarizing Montaigne.
Added on 5-Apr-18 | Last updated 5-Apr-18
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Man is the only animal who does not feel at home in nature, who can feel evicted from paradise, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, ch. 10 (1973)
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Sometimes elided, "Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem he has to solve."
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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Man is a social animal who dislikes his fellow man.

[L’homme es un animal sociable qui déteste ses semblables.]

Eugène Delacroix (1799-1863) French painter [Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix]
The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, 17 November 1852 (1951)
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Added on 26-Feb-18 | Last updated 26-Feb-18
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Man is a talking animal and he will always let himself be swayed by the power of the word.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) French author, existentialist philosopher, feminist theorist
Les Belles Images (1966)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal luster, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery, in the infamy of his nature.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Urn-Burial: Or, Hydriotaphia, ch. 5 (1658)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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Every man has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbors. This right flows from the very nature of man. First, all men are fallible: no man can be justified in setting up his judgment as a standard for others. We have no infallible judge of controversies; each man in his own apprehension is right in his decisions; and we can find no satisfactory mode of adjusting their jarring pretensions. If every one be desirous of imposing his sense upon others, it will at last come to be a controversy, not of reason, but of force.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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The best aphorisms are pointed expressions of the results of observation, experience, and reflection. They are portable wisdom, the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and protective proverbs.

William Rounseville Alger (1822-1905) American writer, minister, translator
“The Utility and the Futility of Aphorisms,” Atlantic Monthly (Feb 1863)
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Often paraphrased, "Aphorisms are portable wisdom."
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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Man is a military animal,
Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade;
Prefers them to all things.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) English poet
“Festus” [Lucifer] (1839)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life!

George Meredith (1828-1909) English novelist and poet
Modern Love, Sonnet 50 (1862)
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Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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I also think living in the country gives you faith. All you have to do is get up and look at the mountains and look at the other animals to realize that your problems are mostly made up or exacerbated by humans. But human life isn’t necessarily life. There’s so much more out there.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Interview in OutSmart (Jan 1998)
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Added on 30-Oct-17 | Last updated 30-Oct-17
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O woman! lovely woman! Nature made thee
To temper man: we had been brutes without you.
Angels are painted fair, to look like you:
There’s in you all that we believe of heaven, —
Amazing brightness, purity, and truth,
Eternal joy, and everlasting love.

Thomas Otway (1652-1685) English dramatist
Venice Preserv’d, Act 1, sc. 1 (1682)
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Added on 24-Oct-17 | Last updated 24-Oct-17
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Love would put a new face on this weary old world in which we dwell as pagans and enemies too long.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Man the Reformer,” lecture, Boston (25 Jan 1841)
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Added on 24-Oct-17 | Last updated 24-Oct-17
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At twenty a man is a Peacock, at thirty a Lion, at forty a Camel, at fifty a Serpent, at sixty a Dog, at seventy an Ape, and at eighty nothing.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish writer.
The Art of Worldly Wisdom, #276 “Know how to renew your character [Saber renovar el genio]” (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Added on 23-Oct-17 | Last updated 23-Oct-17
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A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have that people are still thinking.

Jerry Seinfeld (b. 1955) American comedian
SeinLanguage (1993)
Added on 19-Oct-17 | Last updated 19-Oct-17
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There comes now and then a bolder spirit, I should rather say, a more surrendered soul, more informed and led by God, which is much in advance of the rest, quite beyond their sympathy, but predicts what shall soon be the general fullness; as when we stand by the seashore, whilst the tide is coming in, a wave comes up the beach far higher than any foregoing one, and recedes; and for a long while none comes up to that mark; but after some time the whole sea is there and beyond it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Lecture on the Times,” Boston (2 Dec 1841)
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Added on 17-Oct-17 | Last updated 17-Oct-17
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A man is a god in ruins.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Nature,” ch. 8 (1836)
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Added on 16-Oct-17 | Last updated 16-Oct-17
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Books, that paper memory of mankind.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
The Art of Literature, ch. 4 “On Men of Learning” [tr. Saunders (1851)]
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Added on 12-Oct-17 | Last updated 12-Oct-17
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If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil. He cannot stop at the beast. The most savage of men are not beasts; they are worse, a great deal worse.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Table Talk (30 Aug 1833)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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What Man seeks, to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food. He denies that life bounces along at random, at the mercy of events, in sound and in fury. He wants it always to be directed, aimed toward a goal, like an arrow.

François Jacob (1920-2013) French biologist, Nobel prize winner in Medicine
The Statue Within: An Autobiography (1987) [tr. Philip (1988)]
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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The Abilities of Man must fall short on one side or other, like too scanty a Blanket when you are a-bed. If you pull it upon your Shoulders, you leave your Feet bare; if you thrust it down upon your Feet, your Shoulders are uncovered.

William Temple, 1st Baronet Temple (1628-1699) English statesman and essayist.
Miscellanea (1705)
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Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant.

In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held — so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place — who knows?

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, The World Tomorrow (May 1928)
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Added on 16-Aug-17 | Last updated 16-Aug-17
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Fools! who fancy Christ mistaken;
Man a tool to buy and sell;
Earth a failure, God-forsaken,
Ante-room of Hell.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman, historian, essayist, novelist (pseud. "Parson Lot")
“The World’s Age” (1849)
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Added on 1-Aug-17 | Last updated 1-Aug-17
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I don’t think the boy of lively mind is hurt much by going to college. If he encounters mainly jackasses, then he learns the useful lesson that this is a jackass world.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Editorial,” The American Mercury (April 1926)
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Reprinted in Prejudices: Sixth Series (1927).
Added on 12-Jul-17 | Last updated 18-Jul-17
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We’re animals. We’re born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts.

Barbara Kingsolver (b. 1955) American novelist, essayist, poet
Animal Dreams (1990)
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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Gods always behave like the people who make them.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Tell My Horse, ch. 15 (1938)
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It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Jane Eyre, ch. 12 [Jane] (1847)
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It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone — that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized — though I should not like to be put to giving names — but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Homo Neandertalensis,” Baltimore Evening Sun (29 Jun 1925)
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Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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All of God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.

Fran Lebowitz (b. 1950) American journalist
Metropolitan Life, “Manners” (1978)
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
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Added on 2-May-17 | Last updated 2-May-17
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If I thought of man as the final image of God, I should not know what to think of God. But when I consider that our ancestors, at a time fairly recent in relation to the earth’s history, were perfectly ordinary apes, closely related to chimpanzees, I see a glimmer of hope. It does not require very great optimism to assume that from us human beings something better and higher may evolve. Far from seeing in man the irrevocable and unsurpassable image of God, I assert — more modestly and, I believe, in greater awe of the Creation and its infinite possibilities — that the long-sought missing link between animals and the really humane being is ourselves!

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) Austrian zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist
On Aggression, ch. 12 “On the Virtue of Scientific Humility” (1963)
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We are the highest achievement reached so far by the great constructors of evolution. We are their “latest” but certainly not their last word. The scientist must not regard anything as absolute, not even the laws of pure reason. He must remain aware of the great fact, discovered by Heraclitus, that nothing whatever really remains the same even for one moment, but that everything is perpetually changing. To regard man, the most ephemeral and rapidly evolving of all species, as the final and unsurpassable achievement of creation, especially at his present-day particularly dangerous and disagreeable stage of development, is certainly the most arrogant and dangerous of all untenable doctrines.

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) Austrian zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist
On Aggression, ch. 12 “On the Virtue of Scientific Humility” (1963)
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Added on 24-Apr-17 | Last updated 24-Apr-17
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And the great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people — as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness — that’s the atomic bomb that we’ve got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Rediscovering Lost Values,” Sermon, Second Baptist Church, Detroit (28 Feb 1954)
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Added on 21-Apr-17 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
The Measures of Man (1959)
Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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That sort of thing wears thin — for when one’s cynicism becomes perfect and absolute, there’s no longer anything amusing in the stupidity and hypocrisy of the herd. It is all to be expected — what else could human nature produce? — so irony annuls itself by means of its own victories!

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) American fabulist [Howard Phillips Lovecraft]
Letter to August W. Derleth (Jan 1928)

Regarding Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary.
Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don’t think we have to look too far to see that. I’m sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion. And when we stop to analyze the cause of our world’s ills, many things come to mind. We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don’t know enough. But it can’t be that. Because in terms of accumulated knowledge we know more today than men have known in any period of human history. We have the facts at our disposal. We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy than we’ve ever known in any period of the world’s history. So it can’t be because we don’t know enough. And then we wonder if it is due to the fact that our scientific genius lags behind. That is, if we have not made enough progress scientifically. Well then, it can’t be that. For our scientific progress over the past years has been amazing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to warp distance and place time in chains, so that today it’s possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can’t be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man’s scientific genius has been amazing. I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man’s problems and the real cause of the world’s ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Rediscovering Lost Values,” Sermon, Second Baptist Church, Detroit (28 Feb 1954)
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Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 8-Apr-17
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An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Conquering Self-Centeredness,” sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (11 Aug 1957)
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Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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Zealots were always hard. Zeal distorts them. Makes the normal impulses convolute. Makes people fearless and greedless and loveless and finally monstrous. I was against zeal. But being against it didn’t make it go away.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Promised Land (1974)
Added on 15-Mar-17 | Last updated 15-Mar-17
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Most people, no doubt, when they espouse human rights, make their own mental reservations about the proper application of the word “human.”

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
Concerning Women, “The Beginnings of Emancipation” (1926)
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Added on 13-Feb-17 | Last updated 13-Feb-17
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Dissent is the native activity of the scientist, and it has got him into a good deal of trouble in the last years. But if that is cut off, what is left will not be a scientist. And I doubt whether it will be a man.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Lecture, MIT (19 Mar 1953)
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Reprinted as Science and Human Values, Part 3, sec. 5 "The Sense of Human Dignity" (1961).
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The Economic Consequences of the Peace, ch. 1 (1919)
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Added on 3-Jan-17 | Last updated 3-Jan-17
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GERVAIS: Whenever I do a thing about animals, there’s always someone that goes, “What about children dying in Syria?” Yeah, that’s bad, too — can’t we care about both? Sometimes I go, “You carry on all your good work for the fucking children in Syria, and I’ll do this.” I love the fact that there’s a hierarchy of things that you’ve got to care about. I tweeted “I love humans — they’re just not my favorite animal.” That was to annoy people.

GQ: True, though?

GERVAIS: No, I’m not a maniac. Of course humans are my favorite animal. [pauses] But I’ve never met an animal who was a cunt.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Interview with Chris Heath, GQ (15 May 2013)
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Added on 29-Nov-16 | Last updated 29-Nov-16
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