Quotations about   society

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The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it -– at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“The Negro Child — His Self-Image,” speech (16 Oct 1963)
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Speech to educators, first published as "A Talk to Teachers," The Saturday Review (21 Dec 1963). The thesis above is restatated at the end in these words, more frequently quoted: "I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person."
Added on 6-Mar-19 | Last updated 6-Mar-19
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CRASSUS: One of the disadvantages of being a patrician is that occasionally you’re obliged to act like one.

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Spartacus (1960) [novel by Howard Fast]
Added on 2-Oct-18 | Last updated 2-Oct-18
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Good manners — the longer I live the more convinced I am of it — are a priceless insurance against failure and loneliness. And anyone can have them.

Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) American gossip columnist, author, songwriter, professional hostess
Elsa Maxwell’s Etiquette Book (1951)
Added on 12-Apr-18 | Last updated 12-Apr-18
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Agitation is the marshalling of the conscience of a nation to mold its laws.

Robert Peel (1788-1850) British statesman, Prime Minister (1834-35, 1841-46)
(Attributed)
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Sometimes quoted as "conscience of a people." Widely quoted without source in the late 19th Century (earliest ref. 1881).
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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The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Questions (1988) [with Jason A. Schulman]
Added on 10-Jan-18 | Last updated 10-Jan-18
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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.

Stendhal (1783-1842) French writer [pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle]
On Love, Book 3 “Fragments” (1822)
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Added on 14-Nov-17 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, but a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
Letters on a Regicide Peace, Letter 1 (1796)
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Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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Back in the nineteen-hundreds it was a wonderful experience for a boy to discover H. G. Wells. There you were, in a world of pedants, clergymen and golfers, with your future employers exhorting you to “get on or get out”, your parents systematically warping your sexual life, and your dull-witted schoolmasters sniggering over their Latin tags; and here was this wonderful man who could tell you about the inhabitants of the planets and the bottom of the sea, and who knew that the future was not going to be what respectable people imagined.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Wells, Hitler, and the World State,” Horizon (Aug 1941)
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Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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We can have no better clue to a man’s character than the company he keeps.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses, Book 3, ch. 34 (1517) [tr. Thomson (1883)]
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Alt. trans.: "There is no better indication of a man's character than the company which he keeps."
Added on 18-Jul-17 | Last updated 18-Jul-17
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As has been pointed out so often, it is characteristic of mankind to make as little adjustment as possible in customary ways in the face of new conditions; the process of social change is epitomized in the fact that the first Packard car body delivered to the manufacturers had a whipstock on the dashboard.

Robert Lynd (1892-1970) American sociologist [Robert Slaughton Lynd]
Middletown, ch. 29 (1929) [with Helen Lynd]
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Added on 30-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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We’re poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astray,
Baa-aa-aa!
Gentlemen rankers out on a spree,
Damned from here to Eternity.
God ha’ mercy on such as we,
Baa! Yah! Bah!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English writer
“Gentlemen-Rankers,” (1892)
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Added on 12-Jun-17 | Last updated 12-Jun-17
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Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) Austrian-American business consultant
(Attributed)

Frequently attributed to Drucker, but not found in his writings. See here for more discussion.
Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
The Lessons of History (1968)
Added on 10-Apr-17 | Last updated 10-Apr-17
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What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This same tendency, operating with increasing force, is observable in our civilization to-day, showing itself in every progressive community, and with greater intensity the more progressive the community. Wages and interest tend constantly to fall, rent to rise, the rich to become very much richer, the poor to become more helpless and hopeless, and the middle class to be swept away.

Henry George (1839-1897) American economist
Progress and Poverty, “How Modern Civilization May Decline” (1879)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Colonel Charles Yancy (6 Jan 1816)
Added on 20-Mar-17 | Last updated 20-Mar-17
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The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, ch. 24 (1936)
Added on 14-Mar-17 | Last updated 14-Mar-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
(Attributed)
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3: Caesar and Christ (1944)
Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the factors of decadence, — luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition, — are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
Added on 13-Feb-17 | Last updated 13-Feb-17
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No one can be happy in eternal solitude.

Anne Brontë (1820-1849) British novelist, poet [pseud. Acton Bell]
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, ch. 7 “The Excursion” [Helen] (1848)
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Added on 9-Feb-17 | Last updated 9-Feb-17
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We ought to consider what is the end of government before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“Thoughts on Government,” letter to George Wythe (Jan 1776)
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Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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Yet somehow our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American writer
My Several Worlds (1954)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as “empty,” “meaningless,” or “dishonest,” and scorn to use them. No matter how “pure” their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love, “Notebooks of Lazarus Long” (1973)
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What once were vices, are now the manners of the day.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Letters to Lucilius [Epistulae morales ad Lucilium], Letter 109
Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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That conception is written large over the history of the nineteenth century, both in England and in America. The doctrine which it inherited was that property was held by an absolute right on an individual basis, and to this fundamental it added another, which can be traced in principle far back into history, but which grew to its full stature only after the rise of capitalist industry, that societies act both unfairly and unwisely when they limit opportunities of economic enterprise. Hence every attempt to impose obligations as a condition of the tenure of property or of the exercise of economic activity has been met by uncompromising resistance. The story of the struggle between humanitarian sentiment and the theory of property transmitted from the eighteenth century is familiar. No one has forgotten the opposition offered in the name of the rights of property to factory legislation, to housing reform, to interference with the adulteration of goods, even to the compulsory sanitation of private houses. “May I not do what I like with my own?” was the answer to the proposal to require a minimum standard of safety and sanitation from the owners of mills and houses.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 3 “The Acquisitive Society” (1920)
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Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 2-Feb-17
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I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they do today.

Will Rogers (1879-1935) American humorist
(Attributed)

Quoted in P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls: The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy (1953).
Added on 26-Jan-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-17
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In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

porter-anything-goes-wist_info-quote

Cole Porter (1891-1964) American composer and songwriter
“Anything Goes” (1934)
Added on 19-Jan-17 | Last updated 19-Jan-17
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It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it.

Ronald Knox (1888-1957) English priest, theologian, author, broadcaster
Let Dons Delight, ch. 8 (1939)
Added on 19-Jan-17 | Last updated 19-Jan-17
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There is nothing more innately human than the tendency to transmute what has become customary into what has been divinely ordained.

la-follett-customary-into-divinely-ordained-wist_info-quote

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
Concerning Women, “The Beginnings of Emancipation”(1926)
Added on 5-Jan-17 | Last updated 5-Jan-17
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During the greater part of the nineteenth century the significance of the opposition between the two principles of individual rights and social functions was masked by the doctrine of the inevitable harmony between private interests and public good. Competition, it was argued, was an effective substitute for honesty. Today … few now would profess adherence to the compound of economic optimism and moral bankruptcy which led a nineteenth century economist to say: “Greed is held in check by greed, and the desire for gain sets limits to itself.”

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 3 “The Acquisitive Society” (1920)
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The conception of men as united to each other, and of all mankind as united to God, by mutual obligations arising from their relation to a common end, which vaguely conceived and imperfectly realized, had been the keystone holding together the social fabric, ceased to be impressed upon men’s minds, when Church and State withdrew from the centre of social life to its circumference. What remained … was private rights and private interests, the materials of a society rather than a society itself.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 2 “Rights and Functions” (1920)
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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Every civilization rests on a set of promises: moral promises about how to behave toward each other, physical promises about how to use our economic system. If the promises are broken too often, the civilization dies, no matter how rich it may be, or how mechanically clever. Hope and faith depend upon promises; if hope and faith go, everything goes.

Herbert Agar (1897-1980) American journalist and historian
(Attributed)
Added on 23-Nov-16 | Last updated 23-Nov-16
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Solitude is naught and society is naught. Alternate them and the good of each is seen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
Added on 17-Oct-16 | Last updated 17-Oct-16
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Serve self you serve society.
Serve society serve yourself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Notebook F No. 1 (1836-1840)
Added on 19-Sep-16 | Last updated 19-Sep-16
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Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.

Thackeray - good humor - wist_info quote

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) English novelist
Sketches and Travels in London, “On Tailoring — and Toilets in General” (1856)
Added on 2-Sep-16 | Last updated 2-Sep-16
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He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means “I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve”. It’s easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
I, Asimov: A Memoir (1994)
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An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.

Miller - basic illusions are exhausted - wist_info quote

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) American playwright and essayist
“The Year It Came Apart,” New York Magazine (30 Dec 1974)
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 28-Jul-16
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We know so little about each other. We lie mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible social selves projecting only cool and white.

McEwan - cool and white - wist_info quote

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
Amsterdam (1998)
Added on 26-Jul-16 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
(Attributed)
Added on 15-Jul-16 | Last updated 15-Jul-16
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For behavior, men learn it, as they take diseases, one of another.

Emerson - for behavior - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Solitude and Society,” Atlantic Monthly (Dec 1857)

Paraphrase of Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 2, Act 5, sc. 1: "It is certain that either wife bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another: therefore let men take heed of their company." Sometimes misattributed to Francis Bacon.
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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No man is born unto himself alone;
Who lives unto himself, he lives to none.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Esther, Sec. 1, Meditation 1 (1621)
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The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.

Gruenert and Whitaker - leader is willing to tolerate - wist_info quote

Other Authors and Sources
Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, School Culture Rewired, ch. 3 (2015)
    (Source)

Often misattributed as "Gruenter and Whitaker".
Added on 16-Mar-16 | Last updated 16-Mar-16
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What is wrong then? The system. But when you’ve said that you’ve said nothing. The system, after all, is only the outcome of the human psyche, the human desires. We shout and blame the machine. But who on earth makes the machine, if we don’t? And any alterations in the system are only modifications in the machine. The system is in us, it is not something external to us. The machine is in us, or it would never come out of us. Well then, there’s nothing to blame but ourselves, and there’s nothing to change except inside ourselves.

David Herbert "D. H." Lawrence (1885-1930) English novelist
“Education of the People,” Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (1925)
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NARRATOR: No moral. No message. No prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight’s very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone.

Serling - civlization to survive - wist_info quote

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
The Twilight Zone, 3×03 “The Shelter” (29 Sep 1961)
Added on 12-Feb-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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A man’s first duty is to make a competence and be independent. But his whole duty does not end there. It his his duty to do something for his needy neighbors who are less favored than himself. It is his duty to contribute to the general good of the community in which he lives. He has been protected by its laws. Because he has been protected in his various enterprises he has been able to make money sufficient for his needs and those of his family. All beyond this belongs in justice to the protecting power that has fostered him and enabled him to win pecuniary success. To try and make the world in some way better than you have found is to have a noble motive in life.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
The Empire of Business, “Thrift as a Duty” (1902)
Added on 15-Jan-16 | Last updated 15-Jan-16
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FIRST GOD: Show interest in her goodness — for no one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
The Good Person of Sezuan [Der gute Mensch von Sezuan], Scene 1a (1943) [tr. Bentley]
Added on 14-Jan-16 | Last updated 14-Jan-16
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The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours.

James - non-interference - wist_info quote

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
“What Makes a Life Significant,” Lecture, Harvard (1899)

Reprinted in Talks to Teachers on Psychology, Part 2, Lecture 3.
Added on 7-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Apr-18
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What are the marks of a sick culture? It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population. A very bad sign. Particularism. It was once considered a Spanish vice but any country can fall sick with it.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Friday [Dr. Baldwin] (1982)
Added on 1-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Dec-15
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The chief business of the nation, as a nation, is the setting up of heroes, mainly bogus.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“On Being an American” (1), Prejudices: Third Series (1922)
Added on 23-Oct-15 | Last updated 23-Oct-15
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If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
“Administrative Nihilism” (1871)
Added on 6-Oct-15 | Last updated 6-Oct-15
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In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is, therefore, capable of being more valuable to others.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3 (1859)
Added on 29-Sep-15 | Last updated 29-Sep-15
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The doctor asserted, “Sure religion is a fine influence — got to have it to keep the lower classes in order — fact, it’s the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes ’em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do.” He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol’s lack of faith, and wasn’t quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Main Street (1920)
Added on 29-Sep-15 | Last updated 29-Sep-15
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There is (usually) no crime in performing a jerk maneuver, or acting like a jerk. Everyone can, and has, acted like a jerk from time to time. It’s a regrettable but natural part of the human experience. But most people have the good sense to understand that acting like a jerk should not be a lifestyle choice, and that if you make it one, people will respond to you based on your choices.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
“Being a Jerk About the Hugos: Not as Effective a Strategy as You Might Think”, Whatever (blog) (24 Aug 2015)
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