My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. –Adlai E. Stevenson II, in a speech in Detroit, Michigan on October 7, 1952

Most people don’t learn things along the way. Or if they do, they conveniently forget those things when it suits their need. Most people, given a second chance, fuck it up completely. It’s one of those laws of the universe that you can’t shake. People, I have noticed, only seem to learn once they get their third chance—after losing and wasting vast sums of time, money, youth, and energy—you name it. But still they learn, which is the better thing in the end. –Douglas Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma

Primitive man’s a barbarian, a predatory...it was a temporary anomaly in the history of the world that a few generations lived in a civilization that seduced us into thinking that we were something more than barbarians. –PC Jersild, After the Flood

Humans are the most violent species on the planet. We have a brilliant history of all the ugly deeds we’ve done. We’re rotted straight to the core. –Jeyn Roberts, Dark Inside

... a human being is a shell made of skin keeping the cells, blood, and chemical components in place. Very few end up in the history books. Most people succumb and disappear without a trace. –Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

... people did not understand one another anyway. they collided with or charmed one another, hugged or trampled one another, but everyone knew only himself. His emotions, memory, and senses divided him from others as effectively as thick reeds screen the mainstream from the muddy bank. Like the mountain peaks around us, we looked at one another, separated by valleys, too high to stay unnoticed, too low to touch the heavens. –Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird

Yes I fear my Socialism is purely cerebral; I do not like the masses in the flesh. –Harold Nicolson, in a letter to his wife

We are all savages inside. We all want to be the chosen, the beloved, the esteemed. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t at one point or another had that why not me? voice pop into the interior mix when something good has happened to someone else. –Dear Sugar, March 31, 2011

Just to live a day—really being the way we really are—would be worth a lifetime of most people’s lives! The truest feelings we have are some of the ones we called sin. We put thousands of people in jail for doing things everybody would like to do and most people do, sometime or other. It’s no wonder that we were all so scared and hateful and miserable. We do kind of hate our bodies. Hate being people. –Philip Wylie, The Disappearance

When people believe that what they believe is the immortal truth there’s not much you can do. They’re born clay with a tendency to become lovely statuary. But some aunt, some mother, a sister, a schoolmate, a church, soon grabs them and bakes them into mean little bricks. And the bricks made a nation. And every brick is faulty and crumbly. –ditto

And in the meanwhile, cultivate an understanding of a bunch of the other things that the best, sanest, coolest people on the planet know: that life is long, that people both change and remain the same, that every last one of us will need to fuck up and be forgiven, that we’re all just walking and walking and walking and trying to find our way, that all roads lead eventually to the mountaintop. –Dear Sugar, March 18, 2010

When it came to the dark fuckery of the human heart, there seemed to be no limit. –Stephen King, “Big Driver”

There was nothing ugly in the world but what people did to one another. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “Another Love Story”

… this is a dream, a sick dream, and all these lost people are working and suffering and drinking and puking and fighting and fucking and lying and exchanging possessions back and forth, never satisfied with what they hold, and living in houses and discussing football games, and eating and shitting and worrying about getting fat and getting old, and reproducing and finally getting sick and dying. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

All around him were men who had given up. Everywhere he saw defeated faces. These men had lost more than love, or the spirit of love, they had lost the fight. They were bodies taking up space. If you thought how little of them was left, they were just digestive systems consuming too much, growing fat, inhaling clean air and respiring it foul. Waiting for the sound of an ambulance in the distance. When they actually died there was very little left to remove. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “In the Neighbourhood”

He saw blunt stupid words, all the same colour. Words that did not mean what they meant literally, words that translated into strings of nos or yeses, negatives or affirmatives of various degrees of shrillness and obstinacy. Barely more inflected than the grunts of cavemen. Cavemen that did not hunt or gather, but sat around getting fat and sick and bitter, who could shit and flush it away, and were thrown into confusion and fits of grunting if the pipe blocked or broke. An aggregation of superfluous humanity, herded into concrete cubicles on the rim of a city. People lacking the strength to escape but with just enough to keep niggling each other. How long before such a species became extinct? Surely it would not be long. –ditto

Such strange things people were. It didn’t take much to scare them. A cloud passed overhead and they felt something clutching the heart. They find some money in the street, they think God loves them. –ditto

… civilization isn’t a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, re-created daily. –Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo

Individuals need learning but the culture needs something else, the pulse of light on the sea, the warm urge of huddling together to keep out the cold. We need empathy, we need the eyes that still can weep. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Commandment Number One of any truly civilized society is this: Let people be different. –David Grayson

Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers. –Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook

I’m more than ever of the opinion that a decent human existence is possible only on the fringes of society. –Hannah Arendt

Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime. –Jacob Bronowski, “The Sense of Human Dignity”

Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. –Mark Twain, Following the Equator

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do. –Bertrand Russell, Thinking about Thinking

Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. –Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening when they are convinced beyond a doubt that they are right. –Laurens van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant. –HL Mencken, Minority Report

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt. –HL Mencken, quoted in James A. Haught’s 2000 Years of Disbelief

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. –Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Authoritarian societies are like formation skating. Intricate, mechanically precise, and above all, precarious. Beneath civilization’s fragile crust, cold chaos churns...and there are places where the ice is trecherously thin. –Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Humanity i love you because
when you’re hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink.
–ee cummings, “La Guerre no. 2”

If any man ever dared to translate all that is in his heart, to put down what is really his experience, what is truly his truth, I think then the world would go to smash, that it would be blown to smithereens and no god, no accident, no will could ever again assemble the pieces, the atoms, the indestructible elements that have gone to make up the world. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

People are like lice—they get under your skin and bury themselves there. You scratch and scratch until the blood comes, but you can’t get permanently deloused. Everywhere I go people are making a mess of their lives. Everyone has his private tragedy. It’s in the blood now—misfortune, ennui, grief, suicide. The atmosphere is saturated with disaster, frustration, futility. Scratch and scratch—until there’s no skin left. –ditto

Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. –ditto

People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth. People are cowards to the last breath. I’m telling you between you and me: the human being, broadly speaking, is the clsoest thing there is to a rat. –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am. –an anonymous foreign friend of Samuel Johnson, quoted in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson

Man, I can assure you, is a nasty creature. –Molière, Le Tartuffe

Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and kill as many as he can lay his hand on in the name of his tribe or his God. –Benjamin Spock, Decent and Indecent

The only thing wrong with Earth is humans. Every single form of avoidable pain, abuse, death, contaminant, toxin, torture, trash, insanity, shallow pop music, and violence on the planet since the beginning of time was, is, and will be caused by humans. And not only “bad” humans, all humans. –Dan Piraro, “Don’t Even Think of Eating Here”

Of all the animals on earth, man has shown himself to be the most cruel and brutal. He is the only animal that will create instruments of death for his own destruction. … He is the only one that will build homes, towns, and cities at such a cost in sacrifice and suffering and turn around and destroy them in war. –J. William Fulbright, Old Myths and New Realities

In all my seventy-two years and a half I have never come across such another ass as this human race is. –Mark Twain, Autobiography

At the bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. –Stephen King, Cell

Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. –Robert Burns, “Man Was Made to Mourn”

Is there anything more frightening than people? –a mother in Tajikistan, as quoted in Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl

People are often the monsters that other people should fear most, and human acts resulting from fear, paranoia, and “group think” often provide the greatest terror. –Lynnette Porter and David Lavery, Unlocking the Meaning of Lost

If you are a fully aware and awake human being, you will see the quite marvelous powers that you, as an ordinary human being, already have at your disposal. And you’ll see how you are using those powers or not using them. –Alan Moore, in an interview in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore

The tragedy of it is that nobody sees the look of desperation on my face. Thousands and thousands of us, and we’re passing each other without a look of recognition. –Henry Miller

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. –JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Modern society overstimulates our senses. It drowns out reason and dictates our feelings, while robbing us of the critical time we need to quietly sit and synthesize our own experiences, to recognize what fits and what doesn’t, what needs to be nurtured, what has to be rejected. –Emily Farrell

But most of the world has turned away from a desire for contemplation to a need for entertainment. Modern society has become mass culture: noisy, distracting, unsettling, way too fast. We need to be doing—to serve and be served in order to feel we’re achieving, accomplishing, succeeding. –ditto

Man needs warmth, society, leisure, comfort, and security: he also needs solitude, creative work, and a sense of wonder ... If he recognizes this, he could use the products of science and industrialism eclectically, applying always the same test: Does this make me more or less human? –George Orwell, “Pleasure Spots”

There is a point, and it is reached much more easily than is supposed, where interference with freedom of art and literature becomes an attack on the life of society. This freedom is as necessary to the mental survival of a society as a satisfactory sanitary system is to its physical survival. –Rebecca West, in the preface to Bernard Causton and G. Gordon Young’s Keeping It Dark; Or, The Censor’s Handbook

Blasphemy is a litmus test of the standards a society feels it must enforce to preserve its unity, its peace, its morality, and above all its salvation. –Leonard Levy, Treason against God

Just as the ancient Israelites’ sacrifice of the scapegoat took the sins of the people and placed them on the animal, which was then sent into the wilderness, accusations of blasphemy, and the active censoring, suppressing, and destroying of images, function similarly, as they allow people to believe moral and spiritual boundaries have been rightly established and an ordered society can be maintained. –S. Brent Plate, Blasphemy: Art that Offends

In each man,
a seed
trembles
in search of heavenly waters,
or a porous foundation.
–Pablo Neruda, “The Unburied Woman of Paita, Part I: The Peruvian Coast”

… for human beings, not to speak is to die … –Pablo Neruda, “The Word”

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. –George Bernard Shaw, The Devil’s Disciple

History has taught us that often lies serve her better than the truth; for man is sluggish and has to be led through the desert for forty years before each step in his development. And he has to be driven through the desert with threats and promises, by imaginary terrors and imaginary consolations, so that he should not sit down prematurely to rest and divert himself by worshipping golden calves. –Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

The human race is the most stupid and unfair kind of race. A lot of the runners don’t even get decent sneakers or clean drinking water.
         Some runners are born with a massive head start, every possible help along the way, and still the referees seem to be on their side.
         It’s not surprising a lot of people have given up competing altogether and gone to sit in the grandstand, eat junk, and shout abuse.
–Banksy, Wall and Piece

The real index of civilization is when people are kinder than they need to be. –Louis de Bernières, “The Turks Are So Wonderful with Children”

The sun, the moon, and the stars would have disappeared long ago …had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands. –Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life

All civilization has from time to time become a thin crust over a volcano of revolution. –Havelock Ellis, Little Essays of Love and Virtue

It is this ability to bear what is unbearable and to go on living, to go on doing what one is used to doing—it is this uncanny ability that the existence of the human race is based on. –Christa Wolf, Medea

The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it. Ronald Knox, Let Dons Delight

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made. Immanuel Kant, The Idea of a Universal History

Good men must not obey the laws too well. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Second Series

When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing to himself. –Louis Nizer, My Life in Court

We stand like a race with shrunken muscles, staring helplessly at the weights our forefathers easily lifted. –Henry James, Roderick Hudson

A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Perhaps this is the hardest, most expensive lesson the layers of the fungus brain have yet to learn: that man is not as other creatures, and without a sense of the holy, without compassion, his brain can become a gray stalking horror—the deviser of Belsen. –Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. –Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. –Albert Einstein, attributed in Robert Byrne’s The Fourth...637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The fate of the country ... does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning. –Henry David Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts”

I think it’s one of the scars in our culture that we have too high an opinion of ourselves. We align ourselves with the angels instead of the higher primates. –Angela Carter, in Marxism Today, January 1985

The world began without man, and it will complete itself without him. –Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

To insult someone we call him “bestial.” For deliberate cruelty and malice, “human” might be the greater insult. –Isaac Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations

If the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness. –Fedor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Frankly, certain people are better at playing host than others and I rather fancy I have underused talents in that direction. If I can temporarily overcome my utter distain for most of the human race I can generally enter into the spirit of the thing and lay on a memorable occasion. –James Hamilton-Paterson, Amazing Disgrace

And yet we lived hardly aware of our connections with each other. We maintained elaborate fantasies of our autonomy, the idiotic belief that we created meaning in ourselves. He understood very well now. The automobile traffic, the subways, the telephone, e-mail, the fuel-laden jetliners dangling above our heads, the US Postal Service: all this held us in a fragile, shimmering, spidery web of meaning. A single act of malice could rip it apart. We held each other’s significance in our hands. –Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Man’s cruelty to his fellow being has, at times, known no bounds. –John McIlwain, “Dungeons and Torture”

Mankind likes to consider itself “civilized.” Sadly, this civilization is only skin-deep, and man’s inhumanity to man, both in war and peace, has always been a cause for shame. –ditto

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The civility of no race can be perfect whilst another race is degraded. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Miscellanies

I never knew how much we consumed. It seems as if we are all appetite, as if a human being is simply a bundle of needs to drain the world. It’s no wonder there are wars, no wonder the earth and water and air are polluted. It’s no wonder the economy collapsed, if Eva and I use so much merely to stay alive. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

... a society without jaywalkers might indicate a society without artists ... –Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

How do people become so wise and cruel? –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

Sometimes when I was standing in buses, among hundreds of people, and they were all breathing and smelling and jerked their limbs about, people who were sometimes fat, sometimes thin, but mostly hairy, and they sometimes opened their mouths and showed their reddish mucous membranes and made contented noises, even belched, so I gladly imagined them dead … Many of them smelled, and their eyes were so empty, so self-assured, that I couldn’t help imagining how they would gobble up forests and, when the forests are gone, gobble up the stumps, the orchards, the parks, gobble up everything they came across, always so demanding, so important, so egotistical … And I have heard and read that there are people who say that under no circumstances, for no money in the world, must you sink into pessimism. Let’s be happy no matter how many of us there are! Firstly, I cannot understand why we must be happy, secondly, why for that particular reason? Is it nice to give the opportunity, over the next twenty years, for another 2,000,000,000 people to enter life? Let’s not sink into pessimism, even when the mass of human flesh fills the whole solar system. I’ve spoken about this with many different sorts of people. People generally agree that there are too many children, but always other people’s, such as those that belong to Chinese or Indians. People from small nations always get very angry at what I have to say. Exactly. There are so few of them and they’re supposed to keep on increasing in number! But their salvation doesn’t lie in wanting to be as numerous as possible, creating a mass. … And I found out that the six billion people living on this Earth in the year 2000 needed as many resources as sixty billion people would have in 1900! Since the rise of Homo sapiens, there have been some seventy billion people living on the globe. So the present-day population of Earth constitutes about six percent of that, and they use more resources than all their ancestors put together! –ditto

Under every social skin there lurks some barbarism. –Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Obras Completas

It’s silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are all brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, assassins, traitors, liars, hypocrites, poltroons. –Henry Miller

Anything can happen when human beings allow ideology to trump their humanity, when they elevate an idea above the lives of individuals. Anything can happen, and too often does. It becomes possible to bomb a black church and kill the four little girls inside. It becomes possible to execute a doctor who performs abortions, shoot him through the window of his own home while his children are nearby.
         It becomes possible to drive a truck full of explosives into the side of the federal building in Oklahoma City and feel the ground buck beneath your feet, to turn a day-care center into a conflagration and refer to the babies and toddlers killed as “collateral damage.” Perhaps ideologues so divorced from empathy are incapable of feeling even for themselves. Hence Timoth McVeigh’s dead eyes and stoic stare into the camera as he lay on a gurney in the death chamber. Hence the unimaginable willingness of the men who sent those planes like fiery torpedoes into public buildings to see themselves, as well as their passengers, as merely incidental cargo in the service of some greater good. –Anna Quindlen, “Imagining the Hanson Family”

I don’t understand people
no matter how much they play with colors
they are all black.
–George Seferis, “Interlude of Joy”

Each man, in his turn, must reinvent the things around him. –Robbe-Grillet

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. –Victor Frankel

That man is able to derive the liveliest pleasure from cutting man (and woman) to pieces, and first—and perhaps especially—from the idea of cutting them to pieces, this is a fact, an obvious fact which we customarily hide from ourselves out of I don’t know what sort of cowardice. I do not know because, so far as I can see, there is nothing in all this that could for one minute conflict with Christian belief—nor moreover with Moslem or Taoist—which maintains that man once upon a time parted ways with God. –Jean Paulhan, “The Marquis de Sade and His Accomplice”

Is a civilization naturally backward because it is different? Outside of cannibalism, which can be matched in this country, at least, by lynching, there is no vice and no degradation in native African customs which can begin to touch the horrors thrust upon them by white masters. Drunkenness, terrible diseases, immorality, all of these things have been gifts of European civilization. –WEB Du Bois, “Reconstruction and Africa”

I wish that just once people wouldn’t act like the clichés that they are. –Lauren Ambrose, in Six Feet Under

The earth, he’d say, is just a big machine. A big processing plant. A factory. That’s your big answer. The big truth.
         Think of a rock polisher, one of those drums, goes round and round, rolls twenty-four/seven, full of water and rocks and gravel. Grinding it all up. Round and round. Polishing those ugly rocks into gemstones. That’s the earth. Why it goes around. We’re the rocks. And what happens to us—the drama and pain and joy and war and sickness and victory and abuse—why, that’s just the water and sand to erode us. Grind us down. To polish us up, nice and bright. –Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

In a truly egalitarian society, everyone would show respect to everyone else. It is very bad news for our society that overt disrespect is such a big game these days, because it just stirs people up without enlightening them. Mass entertainment that demeans public figures satisfies popular base instincts but leaves nobody better off. Besides, at the same time as it’s become fashionable never to look up to anyone, it has become nastily acceptable to look down. –Lynne Truss, Talk to the Hand

The utter bloody rudeness of the world today is about a lot of things … but I think what most dismays many honorable people is the way “deference” has become a dirty little demeaning word, while its close relative “respect” has become a cool street-crime buzz-word mainly associated with paying feudal obeisance to those in possession of firearms. Both words have lost their true meaning. Deference is not about lying down and letting someone put their foot on your head. It is not about kow-tow. It is about assessing what is due to other people on all sorts of grounds. … To show deference does not mean “I hereby declare I am inferior to you.” But that’s what people seem to think it means, so they refuse to defer to anybody, on any grounds at all. The same misunderstanding prevents people from apologizing. They think that if they say “Sorry,” it means “I am 100 percent to blame. And now that I’ve admitted it, you can sue the pants off me.” –ditto

Manners are about showing consideration, and using empathy. But they are also about being connected to the common good; they are about being better. Every time a person asks himself, “What would the world be like if everyone did this?” or “I’m not going to calculate the cost to me on this occasion. I’m just going to do the right thing,” or “Someone seems to need this seat more than I do,” the world becomes a better place. It is ennobled. The crying shame about modern rudeness is that it’s such a terrible missed opportunity for a different kind of manners—manners based, for the first time, not on class and snobbery, but on a kind of voluntary charity that dignifies both the giver and the receiver by being a system of mutual, civil respect. –ditto

No cat ... was ever deceived by appearances, unlike human beings, who seem to enjoy it. –The Cat, in The Last Unicorn

As I look at her in my mind’s eye, I am reminded not of the loftiness or dignity of the human spirit but, rather, its sudden capacity in dire cirucmstances for an overarching sympathy, its redemptive humbleness. –Paula Fox, The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe

Suddenly, proceeding from nothing but his experience of vindictive childhood notions, Lyova found an easy explanation of all mankind: it lives by hiding. Leaf-colored and bark-textured in the jungles, sand-colored in the desert, imitating transparency in the water. The only thing mankind has tolerated and developed is a mimicry of well-being, health, prosperity, normality, calm, confidence. The most indecent thing, the most ruinous and hopeless, is to become visible, permit interpretation, reveal yourself. You discover that you have lived for a long time, without noticing, in a culture of cannibalism: a man visible in misfortune, a man revealed, is the world’s pretty, its bread. He will dissolve in an instant in the mouth of the crowd, and everyone will run off to his own sequel, clutching in his fist a little thread, holding in his mouth a fading taste, a shred or droplet, of the life force he has snatched on the run from the defeated man. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

We are an experiment in situation ethics set by the Unnamed God, which in keeping its identity secret also cloaks the scope of the experiment and our chances of success or failure at it—and nothing to be done about it.
         We are loping sequences of chemical conversions, acting ourselves converted. We are twists of genes acting ourselves twisted; we are wicks of burning neuroses acting ourselves wicked. And nothing to be done about it. And nothing to be done about it. –Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch

Not everyone is born a witch or a saint. Not everyone is born talented, or crooked, or blessed; some are born definite in no particular at all. We are a fountain of shimmering contradictions, most of us. Beautiful in the concept, if we’re lucky, but frequently tedious or regrettable as we flesh ourselves out. –ditto

The colossal might of wickedness, he thought: how we love to locate it massively elsewhere. But so much of it comes down to what each one of us does between breakfast and bedtime. –ditto

There’s something I felt in Chernobyl, something I understood that I don’t really want to talk about. About the fact, for example, that all our humanistic ideas are relative. In an extreme situation, people don’t behave the way you read about in books. Sooner the other way around. People aren’t heroes. –Sergei Gurin, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices From Chernobyl

When we see a man digging a hole for himself, we rush up and start helping him dig, at the same time persuading ourselves we are really filling it in and doing so out of love and compassion, feeling for our neighbor. Striking the stricken, despising the despicable, smoothing the path to ruin for the person who has already begun to stumble—that is human, that is universal. Just take a look at history from this point of view. How dies a civilization collapse if not just like that, with this help at hole-digging, this “humane” self-deception, this veiled fixation on ruin, this mendacious contempt for the sensitive and complex, becoming a collective mania? –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

Perhaps man has something to learn after all from fellow creatures without the ability to drive harpoons through living flesh, or poison with strontium the planetary winds. … If man had sacrificed his hands for flukes, the moral might run, he would still be a philosopher, but there would have been taken from him the devastating power to wreak his thought upon the body of the world. Instead he would have lived and wandered, like the porpoise, homeless across currents and winds and oceans, intelligent, but forever the lonely and curious observer of unknown wreckage falling through the blue light of eternity. This role would now be a deserved penitence for man. Perhaps such a transformation would bring him once more into that mood of childhood innocence in which he talked successfully to all things living but had no power and no urge to harm. It is worth at least a wistful thought that someday the porpoise may talk to us and we to him. It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even to himself. –Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower

No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of the conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when on is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself. –Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

Relating to one person is much more dangerous than not relating to anybody at all. You never get let down the other way. –Marc Spitz, How Soon Is Never?

Why didn’t people have a protective covering? ... A creature with such complicated tasks, and yet so poorly constructed. –Mati Unt, The Autumn Ball

I was thinking how amazing it was that the world contained so many lives. Out in these streets people were embroiled in a thousand matters, money problems, love problems, school problems. People were falling in love, getting married, going to drug rehab, learning how to ice-skate, getting bifocals, studying for exams, trying on clothes, getting their hair cut, and getting born. And in some houses people were getting old and sick and were dying, leaving others to grieve. It was happening all the time, unnoticed, and it was the thing that really mattered. –Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

I can’t relate to 99% of humanity. –Steve Buscemi, in Ghost World

Cruelty has a human heart,
And jealousy a human face;
Terror, the human form divine,
And Secrecy, the human dress.
–William Blake, “A Divine Image”

What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood? –Leonard Cohen

People throwing themselves at people is, like, the basis of civilization. –(?), in My So-Called Life

Human nature is the same all over the world. –Earl of Chesterfield, in a letter to his son

We have met the enemy, and it is us. –Walt Kelly, Pogo

Maybe we [mankind] weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through—struggle—claw our way up—scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute—we must march to the music of drums. –Captain James T. Kirk, in Star Trek

To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human. –Bob Goddard

Okay, I thought. Here you are. You Are Here. And you move forward because that’s the way it works; that’s the only place you can go. You keep going until it stops hurting, or until you find new things to hurt you worse, I guess. And that is the human condition, all of us lurching along in our own private miseries, because that’s the way it is. –Jennifer Weiner, Good in Bed

Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. –Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship”

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. –Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

A nice man is a man of nasty ideas. –Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

Every man has a wild animal in him. –Frederick the Great, in a letter to Voltaire

Heaven is by favor; if it were by merit your dog would go in and you would stay out. Of all the creatures ever made [man] is the most detestable. Of the entire brood, he is the only one ... that possesses malice. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain. –Mark Twain

Man’s role is uncertain, undefined, and perhaps unnecessary. –Margaret Mead

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings. –Helen Keller, My Religion

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. –George Orwell, Animal Farm

What makes you think that human beings are sentient and aware? There’s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told—and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their “beliefs.” The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is a self-congratulatory delusion. –Michael Crichton, The Lost World

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking. –Alfred North Whitehead

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. –Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

In our tenure on this planet we have accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, hereditary propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders and hostility to outsiders, which place our survival in some question. But we have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and our children’s children, a desire to learn from history, and a great soaring passionate intelligence—the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our vision and understanding and prospects are bound exclusively to the Earth—or, worse, to one small part of it. –(?)

We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation. –Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. –Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. –ditto

Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind. –Giacomo Leopardi

Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –HL Mencken

Nature is lethal but it doesn’t hold a candle to man. –Samuel L. Jackson, in Deep Blue Sea

Latent in every man is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being the helpless prey of impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away, enlists a man, drops him, promises and betrays, and—crowning injury—inflicts on him the humiliation of feeling sorry for him. –Paul Valéry

The world is populated in the main by people who should not exist. –George Bernard Shaw

There are few minds to which tyranny is not delightful. –Samuel Johnson

Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile. –Albert Schweitzer

The earth has a skin and that skin has diseases; one of its diseases is called man. –Friedrich Nietzsche

Man is a hating rather than a loving animal. –Rebecca West

What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets. –André Malraux

Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself. –George Santayana, introduction to Spinoza’s Ethics

Man is a puny, slow, awkward, unarmed animal. –Jacob Bronowski

Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob’s fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavored and colored, and put into cans. –HL Mencken

The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. –ditto

Don’t overestimate the decency of the human race. –ditto

Society is a madhouse whose wardens are the officials and police. –August Strindberg

Humanity is a pigsty where liars, hypocrites, and the obscene in spirit congregate. –George Moore

He who has never envied the vegetable has missed the human drama. –EM Cioran

… the Bomb is our only friend. I can’t see how anyone can think anything else. We’ve written the equations on the blackboard, and now we’ve got down to the bottom right-hand corner and it’s all wrong. The hermit crab has been on the earth for three million years asking nothing, as far as I know, except a few more hermit crabs. Give the world to them. It’s only people who’ve reduced the situation to this. –Quentin Crisp

It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly. –Anatole France

If I could get my membership fee back, I’d resign from the human race. –Fred Allen

The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race. –Don Marquis

… the population of the world has doubled since I was a boy. But intelligence hasn’t doubled; sensitivity hasn’t doubled; everything that matters hasn’t doubled. It’s an immense overcrowding. –Paul Fussell

We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins. –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled, and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world. –Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. –Frank Lloyd Wright

What we imagine is order is merely the prevailing form of chaos. –Kerry Thomley, Principle Discordia

If the players were armed with guns, there wouldn’t be stadiums large enough to hold the crowds. –Irwin Shawn, on football (and society)

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius. –Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”

People only see what they are prepared to see. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity. –Robert Frost

Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like no other. –HL Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy

Humankind cannot bear very much reality. –TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

Man is the cruelest animal. –Friedrich Nietszche

We have, in fact two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach. –Bertrand Russell, “Sceptical Essays”

We are not fighting for the right to be like you. We respect ourselves too much for that. When we advocate freedom, we mean freedom for us to be black, or brown, and you to be white, and yet live together in a free and equal society. This is the only way that integration can bring dignity for both of us. –John Oliver Killens, Black Man’s Burden

I watch TV and see all the pretty white people having so much fun. It makes me even sicker. When I see what is considered to be popular music on television (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, etc) it just reflects what our society believes in. False gods. Television tells me to be white, good-looking, Christian, and cool. I don’t want to be white, Christian, good-looking, or cool. I just want to be myself. –J. Stile

The white race is the cancer of history. It is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself. –Susan Sontag, in the Partisan Review, Spring 1967

But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terribly by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. –Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

The world is full of ghosts, and some of them are still people. –Peter Straub, The Throat

Watching Europe burn with its
Civilization of fire,
Watching America disintegrate
With its gods of steel
Watching the persecutors of
Mankind turn into dust,
Was I wrong? Was I wrong?
–Mazisi Kumene

I look around and all I see are miserable people. Everyone is in the rat race to try and outdo everyone else. Money, power, greed, corruption, sex. Life just seems to be a mixture of eating, sleeping, fornicating and excreting waste. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of depressed nihilist but it’s true—our lives are meaningless.
         We procreate and have miserable children who go about doing the same stupid things that have been done since the beginning of time.
         Hate, racism, fascism, murder, rape ... Over and over forever.
         I consider myself to be a fairly open minded person, and I just find it hard to understand why our world is so fucked up. We have the technology and infrastructure to set up a system where everyone could be fed and clothed and supplied with the basic necessities for living a decent life, yet most of the world lives in extreme poverty.
         I just read that about half of all teenagers in Africa are going to die of AIDS. Is this nature’s way of dealing with overpopulation? Is this nature’s way of telling us that there are too many people crowding the Earth? Is nature fighting back to try and reclaim the balance that has been lost since humans began raping the Earth for everything it has to offer? What do the rich nations like America and England do to help Africa?
         Nothing. –J. Stile, on stileproject.com

We don’t even realize it but technology is destroying the fabric of our society. More people use the Internet these days than ever. We are now socializing through boxes with virtual personalities. Gone are the days where we would actually go out to places to meet people. It’s so much easier to just log onto a chat room and create instant friends than actually having to make a concerted effort to build real life relationships. Social consciousness is now on autopilot.
         We have mass murders in High Schools, rotting polluted oceans, corrupt governments filled with greedy actors, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
         Do we need a revolution? What would we be revolting against exactly? The price of gasoline? Not enough cheese in our Big Macs? Not enough porn on cable?
         I just think it’s human nature to be selfish and miserable. We’re all just a genetic accident. We all have this disease called life and the only cure is death. –ditto

The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth. –Edith Sitwell

The only way to reform some people is to chloroform them. –Thomas C. Haliburton

People could make the world a nice place to live…if there weren’t so goddamn many of them. –Clayton Heafner

Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes. –Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking. –Thomas Edison

Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like. –Will Rogers

Why did Nature create man? Was it to show that she is big enough to make mistakes, or was it pure ignorance? –Holbrook Jackson

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. –Samuel Butler, Notebooks

A nation is a society united by delusions about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbors. –WR Inge

The world is divided into people who do things—and people who get the credit. –Dwight Morrow

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. –Bertrand Russell

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

I am an invisible man...I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me. –Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man

Unanimity is worse than censorship. Censorship obliges us to hold our own truth silent; unanimity forces us to repeat the truth of others, even though we do not believe it…It dissolves our own personalities into a general, monotonous chorus. –Luis Aguillar, “In Defense of Free Speech”

Our whole world is nothing but a world of grief and misery, and its inhabitants are nothing but grieving and miserable people. The living beings on this earth are all destined for slaughter. The azure heaven and the round earth are no more than a great slaughter-yard, a great prison. –K’ang Yu-Wei

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. –James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

We compound our suffering by victimizing each other. –Athol Fugard

Men had a genius for arranging their damnation, but few if any were capable of their own salvation. –Dean Koontz, Sole Survivor

Oh this insane, pathetic beast: man! … There is so much in man that is hideous! –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals

They are all voices crying in that wilderness of madness that men call society, and as such were ostracized, stoned, and deemed mentally unfit for life. –from Necronomicon

Everybody is so afraid of getting blood on the living room floor. “I can’t stand to see suffering,” they say, “so go die outside!” –Joanne Greenberg, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Sometimes, she thought ruefully, the world is so much sicker than the inmates of its institutions. –ditto

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these things cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that has come upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to these brutes who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to the happiness of us all. … The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kindlier world, where men will rise above their greed, their hate and their brutality. … The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow! Into the light of hope! … Look up! –Charles Chaplin, in The Great Dictator