“For a woman, surely, words are the prime element of force, of being able to enforce things on others, to coerce them. The prime realistic thing, in a certain sense, for women in this world is words, words insofar as they contain law and announcements of principles, the semiminor apocalypses of Utopia, or at least of peace on earth.” – Harold Brodkey, “Ceil” (emphasis in original)

“An examination of arrest records throughout the West during the heyday of the gunman furnishes some surprising statistics. Murder placed far down the list in crime. The most persistent offenses were drunkenness, assault, larceny, thievery, vagrancy, gambling, burglary and carrying concealed weapons. Adultery, fornication, bigamy and seduction cases sometimes jammed the court dockets. Prostitutes usually paid a fine of $10 a month which amounted to virtual licensing. These fees were often the largest source of municipal income.” – Leon Metz, The Shooters

“If we look at the great works of literature and thought through the centuries until about the mid-eighteenth century, we have to recognize that indeed they have been overwhelmingly the achievements of men. The circumstances in which these achievements occurred may be excoriated. The achievements remain precious.” – Irving Howe, “The Value of the Canon”

“American culture is notorious for its indifference to the past. It suffers from the provincialism of the contemporary, veering wildly from fashion to fashion, each touted by the media and then quickly dismissed. But the past is the substance out of which the present has been formed, and to let it slip away from us is to acquiesce in the thinness that characterizes so much of our culture. Serious education must assume, in part, an adversarial stance toward the very society that sustains it—a democratic society makes the wager that it’s worth supporting a culture of criticism. But if that criticism loses touch with the heritage of the past, it becomes weightless, a mere compendium of momentary complaints.” – Irving Howe, “The Value of the Canon”

“There is reason for the taboo in primitive life, but not in our life, not in civilized communities. The taboo then is dangerous and unhealthy. You see, civilized peoples don’t live according to moral codes or principles of any kind. We speak about them, we pay lip service to them, but nobody believes in them. Nobody practices these rules, they have no place in our lives. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us. I see the world, the civilized world, as largely irreligious. The religion in force among civilized people is always false and hypocritical, the very opposite of what the initiators of any religion really meant.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“The idealists in politics lack a sense of reality. And a politician must be a realist above all. These people with ideals and principles, they’re all at sea, in my opinion. One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one.” – Henry Miller (interviewed by George Wickes in The Paris Review)

“We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat in the adage. We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry” (emphases in original)

“Implacable hate, patient cunning, and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremist anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave, are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonors his conquest in the victor.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”

“Within these days past, I have marched by 18 or 20 Negroes that lay dead by the way-side, putrifying with the small pox. How such a thing came about, appears to be thus: The Negroes here being much disaffected (arising from their harsh treatment), flock’d in great numbers to [British General Lord] Cornwallis, as soon as he came into these parts. The artful general takes a number of them (several hundreds), innoculates them, & just as they all are growing sick, he sends them out into the country where our troops had to pass & repass. These poor creatures, having no care taken of them, many crawl’d into the bushes about & died, where they lay infecting the air around with intolerable stench & great danger. This is a piece of Cornwallisean cruelty. He is not backward to own that he has inoculated 4 or 500 in order to spread smallpox thro’ the country, & sent them out for that purpose.” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 24th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)

“Some men in these parts, they tell me, own 30,000 acres of land for their patrimony, & many have two or 300 Negroes to work on it as slaves. Alas! That persons who pretend to stand for the rights of mankind for the liberties of society, can delight in oppression, & that even of the worst kind! These poor creatures are enslav’d: not only so, but likewise deprived of that which nature affords even to the beasts. Many are almost without provision, having very little for support of nature; & many are as naked as they came into the world. What pray is this but the strikingly inconsistent character pointed out by the apostle, While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption!” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 6th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)

“The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks, makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience . . . the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“It is a maxim with some great military judges, that with sensible officers soldiers can hardly be too stupid; and on this principle it is thought that the Russians would make the best troops in the world, if they were under other officers than their own. . . . I frequently hear it objected to the scheme of embodying negroes that they are too stupid to make soldiers. This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection that I think their want of cultivation (for their natural faculties are probably as good as ours) joined to that habit of subordination which they acquire from a life of servitude, will make them sooner become soldiers than our White inhabitants. Let officers be men of sense and sentiment, and the nearer the soldiers approach to machines perhaps the better.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“What the media have done is to create a new electronic peasantry. The experiment with democratization through mass education has failed, and the message of civilization, in achieving its widest audience, has moved toward entropy.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“The Negro’s and Negro Women are unhumanly treated, are two-thirds naked, and are very disgusting to the Eye and another Sense, Tho I begin to be more habituated to the Sight, yet I cannot be to the great Cruelty made Use of to the poor ignorant Wretches. Indeed the Title of the Overseer is a sufficient Explanation of the Whole. He is stiled a Negro Driver. These circumstances of Cruelty to these People render the persons who exercise it disagreable, nay odious to me. When a Set of People can sit down enjoying all the Luxuries of Life without feeling the least Sensation or Compunction for the sufferings of those poor Wretches whose Lives are render’d Miserable and Constitutions destroyed for those Purposes, I must conclude them Obdurate, Selfish, and Unfeeling to the greatest Degree imaginable. At what an Expence of Life and Happiness do we eat Rice and Sugar! One thing more I must add, that their Diet is almost entirely on Rice and sweet Potatoes as they are allowed Meat but once a Year.” – Stephen De Lancey to Cornelia Barclay De Lancey, Savannah, Georgia, January 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“Imagine a vehicle as large as a planet that began a voyage an aeon ago. After generations of voyaging, the mechanics lose all sense of who they are and where they are going. They begin to grow unhappy with their condition and say that the notion that they are on a journey in an enormous vehicle is a myth put forth by the ruling class to disguise its oppression of the mechanical class. There is a revolution and the captain is killed. Elated by their triumph, the mechanics proclaim the dictatorship of the proletariat and destroy the captain’s log, which contains, they claim, nothing but the lies of the old ruling class.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Imagine insects with a life span of two weeks, and then imagine further that they are trying to build up a science about the nature of time and history. Clearly, they cannot build a model on the basis of a few days in summer. So let us endow them with a language and a culture through which they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. Summer passes, then autumn; finally it is winter. The winter insects are a whole new breed, and they perfect a new and revolutionary science on the basis of the ‘hard facts’ of their perceptions of snow. As for the myths and legends of summer: certainly the intelligent insects are not going to believe the superstitions of their primitive ancestors.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“The separation of authority from power is not easily understood in terms of American culture. We based a whole revolution on rejecting European authority and power and lumped geniuses, lords, and cardinals all together into one untrustworthy group. It is, therefore, an historical irony that the country that rejected kings and crowns ended up by idolizing the Presidency and allowed the holder of the office to become more powerful than any Caesar.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“The role of an educational bureaucracy is to educate people to bureaucracy, and this can be done as well in a course in humanities as in one in business administration. If one controls the structure, one can afford to allow a liberal amount of play in the content.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

What is it good for

“A war doesn’t merely kill off a few thousand or a few hundred thousand young men. It kills off something in a people that can never be brought back. And if a people goes through enough wars, pretty soon all that’s left is the brute, the creature that we—you and I and others like us—have brought up from the slime.” – John Williams, Stoner