Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Civilization

According to Will Durant, "Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end." Almost completely taken for granted but in reality only a fragile interlude between ice ages, earthquakes, environmental disasters, geographical whims, war, political and economic vagaries; civilizations rise and fall while continuing in a vast, collective consciousness. A product of urban development, it remains dependent on strong rural agriculture. Requiring a commonly accepted moral code, civilizations become susceptible to rigid dogma. Requiring education and the transmission of language, skill, wisdom, and culture; it’s always subject to the corruptions of selfishness and arrogance. To quote Durant again, “Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul.”

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Quotes (77)

“Sedentary culture is the goal of civilization. It means the end of its lifespan and brings about its corruption.

Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي 1332 – 1406 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Kindness and good nature unite men more effectually and with greater strength than any agreements”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

“Civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies for the evils it produces.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

Themes: Civilization

80. A Golden Age

“Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness.”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE
from Common Sense, 1776

“Perhaps in time the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ will be thought of as including our own.”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 – 1799 CE
One of history’s best aphorists

Themes: Civilization

“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator

“Between the ethics of the Greeks and those of the Hindus, there exists a glaring antithesis—the Greek goal to lead a happy life, the Hindu to liberate and redeem from life altogether.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R.J. Hollingdale
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

“Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. Of that divine tear and that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur
from Le centenaire de Voltaire, 1878​

Themes: Civilization

“The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

78. Water

“Any, even unintentional, deviation from truth... keeps back civilization, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale depends.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE via Utilitarianism

“There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of man.”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

“From the first day to this, sheer greed was the driving spirit of civilization.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist

“The great enemy of civilization is the notion that society cannot prosper, unless the affairs of life are watched over and protected at nearly every turn by the state and the church.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

17. True Leaders

“Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Civilization

60. Less is More

“‘And what does it amount to?’ said Satan, with his evil chuckle. ‘Nothing at all. You gain nothing… Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcel of usurping little monarchs and nobilities who despise you… whom you slave for, fight for, die for… it is the foundation upon which all civilizations have been built.’”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

53. Shameless Thieves

“The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their own borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need o being saved.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Memories and Studies (1911)

“Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

Themes: Civilization

75. Greed

“I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“This will never be a civilized country until we expend more money for books than we do for chewing gum.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Civilization

“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

Themes: Civilization

“Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

“Sex appeal is the keynote to civilization.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE
from Two Sources of Morallity and Religion

“What is your ‘civilization and progress‘ if its only outcome is hysteria and down going? What is ‘government and law‘ if their ripened harvests are men without sap? What are ‘religions and literatures‘ if their grandest productions are hordes of faithful slaves?”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

“Civilization is a disease almost invariably fatal unless checked in time.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Civilization

“Civilization is a matter of imponderables, of delight in the things of the mind, of love of beauty, of honor, grace, courtesy, delicate feeling. Where imponderables are the things of first importance, there is the height of civilization”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Greek Way, 1930

“The function of the university is… to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

Themes: Civilization

“Reporter: Mr. Gandhi! What do you think of Western civilization? Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE

Themes: Civilization

“Every advance in civilization has been denounced as unnatural while is was recent.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from An Outline of Intellectual Nonsense

“When a civilization becomes so standardized that the individual can no longer make an imprint on it, then that civilization is dying. The 'mass mind' has taken over and another set of national glories is heading for history's scrap heap.”

Elie Faure 1873 – 1937 CE
French art historian and essayist

“The disastrous feature of our civilization is that it is far more developed materially than spiritually. Its balance is disturbed.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“Introverts are educators and promoters of culture who show and value the interior life which is painfully wanting in our civilization.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“All moral discipline, all moral perfection derived from the soul of literature, from the soul of human dignity, which was the moving spirit of both humanity and politics... civilization!”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from The Magic Mountain (1924)

“The building of that city anew—the 'City of the gods'—is the constant task of civilization... to build on the foundations of the religion of Eternity.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from The Dance of Shiva (1918)

“You can't say civilization don't advance ... in every war they kill you in a new way”

Will Rogers 1879 – 1935 CE

Themes: Civilization

18. The Sick Society

“In Greece, as everywhere, once realism begins to reign, civilization declines. Thus we arrive at the realistic, magniloquent, and faithless Hellenistic era which was devoid of suprapersonal ideals... Emotions and passions run wild. The free individual loses his powers of discipline, the bridle which maintained instinct in strict balance flies from his hands..”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Civilization

“Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul... Mercuries of the air are binding nations and civilizations together, preserving for all what each has given to the heritage of mankind.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Civilization

“Ancient civilizations were little isles in a sea of barbarism, prosperous settlements surrounded by hungry, envious and warlike hunters and herders”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Our Oriental Heritage

“Civilization is polygenetic – as generations are moments in a family line, civilizations are units in a larger whole whose name is history.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Age of Faith

“In every generation, civilization is the laborious product and precarious obligating privilege of an engulfed minority.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Age of Faith

“Do civilizations die? ...Homer has more readers now than in his own day and land.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Civilization

“This is the tragedy of almost every civilization—that its soul is in its faith, and seldom survives philosophy.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Our Oriental Heritage

“Man achieves civilization, not as a result of superior biological endowment or geographical environment, but as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which rouses him to make a hitherto unprecedented effort.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

“I'm sick. I've eaten civilization and I'm sick.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Civilization

18. The Sick Society

“'Did you eat something that didn't agree with you?' asked Bernard. The Savage nodded. 'I ate civilization.'”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

Themes: Civilization

“When a civilization loses simplicity, it becomes increasingly full of troubles and degenerates. People become slaves of external ideas, thoughts, ambitions and social systems.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

“Education is the transmission of civilization.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

31. Victory Funeral

“Life's more important than a living. So many people who make a living are making death, not life. Don't ever join them. They're the gravediggers of our civilization - The safe men. The compromisers. The moneymakers.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

72. Helpful Fear

“This civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth — the transition from the tribal or 'enclosed society,' with its submission to magical forces, to the 'open society' which sets free the critical powers of man.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

Themes: Civilization

“To accept civilization as it is practically means accepting decay.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from Selected Essays

Themes: Civilization

“Civilizations are grounded on myth [and] myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols, the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

“if men were ever to... cease to ask unanswerable questions, they would lose... the capacity for asking all the unanswerable questions upon which every civilization is founded.”

Hannah Arendt 1906 – 1975 CE
Fearless researcher into the darker reaches of the human psyche
from The New Yorker

Themes: Civilization

“Some, like Tolstoy, found this in the outlook of simple people, unspoiled by civilization; like Rousseau, he wished to believe that the moral universe of peasants was not unlike that of children, not distorted by the conventions and institution of civilization, which sprang from human vices”

Isaiah Berlin 1909 – 1997 CE
"the world's greatest talker"
from The Proper Study of Mankind

Themes: Civilization

“Because the Great Wall of China and the ancient cities in the Middle East and along the Silk Road were all made of bricks, trees disappeared from these areas and the soil died—a great deal of firewood is needed to make bricks. This destruction of nature brought about the decline of human civilization.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Shan Dao
from Road Back to Nature

Themes: Civilization

“all art is propaganda... the artist is not a harmless eccentric but one who—under the guise of irrelevance—creates and reveals a new reality [while] in the value system of civilization, of compulsive survival, the artist is irrelevant.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“It is commonly said and known that each civilization has its own religion. Now my claim is that if we look deeper, the different civilizations were brought into being by the different revelations.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“'Civilization' is seductive where not imperious”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

Themes: Civilization

“If we take the world's enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“I think that God imploded, like a spiritual big bang, to launch the eight civilizations that make up recorded history and the religions in those civilizations.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“It has been estimated that one third of our Western civilization bears the mark of its Jewish ancestry.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“the discovery of inertia and momentum is the greatest insight of western civilization.”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“Civilizations have been destroyed many times, and this civilization is no different. It can be destroyed. We can think of time in terms of millions of years and life will resume little by little. The cosmos operates for us very urgently, but geological time is different.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”

César Chavez César Estrada Chávez 1927 – 1993 CE
(César Estrada Chávez)

“Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths, the driving force being individual material gain... a principle that will destroy itself in time by pretending that the world is an infinite garbage can.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

Themes: Civilization

“We collude with them and they with us in maintaining the great foundation of ignorance and lies on which our civilization rests.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Matter of Seggri

“Civilization progresses in a leap-frog kind of way. One country advances technology and attains dominance and power and then less advanced countries use that technology to leap-frog ahead of the the once dominant one. One example is cell phones letting ‘developing countries’ skip the infrastructure phase of land-line telephone poles and wires and move technologically ahead of countries hampered by their need to maintain the old systems while at the same time trying to bring in the new. The same dynamic plays out in psychological realms of self-image, meaningfulness, and cultural identification.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Civilization

“Civilization progresses in a leap-frog kind of way. One country advances technology and attains dominance and power and then less advanced countries use that technology to leap-frog ahead of the the once dominant one. One example is cell phones letting ‘developing countries’ skip the infrastructure phase of land-line telephone poles and wires and move technologically ahead of countries hampered by their need to maintain the old systems while at the same time trying to bring in the new. The same dynamic plays out in psychological realms of self-image, meaningfulness, and cultural identification.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Civilization

“You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

18. The Sick Society

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”
from Beast God Forgot to Invent

“Civilization has been a permanent dialogue between human beings and water.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE –

“Every society produces its own cultural conceits, a set of lies and delusions about itself that thrives in the face of all contrary evidence.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

“We all live in stories, so called grand narratives. Nation is a story. Family is a story. Religion is a story. Community is a story. We all live within and with these narratives… and need to constantly examine them… that’s the definition of any living vibrant society—constantly questioning those stories. The argument itself is freedom… that's how societies grow.”

Salman Rushdie 1947 CE –
Fearless antagonist of Islamic fundamentalism

“If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.”

Camille Paglia 1947 CE –
Fearless and insightful status quo critic
from Sexual Personae (1990)

“every single civilization including this western world, was brought into being from a sacred place to serve a sacred purpose. And when that purpose is forgotten… the fundamental balance and harmony of its existence become disrupted”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

“for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from Broken Earth

“see even the Islamic State as an errant offshoot of the global culture we all share... radical Islamists have been influence by Marx and Foucault as much as by Muhammad... Islamic fundamentalism may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the 'civilization' it challenges is a global civilization rather than a uniquely Western phenomenon.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

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