Latest Quotes

The Discomfort of Thought

As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

Crosscutting Alliances

Where a society’s political divisions are crosscutting, we line up on different sides of issues with different people at different times. We may disagree with our neighbors on abortion but agree with them on health care; we may dislike another neighbor’s views on immigration but agree with them on the need to raise the minimum wage. Such alliances help us build and sustain norms of mutual toleration. When we agree with our political rivals at least some of the time, we are less likely to view them as mortal enemies.

We vastly underestimate the impact of our immediate environment on our behavior

Most people tend to think that characteristics of a person drive whether someone is ethical or not. For example, one’s upbringing, religious values or even genetics must determine whether a person is a good apple or a bad egg. While those factors matter to some degree, my research and decades of science in social and organizational psychology tell us that we vastly underestimate the impact of our immediate environment on our behavior. Good people can do bad things in certain contexts, and the reverse is true as well.

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Socialism is their name for anything that helps the people

Socialism is a scareword they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organiztions. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.

Institutions must advance and keep pace with the times

Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Maximize friendliness so that cooperation flourishes

Darwin was constantly impressed with the kindness and cooperation he observed in nature, and he wrote that "those communities , which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring." He and many of the biologists who followed him have documented that the ideal way to win at the evolutionary game is to maximize friendliness so that cooperation flourishes. 

Cooperative Communication

What allowed us to thrive while other humans went extinct was a kind of cognitive superpower: a particular type of friendliness called cooperative communication. We are experts at working together with other people, even strangers. We can communicate with someone we've never met about a shared goal and work together to accomplish it.

An Ultracultural Species is Born

Domesticating a wolf brain or an ape brain is impressive. But when you domesticate a human brain – this is when the real magic begins. An ultracultural species is born. A unique type of friendliness must have evolved in our species that allowed for larger group sizes, higher population densities, and more amicable relations between neighboring groups that in turn created larger social networks. This encouraged the transmission of more innovations between more innovators. Cultural ratcheting went from slow and sporadic to fast and furious. The result was exponential growth in technology and the emergence of behavioral modernity.

Everything had nuance

In Pauline and Mal's house, nothing was simple. In her parents' house, things had been good or bad, right or wrong, useful or wasteful. There had been nothing in between. Here, she found, everything had nuance; everything had an unrevealed side or unexplored depths. Everything was worth looking at more closely.

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A multiethnic democracy

The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved. We are engaged in a fight over whether to work together to build such a world.

Unwritten Democratic Norms

Democracies work best – and survive longer – where constitutions are reinforced by unwritten democratic norms. Two basic norms have preserved America’s checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives. These two norms undergirded American democracy for most of the twentieth century. Leaders of the two major parties accepted one another as legitimate and resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage. Norms of toleration and restraint served as the soft guardrails of American democracy, helping it avoid the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies elsewhere in the world, including Europe in the 1930s and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.

All of us are trim tabs

One guy, he had nothing to do with the movies, but I've taken a lot of direction from him. That's Bucky Fuller. Bucky, he's most famous for the geodesic dome, but he made a great observation about these oceangoing tankers. And he noticed that the engineers were particularly challenged by how to turn this thing, you know? They got this big rudder, it took too much energy to turn the rudder to turn the ship. So they came up with a brilliant idea. Let's put a little rudder on the big rudder. The little rudder will turn the big rudder, the big rudder will turn the ship. The little rudder is called a trim tab.

Bucky made the analogy that a trim tab is an example of how the individual is connected to society and how we affect society. And I like to think of myself as a trim tab. All of us are trim tabs. We might seem like we're not up to the task, but we are, man. We're alive! We can make a difference! We can turn this ship in the way we wanna go, man! Towards love, creating a healthy planet for all of us.

Art is a lie that makes us realize truth

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.

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Love is the ultimate and the highest goal

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

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Each man is questioned by life

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

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