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Quotations about Civilization

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Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t. ~Lord Raglan

We are born princes and the civilizing process makes us frogs. ~Syrus

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public. ~Bryan White

Progress may have been all right once, but it went on too long... ~Ogden Nash, "Come, Come, Kerouac! My Generation is Beater Than Yours," New Yorker, 1959 April 4 (Thanks, Garson O’Toole of quoteinvestigator.com!)

Civilization is hideously fragile... there’s not much between us and the Horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish. ~C.P. Snow

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. ~Confucius

Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~Author and exact wording unknown, I’ve been told this was quoted by Paul Harvey

I’ve made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I’m convinced of the opposite. ~Bertrand Russell

We should distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within. ~Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man

And the wind shall say "Here were decent godless people;
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls."
~T.S. Eliot

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive. ~Albert Einstein

When you can’t do something truly useful, you tend to vent the pent up energy in something useless but available, like snappy dressing. ~Lois McMaster Bujold

K is for "Kenghis Khan." He was a very nice person. History has no record of him. There is a moral in that, somewhere. ~Harlan Ellison, From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
~T.S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934

Is man’s civilization only a wrappage, through which the savage nature of him can still burst, infernal as ever? ~Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, vol III, book V, chapter 7

Barbarism is needed every four or five hundred years to bring the world back to life. Otherwise it would die of civilization. ~Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Journal, 3 September 1855

Leash: n, a means by which animals, formerly running wild, are prevented from running tame, also. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. ~Richard P. Feynman

Every civilization is, among other things, an arrangement for domesticating the passions and setting them to do useful work. ~Aldous Huxley

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills. ~Voltaire, letter to Count Schomberg, 31 August 1769

Codi: Gives you the willies, doesn’t it? The thought of raising kids in a place where the front yard ends in a two-hundred-foot drop? [referring to cliff dwellings]
Loyd: No worse than raising up kids where the front yard ends in a freeway.
~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

People don’t like the true and simple; they like fairy tales and humbug. ~Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Journal, 2 March 1861

[M]odern man is just ancient man... with way better electronics. ~Author unknown, "A Short History of Breakfast," from a Jack in the Box tray liner, 2006

What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance. ~Henry Havelock Ellis

Civilization begins with soap. ~Galveston Times, quoted in Quotations for Special Occasions by Maud van Buren

A living civilization creates; a dying, builds museums. ~Martin H. Fischer

One... gets an impression that civilization is something which was imposed on a resisting majority by a minority which understood how to obtain possession of the means to power and coercion. It is, of course, natural to assume that these difficulties are not inherent in the nature of civilization itself but are determined by the imperfections of the cultural forms which have so far been developed. ~Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he less savage than the other savages. ~Mark Twain, Following the Equator

Society is a made-up formula of what we are supposed to be, kept alive by those who believe in it.... I laugh in the ugly face of society, with all its fabricated dimensions. ~Author Unknown

But, as an English writer has wittily remarked, the man who first flung a word of abuse at his enemy instead of a spear was the founder of civilization. ~Sigmund Freud, c.1893, translated from German by James Strachey  [Thanks, Garson O'Toole! quoteinvestigator.com/2015/08/05/spear —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

I don't agree with you in saying that in all human minds there is poetry. Man as he came from the hand of his Maker was poetic in both mind and body, but the gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual. ~John Muir, letter to John B. McChesney, 1871 September 19th, from Yosemite (University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections, © 1984 Muir-Hanna Trust)

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. ~B.F. Skinner

[T]he progress of civilization corresponds with the spread of general nausea. ~Edgar Saltus, The Philosophy of Disenchantment

One is tempted to advance the notion that civilization came out of human terror at having to face dread as a daily condition.... Small wonder if man did everything he could to remove himself from such intimacy with nature. He even escalated the costs of tribal war in order to found large nations—anything to avoid a daily existence filled with dread. Carnage ensued and philosophy developed. ~Norman Mailer, "Primitive Man, Art and Science, Evil and Judgment," The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, 2003

When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. ~Daniel Webster, Remarks on Agriculture

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. ~H.G. Wells, The Outline of History

I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so... heroic. ~George Carlin

They civilize what’s pretty
By puttin’ up a city
Where nothin’ that’s
Pretty can grow....
They civilize left
They civilize right
Till nothing is left
Till nothing is right
~Alan Jay Lerner, "The First Thing You Know," Paint Your Wagon, 1969

The reputations of the nineteenth century will one day be quoted to prove its barbarism. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Uses of Great Men" (lecture)

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries. ~Mark Twain, quoted in More Maxims of Mark compiled by Merle Johnson, 1927

Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct. ~Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Take off all your clothes and walk down the street waving a machete and firing an Uzi, and terrified citizens will phone the police and report, "There’s a naked person outside!" ~Mike Nichols

It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages. ~Alfred North Whitehead

Civilization is what makes you sick. ~Paul Gauguin

The dying process begins the minute we are born, but it accelerates during dinner parties. ~Carol Matthau

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Civilization... wrecks the planet from seafloor to stratosphere. ~Richard Bach

Where there are humans
you’ll find flies,
and Buddhas.

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor. ~Arnold Toynbee

We are so clothed in rationalization and dissemblance that we can recognize but dimly the deep primal impulses that motivate us. ~James Ramsey Ullman

Flowers don’t open to the clock
but to the sunshine spontaneous;
for modern humans that manner
of instinct is now extraneous.
~Terri Guillemets
[Years after writing the above, I stumbled onto this from Charlotte Turner Smith (1749–1806): "...The course of Time their blooms describe,/ And wake, or sleep appointed hours... But shuts its cautious petals up,/ Retreating from the noon-tide blaze..." from a beautiful poem titled "The Horologe of the Fields" —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

Good manners: The noise you don’t make when you’re eating soup. ~Bennett Cerf

Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity. ~Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu-Hiva

If the Aborigine drafted an I.Q. test, all of Western civilization would presumably flunk it. ~Stanley Garn

I stood on a tower in the wet,
And New Year and Old Year met,
And winds were roaring and blowing:
And I said, "O years, that meet in tears,
Have ye aught that is worth the knowing?
Science enough and exploring,
Wanderers coming and going,
Matter enough for deploring,
But aught that is worth the knowing?"
~Alfred Tennyson

Civilization: a thin veneer over barbarianism. ~John M. Shanahan, The Most Brilliant Thoughts of All Time (In Two Lines or Less)

Civilization is the distance man has placed between himself and his excreta. ~Brian Aldiss

Evolution made civilization steward of this planet. A hundred thousand years later, the steward stood before evolution not helper but destroyer, not healer but parasite. So evolution withdrew its gift, passed civilization by, rescued the planet from intelligence and handed it to love. ~Richard Bach

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Last modified 2015 Sep 27 Sun 15:05 PDT

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