Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.
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Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.

-Carl Sagan

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There have been ample opportunities since 1945 to show that material superiority in war is not enough if the will to fight is lacking. In Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan the balance of economic and military strength lay overwhelmingly on the side of France, the United States, and the Soviet Union, but the will to win was slowly eroded. Troops became demoralised and brutalised. Even a political solution was abandoned. In all three cases the greater power withdrew. The Second World War was an altogether different conflict, but the will to win was every bit as important - indeed it was more so. The contest was popularly perceived to be about issues of life and death of whole communities rather than for their fighting forces alone. They were issues, wrote one American observer in 1939, 'worth dying for'. If, he continued, 'the will-to-destruction triumphs, our resolution to preserve civilisation must become more implacable...our courage must mount'.Words like 'will' and 'courage' are difficult for historians to use as instruments of cold analysis. They cannot be quantified; they are elusive of definition; they are products of a moral language that is regarded sceptically today, even tainted by its association with fascist rhetoric. German and Japanese leaders believed that the spiritual strength of their soldiers and workers in some indefinable way compensate for their technical inferiority. When asked after the war why Japan lost, one senior naval officer replied that the Japanese 'were short on spirit, the military spirit was weak...' and put this explanation ahead of any material cause. Within Germany, belief that spiritual strength or willpower was worth more than generous supplies of weapons was not confined to Hitler by any means, though it was certainly a central element in the way he looked at the world.The irony was that Hitler's ambition to impose his will on others did perhaps more than anything to ensure that his enemies' will to win burned brighter still. The Allies were united by nothing so much as a fundamental desire to smash Hitlerism and Japanese militarism and to use any weapon to achieve it. The primal drive for victory at all costs nourished Allied fighting power and assuaged the thirst for vengeance. They fought not only because the sum of their resources added up to victory, but because they wanted to win and were certain that their cause was just.The Allies won the Second World War because they turned their economic strength into effective fighting power, and turned the moral energies of their people into an effective will to win. The mobilisation of national resources in this broad sense never worked perfectly, but worked well enough to prevail. Materially rich, but divided, demoralised, and poorly led, the Allied coalition would have lost the war, however exaggerated Axis ambitions, however flawed their moral outlook. The war made exceptional demands on the Allied peoples. Half a century later the level of cruelty, destruction and sacrifice that it engendered is hard to comprehend, let alone recapture. Fifty years of security and prosperity have opened up a gulf between our own age and the age of crisis and violence that propelled the world into war. Though from today's perspective Allied victory might seem somehow inevitable, the conflict was poised on a knife-edge in the middle years of the war. This period must surely rank as the most significant turning point in the history of the modern age.

-Richard Overy

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The history of man is simply the history of slavery, of injustice and brutality, together with the means by which he has, through the dead and desolate years, slowly and painfully advanced. He has been the sport and prey of priest and king, the food of superstition and cruel might. Crowned force has governed ignorance through fear. Hypocrisy and tyranny—two vultures—have fed upon the liberties of man. From all these there has been, and is, but one means of escape—intellectual development. Upon the back of industry has been the whip. Upon the brain have been the fetters of superstition. Nothing has been left undone by the enemies of freedom. Every art and artifice, every cruelty and outrage has been practiced and perpetrated to destroy the rights of man. In this great struggle every crime has been rewarded and every virtue has been punished. Reading, writing, thinking and investigating have all been crimes.Every science has been an outcast.All the altars and all the thrones united to arrest the forward march of the human race. The king said that mankind must not work for themselves. The priest said that mankind must not think for themselves. One forged chains for the hands, the other for the soul. Under this infamous regime the eagle of the human intellect was for ages a slimy serpent of hypocrisy.The human race was imprisoned. Through some of the prison bars came a few struggling rays of light. Against these bars Science pressed its pale and thoughtful face, wooed by the holy dawn of human advancement. Bar after bar was broken away. A few grand men escaped and devoted their lives to the liberation of their fellows.

-Robert G.

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Many moral advances have taken the form of a shift in sensibilities that made an action seem more ridiculous than sinful, such as dueling, bullfighting, and jingoistic war. And many effective social critics, such as Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Twain, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Tom Lehrer, and George Carlin have been smart-ass comedians rather than thundering prophets. What in our psychology allows the joke to be mightier than the sword?Humor works by confronting an audience with an incongruity, which may be resolved by switching to another frame of reference. And in that alternative frame of reference, the butt of the joke occupies a lowly or undignified status. ...Humor with a political or moral agenda can stealthily challenge a relational model that is second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that it leads to consequences that the rest of their minds recognize as absurd. ...According to the 18th-century writer Mary Wortley Montagu, 'Satire should, like a polished razor keen / Wound with touch that's scarcely felt or seen.' But satire is seldom polished that keenly, and the butts of a joke may be all too aware of the subversive power of humor. They may react with a rage that is stoked by the intentional insult to a sacred value, the deflation of their dignity, and a realization that laughter indicates common knowledge of both. The lethal riots in 2005 provoked by the editorial cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (for example, one showing Muhammad in heaven greeting newly arrived suicide bombers with 'Stop, we have run out of virgins!') show that when it comes to the deliberate undermining of a sacred relational model, humor is no laughing matter. (pp. 633-634)

-Steven Pinker

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There is no doubt that 'force multipliers' - squad automatic weapons - have changed the character of warfare once again, just as their predecessors did during the First World War, if perhaps not to quite the same degree. In the immediate future it seems that most armies will be using some form of 5.56mm machine-gun at squad level, be it a box-fed LSW or belt-fed SAW. If there is a cloud on the horizon where modern light machine-guns are concerned it is that they are not powerful enough for long-range work, or for penetrating cover and light armour. Nevertheless, the new generation of light machine-guns will remain in use well into the next century, not least because they are popular with the soldiers who operate them, the machine-gunners. Likewise, there will still be a place for the heavier GPMG, which does have the 'punch' that the LSW lacks.Machine-guns themselves have become lighter, and their operating principles both more secure and more efficient; the ammunition they use has shrunk to a quarter of its original size and become almost 100 percent reliable. The one important thing which has not changed dramatically is the human component; the attitude with which man faces the prospect of death in battle, and how he prepares himself to face that possibility quite deliberately, for it was the original invention of the machine-gun which reformed that. More than any other single 'advance' in weapons technology, the machine-gun allowed an individual (or actually, a small team of men) to dominate a sector of the battlefield. They had an inhuman advantage which simply had to be exploited if they were to be on the winning side, whether their opponents were Zulus, Sioux, or Dervishes, or other industrialized nations to be beaten into last place in the race toward economic supremacy. Whether the machine-gun has been as important, in any sense at all of the word, as it near-contemporary, the internal combustion engine - or even, date one say it, the bicycle or sewing machine - is still to be decided, but there is one clear, irrefutable fact connected with its short history: it has killed tens of millions of men, women and children and blighted the lives of tens of millions more.

-Roger Ford

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The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better--but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn't care.I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn't pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn't a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn't say, 'But you were never a Christian, so you're going the other way from heaven.' If so, I was going to reply, 'You know what? You're right. Fine.'I believed, too, in the doctors and the medicine and the surgeries--I believed in that. I believed in them. A person like Dr. Einhorn [his oncologist], that's someone to believe in, I thought, a person with the mind to develop an experimental treatment 20 years ago that now could save my life. I believed in the hard currency of his intelligence and his research.Beyond that, I had no idea where to draw the line between spiritual belief and science. But I knew this much: I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe--what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery.To continue believing in yourself, believing in the doctors, believing in the treatment, believing in whatever I chose to believe in, that was the most important thing, I decided. It had to be.Without belief, we would be left with nothing but an overwhelming doom, every single day. And it will beat you. I didn't fully see, until the cancer, how we fight every day against the creeping negatives of the world, how we struggle daily against the slow lapping of cynicism. Dispiritedness and disappointment, these were the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday. I knew now why people fear cancer: because it is a slow and inevitable death, it is the very definition of cynicism and loss of spirit.So, I believed.

-Lance Armstrong

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Devaluation of the Earth, hostility towards the Earth, fear of the Earth: these are all from the psychological point of view the expression of a weak patriarchal consciousness that knows no other way to help itself than to withdraw violently from the fascinating and overwhelming domain of the Earthly. For we know that the archetypal projection of the Masculine experiences, not without justice, the Earth as the unconscious-making, instinct-entangling, and therefore dangerous Feminine. At the same time the projection of the masculine anima is mingled with the living image of the Earth archetype in the unconscious of man; and the more one-sidedly masculine man's conscious mind is the more primitive, unreliable, and therefore dangerous his anima will be. However, the Earth archetype, in compensation to the divinity of the archetype of Heaven and the Father, that determined the consciousness of medieval man, is fused together with the archaic image of the Mother Goddess.Yet in its struggle against this Mother Goddess, the conscious mind, in its historical development, has had great difficulty in asserting itself so as to reach its – patriarchal - independence. The insecurity of this conscious mind-and we have profound experience of how insecure the position of the conscious mind still is in modern man-is always bound up with fear of the unconscious, and no well-meaning theory "against fear" will be able to rid the world of this deeply rooted anxiety, which at different times has been projected on different objects. Whether this anxiety expresses itself in a religious form as the medieval fear of demons or witches, or politically as the modern fear of war with the State beyond the Iron Curtain, in every case we are dealing with a projection, though at the same time the anxiety is justified. In reality, our small ego-consciousness is justifiably afraid of the superior power of the collective forces, both without and within.In the history of the development of the conscious mind, for reasons which we cannot pursue here, the archetype of the Masculine Heaven is connected positively with the conscious mind, and the collective powers that threaten and devour the conscious mind both from without and within, are regarded as Feminine. A negative evaluation of the Earth archetype is therefore necessary and inevitable for a masculine, patriarchal conscious mind that is still weak. But this validity only applies in relation to a specific type of conscious mind; it alters as the integration of the human personality advances, and the conscious mind is strengthened and extended. A one-sided conscious mind, such as prevailed in the medieval patriarchal order, is certainly radical, even fanatical, but in a psychological sense it is by no means strong. As a result of the one-sidedness of the conscious mind, the human personality becomes involved in an equally one-sided opposition to its own unconscious, so that actually a split occurs. Even if, for example, the Masculine principle identifies itself with the world of Heaven, and projects the evil world of Earth outwards on the alien Feminine principle, both worlds are still parts of the personality, and the repressing masculine spiritual world of Heaven and of the values of the conscious mind is continually undermined and threatened by the repressed but constantly attacking opposite side. That is why the religious fanaticism of the representatives of the patriarchal World of Heaven reached its climax in the Inquisition and the witch trials, at the very moment when the influence of the archetype of Heaven, which had ruled the Middle Ages and the previous period, began to wane, and the opposite image of the Feminine Earth archetype began to emerge.

-Erich Neumann

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Now, your Honor, I have spoken about the [Civil] war. I believed in it. I don’t know whether I was crazy or not. Sometimes I think perhaps I was. I approved of it; I joined in the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight. I was safe because I was too old to go. I was like the rest. What did they do? Right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable -- which I need not discuss today -- it changed the world. For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men. Christian against Christian, barbarian uniting with Christians to kill Christians; anything to kill. It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war. The toddling children on the street. Do you suppose this world has ever been the same since? How long, your Honor, will it take for the world to get back the humane emotions that were slowly growing before the war? How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty shall be removed?We read of killing one hundred thousand men in a day. We read about it and we rejoiced in it -- if it was the other fellows who were killed. We were fed on flesh and drank blood. Even down to the prattling babe. I need not tell you how many upright, honorable young boys have come into this court charged with murder, some saved and some sent to their death, boys who fought in this war and learned to place a cheap value on human life. You know it and I know it. These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their homes, their playgrounds, their schools; they were in the newspapers that they read; it was a part of the common frenzy -- what was a life? It was nothing. It was the least sacred thing in existence and these boys were trained to this cruelty.

-Clarence Darrow

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A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the 'growing edge;' the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. 'If I have seen further than other men,' said Isaac Newton, 'it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

-Isaac Newton

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow. Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail. A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live. When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all. A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother. So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

-Hermann Hesse

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Long before it was known to me as a place where my ancestry was even remotely involved, the idea of a state for Jews (or a Jewish state; not quite the same thing, as I failed at first to see) had been 'sold' to me as an essentially secular and democratic one. The idea was a haven for the persecuted and the survivors, a democracy in a region where the idea was poorly understood, and a place where—as Philip Roth had put it in a one-handed novel that I read when I was about nineteen—even the traffic cops and soldiers were Jews. This, like the other emphases of that novel, I could grasp. Indeed, my first visit was sponsored by a group in London called the Friends of Israel. They offered to pay my expenses, that is, if on my return I would come and speak to one of their meetings.I still haven't submitted that expenses claim. The misgivings I had were of two types, both of them ineradicable. The first and the simplest was the encounter with everyday injustice: by all means the traffic cops were Jews but so, it turned out, were the colonists and ethnic cleansers and even the torturers. It was Jewish leftist friends who insisted that I go and see towns and villages under occupation, and sit down with Palestinian Arabs who were living under house arrest—if they were lucky—or who were squatting in the ruins of their demolished homes if they were less fortunate. In Ramallah I spent the day with the beguiling Raimonda Tawil, confined to her home for committing no known crime save that of expressing her opinions. (For some reason, what I most remember is a sudden exclamation from her very restrained and respectable husband, a manager of the local bank: 'I would prefer living under a Bedouin muktar to another day of Israeli rule!' He had obviously spent some time thinking about the most revolting possible Arab alternative.) In Jerusalem I visited the Tutungi family, who could produce title deeds going back generations but who were being evicted from their apartment in the old city to make way for an expansion of the Jewish quarter. Jerusalem: that place of blood since remote antiquity. Jerusalem, over which the British and French and Russians had fought a foul war in the Crimea, and in the mid-nineteenth century, on the matter of which Christian Church could command the keys to some 'holy sepulcher.' Jerusalem, where the anti-Semite Balfour had tried to bribe the Jews with the territory of another people in order to seduce them from Bolshevism and continue the diplomacy of the Great War. Jerusalem: that pest-house in whose environs all zealots hope that an even greater and final war can be provoked. It certainly made a warped appeal to my sense of history.

-Christopher Hitchens

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From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.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. 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. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

-Carl Sagan

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