Pay it Forward [v’s Pay it Back]

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I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

The concept was rediscovered and described by Benjamin Franklin,
in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 25, 1784

The Tyranny of the Majority

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In On Liberty Mill is not only concerned with freedom from government interference, from legislation and prohibition. Just as important is the freedom to develop culturally and intellectually, to become the type of autonomous and original individual that Mill admired. He feared that this freedom was under threat, that:

… the inevitable growth of social equality and of the government of public opinion, should impose on mankind an oppressive yoke of uniformity in opinion and practice. Autobiography ch.7

The greatest impediment to human progress is, borrowing a phrase from de Tocqueville, the ‘tyranny of the majority’: Continue reading

Coercion’s inseparable companion …

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The idea of painless, non-threatening coercion is an illusion. Fear is the inseparable companion of coercion, and its inescapable consequence. If you think it your duty to make children do what you want, whether they will or not, then it follows inexorably that you must make them afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t do what you want.

John Holt
How Children Fail, 1964

Violent opposition from mediocre minds

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Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.

Albert Einstein,
in a letter to Morris Raphael Cohen,
professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York,
defending the appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position (19 March 1940).

Voice or no voice …

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Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Hermann Göring
Nuremberg Diary, 18 April 1946

Condemnation by category

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Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking the heat and even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob, which makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob overflowing with righteousness, as there was at the crucifixion and has been before and since. This mob violence can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal of kindness to heretics, foreigners, enemies, or any other group different from ourselves.

Wendell Berry, Caught in the middle: On abortion and homosexuality
The Christian Century, March 20, 2013.

… before necessity compels them to it.

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There is room in the world, no doubt, and even in old countries, for a great increase in population, supposing the arts of life to go on improving, and capital to increase. But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages both of cooperation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained. A population, may be too crowded, though all be amply supplied with food and raiment. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character, and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without. Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasture ploughed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man’s use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture. If the Earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.

John Stuart Mill, Philosopher, 1806-1873
Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
IV.6.8, published 1848