“If the world is saved, it will not be by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all. Why not new minds with new programs? Because where you find people working on programs, you don’t find new minds, you find old ones. Programs and old minds go together like buggy whips and buggies.”

“Our culture’s river of vision is carrying us toward catastrophe. Sticks planted in the mud may impede its flow very slightly, but we don’t need to impede its flow, we need to divert it into an entirely new channel. If our culture’s river of vision ever begins to carry us away from catastrophe and into a sustainable future, then programs will be superfluous. When the river’s flowing where you want it to flow, you don’t plant sticks to impede it.”

“Old minds think: How do we stop these bad things from happening?
New minds think: How do we make things the way we want them to be?”

“When Europeans ‘discovered’ the New World, they considered it a sacred duty to take it over. The people who were already living there were just in the way, like trees or rocks or wild animals. They had no real business being there, as we did. For us to take over this hemisphere was just part of the larger plan (presumably God’s plan) for us to take over the entire world.”

“Every year, without fail, we outlaw more things, catch more people doing them, and put more of them in jail. The outlawed behavior never goes away, because, directly or indirectly, it’s supported by the strong, invisible, unrelenting force called vision. This explains why police officers are much more likely to take up crime than criminals are to take up law enforcement. It’s called ‘going with the flow.'”

“It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the ‘middle’ of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living till the end of time.”

“It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the “middle” of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living till the end of time.”

“For all our blather of new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us. Their gadgets, fashions, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical–because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have.”

“You (and each of your parents and all your siblings and friends) contain a complete set of memes, which are the conceptual building plans for our culture.”

“The memes that made us the rulers of the world are lethal, but they didn’t have a lethal effect ten thousand years ago–or five thousand or two thousand. They were at work, turning us into the rulers of the world, but their deadliness didn’t become evident until this century, when they began turning us into the devastators of the world.”

“Our history is full of underclass insurrections, revolts, rebellions, riots, and revolutions, but not a single one has ever ended with people just walking away. This is because our citizens know that civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance. So they will go berserk, will destroy everything in sight, will slaughter all the elite they can get their hands on, will burn, rape, and pillage–but they will never just walk away. This is why the behavior of the Maya, the Olmec, and the rest is so unfathomably mysterious to our historians. For them, it seems self-evident that civilization must continue at any cost and never be abandoned under any circumstance.”

“The meme we brought with us to the New World was nothing new. We’d been spreading it from the beginning: Ours is the one RIGHT way for people to live, and everyone should live like us. Possessing this meme, we made ourselves cultural missionaries to the world, and, lacking this meme, the Maya, the Olmec, and the others did not.”

“The meme is as strong today among us as it was among the stone-draggers of ancient Egypt: Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance. We’re making the world uninhabitable to our own species and rushing headlong toward extinction, but Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance.”

“During our three or four million years on this planet it can hardly be doubted that thousands of cultural experiments have been made among humans. The successes have survived–and the failures have disappeared, for the simple reason that eventually there was no one around who wanted to perpetuate them. People will (ordinarily) put up with being miserable for only so long. It’s not the quitters who are extraordinary and mysterious, it’s we, who have somehow managed to persuade ourselves that we must persist in our misery whatever the cost and not abandon it even in the face of calamity.”

“Tribal life is not perfect, idyllic, noble, or wonderful, but wherever it’s found intact, it’s found to be working well–as well as the life of lizards, raccoons, geese, or beetles–with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious, desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred, and violence.”

“The tribal life doesn’t turn people into saints, it enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation.”

“Where they’re still allowed to, gypsies live in tribes, but they’re obviously not hunter-gatherers. Similarly, circus people live in tribes–but again, obviously, they’re not hunter-gatherers. Until recent decades there were many forms of traveling shows that were tribal in organization–theatrical troupes, carnivals, and so on.”

“Tribes exist for their members–and for all their members, because all are perceived as involved in the success of the tribe.”

“The tribal life and no other is the gift of natural selection to humanity. It is to humanity what pack life is to wolves, pod life is to whales, and hive life is to bees. After three or four million years of human evolution, it alone emerged as the social organization that works for people. People like the tribal organization because it works equally well for all members.”

“Wherever civilization emerges, tribalism withers and is replaced by hierarchalism. Hierarchalism works very well for the rulers but much less well for the ruled, who make up the mass of the society. For this reason, the few at the top like it very well and the masses at the bottom like it very much less well.”

“Diversity, not uniformity, is what works. Our problem is not that people are living a bad way but rather that they’re all living the same way. The earth can accommodate many people living in a voraciously wasteful and pollutive way, it just can’t accommodate all of us living that way.”

“There is no need for change across the board–for everything to suddenly begin to be done differently. It’s unnecessary for this to happen, and nothing in the world can make it happen. Always keep in mind that there is no one right way for people to live. There never has been and never will be.”

“The greatest discovery any alien anthropologist could make about our culture is our overriding response to failure: If it didn’t work last year, do it AGAIN this year (and if possible do it MORE).”

“It’s a fundamental tenet of our cultural mythology that the only thing wrong with us is that humans are not made well enough. We need to be made of finer materials, to some set of better specifications (provided, perhaps, by greened-up versions of our traditional religions). We just need to be made kinder, gentler, sweeter, more loving, less selfish, more far-sighted, and so on, then everything will be fine. Of course, no one succeeded in making us better last year or the year before that or the year before that or the year before that–or indeed any year in recorded history–but maybe this year we’ll get lucky . . . or next year or the year after that.”

“What I’ve endeavored to say in all my books is that the flaw in our civilization isn’t in the people, it’s in the system. It’s true that the system has been clanking along for ten thousand years, which is a long time in the time-scale of an individual life, but when viewed in the time-scale of human history, this episode isn’t remarkable for its epic length but for its tragic brevity.”