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8. The Romance Of Orthodoxy
It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in
truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact
is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite
external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not
due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there
were more activity, if people were simply walking about. Our world would be
more silent if it were more strenuous. And this which is true of the apparent
physical bustle is true also of the apparent bustle of the intellect. Most of the
machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental
labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific
wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the
comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they
are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for
themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion
one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the
indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our
sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of
punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of
the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and
Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror,
that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the
short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word
"damn" than in the word "degeneration."
But these long comfortable words that save modern people the toil of
reasoning have one particular aspect in which they are especially ruinous and
confusing. This difficulty occurs when the same long word is used in different
connections to mean quite different things. Thus, to take a well-known instance,
the word "idealist" has one meaning as a piece of philosophy and quite another
as a piece of moral rhetoric. In the same way the scientific materialists have had
just reason to complain of people mixing up "materialist" as a term of cosmology
with "materialist" as a moral taunt. So, to take a cheaper instance, the man who
hates "progressives" in London always calls himself a "progressive" in South
A confusion quite as unmeaning as this has arisen in connection with the
word "liberal" as applied to religion and as applied to politics and society. It is
often suggested that all Liberals ought to be freethinkers, because they ought to
love everything that is free. You might just as well say that all idealists ought to
be High Churchmen, because they ought to love everything that is high. You
might as well say that Low Churchmen ought to like Low Mass, or that Broad
Churchmen ought to like broad jokes. The thing is a mere accident of words. In