“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 motor cars; 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 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.”
– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
These words were published in 1908. I think it’s safe to say that the past 111 years have only added to the noise that our ancestors found so alarming. Yet with all the conversation (or screaming), and all the frenzied rushing, how much are we really saying, or accomplishing? Words like “oppression,” “narrative,” “misogyny,” “hypocrisy,” “fundamental,” are all used in a way which serves mostly to obfuscate and complicate. They retain an inkling of their traditional meaning but have become charged with an added, often contradictory purpose.
Chesterton goes on to pose a challenge: to try and express yourself using only words with one syllable – he deemed the small words to be the truly rigorous ones. Unfortunately, even these are coming under attack: “men,” “women,” “health,” and “care,” for instance, have become victims to this confusion. The bustle can be overwhelming and downright disheartening at times, but I do have a calmative to offer: the words of Gilbert Keith. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find solace in Chesterton’s ability to display that there really is nothing new under the sun, and you may find yourself moving through his pages with the same permanent, stupefied grin that I’ve had ever since taking the advice of a Ricochet member to spend some time with G.K.
Happy Sunday!Published in