When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
I frequently see Orthodox people mindlessly re-using phrases which are nearly bereft of meaning. Here is one example which has lately been driving me nuts:
Wolfish Musings has a quote in the "About" section of his blog which I've heard from many Orthodox folks or people on the political Right:
They should be open-minded; but not so open-minded that their brains fall out.
Now, I think Wolfish Musings runs a good blog. I read it and recommend it. However, I wish he were more careful with such a prominently displayed but unthoughtful sentence.
Does it mean anything? What is being referred to by the image of "brains falling out?" What, precisely, is the dangerous result of being "too" open-minded which is being alluded to? Having no values? No logic? No reason? Aren't those lackings completely unrelated failings?
I ask because I've never met someone whom I believed "too" open-minded, and I have trouble imagining one. To me, being open-minded means being open to experience and truth, being ready to constantly re-evaluate your cherished beliefs under the light of new evidence. I'm calling Wolfish Musings out on this phrase, because
a) what I think he really means by "brains falling out" is: "being so courageous in chasing the Truth that it leads you astray from what you previously believed (i.e. Orthodoxy)" and
b) if he realized the meaning inherent in the phrase he was mindlessly repeating, he'd re-think his position on the subject.
If he wants to be more clear without changing his position, his advice to his children should read: "Be open-minded, but not so much that you let Truth lead you away from Tradition." I don't agree with that advice, but I suspect that is what he means, even if he doesn't yet know it. I challenge him to come up with more precise, original wording to express himself. I suspect that in the process of crafting more precise language, his thinking itself might become more precise. As Orwell writes, "[bad] language can also corrupt thought." Presumably, good, or precise, language purifies thought.
These are the rules which Orwell lays out to avoid bad language:
1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.