The journalist John Morley wrote, “Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.”  Explain the meaning of this statement, and explain how this statement relates to...

The journalist John Morley wrote, “Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.”  Explain the meaning of this statement, and explain how this statement relates to the concept of stereotyping. Please make it easy to understand. 

Thank you

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Morley (1838-1923) was a politically liberal British statesman and Member of Parliament.  He carried the title of 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn.  In fact, Morley was more than a noted liberal; he was, in fact, quite radical in his opposition to British foreign policy, including opposing Britain’s entry into the First World War, and was a staunch anti-imperialist.  That he should be credited with making a statement such as “Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking” should not be a surprise. 

People love to label other people.  Snap judgments regarding another individual’s character, political affiliation, religion, etc., appear a natural element of human thought processes, at least for most people.  We look at blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians, Italians, and so on, and think in terms of characteristics routinely attributed to each category of human being.  Old stereotypes, such as about blacks being lazy, Jews being cheap, Asians being good at math, Italians being associated with the Mafia, and many more are all indicative of the failure of many people to inform themselves and to contemplate their surroundings in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.  If we can label people, we can dispense with them as we please.  Why bother asking the Jewish person for a loan or the African American to watch your car if the former is assumed to be excessively miserly and the latter untrustworthy.  When the film The Godfather premiered in 1972, it was met with derision by many Italian-Americans for its portrait of organized crime infested with Italians.  For many Italian Americans, such depictions play into stereotypes of an intractable relationship between their heritage and criminal activities.  A thoughtful, informed person can easily see the fallacy of stereotypes, but racism endures precisely because such people are not sufficiently represented in populations as a whole.

Morley’s point was that labeling categories of people spares the thoughtless and ignorant the responsibility or burden of rational thought.  It is far easier to view categories of people through superficial labels than it is to contemplate the vast distinctions within those categories.  The histories behind many stereotypes invariably reveals a far more complicated background than simple-minded bigots care to acknowledge.  Some Jews from certain generations past were miserly, because their family histories involved pogroms and other anti-Semitic acts that left them eternally insecure about the future.  Italian immigrants to America during the late 19th and early-20th Centuries did include members of organized crime who transported their skills from Sicily and Naples to New York and New Jersey.  Some blacks consistently denied opportunities in education and in the workplace did develop “why bother” attitudes.  In all cases, however, such individuals represented a very small minority within their respective groups.  Labeling all on the basis of the actions of a few, however, is the foundation from which pernicious stereotypes arise.  Labeling also, as Morley noted, saves time.

chrisyhsun | Student

To make this easier to understand, let's assume that the "labels" in the quote refers to stereotypes. The quote then reads: "Stereotypes are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.”

How can we interpret this new statement? Firstly, we can tell that the speaker has a negative opinion of these "talkative persons" because he remarks that they no longer have to deal with "the trouble of thinking", perhaps indicating that the speaker doesn't think these people capable of thinking. Now relate this "not thinking" quality back to "talkative". Logically, we can conclude that the speaker is referring to people who speak (a lot) without thinking beforehand about what they are saying. Finally, relate this back to the idea of stereotypes - how would they be used by the people who speak without thinking? Stereotypes (or labels, if you want to consider the original quote instead) assign people to categories and make sweeping generalizations about each of the categories. Having these generalizations present make it possible for the "talkative persons" to "talk" about individuals in the categories without thinking. This is the meaning when the speaker refers to the labels/stereotypes as a "device" of the talkative persons.