education

Making Their Words Your Own

Culture today is very “ego-centric”, or more appropriately, “self-centered”. People are encouraging others not to think for themselves – an act of independence and freedom of expression – but to think about themselves. Culture says that it’s important for a person to have their own uniqueness – to be an island that stands out in the vast ocean – than it is to have a name stamp proclaiming agreement. People hate it when you stand with someone else, as if somehow you’re not supposed to agree with people who came before you or that somehow their expression ought to be exclusively theirs and you have no “right” to touch it or associate yourself with it.

Academic

For example, plagiarism is considered a cardinal academic sin in today’s educational world. This stands in sharp contrast with the statement, “Plagiarism is the highest form of flattery.” The truth is that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery, but not because it is a “stealing” of words – as if somehow you could take the breath out of the lips of the original author and make them a puppet (a rather ludicrous concept that professors are, in fact, implicitly suggesting).

Rather, by stating that you agree with someone, you’re confirming to everyone else that the train of thought of that original author was in fact logical because you, another rational human being, find yourself in agreement with it.

Furthermore, by plagiarizing someone, you not only state your agreement, but you also agree that the original author’s expression was an appropriate, valuable, insightful way to express what they did.

The real problem with plagiarism isn’t the copying part but the fact that people are using it as a cop-out for legitimately thinking on their own. In other words, the copycat is simply being lazy. Unfortunately, society has mistaken the act of copying without citation as equal to the act of laziness. This is a grave mistake. Now professors and teachers have become obsessed with the rule of ensuring you cite your sources and put direct quotes in quotation marks rather than caring about the coherence of the actual papers they are grading.

If you quote a person without quotation marks, it should be a sign that you have come to that particular conclusion by your own reasoning and that you state it with the weight of your own authority. Perhaps you made the quotation without quotes because because you don’t remember the original source, but in any case, without the direct attribution, you are not taking advantage of the extra person’s rational support of your argument. If you quote someone, you do take advantage of that logical support.

Just quoting someone and attributing their name to it does not mean that you understand their line of reasoning, and therefore, the quote has no value. Rather, the coherence of your argument should be the primary factor that determines the value of the logic of your article or paper. Even if a paper properly quotes its sources, what rational value does it have if the paper is merely poetic and not logically coherent?

Sadly, it is quite possible today to write an “academically acceptable” paper without putting into it the slightest bit of intelligent thought. Academia can be automated, and consequently, it has been. It should be no surprise that these days there is a serious issue with forged research papers. If people were concerned more with rational content and logical coherency than with “proper” and “acceptable” form, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Social

Society is pushes so much for self-centered mentality that it both forces people to reinvent the wheel – which is highly unproductive for society – and discourages them from mutual support. Instead, pride tells us to look inward, to look at ourselves and think of ourselves as great. Our personal pride says that we’re not good enough if we can’t say things in our own words and make a name for ourselves. We want to be the giant thinker upon whom everyone else can stand. Instead, we end up climbing up mental mountains that others have already carved pathways along, and instead of continuing the journeys of these great thinkers and elaborating on them, we end up expressing their ideas in perhaps inferior ways.

There are so many great quotes and books already in existence that provide us with a vast library of information. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to us to pull a book out and start reading it aloud, making it new for our current audiences. If we understand what these other thinkers have said as a result of their words, this should be all the more reason to restate those words so that others can benefit from them the same as we have.

Truth itself has no human author. Rather, truth is discovered through logical reasoning. Such logic belongs to no one but is found by many, and it is our human responsibility to share such logic, not to harbor it nor wall it off nor ensure others recognize that we found it. What good does it do humanity to say “Socrates was a great thinker” or “Benjamin Franklin was a wise man”? Wouldn’t it be better to share their wisdom even if their names are lost to time? If logic and reasoning is good and true, it’ll argue for itself (in all times and eras); it needs no attribution.

Economic

Capitalistic societies have a tendency to wall off parts of society for the purpose of economic gain. This can be quite infuriating for people because the things that should be public property have been closed off for the exclusive access of those with resource advantages, thereby limiting the benefit for all of humanity.

One such resource is that of “personal expression”. In accordance with selfish profiting, businessmen have expanded the scope of their terminology from business practices to societal “rights”. For example, the word “trademark” was initially meant for distinguishing between business names to prevent confusion between the original company and their copycat competitors hoping to siphon away business through deception. Now, trademarks are applied to common phrases like “I’m lovin’ it” or “Just do it” in hopes to wall off public property and convert it to a revenue source. The whole of language thus becomes fair ground for companies to claim until finally it isn’t possible to express a simple thought without “infringing” on the illusory notion of “intellectual property”.

Millions of people have now fallen into the trap of believing that their words, art, or other personal expressions are somehow (how?) tied to them and are shocked and saddened when other people don’t honor these delusions. Sadly, they don’t see the honor being paid to them when someone else considers their words or works so valuable they are worth sharing. Your average person doesn’t steal garbage much less copy it. And in such an era as we have now in which copying is easy and it doesn’t even slightly diminish the share each person has, we should be exuberant that everyone has the potential to have a copy and that our work will long outlast the original copy – a possibility not enjoyed by the common ancient man. What we do, if shared in abundance, won’t die with time but will stand as a testimony to our existences.

Conclusion

The fact is, society cannot be held together by the praising of single individuals or the walling off of legitimate ideas. There is a proper way to treat things that honors both the wishes of the original creators and benefits society as a whole.

It would be a legitimate complaint of our audience if we claimed unoriginal ideas were originally our own. We would be lying, and that is an offense against truth. But our form need not be so prim and proper than we miss out on restating something worth sharing or miss out on the chance to create something of new and better value than the original.

Language belongs to everyone. No one owns the letters of the alphabet. They only have meaning in the way they are shared. No one makes claim to scrambled letters like “Xdsrabsate” because they have no shared value.

Don’t be a stickler over proper citations and names and dates. Seek to do what is beneficial to everyone rather than boosting your own pride or complying with the system.

In short: don’t honor the “rules”, honor the people. Do the duty of thinking by your own mental reasoning instead of trying to “look good” (proper/smart/legalistic) to others.

Feel free to share this document without attribution, but note that if you do so, you bear all the responsibility for claiming your reasoning has come to these exact conclusions.

Precautions

Though it is true that the lack of attribution is still authentic praise for the original author, it is necessary for the collective body of people in society to recognize that a quote removed from its original context does not bear the same weight as it does within its original context. In fact, I would say that quoting people directly is a huge mistake – and all the more reason not to quote them – because it is the deliberate removal of their words from the original context in order to support an argument that might be saying something entirely different. Take this paragraph for instance. Note that this paragraph could be condensed in a quote to say, “the lack of attribution… is a huge mistake”, but if you read what has been written, you ought to know quite clearly that such a quote falsely represents the original paragraph even though it uses its exact words.

It is necessary for people to understand that the legitimacy of a quote depends very much on the amount that is quoted together without skipping as well as the context in which the quote is made. It could be very easy to quote a biology book in the process of making furniture, and though the audience may think both subjects overlap, the quotes very readily be misapplied by using only snippets.

Therefore, when a person makes a claim of any sort, the argument should be understood as their own in the first place and not dependent on quotes.

Notably, society wants to find original sources. This is important for scientific reasons, but not for philosophical or poetic ones. After all, it is necessary for the original scientist to be reachable so we can inquire of their experiences. However, society has become so obsessed with seeking original sources that society has wearied itself with this duty and consequently become lazy when performing it.

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