Plagiarism and Manipulative E-mail ‘Fwds’:
Copy-thinking is Wonderfully Convenient!
Today’s trigger article is “The Economics of Plagiarism” found at Mother Jones. It’s commentary by Kevin Drum on a NYTimes article on plagiarism among university students. The articles (both Drum’s and the NYTimes article – which I did not check out but gather from Drum’s post) does not offer “earth shattering” revelation. The question raised is “why is plagiarism such a wide-spread phenomenon?” Several plausible explanations are offered, including that our cut/paste technology makes it so darn easy!
As I read Drum’s article, I thought of a broader culturally related form of plagiarism – emotionally manipulative email forwards. This practice is also easy. I believe the two forms of plagiarism can be illuminated by use of a single “light-bulb going on” – a single “aha” thought: “Thinking for oneself is darned inconvenient.”
Cut and paste plagiarism, and hitting an email button to forward received messages to as many as possible, are both easy means to push an idea without need of personal composition.
“Personal composition” requires a bit more effort. It’s complex. We have to decide what we agree with or not; we have to ask, learn about, and decide why our conclusions are what they are. Finally, we have to find words to express what we have learned and concluded. So inconvenient! That we need as many thinking minds as can be brought to helpful focus on important issues – is largely irrelevant in our culture of convenience. (We like convenience – we’ll tend to the important stuff later.)
As I bring the two practices into single consideration, I note: Plagiarism at least requires a modicum of composition from the “word thief” who must string bits together. (I’m ignoring plagiarism that is full re-use of another’s writing and signing ones own name.) Emotional manipulative email forwards are ‘dead easy’, they require no composition or input from ‘sender’.
Both practices represent that “(someone, somewhere), has said what I’m feeling and/or thinking – Has said it best – Or has said it better – than I could.”
Fair enough! I certainly commonly find that someone else has said, far better than I could, what I think needs to be said for sake of overall benefit to our human journey. Usually writers (or film makers) I “promote” have done much more research than I know I will ever do, or they’ve had more direct experience with a particular life situation, or both. What they have to say is often based on several decades of study or more. I need those thinkers, those people, to stretch and/or confirm my understanding!
But I also develop my own understandings – with “just enough” of my “uniqueness” – that I seldom find myself in full agreement with another’s final published statement.
Personal life experience and study ‘melds’ with thoughts shared by others, but seldom perfectly matches thoughts of another individual. I believe this is true for each of us. Each of us is innately “a thinker”. Each of us is innately “a question-asker”. Each of us , when thinking independently, is likely to frame questions and conclusions somewhat uniquely from anyone else. (Since we cannot literally stand in another’s life experience, the best we can do is imaginatively “walk in another’s moccasins”. That’s the practice of empathy, and is a different discussion.)
My point here is we are innately “bound”, by unavoidable uniqueness of being, to “come to our own conclusions” about various “truths”. As with the wise men studying the elephant, it is by expressing personal ‘takes’ on an issue that we contribute to overall understanding. When we do not practice independent critical thought, and sharing of same, human society loses benefit of our unique questions and our unique ‘take’. This is a loss of profound consequence.
It’s important to take time to sort out what we’ve been told to believe vs what, on deep personal examination, we find ‘true’. That’s how “individual opinion/thought” becomes profoundly valuable to overall understanding.
But “group think” is so darned convenient – and far more comfortable. A questioning mind can be troublesome if we let it lead us very far toward “critical thinking”. We might ‘stray’ from comfortable group think!
Since we’re innately bound to “come to our own conclusions”, and since forming and expressing our own conclusions can lead to “trouble” compared to comfort of group think, it’s darn convenient to borrow “sort of similar” conclusions and stop right there.
If we are writing a paper, we can paste a convenient borrowed bit into our paper (multiple places!) and go out socializing, which is much more “fun”. (Or by convenient borrowing, we can tend to more pressing tasks. This might sometimes be a more valid reason to borrow, but does not justify plagiarism by pretending the words are our own.)
If we are fully committed to “convenience” of copy-thinking we also can join political parties to make it easier to get “self-governance tasks” off our list of “personal responsibilities”!
These parties love the assurance of having our names on their membership rolls. They can appeal to us for funds, and – since we’re looking for what is easiest – we can send them money. Political party bosses can do our ‘self-governance’ work for us.
We can “purchase” “self-governance”. Wonderfully convenient, eh? And we don’t have to risk troublesome thinking! We can say to ourselves: “Those people have done the thinking, and I am in full agreement.” If we allow possibility of not being in full agreement, we’re back to troublesome thinking. It’s convenient, and far more comfortable, to not apply our own unique reason and logic to the group’s “unexamined commonly held belief”.
This last paragraph introduces the beauty of emotionally charged email fwds. We can hit those buttons without bothering to post even an added note of question or possible disagreement. Emotionally charged email fwds are convenience beyond convenience. We can “share” our “conclusions” AS IF we had actually given personal thought to whatever is said. Group-think carries on unchallenged, we remain comfortably untroubled.
We like convenience, and we like ‘social comfort’. Plagiarism and emotionally charged email forwards are hallmark practices of our enthusiasm for both convenience and ‘social comfort’ of group-think.
Finally: I hope I’ve made clear here, and this applies to all that I ever post: I’m aware of my own short-comings in “thorough research”. A primary reason I use so many found articles as ‘triggers’ for blog posts is that I hope to interest readers in those links. At those links, readers will find articles or posts which offer more on important concerns than I’m likely to have time or skills to present. I consider the links I offer to be valuable to all of us.
Two links of interest. These were “on my mind” when I discovered Kevin Drum’s post on plagiarism that ‘triggered’ this post. These two additional links were part of my ‘morning thought synthesis’. I was musing about “thinking – vs convenient unexamined acceptance of popular beliefs”.
This is the article I really meant to find. It seems getting so many ‘hits’ that it’s not functioning (for over an hour). Bob Inglis, a Republican, did some independent thinking, and it was not convenient, nor was it comfortable, for his political career: Bob Inglis – Tea Party Casualty.
While ‘messing about’ hoping to catch the Inglis article, I came across a second case of someone who eventually practiced independent thinking. Retired Army Colonel, Andrew J. Bacevich’s conclusions are not likely to catch favor in the culture of popular “copy thinking” so prevalent these days. (Unless enough of the rest of us can also practice independent thinking long enough to consider what Bacevich has to say from his long years of experience and study!) See Bacevich’s article here that explores US military and challenges ‘group think’ beliefs about our military today.
“Copy-thinking” is not new. It is part of the same innate ‘call to tribal experience’, acceptance of “unexamined culturally held beliefs,” that has been with us “forever”. But — copy-thinking is now a literally available convenience.
My Best! –MaggieAnn
Link to article at which I found image – Buzzle.com, Different Types of Plagiarism. Whereas my post is in the ‘informed social commentary’ category, the Buzzle.com article by Loveleena Rajeev is an information piece. It describes and explains types of plagiarism from the point of view of moral, ethical, and even legal issues, discusses why plagiarism is an issue, offers key reasons people do it, and offers guidance on how to avoid it.