Quoth The Scholar (Originally Published 5/16/11)

So, you remember this thing that was going around two weeks ago after Osama was shot? Yes, you do.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

Now, King said everything starting with “returning.” The story is that a woman added the first sentence as her own original thoughts, and then someone lazily mashed them together, and then it spread as people smugly crossed their arms at the cathartic celebrations. We needn't get back into all of that (all of you who were upset, it didn't really last very long, did it?). Though my one friend actually went as far as to say, after she was corrected, that she didn't care that he didn't actually say it. Smart one, that. Anyway.

But this quote thing is an epidemic. If facebook asks you for your favorite quotation, then it makes sense to just quote this or that.

If you actually want to make a point, though, don't just copy and paste. When you just quote something, you're essentially retweeting, just giving something a thumbs-up without a thought. And that has its place, but it does not itself make or support an argument.

Didn't we all learn in middle school that, when writing an essay, we couldn't just quote the book we were writing about, but had to explain why the quotes were significant? Yet we devolved somewhere along the line into deciding that because MLK or Gandhi or Buddha said it, it MUST be correct, no arguments. In fact, we usually pick figures who are not controversial so that we can avoid conflict with those who might read it (and people tend to be annoyed when anyone challenges these quotes, but I digress).

I guarantee you, even the greatest luminaries have said many things with which you do not agree. And since people are too lazy to do research, if someone attributed something unpleasant to MLK, people would just let it stand without challenge because “OMG MLK said it.” All of those people listed above deserve our time and attention, particularly so because they were complex figures, and hardly without flaws. In rubber stamping quotes, we reduce these figures to platitudes, and we reduce our input and arguments to nothing at all.

I suppose this is easy for me to say, as I have a forum and readers and all. And I won't pretend I've never been guilty of this. But the silliness from a few weeks back threw it into sharp relief for me, that just quoting without one's own analysis isn't enough to actually make a real argument. And if all you want to say is that you agree with the sentiment, fine. List it in your favorite quotations, and don't expect to make a persuasive argument because of it.

And make sure it's actually what the motherfucker said, eh? Or else you just look real stupid.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality