Tuesday, November 29, 2005

George W. Bush Made Me Plagiarize

In this pseudonymous article in the Chronicle, the author offers a kind of apologia for his attempt at plagiarism -- and attempt that was aborted because the plagiarized material wasn't very good, not because (as will become apparent), the author had any integrity.

Summarizing the reasons he plagiarized:

1. He wasn't paid enough.
2. He thought academic life was becoming a rat race.
3. He felt like he wouldn't get the kind of academic job he wanted.
4. Famous people are sometimes dishonest
5. Honesty is outdated.

Despite the author's claim that "I do not seek to excuse mself on the ground that I live in an imperfect world," that's exactly what he does. The entire article is as dishonest as his plagiarized chapter. Let's examine his five reasons:

1. He wasn't paid enough -- This is just an excuse to gripe about TA pay. It is abysmal? Of course ... but it isn't like you are paid by the word or something. TA pay has nothing to do with plagiarism.
2. He thought academic life was becoming a rat race -- Again, possibly true, but why would you react to this by plagiarism? Why not dropping out? Is the philosophy that life is a rat race so you need to be the biggest rat out there? This is the reasoning of about every comic book supervillain.
3. He felt like he wouldn't get the kind of academic job he wanted -- See point 2.
4. Famous people are sometimes dishonest -- More on this disgusting section later.
5. Honesty is outdated -- Ah, relativism. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, relativism is the last refuge of an academic. Don't try to burden me with all your bourgeois "morals" and "ethics" and "standards," man. I'm a freebird!

The famous-people-are-dishonest section is possibly the most self-delusional part of the entire article. He tries to tie his plagiarism to some sort of political propriety on his part. He writes:

But there were other, deeper problems. The culture at large seemed pretty grim. Did it really reward integrity? Did the social institutions that we once considered sacrosanct still value honesty, hard work, fair play? Were politicians not manipulating the truth to persuade voters to support spurious causes, like unnecessary and poorly planned wars? Were business leaders, the mass media, or the clergy any better? It might seem like avoiding responsibility to blame my plagiarism on society, but we all take our cues about what is right or wrong from the people at the top of our worlds.

George W. Bush made me do it! Dan Rather made me do it! Bill Clinton made me do it! In other words, our pseudonymous friend wants to claim that his clear-sighted recognition that he is the moral superior of these famous people gave him the right to sin just a tiny bit.

I had a professor in graduate school who, when confronted with dishonesty, used to like to say "liars lie to themselves first." Before lying to others, people usually try to convince themselves that what they say is the truth, or could be interpreted as the truth, or represents the Higher Truth. Our pseudonymous plagiarizer still wants to justify his dishonesty as a kind of fidelity to a higher truth.

If any of my students are reading this -- sorry, the "I'm not paid enough," "life is a rat race," and "Duke Cunningham took bribes" defenses aren't going to work for you, either.

1 comment:

  1. Gads. I thought grad school was a rat race, too--but I still finished without cheating.

    It did help me decide not to be a career academic.