Letter to a Chronic Plagiarizer

Dear Chronic Plagiarizer:

Over the course of this semester, you have taken every opportunity to proactively avoid learning. Rather than dare to know something about the forces that shape our world–whether they be ideas, economics, or social relationships–you have chosen instead to attend sporting events, to copy (bad) papers from online, and to project judgment onto others when called out on it. We gave you an opportunity to pass the course–albeit not by much. Instead, your final exam consisted of a few random thoughts with little coherence. And to finish it off? You (rather condescendingly, but no matter) assured us that the entirety of the class was irrelevant to you–that you had better things to do with your time (e.g. image-building, publicity, etc.). None of this will be remotely relevant to you, you shrug. So what does it matter to copy a paper here and there? Perhaps you consider yourself wealthy enough, connected enough, square-jawed enough, and beloved enough to skate by–no questions asked.  The successful people don’t bother with such frivolities.  They hyper-specialize and block themselves off in their cell.  Otherwise, Google (your word, not mine) will save us all.  And in the meantime, it’s no trouble at all to leave your respsonsibilities behind you to attend a game. Beer and circus, you think, will always trump accuracy and evidence.


On a raw sort of level, I respect your candor. Not everyone has the words, the gumption, or the self-awareness to lay bare their assumptions as forthrightly as you have. 
I cannot put it more eloquently: you are wrong.

I know that you think your approach is new, bold, even cutting-edge–a view only possible in the digital age (and what a wondrous age, it is). But your approach to truth, I’m afraid, is not only not new; it can be found in the dusty old archives of manipulators, con-men, and hucksters who specialize in convincing otherwise promising minds that they need not concern themselves about such yawners as documents, memos, or The Truth.  Seek out your own, they say; and “leave The Truth to us.”  Trusting that Google will save you (and you have explicitly proclaimed that it will) is to trust the minds of strangers, to believe that most narratives as good as the next–that no one would ever dream of using the past to manipulate their future.  You have placed your best asset–your values and your mind–in the hands of people whose interests almost certainly do not resonate with your own.

You have bought the Big Lie, and I’m afraid that many (though not all) secondary school instructors have been complicit in perpetuating it: we have taught you history not as a process of analysis but rather, as a kind of intellectual hazing–the price (and pain) we must pay in order to prove that we’re Smart People (TM).   And once we’ve proven that we are part of the Smart People club, we can throw away that information in the name of the Next Big Thing.  More, some of us promoted an academy in which the plight of accuracy (in all of its layers), evidence, and Truth should be set aside in favor of constructs, narratives, and the destabilization of our linguistic foundations. For most of us, we were trying to do right by you: to highlight complexity, multivariance, and nuance.  But as the world of Big Data pressed itself on you–unremittingly–we found ourselves outgunned. And we gave up.

Seeing the relics of a failed education, your media mentors (or Steve Bannon) might whisper in your ear that with enough infrastructure, funding, and microphones, you can make reality into whatever you want it to be.  They have deceived you. They are doing to you what they make a living doing: creating narratives, values, and worldviews. They want you to believe that you can, in fact, manipulate reality.   They will pay for your loyalty with a price, of course. But what they will get is worth so much more than they will give: a man willing to forsake the realities of the past in the name of a future where  In this world, what does it matter if you rip off a word or two? There is money to be made and loyalties to be won.  In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, James Taylor, a spin master of Washington, launches a media blitz  against a beleaguered Senator Jefferson Smith for holding up a bill–using every misdirection and illusion at his disposal. Faced with an army of powerful and influential men committed to deceiving, misdirecting, and twisting Smith at every turn, Smith holds the floor.

I hope you see Smith as the honorable figure here, not James Taylor.

Every billionaire in the business has made a habit not of specialization but of expansion. Bill Gates has committed considerable resources to making high quality historical resources available to students across the country.  The Mellon Foundation commits millions each year for educators in the social sciences. Wenner-Gren commits itself to ensuring that anthropological methodologies are employed across the globe.  There is a reason: because The Best and the Brightest find stimulation not in specialization but in integration.  They recognize that these same structural forces that you shrugged off over the course of the semester have been profound causative agents: land distribution, digitization, trade (both human and commodity), and politics matter.  Contrary to what the entirety of popular media, the political system, and even your friends may suggest, the world you are about to face does not abide ignorance long.

I hope you change your mind about what history means. I hope you no longer see your mind as an agent for corporate manipulation and greed but as a sovereign entity, thirsty for knowledge. Your clients will thank you. Your children will benefit. And your friends will respect your commitment to getting things right.

So, no, I am not upset. I am not insulted. In the most non-passive aggressive manner possible, I feel sorry for you. And hope that someday, you will see a better way for a price less than public embarrassment.

With every good wish,
Russell Stevenson
Your TA