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In her recent collection of essays (drawn, I believe from pieces published online in the last decade) the eternally wonderful Ursula K. LeGuin discusses a quote mistakenly attributed to her. This essay got me thinking about quotes, and attributions, and the appalling illiteracy of the internet-savvy. Some of those thoughts:

As is well known, most attributions found on the internet are incorrect. Certainly any quote attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, or Albert Einstein was never uttered by any of them, and it seems that every quote known to mankind was first uttered by at least two if not three of those gentlemen. This is particularly odd considering that in this day and age, every word written by those fellows is available in searchable electronic form. You can look it up - it ain't there.

Thinking about this, one has to wonder why there are so many sites about "quotable quotes". Why would anyone want to quote something if they never read the work it came from, anyway? The point of quoting an author is to make an allusion to their work, I would have thought. If I find myself out and about on a particularly blustery day, I might deploy a bit of Lear: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!". Or I might reserve that for an occasion of a particularly magnificent fart - either way, the point is to connect this moment with the mad king wandering the moor (no, not the mad Moor wondering about the King - that's a different play). The point is not to simply haul out a string of words that someone else happened to say at some point and drop it into the conversation like a turd into a punchbowl. But apparently people find it useful to rummage through books and lists of quotations, squirreling away the particularly apt ones for later use - but, oddly, they mostly seem to care that the attribution of the quotation is impressive, and not so much about its accuracy.

This seems peculiar to me. If their only connection to this string of words is that they read it on a website somewhere, or maybe on an inspirational poster in their supervisor's office, why do they care at all about the attribution? Why does anyone even bother to attribute the old chestnut about the relative importance of the size of the dog in the fight and the size of the fight in the dog to poor old Sam Clemens? If it's a good saying, just say it! If it matters that Twain said it, then that's unfortunate because he didn't.

I suppose this is not one of the burning issues that I should be spending my time on, but it seems symptomatic of a larger problem: the American public as a whole (not to exclude other nations) seems to have developed a causal relationship with the idea of truth. Truth is no longer really all that important to us, it's just the trappings of truth that we care about. If we can cite a source, we're happy - we don't care too much if that citation was made up by someone, it's not that important. Underlying reality isn't that critical to us.

This is a problem, because reality does get to bat last. And right now, as global warming is delivering arctic winds to the American Northeast, I'm seeing many people acting as though our current weather patterns are somehow surprising, and I can only wonder at the mindset that allows someone to ignore the single most important reality that faces humanity, and instead to bitch about the cold winter and wish that it would warm up.

Anyway, as James Hansen reportedly said, "enjoy the next twenty years, because after that it's going to be pretty grim". Well, maybe he said it. Or maybe I read it somewhere and figured it would sound good coming from a climate researcher like Hansen. Look into it if you're curious - you might learn a thing.

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07 January 2018 - 03:13 PM
Bro.. it's all about truthiness.

.. or for that matter "post-truth".
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