Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing 2

We can learn things about an organization from observing the issues to which it devotes its attention, and the manner in which it conducts its arguments.

Strong words have been exchanged around the internet on the topic of essay mills and plagiarism. These arguments have been tediously repeated in various Internet forums, including FreelanceWriting and Wikipedia, as well as in the comments to earlier posts in this blog. I have already indicated that I am bored with the content of the debate, but I am intrigued by its continued existence and energy.

From the style and content of a person's argument, we may construct a picture of that person's intended audience. Obviously, if the purpose of an argument is to persuade American students not to use Ukranian essay mills, then the argument has to be presented in a form that is likely to be convincing (or at least confusing) to the kind of lazy and dimwitted student that might otherwise be tempted to use Ukranian essay mills. Some of these arguments may well seem illogical, pointless or even insulting to the rest of us, but that obviously doesn't matter.

Looking at the arguments in this way may also help to explain why they frequently stray into legal discourse, including complicated discussion of copyright law, and frequent accusations of libel and criminality. (Legal note: it is not generally considered libellous to ask tough questions, even in an impolite manner.) Threats and insults may be intended to deter criticism, but may often have the opposite effect of annoying and provoking the critics, and turning the puzzled into the hostile, thus escalating the situation and generating more publicity.

It is not hard to see how the participants in an escalating debate may become trapped, forced to reply to every slur, unable to let the smallest implied criticism pass without comment and rebuttal. But this kind of slanging match surely becomes increasingly meaningless to the lazy and dimwitted students who are its intended beneficiaries, and yet who are unlikely to ever read a word of it.

To the participants in this debate: Since you have nothing to do with any Ukranian essay mills, you surely cannot take it personally when I characterize the clients of such companies as lazy and dimwitted. Please note that I am under no obligation to provide a platform for anyone to pursue this matter further.

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