Intellectual Theft as a Form of Dehumanization

Today has been both disheartening and rewarding. After working until 5:30 this morning, I slept until about 2:30 this afternoon. I habitually check my social media accounts when I first wake up (be it morning or afternoon). The first thing to catch my attention today was a tweet about a recently published article in Slate. Why this is disheartening: because the ideas that the author presents in this article are ideas that only years of scholarship can produce. People without the relevant knowledge and skill (which are very difficult and time consuming to develop) simply don’t make these kinds of connections. Conclusion: the author of this article, which bears striking resemblance to the connections I made in my post two weeks ago about the Vegas shooting, very likely used my ideas without citation. Why would someone do this? Presumably, to look more capable of making the relevant connections than they actually are. I suppose there is a lot of pressure in the media to come up with new and interesting ideas.

I left the house to walk the dog with this on my mind. I confess, I really enjoy educating people and using my years of scholarship to illuminate timely issues with the human condition. I have put a great deal of time and energy into developing the skill set and the knowledge to provide insight that will, in the right hands, make the word a better place. It bothers me when people don’t use the information as intended, and it bothers me that they lay claim to ideas that they haven’t invested the time and the energy  into developing properly.

As I crossed the street, my mind elsewhere, a woman standing on the other side engaged me in conversation about my dog. It happens. The dog is adorable. A local celebrity. People love her. An hour later, we were exchanging phone numbers because I have something she needs to address a problem she’s identified for women who live in the neighborhood domestic violence shelter: creative and effective ways of conceptualizing violence, of providing people with tools to rebuild their lives after devastation. I also have the experience that is required to empathize with these women. She told me she couldn’t believe her good fortune at running into me. Indeed. I told her that I could not believe my good fortune of running into her. My life was forged in a crucible of suffering and it was was made for this.

Right there on the street corner in the middle of the afternoon, 10+ years of scholarship and 25+ years of experience with the dehumanizing forces of violence coalesced into a conversation that might actually change the way we do things for victims of domestic violence. At least, in this neighborhood. Think globally, work locally.

This is why I study. This is why I write. This is why I have chosen to redeem my suffering by helping to alleviate the suffering of others. The ideas contained in the  Slate article are really good ideas. But what bothers me most is that those ideas were hard earned. I’ve suffered for them. Ideas like that aren’t the product of creative genius, or the uncanny ability to read the social scene from a distance. Ideas like that were born in fire, and blood, and guts–up close and personal–and I resent the fact that they are now being presented like an opinion piece on a devastating chapter of contemporary human existence.

If you’re going to use my ideas, cite me. Otherwise, you’re contributing to the problem of dehumanization by distancing yourself from the real source — hard work, pain, suffering, experience– of the ideas that have a chance at making the world a better place.


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