You read something interesting online. You copy-paste it — as your Facebook/Twitter status, as a part of your article, your thesis report — and that is that. No credit, no mention, no citation, no drum roll. Life goes on.
Welcome to a world of intellectual dishonesty.
‘Plagiarism,’ as a word, no longer suffices to include the nefarious ways in which this dishonesty is now a norm, one that people no longer even consider a problem.
Is Social Media To Blame?
Back in the day, when we didn’t have much internet, just enough to find tid-bits to add to the thesis report, we valued every bit of information we got. Libraries were hard work. Internet was a whole new form of a digital library, easily searchable. We felt happy if another human in another part of the world was doing the same research as our diligent selves. We felt excited, even grateful sometimes, to mention it. To mention them.
We felt proud to know someone else whose work supplements ours.
Fast forward to 2018.
We read the same news, in almost exactly the same words, on five popular news platforms, and yawn when SEO experts warn about Google algorithms hurting us for copying content to multiple places.
We are inundated with information. More than we bargained for. It is everywhere, and it is beyond our control. We have a love-hate thing with it. We no longer value it. We don’t care if it is there. We hardly even see it properly. Most can’t tell the difference between good content and bad content.
Occasionally, we read something we like, hit copy-paste, re-post, and move on. Heck, social media is meant for sharing, right?
Social media is meant for sharing, to help promote others’ work, not for copy pasting and falsely claiming it as your own!
Those with little creativity and who are not in the habit of even writing 2 error-free lines are most commonly the ones who regularly steal others’ content, and not only on social media. Ideas get stolen most often, and with even lesser traceability.
Whether social media is to blame, the internet, or the degenerating ethical standards, can’t be pinpointed with certainty, but one or all of those factors have led to a point in time where stealing content passes off as “sharing” content.
What About Copyrights?
While most social media platforms strip you of most copyrights, you do retain the copyright to your own original content, as the platforms neither take responsibility for your content, nor care if it gets plagiarized. But protecting your copyright happens to be your headache.
Apart from the legal aspect of copyrights, there is something called ethics, which no longer seems to play any role in the decision making process of most content creators. It is too difficult for even most popular sites to give due credit for a quote, a picture, a video used somewhere. A side effect of this lack of intellectual ethics is the guilt-free copy pasting of content without any attention to copyrights.
The steep decline in intellectual ethics is a far more serious matter than just intellectual dishonesty. It starts with intellectual dishonesty, and ends with fudging data on entire reports, journalistic articles & research papers.Fake news is what we deal with on a daily basis. We no longer know what we read is true or false. The difference between fake news and disrespect to copyright is only quantitative, not qualitative. It is a magnification of the problem of intellectual dishonesty.
Giving due diligence to copyright protection is as simple as mentioning:
at the end of the article or social media post. Yet, it is too elusive for those who are immune to copyright ethic.
Pitfalls of Degeneration of Intellectual Ethics
The lack of credit on a piece of creation is only part of the problem. In some cases, it means direct stealth — you would otherwise be required to pay the person, and you don’t. In other cases, it could mean indirect stealth — if you gave credit to the person, they could earn money, but you don’t. In most cases, it is technically illegal. But there are far bigger problems than the legal matters we get riddled with.
Stealth of ideas & knowledge makes you look only temporarily smart.
Whenever people steal someone else’s idea or the knowledge they put together after labouring over it for years, they think they can use it to look smart, and often, mint money. They forget that knowledge is not mud. It can’t be transferred from one pot to another like mud.
When people steal knowledge, they do so because they don’t have the persistence & grit to do the research & spadework themselves.
Lack of research & spadework means they only skim the surface. They have absolutely no clue where that knowledge comes from, why it is what it is. They have absolutely no depth. Their knowledge is skin deep. If you drill them for 5 minutes, you will know that they know nothing. They are pretenders.
Any superficial knowledge or idea can never be put to work as originally intended. It is law of life.
This is the real, far more grave problem.
The knowledge/idea thieves jeopardize the ideas & knowledge they steal, rendering it, firstly, unusable & ineffective beyond the initial phase, and secondly, looking dubious to those who are curious about it. Making genuine knowledge look dubious and prone to skepticism due to the loopholes introduced in it by virtue of being stolen, is the biggest crime these people commit. People lose trust on that knowledge/ idea altogether, all due to the felony of one power/money/fame hungry cheapster.
In other words, they make a mess out of something perfectly functional & verifiable. This is the challenge we face on a daily basis without knowing it.
Do we have a solution for this problem? Perhaps.
The Vedic System of Commentary & Sharing Knowledge
Let’s rewind a few thousand years.
The Ganga Saraswati Civilization, or the Vedic civilization, was home to Realized beings, enlightened masters, and many seekers in advanced stages of spiritual experience & growth. They studied all types of subjects, including but not limited to history, geography, environment, sciences, mathematics, along with study of scriptures & Vedic sciences like Ayurveda, Jyotisha, Yoga, etc.
All Works Were Categorized
They followed a very structured system of “referencing” the source. All works were classified into Shruti, Smriti or Itihaas.
Shruti — All truths directly delivered by incarnations or revealed to enlightened Rishis directly during samadhi (State of complete oneness with the Whole). Many were “apourushya,” which means author-less. Because the source of knowledge was Divine, not the scribe. The Vedic Rishis knew this, acknnowledged this, and upheld this.
Smriti — Any study of a subject, written by a Rishi for that particular time period.
Itihaas — Documenting all history & incidents. This was not limited to happenings only on the physical plane or on “bhu.” (roughly translated to earthly plane/dimension of existence.) It included all happenings in all dimensions of existence.
This means, that not just anyone could write anything, and claim it to be “absolute truth” or “law” or “original.” Everything was referenced back. All original work was mentioned as Smriti, with the author’s name. It was that person’s sharing of his/her knowledge — what you would call as “non fiction” in present day context. Only enlightened beings could scribe cosmic truths. They were beyond any current day classification of literature, because it was a recording of how the cosmos functions, and what beings can do to tune themselves with it and move towards Moksha (Realization of the Ultimate & liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
But the most interesting aspect of sharing knowledge was the system of commentary.
System of Commentary in Hindu Literature
The Vedic system had enough room for multiple levels of commentary, without loss of originality of a piece of work. As the literature was in Sanskrit, most commentaries were translations, and interpretations of the original text.
The original verse was called as “sutra.”
The commentary on the sutra was bhashya.
The next level commentary was the commentary on the commentary — called vartika.
The third level commentary was commentary on the commentary on the commentary of the sutra — called tika.
Each commentary carried the name of the commentator. Else it was not considered valid.
Thus, there could be infinite interpretations, and interpretations of interpretations, thus leading to truly intellectual discussions, on the original work, without any edit, any plagiarism or any sort of “copy pasting” of the original verse.
“Especially Hinduism is such a open architecture — bhashya then, first sutra then bhashya for the sutra, then vartika on the bhashya, then tika on the vartika. Sutra Kara, Bhashya Kara, Vartika Kara, Tika Kara — we are open architecture!” — H. H. Paramahamsa Nithyananda
Even the biggest fool had the freedom to comment on the verse, but it was mandatory for him to mention the original sutra, the level of his commentary, and his name. Readers had the same freedom to reject or discard his interpretation, based on his overall credentials and level of knowledge. Not everyone could claim to be a scholar as there was a tedious process of assessment before declaring any student as a scholar or expert in a subject.
There was no room to give commentary without proper reference, and without mentioning which is commentary and which is original work. This was the airtight way to preserve knowledge.
Intellectual Decadence of Authors & Commentators of Hindu Literature
In the modern times, authors and commentators of Hindu literature have taken a departure from this route, because they follow a decadent system of ethics, wherein even though they comment on Hindu literature, they no longer follow the Hindu system of commentary on the literature.
Any intellectual dishonesty always hurts the readers in many ways, some of which were discussed earlier in the article, but the intellectual decadence of authors who comment on Hindu literature is a far bigger intellectual crime, one that cannot even be redeemed simply by calling it as that. Calling it an intellectual crime is only the first step. The damage done by misrepresenting Hindu literature, spreading wrong belief systems in the name of Hinduism, and tampering with the trust & devotion of a generation of Hindus is a far bigger crime, the price for which cannot be fairly determined by any mortal means. It is a heavy penalty that the authors must pay via the karma they earn.
What Do Intellectual Crimes on the Hindu Literature Teach Us?
What we see happening in the world of Hindu literature is a sneak preview of what is happening in the world at large.
The problem is far more deep rooted in the case of Hindu literature, because the preserved knowledge of thousands of years is on the verge of extinction and destruction, due to pollution of intellectual work. Hindus no longer know what exists in their own texts, and the reason is partly this intellectual pollution & departure from the system of commentary.
But the problem we face in the big picture, is that we no longer know the authenticity or source of what we read, what we digest, what we trust, what we use. The fabric of trust as a society is in tatters, because there is no identification of what comes from where.
We no longer know what is the process for publishing a medical report that determines whether the level of a certain chemical in the body is considered a disease, or not. We no longer know the level of research or logical reasoning that went into the creation of many laws we need to live by. We no longer know who wrote some laws, some medical thesis, some technological innovation which we use every day. We don’t know how it was tested, and by whom.
We live in a world of anonymity, where anyone can cheat anyone else, and pass off anything as theirs, with no foolproof mechanism of identifying either way, and making it transparent to the end user, or reader.
The Parallel With Hindu Literature & The Way Forward
The Hindu literature parallel is a mirror to what is happening in the world at large. The difference is that Hindu literature already had a mechanism of preserving knowledge, but it is no longer followed. That mechanism can be a possible solution for both the problems — if implemented.
The bigger implication is also that Hindus should understand, from this parallel, that not every derogatory thing they read about Hindu literature, which does not have any reference, is true. If they believe it, it is not only going to damage their own beliefs, but their world view about their own culture as well, alienating them from their roots, and making them one more dot in a world of anonymity & lack of originality.
Intellectual Bankruptcy of Hindu Social Mediaverse
Intellectual bankruptcy is even worse than intellectual dishonesty. It is a wilful plagiarism of someone else’s work for your own glory and self promotion, at the cost of damaging the original work or project and the progress of dissemination of Santana Dharma itself. So many new age “Indic” or “Right wing” authors, social media influencers and all round no-doers have made it a popular trend to plagiarize not just work, but writing style, language, vocabulary, ideas, strategies of others without applying any brains or inspiration of their own. This is the worst thing to have happened to the Dharmic intellectual circles. There is no dharma in stealth. Yet, people regularly steal others’ content, without proper attribution or link backs, and continue to do so brazenly even after being pointed out.
There cannot be any dharmic progress in any “ecosystem” which accepts this as the norm. Hindus are offended by western or Hinduphobic authors misinterpreting and mistranslating their texts, but they often show hardly any intellectual honesty themselves when it comes to creating and sharing content by authors of their own ecosystem. This is one of the main reasons why Hindus keep losing intellectual battles against Hinduphobic authors: they have no intellectual integrity or depth in the first place—or most of them don’t. Some do, and the ones who do carry intellectual honesty have to struggle hundred times harder to get to where they can do their work properly, because they get only 10% of what they deserve—the rest is stolen by the intellectual thieves.
Image: Shiva Puja Vidhi manuscript
Last modified: December 17, 2020