VITAL SIGNSrnCOMMONWEALrn>-•«^’? _:rn*”T5 V ATrn.rn•-‘W’^^^^^fycmm^rn^MJj^^Krii^^^iV/^’r’* ‘^rn^^^•^•FT^ ‘^rn- ^ ‘ W g ^ “”Tji^trn^ ^ ‘^’IMMMMSM^’i!^^rn^ …wU.–rnTruth orrnConsequencesrnfcj Theodore PappasrnRedefining PlagiarismrnATrojan horse has passed throughrnthe gates of the academy, virtuallyrnunnoticed. The Sinon is Keith Miller, anrnassistant professor of English at ArizonarnState University and author of Voice ofrnDeliverance: The Language of MartinrnLuther King, jr., and Its Sources (1992),rnand the subversive offering is his essay inrnthe January 20 issue of the Chronicle ofrnHigher Education: “Redefining Plagiarism:rnMartiir Luther King’s Use of anrnOral Tradition.”rnConsidering the cowardliness andrndisingcnuousness with which the scholarl-rncommunity has greeted the revelationsrnof King’s literary thefts, this callrnfor a kinder and gentler definition of plagiarismrnin light of King’s chicanery isrnnot surprising. Miller argues that King’srnplagiarisms should not be condemnedrnbut rather “understood” in context ofrnthe “black experience.” Because Kingrnwas black as well as a preacher, and becausernblack preachers traditionally “voicernmerge” with one another by freely borrowingrnsermons without attribution.rnMiller concludes that King’s plagiarismsrnmust have derived from his inability tornseparate himself from this homiletic traditionrnand to comprehend the standardsrnof an alien “white” culture—this even afterrn11 years of higher education, threernacademic degrees, and a Boston Universityrnseminar on plagiarism and scholarlyrnstandards.rnSince many minorities come from culturesrnrich in oral traditions, Miller urgesrnthe academy to redefine plagiarism tornaccommodate these “excluded” groups.rnTo put this more bluntly, all legal claimsrnto original thought and the interpretationrnof ideas must now be nullified inrndeference to multiculturalism, culturalrnrelativism, and universal human rights.rnLike the long list of taboos to have fallenrnbefore it, plagiarism must now be updatedrnand redefined in accordance withrnsocial progress. For “the process of securingrnfundamental human rights,” arguesrnMiller, “such as those King championedrn—outweighs the right to thernexclusive use of intellectual and literaryrnproperty.”rnTo Miller’s chagrin, what’s good forrnthe goose is apparently not also good forrnthe gander. As copyright expert RobertrnGassier points out in the February 24 issuernof the Chronicle of Higher Education,rn”Dr. King vigorously defended hisrncopyright in ‘I Have a Dream’ when othersrnwanted to use it. (See King v. MisterrnMaestro, Inc. . . . 1963).” This is doublyrninteresting when one recalls that Kingrnplagiarized the famous climax to the “1rnHave a Dream” speech from a 1952 addressrnto the Republican National Conventionrnby a little-known black preacherrnnamed Archibald Carey.rnMiller is proud of where this revolutionrniir standards will lead. “A lawyerrnasked mc for advice in defending a NativernAmerican student charged with plagiarizingrnpapers in law school,” he states.rn”The student canre from an oral culture,rnand could not immediately understandrnor obey the rules of written English. . . .rnKing’s example thus is not an isolatedrncase.” Indeed, Miller’s call for a newrnconception of plagiarism should have littlerntrouble gaining the support of bothrnthe ABA and the U.S. Student Association,rnas “voice merging” is a godsend tornlawyer and plagiarist alike.rnMiller’s defense of King and his novelrnapproach to plagiarism are both predictable.rnPolygamy, female circumcision,rnanimal sacrifices, and witchcraft have allrnbecome acceptable so long as they arernpractices of preferred minorities, and ifrnMr. King seduced underage giris, thenrnstatutory rape must be redefined as merernerotic exuberance or as an assault onrnchildren’s rights. Miller’s sophistry andrnskewed logic produce just such absurdities.rn”Simply put,” he writes, “we face arncontradiction: We wish to lionize a manrnfor his powerful language while decryingrna major strategy that made his words resonaternand persuade.” Then for thernhowling non sequitur: “How could suchrna compelling leader commit what mostrnpeople define as a writer’s worst sin? Therncontradiction should prompt us to rethinkrnour definition of plagiarism.” Andrnwe should rethink drunk driving in lightrnof Chappaquiddick and redefine adulteryrnto accommodate King’s philandering.rnIn better days the follies of our heroesrndid not move us to subvert the moral underpinningsrnof our culture. Great fallsrnwere lamented but expected of FallenrnMan; they were the unavoidable acts inrnthe tragedy of life, and the lessons theyrntaught formed the grist of our greatestrnliterature. But a rhet:oric of accountabilityrnhas little appeal today and pales beforernthe lure of “diseases,” “addictions,”rnand novel theories of huirran behaviorrnthat conveniently exonerate us from responsibilityrnfor our actions. Marion Barry,rnwhen caught cavorting with drugrndealers and smoking crack cocaine whilernmayor of D.C., didn’t let down his constituency,rnmake a mockery of political office,rnshirk his responsibilities, break laws,rnto say nothing of trivializing the realrnproblems plaguing the black community.rnNo, he simply had an addiction andrnneeded a couple of months of counselingrnto build his self-csteeirr. Baseball starrnWade Boggs, who blubbered on nationalrntelevision that he was “addicted tornsex,” didn’t lie to his wife, neglect hisrnchildren, and cheat his teammates andrnhis fans by playing ball only halflieartedlyrnwhen his wife rather than his mistressrnwas watching from the stands; his “disease”rndid. And similady with King. Herndidn’t take the words of others, claimrnSEPTEMBER 1993/41rnrnrn