Beware of the copy-paste ‘intellectual’

He is lurking everywhere

Internet debates offer many merits compared to the face-to-face format. To list some of them: One need not meet anybody (a boon to introverts), one can be pyjama-clad while debating issues of cosmic significance (my favourite), the debate is recorded for quick reference and for the benefit of posterity, one can contribute at one’s convenience since both parties need not be present simultaneously, fact checking is much easier, and one has the opportunity to express one’s thoughts precisely, there being no time limit on rephrasing and choosing one’s words.

However, where there are many merits, there is a major demerit as well. For internet has opened up the flood-gates of the scourge of wholesale copy-pasting. With the internet, those who had the ability to think clearly and who were well-versed in the fundamentals of reasoning became more coherent; but at the same time the bores became even more unintelligible and unbearable. People from my generation would recall a similar two-way progression in an earlier era when the advent of the word processor had made good writers better and bad writers atrocious. That was because writing had suddenly become so effortless that resisting verbosity proved to be beyond the capacity of most.

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Because copy-pasting does not cost anything by way of investment of time or effort (not to mention the fact that one need not use one’s brain), way too many youngsters fall into the trap of thinking of themselves as accomplished debaters when all they are engaged in is a repetition of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-P operations.

Having observed internet debates at close quarters since the late nineties, I think I know what I am talking about. To put it into perspective, I was part of such debates before today’s twenty-five-years old keyboard warrior was even born! I am referring to the mIRC and the bulletin boards era. Then came Myspace and later Facebook, but the plague of wholesale copy-pasting continued to spread, becoming a regular pandemic somewhere along the way. Today practitioners of the art are a dime a dozen on the internet.

The exponent of copy-pasting hardly ever reads anything with a view to address it. Not trained in the art of considering and processing a point of view different from his own, his mind is irreversibly made up on every issue. He has the whole of internet at his disposal to copy what he thinks are arguments supporting his preferred position. Such is the volume that he posts that it is questionable whether he even reads what he posts himself. His reading what the other person writes can safely be ruled out. Merely scanning some key words in the opponent’s argument, he immediately knows which large chunk to paste next. The two parties might as well be in different universes.

Another hallmark of a copy-paste artiste is that he gives multiple responses to one post. When Einstein was told that a hundred books had been written against his theory of relativity, he is reported to have said: ‘Why a hundred? If I were wrong, one should have been enough!’ The same is the copy-paster’s problem. One response, if it is sound and relevant to the discussion at hand, should suffice; but since he subconsciously knows that it is neither, he feels he needs more ‘substance’ (as in volume). He does not mind because, not involving the use of his brain, it comes cheap.

Deep down, he also hopes to overwhelm his opponent by the sheer volume of his responses. He hopes that his opponent will lack the appetite for reading the long, unreadable passages that he posts, all of which are copy-pasted. Often that turns out to be the case, allowing the copy-paste expert to celebrate victory. On his part, he is apt to go to any length to avoid giving a concrete reply to any question. He makes sure that his argument is not known except in a vague sort of way. Wordiness helps him achieve that goal. For good measure, he also makes it a point to hide behind the so-called experts and authorities (experts and authorities being those who agree with him).

A word of advice: Beware of the copy-paste merchant. He is everywhere on the social media. Do not let him make you work where no work exists. Never go on a wild goose chase at his behest. Tell him in no uncertain terms that wordiness is no substitute for substance, and will not be accepted as such. Never proceed until he stops copy-pasting and starts using his own brain. If this ends the debate prematurely, so be it. It was bound to be fruitless anyway.

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Finally, a few words of autobiography: I remember a time when such ‘intellectuals’ frustrated me no end. What used to happen was that I tried to respond meticulously and painstakingly to every point raised, only for the copy-paste man to post another long-winded response (more copy-paste). Then I realized what was happening: I was reading endless passages, pouncing on every half-truth, every error, every attempted deception, whether it was relevant to the discussion or not. I realized that that was quite counter-productive. Soon I learned to focus (and force my opponent to focus) on the issue at hand, and to insist on his quitting copy-pasting and building up his own argument that is concise and relevant. With this, I no longer allow the discussion to go off on a tangent. If, as a result, my opponent chooses to quit, that is the end of that. But if he does not, I note that it makes for a much more fruitful discussion.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at


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