Quoting Not Thinking

The process by which an aphorism becomes a dangerous meme that, when invoked, shuts down meaningful discussion.

Strange to place MemesShmemes at the head of this list. Perhaps your use of the word "Meme" is itself an example of QuotingNotThinking ...

Examples include

The pattern here is that a given meme acts as a conversation sinkhole and makes the remainder of the discussion completely predictable. Perhaps this is true to the point that we can map out the discussions that inevitably sprout from these aphorisms, and perhaps even find an escape route from one or two of them?

One could formulate a parallel to GodwinsLaw that states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a memetic aphorism halting useful discussion approaches one.

However, this formulation would likely then become a memetic aphorism of its own, and become self-perpetuating.

See also AdVerecundiam, FoosLaw


Is it true that any study of methodologies or process models will inevitably suffer from this AntiPattern? The point of having a formalized process or methodology is that one can follow the rules without needing to think intensively about it all the time.


Could this be a SocialAntiPattern??
It strikes me that communities formed around "sound bites" (like the present one) might be more susceptible to this danger....

Often such sound bites represent consensus thinking in a community. Any well-established community is going to mostly agree on some points. Here on Wiki, there's a strong consensus behind XP, and then certain (relatively old-fashioned) axioms regarding programming: RulesOfOptimization, BrooksLaw.

But just because there is some consensus doesn't mean that everything is agreed upon. Go look at the lively debates on, for example, LawOfDemeter or SingletonsAreEvil or MethodsShouldBePublic. And although MemesShmemes is up on that list, I've never seen it used to stop discussion.

Some consensus is healthy, of course. In the U.S. and probably in other democratic societies, nobody will ever fault you for using the phrase TheWillOfThePeople? in a political discussion.

The thing I liked best about this page is that I see WaterFall on the list, and I can't tell from the context whether the "not thinking" part is in the use of WaterFall or in the hatred of it. What an interesting (beautiful?) ambiguity. -- WaldenMathews

The non-thinking part is more usually linked with hatred than with use. You can hate without thinking far easier than not thinking and use. (although with some people the situation is reversed) Whatever sells newspapers!


I think that this is the mechanism involved:

  1. A problem is recognized.
  2. Much thought goes into describing the problem and designing a solution.
  3. A well-spoken person finds a way to distill the effort of problem definition and solution design into an aphorism.
  4. The aphorism passes into common usage.
  5. Common usage strips the context away from the aphorism.
  6. Unsuspecting people hear the aphorism repeated, and apply it without understanding the context that led to its formulation.

The above is a great (although probably unintentional) example. The idea "QuotingWithoutThinking? happens when a useful aphorism, repeated without thinking about its original context, precludes meaningful discussion", combined with the idea "it's easier to hate without thinking than it is to use something without thinking", becomes "QuotingWithoutThinking? is popular (and sells newspapers), because it's easy to associate dislike with a short phrase".

The core of the issue seems to be the ambiguity that WaldenMathews correctly noticed. Context helps us understand ambiguity, but aphorisms and "sound bites" remove that context.

Another way is to consider Quotes as "references" or "links", rather than as invocations or illustrations. It is a way of injecting another view or way of thinking, as this sentence does. -- DonaldNoyes.20111019


Jonathan Wallace refers to such a meme as a SemanticStopsign? in his essay "God vs. God": http://www.spectacle.org/yearzero/godvgod.html


See also: PhraseReuse

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