Today we are both beneficiaries and victims of an information glut. This amazing tool, the internet, and all the tools we use to connect to it, allow us to find information with a few keystrokes that would have taken several hours of searching through a library in the past. Just two generations ago, in my youth, if one wanted to know a quote by a famous author, one needed to read his or her books. Maybe you could have gotten by reading their biography. Today, you just have to wait an hour on Google+ or Facebook.
George Orwell was an amazing author and astute commentator on societies. He spoke and wrote about the evils of authoritarianism in a way that lay people could access. 1984 and Animal Farm were written in such a way that a sixth grader could understand the warnings contained within their pages. Despite that genius simplicity, one cannot simply lift an Orwell quote without some context. The above statement can be used by any group that claims they have access to the truth.
I have seen this meme on both conservative and liberal pages. I will not contend that either one or the other has a right to it, or that neither does, because that is not the point. The point is this quote, taken with out context is a blanket defense for those that are certain, or at least want to seem certain, that they are speaking the truth. “Of course you disagree with me, because I am telling the truth.” Viewed in such an overly simplistic light it becomes a means to reinforce one’s beliefs without holding them up to examination. I am fairly certain that is not what Orwell intended.
It is perhaps the most frustrating group of posts out there: the casually lifted quote. Orwell is not the sole victim. I have seen this done, over and again, to Gandhi, King, Einstein, the founding fathers, Jesus, and the list goes on. People want to attach these famous names to their argument, without any background information to understand what was actually being said, in order to bolster their argument. To me, this seems a sure sign that your position cannot stand on its own. If you want to understand what the founding fathers intended, read (and might I suggest annotate) the Federalist Papers. Randomly selecting a quote by Thomas Jefferson does not make you a policy scholar.
It is all well and good to admire the great thinkers of our past. I occasionally post quotes by famous people on my Timeline (though more often I post Doctor Who quotes) because the words move me. If that is all you are doing, great. However too many strive to make the claim that this person or the other from history would stand on their side. Well stop that. Learn to stand on your own. I am willing to bet that most of those you quote would be embarrassed for you, whether they agreed with you are not, that you failed to do so.