Men Without Qualities: Plagiarists

“If a man’s thoughts are to have truth and life in them, they must, after all, be his own fundamental thoughts; for these are the only ones that he can fully and wholly understand. . . . a man who thinks for himself can easily be distinguished from the book-philosopher by the very way in which he talks, by his marked earnestness, and the originality, directness, and personal conviction that stamp all his thoughts and expressions. The book-philosopher, on the other hand, lets it be seen that everything he has is second-hand.”—Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Thinking for Yourself” (1851)

The first part of Robert Musil’s unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities (1930) tells the story of a 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich, a thoroughly boring guy who is—alas, tragically—smart enough to recognize that something’s missing. Ulrich lacks spirit, and he’s utterly devoid of passion—that much is clear early on. Before long, however, it becomes clear to the reader that his predicament is considerably worse than it seemed at first blush. What Ulrich lacks are well-defined virtues and well-defined vices: his strengths are as insipid as his weaknesses. And his inner life is, as a consequence, dry as a desert. Just as the hermit crab discovers—much to his chagrin, I imagine—that he cannot produce his own shell, Ulrich realizes, early on in the novel, that he simply cannot come up with his own ideas, nor can he connect the ideas of others to his lived experience (and thus make them his own). As such, he seeks to appropriate the ideas and examples of others. Like the intellectual equivalent of a hermit crab, Ulrich crawls through his culture, naked and nervous, searching for a suitable shell to steal.

I can’t help but think of Ulrich when I contemplate Rolf Dobelli (the man who shamelessly plagiarized the work of my mentor Nassim Nicholas Taleb). And I can’t help but think of Ulrich when I contemplate the half-man who was just caught publishing plagiarized work on The Good Men Project. Dobelli was screwing over a man he often referred to as “his friend” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb). The second man was screwing over an editor, Wilhelm Cortez, who trusted him, placed his faith in him, and went to bat for him on numerous occasions. It’s ugly, very ugly. No doubt about that. But good can come of it regardless. Why? Because good men don’t hide from their mistakes. They don’t sweep them under the rug. Good men face up to the their mistakes and learn from them. And The Good Men Project has here, as elsewhere, decided to lead by example.

I applaud the editorial staff of The Good Men Project for dealing with this ugly situation swiftly and judiciously, and for taking steps to ensure that it will never happen again. And I applaud Wilhelm Cortez for dealing with this embarrassing situation with courage and grace. He has shown us here, as elsewhere, what being a “good man” is all about.

—John Faithful Hamer

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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