To quote, or not to quote?

My first Sunday night post! In case you hadn’t read my previous post, I will be updating my blog once every Sunday night. I said I would post at midnight, but considering that I always have CS homework / projects due at midnight I suspect that I will always be writing slightly after. Either way, I will be aiming to post Sunday night consistently.

I like quotes. I admire elegance and succinct conveyance of information. The style of my own posts is likely a poor indicator of this admiration, but alas. I think I admire what I don’t have or can’t do. But, I digress. Recently I began to think a bit deeper about the properties of quotes.

To begin, there are a couple things you must know about me in order to understand my opinions herein. The first is that I do not like arguments that appeal to emotion – I prefer to convince people using logic and reasoning rather than emotional appeal. The second is that I believe that every action can be optimized to a particular goal. That is to say, an action is not necessarily good or bad if no context is given. Depending on what your goal is, the same action might be a good decision or a terrible one.

This means that I believe that quotes can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad, depending on the goal they are trying to accomplish. When do we use quotes, and for what purpose? When can quotes be bad? I think people do not often think about a quote being “bad” – either they agree with it or disagree. However, I can imagine situations where I might agree with a quote but oppose its purpose, and similarly I might disagree with a quote but support the goal it is trying to fulfill.

Quotes have a very high potential to be harmful, because they are almost entirely predicated on emotional rhetoric. You would not quote a proof. You would not quote a detailed explanation. Quotes tend to be short, powerful statements, where the power is inherent in the emotional sway it has on the reader. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I oppose this rhetoric style due to my value system – I don’t like to persuade people without sound reasoning, and quotes can very rarely provide that.

The above quote by JFK is a good example of a quote that I disagree with but that I can see the value in. I think that what a governing body can do for its people is more important than what what the people do to support the body, but with that being said, I observe that people are generally selfish and I support this quote if it persuades a large number of people to be more teamwork-oriented and less self-centered.

For examples of quotes that I agree with but dislike the existence of, please go visit r/atheism. Quotes that only serve to support your own psychological framework will hinder you from seeing and understanding the frameworks of others. Quotes that support what you already think or feel are not interesting – they should make you think something new and fresh, or remind you of something important that you are likely to forget.

Myself, I like to use quotes primarily in my facebook info (or occasionally on Twitter). I didn’t realize this about myself until writing this post, but I’m able to rationalize it pretty easily – I don’t like to persuade people with quote-based rhetoric, and I also don’t like to cling to quotes to reinforce my own value system. Therefore, I use quotes in order to convey my value system to others. I don’t mean to persuade, only to display part of who I am in a succinct way.

Another example of quotes that I like are song lyrics. Lyrics in a song that stand out to me, or that everyone knows, are kind of like quotes. I like them because they allow me to indulge in my own emotions, and thus provide a good way either to relax, or to vent, or to feel exhilarated, without necessarily affecting my values or the values of others.

The question that you might be waiting to ask after all this time – what is the significance of the pictured quote up-top? It was one of my inspirations for writing this post. I saw it on r/QuotesPorn (and yes, I go on reddit too much), and I found myself agreeing with it instantly without even really thinking about it. At a second glance, I realized that I actually don’t agree with it at all. I resent the notion that one should not fear death, or stave it off. I want to live a long time, goddammit. Now, that being said, the bit about deciding how to live your life is probably good advice, but that has more to do with shedding fear of other things, not only fear of death.

It’s late. These are my two cents for my first Sunday night post. Hopefully I’ll produce more coherent thoughts when I have a bit more time to mull them over before posting.

Here’s a completely unrelated old favorite that I rediscovered yesterday.

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