About that MLK quote

May 5, 2011

A friend posted this to Facebook the other day:

"Burial at sea is a weird choice, and only invites
suspicion, but I really don't want to have to see the photographs,
either." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another friend reposted it, and there followed a long and
silly series of invented quotations: Sarah Palin on her vegetarian diet, Ayn
Rand on how great it was to be on Medicare, Abraham Lincoln on the
unreliability of online quotations, Mother Teresa on how much she was enjoying
this Facebook mini-meme.

The impetus for this thread and others like it was of
course the following alleged quote from King, which went viral following the
news that Osama bin Laden had been killed:

I mourn the loss of thousands
of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an
enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a
night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light
can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

The problem is that the first sentence of this quote
didn't come from King. It's by a woman named Jessica Dovey, who posted it
Monday along with the other three sentences, which she (correctly) attributed
to King. A prominent Twitter user misread the post before tweeting it, at which point we all started
seeing the fake quote on our Facebook walls.

It's interesting that so many people reposted this without
noticing that the first sentence's relevance is oddly specific. If that raised
suspicion, 30 seconds and some intermediate Google skills would have
confirmed it. Yet some people got pretty upset about the initial tweeter's
inaccuracy, as if one person's mistake or license can be blamed for others'
credulity. Nobody tell them about pseudo-Paul, okay?

While this incident couldn't have happened even ten years
ago, putting words in the mouths of beloved and influential people is nothing
new. And the frustrated reactions seem particularly odd given that in this
case--unlike many others--there's little question that the quote represents the
attributed source in spirit. Along
with "Loving
Your Enemies
," "The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore" is always
worth another read.


Viral MLK Misquote

I was guilty of reposting it; I recognized the second part of the quote as being from MLK and failed to check the rest.  I'm usually not that gullible but alas... 

Yeah, it's easy for this kind

Yeah, it's easy for this kind of thing to happen. I didn't repost it, but I also didn't notice that something seemed fishy about it until someone else pointed it out.

The idea of MLK

I'm not sure what this episode tells us about MLK's place in the national mind. We revere him enough to post/repost a fitting quotation, but not enough to get it right. While we don't remember everything he said, we remember the kinds of things he said. All of which makes me think that what we revere is the idea of MLK, more than the specific man.

Which, frankly, is still a pretty good thing. The most stunning part of this whole story is that so many people chose to repost a conciliatory, nonviolent quote, regardless of its source.

Loving the Man

It is never a good idea to love the Man over the idea.  Even King had traits that we probably do not want to emulate. 

In the immortal words of

In the immortal words of Sophocles, "Δεν πιστεύω ότι όλα όσα έχετε διαβάσει στο Διαδίκτυο." ("Don't believe everything you read on the internet.")