Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bill Gates Didn't Say That

Cross-posted at

Over the past few days I've seen the revival of a quote attributed to Bill Gates giving a commencement speech to a high school.  It seems that this trope has been going around the intertubes for over a decade, originally as part of an email chain.  Here's what's been making the rounds on Facebook (including the pic):

Bill Gates recently gave a Commencement speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes; learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If you agree, pass it on.
If you can read this - Thank a teacher!
If you are reading it in English - Thank a soldier!! 

But it turns out that Bill Gates never gave such a ridiculous commencement speech to a high school.  Instead it is from Charles J. Sykes' 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add.

Such lazy misattribution certainly doesn't surprise me, but regardless of who said this, it strikes me as extremely condescending to kids, and assumes the worst of them. Whoever wrote this just comes off sounding like a bitter old man.  Talking down to kids is a surefire way for whatever you're saying to be completely ignored.

But even regardless of the condescending tone, its somewhat curious why this trope lives on and periodically re-surfaces.  In this case, it seems to be related to the tragedy that took place last week in Newtown, CT, where 20 children and 7 adults were gunned down.  The gun that's photoshopped into Gates' hand kind of gives it away, not to mention the fact that it was posted from the FB page 'King Glock". [That last bit about thanking a soldier if you're reading in English is laughably absurd....because soldiers are literally defending the English language]

The question is why does this phony Bill Gates speech have anything to do with the senseless shootings in Newtown, CT?  We are all looking for answers as to why this happened, for the obvious reason that if we can figure out what caused this tragedy, then maybe we can prevent any future tragedies of this nature.  Those perpetuating this meme seem to have fixated on a perceived sense of entitlement by children, which seems to imply that they ascribe the roots of Lanza's motive to his sense of entitlement of one or several items addressed in the phony Gates' speech.  The evidence for this is non-existent as far as I can tell.  And yet, that is the genius of such a post; without explicitly making any claims on the specifics of Lanza's motive, those perpetuating this meme can comfort themselves with a narrative that surely fits within their worldview, which apparently includes lecturing kids about how "before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room." [I'm so glad Bill Gates didn't say such patently stupid things.  Here's a game: see how many logical fallacies you can spot in this ridiculous rant]

But Bill Gates isn't the only one whose name is being used to lend an air of legitimacy to someone's half-witted attribution theory for the Newtown tragedy.  Before the Bill Gates re-surfacing, Morgan Freeman was purported as going on a rant about how its the media's fault by giving the murderer so much on-air attention.  By doing so, fake-Freeman argues, it inspires others to kill as many people as possible so as to get more attention for their despair instead of just 'off[ing] themselves'.   Aside from the fact that there's no evidence that this was Lanza's motive, The Inquisitr points out that "most fame-hound killers are too narcissistic to die with their crimes. Anyone wishing to obtain fame this way is going to stick around for the coverage."  Its a truly ludicious rant; anyone who reposted it should be embarrassed, not just for being so duped by such poorly attributed writing, but for exposing what they find to be a compelling narrative.

Andrew Solomon, interviewed by Salon, however, makes an interesting point that could easily be confused with fake-Morgan Freeman: that by virtue of the media focusing on the murders rather than the suicide, it clouds the issues that led to the murders (as opposed to the media focus on the perpetrator inspiring other perpetrators a la fake-Freeman):

[Solomon]: The other problem, I think, is in the reporting — and the thing where I really do feel informed on my experiences, especially with the Klebolds — is this was a murder/suicide. The murder is what gets most of the media attention. If this guy had just killed himself, it would be a shame, and none of us would be any the wiser of it.
[Salon]: So a different way to understand this would be to think first about the suicide, and then about the way in which it happened?
[Solomon]: Yes, I think the initial impulse is one of self-hatred, and it’s characteristic of adolescents to express their own self-hatred by doing damage to others. By being mean to their parents. By being disagreeable with their friends. By driving snowmobiles drunk even though they know they could kill someone else or themselves. Careless, arrogant, ungenerous — that is characteristic in inappropriate adolescents.
This, obviously, takes this phenomenon to an entirely different level, to an insane level, and to a level that is hopefully not to recur. But the basic thing is that this level is really not so alien as people seem to think. It begins in self-hatred and despair, I think, rather than beginning in aggression. The aggression toward others, it seems to me, is secondary to the aggression to himself. I’m doing a lot of leaps and hypothesizing on the basis of the incredibly thin evidence we have so far.
Its an interesting interview with an expert that has studied Columbine for the past 13 years.

Finally, I'll close this post with a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson from a source that is probably pretty reliable:
I am certainly not an advocate for for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

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