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Selling Selfishness

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freestyle
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There's a thread here, looking for the perfect replacement word. In the end, that is an equivocation. The word still needs to be "won back".

In another thread:

But that said - you must come to terms with the fact that the Objectivist definition of Selfish is not the definition used by the majority.

And I've said it myself:
The point is that Ayn Rand's definition (correct as it is) differs from the understanding of just about every non-Objectivist on the planet. That's no small hurdle in my estimation.

I've been doing some thinking about the Objectivist's challenge of conveying the proper meaning of selfish. Spawned by my almost 6 year old son sometimes asking me "Is that the 'good' selfish or the 'bad' selfish?"

I don't prefer him to accept that there can be a "bad" type of selfishness, but I have had to explain that MOST (if not all) times he hears someone using the term "selfish" they are not meaning it as a good thing. I explain to him that they are not using the best word choice for what they are trying to say. (Unfortunately I have yet to have found the perfect replacement word, which he calls a "thesaurus word" - I'm working on "greed" right now-- it can be helpful, but it isn't panning out as I would like due to its root meaning).

One thing I that I've had to acknowledge is that while Selfishness (rational) is always good for the self, that does NOT imply whether it is good or bad for every other living being. It has nothing to do with other people (good or bad), it is a word that is referring SPECIFICALLY to the one's self.

I gave him the example of feeling hungry for ice cream on the way home. You say to yourself, "I want vanilla ice cream!" - You stop and buy yourself some ice cream. "Was that selfish?", I ask? Of course it is. "Did it hurt anyone else?" The answer is no... (in fact, his answer was "It helped the person who sold you the ice cream!" -- :-) Which made me feel very proud). Was it good for the guy who owns The Cleaner's next door? No. Was it bad for him? No, Yes? -- Maybe? you did take up the last parking spot.

So, my current line of thought is as follows:

Is it better to argue and present the proper definition of selfishness as LIMITED to whether or not it is rationally good for one's self and ADDRESS AND CONFRONT the fact that it makes no judgment as to the effects on every other person in society? Is the answer to the problem of the word being broadened to mean "good for you AND bad for everyone else" to proactively point out the LIMIT of the meaning. Look up selfishness in Wikipedia. Horrible.

In a way, I'm suggesting that this is much like the argument for Capitalism properly being that it is moral and NOT that "the outcome will be good for society".

I agree with Rand that the word can not be considered a lost cause. It is the cause.

Can anyone suggest the best (most efficient and effective) strategy to promote widespread education (re-education) of what the term means on a widespread level?

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When we succeed to remove the stigma from selfishness, we'll have won the battle against altruism. The fact of the matter is that "bad selfishness" doesn't just apply to those things done in one's own interest that happen to unjustly harm other individuals, it also applies to doing something for yourself when there are other individuals in need. So, I'm not just a "selfish" human being because I almost killed that lady who was crossing the street because I have to get to my "big, important job", I'm also a selfish prick for driving a Mercedes when there are starving people in Countries X, Y, and Z. It's this idea that having any more than some "reasonable" amount of luxury makes you "selfish".

I think this is why Rand never gave any thought to the idea of picking a word with less or no negative connotation. To take the word back is to have affected great change.

The best way to go about getting people to understand is to explain to them what rational self-interest is, and what kind of actions are rationally self-interested. But, to be honest, I think you'd be much better off talking about the rights of the individual. The most headway I make towards getting people to understand is when I talk to them about what it means to advocate socialist measures. I think this is one of the things to be learned from the power of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. People become interested in Objectivism or Libertarian politics after reading about what happens to a world that chooses to enslave itself. After they understand that, you can start in on the philosophy explicitly.

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Well, the most important people for you to have an effect on are the people around you in your life, that you actually interact with. It'd be great if culturally we generally accepted the morality of selfishness, but I'd settle in the near future for those whom I interact with regularly gaining an understanding of the issue. To that end, I'd start by simply correcting someone anytime they refer to one of my virtuous actions as "selfless" or "altruistic" or whatnot. Occasionally it will lead to a good conversation, and often enough it will just give the other person pause and a moment's thought on the issue. Alternatively, when I screw up and someone calls me selfish, I correct that to "short-sighted" or "foolish," possibly "self-indulgent" although that can be problematic too. Just something small that you can do in your own life, that often leads to the people you interact with regularly having thought about the question of selfishness; don't let others characterize your virtuous actions as selfless or your vices as selfish.

One of the most provocative steps in my rethinking the true nature of selfishness, more so than anything said in Galt's speech, was Roark's simple "That was the most selfish thing you've ever seen a man do" after turning down that contract.

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The biggest challenge is convincing others that selfishness is harmless to others. Think about how the profitable businessman is portrayed. The more he profits, the more harm other people think he does to others. Why do they think this? How do you demonstrate that this is not so?

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Freestyle's 6 year-old son got me smiling, and thinking when better to learn true selfishness than at that age. That was when I was being told to share my toys with other kids and 'not be so selfish'. But, damn, I * knew * I was right, and my parents were wrong, (no one else had the right to what I valued), so ended up conflicted and angry.

Teaching the concept to young minds is actually not that hard, I believe, as that is the stage they appreciate reality, and much more than the average adult does.

Back to the dilemma of semantics, and I for my own self -explanation, named the one, "self-indulgence", and the other "rational self-interest" - then applied, and identified them both in daily practice, to fully grasp the 2 opposing concepts. Rationalizing a little? Maybe, but whether it is your young son, or even to yourself early on, the gentle approach can be the most effective.

Never to lose sight of and compromise the fact that proud SELFISHNESS is the goal.

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When we succeed to remove the stigma from selfishness, we'll have won the battle against altruism.

Agreed. So what's the best way to have that happen?

I'm not sure I can totally identify the problem. I think that not having a replacement word for what people INCORRECTLY call "selfishness" may be at issue. But I definitely think that understanding of rational egoism is very much tied to the word selfish and having the negative connotation dislodged from the generally accepted usage.

The biggest challenge is convincing others that selfishness is harmless to others.

The question I'm trying to raise in this topic is whether or not convincing people that it is harmless IS actually required. My question is; Can we limit the word to what it really is? Selfish, meaning "concerned with" self, does not address other's. Selfish has come to mean, "bad for others" and usually something akin to rapacious.

Freestyle's 6 year-old son got me smiling, and thinking when better to learn true selfishness than at that age. That was when I was being told to share my toys with other kids and 'not be so selfish'. But, damn, I * knew * I was right, and my parents were wrong, (no one else had the right to what I valued), so ended up conflicted and angry.

Teaching the concept to young minds is actually not that hard, I believe, as that is the stage they appreciate reality, and much more than the average adult does.

You're right. It isn't that hard to teach to a young child. What makes it difficult is that they will get a lot of conflicting messages at school. You just have to stay on top of it.

I gave the example the other day to my son:

The teacher tells all the kids at recess that there is pizza back in the classroom for when recess is over. YOU race in there early and eat ALL the pizza.

Was that selfish?

He said "yes, but the bad kind". I said, "OK... Let tell you a little more of the story... Now, you have a bad stomach-ache. When the other kids got back they were all very mad at you and called you names. AND the teacher was also very upset and told you that you will not get pizza the next time and will have to sit on the bench for the next 2 recess'."

He said, "Definitely BAD selfish"... I could get into rational and irrational selfishness, but I feel like "irrational selfishness" is an oxymoron on the face.

Back to the dilemma of semantics, and I for my own self -explanation, named the one, "self-indulgence", and the other "rational self-interest" - then applied, and identified them both in daily practice, to fully grasp the 2 opposing concepts. Rationalizing a little? Maybe, but whether it is your young son, or even to yourself early on, the gentle approach can be the most effective.

Never to lose sight of and compromise the fact that proud SELFISHNESS is the goal.

Even the suffix "ish" seems to have taken on a negative connotation over time. Whereas my understanding that it simply denotes like, resembling, from, origin, nature -- it seems to be characterized as "excessive" now.

Anyway, I still think that serious effort should be put towards establishing the premise that "Good for the individual" does not automatically imply (and is often a total contradiction of) "Bad for all other individuals".

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I prefer to talk to him individually so we can actually discuss it without other comments getting in the way. We can even do it on the debate forum if everyone else would like to watch it.

I don't believe I can sell it on an individual basis any better than Ayn Rand has already done with her book (The Virtue of Selfishness). If you've read that, then you understand the challenge. Most people will disagree with the title on its face and not give it a second thought. (And, of course, not read the book.)

Now, if you've read the book and disagree with the thesis... then that's something we can discuss (just not in this thread, there are plenty of them here though).

Edited by freestyle
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  • 2 weeks later...

This is no tough job. Selfishness is the means of acting explicitly according to the pursuit of your own life as a single ultimate value. Rational selfishness is in effect the stage in which you actually succeed to promote it according to the factual reality.

Edited by Tomer Ravid
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Re: Selling Selfishness

This is no tough job. ...

Do a survey and ask 100 people if selfishness is "good or bad". Extrapolate from there to see why it is an uphill battle.

What I'm looking for is the way to break through on a large scale. Can a movie do it? A president? If every person in a country were, at least, exposed to Ayn Rand and her ideas then I'd agree that the job would be much less difficult.

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Re: Selling Selfishness

Do a survey and ask 100 people if selfishness is "good or bad". Extrapolate from there to see why it is an uphill battle.

What I'm looking for is the way to break through on a large scale. Can a movie do it? A president? If every person in a country were, at least, exposed to Ayn Rand and her ideas then I'd agree that the job would be much less difficult.

Well, try this one: "Lemma I: Man needs a rational code of values. Proof:

[ . . . ]

p2. Man has no automatic guideness on how to act in any status––he has to think to survive.

p3. Value: that which an organism acts to gain or keep. A creature has to gain or keep, to live, according to its own nature.

p4. p1. + p2. + p3. ==> Man's life: his process of self-sustaining and self-generated action---and his process of its gain and keep are not automatic: it requires a continuous act of survival––that to integrate which he needs a rational and volitional code of values (morality).

Lemma II: [in context does not serve as a lemma] One's life is his ultimate value. Proof:

p5. Assume in negative that there is a V ultimate value rather than the actor's own life.

p6. In some situations, one will have to choose either of two values.

p7. p6. ==> In such cases, a man with a V value will sacrifice his life and will be kept with no value left." q.e.d

If them people you know do not get convinced from a logical proof such as it is, their problem is with the fundamentals, and in my opinion you should leave them alone: Their reason is volitional. The problem, therefore, is not necessarily with the clarity of the Oist explaination, especially when we talk of anti-conceptual mentalities.

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I think you're missing the point of this topic. Rand has already done all the hard intellectual work in terms of making the case to a captive audience (and others continue to do so). I want to identify an effective method for gaining wider attention so as to bring the understanding of the philosophy to a critical mass.

I do quite a bit on an individual level to discuss rational selfishness with as many people as I can. That may have some positive benefits for me (and them), yes, but it is not the breakthrough I'm looking for. I still am living in a world mostly guided by an evil and destructive philosophy.

As I indicate in the title of this thread, I'm thinking in terms of "marketing" here. The standard way you might think to get a philosophy out to the masses is with a book. And that is a great way for the people that a.) find the book and b.) read the book. Atlas Shrugged (along with The Fountainhead) has obviously been the best success to date to drive people to Objectivism. But still, the majority of people you ask probably won't even know of the book, and many that do won't have any idea what it is about. In addition, there are not an abundance of people making the selfishness argument in public. Sure, you might get an occasional Yaron Brook or Harry Binswanger guest spot on the Glenn Beck show... but that's about it.

Reading and re-reading much of Rand's non-fiction is a both rewarding and a bit depressing at the same time. These writings from 30, 40, 50 years ago describe a "current" dominant, flawed philosophy that still persists today so precisely that it shows nothing has changed in half a century. On the bright side, in general, you have the Tea Party movement which appears to be pushing/pointing in a positive direction on some issues... You see a lot of Atlas Shrugged signs -- But I think it is pretty clear that this is more of a general rejection of socialism and big government and may not necessarily have the fundamental philosophical undergirding necessary to properly support the actions required.

I'd like to think I have 70-80 or so years left of life. I'll think of something...

... but if anyone has The Big Idea... I'd like to hear it. The "product" here is, objectively, good. Why should it be so hard to introduce it to "the masses"?

Edited by freestyle
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Then, in the sense of the consideration of the characters that Ms. Rand foresaw, I have a little "confession": I'm a 10th grade student (but who really cares). Now, observe some of the discussions I've had with the collectivist professionals (I learn in a public school). These are not the exact full conversation, we talked about my curious handwriting as well, but the full relevant and contextual part of it: With the counselor:

"Yes."

"Hi"

"Hi."

"So . . . We invited you for . . . How are you doing, first of all?

"It's all right."

"Really? Good, honey. Well . . . I understood you hadn't actually participated in the 'team building-up day' since, you didn't really want to?"

"That's right."

"Then, well, maybe you're coming from the Open School and all, Tomer, but you must understand that the stuff is different here. Here you have discipline and you do not decide whether you get to an operation or not"

"I get it and I'm here to learn."

"That's the whole point . . . You are not . . . Merely . . ."

"Maybe not for you, but rather for me, and that's the beauty of business . . ."

" . . . You are here to finish with some social values . . ."

"Which values a society has?"

"In the 'team building-up day'?"

"In a generalized way."

"There is, for example, in the 'team building-up day', there is the value of belonging, fraternity, humility . . ."

"These are not values!"

"And even honor to the occasion's organizer."

"My time is a higher value to me."

"Excuse me? Do I hear what I seem to?"

"Yes, the status is surprising. Sounds like he hasn't . . . Done his passage yet."

"It does not promote my life."

"I really respect the fact you are cute and . . . Yes. But it doesn't work so here. Life is not black or white. You only that which promotes you? Are you the central issue?"

"But they are black or non-black. And, in regard to the central issue, I could prove that if you brought me a pen and a paper . . ."

"No matter, I'm not here to argue. Just, give me mommy's number."

Thus she tried to get me ten points lesser in my math grade, but I succeeded to eventually avoid it.

Now, with the 'self-obligation coordinator': Then, t began when I told her that I have no opinion on my preferences for this task of 'self-obligation', and she suggested to recommend me about places, after clarifying that issue with all the other students who did not serve the self obligation form.

"Okay, begin with that: which place do I have the highest precention to get a minimum wage in future from?"

"W . . . What??"

"Which place do I have the highest precention to get a minimum wage in future from?"

"W . . . Why do you talk with in terms of benefit?! It is a duty!"

"Yeah, I know I won't be allowed to get a monopoly certificate if I won't be doing the self obligation task, but assuming I am I thought to try to use it to a future job.

"But . . . but . . . It is your commitment to the community! A donation to the society! You don't do this for your own benefit!"

"Fine, but a livelihood is required, isn't it?"

"Would you hear that? When you'll be grown you'll serve in the military, go to college and work in whatever you'd like. But now, you're over here at school to learn."

"And to earn something for now?

"No~! . . . Need help the society, the weak people, you live in a state and in a society, not in your own ivory tower!" [Thanks God it is not right to say in English, but in Hebrew when you wanna say that something is required in your opinion you can begin the sentence simply with 'need', i.e., without any subject!]

"Who need?"

"We want to educate our students to values of helping the weak ones . . ."

"I don't."

"But you do this any how, then why not do this for you deepest depths? From your hear? Thus ones needs to! That's our purpose!"

"Let us face it: nobody does this task from "the deepest depths of his heart". Students do this since they must."

"The self-obligation project exists in so-many countries worldwide."

"Then what? First your argument was that it is my moral duty and now that people shall use physical force on me to do it?"

"That exactly the idea: if you live in a society you should give your own. You don't live alone in the jungle, am I right?"

"Why?"

"What 'why'??"

"Why?"

"Because . . . We are human beings, not animals! We should help the weak ones!"

[Looking away] " . . . Man is a rational animal . . . How do you infer from that that he must help the weakest of his species?"

"Com'on, it is . . . Just because he is a rational animal! It is rational and cultured to help the weak ones!"

"How, exactly, is that argument rational and not emotional;?"

"Because a man who doesn't help others live for his own sake, alone!"

"So . . .?

"Look, I don't wanna get into . . . Philosophic discussions here . . . I can only hope that when you do your self-obligation task you'll get how much . . . Pleasure it gives you."

"I'll get it if you'll explain me."

"Right, let's just tell where do you wanna do your task and end with it."

"Again, where do I have the highest precention to a future livelihood?"

"I don't know about future livelihood! This isn't my job! I'm here to know who donates the community."

"If the standard is not my own value, I think that you'd better put me where there is enough stead."

[smiling] "What is where there is enough stead? There are about 30 places. What do you prefer?"

"Then, in where there are the less volunteers."

"I've got an idea, to suggest you? Fine! There is, to help a hardening child on the 7th grade?

" . . . No . . . "

"What? Why?"

"Because . . . I don't really desire to help hardening children on the 7th grade . . ."

"What's 'not desire'? It is your duty to the society! Right, what's your opinion about the SPCA? You probably like pets, do you?"

"Not . . . In the sense . . ."

"Do you have the report that details the self-obligation places, right?"

"I do."

"What's your opinion to look at it yourself, and come back to with a final answer later?"

"My opinion is that it will be pointless, just get me where there are less volunteers . . ."

"Good, nevertheless look at it, maybe it will change your mind. Now, get back to your lesson."

Then, do you ask yourself, why will they keep behaving so even if they were proven that selfishness is moral and how can you avoid it? My opinion at the last paragraph above is as follows:

If them people you know do not get convinced from a logical proof such as it is, their problem is with the fundamentals, and in my opinion you should leave them alone: Their reason is volitional. The problem, therefore, is not necessarily with the clarity of the Oist explaination, especially when we talk of anti-conceptual mentalities.

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Then, in the sense of the consideration of the characters that Ms. Rand foresaw, I have a little "confession": I'm a 10th grade student (but who really cares). Now, observe some of the discussions I've had with the collectivist professionals (I learn in a public school). These are not the exact full conversation, we talked about my curious handwriting as well, but the full relevant and contextual part of it: With the counselor:

"Yes."

"Hi"

"Hi."

"So . . . We invited you for . . . How are you doing, first of all?

"It's all right."

"Really? Good, honey. Well . . . I understood you hadn't actually participated in the 'team building-up day' since, you didn't really want to?"

"That's right."

"Then, well, maybe you're coming from the Open School and all, Tomer, but you must understand that the stuff is different here. Here you have discipline and you do not decide whether you get to an operation or not"

"I get it and I'm here to learn."

"That's the whole point . . . You are not . . . Merely . . ."

"Maybe not for you, but rather for me, and that's the beauty of business . . ."

" . . . You are here to finish with some social values . . ."

"Which values a society has?"

"In the 'team building-up day'?"

"In a generalized way."

"There is, for example, in the 'team building-up day', there is the value of belonging, fraternity, humility . . ."

"These are not values!"

"And even honor to the occasion's organizer."

"My time is a higher value to me."

"Excuse me? Do I hear what I seem to?"

"Yes, the status is surprising. Sounds like he hasn't . . . Done his passage yet."

"It does not promote my life."

"I really respect the fact you are cute and . . . Yes. But it doesn't work so here. Life is not black or white. You only that which promotes you? Are you the central issue?"

"But they are black or non-black. And, in regard to the central issue, I could prove that if you brought me a pen and a paper . . ."

"No matter, I'm not here to argue. Just, give me mommy's number."

Thus she tried to get me ten points lesser in my math grade, but I succeeded to eventually avoid it.

Now, with the 'self-obligation coordinator': Then, t began when I told her that I have no opinion on my preferences for this task of 'self-obligation', and she suggested to recommend me about places, after clarifying that issue with all the other students who did not serve the self obligation form.

"Okay, begin with that: which place do I have the highest precention to get a minimum wage in future from?"

"W . . . What??"

"Which place do I have the highest precention to get a minimum wage in future from?"

"W . . . Why do you talk with in terms of benefit?! It is a duty!"

"Yeah, I know I won't be allowed to get a monopoly certificate if I won't be doing the self obligation task, but assuming I am I thought to try to use it to a future job.

"But . . . but . . . It is your commitment to the community! A donation to the society! You don't do this for your own benefit!"

"Fine, but a livelihood is required, isn't it?"

"Would you hear that? When you'll be grown you'll serve in the military, go to college and work in whatever you'd like. But now, you're over here at school to learn."

"And to earn something for now?

"No~! . . . Need help the society, the weak people, you live in a state and in a society, not in your own ivory tower!" [Thanks God it is not right to say in English, but in Hebrew when you wanna say that something is required in your opinion you can begin the sentence simply with 'need', i.e., without any subject!]

"Who need?"

"We want to educate our students to values of helping the weak ones . . ."

"I don't."

"But you do this any how, then why not do this for you deepest depths? From your hear? Thus ones needs to! That's our purpose!"

"Let us face it: nobody does this task from "the deepest depths of his heart". Students do this since they must."

"The self-obligation project exists in so-many countries worldwide."

"Then what? First your argument was that it is my moral duty and now that people shall use physical force on me to do it?"

"That exactly the idea: if you live in a society you should give your own. You don't live alone in the jungle, am I right?"

"Why?"

"What 'why'??"

"Why?"

"Because . . . We are human beings, not animals! We should help the weak ones!"

[Looking away] " . . . Man is a rational animal . . . How do you infer from that that he must help the weakest of his species?"

"Com'on, it is . . . Just because he is a rational animal! It is rational and cultured to help the weak ones!"

"How, exactly, is that argument rational and not emotional;?"

"Because a man who doesn't help others live for his own sake, alone!"

"So . . .?

"Look, I don't wanna get into . . . Philosophic discussions here . . . I can only hope that when you do your self-obligation task you'll get how much . . . Pleasure it gives you."

"I'll get it if you'll explain me."

"Right, let's just tell where do you wanna do your task and end with it."

"Again, where do I have the highest precention to a future livelihood?"

"I don't know about future livelihood! This isn't my job! I'm here to know who donates the community."

"If the standard is not my own value, I think that you'd better put me where there is enough stead."

[smiling] "What is where there is enough stead? There are about 30 places. What do you prefer?"

"Then, in where there are the less volunteers."

"I've got an idea, to suggest you? Fine! There is, to help a hardening child on the 7th grade?

" . . . No . . . "

"What? Why?"

"Because . . . I don't really desire to help hardening children on the 7th grade . . ."

"What's 'not desire'? It is your duty to the society! Right, what's your opinion about the SPCA? You probably like pets, do you?"

"Not . . . In the sense . . ."

"Do you have the report that details the self-obligation places, right?"

"I do."

"What's your opinion to look at it yourself, and come back to with a final answer later?"

"My opinion is that it will be pointless, just get me where there are less volunteers . . ."

"Good, nevertheless look at it, maybe it will change your mind. Now, get back to your lesson."

Then, do you ask yourself, why will they keep behaving so even if they were proven that selfishness is moral and how can you avoid it? My opinion at the last paragraph above is as follows:

Haha, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading these.

Not the sad fact about public schools and its teachers ... but rather how you held your own against them.

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Yes. You're in school to get education, not as a servant or a slave. The fact that they have the nerve to tell you in your face it's your duty to serve them, and then try and make you feel like you're the one who's wrong to disagree, is unforgivable. I can only wish you that you'll be out of there soon.

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Yes. You're in school to get education, not as a servant or a slave. The fact that they have the nerve to tell you in your face it's your duty to serve them, and then try and make you feel like you're the one who's wrong to disagree, is unforgivable. I can only wish you that you'll be out of there soon.

Don't excuse, this is the most comforted salutation I could have heard last period. No sarcasm. Notice: for irony's sake, this message is written from school's IP.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7bg2Lyg970

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