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Suppose one has an internal source of energy which can last very long time. Does this make Objectivist ethics inapplicable to him?

You just inverted the basic conditions within which Objectivism is applicable. Objectivism assumes that there is a constant alternative between life and death and if you don't choose life, "nature will naturally take its course", i.e, death is a default, the natural outcome of your inaction or improper action. You have to choose life and then pursue it. Now, in your situation, life is the natural outcome (but only for a "very long time") of your inaction [here you can't "improperly act" to bring about survival]. Death is what happens if you screw up (before the energy runs out), i.e, by choice. Now, within this "very long time" time frame (VLT time frame), so long as you don't choose death, your choice of life is implied [the same way, in present real life, death is implied if you don't choose life], i.e, automatic [animalistic]. The point is that your choice of life is an implied/automatic choice and not a rational one. Sure you can rationally choose life, but that is of no value to you as that is something you don't need to pursue [i.e, your survival is ensured even if you don't explicitly choose life. The only thing you had to make sure was not to choose death. He won't be immoral for not explicitly stating that he chooses life as it is irrelevant to his survival]. Ethics is not simply a code of values "accepted by choice", but also by necessity.

Now, we can "Zoom Out" of the VLT time frame. Now the being's need to find an energy source would appear more urgent [let's assume the maximum life span of the organism to be the age of the Universe]. So even if the being already has a full battery, he needs to find a new energy source. Assuming he does find that within a fraction of the VLT time frame, he can rest for the rest of the time [or guard it. But that would be more conspicuous]. Either way he wouldn't have to do much for survival. In this "Zoomed out" time frame, Objectivism is just minimally applicable [if the being doesn't take the necessary precautions for a refill, he can be labelled as stupid]. For a very short period of its life-span, the being would be occupied with its survival. For the rest of its life, it can count stars. The point is, Objectivism isn't applicable for the majority of its life [as there is no 'constant' alternative].

Any animal or plant can act in order to get energy, but man's values are different....

Only because he has to choose [Within Objectivism]. But here, if death is not explicitly chosen, life is implied [inside the VLT time frame].

For man some values are bigger than physical survival. Without these values such a survival would be meaningless.

Not for Objectivism. Any value you obtain is a derivative of physical survival. If you don't have to 'actively' pursue life, Objectivism cannot make up for any values you may not acquire on the way. Within Objectivism, positive emotions are what you catch on the way and not objects of principal pursuit.

That why immortality could be compatible with Objectivist ethics.

How did you get from "beings with energy packs" to immortal beings? Immortal beings, by nature, need to outlive the end of the Universe. Therefore, they cannot be killed. They are "condemned" to live. Stabbing them wouldn't kill them. The beings you described were not immortal. They were just creatures with extra-long life spans and intermittent energy requirements. "Real" immortal beings could be ghosts, angels, etc. Not even a Big Bang could kill them. Objectivism wouldn't even be remotely applicable to them.

Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to Lily Potter. And Dante: are you in the process of formulating a solution for this, or are you just ignoring this thread? Now, if Objectivism does establish Lily Potter's sacrifice as evil, at least we'll have more grounds for saying that the two philosophies [Rand's and Rowling's] are different. [Although, I have to admit, softwareNerd's second linked thread is pretty interesting. Maybe we should be looking for a Grand Unified Theory.].

Edited by human_murda
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So, I'm going to reply to the OP here, although probably some of what I will say has been said already in another way. Also let me say that I share your regard for the philosophy underlying Rowling's

I see no fundamental disparity between your view and that of Objectivism. Maybe it will be useful for you to remember that a thing that exists does not only exists, but it exists as something. It h

It is not the fact that you should live assuming death is "never outside of your control". The point is that you should live assuming that your life is yours to control and the good is to live it. Y

I don't know completely what's been said here, so apologies if I am

being repetitive.

I think that as life is a constant affirmation and re-affirmation of one's

values - whatever irrevocably and permanently (within what is known to one)

makes any value impossible, unachievable and unsustainable, is not life, but

a living death.

It may be a debilitating illness with no end in sight of continual pain; or

living every second by someone else's command and permission - as a non-independent

being: a slave.

To end one's life in these most extreme circumstances - and the rational person

will be the only judge of that - is never a sacrifice.

A sacrifice for what? to whom? to oneself? No. In such a case, the greater value

is non-life.

I believe this is the Objectivist position, but am not certain. Take it as only

my own view.

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human_murda "You just inverted the basic conditions within which Objectivism is applicable."

First of all it's not me but a person who introduced the notion of immortality. Now, immortality doesn't mean life for ever-there is no such a thing as forever. If the source of energy lasts as long as Universe exists then one doesn't really have to worry about it. But this is beyond the point. Science fiction aside, the real question is: whether or not death is the only alternative for life? Does Objectivism recognizes any values which are bigger than one's mere physical existence? My answer is :definitely yes. What you missed out is a fact that man has to pursue his values not just in order to live but to live qua man, that is, a rational being. His main goal is happiness via self-actualization, achievement via employment of his mind and trade of physical or spiritual values. That why Rearden in AS spent 10 years in an " excruciating agony" while he was working on his metal. That why Galt is ready to kill himself to avoid the slightest threat to Dagny's wellbeing. That why the real heroes are risking their life flying to the Moon or descending to the deepest places in the ocean's bottom or fight and die for their. freedom. All these people actually suffer and die because they want to live qua man. Anything less for them is worse than death- exactly as to our SF immortal man.

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I would really love to see a reply to DonAthos's post. Especially the part about "flourishing" as a valid standard or not. What Kelley had to say on the subject seemed very logical, that flourishing would only be useful so far as it helped their life. But Ayn Rand herself seemed to think that "flourishing" mattered more than the mere act of surviving.

It's sort of a glaring contradiction, and I'm not sure that there is much reason to believe in the "flourishing" beyond the initial standard, that of life. Like, even the values that come off of the standard of life are suspect when they aren't actually going to be good for life. What value is self-esteem if somebody is going to kill you for your self-esteem? What value is productivity if your job takes precendence over safety?

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I would really love to see a reply to DonAthos's post. Especially the part about "flourishing" as a valid standard or not. What Kelley had to say on the subject seemed very logical, that flourishing would only be useful so far as it helped their life. But Ayn Rand herself seemed to think that "flourishing" mattered more than the mere act of surviving.

It's sort of a glaring contradiction, and I'm not sure that there is much reason to believe in the "flourishing" beyond the initial standard, that of life. Like, even the values that come off of the standard of life are suspect when they aren't actually going to be good for life. What value is self-esteem if somebody is going to kill you for your self-esteem? What value is productivity if your job takes precendence over safety?

There is no contradiction if by life you mean life of man qua man. To answer your question-without self-esteem or creativity life of man has no value. It would be just a vegetative existence. Such a life doesn't worth living.

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I haven't been following this thread, but just giving it a quick skim I find myself wondering whether the matter can't be resolved by reference to the wisdom of Dr. Flicker:

The poor child is asking for eternity. Nobody explained him that there is no such a thing.

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I would really love to see a reply to DonAthos's post. Especially the part about "flourishing" as a valid standard or not. What Kelley had to say on the subject seemed very logical, that flourishing would only be useful so far as it helped their life. But Ayn Rand herself seemed to think that "flourishing" mattered more than the mere act of surviving.

It's sort of a glaring contradiction, and I'm not sure that there is much reason to believe in the "flourishing" beyond the initial standard, that of life. Like, even the values that come off of the standard of life are suspect when they aren't actually going to be good for life. What value is self-esteem if somebody is going to kill you for your self-esteem? What value is productivity if your job takes precendence over safety?

They were focusing on the same thing. The first question one faces is the choice to continue living (you were not given a choice to be born, but each day you can choose to do something about it now that you are here), the second is to ask how does a man go about living. If you aswer that question in full context that man is a volitional creature with the capacity to reason then a philosophy can be built arond those choices. In this case the idea of living is more than existing (like an animal does) but to live, as in thrive and flourish. The difference is the choice between acting to "getting by" and actually doing something about achieving happiness.

When you really get down to brass tacks, this question is at the heart of many issues today. It's whether people want to "get by" or actually live like a man and do somthing about it.

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I don't know completely what's been said here, so apologies if I am

being repetitive.

I think that as life is a constant affirmation and re-affirmation of one's

values - whatever irrevocably and permanently (within what is known to one)

makes any value impossible, unachievable and unsustainable, is not life, but

a living death.

It may be a debilitating illness with no end in sight of continual pain; or

living every second by someone else's command and permission - as a non-independent

being: a slave.

To end one's life in these most extreme circumstances - and the rational person

will be the only judge of that - is never a sacrifice.

A sacrifice for what? to whom? to oneself? No. In such a case, the greater value

is non-life.

I believe this is the Objectivist position, but am not certain. Take it as only

my own view.

Yes, this is the Objectivist position. Life is self-generated goal orientated process when the goal is a continuation and bettering of life itself. But in certain circumstances life becomes its opposite-the process of destruction of life. suffering an agony or as you said-living death. A person who chooses to prolong this kind of existence by artificial means in fact sacrifices all life-related values.From other hand, the termination of the agony would be a life-affirming act. It's like to say: I know what life is and i refuse to take its opposite, an agony as a substitute. As Ayn Rand put it "It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live...Your fear of death is not a love for life". (AS) Contrary to the common perception expressed on this thread in the Objectivist ethics death doesn't define life. Only life does.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As Ayn Rand put it "It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live...Your fear of death is not a love for life". (AS) Contrary to the common perception expressed on this thread in the Objectivist ethics death doesn't define life. Only life does.

If you look at the full context in which Rand said it, you will understand that Rand only meant that fear is not a proper motivation. If your goal is the avoidance of death, you will probably end up dead [as Rand thought]. Your survival is only momentary if your motivation is fear [as Rand thought]. Rand's quote:

You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive. It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live. You, who have lost the concept of the difference, you who claim that fear and joy are incentives of equal power—and secretly add that fear is the more “practical”—you do not wish to live, and only fear of death still holds you to the existence you have damned.

Rand believed that if survival is what you want, then that itself and not 'avoidance of death' should be your goal. This is because Rand thought 'avoidance of death' is an improper motivation and would eventually lead to death. This is why you have to explicitly choose life as Rand felt that your other goals are internally inconsistent and cannot be achieved [like I said, Rand felt that if 'avoidance of death' is your goal, then it cannot be achieved]. 'Avoidance of death' is therefore inconsistent with who you are: i.e., your rationality. So 'avoidance of death' is still death [literally]. So it is the literal life vs. death that Objectivism is concerned about. There is nothing higher than survival , which is the only self consistent goal as Rand feels. All other goals will eventually contradict itself [altruism, avoidance of death, etc] as Rand feels. Rand only rejected 'avoidance of death' because she thought it cannot be achieved and not because she thought it was some kind of living-death. Rand thought that avoidance of death was literally the same as death due to self contradictions in the theory. Rand quote:

In a fundamental sense, stillness is the antithesis of life. Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism’s life.

So Rand never thought that living-death [if achieved, as in the case of the being with energy pack] is immoral as she never thought that it can be achieved. She thought that there would be some contradiction in the theory which would lead to a literal death if living-death [= 'avoidance of death'] was your goal. She only thought "stillness is an antithesis of life" because she believed that stillness will lead to literal death. But she never condemned a stillness that would lead to life as evil. She felt that the terms 'good' and 'evil' are inapplicable to such a stillness [because as far as she was concerned the only alternative was life or death.] Emotions meant nothing if they weren't achieved during the pursuit of life, according to her. Rand thought that it was impossible for a being to have any meaningful emotions if the being cannot pursue its own survival: she never considered emotions independent of survival [or anything independent of survival] as adding anything to life, because, as far as she was concerned, 'life' meant 'long-term survival'. Rand expressed the uselessness of emotions independent of survival in the following quote:

To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.

So, this brings me back to my first post: what matters is the in-between, i.e., emotions are meaningful independent of survival. Once again, I am not saying that survival is unimportant. I am saying that survival is not enough.

If you want a more systematical approach, let us look at a living being with reference to their capability of being good or evil according to Objectivism:

(1)Normal human being: can be either good or evil

(2)Supernatural human being: can be neither good nor evil

(3)Being with energy packs: can only become evil [if he explicitly chooses death, by an act of free will]. The being is implicitly -neither good nor evil- if it implicitly chooses life. Its survival is ensured if it doesn't choose death and it cannot pursue survival. So even if it achieves positive emotions, these are independent of its life and is meaningless [i.e., it cannot be good as it is not part of a pursuit of survival/life] according to Objectivism. So, in terms of evil, he is somewhat similar to a normal human. For other purposes, he is similar to the Supernatural being, condemned to never being able to become good. The point is that the being can pursue death but cannot pursue life. The being can be evil, but cannot be good.

So as time passes, the amount of evil one can do increases and the amount of good one can do decreases [if your goal is survival] until a point comes when you can only commit evil and atmost a minimum amount of good - in the case of the being with energy packs. So I doubt Objectivism is a philosophy of the future [it isn't objective enough to stand the test of time]. As for the present, I guess it works, more or less [but still not enough].

Also, if life really is the ultimate value [Rand: "Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism’s life."], then wouldn't self sacrifice for any cause whatever be a sacrifice of a higher value to one of lower value? Another cause can never be more valuable to you than your life. Life is the first value that you should learn to keep and your love for anything else is because is helps you keep your ultimate value. As soon as you say that you value a 'thing that helps you keep your value' more than you value own life, isn't that some form of altruism? [Rand: "The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value."] Wouldn't all other values be a lower value compared to the ultimate value, life. So wouldn't sacrifice of one's life always be altruism [inside Objectivism]?

Edited by human_murda
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"Now, if Objectivism does establish Lily Potter's sacrifice as evil, at least we'll have more grounds for saying that the two philosophies [Rand's and Rowling's] are different."

Of course they are different. Rowling is a Christian, and, though not explicit, Christian themes of self-sacrifice, immortality, souls, spirits, etc. run throughout. She's not as profoundly Christian as was Tolkien, so I don't think the series is as heavily Christian as was "The Lord of the Rings", but those themes are still there (Ari Armstrong's apologia for the Potter series isn't very convincing).

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Well, the immortality presents another alternative: not life versus death, but life of man qua man versus mere semi-vegetative existence. Life of rational being in all its ramifications becomes a standard of value. Increase of knowledge, work of art and even application of one's mind for the sheer pleasure of it never could be meaningless. Whatever promotes such a life is good. Whatever hinders it is bad. Therefore an immortal man who chooses to exist as a plant or prevents others to achieve their goals and happiness is an evil man. Needless to say that such an existence for the immortal rational being is worse than death.

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I just thought that this was funny (kind of like the Schrodinger Cat thought experiment ) : Ayn Rand said-

An organism’s life depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that fuel properly. What standard determines what is proper in this context? The standard is the organism’s life, or: that which is required for the organism’s survival.

Now, if you think about the guy who runs on batteries, what would be the best way for him to use his fuel properly for survival? Yes, he would have to make himself as dead as possible so as not to use up the battery. So, pursuing happiness is out of the question [actually evil, within Objectivism] as it could decrease his life [and you should not be doing anything that decreases your life, the Ultimate value]. (I am talking from the view-point inside the VLT time frame here). Actually, it would seem that once the guy has found out where he might get a recharge for his batteries [within a fraction of the VLT time], it would be better [within Objectivism] for the guy to shut down his brain [which requires a ton of energy just to keep you conscious] somehow until it is needed for the next recharge [as in a hibernation]. Now, if an energy-efficient artificial surveillance system was in place, then staying conscious can actually be considered evil, by Objectivism. He would only have to use his brain when he needs it [and he only needs it once in a million years or so. Dangers in the environment, which only happens once in a blue moon if you have hidden yourself well enough, is taken care of by the low-power surveillance system, which would awake you in case of emergencies]. Any thoughts on this?

@Avila: I was talking more about the fundamental, individual [as well Universal] aspect of morality presented in the Harry Potter books rather than the cultural aspects. I would only focus on the main characters because a lot of the imperfect but "good guys" are only "good" because they are better than the average and they only screw up within a particular limit [the Marauders, Hagrid, Snape, members of DA & Order, Kreacher, Regulus, etc]. This is because most people other than the main characters are "ordinary" people. Now the magical themes were only meant to prove her point and are just extreme cases for the application of her morality. Voldemort is not actually very different from the battery powered guy being discussed here. Both are in a kind of rat race to see who can live the longest valuing only their lives, while they scorn whatever it is that impedes them from achieving it [love, remorse, etc in the the case of Voldemort and consciousness itself as for the fuel-cell-guy]. It is as though they lead a cursed life, sacrificing everything except their lives, to protect their lives. I wonder if Rand would drink Unicorn blood if it was available on the menu [just kidding]?

@Leonid: How can you say all that and still be an Objectivist? Don't you think your views are in contradiction with Objectivism in more ways than one? Are you actually on the positive-emotion-fundamental side? If so, why should I take your personal views as the Objectivist position [i have directed my questions at the arguments put forward by Ayn Rand. Bringing personal views into it will only distort her actual arguments]?

Well, the immortality presents another alternative: not life versus death, but life of man qua man versus mere semi-vegetative existence.

Actually, you needn't be immortal to be presented the alternative between a 'happy life' and something like 'living death'. Only, your energy requirements need to be fulfilled [and made less urgent]. A person who inherited a ton of wealth is quite close to being presented such a choice [and he is hardly immortal] and that is a very simple case. The 'happy life'-'living death' alternative did not arise out of longevity, but rather due to non-urgency regarding energy usage. Suppose you were attached with an energy supply the day you were born [let's just assume future babies are born fully developed and functional so that they won't need nutrition to build their bodies] which would last about a hundred years. This person would face the same alternatives [after having picked up the minimum of "life skills" in 2-3 years]. The point is: immortality is not what provides us with the alternative, which is applicable even for a "human" life span.

Edited by human_murda
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human_hurda

You are right. Man doesn't have to be immortal in order to live as rational being. And immortality wouldn't eliminate this need. In other words immortal man still have to be a moral being.

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  • 4 months later...

Can any one confirm this (I found it on the internet):

Apparently, after publishing 'Atlas Shrugged', Rand fell into depression and had said:

John Galt wouldn’t feel this. He would know how to handle this. I don’t know.

I would hate for him to see me like this.

(I would ask this regarding the question of survival as the sole source of happiness. I mean, if it was, why was Rand depressed?)

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  • 8 months later...

(@Reidy: A late thank you for that information)

It has been a year since I posted on this thread; A lot of things have happened in my life and I am doing a U-turn (again) in my moral stance. The reason for this is I have understood the necessity for choosing life as the standard for morality. So I would describe the logic (although everyone here probably already knows this). I have been out of touch with all Objectivist literature for a year, so I have come to this conclusion myself and therefore have more confidence in this.

 

Here it goes: First you have to consider a human being at birth to be an empty shell. He has no knowledge or desires. So what does he have? He has:

 

The methods of gaining knowledge: (a.) rationality (b.) emotions, hunger, pain, etc.

 

Your genetics only provide for the methods of gaining knowledge but not the knowledge itself. Desires only occur in the presence of knowledge (specifically, the knowledge of what is good for you) and all desires/attractions are a choice (i.e., based on what you know to be good, in other words, your value systems). When a person is in love (emotionally), what he basically has is knowledge: the knowledge of what is good for him (people even state this: they say when you are in love “you know you are meant to be with this person, through and through”, i.e., you know he is good for you). It is this knowledge that produces the desires (religious people use this fact to push their nonsense. They define “God” as “the good” and since love is the knowledge of what is good, they claim love is the knowledge of God and since everyone can love, everyone has knowledge of God, whether they accept it or not. Then they use this “knowledge” to pursue God as they now have a desire to do so [they have a knowledge of what is good, God]).

 

Now the only remaining question is: which method of acquiring knowledge is proper (to know what is actually good): the answer is rationality. Rationality is the only infallible method of acquiring knowledge (of course a “thinking” person can make mistakes, but that would only be because he was not properly rational. His mistakes say nothing about the validity of rationality itself).

 

Now the only thing remaining is to work out rationally what is good for you. To do this, first you must accept life as your standard for morality. This might seem like a leap in logic, but it isn’t: in order to work out what is good for you, you must first assume the importance in the preservation of life as an axiom, to construct a logical structure. Assuming life as a standard is a logical necessity to work out what is good for you. You cannot work out what is good for you if you consider your axioms as non-preservation of life (self-sacrifice). Assuming life as the standard is the method employed to gain/work out the required knowledge (in mathematics, in order to gain more knowledge about something, some assumptions are made. Considering life as the standard is the assumption you have to make, to gain knowledge).

 

Now this (assuming life as the standard) is something I am quite sure is true. So, some of my previous premises were probably faulty. Of course, I had earlier accepted that you have to survive first to feel positive emotions. This was true. The problem was with considering emotions to be good in and of itself. Emotions are only [possibly faulty] a method of gaining knowledge. Emotions give you a [possibly faulty] knowledge of what is good. Emotions are only the knowledge of what is good and not the good itself.

 

As an interesting side note, you can also consider the case of sexuality as a choice now (it should be rather obvious, however, the “born blah-blah” theory is all over the internet). Basically, a person is not born with the knowledge that the opposite sex (or same sex) is good for them. Puberty does not suddenly give them that knowledge. Puberty only gives them a method for acquiring that knowledge: sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure [primitively and at times wrongly] gives them the knowledge of what is good. It is the knowledge of what is good that gives them the desire/attraction. Also, since sexual pleasure is somewhat primitive, the knowledge remains in the subconscious, explaining why it is so difficult to change. Of course there are so many other methods (rationalization in some feminist lesbian cases, emotional dependency, etc) of gaining that knowledge [of who is good], explaining the various pathways to becoming a homosexual.

 

I suppose that is all I have to say for now. Of course I have to have a look at my previous assertions and weed out the faulty premises that led to them. Probably later..

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  • 1 month later...

Homo liber nulla de re minus quam de morte cogitat; et ejus sapientia non mortis sed vitae meditatio est. SPINOZA'S Ethics, Pt IV, Prop. 67

(There is nothing over which a free man ponders less than death; his wisdom is, to meditate not on death but on life.) 

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It isn't wise to ponder death unless you're solving it.

If i knew that an approaching disaster was going to destroy all life on earth, you could respond in one of three ways:

1: How awful! Let's discuss it at length.

2: How awful! Let's focus on the time we still have.

3: Damnit! Alright; let's figure out how to fix it.

I choose three. Just not yet; it's on my lengthy to do list.

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