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Morality Mistakes

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The purpose of living a moral life is to live a successful, fulfilled, and happy life. A moral life is one guided by ethical principles.

The whole reason for ethics is to provide the principles by which you can make the right choices in everything you think, believe, and do which benefit you and avoid all choices and behavior that will harm you or interfere in your success or prevent you from being happy.

But morality is badly misunderstood. There are seven common mistaken views about the nature and importance of living morally.

The Seven Biggest Mistakes About Ethics and Morality

[NOTE: Ethics and morality refer to the same thing: living correctly to live successfully. I define ethics as the principles of right living and morality as life lived according to ethical principles. In this article, moral means ethical and morals means ethical principles.]

 

  1. That morals impose restrictions or limits on one's life. A young child who has just learned about hammers and nails might enjoy hammering nails into anything he can, but if he hammers nails into his favorite toy and destroys it he will discover there are consequences for doing whatever he feels like.

    What the child learns from the experience is that he can choose to do whatever he feel likes, but he cannot choose the consequences of what he does. It is a lesson in morality. To do whatever you like is your choice, but the consequences are determined by reality and you have no choice about what those consequences will be. You may hammer nails into whatever you like but if you don't want to destroy your toys you cannot hammer nails into them.

    The other thing the child learns is that reality doesn't care whether what he does is a mistake or defiance. Reality punishes all wrong choices and acts, mistaken or defiant, equally. The only difference is, the consequences of a wrong act out of ignorance is a learning experience that may prevent future mistakes, but the consequences of an act of defiance usually leads to resentment (of not being able to do whatever one likes) and more defiance.

    There are two parts of reality that determine the consequences of choices: 1. the nature of physical reality which determines the physical consequences of all acts, and 2. human nature that determines the psychological consequences of all choices. Ethical principles describe which kinds of acts and choices produce which kinds of consequences.

    One may choose to think of reality's consequences as restrictions on ones choices, but they are not restrictions, they define the principles by which all good things can be accomplished and achieved, what will work and what will not.

    In my article, "Principles," I identify 10 ethical principles which I then explain:

     

    These are moral or ethical principles. They are not commandments, not instructions, and not rules. No one is required to observe any of these principles, but no one can evade them without consequence or penalty—not a penalty imposed by some agency or by anyone else, but a penalty imposed by reality itself.

    Are these principles hard? Yes they're hard and yes they are demanding, as hard and demanding as life itself. To evade them is to evade life. No moral individual regards them as limits or restrictions on their life, however, because they are the means of achieving and being all that life makes possible. Living by these principles is the only way to live a life that is worth living.

    Like all true principles, they are not limits or restrictions, but the keys that open the doors to possibilities that do not exist without them. Like the principles of mathematics that make it possible to answer questions about quantities and measurements which are impossible to answer without them, moral principles make it possible to know how to live successfully and without failure. Just as mathematical principles determine how mathematical problems must be solved successfully, and if the rules are violated, the mathematics will fail, so moral principles determine how one must choose and act to live successfully, and if the principles are violated, one's life will fail. Mathematical principles are not restrictions on the mathematician, they are the means to his success; moral principles are not restrictions on an individual's life, they are the means to his prosperity and happiness.

     

  2. That moral principles are not objective. There are two mistakes here. One is that moral principles cannot be based on reality itself, that is, "what is." The other mistake is the result of the first; if moral principles are not determined objectively they must be determined by something else.

    The first mistake can be attributed to a very bad philosopher named Hume. Hume said, "no 'ought' can be deduce from any 'is.'" Those were not his exact words, but what he meant is, 'what one ought to do cannot be discovered by examining what is.' Hume made two mistakes. The first, like most other moralists, is a misunderstanding the nature of moral principles. Moral principles do not say, "you ought to do such'n'such, no matter what," moral principles say, "if you do such'n'such, this will be the consequence." But moral principles do not name any specific choices or acts, moral principles identify the kinds of consequences that result from kinds of choices and actions. A moral principle does not say, "do not lie," it says, "if you attempt to live by faking reality you will irreparably damage your own mind and ability to grasp the truth or reality."

    Hume's second mistake is not understanding the nature of value terms. Words like, ought, should, good, and bad identify relationships and assume some objective, purpose, end, or goal. A thing is good if it furthers or achieves the goal or objective and is, therefore, what one ought or should do, and a thing is bad if it prevents or inhibits achieving the goal or objective and is, therefore, what one ought or should not do. In the case of moral principles the objective or goal is a successful happy life. Moral principles say, "if you want to live happily and successfully this is how reality (the "is") determines how you must, ("ought" to) live.

    Obviously if one is deceived by Hume's mistake (which is very common today), no objective basis for moral principles exists and something will be substituted for moral principles. What is usually substituted is one of the following: one's culture and tradition, whatever is popularly accepted, or whatever feels right (conscience), which essentially means whatever large numbers of people believe or feel is moral. The consequences of that view explains most of the decadence, corruption, and violence in the world today.

     

  3. That Conscience Is A Moral Guide. The most widely accepted of moral views based on, "feelings," is the belief that, "conscience," is a moral guide, that we are born with a moral sense and "just know what is right and wrong," but that belief is just wrong.

    All human Feelings called emotions are produced by our bodies response to whatever we are conscious of, especially our consciousness of what we think and what we believe. Those feelings we call conscience, like all other feelings, are determined by what we think and believe. Conscience does not indicate what is right or wrong, it only reflects whatever we believe and think is right or wrong.

    A woman who believes it is wrong to show her naked ankle will suffer conscious guilt if she willfully reveals what she believes is wrong to reveal. Another woman who believes there is nothing wrong with nudity feels no pangs of conscience while going topless. The cannibalistic natives of a certain tropical island believe it is their duty to eat a member of an enemy tribe if they kill him, and feel pangs of conscience if they fail to engage in that "moral" duty.

    Depending on feelings of conscience as a guide to moral practice reverses the roles of the mind and feelings. It is moral principles that determine what is right and wrong, one's feelings of conscience will only be correct if they have right moral principles.

     

  4. That moral principles are dictated. This view tacitly assumes there are no objective moral principles, and therefore, moral principles must be dictated by some authority, like a God, or a government.

    Everything is wrong with the view that moral principles can be determined by the arbitrary dictates of some authority, God or man. The reasons are so important I dedicated an article to them, "Religion and Absolute Moral Values: The Ten Commandments, For Example."

    All absolute truth is determined by reality and must be discovered. No truth is determined by the dictates of any authority. The pronouncement of an authority are not absolute, they are arbitrary. If truth were determined by the dictates of any authority, God or man, there could be no absolute truth, because the dictator would not be bound by his own dictates, and truth would be reduced to the whims of the dictator.

     

  5. That morality is social. Again there are two mistakes here. The first is that the purpose of morals is in some way social, for the sake of one's community, society, or the world of others. The second mistake is that it is society itself that determines what is moral.

    Moral principles are only a guide to those capable of making conscious choices. They do not apply to the animals, because they are not capable of making conscious choices, which is why they are not morally responsible. Moral principles do not apply to collections of individuals, families, communities, countries, or any other groups, because only individuals have conscious volitional minds. What is mistakenly called "choice" or "decision" when applied to things like societies, committees, or governments disguises the fact that only individuals make choices and the so-called collective choice is only the result of their individual choices, for which every individual is individually responsible, because moral principles only pertain to individuals.

    The converse of this mistake is the belief that moral principles can be evaded if one is a member of some collection of individuals that all agree or participate in the same violation of moral principles. It is the basis of all the horrible things human beings do as members of gangs, unions, mobs, and religions.

    The other version of this mistake is the view that the purpose of moral principles is society itself, that right, wrong, good, and bad are determined by whatever is good for society, which always reduces to, good for the greatest number of individuals in a society (because everyone is different and nothing is going to be the best for everyone), therefore the minority must always be sacrificed for the sake of, "the greater good," of the majority). The name of this view is democracy, in all it flavors.

    The ethical "theory" based on the social view of morality is called "altruism." Altruism defines the moral good as whatever one does for the sake or benefit of others or for society as a whole. Altruism reverses the purpose of morals from one's own success and happiness to the success and happiness of everyone else, from their neighbor to the whole world. Altruism turns the good from being the source of human joy and happiness to being the basis for self-sacrifice and self-immolation.

     

  6. That morality means whatever makes one happy. The correct name for this mistake, in all its forms, is hedonism. Hedonism is the view that the the moral good is whatever makes one happy—individually it means whatever gives me pleasure or makes me happy—collectively it means whatever gives pleasure to the most people or makes the most people happy.

    Happiness is certainly the goal of moral principles, but hedonism attempts to make happiness the guide. The purpose of moral principles is to identify what happiness is and what is required to achieve it. One may declare, the good is whatever makes me happy, but without knowing what will make a human being happy, one is left with no guidance for achieving that happiness. Hedonism also mistakenly confuses pleasure with happiness. It claims, whatever gives me pleasure will make me happy, therefore whatever gives me pleasure is the good.

    The mistake is obvious to anyone who has observed the kind of lives those who live for pleasure, especially pleasure for its own sake, disconnected from any reason or purpose, experience. Since the hedonist has no moral principles beyond the pleasure of the moment, life based on hedonism makes no provision for the future or the long-term consequences of one's present indulgences. Why would he?

    A moral life will be filled with pleasure, the kinds of pleasure our natures give us for living moral lives, pleasure enjoyed as the reward of our achievements, pleasure that befits a moral life and benefits the individual both short term and long term, the pleasure of a fulfilled life, an ecstasy the hedonist can only dream of.

     

  7. That morality is not important. There are lots of names for this mistake which includes all those who believe there are no moral principles (amoralists) or substitute some form of pragmatism (whatever works) for moral principles. The root of this belief is the consequence of all the wrong views of morality. Many intelligent people have seen the results of all the wrong views of reality and know they cannot possibly be true and therefore conclude there are no moral principles and therefore resort to a kind of whatever works view of morality. Unfortunately, "whatever works," never works because there is no principle by which what will or will not work can be determined. That view always ends meaning, whatever seems to work at the moment without regard to any long term consequences. (This is the dubious view of moral value all government policy is guided by.)

     

No one has to live by moral principles. To whatever extent your life is successful and you enjoy it, however, will be because the things you have chosen and do conform to moral principles, whether you recognize them or not. To whatever extent your life is a failure, and you experience trouble, disappointment, regret, or unhappiness will be because the things you have chosen and do are in defiance of moral principles, whether you recognize them or not.

Moral principles are just like all other principles. You cannot survive if you neglect the physical requirements of your body or defy the laws of nature, if you have survived it is because what you have chosen and done conforms to your biological requirements and have not defied the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology, even if you have no real knowledge of your biological requirements or of the laws of physical nature. To some extent the principles of physics can be defied, especially by children, and they won't die, but will still suffer the consequences with bloody knees, broken bones, and various scrapes, cuts, and burns. You can also defy your biological requirements to some extent without dying, but you will still suffer the consequences of defying those requirements, from minor ailments to severe disease.

Living without moral principles may not kill you or utterly destroy your life, at least not immediately, but the consequences cannot be avoided, and your life, your success, and your happiness will be diminished to whatever degree you live immorally. Why would you want to live a life that was less than moral. Why would you not prefer to live a moral life that is fulfilled, successful and happy?

 

—(10/29/17)
 
Originally Published in The Moral Individual.

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49 minutes ago, Wolf DeVoon said:

Totally wrong as usual -- and pedantic, predictable, pedestrian.

Love the alliteration. If you were really clever you could have added: plebeian, pompous, profane, polemical, and philodoxical.

Thanks for contributing.

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2 hours ago, Wolf DeVoon said:
10 hours ago, regi said:

The purpose of living a moral life is to live a successful, fulfilled, and happy life.

Totally wrong as usual

Forget my previous comments which were obviously tongue-in-cheek. This is a serious question.

Since this is an objectivist site, at the risk of assuming, what is it about saying, "The purpose of living a moral life is to live a successful, fulfilled, and happy life," that you believe is "totally wrong?"

Ayn Rand wrote:

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." [For the New Intellectual, "Galt's Speech from Atlas Shrugged," page 123]

"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life." [Atlas Shrugged, "Part Three,—Chapter VII, 'This is John Galt Speaking.'"]

Of course you do not have to agree with that, but if you disagree, you might at least explain why.

Randy

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33 minutes ago, regi said:

Forget my previous comments which were obviously tongue-in-cheek. This is a serious question.

Since this is an objectivist site, at the risk of assuming, what is it about saying, "The purpose of living a moral life is to live a successful, fulfilled, and happy life," that you believe is "totally wrong?"

Ayn Rand wrote:

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." [For the New Intellectual, "Galt's Speech from Atlas Shrugged," page 123]

"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life." [Atlas Shrugged, "Part Three,—Chapter VII, 'This is John Galt Speaking.'"]

Of course you do not have to agree with that, but if you disagree, you might at least explain why.

Randy

Galt's speech is a cornucopia of asseverations but nonetheless it's "Objectivism." As a mixture of literature and moralizing philosophy it's hard to read, but Rand was a self-confessed moralist. (N. Branden) To transcend this one can try to put in the actual reasoning (and/or data) Rand left out or engage in some reductionism (or both)--to wit, life is about living and a human mind is cognitive and free willed to deal with the great number of choices possible in a decent, livable and necessary social existence. This informs not only peaceful interactions but politics apropos freedom and human rights. The pursuit of happiness is an informed but not necessary choice. Ethics implies the politics and morality interactions sans politics. The overlapping is not 100 percent. Bad morality becomes bad ethics becomes bad politics. One tries to do the right thing(s) through the use of reason.

I look at ethics as providing morality additional structure and consistency. Rand wrote an article entitled "The Objectivist Ethics" not "The Objectiivst Morality"--but, of course, her moral ideas are everywhere in her work. She implicitly knew the value of a controlling and observable structure. Morality per se can easily degenerate into a variety of rationalizations and dissipations.

--Brant

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8 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

The pursuit of happiness is an informed but not necessary choice.

Of course. As I wrote, "No one has to live by moral principles." By moral principles I mean those which would lead to human happiness.

The whole point of the article is that ethics must be principles based on human happiness as the purpose. Neither you, or anyone else has to agree with that (and very few do), but the alternative is pursuing something other than human success and happiness. I just don't understand why anyone would object to human success and happiness being the basis for one's principles.

The article does not directly address what moral principles (ethics) are, it only identifies all the wrong views of ethics that are essentially anti-human happiness.

Randy

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23 minutes ago, regi said:

Of course. As I wrote, "No one has to live by moral principles." By moral principles I mean those which would lead to human happiness.

The whole point of the article is that ethics must be principles based on human happiness as the purpose. Neither you, or anyone else has to agree with that (and very few do), but the alternative is pursuing something other than human success and happiness. I just don't understand why anyone would object to human success and happiness being the basis for one's principles.

The article does not directly address what moral principles (ethics) are, it only identifies all the wrong views of ethics that are essentially anti-human happiness.

Randy

The pursuit of happiness is made possible by the luxury of one's existential circumstances. It took a very long time before anyone even talked about much less thought about that. Modern man is--what--40,000 years old? It's survival first then flourishing. One might say that in the context of philosophy formally rendered--off that base--that pursuit is such a base, but that's still a base upon a base.

(Did you just introduce "success"? That strongly buttresses your overall position.)

If your home is destroyed by a California wildfire you're focused on survival, not happiness. Once the former is secured you can go back to happiness.

--Brant

edit: take survival and happiness and put them in a circle one informing the other in a continuous rotation instead of looking at them separately thereby getting your "human success and happiness"

Edited by Brant Gaede

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1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

The pursuit of happiness is made possible by the luxury of one's existential circumstances. It took a very long time before anyone even talked about much less thought about that. Modern man is--what--40,000 years old? It's survival first then flourishing. One might say that in the context of philosophy formally rendered--off that base--that pursuit is such a base, but that's still a base upon a base.

I think we have a different view of happiness, Brant. Of course one must first seek to survive. The dead seek nothing. But, for human beings, survival means productive work (whatever activity is required to supply oneself the necessities of life), which, if successful, is happiness. As far back in recorded history as one chooses to go, there have always been prosperous people who celebrated their achievements and wrote about happiness. As for prerecorded history, I have very little faith in the guesswork of others about the experience of those who left no record.

1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

(Did you just introduce "success"? That strongly buttresses your overall position.)

The very first sentence of the article: "The purpose of living a moral life is to live a successful, fulfilled, and happy life." Success, of course, includes survival.

1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

take survival and happiness and put them in a circle one informing the other in a continuous rotation instead of looking at them separately thereby getting your "human success and happiness"

I haven't separated survival and happiness, but I think you have. For human beings, successfully surviving is happiness. That is not survival in the sense of the perpetuation of protoplasm, but surviving, as Rand said, "qua man," -- as a human being. Perhaps that's what you are getting at with your "rotation" metaphor. At least we agree survival and happiness cannot be separated.

Appreciate the comments.

Randy

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4 hours ago, regi said:

The whole point of the article is that ethics must be principles based on human happiness as the purpose. Neither you, or anyone else has to agree with that (and very few do), but the alternative is pursuing something other than human success and happiness. I just don't understand why anyone would object to human success and happiness being the basis for one's principles.

 

What about reason?

 

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22 minutes ago, KorbenDallas said:

What about reason?

Reason is how one determines what moral principles, or any principles, are, isn't it?

Randy

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1 hour ago, regi said:

Reason is how one determines what moral principles, or any principles, are, isn't it?

Randy

Sure, but when you say "based on" in your sentence upthread, "The whole point of the article is that ethics must be principles based on human happiness as the purpose,"  your terms are fuzzy because if you were to ask me what morality should be based on I would say "the nature of man".  The purpose of morality is to tell man how to live, and that is as man qua man, in which that means at once a standard and a concept of what Rand called man's life, which is based off of man's nature, who is a thinking, rational being, who has free will and is meant to think and act freely both independently as well as in society.  To me this is more fundament than what you have stated and in the way you have stated it.

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Sigh.

Quote

Five of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. 8,500 Americans died in British prisons. [Constitution of Government In Galt's Gulch, p.6]

Take your middle class happytalk meme and shove it. Without the valiant dead of many conflicts, including today's vilified LEOs in the line of fire, you'd have nothing. John Galt gave himself up to his enemies to save Dagny -- it was that or suicide, to defend her and the Gulch -- and every one of the men who came to rescue Galt were prepared to fight and die, if need be, for a value that transcended special snowflake happiness or prosperity. Howard Roark gambled and lost repeatedly.

Just go away, Regi. Quit embarrassing yourself and boring the grown ups.

YN67nGsfwozvw2AfLvxcbrbv.jpeg

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7 hours ago, KorbenDallas said:

if you were to ask me what morality should be based on I would say "the nature of man"

I would too, except that I would add the nature of the world he lives in. One cannot defy any aspect of reality including one's own nature. Our nature determines what is required to live successfully and happily, so I totally agree.

As I wrote in the article:

On 10/30/2017 at 11:39 AM, regi said:

There are two parts of reality that determine the consequences of choices: 1. the nature of physical reality which determines the physical consequences of all acts, and 2. human nature that determines the psychological consequences of all choices. Ethical principles describe which kinds of acts and choices produce which kinds of consequences.

I think, however, there is a mistake about this article. The article is not about correct moral principles, but about wrong ones. It is not a philosophical treatise on ethics.

In my article, Ethical Principles, I describe the necessity or ethics:

"It is human nature that makes ethical principles necessary," which is the premise for all my ethical views.

Randy

 

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On 10/30/2017 at 8:39 AM, regi said:

No one is required to observe any of these principles, but no one can evade them without consequence or penalty—not a penalty imposed by some agency or by anyone else, but a penalty imposed by reality itself.

Regi, isn't the guaranteed penalty that reality imposes "require" you not to jump off a 3 story building? I am speaking metaphorically. I agree, there is no agency or God blaring the commandment. But isn't the metaphoric context what people mean? If so, shouldn't that be made clear and acknowledged. That if you mean the requirement exists metaphorically, you are right, you are required to do what is right if you want to have a good life.

On 10/30/2017 at 8:39 AM, regi said:

The other thing the child learns is that reality doesn't care whether what he does is a mistake or defiance. Reality punishes all wrong choices and acts, mistaken or defiant, equally. The only difference is, the consequences of a wrong act out of ignorance is a learning experience that may prevent future mistakes, but the consequences of an act of defiance usually leads to resentment (of not being able to do whatever one likes) and more defiance.

My understanding is that Objectivist ethics considers "evasive" defiance as the root cause of evil. But a mistake, which reality punishes just as severely is not considered immoral. There is a context where both types of action are "wrong", but using Objectivist ethics, only the volitional defiance is "wrong". Is this correct?

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13 hours ago, Peaceful Awareness said:

Regi, isn't the guaranteed penalty that reality imposes "require" you not to jump off a 3 story building? I am speaking metaphorically. I agree, there is no agency or God blaring the commandment. But isn't the metaphoric context what people mean? If so, shouldn't that be made clear and acknowledged. That if you mean the requirement exists metaphorically, you are right, you are required to do what is right if you want to have a good life.

Yes, of course, but the requirement is a relative one, "if you want to have a good life." But that is not what people mean. There are many who are willing to sacrifice their life for the sake of some ideology or a supposed future one, and many others regard moral values as the dictates of God or the state without regard to the consequences.

13 hours ago, Peaceful Awareness said:

My understanding is that Objectivist ethics considers "evasive" defiance as the root cause of evil. But a mistake, which reality punishes just as severely is not considered immoral. There is a context where both types of action are "wrong", but using Objectivist ethics, only the volitional defiance is "wrong". Is this correct?

That is how Rand described morality. I am not an Objectivist, however, and do not totally agree with Rand here. She was talking about moral culpability, meaning one is not morally, "guilty," of an act committed in ignorance. One is only guilty of a breach of moral principles if it is done knowingly or deliberately. Furthermore Rand believed one ought to judge the moral culpability of others per her famous dictum, "judge and be prepared to be judged."

I do not believe it is anyone's perogative to pass moral judgement on anyone else. The only thing one can judge about others is what they actually say and do, their moral cupability is between themselves, their own mind, and reality.

Randy (Regi's dead)

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19 hours ago, Wolf DeVoon said:

Sigh.

Take your middle class happytalk meme and shove it. Without the valiant dead of many conflicts, including today's vilified LEOs in the line of fire, you'd have nothing. John Galt gave himself up to his enemies to save Dagny -- it was that or suicide, to defend her and the Gulch -- and every one of the men who came to rescue Galt were prepared to fight and die, if need be, for a value that transcended special snowflake happiness or prosperity. Howard Roark gambled and lost repeatedly.

Just go away, Regi. Quit embarrassing yourself and boring the grown ups.

YN67nGsfwozvw2AfLvxcbrbv.jpeg

Heh. Why so snarly, Pup?

 

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