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Robert Campbell

Contextual Virtues: A Wee Test

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(Subtitle borrowed from Matt Groening, Graduate School Is Hell.)

A passage in OPAR that has become rather notorious reads as follows:

There are men other than criminals or dictators to whom it is moral to lie. For example, lying is necessary and proper in certain cases to protect one’s privacy from snoopers. (p. 276)

Wondering who or what else might be encompassed in Dr. Peikoff’s dictum, I put together a little survey. It should take about two minutes of your time to complete.

Needless to say, the statements should be read as pertaining to enemies of Objectivism qua enemies of Objectivism. If the enemy of Objectivism is also a criminal, dictator, or terrorista, he or she is already covered.

The wording of the completions seems to be in vogue among younger ARIans today, though I am convinced that such duty-oriented language would have made Ayn Rand gag. No matter, the meaning is clear enough.

********

1. For an Objectivist, lying to an enemy of Objectivism is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

2. For an Objectivist, lying about an enemy of Objectivism is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

3. For an Objectivist, withholding credit for an accomplishment by an enemy of Objectivism is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

4. For an Objectivist, publishing the private communications of an enemy of Objectivism without consent is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

5. For an Objectivist, rewriting history to remove an enemy of Objectivism from the narrative is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

6. For an Objectivist, taking credit for the achievement of an enemy of Objectivism is

__ Morally impermissible

__ Morally permissible

__ Morally obligatory

So, tell me what you think.

Robert Campbell

Professeur de Psychologie

Apôtre de l’Arbitraire

Citationniste Enragé

Edited by Robert Campbell

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I call this a semi-satire, because, while designed to amuse, the wee test can actually be given a straightforward set of answers.

Robert Campbell

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The word that that popped out at me in the Peikoff quote from OPAR was "snoopers"... it that a technical philosophical term? Sheesh!

I think he is trying to say that one should not aid in one's own distruction here, but that particular term "snoopers" really is stretching it too far. I don't think lying is necessary in most instances like this. Why offer any information at all to someone who is just being nosy? Why lie when you can simply and honestly tell them that it is none of their concern. Most people will back off when you tell them that something private and is simply not something you are williing to discuss with them. Sometimes if you give them a look that says, "I can't believe you actually asked me that" will suffice. Just because someone asks, doesn't mean they are owed an answer.

It is my understanding that lying in circumstances where either force or fraud has been initiated against you, your loved ones, or things you highly value would be in danger if you told the truth (for example telling a robber where you keep your valuables) than lying is acceptable to preserve a value. IMHO lying to the face of a nosy neighbor or co-worker or even "snooper" is not proper behavior.

The big question is why LP said what he said (causality).... Was Peikoff stretching the acceptability of lying beyond Ayn Rand's principles in order to make it seem morally acceptable that AR lied for years (presumably) about the affair? Hmmmmm... well, hmmmmmm... or do Objectivists just lie all over themselves until it catches up with them and they have to either come clean or tell another mountain of lies.

We all know that the truth eventually comes out.

Kat

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Kat,

I've heard, from more than one source, that Leonard Peikoff adopted his view on "privacy lies" only after The Passion of Ayn Rand came out--and, yes, he had someone's affair with Dr. Uncitable specifically in mind.

I don't recall him making an exception for "privacy lies" in his late 1970s lectures series on Objectivism, where he did make an exception for lies told to criminals, dictators, and the like. But there it was in OPAR.

One of the ironies, of course, is that Ayn Rand lied to him about the affair. He didn't learn about it until after her death.

Robert

PS. You'll be amused to know that Ms. Hsieh is on the record opposing "privacy lies," and has yet to make a public retraction!

Edited by Robert Campbell

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Do you think that considering the fact that she lied directly to his face that he felt compelled to add the privacy lies business to OPAR because he viewed her morally perfect and if she lied to HIM to protect her own privacy, then it must be acceptable according Objectivist ethics? Was he trying to justify her behavior to himself in his own mind?

It is really a stretch for me to put snoopers in the same league as the real bad guys. That doesn't set right with me and I don't think the example of snoopers agrees with the point he was making in OPAR. Where is the force or fraud?

Using LP's broad-based privacy lie, it seems like you could be perfectly justified in lying your ass off constantly to anyone, anytime, anywhere because you could say that pretty much any question asked invades your privacy and the questioner is snooping, so lying would be an acceptable response.

I don't trust people who lie constantly. I find them to be (dare I say the word) dishonest.

You don't need to lie and you don't have to give up the goodies when a response like a simple "Isn't that a bit personal?" will suffice.

Kat

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Kat,

Do you think that considering the fact that she lied directly to his face that he felt compelled to add the privacy lies business to OPAR because he viewed her morally perfect and if she lied to HIM to protect her own privacy, then it must be acceptable according Objectivist ethics? Was he trying to justify her behavior to himself in his own mind?

I can't prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, but it strikes me as highly likely.

Using LP's broad-based privacy lie, it seems like you could be perfectly justified in lying your ass off constantly to anyone, anytime, anywhere because you could say that pretty much any question asked invades your privacy and the questioner is snooping, so lying would be an acceptable response.

Precisely. And I suspect that some of Dr. Peikoff's followers have interpreted his statement as giving them carte blanche.

That's why I called it "notorious" in A Wee Test. You'll notice that some members of SOLOP gang were incensed at my choice of words.

Robert

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Robert, there seems to be something wrong with this test. I kept coming up with the same answer (morally impermissible) to all the items. Those can't all be correct, can they? I mean, is that good test-construction, to make a test in which all the answers are the same choice? To be valid, it should have mixed up the answers a bit, right? Or, are you trying to make a point?

REB

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Roger,

You're quite right, I've violated standard psychometric practice....

To make a point.

So far no one on SOLOP has actually answered the questions, though one contributor complained that none of them sufficiently specified the context.

The rest have been content to rail.

Robert

Edited by Robert Campbell

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According to Peikoff's theory of moral lying, if I were having an affair with a married woman, might it be morally acceptable for me to lie to her if I felt that she was being a "snooper" about my feelings for other women?

And how would we know if the story that Frank O'Connor used rows of empty booze bottles to mix artist's paints isn't an example of a moral Peikovian response to "snoopers"?

J

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"It is understandable that men might seek to hide their vices from the eyes of people whose judgment they respect. But there are men who hide their virtues from the eyes of monsters."

- Ayn Rand

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Alan,

I believe that Ayn Rand never thought of disclosing her affair with Nathaniel Branden to Leonard Peikoff, for the same reason that Dagny Taggart never thought of disclosing her affairs with Francisco d'Anconia or Hank Rearden to Eddie Willers.

Robert Campbell

PS. Although the issue has come up already on another thread, it may be worth pointing out in this context that the chapter on honesty in Tara Smith's book Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics never mentions "privacy lies." By my count, Smith's book deviates from the Peikovian line on just three issues, of which this is one.

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Alan,

I believe that Ayn Rand never thought of disclosing her affair with Nathaniel Branden to Leonard Peikoff, for the same reason that Dagny Taggart never thought of disclosing her affairs with Francisco d'Anconia or Hank Rearden to Eddie Willers.

Good point. Perhaps Peikoff thinks of himself as a "snooper" and he justifies Rand's lies to him on that basis. I can't read minds (else I'd post at NoodleFood), but that seems to be a reasonable guess.

Alan

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Guys, you're completely off on this!! Haven't any of you taken P's taped courses? And his famous example of the maniac with the bloody knife who comes to your door and wants an honest answer to 'where are your childdren'.

An eagerness to dislike everything about Peikoff leads to the absurd and cynical manufacture of the idea that he said this only because of (or after) PAR.

Reminds me of the Diana H or Wolfpack types who try to pin every kind of uncharitable misinterpretation on every sentence David Kelley utters.

Actually study Peikoff before speculating or accusing him of every possible sin from eating too much breakfast cereral to having sex with swamp creatures.

> I've heard, from more than one source, that Leonard Peikoff adopted his view on "privacy lies" only after The Passion of Ayn Rand came out

Robert, you heard wrong. One shouldn't simply pass along whatever are the worst or most uncharitable rumors one hears. Fairness is fairness even to one's enemies.

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Guys, you're completely off on this!! Haven't any of you taken P's taped courses? And his famous example of the maniac with the bloody knife who comes to your door and wants an honest answer to 'where are your childdren'.

An eagerness to dislike everything about Peikoff leads to the absurd and cynical manufacture of the idea that he said this only because of (or after) PAR.

Reminds me of the Diana H or Wolfpack types who try to pin every kind of uncharitable misinterpretation on every sentence David Kelley utters.

Actually study Peikoff before speculating or accusing him of every possible sin from eating too much breakfast cereral to having sex with swamp creatures.

> I've heard, from more than one source, that Leonard Peikoff adopted his view on "privacy lies" only after The Passion of Ayn Rand came out

Robert, you heard wrong. One shouldn't simply pass along whatever are the worst or most uncharitable rumors one hears. Fairness is fairness even to one's enemies.

Phil,

Do you have evidence that Peikoff adopted his view on lying to snoopers before The Passion of Ayn Rand came out? The example you gave of the maniac with the bloody knife is one of protecting children's lives from a murderer, not of protecting anyone's privacy from snoopers.

In the quote that Robert posted, Peikoff says, "There are men other than criminals or dictators to whom it is moral to lie." When referring to "snoopers" and issues of privacy, clearly he is not talking about maniacs with bloody knives who want to kill one's children, as such maniacs would qualify as criminals.

Since you've studied Peikoff, Phil, could you tell us whether or not he thinks that Rand lied in "To Whom It May Concern," and, if so, whether or not her lies were moral because they were told to protect her privacy from snoopers? Further, as a student of Peikoff, and as someone who has an advanced understanding of Objectivism, do you think that Rand lied, and, if so, that her lies were moral according to Objectivist philosophy?

J

Edited by Jonathan

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Phil,

Here is a story from Robert Bidinotto that might have bearing on this.

Selective timeline and links of the Kelley-Peikoff schism

Here is a small timeline and some links of how all this came about and what impacted the attitudes:

    . . .
  • Up to 1986 – An underlying tension in the Objectivist movement concerned whether or not Rand really did have an affair with Nathaniel Branden. It is hard to imagine this climate now, but there is a very good story about what it was like back then by Robert Bidinotto.

Here is the story from the link:

If you set off-limits to rational inspection any area of reality, that sets a methodological precedent for arbitrarily descending into irrationality whenever the truth becomes too painful or inconvenient to confront.

That is the Objectivist criticism leveled so often against religious faith, in such faith-based notions as a perfect, infallible God. The criticism, however, loses none of its force when self-described "Objectivists" employ that irrational methodology, and when their perfect, infallible goddess is Ayn Rand.

In this vein, let me tell you a story...and I beg your indulgence at the length of this post as a result.

Back in the mid-1980s, when rumors of Barbara's forthcoming biography began circulating, I vividly recall the "official" Objectivist position -- stridently maintained for years by Peikoff, Schwartz, et al. -- that the Brandens were filthy liars for even daring to absurdly suggest that there ever had been an affair between Rand and Nathaniel Branden. I just as vividly remember the "reasoning" offered to support these denials: that Ayn Rand was madly in love with and faithful to her husband; that Branden was a low-life and that a relationship with him would have been morally and psychologically impossible for "a heroine" and a "spiritual giant" like Ayn Rand; that Leonard Peikoff, as an intimate friend of Rand's and as her "intellectual heir," would have been in a position to know the truth of the matter, and that he had always vigorously denied it; that you'd have to believe Ayn Rand was less than she was, and that her Intellectual Heir was a bald-faced liar, in order to believe the claims of the sleazy Brandens; etc., etc.

That, my friends, was the official Party Line about the affair...before Barbara's book came along.

Around that same time, I was still on speaking terms with ARI people, and in fact had been writing for Peter Schwartz's Intellectual Activist. As a reviewer for other publications as well, I received an advance copy of Barbara's book in galley form, and of course devoured it quickly. It blew me away, to say the least. The details provided by Barbara were utterly compelling, and left no doubt in my mind that the disastrous relationship had, in fact, occurred; that it had been covered up for years; and that Rand's own account of the reasons for her break with the Brandens was -- to put it in Objectivese -- a highly selective re-creation of reality.

Given that I already knew Schwartz's hatred of the Brandens and his pre-publication hostility toward Barbara's book (which he had not even yet read), and given that I knew I'd be giving it an enthusiastic early review, I sent Schwartz an e-mail telling him that I would no longer be able to write for his newsletter. (I didn't bother to explain why at the time, knowing full well that he'd understand the reason within weeks.)

About the same time, still prior to the book's publication, I went to a party in New Jersey at which some people prominently affiliated with ARI were present. The subject of Barbara's forthcoming book came up, and I mentioned that I had read a review copy and would be reviewing it soon. One of those prominent ARI people, an artist, asked with an indignant tone: "Well, does she [barbara] contend that Miss Rand and Nathaniel Branden had an affair?"

I remember the sick look on all their faces when I replied, "She supplies a great deal of compelling detail that convinces me that there was an affair."

Even after publication of Barbara's book, the "official" position was still heated denial: continuing accusations that the Brandens were liars, that their accounts were "non-objective." But I noticed cracks in the public facade. In his own published screed against Barbara, Peter Schwartz asked in his closing paragraphs: So what if any of the claims in Barbara's book happen to be true? The real importance of Ayn Rand, he said, lay in her philosophy and novels: "It is her books that she should be judged by."

A curious position coming from people who had long argued that Objectivism permits no breach between mind and body, theory and practice -- and who had, since 1968, used that very argument against the Brandens.

Then -- FINALLY -- at a Ford Hall Forum speech which I attended, Peikoff revealed during the Q&A that he had recently "discovered" among Ayn Rand's personal papers some letters that confirmed that, Yes, there had been an affair.

Folks, you would have had to have been there to appreciate the thundering silence that greeted this stunning revelation. Imagine the sounds of hundreds of trains of thought suddenly screeching to a halt before hitting some unexpected obstacle on the track...then trying frantically to somehow reverse direction prior to impact. I mean, you could see it in the eyes around you: the smugness of moral superiority suddenly replaced by darting sideways glances, each person wondering how he should take this cataclysmic news, what others were thinking about it, how to reconcile it with all the previous self-righteous denunciations of the Brandens being liars...

The best historic analogy I could come up with was how U. S. Communist Party members responded early in the World War II period to sudden news from Moscow of the "Hitler-Stalin Pact." Overnight, the hated Nazis, denounced for years, were to be considered allies. Many of the more honest Party members quit in disgust. What remained was an unthinking contingent of dogmatists whose first loyalty was not to reality, but to their venerated icons: Stalin and the Party.

But just as new rationalizations flowed forth to encourage the Party faithful to navigate this startling ideological about-face, so too did Peikoff & Co. soon offer what have now become the familiar rationalizations for Rand's private behavior. No longer was their argument the one Schwartz had advanced in print -- i. e., that Ayn Rand should be judged only by her books. No, now they offered a new defense: that Ayn Rand had done absolutely nothing wrong. And more: that there was nothing wrong with extramarital affairs generally; that Rand had entered this one with everyone's full "rational" knowledge and complete "moral" consent; that the only thing wrong with it was that Nathaniel Branden had deceived her about his moral character, before, during and after the relationship began. In short, Ayn Rand was a totally innocent victim of the devious Branden. This was the new Objectivist Party Line.

This is as much a part of Objectivist history as Peikoff's lectures and there were too many involved who saw all this with their own eyes to imagine that Robert Bidinotto is lying.

I don't think that kind of effect can exist without a specific identifiable cause. People simply don't believe in the irrational as a group unless there is a person in a position of power actively promoting that irrational thought.

There are further implications, such as if a person in power actively promotes a lie to the public at one time, he is prone to actively promote other lies to the public at other times. I don't see where Peikoff, or any Objectivist for that matter, would be immune to that.

On to another issue, is it true that Peikoff eats babies and tortures puppies for entertainment? :)

Michael

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Guys, you're completely off on this!! Haven't any of you taken P's taped courses? And his famous example of the maniac with the bloody knife who comes to your door and wants an honest answer to 'where are your childdren'.

An eagerness to dislike everything about Peikoff leads to the absurd and cynical manufacture of the idea that he said this only because of (or after) PAR.

Actually study Peikoff before speculating or accusing him of every possible sin from eating too much breakfast cereral to having sex with swamp creatures.

There are people in this world who, believe it or not, do not call themselves Objectivists and yet would still not need anybody to tell them that if a maniac with a bloody knife showed up at their door they should not feel obligated to answer him fully and honestly. After suffering through 50 or so pages of The Ominous Parallels, I opted not to pursue the taped courses or Leonard's other writings.

As to whether he wrote about "snoopers" before or after PAR, the questions remain: does Leonard justify Rand lying to him about the affair with Branden because she considered him a "snooper", does he justify it on some other basis, or does he think that it was not justified? I do not know the answer, but it must be one of these three if he had given the subject any thought.

Do you know the answer?

BTW, Leonard is not my enemy and I do not think that he had sex with swamp creatures (a little French kissing is not sex).

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Phil,

Previous discussions on this board have failed to resolve exactly when Leonard Peikoff learned of the affair between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden.

Whether he learned about it before Barbara Branden's book was published, or afterward, he definitely did not know of the affair until Ayn Rand had been dead for some time.

Guys, you're completely off on this!! Haven't any of you taken P's taped courses? And his famous example of the maniac with the bloody knife who comes to your door and wants an honest answer to 'where are your children'.

An eagerness to dislike everything about Peikoff leads to the absurd and cynical manufacture of the idea that he said this only because of (or after) PAR.

My recollection of Leonard Peikoff's 1976 course "Principles of Objectivism" is that he endorsed lying to criminals and dictators, but not lying to "snoopers." Anyone who owns a copy of these lectures (I do not--all I have is notes) can check the passage in his lectures on ethics that pertains to honesty and find out whether I'm right about this.

In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand , written between 1984 and 1990 and published in 1991, he endorsed lying merely to protect one's privacy.

So what happened in between?

Robert Campbell

PS. If Leonard Peikoff has thought about the Eddie Willers analogy (and it would be extremely difficult for him not to), it's hard to imagine him being comfortable with it.

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PS. If Leonard Peikoff has thought about the Eddie Willers analogy (and it would be extremely difficult for him not to), it's hard to imagine him being comfortable with it.

Robert,

Especially since that would make NB Hank Rearden...

:)

Michael

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> does Leonard justify Rand lying to him about the affair with Branden because she considered him a "snooper"

Alan, I don't know. It's not a major enough issue with me to burn up any more neurons about it. There is too much focus on trying to find feet of clay in one's Oist opponents...or trying to erect timelines...or trying to do other personality or gossip type things beyond simply applying the ideas to improve one's life.

.....

The idea of lying to protect one's privacy -is- an intellectual issue and my view is that I or Rand or anyone else is justified in lying to protect their privacy, their personal lives from no longer being private . . . within certain limits.

Obviously, protecting your 'privacy' by lying about your infidelity to a lover who has a moral right to know would not be a case of a 'privacy' you are entitled to. Your sexual history and preferece, your tax and financial status, your philosophical leanings in a hostile graduate school where it could prevent you getting your degree, your politcs if you live in Lebanon . . . etc. are (sometimes) a different context.

There is a context for this, but I'm not sufficiently interested to spend time right now in defining the 'boundary conditions' myself. If anyone else wants to do so in any systematic and thorough manner, I'd be interested in reading it however.

....

The principle is that (within an appropriate context) there is a RIGHT to privacy. And therefore a right to protect and defend it.

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Phil,

Without trying to flog a horse to death, if you were the author of a philosophy that had the express purpose of saving the world and preaching moral perfection and knew you were leaving the custody of all your papers and copyrights to an heir, extracting certain deathbed promises from him (get the Atlas movie made, etc.), and an explosive affair terminated years ago impacted the whole kit-and-kaboodle and was amply documented in the papers bequeathed, don't you think this context exceeds the one of a stranger or non-intimate, and would compel you to disclose the truth to him?

God knows Peikoff needs no defense from me, but I think Rand was very cruel to him about this. She had to have been aware of the suffering it would cause him. This does not excuse the logical pretzels he later made to justify her, but he certainly did not deserve such a critical omission as her heir and Objectivist philosopher as endorsed by her publicly.

Michael

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> does Leonard justify Rand lying to him about the affair with Branden because she considered him a "snooper"

Alan, I don't know. It's not a major enough issue with me to burn up any more neurons about it. There is too much focus on trying to find feet of clay in one's Oist opponents...or trying to erect timelines...or trying to do other personality or gossip type things beyond simply applying the ideas to improve one's life.

Ok. My initial deadpan response was meant to be humorous, not to drive a philosophical stake in the ground. Leonard writes that "There are men other than criminals or dictators to whom it is moral to lie. For example, lying is necessary and proper in certain cases to protect one’s privacy from snoopers". Since Lenny does not fall into the criminals or dictators categories, I was joking that such would only leave the third category of snooper to justify Rand's lies to him.

Frankly, as MSK wrote, I think that it was wrong of Rand to lie to Leonard, but it is not that big of a deal to me. I just think that it is silly for Leonard to come off with high moralistic proclamations and give Rand a pass either explicitly (if he has justified her behavior to himself) or implicitly (he does not feel that she was justified, but will not pubically state so).

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--The Endless Focus on Personalities: Rand's Personal Life, Movement Figures one Wants to Support or Attack--

We live in a Jerry Springer culture, a gossip and paparazzi world, a reality television and National Enquirer...and map to the homes of the stars... culture. Or psychoanalzing Richard Nixon or George Bush from a distance. Or Michael Moore questioning the motives of his opponents. Or conservative talk show hosts doing the same thing in reverse. And a food fight culture in which these issues are discussed with the vilest kind of gutter psychologizing and ad hominem. One in which if you are a Democrat, you believes every negative assertion about every Republican and vice versa. And a sensationalist culture in which these kinds of personal issues are what the "yellow journalist" what-did-Mel-Gibson-say-yesterday and how-was-Britney-dresed and was-Paris-Hilton-well-treated-by-the-sherrif press and television keep alive 24/7 instead of substantive news or explanations of causes operating in the world.

It's depressing when intellectuals get obsessed with the same issues, with bringing them up over and over, while the world is starved for a philosophy of reason.

It is tempting and easy to do it obsessively or compulsively - like downing an entire box of empty calories at one setting, because these are colorful, vivid, emotional issues. And one always will have *one more thing* to say or one more rebuttal or one more new wrinkle or tidbit of gossip from another source to read.

And you can always come up with a rationalization for doing what you feel like doing. And why it is "important".

But one should try to exhibit self-control.

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