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[P]
Why We Write

By KingLear in Meta
Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 03:44:20 PM EST
Tags: Kuro5hin.org (all tags)
Kuro5hin.org

I recently had a discussion with a friend over an Internet project he was working on. The concept that caught my thoughts was the idea of users giving things freely, in much the same way that open source developers do. This led to thinking about sites like K5 and that other site. Sites like good old /. rely heavily on users to report news and information gleaned from places like CNN, Fox News, AnAndTech, as well as many other sites. This made me wonder about how K5 operates since most of K5's content is not merely links to other stories, but original material produced by fellow K5ers.

As some will recognize, the title "Why We Write" comes from George Orwell's 1947 essay "Why I Write"


K5 exists today due to one major reason. People like to communicate. While technically K5 exists because of Rusty and the rest of the crew at K5, the only reason K5 is successful is because of readers and reader contributions.

So why does the loyal royal K5 army write? George Orwell's 1947 essay "Why I Write" listed four reasons that people write.
  1. Sheer Egoism
  2. Aesthetic Enthusiasm
  3. Historical Impulse
  4. Political Purpose

So what happens when we apply these ideas to K5.

Sheer Egoism

Orwell defined egoism as the desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death. Egoism surely plays a major role in many of the postings here on K5. The idea that a story can be posted not just to section, but to the front page surely inspires readers to come up with a great article. After all, who wouldn't want their work posted on the main page of a website receiving so many hits per day. So surely a few writers on K5 write with the sole purpose of getting published and having their username become well known among the community.

Aesthetic Enthusiasm

This area primarily belongs to poets, artists, and depending on which recent K5 argument you believe, programmers. Personally, I haven't seen very many haiku's on K5 recently [NOTE: Since I said this, I'm sure someone will put a comment linking to some K5 Haiku] I'm going to assume that not many users submit articles to K5 in an effort to become well known poets.

Historical Impulse

Arguably a fairly common purpose on K5. Many of the stories submitted to K5 are related in some way to Orwell's concept of historical impulse. Orwell wrote that historical impulse was a "desire to see things the way they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity" (Orwell, "Why I Write"). K5 members tend to write about things that interest them, and in this way the submission queue contains an article related to Casey Martin winning his case in the Supreme Court; and a recently submitted article about Bush's energy plan. These articles tend to ask questions about current events, and try to get readers to think about what the topics mean to them in their own lives. This is an attempt to record the thoughts of people for future reference. User comments are a wonderful method of recording the publics' way of interpreting a situation. Just as gallup polls said that President Clinton was popular among Americans during the Lewinsky affair, so too do comments record what people think about events. Comments are actually a much more effective method of recording public interests and thoughts; as anyone can post any comment, and we are not limited to selecting a single radio button from a poll. So it is likely that many articles, including this one, are posted to K5 in order to get a reaction from the community, and to record what the community thought about a concept.

Political Purpose

Orwell used the word political in the widest sense of the term; meaning a desire to push the world in a certain direction, or to alter peoples' idea of the kind of society they should strive after (Orwell, "Why I Write"). Looking at the submission queue it seems that political purpose drives many people to post on K5. The articles in the queue reflect a variety of topics, each trying to influence the reader into thinking about a subject in a new way. Take this article for instance. In a round about way, the author seems to be asking whether or not it's time to change the way school administrators deal with problems in schools.

Comments

So why do people want to change the world? Maybe so they can change the course of history, or maybe because something they write on K5 will reach some future president of the United States, or maybe in the distant future, a President of a United World.So why do you write? I'm very interested in learning Why people like to contribute to K5, the other site, or any other blogs across the net.

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Poll
I Write because...
o of Sheer Egoism 17%
o of Aesthetic Enthusiasm 13%
o of Historical Impulse 5%
o of a Political Purpose 7%
o I have no life 10%
o I have Lots and Lots of Free Time 8%
o It's something fun to do at work 14%
o I like cheese. 22%

Votes: 68
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
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Why We Write | 35 comments (29 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
blog (2.33 / 3) (#1)
by /dev/trash on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:28:00 PM EST

Evil word.

The Orwell site you list that has his essay on why he wrote....has bad javascript, unless today really is May 31, 101.

You forgot a bullet point in why people write. Boredom. Sit down and just ramble on about stuff and you'll see your day fly by.



---
Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

Yeah (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by DranoK on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:40:31 PM EST

that pretty much sums up why I write on K5

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
k5-jelly (3.83 / 6) (#5)
by Seumas on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:46:06 PM EST

K5 is a procrastinator's wet dream. You'd be amazed at the amount of work K5 hepls me avoid.
--
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]
Just imagine... (4.50 / 6) (#12)
by rusty on Thu May 31, 2001 at 08:27:54 PM EST

Just imagine the difficulty of actually trying to work on K5 itself. I run into this constantly -- it's such a good procrastination tool that it's almost impossible to actually do work on it. There has to be some kind of Principle of Nature at work here, like the Pauli exclusion principle. Work and Anti-Work cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Thus as a body nears the epitome of Anti-Work, it becomes exponentially harder to put in the Work necessary to bring that body to the point of Absolute Anti-Work.

To restate what I will call the Foster Procrastination Principle:

Perfect Procrastination is impossible, since the amount of Work necessary to achieve a given amount of Procrastination increases exponentially with the amount of Procratination already created.
Maybe someone can come up with a better phrasing of that...

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
This comment (2.00 / 2) (#20)
by wiredog on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 08:30:32 AM EST

Should have been posted here.

"Anything that's invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things", Douglas Adams
[ Parent ]
y2k (none / 0) (#9)
by wiredog on Thu May 31, 2001 at 06:46:53 PM EST

You know, that's the third y2k bug I've seen. One at the Naval Observatory, one at my old job, and this one. Maybe I should write to that site's admin?

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
Phage
[ Parent ]

Well let me tell you (none / 0) (#15)
by /dev/trash on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 12:40:09 AM EST

The software at work prints comments with the date: Jan 4,101. They call it a cosmetic bug so who knows



---
Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
[ Parent ]

Orwell was a realist... (4.33 / 3) (#2)
by DranoK on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:39:35 PM EST

But who am I to judge? *grin* Yes, when I say realist that's generally an insult. *sigh* I don't much like the viewpoints in most of my favorite literature, tho...

The question I find more relevant to the reality I'm biased in is a simple one: what causes people to create? Of course, as soon as my brain asks this question the nihilist military force within my head quickly censors the thought. After all, the nihilist in me isn't the nicest of people.

Once a concept is created, once an abstraction or reflection of reality is pondered, writing about it is mere literature. So some realist who jacked off to logic and analytical mechanisms attempted to categorize the motivations behind literature. But what of it? His categories certainly have no omnipresent bearing; after all, any categories one can create stem entirely on the reality this person has subscribed to. The importance, relevance, and even accuracy of Orwell's categories loses relevance to any who does not subscribe to the same reflection of reality as the author; at best, it could be said that a majority of humans are realists at heart and subscribe to a reality closely symetric to Orwell's view. Still, the relevance is, well, relative.

For example, if I subscribed to a reality differing only slighlty from Orwell's, I could categorize authors into two groups: 1) Those who need to receive praise and 2) Those who don't care. Most people on K5 seem to belong to group 1. Most Americans do from my own experience and viewpoint of reality -- but your mileage may vary. K5 is a very peer-rated culture; comments are modded, stories are modded; etc., etc. And since a good portion of praise is agreement it is only natural to see why so many pathetic stories are entered into the queue which are redundant and dead already -- people will discover how people feel about an issue before posting.

Go a step further. Now I can categorize authors into three categories: 1) Those who write for personal reasons, 2) Those who write because they are coerced to by the Government, and 3) Those who write because they are coerced to by Space Alien Invaders. You might laugh at this notion, but only because you lack the philisophical viewpoint that reality is not real; reality is completely relative to the individual mind. If someone truly belived with full certainty in governmental plots and extra terrestrials with dubious intentions this categorization surely would make sense to him. He would live in a reality not completely in sync with the reality a majority of humans live in. I would dare you to claim this hypothetical individual's viewpoint is wrong; the very concepts of right and wrong, correct and incorrect are again based entirely on abstractions and philosophical concepts touted over millenia. Thus, to this individual, his reality is as real as they come, and his definition True. The same can be said of most religions I have studied.

My long-winded point to all this text is simple: You can categorize and analyze motivations all you want, but your answers will never be without relevancy. If an author believes he writes from alien influence and has no choice, and all of K5 believe he writes from Egoism, both of these viewpoints must be correct when viewed from relative relevance. Obviously when such a schism occurs the majorital reflected interpretation of reality conflicts with the individual's concept of reality. However, since reality itself does not exist neither of these viewpoints can be proven correct or incorrect. Sorry, but the Universe doesn't operate on majorital rule.

Ah, but to understand why intelligent man first analyzed and created new thought processes in the first place however long ago...now that is a philisophical question worthy of great study. Why man writes his thoughts seems woefully irrelevant in comparison.

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



irrelevant reply (none / 0) (#31)
by anonymous cowerd on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 06:59:10 PM EST

This has nothing to do with what you wrote above but odd how it popped up (what are the chances anyone'd read them back to back?), that you rated this as "inane" (yet a simple honest answer is never inane, no?) after writing this.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

stint grits
darts file
gratis ways to fit tins
dapper angle
ill apple
-Barbara Baracks

[ Parent ]

I only use 2 numbers when I rate... (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by DranoK on Mon Jun 04, 2001 at 01:01:19 PM EST

1 and 5... *shrug*


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
Aesthetic Enthusiasm (4.11 / 9) (#4)
by John Milton on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:45:41 PM EST

Don't knock aesthetics. Nobody's submitting haikus, but I know I'm proud when I look back over one of my posts and see a pleasing structure. Style is important for me. I'm not very good at it, but I like it when I see it.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


type type type... (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by anonymous cowerd on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 06:42:24 PM EST

...yeah. That's it.

Yours WD "runk" K - WKiernan@concentric.net

stint grits
darts file
gratis ways to fit tins
dapper angle
ill apple
-Barbara Baracks

[ Parent ]

I write for shameless self-promotion, mostly (3.33 / 3) (#10)
by adamba on Thu May 31, 2001 at 08:00:04 PM EST

I write for osopinion and K5 because:

1) I want practice as a writer

2) I am shamelessly attempting to spread the word about my book.

The results are mixed. Based on watching the sales rank on amazon, osopinion columns generate some sales, K5 seems to have no effect. Slashdot has studiously rejected every article I have submitted, but the one time they posted an article about something I wrote, sales shot way up for a few days.

Having said that, I don't mean to sound like my writing is not heartfelt, the positions not genuine, the sentences not carefully crafted. I mean what I say, but I do have this other goal lurking in the back of my mind.

- adam

Another option? (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by qpt on Thu May 31, 2001 at 08:26:48 PM EST

Although it might be considered merely a type of egoism, I have heard that some people write to inflame.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.

What are you talking about? (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by vectro on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 09:13:53 PM EST

Yes, I know, don't feed the trolls. But someone might take this seriously, so I am forced to rebut.

Your insinuation that people would post to K5 with the sole purpose of generating a response is utter tripe! Even the FUD that comes out of microsoft is better.

Come now, why, other than intellectual stimulation, would someone participate in K5? If they really just wanted to get a rise out of someone, they'd just visit the other site. We've never had someone post without the utmost of seriousness.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

eminem said it (3.28 / 7) (#16)
by streetlawyer on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 01:54:37 AM EST

Why Do I Write?

Because God put me here to piss the world off.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

You have got +1 FP (3.00 / 2) (#17)
by Tezcatlipoca on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 03:36:41 AM EST

I hope your ego is feeling fine now. ;-)



Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
Prime motivation for me... (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by nobbystyles on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 05:08:47 AM EST

For writing is boredom at work and hoping to stir up a few argumentative comments for my amusement. Perhaps this sounds like trollish behaviour.



Posting. (3.75 / 4) (#21)
by Signal 11 on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 09:10:34 AM EST

Great idea in theory, but please explain why some people post "NATALIE PORTMAN NAKED AND PETRIFIED" then -> for hysterical raisins, maybe?


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
1, 2, 3 (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by Speare on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 12:11:27 PM EST

I would suggest the 'natalie portman' stuff falls into the first three categories, but are merely more spontaneous than on-topic or insightful posts.

  1. Sheer Egoism
    - seeing your own posting and responses
  2. Aesthetic Enthusiasm
    - invoking mental images that you find interesting
  3. Historical Impulse
    - everyone else does it

[ e d @ e x p l o r a t i . c o m ]
[ Parent ]
Easy. (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by Requiem on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 02:05:10 AM EST

Great idea in theory, but please explain why some people post "NATALIE PORTMAN NAKED AND PETRIFIED" then

An exercise in style. ;)

[ Parent ]

Off-topic-ish (3.00 / 3) (#22)
by jd on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 10:13:12 AM EST

I don't know why anyone likes to write (least of all me), but I honestly think it's a whole lot simpler than George Orwell believed.

Now for the off-topic part. Looking at different alphabets used, by different cultures, it looks to me as though the more "evolved" the language, the fewer the characters used.

(eg: Nordic rune systems moved from 30 characters to 26 and finally 16. The English alphabet is "missing" the combined o/e and a/e characters, etc.)

This suggests that as writing evolves, the demand migrates from the symbolism to the structure. The more complex the grammar, the smaller range of symbols you need to describe the same thing.

This suggests one other thing - human/computer interfaces are devolving. The number of symbols used is rising at a phenominal rate. Keyboards have more keys than ever before, and with Microsoft's "Internet-ready" keyboards, the number isn't going down.

GUIs are just as bad. Icons are atomic entities, not composed, so =at least= one icon exists for every possible action you can perform. Often, many exist, all within the same workspace.

Some day, computing -may- reach the same giddy heights as natural languages. A 16-key keyboard, on which you could express more, faster, than any 112-key-plus keyboard, or a screen with icons composed of heirarchies of structures, with 26-27 atomic components, where each function was instantly obvious from the icon's "grammar"... Or maybe someday we'll end up with 2,000+ key keyboards, revert to flat grunts for a language (you wouldn't -need- more, to express the same amount!) and "lengthy" posts like this will be contained in a single character, which nobody will ever understand, cos there'll be too bloody many of them!

You egotistical fool (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by DranoK on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 02:45:29 PM EST

Explain Japanese then. A beautiful elegant language with far more symbols than English. Are you claiming the Japanese language is less developed than English?

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
Yes. (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by jd on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 03:46:08 PM EST

Japanese has simply never needed to evolve. It's probably no more than a 2nd or 3rd-generation natural language, as compared to English, which is about 12 generations after Latin, which itself is probably a 5th or 6th generation language in itself.

Japanese is "elegant" because it's linear (or close to it). Virtually anything can be expressed in one or two symbols, tops. As such, it would not at all surprise me if a Japanese version of "Gone With The Wind" would fit on one side of A4, comfortably, in 18pt double-space.

You could say much the same about heiroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone shows just how much less is needed to carry the same text in symbology, as it would in an alphabetic notation.

However, IMHO, that is the wrong sort of "elegant" to aim for. It's the right idea, but because it's linear, the increase in memorization required is directly proportional to the number of ideas you wish to express. You can't easily express anything outside of that linear structure.

More "complex" languages, such as English, have many fewer symbols, and many more combinations, to an arbritary depth. This allows you an effectively infinite range of "constructed symbols". From there, you can further combine symbols to produce more and more elaborate and/or specific symbolic descriptions. Infinity times infinity is big. And you only have to memorize a relatively small number of symbols to master the entire system.

However, "word-based" systems, which could be considered "2nd Stage Text" (as opposed to pure pictograms, which are "1st Stage Text"), are not by any means "ideal". They're cluttered, and lose the artistry of pure symbology. Further more, you really only replace a large alphabet with an even larger dictionary.

The "3rd Stage", I believe, is a blending of the two approaches. Instead of "words", being built out of "characters", you can easily develop a system which constructs pictograms out of a limited set of "units", where each unit represents one character, and where each pictogram represents one word.

In other words, you'd have many, many more pictograms than in Japanese, but each would require only a handful of basic blocks - I expect between 10 and 20 would be more than sufficient. So, instead of learning a dictionary of 2,000+ symbols, and then struggling to find the closest one to the thing you wish to express, you compose a symbol, out of a collection of base units, which describes =EXACTLY= what you want to describe, WITHOUT the requirement of a large dictionary OR a large symbol set.

This, to me, is elegence. A language so natural, so flowing, that mis-communication is almost impossible. A language which exploits the fact that you place each symbol in TWO dimensions, not one, or even zero, and uses that to encapsulate the entire word and definition in a single construct, in a way that can be QUICKLY AND EASILY interpreted by anyone, without the requirement for decades of intensive training.

Some day, I'll sit down and try to figure out what such a language would be like. But it would need to be so powerful and flexible, that every thought, feeling, mood, etc, could be readily written down, even though existing languages are hopelessly inadequate to such tasks. Yet it would also need to be so simple, at its most fundamental level, that ANY 6 year old could read PERFECTLY any text of any complexity, without difficulty, be it science, philosophy, or fiction, and understand in excess of 50% of the material.

I believe that that is the next "form" language will take. The existing natural languages are proving difficult to maintain, are impossible to translate with any accuracy, and simply require far too long to master.

The fact that the computer has been used to worsen the problem does NOT help matters. 26/27 character languages can take months for a child just to master the character set. When we're looking at keyboards which may soon be FIVE TIMES as complex, we're looking at a year, plus, just to learn how to operate a device.

That is NOT OK.

Natural Languages are also horribly ambiguous. Part of this is usually "blamed" on people's brains not working well with rigid concepts. IMHO, this is blaming the messenger. The brain doesn't =get= rigid data, so why =should= it deliver it? It's no reason to. So, how do you devise a language that's not ambiguous? Simple. You include meta-data, which defines a context. The more of a context the language can describe, WITHOUT significant overhead, the less ambiguous the language will be.

(Sure, it'll still only represent a person's viewpoint, but if you encapsulate in the language the information which makes up that viewpoint, then the reader will be presented with the writer's brain's view of the data, not merely the reader's interpretation of the language's interpretation of the writer's interpretation of their perceptions.)

[ Parent ]

I got bored halfway thru your comment (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by DranoK on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 04:17:01 PM EST

you have the same problem I do -- you type faster than people can read. Anyhoos

What you're describing sounds much like a language concieved of in part by Arthur C. Clarke in the Rama series (yeah cowritten by his cute little monkey boy but oh-well). Ack, I read those books when I was 13 and it seems too long ago now (well, not that long =p but still long enough for me to forget names. Actually, now that I think about it I really wanna read those books again). There was a wierd colorful race of...I dunno, I guess orthnopods. I think they were called something similar to Octopi...don't remember the exact term. Their language was really great from my perspective:

The structure was pretty simple. There were very few words, as you described in your reply, but the words were more than that -- they were concepts. It was a very mathematical language. This is probably why I took such a liking to it. In essence, an adjective would be applied to a noun, typically very few verbs per sentence, with tons of extra identifiers. There was inherant structure in it too. For example:

(Good [5] Food [3]) [6] at restaurant [5](6)

Now, Clarke never gave any examples as I recall but the example I list above make sense to me. But then, I'm sleep-starved so... What this basically says is that there was good food at the restaurant. But it did so in a much more vibrant way. The number 5, after good, could be said to represent a scale. Where say, 0 is low and 10 is high. In this case, the goodness of the word good used is dead center, or a normal good. The food was not quite full food -- 5 would be an average meal so this was somewhat smaller. Over all, the expeirence of consuming the food was slightly above average. The restaurant is rated 5, or normal, so we can assume it was a pretty ordinary restaurant. The extra 6 denotes an optional clarifier, usually an opinion. In this case the speaker has a slightly above average opinion of the restaurant.

Now, this language obviously isn't perfect, and one could argue to its merits as opposed to any 'real' language, but it reminds me a little of what you were saying.

The 'beauty' of a language, or elegance, is very relative. From your first post I had simply assumed you were being pompous in patriotic support of English. As long as you accept the relativity of elegance in language, I have no real problems with what you replied with.

Except that there's no way in hell I'm reading that much =)

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
Japanese is simplifying (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by fluffy grue on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 12:08:40 PM EST

More and more of Japanese text is migrating from kanji to kana, a very simple phonetic symbol set. Most Japanese word processors have the user type in kana, and then if it comes across a word which is in its dictionary it'll convert it to kanji; most children learn kana first, and then eventually learn kanji.

A similar thing is happening with the various Chinese dialects. Many of the symbols are actually combinations of other symbols, and then simplified Chinese exists to serve a similar purpose as kana. I also have a Chinese/English keyboard, and the number of symbol keys is exactly the same as the symbol keys in English; for writing Chinese, there's just a number of strokes which you can use to build an entire symbol. This doesn't seem much different than using allophones to build up an entire word.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Oh yeah (none / 0) (#33)
by fluffy grue on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 08:37:15 PM EST

I should also mention that everything I said regarding traditional Chinese writing systems (i.e. the orthography of the subsymbols) also applies to Kanji, given that Kanji is Chinese symbols (i.e. Kanji is pretty much just traditional Chinese with Japanese grammar). I don't think simplified Chinese and Kanji are compatible though. (I don't actually know any of these languages; I'm just parroting what I know about them from speaking with both native Chinese speakers and various Japanese-speaking anime-otaku.)
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

K5 makes me smarter (none / 0) (#32)
by Tatarigami on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 07:59:55 PM EST

One reason I post on K5 is that I depend on the readers to challenge any logical flaw in what I'm saying. Every post I make here usually gets revised until I'm confident there's not even the slightest crack for a wedge to be driven into. It's a process which is gradually transforming me into a god-like debater in less demanding forums.

:o)


You ain't seen nothin' yet (none / 0) (#34)
by Sunir on Sun Jun 03, 2001 at 07:28:43 PM EST

Try WikiWikiWeb. People will even correct your spelling and grammar. This will make you into not only a good debater, but a good writer. Plus, since you often have to negotiate, it makes you a better citizen.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Why We Write | 35 comments (29 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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