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Erich Fromm on Failure/Sickness of Industrial Society

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Erich Fromm on Failure/Sickness of Industrial Society

Postby Winston » Sun May 29, 2016 1:12 pm

This quote in a book by Swiss Psychologist Erich Fromm is so true and describes people like us who don't fit in America, because we are too sane and honest in an insane and fake society. Isn't it so true, insightful and eloquent?

"The sick individual finds himself at home with all other similarly sick individuals. The whole culture is geared to this kind of pathology. The result is that the average individual does not experience the separateness and isolation the fully schizophrenic person feels. He feels at ease among those who suffer from the same deformation; in fact, it is the fully sane person who feels isolated in the insane society - and he may suffer so much from the incapacity to communicate that it is he who may become psychotic."
- Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)

You can get Erich Fromm's books on He saw a lot of the ills we see in Western society long ago.

Here is an interesting book he wrote called "To Have or To Be" in which he explains how western society has lost all its focus on being, instead it focuses on having things, rather than being things, which ultimately leads to emptiness.

Description from Wiki:

"To Have or to Be? is a 1976 book by social psychologist Erich Fromm that differentiates between having and being.

Fromm mentions how the modern society has become materialistic and prefers "having" than "being". He mentions the great promise of unlimited happiness, freedom, material abundance, and domination of nature. These hopes got to their highs when the industrial age begun. One could feel that there would be unlimited production and hence unlimited consumption. The human beings including men and women have started dreaming about becoming the Gods of earth, but it wasn’t really the case. The great promise failed due to the unachievable aims of life, i.e. maximum pleasure and fulfillment of every desire (radical hedonism), and the egotism, selfishness and greed of the people. In the industrial age, the development of this economic system was no longer determined by the question that what is good for man, rather what is good for the growth of the system.

...In every mode of life, the people should ponder more on "being" nature and not towards the "having" nature. This is the truth which people deny and thus the people of modern world have completely lost their inner selves. The point of being is more important as everyone is mortal, and thus having of possessions will become useless after their death, because the possessions which are transferred to the life after death, will be what the person actually was inside.(wiki)"

Here's another book he wrote called "The Sane Society". He talks about a lot of the stuff we talk about in regard to how Western societies can be insane, rather than individuals. Description from

"Social psychologist Erich Fromm’s seminal exploration of the profound ills of modern society, and how best to overcome them

One of Fromm’s main interests was to analyze social systems and their impact on the mental health of the individual. In this study, he reaches further and asks: “Can a society be sick?” He finds that it can, arguing that Western culture is immersed in a “pathology of normalcy” that affects the mental health of individuals.

In The Sane Society, Fromm examines the alienating effects of modern capitalism, and discusses historical and contemporary alternatives, particularly communitarian systems. Finally, he presents new ideas for a re-organization of economics, politics, and culture that would support the individual’s mental health and our profound human needs for love and freedom.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Erich Fromm including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate."

Here's another great book by Fromm about how most people do not want freedom, instead they want "escape from freedom". Hence the title of the book. Review from of "Escape From Freedom":

"An amazing book that pieces modern society starting from the medieval to the renaissance and reformation, that is, from a well defined structured and fixed group identity, fixed meaning to life, determined purpose to life and the here after, to that of the existential, capitalistic and monopolist society that has produced radical individualism with the type of freedom producing severe loneliness, separation and the need to alleviate such emptiness, which has been fulfilled by illusionary means.

Fromm relates a major piece of Western civilization's struggle in the ability to see the correlation between the medieval, secure, self-employed society to that of the Renaissance, an elite aristocracy employing the masses as dependent employees, commodities under a new capitalistic society. It was here only the limited rich could prosper in creativity, while the masses existed in a new existential despair. And so Luther, and later Calvin, devised new forms of Christianity, existential types, to aid these new psychological needs of the masses in accepting this change from security to exploitation.

Fromm goes both into the psyche of man, the nature of societal structure, the development of western civilization and need for security and certainty to that of either authoritarian rule, internal conscious rule or the invisible rule of democratic conformity to public opinion, or automation.

Basic Masochistic/Sadistic desires of man from the extreme, to what is considered "normal" has been seen in the forfeit of the individual self into totalitarian control, capitalistic profit and religious and social concepts that attempt to fill the void of separateness without keeping the self.

Fromm ends his book in what the positive traits of what Faust would be: that of spontaneous living, not compulsive living, but in positive affirmation and movement, in the process of life, not the results, the experience of the activity of the present moment. I couldn't agree more."

Wow I didn't know that during the Middle Ages, or Medieval Europe, most people were self-employed and didn't have to work for someone else. In that way, people back then had more freedom, whereas the Renaissance created a system where people had to work for others and become exploited as "wage slaves" and human capital. That's something most people don't know, that there were a lot of freedoms in the past that are lost today. For example, government had no ability to monitor people under surveillance in the past, so people did not have to worry about "Big Brother" watching them.

Some great quotes from Fromm's "Escape From Freedom":

"The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him, need not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is high; it is the loss of his self."

"This loss of identity then makes it still more imperative to conform, it means that one can be sure of oneself only if one lives up to the expectations of others. If we do not live up to this picture, we not only risk disapproval and increased isolation, but we risk losing the identity of our personality, which means jeopardizing sanity."

"... We must replace manipulation of men by active and intelligent co-operation, and expand the principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, from the formal political to the economic sphere."
Check out the latest posts in our blog The Happier Abroaders.

Don't forget my HA Grand Ebook and Dating Sites!

"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
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Re: Erich Fromm books on Insanity/Sickness of Western societ

Postby Winston » Mon May 30, 2016 7:53 pm

Some great reviews and summaries of Eric Fromm's book "The Sane Society" from Apparently, he is on the same page as us. Yet he never seemed to advocate the HA solution. I wonder why. Why is the HA solution so taboo that even the best psychologists who agree with us and are on the same page as us, like Fromm, do not even suggest it as a possibility? It's odd how far out of the box we are, yet in theory our solution is very simple and logical. Very inexplicable.

5.0 out of 5 stars
An indictment of our society
By A customer on October 9, 1999
Format: Paperback

I have never found any author who has a firmer grasp on the human condition than Erich Fromm. Chapter 3 of The Sane Society is a masterpiece in describing what it means to be human and why we are foolish to expect never to be anxious and always to be happy and smiling. This book is an excellent analysis of the situation of modern man and frightening in that the characteristics Fromm cites have become even more ingrained in us. His thesis is that we are inherently anxious due to our consciousness. Unlike animals who have instincts to script their lives from start to finish, we are free to determine ourselves and this freedom without anyone/anything to tell us what choice to make is frightening. We are capable of joy and our culture is capable of being called a good one to the extent that our lives are a reflection of our individual abilities being given expression in our work, our play, our social life and our government. We are happy to the extent that we realize ourselves, or as Fromm puts it, that we give birth to ourselves over our lifetimes. In order for this to occur our society must value the human over the inanimate (property) and that is the downfall of Capitalism. We are in service to the system of production and have become alienated from ourselves and others. We fashion ourselves to be appealing products on the personality market, becoming no more than objects for sale to others. "I am as you want me to be" is our personal creed and our work, our social life, our family life all are disconnected and increasingly unrelated to us in other than materialistic ways. Fromm's prescription is "communitarian socialism" which is a society in which all aspects of life are interrelated and dedicated to the advancement of human life rather than material production. He sees the problem and a solution but since this book was written (1955) we have accelerated in the direction he feared. If you doubt that what he says is true, try being out of a job and looking for work. You will find how little what you are is valued and how much the art of selling (no matter what is being sold) or narrow technical knowledge is valued. Things are more securely in the saddle than ever before and we are slaves to a system which promotes more of every"thing" and little of what is human. One example from real life of what Fromm is saying in his book... there was a manager where I once worked whom we called "roboman" because he had no ability to relate to people but was obsessed with work, always busy on 5 projects at once and very competent technically in everything he did, though universally reviled for his disregard of people. He got promoted and now heads the company office in another city. God help his employees. People who manipulate things advance and are highly rewarded as Bill Gates can tell you. People who care for people are passed over. Efficiency is King and humanity has been left in the dust. Remember the ancient Greeks saying that the purpose of society is to further the happiness of it's members? The purpose of our society is to make more things. You and I are out there at the stores frantically buying and that assures that this will continue. Fromm makes the excellent point that those who are successful in society are considered sane, no matter how pathological they might be when viewed from the perspective of what it means to be an integrated, productive human being. As we ever more frantically race to make life ever more frantic, we are forgetting what sanity is in our materialistic frenzy. You can drive from coast to coast across this country of 300 million people and not have contact with another human being except when they pass you a burger at the drive-through. Very efficient but is this isolation that technology promotes good for people? We could all do with a careful reading of Fromm's book.

5.0 out of 5 stars
A brilliant and creative analysis with possible solutions.
By Frank Bierbraueron November 10, 2003
Format: Paperback

I had heard of Erich Fromm for some time but had not read any of his work and then decided I should have a look and see what all the fuss was about. To say the least Fromm does an excellent job of attempting a critique of modern society whether it be western capitalism or eastern communism. He considers the question: is current society sane ? He concludes no and pushes aside the claims of most psychologists that a sane member of society is one who can adjust himself/herself to it. Naturally such a claim means that society itself must be sane. Fromm instead supposes that there are other more objective measures of sanity than the society one is a part of. Such measures were considered by Freud early in the 20th century and led to his idea of the libido which unless satisfied produces insanity and neuroses. Fromm himself studied under Freud in psychoanalysis but came to the conclusion that Freud's ideas, although basically correct in their aims, incorrectly based all of man's behaviour on the libido.

Instead Fromm analyses current society, circa 1950's, on the basis of human nature which arises from the human condition, his whole existence. Fromm finds that man has, over the centuries, removed himself from nature (the metaphor of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden) which formed for him the womb and the spiritual connection needed by him. Instead man developed his own world which was formed through the creation of villages and towns and agriculture and some independence from nature as the provider and sustainer. The eventual extreme aspects of this alienation are found in both communism and capitalism as seen today where the individual no longer feels a relatedness to others in the society, an alienation which itself can lead to insanity. The fact that people are capital and not "people" anymore and that their work becomes capital as well which can be interchanged with other forms of capital which have no human base produces ill health and a mentally ill society. This also applies to communism except with the addition of enforced governmental structures. Fromm notes how sanity can only be achieved through changes in all aspects of the human condition at once rather than piecemeal attempts. That is his economical, political, spiritual and social needs must be satisfied at the same time. He contrasts earlier centuries to the modern one and how a capitalistic view imposes uniformity even under the illusion of individuality.

From attempts some way out of this crisis through what he calls "communitarian socialism" which applies directly and concretely to an individual's present circumstances. Fromm is widely read and never forgets to note the important authors who led the way before him. Similarly he is knowledgable in surveys and studies over the years concerning attempts at an improvement of the human condition applied in industry by others. It is the satisfaction of human needs in the present circumstances which lie on the road to a better society not who controls the means of production.

Unfortunately after a detailed and brilliant analysis of society Fromm does not spend anywhere near the same amount of time in the resolution of its problems. In the second last chapter, about 70 pages of a total of 360, he attempts it. One feels that he never quite finished this chapter and that he had much more to say, or rather there was much he mentioned briefly but did not analyse deeply enough. He did not discuss the problems which could arise in these solutions as they are implemented. This is disappointing.

Nonetheless, simply for a deep and insightful analysis of society and human nature Fromm cannot be faulted. The book is a must read for these reasons alone. It is unfortunate his ideas were never put into practice. Society continues in its march towards insanity as the capitalist ideal is approached and people are more and more dehumanised. No wonder such massive problems exist.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Is our society (= we as individuals) sane? The answer of the book is "no"
By Vladimir Antimonovon February 18, 2009
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

The kernel of Dr. Fromm's analysis and the starting point for his further discussions is the definition of "human nature" - from the psychological standpoint. For him the human's psyche is not a computer (to use contemporary metaphor) on which society can install any programs of behavior it requires. If the social programs - norms of conduct and value judgments, i.e. what is good and bad, what one shall strive for etc. - do not match the natural, evolutionary pre-defined needs of the human being, psychological defects and neurosis shall occur. The mentally healthy, i.e. sane person is thus the one who does not have defects and does not experience neurosis, who lives in a society that through economic, political and social channels promotes and furthers his harmony with requirements of his, human nature.

For many of us it may be very surprising and even suspicious that somebody can question the sanity of western society and thus sanity of the majority of its individual members. How, after all, can people who have achieved such dramatic heights in the scientific thought, who have so rapidly progressed in mutual creation of such elaborated technologies, and who then make them work with an even-increasing efficiency, be not sane?

The answer lies in the definition and the meaning of "sanity". For Fromm the term "in-sane" does not equal "idiot". An in-sane person is not necessarily the one who has abnormally low IQ (intelligence level), but the one who is not truly aware of himself and of his nature, whose reason (i.e. the ability to "grasp the world by thought", to penetrate beneath the surface of things and ideas as opposed to mere ability to manipulate given objects and facts) ceased to develop properly or deteriorated; an in-sane person fails to see the difference between the means for his life - money and material possessions as most straightforward examples - and the aims of life. The one who lives for something that he consciously or unconsciously puts higher than him - be it material things or other persons whom he worships.

The aim of productive, that is truly human, life for Dr. Fromm is threefold: 1) the realization of man's productive powers, 2) development of his reason, and 3) experience of true love - not only of erotic love, but the true love for ones neighbor that so many religions had manifested. His diagnosis is that our average contemporary fails miserably in all three spheres. Again we may at first rebel at such humiliating statement but only until we go along with the author through all the arguments he successively presents in the book.

For the remote future generations our time may appear to be a very interesting theoretical case. The direct authority that suppressed human beings from time immemorial has been largely gone. No more serf owners, no more cruel industrialists who could exploit workers in the absence of protective legislation. The family authority also diminished and Church as organization as well as an institution does not tower above individual any more. The individual has finally gained (or received) his freedom!... But is he really free? That is a cornerstone question for Fromm's analysis.

The author meticulously studies the peculiar aspects of our modern life, from what the rise of methods of mass production started to require from human beings in the 19th century, to how these requirements had, along with technology, developed in the 20th century. He especially focuses on how requirements of the modern economic machine progressively formed into moral standards for our society and how they forced out the need (and largely the possibility) for direct, overt authority; how these economic requirements now perpetuate and reinforce themselves through political and social institutions in such a way that from the first years of our lives we want to do precisely what the economic machine, and not the human nature, wants us to do: to indulge in obsessive work for most of our life's hours, with only two purposes: 1) to increase the abstract capital, material possessions and to secure the growth of the machine itself, and 2) to be able to spend the results of our work - money - and the small bits of the remaining time on the goods and entertainments produced by this machine.

How could it be so? And is it so? When we look at our lives we may at first fail to find any proof of evidence for it. After all we do what we want to do, we decide what our profession should be, what company we shall work for; nobody tells us what model of the car to buy, or which girl to marry... Nobody forces us to anything! And that is very accurate. Nobody. But it does not mean there is not something that persistently suggests, urges us to do what it wants us to do. The special term was later coined for this something - economists now call it informal "institutions". And the set of institutions currently accepted by most members of society form an overwhelming force called the "public opinion". In contrast to the overt authority, which usually tend to demand very precise things from its subordinates, public opinion leaves us enough room for some unimportant choices, which give us the illusion that the choices are truly ours. In reality though most of our really important choices are pre-determined by the way the mass production machine works and what type of servants it needs for its successful operation. The modern technology needs very intelligent man to operate it. It cannot use brutal force any longer since that would hinder man's intelligence, which it now needs so much. It cannot let most humans to develop their power of reasoning - since they would then rebel against the dictatorship of economic forces. Thus the contemporary economic machine needs man who becomes more and more intelligent ("smart") but never truly develops his reason, who wants to have all the goods this economic machine can produce in order to provide for its continuous growth - and the machine skillfully helps him to want an ever-increasing number of new and different goods and experiences it can produce. It propagates itself and stimulates consumption through techniques of advertisements, propaganda and "success stories". What it does not reveal to us is that most of these stories are successes of the machine, not of human beings in the humanistic sense of achievement.

This book largely repeats what Erich Fromm had already said in his earlier works ("Escape from Freedom" and especially "Man for himself") in the analysis of the human nature, current human situation and problems that occur at their junction. Twenty years after the first publication of "The Sane Society", in his final book "To have or to be?" Dr. Fromm sums up these concepts more succinctly (on some 150 pages), though never loosing important aspects of his previous works. So for anyone who's mostly interested with a psychological and not sociological aspects of this book I would rather recommend to read "To have or to be?" and then "Man for himself".

One aspect of "The Sane Society" that is more elaborated in this book than in his other works is the "Road to Sanity": changes that are necessary in social, political and economic spheres to let the human beings become masters, not slaves, of the technology and capital they created; what changes are required to let each individual realize his creative and loving potential and to stop being converted into programmed robots which follow the dictatorship of the soulless capital, despite having deep inside the ever-present anxiety and neuroses that now so frequently occur.

Fromm seeks solution that would help not only the upper and middle classes, but the working class too, every human being. He briefs the reader on the ideas offered by the most and also lesser renowned socialists, quoting them extensively, and suggests that the "Road to sanity" for us should be that what he calls "Democratic Socialism". Unlike many socialists who placed most emphasis in the spheres of political (revolution, the rule of the working class) and economic (nationalization of the means of production and less drastic distribution of income) changes, Fromm explains that unless significant changes also happen in the social sphere (changes in values and increase of faith in abilities and reason of all human beings) any attempts limited to economic and/or political spheres will inevitably fail. He also shows that while economic goal of socialists of the 19th century - to provide better means for living for the working class - has already been accomplished better that many could dream of, the social situation of that class and it's genuine self esteem had not largely changed. The only difference is that brutal oppression of the 19th century was substituted with programming the blue and white collar workers with "the law of the free market" mentality which can be summed up in the following: "If you do not work you will starve, and we offer you choices of work and monetary reward on which you and your family can exist. If you do not like the work we offer for your knowledge and skill level and you do not have enough money and brains to prepare yourself for what you would like to do, or you want to do what we as a society do not value in materialistic sense (teachers, nurses etc) - well that's just too bad for you. But we, the society, have nothing to do with that. This is you who are a failure. Realize it and stick to your destiny and work that you can do. After all somebody have to do the dirty jobs in the factories and on the streets, so why not you?" Although for some this may sound like a normal, fair way of treating individuals, it certainly does not sound so for Dr. Fromm and for many other humanists he quotes.

Erich Fromm was far from being naïve and overoptimistic. He accepts that among current economic, political and social institutions the current way of mass production (around which our whole economy is organized), which requires huge organizations and a great deal of specialization of labor, can be changed least. He offers some very practical (and mostly realistic) political, social and also minor economic changes that should help workers as well as managers to become more reasonable and also become less alienated from their work and their whole life. But after reading his truly brilliant analysis of the human nature and current human situation and the way it developed to what it is, his last, relatively short chapter on the "Roads to Sanity", leaves an impression that he himself was aware that what he proposed was not enough, and what would be enough could not be realistically achieved. Dr. Fromm is an analyst par excellence, but he does not have the vigor and ego of Karl Marx to force his ideas and ideals with the revolutionary strength upon "the ones who must be saved". Thus he does not dwell into many details on how the new, sane society shall function, limiting his suggestions only to indicating "possible ways" and some seemingly discrete changes. And that may be a sign that he himself did not believe that something can be fundamentally changed on the gross level. But even if that is true, even if economic machine and profit obsession cannot be restrained in the foreseeable future, this book is still very important as it can at least help some individuals to unveil their reason and thus to [partially] escape the general madness created by the current capitalistic soulless machine. And the larger the number of such individuals is, the more are the chances that society as a whole will gradually adopt a healthier approach to life.
Check out the latest posts in our blog The Happier Abroaders.

Don't forget my HA Grand Ebook and Dating Sites!

"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
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Re: Erich Fromm on Insanity/Alienation of Western society

Postby Winston » Mon Jul 18, 2016 2:22 am

A few paragraphs from the introduction of Erich Fromm's book "To Have or To Be", about how the "great promise" of the industrial era to bring happiness and freedom to everyone or most people via unlimited consumerism, pleasure and prosperity, has ultimately failed. So true isn't it?

Introduction: The Great Promise, Its Failure, and New Alternatives

The End of an Illusion

The Great Promise of Unlimited Progress-the promise of domination of nature, of material abundance, of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and of unimpeded personal freedom-has sustained the hopes and faith of the generations since the beginning of the industrial age. To be sure, our civilization began when the human race started taking active control of nature; but that control remained limited until the advent of the industrial age. With industrial progress, from the substitution of mechanical and then nuclear energy for animal and human energy to the substitution of the computer for the human mind, we could feel that we were on our way to unlimited production and, hence, unlimited consumption; that technique made us omnipotent; that science made us omniscient. We were on our way to becoming gods, supreme beings who could create a second world, using the natural world only as building blocks for our new creation.

Men and, increasingly, women experienced a new sense of freedom; they became masters of their own lives: feudal chains had been broken and one could do what one wished, free of every shackle. Or so people felt. And even though this was true only for the upper and middle classes, their achievement could lead others to the faith that eventually the new freedom could be extended to all members of society, provided industrialization kept up its pace. Socialism and communism quickly changed from a movement whose aim was a new society and a new man into one whose ideal was a bourgeois life for all, the universalized bourgeois as the men and women of the future. The achievement of wealth and comfort for all was supposed to result in unrestricted happiness for all. The trinity of unlimited production, absolute freedom, and unrestricted happiness formed the nucleus of a new religion, Progress, and a new Earthly City of Progress was to replace the City of God. It is not at all astonishing that this new religion provided its believers with energy, vitality, and hope.

The grandeur of the Great Promise, the marvelous material and intellectual achievements of the industrial age, must be visualized in order to understand the trauma that realization of its failure is producing today. For the industrial age has indeed failed to fulfill its Great Promise, and ever growing numbers of people are becoming aware that:

• Unrestricted satisfaction of all desires is not conducive to well-being, nor is it the way to happiness or even to maximum pleasure.
• The dream of being independent masters of our lives ended when we began awakening to the fact that we have all become cogs in the bureaucratic machine, with our thoughts, feelings, and tastes manipulated by government and industry and the mass communications that they control.
• Economic progress has remained restricted to the rich nations, and the gap between rich and poor nations has ever widened.
• Technical progress itself has created ecological dangers and the dangers of nuclear war, either or both of which may put an end to all civilization and possibly to all life.

When he came to Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize for Peace (1952), Albert Schweitzer challenged the world "to dare to face the situation. . .. Man has become a superman. . .. But the superman with the superhuman power has not risen to the level of superhuman reason. To the degree to which his power grows he becomes more and more a poor man. . .. It must shake up our conscience that we become all the more inhuman the more we grow into supermen."
Check out the latest posts in our blog The Happier Abroaders.

Don't forget my HA Grand Ebook and Dating Sites!

"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
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Re: Erich Fromm on Failure/Sickness of Industrial Society

Postby El_Caudillo » Thu Jul 21, 2016 3:23 pm

I had an interesting introduction to Fromm. A Brazilian girlfriend that I met in Argentina and went to live with in Sao Paulo mailed me a audiobook on CD of Fromm's 'The Art of Being' after we broke up. She indicated that it might help me with some of my problems (she is a smart woman). Actually I could never get into it. However, I do like Fromm's interpretation of Marx...YES a huge problem is that a lot of work these days is meaningless - by I'd take it a step further: the general malaise/problem is not that we are forced to meaningless work, I think that is inevitable for the majority, it's that people refuse to recognize it as meaningless. The other day I had a bright young woman tell me about the long hours that waited for her in one of the big accounting firms like KPMG once she graduated. She was so ready to succeed - people like that scare me (yes she was Taiwanese). I think she was wanting me to great, go for it!
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