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Old 01-13-2009, 10:38 PM   #1
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tsukuyomi [ESSAY] Itachi's Personality and Philosophy - Existentialism

Itachi's Personality


I have never desired a particular personality, philosophy, or motivation for Itachi. My fascination with Itachi evolved from his mystery and frustration of not having enough evidence to draw any conclusions about what kind of person he is. I have already indicated above at least a few ideas I had about him, but I felt there was more to understand and be explained.

Following the revelations of the manga, I feel that Itachi’s character is more or less transparent now. Itachi is a prodigy. We knew that. He was born gifted and ambitious. He is cool, controlled, rational, solitary and autonomous. He is not merely “independent,” managing his life alone, but truly does not require, need, or want other people. He does not need to care about anybody, and he does not need others to care for him.

Itachi values Sasuke because he has the potential to activate the Mangekyou Sharingan. He values Madara because Madara can teach Itachi what he needs to aspire to the “height” of his potential. Itachi values Akatsuki because it provides him with basic necessities while he carries out his other goals. Etc. Certainly Itachi has emotions. He also has likes and dislikes, which extends to feelings of admiration or contempt for others. He can become excited, angry, or sorrowful. He is entirely human. He could learn to care for the needs of others if he chose (i.e. the way he “behaved” like the ideal brother for Sasuke), but he is likely to choose this only in exchange for something worth the effort rather than to fulfill an emotional need.



Itachi’s Age and Mentorship



A dark heart like Itachi’s is born from two sources: inner desires and outer influences. “Satan made me do it” is never a viable excuse, even if a person has proof that the devil himself forced his or her hand. Inside all of us is the potential to do great evil for the promise of greater rewards. Indeed, selfish, evil acts often are rewarded with the prizes that were sought (i.e. money, sex, power, etc.). It takes only conviction and the ruthlessness needed to achieve such goals.

That being said, it is unlikely that Itachi was born to an evil aim as great as mass murder in his search for power. Given his many mental and physical blessings, it is likely that Itachi was always ambitious and believed that he could achieve whatever he wanted, but it is also likely the direction of his ambition was shaped by outside influences. Not all ambition is evil. Itachi’s own father pushed him to succeed and impressed upon him the importance of achievement, honor, and greatness. However, Fukagu’s values were different than Itachi’s. Fugaku was proud of his son and saw him as a blessing and a great benefit to others (esp the Uchiha Clan). However, Itachi sought or was presented with an alternative destiny, a destiny that would serve him exclusively and take him farther than his father’s plan ever could.

Madara Uchiha became Itachi’s mentor. It is unclear when they met, but it was certainly before the massacre. Perhaps it was during Itachi’s training with ANBU, but I would suspect that it was even sooner than this. It would take time to train Itachi to commit the deed that severed him eternally from his former life. My suspicion is that Madara encountered Itachi in the way Orochimaru encountered Kimimaro or Zabuza encountered Haku. Madara saw in Itachi amazing talent, an ambitious nature, dedicated drive, and a clear-sighted, moldable temperament. Given Itachi’s personality, it is not suggested that Itachi depended upon Madara for attention, affection, or companionship as Kimimaro or Haku are shown to. Instead they probably struck a bargain. Itachi wanted to advance and he found a teacher that could advance him, one worthy of respect and admiration, unlike his actual family whose potential was beneath his own. In exchange, Itachi would team up with Madara to destroy the Uchiha Clan and pursue a great destiny.

Itachi was 13 when he murdered the Uchiha Clan. Needless to say, 13 is a very young, impressionable age. Although Itachi is intelligent and autonomous, he was barely a man (physically as well as mentally), just on the onset of puberty. Madara may have reached Itachi at a time when his system was just beginning to be flooded with testosterone (10, 11, or 12), when he was itching to compete, fight, assert dominance, explore possibilities of achievement, and creep out from the protection of his family. Other boys join competitive sports teams, or grapple with their peers in schoolyards at this age. Itachi was unchallenged and arrogant, yet driven to test himself and use his God-given talent to achieve something momentous. It would be the perfect age for Madara to approach him and groom him for murder and a massacre. The prize would be compelling for a young man of Itachi’s nature: the attainment of the Uchiha Clan’s highest honor—the Mangekyou Sharingan.

In order to groom Itachi for the “necessary” massacre, Madara Uchiha probably employed at least some degree of mental brainwashing. This is to say he probably fed Itachi’s ego considerably and reinforced every negative or apathetic thought and feeling adolescent Itachi had against his family and friends. For example, it is probably at least partially due to Madara’s influence that Itachi felt that the Uchiha Clan’s traditions were meaningless and that community values in general are responsible for the weakening the Clan and making them “pathetic”. Itachi was probably encouraged to distrust people’s intentions (after all, his own were not trustworthy), particularly regarding Shisui, who we learn WAS asked by the Clan to tail Itachi and report back to the Clan on his movements. It wouldn’t take Madara very long to convince Itachi that he was better than everyone around him, that he had no reason to be patient with those who were inferior to him, and perhaps even impress upon him that he was hated, even by his parents, for his abilities. To a 13-year old, who is already inclined to nurse imagined injuries inflicted on them by others, this would be a very compelling argument.

In other words, Madara Uchiha is the kind of person that a righteous individual would kill for fun, as Sasuke may feel like doing presently.

If any of my speculations about Itachi’s life under Madara’s mentorship are true, it gives an ironic twist to Itachi’s mockery of Sasuke’s memory of the past and how his “reality might be a mirage.”




Itachi and Existentialism: A Philosophy of Life



As previously stated, no one can or should be able to blame their actions on the influences of others. Regardless of whatever Madara may have said to Itachi in his youth, Itachi is ultimately responsible for his actions. By the evidence, he agrees with this, and even takes pride in it. Indeed, for all we know it was Itachi who sought out Madara and proposed the plan to murder the Uchiha Clan. Regardless of the details, Itachi takes ownership of his actions, and Sasuke (rightly) holds him accountable.

Apart from Itachi’s personality and history, it is important to understand his life philosophy. Everybody lives by some sort of philosophy, even if it is unconscious survival by hand to mouth. The only way human beings make decisions is by ranking a system of values. The difference between an Existentialist and everyone else is that an Existentialist facilitates his own system. He is a master of his reality. Anyone who is unaware of what he values, or relies on another (such as a religion or societal doctrine) to dictate his morality, is a slave.

What does this have to do with Existentialism? My postulation is that Itachi’s belief system is Existentialist in nature.



About Existentialism



As can be garnered from the name, Existentialism is concerned with the state of existence. Following studies on psychoanalysis and doubts regarding the existence of God (or any kind of absolute moral truth passed down to humanity by authority), philosophers began to question the nature of reality itself. How do we know we are who we think we are? How do we know that world is how we think it is? As such, how do we know how to behave or what to believe?

The contention is that if a man is trapped within his own mind there is no possible way of knowing if anything he thinks, feels, or believes is “true” or “correct”. (Sound familiar?) There is no way to argue this point since human beings can’t perceive the world outside their own brains and bodies, but philosophers took it further. They questioned the very meaning of existence. How do we know we are real? How do we know that anything we think or do affects our reality? How can we be sure we are not just puppets acting out roles in a grand play orchestrated by a greater mind?

In some ways, this is an extension of the conversation of whether or not human beings have free will. Are we being controlled in the things we do? How do we know we exist? In the past, this question was answered by referencing the mind. “I think, therefore I am” was the mantra of Descartes, who believed that people could evaluate their existence by their rationale and judge it by their values or moral code. But if our very minds are unreliable, or if the reality we think we see is not reality at all, then this answer becomes meaningless. As do all of our beliefs and values.

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Old 01-13-2009, 10:39 PM   #2
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So what do Existentialists believe? Existentialists disregard the question of “perception” and “reality”. Existence is not about what we think, but rather what we do through the individual choices that we make. Existing is about action, not thought. In order to exist, we must make choices, and we must believe in those choices and take full responsibility for them. Some Existentialists theorized that resistance to conformity was an important part of realizing self-awareness, because only when you reject what someone else wants you to think, do, or believe can you evaluate yourself as an entity apart from others. “I think therefore I am” was replaced with “I say ‘no,’ therefore I exist.” In this way, Existentialists refuse to admit to belonging to any school of thought or system…including being labeled as Existentialists.

The greatest truth is the one that is acted upon. As such, true Existentialists cannot be victims. They cannot be slaves. They accept no permanent roles at all. They are never forced. They are not inert objects that are acted upon. Even in the absence of options, Existentialists make choices. Existentialists take ownership of their own reality by recognizing that there is no reality beyond the one they create.

Obviously, there is more to say about Existentialism and Existentialists. There are different branches, for example, some allowing for a concept of God and some not. However, Existentialism is not a religion. Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with the value of human choice, and by its nature it does not dictate what choices are “right” or “wrong.” For this reason, no two Existentialists are the same. In fact, their morals—which they individually determine—can be completely opposite.



Itachi as an Existentialist



It is necessary to evaluate Itachi as an Existentialist, not because it vindicates him from wrongdoing (quite the opposite) but because it explains how he evaluates himself, others, and the world that he inhabits.

Itachi is an illusionist. As a genjutsu specialist, his work involves changing the perception of others. A simple genjutsu causes people to see a mirage, which renders their actions ineffective because they are “trapped” in their own minds and doing nothing in reality. However, as his skills improved, Itachi probably began to realize that genjutsu has depths much greater than the tactic to confuse an opponent. By chance he may have discovered that illusions can be more powerful than reality, and that by altering someone’s perception, he could control their actual world, and through that even change their beliefs. Ultimately, especially using the Mangekyou, he could compel others to reckon with a world of his own making.

A revelation such as this would eventually cause a "existential" feeling of deep anxiety or dread. If Itachi can control others, then it must also be possible for others to control him. Genjutsu may be a force to reckon with in a fight, but it is magnanimously dangerous on a metaphysical level. As the student of another Sharingan user (Madara), Itachi would begin to question everything he knows or he thinks he knows about reality. “What is real?” How can he know that HE is not also being controlled or manipulated by a greater force?

Even without genjutsu, this is a powerful question. How can anyone possibly evaluate his or her own circumstances? Genjutsu may have taught Itachi that people can be controlled by illusions, but people create their own illusions without the aid of any genjutsu at all. Consider, for example, Naruto's cry to Sasuke in the Valley of the End: "Was I the only one that thought we were friends?" Doubtlessly, Itachi has witnessed nauseating amounts of senseless bloodshed, misdirected rage, submerged emotions, crippled passions, and a great deal of people lying to themselves, blaming others, and depending on beliefs or organizations to justify their righteousness and see them through difficulties.

An example of this in Itachi's life would be Itachi’s realization that he was hated, not because of anything he actually did to others, but because others were jealous of him. They told him that he was arrogant, but failed to see who he was or what he was or was capable of doing. In addition to this, he saw ninja as a whole regarded with suspicion and hatred by the general populace, and the Uchiha Clan most of all. The Clan’s reaction to such hostility was to become secretive and exclusive, almost Cultish, and drive the collective energy of its people to maintaining the Clan’s honor. But this honor in itself was just another illusion, something the Clan believed and perpetuated about itself despite the hard facts that the Clan was dwindling. In addition, as Itachi became personally aware, the Clan was taking credit for honors passed down by Madara rather than honors achieved, and it was pressuring Itachi to do the same out of obligation and responsibility.

Itachi may have spent some time trying to puzzle out the "reality" of the Uchiha Clan, and here Madara may have lent a hand. There is no way to know, and there was no way for Itachi to come to a "correct" decision about “what is real.” The only thing a man can do in a situation of uncertainty is make a decision, believe in the truth of that decision, and act according to that decision. In this way, reality is variant to the individual. Existence is something that must be claimed. However, as mentioned above, many Existentialists felt that the only way to make true choices is to first disassociate oneself from any societal system, religious doctrine, body, or membership that extends control over the individual’s choices or shapes their reality.



Conclusion


For Itachi, this societal system or body of membership was the Uchiha Clan. It was not just a family. The Uchiha Clan is an organization with a hierarchy of values that it forces on all of its members, the most important of which is putting the Clan, the village, and the mission above all. Itachi, who questioned the very nature of existence and wanted to form his own hierarchy of values, was sickened by the short-sighted and small-minded doctrine of the Clan. And yet they held him accountable to it as one of its members. They turned his friends into spies, threatened him with imprisonment, and tried to take responsibility for his actions. Because the Uchiha Clan's business is to track down renegades, Itachi could not just escape. The Clan would dog him for life, and likely he would end up killing them one by one if they did, even if his own parents came after him (as they probably would). The logical choice then was a preemptive one. In order to free himself from the Clan and all his ties to it, he must not merely escape its influence by putting distance between them, especially in the ninja world where renegades are not tolerated. Instead, he must destroy it utterly.

This Itachi could do with a perfectly clear conscience. In a world where reality itself is questionable, there is no such thing as morality. There is no inherent value in family. There is no value in a village or a code or a way of the ninja. Remember too that Itachi’s personality type is such that he experiences only minimal attachment to other people, and that attachment is contingent upon benefits, not obligations or emotions. Itachi was self-sufficient at 13. He did not feel that he had anything more to gain from the Clan and everything to lose. In addition he had Madara, a teacher and mentor who in addition to influencing him in this decision was also a source of any further attention Itachi might need.

By Itachi’s own estimation, the only one out of the Uchiha Clan worth leaving alive was Itachi’s little brother Sasuke. Itachi evaluated Sasuke carefully and determined that he may be capable of activating the Mangekyou Sharingan. Leaving Sasuke alive was a choice Itachi made freely, for his own sake. Whether Itachi has any emotional attachment to Sasuke is irrelevant. He might, but that attachment would also be a choice, and in no way contradicts any of Itachi’s other choices.

An Existentialist is bound by nothing but the limits of his own mind. As such, Itachi could potentially do a 180 at any time in his life and change all of his opinions while losing nothing of his character (at least to himself, which is all that matters). This is because Itachi does not believe in any reality beyond the one he creates, and he is constantly creating his reality from moment to moment. He does not identify himself as belonging to any particular moral or societal system. The only thing that Itachi will not do is recant responsibility for his actions (past, present, or future), whether he believes in them presently or not. Accepting his choices and all of their consequences is crucial to his owning his own existence. By contrast, others’ evaluations of his character and actions are worse than meaningless.


Last edited by kiroisenko; 01-13-2009 at 10:56 PM.
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Old 01-13-2009, 11:09 PM   #3
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Interesting essay, but it seems like you're completely in denial about the actual reason Itachi killed off his clan (to prevent a war). No offense but you seem to have bought into his lies the same way Sasuke did.

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Old 01-13-2009, 11:15 PM   #4
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Wasn't it made clear why Itachi did what he did?

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Old 01-14-2009, 12:00 AM   #5
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Good read.

Nice Work.

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Old 01-14-2009, 12:12 AM   #6
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Yep, it does seem like you ignored Madara's speech about Itachi trying to save Konoha.

Quote:
it is likely that Itachi was always ambitious and believed that he could achieve whatever he wanted, but it is also likely the direction of his ambition was shaped by outside influences.
He never tried to achieve anything, but peace. (According to Madara)

Quote:
As the student of another Sharingan user (Madara), Itachi would begin to question everything he knows or he thinks he knows about reality. “What is real?” How can he know that HE is not also being controlled or manipulated by a greater force?
Conspiracy much?

You also believe in Michael Moore's movies?


Nice read though. But what is your point with it, I don't get it.

Itachi was perfectly aware of what he was doing, that's why we saw the suppresed memory of Sasuke, seeing Itachi crying the night he annihilated the clan.

Itachi cannot do a "180" as you claim. His goal all along was to keep Konoha safe. If that meant to annihilate the Uchiha clan, or stay as a subordinate of Madara, that doesn't matter.

If Madara already knew that Itachi was spying on him, why would he allow him fighting Sasuke and give Sasuke the power to stop Madara?

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Old 01-14-2009, 12:14 AM   #7
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That seems persuasive enough to change Kishi's mind about why he did it, very scary but very nice.

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Old 01-14-2009, 12:24 AM   #8
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The OP's not wrong. It makes some very good points and has the general framework of who Itachi is/was down very well. However, the OP does miss something critical about Itachi and existentialism. Though Itachi does take many actions to free himself and govern his own destiny, including bearing the entire responsibility of destroying the Uchiha and saving Konoha from war, thus choosing his own reality and constructing a "meaning of life" for himself, he is not free from the ties that the world binds him down to. In fact, Itachi is neither completely rationally cold and calculative nor in complete control over his existence. The power of his mind grants him the ability to have control over his decisions, but not the power to rule over complete reality with his own will. Itachi's character and his decisions reveal a more holistic view of existentialism, the fact that even an existentialist himself is still bound to a construct that he was born into. An existentialist must still function under the framework of life of the fact of existing, and though he may not be eluded by the norms and constructs many take for granted, he is not free of them. He can freely choose amongst them and even construct his own, but he is not free from being affected by them.

Existentialism sees the world through what it is, not through ideals or desires. They have a sense of realism, but part of that realism is that no matter how they've freed themselves from norms and constructs they themselves function under the construct of life, of being born, because that is ultimately the one choice they could not choose for themselves. Because of that any thorough view of existentialism not only includes a rejection of the illusions of society and the world, but paradoxically an embrace of that too. An existentialist does not function outside these illusions, they merely can see what is illusory and can therefore manipulate them, and understand when they themselves are functioning inside an illusion. Paradoxically again, their choice of these "illusions" affirms them and makes them real. In this way existentialism is not a rejection of the norms of life, but an extension of it.

Itachi fits this mold perfectly, because even as he chooses his fate to reject both his clan's desires and alienate himself from Konoha's ideals, he makes choices based on the illusions he sees fit to affirm. He cannot affirm the ideals of family because they clash with his cherished ideals of Konoha. He cannot embrace the ideals of Konoha because its illusion is revealed by the village's background politics. Hence he attempts to resolve this conflict by embracing an ideal of peace through individual burden and responsibility. He chooses a more encompassing ideal and used himself as the sacrifice in order to achieve a satisfactory end, but by doing that he reveals that though his choices are clear and he's not swayed by normative ties, and though he can even construct his own conclusions, he's still bound by them. His framework of choice functions under the framework of existence, of constructs that do exist, which he must interact with despite his freedom from them.

The power of normative ties over the existential choice is even more potent when we look at how he spares his little brother. He didn't just coldly rationally spare Sasuke because it was rationally self beneficial, but because the decision was rational to the ideals of family which in some ways he chooses to preserve. Similarly he joined Akatsuki to protect Konoha from the inside, a rational decision in order to preserve his cherished Konoha and its "will of fire". In those ends, Itachi is a true existentialist not merely because he's rejected the normative ties of his birth place and family, but at the same time despite his rejection of them in action he does so for their survival. In that way his act of rejection is actually a greater act of acceptance, because through his choice of rejection he has given both ideals a chance of existence even if they appear irreconcilable. He affirms these illusions for others and for their own sake even as he deludes himself from them. Itachi understands that his life's meaning is self constructed but is still tied to everything within existence itself including his blood and home. He sees through illusions and understands actions affirm illusions, but in the end to function is existence he is not free from approaching, confronting, and interacting with them. At some point even if he has latitude over what to encounter, he must still encounter them at some point, such as the reality of life. Blood and home are particularly inescapable because they are his point of origin and responsible for the existence at which he is granted his latitude. Because of this reality, an existentialist, rather than merely go through a selfish process of rejection, can also embrace the norms and constructs he sees fit, because they mean something to him. As an existentialist he's free to do that. After all the notion that an existentialist only goes through the process of rejecting "illusions" and rationally controlling them is itself an illusion, an illusion that the self is merely rational and that the inexplicable traits of human feeling and emotion don't matter in existence when they clearly do.

In the end this becomes no clearer than in his death. Though he chose the way which he would die, when he would die, and what would happen when he died, those decisions were inexplicably tied to the two ideals Itachi ultimately wanted to see become reality--Konoha's peace, and the survival of his blood through Sasuke. His death was not a rejection of these "illusions" like the act of sacrifice for village which would govern the rest of his life, but an embrace of them. His death was supposed to through his intentions and actions, make these illusions a reality for others, even if it was not reality for himself. In that choice, Itachi affirmed as an existentialist that the rest of the world does matter too, that these illusions, despite their intangible natures, can be real-- that some in his mind deserve to be real. In effect, his existentialism not only affirmed his own existence, but by penetratively seeing through the illusions of existence affirmed existence outside of himself. By realizing that an individual's choice of which "illusion" one follows turns that illusion into something real, imbuing it with meaning and purpose, an existentialist essentially affirms that there is a meaning in the rest of the world beyond himself. Itachi's death was a confirmation that life after his own death mattered, or otherwise all his planning and preparation would not have.

It's true that Itachi was an existentialist, and in many ways the OP's points about Itachi's philosophy are fundamentally correct, but the points made in the OP are incomplete. Itachi ultimately embraced love and bonds, human desires, which despite their illusion were very real to his humanity, and thus existed to him. A true understanding of existentialism must take into account not only the constructs of reality, but also that most of these constructs aren't self made and that one must interact with them eventually even if one is free from them, as even the existentialist is only free within the construct of a life that includes these other construct's existence until he makes the choice to be freed of that too. Part of that construct is human emotion and feeling, and it is an inescapable one like life because it lies within a person instead of outside, and therefore becomes part of a person's framework of existence. An existentialist who is not able to embrace the illusions of the world, and more importantly who is unable to what was born to him is not a complete existentialist, as he would be limiting his own choices of which illusion of reality to affirm, and therefore be limiting his own freedom to construct his own life meaning. With this in mind, we know therefore that Itachi was a complete existentialist, one who chose to care deeply for the world he existed in, so much that he would use himself as a sacrifice for the chance that the illusion of that world's peace could be one step closer to reality.

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Old 01-14-2009, 06:11 AM   #9
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This would make sense if you posted it before the revelations about Itachi.

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Old 01-14-2009, 07:11 AM   #10
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It seems like you are ignoring the point that the manga is making...Itachi did what he did to prevent war and in regards to Sasuke his attachment is important as it is said everything he did was for his brother hell he even died for him...good read tho m8

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Old 02-21-2011, 02:45 AM   #11
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sorry to bump this old thread.

OP (kiroisenko) stole this essay from my livejournal and posted it without credit. It WAS written before the Itachi reveal...way before (Jan 2008)... so it's quite wrong, but I'd rather be wrong for my own work than let someone else take credit for my work:

Info came from here:

http://zapenstap.livejournal.com/4542.html

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Old 02-21-2011, 02:47 AM   #12
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Addy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is EternalAddy is Eternal
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that's long.................

now let's read. it better be good

Addy is online now  
 
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