Dan(iel) MacKinlay




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'Smothertongue' > by Dan ( )


Smother Tongue
Dan | 12:22am,Mon 29 aug 2005 | Siantar, Indonesia

reprinted From Undergrowth #7 - Nomadology

I’m a teacher, apparently. At least, I’ve instructed no less than eight classes of students in the last week. In every village, the English teachers lie in predatory wait for foreigners. If I get seen, they grab me by the arm, drag me into class, plonk me in front of the students and say, “Mister Dan, would you please tell my students why English is such an important language.” Hum.

By the end of the week, I am beginning to get shirty with the procedure, in particular with being detained for many hours on the pretext of dropping by for a few minutes. Gotta learn to stop that. But it’s hard to find reasons to say no, I’m sorry, I know your school is underprivileged, but I would rather drink avocado smoothies and hang out with my art school mates on the lawn. The flattery helps, too. Nothing fluffs up the old ego like being needed. Look at me ma, I’m making a difference. And so it continues.

Until this. This class is night-school, the evening before I leave the country. I have to be at the boat terminal in 14 hours. My kidnapper/teacher this time is an instructor taking a class of bank tellers angling for promotion through the rigours of operating English language money transfer software. The folks are at the stage of speaking where they have to write sentences down in English before saying them out loud. I am not allowed to talk to them in Indonesian, the teacher says, because they won’t take the class seriously. They have to feel that English speakers can speak only English. Fair call. So I speak to them in only English. If I stop and ask them if they understand my slurry strine, they smile at me with the silent ill-ease that you display when a stranger’s mobile phone goes off and the ring tone is a fart. Then, inevitably: “Mister Dan, would you please tell my students why English is such an important language.”

So, this.
Why I Hate English, the little speech I gave them about my own language, as best I can remember, with my best public pomposity:

“Ok, languages tend to have patchy and challenging histories, but English is
something else again. English. A bricolage. A pastiche. A mess. Like daytime TV, what it lacks in elegance it makes up in volume. Why is it that the language we expect the whole planet to learn has its expressiveness tied up in a bloated vocabulary that even native English spellers never get the hang of? The answer, I reckon, is found in its past. (My historical linguistics is hazy, so please feel free to correct any details that I have mangled.)

It’s not so long ago that English had genders, just like all those silly European languages, and freer word order - none of this modern subject-verb-object nonsense. And not so many words in it. It was a language pretty closely related to other Germanic languages, say German and Dutch, and sure enough, the Angles were/are a Germanic tribe. In typical violent English-speaker fashion, they invaded England and displaced the native Celtic speakers. First wacky linguistic encounter! I don’t know what words came from the English collisions with Celtic, so please someone else fill me in. But that’s why there are English speakers (Anglish, originally, yeah?) in England. Cool.

Alright, next up the Romans invaded. Not so many words came into English from them, but I think ‘wall’ was one of them, which gives you some idea what new roman military technology most impressed the Angles. Then England was invaded by its own linguistic cousins, the Danish vikings. They brought their families over, and it was all on. Under the onslaught of English speakers’ first major experiment in multiculturalism, they crumbled, language-wise. The genders went. English became, in some senses a weird, simplified hybrid of Danish and itself. The Danes gave us the words for ‘egg’, for ‘skirt’, ‘window’, and, wait for it, ‘them’. Yipes. Even the most basic words in the language were up for grabs. How intimate a linguistic collision is that?

Next up, in 1066, the French invaded and gave English the biggest injection of new vocabulary it had ever received in one hit. The French ruled for a dynasty, and suddenly French became the language of the upper class. They gave us, generally speaking, the wacky, unnecessarily long words that duplicated the existing English ones. From French we have ‘assist’ alongside the old Germanic ‘help’, ‘monarch’ alongside ‘king’ … The food words are the most telling. Germanic peasants grensheep, cows, pigs but their lords ate mutton, beef and pork. I think that’s where English plurals came from also – the way we tack “s” on the end of words. I think. ‘Excuse my French’ jokes aside, don’t worry, the healthy peasantish words ‘piss’, ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ are all old Germanic words. Just ask a German. I seem to recall that ‘cunt’ comes from French, though. Did you guys know those words yet?

Now, let’s just skip over the details of how a ‘standard’ English evolved from all the different dialects; that can come next week. Because next up, the crux. The English started invading everyone else. The era of colonialism rolled around, and they had a sticky finger in every continental honey pot. English stole needed words from native Americans, both north and south, from its own distant, distant cousin Hindu (pajama), and from other Indian languages, from Chinese languages, from Malay ones, from Arabic, from Russian, from Aboriginal Australian languages, from bloody everyone. In trade they left everyone everywhere talking English back at them. This was the time that English became a global language, although it took America becoming the global superpower to finally put paid to the rival French.
So in answer to the original question, I think we can explain English’s importance like this: a violent people, invaded a few too many times, have inflicted the linguistic legacy of their multiple defeats in revenge upon everyone else.”

I look around the classroom. I lost them at sentence number one. They’re waiting for ringtones. That’s ok, I want to sleep. I’ve missed my bus out of Indonesia for this class and they don’t care. I want them to be buying me flowers in tearful thanks for being fluent in my own native language, but the odds are slim.

“Very interesting, Mr Dan,” says the teacher, “now would you please tell the class why English is useful in the banking sector?”



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The Mechanistic Universe

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The Mechanistic Universe'The Mechanistic Universe' collage by Dan( )
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I CAN SEE SPIRITS> by Dan(iel) MacKinlay

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I went to a conference in the bush, some months ago. We had some big ideas about living the new world, the lot of us.

We were all dressed up and ready to reject convention for a little experimental moment or two. We set up tents and generators and sound systems around a little dam in the hills where the trees stood greying in dried mud, near a big pink hacienda that the property ownes lived in, and we ate lumpy porridge and hash cookies around flaming steel drums with our temporary neighbours in the tent city. There was a bondage marquee and everything.

There were some big parties there too. I remember one night in the courtyard of the hacienda seeing the kids from the next kombi dressed up in silver and black bodysuits and masks, twirling flames on the dance floor with a cheering audience of five hundred people. They made a better spectacle than they did porridge. There were big magenta lights in rotating concentric spirals on the audience, and speaker stacks tall enough to pop passing cattle in a consummate bass kick. There were flaming kerosene ropes of woven kevlar, and moth-people on stilts. There were paramedics in green overalls, including an undercover cop.

All in all, a fine show, especially when you're tripping off your hairless nipples.

As I stood there, agape, a small man in parachute pants and a baseball cap shouted in my ear, 'Hey mate, are ya on anything?'

My drug-paranoid cop-detectors were tingling. The man was so obviously undercover that he may as well have had a flashing blue light on his head and a nightstick in his jocks.

'Ah, no, my friend,' I squeaked in a gap between flanged snare hits, 'I'm here for the music.'

'Shit, that's no good,' he said, 'Put ya finger in `ere,' playing with his front pocket.

That was a tense moment. But he fished out a little baggie of cocaine before I could make any disastrous social errors.

'Go on,' he said, 'It doesn' cost me anything,' and held his stash out to me.

He swigged champagne from a bottle while I stuffed my nose. There was a conversational pause for me to choke on my confused sinuses in. Damn. I don't do cocaine very often. His voice rose over my splutters and the sound system: `I just come back, from the indig'nous welcome to the land. Didja see the Bundgalung welcome dance?'

*Cough* I said.

'They're the tradish'nal land owners round here. Gotta give `em respect for lettin' us have tha party, eh?. Shit, they're a tough crew, though. Had a bitta drink with `em before. Whew.'

The fire twirling was winding up, and the sound system getting louder.

'Hey, you should drop by and see `em, say thanks. They're the mob playin' cricket all day by the big marquee.'

I realised I had nothing to say to this man and his shiny teeth.

'Bundgalung? Right. I see my friends over there looking like they need me...'

I turned back to the crowd, who were officially commencing the shaking of their booties to the phat techno soundz.

Yeah. I was going to show them up. So I did.

I pulled moves so awesome that other innocent partiers thew me envious looks. They were daring me to go further, challenging my style. I wasn't rising to the bait, I was unstoppable, I was a techno Travolta. Limbs icily controlled, motions clinically precise, motions simple and transcendently passionate, an essay in the art of modern dance.

Then the cocaine wore off.

This article is sponsored by the Drugs Enforcement Agency of the Unites States of America

The courtyard was filled with an overdressed gumbo of twitching bodies and purple bleeps and bass. Someone said 'I can feel the moon!' It was a woman dressed in faux wolf-skin. A hand squeezed my elbow. It belonged to a friend from Canberra, young Lavender, a lone non-stranger in the middle of the plastic madness. She smiled and mouthed friendly incomprehensible things to me. I pointed up my nose. She motioned to her bottom. And the evening flowed like a spring tide in reef spawning season while I stood there with my arms dangling. There was a movie projected on the wall of a woman and her coven playing progressive rock and singing incantations at the camera. They were painted silver, apart from their eyes, which were as black as new moons.

And the people flowed on through the projections, flowed on, and got dustier and sparser, and more crowded, and flowed on, and the record scratched accidentally and everyone froze in horror, and it started and the lighting guy spotlighted everyone he thought was ugly, or pretty, or maybe that was the reflections from the people wearing shiny plastic dancefloor armour but we were all too convulsed to notice, and on and a moth-guy on stilts chased me off the floor out the back entrance to the courtyard, and I had dust in my brain, stars on my forehead and heat in my eyes, and I was alone in a dark little corridor, with cobble floor and stucco walls. I pressed the stucco to my hands in this peaceful side-alley, and watched behind me the moth guy terrorising short people with the poor judgment to wear inconspicuous clothing.

I guessed: that's the end of that; and retreated further up the corridor.

The light was on in the kitchen, even though it was 3am. It wasn't the best place to conduct covert missions, this kitchen. The sounds of gas burners and aluminium cook-pots spilled over and around saloon-style doors, even over the muffled techno, and you couldn't walk past without nearly wretching at the smells of inedible things boiling.

'Where did you get this stuff, Theo?' asked someone out of my line of sight.

'It revealed itself to me, my friend, in a vision, when I went to search the bush for it. We found the mountain like magic, and there was the plant growing on the side, just as it stood in my inner eye.'

I could see a gaggle of people gathered round the cooking range. Theo stood in the middle of all of them, with a wooden spoon and oven mitts, and a tureen as big as my chest. He was a tall man, gaunt, check-shirt, flannel cap, and blonde eyebrows over eyes as wide as peeled onions. I had met him at one of the panel discussions at the daytime part of the conference, and been impressed by his spirituality, by his way of looking at you and seeing something else, and also his expertise in extracting drugs from native plants. Call me totally presumptuous, but I was pretty sure he was putting that talent into action before me at that point. Theo wasn't a man to boil pots of magic mountain plants at 3am for pot pourri.

One of Theo's friends was pulverising dried leaves in an electric coffee grinder. She tapped a lidful of green powder into his brew.

'Knock, knock,' I said. 'Hi everyone.'

Everyone froze.

'Come in!' Theo said, 'We're making ayahuasca.' A Peruvian shamanistic broth involving orally active n-dimethyltryptamine and several beta-carbolines. Basically, some shit that fucks you up. {More responsible cultures around the world use it for spiritual insight. -”Jim}


The people around the cooking range shuffled to make room for me.

'Now, what's your name?'

It was quite a simple process really, making ayahuasca, Theo explained, and it really was. We used just a stove, and an oven, and lemon juice, and still managed to make a huge sacramental mess, all over the kitchen that would be used for a school camp or something the next week.

He and his buddy Gonzales reminisced together while they stirred. Gonzales was dressed in Peruvian warm things, and he told tales about the ethnobotanical significance of ayahuasca in shamanic rituals, like:

'One time I drank this shit, and the shaman blessed me in the name of Jesus, the devil and the Virgin Mary while I drank it. That was a wild night.'

Sometimes. This time:

'This conference has been all about theory, man,' he said, 'Fuck that, let's trip.'

Gonzales was allowed to say things like that, he'd been trained by a shaman, he reckoned, and he spoke Spanish too.

Theo: 'Right on. Folks, we've made enough ayahuasca here for a pretty big ritual. Who wants to come and drink it with me on Bald Rock?'

We all put our hands up. I said: 'Can my friend Lavender come?'

'That's about 20.' Theo counted on his fingers, 'Sure. You all better get ready to have a growth experience.' Everyone laughed, even me, although I was not quite sure of the joke. Maybe it was nervousness?

Our tour guide was voluble. 'Don't worry, folks,' he said, 'I've already drunk ayahuasca on this mountain top. Last time me and Gonzales came here, we kicked major evil spirit arse. So, don't worry about any gremlins, we've wupped `em. The rock is one A-grade safe tripping zone. Oh, you might want to bring some warm clothes. And something soft to lie on. It's pretty rough and grainy... Although when we defeated the spirits last time the rock became welcoming and velvety, and kind of enfolding.'

'Right on,' said Gonzales.

* * *

An amiable woman from the kitchen offered me a lift in her car to the rock. That was nice. I had met her a few times - her name was Drusila, and she seemed to know what was what. She also had a lovely car with heaps of room for several fellow passengers and some assorted blankets and stuff. I took the opportunity to grill her on the way there, with questions like:

'Drusila, should I drink ayahuasca?'
'Jesus, Dan, it's your life. It's just another sacramental drug, y'know? You decide if it's what you want to do.'

'Drusila, was that you painted silver in that movie they were screening before, playing progressive rock and dressed as Egyptians?'

'Me and my coven, yeah.'

We parked in a carpark saying: Bald Rock. Scenic Views.

'Alright everyone,' shouted Theo, looking like a cricket coach in his flannel hat, 'Let's climb the rock!'

So we did, tramping up above the tops of the enormous eucalypts over this lump of leftover dreamtime geology, until the sky opened up with stars and the voices of whispering treetops and all that remained of civilisation was the tiny purple flashing lights of the doof, half way to the horizon. Theo took my name down in a big journal and asked me if I'd done this before. He was excited. He whispered to me: 'Did you hear what Gonzales said before? He said, fuck the theory, let's trip. How cool is that?' He raised his voice. 'Alright everyone, maybe we could gather round in a circle before we all go off on our own missions.'

'Do you want to do a consecration ritual, Drusila?' Theo asked.

'Nah, I've already done one.'

'Really? I didn't see you.'

'Just before. I walked round the rock and chanted.'

'Oh, right. Well, I think I still want to do a ritual. Maybe we can all get in a circle and chant or something.'

'I've got some Peruvian tobacco,' Gonzales piped up, 'I can do that shamanic thing where you blow smoke down the neck of the initiates. It's pretty cool.'

'Go for it, Gonzales.'

'Do you want to maybe all say why you're here?' Gonzales asked, as he unpacked his stash.

'Wait!' Theo interjected, 'Can we please sit in a circle here, folks?'

'We are in a special place,' said Theo, 'This rock, Bald Rock, is the heart chakra of the world.'

'I thought that was Uluru.'

'Uluru is the spleen chakra.'

'No way, there is no spleen chakra.'

'How about Stonehenge, what's that?'
'Anyway,' he forged on, 'all such rocks are sacred. Think how deep this one stretches beneath the earth. We are on the tip of a giant rock thing stretching hundreds of metres through the crust of the planet. I hear it's particularly sacred for the Bundgalung people who live here.'

'Does that meant that we shouldn't be climbing it then?'

'I don't know, someone can ask them when we get back to camp. They're the dudes playing footy by the big marquee.'

Theo had the ayahuasca in some big tartan thermoses. We drank the strange tea, and it was bitter of course and washed down with honey, and sat in a circle and chatted for while and chanted for a while.

Theo started that. He held a lone long high note, until everyone else joined in and whooped, and keened, and drawled long self-conscious sounds, quiet and loud, until the circle was charged with human voices. More complexities and confusions and choosings of cups and so on and so on until suddenly a cup was pressed into my hand, and I drank it one swallow, and licked the dregs of sticky honey off my hand. I had the thoughts that you have when you've just filled your belly with DMT.

'So, is there anything we should do?' asked one girl.

'Um, that's up to you. I wouldn't feel qualified to advise you. It's the drug that is the teacher. I am merely the facilitator. The drug will show you what you need to know. Maybe you can think of your questions about the drug as catechisms to take to the journey, and that can be the start of your learning path. Hey, sit down, Gonzales is about to consecrate your neck with Peruvian tobacco.'

'So, why are we all here?' prompted Gonzales. People always have good answers to that.

'I want to see the sky from the inside.'

'I want to see a bit about what it is that makes us adults in the eyes of the spirits.'

'Me too, I want to be a full-grown warrior.'

'I'm here to learn about myself.'

'It's my birthday. I want to do something important.'

That was me. It really was my birthday.

'I'm here to achieve unholy union with the mother earth.'

A guy called Manfred, that everyone told me was secretly Dennis McKenna checking out the local drug scene, was next. 

'I'm here to learn what the teacher has to teach,' he said. And he blessed the cup before he drank it.

'En el nombre del Lijo, el diablo y la Virgen Mara.' came Gonzales' voice from just behind my ear, and a weird warmth as he blew hot tobacco smoke down my neck. I returned to the little bed that myself and my friend Lavender had made. The ground was already tilted, didn't need drugs to have difficulty walking there. So we didn't walk anywhere. We abased ourselves together on the scalp of the rock. She was nauseous, holding herself in a little, still nursing her mug of pungent sacred tea. I wrapped myself up alone in the sleeping bag for a while and watched the sky. Occasionally someone around would vomit, sometimes sickly Lavender, and each time a black bubbling illness would flux in me, and I would think of my own belly. And it would recede.

I sat on the rock, while a tide rose inside. Soon my body jerked, and the sky pulsed pale blue, and the stars trembled in clouds against the gentle blue cloth as dark empty points. Then it was too late.

I realised how cold I was, right from my icy belly to the crystalline emptiness forming in the night above me:

Visions descending from the sky. Shapes and laughing things, half-creatures, boxes, colours. Interlocking geometric claws, and and triumphal glaring beasts made of flocks of black dots against dayglo backlight...

Dark thoughts, endings, loss of control, lying on the side, body stripped away. Black shapes flaying away my self and insides and outsides, fear of the oncoming hell, darkness, decay, rust until there is just me, a smear of black dust on the rock dispersing in the night. The spirits would come to trick or taunt me, or take my baby body through their mad rituals of warriorhood.

I imagined the hell that awaited me.

I wished I could vomit, and suddenly I had. I arched my body off the rock and flung a throat-full of thick bitter bile all over the scraggly bushes. It was very cold in the wind, the only warm spot on my body was the place where Lavender stroked my back, and the messy necessity of my gut meant that I forgot for a moment my powerlessness, my surrender, the madness of Peruvian pointillism in the sky. My teeth were shivery and rebellious and my gums ached. When the clenching in my guts was done I returned to the sleeping bag, shivering, trying to find a way of fitting my whole body into its tiny portable world, and hiding my face from the wind. I snuggled against Lavender.

All over the windy top of that rock people were vomiting and shivering under blankets, leaking heat and belly stink to the sky. Inside my cubby I was threaded with warm yellow strands of confidence that had subtly threaded through me like fungus. My mind felt like the invisible inside of a solid rubber ball, or like a blank page of scented letter paper. I flexed my toes and the motion was aimlessly perfect, golden, and the memory that I could do that, move my toes, and that I could want to, was palpable amazement that I gripped between my heels. I left big aimless scrawls across the whiteness in my skull with doodling thoughts. I cracked open and ink seeped out my own eye sockets.

There was not a sentiment in my self that was not exposed to the snuffling currents of air and no selfish secrets that did not drift up to the sky to surprise albatrosses and aircraft. Detritus, useless, my thoughts were only an undifferentiated piece of the world that deigned to be me. I surrendered thought to things in the world that needed it more than I. I was a leaflet-drop of myself onto barren terrain.

Under a willy-willy spiral of paper habits and sketched self-portraits, an entity remained. That entity felt very much like me, felt like it could stand up and be me, maybe. But instead it cowered under blankets and felt its modest selfishness drain back in at the corners of its body.

I stayed in a little blanket paradise and felt defeated, and renewed in my failure. My remade body was too soft for the surface of rocks. Newborn skin. I rolled against Lavender, tried to ask ... and that was...

Delight with words transfixed me. I was absorbed in my vocal chords and before I had got through the sentence I was so in love with it that I couldn't even look at it without crossing my eyes.

'Are you alright in there travelling space-user?'

Questioning was too beautiful, and her tiny body was so sweet to touch that it at once gave me the pangs of carpal tunnel syndrome. I imagined the soft metal threads of my muscles unbinding, volatising into maple syrup. My head was drunk with the act of creation in each movement of my body. I made a sound, and heard it form fat and full in my throat, and die against the enclosing blankets, and I made another, blew a bubble of sound heard it burst. Speech alive by itself. Each word was a fantastic journey from conception to execution. Wormy phonemes crawled out, alive by their own selves and slick from my lips. I knew that if Lavender responded I would squawk and squimmmer back and forth with her forever, or at least until the drugs wore off.

She lay silent, occasionally belched, and absorbed my voice like a muscley feather pillow. Outside people screamed, howled and chattered, made nonsense sounds, or snorted and prowled. I joined in when they passed by, pressing my lips against the warm down stuffing. 'Everything is wonderful! Everything is wonderful! Everything is wonderful!' said a girl who gave me a back-rub before.

I wondered what was happening in the still body of my fellow-traveller under the rug. Sometimes Lavender got up to vomit, and returned. She mumbled, too slow for my combusting thoughts. We were silent to one another. In my blanket womb I was a reclusive foetus, overterm, she was my stillborn twin.

The ayahuasca was lowering me to earth, dew on lichen.

I snatched a quick doze from the lullaby of my singing synapses. And a walk. I stood and took the air, and heard footsteps echo round my brain-cathedral, but I didn't fall over, I walked. I swaggered, even, shook off the coverings in the easiest ever birth. Just like that, I was individual again. I was a wise one. I was full of Experience.

I went to farewell the spirits of the rock, trekking backwards around the crown the way I came.

Circumnavigating the rock was harder than it seemed it should have been, the vegetation was thick, and the slopes of the rock were difficult on my ankles. It was hard to push around the outside of the trees without falling over the edge, and the moment I walked amongst them it was impossible to see over their brushy tops. The trail would vanish into random blurs of moonlight if I got a lonely metre off it, and brittle branches would slap me down or splinter into my skin. I had lost my friends at the top of the rock in the shards of native vegetation.

A broken snarl of ratchetted roots pulled me down by the ankles. My nose filled with bare windy dust. Branches poked into me, gripped my clothes, my woolly hat was lifted smoothly off my head and my backpack unzipped. I tumbled downhill, backwards into a clearing of rough-cut granite slabs between the boles of stunted trees. The sky was open with stars, and my body was sprawled again under it.

I could see above me a high dome of forehead, craggy nose and two overmeated chiselled lips ” a giant face dominated the clearing, bulging totemically out of the buckled surface of Bald Rock. The empty sockets under its eyebrows were as blank and compelling as a pair of flint spearheads.

The wind died.

Oh. The rock, the sky. For a moment I felt a touch of dutiful sanctity.

...Over the hilltop I heard Theo's voice: 'I'm running a naked ayahuasca workshop next month with a group of thirty strangers. We are going to overcome our anxiety at the physical. Is that a DMT spliff? Would you pass it here?'

Lavender was asleep on the rock. Someone was playing guitar and singing mournful Spanish songs. Nine kilometers away in the bush, the sound of doof-doof-doof, as the next DJ dropped the beat. You could hear it from here, if the wind was right.

What is the value of shamans?

'Self Portrait Whilst Triping' by Tim ParishPublished in Undergrowth #1 > <a href= "http://www.undergrowth.org/node/6" target="_blank">Seed</a>, March 2004.




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Where is Space?

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Where is Space?"Where is Space?" collage by the Dan ( )
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The Tree of Knowledge

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The Tree of Knowledge"The Tree of Knowledge" collage by Dan ( )
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Random Philosophy 1 (a)

Random Philosophy 1 (a)