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(The following is a complete Facebook thread on DW’s Facebook page, omitting only a few casual initial comments, and adding in two new paragraphs -the third and fourth- inserted into my final comment, on the anti-intellectualism of oppressive movements, even those that were established on the basis of intellectual doctrines, and one long parenthetical on the meaning of “republic.” I post it, as usual, to highlight the contrast between the tone, tenor, and substance of the opposing positions.)
DW: “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson.
Steve Harvey: I like the quote, but to transcend historical context I would amend it to read: “Timid men prefer the calm of false certainties to the tempestuous sea of true liberty.” What we normally mean by “despotism” is one kind of false certainty, but the broader reality of despotism is the despotism of blind ideologies over minds that cease to believe in their own capacity for freedom, the despotism of anti-intellectualism and ignorance.
BS: In the era of Obama “freedom” refers to the freedom to live off the labors of others, “anti-intellectualism and ignorance” is the refusal to believe in globull warming, and the insistence that embracing the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a “false certainty.”
BS: The current Occupy Wall Street movement is the best illustration to date of what President Barack Obama’s America looks like. It is an America where the lawless, unaccomplished, ignorant and incompetent rule. It is an America where those who have sacrificed nothing pillage and destroy the lives of those who have sacrificed greatly.

It is an America where history is rewritten to honor dictators, murderers and thieves. It is an America where violence, racism, hatred, class warfare and murder are all promoted as acceptable means of overturning the American civil society.

It is an America where humans have been degraded to the level of animals: defecating in public, having sex in public, devoid of basic hygiene. It is an America where the basic tenets of a civil society, including faith, family, a free press and individual rights, have been rejected. It is an America where our founding documents have been shredded and, with them, every person’s guaranteed liberties.

It is an America where, ultimately, great suffering will come to the American people, but the rulers like Obama, Michelle Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, liberal college professors, union bosses and other loyal liberal/Communist Party members will live in opulent splendor.

It is the America that Obama and the Democratic Party have created with the willing assistance of the American media, Hollywood , unions, universities, the Communist Party of America, the Black Panthers and numerous anti-American foreign entities.

Barack Obama has brought more destruction upon this country in four years than any other event in the history of our nation, but it is just the beginning of what he and his comrades are capable of.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is just another step in their plan for the annihilation of America .

“Socialism, in general, has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

–Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930) is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author. A National Humanities Medal winner, he advocates laissez-faire economics and writes from a libertarian perspective. He is currently a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Steve Harvey:
1) “Living off the labors of others” exists in some form or another in all paradigms, including a radical libertarian one, in which investors still live off the labor of workers. The main difference is whether you are concerned that there is some semblance of equality of opportunity and a diminution of the effects of inequalities due to chances of birth. Certainly, the issue of avoiding perverse incentives, in which effort isn’t rewarded while non-effort is, is a vital consideration. But reducing that to some simple platitude which both ignores reality and rationalizes various forms of predation and exploitation is not the right way to address it.

2) Those who crow the loudest about their commitment to the Constitution are, ironically, those who are working the hardest to undermine it, by arbitrarily insisting that it supports only their own ideology in every instance, whether it does or doesn’t. In a previous discussion, when I pointed out the clauses that do not support your interpretation (e.g., the necessary and proper clause, the general welfare clause, the commerce clause, etc.), you insisted that your interpretation had to prevail, because otherwise the Constitution could be read to mean something other than what you want it to. That may be convenient for you, but it’s death to Constitutional Democracy. When the meaning of the Constitution becomes subject to ideological plebiscite, there is no constitution, but only ideological plebiscite.

3) The science supporting global warming, for example, is truly overwhelming. But you’re right that all questions should be subject to the discipline of scientific methodology, rather than the whims of those who wish to impose their own arbitrary truths on society at large, justifying actual tyranny with the ruse of claiming it to be the response to a fictional tyranny. It’s as old as the Inquisition, and smells exactly the same.

Steve Harvey: Buddy, I have my own issues with the “Occupy” movement, and especially with the argument that enforcement of laws is unconstitutional whenever someone claims that they are breaking it as an act of free speech, but are you suggesting that demonstrating is itself un-American? So, when Sam Adams led the Sons of Liberty on such lawless acts as The Boston Tea Party, he was emblematic of the America of Obama that you would rise above? No demonstrations, no lawlessness, but rather an America ruled by non-Ignorant people like yourself, people who have transcended ignorance by arbitrarily declaring themselves omniscient, whatever they believe or assert or advocate to be by definition the inviolable truth, and therefore all who disagree with them the weak and parasitic who must be extermina…, uh, let’s just say “reviled”?

You’re going to tell me that all “intellectuals” are incompetent and ignorant, while wise blind fanatics such as yourself have simply gotten it right? And how do we know that you got it right? Because you insist that it is so! No damned peer-review articles for you! Oh no! That’s the clever ruse of those idiot intellectuals, who think that you have to try to discipline knowledge by applying reason to evidence. The hell with that crap! Everyone knows what the one absolute truth is: Whatever Buddy Shipley says it is!

This is the fundamental, obvious flaw in all that you are saying: While those of us who realize that absolute truth is harder to determine than simply claiming that whatever the speaker believes it to be must be it, there are others who simply never take that step, and insist that the only truth that matters is the one they are already certain of. Might global warming be wrong? Absolutely. But not because people shout loudly enough that it is, but rather because careful application of scientific methodology bears the weight of evidence against it. And that is simply not the case at this moment in time. (All of the narrative used to claim that is just normal, human-cluttered science in action; always imperfect, and always better than arbitrary claims to knowledge forged without recourse to any, even imperfect, methodology at all).

I know that I don’t know, despite my decades of studying as diligently and broadly and intensively as I can. I’ve studied economics, but am less certain than you of the absolute economic truth, because I recognize complexity, I recognize uncertainty, I recognize the limitations of human comprehension. And without that, those who fail to take that step, are just a bunch of Jihadists trying to impose their own fanatical false certainty on a world that does not necessarily reduce to the caricature of their imaginations.

What we really need, what would really serve us as a nation and humanity as a whole, is to recognize our imperfections, to commit ourselves to some degree of humility and to reason and to goodwill, and to work together in that spirit to do the best we can. That’s the one absolute truth you can hang your hat on.

WS: It is very interesting that the people who say the most, actually say the least. Factual correction – the USA is a Republic, not a constitutional democracy.
Steve Harvey: I’m well aware of that semantic obsession, but the particular rigid label you’re relying on is relevant in the context only of one particular taxonomy, and not in the context of using words according to their generally applicable meanings. It is, in fact, perfectly correct to refer to the United States as a constitutional democracy, since it operates according to a combination of democratic and constitutional principles. It is also perfectly correct to refer to it as a republic, because it is by definition a republic within a taxonomy of political forms established in classical times. Either terminology is acceptable, and both are in widespread usage, including among political scientists and others who spend their lives studying precisely these issues.

(In a broad sense, “Democracy” and “Res Publica” are merely the Greek and Latin terms, respectively, for essentially the same thing: Government by the people. The classical meaning of “republic” is that of mixed government, incorporating elements of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, and that is the reason why America is “technically” a republic rather than a democracy. Ironically, the fact that it is technically a republic rather than a democracy disfavors rather than favors the ideology of those who insist on rigid adherence to this terminology: America was designed to balance democratic processes with a strong executive and a deliberative legislature rather than to reduce to government by plebiscite. The major distinction between a republic and a democracy is that a republic has a stronger central government.)

Secondly, it’s remarkable how frequently people who are unable to make a compelling substantive argument zero-in on form instead (such as harping on a shallow semantic obsession, or referring to the length or writing style of the argument they would like to debunk but can only flail against).

Third, the notion that more quantity automatically corresponds to less quality or substance is convincing to those who will grab hold of anything they can, but is absurd on the face of it. The Encyclopedia Britannica is rather lengthy, but says much, as would a library of all scientific literature, or any other comprehensive examination of any aspect of our existence or our surroundings. What I write may or may not be substantive; it may or may not be compelling; it may or may not be well-argued; but mere declarations in service to a desperate ideological preference, shored up by nothing other than an irrelevant observation about length or style, does nothing to inform anyone of whether it is or isn’t.

Steve Harvey: Now, I’d like to address the frequently invoked specter of anti-intellectualism that is so essential to your ideology. Intellectualism can indeed go astray: Marxism, for instance, was an intellectual doctrine that was disastrously wrong, both pragmatically and theoretically. The banner of intellectualism guarantees nothing. And all human endeavors, whether intellectual or not, are still human endeavors, contaminated by the messiness of all things that are pursued by mere talking animals.

But some disciplines, some procedures, some frameworks that humans create channel that messy on-going enterprise better than others. Scientific methodology, for instance, has proven itself to be much more robust in the reduction of error, and the production of insight, than any alternative approach to discerning the nature of our empirically observable context. Even though this is so, no scientific enterprise, no great discovery, no evolution of thought, was ever devoid of the human messiness that is inherent to all human enterprises. The effort to debunk science by pointing out instances of that human messiness is really just an effort to obscure the more reliable source of information in favor of less reliable sources of information.

Though some brutal and oppressive doctrines and movements have intellectual roots or supports (often, though not always, through misinterpretation of the theories they claim as their legitimation), it is also true that virtually all liberating and life-affirming doctrines and movements do as well. Furthermore, many oppressive doctrines and movements do not, relying instead on blind dogmas and fanaticisms without even a veneer of rational justification.

All oppressive or inhumane doctrines and movements eventually rely on anti-intellectualism to survive, because there is no bulwark against them as effective as the active engagement of the human mind, in service to humanity, and so no enemy against which they must more vigorously rally. (In fact, the presence of anti-intellectualism in a doctrine or movement is a fairly certain indicator that it is an oppressive or inhumane doctrine, for if it were not, it would not have to fortify itself against the glare of rational scrutiny.) No blind dogma, no rote deference to the often perverted and always interpreted doctrines of the past, no rigid enslavement of the human mind to any set of seemingly error-proof platitudes on which to rely, can or should free us of the responsibility to exercise our freedom as conscious and compassionate beings, applying the wisdom of the past to the challenges of the present and future.

We should all strive to be as rational, as imaginative, and as disciplined as we can be, and always apply that vital resource of human consciousness to the benefit of humanity to the best of our ability. We all implicitly agree with that. For instance, Buddy likes to post long strings of quotes by more or less revered thinkers of the past, as proof that his position is venerable and well-conceived. He is invoking intellectual authorities in service to his argument (such as it is). The problem is that you have to do it with a certain amount of integrity, based on testing tentative hypothesis in a context of skepticism and uncertainty, rather than doing it as an exercise in confirmation bias, cherry picking quotes to shore-up a presumed ideological certainty.

There is nothing undemocratic about using our brains. It does not undermine democracy to try to apply more rather than less living human genius to the challenges that face us as a nation and as humanity. We will do so more or less efficaciously, with better or worse results, bungling it sometimes, and achieving marvelous successes in others. But there is no better way to go, no preferable approach to confronting the challenges of self-governance and human existence.

Part of that methodology involves listening to and reading the diligent research and analysis of others, since no one of us has the time to contemplate and study and research all things all on our own. I can’t make a particle accelerator, or use one, or even interpret the data collected by using one, but I can benefit from the efforts of those who do. That is how human consciousness grows and is used to greatest effect.

We are in a shared enterprise, a complex and subtle and very significant one. We should treat it with the respect it deserves, and treat humanity with the compassion and commitment that we all deserve.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

  • (Continued on another of DW’s threads, with a different foil):

    Steve Harvey: We enjoyed a long history of leaving the response to poverty to individual and organized charity, which is what creates the conditions most closely associated with Victorian England and described in Charles Dickens’ novels. Throughout human history, until developed nations started using the state to overcome the “free rider problem” inherent in relying on private charitable giving to solve widespread social problems, no nation had ever significantly addressed the problems of and associated with extreme poverty and inequality. Those developed nations that now have used the state to address it have virtually eliminated poverty and many of the problems associated with it within their borders. Due to the continuing hold of your brand of ideological fanaticism on the United States, we “enjoy,” among developed nations, the lowest rates of social mobility, the highest rates of infant mortality, the highest rates of violent crime, the highest rates of incarceration, and the highest rates of hunger and homelessness, to name just a few of the “successes” associated with the discredited and dysfunctional mania that you insist upon.

    There’s a systemic reason why relying on private charitable giving doesn’t work, even if people would be willing to chip in their fair share to solve the problem and give a hand up to those in need. If we think of poverty in the aggregate, each individual knows that their contribution is a cost borne entirely by them alone, but that it makes an almost immeasurable impact on the enormous problem of poverty. They know that withholding their own charitable giving leaves them with more money, but doesn’t have much impact on how much money is going toward solving the problem. However, if each person knew that everyone else was obligated to give an equitable share to addressing the problem, then agreeing through democratic means to impose that obligation on themselves and others resolves this problem. It’s the same reason why taxes and bus fares and public utility charges aren’t voluntary. You extend an economically illiterate idea (that each paying for some public good according to their own inclination provides as much of that public good as people collectively would like to provide for themselves) to the challenge of confronting social problems, obscuring the fact that you are doing so in s miasma of shallow ideology.

    Here, once again, is a comprehensive explanation of collective action problems: The drive to disintegrate our political cohesion as a nation, and to reduce us to a mere collection of disarticulated ind…ividuals rather than members of a coherent society and nation, makes no sense at all, not politically, not economically, not socially, not historically, not in any context that has any recognition of reality. For, in reality, liberty is a function of being a coherent society, not a refutation of it. And our interdependence is the fundamental fabric of our existence, manifested in thinking and speaking in languages we didn’t individually and instantaneously invent, within cultural and economic and political frameworks we didn’t individually and instantaneously invent. Markets are one remarkable, beautiful, robust modality through which we coordinate our disparate wills in our collective interest, but no one who understands economics, not even Adam Smith, would ever claim that they can function in a vacuum. Most modern economists recognize the many ways in which the articulation of government and markets is a complex and subtle systemic challenge, involving the reduction of transaction costs and information asymmetries which undermine markets’ ability to function. We need to be engaging with this body of knowledge, confronting the real challenges we face, rather than hiding behind a caricature of the nature of the political economy which sustains us.

    ET: ‎@ Steve. Communism would be a wonderful system if we could just do something about the fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And that is the end result of your line of logic.

    Steve Harvey: @Eric. First fallacy: Not everything that is not, or that in any way challenges, your particular ideology is, by default, “Communism.” Second fallacy: Just by arbitrarily declaring that something is “Communism,” and is therefore wrong, you… have made no argument, have mobilized no evidence, have applied no reason, have engaged in no analysis, and, in short, have said nothing of any substance whatsoever. Third fallacy: The real world does not reduce to a handful of political economic systems described adequately by a corresponding handful of ideological labels, but rather is characterized by diversity along numerous dimensions, such that the existence of government programs addressing social problems can exist in systems that otherwise bear little or no resemblance to such failed experiments as The Soviet Union (and, in fact, all developed nations today, other than the United States, simultaneously embrace a robust role for government in acting as the agent of the polity, and enjoy tremendous success by most measures of the quality of life, greater success, in fact, than the United States on many or most of those measures). Fourth fallacy: The extinguishing of democratic governmental power does not end tyranny, but rather reduces public accountability, disempowering the one nexus of political economic power over which the polity has painstakingly developed a complex series of checks and balances and controls, imperfect as they are, and relinquishing all political economic power to those entities over which the polity has virtually no organized control. Fifth fallacy: The real world does not reduce to your convenient but shallow platitudes, informing a cartoonish line of pseudo-logic that asserts that any attempt to utilize government as an agent of the people means an increase in tyranny and a decrease in freedom. Rather, the real world is a complex and subtle place, in which the challenges we face are non-trivial and require the mobilization of actual economic, historical, legal, and systemic knowledge and understanding, just as our human engagement with any complex systemic challenge does (e.g., medicine, engineering, law, physics, etc.)

    I could probably list dozens of fallacies more, all embedded in your short dismissal of actual arguments, involving actual information, and organized into actual analyses. But the bottom line is the same as it was when I responded to one of your fellow travelers on a Facebook thread a year or so ago, who had asserted that Jamestown was the first socialist society, which is why everyone there died: “It’s hard to be so wrong in so few words.

    ET: I’m sorry Steve. It certainly is hard to understand each other in this limited modality. Can you give me an example of a system that has eliminated poverty that of which you wrote?

    Steve Harvey: Eric, the phrase I used was “virtually eliminated poverty,” and the answer to your question is “the countries of Northwestern Europe,” particularly the Netherlands, the Scandanaivian countries, Luxembourg, and, to a lesser extent, all of the countries of Western Europe. Before you claim that the debt crisis discredits them, Germany is less in debt, and has a far stronger (as distinct from “larger”) economy, than the United States, and the other countries most notable for their successes in this department are not at all crippled by debt. This is a large discussion, and I am familiar with the arguments “refuting” the enormous quantity of evidence contradicting libertarian dogma (it all boils down to “since no other example is identical to the United States in every way, no evidence is admissible”) but, when engaging in an honest assessment of the world’s historical political economic systems, ignoring these successes by grasping at any pretext for dismissing them is neither honest nor productive discourse. If you want to get into this deeper with me, I’d be honored: please email me at, or visit my blog, Colorado Confluence, where I discuss many of the dimensions of our social institutional and technological field in great detail (getting into some very precise microeconomic, historical, network, epistemological, and complex dynamical systems analyses).

    ET: Very interesting. My Swedish neighbors are huge fans of the Swedish socialist system and tout its merits of cradle to grave care of its people. When asked candidly why the have decided to raise their kids in the US they simply say that in Sweden they wouldn’t be able to have a large house and two cars. Oh well, can’t have it all.

    Steve Harvey: I won’t question the veracity of your anecdote, though I will offer the observation that there are lots of large houses in Sweden, plenty of affluence, and widespread moderate comfort. But, yes, the cost of virtually eliminating poverty, violent crime, hunger, homelessness, lack of access to health care, and myriad other forms of unnecessary human suffering is that more of the relatively few who win the lottery in life’s fortunes, rather than doing so in a society structured to be grossly inequitable (such as the United States), have to “suffer” with mere modest affluence instead, rather than “enjoy” obscene wealth while others pick through garbage dumpsters in hopes of finding some food. Within my values and priorities, that’s more than acceptible; I take it that within yours it is not.

    Taking your anecdote at face value, it’s worth pointing out that there were also people who emigrated from the United States to the Soviet Union, or from the United States to Nazi Germany for that matter, which could absurdly be used to “prove” the equally false notion that that meant that life in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany was somehow generally more attractive than life in The United States. Such anecdotal evidence, often but not always invented, is always available, and always meaningless.

    But, if you want to incorporate it into the discussion, this is what it proves: There are those who prefer the (increasingly) remote possibility of limitless wealth for the individual (or, more often, to protect their already grossly inequitable share of wealth from the hungry and destitute) even at the expense of failing to provide, as a society, basic necessities for all –food and shelter for the most destitute– and there are those who give a damn about humanity instead. Where you are born does not determine which camp you will fall into, but what you value and what your priorities are do. Swedes (and the Dutch and Danes…) are as free as we are, enjoying freedom of speech, assembly, worship, thought, movement, and profession, just as we do, but they add to that a commitment to their own humanity, to one another, to their collective welfare.

    That’s what I value; you don’t have to. But then don’t tap dance between the empirically false arguments that it doesn’t work, and, when demonstrated to be false, the equally false one that such a socially just and equitable society isn’t really what most people want anyway, that we’d all rather have a remote shot at obscene wealth than be part of a well-functioning a fair and descent society of interdependent and mutually responsible citizens.

    Furthermore, the mythology on which that bizarre preference is based is as false as the arguments supporting its value: The statistical and historical fact is that the obscene inequity of wealth and income in United States has very little to do with the hard work and merit of the richest, and far more to do with the protection of inherited wealth and capital accumulation at the expense of the earning potential of everyone else. By far and away, the most reliable predicter of lfetime wealth and income is the wealth and income of one’s parents at the moment of one’s birth. 40% of America’s wealth is held by 1% of America’s population, while 80% or America’s population must share among itself 15% or America’s wealth, many of the latter far more hard-working and meritorious than many of the former (there is apparently very little correlation between actual hard work and merit, and one’s economic fortunes in life, at least in this country, where we have tamped down social mobility in favor of this concentration of wealth and power). That’s by far and away the worst gini coefficient (the statistical measure of economic inequality) in the developed world. While America has a very marginally higher per capita GDP than most European countries, far fewer Americans substantially share in that per capita GDP, leaving Americans, on average, far poorer than Europeans.

    Not only is our social mobility less than that in what you loosely refer to as “socialist” countries (they are in reality hybrids of capitalism and socialism, pursuing a balanced economic model), but our model is in many ways more economically fragile and, in the long run, less economically robust. Historically, economic crises in America have been a function of increasing concentration of wealth, underregulation, and the market bubbles and “gaming” that have ensued as a result. The California energy crisis of 2000-2001 for instance, was due to underregulated energy markets, and a technique called “churning,” utilized by Enron and others, by which energy prices are artificially raised by selling energy back and forth to dummy corporations across state lines. The housing collapse, despite the myth of being primarily a product of relaxed lending standards imposed by government regulation (a largely redundant fact as things turned out, since lenders were falling over one another to cut loans to people who didn’t even meet these relaxed standards), was in fact a product of underregulated derivatives markets which divorced risk from profit, inducing lenders to lend to anyone they could, knowing that they could sell off the risk of default to buyers who would not be able to discern that risk folded into exotic market instruments.

    These are the costs to all of us of underregulated markets: Centrally positioned market actors exploit their information asymmetries to game markets to their own extraordinary advantage, and to the public’s devastation. By doing so, and by a more general regulatory favoring of concentration of wealth over the public interest, we have been gradually undermining the engine of our economy: Widespread consumer buying power. The current prolongued recession, and probable complete long-term decline in national economic vitality, is due, by and large, to the astronomical concentration of wealth that underregulated markets have facilitated.

    Empiricially and historically, virtually all of the claims on which you base your ideology are simply false or, at the very least, not in evidence. For instance, one of your refrains is about the way in which what you call “socialism,” which includes what some modern political scientists refer to as “the administrative state” (a nation-state with a large administrative infrastructure, performing numerous services and market regulating activities), kills the economy and undermines prosperity. In reality, not one nation that shared in the phenomenal Post-WWII economic expansion of wealth did not have in place, prior to sharing in that explosion of prosperity, precisely such an administrative state. In the case of the United States, we put it into place during the Great Depression, and can now economically trace the ways in which the post-WWII economic boom was built directly on the shoulders of that administrative infrastructure, creating a large and robust middle class that would not otherwise have emerged (and had not otherwise emerged under previous political regimes that had demonstrated their defects through historical experience).

    Furthermore, one of your revisionisms is that The New Deal didn’t work, as one example of your claim that public spending cannot stimulate an economy. In fact, immediately following the implementation of New Deal policies, in 1933, the United States economy began to grow again, at historically record rates! It did so until 1937, when FDR was unfortunately persuaded by that success to become a budget hawk instead, in response to which the economy took a nose-dive again, just as it had under his predecessor, Hoover, whose policies almost identical to those you are calling for today, catalyzed The Great Depression. (And, of course, everyone agrees that WWII is what finally ended The Great Depression, and everyone understands that it is because WWII was an enormous public spending project, producing heavy industrial equipment that was conveniently blown up on a regular basis, requiring ever-more massive production. Somehow, however, your fanatical camp manages to simply disregard this universally acknowledged fact.)

    As an extra aside, research overwhelmingly shows that happiness is correlated to wealth up to the point where a moderately comfortable standard of living and moderate financial security is achieved, and then is correlated not at all beyond that. So not only is it obscene to value the possibility of achieving obscene wealth for oneself over and above the possibility of achieving an end to poverty for everyone, but it is also based on an illusion of what brings happiness.

    You are not arguing for freedom (which is a function of a coherent and vibrant society), but rather for the worship of avarice of extreme individualism. I could (and have: see “A Political Christmas Carol” put the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge in your mouths, and it would flow harmoniously with the words you put in your own. That is the America you are fighting to create, and the America I am fighting to avoid.

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