The Lie Behind Unbridled Capitalism

Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Even what we believe we see with our own eyes is made up from memory. When referring to blind spots in our vision that we do not notice, much of what you see ‘out there’ is actually manufactured ‘in here’ by your brain. Malleable memory, the brain filling in gaps in vision, and the biggest culprit, defense mechanisms, as well as the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain leading to an implicit preference toward a lie, should at least contribute to one realizing thinking cannot be trusted. People want to hear what they want to hear. When two candidates are running and one of them tells the truth and the other says what the public wants to hear, the one who says what the public wants to hear wins the election.

There is not one big reason Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Donald Trump made a string of promises during his long campaign to be the 45th president of the United States. Taking back control of immigration included banning all Muslims entering the US and building a wall along the border with Mexico. He echoed Republicans attacking Obamacare, saying the law imposes too many costs on business, describing it as a “job killer” and decrying the reforms as an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of private businesses and individuals. Under his ‘America first’ doctrine in January, 2017 the president promises his plans will create 25 million new jobs in the next decade. Trump claimed, “We will bring back our jobs … our borders … our wealth, and … our dreams.”

Pierre Charron (1541-1603), the French skeptic, claimed humanity’s essential qualities were vanity, weakness, inconstancy, and presumption. Writing late in the 16th century, Pierre Charron asked his readers to “observe how all mankind are made up of falsehood and deceit, of tricks and lies, how unfaithful and dangerous, how full of disguise and design all conversation is at present become, but especially, how much more it abounds near [the prince], and how manifestly hypocrisy and dissimulation are the reigning qualities of princes’ courts.” Until the French Revolution, the problem of lying and hypocrisy often seemed to be experienced most keenly in the courts of the European elite, those hybrid spaces, both public and private, political and domestic, in which eager courtiers and all manner of hangers-on sought their fortunes. A zero-sum game, fortune hunting required the self-serving courtier to deceive and slander his competitors, to fawn over and flatter his superiors.

Adolf Hitler wrote: The purpose of propaganda is not to provide interesting distraction for blasé young gentlemen, but to convince …the masses. But the masses are slow-moving, and they always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally remember them… All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. …The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. The fact that our bright boys do not understand this merely shows how mentally lazy and conceited they are.

Leo Strauss rejects all the elements of political morality we associate with liberal democracy as defended by modern philosophers like Locke or Kant. Strauss claimed: The elite must, in a word, lie to the masses; the elite must manipulate them – arguably for their own good. These lies are necessary in order to keep the ignorant masses in line. The Straussian elite see themselves as “the superior few who know the truth and are entitled to rule.” A combination of lies and religion are used to control the people. There is no difference between the fake news, misinformation, disinformation of today – such lies have been churned out for years, but today it is designed to support the plutocracy. There is an orchestrated counter-revolution based on polarization. Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than focusing on processes to counter the plutocrats who are ripping them off.

Valery Legasov, the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, observes: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.” Basically, the more you lie, the easier it is to do it, and the bigger the lies get. Donald Trump merely replaced one swamp with another. He and his henchmen sabotage democracy by creating their own swamp where one cannot tell truth from fiction, where rational debate evaporates as he diverts, distracts, and deflects accountability. Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement, especially those pursuing white-collar malfeasance, as his allies and former campaign officials are ensnared in various investigations. Facing impeachment, Trump unleashed a torrent of baseless claims surrounding his dealings with Ukraine in the final months of 2019.

What makes social media spread so fast? The “power-law” of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, holds that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told. Populist economic policy claims to design policies for people who fear losing status in society, and those who believe they have been abandoned by the political establishment. The purpose of such activities is to turn the country into warring tribes by creating unyielding one-sidedness and enemies.

A narcissist like Trump is operating from a place of defense all the time. The lie is more of a PR stunt, a marketing ploy rather than a cohesive integrated set of values. The narcissistic personality is more of a store front designed to hide that there isn’t any there, there. Under neoliberalism, lies become an accepted feature of political leadership. The goal is purely to instrumentalize democratic legitimacy, in order to gain the power to make the necessary decisions that ordinary people can never understand or be persuaded of. We are being manipulated by a deluded group of powerful people who think they benefit from it – because they buy into the basic illusion that their own well-being is separate from that of other people. They too are victims of their own propaganda, caught up in the webs of collective delusion that infects virtually all of us, by one of the poisons – ignorance. 

Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it. The economic elite do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. The “truth” the market reveals is never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market is never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation. Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. The truth is that capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it concentrates into oligopolies and monopolies, to the extent the economic elite creates and normalizes a culture of lying to itself leading to its inherent instability.

Republicans are playing Russian roulette with American democracy by supporting the lies of an aspirational authoritarian. They’ll continue doing so by supporting Trump’s paranoid attacks on the electoral process. The false claims repeatedly made by Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat to Joe Biden is embraced by Republicans. It is about a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. However, there is more to introducing change than just countering Trump’s lies, there is a need to change beliefs to eliminate this pervasive irrationality in which democracy is equated to unbridled capitalism.

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The Deception Behind the Existential Threats to American Democracy

Trump was tolerated by Republican elites in the belief that “norms” were corrupt and needed to be destroyed. Trump supposedly failed because he lacked the discipline to target his creative/destructive tendencies effectively. In addition, he lacked advisors with the insight to discern and explain what needs to be destroyed and why. On the other hand, the Claremont Institute provides the missing argument in the battle to win public sentiment by teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice. This work supports a complex concept of self-deception, including self-serving lies and manipulation. Rather than concentrate on policy like many other think tanks, the Claremont Institute teaches the principles and ideas that shape policy over time to the few that will go on to positions of leadership in media, politics, law, speechwriting, and academia.1

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also, Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses.

Trump draws fervent support from conservatives who believe the president is willing to restore the country to its moral and constitutional foundations. Conservatives accepted Trump because he appointed their judges, and rolled back regulations they hate. These conservatives claim liberals pose “an existential threat” to the country, and the response includes need to turn to Natural law which is the foundation upon which the spirit of the US Constitution is built. Today followers are reverse-engineering an intellectual doctrine to match Trump’s basic instincts. The movement has two disciples from California: Tucker Carlson advances a form of victim-politics populism and has learned to translate the New Right’s most interesting ideas into Fox-worthy bombast. Stephen Miller is credited with shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump, which include the zero-tolerance policy, that includes family separation, the Muslim ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Both support Trump’s politics of white fear.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion which provided the final piece to the puzzle to explain why the Earth revolves around the sun. Newton was aware of specific problems in the solar system that his laws did not explain which included the fact that Saturn was moving away from the sun while Jupiter was moving closer. To account for movements not able to be explained by his formula, Newton proposed the hand of God to guide the planets in various circumstances – providing long-term stability to the universe. Adam Smith’s claim about the ‘invisible hand’ in Wealth, first published in 1776, pertains to a scheme consisting of all the voluntary actions of people who engage in buying, hiring, producing, consuming, and selling, typically mediating these actions by exchanges involving money. Smith’s point is that, if certain conditions are met, these actions will collectively produce a result that a benevolent God would wish for us.

Just as Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravitation, Adam Smith analyzed the laws of motion of the economic categories of civil society as if they were the laws of nature. Smith’s work was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system that explained how, when one acted in their own interest, it actually helped someone he did not even know. The early positivists like Comte attempted to equate the study of society with the study of nature and tried to discover laws of societal development on a par with the structural principles of human anatomy in biology. This leads to positivism, the term used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal a true nature of how society operates. Although the positivists set out to explain and control the social world, they actually take a back seat to the people who control the social wealth and the social relations of production – the monopoly capitalist class in league with the elected officials beholding to the oligarchs – a structure which comprises ‘the power elite’.

The philosophical approach of Soren Kierkegaard has for many years been recognized as one of the outstanding attempts within the Lutheran Church to construct and formulate a Christian philosophy. Kierkegaard describes Hegel’s philosophy as representing a speculative mode of thinking. Hegel describes truth as a continuous world-historical process, and as the becoming of an absolute reality. Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. The force of Kierkegaard’s philosophy rests in the notion that human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. Kierkegaard observes, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Max Weber noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

According to the natural law tradition, we must sometimes consult our understanding of morality before we can know what the law actually is. So on this view, judges may have to appeal to their own beliefs about morality to decide on a case. In other words, morality acts as a sort of legislative failsafe: When legislatures write horrible laws, morality steps in to rewrite them. And so when a judge strikes down a deeply unjust law by invoking a moral principle, the moral filter view allows him/her to say that she’s merely enforcing a more basic law that is, so to speak, already on the books. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Judge Gorsuch is a natural law thinker. The Republican deception is to use the existential threat of socialism to ensure that they can win elections. This allows control of court nominations who tend to support the tradition of natural law of a market.

There is a special role here for judges, whose ability to check abusive bureaucratic discretion is often constrained, or so it seems, by contemporary canons of positive law. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Kierkegaard believed that a human being’s relationship with God must be hard-won, a matter of devotion and suffering. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Kierkegaard rejects naturalism. It isn’t the idea that there are laws of nature that Kierkegaard rejects, but the idea that these laws necessarily determine human behavior.

An existential threat, put simply, is a threat to society – a veritable threat to existence does not have to be present for someone to experience a sense of existential threat. If Trump could earn more votes than any sitting president ever, the thinking goes, then clearly his movement is real. Think tanks will use the political utility of white fear, replacing whites and endangering civilization to organize a coalition from Trump supporters to win the next election. It will be organized around natural law – natural rights of life, liberty, and property protected implicitly in the original Constitution. This includes adjudicate disputes about the nature of rights by simply leaving the decision up to whoever happens to hold power at any given moment. Stephen Miller and Tucker Carlson have a role in the necessary deception to promote this existential threat. However, the removal of Liz Cheney actually poses an existential threat to the future of the Republican Party, for the war to come within the Republican Party.

1 Jean Guerrrero. Donald Trump’s Politics of White Fear Have Roots in Southern California (20 Sept 2020) https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/claremont-institute-trump/

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Addiction: a Chronic Disease Requiring a Community Response

Health care approaches for chronic conditions include primary and secondary prevention, acute episodic interventions, and expansion of the care circle to recognize the role of caregivers and family. People with chronic conditions require care that is as seamless as possible as they move between primary, acute, specialty, and community care. In high-income countries, chronic diseases have long been the leading causes of death and disability. Health care systems need to realize that the complex chronic conditions affecting their patients’ health cannot be addressed successfully in the doctor’s office alone and that responsible health care isn’t just about the personal responsibility of patients but also requires that the health care system itself be responsible in providing health care consumers with appropriate options. These options can be provided by partnerships with local governments, community organizations, and other health and human service providers to develop strategies to address the social determinants of health.

Nietzsche called free will “a theologians’ artifice” that permits us to “judge and punish.” However, many thinkers believe, as Smilansky does, that institutions of judgment and punishment are necessary if we are to avoid a fall into barbarism. Today, people’s belief in free will is shown to influence the perception of personal control in self and others. The current studies tested the hypothesis that individuals who believe in free will attribute stronger personal blame to obese people and to people with mental illness (schizophrenia) for their adverse health outcomes. Free will beliefs are correlated with attribution of blame to people with obesity and mental health issues. The stigma of addiction is that people with substance abuse disorders are weak, immoral, and simply out for a good time at society’s expense. However, addiction impairs the brain. The earlier the drug exposure, or trauma to the brain, the greater the damage.

The challenge of stopping drugs has to do with deficiency of the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain involved with executive function. The job of the prefrontal cortex is self-monitoring, delaying reward, and integrating whatever the intellect tells you is important with respect to what the libido is telling you. The flood of intoxicating brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (chiefly dopamine) during drug use makes the brain relatively insensitive to normal sources of pleasure such as good conversation with a friend, or a beautiful sunset. Agonist medications such as methadone or bupropion can stabilize the craving brain while planning and reasoning processes get back in shape. The person who self-isolates themselves in order to use drugs without inhibition may need to work in a purposeful way to re-acquire habitual joy, such as social interactions, physical pleasure like a swim or bicycle ride, and other healthy enjoyable rewards.

In the healthy brain dopamine is released in response to natural reward, such as food or exercise. Some drugs are able to bind to brain cells and trigger the release of dopamine. Taking drugs produces a euphoria feeling, which in turn, re-enforces drug using behaviour. Drugs release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards release. As substance use continues the brain produces less dopamine and/or reduces the number of brain structures that receive dopamine. Thus, dopamine’s impact on the reward network diminishes along with the individual’s ability to experience pleasure. This can explain why individuals who chronically abuse drugs begin to appear lethargic, unmotivated and depressed and report a lack of pleasure in things that were once pleasurable. To counter, they increase their substance abuse in attempts to feel the same pleasure they use to. This creates a vicious cycle of taking increasing amounts of drugs that leads to tolerance.

The dopamine pathway is involved in mediating reward-motivated behaviour. However, biology is involved – a combination of personality and experiences over which they have no control. There is the challenge to deny the reward of craving – it is necessary to avoid the cues that set off cravings. People with addiction lose control over their actions. They crave and seek out drugs, alcohol, or other substances no matter what the cost – even at the risk of damaging friendships, hurting family, or losing jobs. People often describe drug addiction as a habit, and one that is difficult to break. When people attempt to discontinue an addiction like drug use, they can experience withdrawal. The memory of withdrawal is such an unpleasant experience that it serves as a powerful motivator (or cue) to resume the addictive behavior to avoid the unpleasant experience.  Eventually, the relief from withdrawal (by resuming use) becomes pleasurable in and of itself.

Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addictions are moderately to highly heritable. Many just appear to be at risk for addiction, then it makes addiction a chronic disease of the brain. Addictive drugs induce adaptive changes in gene expression in brain reward regions, including the striatum, representing a mechanism for tolerance and habit formation with craving and negative affect that persist long after consumption ceases. These neuroadaptive changes are key elements in relapse. Once an individual becomes addicted, the clinical options are untargeted and only partially effective. Counseling for addiction aims to help people change behaviors and attitudes around using a substance, as well as strengthening life skills and supporting other treatments. Some forms of treatment for addictive disorders focuses on the underlying cause of the addictive disorder in addition to behaviors characteristic of the addiction.

The rise in heroin use is believed to be linked to prescription drug abuse.  Many people who abuse painkillers switch to heroin for two reasons: It is cheaper and often easier to get. Over the past decade fatal opioid overdose has emerged as a major public health issue. Losses of tolerance and concomitant use of alcohol and other CNS depressants clearly play a major role in fatality; however, such risk factors do not account for the strong age and gender patterns observed consistently among victims of overdose. There is evidence that systemic disease may be more prevalent in users at greatest risk of overdose. Compton cautions against conflating all increased drug use directly with COVID-19. For example, shifts in drug availability may also be to blame for increased illicit opioid use deaths; if heroin isn’t easy to access, someone might take fentanyl, which is much stronger.

Existential crisis and dual diagnosis confound the response. An existential crisis is when questions about life, the universe, and humanity’s role in the scheme of things become so important to the individual that deep psychological pain occurs when there are no answers. And when this happens, some use illicit drugs to numb themselves to the profound pain they’re feeling. The qualifications for dual diagnosis are broad. Obviously struggling with depression and alcohol use disorder is a far cry in many ways from a schizophrenia diagnosis with a heroin addiction. However, both are dual diagnoses. Determining which disorder came first, and whether or not it caused the other, can be a tricky situation. Either substance abuse or mental illness can develop first. Someone with a mental health disorder may abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a self-medication for the initial mental problem. Drug and/or alcohol abuse only makes the symptoms of mental health disorders worse.

But experts agree based on research and clinical observation that pandemic-related pressures, from economic stress and loneliness to general anxiety about the virus, are a major driver for the increase. Fentanyl has been linked to many of these overdose deaths. Fentanyl is an opioid that is prescribed as a skin patch. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine and used to treat severe pain. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive, is part of acute care. Harm reduction is part of long-term intervention in substance abuse. Safe injection sites complement existing services; they prevent death, not the problem. Essential to a harm reduction approach is that it provides people who use substances a choice of how they will minimize harms through non-judgemental and non-coercive strategies in order to enhance skills and knowledge to live safer and healthier lives.

Although there is much to learn, we do know that both primary and secondary prevention are crucial to reducing the harms of addiction. The social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems. Drug addiction is a chronic disorder typically characterized with intermittent relapses. Hence, a short-term one-time treatment is generally not sufficient. Research shows that addictions can be managed successfully. Individuals who enter and remain in treatment can manage their addiction and improve their quality of life. It is important to recognize addiction is not about moral failure, rather a chronic disease that requires community support for getting into and staying in recovery.

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A Wake-up Call on Community Pneumonia

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which presents as pneumonia, was first discovered in Asia in February 2003. The outbreak lasted approximately six months as the disease spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was stopped in July 2003. Public health plays an important role. The goal of situation monitoring and assessment is to collect, interpret, and disseminate information on the risk of a pandemic before it occurs and, once under way, to monitor pandemic activity and characteristics. To assess if the risk of a pandemic is increasing, it is important to monitor the infectious agent, its capacity to cause disease in humans, and the patterns of disease spread in communities. It is important to collect data on (influenza) viruses, the genetic changes taking place and consequent changes in biological characteristics, and to rapidly investigate and evaluate outbreaks. SARS was a wake-up call for how we think about global health.

Doctors once had little choice but to be fatalistic about deaths from pneumonia. Sir William Osler, sometimes called the father of modern medicine, famously called it “friend of the aged” (often rendered as “the old man’s friend”) because it was seen as a swift, relatively painless way to die.  Pneumonia is more of a pathogenic team sport. The pneumococcal vaccine (PPV23) targets 23 variants of Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus), the bacterium responsible for a quarter of community-acquired pneumonia cases. Even so, the vaccine doesn’t provide protection against all the pneumococcus variants, nor against other types of bacterial infections or the viral and fungal causes of pneumonia. People sometimes make the mistake of viewing the pneumococcal vaccine as the pneumonia vaccine, but it’s not. Moreover, novel causes of community pneumonia keep appearing.

The influenza virus is the one we are most familiar with. It lives longer indoors in winter, because the air is less humid than outside. While it’s alive and in the air, it’s easy for people to inhale it, or for it to land on the eyes, nose, or mouth. We spend more time indoors and have closer contact with each other, which makes it easier for the virus to spread. The influenza A virus does not lie dormant during summer but migrates globally and mixes with other viral strains before returning to the Northern Hemisphere as a genetically different virus. These viruses spread seasonally each year because of a phenomenon known as antigenic drift: They evolve just enough to evade human immune systems, but not enough to develop into completely new versions of the virus. Accordingly, public health promotes a vaccine each year to reduce the morbidity and mortality in the community.

When the flu virus causes pneumonia directly, it’s really the immune response that causes much of the damage, bringing fluid and cells into the alveoli of the lungs. Both the 1918 virus and the more recent H5N1 bird flu virus cause a dramatic immune response that is exponentially larger than the response to the typical flu virus. It’s probably this strong immune response that makes the death rate from infection by those two viruses so much higher than the rate for normal flu. While other types of pneumonia rapidly infect large regions of the lungs, COVID-19 (much like pandemic flu strains) begins in numerous small areas of the lungs. It then uses the lungs’ own immune cells to spread across the lungs over many days or even weeks. This is similar to how multiple wildfires spread through a forest. The long duration of COVID-19 pneumonia, rather than greater severity, may be why it causes more serious complications than other types of pneumonia.

Research has repeatedly shown that women have stronger immune systems than men – they’re less likely to become seriously ill from infections, less susceptible to cancer, and significantly more prone to overreactions such as autoimmune diseases and allergies. Women also tend to mount more powerful immune responses to vaccinations. “The female immune system has to be very different for the obvious reason that they have to be able to become pregnant and not reject the foetus. Therefore you have to have an immune system which has a more intricate feedback mechanism. And that is true from birth,” says Aaby. Previous research has found that the severity of COVID-19 tends to be higher for men compared to women. A study of 17 million adults found that men could face nearly twice the risk of death from the disease than their female counterparts.

Influenza mutates up to three times more often than coronaviruses do, a pace that enables it to evolve quickly and sidestep vaccines. But coronaviruses have a special trick that gives them a deadly dynamism: they frequently recombine, swapping chunks of their RNA with other coronaviruses. Typically, this is a meaningless trading of like parts between like viruses. But when two distant coronavirus relatives end up in the same cell, recombination can lead to mutations on their spike proteins that confer an advantage, creating so-called variants. A subset of these variants spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. This leads to an increase in the number of cases that puts more strain on health care resources, leads to more hospitalizations, and more deaths in younger persons. The response has been increased lock-downs, regrettably associated with push back from groups opposing government trampling on individual freedom. The answer is to have everyone vaccinated.

 Once a pandemic virus begins to circulate, it is vital to assess the effectiveness of the response measures. Reducing the spread of disease will depend significantly upon increasing the “social distance” between people. Measures such as individual/household level measures, societal-level measures and international travel measures, and the use of antivirals, other pharmaceuticals, and vaccines will be important. During a pandemic, health systems will need to provide health-care services while attending to the influx of patients with influenza illness. Planning for surge capacity in health-care facilities will help determine the extent to which the existing health system can expand to manage the additional patient load. Health-care facilities need to maintain adequate triage and infection control measures to protect health-care workers, patients, and visitors. A core element in management is to maintain and build public trust in public health authorities before, during and after a pandemic.

The goal of communications before and during a pandemic is to provide and exchange relevant information with the public, partners, and stakeholders to allow them to make well informed decisions and take appropriate actions to protect health and safety and response. This is a fundamental part of effective risk management! Public health professionals in Canada and the US are not single-handedly responsible for communication failures during COVD-19 – politicians found it necessary to elbow their way to the front of the communication queue. Thus, initially the people with the least knowledge and experience in pandemic response were impacting the public health message. Government officials were concerned about public panic, so they validated the public’s complacency, leaving us incredibly unprepared. In a February 25th media briefing a CDC official said bluntly that “disruption to everyday life may be severe.” The stock market plummeted, President Trump was angered, and the CDC was rebuked.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sounded its highest alarm on January 30, 2020 – a declaration called a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, or PHEIC, signalling that a pandemic might be imminent. Few countries heeded the WHO’s call for testing, tracing and social distancing to curb the coronavirus. By mid-March, it had spread around the world. The Trudeau government dismantled a world class Global Public Health Intelligence Network in Canada the year before the pandemic. An expert’s panel’s report found that prior to the pandemic, the replacement alert system lacked standard operating procedures. Senior managers also didn’t fully understand the rationale and the intended audience for alerts. In the US, President Donald Trump and his administration silenced scientists, meddled in their reports and ignored their advice. A coronavirus-crisis sub-committee within the US House of Representatives report notes that the frequency of meddling (such as recommendations altered) increased in the lead-up to the US election.

If something that happens is a wake-up call, it should make you realize that you need to take action to change a situation. In particular, what happened in both the US and Canada is politicians did not understand the basic functions of public health monitoring systems in protecting citizens from the ravages of pandemics. In general, the global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose; critical elements of the system are slow, cumbersome and indecisive. There has been a wholesale failure to take seriously the existential risk posed by pandemic threat to humanity and its place in the future of the planet. The World Health Organization has been underpowered to do the job expected of it, and the incentives for cooperation are too weak to ensure the effective engagement of States (countries) with the international system in a disciplined, transparent, accountable and timely manner. This situation cries out for change.

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Your Social Needs Determine Where You Are on the Pyramid

Abraham Maslow (1902-1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority. Maslow’s original basic needs are all related to things we can’t control but are essential for living. This hierarchy ranges from more concrete needs such as food and water to abstract concepts such as self-fulfillment. Social need is any essential need for the survival and the progress of the individuals (or the society as a whole) and its derivatives. Examples of social needs include: food and water, energy, health protection and medication, education, transportation, employment, safety and security etc. Social challenges refer to problems that people in a particular social group may face. Examples of social challenges include unemployment, lack of education, integration of disadvantaged or disabled members into the society etc. These social challenges can be local, regional, national or global.

Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Maslow (1943) formulated a more positive account of human behavior which focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential, and how we fulfill that potential. In Canada and the US, the vast majority of the population are living in urban cities having easy access to most of these physiological needs without even noticing that. We don’t worry about how we get those things. It is not until you are in a situation where you are unable to do things that you really realise how many daily things in life you do take for granted. The rate of consumption skyrocketed in the last 50 years, being quite clear that part of the population consumes more than they need while another part is lacking resources and access to the basics. We are also creating new needs and products every day, not really considering which impacts these activities have on earth equilibrium.

Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a large social group or a small network of family and friends. Other sources of social connection may be professional organizations, clubs, religious groups, social media sites, and so forth. The third level of need is love and belonging, which are psycho-social needs. When individuals have taken care of themselves physically, they can address their need to share and connect with others. Deficiencies at this level, on account of neglect, shunning, ostracism, etc., can impact an individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships. For example, applying Maslow’s hierarchy helps to explain why so many people feel the urge to use Twitter and Facebook in times of crisis when they feel their own security is threatened. These social communities provide a pathway for potentially satisfying the need to be safe.

Social media is simply a (relatively) new tool to meet our innate need for human connection. Human behaviours adapt to the environment to support our psychological needs. We strive to achieve those needs within the technological constraints of our environment. Social connections and collaboration are at the center of human motivation. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that if a lower need is not met, then the higher ones will be ignored. For example, if employees lack job security and are worried that they will be fired, they will be far more concerned about their financial well-being and meeting lower needs (paying rent, bills, etc.) than about friendships and respect at work. However, if employees receive adequate financial compensation (and have job security), meaningful group relationships and praise for good work may be more important motivators.

Self-actualization needs are the highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy, and refer to the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. It is important to note that self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a ‘happy ever after’ (Hoffman, 1988). During this pandemic, families who are in different situations are going to have different worries and concerns. Some families are struggling just to meet basic needs like food, health care and maybe even shelter. These families are really struggling financially. Maybe the sole breadwinner lost a job during the pandemic, and rent is coming due. These families are going to be focused on keeping everybody safe and fed. During this time governments must consider the social and economic dimensions of this crisis and focus on the most vulnerable. This can only be achieved by designing policies that support the provision of health, unemployment insurance and social protection while bolstering business to prevent bankruptcy and job loss.1

According to Maslow (1970), certain needs of security and stability (that ranged from the mere physiological to more emotional and interpersonal ones) must be satisfied before the individual could consider developing higher personal tasks such as self-realization. In other words, it was assumed that the individual required a secured economic basis from which to start “growing as a person”. According to Aubrey’s perspective, one of the most characteristic changes brought by the emergent neoliberal working ethics is the exceptional stress on personal responsibility. Neoliberalism has brought a highly fluid, risky, deregulated, individualized, and consumption-centered economic setting. The “new spirit of capitalism” – small government and minimal regulations – created a new working ethics as consequence of the continuous change in the nature of organizational life. This lead to the progressive dissolution along the past decades of the ideas of job security and stability.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) developed the concept of cultural hegemony: the dominant ideology of society reflects the beliefs and interests of the ruling class. Cultural hegemony locks up a society even more tightly because of the way ideas are transmitted by language. The words we use to speak and write have been constructed by social interactions through history and shaped by the dominant ideology of the times. Thus, they are loaded with cultural meanings that condition us to think in particular ways, and to not be able to think very well in other ways. Gramsci suggested that power also rested in the institutions of ‘civil society’ or the structures and organization of everyday life. The revolution or change would therefore have to aim not only at conquering state power, but much more importantly, to create an alternative civil society, which would have to be able to attract the majority of people by convincing them of the validity of the project, which was in turn premised on its ability to perform.

A system of minimal regulations and small government did not come about naturally. Laissez-faire liberalism is a political program, designed to change – in so far as it is victorious – political policies, and to change the economic program of the state itself, in other words, the distribution of the national income. Laissez-faire is supported by an economic elite which wishes to modify not the structure of the state, but merely government policy – to reform the laws controlling commerce, but only indirectly those controlling industry. Today neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Inequality is recast as virtuous. With respect to social needs, their belief is the market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

In a regime faithful to neoliberal policies, governance must be carried out within the constraints of the doctrine of limited government and self-regulating markets. This type of management shifts the locus of power away from citizens and their representatives towards those with capital. Governments adopt the neoliberal governance model creating the mechanism of a free market for decision making-processes. Today neoliberal proxies make it possible to hear distant echoes of motivation theory and self-realization. It is not that neoliberal enterprise aspires to deliver the sustainable material security that Maslow regarded as a baseline accomplishment, but that these needs could not, indeed should not, be met by corporate employment. Rather the reverse: employment security was produced by enhanced corporate competitiveness that is, in turn, dependent on the depth of emotional commitment of individuals. In other words, Maslow’s iconic hierarchy of need is turned upside down.

The needs lower on the hierarchy which have to do with survival have to be satisfied before reaching the one at the top which is self-actualization. In addition to these needs, Maslow also believed that we have a need to learn new information and to better understand the world around us. The COVID crisis has pushed millions down the pyramid of needs to survival. Now where does this leave the worries about the important but less critical to immediate survival needs – such as sustainability, climate change even gender balance in the workplace? When survival needs are met, which an evolved society which is economically stable can do, the other issues on which many of us were focused before the pandemic, can be addressed. It’s high time to re-evaluate what we really need and be aware that our habits are completely related to the major problems of our society. Where are the policies to address our community’s social needs ensuring everyone has a chance to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be?

1 Saul McCleod (29 Dec 2020) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology

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Conspiracy Theories, the Occult and the Neoliberal Phoenix

Newspeak is a fictional language created to limit free expression and maintain the Party orthodoxy. Orwell explains that Newspeak follows most of the rules of English grammar, yet is a language characterized by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning. Doublethink is a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to accept as true that which is clearly false, or to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention to one’s own memories or sense of reality. Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. A symbol of the occult, the phoenix, is a mythical bird with fiery plumage that lives up to 100 years. Near the end of its life, it settles in to its nest of twigs which then burns ferociously, reducing bird and nest to ashes. And from those ashes, a fledgling phoenix rises – renewed and reborn. From the coronavirus crisis many believe a new system will arise.

Occult qualities are properties that have no known rational explanation. In the Middle Ages, for example, magnetism was considered an occult quality. Newton’s contemporaries severely criticized his theory that gravity (published in 1687) was effected through “action at a distance”, as occult.  The term occultism was introduced into the English language in 1875 by the esotericist, Helena Blavatsky. Lucifer was a journal published by Blavatsky. The first edition was issued in September 1887 in London. The journal published articles on philosophical, theosophical, scientific and religious topics. It also contained book reviews, for example of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Her Theosophical doctrines influenced the spread of Hindu and Buddhist ideas in the West as well as the development of the New Age Movement. Occultism is nothing more and nothing less than the manipulation of whatever forms and forces are at the practitioner’s disposal in order to achieve that which the practitioner desires.

Occult can mean: hidden from view. It has been said ‘occult’ or secret knowledge is the basis of all power in human society. Throughout history secure ruling elites arise through secret, or occult knowledge which they carefully guard and withhold from outsiders. Satanism has secrets and symbols associated with the occult. Anton Szandor LaVey wrote in 1975: Man is a selfish creature. Everything in life is a selfish act. Man is not concerned with helping others, yet he wants others to believe he is …[I]t is a truism that every act is a selfish act…Rational self-interest is a virtue, but should be seen for what it is: self-interest. That is the prominent theme of Satanism. “Rational self-interest” is also part of the core terminology of Objectivism, and the language here so clearly mimics Rand’s that it could be taken directly from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged. Both LaVey’s Satanism and Rand draw on ideas of social Darwinism.1

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal organizations and arose during late 16th – early 17th century Britain.  The “Masonic Edition” of the Bible says, “Masonry is descended from the ancient mysteries.” Masonry requires belief in a Supreme Being and treats all religions as though they believe in the same God, whom Masons call by such titles as “Great Architect of the Universe” and “Jah-Bul-On” (supposedly His “secret name”). When the Bible is quoted, references to Jesus are omitted; public prayers must not use Jesus’ name. In several rituals Jesus is made equal to Zoroaster, Buddha, or Muhammad. Salvation to the “Grand Lodge above” is achieved by living an upright life, without explicit faith in Christ. Loyalty binds Masons to one another, and Masons promise by oath of gory death never to reveal their secret rituals to outsiders (curses that are symbolic today). Masonic vows include protection to fellow Masons, even in cases of crime.

Masonry claims to transmit secret teachings from ancient times. Evangelical researchers John Ankerberg and John Weldon state that Masonry serves as an introduction to the occult because, among other reasons, “in symbolism and philosophy it is similar to many occult practices,” and because it is “a system of mysticism which accepts the development of altered states of consciousness.” The 1920s marked the height of popularity of secret societies like the Freemasons. Though most American Masons did not necessarily have any psychic or occult interests, the prevalence of Masonic ideas and rituals provided a fund of commonplaces from which other groups could draw. Moreover, any serious investigation of the Masonic tradition would soon lead the curious to the extensive and often-reprinted works of Albert Pike from the 1870s, with his esoteric and Gnostic interpretations of Freemasonry. Freemasonry opened an enticing door to the wider occult world.

The neo-liberal thought collective was structured very differently from the other ‘invisible colleges’ that sought to change people’s minds in the second half of the twentieth century. Unlike most intellectuals in the 1950s, the early protagonists of the Mont Pelerin Society did not look to the universities or the academic ‘professions’ or to specific interest group mobilisations as the appropriate primary vehicles to achieve their goals. Hence the Mont Pelerin Society was constituted as a private members-only debating society whose participants were hand-picked (originally primarily by Friedrich Hayek, but later through a closed nomination procedure) and which consciously sought to remain out of the public eye. The purpose was to create a special space where people of like-minded political ideals could gather to debate the outlines of a future movement, without having to suffer the indignities of ridicule for their often blue-sky proposals. This supports Orwell’s double think. Its purpose is to help the power elite because they can use both honesty and their own deception.

The neoliberals have been so good at covering their tracks, obscuring what they stand for, and denying the level of coherence which they have achieved in their long march to legitimacy. Back when they were just a gleam in Hayek’s eye, they did explicitly use the term “Neoliberalism” when discussing the project that, back then, did not yet exist – even Milton Friedman used it in print! But once their program looked like it would start to gel, and subsequently start reshaping both the state and the market more to their liking, they abruptly abjured any reference to that label, and sometime in the later 1950s, following the lead of Hayek, they began to call themselves “classical liberals.” Then, they define corporations as legal persons in order to facilitate the buying of elections. This allows them to repurpose the strong state to impose their vision of a society properly open to the dominance of the market as they conceive it. 

Laissez-faire promoted the notion of market and state operating according to different logics – the heart of the liberal version of freedom. On the other hand, the neoliberal thought collective abandons the vision of market and state as independent and ontologically distinct entities. A thought collective is defined by Fleck as a community of persons mutually exchanging ideas or maintaining intellectual interaction. Members of that collective not only adopt certain ways of perceiving and thinking, but they continually transform it – and this transformation does not occur so much “in their heads” as in their interpersonal space. Rose observes: neoliberalism is used as a constant master category that can be used both to understand and to explain all manner of political programs across a wide variety of settings. With respect to China, neoliberalism appears not to have led to contraction of the state vis-à-vis the market, rather just a different kind of state that promotes and works at the behest of markets.

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Orwell’s prophesy in his novel was the appearance of a state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is. Manipulation is a key trait of individuals with controlling personalities. Governments have absorbed neoliberal operational templates and the Orwellian language that naturally accompanies this. More and more people live with the poverty and job insecurity that flows directly from inequities exacerbated by neoliberal welfare and austerity policies. Neoliberalism creates insecurity through the use of indicators and measures to assess the performance of an individual. In turn, alternative media maintain the illusion that merely hides crime, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy, that is threatened by truth and honesty.

The world is awash in the occult and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, they deflect attention from the two main ones: Neoliberal newspeak claims the free market should dominate virtually all aspects of society, that regulations should be dismantled, and that individual liberty should eclipse all other considerations of fairness, equity, or community welfare.  Secondly, fossil fuel executives received reports about of human-induced climate change in 1968, yet they spent subsequent 50 years deliberately concealing their knowledge and obfuscating public discussion on the topic to protect profit.2 Neoliberalism is the political movement that dares not speak its name, and has intellectual contradictions that it dares not air openly. The ideas of the neoliberal thought collective led to a neglect of social goods not captured by economic indicators, an erosion of democracy, an unhealthy promotion of unbridled individualism and social Darwinism, along with economic inefficiency. A crisis on this scale of the coronavirus disaster can reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse. Beware of doublespeak. It’s the language of conspiracy theories and those seeking nothing more than control or obfuscation of thought.

1 The Occult Technology of Power (10July 2011)                                             https://newworldeconomics.com/the-occult-technology-of-power/

2 Jeremy Lent  (2 Oct 2020) ) The five real conspiracies you need to know about                   The five real conspiracies you need to know about – Resilience

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Responding to the Crumbling Façade of Democracy in America

The Glorious Revolution in 1688-1689 marked the beginning of modern English parliamentary democracy. It was called glorious because it achieved its goals without bloodshed in England. This struggle between the king and parliament ended in victory for the people. The new parliament separated the dominant institution of the day, the church, further from the process of government to reduce the church interference in government. A democracy relies on power-sharing arrangements, courts, legislatures and a free and independent media to check executive power. Since these institutions obstruct the free reign of populists, they are often subjected to blistering attack. This is especially the case with the right-wing variety of populism that is spreading across the U.S. and Western and Eastern Europe. Populism calls for kicking out the political establishment, but it doesn’t specify what should replace it. Some describe the Enlightenment as beginning with England’s Glorious Revolution.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition, and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. The process of corporate expansion across borders creates rapid change in many communities with subsequent negative consequences for workers. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population for much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The new corporate values of globalization normalize through a doublespeak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

During the first 20 years of this century, the political, economic and financial elites who brought you the euro crisis, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession of 2008, growing inequality and middle-class income stagnation have made some very serious mistakes, of very enduring consequences, with very startling impunity. Trump perfected the ‘know nothing’ façade of the Republican party to directly appeal to white working-class communities that have a ‘long tradition of hostility towards knowledge.’ Have no doubt neoliberalism serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upwards. The popular lexicon has adopted the term of ‘fake news’ and attributed it to Trump, yet it should be attributed to neoliberalism. Trump supporters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told.

In the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were significantly lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations. The cult of self-esteem that was created in schools provides a pool of individuals in the 21st century who view the world from an emotional rather than a rational perspective, supporting extreme individualism and allowing personal feelings to overcome the distinction between right and wrong. This person is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and admiration. Behind this façade they only care about appearances.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that cuts off those who are affected by it from the emotional reality of others. The core of this pathology is the inability to put oneself into someone’s shoes. Empathy is the seat of conscience, and without it comes an incapacity for love. These candidates are just symptoms of a system run by corporations, which is now revealing the full fledge of pathology incorporated in the United States. When a society lacks understanding of the depth of its darkness, this unaccounted power sees no bounds for its pursuit of a single vision. Those who are devoid of empathy hide their lack of internal structure in a façade of normalcy. By emulating good human attributes, these unknown members of society prey on the rest. They have found the best way to mask their vice by infiltrating governments and directly altering the definition of the norm.

Despite its alleged commitment to market competition, the neoliberal economic agenda instead brought the decline of competition and the rise of close to monopoly power in vast swaths of the economy: pharmaceuticals, telecom, airlines, agriculture, banking, industrials, retail, utilities, and even beer. The U.S. government is highly responsive to the policy preferences of the wealthiest people, corporations, and trade associations – and that it is largely unresponsive to the views of ordinary people. But neoliberalism rejects both the medieval approach of having fixed social classes based on wealth and power and the modern approach of having a single, shared civic identity based on participation in a democratic community. Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology that supports the economic elite. As an answer to the problems of deregulation, privatization, liberalization, and austerity, it offers more of the same or, at best, incremental and technocratic “nudges.”

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome”, says Nietzsche, and moral concepts are merely façades of the power elite, while happiness is a kind of control one has over their surroundings. In a democracy every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them. People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject government authority. The measure of a successful society is the happiness of its people. Once the voters understand the extent of economic inequality in today’s system, they will possess the knowledge to recognize the need for change. However, democracy remains the best human weapon so far invented for guarding against the ‘illusion of certainty’ and breaking up truth-camouflaged monopolies of power, and create a successful society. It is necessary to return to laws based on equality of persons rather than laws of the market.

Mishra observes, “The new horizons of individual desire and fear opened up by the neoliberal economy do not favor democracy or human rights.” Laissez-faire capitalism Ayn Rand argues, is the only system that protects individual rights. Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights. Today, for neoliberals in general, and Republicans in particular it is about the freedom of the markets and the elites who control those markets. Republican social policies tend to oppose extensive government regulations, government-funded social programs, affirmative action, and policies aimed at strengthening the power of workers. As the pandemic has demonstrated, however, it is not the existential dangers, but rather everyday economic activities that reveal the collective, connected character of modern life beneath the individualist façade of rights and contracts. Carl Jung says, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”

In America the crumbling façade of democracy has laid bare the weakness of the Republican Party with its full-throated support of small government and minimal regulations of neoliberalism. To distract voters, they embrace the uncertain populist policies of division and misinformation. Fox News tells viewers they are the only reliable source of political information – re-enforcing the alt-right propaganda in social media. At CPAC they do not debate policy, rather embrace a symbol – Donald Trump as the force to move forward with. Trump in true populist form, sans policies, attacks the “Washington elites” as the problem. On the other hand, the Democratic party is still able to maintain the façade of democracy and hide their neoliberal tendencies from the majority of their supporters. However, there are cracks in this façade as progressives press the so-called Democratic establishment to separate the neoliberal institution from the process of government.

The Enlightenment brought political modernization to the West, in terms of introducing democratic values and institutions and the creation of modern, liberal democracies. In America the Republican Party is no longer a viable choice for democracy. It remains in the hands of the 1% and their proxies and refuses to budge from neoliberal policies. It must be allowed to fail. During the Reagan era the wealthy were mostly funding Republicans. The Democrats needed to move to the right to secure funding from the wealthy, to start winning again. However, in order to restore democracy in America it will be necessary to throw off neoliberal policies of wage suppression, deregulation, and tax cuts; and once again put political power in the hands of the American working class. It is necessary to wipe out the last vestiges of Trumpism, as well as neoliberalism in the Democratic Party to restore democracy in America. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the façade of pretense.

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What We Must Change to Counter our Anxiety

When you have to compete in a world that is structurally unfair and where the game is so often loaded against the little guy, stress and anxiety result. A society of individuals frequently switching jobs, relocating, and preoccupied with personal risk and self-interest is conducive to neither stable families nor cohesive communities. Where career is no longer a meaningful concept, it is no longer possible for one to make and maintain the long-term commitments required of people to form their characters into sustained narratives. Instability and insecurity of the COVID pandemic is also hugely damaging to well-being. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.

Neoliberalism should be interpreted as an anxiety-ridden form of crisis management that is constantly attempting to cover over the gaps and ruptures in its own ideological fabric caused by the contradictions that it is structured to conceal. Moreover, creating anxiety and uncertainty among employees, even ones at the highest level, is actually the point. Such anxiety and uncertainty hinder them from taking risks in participating fully in society as political actors. The same logic would apply to environmental, health and safety regulations designed to protect workers, consumers and the population at large. If you want your country to be competitive, it is best to keep such regulations to a minimum. The power of debt in neoliberalism represents a highly efficient mechanism of control and capture, and much more efficient than the modes of resistance put in place by the workers’ movement.

Metaphors can create anxiety: Donald Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots – fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites. The commodification of politics and social services has stoked mass cynicism towards reigning neoliberal elites, creating receptive audiences for populist slogans to ‘drain the swamp’ at the heart of governments. Populists classically claim to speak for, and personify the interests of, ‘ordinary people’ against established elites (even when these leaders often emerge from elites themselves), and they condemn those who disagree as somehow not genuinely ‘of the people’. In particular, they tell people what they want to hear, often appealing to popular beliefs, prejudices, anxieties and fears, without the need to anchor their programs or policies in scientific or expert knowledge.

One reason for the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories is that they serve an important psychological function for people trying to cope with large, stressful events like a terrorist attack. People “need to blame the anxiety that they feel on different groups and the result is frequently conspiracy theories,” Jan-Willem van Prooijen said, defining the term as a belief that “a group of actors is colluding in secret in order to reach goals that are considered evil or malevolent. People don’t like it when things are really random. Randomness is more threatening than having an enemy. You can prepare for an enemy; you can’t prepare for coincidences.” Conspiracy theories also appeal to people’s need to feel special and unique (a form of agency detection) because it gives them a sense of possessing secret knowledge. These people need an explanation for why society is so awful.

The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. In the moment, cognitive dissonance can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety. And the degree of these effects often depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much the beliefs mean to that person, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction. This cognitive dissonance can be seen particularly in economists – scholars, politicians, media commentators. Paul Murawski notes: Neoliberal theories are unable to explain the financial crisis, there is a gap between the accepted theory and reality. Instead of recognizing that a paradigmatic change is necessary in mainstream economics, the economic profession stubbornly sticks to their mathematical models. On the other hand, the general public believes that this ideology supporting individualism, less government and regulations can no longer be falsified by anything as trifling as data from the “real” economy.

The media also creates cognitive dissonance, this feeling of uncomfortable tension, in many individuals in other areas. The cult of individualism makes us particularly prone to cognitive dissonance because our personal identity is very important. We see ourselves as stable self-contained beings. However, advertising that we may be missing something, or not fitting in creates anxiety. Television tends to feed an information diet (of self-approval) similar to consuming too much sugar inducing short-term euphoria and happiness while distracting from reality. The weakness of the mass media remains an inability to transmit tacit knowledge and an inability to deal with complex issues, so they tend to focus on the unusual or sensational, and the promotion of anxiety and fear. Confirmation-bias draws us into the one-sided outlets, and the cognitive dissonance pushes us away from conflicting ideas. Cognitive dissonance stops us from hearing other opinions that conflict.

Now many workers find themselves stressed working 60-70 hours a week as the only way to survive. These long hours are mentally and physically exhausting and lead to stress at work and at home. Long-term stress can result in anxiety, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It also contributes to depression, obesity and heart disease. People who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol. The New Economics Foundation’s analysis of European data found that the difference in well-being between temporary and permanent workers was actually greater than that between temporary workers and the unemployed. If this seems surprising, that’s perhaps because we so drastically underestimate the anxiety and stress caused by insecurity. The promotion of ‘flexible labor markets’ in the name of growth and competitiveness may therefore not make us better off if it leads to the proliferation of insecure work.

The diagnosis of social anxiety is now commonplace – you become very anxious about what other people may think of you, or how they may judge you. Social anxiety is now the third most common psychological disorder after depression and alcoholism. SmithKline Beecham, makers of Paxil decided to promote it as treatment for social anxiety – bringing social anxiety into focus in the community. A multibillion-dollar marketing campaign linked the disorder to all manner of interpersonal and job-related problems in a way that fashioned all social discomfort as disease. However, success in the competitive marketplace emphasizes the importance of networking, self-presentation and the belief in the ever-present potential for opportunities; the required vigilance maintaining the kind of personal image that attracts them demands relentless self-monitoring. The problem is in the workplace of enterprise culture: anxious self-surveillance is both pathological and prescribed. We need to stop overthinking.

Neoliberalism in terms of its practical effects on people working in areas subject to its power creates a climate of fear and marginalization which expresses itself in the form of cultural anxiety and doubt. Søren Kierkegaard (1815-1855) claims everyone harbors a fear of being alone, forgotten by God, overlooked by his friends and relatives. He concluded that it was in our anxiety that we come to understand feeling that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Even though anxiety can ignite all kinds of transgressions and maladaptive behavior, we should recognize it as a dual force that can be both destructive and generative, depending upon how we approach it. Kierkegaard argues, without anxiety there would be no possibility and therefore no capacity to grow and develop as a human being. Kierkegaard concludes, “Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate… Anxiety can be replaced only by the freedom whose harsh requirements are its cause.”

Neoliberalism must be replaced by a social movement pressing for support of the working classes. We must counter the structural domination of capital – of alienation, loneliness, anxiety and isolation. Johann Hari observes, “Depression and anxiety are signals telling us that our needs are not being met, and I would say the single most helpful thing we can do going forward is to allow ourselves to hear the signal.”  We can learn positive lessons about how to redesign our society to reduce depression and anxiety going forward if we allow ourselves to hear this signal. The single most important thing that has to be done to deal with people’s depression and anxiety is to deal with the financial insecurity they’re facing.1 It is necessary to limit this powerlessness by acting in solidarity through unions, social movements and election campaigns. The way we negotiate anxiety plays no small part in shaping our lives and character.

1 Roge Karma (28 March 2020) Coronavirus, anxiety, and the profound failure of rugged individualism https://www.vox.com/2020/3/28/21196268/coronavirus-johann-hari-lost-connections-anxiety-depression-failure-rugged-individualism

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On Seeking Information to Support Your Convictions

Francis Bacon (1551-1626) was concerned with the superficiality of distinctions drawn in everyday language, and consequently the problems of misinformation to embroil men in the discussion of the meaningless. Because these errors are innate, they cannot be completely eliminated, but only recognized and compensated for. Some of Bacon’s examples are: Recognize our senses are inherently dull and easily deceivable. (Which is why Bacon prescribes instruments and strict investigative methods to correct them.) Our tendency to discern (or even impose) more order in phenomena than is actually there. As Bacon points out, we are apt to find similitude where there is actually singularity, regularity where there is actually randomness, etc. Our tendency is towards “wishful thinking.” According to Bacon, we have a natural inclination to accept, believe, and even prove what we would prefer to be true. Our tendency is to rush to conclusions and make premature judgments that support our convictions, instead of gradually and painstakingly accumulating evidence.

The very first ‘learned society’ meeting on 28 November 1660 followed a lecture at Gresham College by Christopher Wren. Joined by other leading polymaths including Robert Boyle and John Wilkins, the group soon received royal approval, and from 1663 it would be known as ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’. The Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment. Wren designed 53 London churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as many secular buildings of note. He was a founder of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), and his scientific work was highly regarded by Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. He was knighted in 1673.

Every general-chemistry student learns of Robert Boyle (1627–1691) as the person who discovered that the volume of a gas decreases with increasing pressure and vice versa – the famous Boyle’s law. John Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society, is one of the few persons to have headed a college at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Charles II requested an illustrated book of microscopy, initially from Christopher Wren, who had begun making such drawings at Oxford. He had presented some to Charles, who liked them so much he asked the Royal Society for more. Wren was busy with other projects and the job fell to Robert Hooke to complete. One of the reasons Micrographia was so influential was that Hooke wasn’t content just to look at the forms of natural objects and draw them; he wanted to understand their ‘design’d business’ – that is, why they were formed in that way, and what effect it had.

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Orwell’s prophesy in his novel was the appearance of a state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is. Manipulation is a key trait of individuals with controlling personalities. Call it gaslighting, whitewashing, or rewriting the script: The crux of the matter is the manipulator’s desire to control the narrative and either be the hero or the victim. Gaslighting goes a step further and convinces the other party that they are truly “crazy,” “out of control,” or “not remembering correctly.” Gaslighting gives the manipulator the ability to not only control the victim but also to convince the victim that they are wrong.

Rather than Big Brother watching, today we have multiple big brothers in the form of huge Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, which log every keystroke. Hossein Derakhshan, observes, the “diversity that the World Wide Web had originally envisioned” has given way to “the centralization of information” inside a select few social networks – and the end result is “making us all less powerful in relation to government and corporations”. Facebook reportedly had evidence that its algorithms were dividing people – “exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness” – but top executives killed or weakened proposed solutions. Google has intervened in its algorithm to demote spam sites and maintain blacklists as well as make changes to its algorithm that favored the search ranking of a major advertiser, eBay. Older jobseekers today especially feel that bias has been magnified by online career services and right at the top of that list is LinkedIn.

When it comes to the Internet, Amazon, Netflix and Pandora use complex algorithms to make recommendations based on what similar people like, and Facebook and Google use them to cull pertinent information from personal emails and Internet searches in order to provide unsolicited user-specific advertising. Google ranking systems sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in our Search index to find the most relevant, useful results in a fraction of a second, and present them in a way that helps you find what you’re looking for. These ranking systems are made up of not one, but a whole series of algorithms. Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings. Every time you press play and spend some time watching a TV show or a movie, Netflix is collecting data that informs the algorithm and refreshes it. The more you watch the more up to date the algorithm is.

Social media is an undeniable force in today’s world. What makes social media spread faster? The “power-law” of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, holds that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies.  The elderly, the young, and the lesser educated are particularly susceptible to fake news. It is the partisan at the political extremes whether, liberal or conservative, who are most likely to believe a false story, in part, because of confirmation bias. This bias is the tendency in all of us to believe stories that reinforce our convictions – and the stronger the convictions, the more powerfully the person feels the pull of the confirmation bias.

Just as the early Internet fostered the illusion that it was inherently supportive of competition, so it fostered the illusion that it was inherently protective of personal autonomy. After all, no one compelled you to disclose your true identity online. Yet the digital world today has made possible the most comprehensive system of surveillance ever created; networked devices track our every movement and communication. The online economy has destroyed the traditional business model of journalism, resulting in a dramatic decline in professional reporting. And because Google and Facebook dominate digital advertising, no alternative online model has emerged capable of financing the same reporting capacities, particularly at the regional and local level. Their algorithms now influence which content and viewpoints gain visibility among users. Instead of promoting better-informed public debate, however, social media have become powerful vectors of disinformation, polarization, and hatred.

Francis Bacon stated that the destiny of science was not only to enlarge human beings’ knowledge but also to improve human beings’ life on earth. For Bacon skepticism as a method is not just a resolve to disagree. It is the presumption of error and fallibility on which our science is based. Skepticism is an approach to strange or unusual claims where doubt is preferred to belief, given a lack of conclusive evidence. “Skepticism is thus a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings and make survey of the region in which it finds itself, so that for the future it may be able to choose its path with more certainty. But it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement. Such can be obtained only through perfect certainty in our knowledge, alike of the objects themselves and of the limits within which all our knowledge of objects is enclosed”, observes Immanuel Kant.

Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to, observes Tom Rosenstiel. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms preexisting beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. This bias is the tendency in all of us to believe stories that reinforce our convictions – and the stronger the convictions, the more powerfully the person feels the pull of the confirmation bias. But scientists can never prove a theory to be true, Popper insisted, because the next test might contradict all that preceded it. Observations can only disprove a theory, or falsify it. On a personal level, making it a habit to question evidence that you believe supports your opinions is a direct way to counter confirmation bias.

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On Understanding Identity Politics and Exploitation

The concept of identity politics was originally coined in 1977 by the Combahee River Collective, a group of black lesbian socialist feminists who recognized the need for their own autonomous politics as they confronted racism in the women’s movement, sexism in the black liberation movement, exploitation and class reductionism. Centering how economic, gender, and racial oppression materialized simultaneously in their lives was the key to their emancipatory politics. But their political work didn’t end there. The women of Combahee advocated for building coalitions in solidarity with other progressive groups in order to eradicate all oppression, while foregrounding their own. But identity politics is something we tend to see others doing while failing to recognize that we are doing it ourselves. And because we tend to miss the breadth of its scope and reach, we fail to see not only how central it is to the trouble with our politics but also how it might be overcome.

All the social issues you may have heard of in the past several years – same-sex marriage, police shootings of unarmed black men, trans people in bathrooms, the fluidity of gender, discussions about rape culture, campus battles about safe spaces and trigger warnings – are typically the kinds of issues people mean when they refer to identity politics. Identity politics is an ideology that convinces people to band together in society and agree to a common project. There is now concern identity politics is hampering empathy and communication. Identity politics seeks to unite groups of traditionally-powerless people who share common characteristics – such as race and gender – into aggrieved collectives. The source of grievance is oppression by powerful groups in society, often associated with the white race and male gender. Identity politics highlights the social inequities that reflect this oppression.

Mark Lilla recognized that identity politics has become a tag of derision for a large slice of the population, and that their scorn has been particularly targeted toward college students at some of the country’s most selective schools. From Princeton to Oberlin, undergraduates have protested to change the names of buildings, disinvite disfavored speakers, and redistribute more funds toward their cherished causes and favored departments. These demands are also threaded with a common language; phrases like “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and “structural racism” are often invoked when administrators weigh the tradeoffs between free speech and censorship. By focusing so much on issues of identity, the argument goes, Democrats and liberals surrendered all of these issues to Trump, letting him tap into an economically populist message that drew in enough of white rural and working-class America to seal his 2016 victory. Bernie Sanders was correct to focus on economic issues.

The students’ demands and occasionally obnoxious actions are not the story in themselves, but merely the outlines of a more developed ideology. It is one that reflects a particular attitude toward identity that deserves to be taken seriously, even if it is ultimately dismissed. Safe spaces are premised on the idea that marginalized groups are safest, at least in some respects, among their own. Concerns about microaggressions flow from a belief that a minority’s identity is constantly under attack. The phrase “structural racism” captures the idea that racism is embedded in the foundations of American society. On the other hand, some people, particularly on the left and a few on the right (including Steve Bannon) argue that identity politics have served as a distraction from issues they view as more important and politically palatable – the growing income gap between the rich and everyone else, the shipping of jobs overseas, and the abuse and corruption in America’s financial system.1

Right-wing populists falsely identify their particular program with universal values and human interests – by telling “the people” that after years of neglect by “the elite,” their interests are going to be recognized. While it is true that there is a hard racist core to contemporary right-wing populist movements, they have won because they appeal – beyond the ruling-class interests that they serve – to marginalized and dis-empowered elements of the working class. Populists turn to identity politics, and in the process, become a new elite. But as Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde observes, populists, the self-appointed vox populi (voice of all the people), are intolerant and will attack those with a different view, claiming such as person represents “special interests,” and is therefore part of what they consider to be the elite. The result: The end-of-history assumption that liberal democracy was the final point of progress has been disrupted as religious and other identities stubbornly persist, and continue to drive events.

Francis Fukuyama notes that polarization is the result of identity politics, which is undermining democracy. For the most part, economic issues defined twentieth-century politics. On the left, politics is centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion. The Internet is responsible for the global rise of identity politics. Fukuyama and friends claim it is necessary to end Big Tech’s information monopoly to save democracy. The giant Internet platforms not only hold so much power, they wield so much control over political communication.

Individuals and corporations can become rich by relying on market power, price discrimination, and other forms of exploitation. But that does not mean they have made any contribution to the wealth of society. On the contrary, such behavior often leaves everyone else worse off overall. Economists refer to these wealth snatchers, who seek to grab a larger share of the economic pie than they create, as rent-seekers. The term originated from land rents: those who received them did so not as a result of their own efforts, but simply as a consequence of ownership, often inherited. With the help of new technologies, they can – and do – engage in mass discrimination, such that prices are set not by the market (finding the single price that equates demand and supply), but by algorithmic determinations of the maximum each customer is willing to pay.

And, because the burden of exploitation tends to weigh most heavily on those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, by reducing inequality one would strengthen the fabric of American society. Through progressive-capitalist reforms, it is possible to restore economic dynamism and ensure equality and opportunity for all. The top priority should be to curb exploitation and focus on wealth creation, and this can best – or only – be done by people working together, especially through government. Bernie Sanders understood the challenge of identity politics. In 2016 Sanders argued that while fighting to advance the rights of African-Americans, women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, that those fights cannot be won without advancing the material interests of the working class, because “our rights and economic lives are intertwined.” The Democratic movers and shakers did not hear him warn of the need for economic populism in tandem with identity politics.

Facebook notes, “By monitoring posts, pictures, interactions, and Internet activity, Facebook can work out when young people feel ‘stressed,’ ‘defeated,’ ‘overwhelmed,’ ‘anxious,’ ‘nervous,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘silly,’ ‘useless,’ and a ‘failure’” – in short, the moments when they are “most vulnerable to a specific configuration of advertising cues and nudges.” Moreover, surveillance capitalism – defined as the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data – has now moved from the virtual world into the physical one as our phones, apps, and networked devices in the “internet of things” report back to the data companies where we are and what we are doing. This economic logic has now spread beyond the tech companies to new surveillance-based ecosystems in virtually every economic sector, from insurance to automobiles to health, education, finance, to every product described as “smart” and every service described as “personalized.”

The companies, Shoshana Zuboff writes, want to “nudge, tune, herd, manipulate, and modify behavior in specific directions by executing actions as subtle as inserting a specific phrase into your Facebook news feed, timing the appearance of a BUY button on your phone, or shutting down your car engine when an insurance payment is late.” If unregulated, the new technology has an awesome potential for a new social regime, operated in the interests of the dominant companies. Behavioral advertising may seem harmless, and some people may even like getting “personalized” ads. But it has rich possibilities for exploitation. Your news feed is being altered by changes in a platform’s algorithm; the tech giants driving it are more interested in exploiting you than serving you.2

In today’s identity version, the epic struggle between capitalist and proletariat has been replaced by a new struggle between oppressed and oppressor. Remember John Stuart Mill claimed there should be opportunities for individual fulfillment for all members of society. It is not racism that creates differences between classes; it is neoliberal capitalism. On Roemer’s analysis, capitalist exploitation is essentially a form of social parasitism. One group (the capitalists) are made better off by the existence of a second group (workers), but that second group is made worse off by the existence of the first. Precisely because Roemer’s account is focused on “macro” issues pertaining to the distribution of property in society, it has little to say about “micro” issues regarding how individuals treat each other within the framework created by that distribution. We must debate both issues. Instead of a more complicated understanding of identity (race, sex), we need a more profound understanding of exploitation.

1 German Lopez. (27 Aug 2017) The battle over identity politics, explained. https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/12/2/13718770/identity-politics

2 Paul Starr (2 Oct 2019) How Neoliberal Policy Shaped the Internet – and What to Do About It Now. https://prospect.org/power/how-neoliberal-policy-shaped-internet-surveillance-monopoly/

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