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Dr. Larry Arnn Concludes the Study of The Abolition of Man

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HH: It is the last radio hour of my week, and that means it is time for the Hillsdale Dialogue today with Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College all these many years, and usually my guest on the Hillsdale Dialogue, though occasionally other members of the faculty and team at Hillsdale join me. All of these conversations have been collected at one website, www.hughforhillsdale.com. Everything about Hillsdale is available at www.hillsdale.edu. And their online courses are amazing. You can sign up for their newsletter, Imprimis, as your own Easter gift for yourself for absolutely free. More than two million people receive it. And they have a new admittee at Hillsdale this week, the wonderful Jake, who is the social media genius of the Hugh Hewitt Show. Congratulations on the discernment qualities of your admissions office, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, we, he has overcome the drag of his recommendation.

HH: (laughing) Hey, my friend, Happy Easter to you in advance. I have to begin by saying that we want today to finish our conversation about the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis’ 1944 seminal work on the moral core, the natural law. And it’s an interesting way to get into it, but I thought about it last night, because I talked to Ben Carson yesterday, and no stranger to Hillsdale College’s campus.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And Dr. Carson, I asked him you know, President Trump has changed direction on Syria in response to pictures, pictures of slaughtered children, and being hosed down. And he’s brought this up himself many times, is that a good thing or a bad thing, and he said it’s fine. You can learn any way you want, provided you don’t learn exclusively through one way in visual learning. And then I began to think he really, what he did is he responded to our natural, what Lewis would call the Tao in response to those pictures. Do you agree or disagree?

LA: Well, so Aristotle teaches us that there’s nothing in the soul that doesn’t get in there through the sense perception. So you only know what you hear, taste, touch, you know, see, smell. So of course, he responded to pictures. And as you see the beautiful, also, you see the despicable particularly vividly. Now there has to, for the serious stuff to make any sense, it can’t just be sentimental, you know, because horrors are going on all over the world right now. I mean, we may be on the brink of war with North Korea. And that’s a horrific place. So then you’ve got to think after that, too. And I will tell you, I like what he did, and one of the reasons I liked what he did is he did it in one day, it had a big effect, and he doesn’t have to do anything else if he doesn’t want to.

HH: And the message that was sent was, by General Mattis, don’t use chemical weapons. It did not go broader than that. It simply said we’re signatories to the U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention, and the world says do not use sarin gas. And if you do, we will act again.

LA: Isn’t it funny that Trump didn’t draw a red line about that, he just enforced one?

HH: Yes, it is. And then yesterday, the MOAB was dropped, the mother of all bombs, the GRU something or other, 22,000 pound bomb, the largest non-nuclear explosion ever. And that was actually a message not just to the three dozen ISIS members killed by it, but to North Korea, I think, and to many other people. What do you think?

LA: Yeah, that’s a big ol’ bomb, isn’t it?

HH: It sure it.

LA: And it came up that in the Bush administration looking for Osama bin Laden, and on two other occasions, I can remember, that we thought about using that thing, and we pulled back. And there was talk of using it. And then we pulled back. This time, there wasn’t any talk. And you know, bang, that thing went off. And so I think that’s right. I think that Trump has introduced doubt into the world combination that was forming, and now they’ve got to wonder what’s happening next, and thank God for that.

HH: In the Washington Post account, and again, this will tie back to the Abolition of Man, Afghan officials said no civilians were reported killed, but the revelation that late Thursday’s strike targeted just 36 fighters is likely to raise further questions about the decision to deploy such massive ordinance. Generalissimo responded when I read that in the first hour, and he said my question is do we have any more of them? And so that’s…

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) …That’s the one question, I don’t see there is any question at all. No American lives were put at risk. David French, the estimable David French, posted the reaction of some soldiers who lost limbs wishing that we had used more ordinance like this to clear minefields as opposed to careful rules of engagement that restrict our use of force overly. And that’s about the law of war. It’s about the ultimate morality of how one conducts war, which is what the Abolition of Man is about. It’s actually kind of interesting, the Abolition of Man is about everything.

LA: Isn’t, yeah, well that’s right, and the Abolition of Man is about the replacement of all moral right with force. And we’re going to exercise force over ourselves is the final meaning of the book. And what we’re dealing with here, however, is the distinction between good and evil, and you know, we’re not perfect, but we’re better than North Korea, and we’re better than these Islamic terrorists, you know, as a regime, as the way we treat our people. And so when you’re fighting people like that, you have to fight them. And you know, it looks to me like, and you know, this is early days, because just like George W. Bush, Donald Trump didn’t get elected president thinking he was going to spend all his time fighting people. On the contrary, but he seems to be good so far at thinking what really would cause them harm and keep them up in the middle of that worrying about what I’m going to do next. And he’s doing those things.

HH: The ability to distinguish good and evil, and understanding of the same that we are not perfect, I like to say of his radio show I’m not perfect, I’m just the best. And I’m sure that Hillsdale says the same thing about Hillsdale. But here’s the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, who finished number one in his class at West Point, wonderful man, used to be a regular guest on this show. I believe you may know him.

LA: I do.

HH: Here he is yesterday at CSIS speaking in clear terms about the morality of what we do versus what Wikileaks does, cut number 13.

MP: In fact, because CIA is accountable to a free and open society we help defend, the times in which we have failed to live up to high standards of our fellow citizens have been catalogued well over the years, even by our own government. These mistakes are public. They’re public to an extent that I doubt any other nation could ever match. But it’s always our intention and our duty to get it right. And that’s one of the reasons we say the celebration of entities like Wikileaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling, because while we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose very real threats to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves. As long as they make a splash, they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security. Wikileaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. And it’s encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from any democratic countries and organizations. It’s time to call out Wikileaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our intelligence community determined that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used Wikileaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with Wikileaks.

HH: So Dr. Arnn, what you heard there was two organizations doing the same thing, collecting information, but very different moral perspectives on those two organizations. You’ve got to be able to have an ability to judge them both in order to distinguish between which one is good and which one is evil.

LA: Yeah, well, if you have two uses of power, you have to ask the question to what is it responsible? To what must it respond and limit itself, be limited by it? And Wikileaks, that’s very unclear. The CIA, especially if we succeed in getting the Constitution working right again, they have an intelligence committee that oversees them all the time, and that can, that knows a lot of secrets, and that is bipartisan in its conformation, and so they’re very different things, right? There’s, we have a different president than we had six months ago, and that’s because of an election. And the CIA director changed because of that election. Who changes and controls Wikileaks?

HH: Yes, nobody. That’s exactly right.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And in its independence from all law, it only falls back upon what it considers to be in its self-interest, and that’s actually what the Abolition of Man is about, why you can’t live that way.

LA: That’s right. That’s right. If there’s no, you know, the hard thing about government, it’s even easy to understand, is that government, but law, politics have a monopoly on force in any society where they reign, and if they don’t reign, you have anarchy, and that’s misery. So how do you grant that monopoly on force to keep the peace and defend the people from foreign enemies, and yet limit that power? That’s the question.

HH: I will be back with Dr. Arnn talking about the Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis as we continue with the Hillsdale Dialogue on this Good Friday.

— – – —

HH: Larry Arnn, I learned in researching the book, in a lecture on Walker Percy, Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College lists the book as one of six books to read to save Western civilization, along with Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, Mere Christianity by Lewis, the Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy by Chesterton, and Brave New World by Huxley. What do you make of that assessment?

LA: What a great list.

HH: Yeah.

LA: You know, I’ve never met that guy, Peter Kreeft.

HH: Neither have I, but he’s amazing.

LA: But I have read many things by him. He’s a very impressive man.

HH: Now there is a piece that you’re going to have to read because of the Abolition of Man. Over at the New York Times dated April 13th, 2017, so it was yesterday, by Molly Worthen, that says the Evangelical roots of our post-truth society, and it is in fact, she could be the Green Book’s author. And would you explain to people what that means?

LA: Well, so the Abolition of Man begins with a boys’ grammar, well, it was used at a boys’ school, but a high school grammar book, and it’s written by two guys who he calls Gaius and Titius, C.S. Lewis calls them that, and the actual name of the book is known, I can look it up, but what it does is it starts out. The book starts out by the argument that two people are looking at a waterfall, one of them says it’s pretty, and the other says it’s sublime, and Coleridge holds, the poet, Coleridge, holds in contempt the one who says pretty, because it really is sublime. And then the author of the grammar book tells the kids that they’re really, both Coleridge and the man who says pretty, are really only, use the word only, saying something about their own emotions, nothing about the waterfall. And so the rest of the book, it’s a tremendous argument in this book, the rest of the book proceeds from Lewis analyzing that claim, because you said earlier in the conversation, Hugh, that Donald Trump saw some people being gassed to death, women and children included. And he was moved and horrified by that. This book, this grammar book for high school kids begins with the claim that that was just something inside Donald Trump…

HH: Correct.

LA: …and that his perception was not justified by the actual reality of the event.

HH: And in this New York Times lengthy op-ed published yesterday, Molly writes about the old view, the C.S. Lewis view. In the question to advance knowledge and broker peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world, that worldview, based on Biblical inerrancy, gets tangled up in the contradiction between its claims on universal science and insistence on an exclusive faith. By contrast, she writes, the worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible, is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually, if imperfectly, revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the Supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative Evangelical war on facts, but it is not necessarily incompatible with the Christian faith. The war goes on, Larry Arnn. The Green Book war goes on. It’s so remarkably fortuitous that we get such a perfect expression of it in the New York Times yesterday.

LA: Isn’t that something? And you know, the trouble with pragmatism is it doesn’t work. It, so think about what she said for a minute, right, because there are a lot of facts, right? It’s a fact that Donald Trump has used a bomb, and it’s a fact that Kim of North Korea, whichever Kim it is now, I can never remember, they’re all named Kim, though, that Kim is developing a bomb, has been testing them. Those are two facts. Now the question is what are we going to make of those facts? Which is good? Which is bad? Are they both equally evil? Are they both equally good? It turns out facts are absolutely vital to understand the world. Facts begin with the evidence of sense perception. But then immediately the question arises, what does it mean?

HH: What does it mean, and Molly Worthen is an esteemed academic. She is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a contributing opinion write to the New York Times. And she has authored a book, Apostles Of Reason: The Crisis Of Authority In American Evangelicalism. And she is the Green Book. It’s amazing to me that we’re talking about this. More when we return to the Hillsdale Dialogue. Don’t go anywhere, America.

— – – — –

HH: In response to my tweeting out the link to Molly Worthen’s piece, The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society, Mark Caputo, a very fine reporter with Politico, tweeted at me, Dr. Arnn, what is truth, to which I responded John 18:38, remarkably relevant question for today, it being Good Friday and our discussion Hillsdale President Dr. Larry Arnn and I have had the interview scheduled for a very long time. Its occurrence on Good Friday and a day after Molly Worthen op-ed is pure coincidence of the sort that makes radio wonderful. It is a pure coincidence, but it is wonderful.

LA: That’s right. Yeah, what are we going to do? Make a plan?

HH: Yeah (laughing).

LA: (laughing)

HH: We don’t do plans. So you had an entire seven minutes to read Molly Worthen.

LA: I did read it.

HH: And what do you think?

LA: Well, it’s a lot, there’s a lot of truth in it, but also, the title is wrong, isn’t it? The Evangelical Roots of the Post-Truth Society – well, what are the actual roots of our discarding of truth and of postmodernism and cultural relativism? They’re not in Christianity.

HH: Absolutely not.

LA: Christianity is infected by those things.

HH: Yes.

LA: And it does just so happen as a matter of fact that say in the medieval times when there were philosophers who were Jews, Moses Maimonides, for example, and Muslims, al-Farabi, for example, and Christians, Thomas Aquinas, for example. In those times, Thomas Aquinas was the freest to write. And the reason is Christianity is a, it’s a good day to say this, Good Friday, Christianity is a religion of belief. And its founder, Jesus Christ, the other word they use for him in the Gospel of John is the Word, and that word is logos. That’s like the Greek word for reason and speech. Jesus is what God has to say. And we are invited and encouraged to think. And that means she makes a big deal about how some colleges won’t teach evolution, and I think that’s foolish, myself. But never mind that. C.S. Lewis, the greatest Christian writer of the 20th Century, about whom we’re talking, writes that there is probably something to this claim of evolution, but that doesn’t, you know, the question is who runs that process?

HH: That’s right. It doesn’t answer a thing. It doesn’t answer a thing at all, and I’m 100% with evolution. And the Catholic Church has been for centuries.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Said sure, you bet, if he wants to do that, that’s just great. Mark Caputo, this very fine reporter, tweeted back after quoting Pilate, what is truth, Pilate is the first modern man character of literature, amoral more than moral, notice that he puts the Bible down as literature, not as history. Pilate’s a historical figure that we know from Josephus existed. And it’s interesting, he is post-truth, what is truth. And it is Good Friday and we’re talking about this. So get to C.S. Lewis’ claim. At the center of the Abolition of Man is that we can know true things. Isn’t that it?

LA: Well, that’s, so the way the book works is if you think, you know, let me formulate here. The argument’s a little complicated, and people have found it complicated, but let me try to put it simply.

HH: I can’t even bring up the Steelers fans, because Mr. Rooney died, and so I can’t say we’ll slow it down for them.

LA: No, not on Good Friday.

HH: Not on Good Friday.

LA: So you look at a child, and you look at a puppy. And they’re both sweet, and they’re both to be protected, in some sense, and yet in a very different way, the two of them. If you had to sacrifice one of them, it would be an easy call which one you had to sacrifice, right? That perception, that perception is at the bottom of all of our comprehension and understanding of the world. We see the world, and see, the lady, Worthen, doesn’t like the term worldview. I don’t like it, either. I think it’s having a worldview, we should look at the world. And so in my office where I am right now, chair, desk, screen, there are many of them, right? But we recognize them for what they are and what they’re to be used for. And so waterfall, to go back to the beginning of the book, some of those are so grand, they’re sublime. And if you think that’s just in you, then that means you’re unable to tell the difference between a child and an animal.

HH: Right.

LA: And so if you lose that, says Lewis, and that is the starting point. That’s also the meaning of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. You start with the fact that we all long for the good, which I should say to Mr. Caputo, is a synonym in many, and in the central respects of the word truth. We long for the good, and we see the good. And that is a starting point. When the Declaration of Independence says that it is a self-evident truth that all men are created equal, it’s a tautology, and that’s why it can be self-evident. All men are men, and therefore to be treated like the things that are in that category of thing. And if you doubt that, if you say, as the beginning of Abolition of Man begins, if you doubt that, then of course, if you can’t see the waterfall and understand its real properties, then the next thing you know, and 150 pages later, this is where C.S. Lewis gets to, you will have abolished yourself.

HH: Yes, and you will have to turn to others to make those decisions for you, which is in fact what has happened with the vast administrative state. And you can’t trust other people to make those decisions for you, because they will make the wrong decision if they are not trained up in the right way. And we have got administrators now who believe as Molly does, I’m sure she’s a fine individual and a nice person, that you can’t make values-based judgments.

LA: Yeah. And if you do, I value your suppression so you do not infect other people. So you go, and see, the last argument in the Abolition of Man is very great, and here’s what it amounts to. It’s we human beings are stuck, because we live in this mixed situation which is like dogs and cats and owls and horses. We need to eat, and we need to sleep, and we like pleasure, and we don’t like pain. We live a simply animal existence. Now on the other hand, there’s this other dimension going on in us. There’s something in us that’s sitting in judgment all the time on everything we do. And to abolish that thing is not to liberate human nature. It’s to destroy it. If there’s nothing that is a contact with the real world, and the real nature of things, which we enjoy through our human soul, which has the capacity of reason, the respect, it’s good to say on Good Friday, in which we are created in the image of God, if we do not have that outside thing that judges for us and with us, and judges in us and judges us the right or wrong of what we do, then we are not people anymore. We have abolished ourselves, and we are just like animals.

HH: The Abolition of Man, hence the title.

LA: That’s right.

HH: Now the question comes on Good Friday, it’s especially relevant, he does not make a claim for Christianity exclusively in the book, though it might flow out of the argument of the book. And I want people to understand that the Abolition of Man does not do that.

LA: That’s, so the New York Times lady, by the way, there’s a lot of truth in what she writes. You know, modern thinking in all of its places is infected by the great philosophic trends of the time, right? And they’ve been going on for 150 or 200 years, and relativism and historicism are the best descriptions of it. And so sure enough, lots of people think today that you can’t know anything, right or wrong. You start with God and work down from there. But Mere Christianity and the Abolition of Man go in the opposite direction. They start with ordinary things you see, and examine the implications of those, and the next thing you know, you’ve found God. And I will say that is also Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas’ Methodology About All Ethical Things. So you start with the fact that you see things, and Mere Christianity begins with this story. We don’t, we should pay attention, you know, to what we hear around us, right? So we’re on a bus, and somebody says you took my seat. And somebody else doesn’t say, unless the person is a barbarian, which happens, but it’s rare, who cares, I’ll beat you up if you say anything. You know, when that happens, by the way, and that does happen now, that’s a real breakdown in society. What they say back instead is, no, it’s my seat. Now one of them is, either they’re confused, or one of them is a liar. But the interesting thing is they have both submitted themselves to the same rule by which to judge. The seat belongs to the one who was there first. And it doesn’t, and they’re both saying in that argument then, they’re saying it’s not just a conflict of wills. There would be something outside the both of us to arbitrate this argument. And C.S. Lewis begins with that phenomenon that we see all the time to develop how we know about God, and ultimately, to arrive at the Christian God. And working your way up from the things you see is one of the two ways of knowing, and they’re both vital. And so the lady in the New York Times is correct that sometimes now we think only the mysterious force of God can talk to us, and you can never explain how you know it. Well you know, that’s kind of true. But it’s also true that you don’t have to be a Christian to be mystified how your rationality works.

HH: But you do, you’re being very generous, and when we come back after break, very generous towards her, and it’s well-written, and it’s well-documented. But it is part of a piece of an attack on a way of living.

LA: Yeah, sure.

HH: And that is what I believe prompted Lewis in the first place to write the Abolition of Man, correct? And he noticed in a book that was sent to him that there was a deeply-embedded assault, and that same assault is embedded in this, and by the way, there’s probably some good things in the Green Book, right?

LA: Right.

HH: There’s, it’s not without value. There’s some true things in there. But within it is a view of how you know that ultimately leads to nihilism.

LA: These are, and see, she is dealing with big questions here, right? And they are, like here’s something I was taught by my…

HH: Hold it for after the break.

LA: Okay.

HH: We’ve got to go to break. Don’t go anywhere. Dr. Larry Arnn and I will be back to finish the conversation about the Abolition of Man. I have tweeted out the New York Times piece, and you can all find that and every other Hillsdale Dialogue at www.hughforhillsdale.com.

— – – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, it’s a significant Friday not only because of the Good Friday, but NBC News has a story out late last night, the U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test, multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News. And we have prepositioned our carrier strike force. We have got many, many Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region. There are American heavy bombers prepositioned on Guam that can use the sorts of bombs we used yesterday. But if that were to happen, the estimate of loss of life in 1994 of a Korean conflict was 4 million people in 48 hours. How is one to judge such an event and how to act?

LA: Well, you know, there you go. That’s, there’s prudence. That’s what it’s like. So if it were true that there was going to be a 4 million person loss, I can’t imagine that, and they anticipated that, I can’t imagine that Donald Trump would do that. But they will, you know, they know a lot that we don’t know. And we can have some confidence because of Mad Dog and his colleagues, and McMaster. We can have some confidence that they know, they understand pretty well, right? So they must have a plan what they can hit and what it will do, and what North Korea will do back.

HH: And they must have an idea of the consequences of doing nothing. In other words, they have to decide, because North Korea continues to turn out nuclear weapons like Lucy did the chocolates in that long ago episode of I Love Lucy. They just continue to turn them out, and they are an organized crime family masquerading as a government.

HH: So let’s say it’s true, and see, I hereby protest that I’m no expert on North Korea. But I think, you know, here’s a plausible scenario. Here’s what a lot of people say. Societies like that don’t work very well, and that one doesn’t work very well. And it’s got a whacking big ol’ army. Is it going to fight very well? And you know, is it fed properly? Are its weapons in good form? Probably only if China has helped them. And so the danger that comes from them is not that million man army. The danger that comes from them is that they’re building these nuclear weapons, and they might lob one at us. And so it’s possible that they will be impotent or nearly impotent if we get rid of that thing. And I’ll bet that some calculations are going on about that.

HH: And those calculations always have to be undergirded, though, by a moral framework. These are not, and that takes us back to the Abolition of Man. You can’t make this without a moral framework, otherwise you wouldn’t care what happened.

LA: Right. That’s, in other words, and you know, I mean, you know, these guys in North Korea, they, I keep saying it, because it’s stunning. They have kidnapped famous people, because they admire their films and their plays, and made them live with them in court and perform for a time, right? Agents grabbed them and brought them to Pyongyang, you know? I mean, what kind of nut guy does that, you know?

HH: Yeah.

LA: I mean, it, so this is a savage, brutal, backward society, and you know, and one of the brothers was just murdered, right?

HH: Right.

LA: It’s crazy.

HH: Crazy. Let me give you one last thing in the context of the Abolition of Man, Dr. Arnn. President George W. Bush was on NPR yesterday, and he said the U.S. has an obligation to provide assistance to other countries faced with humanitarian crises. Failing to do so, he argues, creates openings for extremists to spread an anti-American message. “When you have an entire generation of people being wiped out and the free world turns its back, it provides a convenient opportunity for people to spread extremism. I believe it is in our national security interest as well as our moral interest to continue funding this program.” He’s making two arguments there, both pragmatic and moral.

LA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: What do you think of that?

LA: Well, you know, you learn about prudential reasoning. Let’s decide what to do, right? Every time that comes up, so we were just talking about bombing North Korea.

HH: Right.

LA: If we anticipate that 4 million people will die because of that, I don’t think we’ll do it. But if we anticipate that 40 people will die because of it, I think we probably would.

HH: Yes.

LA: Now isn’t that the same thing about humanitarian crises?

HH: Yes.

LA: George W. Bush’s father sent a whole bunch of troops over to Somalia. And was there any good that came out of that? Did we save a lot of people? Not that I know of, and I remember, you know, just go watch Blackhawk Down, right? But then I remember an ABC News report one night back when television news used to matter. Now, it’s all radio, of course. Then, and there’s this soldier, and he was walking along a hill on a ridge, and they said, and this reporter said to me, he said, he said to the guy, he said are you going to be able to disarm these warlords? And he turned, and he swept his hand down below to a vast complex of houses, and he said you want to go down there?

HH: Yeah.

LA: So…

HH: Prudence. Prudence.

LA: You have to be practical.

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, a Happy Easter to you. All of the Hillsdale Dialogues available at www.hughforhillsdale.com. This one will be posted there along with transcripts.

End of interview.

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