Category Archives: Mechanisms of control

The virtue of victimhood.

I have broached the topic of self-victimization in a few previous entries, especially in reference to “but what about teh menz” rhetoric, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about it in detail.

Self-victimization is defined as creating a state of victimhood without proper justification. It does not designate actual victims of harmful actions who complain about the harm done to them. Rather, it designates individuals or groups who manufacture victimhood in order to gain the moral high ground.

I return again to my example of MRAs, who bring up laundry lists of reasons why they believe women rule over men (see 1 and 2); these lists are full of falsehoods, misrepresentations and absurdities.

That conclusion being drawn, one may then ask, why are they even doing this? What’s the point? Why do neo-nazis even bother to deny the Holocaust and promote a zionist conspiracy, even though the Holocaust is one of their greatest “successes”? Why do MRAs push bizarre conspiracy theories about feminism? Why do statists accuse minority groups and unpopular opinions of all the evils in society, instead of the real culprits? Why do Christians attack science and humanism as the enemies of mankind, when in fact it is capitalism and democracy that are the worse enemies of religion?

Consider again the manichean worldview, on which our loyalties are based. In this worldview, we (the in-group) are the “good guys” and cannot do anything wrong, and they (the out-group) are the “bad guys” and cannot do anything right. Therefore, logically, any harm we inflict on them must necessarily be ethically justifiable, since it cannot be wrong. This is a wonderful example of linear logic, as obvious and natural to the believer’s mind as two plus two make four.

Add to this the positive aspect of victimhood; we naturally sympathize with victims because we empathize with their plight and are outraged at what happened to them. Because of this, it is hard for anyone who sees themselves as good to think that their actions have in some way created victims. It also looks very bad from a simple public relations standpoint.

The two main ways in which one can justify harm that one’s in-group has inflicted are (1) to deny the harm actually happened or (2) to claim that the harm was justified by the fact that they (the in-group) were the “real” victims in that situation. The former is generally unsustainable, therefore the latter is usually more successful.

Therefore we get the idea that, you know, rape is really not that big of a deal because women are just “asking for it” and men can’t help it if women are “overstimulating” them. So men are the actual victims here, and women have the power because they use men’s instincts against them. You see, sex workers are dominating their customers by forcing them to pay to see them naked.

From any sort of objective view, this reasoning is simply laughable. But it is psychologically much easier for a genderist to believe that men are the real victims of rape than to believe that their beliefs are evil.

The only alternatives to defenders of manhood and gender in general are either to (1) admit that their beliefs cause harm and that they are actively lobbying for that harm, (2) that rape doesn’t really happen, or (3) that men are the real victims. Claiming that men are hapless animals entrapped by wily women is an example of (3). The constant attempts to define rape and specific instances of rape (“she didn’t scream!,” “he was her husband!,” and somesuch nonsense) out of existence are examples of (1). Pushing manufactured “false rape allegations” statistics is an example of (2) (and I do intend to discuss this topic in a future entry, because their lies are so astonishing that it’s hard to believe they’re getting away with it).

The more developed the us v them complex, the more developed a view of the enemy one has. There are a few genderist crackpots who claim a feminist conspiracy, although these are not widely accepted beliefs amongst genderists. But other in-groups have accepted conspiracy theories. The nazis had the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (although said document was produced decades before the Nazis came to exist), the Christians have the “homosexual agenda” and the Satanist conspiracy, conservatives have the liberal media conspiracy, and so on. Most pseudo-science quacks believe in some Establishment conspiracy that actively suppresses the TRVTH, although the specific culprits vary. Statists nowadays use terrorism to shape the enemy.

Like most arguments by true believers, these are projections. When we look at actual conspiracies throughout history, we find that by far it is the evildoers, the destroyers, who conspire and commit terroristic acts. Nazis had a made-up Protocol justify a real Holocaust. Christians had a non-existent Satanic conspiracy justify a real Inquisition, and now they use a fantasy “homosexual agenda” to push the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda. During the Cold War, the Red Scare was used as a pretext to slaughter union leaders and activists around the world.

This is the result of a complex, constantly evolving framing of what the enemy is, but with or without this framing we still get to the same result: persecutors must be praised and victims must be blamed, and the manichean framework must not change. The truth must not be confronted at all costs, no matter how absurd the mechanism to evade it might be.

This seems to me very similar to the process by which Alice Miller says we cannot confront our childhood trauma and, because of this inability, become aberrated adults who will gladly cheat, lie and kill in the name of a higher power.

People who were treated with respect as children, who weren’t drilled to become robots with the aid of mistreatment, will never want to die out of “faithfulness to the Führer” or send thousands of human beings to Stalingrad against all reason just because some madman planned it… In the Fürher’s headquarters, and all counter-arguments dissolved into fear and mental paralysis or, on the other hand, into enthusiasm when they heard him (the father) speak. This disastrous political blindness that cost millions of people their lives proves conclusively what our grandparents so hotly denied: that in every case, physical as well as psychological abuse of the child is not only harmful but highly dangerous. Not only for the individual but under certain circumstances for whole nations.

To evade any accusation of Godwin’s Law, my point here is not that all people who refuse to confront the truth and instead justify themselves through convoluted pseudo-reasoning are just as bad as the Nazis; rather, I’m arguing that they all flow from the same source and proceed in the same fashion. There is no substantial difference between neo-Nazis rationalizing the Holocaust and Americans rationalizing the genocide of the natives or Hiroshima. The acts are different, but the self-victimization process is the same and returns the same result.

I was late because of the roadblock.

NOTE: This is a repost, but I’ve added a number of new items to the list.

***

A: “How could you arrive late? I gave you very specific directions on how to get here.”
B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “That’s impossible! I’ve given these directions to thousands of people, and I was never told that any of them ever arrived late. You must be lying.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Look, the map is never wrong. Do you see a roadblock on it? No. So you can’t possibly have seen one. It was a hallucination. You must be on drugs or something. What a terrible person you are!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “People like you are so bad at driving, aren’t they… Pity.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “You are suffering from a mental condition that makes it harder for people like you to navigate roads. It’s okay, we have medical treatment for people like you…”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Only dishonest people would take a detour. You must have made it up and used that extra time to commit a crime. I’m gonna call the police!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “I ordered you to take this route AND to arrive here on time. You failed to obey my orders. What a disappointment you turned out to be. Why can’t you be here on time like everyone else?”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Suck it up and be more professional. No one wants to hear some bullshit roadblock story.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Come on. You know in your heart that’s just not true. Stop lying to yourself.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Excuses, excuses… take some fucking responsibility for your actions. It’s your fault if you’re late, no one else’s. Don’t go blaming the roadblock for your own personal failings.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “How dare you talk back to me? No one cares if there was a roadblock. It was probably your fault anyway! You can’t do anything right! Just shut up!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “You always have some excuse for your lackadaisical behaviour. If you don’t stop being so rebellious, we’re not going to serve you any dessert this evening. It’s as simple as that!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “That’s so self-serving of you! If you hadn’t been late, you wouldn’t have come up with some cockamamie excuse. Good people arrive on time, and when they don’t, they take responsibility for their actions and don’t have to invoke irrelevant roadblocks.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Sure, that’s easy for you to say, but think of the time road workers had to take to set up the roadblock… they have it much harder than you! Stop your whining already!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “All right, but think of all the times when you came here and had a great drive. So stop talking about roadblocks, it’s like you have an obsession or something…”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “You need to stay out here and cool off until you change your tune. I don’t want to see someone as agitated as you around the dinner table.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Are you trying to make me feel guilty for this? Implying that my directions were bad? This is your fault, not mine! You were the one driving!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Oh fine, just make us wait for you… as if we don’t have anything else to do… It’s not like you care about us anyway…”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “What would your parents think if they heard you were late? Stop trying to give them a heart attack and start acting more respectably!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “As if you didn’t mean for this delay to happen… come on, we know you like to make us wait on you. You are so arrogant…”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “No one I’ve ever talked to has experienced a roadblock, so by induction your statement is false. There, it’s logically demonstrated. Now stop holding on to this delusion of yours.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Your statement that you experienced a roadblock is ultimately just a subjective opinion. Why should I care about your subjective opinion? In order to be valid, your statement must be true for all people and all times.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “You can’t prove that roadblocks exist, can you? You could have had a hallucination, seen a mirage, or a hologram, or perhaps you were kidnapped by aliens who put your brain in a vat. Until you can disprove these possibilities, I can’t believe what you’re saying.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “It’s fine that you were late because of a roadblock, but why aren’t you even mentioning all the people who are late every day because of traffic? You’re just a bigot!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “You are a bitch, and bitches always lie, therefore you are lying. Why are you such a bitch? Is it because of feminism? Feminism is terrible because it turns all women into bitches; I know this because I dated a woman and she was a real bitch, while women in the past were sweet and holy. Anyway, get out of my house, you bitch!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Well, are you sure that you actually had to take a detour? Like, couldn’t you have gone through the roadblock really carefully? Couldn’t you have talked to the workers so they’d let you pass? It just seems to me like you just gave up, you fucking spineless coward. I won’t believe you had to take a detour unless you bring me a note from a policeman.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “I told you to stop driving around in a car of the wrong color. It gives off the wrong vibrations for your astrological sign. You need to get a different car as soon as possible.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Everything happens for a reason. The roadblock was placed there by the universe so you could take a more scenic route. Isn’t life wonderful?”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “That roadblock only exists in your mind. Stop thinking so negatively and you’ll always be here on time. Otherwise, you’ll keep pulling these things into your life.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “This imaginary roadblock is a reflection of your own feelings of inadequacy about yourself. If you only got help and cured those feelings, you wouldn’t be having these problems.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “This imaginary roadblock is created by spiritual entities which latch on to your mind and feed you negativity. Give me money so I can help you get these entities out of your mind, and you’ll have total control over your driving.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Your problem is that you don’t have enough faith. Let go and let God. With faith, you can do anything. The fact that this happened to you only proves that you don’t have enough faith.”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “I don’t care what your excuse is! Being late is morally wrong. You are sick in the head! We need to take away your car so you can’t go anywhere ever again. You are forbidden to ever come here!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A: “Die Roadblocked Scum!”

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A jumps on B and starts beating him up, screaming obscenities.

B: “There was a roadblock on the I-20 exit you told me to take, so I had to do a detour, which cost me some time.”
A draws a gun and shoots B.

.

Do these answers seem normal to you?

And yet, we use these exact same answers to invalidate people’s feelings constantly, without realizing how absolutely bizarre and insane they are… Is it any wonder that we are all warped in the head, when we are fed this insanity regularly?

Fearing the non-conventional.


Above: Matt Bors illustrates atheismophobia. Click to enlarge.

Fear seems to be wasted a great deal on things which are not at all powerful or horrible. People fear things as abstract as the redefinition of marriage or the disintegration of Western society. There is a lot of legitimate fear about losing one’s job or dying of a disease, obviously; I am more concerned with the illegitimate fears, because there seems to be a lot more of it going around. The personal fears are kept locked up in people’s brains, but the illegitimate fears are bandied about and spread like venereal disease.

A good example I’ve written about lately is the fear that determinism will be widely accepted. I think most people would agree with me that this is a pretty abstract fear, as are the claims that human life will be devalued or that Western society is under threat. What would be the concrete results of determinism being widely accepted? I don’t think those fundamentalists have even tried to imagine what a deterministic society might be like, or is likely to look like.

Another one is the fear of Hell. Many otherwise convinced atheists live with that fear for a long time. This is because Hell and its dramatic images live in their imaginary, not in their rational faculties.

Or take a more mundane example, like “Stranger Danger.” Now, we all know that’s a damn lie, and a dangerous lie. But it appeals to the widespread narrative of strangers lurking in the dark waiting to kidnap and rape children. Again, it appeals to the images that have been engraved in our imaginary, it is pre-rational, it is insidious and a form of indoctrination.

The main feeling that parents experience, I think, is not contentment or happiness, but fear. Everything they do to their children seems to have a component of fear to it, fear that the child will grow up “wrong.” What “wrong” actually means in this case is “maladapted to this society,” which in practice means that the child must be mentally broken in order to fit in our bizarro society.

In addition to a human being which is, in emself, complete, a child is also a potentiality. There is no obvious way to predict how a child will grow and mature. But a parent, through their ownership claim, seeks to control the child, so there is a fundamental tension there; they seek to control a child’s future but they really cannot. So there is a constant fear of a terrible hypothetical future for the child if ey “fails to adapt” to our dysfunctional society.

In all cases, we are talking about fear emerging from the imagination, the fear of a disastrous hypothetical futures, because we can always imagine greater threats in the future than the ones that actually exist in the present. A maxim is “better the devil you know.” Uncertainty triggers insecurity, insecurity triggers anxiety, and anxiety demands a remedy. This is true in all spheres.

Radicalism is a good way to stimulate people’s fear reflex, because it is innately counter-culture, and therefore summons up an uncertain future. Atheism triggers fears of the chaos of a world without the dogmatic, relativist morality of religion. Anarchism triggers fear of the chaos of an egalitarian world, devoid of obedience and submission. Antinatalism triggers fear of the chaos of a world without human life. Radical feminism triggers fear of the chaos of a society without gender roles. In all cases, fear is motivated not by arguments (although arguments may be used as rationalizations) but by the realization of radical difference.

But there is a deeper correlation between fear and chaos, between fear and counter-culture. We already know from observing society that fear makes people flock to hierarchies (“order”). The kind of hierarchy depends on the kind of fear: for instance, fear of death pushes people towards religion.

The explanation given is that people who feel threatened fall back on the culture and values of the groups towards which they feel allegiance. The contrast to the “chaos” of radicalism, obviously, is the “order” of hierarchies, where everyone knows their place and everyone has a role to play. Hierarchies represent a security blanket because they give you easy answers about how to organize society: there are inferiors and superiors, the superiors deserve their status (for whatever ridiculous reason), and the inferiors should obey the superiors in exchange for their lives or livelihood.

The fact that these answers fail time and time again, or the fact that hierarchies are not really a form of order and egalitarianism is not chaos, does not prevent the believer’s fear, because this emotion in based in the imaginary, not in rationality.

It is not, I think, a lack of imagination as much as a fertile imagination unbounded by rationality. The fact that people imagine all kinds of disaster scenarios in this fashion kinda proves that point. This indicates to me that the best way to combat it is by presenting an alternate and more credible narrative (such as my reframing of anarchism) and by presenting an alternate future.

Egalitarianism, and the misuse thereof…


Above: equality of opportunities in one lesson.

What mainly distinguishes Anarchists from other political factions is a fierce commitment to egalitarianism. I state that this is my primary political commitment, but I haven’t really defined what that means and implies, so it behooves me to be more specific.

To me, egalitarianism is the commitment to operating under the principle that all human beings have equal rights, are equally important, are equally entitled to their own values, receive an equal part of society’s production. Egalitarianism is radically anti-hierarchical and aims for a world where human creativity and human values, not money or power (which entail the suppression of creativity and native values), is the driving force, where cooperation, not competition, is the normal way for people to interact.

One popular conception of equality is equality of opportunities, which I’ve already argued is a liberal conceit. So one must be careful not to confuse the two. Equal opportunities is no more egalitarian than an equal “right” to punch people in the face (for one thing, some people are stronger than others); the role of such “equality” is merely to reproduce and justify pre-existing power inequalities.

The same is true of “equality under the law.” It would be a nice thing to have (and if we did indeed have it, it would eliminate much of the crimes of government), but to ask everyone to submit to laws written for the benefit of the rich is not egalitarian by a long shot.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Anatole France

A similar form of equality is that preached by liberal feminists, who believe that women’s issues can be solved by giving men and women the same wages and giving them the same rights. But, while this would make women in general better off, it would not solve the issue of pre-existing power inequalities between men and women. It would rather create a more beneficent Patriarchy.

Another is that of “equal representation for all religions.” First of all, it omits who gets to decide what is an allowable religion and what is not. Secondly, in practice, it’s impossible to give time or space representation to all religions, so a selective process will be made. Finally, it excludes those who are opposed to religion for ethical reasons.

A prerequisite of any egalitarian society or process is that of equal power between individuals. This is why Anarchist organizations that are serious about not reproducing hierarchies make it their number one priority to give everyone an equal part in the decision-making process.

I think part of the problem is that people have an incomplete or skewed perspective on “power.” We see this, for example, in the use of the term “empowering,” which usually refers to things which really have nothing to do with power. On the trivial extreme, we are all aware of the silly things about fashion or consumption that are supposed to “empower” women. But even beyond that extreme, we find a lot of beliefs that anything that makes you feel “more in control of your own life” is “empowering.”

Power, most simply defined, is the ability to change other people’s minds. The objective, of course, is to get them to further your own values. J.K. Galbraith, in The Anatomy of Power, lists three kinds of power: condign (use of force), compensatory (use of material rewards) and conditioned (use of indoctrination and, obviously, conditioning). Of course there are forces that oppose this power, which we collectively call counterpower.

The individual’s power depends on the ability to change one’s surroundings (physical, social, relational, etc) in accordance with some values one holds. This can be done based on one’s own values or on the basis of some institution’s values (the latter being a result of any of the forms of power I listed).

The individual’s power is intimately linked to power and counterpower in society. The more power any institution has, the less personal power the individual can claim for emself unless one follows the values of that institution, and the reverse is also true. Again, this is also true of counterpower: if your values are concordant with any given counter-culture, then you will have more power to that extent.

So being actually empowered inevitably has a social component, and so does being powerless. The woman who wears high heels and makeup to appear more desirable is made more powerless because she acts to conform to the male gaze, which is a social phenomenon, not to her own desires (you can’t actually be “empowered by your sexuality” if it’s the sexuality everyone wants you to have, even if it makes you feel good). People who refuse to have children and join us with antinatalists or other childless people for support are made more powerful because they are able to fight off institutional values in favor of their own.

The upshot of all this is that whether people believe they are in a society of equal power or not will dictate whether they have a correct view of egalitarianism. The trouble with the liberal view is that it is self-contradictory. If we did live in a society of equal power, then there would be no need to discuss “equality of opportunities” (because people could give themselves whatever opportunities they want), “equality under the law” (because people would decide for themselves what rules they want to enforce), “gender equality” (because there would be no gender, as gender is a hierarchy) or “religious representation” (because religion would be personal and there’d be little desire for “representation”).

Which brings us to the greatest equality boondoggle of all, the one that has most people totally conditioned, democracy. We are indoctrinated to believe that the fact that we all have a vote means that we are politically equal and that we have control (power) over government. This is, of course, a Big Lie.

What we know is that the major political parties are in control of the rules of the democratic game, suppress their competition and decide what “choices” we can make. Furthermore, the political system is founded on the incentive of getting votes (which entails a great number of things, such as neo-liberalist pressure on third-world governments causing socialist politicians to cave in and implement free market measures), which takes hold regardless of one’s ideology. So democratic systems inevitably end up covering only a tiny portion of the spectrum of political beliefs, those that reap the most votes.

Is the end result of democracy sometimes less authoritarian? Democratic systems are more adept at using conditioned power and compensatory power than at using condign power, meaning that they’ll generally indoctrinate you and pay you rather than beat you up. This entails the occasional concession, because it is generally easier for an open democracy to bribe its victims through co-option than to kill them. Because getting the most votes is a simple optimization process which generally entails convergence (depending on the distribution of beliefs in the population), democracies inevitably converge towards party monopolies or oligarchies.

This is a great demonstration of the difference between equality and egalitarianism. Democratic equality entails hierarchies of those who control the political process and those who don’t, those who can pass laws and those who don’t, those who have the guns and those who don’t. It is a form of equality, but it is not egalitarian and therefore not something that anyone who wants an egalitarian, fair society should support.

“Conspiracies don’t exist!”

There is a bizarre belief amongst skeptics and other supposed rationalists that there is no such thing as conspiracies and that anyone who believes in conspiracies must be a crackpot. Certainly there are a lot of crackpots who adopt conspiracy theories. There are also a lot of crackpots who talk about physics, but this does not mean physics is all bunk. To make that equation is a use of the genetic fallacy (not that the examples on that page are very good). The merits of conspiracy theories are not to be evaluated by their most crackpot proponents.

Actually there are a number of social, corporate and political conspiracies recognized as real, all of which are matter of public record. Corporations and political entities, and private individuals involved in both, come to agree to perpetrate atrocities under a veil of secrecy all the time. Indeed, they would be rather limited in scope if they didn’t commit atrocities, as they deal largely in establishing and maintaining power imbalances. Neo-liberalism is a vast conspiracy to destroy second and third world economies for Western power elites and their cash flow.

So the question arises, why are people indoctrinated to not think about conspiracies, if conspiracies are such an important part of our political and economic life?

The smartass answer would be that it’s a conspiracy (hah), but I don’t think that’s really the case. I think it’s a natural result of the suppression of conspiracy theorizing by governments and corporations. Skeptics mainly come in after the fact, confirming the “absurdity” of this or that conspiracy theory without really doing any work. In contrast to that lazy attitude, we have activists and researchers, whose job it becomes to uncover and grasp the scope of the conspiracy (Naomi Klein, with her exposé of neo-liberalism in The Shock Doctrine, is a good example).

I imagine skeptics will reply that the things I am talking about are not really conspiracies, that a conspiracy must necessarily be a world-spanning, evidence-all-suppressing shadowy organization of evildoers which organizes smaller groups of evildoers. This is what is called a “superconspiracy theory,” the kind of worldview advocated by people like David Icke (the reptilians are controlling everything!) or antisemites (the Jews are controlling everything!). But most conspiracy theories, including ones that are about actual conspiracies, are much more mundane:

A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.

If we accept that there is a power elite and that this power elite has divergent interests from the rest of us, then conspiracy theories are not extraordinary claims at all. There’s nothing extraordinary about the proposition that people who have power over others and who have divergent interests from them will secretly try to fuck those other people over. For atheists, the concept that religion has motivated people or groups to plot against unbelievers or believers of the “wrong” religion is pretty mundane (just to name two recent examples, the Wedge Document exposed an Intelligent Design conspiracy to take over the education system, and Scientology has been illegally imprisoning some of its top officials in secret prisons).

Skeptics may argue that a conspiracy cannot last, because someone will tattle. But a conspiracy doesn’t have to last forever, it just has to last long enough for its goal to be accomplished. It may even be preferable for a conspiracy to be revealed once it has run its course, as in the case of a coup, to intimidate possible dissenters.

Skeptics may argue that conspiracies are irrational because evidence against a conspiracy can always be reinterpreted as evidence for it (“that’s what THEY want you to think!”). But it’s obvious that there are possible disproofs of a conspiracy. For example, a conspiracy involving Chevron or Scientology is plausible, but a conspiracy involving Reptilians is implausible, since Reptilians do not actually exist, or otherwise their influence is not distinguishable from that of human beings. Conspiracies are still made of people, and they can only do what people can do. People can’t create mythical beings.

As for the crackpot argument, I’ve already refuted it. The fact that crackpots often talk about conspiracy theories is no disproof of conspiracies any more than the fact that crackpots often talk about physics disproves physics.

People complain about 9/11 truthers or global warming deniers, but we need people who keep challenging what we think we know. It is through opposition that we define ourselves; even Christian fundamentalists fulfill that role. Without opposition, we become entrenched in our beliefs and there can be no intellectual progress.

People who reject conspiracy thinking, on the other hand, don’t want their ideas to be challenged. Skeptics, for instance, are pretty mainstream politically, mostly liberals, so they have no interest in challenging the status quo. Not only that, but there are people who use the common antipathy towards conspiracy theories to argue against radicals, even though these radicals are not actually using conspiracy theories. I wrote about this in the case of Anarchism, but it is used in other contexts also. Atheists, for instance, are sometimes accused of believing that religious people are out to get them or to do evil.

Instead of being a skeptic, we need to maintain what radfem Mary Daly calls “positive paranoia”: to be aware of patterns in people’s “seemingly disparate” behavior and try to understand how these patterns arise.

One cannot talk about conspiracies without talking about The Conspiracy. The Conspiracy as understood by the Subgenius is not really a conspiracy as such, as much as the appearance of a conspiracy. Subgeniuses don’t actually believe that every Pink in the world is consciously conspiring to deprive them of slack. But the term “the Conspiracy” to describe the confluence and collusion of all the hierarchies that impose on an individual is just too convenient and descriptive to pass up.

What is an institution?

The idea for this entry actually comes from an entry from a philosophy teacher (I will not link to it so he can be spared the embarassment). I found an error in this argument:

An example that usually trips my logic students up on tests is the following:

1) Each member of the Supreme Court is conservative.
2) Therefore, the Supreme Court itself is conservative

This argument is not fallacious…

I can well understand that the argument “trips” his students “up,” because his answer is incorrect. The argument is most definitely fallacious (his subsequent whining that logic textbooks agree with him notwithstanding). I hope the reason is obvious: the “Supreme Court” is not simply a group of nine individuals. It is part of a hierarchical institution (the justice system, which is itself part of the larger concept of enforcing the law), with all that this implies.

I suppose I should be a little more specific on what “this implies.” Here is a brief overview of what an institution is composed of:

1. Individuals having varying degrees of self-determination within the hierarchy.

2. Intellectual resources, either from those individuals or in codified form (know-how, expertise, creativity, technology, relevant scientific knowledge, etc).

3. Physical resources (buildings or use of buildings, and whatever physical objects are needed to continue the operations of the institution at a concrete level, means to communicate between members and to the public, etc).

Most importantly, an institution is a hierarchy and a structure, therefore it also has the following properties:

* It has a decision-making structure.
* It has sets of official rules and regulations, which are written down and (more or less) enforced.
* It has incentive systems, from the simplest reward/punishment system to sophisticated and subtle mores.
* It has a theoretical purpose, which is used for propaganda purposes and to ground the internal logic.
* It has an internal logic, grounded in the theoretical purpose, by which actions and beliefs are justified.
* It has an actual purpose, which generally concerns only the people at the top of the hierarchy.

There are so many institutions one can use as examples, such as capitalism, organized religion, schooling, the Patriarchy, parenting, the city, law enforcement, the scientific and medical establishments, the mass media and so on. I will go through the points using these as examples.

Decision-making structure. All major institutions in our societies function through semi-independent units of action (corporations, churches, schools, individual men, families, police forces) which are coordinated through the impetus of class warfare or a straightforward hierarchy (the power elite, religious activist organizations, departments of education, the mass media, growth coalitions, departments of justice). There is a balance of decision-making which depends on the relative power of the units and the coordinators (e.g. in capitalism, the power elite is mostly emergent from relations between property owners, while government departments can have quite a bit of power relative to a school or a police force- think of it as the difference in independence between provinces and the Canadian government versus states and the American government).

Rules and regulations. I think this one is pretty obvious. Institutions function in accordance with their own internal rules and regulations, and also impose rules and regulations on other people. Both sets of rules and regulations may be consistent, but they usually are not.

Incentive systems. In general, it is in the interest of an agent within the institution to follow the rules and regulations of that institution. This is pretty straightforward reward/punishment. But an institution also has traditions, habits, mores, a group culture and a group logic which are just as powerful as explicit, written rules (think of the police omertà or the Christian churches’ hiding of rampant child abuse and rape, for example).

Incentives are what moves people. In a sense, the identity of the people involved are interchangeable: whether angels or demons, they will still, on the whole, follow the incentives of the institutions they work under (or have to contend with as citizens). Part of these incentives are the goals of the units themselves, which the rules are usually meant to facilitate (the profit motive or political funding, political or social influence, personal pleasure, control over one’s children).

Theoretical purpose. What the institution tells the public, and people lower in its hierarchy, about its purpose and aims. Here are the theoretical purposes of the institutions I’ve listed:

Capitalism- to ensure an efficient allocation of resources, efficient production, and preserve individual economic freedom.
Organized religion- to provide salvation and enforce morality.
Schooling- to educate children and prepare them for the “real world.”
The patriarchy- to glorify women and enable them to fulfill their “true purpose.”
Parenting- to raise children so they are successful/adapted to society.
The city- to provide employment and good living conditions.
Law enforcement- to prevent crime and keep order.

These theoretical purposes are the foundation on which propaganda grows. We are told that capitalism is an efficient method to allocate resources and to produce (backed by fake versions of “personal responsibility” and the worship of competition). More importantly, people come to believe that capitalism is the only way we have to fulfill that purpose. Based on this, corporations can demand mind-boggling amounts of public money because they are assumed to be necessary, we put up with corporations putting out tremendous amounts of pollution, negligent homicides, conspiracies to deceive, and even hiring private juntas and killing people because we believe they are necessary.

So the theoretical purpose provides the beliefs that propaganda can use as a hook to generate agreement. Many ads are in some fashion based on this: when corporations want you to believe they care about the environment, or care about their workers, or care about their country, and so on, they hope that you already believe corporations are necessary and that you don’t believe in alternatives that actually do respect the environment or are respectful of workers.

This becomes an anti-radical statement. Even people who do believe in alternatives will eventually adopt the “reasonable” position that “maybe some alternative would be better but that’s never going to happen so help to reform what we do have.”

The theoretical purpose also grounds the reframing of issues that institutions perform in order to counter opposition. The patriarchy constantly redefines woman-hatred as “feminism” or “freeing women.” Organized religion has redefined atheism and homosexuality as failures of morality. By its very nature, the mass media is most effective at silencing or strawmaning opponents of the status quo.

Internal logic. The theoretical purpose also grounds the internal logic used within those institutions. Constraints put on employees, violence used by corporations, negligent homicides, are all explained by corporations as necessary for efficient production. Everything that managers do in a corporation is ultimately justified by the demands of production. Every way in which corporations cheat people is ultimately justified by a “just” allocation of resources.

The internal logic is also based on the decision-making structure of the hierarchy. For the powerful, power is its own justification: one must obey those with power because they have power.

Actual purpose. This is the actual purpose of the institution vis-à-vis other institutions and society in general. We can tell what it is by looking at what the institution actually does, not what it claims or what other people in society claim. Here are the same examples as before:

Capitalism- to keep control over the resources of society in the hands of a small power elite.
Organized religion- to impose social order (by instilling contentment with authority).
Schooling- to indoctrinate children to become compliant citizens ready to take jobs.
The patriarchy- to maintain men as a superior class to women.
Parenting- to transmit religious, patriarchal, class-based and competitive indoctrination (and to keep children in school).
The city- to exploit land in a way that is most conducive to capitalist profits.
Law enforcement- to enforce the laws made by the power elite.

How do we know these are the real purposes of these institutions, and not what the propaganda tells us? Well, one way to do that is to look at how they function, take these various features and look at whether they are conducive to the theoretical purpose or to what I claim is the actual purpose.

Look at schooling, for example. We observe a number of defining features which are completely contrary to its theoretical purpose of educating children:

1. The constant use of testing.
2. Competitive or independent learning.
3. Authoritarian class structure.
4. Strong disrespect of students’ rights.
5. [Generally] fixed curriculum.
6. Choice of textbooks made by bureaucrats.

All these features point to the actual purpose, not the theoretical purpose.

Another, more intuitive method is to think about what it might look like if it was meant to actually fulfill its stated purpose, instead of having these features I’ve listed above. How could a school be made to actually educate children? It would be drastically different. Such a school would promote cooperative learning, which has been proven to yield the best result. It would let children choose what they want to study and let them do so at their own pace (so gifted children would not be held back, and slower children would not be forced to follow). Children’s rights and natural values would be at the core of learning.

What would such a school look like? It would probably be a lot more open, put less emphasis on chalkboard and more on talking, be a lot louder, and children would be a lot more responsible towards their personal education. Of course there would still be standards (all children should learn to read, write and count, as well as receive general knowledge about the world), but how those standards would be achieved would be mostly up to the student.

We can also look at the origins of these institutions. Modern schooling in the US was built on the same structure as factory work, and was created by industrialists at the turn of the 20th century to create a docile workforce (see The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto). The connection between industrial expansion and public education is true all over the Western world.

Institutions are mutually supportive, because they co-evolve and adapt to each other. We can metaphorically speak of cooperation between institutions: schooling feeds the job demand and sometimes discriminates by gender, organized religion supports other institutions as part of the social order, capitalism helps maintain the patriarchy by discriminating between men and women and helps enforce laws through its own regulations, parenting leads to the indoctrination in a local religion, a fixed idea of gender, and schooling, and so on. Very little of this is made of conscious actions, except for the people at the top, but was developed over generations.

An institution is defined as a well-established, structured pattern of behavior and/or relationships that is fundamental to culture (this also includes abstract institutions such as private ownership, which I did not add here). As such, an institution is necessarily a creator of social roles, since a social role aims to impose stable, structured patterns of behavior and relationships. To continue the example, schooling creates social roles of “student” and “teacher” (as well as more minor ones which involves one in the school such as “parent of student”) which are a binary where each is defined in opposition to the other. In its intersection with capitalism, it also helps determine economic roles and classes. Its its intersection with the mass media, it creates expert roles. It also has a gatekeeper role for the scientific and medical establishments.

Because they create social roles, institutions are also generators of artificial meaning. They all have something to say about the individual’s place in society (especially religion, obviously).

Now, to come back to the main issue, I think I can conclusively answer that no, an institution is not strictly or even mainly shaped by individual actions at any specific time. In fact, everyone who works within these institutions is subject to narrow limiting factors, so that even if, for whatever reason, a substantial number of people wanted to deviate from the norm (and no, being a conservative judge doesn’t count), they could only go so far. Usually, egalitarian institutions can only exist within egalitarian societies: the only exceptions either exist under the radar (such as Anarchist free schools) or are the result of troubled times and a divided body politic (such as the recuperated factories in Argentina).

The example of the Supreme Court is perhaps more ambiguous because any given Supreme Court justice probably has more influence over the justice system as a whole, relatively speaking, than anyone else has over any institution. But there is a far cry from that to “every Supreme Court justice is X, therefore the Supreme Court is X.” As I’ve described here, there is much more to any organization or institution than its individuals’ actions at any given time.

At this point, I suppose a methodological individualist might read all this and say that, while it’s all well and true that there’s a lot more in an institution than individuals and their actions, and that there’s no necessary link between the two, it is still the case that institutions change and that this change proceeds from individual action.

I am not going to debate methodological individualism because that’s a whole other issue (see my entry “Taking socio-political critique as a personal attack” for an indirect take on that). Suffice it to say that I find the proposition that individual actions are primary and systems are secondary to be extremely dubious. Being opposed to methodological individualism does not mean to omit the existence of individual actions (any more than methodological individualism itself omits the existence of society), but rather means that the impact of systems on actions (or in sociological terms, the impact of structure on agency) is far greater than the reverse, and that therefore we need to start with systems, not actions, as primary.

Anyway, once we admit that there’s more than individual actions, the fallacy of institutions=individuals disappears, and as I said this is not the place to debate the rest. Besides, the idea that institutions are made of individual actions is used more often than not to promote those institutions: when individuals act in evil ways, we argue that they’re just “bad apples” and that their behavior does not impact the institution itself. If we’re talking about facts and not about prejudice, then we can’t label all positive actions as creative and label all negative actions as irrelevant.

Bring in the Fake Dissenters.


A photo op for a fake demonstration, as reported on American Everyman.

I already discussed gatekeepers and how they operate (see the second half of this entry). In an ideological movement, a gatekeeper is a person who is in charge of some organization or group, or perhaps some well-known figure, who can delimitate the acceptable margins of discourse within the movement. Usually this is a spokesperson or a public figure, someone who has a wide reach and who can mold public opinion within the movement in question.

The kind of person I want to talk about in this entry is also a role within a movement, but a different kind of role. On his epic blog Once Upon a Time, Arthur Silber calls it “the Obedient Dissenter,” and, using the example of such a dissenter (journalist Matt Taibbi, “dissenting” against the upcoming war in Iran) identifies two main traits of Obedient Dissent:

1. “[A]ccept[ing] all the assumptions and premises of those [they say they are] criticizing.”
2. “[L]ack[ing] even the faintest understanding of the false set of beliefs to which [they cling] so desperately.”

To which I would add:
3. Because they fail to criticize the premises of those they claim to criticize, their dissent is wholly superficial and contradictory.

I call them Fake Dissenters because they make the claim of being dissenters when in fact they are merely reinforcing the premises enforced by their supposed enemies. In the case of Matt Taibbi, he claims to be a dissenter towards the American government, but he reinforces the prejudices that the American government uses to demonize its chosen enemies and he reinforces the myths used to prop up American imperialism. While Taibbi may be against the upcoming war in Iran, he fails to question American terrorism, American prejudices against Iran, or claims of American exceptionalism. That’s not dissent, that’s just a normal disagreement that lies well within the margins of discourse set by the American government and American journalism (although when the war in Iran drumbeat gets going for real, it will become unacceptable).

You can observe this fake dissent in all areas.

* No one is for abortion, but we should allow women to choose whether they want an abortion or not.
I already discussed that one in the entry on gatekeepers.

* People who have children are doing a wonderful service to us all. But the Duggars are just ridiculous, am I right?
The Duggars, and the Quiverfull movement in general, are easy targets because they represent excess and the objectification of women. But if we start from the premise that having children is a wonderful service to society, it’s not clear how having nineteen is more or less excessive.

* Radical feminism is totally crackpot, but we should give women the same opportunities we give men.
I’ve already written about how equality of opportunity is an elitist conceit which seeks to amplify existing oppressive institutions. Radfem provides the systemic investigation which is lacking from “equality of opportunity” rhetoric, so radfem must be demonized.

* We must respect religious freedom, no matter the religion, but group X is corrupting the true religion.
I refer you to my entry on religious freedom as to why this is a terrible idea. Saying that a certain group X corrupts “true religion” assumes that “true religion” actually exists and that it’s somehow different from the religion people actually practice. Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe that this “fake religion” is any less valid as a form of “religious freedom” than the “true religion.”

* After every new example of police abuse is unveiled: the police is here to protect us, this is just the work of some bad apples.
It is not the job of cops to protect us (for more on this, see The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson), and we know they lie to obtain convictions. The rhetoric of “bad apples” is used to perpetuate institutions which systemically, through noxious incentive systems, makes people act in an evil way, like the police.

* We respect the military and the sacrifices they make for us, we just think this war is unjust…
The job of soldiers is not to protect us but, like cops, to enforce the interests of the power elite. Also, the way in which people argue that a war is unjust is almost always by supporting some part of the apparatus that makes war possible (such as some part of the government which is supposed to provide checks and balances).

Fake dissenters are utterly unable to make the simplest observations about social institutions (e.g. the basic nature of the work of cops and soldiers, the basic nature of religion, the existence of the patriarchy, the lack of justification for breeding, the fact that some people are pro-abortion and that compromised children provide an obvious basis for such a position). This is because doing so would force them to question the core premises of their beliefs about those institutions. The principle at work for these people, whatever movement they are a part of, is: ignorance is bliss.

There are gatekeepers in all movements, and there are fake dissenters in all movements. So yes, there are gatekeeper atheists and fake dissenter atheists (although these have been rather less visible than the very real dissenters such as the Four Horsemen), there are gatekeeper Anarchists and fake dissenter Anarchists (like “anarcho-capitalists,” or pseudo-Anarchist State-supporters), and so on.

This fits within the mainstream media’s control of the margins of discourse, because any movement will inevitably vie for the attention of the mainstream media. Therefore gatekeepers will endeavor to cut dissent’s legs to fit in the Procrustean bed of the media’s margins of discourse, and fake dissenters will slavishly follow these operations. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a war, they will criticize it; as soon as it becomes unacceptable, they will stop. As long as it’s acceptable to criticize a government program, they will criticize it; as soon as it’s under attack, they will start supporting it.

Fake dissenters often use tactics similar to those of gatekeepers. You will sometimes hear both use sentences like “can’t we all agree that X?” or “no one really believes X” as a way of narrowing discourse and keeping core premises out of the discussion, while blowing the existing debate out of proportion. The difference is that when a gatekeeper does it, ey is also sending a message to eir followers to limit discourse in this manner, and that’s where the fake dissenters get their marching orders.

I know this sounds conspiratorial, but there’s no conspiracy involved. It’s just part of what people naturally do when they’re in a movement.

I may be accused of not distinguishing between fake dissenters and moderates. The difference is that a moderate may take various positions which are not considered a completely coherent set, but that doesn’t mean they act as fake dissenters on any single issue. A moderate can be a fake dissenter on any issue, but ey doesn’t have to be. Unlike moderates, fake dissenters buy into the premises of their movement wholesale and want to be good followers to further the aims of the movement.

Never shake up the status quo.


From Mimi and Eunice.

A while ago, I wrote a number of entries about various verbal mechanisms of control used by others and, more insidiously, against oneself, to suppress dissent. This entry is definitely part of that category.

One of them was about using personal responsibility as a way to pre-emptively place blame on the victims of a system. But this mechanism is about putting blame on the victim after the victim has told eir personal story. The following examples all come from qvaken (thank you to qvaken for giving me the idea for this entry). They were applied to issues of women-hatred, but can be applied to a wide variety of situations; anyone who’s tried to put forward an ideology will have had at least a couple of these fostered upon them.

* You teach people how to treat you.
(as if the way others treat us is under our control, and we’re victimizing ourselves by “making” people dislike us)

* You’ve got to respect yourself first, and other people will follow.
(there is more truth in this proposition than in the previous one, but everyone who is worthy of respect should receive it regardless of how much they value themselves)

* If you keep on talking about the bad things that have happened to you, you’ll only let them control you forever. You need to forget about them.
(the events in our past, whether positive or negative, do control who we are whether we talk about them or not)

* Did it ever occur to you that if you’re always having problems with other people, then it’s probably you who needs to change?
(sometimes this is true, sometimes it isn’t… but this can be used against people in either situation)

* Your thinking is maladaptive. You need to change it.
(this begs the question: what is one adapting to? the status quo, of course)

* Be careful – you’re burning all your bridges.
(the proposition assumes that this is automatically a bad thing, and like the prior one, assumes the need to conform)

* I know that you’re trying to assert yourself, but you should be more nonchalant/gentle/humorous/clever/obstinate/tactical about it.
(that is to say, you should stop telling the truth clearly)

* You’re emotional and you’re overreacting.
(see Derailing for Dummies on this one)

* He [this]‘d you? Why didn’t you leave before it got that far? (to which I would add, in the case of cults: they [this]‘d you?)
(this betrays a slavish adherence to voluntaryism… sometimes people just see no other alternative)

* [That] is such a strong word. Be sure that you KNOW that that’s what it is before you go around saying it.
(do not name your experience, because that would let you relate it to other people’s experiences)

Qvaken further points out:

It’s like, “I’m your friend, and this is going to be really profound and helpful for you, so take heed: If anything bad ever happens to you then it’s your own fault, and it’s a sign that you’re crazy. If you talk about it, then you’re creating the problem or making it worse. If it’s really really bad and you talk about it, then you’re being insincere or inappropriate (and disrespectful to people who have been through horrible things). If you stand up for yourself or try to leave, then you’re making something big out of something small (and you’re being hurtful to somebody). If you don’t leave, then your choice not to leave is incomprehensible, because it should have been obvious to you all along that it was as bad as it was (and that leaving is easy).

Basically, the only option left here is for the person to shut up about eir experiences, thus reinforcing the status quo by silencing its critics. I refer to the status quo in the title because this is really about suppressing or isolating the expression of any experience that goes against the status quo, i.e. any experience of being oppressed or exploited.

The normalization of oppression is an extremely powerful mechanism: when most people are subject to something, calling it oppression of exploitation is inherently anti-social. This is especially true when that something is part of one’s childhood, such as religious indoctrination and other forms of child abuse, the institution of parenting, gender roles, and so on. A person may be able to look critically at something that happens later in life, especially if it is not something widely accepted, but it’s nigh-impossible to look at one’s own childhood objectively (for more on this, see Thou Shalt Not Be Aware by Alice Miller).

This mechanism is similar but not the same as invalidation. The other person doesn’t necessarily want to invalidate you, especially since it’s pretty hard to invalidate an experience, but it still serves the role of normalizing the individual through self-censorship. The natural end point of allowing the status quo to frame discussion is to turn people into Fake Dissenters: people who claim to be critics of the status quo while adopting the core premises behind the status quo (patriarchy is bad, so give it the middle finger while you enthusiastically fulfill the fuckability mandate and seek capitalist success).

What we’re basically talking about here is severing the relation between the internal world of ideas and the external world of acts and facts. This relation has to be made and remade constantly in order to keep one’s ideas connected to the knowledge we receive from other people and the events in our lives, as well as to keep our conception of what happens around us grounded into an accurate theoretical framework. Without the relation, we end up with theories disconnected from reality and structureless thinking about real life, the latter inevitably leading to accepting whatever mainstream interpretation is put forward (as I’ve written about before, structurelessness in any area leads to tyranny).

If you can’t confront the act, you can’t name the act. If you can’t name the act, you can’t integrate the act within a larger framework. If you can’t integrate acts within a larger framework, then you can’t formulate a coherent account of reality or make sense of its workings. You’re stuck with isolated events and isolated people.

The most cruel thing about this mechanism is that it relies on people’s powerful need to belong and to check their behavior on that of others. It is very much part of enosiophobia. In order to get people’s attention, we have to speak to them in terms they understand and sympathize with, and speaking the truth about one’s experiences is unlikely to do that. It’s a very isolating feeling. The simple solution to this psychological isolation is to have safe places where people can express themselves without fear of ostracism or disapproval, but this only leads to a form of group isolation. As for enosiophobia, there’s no easy solution.

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