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Friday, July 30, 2010

Libertarianism 101: Mike Brock vs. Stephen Taylor

Yesterday, Western Standard blogger Mike Brock and Stephen Taylor debated whether or not the Conservative government's move to make the long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory would make libertarians be interested in the Conservative Party again. The debate quickly changed into a broader debate about libertarianism and conservatism. Here's video of the discussion, courtesy of Roy Eappen:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 30, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink

Comments

Libertarians are part of the conservative movement?

Libertarians are part of the conservative base?

Stephen Taylor is a Libertarian?

Conservatives and conservatives may want Libertarians to be part of their tent, and Stephen Taylor way want to be a Libertarian, but wanting something to be and reality are vastly different things.

Stephen Taylor quite obviously knows little to nothing about Libertarianism.

Posted by: stageleft | 2010-07-30 8:41:07 AM


Evidently, Stephen Taylor knows much about pragmatism.

We do, after all, have to live in the real world. We have to deal with what is, not in some utopian imaginings of what it could be.

Human nature is what it is.

The 20th century has show quite clearly what happens to those deemed to be imperfect or troublesome to the ruling class with an overblown sense of their self-importance.

There is no such thing as freedom from responsibility, a point Taylor articulated quite clearly.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-30 9:11:11 AM


How was I being utopian? I'm fine with incrementalism. What we have is not incrementalism. It's decrementalism for all the reasons I outlined and more.

At some point the excuse: "we're a minority government so we have to act socialist-lite" doesn't wash.

As I said, we bought into the whole conservative thing thinking we'd get these economic reforms. We didn't get those. We got a HUGE increase in the size of government.

So if us libertarians are going to leave our other issues like free speech, the drug war, and so on, at the table -- the least we can ask for is a bloody decrease in the size of government.

If pragmatism is ceding ground to statist tendencies, then I want no part of it.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 9:25:05 AM


Conservatives like Taylor want libertarians to vote for Conservatives and to support them financially, but are ultimately unwilling to give them substantial, compelling reasons to do so. It's a classic case of wanting something for nothing. Should there be any wonder why libertarians are reluctant to engage in such a lop-sided trade?

Harper removed the mandatory aspect of the census because it appeals to small-c conservative voters, not because he's become a convert to libertarian thinking.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-07-30 9:50:48 AM


I'm with "set you free".

While the rest of you are untying the Gordian knots you tie yourselves into with your varied purity tests, pragmatists will put their shoulder to the wheel to push back the state.

Why not join a political party and push your views through it? Why not help elect its leaders? Set its policy? Work the backrooms?

You can either help DO SOMETHING or all of this is just intellectual masturbation.

Posted by: j-Roddy | 2010-07-30 9:52:28 AM


j-Roddy,

Question: what makes you think I *dont'* work in the back rooms and help elect people? What makes you think I *don't* do pragmatic things to push my views -- such as volunteer my time for politicians that I think represent libertarian values, and donate money to organizations and election campaigns, etc.?

Well?

Alright, then. Now go play.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 9:55:39 AM


You know, I wasn't aware that I had to qualify myself on all the shit that I do before I am entitled to an opinion. But that's just me.

Next time I'll start the interview: "Well, Rosemary, let's talk about all the things I do to advance my issues at a pragmatic level, and qualify myself to your audience before continuing on to address the issues".

When people don't really have anything productive to say, you can always count on an the ad hominem angle to save them from looking completely brain dead. But it's only a matter of outward appearance.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 9:59:12 AM


"...pragmatists will put their shoulder to the wheel to push back the state."

If only that were true, I would gladly help any mainstream political party in the service of that goal. The problem is that mainstream parties are doing exactly the opposite: they are enlarging the state by leaps and bounds. It's not "pragmatic" in any real sense to lend your weight to that task.

There are plenty of ways to promote freedom outside of partisan political movements. That's what this blog is all about, for instance.

Withdrawing your moral and financial sanction from political movements that do not appreciate the value of freedom is also a perfectly legitimate means of promoting change.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-07-30 10:32:52 AM


    You can either help DO SOMETHING or all of this is just intellectual masturbation.

Hee hee. Worthy of the pages of Dilbert. Well said!

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 10:36:14 AM


Question: what makes you think I *dont'* work in the back rooms and help elect people?

The fact that not one single member of the Libertarian Party, Green Party, or Marijuana Party has ever been elected to public office in this country, at any level of government, might be a clue.

Ultimately, of course, what anyone thinks is irrelevant. All that matters is whether or not you actually DO those things, not whether people THINK you do them. However, the fact that you did not come right out and say so leaves much room for doubt. Remember the old adage: The innocent deny the deed, but the guilty deny the evidence.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 10:41:40 AM


Collective action? Via a political party?

Nobody's going to change things FOR you. You're depending on others to reduce the size of the state. Mike Brock says he's active, what about the rest of you? What have you done (seriously done) to reduce the size of the state today? Get off yer duff and get active.

And sorry, the Libertarian and Freedom Parties are simply newsletters and listservs.

Anyone that operates as a functional member of a society that doesn't accept the gold standard is a sellout, right?

Get serious, get dirty in this non-ideal world and change things.

Posted by: j-Roddy | 2010-07-30 10:50:53 AM


Shane,

That's just silly advice, Shane. I don't ever go out of my way to qualify myself. I didn't go on the show to talk about me. I went on the show to talk about the issue. My arguments have value independent of what I do.

Are you unfamiliar with the principle of charity. when it comes to discussion?

It basically says that you should accept someones words and arguments in the best possible light. And respond to their words on the basis of what information your glean from their words.

You don't reject someone's argument because they don't sufficiently meet your standards of being qualified to make the argument or not. That in itself, is an ad hominem. position.

For instance, I can argue that someone has a viral infection versus a bacterial one, based on my cursory knowledge of epidemiology and the sorts of symptoms that are attributed to both sorts of infections. To say: you must first qualify yourself that you're well-studied in this topic, or have a degree, before I even listen to what you have to say is essentially, for all intents and purposes an ad hominem.

For this reason, I don't qualify myself. And you'll notice, I don't require anyone else to do so for me, either. I take people at their word. It's a very basic concept in argumentation.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 10:54:56 AM


Have to say that I'm not generally in agreement with Mike on the issue here. I think he may be a little bit optimistic about whether the public would go head-first into a libertarian agenda.

I must say thought that Mike's personality on air surprised me. He comes across as a sort of angry and disgruntled fellow on blogs. But he actually seems like a fairly nice guy in person. The kind of guy you'd want to sit down to have a beer with and discuss things.

One thing I will give Mike is that he is totally consistent and doesn't seem to spin his positions at all. We need more people in politics like that. Good honest folk that won't jerk us around.

Posted by: Dimitris | 2010-07-30 11:12:58 AM


Every human being is given the gift of free will.

Some choose to pretend that self-destructive behaviour is a badge of freedom.

Oh, well.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-30 11:19:30 AM


    That's just silly advice, Shane. I don't ever go out of my way to qualify myself. I didn't go on the show to talk about me. I went on the show to talk about the issue. My arguments have value independent of what I do.

Your motives for going on the show are irrelevant. As the quotation should have made clear, I was talking about your “How do you know I don’t…” answer to j-Roddy. Asking someone how they know you don’t do something is not saying that you do it.

    Are you unfamiliar with the principle of charity. when it comes to discussion?

Yes. And I reject it, as do you. I have very high standards in competence at self-expression and hold both myself and others to them. What you say is what you say; it's not the job of the listener to “read between the lines.”

    It basically says that you should accept someones words and arguments in the best possible light. And respond to their words on the basis of what information your glean from their words.

And it was in the spirit of such rhetorical altruism and goodwill that you told j-Roddy to “go play,” am I right? No offence Mike, but you’re in no position to scold others for not taking the most charitable view of people and their arguments, particularly if those people work for the government.

    You don't reject someone's argument because they don't sufficiently meet your standards of being qualified to make the argument or not. That in itself, is an ad hominem. position.

Houston, we have a problem. More specifically, an ambiguity. (It’s like an oxygen tank explosion, only much, much more serious.) When you speak of “qualifying yourself,” do you speak of remarks that contain provisos, or of establishing your credentials to speak? I presumed you meant the former, more common interpretation.

I don’t reject your “How do you know I don’t” argument because of who you are, or what qualifications you hold. I reject it because it is not an argument. Choosing the path of insinuation and innuendo, rather than simply stating, “I already do those things,” leaves more questions than answers and smells faintly of evasion. People will then begin to speculate what prompts the perceived evasion. Justified or not, it weakens your position.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 11:58:31 AM


Shane,

I most certainly do not reject the principle of charity. Point to one instance, where I've debated you or anyone, and not taken you at your work -- ie. I argued against your commitment to your words, or I denied the conviction therein.

I don't do that.

Just because I criticize people in government and question their motives doesn't mean I violate the principle of charity. We're free to make arguments like that. When you're actually engaging someone one-on-one in a discussion, that's where the principle comes into play. Not when we're talking about third-parties.

I'm not having a debate with Stephen Harper, for example. If I was, I promise you, I'd be charitable to whatever he had to say, in the context of that conversation.

There's people on twitter who've said insulting things about me. And that's fine. I'm not even criticizing that. I'm talking about this conversation, here and now. When people come to me and ask me to turn over my cards before they take me seriously. Yeah, I don't roll like that.

You can get into endless hours of debate about who is better qualified, who's done more, who has climbed more mountains, taken the biggest shits, eaten the biggest steaks, and it doesn't change a smidgen -- the value of their arguments.

I think I'm pretty consistent on this.

I don't even mind value judgements, for example. You might think I'm immoral -- in your concept of it -- for some of the things I view to be permissible. And that's fine. But I at least take you at your word, that you're saying I'm immoral because of a truly held belief.

We can debate that until the cows come home, and never agree. But I'll always be charitable with you on that point.

That's all I'm saying.

You know we can play these games with pretty much anybody. I could, for instance, point out about Stephen Harper -- that he's never really held a real job -- except for woking in a mailroom of an oil company. He's never made anything, or done something productive. He's been lawyer and policy wonk his entire adult life, not unlike his many left-wing enemies.

And what's funny, is I hear conservatives make these sorts of arguments against lefties all the time.

Tim Hudak's entire professional experience? Manager at Wal-Mart.

Why do you never hear me make these sorts of arguments against my political enemies? Because they're irrelevant. And I'm charitable.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 12:12:58 PM


How much weaker can it get?

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-30 12:13:31 PM


Actually, I shouldn't say I've never done it. But when I have, it's almost always been to be snarky and comedic effect. Never when I'm having a serious engaged discussion, do I sink to that level.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 12:18:19 PM


It's good to see Mike and Stephen getting some libertarian name recognition out there, particularly through the CBC. Everything done to raise awareness is positive and that's why libertarian and conservative political junkies would likely spend their time more productively displacing the mush that passes for education in schools (but then there would be no WS). Political action is much less effective for change than it is for reflecting the current political climate which is a product of the cultural and institutional past. Libertarians should never feel at home in any Party except possibly the Libertarian Party which compensates by being such a stark reminder of irrelevance.

I hope you two had a couple of beers after the "debate". If one takes life too seriously, bad shit happens!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-07-30 12:49:12 PM


John,

Yeah, both Stephen and I felt it was a friendly debate. There were no hard feelings. We did go for a beer. Whether or not Stephen and I disagree, for better or worse, Stephen genuinely believes in the value of a good debate, and seemed grateful for having the chance to debate these issues.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 12:59:57 PM


"Why not join a political party and push your views through it? Why not help elect its leaders? Set its policy? Work the backrooms?"

Now that is... "Intellectual masturbation".
Take the obvious example of Ron Paul in the States during the last Presidential Race. The Republican Party itself, helped by most mainstream Medias and pro-war interests, put an end to what was a rare but irresistible impulse of Liberty.

Social and neo conservatives are all about imposing restrictions on others.
They wish to export this savoir faire in the form of nation building; but on your dime.
They call that: "The Free World".
They have no problems with lies, censor and any expansion of the state, within or abroad, as long as it serves their fear-based ideologies and it keeps liberal ideals away.

Liberals will give you all the social liberties in the world for a certain time or as long as you accept your role of being the economic slaves of "their" state...
They will eventually start removing those liberties one by one; depending on the amount of cash they can make with it or receiving in envelopes.

Canadian Libertarians can find some interesting positions that suits themselves within the CPC, the PLC, NPD or even smaller parties; but there's no way they can advance their agenda from within neither of them.

For clear and obvious reasons, the only possible opportunity of seeing non-partisan Libertarian policies being applied in North-America would be to find enough courage and support to push Libertarian Parties on both National stages.

A thing that will never happen considering no one is willing to rock the present order of things and today’s Libertarians are too busy masturbating themselves intellectually in Conservative & Liberal spheres; as well as in the Medias.

Personally, nothing short of an attempt to push a Libertarian Party in power, well balanced with a fair share of policies that pleases the values of people of goodwill from across the political spectrum, is worth my attention.

Posted by: Marc | 2010-07-30 1:08:40 PM


Well, that was an interesting interview....

Does anyone else think that Mr. Taylor's whole '30,000 feet' comment sounds incredibly lot like trying to use the end to justify (or overlook) the means?

When you dismiss the 'ground-level', you have lost your 'footing', so to speak?

Compromising one's principles in order to get to a position of power is not 'pragmatic' - it is corrupt.

Posted by: Xanthippa | 2010-07-30 1:18:18 PM


Xanthippa:

Until it comes down to a vote.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-30 1:32:34 PM


PS. Then there's some amazement when people observe your ilk is out of touch with reality.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-30 1:39:31 PM


    I most certainly do not reject the principle of charity. Point to one instance, where I've debated you or anyone, and not taken you at your work -- ie. I argued against your commitment to your words, or I denied the conviction therein.

This is not how you initially defined “charity.” You defined it as taking the other person’s words in the best possible light or context. Conviction or sincerity was never brought up.

    Just because I criticize people in government and question their motives doesn't mean I violate the principle of charity.

When it comes to government agents, you assume their conduct and motives are less than pure. That is your default position, and your writing makes this plain. That does not sound like charity to me.

    You can get into endless hours of debate about who is better qualified…

But I didn’t. This issue didn’t exist until you brought it up in a response to someone else. All I said was that your not stating flat-out that you did those things, choosing instead to ask someone what proof he has that you haven’t done those things, was the less persuasive choice of words. I never even used the word “qualified.”

    And what's funny, is I hear conservatives make these sorts of arguments against lefties all the time.

What’s even funnier is the fallacy you just committed. :-)

    Tim Hudak's entire professional experience? Manager at Wal-Mart.

And what about the Fort Erie Economic Development Corporation?

    Why do you never hear me make these sorts of arguments against my political enemies? Because they're irrelevant. And I'm charitable.

Yes, they are irrelevant, but no, your conduct does not suggest charity. Recall when you recently removed several of my posts from another thread, only later admitting to someone else that you were guilty of the same offence you presumably took issue with in me? You did not even provide an explanation at first, only a snark. You also removed only those posts critical of yourself; those critical of others, you let stand.

Perhaps it's my Catholic training, but I do not see how any of this can be considered “charitable.”

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 1:50:30 PM


    Compromising one's principles in order to get to a position of power is not 'pragmatic' - it is corrupt.

Corruption consists of compromising professional ethics, not one's principles.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 1:53:00 PM


On that last point, guilty as charged. But I dare say, your argument style significantly improved afterwards. I think you've been backsliding recently, though.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-30 1:54:56 PM


So the ends justified the means?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-30 2:06:24 PM


It was an informative interview. Libertarianism, except perhaps in Alberta, is misunderstood in Canada. Usually, the media assumes that it is focused only on pot politics and gun rights. It is nice to the finer points and areas of disagreement discussed. I thought that both Taylor and Brock made good points.

Posted by: LC Bennett | 2010-07-30 2:09:25 PM


@Shane Matthews:

Perhaps that word ('corruption') does not mean what you think it means.

'Corruption' has a range of meanings, including 'lack of integrity or honesty' and 'perversion of integrity' and 'changing for the worse' and 'moral decay'.

@ set you free

'your ilk' - I love that turn of phrase! Very cute!

Though, it often prefaces an ad hominem attack, rather than tackling the issue on hand. I am not sure how you meant it, so I'll answer as constructively as possible.

'Experiencing reality' is highly subjective. I could never hope to be 'in touch' with 'your reality', but, let me assure you, I am quite capable of quantifying and analyzing 'my reality' and in separating my subjective perceptions sufficiently so as to assess what likely constitutes 'reality'. At least, as imperfectly as is humanly possible...I have devoted much of my professional life to defining 'reality'!

'Counting votes' is not the best way to measure the worth of ideas or of the accuracy of their description of 'reality'. 'Counting votes' simply measures popularity of ideas - or, perhaps, how well they are positioned and marketed. Those two qualities are not often congruent.

People who are not flexible enough to compromise some of their principles in order to advance implementation of others do not do well in elected positions where they must tow the 'party line'. That is a statement of fact, nothing more or less. And it is why libertarians typically make poor 'party politicians'!

It is also why parties that draw libertarian support seem to have problem with 'back benchers staying on message'....

I do not pretend to have any solutions! Let me be clear on this....being able to describe a probelm accurately does not imply one has a solution for it. Still, seeking a solution without first accurately defining the problem is irrelevant at best and potentially quite destructive.

Posted by: Xanthippa | 2010-07-30 8:28:41 PM


    Perhaps that word ('corruption') does not mean what you think it means. 'Corruption' has a range of meanings, including 'lack of integrity or honesty' and 'perversion of integrity' and 'changing for the worse' and 'moral decay'.

But not “compromising one's principles.” That’s not corruption; that’s a fact of life.

    People who are not flexible enough to compromise some of their principles in order to advance implementation of others do not do well in elected positions...

Agreed. However, I see no reason why libertarians would be any more “corrupted” by softening the hard edges of their principles than people of any other political persuasion. While libertarians could do better with the packaging of their message, the primary issue voters have is with the content.

    Still, seeking a solution without first accurately defining the problem is irrelevant at best and potentially quite destructive.

And as the above exchange indicates, you’re still struggling to get that far. Shelving some of what you want so you get the rest is not corruption, or even bad. It’s a pragmatic acknowledgement that you can’t always have everything you want when you want it, and it’s better to walk away with some than none. Those who don’t compromise are not less corrupt than those who do; they’re merely less successful.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-31 1:10:45 AM


@Shane Matthews

"But not “compromising one's principles.” That’s not corruption; that’s a fact of life."

If that is what you honestly think, then I truly pity you!

"Shelving some of what you want so you get the rest is not corruption, or even bad."

Actually, it is - if your convictions are not mere ideological trappings but actual principled positions.

Which is what makes libertarians somewhat different than most 'party hacks': libertarians subscribe to liberties 'from first principles'. The farther you get from 'first principles', the 'longer' the 'ideological derivation' of the 'party position' is from 'first principles', the more one feels justified to give in to the moral relativism necessary to compromise principles in order to achieve goals.

Don't get me wrong - I am not claiming that those who seek political power ought not compromise their principled stands in order to achieve their ends. Frankly, I think this IS a necessity - which is why most of us tend to regard politicians as inherrently 'corrupt' - if not legally, then certainly morally.

I am simply arguing that once a person does that, they can no longer be accurately labeled 'a libertarian'! That the further one distances one-self from these 'first principles' of individual liberty, the less they are entitled to claim for themselves the label 'libertarian'...

That is why I think that terms like 'Libertarian Party' are oxymorons....

Posted by: Xanthippa | 2010-07-31 4:10:48 AM


Xanthippa,

There's also this misperception by everyone involved that I'm not pragmatic. People forget that I supported the CPC, as a libertarian, up until the point I realized that doing so was a horrible, horrible mistake.

It wasn't like I didn't go into it with my eyes wide open on drug policy and such.

Rather, like I tried to say on CBC, was that most of us libertarians who supported them bought into the whole "pragmatic" argument on an economic agreement. But the conservatives even let us down on that front.

There's leaning over backwards, and then there's falling-over backwards and smashing your head on the pavement.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-31 8:03:23 AM


    If that is what you honestly think, then I truly pity you!

Whom you pity is irrelevant.

    Actually, it is - if your convictions are not mere ideological trappings but actual principled positions.

Principles as defined by whom? Everyone has principles, and they’re all different; can you imagine a world in which no one bent, even a little? Also, remember that principles are by nature abstract philosophical constructs, which may or may not be based on truth. The truth always takes precedence. Always.

    Which is what makes libertarians somewhat different than most 'party hacks': libertarians subscribe to liberties 'from first principles'.

Again, as defined by whom? By philosophers centuries dead, whose ideas were shaped by a world completely different?

    Don't get me wrong - I am not claiming that those who seek political power ought not compromise their principled stands in order to achieve their ends. Frankly, I think this IS a necessity - which is why most of us tend to regard politicians as inherrently 'corrupt' - if not legally, then certainly morally.

If compromise is a necessity, Xanthippa, how can it also be bad? Food, water, and shelter are essential; are they bad? Nourishment for almost all species involves killing some other species; is that bad? Since the broadest meaning of corruption is “going bad,” you can’t really apply to it something that’s essential, can you? Not unless you want to dwell in permanent existential crisis.

    I am simply arguing that once a person does that, they can no longer be accurately labeled 'a libertarian'! That the further one distances one-self from these 'first principles' of individual liberty, the less they are entitled to claim for themselves the label 'libertarian'...

Actually, libertarianism is merely a political philosophy, like all the others. Being stubborn and unyielding does not make one a better libertarian, any more than it makes one a better Tory.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-31 10:35:12 AM


Posted by: Xanthippa | 2010-07-30 8:28:41 PM

I'd guess then, that you see the problem is a minority parliament.

As the leftist utopians have so clearly articulated, Canada is at the mercy of the ‘will of parliament.'

The world is full of people who can identify problems ... opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.

The best bet for the future is voting for the party that best reflect most of your values. IMHO, the Bloc, NDP and Libs are the furthest away from mine, ergo, that leaves one pragmatic choice.

Would you leave your future in the hands of the mob, society's whiners (who dwell on problems rather than look for the best, yet admittedly imperfect solutions)?

The G20 protesters are just an example of history recycling itself. Once they turn violent and believe they can gain power through violence, you will then experience what many of our ancestors did in the early 20th century.

Patience. Our time is gonna come.


Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-31 10:44:51 AM


j-roddy:"You can either help DO SOMETHING or all of this is just intellectual masturbation."

He actually thinks that he's going to accomplish something with the Cons! That's ADORABLE. Boy his disillusionment is going to be crushing, assuming that his daily dose of REALITY-BE-GONE (TM) stops working. Which it will. Then at some point he'll have to learn how babies are made.

Stephen Taylor is deluded. The only thing he's got on Mike Brock is undeniably great hair. What is that weird wirring noise/bird call I keep hearing in the video.

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-07-31 1:04:33 PM


Mike: Actually, Harper's not a lawyer. Does that mean that, outside of politics, he has only ever worked in a mail room?

P.

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2010-07-31 5:51:59 PM


Paul:

Instead of tossing out opinions based ion ignorance, why not actually do some research?

Come back with your answer.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-08-01 9:39:50 AM


SYF can't come up with a decent fisk so he takes the Taylor approach of stringing together random words in a vague ad hominem attack.

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-08-01 2:23:46 PM


Stephen Harper is an economist, not a lawyer. For these troubled times, we really couldn’t have picked a better PM.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-01 9:52:26 PM



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