Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘David Hume

Face to face with dying: I am not finished with living. Oliver Sacks

A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health.

At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver.

Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. The radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye.

But though ocular melanomas metastasize in perhaps 50 percent of cases, given the particulars of my own case, the likelihood was much smaller. I am among the unlucky ones.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

Maya Terro shared this link. August 30, 2015 ·

The New York Times

“There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

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I am now face to face with dying. But I am not finished with living.
nytimes.com|By Oliver Sacks

Hume wrote: “I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love.

In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Writing by Oliver Sacks in The Times

Hume continued, “I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential.

I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries.

My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced.

They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Correction: February 26, 2015
Because of an editing error, Oliver Sacks’s Op-Ed essay last Thursday misstated the proportion of cases in which the rare eye cancer he has — ocular melanoma — metastasizes. It is around 50 percent, not 2 percent, or “only in very rare cases.” When Dr. Sacks wrote, “I am among the unlucky 2 percent,” he was referring to the particulars of his case. (The likelihood of the cancer’s metastasizing is based on factors like the size and molecular features of the tumor, the patient’s age and the amount of time since the original diagnosis.)

Inside the Neanderthal mind

How science can inform ethics
magazine cover

Why is it wrong to enslave or torture other humans, or take their property, or discriminate against them?

That these actions are wrong, almost no one disputes.

Why are they wrong?

A Moral Starting Point published February 2015 by Michael Shermer 

For an answer, most people turn to religion (because God says so), or to philosophy (because rights theory says so), or to political theory (because the social contract says so).

In The Moral Arc, published in January, I show how science may also contribute an answer.

My moral starting point is the survival and flourishing of sentient beings.

By survival, I mean the instinct to live.

By flourishing, I mean having adequate sustenance, safety, shelter, and social relations for physical and mental health.

By sentient, I mean emotive, perceptive, sensitive, responsive, conscious, and, especially, having the capacity to feel and to suffer.

Instead of using criteria such as tool use, language, reasoning or intelligence, I go deeper into our evolved brains, toward these more basic emotive capacities. There is sound science behind this proposition.

According to the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness—a statement issued in 2012 by an international group of prominent cognitive and computational neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists and neuroanatomists—there is a continuity between humans and nonhuman animals.

And sentience is the most important common characteristic.

The neural pathways of emotions, for example, are not confined to higher-level cortical structures in the brain but are found in evolutionarily older subcortical regions.

Artificially stimulating the same regions in human and nonhuman animal brains produces the same emotional reactions in both.

Attentiveness, decision making, and the emotional capacity to feel and suffer are found across the branches of the evolutionary tree. This is what brings all humans and many nonhuman animals into our moral sphere.

The arc of the moral universe really is bending toward progress, by which I mean the improvement of the survival and flourishing of individual sentient beings.

I emphasize the individual because that is who survives and flourishes, or who suffers and dies, not the group, tribe, race, gender, state or any other collective.

Individual beings perceive, emote, respond, love, feel and suffer—not populations, races, genders or groups.

Historically, abuses have been most rampant—and body counts have run the highest—when the individual is sacrificed for the good of the group.

It happens when people are judged by the color of their skin, or by their gender, or by whom they prefer to sleep with, or by which political or religious group they belong to, or by any other distinguishing trait our species has identified to differentiate among members instead of by the content of their individual character.

The revolutions for the rights in the past three centuries have focused almost entirely on the freedom and autonomy of individuals, not collectives—on the rights of persons, not groups.

Individuals vote, not genders.

Individuals want to be treated equally, not races.

In fact, most rights protect individuals from being discriminated against as individual members of a group, such as by race, creed, color, gender, and now sexual orientation and gender preference.

The singular and separate organism is to biology and society what the atom is to physics—a fundamental unit of nature.

The first principle of the survival and flourishing of sentient beings is grounded in the biological fact that it is the discrete organism that is the main target of natural selection and social evolution, not the group.

We are a social species, but we are first and foremost individuals within social groups and therefore ought not to be subservient to the collective.

This drive to survive is part of our essence, and therefore the freedom to pursue the fulfilment of that essence is a natural right, by which I mean it is universal and inalienable and thus not contingent only on the laws and customs of a particular culture or government.

As a natural right, the personal autonomy of the individual gives us criteria by which we can judge actions as right or wrong: Do they increase or decrease the survival and flourishing of individual sentient beings?

Slavery, torture, robbery and discrimination lead to a decrease in survival and flourishing, and thus they are wrong.

“You can’t just say, ‘This is the way it is, therefore it ought to be that way.’ You’ve got to have good reasons,” says Michael Shermer, referencing the common “is-ought fallacy” most famously explained by David Hume.

(David Hume is the same ironic philosopher/scientist who replied to the social contract of John Locks’s related to government:

” Is this contract applicable to the peasants and artisans who barely can survive of their miserly income and are unable to leave the country?” )

“Well, I claim that we do have good reasons: Democracies are better than autocracies. Free markets are better than tyrannical, top-down economic systems. There are certain things we know work. You can measure it!”

(What about social State systems that value fairness among all the citizens? And provide a minimum level of dignity to survive, preventive health care, affordable education… You can measure it?)

 

 

Learning He Has Terminal Cancer: Oliver Sacks

A Month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health.

At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver.

Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

My Own Life

I feel grateful that I have been granted 9 years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying.

The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me.

I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776.

He titled it “My Own Life.”

I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love.

In that time, I have published 5 books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued,

“I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume.

While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective.

There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night.

I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment

I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries.

My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself.

There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear.

But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Decapitated French king Louis 16: Probably the best king the French failed to value

Talleyrand said during the revolution that culminated in a period of utter Terror: “The French had no idea that in the Regency, in their long history, they never had it so well and lived that well” 

Louis 16 succeeded to his infamous grandfather Louis 15. Louis 16 is another case of orphaned kid: his mother died when he was 10 and his elder brother died at the age 14.

During his upbringing, he was not taken care of and mostly ignored by his grandfather, his aunts and his sisters. They all considered that his elder bother and even his 2 younger brothers to be far more brilliant and capable for ruling.

The British David Hume esteemed greatly the precocious intelligence of this future king when he saw him as kid. Ben Franklin would describe Louis 16 kindness as “His eyes expressed the milk of human tenderness.

When Louis 15 died, in the most horrible of deaths by measles, Paris celebrated and all joints opened their doors for this happy great news. As they celebrated when Louis 14 died. Two successive rules of lapidating the treasury and engaging in frequent wars had exhausted the French citizens.

Louis 15 was the epitome in ineptitude. He reigned for 59 years, the longest of any monarch in history, and he spent his life fucking little girls of less than 14 years old that the various noble and immoral classes and institutions offered to him in order to keep him busy.

The girls stayed prisoners until they gave birth and were sold at high prices for noblemen.

Louis 15 lost the French colonies in India and Canada to England and signed the humiliating treaty to end the 7-year war with terms that weakened the French navy to its minimum and other trade imbalances.

Louis 15 is famous for instituting the “Black cabinet“, the secret service agency or “”Secret du Roi” that was located in Versailles close to his bedroom apartment. This agency was constituted of 32 members and was headed successively by Prince Conti, Jean-Pierre Tercier and Marshal de Broglie.

This secret service agency figured out ways to tacitly ship weapons to the new American insurgents.

This secret agency ran havoc in Europe by controlling, managing and creating events, scandals and subversive situations.

This most inept king stank awfully for 10 days and only his 3 sisters were permitted to care for his decaying body. The body was placed in a double lead box containing chaux to prevent the nauseous smell from emanating. The convoy avoided crossing Paris and was buried silently.

Prime minister Choiseul ruled unperturbed for 12 years. Russia Catherine II referred to him as Ëurope coachman” and the Queen of Austria adulated him for arranging the marriage of her daughter Marie-Antoinette to the French Dauphin, in direct line for succession.

This astute and dynamic minister wrote about his monarch Louis 15:

“His was the most inept of a person. A soulless and without spirit man. He loved making harm as little kids love to make animals suffer. He lacked any kinds of vigor to make decisions and his vanity was incomparable. He knew he had no potential for anything and totally inconsequential and let his ministers and sweethearts rule the kingdom.

Louis 15 believed that his amorous activities solidified his authority. He believed that everyone must obey his current sweetheart and mistress because she was honoured by his intimacy…”and on and on

Louis 16 was officially sacred absolute monarch in June 1775 at Reims. He went through the traditional motion of touching 2,400 patients, a touch that should heal many of the sick persons.

His first decision was to lock up the latest mistress of Louis 15, Madame du Barry, in a monastery. She was later beheaded by the revolutionaries in 1792.

Once, the people in Paris threw a lavish fiesta and 136 persons died. Louis 16, still a Dauphin (first in line for succession) refused to receive his allotted salary until all the bereaved families got their compensation.

Louis 16 was expert in drawing maps and had passion for geography and marine activities like building ships and constructing ports. He was also expert in fabricating locks and keys.

He could go hunting for 8 hours straight and kept detailed diaries of his daily activities and expenses.

Louis 16 was a rotund colossus with blue eyes and jovial face, though he was endemically a melancholic person and faithful to his wife. Sex was not a pleasurable or exciting activity for this hard working king who read abundantly books and all state reports and who enjoyed eating.

He restituted the rights of the Huguenots (French protestants) that Louis 14 had revoked in the edit of Nantes, a century ago.

He rebuilt the French navy to become at par with the British navy and dispatched two military campaigns to America to support the insurgents, which culminated in the surrender of the British troops in Yorktown.

He was the first and only monarch who recognized the independence of the USA even before the battle of Yorktown in 1778.

Beaumarchais, the author of the famous play “The Barber of Seville“, was the main agent who exported through a fictitious company all the necessary military equipment and everything else to the American insurgents.

The first French secret agent to contact the insurgents in Philadelphia was Chevalier de Bonvouloir. He met the 5 leading  insurgents, including Ben Franklin, Francis Daymon and John Jay in Carpenter’s Hall and sent coded letters to the French ambassador in London who dispatched them to Vergenne, the French foreign affairs minister.

Chevalier de Bonvouloir was a crippled short man. His parents sent him to the Antilles early on in order to safeguard the status of the family from a handicapped unwanted child.

The Congress sent Silas Deane as its clandestine representative to France in order to enrol volunteers and de La Fayette got in contact with him before his first trip to America.

This massive aid to the American insurgents and the reconstitution of the navy exhausted the treasury and a few ministers of finance were sacked and replaced in order to establish an equilibrium in the budget.

In one harsh winter season, Louis 16 ordered distributing supplies to the poorer classes in France.

In 1786, accompanied by the navy and war ministers, Louis 16 inaugurated the construction of the grandiose artificial port in Cherbourg.

Louis 16 could easily retain his power as an absolute monarch if he wished to: He had the means militarily, institutionally and was loved by the people outside Paris. He preferred not to shed blood and agreed on a Constitutional monarchy as stated by the national Assembly.

When he was in Versailles, guarded by loyal Belgium troops, he opted to spare the blood of his citizens, during the women march that was organized by Chaderlos de Laclos, and followed La Fayette to Paris where he became practically hostage to the revolutionaries.

As Louis 16 escaped Paris in the night, La Fayette got in contact with Thomas Paine, the American revolutionary who settled in Paris and was against any kinds of monarchy and who wrote the pamphlet “Common Sense” that triggered the Boston Tea Party insurgency, said “This should be a great new to you. You won’t have to care for this Royal family and its security. You have a wonderful opportunity to declare the “Republic

The monarch was caught in Varenne,  and he could easily continue his flight in crossing the bridge if he allowed the military to open the way by opening fire on the crowd. La Fayette had to come and secure the return to Paris for his monarch.

In many critical occasions, the king ordered his guards not to fire on the mob. In one incident, 500 Swiss guards were killed  and massacred by the mob because he ordered them not to defend themselves.

Captain Napoleon Bonaparte was watching this bloody scene from a window. At the first opportunity, Bonaparte fired his canons on the mob and became one of the 3 consuls, before snatching power and becoming an absolute dictator for 16 years.

Thomas Paine convinced the French Assembly to vote for the exile of the king to New Orleans, in the French Louisiana Territory before napoleon sold it in 1803.  Again, the infamous and bloody Marat (who will be assassinated by a woman royalist in his bath) turned the table sover and the Assembly voted for the decapitation of the monarch

The famous Alexis de Tocqueville, who analyzed the American political system in the 19th century, also analyzed the French system during the Regency (or Louis 16 period) concluded that the administrative institutions were so well running smoothly that for 50 years after the revolution not much has been reformed or altered to the institutions.

Louis 16 was the ideal monarch to submit to the Constitutional monarchy system, a system he openly and publicly agreed to and promised to defend. The French in Paris begged to differ and never had confidence in this monarch.

The rise and fall of Default Man 

Paddle your canoe up the River Thames and you will come round the bend and see a forest of huge totems jutting into the sky.

Great shiny monoliths in various phallic shapes, they are the wondrous cultural artifacts of a remarkable tribe.

We all know someone from this powerful tribe but we very rarely, if ever, ascribe their power to the fact that they have a particular tribal identity.

Grayson Perry in The rise and fall of Default Man, October 8, 2014

How did the straight, white, middle-class Default Man take control of our society – and how can he be dethroned?

I think this tribe, a small minority of our native population, needs closer examination. In the UK, its members probably make up about 10% of the population (see infographic below); globally, probably less than 1 per cent.

In a phrase used more often in association with Operation Yewtree, they are among us and hide in plain sight.

They dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.

With their colourful textile phallus hanging round their necks, they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms and also in the media.

They are, of course, white, middle-class, heterosexual men, usually middle-aged.

And every component of that description has historically played a part in making this tribe a group that punches far, far above its weight.

I have struggled to find a name for this identity that will trip off the tongue, or that doesn’t clutter the page with unpronounceable acronyms such as WMCMAHM.

“The White Blob” was a strong contender but in the end I opted to call him Default Man.

I like the word “default”, for not only does it mean “the result of not making an active choice”, but two of its synonyms are “failure to pay” and “evasion”, which seems incredibly appropriate, considering the group I wish to talk about.

Today, in politically correct 21st-century Britain, you might think things would have changed but somehow the Great White Male has thrived and continues to colonise the high-status, high-earning, high-power roles

(93% of executive directors in the UK are white men; 77% of parliament is male).

The Great White Male’s combination of good education, manners, charm, confidence and sexual attractiveness (or “money”, as I like to call it) means he has a strong grip on the keys to power.

Of course, the main reason he has those qualities in the first place is what he is, not what he has achieved.

John Scalzi, in his blog Whatever, thought that being a straight white male was like playing the computer game called Life with the difficulty setting on “Easy”. If you are a Default Man you look like power.

I must confess that I qualify in many ways to be a Default Man myself but I feel that by coming from a working-class background and being an artist and a transvestite, I have enough cultural distance from the towers of power. I have space to turn round and get a fairly good look at the edifice.

In the course of making my documentary series about identity, Who Are You?, for Channel 4, the identity I found hardest to talk about, the most elusive, was Default Man’s.

Somehow, his world-view, his take on society, now so overlaps with the dominant narrative that it is like a Death Star hiding behind the moon.

We cannot unpick his thoughts and feelings from the “proper, right-thinking” attitudes of our society. It is like in the past, when people who spoke in cut-glass, RP, BBC tones would insist they did not have an accent, only northerners and poor people had one of those.

We live and breathe in a Default Male world: no wonder he succeeds, for much of our society operates on his terms.

Chris Huhne (60, Westminster, PPE Mag­dalen, self-destructively heterosexual), the Default Man we chose to interview for our series, pooh-poohed any suggestion when asked if he benefited from membership or if he represented this group.

Lone Default Man will never admit to, or be fully aware of, the tribal advantages of his identity. They are, naturally, full subscribers to that glorious capitalist project, they are individuals!

This adherence to being individuals is the nub of the matter. Being “individual” means that if they achieve something good, it is down to their own efforts.

They got the job because they are brilliant, not because they are a Default Man, and they are also presumed more competent by other Default Men. If they do something bad it is also down to the individual and not to do with their gender, race or class. If a Default Man commits a crime it is not because fraud or sexual harassment, say, are endemic in his tribe (coughs), it is because he is a wrong ’un.

If a Default Man gets emotional it is because he is a “passionate” individual, whereas if he were a woman it would often be blamed on her sex.

When we talk of identity, we often think of groups such as black Muslim lesbians in wheelchairs. This is because identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland.

When talking about identity groups, the word “community” often crops up. The working class, gay people, black people or Muslims are always represented by a “community leader”.

We rarely, if ever, hear of the white middle-class community. “Communities” are defined in the eye of Default Man. Community seems to be a euphemism for the vulnerable lower orders. Community is “other”.

Communities usually seem to be embattled, separate from society. “Society” is what Default Man belongs to.

In news stories such as the alleged “Trojan Horse” plot in Birmingham schools and the recent child-abuse scandal in Rotherham, the central involvement of an ethnic or faith “community” skews the attitudes of police, social services and the media.

The Muslim or Pakistani heritage of those accused becomes the focus. I’m not saying that faith and ethnic groups don’t have their particular problems but the recipe for such trouble is made up of more than one spicy, foreign ingredient. I would say it involves more than a few handfuls of common-or-garden education/class issues, poor mental health and, of course, the essential ingredient in nearly all nasty or violent problems, men.

Yeah, men – bit like them Default Men but without suits on.

In her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, published in 1975, Laura Mulvey coined the term “the male gaze”. She was writing about how the gaze of the movie camera reflected the heterosexual male viewpoint of the directors (a viewpoint very much still with us, considering that only 9% of the top 250 Hollywood films in 2012 were directed by women and only 2 per cent of the cinematographers were female).

The Default Male gaze does not just dominate cinema, it looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings.

Every other identity group is “othered” by it. It is the gaze of the expensively nondescript corporate leader watching consumers adorn themselves with his company’s products the better to get his attention.

Default Man feels he is the reference point from which all other values and cultures are judged. Default Man is the zero longitude of identities.

He has forged a society very much in his own image, to the point where now much of what other groups think and feel is the same. They take on the attitudes of Default Man because they are the attitudes of our elders, our education, our government, our media.

If Default Men approve of something it must be good, and if they disapprove it must be bad, so people end up hating themselves, because their internalised Default Man is berating them for being female, gay, black, silly or wild.

I often hear women approvingly describe themselves or other women as feisty.

Feisty, I feel, has sexist implications, as if standing up for yourself was exceptional in a woman. It sounds like a word that a raffish Lothario would use about a difficult conquest.

I once gave a talk on kinky sex and during the questions afterwards a gay woman floated an interesting thought: “Is the legalising of gay marriage an attempt to neutralise the otherness of homosexuals?” she asked. Was the subversive alternative being neutered by allowing gays to marry and ape a hetero lifestyle?

Many gay people might have enjoyed their dangerous outsider status. Had Default Man implanted a desire to be just like him?

Is the fact that we think like Default Man the reason why a black female Doctor Who has not happened, that it might seem “wrong” or clunky? In my experience, when I go to the doctor I am more likely to see a non-white woman than a Default Man.

It is difficult to tweezer out the effect of Default Man on our culture, so ingrained is it after centuries of their rules. A friend was once on a flight from Egypt.

As it came in to land at Heathrow he looked down at the rows of mock-Tudor stockbroker-belt houses in west London. Pointing them out, he said to the Egyptian man sitting next to him: “Oh well, back to boring old England.” The Egyptian replied, “Ah, but to me this is very exotic.” And he was right.

To much of the world the Default Englishman is a funny foreign folk icon, with his bowler hat, his Savile Row suit and Hugh Grant accent, living like Reggie Perrin in one of those polite suburban semis. All the same, his tribal costume and rituals have probably clothed and informed the global power elite more than any other culture. Leaders wear his clothes, talk his language and subscribe to some version of his model of how society “should be”.

When I was at art college in the late Seventies/early Eighties, one of the slogans the feminists used was: “Objectivity is Male Subjectivity.”

This brilliantly encapsulates how male power nestles in our very language, exerting influence at the most fundamental level. Men, especially Default Men, have put forward their biased, highly emotional views as somehow “rational”, more considered, more “calm down, dear”.

Women and “exotic” minorities are framed as “passionate” or “emotional” as if they, the Default Men, had this unique ability to somehow look round the side of that most interior lens, the lens that is always distorted by our feelings.

Default Man somehow had a dispassionate, empirical, objective vision of the world as a birthright, and everyone else was at the mercy of turbulent, uncontrolled feelings. That, of course, explained why the “others” often held views that were at such odds with their supposedly cool, analytic vision of the world.

Recently, footage of the UN spokesman Chris Gunness breaking down in tears as he spoke of the horrors occurring in Gaza went viral. It was newsworthy because reporters and such spokespeople are supposed to be dispassionate and impartial. To show such feelings was to be “unprofessional”. And lo! The inherited mental health issues of Default Man are cast as a necessity for serious employment.

I think Default Man should be made aware of the costs and increasing obsolescence of this trait, celebrated as “a stiff upper lip”. This habit of denying, recasting or suppressing emotion may give him the veneer of “professionalism” but, as David Hume put it: “Reason is a slave of the passions.”

To be unaware of or unwilling to examine feelings means those feelings have free rein to influence behaviour unconsciously. Unchecked, they can motivate Default Man covertly, unacknowledged, often wreaking havoc.

Even if rooted in long-past events in the deep unconscious, these emotions still fester, churning in the dark at the bottom of the well. Who knows what unconscious, screwed-up “personal journeys” are being played out on the nation by emotionally illiterate Default Men?

Being male and middle class and being from a generation that still valued the stiff upper lip means our Default Man is an ideal candidate for low emotional awareness. He sits in a gender/ class/age nexus marked “Unexploded Emotional Time Bomb”.

These people have been in charge of our world for a long time.

Things may be changing.

****

Women are often stereotyped as the emotional ones, and men as rational. But, after the 2008 crash, the picture looked different, as Hanna Rosin wrote in an article in the Atlantic titled “The End of Men”:

Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and level-headed.

Over the centuries, empirical, clear thinking has become branded with the image of Default Men. They were the ones granted the opportunity, the education, the leisure, the power to put their thoughts out into the world. In people’s minds, what do professors look like? What do judges look like? What do leaders look like? The very aesthetic of seriousness has been monopolised by Default Man. Practically every person on the globe who wants to be taken seriously in politics, business and the media dresses up in some way like a Default Man, in a grey, western, two-piece business suit. Not for nothing is it referred to as “power dressing”. We’ve all seen those photo ops of world leaders: colour and pattern shriek out as anachronistic. Consequently, many women have adopted this armour of the unremarkable. Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, wears a predictable unfussy, feminised version of the male look. Hillary Clinton has adopted a similar style. Some businesswomen describe this need to tone down their feminine appearance as “taking on the third gender”.

Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den was once referred to as “eccentric” for wearing brightly coloured stripy socks. So rigid is the Default Man look that men’s suit fashions pivot on tiny changes of detail at a glacial pace. US politicians wear such a narrow version of the Default Man look that you rarely see one wearing a tie that is not plain or striped.

Suits you, sir: Grayson Perry as Default Man.
Photo: Kalpesh Lathigra/New Statesman

One tactic that men use to disguise their subjectively restricted clothing choices is the justification of spurious function.

As if they need a watch that splits lap times and works 300 feet underwater, or a Himalayan mountaineer’s jacket for a walk in the park. The rufty-tufty army/hunter camouflage pattern is now to boys as pink is to girls. Curiously, I think the real function of the sober business suit is not to look smart but as camouflage.

A person in a grey suit is invisible, in the way burglars often wear hi-vis jackets to pass as unremarkable “workmen”.

The business suit is the uniform of those who do the looking, the appraising. It rebuffs comment by its sheer ubiquity. Many office workers loathe dress-down Fridays because they can no longer hide behind a suit. They might have to expose something of their messy selves through their “casual” clothes. Modern, over-professionalised politicians, having spent too long in the besuited tribal compound, find casual dress very difficult to get right convincingly.

David Cameron, while ruining Converse basketball shoes for the rest of us, never seemed to me as if he belonged in a pair.

When I am out and about in an eye-catching frock, men often remark to me, “Oh, I wish I could dress like you and did not have to wear a boring suit.” Have to!

The male role is heavily policed from birth, by parents, peers and bosses. Politicians in particular are harshly kept in line by a media that seems to uphold more bizarrely rigid standards of conformity than those held by any citizen.

Each component of the Default Male role – his gender, his class, his age and his sexuality – confines him to an ever narrower set of behaviours, until riding a bicycle or growing a beard, having messy hair or enjoying a pint are seen as ker-azy eccentricity.

The fashionable members’ club Shoreditch House, the kind of place where “creatives” with two iPhones and three bicycles hang out, has a “No Suits” rule. How much of this is a pseudo-rebellious pose and how much is in recognition of the pernicious effect of the overgrown schoolboy’s uniform, I do not know.

I dwell on the suit because I feel it exemplifies how the upholders of Default Male values hide in plain sight. Imagine if, by democratic decree, the business suit was banned, like certain items of Islamic dress have been banned in some countries. Default Men would flounder and complain that they were not being treated with “respect”.

The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.

As Sherrie Bourg Carter, author of High-Octane Women, writes:

Women in today’s workforce . . . are experiencing a much more camouflaged foe – second-generation gender biases . . . “work cultures and practices that appear neutral and natural on their face”, yet they reflect masculine values and life situations of men.

Personally, working in the arts, I do not often encounter Default Man en masse, but when I do it is a shock. I occasionally get invited to formal dinners in the City of London and on arrival, I am met, in my lurid cocktail dress, with a sea of dinner jackets; perhaps harshly, my expectations of a satisfying conversation drop. I feel rude mentioning the black-clad elephant in the room. I sense that I am the anthropologist allowed in to the tribal ritual.

Of course, this weird minority, these curiously dominant white males, are anything but normal. “Normal,” as Carl Jung said, “is the ideal aim for the unsuccessful.” They like to keep their abnormal power low-key: the higher the power, the duller the suit and tie, a Mercedes rather than a Rolls, just another old man chatting casually to prime ministers at the wedding of a tabloid editor.

Revolution is happening. I am loath to use the R word because bearded young men usually characterise it as sudden and violent. But that is just another unhelpful cliché.

I feel real revolutions happen thoughtfully in peacetime. A move away from the dominance of Default Man is happening, but way too slowly.

Such changes in society seem to happen at a pace set by incremental shifts in the animal spirits of the population. I have heard many of the “rational” (ie, male) arguments against quotas and positive discrimination but I feel it is a necessary fudge to enable just change to happen in the foreseeable future. At the present rate of change it will take more than a hundred years before the UK parliament is 50 per cent female.

The outcry against positive discrimination is the wail of someone who is having their privilege taken away. For talented black, female and working-class people to take their just place in the limited seats of power, some of those Default Men are going to have to give up their seats.

Perhaps Default Man needs to step down from some of his most celebrated roles. I’d happily watch a gay black James Bond and an all-female Top Gear, QI or Have I Got News for You.

Jeremy Paxman should have been replaced by a woman on Newsnight. More importantly, we need a quota of MPs who (shock) have not been to university but have worked on the shop floor of key industries; have had life experiences that reflect their constituents’; who actually represent the country rather than just a narrow idea of what a politician looks like.

The ridiculousness of objections to quotas would become clear if you were to suggest that, instead of calling it affirmative action, we adopted “Proportionate Default Man Quotas” for government and business. We are wasting talent. Women make up a majority of graduates in such relevant fields as law.

Default Man seems to be the embodiment of George Bernard Shaw’s unreasonable man: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to make the world adapt to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Default Man’s days may be numbered; a lot of his habits are seen at best as old-fashioned or quaint and at worst as redundant, dangerous or criminal. He carries a raft of unhelpful habits and attitudes gifted to him from history – adrenalin addiction, a need for certainty, snobbery, emotional constipation and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement – which have often proved disastrous for society and can also stop poor Default Man from leading a fulfilling life.

Earlier this year, at the Being A Man festival at the Southbank Centre in London, I gave a talk on masculinity called: “Men, Sit Down for your Rights!”. A jokey title, yes, but one making a serious point: that perhaps, if men were to loosen their grip on power, there might be some benefits for them.

The straitjacket of the Default Man identity is not necessarily one happily donned by all members of the tribe: many struggle with the bad fit of being leader, provider, status hunter, sexual predator, respectable and dignified symbol of straight achievement. Maybe the “invisible weightless backpack” that the US feminist Peggy McIntosh uses to describe white privilege, full of “special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”, does weigh rather a lot after all.

Bye, bye Earth. It was okay to meeting with you

You should have realized by now that life is mainly a maintenance process, including procreation.

Life is basically learning how to survive, just to keep living as long as our physical potentials have not been exhausted.

What kind of maintenance tasks can you recall? Dusting, mopping, washing dishes, cooking, taking care of dirty children, gathering anything to eat, fetching water, bathing…

By the by, communities invented a fictitious splitting of tasks. Women were allocated the maintenance chores, by tradition and customs, while men went hunting and bragging about their prowess, including how much they could drink non-alcoholic beer.

By the by, communities were organized so that 95% of the people get engaged in the maintenance tasks, including the monotonous production and caring for the comfort of the other 5% who appointed themselves “above the fray

By the by, a group of clergy was instituted to mind the soul and after life conditions of the people in the community, particularly initiating the community to the rituals and attending ceremonies according to rules and proper attitudes.

For example, you have priests who visit homes, sprinkle some water in all the room, and wait for a handsome bonus for his well-intentioned zeal and for remembering the needs of the households, and offering the prayer for the occasion.

The 5% were supposed to have plenty of time to reflect on:

1. the meaning of life

2. How happy the community can be if it obeyed their prescriptions and rules of conduct

3. What a waste that my talents are not appreciated to their true values

4. The hardship that I suffer for seeing my dream projects ignored

5. How it is boring that I achieved my project and have to restart this exhausting cycle of anxiety and endurance.

6. How my potentials are not taken seriously and how cruel it feels to be mocked…

7. What’s the point. After all the only certainties are death and taxes

Now and then people revolt and demand that these customs of separation of tasks be changed and “reformed”

It is not this 5% of mankind will make any substantial difference in diminishing the maintenance chores, due to their inability and lack of skills to making any significant difference in the oiling of the social mechanism, but it is a nice boost to the community morale.

A morale boost observing the 5% contributing their time and leftover energy getting on with the maintenance tasks of the living, of getting accustomed of what it takes to have the time to think and reflect properly.

Just a nice reprieve that the 5% will shut up for a while and desist sermonizing and complaining about the meaning of life.

And we end up food for the other species or dust for the vegetables.

And maybe, a billion year from now, we’ll be components of a lousy organic species, here on earth or somewhere in another planet.

As David Hume stated 3 centuries ago:

Since reason is incapable of dispelling these perplexing philosophical clouds, nature suffices to that purpose and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium. Nature relaxes this bent of mind, or by some evocation and living impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeas

Can we at least preserve nature?

 

Cases of “Historical Dialectics” of human and knowledge development; (Dec. 23, 2009)

            Dialectics is not only used to comprehend historical development of human or knowledge development but is basic in discussions and effective dialogues. Hegel was first to introduce “dynamic logic” and used the term of historical dialectics as the interaction of an extreme opinion (thesis) that generates an opposite extreme counter opinion (antithesis) which results in a consensus (synthesis).  Historical dialectics is a macro method for long range study and it does not explain the individual existential conditions (survival situations).  Hegel offered dialectics as a method for explaining how human knowledge developed by constant struggle between contradictory concepts among philosophical groups. The purpose of his method was to demonstrate how the “universe of the spirit” or ideas managed to be raised in human consciousness.

            Before I offer my version of knowledge development it might be useful to giving a few examples of historical dialectics. In Antiquity, the pre-Socratic philosophers were divided between the Eleatics or philosophers who claimed that change of primeval substances was impossible: we cannot rely on our senses.  Heraclites reacted with his position that we can rely on our senses and that everything in the universe is in a state of flow and that no substance remains in its place.  The synthesis came Empedocles who claimed that we can rely on our senses but that what flow are the combination of substances but the elementary particles do not change. 

            The Sophists during Socrates were the paid teachers of the elite classes and tore down the mythological teaching of the period and focused on improving individual level of learning.  They were in effect in demand by a nascent City-State democracy of Athens that relied on a better educated society to participate in the political system. Socrates reacted by proposing that there are fundamental truths and knowledge is not an exercise in rhetorical discourse. The same dialectics worked between the world of ideas of Plato and the empirical method counterpoint of Aristotle.

            In the Medieval period the Catholic Church set up a barrier or distance between God and man and forced people to believe that all knowledge emanates from God.  The Renaissance man (wanting to be knowledgeable in many disciplines) reacted by promoting the concepts that God is in every element, that man is a complete microcosm of the universe, and that knowledge starts by observing nature and man.

            Another example is the position of Descartes who established that rationalism was the main source for knowledge.  David Hume responded by extending that empirical facts generated from our senses are the basis for knowledge. Kant offered the synthesis that the senses are the primary sources for our impressions but it is our perceptual faculties that describe and view the world: there is a distinction between “matter” of knowledge or the “thing in itself” and “form” of knowledge or the “thing for me”. Kant became the point of departure for another chain of dialectical reflections.

            Many philosophers used the dialectic methods to explaining other forms of development.  Karl Marx wrote that Hegel used his method standing on its head instead of considering human material conditions. Marx claimed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”; thus, he defined three levels as basis of society: condition of production (mainly the geographic, natural resources, and climatic conditions), means of production (such as machineries and tools), and production relations (such as political institutions, division of labor, distribution of work and ownership). Marx claimed that the main interactions are among the working class (the new slaving method of production) and the owners of the means of productions or the ruling class: it is this struggle that develop the spiritual progress.  Another dialectical process is the extreme feminist political claims of equality between genders which brought about a consensus synthesis for a period.

            My view of progress is based on the analogy of combination of two schemas:

            The first schema is the coexistence of two strings of evolution (picture a DNA shape): the knowledge development (mainly technological) and the moral string (dominated mainly by religious ideologies).  The second schema is represented by historical dialectic evolutions in the shape of helical cones. The time lengths of cycles for the two strings are not constant: the technological progress phase has shorter and shorter cycles while the moral string has longer cycles.

            The two strings are intertwined and clashes frequently.  When one string overshadow the other string in evolution then there are a slow counter-reaction culminating in stagnate status-quo phases between the two forces. Technological or level of sustenance period has time length cycles that is shrinking at the top of the cone before the cone is inverted on its head so that the moral time length cycles start to increase and appears almost invariant (that what happened in the long Medieval period that stretched for over 11 centuries in Europe); then the cone is reverted on its base for the next “rebirth” cycles (for example the Renaissance period that accelerated the knowledge string ascent).

581.  Testing 3 thousand years of babbling; (Dec. 3, 2009)

582.  “Sophie’s World” on David Hume; (Dec. 4, 2009)

583.  Who is towing sciences? (Dec. 6, 2009)

584.  Ironing out a few chaotic glitches; (Dec. 5, 2009)

585.  How random and unstable are your phases? (Dec. 7, 2009)

586.  Responses to “Einstein speaks on Zionism”; (Dec. 8, 2009)

587.  Efficiency has limits within cultural bias; (Dec. 10, 2009)

577.  Climate change: Before Copenhagen; (Nov. 27, 2009)

 

578.  “War on Rhetoric”; (Nov. 28, 2009)

 

579.  Einstein speaks on “How I see the world”; (Nov. 30, 2009)

 

580.  Einstein speaks on Zionism; (Dec. 2, 2009)

 

581.  Testing 3 thousand years of babbling; (Dec. 3, 2009)

 

582.  “Sophie’s World” on David Hume; (Dec. 4, 2009)

“Sophie’s World” on David Hume; (Written on Dec. 4, 2009)

How I stumbled on Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World”, one of New York Times best seller?

My niece is reading this book as required textbook in high school. The manuscript is of 513 pages divided in 35 chapters and talking of a wide array of philosophers and concepts from Socrates, to Descartes, to Hume, Hegel, Kant…, Freud, and the Big Bang.

A short introduction to the story might be entertaining.

The first chapter introduces us to Sophie Amundsen, a 15-year-old girl. Sophie arrives home from school and finds a first envelope addressed to her. The sheet of paper has a single hand written sentence “Who are you?”  Sophie finds another envelops that says “Where does the world come from?

The last delivery of the mailbox is a postcard “Hilde Moller Knag; c/o Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close. Dear Hilde, happy 15th birthday. Forgive me for sending the card to Sophie. It was the easiest way. Love Dad.”

Sophie knows of no Hilde and the phonebook was of no help. Sophie has now three problems to resolve, all in one day. Sophie is baffled and confused:  She is starting her philosophical initiation.  Would Lillemor be the same person? If her hair was not straight and defying all cosmetics for a curly appearance, then would she behaved different? If her nose was a tad bit longer or her mouth smaller, would she be the actual Sophie?

The next problem is even harder to reflect on. Can anything come from nothing? If not, then how far has she to go to the sources in the creation process? Can a creating God come from nothing?

I jumped to page 267 on the British philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). 

Hume was the contemporary of Voltaire and Rousseau or the Age of Enlightenment.  The previous Age was of the “rationalists” such as Descartes, Lock, and Spinoza.

Hume published his main work “A treatise of human nature” when he was 28 of age.  He claims that he got the idea when he was 15.

The empiricist Hume (believing in experiments as the most valid method for acquiring knowledge) said:

“No philosophy will ever be able to take us behind the daily experiences or give us rules of conducts that are different from those we get through reflections on everyday life.”

For example, people have experienced or sensed wings on birds, but that does not mean that the complex idea of “angel” exists. Angels are associations in man’s imagination; thus, the concept of angels is false as an experienced reality and should be rejected from the knowledge baggage.

If a textbook does not offer any experimental reasoning concerning matter of facts and existence then it should be committed to the flames as a book of knowledge.

Hume wanted to know how a child experienced the real world. Hume established that man has two types of perceptions:

1. impression (immediate sensation) and

2. ideas of external reality.

Ideas are recollections of impressions.  For example, getting burned is not the same sensation as remembering getting burned: this would be a pale imitation of actually the stronger feeling of being burned.

Ideas can be simple or complex; we may form complex ideas of the world for which there is no corresponding “object” in the physical world such as angels or God. Each element in the complex idea was previously sensed and the mind constructed a “false object” if not actually existing for the senses.

Descartes indicated that “clear and distinct” ideas guarantee that they corresponded to something that really existed.

One example for Descartes affirmation is the ego “I”, which is the foundation for his philosophy.

Hume begs to differ.

Hume considers that the ego I is a complex idea and constantly altered.  Since we are continuously changing our alterable ego is based on a long chain of simple impressions that we did not experienced simultaneously. “These impressions appear, pass, re-pass, slide away, and mingle in infinite varieties of postures and situations.” It is like the images in a movie screen: they are disconnected single pictures, a collection of instants.

It is the same concept of Buddha (2500 years earlier). Buddha said “There is nothing of which I can say “this is mine” or “this is me””.  Thus, there is no “eternal soul” since “Decay is inherent in all compound things. Work out your own salvation with diligence.”  Hume rejected attempts to prove the immortality of the soul or the existence of God but he never ruled out their possible existence or that of miracles.

On his deathbed, Hume said “It is also possible that a knob of coal placed upon the fire will not burn.

A miracle works against the laws of nature; but again, we have never experienced the laws of nature.

All that we know results from “habit” of our experiences, such as witnessing relationship or “cause and effect” occurring many times, but that we can never say that it might happen “always”.

For example, adults are more awed by magic tricks than children: a child is no more impressed by an apple falling or just floating because he didn’t acquire the habit in his mind for natural occurrences.  Expectations lie in our mind and not in one thing following another.

We human are great in the task of cutting and pasting everything that impresses upon us. Hume says that the preconditions to assembling complex ideas is to have entered all the elements in the form of “simple impressions”.   If we imagine God to be infinitely “intelligent, wise, and good being” then we must have “known intelligence, wisdom, and goodness”.

(How man brought in the “infinitely” in his concept? Did it come from watching the sky as a substitute to the experience of infinity? Somehow, man is able to extrapolate on piece meal experiences).

Hume wanted “to dismiss all this meaningless nonsense which has long dominated metaphysical thought and brought it into disrepute.”  (The introduction of the term metaphysical gave terrible nightmares to the succeeding philosophers fearing that they might sound metaphysical and had to explain at great length their concepts).

Hume cut off the final link between faith and knowledge.

(I conjecture that the deficiencies of our perceptual senses provide rich sources of strong impressions that modify our view of the real world.  For example, when we see double for a while (a temporary affliction), or we feel the ground waving and shaking under our feet when drunk, or under the influence, or when we hear background noises, then these sensation are real first impressions and not just ideas.

Thus, the weaker our constitution, the more acute and varied are our experiences; the more adapted our brain for capturing associations the far more complex is our perception of the world.)


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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