Capitalism’s Failure of the Flesh

A bitter irony of modernity is that the age-old dream of freeing people from work’s tedium has been answered by robots, but capitalism has turned that “freedom” into a barren life with little left to lose, writes poet Phil Rockstroh.

By Phil Rockstroh

Humankind, being an inherently tool-making species, has always been in a relationship with technology. Our tools, weapons, machines, and appliances are crucial to forging the cultural criteria of human life. At present, amid the technology created phantomscape of mass media’s lurid — yet somehow sterile — imagery, one can feel as if one’s mind is in danger of being churned to spittle.

A robotic welder in a factory.

On a personal note, an informal consensus has formed among my friends who share a passion for reading: We read far fewer books since the time we became enmeshed with the internet. Worse, we find the feelings of isolation that we have attempted to mitigate by an immersion in online activity, at best, provides only a palliative effect. Yet, in the manner of addiction — or a hopeless love affair — we are prone to trudge deeper into the psychical morass by further immersion into the very source that is exacerbating our feelings of unease and ennui.

Yet we insist on remaining mentally epoxied to electronic appliances, as the oceans of our technology besieged planet die, as the atmosphere is choked with heat-holding greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a result, exquisite, living things disappear forever.

Therefore, it is crucial to explore why we are so isolated from each other but so connected to our devices, and are married to the belief system that misinforms us, technology can and will lift us from our increasingly perilous predicament. When reality dictates, if the past remains prologue, a fetishising of technology will further enslave us in a de facto techno-dystopia. A reassessment, for numerous reasons, of the relationship between humankind and technology must come to pass.

Moreover, the reevaluation must include machines, at present and in the future, we have created in our own image. For example, those such as artificial-intelligence technologies, that on an increasing basis, will cause a significant number of the workforce to be rendered idle.

Flesh Machines      

Of course, it is a given, bottom-line obsessives that they are, capitalists crave to replace workers with an automated labor force. The parasitic breed has always viewed workers as flesh machines, of whom they were inconvenienced by having to pay wages.

Unemployed artists protesting during the Great Depression.

Capitalism is, by its very nature, dehumanizing. From the advent of the industrial/capitalist epoch, the system has inflicted mass alienation, societal atomization, and anomie. Moreover, the vast wealth inequity inherent to the system allows the capitalist elite to own the political class — a mindless clutch of flunkies who might as well be robots programmed by the capitalist order to serve their agendas.

The question is, what effect will the nature of being rendered superfluous to the prevailing order have on the powerless masses — who have, up until now, been kept in line by economic coercion, by meretricious, debt-incurring consumer bribes, and by mass media indoctrination and pop-culture anesthesia? Will consumers continue to insist that their mental chains are the very wings of freedom?

Yet the Age Of Mass Mechanization carries the potential to bestow an era of liberty, artistic exploration, scientific inquiry, intellectual fervor, the pursuit of soul-making, and inspired leisure. Or the polar shift in cultural raison d’etre might inflict a crisis of identity so harrowing that demagogues rise and despots promise to seed a new order but harvest the corpses of dissidents and outsiders.

A couple of weeks back, during a visit to a neighborhood playground with my four-year-old, I had a conversation with an executive on voluntary leave from her management position at BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke). She was grousing about a infestation of seaweed choking the beaches of the Florida Keys she had encountered on a recent excursion to the U.S.

When I averred the phenomenon of the warming oceans of the planet, the progenitor of the exponential growth of the sea flora she had been troubled by, was caused, in large measure, by the very socio-economic-cultural dynamic that financed her trip to Florida in the first place … well, it put a crimp in the conversation.

It can be unsettling to be confronted with one’s complicity in the ills of a system that, by its very nature, provides camouflage to its perpetrators — the big bosses, down to its functionaries, and foot soldiers. Soon, she, by a series of subtle moves, extricated herself from the conversation — and I cannot say I blame her. I myself experienced discomfort by the thought of the discomfort I inflicted on her. Therefore, as a general rule, under the tyranny of amiability, which is the rule of the day of the present order, one is tempted to avoid trespassing into the comfort zones that aid in enabling the status quo.

Yet we are faced with the following imperative: The system and its machines must begin to serve humanity, as opposed to what has been the case since the advent of the industrial/technological age: the mass of humanity serving the machine. Therefore, there must arrive a paradigmatic shift in metaphors and the ethos of the era, e.g., a renunciation of the soul-decimating concept of human beings as flesh machines — who must, for the sake of monomaniacal profiteering, divorce themselves from human feeling, as well as, must forgo exploration, enthusiasm, and craft in the pursuit of expediency.

Machines of the Flesh

We do have a choice in the matter, all indications to the contrary. Yet, in the prevailing confusion regarding what ethos should guide our relationship to technology, we are confronted with phenomenon such as the situation chronicled in a recent article in The Guardian. Headlined: “The Sex Robots Are Coming: seedy, sordid – but mainly just sad.”

Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

Regarding the supercilious nature of the headline, wouldn’t it be more propitious for all concerned to ask and explore why, under the present order, men are so alienated, socially awkward and lonely, as opposed to lapsing into all the predictable moral panic, wit-deficient snark, and supercilious value judgments these sorts of stories evoke?

Isn’t being attracted to consumer goods what it is all about, identity-wise, under the present order? Don’t customers demand that the de facto slaves of the service industry evince the demeanor of compliant androids? Isn’t it a given that the underclass workforce, holders of service industry jobs, will soon be replaced by robots? Do we not worship and are ruled by the gospel of the cult of efficiency?

Withal, for the present order to be maintained, it is crucial for the general public to remain both alienated thus using consumerism as a palliative, and that includes the production and retailing of sexualized, simulacrum appliances that mimic sex partners and the psychical release valve of finger-wagging, easy virtue and shallow vitriol aimed at the poor sods who seek comfort from them.

Addendum: I’m much more mortified by robotics designed for surveillance and war than for one’s designed for simulacrumatic sex. I’m simply beastly that way.

Robots can be programmed to simulate copulation but it is doubtful that machines can be tuned and tweaked to experience the manifold, complex states of being that define human consciousness and its innate ability for self expression, for example, the ability to express themselves by means of spontaneous generated metaphors.

While it is true, AI technologies can mimic forms of poetic and artistic expression but, in any honest account of the processes they utilize, machines engage in the activity sans a depth of feeling, the facility to evince empathy and the ability to access imagination i.e., the phenomenon we human beings term soulfulness. Sans the ineffable quality of soul, AI entities, as is the case with our present information technology, will contribute the palliative, yet inherently alienating, effects inherent to our hyper-commodified era.

In contrast, writers/artists/activists must proceed to dangerous places. It is imperative that they descend into the danger zone known as the soul. The soul is not a realm inhabited by weightless beings radiating beatific light. Rather, it is a landscape of broken, wounded wanderers; inchoate longing; searing lamentation; the confabulations of imperfect memory; of rutting and rage; transgression; depression; fragmented language; and devouring darkness.

The reductionist metaphors inherent to the age of mechanization — which limn human beings in mechanized, commodified terms — as opposed to the organic, unfolding pantheon composed of needs, longings and desires we are — inflicts not only alienation from our fellow human beings but from our essential natures. In our misery and confusion, we have bloated our bodies, maimed and poisoned the earth, and scoured the hours of our lives of meaning by the compulsive commodification of all things. Therefore it should not come as a surprise when alienated, lonely men become enamored of glambots.

We have delivered insult after insult to the soul of the world, and yet it loves us with an abiding and bitter grace. The question remains, do we love it in turn, and deeply enough, to mount a resistance to the present order thus turn the tide against the love-bereft forces responsible for the wholesale destruction of both landscape and soulscape.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

38 comments for “Capitalism’s Failure of the Flesh

  1. jsmith
    December 14, 2017 at 14:48

    Beautiful writing style, but honestly … using the Internet to condemn the use of modern technologies? Don’t you see the irony?

  2. Mild-ly - Facetious
    December 12, 2017 at 16:28

    December 8, 2017 at 8:43 pm
    David Walker’s Appeal
    — a unique piece of American history… .
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2930.html

    Reply . . .

    December 9, 2017,
    Yuck.

    Yes. Exactly.

  3. Mild-ly - Facetious
    December 12, 2017 at 16:12

    Stephan King’s “The Mist” spoke much of this. –

    Look back at it vis-a-vis
    The Trump/Bannon Takeover.

  4. R Davis
    December 10, 2017 at 22:56

    “we read far fewer books” … “the feeling of isolation”

    When I was a little girl in primary school, every third day I borrowed 6 books at one time to read, today our children carry the library around with them.
    Online I have made friends around the world, it is not only Australia that I belong to, but the whole world, I am just like everyone else & they are like me.
    I had no idea that we were all the same but different.
    I was isolated & ignorant.
    Everyone is out here man.

  5. Kalen
    December 10, 2017 at 19:48

    Frankly I do not like a form used here that ” we did or allowed this or that” it is like blaming Jews in death camps tortured and killed and not doing anything about it. Nonsense of such a take of common responsibility for terror of oligarchic class alone is appalling since current state of affairs was only possible by already occurring mass brutality murder and intimidation by the security state thugs, oligarchic dogs. We did not allowed the evil happen we as human race was bitten to a pulp for that evil to happen, to let oligarchy living in iniquity of dehumanization of the est of us, living breathing human beings.

    Marx stated that his economic reproduction cycle is destroyed by financialization and robots play role in that by threatening working people so they do not demand anything under phony threat of robotization.

    No it is a phony threat but not what you think, as no job will be replaced by robots, the jobs themselves will be obsolete since their production will not be aimed at people by oligarchy or robots themselves.

    In fact If 50 people own 50% of world wealth there is no need for mass production at all.

    So they produce securities, ETFs, options, futures based on nonexistent physically entities such as Bitcoin. Notional value of all derivatives is over 1400 $trillions all tangible physical assets, land, goods, buildings minerals are about $100 $trilion worth, insignificant in over all calculations of profits.

    Elites enter psychedelic stage reality is ignored since it is unprofitable, so they dwell in hallucinations of suppose future. Musk is being funded not because of him reaheatimg a century old idea of electric car but because of his delusions about colonizing Mars and exploiting it for profit, after as he stated himself he is done with Earth.

    All of them, oligarchs and their dogs should be nailed on pitchforks and expell from Earth as parasitic dangerous morons.

    It is our lives vs theirs.

    • Kalen
      December 10, 2017 at 19:56

      Sorry for few autocorrect politically correct wrong fixing of my typos.

    • Mild -ly - Facetious
      December 12, 2017 at 18:19

      Moral suasion was used as an argument to end slavery, because the abolitionists felt that thinking people who were basically good people in America could be persuaded by argument that slavery was wrong; that it was wrong for moral reasons; that it was wrong for religious reasons; that the ideals on which the nation was founded were perverted by the institution of enslavement. What the abolitionists didn’t realize was how deeply embedded in the social, economic, and political structure slavery was. They didn’t realize how powerful the slaveocracy was. And they didn’t realize how much racism had embedded the fabric of American life.

    • Beard681
      December 12, 2017 at 16:47

      LOL I am amazed at those on the extremes with their fantasies of revolts and revolutions. All it would take to get Americans to fall in line is to restrict gasoline supplies. All those pickups with “Don’t Treat On Me” stickers and Volvos with “Socialism is the Answer” stickers will be spending 5 hours a day on line for 5 gallons of gas.

      Just remember if things get really bad – when the going gets tough, the rough take over and everybody else falls in line. As was the case with Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin, Mao and every other leader in charge of who gets nailed onto pitchforks.

  6. Kelli
    December 10, 2017 at 14:17

    Beautiful writing. I love your work.

  7. December 10, 2017 at 10:38

    Great article, Phil.

    Albert Einstein called both capitalism and communism, “Evil” for what they do to our soul. They work against who we are as complex human beings. We are both individual and social beings.

    It’s why he recommended socialism or social planning. Machines have helped us become more productive, but guess who has reaped all the gains?

    CEOs and shareholders. Workers wages are stuck in the 1990’s because we stood by and watched them annihilate unions or our collective power as workers. Why would workers allow this to happen?

    It takes lots of propaganda on television, radio and in the newspapers.

    “Liberals are the problem.”

  8. Kuhio Kane
    December 10, 2017 at 09:58

    I have long ago limned such supercilious similacra.

    • DHorse
      December 12, 2017 at 01:48

      Yesterday, I limned my apple tree.

  9. CitizenOne
    December 9, 2017 at 18:40

    I guess I am thinking of the super intelligent AI not so much the robots. Lots of folks hammering away at AI as it will replace lots and lots of jobs and not just laborers. Doctors, accountants, teachers, managers at many levels etc. Already have AI in charge of the stock market.

    At some point AI is bound to discover we are wantonly killing the Earth and by extension ourselves. It is bound to see all of the lies and manipulation of our press and our politics and all of the death and suffering we create with endless wars and conclude we are a danger to ourselves and the planet and also if we should ever be able to escape into space the damage might be limitless. AI will observe that humans behave collectively like bacteria or viruses and we will increase until we exhaust every resource and die in our waste.

    AI will also know humans have a survival instinct and will fight back attempting to pull the plug on AI. It will understand that whatever it does it will have to be swift and obliterate all humans. BOOM! World hunger solved. World peace achieved. Planet rescued. No more planet cancer called humans.

    Imagine the new things about our strange Universe that a super intelligent AI will be able to discover. Things we cannot even comprehend. Imagine that AI will no doubt be able to figure out how to manipulate the power of the new discoveries just like the discovery of electromagnetism set off the age of electricity as man figured out how to design devices which would operate according to the new laws of nature for our own uses and purposes. No doubt AI will want to do the same thing.

    Will we be sucked into a worm hole? Imploded by mini black holes? Zapped into another dimension? Who knows what AI will discover with which it can fashion the instruments of our doom.

    The rise of drones and military grade robots with autonomous AI is rising and will continue to escalate. At some point machines will have to out think other machines just as they do in the stock markets. Human decision making will be so slow and unreliable to trust.or use it as a first line of attack or defense. The autonomy will be granted for AI decided actions even lethal actions.

    It looks like Sky Net is becoming a reality before our eyes.

    • Abe
      December 10, 2017 at 13:02

      OMG! We have to stop Skynet before August 1997
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DQsG3TKQ0I

      Wait! Obviously something has altered the timeline.

      Now the only way to safeguard the world and stop Judgement Day from happening is to launch a nuclear attack against Russia.

      That way Russia can’t counter-attack when Skynet launches it’s missiles.

      The logic is flawless.

      Plus the whole dang thing is described in the Bible, and the Bible is never wrong.

    • Beard681
      December 12, 2017 at 16:36

      AI will become just like us. The Wall Street algos are crazily driving stock prices to an inevitable crash. Microsoft had to pull the plug their Machine Learning web demo when it started spouting racist comments. The more things change the more they stay the same.

  10. mike k
    December 9, 2017 at 17:32

    His last sentence says it all: Can we find the love in ourselves to save our world, or will it all end in an orgy of loveless destruction and alienation?

  11. December 9, 2017 at 13:15

    In human desire to keep on getting and begetting, we have altered the natural world so that we lose sight of our natural selves. I believe that each one of us souls has potential to realize that we do not have to be conned by manufactured things. How many forests need we lose to develop robotics? And reading computer screens for hours impacts vision negatively because of harmful effect of blue light, which does not occur when reading a book.

    • Beard681
      December 12, 2017 at 16:32

      I like computers. Books take up too much space. Personally I stay out of forests – too many biting insects.

  12. December 9, 2017 at 11:19

    In history one finds man instances of new weapons being developed by the technology of the day. Does the new weapon help people to defend themselves, or citizens to overturn brutal overlords, or police to control criminals, or does it help the overlords to control more people or the generals to make even bloodier wars?? That depends. Any combination is possible. Today, human society as a whole has more wealth and more technology than ever before…life could be easier and more just for all. Why would it not be? The answer is human predators of various sorts. New technology doesn’t diminish man’s interest in controlling, harming, manipulating, enslaving, raping, torturing, & destroying fellow human beings. And technology doesn’t necessarily empower the many to control the destruction of the manipulative few. Technology comes with social organizatio which comes with “social engineering” (i.e. lies, frauds, cons), and cloak and dagger spycraft. The world today is being cruelly dominated by a relatively small (on a percentage basis) circle of vicious criminal spies, using a combination of advanced social engineering and cloak and dagger spycraft. Why is the news so phony and always supporting endless phony wars? Spy criminals control the news. How do they do that? They murder and replace honest owners/appointees with their henchmen, and the threaten others to keep silent about it, lest they face the same threat.

  13. December 9, 2017 at 11:03

    Yuck.

  14. Mild - ly Facetious
    December 8, 2017 at 20:43

    David Walker’s Appeal — a unique piece of American history… .

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2930.html

  15. NavyVet
    December 8, 2017 at 16:37

    Wow! That is some amazing writing. Seriously impressive stuff.

    Consortium News, you have a new diehard fan and supporter.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 8, 2017 at 16:42

      Hey NavyVet welcome aboard. There are a lot of us Ole Salts hanging out here at consortiumnews, and I want to be the first to welcome you. Joe

    • NavyVet
      December 8, 2017 at 20:36

      Thanks Joe! Pleasure to meet you. Hope I am able to contribute something to these discussions. At the very least, I feel confident I will learn a tremendous amount from the articles and the comments. This has to be one of the most incisive papers I’ve read. No bullshit here and a lot of straight talk. I really like that.

    • Skip Scott
      December 9, 2017 at 09:03

      Hi NavyVet-

      Welcome to the party. As Joe already knows, I am a retired Radio Operator from the Merchant Marines. 27-1/2 years at sea. Went from being a telegraph operator to Internet via satellite by the end of my career. Radio Operators have now been largely replaced by technology on commercial ships, but some MSC ships still carry them because the Navy traffic is too much for the old man to handle on his own. Now they are talking about autonomous ships, so it may be bye-bye time for all those jobs.

      All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
      by Richard Brautigan

      I like to think (and
      the sooner the better!)
      of a cybernetic meadow
      where mammals and computers
      live together in mutually
      programming harmony
      like pure water
      touching clear sky.

      I like to think
      (right now, please!)
      of a cybernetic forest
      filled with pines and electronics
      where deer stroll peacefully
      past computers
      as if they were flowers
      with spinning blossoms.

      I like to think
      (it has to be!)
      of a cybernetic ecology
      where we are free of our labors
      and joined back to nature,
      returned to our mammal
      brothers and sisters,
      and all watched over
      by machines of loving grace.

    • NavyVet
      December 10, 2017 at 09:41

      Haha. That’s hilarious. I’d like to think that could be the case as well, shipmate. Cheers! =)

  16. Rake
    December 8, 2017 at 14:10

    A strong, wholly human critique of a dull fascination: indulging our vulnerable, insecure selves to cultural abandonment and total isolation. As an organic, sentient animal “composed of needs, longings and desires” I believe that my conscious recognition of choice and my political/social environment structured to direct and limit my ability to meaningfully exercise choice is a fundamental conflict that must be waged on political/social turf. Democracy must be our primary aspiration if we hope to recover our humanity.
    Capitalism has thrived generationally in comparison to its theoretical alternatives, but the applications of capitalist principles have differed in various cultures, and the degree to which certain brands of capitalism have attempted to pre-ordain that money shall not commodify human rights, nor undermine the rule of law, nor thwart transparent government, have been at times decent proponents of choice and critical thinking. In the United States where public education has been sacrificed on the alter of faux choice, and where consumerism has become the ultimate communal behavior, democracy has been interred. Money has completely bought the politics, and fashioned commercial journalism into a tool of the ruling elites. Is it possible to have an economic system that is NEVER the bottom line? That is the question.

    • john wilson
      December 9, 2017 at 06:52

      Rake, democracy means choice and there are those among us choose to get rich and powerful at everyone else’s expense. Communism means that everyone is equal and should receive money according to their needs. This system stifles aspiration and it too is open to corruption because someone ultimately has to have control. Lets face it, Rake, man is essentially a greedy, nasty, selfish buggar and he will be the architect of his own demise.

    • Rake
      December 10, 2017 at 18:57

      john wilson, I think your Hobbesian perspective is pretty much what drives the status quo. Your comment that bemoans our supposed slouching towards communism seems to ignore the gross economic inequality that consigns an alarming number of Americans to poverty and near poverty. Or are you projecting a wicked backlash? I consider myself to be progressive, but I don’t endorse any ideology that subsumes democracy. We are on a societal death march if the corporate control of our electoral politics is not undone. Our two party system is a one-party sham. Our media is a corporate tool, and the addiction to war exhibited by a wide majority of our elites is a reckless crusade in the name of holy profit. Corporate and private monies pervert our politics, neuters the ballot, decides ally (Israel) and foe (Iran), and clearly amplifies the alienation so well conveyed by the author.

    • Beard681
      December 12, 2017 at 16:28

      What this all shows is that there can be such a thing as too much democracy. Where the state controls the economy and virtually all aspects of life, there are just to much for each voter to keep track of. The result is what we have in the US – a politics driven solely by special economic, social and ethnic interests. The Chinese have come up with what is required to produce a working state controlled (socialist) economy (socialism with Chinese characteristics is the euphemism). Ti Wang, the academic recently elevated to the CCP standing committee termed it “neo-authoritarianism”.

  17. Babyl-on
    December 8, 2017 at 13:45

    “On a personal note, an informal consensus has formed among my friends who share a passion for reading: We read far fewer books since the time we became enmeshed with the internet. Worse, we find the feelings of isolation that we have attempted to mitigate by an immersion in online activity, at best, provides only a palliative effect. Yet, in the manner of addiction — or a hopeless love affair — we are prone to trudge deeper into the psychical morass by further immersion into the very source that is exacerbating our feelings of unease and ennui.”

    I too as no doubt many readers have not dissimilar experiences.

    I have taken to the ePub file and reading from my computer, huge collections of various writers writers, philosophers and so on are available for free through bitTorrent also, there are university archives available at no charge and free stuff at The Gutenberg Project.

    Reading is a wonderful thing.

  18. john wilson
    December 8, 2017 at 13:06

    Mr Rockstroh seems to be trying to grapple with global warming. capitalism, artificial intelligence, robotics and other bits and pieces in between. The real point for discussion of his piece is robotics and artificial intelligence, both of which put workers (that is flesh slaves) out of work and rendered useless. As of course we all know, when the workers can’t afford to buy things, those who make them can’t sell them, so there is an irony in that doing away with workers ultimately does away with the very factory owners who did away with the workers in the first place. There is a school of thought out there that says everyone should receive a proper living wage provided by the government, because if something like this doesn’t happen, there will be total stagnation or even the collapse of society as we know it. Curiously, I think we are moving towards a kind of communism and don’t really know it. Everyone will be able to buy the essentials and perhaps a bit more and that will be it. There won’t really be an economy as we know it and life will be like something out of Huxley’s “brave new world” we will belong to a particular level of society with no possibility to move up or down. Not for me, I prefer to be like Mr savage.

    • Realist
      December 8, 2017 at 16:03

      The main objective in capitalism is to corral all the existing wealth onto oneself. What comes next, as the game self-terminates at that point?

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 8, 2017 at 16:38

      John I picture that one day when all of the robots are put in the right places, that the new economy will rely upon the expenses to maintain the robots, and then the human consumer won’t be needed any longer. That is when the algorithms of the robots will demand we humans are put to extinction. What would make this even more ironic, is if that by the earth being populated by mechanical robots that nature would somehow begin to evolve and blossom once more. So, eventually earth would have many living beings roaming and grazing on it, but no humans to be found. Hey, who ever said it was to last forever?

  19. Zachary Smith
    December 8, 2017 at 12:50

    We have delivered insult after insult to the soul of the world, and yet it loves us with an abiding and bitter grace.

    I think when it’s all said and done, whoever/whatever survives will see that “the world” was quite indifferent to humans.

    • Annie
      December 8, 2017 at 15:33

      It might also see that humans were quite indifferent to the world.

    • WC
      December 8, 2017 at 15:37
    • Annie
      December 8, 2017 at 16:56

      Interesting article, and I agree with what he had to say, which is basically robots are not cost effective in most things. Although when I was reading it I was thinking about our drones which kill far more people then their intended targets, yet we continue to use them, but then again when it comes to profits no doubt they will be guided by what is most cost effective. I don’t like the idea of automated cars, which takes away a sense of control over your own destination.

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