The Importance of Social Conservatism

So, I just put up a quick post on Menzies House that I am sure will infuriate everyone here. Indeed, if John and co don’t call me a fool for writing it I shall be most disappointed! But here it is in full. Also,  I am sorry for publishing on MH first and not here – I pledge that my next libertarian-themed post shall come here fist, and I shall use MH to drive traffic to Thoughts on Freedom! 🙂 So here goes!

So! I think the time has come for me to once again alienate everyone who reads this blog, and raise the ire of conservatives and libertarians alike! 🙂

I do this for a very simple reason. Specifically, I do not think most conservatives understand just why achieving their aims through the coercive power of the state is totally counterproductive, and, more pertinently at the moment, I am rather convinced that libertarians in Australia don’t realise the importance of social conservatism to achieve their aims. Which is not only strategically to our detriment, but something that, on the random off chance of a libertarian revolution, will lead to a social catastrophe of epic proportions.

Allow me to explain.  Even if we ignore the fringe elements of the now thoroughly-discredited liberaltarian movement (those people who seem to advocate rank hedonism as a necessary lifestyle choice) almost all libertarians have taken a very similar position on social matters: “You run your life how you want to, it is no business of mine as long as the state is not involved.” Which is a nice ideology in theory, but in practice, I worry that it is one that shall degenerate into total and utter failure. Because with the moral vacuum caused by the exodus of government, unless something comes in to take its place, society shall go to hell in a handbasket. In the same way that the years immediately following the collapse of communism in the USSR led to morally repugnant economic practices, I fear the same may happen in social matters if we achieve our aims, but are not careful about how we do so. Indeed, the older I get, the more I find the traditional libertarian position unsatisfactory, and somewhat of a cop-out.  To deny the real problems of broken families, of drug abuse, of the consequences of actions – this is naivety at the extreme. Which is why the only possible way libertarianism can succeed in the political sphere is by combining it with social conservatism in the personal/societal one. For if we do not do so, we shall have a world without shame, a world where everything goes. And a world that shall rapidly become a nightmare.

The impetus for this post of mine was Andrew Bolt’s piece today. I quote:

But I’d like to know how she was allowed to so forget herself and her dignity—to forget why it was shameful to get drunk, smoke dope, drive too fast, abuse the helpless or leave our children far behind in our wake.

I can’t believe that she did all this forgetting by herself. Oh no, not at all.

Maybe a generation or three ago, someone like her would at least have had a priest in her ear once a week booming: remember! “Thou shalt not.’’

Now, of course, most priests find the only people who turn up on Sundays are too creaky to need tying down with sermons.

No, these days the young and frisky must get their little homilies from government advertising instead—30-second messages of don’t smoke, don’t be a bloody idiot, don’t gamble, and talk to your children.

Mr. Bolt has a point that I think far too many libertarians ignore. As a society, we need constraints and strictures on people’s behavior. Libertarians rightly believe that these should not come from the State, but most of us pay little attention to the fact that something must fill the void.

Allow me to simply sketch out one example, that of the War on Drugs. The use of the coercive power of the state to forbid people from taking drugs – quite literally at gunpoint – is, in my mind, morally reprehensible. However, no-one in their right mind could argue that a drug-fueled society is one that shall be good for all. Sure, some people can handle drugs in the way there are functioning alcoholics, but for the most part, it is a net societal ill, and the more it can be minimized, the better off we all are. Hence why social pressures are so important. If we, as libertarians, want to get the state out of legislating morality, then we must take care to prop up social structures that take its place.

I have already discussed at length how government regulation is the root cause of most things social conservatives find abhorrent, and  how by reducing the size and scope of government most social conservative goals will be realised. But I really want to go further than that. I want to argue that the only way we can achieve a society free from government coercion  is by buttressing the social fabric of civil society. Removing the chains of government does not mean every individual should be free to pursue every vice. Rather, it ought mean that civil society should grow up.

As such, libertarians ought not endorse drugs, ought not endorse families out of wedlock, ought not endorse rampant hedonism. Rather, they must do the opposite. They must join forces with their traditional foes – the social conservatives – and recognise that the only way to achieve their policy aims is to ensure our civil society is based on a strong social conservative ethos. Because otherwise, the Sodom and Gomorrah society that shall emerge shall quickly fail and burn.

This isn’t only something that is tactically sound, or something that will ensure greater political gains. Rather, it is the only way we will be able to get a great society to flourish.

(Cross-posted at Menzies House)

45 thoughts on “The Importance of Social Conservatism

  1. Moral decline! Think of the children! I mean, really? Why do libertarians have to uphold conservative values? In my view, a society that is not based on rigid and authoritarian social structures is more likely to remain free from coercion.

  2. I agree, Tim. The best society is one with a Libertarian Political structure, and a Conservative culture. Libertinism never seems to last. Prudence, and self-restraint, instill self-discipline, and the ability to reach your goals. Whilst the English did not have strong gun control laws in the past, the toughening of the laws was because of growing government nannyism, not because England was more trigger-happy than the Wild West!
    In fact, I think you’ll be disappointed by how many libertarians agree with you. Benjamin Payne seems to feel that conservatism automatically means political power, but I didn’t draw that inference from your article.
    (To a libertarian, gun control should mean- use both hands!)

  3. my position is pretty much exactly the same… libertinism is socially disruptive, and you can see it quite clearly is what the mainstream is pushing these days, and look at the social cohesion it causes. so many of these so-called ‘liberated’ people are just using their philosophical position to cover for being spoilt little brats bouncing from one party to the next, and they won’t abide you trying to point this out to them, if you are stupid enough to get in their face, they call the dogs on you.

  4. Tim,

    If you seriously believe anything that you wrote in this post, consider me your enemy.

    And if you dare attempt to impose your pathetic, irrational, misanthropic, logically-demented excuse for a moral code on me, expect me to exercise my right of self defense.

    I could go on about all the economic advantages and developments enabled by an anti-authoritarian culture, but I won’t. You can read Schumpeter.

    Fusionism has caused more damage to free market economics than any other doctrine. Yes, its as bad as Marxism, if not moreso.

    Take your Punishment Capitalism elsewhere.

  5. Tim, as a dedicated conservative, I am just so happy that you libertarian pricks are starting to wise up. I was arguing policy with a Liberal Party State President up here about 30 years ago and saw the light when she pointed out that the Progress Party would just let people do anything they liked. Can’t have that shit going down.

    Take the way libertarians are outraged over the cops making a kid deflate his tyres and walk home for not wearing a helmet. It was nearly 10 miles from where Daniel Morcome got snatched from for Christ sake. I mean if he had got grabbed, it’d learn him to wear his helmet. Shit mate you just gotta keep them safe.

    One thing I can say for those Yanks is they really know how to conduct a War on Drugs. The wife muttered something about inhuman but I told her, “that’ll learn the silly bitch for eating bagels when pregnant.”

    Mate, I need your advice on how to keep ahead of those lefties. I have been working solidly with a conservative think tank dedicated to solving the problems of California, you know, high unemployment, business sluggishness (despite all those regulations), and so on. You wouldn’t believe it but the liberals in San Francisco just sorted the whole thing with quick decisive action.

    I seem to be getting through to guys like Nuke, but seriously, people like ., jc, Yobbo, Terje, David L, and company are just so stuck in their ways I am starting to starting to think they are some sort of conservatives themselves. 🙂

  6. I believe one of the biggest barriers to growth for the libertarian movement is the misconception that somehow free market ideas go hand-in-hand with social conservatism. This fusionism (or misconception of) is a massive burden, and will often put the most important people – young people – off the movement.

    Give me moral decline over moral dictum anytime.

  7. Tim

    interesting article.

    i too have never had any time for the ‘no government’ school of libertarianism as it is has never ever happened anywhere anytime in history. some power always emerges.

    i dont think this post is as controversial as you might think, though. only the loony wing of the libertarian movement would advocate a libertine state of anything goes.

    ps – where is the Tea Party movement in Oz?

  8. I’m more inclined to favour “moderate excess” than absolute moderation.

    It’s fine to overeat, get drunk, use drugs, have casual sex or pursue other hedonistic pleasures.

    I think these things only become a problem when they become lifestyles rather than hobbies.

    I’m actually opposed to the idea of ETHICAL (rather than political) social conservativism. If anything I think we need less conservativism, less prescriptivism and more people being tolerant of other lifestyles and more people being willing to try new things.

    We all seek “the good life” and I think that emergence, or as Hayek puts it “Spontaneous Order” is the best way to find it. By allowing people to go off and make mistakes and face the consequences we’ll see society trending towards the “best” kind of life, anyway.

    By trying new foods and even risking death we’ve been able to develop our culinary skills and experience a rich diversity of flavour. As it is the conservative Western mindset towards food deprives many people experiences and opportunities that’d “better” their lives.

    We, as people, should happily step outside the expected patterns of behaviour, for that’s how we find the “good”. And even if we don’t want to behave differently ourselves we should at least applaud those that do.

    That said often tried and true things ARE just good. We shouldn’t totally disregard previous judgements about what is healthy, happy or harmonious. There’s enough evidence that a life dedicated to drugs, for example, is not fulfilling. There’s evidence that some foods are poisonous and others are almost universally foul. The traditional family model has had a great deal of success. But emergence doesn’t rule out people sticking to what they know- it just says that conservative mindsets should never become prescriptive.

  9. Tim, when you can explain the reasons and history behind currently illegal drugs being illegal, then you can proclaim with a straight face that a “drug-fuelled society” would be hell on earth.

    The fact is that most of the drugs that are today banned have nothing to do with moral reasons, and everything to do with protectionism, racism and the fact that the existing user base was so small at the time of banning that there was nobody around to argue in their defense.

    Alcohol is far, far worse than any of the currently illegal drugs, and it’s not even close how much worse it is. Yet, society seems to get along fine without requiring an army of militarily-equipped police officers to force people to not drink.

    And when they tried to ban alcohol, they *really did* get a hell on earth, to the extent that the United States is still paying the penalty for their failed attempt to control alcohol consumption.

    In other words you are completely wrong, you have no idea of the effect of drugs or how harmful they really are, choosing instead to believe the scary-tales told by police with vested interests and priests who would be out of a job if they didn’t make you feel guilty about something. I suggest you avail yourself of an ecstasy tablet or a line of cocaine, try it out and then come back and tell us about how horrible it was.

  10. “Even if we ignore the fringe elements of the now thoroughly-discredited liberaltarian movement (those people who seem to advocate rank hedonism as a necessary lifestyle choice)…”
    Got a reference to this particular movement? I can’t think of a single libertarian thinker, living or dead, who has promoted hedonism as a necessary lifestyle choice.

  11. I agree with Stuart.

    Fusionists make the most dynamic, innovative, tradition-destroying, novelty-generating economic system ever look like the exact opposite.

  12. Hmm. That was meant to be read as the fringe of the liberaltarians, not that liberaltarians themselves are totally fring. So I will happily concede it isn’t a mainstream position. But I certainly have had conversations with people who seem to believe it!

  13. Okay, so, I think you all know that _most_ of that post was motivated because I like to troll.
    I do, however, want to make a slightly more serious point.

    Conservatives portray what libertarians want to achieve in a very strawman fashion – the sodom I mention. We all know it’s a load of crap, but it is a successful attack against us. And one that convinces a lot of people.
    I genuinly do believe that, simply from a PR perspective, that when it comes to social issues, the best strategy for libertarians is to incorporate the concerns of conservatives and to talk more about them. In the same way we take great pains to explain this in terms of economics (how abolishing the welfare state will lead to a flourish of volunteerism and so on), as a selling poitn I think we need to do more to address the social stuff.

  14. Wow, that’s an even harsher response than I intended to get! Still, despite the fact that I actually do believe a couple of things in that post, not considering you my enemy. Sorry. I think it’s going to have to be a one-sided enemy thing for the time being…

  15. Hi Tim:

    Are you perhaps confusing American social conservatives and small government types in the same way that Australian social conservatives are not? You’re much more likely to find that in the US than here.

    I fully understand your position on some of those issues like drugs. However I tend to think those sorts of problems do resolve themselves. Drug legalization is not drug advocacy but an open admission that prohibition doesn’t work … that it’s worse.

    How many people would not take a drug simply because it’s illegal?

    Out of wedlock kids is a problem. However you can blame a great deal of that on the way society has moved towards acceptance of that sort of thing, whereas in the past shunning a woman’s behavior worked… a libertarian method by the way. The reasons I believe a whole other story.

  16. Excellent article Tim. You are a wise young man.

    My only concern is that civil society will struggle to grow while the government is crowding it out. The “social pressures” that you rightly note are very important in life have been weakened by government regulation & prohibition.

    Indeed, you could almost say that one of the best reasons for liberalising moral laws is that it will strengthen real civic morality once more. After all, it is difficult to make your own moral decisions when the government has already made them for you.

  17. Jim, that drug-addict is also… a red-head! You know what trouble THEY cause! And aren’t governments soon going to start a War against obesity? She deserves it!!!

  18. You do get that there are a great many people who don’t share your views on drugs right? Many of them are no more harmful than what you can get from a chemist.

  19. All recreational drugs (and medicinal) drugs are harmful if used in excess (what’s “in excess” varies by drug and individual by a great deal of course), and there should be social pressure (your friends and family telling you off basically) on people to discourage people from using them to excess, but the laws regarding their use should be minimal or non-existent, which is what I believe Tim Andrews was arguing for.

  20. I largely agree, I think most “defective” behaviours should be controlled through the use of social pressure instead of the threat of government violence. Using the drugs example in my ideal society cocaine would be legal, but rarely used due to strong social pressures not to abuse drugs from people’s friends and family (and the rest of society as well).

    At the moment I fear that our social leaders seem to be trying to go the opposite way; lots of laws, and very little social pressure. I suspect it might be a vicious cycle that’s causing this: people not bothering to express their disapproval of defective behaviours results in the (preceived) need for more laws which results in people not feeling the need to express disapproval (because the government has already “handled it”).

  21. “Moral decline! Think of the children! I mean, really? Why do libertarians have to uphold conservative values?” Well, why do social conservatives have to uphold adults-only libertarian values? Your questioning is circular. Small family businesses are often paying through the roof for “kewl” libertarian social experiments.

    But in any case, some people actually believe that an unborn child is not a useless eater, and has rights to a life and freedoms. Some people feel that child prostitution is a prison not a path to freedom. Granted, it would be nice to imagine that some freedoms don’t offset other freedoms. Still, we live in a real world – not some libertarian fantasy constructed in a think tank.

  22. Ben thinks legalising prostitution is the same as supporting child prostitution.

    Either he’s a serial calumnist or very, very dumb.

  23. I think it is dangerous to start arguing for social conservatism in the ethical sense. Why is it any business of the libertarian’s, whether drugs, promiscuity, family structure have important ethical considerations? We should only argue that personal freedom is up to individuals themselves, and to the (non-coercive) judgement of society. Maybe we don’t like drugs and divorce, but only as individuals, not as libertarians. As libertarians, what people want to do without coercion is what they should be allowed to do. There’s nothing more to add.

    What then, if the only way to stop the ‘decline’ of moral society is to use coercive force? You’ve failed in either of you’re beliefs.

    Once upon a time, people dressed up to eat at the dinner table, children were seen, but not heard and people of different sexual persuasion were vilified. Even pencils with rubbers on the ends of them were derided as a moral decline. At that time, people thought in made sense to defend these traditional practices, for the ‘moral good of society’. Are libertarians going to risk making the same mistake again?

  24. He wasn’t saying “in excess” though, was he?

    “Sure, some people can handle drugs in the way there are functioning alcoholics, but for the most part, it is a net societal ill, and the more it can be minimized, the better off we all are.”

    Seems to me this fails to acknowledge that many people take drugs regularly without becoming addicted or those drugs having any negative effects on them whatsoever. Just as some people drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics.

  25. Oh – so prostitution is now bad for children but somehow a “right” for teenagers – in spite of the fact that our brains are still developing in our twenties. In point of fact, some libertarians in the past have openly endorsed and/or downplayed the dangers of child prostitution. Still, I’m glad you have loads of compassion for people when they slip through the cracks of your ideology. Very classy.

    And what’s your excuse for terminating “useless eaters”? It is also a statement of fact that brothel owners hire children – but where there’s a market there’s always an excuse, right?

    I guess taxpayers will just have to pay for their counseling services and STD pills too. And if they fall pregnant we can always abort their “useless eaters.” Hold a gun to the taxpayer’s head in the name of “liberty”? Right.

  26. Ben Peter Turpster sez:

    “Oh – so prostitution is now bad for children but somehow a “right” for teenagers – in spite of the fact that our brains are still developing in our twenties. In point of fact, some libertarians in the past have openly endorsed and/or downplayed the dangers of child prostitution. Still, I’m glad you have loads of compassion for people when they slip through the cracks of your ideology. Very classy.

    And what’s your excuse for terminating “useless eaters”? It is also a statement of fact that brothel owners hire children – but where there’s a market there’s always an excuse, right?

    I guess taxpayers will just have to pay for their counseling services and STD pills too. And if they fall pregnant we can always abort their “useless eaters.” Hold a gun to the taxpayer’s head in the name of “liberty”? Right.”

    You Sir truly are an idiot. You’re basically saying we should make the age of consent 25.

    “In point of fact, some libertarians in the past have openly endorsed and/or downplayed the dangers of child prostitution.”

    Bullshit. This is a low rent slur. They are libertines, sick fuckers and have no care for children and we will not truck with them.

    You can’t tell the difference you braindead virgin.

    “And what’s your excuse for terminating “useless eaters”?”

    Are you a fucking moron Turpster? But I repeat myself. Euthenasia should be ONLY up to the patient in palliative care, with appropriate checks and balances and well drafted legislation. If a “useless eater” (your phrase, not mine) wants to take themselves out…who is the victim you chronic dickhead?

    “I guess taxpayers will just have to pay for their counseling services and STD pills too.”

    Only in as far that we have a socialised medical system, which they pay high taxes for – you do realise that legalised prostitution REDUCES the rate of STI/BBV infection, don’t you?

    “And if they fall pregnant we can always abort their “useless eaters.””

    How the fuck is this different from anyone else you brain damaged freak? Who has more safe sex: a working girl or a drunk girl getting picked up at a bar? You don’t think the girls get a heap of vaccines/and use the pill? How would a period or pregnancy help their means of income? You dill.

    “Hold a gun to the taxpayer’s head in the name of “liberty”? Right.”

    Please identify the level of net subsidy given to prostitutes and terminations after legalisation vs net subsidies and temrinations related to the insidious baby bonus.

    No doubt the ridiculous policy was cooked up and supported by the nuttier fringe of the simeltaneously uneducated, vulagr and grossly out of touch and unpopular religious right you belong to.

  27. ….as long as the real motive of the social conservatives for resisting change is not that they fear losing their privileged positions of power and wealth.

    … and what about the those social conservatives that see the need for greater social cohesion that go to great lengths to encourage the return to traditional values such as religion. Dosen’t this increase skepticism and social divison. This is a formula for conflict.

    Joining forces with the social conservatives at best, only slows the decline of our freedoms.

    You can’t implement worthwhile (libertarian) change via our current political system.

  28. You may consider a fetus a human. You may think it has a right to life and freedoms. But in the words of Rothbard:
    “What humans, we may ask, have the right to be coercive parasites within the body of an unwilling human host?”

    Seriously though, Ben. Once you start actually getting some, you’ll realise sex isn’t a big deal.

    Prostitution has its dangers, but so does mining, building and installing insulation.

    So does going to school actually, especially if you’re a gay kid growing up in a society rampant with homophobia.

    Ask Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Raymond Chase, Seth Walsh or Brandon Bitner…

  29. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link Friday – 12 November 2010

  30. Yes I’d agree with this, and the Tea Party is a good example. It should be a libertarian movement, but it comes across as a bunch of religious conservative rednecks. How much of this is left wing media spin I don’t know, but that’s the overall impression.

  31. While not all may appreciate the forthrighteousness of Timothy’s words, and even though his critique may jag many a defensive Libertarian reflex, how many of us, if we are truthful, are not to some extent already adrift in increasingly unsettled waters, our rudder of no use because we have lost our ethical bearings? And who that is truthful to their God, if their God is not a false idol, cannot say that the cause of their moral compass’s false readings is not very much the empty but self-perpetuating nature of capitalism and the hedonist pursuits it elevates above true community, together with a failure to acknowledge the social limits of tolerance and the need for an externally-calibrated moral compass?

    No man is an island, yet on the internet late a night how many men row alone, creating an environment in which the social fabric frays, leading ultimately to atomisation and moral decay, evident among other things in the pervasive fornication, which Timothy alluded to, among our most vulnerable – our children? Tex certainly did, before our intervention, and JC is another whose addictive behaviours and inner cries for help draw us back here in a dream. Meanwhile, Rome burns while little children suffer, but the capitalist machine continues on its destructive path, cheered on by Libertarians and others blinded by their human arrogance.

    So thank you, Timothy, for shining a light in some of the dark corners of the ethically deregulated world. You may not be thanked by Libertarians for this, but at least you can say that you paddled your own canoe.

  32. “true community”

    What’s a false one?

    “externally-calibrated moral compass”

    There is no morality without free will.

    You’re so full of shit. I hope you’re taking the piss.

  33. If Jones’ is a troll he is an epic one.

    In Jones’ perfect religious utopia, I would imagine a family would be allowed to trade a loaf of bread to another family for a bottle of milk? Bingo. Capitalism. Capitalism is simply the sharing of resources between people for mutual benefit. True community is capitalism. Money is only an intermediary for barter.

    “yet on the internet late a night how many men row alone”
    …and what are you doing?? Time to get back to your bible. In fact if you look closely, you can see that Jesus is a libertarian, or so I’ve read.

  34. Exactly. J. Jones cloaks his fascism in euphemisms.

    Also, the false consciousness argument he makes, i.e. “anyone that is truthful to their God, if their God is not a false idol, will know there is something wrong with Capitalism and its hedonism etc.” False consciousness arguments are the refuge of the intellectually dishonest cowards that can’t bear to see their worldview put up to empirical testing.

    As usual, Jones sees only two sources for morality; divinity and society – both “gods” in the minds of those that anthropomorphize abstract concepts.

    Anyone that thinks Ayn Rand’s villains are unrealistic needs to read Jones’ posts.

  35. While a certain directness of language and playfulness of rhetoric is not to be unexpected on a forum like this, I had hoped that at least some respondents might seek to engage the arguments utilising the tools and disciplines of rigour, rather than the defensive reflexiveness and faux disdain so evident in the responses to my modest message. After all, I came here not to criticise Libertarians – one can love the sinner while still admonishing the sin – but to attest to them and indeed to praise them, or Timothy at least, for his forthrigtheousness in taking the first strokes to shining a light on some of the dark consequences of ethical deregulation.

    No man is an island, as should be evident, yet I take comfort from history, recalling that I was similarly chided and chastised the last time I visited this site, at least initially. I know the defensive ego-preserving reflexes of human arrogance, and that surrendering often takes time. I can attest that it is worth it though, and a first step can in fact be to feel ideological discomfort when confronted with the truth as it is written, for a degree of madness is often the first port on the route to true love and community. This was the way with Tex, last time I was here. And now Timothy has charted that course and taken the first strokes down that stream; the question now, at the risk of being direct, is whether others will follow in his wake, or remain anchorless in the increasingly stormy waters that Libertarianism, like other forms of human arrogance, inevitably foment.


  36. An epic, classic trolling…many lulz…

    Possibly done by a humourous commenter with the use of a bot.

    I dunno. Most people who think they have a direct hotline to God have all the thinking capacity of a really shit computer anyway (and have voices in their head).

    The only pleasure we have is that “Jones'” conegers are getting bounced out of politics and if he said this puerile crap in public, he’d be dragged away by men in white coats.

    Wasn’t he outed as a “once well respected economist” who regularly trolls catallaxy as a self proclaimed troll at one stage?

  37. This is such self-indulgent, self-righteous drivel, it barely notes mention. You’ve already precluded me, as well as all other libertarians, as sinners. I thought that only God could judge that, but I suppose you know better than God right?

    You seem to think that people should be imposed to morals that you believe in. The God from the bible believed that free will was of utmost importance, and so did not force others into moral good and worship. Yet you as a mere arrogant human, want to force others to follow your morals? Sounds like libertarians are closer to God than you are.

    Are you going to respond to anything I write, or just ignore it, and blather on in colourful, but empty language?

  38. Everyone that claims to have a hotline to god also, conveniently, has a god that agrees with every single one of their own moral beliefs.

    It is merely an advanced-stage rationalization for his own unconcealed desire to use the power of the state to impose their own pathetic excuse for a morality on people that don’t agree.

    Going on about needing to “surrender” and damnation of “human arrogance”… he might as well say “We are the borg, resistance is futile.”

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