We must build our own dawn: an offering in memory of Mahatma Gandhi

May humanity and all the living creatures of this earth benefit from the memory of Gandhiji and his works. May our children live long, live free. May we build a new dawn of peace on earth, goodwill toward all. May all beings be happy.
Mahatma Gandhi stood for and died for truth, self-reliance and integrity. He showed us the efficacy of integrity in human affairs to a depth seldom displayed among men: a man fully integrated in congruency of thought, word and deed. To think one thing, say another and do a third is to lie, to dis-integrate. Gandhi was an integral man: he did not lie, nor did he engage in secrecy. By contrast, today’s world is a sea of lies in which the biggest decisions which affect the lives of billions of people, and perhaps even the future of all life on earth, are made in secrecy behind closed doors and sealed in classified documents. We live in a disintegrating society, one of escalating mindless violence.
Even language itself is being slaughtered, when, as Arundhati Roy notes (The Algebra of Infinite Justice, 2002), it is being systematically employed to mask intent and to create a breeding ground for exploitation in the space between what is said and what is done. The space of lies. It is in this space that a new kind of imperialistic war of scorched-earth destruction is being fought. The battleground is mind-space: the aim of conquest is human consciousness itself.
Without a moral compass, neither individual nor society can navigate the storms of life. Unless we can find the Pole Star of Truth, we are in big trouble, with the very survival of civilization in jeopardy. Even now, having created a world gone mad with the violence of its greed, can we say we are civilized? Are we humane?
The Mahatma is not with us except to the extent we imbibe his example of truth, self-reliance and integrity into our individual lives. We must build our own dawn.
At the University of Chihuahua in northern Mexico, an international conference was held in 1991 to debate the USA-controlled World Bank’s plan to finance a pulp paper mill project which would destroy the last remaining old-growth forest of the Sierra Occidental. Facing an audience of trade officials, bureaucrats, scientists and environmentalists stood an elder of the Tarahumara tribe, in his hand a cheap pulp magazine. Gazing calmly at the bankers and industrialists, the Tarahumara spoke softly: “You are cutting the last of our trees to turn them into this. The forest is the life of my people. When you have cut our trees, we will die and you will read this.”
A few miles from the University, Tarahumara women and children live in burrows dug into mounds of garbage at the city dump. At a remote village in the Sierra, a Tarahumara elder had told me, “My young men want to fight. I tell them no. We must be patient.”
Politically correct public statements of “concern” notwithstanding, the State’s actual volition was revealed to me by the request of a peace activist conference attendee for me to fly her to a remote village without filing a flight plan. She had just spoken at the conference to expose the timber mafia – government nexus in which corrupt bureaucrats seek bribes in exchange for logging permits in protected areas. Visibly shaken, she said “My life is in danger, I must get away quickly.” I dropped her off at the edge of a short, nasty little crosswind dirt strip on a ridge crest near Pino Gordo.
I had come to Chihuahua as a volunteer pilot for an awareness campaign to fly opinion leaders for a first-hand look at clear-cut logging devastation, aimed at generating motivation to stop the World Bank. The Gulf War was on. The juxtaposition of these two American-financed operations crystallized in my mind as a kind of epiphany. I determined to leave my country forever, to remove myself entirely from its economic activity, to cease paying the taxes that finance its war-mongering greed.
I could not then have foreseen how much further we would sink into barbarian depravity, thrust by lies into the pathological insanity of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld State Terrorism.
Here in India, I try to implement the other component of non-violent resistance discovered by Gandhi to be essential to remaining psychologically whole: a program of positive constructive action in support of social and moral uplift. Although I fall far short, Gandhi’s example continues to inspire me.
We are not ruled by an Emperor these days, nor by a Prime Minister, Parliament or Legislature, but by an inhuman, dehumanizing System-Structure which owns, controls, markets and operates all of the above as a machine. And this machine is out of control, run amok. It is a cancer of exploitation-greed which is destroying – quite rapidly – the biological web of life on earth and the living, organic social body of humanity. Democracy, Self-Rule, is a sham in world ruled within the institutional framework which has arisen to protect the interests of criminally corrupt corporations, the real rulers of the world (although it may be argued that the ultimate rulers are the Central Bankers who print, own and debase through inflation the money which fuels the engine of commerce).
This Government System-Structure is the originator of war and ecological destruction. It is a death-machine which could well annihilate humanity if not soon dismantled and sent to the scrap yard to be re-cycled in accord with the “Fourth Revolution” of TN Khoshoo in Mahatma Gandhi, An Apostle of Applied Human Ecology (Tata Energy Research Institute).
“In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the government alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.” (Leo Tolstoy).
Johan Galtung, JUST Commentary, Vol. 2, No. 9, 2002
The title above says it all. Beneath the surface are the many documented case histories of States creating terrorists (e.g., the Reagan Administration’s creation of Jihadism and the US training of bin Laden) and supporting their activities. States need opponents and war to justify their existence as pawns of the military-industrial complex and international bankers who control the States. These entities need wars in order to have clients (often on both sides) to whom to loan large sums. To find the origin of a particular war, follow the money. States need bogeymen like bin Laden and will either find them or create them.
Is not desecration of the planetary ecosystem through Corporate Warfare State economic weapons of mass destruction in fact tantamount to slow-motion terrorism? Where else are we going to live? Is not the angst of watching helplessly one’s lands, waters, livelihood, culture be destroyed by stealth invasion of anonymous corporate financial forces the moral equivalent of genocide? Witness the current Indian State’s exercise of eminent domain to transfer hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland to multi-national corporations for industrial parks, displacing very large numbers of families from their ancestral lands, leaving them destitute and resulting in many deaths, especially of children. “Investigations” notwithstanding, huge bribes will never be disclosed.
Might Gandhi suggest we now ask ourselves: would I trespass my neighbor’s land, steal his crop, poison his well, cut his trees, rape his daughter? States and Corporations sponsored by them do it on a daily basis, financed by taxes on our labor. If I willingly support a political regime which does these things in order that I might have a higher standard of living and return them to office, do I not then have a derivative responsibility for their acts of destruction, terror and genocide? What is my responsibility if I merely acquiesce without protest? What is my responsibility to life itself? Is there some point at which, as a non-protesting tax-payer, I become an accomplice to murder, with blood on my hands?
The sitting President of a so-called “Democracy” is the same man who directs the extra-terrestrial ambitions of US security policy, pursuant to which laser and “kinetic kill” weapons systems are deployed in battle stations in space whereby “populations can be eliminated via remote control” (Admiral Eugene Carroll, USN, in JUST Commentary, Vol. 2, No. 6). Can there be any doubt that these deadly capabilities, in these hands, place into jeopardy our very survival? Did we the people consciously choose this destiny?
One of Gandhi’s clearest teachings is that on Means-As-End. It is the same as Buddha’s teaching on the Law of Cause and Effect. The end of any action is defined, predicted and included in the means. Means is seed, end is tree. They are inseparably linked. A good end cannot arise from immoral means. A neem seed cannot beget a mango tree. It is Law of Nature. My every action affects directly or indirectly the welfare of my fellowmen. The first moral law is Do No Harm. Because non-violence is my most fundamental moral responsibility, it is also my most fundamental human right. This means that I cannot be required to support or approve of the State in breaching the precept of Ahimsa (non-violence).
Gandhi said that one must be motivated by a great loyalty to humanity – the whole of it – which supersedes all other loyalties, racial or national. His concept of equality was based on the interconnection of all life; his rejection of tyranny and force was based on respect for divinity of all creation. His rejection of institutions such as Parliaments, armies and law courts arose out of his conviction that love is superior to force.
The System-Structure which holds us in thrall is inhuman and it dehumanizes. Gandhi writes, “The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence.” The State is organized violence, force, coercion. Power is the central motive of politics. Because of their financial and commercial power and their control of the media, corporations are the de-facto constituents of “representative” democracy, not individual voters. Our world is ruled, therefore, by corporations which exercise their sovereignty through the “Iron Triangle” of business-politics-military. The State is soulless and the corporations which control the State are soulless: nowhere is there personal accountability. We are controlled by a machine within a machine, neither of which has a heart. We have abdicated our moral sovereignty to the State, and thereby lost control of our destiny.
Beginning with Gandhi’s attribute of the State as “soulless machine,” let us further examine the inhuman character of the System-Structure which rules our lives, the primary and most powerful constituent of which is the modern multi-national corporation.
A corporation begins life as a virtual entity on paper, a concept wrapped in words. It is a legal abstraction, its “body” is a judicial construct. It is a designed process, a machine intended for a single purpose: to generate maximum revenue at least cost. It is not a living being. It cannot feel pain, sorrow, remorse, shame or compassion. Most of all, it cannot love. When it hurts people or destroys ecology, it feels nothing. It is incapable of feeling. Yet, under law, it is deemed a natural person with all the legal and political rights of a person except for actual voting. This is why corporations are so dangerous: they act in human affairs without feeling and with wholly selfish motives, driven by greed only. And they have become very powerful, often being more powerful than the host government of which they are a parasite. And the fact of their immortality changes everything on the scale of human values.
For corporations, nature, ecology, animals, people, even their own employees are no more than ciphers on a balance sheet, mere disposable objects to be used and discarded. Witness the infamous management dictum, “Change the numbers or change the faces.” They are absolutely ruthless in their exploitation. Look at Union Carbide’s behavior in the Bhopal disaster; Dow Chemical’s CFC’s depleting the ozone layer which protects entire humanity; Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq.
There are two fatal design errors of the present institutional system which place our survival at risk: (a) the basic design parameter is to foster greed and endlessly increasing unnecessary consumption which gives rise to predatory competition, envy and delusion. This sets up the spiral of escalating violence, hatred and ecological destruction. Since greed is known to be as old as life itself, a more sensible design would be based upon nurturing and supporting contentment, compassion and love. (b) The system protects perpetrators of violence from the consequences of their actions through the legal constructs of limited liability and sovereign immunity. It establishes as the major actor in human affairs a soulless corporate entity endowed with the economic and political rights (except actual voting) of a person, but without corresponding moral reciprocity, social responsibility and full liability. These are the entities which control politics and governments and brainwash the populace and sponsor war. Representative government is an illusion. Corporations rule the world.
To be ruled by corporations is to be ruled by inhuman machines in the absence of love. Pursuant to the Law of Cause and Effect and Gandhi’s equation of Means-End, how can we expect to escape the effects of what we ourselves have caused? If the goal (end) is satiation of greed and the means is exploitation facilitated by lies and backed by unlimited State power, how can we expect a result other than violence and destruction? The evidence of current experience and history indicates that the worst among us are attracted to the top echelons of State: those addicted to power and domination.
The disconnect between humanity and its institutions is because the institutions are no longer controlled by human beings subject to their conscience. These institutions are controlled by corporations which are non-human entities genetically incapable of acting with conscience. And the consciences of their mentally conditioned “robot-human” operators are often subsumed by personal ambition or need to survive. The employee’s success depends upon his contribution to profitability of an abstract entity, typically described by a balance sheet. He has become a member of a corporate “tribe,” and he draws his identity, esteem and security from approval of superiors and peers. To succeed within the tribe, which he must do in order to preserve his livelihood, he feels compelled to make his “tribe” successful at any cost. Other people – outsiders – don’t matter except to extent they are his market. It is subtle parasitic predation: this other person is not my brother, he is my meat for today. We are cannibalizing each other and destroying the earth in the process.
If the company man’s conscience is at all bothered, he may go into psychological denial because of his need to succeed within the corporate culture. This denial and dissociation extends beyond his inner self, to his relationships with others and the earth. Result is a subtle but profound alienation which desensitizes the mind to violence. According to Khoshoo, for an Indian, this dynamic will result in further alienation from his cultural inheritance: “Gandhi was no doubt a profound environmentalist, like Mahatma Buddha and Asoka the Great. The false idea that human beings hold supremacy over Nature is alien to Indian culture. Indians have been utilizers, not exploiters of natural resources. Had Indians in the past exploited anything like today, how could its great civilization have survived these 10,000 years?”
Khoshoo goes on to point out earlier agriculture-based urban civilizations that died because of their disregard for Nature: the Mediterranean, Lower Mesopotamian, Nile, Indus, Huang Ho and Mayan all peaked and crashed within the past 6,000-8,000 years. “Forests precede civilizations, deserts follow them.” It is pure arrogance to think we are exempt from this fate, even if we do not first blow ourselves up. Ecological security is the foundation of economic security – just as for the individual, “health is wealth.” Gandhi’s message is about respect for life.
If the commons of humanity, our ecosystem of land-water-air-forests-flora and fauna, were managed by actual flesh and blood human beings who were personally accountable and would have to look us in the eye while proclaiming stewardship, our chances would be good, despite many problems. However, so long as the commons remains under control of the soulless, heartless, conscienceless State-Corporate combine whose design code is exploitation for money and power, we are in jeopardy. The sheer wanton waste of the destruction is daunting. Nothing is sacred before the death-bound juggernaut that destroys ecology, poisons air and water, generates mass extinctions, fosters war and genocide in order to fulfill artificial needs created by media hype so that a few may entertain themselves with expensive toys in idle and useless pastimes, while the many are oppressed and exploited by the corporations and central bankers who own and control the system and the governments that dance to its tune. It is a dirge of human devolution, a dancing with death, a trashing of all that is goodness, beauty and truth.
To withdraw support from all-pervasive violence requires a certain love combined with Will. It demands one turn his back on all that is known and familiar, walk away from the battlefield (perhaps alone), and try to create a new life grounded in love and compassion. For the generation whose mind has been brutalized and desensitized by exposure since earliest childhood to the gratuitous violence of TV-internet-video games-MTV and cinema, it is difficult to conceive of withdrawal from a system which provides one’s livelihood and also seems “normal.” There is no mental ground on which can stand moral outrage. The ground has been washed away by mindless media, TV and deliberate State propaganda delivered through the public education system. The moral compass needle lies broken and useless. How can there be reverence for life when all one knows is an abstraction of it, a video image on a cathode ray tube?
Anyone who seriously considers Gandhi is eventually forced to confront himself and ask if he is part of the problem or part of the solution. Then comes the question, what next? Every person has both direct and derivative responsibilities for sustaining a peaceful society. The substantial abdication of these responsibilities is, I believe, a major contributing factor to our present situation. In the end, we collectively get the society we have earned: this is the Law of Cause and Effect.
Mind matters most. Each of us must begin with the only mind we can change: our own. It is possible to learn from direct experience that the natural mind of man in a purified state is one of love and compassion. One way this experience can be gained is through insight meditation practices. Mental purification through self-observation leads to inner peace. A compassionate mind can also be cultivated by intensive selfless service. A compassionate mind, being fearless, can act with detachment for the benefit of all. It can work in a peaceful manner to prevent exploitation, having learned to rotate anger into love. Only peaceful individuals can create a peaceful world.
Gandhi proved that all domination-exploitation is based upon some level of cooperation of the exploited. The power of any tyrant depends entirely on people willing to obey. Power resides in the obedience, not the imprisonment or the guns (Shepard, 1990). Gandhi said, “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without some level of cooperation of the people.” He successfully employed outright civil disobedience, non-cooperation and tax refusal. He proved that ultimate responsibility rests with we the people. By virtue of his example, we have no choice but to face this reality of human culture. He is echoed by the recent Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Vajpayee, saying in August 2006, “Politics can influence society, but cannot run it …. Politics cut off from society cannot hold for long.” (Times of India).
I think the modern System-Structure has evolved to some essential differences that render some of Gandhi’s methods inapplicable. We are controlled and manipulated by an inhuman machine that in turn dehumanizes us. It violates, brutalizes and desensitizes the human mind for the calculated profit of a few who are willing to murder. Those who hold sway over the mass mind manipulate our own mental defilements of greed, hatred and delusion for satisfaction of their greed, hatred and delusion. It is all a game played by manipulating the mass mind. Violence is everywhere because it is in the mind. The mental energy field of human consciousness is polluted. It is like the situation of a cancer that has metastasized throughout the entire social body.
Gandhi’s non-violent resistance was against overt physical occupation and oppression by foreigners. The struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr. in America was against oppression from a clearly identifiable source. By contrast, today we face a hydra-headed monster of pervasive moral oppression by defilements that have taken up occupation of the mass mind. There is no singular identifiable oppressor. We have participated in the creation of a System-Structure for which we support in office those who manipulate and oppress us. We are captives of our own ignorance, laziness and apathy. We permit our minds to be manipulated by media and hype and spin and everywhere lies. We must change our mind by resisting the urge of our own mental defilements which pull us to participate in the greed-artificial need-destruction cycle.
Those in power – acting through and behind the shield of sovereign immunity and corporate limited liability – will never voluntarily relinquish their dominion. And we cannot employ violence against anybody. The answer may be to withdraw participation and work to establish a parallel system based upon the highest human values, leaving the existing system to decay into irrelevance. If we can find a way to starve it of finance, it will collapse.
The best living cultural benchmarks before us are in remnants of agrarian cultures that have lived in relative isolation from modernization, such as Ladakh and Bhutan, where people actually know of healthy contentment and peaceful happiness even though living at material standards of comfort far below the so-called First World. We can study these societies for precepts of holistic community morality (although we must move quickly now, for they are rapidly being extinguished). See, e.g., Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge, as well as all of the works of the International Society for Ecology and Culture and of the Other India Press, Goa. We can also study what may be the longest-lived functioning democratic society, the society of monks in the Buddhist Sangha. Leaders can also learn much from research into the compassion-based governance of Emperor Asoka the Great.
We must work simultaneously at the levels of mind and form. Meditation techniques which generate individual inner peace are very helpful. There can be no world peace without peaceful individuals. One example is Inculcation of Values through Self-Observation courses, taught by Prof. PL Dhar, a Head of Department at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
At the level of System-Structure, the work of Ramaswamy Elango needs to be widely known. He has pioneered village-centered development on a large scale in South India. At a time when it is in vogue to belittle Gandhi, the great man is adored by Elango as the one who truly understood India. Elango came to understand early in life that there can be no individual happiness if there is misery all around. Elango is optimistic about village republics in India. He says “There is an emerging force not visible to the media and most people. It is at work changing India from below. This force cannot be stemmed.”
JC Kumarappa strongly influenced Gandhi with his assertion that man is not a wealth-producing animal, but a social being with spiritual, moral and political instincts. He theorized that an economy of permanence could be wrought with mutual cooperation. Elango is successfully implementing the ideas of Kumarappa through development of village republics.
Ancient wisdom of India postulates the Universe as a great mental force-field in which the most subtle, yet most powerful vibrations cannot be detected by man. It appears to me that findings of modern physics do not refute this. Nothing is faster, more subtle, more immeasurable than thought. Yet, it is of immense potency. The fate of we denizens of this force-field depends upon the nature, the moral quality of thought vibrations emitted into the flux of consciousness.
With TV, internet, video games and cinema as moral preceptor and mind conditioner of childhood, there is reason for concern that we might be finished as a species, gone to history only. Our minds are being brutalized, desensitized, conditioned by violence, debauchery, public and private lies everywhere, betrayals, adultery glorified, commercial predation glorified, all manner of egoism glorified. A great cancer is growing in the body politic and the vector of its malignant cells is the corporate construct of personal non-accountability for one’s decisions.
All beings love life and fear death. All of us suffer pain, disappointment, loneliness, fear, hope for dreams unfulfilled. Many suffer from physical privation, hunger, thirst, misery of grinding poverty in midst of filth. All of us have a tendency to do the wrong thing as well as to love. So we must live with compassion, we must love one another. We are all in the same boat. Again Gandhi: “The good of the individual is contained in the good of all.” Only through duty and responsibility is there real unity. Absent these, we are totally alone.
I submit that much of our alienation stems from abdication to the State of our personal responsibility and moral sovereignty. In my view, the State as a system-structure is a vehicle of collective madness. As a species, we seem to be facing a terminal mental illness, and the State as vector bears the same relationship to our disease as rats to the bubonic plague. The mere existence of the State, conceived in and sustained by violence, is admission of the failure of the human spirit: that we cannot live in peace and harmony, that greed and violence dominate our consciousness. How much of what we know of other cultures is derived from TV reports of the latest State bombing of their women and children?
If actions of the State were to be examined by the parameters of clinical psychology applied to an individual human being, the diagnosis would be chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological tendency to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty, an obsessive acting out of ruthless domination: criminally insane.
I feel we are a species that has lost its way. Witness Khalil Gibron in Sand and Foam:
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.
We fell them down and turn them into paper
that we may record our emptiness.”
Financing the drum beat of war by paying taxes levied upon the sweat of my brow has become intolerable for me. The pole star of peace beckons to quiet walks in the woods, or to comforting a child, or communing with a cow (so calm, gentle and nourishing, a cow). Communing with a cow reminds me of my identity with all that lives.
Unable to oppose its imperialistic destruction in any meaningful way, I left my country. It is my way of meeting my derivative responsibility as a member of the total human community. My choice was to participate as an automaton in the organized, systematic destruction of life or to withdraw from direct participation in the corporate-controlled society. I live on savings accrued through sale of my enterprises. I am a temporary guest in a foreign land, paying no tax to any jurisdiction, except whatever portion of the price of daily rations may include some unknown sales tax.
My human-ness knows not of national borders or “national interests.” My human-ness loves the life which conceived it. I would rob this life from no other being. We are interconnected and interdependent, all of us in the same boat trying to cross the ocean of samsara (incarnate existence). As Kurt Vonnegut says in A Man Without A Country, “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
Freedom and moral sovereignty are my birthright. No one has the right to deprive me of them. Just as my birth into a family of slaves would not bind me forever to slavery, so my birth under a particular State’s political system cannot bind my conscience to its depraved values. I have entered no contract with a State pursuant to which I waived my rights, assigned my conscience. No institution created by a preceding generation has valid authority to control my life, to conscript me to murder. Nor can the wastrel foolishness of a preceding generation obligate me to its debt. I have contracted no debt save for that which bears my signature.
I stand free and whole now only – how can the dead gone before me claim an enforceable contract over my life energy, of which they could not imagine or foresee, let alone bind by contract? I am bound by no constitution, nor by any tomes of so-called “law” created by forbears or so-called “representatives” unknown to me and to whom always I will remain unknown. Except I voluntarily agree or submit to forceful coercion, someone else’s rules cannot bind me. How can there be a valid contract where one party is anonymous, unsigned, protected by sovereign immunity, and thus unaccountable, non-responsible, and non-liable for consequences or specific performance? And yet, is it not by just such nonsense that the State would bind us to its rules? There is no accountable individual at risk of personal liability for actions of the State. Without mutual accountability, how can there be a valid contract?
I conceive as a great error of humanity its attempt to institutionalize life. This urge seems to originate in fear. It is a grasping for security that robs us of liberty, and finally of authentic living. How can we grasp life, any more than we can grasp the wind? Better to be born free, live free, arrayed like lilies in the field, than to cower behind desks piled high with musty books of the laws of institutionalized serfdom.
Many are now enunciating a stark choice for humanity: evolve or die. We must exorcise our arrogant ideologies, belief systems and mythologies. We are pressed, hemmed in on all sides by minions of State. The horizon is darkened with clouds of lust for power, promulgated by America as “full spectrum dominance” to be established by tactics of “shock and awe.” How to re-orient our minds? Each must find his own way, yet we must all help one another. This solitary work cannot be done alone. I offer brief recollections of experiences that might resonate with some, especially if the reader may be of the generation that remembers the movie Sound of Music, with lines of the song “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely.”
The following diary quotes are words evoked by experiences in the Grand Himalaya of India. “Against this awesome grandeur, one witnesses human wretchedness and realizes the depth of his moral responsibility – a universal responsibility toward all beings. May I learn from these mountain villagers fewness of wishes, and generosity. May I learn to simplify and to use least possible in order that others may live. Only qualities of heart and mind will accompany me to the next world, there to determine my destiny. May remembrance of untrammeled wilderness and a vibrant web of natural life not vanish from the mind of man. May beauty and the Mystery spark the latent urge to inquire within “Who am I? From whence have I come? Where am I going? How may I understand, penetrate the cause of birth, old age, decay and death? How shall I live?”
September 9, 2006
Jeff Knaebel [send him mail] is an expatriate American domiciled in India since 1995. He formerly practiced as a registered professional engineer, having been trained at Cornell Univ. and the Colorado School of Mines.

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