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Revisiting Arendt’s Thought as Darkness Threatens the West

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“Under conditions of tyranny, it is far easier to act than to think” -Hannah Arendt

Various historians and cultural anthropologists have urged us lately not to conflate too easily Communism with Nazism. This admonition goes back to a book which appeared in 1945: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism which analyzes these two major totalitarian movements of the 20th century, namely Nazism and Stalinism. The book did not appear in its English version (titled as The Burden of our Times) till 1951. It became a classic on the subject.

Few scholars would deny that this book has played a major role in shaping the way international affairs have been viewed, from the second half of the 20th century onward. Perhaps more than any other treatise, it has contributed to the way people with a liberal outlook have grappled with the totalitarian ideas and regimes of both the right and the left. To a large extent, this book entrenched the concept of totalitarianism and characterized this type of regime, stressing the shared characteristics of Nazism and Communism, despite the many differences that can be discerned between them.

It is difficult to classify Arendt’s volume on totalitarianism as a book on philosophy, history, political science or mass psychology. Perhaps it would be better listed under Cultural Anthropology. In fact, it is a treatise about the history of culture that is overarching and all-encompassing in its scope, and in this respect it is in the tradition of all-embracing works like Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West or Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History or Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, or Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” or even Vico’s New Science.

Nevertheless, despite this difficulty, to this day, Arend’t treatise continues to offer one of the best insights into totalitarian movements and regimes. It afforded the West the ideological infrastructure needed to see the Cold War not only as a struggle between two superpowers aspiring to world hegemony, but also as a continuation of the fight against totalitarianism as such, whether it comes from the right or the left.

The enormous complexity of The Origins of Totalitarianism arises from its interweaving of an understanding of the concept of totalitarianism with the description of its emergence and embodiment in Nazism and Stalinism. In the 60s it was a must book for many college students, including myself. Now that Nazism had been disposed of, it was felt at the time, we needed to understand the origins of that other totalitarian system, Communism, as it presented itself at its origins under Lenin and Stalin.

Arendt seemed to be saying that the two were two sides of the same coin; she seemed to conflate them into each other. At least that was the most common interpretation at the time to which some scholars objected. We must remember that the 50s were the times of Mc Chartism which suspected and looked for a communist under every bed. After World War II, the West did in fact face an intricate problem: while Nazism and Fascism had been defeated, this victory, if truth be told, had been made possible largely thanks to the cooperation and help of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Before 1945, the war could be depicted as pitting the “free world” against the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini, but the strong-armed Communist takeover of Eastern Europe made it difficult to continue clinging to this fiction. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that totalitarianism has been identified by many historians as a brutal, and, thanks to modern technology, potent form of political tyranny whose ambitions for world domination are unlimited.

Disseminating propaganda derived from an ideology through the media of mass communication, totalitarianism relies on mass support. It crushes whoever and whatever stands in its way by means of terror and proceeds to a total reconstruction of the society it displaces. Thus a largely rural and feudal Russian Empire, under the absolutist rule of czars stretching back to the fifteenth century, was transformed first by Lenin after the October Revolution of 1917 and then by Stalin into an industrialized Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Similarly, a Germany broken after its defeat in World War I, was mobilized and became the conqueror of most of Europe in the early 1940s less than a decade after Hitler’s assumption of power. In China the People’s Republic, by taking the Great Leap Forward in 1958 followed by the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966 and ending with Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, expunged much of what remained of a Confucian culture that had survived for more than three thousand years.

Now, according to Arendt the nature of totalitarianism is the combination of “its essence of terror and its principle of logicality” As “essence” terror must be total, more than a means of suppressing opposition, more than an extreme or insane vindictiveness. Total terror is, in its own way, rational: it replaces, literally takes the place of, the role played by positive laws in constitutional governments.

But the result is neither lawless anarchy, the war of all against all, nor the tyrannical abrogation of law. Arendt pointed out that just as a government of laws would become “perfect” in the absence of transgressions, so terror “rules supreme when nobody any longer stands in its way.” Just as positive laws in a constitutional government seek to “translate and realize” higher transcendent laws, such as God’s commandments or natural law, so totalitarian terror “is designed to translate into reality the law of movement of history or nature,” not in a limited body politic, but throughout mankind. The goal of totalitarian terror is to become universal in theory and practice.

Jerome Kohn, who is the Director of the Hannah Arendt Center at the New Social University writes this in his essay Totalitarianism: the Inversion of Politics: “Arendt concluded that Hitler and Stalin discovered that the eradication of the unpredictability of human affairs, of human freedom, and of human nature itself is possible in ‘the true central institution of totalitarian organizational power,’ the concentration camp.

In concentration camps the combination of the practice of terror with the principle of logicality, which is the nature of totalitarianism, ‘resolves’ the conflict in constitutional governments between legality and justice by ridding human beings of individual consciences and making them embodiments of the laws governing the motion of nature and history.

On the one hand, in the world view of totalitarianism the freedom of human beings is inconsequential to ‘the undeniable automatism’ of natural and historical processes, or at most an impediment to their freedom. On the other, when ‘the iron band of terror’ destroys human plurality, so totally dominating human beings that they cease to be individuals and become a mere mass of identical, interchangeable specimens ‘of the animal-species man,’ that terror provides the movement of nature and history with ‘an incomparable instrument’ of acceleration.

Terror and logicality welded together equip totalitarian regimes with unprecedented power to dominate human beings. How totalitarian systems accomplish their inversion of political life, above all how they set about destroying human conscience and the plurality of unique human individuals, staggers the imagination and confounds the faculty of understanding.”

Arendt’s primary contribution to the understanding of totalitarianism lies mainly in her contention that the totalitarian movements, both fascist and communist, provided an answer to the masses facing the disintegration of traditional European society, with its hierarchies, norms and accepted modes of behavior. Modernization and democratization, it emerges, did not in fact elevate “the people” but often, rather, the “masses” or the “mob,” an observation already made by conservative writers like Jose Ortega y Gasset. According to this perspective, fascism and communism were not a continuation of the historical dictatorships based on ruling classes or conquests exemplified by European aristocracy. They represented a new kind of tyranny, nourished by the alienation spread by modern life. The individual, “the common man,” is entirely cut off from moderating or restraining affiliations. He has nothing in his life but the idea that connects him directly, with no need of institutional mediation, to the movement and the leader.

Hence the mass marches and pageants — whether in Nuremburg or in Red Square. Hence the intoxication from the stunning individual experience of marching together with tens of thousands of others to stirring music and flags waving still going on in Communist North Korea. Hence, too, the creation of an intrusive bureaucratic machine, accompanied by a secret police force and concentration camps, with hierarchical and rigid discipline binding together a population with no other foci of identification. What enthusiastic belief does not do, fear will, and the combination of the two is tremendously powerful. The cruel irony is that the totalitarian society really is a classless society that could therefore be headed by nonentities like Hitler and Stalin or closer to our times, a Donald Trump who is already been hailed as a saving “leader” by all the far right white supremacists and racists of the country. The illusion is that the Constitution and its provisions of checks and balances will ultimately prevail. One hopes so, but that remains to be seen.

In fact, today we know far more about totalitarian regimes than Arendt did when she wrote the book. Nevertheless, Arendt’s descriptions continue to be read with great excitement, just as Arthur Koestler’s novel “Darkness at Noon” still provides insight into Stalin’s purge trials in Moscow and why it disappointed convinced communists such as Ignazio Silone. It must be pointed out however that of its three sections of Arendt’s book, only the last focuses on totalitarianism; the first two are entitled “Anti-Semitism” and “Imperialism.”

In the section on imperialism, Arendt devotes a chapter to the rise of the pan-German and pan-Slavic movements and, surprisingly, depicts them as evidence of the decline of the nation-state. However, historical research, like the statements of those selfsame pan-movements, indicates that they are clearly nationalist movements taken to the extreme. For instance, pan-Slavism was an expansion of Russian nationalism, aided by the national movements of other Slavic peoples. And German nationalism at its most extreme was not satisfied with the unification of Germany. The pan-German ideology saw itself as the clearest expression of German nationalism, and therefore saw the ethnic Germans living in other Eastern Europe countries as an integral part of the German people and the Third Reich.

Her key statement on this issue, which pervades her entire discussion of anti-Semitism, is that “modern anti-Semitism grew in proportion as traditional nationalism declined, and reached its climax at the exact moment when the European system of nation-states and its precarious balance of powers crashed.” It was in fact the rise of the modern nation-state, and the challenges it faced, that led to the sharp increase in anti-Semitism. Moreover, the rise of aggressive anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe is directly connected to the rise of nationalist movements and nation-states there. As nationalism thrived and achieved its political aims in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, anti-Semitism increased when the nationalist movements had to confront the existence of a relatively large Jewish minority in their territories.

As Arendt would have it, there were no poor Jews living on the margins of European society, managing to live with difficulty and without political and civil rights; the Jews were all bankers, financiers, court Jews and privileged, or in her generalizing language: “The Jews had been purveyors in wars and the servants of kings.” Moreover, Arendt seems to be unaware of a major fallacy in her account of the Jews’ role in the rise of absolute monarchies and the modern nation-state: Several of these countries had few or no Jews living in them at the time of their emergence as modern nation-states. Spain, for one, had expelled most of them at the very time when Spanish absolute monarchy was being consolidated.

According to Arendt, “the Jews” always supported the governments in power in whichever country they were living, but the truth is that the number of Jews in the revolutionary, liberal and socialist movements was far greater than their representation in the overall population. “The Jews,” continues Arendt, were responsible for the hatred felt toward them because of their communal seclusion, their non-involvement in politics, their concern solely for themselves and their non-participation in social and class struggles.

But one can argue precisely the opposite, that it was the disproportionate prominence of Jews in politics — especially liberal and socialist politics — that gave rise to anti-Semitic criticism. Examples range from Karl Marx and Eduard Bernstein in Germany to Ferdinand Lassalle in France; Jews were also heavily involved in the Communist revolutions in Bavaria and Hungary after World War I, and clearly in the Soviet revolution. Indeed, this was one of the classic anti-Semitic canards of the 19th century and of the Nazis in the 20th.

Despite the above critique it is misguided at best to see Arendt as a person tainted by Jewish self-hatred as some scholars have declared in their review. To the contrary, she was a courageous analyzer and fighter against anti-Semitism and Totalitarianism. That’s why she wrote the book in the first place.

Considering all the Trojan Horses planted all over the EU as we speak and hiding those in waiting who’d love nothing more than to install a totalitarian system in their country and all over the world; furthermore, considering the ominous centrifugal forces at work in the EU threatening its unity, we’d do well to interpret Hannah Arendt’s thought as a Cassandra-like warning to us, and we’d be wise to heed it.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

The Social Innovators of the Year 2022

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Mikaela Jade. (Image: Veuve Clicquot New Generation Awards)

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced today 15 awardees for social innovation in 2022.

From a Brazilian entrepreneur using hip-hop to turn Favela youth away from crime, a Dutch nurse revolutionizing home healthcare and a park ranger turned tech founder using Minecraft to revive Australia’s Indigenous culture, the 2022 Social Innovators of the Year includes a list of outstanding founders and chief executive officers, multinational and regional business leaders, government leaders and recognized experts.

The awardees were selected by Schwab Foundation Board members, including Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark (2011-2015), and social innovation expert Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance in Germany, and H.M. Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Honorary Board Member, in recognition of their innovative approach and potential for global impact.

“The Social Innovators of the Year 2022 represent a new ecosystem of leaders who are driving change and shifting organizations and systems towards a more just, inclusive, sustainable future,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The Schwab Foundation’s unique community of social innovators dates back more than two decades to 1998 when Hilde Schwab, together with her husband Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, created the foundation to support a new model for social change, combining often-overlooked values of mission, compassion and dedication with the best business principles on the planet to serve the most disadvantaged people on earth and build a better society.

Today, the foundation has a thriving community of 400 global social entrepreneurs that have impacted the lives of 722 million people in 190 countries. They offer access to healthcare, education, housing, finance, digital skills and advocacy networks resulting in job creation economic opportunity, improved health and stability.

To help the social enterprise sector increase its reach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Schwab Foundation established the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs early 2020, representing 90+ members and an estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs as the largest collaborative in the sector.

“This year’s Schwab Foundation Awardees demonstrate that through values-based approaches centring on inclusivity, collaboration, relationships of trust and long-term sustainability, we have proven ways of changing institutions and mindsets, and disrupting traditional ways of working that hold systemic barriers in place,” said François Bonnici, Director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The 2022 Schwab Foundation Awards are hosted in a long-term partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, founded on the philosophy of “Ubuntu”, the African concept of giving and caring for your neighbour and other members of your community.

“I strongly believe social entrepreneurship, combined with local innovation and technology, can create meaningful change and recovery in Africa and many developing nations. At its core it is about bringing together the best of business discipline and efficiency with the best of human and social values. We need this synergy, now more than ever,” said Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Co-Chair, Motsepe Foundation and Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

The 2022 awardees are:
Social entrepreneurs

Founders or chief executive officers who solve a social or environmental problem, with a focus on low-income, marginalized or vulnerable populations.

Ashraf Patel, Co-Founder of Pravah and ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC), India: For almost three decades, Patel has nurtured inside-out youth leadership with collective organisations. This ecosystem has co-created the right space, context and narrative that has reached over 15 million young people.

Celso Athayde, Founder, Central Unica das Favelas (CUFA) and Chief Executive Officer, Favela Holding, Brazil: One of Brazil’s best-known social entrepreneurs, Athayde founded the nation’s largest social enterprise focused on favela communities, using music and sport to transform their lives.

Jos de Blok, Founder, Buurtzorg, Netherlands: de Blok is revolutionizing nursing around the world with buurtzorg, meaning neighbourhood care, which puts nurses and patients at the heart of its social enterprise model.

Kennedy Odede, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), Kenya: Passion, 20 cents and a soccer ball were the building blocks for Odede’s social enterprise SHOFCO, which is transforming urban slums and providing economic hope.

Marlon Parker, Co-Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) and Rene Parker, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, RLabs, South Africa: Marlon and Renee Parker grew a Cape Town community project helping ex-convicts into a global social enterprise that has helped around 20 million disadvantaged people by offering tech skills, training, funding and workspaces.

Mikaela Jade, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Indigital, Australia: From park ranger to tech founder, Jade founded Australia’s first Indigenous edu-tech company using augmented and mixed realities to preserve and teach Indigenous culture and history.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, Taghyeer/We Love Reading, Jordan: Dajani sparked a global reading revolution, training female volunteers to read to kids. We Love Reading now operates in 56 countries, benefiting nearly half a million children.

Wenfeng Wei (Jim), Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DaddyLab, People’s Republic of China: “Daddy Wei” is a social media champion for safer consumer goods. His enterprise DaddyLab is a one-stop shop for trusted product testing, consumer rights advice for families.

Corporate social intrapreneurs

Leaders within multinational or regional companies who drive the development of new products, initiatives, services or business models that address societal and environmental challenges.

Gisela Sanchez, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Strategy and Sustainability Director, Bac International Bank and Board Member, Nutrivida, Costa Rica: Nutritional food firm Nutrivida, the brainchild of Gisela Sanchez, combats a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, known as hidden hunger, that affects 2 billion people.

Sam McCracken, Founder and General Manager, Nike N7, USA: A member of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes from the Ft Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, McCracken founded Nike N7 20 years ago with a vision of using the power of sport to promote cultural awareness. It demonstrates Nike’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the Indigenous populations of North America. Today, N7 has benefited more than 500,000 Indigenous youth.

Public social intrapreneurs

Government leaders who harness the power of social innovation social entrepreneurship to create public good through policy, regulation or public initiatives.

Pradeep Kakkattil, Director of Innovation, UNAIDS, Switzerland: Kakkattil founded global platform HIEx to link innovators, governments and investors and find solutions to global healthcare problems, from COVID diagnosis to the cost of medicines.

Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Global: Pradhan has been a tireless champion of good governance and fighting corruption, leading a partnership of 78 countries, 76 local governments and thousands of civil society organizations that are working together to make governments more open and less corrupt.

Social innovation thought leaders

Recognized experts and champions shaping the evolution of social innovation.

Alberto Alemanno, Professor of Law, HEC Paris and Founder, The Good Lobby, European Union, France: Alemanno is passionate about overcoming social, economic and political inequalities. His civic start-up, The Good Lobby, kickstarted a movement for ethical and sustainable lobbying.

Adam Kahane, Director, Reos Partners, Canada: Kahane is a global leader in helping diverse teams of leaders work together, across their differences, to address their most important and intractable issues. He has facilitated breakthrough projects in more than 50 countries on climate action, racial equity, democratic governance, Indigenous rights, health, food, energy, water, education, justice and security.

Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, Inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, USA: Han is a leading academic and author on collective action and the way citizens can collaborate to solve public problems and influence policy, from immigration to voting rights.

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New Social Compact

Grace and a Tennis Celebrity

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image source: Wikipedia

Among the character traits we cherish in fellow humans, grace is often more noticeable in its absence.  The recent saga of a Serbian tennis player and his manner of entry into Australia and subsequent events come to mind.  A champion athlete cannot help but serve as an ambassador for his country, and in Serbia’s case, after the horrors of the Yugoslavia civil war and its prominent role, it is a country that needs all the help it can get. 

Novak Djokovic is ranked number one in the world and is in Australia to defend his title.  He appears to have lied on his Australian entry form:  False declarations are grounds for revoking a visa, and immigration officials acted.  But as world number one, he is a draw for the tournament … and money talks — he is already scheduled to play his first match as this is written. 

Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers went to court which overturned the immigration officials’ order against him on the grounds they had not followed proper procedure.  Then the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who had been thinking about canceling his visa actually did.  So it’s back to court.

But it gets worse:  Djokovic has not been vaccinated.  He claims that having had the illness, he is immune.  Scientists have found that to be of short duration.

He also broke isolation rules after he had tested positive, particularly by not isolating himself, thereby endangering his contacts.  Cavalier his behavior maybe, perhaps careless but possibly a sense that rules are not for celebrities, only for lesser mortals.

That it caused a sense of outrage is apparent.  A leaked video has a couple of news anchors discussing Djokovic in not very flattering terms:  “Novak Djokovic is a lying, sneaky asshole”, says one.  Yet the comment also is evidence of a coarseness that has gradually pervaded language.

In the meantime, Mr. Djokovic’s father has his own take on the affair.  He calls it a conspiracy to prevent his son from breaking the previous record of 20 Grand Slam title wins held by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because they are all against Serbia.  But Serbia, which still believes in little Jesus and is thus protected, will prevail.

Would aphorisms like ‘a storm-in-a-teacup’ or ‘mountains out of a molehill’ be descriptive?  Not if it’s news across the world.  Yet, if he continues to rant on the tennis court and win, it could be his way of getting rid of nerves, an eternal bugaboo. 

He must have another crucial concern:  the biological clock.  At 34 going on to 35 in five months, and with much younger rivals snapping at his heels, it has to be a race against time to win that 21st major title.

Just like grace notes relieve tedium in music, perhaps Djokovic’s rants relieve the boring baseline game that modern tennis has become.  No more a Frank Sedgman or a Pancho Gonzales charging up to the net to put away a dramatic volley, tennis now needs a grace note, or two, or three …  

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New Social Compact

Age No Bar: A Paradigm Shift in the Girl Child’s Marriageable Age in India

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Image source: indiatoday.in

India is a country known to have diverse culture, languages, social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief system, religions and their personal laws. With personal laws governing succession, adoption, divorce etc, one of the most important aspects governed by the personal laws is Marriage. Indian society has a deep-rooted belief of marriages being the most sacred bond between two people. Every religion of the country gives utmost importance to this sacred bond. Since this bond is of such great importance to the Indian society and to the people of the country, the legal system and the personal laws have made efforts to legalise the sacred bond. There are conditions and requirements laid down for the marriage to be solemnized and get a legal sanction. One such important condition is “age”. According to most of the personal laws and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 the legal age for a man should not be less than 21 years of age and a woman 18 years of age. Recently the government introduced The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years

Introduction of this bill shall prove to be a ray of hope for people struggling to curb the evil of child marriage in our country. One cannot claim progress unless women progress on all fronts including their physical, mental and reproductive health. The Constitution guarantees gender equality as part of the fundamental rights and also guarantees prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex. This bill would bring women equal to the men as far as the legal age of marriage in concerned. Under the National Family Health Survery-5, it is stated 7% of the girls aged between 15 and 18 years were found to be pregnant and nearly 23% of the girls in the age group of 20 to 24 were married below the age of 18 years. There are researches to point that from 2015 to 2020, 20 lakhs child marriages have been stopped.

In my opinion, increasing the age of women from 18 years to 21 should not be seen solely as an equal opportunity for them to choose their life partners at the same age as that of men, but this is a step taken by the government to eradicate child marriages that still find way in to our society. It should be seen as an effort to bring down maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate. It shall also try and curb the teenage pregnancies, which are extremely harmful for women’s overall health as well as the infants born out of it. We also have to take into consideration that a large part of our society still lack basic education and awareness about these laws and the advantages attached to it. We as educated citizens of the country should take extra efforts in making people aware and to make them understand about the disadvantages associated with child marriage and the overall consequences their children would face in the future. We should appreciate the efforts taken by the government to tackle gender inequality and gender discrimination adequate measures taken to secure health, welfare and empowerment of our women and girls and to ensure status and opportunity for them at par with men.

*The Views Expressed are Strictly Personal

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