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Christopher Hitchens's New Decalogue

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William Crawley | 20:02 UK time, Saturday, 13 March 2010

This is one we've tried ourselves on the blog. If you were to construct a set of Ten Commandments for the contemporary world, what would you include? In this Vanity Fair piece, Christopher Hitchens offers a reading of the biblical ten commandments. In the accompanying video talk, included here, he presents his new decalogue. What do you think?

Incidentally, while we're still trying to devise a set of homiletical commandments, it's worth noticing that Christopher Hitchens's talk almost meets Archbishop Eterovic's 8-minute duration rule (he comes in at 7 seconds over the limit). Whatever you make of Hitchens's critique of the traditional decalogue or his proposed modern version, it's an impressively succinct oratorical performance.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.


    Christopher said he was concerned about discrepancies...

  • Comment number 2.

    Sure, but he's not claiming to be a god. Having said that, he does a better job of it than the worked-over Bronze Age Sinaitic moon pixie :-)

  • Comment number 3.

    Hitchens drives yet another nail into the antiquated beliefs that continue to infect Western cultures today. Actually the travesties are global but since the discussion is those wretched patriarchal rules then it is somewhat apt.

    @ William Crawley Please give me some credit as I posted that Vanity Fair link on another thread.

    Christopher Hitchens is a thrilling orator. His precise use of language makes reading the material or listening to him speak especially wonderful.

    The new rules for a good community as offered by Hitchens are excellent.

    BTW I'm still hoping that with the good news of the implosion in Europe of the Roman cult that the Vatican will soon be a world museum.

    Do any believers actually accept the 1st directive to not have any other gods because the new guy wants to be top dog or he'll whisper in the ears of violent men that they should smite ya'! What a guy!

  • Comment number 4.


    1) Heavily edited. What is he doing with his hands? For a while I thought he was cuffed.

    2) Doesn't he realise he's reading from a translation? Get a grip, man! Don't be so literal.

    3) Many commentators interpret steal as kidnap, partly because the prohibition against theft is covered in Leviticus.

    4) On the 10th Commandment; "You're forbidden to think about something."
    On his own No.2; "Do not ever even think..." Lack of consistency, Chris!

    5) His No.5; "Don't condemn people for their inborn nature."
    Not even if their inborn nature makes them "Psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions."? See his No.9

    6) The Anglo-Saxon expletive he utters on his No.8 is silly and unnecessary.

    7) "...it's an impressively succint oratorial performance."

    With respect, Mr. Crawley. You're easily impressed.

  • Comment number 5.


    Lucy, give you credit for what? Vanity Fair articles like this are everywhere; the only person who needs any 'credit' is Hitchens! I agree with you that Hitchens is a good orator. His strength lies in polemics, and he's infuriating to people who disagree. He doesn't get everything right, but I did like this take on the Ten Commandments.

  • Comment number 6.

    #4

    ...and that's not how we spell 'succinct'.

    >8-D

  • Comment number 7.

    Sorry the dullness of his tone put me to sleep there. I'm sure some day he'll make a contribution to science, if they ever start sending monkeys into space again.

  • Comment number 8.

    I do not like Christopher Hitchens. I don't think he believes one word he says. I think he is a self serving opportunist who figured out that he could make a lot of money on American television by playing to an audience that loves people who have found salvation in American capitalism. I am inherently distrustful of people who have had epiphanies in life. Hitchens was an extreme left winger like his brother still is. He parades on American TV as a newly minted US citizen who has discovered democracy, capitalism, and American conservatism as the route to truth and justice. He appeared many times on Fox News. But the old Hitchens still peeks through the disguise every now and then. For example, his position on the Israeli Palestinian conflict is just as Jew hating as it was in his self avowed left wing days. I think he's a liar. Personally I ignore what he says.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hitchens was an extreme left winger like his brother still is.

    Have you actually read any of his brother's stuff recently? For instance last year:

    I'm against the left. I think the left are wrong about almost everything, and unwilling to recognise that they are wrong because their initial intentions are good and they don't like admitting that there have been bad unintended consequences.

    The bloke's a fulminating right wing buffoon.

  • Comment number 10.

    "Jew hating"?
    What nonsense, Markie! You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Comment number 11.


    I quite like Hitchens. He's fun.

  • Comment number 12.

    @ MarcusAureliusII - Your hatred of Hitchens is evident but some of what you post is absurd, especially this bit:

    "his position on the Israeli Palestinian conflict is just as Jew hating as it was in his self avowed left wing days"

    FYI - Hitchens' wife is Jewish, he was married in a synagogue, has done the DNA genetic history and discovered his own Jewish ancestry.

    We all should be critical of the abusive Israeli regime and in doing so that does not imply anti-Jewish sentiment.

    Hitchens' insight and commentary on contemporary culture is outstanding.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hitchens: "The essential division of opinion is this: Did God make man or did men make many gods?"

    Let's assume that Hitchens is right that "the idea of God or gods" is a merely human idea, and does not reflect any kind of objective reality. I will assume also that Christopher Hitchens is a thoroughgoing materialist, in the sense that he does not believe that there exists any kind of "supernatural" reality (if that were not so, then I wonder what his atheism could possibly mean). I will also infer from what he is saying - and has been saying for a long time - that "the idea of God or gods" is fundamentally invalid and dangerous - especially since it is, according to him, untrue.

    As an atheist, Hitchens would have to admit that all ideas are merely "human", since they are the result of natural selection, and have been generated for the subjective purpose of survival. This includes "reason" itself and also the claim that "the idea of God or gods is invalid" - therefore these ideas themselves would not have validity, according to this own thinking.

    If Moses and the Hebrews simply constructed the idea of God to express their own personal characteristics, then logically it could also be argued that Christopher Hitchens - and those who take his position - have constructed their philosophy for a similar subjective purpose. You cannot have it both ways (well, I suppose you can have it both ways if you don't accept the validity and authority of logic, and therefore refuse to think). If all ideas are merely "human" - and we construct ideas to aid our own survival agenda - then we cannot decide that some of these ideas have objective validity and some do not. This is hypocrisy. Atheism is therefore just as much of a construct as religion, and tells us nothing about reality as a whole - if we take Hitchens' position to its logical conclusion.

    And the same could be said for his selective morality. There is nothing in his view of reality which tells us that we should follow his commandments. If someone wanted to kill, discriminate against those of other races, steal and lie, why could he not do so quite validly, if he felt that by doing these things he would be aiding his own survival within a process of natural selection? Morality and consistent Darwinism do not sit easily together. Hitchens is making huge assumptions, while condemning a way of thinking which (for all its supposed faults and difficulties) is the only worldview which provides a basis by which his moral injunctions can have any validity at all.

  • Comment number 14.

    Lucy Goosey;

    "FYI - Hitchens' wife is Jewish, he was married in a synagogue, has done the DNA genetic history and discovered his own Jewish ancestry."

    That means nothing. There are lots of self hating Jews in the world.

    "We all should be critical of the abusive Israeli regime and in doing so that does not imply anti-Jewish sentiment."

    I like most Americans and especially Evangelical Christians applaud what Israel is doing. If anything their actions under the circumstances have been very restrained. The world can condemn them all it likes, It did nothing to stop Europeans when they were slaughtering Jews like sheep. It will not dare do anything now. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are skating on very thin political ice in America when this subject comes up. They'd better watch out or they will fall in and drown. Jerry Falwell exemplified the attitude of many Christians in America when he said that Ariel Charon was put into a coma by god for having given Israeli settlements in Gaza back to the Palestinians. Evangelical Christians believe that Israel must again rule over all of the land that it ruled over in biblical times before Christ will reappear on earth, a time they live for.

    "Hitchens' insight and commentary on contemporary culture is outstanding."

    You are entitled to hold your wrong opinions.

    Grokesx;

    "The bloke's a fulminating right wing buffoon."

    That's what he'd have Americans believe. That his "shtick" for making money. I don't buy it. I say he is still the same rabid left winger he always was only now he's found a new way to make money. At least it worked for awhile.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am an amteur Biblical scholar. I have listened to Hitchen’s video and read his article. I agree that it’s about time we rethink (using the brains God gave us) the foundation of Judeo-Christian laws.
    The greatest commandment of Hitchens is this: "Mere fear of unseen authority is not a sound basis for ethics."
    Why would he say this?
    Because when you do things (or do not do things) on the basis of fear - because God is everywhere and watching you - it’s not about ethics, it’s about terror. You do things because you are terrified not to do them. You do them without thought, even without choice.
    If God had need to declare that He was God, there must have been other Gods from whom He was trying to separate himself – Egyptian Gods, Sumerian Gods, Amorite Gods, Malekite Gods - lots and lots of ancient Gods.
    This God of the Commandments is apparently a jealous God; you can’t have any God’s aside from Him. You can’t even take his name in vein. What kind of God is this? He seems insecure to me, afraid of your freedom, afraid lest you think.
    Hitchens sums it all up with this: “Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form.”
    I agree. The tablet form was man-made and is obsolete. It depends on people acting out what God dictates. They have no choice but obedience. Indeed at any moment God can get angry and demand that you go off and smite someone, even "though thou shalt not kill".
    You may even have to smite your parents, your brother, your sister, your friends. Isn't this what God demanded when some of his people built the Golden calf. Moses had left them, went up the mountain was talking to God. Would he ever come back? Afraid, some of the people reverted to the Golden calf. They danced; they tried to reassure themselves. Did God understand this aloneness? Did God feel compassion? Did he comfort the folks of the golden calf? No, God told Moses to get down the mountain quickly for the people were worshiping a calf. God told Moses,"Leave me alone so that I can destroy these people and make a great nation spring from you." (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 11)
    Moses managed to talk God out of doing this with a reminder of how embarrassing it would if the nations heard that God brought people out of Egypt and then killed them all. (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 11)
    "So God thought better of the evil with which the people had been threatened ." (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 14)
    When Moses reached the bottom of the mountain, he heard singing and saw revelry around the calf, and he dropped the two tablets and they shattered. He ground up the golden calf and made 'bitter waters' out of it, which he forced the people to drink, and then he turned on Aaron. And God, we are told, was so angry that he could have just about killed Aaron. "Who is on God's side?" (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 26)
    Moses asked, and the Levites stood beside him. He then ordered them to
    "kill your brother, friend, and neighbor." (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 27)
    Moses then announced that this was the day of the institution of the Levitical priesthood because by killing their brothers, friends, and neighbors, "you have brought a blessing this day upon yourselves." (Exodus Chapter 32 verse 29)
    Moses went up the mountain a second time, and this is preceded by language mimicking that of Exodus Chapter 19, suggesting again an original connection between these two narrative segments.
    "No one must go up the mountain with you. No one must be even seen anywhere near the mountain, nor must flocks and herds graze within the sight of that mountain." (Exodus Chapter 34)

    The Decalogue must be a “a work in progress”’ otherwise, human evolution – in the moral, ethical sense – stopped at the foot of Sinai.
    Since the persons coming out of Egypt were Jews, what other sabbath could they be referring to except Saturday? But in Exodus 20:8–11, the reason given for the day off is that “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.” Yet in Deuteronomy 5:15 a different reason for the Sabbath observance is offered: “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” Preferable as this reason may be, with its reminder of previous servitude, we again find mixed signals. Why can’t rest be recommended for its own sake? Also, why can’t the infallible and omniscient and omnipotent God make up his mind what the real reason is?
    As for honor they father and thy mother. If they have raised you well, okay, but if they have abused you, why should you honour them – except maybe to get your inheritence?
    Thou shalt not kill , yet the Old Testament is full of killing & murder; so, I guess it’s okay to smite if God tells you to smite, and you’d better not leave anyone alive when God tells you to smote because God will actually punish your mercy. "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have..."
    Yes, the commandments show every symptom of being man-made, improvised under pressure – a pressure to keep the Jewish people separate under one God whose name they were forbidden to pronouce.
    Let’s not forget those craven images: I expect that Christians are in the process now of destroying Christian iconography - crucifixes, statues of virgins and saints. You’d best get to it because “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” You don’t want your children to pay for your negligence, do you?
    How anyone can take the original commandments seriously is beyond my understanding; so, if you disagree with me, please pray for me.

  • Comment number 16.

    Helio, you recently suggested we might have to accept that LSV is a lost cause. Post 13 in this thread strong suggests you're right there. Just take one of his paragraphs,

    "As an atheist, Hitchens would have to admit that all ideas are merely "human", since they are the result of natural selection, and have been generated for the subjective purpose of survival. This includes "reason" itself and also the claim that "the idea of God or gods is invalid" - therefore these ideas themselves would not have validity, according to this own thinking."

    LSV can't even distinguish between the validity of an idea that is separated from anyones mind (no one has to be thinking an idea for it to be true, e.g. 1 + 1 = 2 was true before man or any other species learned to count) and what our instincts evolved into to make us better at survival. Tut, tut.

    And it's the same hopeless unreasoning in his next paragraph, where he writes

    "If all ideas are merely "human" - and we construct ideas to aid our own survival agenda - then we cannot decide that some of these ideas have objective validity and some do not."

    See previous answer, LSV should really learn to get his head around the concept that an idea having objective validity does not depend on whether anyone is thinking through that idea.

    Even when he gets something right he fails to see the correct implications of it.

    "Morality and consistent Darwinism do not sit easily together."

    How difficult is it for him to grasp that hardly anyone who accepts the validity of evolution derives his moral compass from it? Must be very difficult, as he has peddled that demonstration of ignorance of atheist thinking countless times, had had Helio explain why it's bunk (or to paraphrase Helio, 'cabbage') to him multiple times, yet manages to still not get it.

    Might as well give up Helio, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

  • Comment number 17.

    That's what he'd have Americans believe. That his "shtick" for making money. I don't buy it. I say he is still the same rabid left winger he always was only now he's found a new way to make money. At least it worked for awhile.

    I was talking about his brother, Peter, in response to your comment that Christopher was still an extreme leftie like his brother.

    Regarding Hitchens C's leftiness, I'm not sure he makes much of an attempt to hide his leanings, saying for instance that he is no longer a socialist but is still a Marxist. He made common cause with the neocons over Iraq, but there is a strand of the left in the UK, dubbed the "decent left" by their opponents whose views sit pretty close to Hitchens's.

  • Comment number 18.

    #16 - PK -

    "Might as well give up Helio, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see."

    Give up what?

    You go ahead and "give up" whatever it is you want to "give up". I really don't care. My purpose on this blog is to express my point of view in accordance with (as the Americans would say) "my first amendment rights". If my opinions are not to your liking, then all I can say is: tough.

    Or is it that you were trying (perish the thought) to proselytise me? How wonderfully evangelical. Convert me to a cause that, in the final analysis, has no meaning? How wonderfully surreal.

    As for your little dig at me for my imagined inability to distinguish between objective ideas and human instincts, you have not read properly what I wrote.

    I was not talking about the existence of objective reality (such as 1+1=2). Of course there is an objective reality (as if anyone can doubt it). That was not my point. I was talking about human reason and ideas and what the existence of reason itself tells us about the nature of reality. If all ideas arose by purely natural means within the human mind then these ideas are subjective, due to the fact that the survival agenda is subjective. A subjective idea does not therefore, by definition, tell us anything about objective reality (other than by fluke, I suppose). Such ideas would be merely animal instincts. The fact that reason does give us insight into reality is evidence that it is not merely subjective and therefore it has not arisen by purely natural means.

    So you can pontificate about my inability to make proper distinctions, but your reasoning is deceptive, in that you are appealing to an aspect of objective reality (namely 1+1=2 irrespective of whether any mind can know this), then, given that we can know that 1+1=2, you assert that human beings can have a knowledge of objective reality, and you use this as an argument to "prove" that nature can produce objective reasoning. This is a totally circular argument. You assume a naturalistic position a priori, and then say "look at all aspects of reality and see what nature has produced", even though there are aspects of reality which nature, by itself, could not have produced. Nature cannot produce objectively valid reason, since the reason nature produces must be subjective, since it is purely a construct of the human mind as a means of survival within the process of natural selection. So I am arguing that certain aspects of reality constitute real evidence that nature is not the source of everything within our human experience.

    "How difficult is it for him to grasp that hardly anyone who accepts the validity of evolution derives his moral compass from it? Must be very difficult, as he has peddled that demonstration of ignorance of atheist thinking countless times, had had Helio explain why it's bunk (or to paraphrase Helio, 'cabbage') to him multiple times, yet manages to still not get it."

    I'm afraid I can't see a logical or persuasive argument in the above paragraph. You are simply appealing to the opinions of certain people, who decide to live inconsistently with their own world-view (therefore tacitly acknowledging that their explanation of reality is inadequate). Your words beg the question as to where these people get their moral compass from. You accuse me of blindness, but here we see evidence of your blindness to recognise that there are realities of human experience which do not fit within the evolutionary naturalistic explanation of reality. As with "reason" the need for "morality" constitutes evidence of the truth of a non-naturalistic aspect to reality.

    Pour scorn on my opinions as much as like, but I can assure you that there is only one way you can conceivably disturb me and challenge my position: by presenting coherent arguments and evidence - something I have yet to see. Insults simply reassure me, and do your cause no good at all.

  • Comment number 19.

    LSV, oh dear oh dear oh dear,

    You accept that there is objective reality (such as 1 + 1 = 2), then go on to say about evolution-derived thinking

    "If all ideas arose by purely natural means within the human mind then these ideas are subjective"

    Guess what LSV, we worked out that 1 + 1 = 2 as part of our evolution-derived thinking. What you put down as subjective can overlap perfectly with what you admit is objective reality. Though I will admit that some are better at it than others.

    "The fact that reason does give us insight into reality is evidence that it is not merely subjective and therefore it has not arisen by purely natural means."

    See previous answer as to why that is wrong. And that goes for the paragraph that came after that.

    "Nature cannot produce objectively valid reason, since the reason nature produces must be subjective, since it is purely a construct of the human mind as a means of survival within the process of natural selection."

    Yawn, more of the same.

    "Pour scorn on my opinions as much as like, but I can assure you that there is only one way you can conceivably disturb me and challenge my position: by presenting coherent arguments and evidence - something I have yet to see."

    Hehehehe. Whereas of course you have never failed to put up the extensive evidence when challenged to do so. I remember your bold claims about thermodynamics, astronomy, etc. Still waiting.

    Happy denials, LSV.


    Helio, I have found a new appreciation for LSV from his latest post in this thread. I think he's a vegetarian, which I appreciate. His post is all cabbage and his reasoning has no meat on the bones whatsoever.:)

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 - PK -

    "I remember your bold claims about thermodynamics, astronomy, etc. Still waiting."

    Still waiting for what exactly? You keep bringing up this issue, but I am mystified as to what you are asking for. Could you please remind me about what my "bold claims" were that seem to offend you, and what evidence it is that I have failed to produce for these so-called "bold claims". Or was it something to do with snowflakes (as if such things could arise without the operation of ordered physical laws operating within the ordered environment of the earth's atmosphere, albeit in a way that some people may call "chaotic" - in other words, limited random events subject to ordered laws - governing temperature, air currents, humidity, condensation, crystallisation etc. - operating in a larger ordered environment, in which order therefore plays a much larger role than randomness)?

    Also, I am still waiting for your evidence as to how life arose from non-living matter.

    By the way... if you fancy a bit of logic (assuming you believe in the validity of logic), then how about explaining this:

    If religious ideas simply arose to aid human survival - as the theory of natural selection asserts - but that these ideas tell us nothing about "truth" (as atheists boldly claim), then it is also true that the ideas of atheism have arisen for the same reason - since those ideas also arose by the same subjective method. Atheism cannot be excluded from the implications of its own view of reality (well, I suppose it can be excluded by people who don't believe in the need to be logically consistent in their thinking).

    People like you may argue that I am clinging to erroneous "religious" ideas for the purpose of enhancing my own survival, but there is no logical reason why the same could not be said of atheists. For all I know, you and your mates could simply be clinging to atheism in order to fulfil some personal agenda. It's not unreasonable. If people like you charge "religious" people with mindless subjectivism, then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you also are not operating under the same agenda. Such personal agendas are part and parcel of natural selection - something you apparently believe in.

    I am simply drawing out the logical implications of your own philosophy.

    But, of course, if you don't believe in logic, then please don't feel under pressure to trouble yourself with what I am saying.

  • Comment number 21.

    I love the books. I love the interviews. I love the debates. I love the articles. More like the Hitch please. BTW I thought he was an anti thesist. Yes give me a Hitch over a Brady any day!

    Regards
    DK

  • Comment number 22.

    LSV,

    I will dig through some old threads to find links to what I meant. That could well take a while to carry out. If this threads slips off the recent posts list then it's not because I forgot about it. I will get back to you on it.

  • Comment number 23.

    1) Believe nothing without evidence
    2) Do not accept circular arguments
    3) Do not hurt your head finding the evidence for 1 without breaking 2
    4) Only believe the deliverances of physical science
    5) Believe 4 will turn up in a physical science sooner or later
    6) Question everything including this statement and the fact that you question it, but never 1-5
    7) Be nice because it's nice to see you to see you nice
    8) Do not apply 1, 2 or 4 to 7.
    9) When asked about 1,2,4,7 and 8 say that you have already answered these questions assert that the uneducated question these commandments
    10) Give yourself a big hug for being soo smart!

  • Comment number 24.

    LSV, it seems my clearest reminders to you to support your scientific claims with evidence in the past have been referred to the moderators. I did find some still there on the tree stump apparition thread, see e.g. posts 45 and 59 there. And that thread was later brought up again (post 26 in the Atheists reach out to agnostics thread). Plenty of occasions with explicit reminders to present your evidence on probability etc. But you never took any one.

    Which makes your claims of 'all the evidence points in the other direction' empty triumphalism. While searching tonight I came across so many of those repeats in your posts. Helio is right to give up on you.

  • Comment number 25.

    "Which makes your claims of 'all the evidence points in the other direction' empty triumphalism."

    Careful PK. You're advancing an argument from "isms".

    (-;

  • Comment number 26.

    Touché Graham. But thanks for a laugh on the Monday morning anyway.:)

  • Comment number 27.

    Glad to help (-:

  • Comment number 28.

    PK
    Quick question - you're working in Europe at the moment - did I remember correctly?

    If so, has the media given a lot of coverage to the Roman Catholic Sex abuse scandal?
    Just trying to get a handle on how big this is in everyone's minds..students are asking questions, and we're studying crime and it's causes.

    GV

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Graham,

    "Quick question - you're working in Europe at the moment - did I remember correctly?"

    You remember correctly.

    "If so, has the media given a lot of coverage to the Roman Catholic Sex abuse scandal?
    Just trying to get a handle on how big this is in everyone's minds..students are asking questions, and we're studying crime and it's causes."

    The Dutch news has given a good deal of coverage to the rapidly growing number of accusations against the Catholic institutions in the Netherlands (more than 1000 now). It's been the fist item of the news a few times during the last few weeks, a less important item on the news a number of other days. The turmoil in the Irish Catholic church and the popes letter were the first news item on Sunday, the situation in Ireland was a later news item a couple of other days. While the Irish scandal has been the biggest of those in the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland sofar, it hasn't been as dominant in the news as in Ireland. The scandals in Germany with its direct involvement of the pope or the soaring number of Dutch accusations have received substantially more attention.

    The accusations in the Netherlands only started domino-ing recently. There may be tons more to come over here.

    I might add that printed paper circulations in the Netherlands are melting down as everywhere. I don't read any 'paper paper'. Most of what I've read about the scandals in Germany and Ireland was from English-language websites that are not hosted from the Netherlands. TV news is still more locally oriented of course.
    I'm probably far more internationally oriented than most Dutch people though, now having any language barrier and having lived in the UK for 4.5 years.

  • Comment number 30.

    make that

    "noT having any language barrier"

  • Comment number 31.

    Thanks PK, that was very, very helpful.

 

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