Saturday, September 03, 2011
The following is an article by Clarence Darrow that appeared in The American Mercury, Volume VIII, Number 30, June 1926:
BY CLARENCE DARROW
IN THE last ten years the reading public has been bombarded by books and articles on eugenics. In the main these articles have set forth a single thesis: that doom hangs over the human race. Of course, we have all known for a long time that each individual of the human race is doomed. Though we seldom speak of it and try not to think about it, every man inevitably comes to the realization that in time his own life must pass. The eugenists' concern, however, is not over the fact that we die one by one. What alarms them is that the race is apparently bent upon committing a wholesale biological harikari. So there has been much beating of drums, blowing of trumpets and hubbub on the street-corners; there have been cries in the night of "race suicide," "the rising tide of color," "the race is dying out at the top," and "torrents of degenerate and defective protoplasm.". . . It is vain to ask the question, What, of it? That does not stop the clamor. Neither will the remarks that I am about to make on the subject.
The evidence with which the eugenists support their contentions is simple and overwhelming. Are not the weak and unfit breeding much faster than the strong and the fit? College professors, lawyers, doctors, and the like average not more than two children to the family. On the other hand, carpenters, bricklayers, bootblacks and the other unfit average at least twice as many. Everybody knows that dagos, hunkies, wops, bolsheviks and all the other undesirables are begetting children at an indecent rate. These children are surely bound to overrun the earth, along with the morons, the insane and the criminal. Inevitably the superior stocks will be submerged. The only wonder is that with the persistent and senseless breeding of the unfit this hasn't happened long ago. Right here in our own country, which was settled by the Nordics after the Indians were driven out, the superior race is fast going down before the misfits of inferior races. In the face of the promiscuous breeding of these latter such noble strains as the Edwardses and the Adamses will be swamped by mere force of numbers. The good old Mayflower stock is suffering the same unhappy fate as the good old pre-Prohibition liquor. It is being mixed with all sorts of alien and debilitating substances.
Semi-cultured citizens read the eugenist books, and, sitting on hard Chautauqua benches, listen to the speakers. Then they shudder with horror at the thought of the rising tide of undesirables. They believe it all, of course, for they assume that they themselves are the intelligent and the well-born. The professors, the preachers, the lawyers, the bankers, all the good solid citizens, are worried. Something, obviously, must be done to save the world, and the eugenists are ready and even importunate with their remedy. Organized society, they say, must in some way control mating and birth. True, most of them seem to pause purposely just before they draw the logical conclusion that the state should interfere with the production of humans, as man already does with the production of hogs. When they come to this point they falter and quibble, raise doubts and get cold feet. They take refuge in vague generalizations and leave the intelligent reader and the more intelligent politician to do the rest, But that rest will evidently be a plenty.
However, some of the eugenists are not so shy. Mr. Albert Wiggam, for instance, speaking with his wonted clearness, force and sureness, tells us that society must take stern measures to prevent the unfit from producing their kind. He pleads with us to take heed of the laws of science. If we only knew it, says Mr. Wiggam, "we already have enough science at hand to bring the world into an earthly paradise! It remains only for all men to apply it." Again, there is Mr. Herbert W. Walter, who joins a Mr. Davenport in sounding a call for race improvement. In his book, "Genetics," he quite definitely sets forth the necessity for the control of the production of human beings by state agencies. "A negative way," writes Mr. Walter, ' 'to bring out the better blood in the world is to follow the clarion call of Davenport and 'dry up the streams of defective and degenerate protoplasm.' This may be partially accomplished, at least in America, by employing the following agencies: control of immigration, more discriminating marriage laws, a quickened eugenic sentiment, sexual segregation of defectives, and, finally, drastic measures of sterilization when necessary."
Mr. Walter later informs us that already our face is turned toward the light. Eight States have sterilization laws, and if such laws could be enforced in the whole United States "less than four generations would eliminate nine-tenths of the crime, insanity, and sickness of the present generation in our land. Asylums, prisons, and hospitals would decrease and the problems of the unemployed, the indigent old, and the hopelessly degenerate would cease to trouble civilization." Mr. Wiggam is right: paradise is just around the corner. Amazingly simple, isn't it? Just a law providing for a "'minor operation on the male which occupies but a few moments" and in the case of the female "'the removal of a portion of each Fallopian tube" and presto! in four generations we are rid of nine-tenths of our criminals, paupers, insane, etc. No wonder the man in the street marvels at the wonders of science!
But except for his proposal of the sovereign remedy of sterilization, Mr. Walter lacks any very specific administrative programme for "drying up the streams of degenerate protoplasm.." Luckily, however, we have with us Dr. William McDougall, who has evolved a plan for carrying out the ideals of the eugenists which has the virtue of being at once both definite and simple. It is so simple as to be almost fool-proof, even in a democracy. Dr. McDougall is certainly an eminent authority; he is the head of the psychology department of Harvard and was lured to this position from Oxford, the well-known headquarters of the Nordics. He has been recognized for these many years as one of the leading psychologists of the world and his writings are eagerly devoured by the classes who believe in the essential aristocracy of the Nordic germ-plasm.
Dr. McDougall, in his- book, "Ethics and Some Modern World Problems," begins by saying that two classes of undesirables in the population can be immediately determined: the mentally-deficient and the convicted criminals. The first class can be selected "through our highly organized medical science and institutions" and our legal institutions can select the latter.'' (This must mean doctors, lawyers and judges.) For Dr. McDougall it is a "simple and indisputable truth" that both of these classes should be disenfranchised. The third category, which we are informed can be just as easily recognized, is that of the illiterates. These, too, should be disenfranchised.
So far, so good. Now we come to the eugenic high-point in Dr. McDougall's plan, On the basis of literacy tests the population is to be divided into two classes, which we may call the A and C classes. Intermarriage between these two classes is to be strictly prohibited. Those who cannot read will not be allowed to marry those who can. In this manner, Dr. McDougall tells us, the A class will be constantly purified by shedding into the C class those who do not fit into the higher order. But there should be an opportunity for the best progeny of the C class to be elevated to the A class. This could be accomplished by creating another class with a probationary status, which we may designate the B class. Every candidate "for admission to the A class would have to spend at least twenty or twenty-five years of his life as a probationer in the B class." But children whose parents were both of the A class would have the status of the B class as their birthright, and these favored ones, upon attaining adult life, would be admitted to the A class if otherwise qualified,
The state system of education, says Dr. McDougall, should be free to all, but compulsory to none. To pass from a lower status to a higher one, there should be, beside the time requirements, educational tests and examinations. It might be wise also, he tells us, to provide that any citizen of the A class who married a member of the C class should automatically lose his status and revert to the C class. "In this way the nation would achieve the benefits of a simple caste organization, namely: the preservation of the qualities of the superior strains." The scheme would likewise "avoid those features which condemn to stagnation every society founded upon a rigid caste system." In time, the three class system would bring three great advantages: first, political power would rest in the hands of a select body of citizens; second, the nation would be fortified against the fatal tendency of civilization to die away at the top; third, the class of full citizens would be protected against the lowering of its average by the inmixture of blood of inferior quality.
Here then, we have a "neat but not gaudy" little plan for saving civilization: a simple caste system in which the literate sheep are carefully separated from the illiterate goats. What may be called literary miscegenation by members of the A class is forbidden on pain of the offender being reduced automatically to the illiterate group from which neither he nor his descendants can escape, save by going through the purgatory of twenty years in the B class. The inference to be drawn from all this is as clear as it is inevitable. Dr. McDougall is of the opinion that there is a definite and direct correlation between the ability to "read intelligently" and desirable germ-plasm. All those whose .parents are members of the A class are forthwith members of the A class (provided that they can pass the necessary examination); the presumption is that they have good germ-plasm. But those whose parents (or either of them) are members of the C class carry a bad germ-plasm, and it must be aged in the wood, as it were, for twenty years before it reaches the A class standard.
What could be simpler than all this? Nothing, perhaps, except Dr. McDougall's biological innocence. On the basis of what biological principles, and by what psychological hocus-pocus he reaches the conclusion that the ability to read intelligently denotes a good germ-plasm and desirable citizens I cannot say. Here I merely rehearse his plan. I present it as Exhibit A of the scheme of the eugenists to save civilization.
Quotations from other eminent authorities might be multiplied to show just how far the biological uplifters are willing to go. Their romancing would not be worth discussing were it not for the fact that the public apparently takes it at its face value. "Aren't these eugenists. scientists? And you can't get around scientific law, you know." The politicians stand ready with their usual willingness to deliver what the people want. So-called eugenic laws are already on the statute books of various States. When one stops to consider what a radical departure in the conduct of human beings in the most important concerns of life is called for by the movement, the measure of success that it has already obtained is enough to inspire the most substantial hopes or fears—depending upon one's point of view.
The question which naturally arises at this point is, What evidence do the eugenists have at hand to support their demand for the organized control of human breeding? Everyone who has any knowledge of the matter knows that the biologists have experimented for years in the production of sweet peas, pigeons, white rats, guinea pigs, fruit flies and domestic animals of various kinds. Such deductions as have been drawn from this controlled breeding of animals and plants are formulated in the so-called Mendelian laws, the theory of unit characters, and that of the continuity of the germ-plasm. But what has all this to do with the production of human beings? What, if anything, can be learned about the proper and desirable breeding of men from experiments with fruit flies? The biologists have discovered that by regulating the breeding of various species and taking notice of what are called unit characters (such as eye color, tallness and shortness, fatness and leanness, long hair, etc.) they can within certain limits produce strains that will breed true to almost any type desired. In this fashion, for example, we are able to get the draft horse, the race horse, the milch cow, different kinds of flowers, and fruit flies with various and sundry characteristics. How natural to suppose, then, that man, also an animal, must have his unit characters, which can be manipulated and bred, out or in, as desired!
The eugenist would have us believe that on the basis of these experiments on plants and the lower animals, together with some alleged observations on the so-called degenerate germ-plasms of human beings, plus certain reflections on the haphazard character of human mating, we are justified in the conclusion that all that is needed is to use the same skill and force with humans that has already been used with hogs, and the miracle will be wrought. A new humanity will arise full grown in place of the ignoramuses and misfits that now cumber the earth.
But can we actually draw any such conclusion? Let us turn for an answer to Dr. H. S. Jennings, an eminent biologist at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Jennings is an experimental biologist and not a eugenist. In his little book, "'Prometheus," he warns us against this very fallacy of placing too great reliance on experiments with animals as a basis for the breeding of the human race. To those eager colleagues who are too ready to make assumptions about human heredity he says:
When the biologist, from his knowledge of other organisms, is tempted to dogmatize concerning the possibilities of human development, let him first ask himself: How correctly could I predict the behavior and social organization of ants from a knowledge of the natural history of the oyster? Man differs from other organisms used in these experiments as much as the ant docs from the oyster; for these distinctive aspects of his biology, only the study of man himself is relevant.And then, to the further edification of Messrs. McDougall, Wiggam, Walter et al., he tells us that so far as our present experimental knowledge goes we know little or nothing about unit characters in human heredity and that what we do know leads us to the general conclusion that the very nature of human bi-parental reproduction effectively prevents the continued reproduction of what the eugenists would regard as a desirable type. In this matter, Nature not only seems to have something to say, but is all powerful. Says Dr, Jennings:
If an ingenious inventor were set to work to devise a system for the purpose of heading off completely anything of this sort (i.e., the production of specified human types) he could hardly produce one so effective as the one found in Nature. This might rather seem devised to the end of giving the greatest possible variety; of yielding the extremes of diversity at any one time; of inducing most thorough-going and continuous changes as generations pass. Personified Nature might well be held to abhor uniformity and constancy for the higher organisms.We have made no actual experiments in the breeding of human beings. It is obvious that the biologists have not and cannot experiment by mating men and women, as they mate guinea pigs and rabbits, and then studying the offspring. Even if our folkways and mores would permit such experiments, the generations of men are so long that no conclusive results, comparable to those in animal experimentation could be obtained except over a period of several hundred years. Thus all observations on human heredity up to this time have involved starting with specific individual and then seeking to trace his heredity backward as far as possible. But no authentic record of specific human beings goes back very far, and even if such records were available it would remain a fact that with each new mating the germ-plasm would be changed. In the course of a few generations many different lines are crossed. But the investigators start with a human organism which they consider either good or bad and then arbitrarily assume the direction of the "stream of the germ-plasm" at each cross-roads in order to confirm their preconceived theory. In this way they frequently find what they are looking for. In any possible number of ancestors, no matter what the line, you can go but a little way without finding both strength and weakness. So this method by, and large, has meant only seeking evidence for what someone wanted to prove.
But let us assume that man can, by breeding, change the human race. Do we really know that we can make it what is called "better"? Do we even know what we mean by the word? The eugenist, who is always lamenting that man has taken no such pains in breeding humans as he has in producing desirable plants and animals, assumes, of course, that he has done a good job with plants and animals. By carefully mating fat hogs and discarding lean ones, he has produced the Berkshire from the razorback, and after persistent selection the Berkshire now breeds fairly true. But is the Berkshire a better hog than the razorback? For my part, I am convinced that it is nowhere near as good.
Of course, I am here considering the change from the standpoint of the hog. He has not been able to speak for himself, and men have not spoken for him. Turn the Berkshire and the razorback out to shift for themselves. Which would fare the better and live the longer? The Berkshire, in fact, would probably soon smother in its own fat. And even if it should survive to reproduce, the hog race would slowly return to the razorback type. Take another case: that of our thoroughbred cows. They must be carefully tended, fed and milked. They are not healthy animals. In fact, they are not cows at all; they are simply milk machines. Again, there is the thoroughbred running horse. It is valuable to man for betting purposes —but the draft horse can pull loads. The race horse, if turned out without a blanket and left to get its own living, would probably die of pneumonia before it got very far from the paddock. And if it should survive turning out, then, in the course of time, its descendants would be like the scrub animals on the plains. I am inclined to think, indeed, that man never bred a plant or animal without weakening it or injuring it.
Thus it cannot be seriously argued that any "thoroughbred" animal or plant is better than one in a natural state. If so, better for what? Nature knows but one meaning of the word "better" and that is "fitted for survival." There is no evidence that even the "mind" of the thoroughbred hog or horse or cow is better than that of the scrub. The evidence seems to be the other way. When we speak of improving animals, we mean only that they have been improved for man's purposes, not for the purposes of living in competition with other organisms.
But to return to the point I have assumed for the sake of the argument: that man can be changed by controlled breeding: If we should eliminate the lean, and breed only the stout, we might get a race of mostly fat men. By eliminating the short and breeding only the tall, it is conceivable that the race would increase in stature. We might breed men who were lean or fat, or tall or short, but this could only be done within limits. Probably nature would rebel at any considerable variance from the present type. It has taken too long a time to produce the species in its present state to make possible a wide divergence of type.
But on what grounds would anyone be rash enough to want to change the physical type of man? Have we any assurance that a different type would be more desirable? If so, what kind of type? Furthermore, haven't the eugenists in their zeal for "bringing the world into an earthly paradise," forgotten that man, as he stands, is created in the image of God? Is it possible that they are also ambitious to meddle with the perfection of the very Cosmic Plan itself?
But perhaps they do not desire to breed a different physical being. Perhaps, with Dr. McDougall, they will say that their real aim is to breed for better intellects. The world, unfortunately, is largely ruled by phrases, and there a convenient and fetching slogan for those who think the race may be improved by breeding has been supplied. "A healthy mind in a healthy body" is the new slogan. But are good minds necessarily domiciled in healthy bodies? The history of the race does not prove it. There is something about a healthy body, apparently, that does not lure a good mind. It is probably too healthy. No; you cannot sort out intelligence by physical symmetry. The workings of heredity are obscure enough in the body; they are hopelessly indefinite in the mind. No eugenist knows anything about breeding for intellect. That the manifestations which we call mind are in some way a product of bodily functioning seems to be fairly well established. But what appears to be the healthiest and most symmetrical body may not produce the best mind. A slight and utterly obscure variance in some part of the structure may make a wide difference in mental strength. It is not unusual to find imbecility in the same family with first-rate intellects. To talk about breeding for intellect, in the present state of scientific knowledge and data, is nothing short of absurd. No scientist has ever pretended to advance any theories for breeding intellect; we do not know what intelligence is, much less how to breed it. Are we even convinced, that better minds are desirable? The question of human welfare is not so much a question of more strength as of a better use of such strength as we have. About all that we can say about a good mind is that it adds to the effectiveness of the individual. What will be accomplished with the mind, good or bad, is not a matter of breeding; it is a matter of education.
It is, in fact, in no sense a foregone conclusion that the general welfare of man would be improved by increasing his intellect. It cannot be shown that the intelligent are happier than the ignorant; still less can it be shown that they contribute more to the happiness of their fellows. The great mass who are born and die are not "intellectual''; yet they survive and their tribe increases. Real intelligence is as rare, and perhaps as unnatural, as idiocy. One can imagine a human being so imaginative and sympathetic that he would pity the genius as much as the simple. No idiot knows that he is an idiot. As a rule, those of small intellectual equipment are so sure of themselves that they are eager to make the race over in their own image. This is a controlling reason why they should not be encouraged to exercise their power.
Is there any way to tell what class is the happiest? It cannot be shown that riches or learning or power or intellect have anything to do with happiness. Those who in a measure possess these gifts seem not to be sure of the happiness that they bring. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the cocksureness of ignorance, the lack of imagination that goes with conceit, and the crude hopes and dreams born of stupidity give more contentment and pleasure, and less pain, than the vision and imagination that are born of intelligence.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that science could furnish us with such exact data on the method of breeding as would permit the elimination of morons, idiots and imbeciles, and at the same time vastly increase the numbers of the intelligent, scholarly and well disposed, I repeat that it is not at all certain that it would be desirable to accomplish that result. The large mass of men and women, the world over, must do manual work, and one of the first indications of intelligence and training is that an individual separates himself from such work. What would happen to the operation of factories, railroads, buildings, and all the various activities of men if everyone became a genius or a scholar? Are not the morons, so-called, also important in the scheme? In the processes of living, are they not even more important than the geniuses? Would not a well-developed system of birth-control leave out the vast number of people who do the manual work of the world? And if so, what would become of the intellectuals who were compelled to take their places? All men must live in houses, wear clothes and consume food. No society would be possible that did not take into account the vast army who must supply these primitive wants, and be more or less directed by the intelligent who do not perform manual work. Where is the assurance that any organized society, such as the state, through the regulations of breeding could produce the proper proportion of laborers and intelligentsia to improve the general standard of comfort and welfare of the whole people?
Even if human breeding could be so controlled as to produce a race such as the eugenists desire, we might still lose much that is worth while. It is hardly possible to breed certain qualities in without breeding others out. I, for one, am alarmed at the conceit and sureness of the advocates of this new dream. I shudder at their ruthlessness in meddling with life. I resent their egoistic and stern righteousness. I shrink from their judgment of their fellows. Every one who passes judgment necessarily assumes that he is right. It seems to me that man can bring comfort and happiness out of life only by tolerance, kindness and sympathy, all of which seem to find no place in the eugenists' creed. The whole programme means the absolute violation of what men instinctively feel to be inherent rights. Organized society shall say who must and must not breed, and establish stern rules for picking out mates.
But of the various ways that the individual has found for attaining to pleasure, one of the greatest is the business of selecting mates. A large and important part of life is made up of the gestures that precede and go with mating. Every Jack pursues his Jill, and every Jill lures her Jack. In this prime occupation of life they want to be free to do their own choosing. The boy and girl resent the proffered advice of even parents. It is safe to say that few fathers or mothers at fifty would approve of their own conquests in early life. It is still safer to say that in such a primitive affair as mating, the young would not give a fig for the opinions and wisdom of the old and seasoned. The youth does not even know why he is specially attracted to some special mate. The urge of life calls him, and he feels that he knows who he wants. No one can imagine a boy or girl going to a committee and asking its members to pick out a mate. Nature does not work that way, and it is not easy to understand how it ever could work that way.
The normal boy and girl, indeed, do not go a-wooing in order to find mates to improve the race. They are thinking of themselves and their happiness, which is far more vital to them, and probably to the race, than the character of the human beings who will inhabit the earth in the distant future. It is the immediate feeling that preserves life. True, much mating is improvident, and many unions do not bring the anticipated joys, but still their emotions and hopes perpetuate the species, and so the race survives. If the scheme of the eugenist could be carried out, it is easy to conceive of a thoroughly mechanical human being, preserved for a time by his disappearing emotions, but eventually going down to annihilation. Is there any certainty that the intellectual control of life would bring more pleasure and satisfaction and variety than the seeming haphazard and instinctive mating that has at least produced most of the zeal and interest of living?
The bigoted and the ignorant are very sure of themselves. No business seems to be too important or too personal for them to undertake. One of their chief pastimes is the regulation of other people. They are willing to do anything to others that to them seems important. To compel all others to adopt their own views and ways of living is their aim. In fact, one of their chief sources of comfort and pleasure is making others unhappy. How safe would it be for the human race and the comfort of the individual units if the production of human beings were left in their hands?
It is well enough to rhapsodise over what should be done when there are no facts to sustain the theories. Mr. Wiggam may wax eloquent over the wonderful potentialities of man, to be realized by manipulating the germ-plasm. It is well enough to say that eugenics means that the enhancement of "man's inborn capacities for happiness, health, sanity and achievement shall become the one living purpose of the state'' and that eugenics is "simply the projection of the Golden Rule down the stream of protoplasm" (whatever that might mean if it were translated into prose). To one who likes such things it sounds well to declare that "had Jesus been among us he would have been president of the first Eugenics Congress." (A great deal of time has been wasted in discussing what Jesus would have done and been had He lived to-day. Not long ago, a preacher declared that Jesus was the first great Rotarian and another enthusiast declared that He was the first great advertiser. And of course He is claimed both by the wets and the drys. Whether man was made in the image of God may still be a subject of debate, but there is no question that Jesus has been made over and over again in the image of every fanatic who has a crude and undigested idea about what should be done). It is well enough for Dr. McDougall to say that intelligent physicians operating through their societies could sort out the morons and the unfit, and that the courts could sort out the convicted criminals, and that some other organization could sort out something else. But it requires unlimited faith, unbounded hope, and a complete absence of charity to believe that the human race, which has been slowly developing for half a million years, would actually profit by placing the control of breeding in the hands of the state. Even assuming that we know what kind of man we should breed, and how it could be accomplished, is there any reason to believe that it could be done through any existing agency?
If the state is to regulate the production of human beings, it is important to know what we mean by the word "state." It can mean nothing else save the individual members who make up the political unit. And in the last analysis, those who manage to get power are its real rulers. It is hardly necessary to ask: Are these men the scientists? Are they the idealists? Are they the tolerant, the humane, and the well-disposed? It is doubtful if anyone would even contend that they are. Of course, all the classes I have named, working in their own way, and quite independent of government, do have some influence upon the actions of men, but that influence has no direct relation to forcible control. Every informed man knows what the state is and who it is. Imagine cities like New York, Chicago or Boston picking out boards of control to organize, in the eloquent language of Mr. Wiggam, "a method ordained by God and seated in natural law for securing better parents for our children?" It is not necessary to take New York, Chicago or Boston; every part of the country and every other country is controlled in the same way. Those in power would inevitably direct human breeding in their own interests. At the present time it would mean that big business would create a race in its own image. At any time it would mean with men, as it now does with animals, that breeding would be controlled for the use and purpose of the powerful and the unintelligent. Every social organization, every religious creed, every fad and fancy would set this power above every other function of the state. If any such scheme should be seriously considered, it would bring in an era of universal sexual bootlegging.
I am not a blind worshipper of Nature. I can not say whether she is good or bad. Man has no means of knowing. We can say only that, like all life, he is her product, that she is strong, if not invincible, and that she seems to delight in undoing the puny work of those who seek to meddle with her laws. I don't believe we could escape from her power, no matter what we sought to do. Neither do I believe that we could improve her job if we did escape. The history of the race shows endless examples of the pain and suffering that men have inflicted upon each other by their cocksureness and their meddling.
We know something about biology. We know a little about eugenics. We have no knowledge of what kind of man would be better than the one that Nature is evolving to fit into the environment which he cannot escape. We have neither facts nor theories to give us any evidence based on biology or any other branch of science as to how we could breed intelligence, happiness or anything else that would improve the race. We have no idea of the meaning of the word "improvement.'' We can imagine no human organization that we could trust with the job, even if eugenists knew what should be done, and the proper way to do it. Yet in the face of all this we have already started on the course, and the uplifters are urging us to go ahead, with no conception of where we are going, or what route we shall take!
In an age of meddling, presumption, and gross denial of all the individual feelings and emotions, the world is urged, not only to forcibly control all conduct, but to remake man himself! Amongst the schemes for remolding society this is the most senseless and impudent that has ever been put forward by irresponsible fanatics to plague a long-suffering race.
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