Gabriel Marcel, a Christian existentialist and contemporary of Sartre offers another perspective, speaking of the ‘presence’ of the other not as merely a thing before us, but as in relationship to us or even within us – an influx, an accretion, an intimacy, a spiritual availability, in other words – a ‘with me.’5 Unlike Sartre, Marcel sees the look of the other more optimistically: “Presence is something which reveals itself immediately and unmistakably in a look, a smile, an intonation, or a handshake.” 6 To him the subject/object enigma is resolvable, “…the person who is at my disposal is the one who is capable of being with me with the whole of himself when I am in need while the one who is not at my disposal seems merely to offer me a temporary loan raised on his resources. For the one I am a presence; for the other I am an object.”7 Marcel’s ‘presence’ is a reciprocity undiscoverable except through love which he believes trumps Sartre’s objectification struggle.

Karl Jaspers, a theistic Existentialist contemporary of Sartre and Marcel, appears to fall somewhere between them. The ‘other’ is not only undeniable but self-defining, “I am only in conjunction with the Other, alone I am nothing.”8 Nonetheless the self is completely subjective, “If we make ourselves into the object of our thinking, we become ourselves as it were the Other, yet at the same time we remain a thinking I, which thinks about itself but cannot aptly be thought of as an object because it determines the objectness of all objects.”9 Instead for Jaspers the crux of the ‘other’ involves the role of one’s fellow humans in judging one’s actions, a judgment less decisive than that of God, but at least accessible in this world.10  In the end, existential freedom does not mean absolute independence; but is dependent on enmeshment in the world of others.11

We could bring in other thinkers such as Martin Buber’s principle of ‘I and Thou’, where there is no independent ‘I’ at all, only an ‘It’ existing in relation to something other than itself, the ‘Thou.’12 Or we might interject Tillich’s ‘individualization and participation’ – the reality that self and world are correlated such that we share being triply with others – in space, through commonality of nature, and as parts of a whole.13 There is much to be said about the inescapable sense of oneself as individual and the rest of the world as both Other and Others. I suspect each of us experiences all the nuances of otherness, the familiar as other and the strange as other. Purpose in this setting is about breaking through the barrier separating oneself from the other to establish authentic


5Marcel, Gabriel, The Philosophy of Existentialism.Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY, 2002. ISBN 978-0-8065-0901-3, pages 38-39.

6Ibid., page 40.


8Winn, Ralph B. (editor), A Dictionary of Existentialism. Philosophical Library, Inc., New York, NY, 1960. Page 71


10Jaspers, Karl, Way to Wisdom. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1954. ISBN 0-300-00134-7, page 68.

11Ibid., page 115.

12Magill, Frank, Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form. Harper&Row Publishers, 1961, page 856.

13Tillich, Paul, The Courage to Be. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1957, page 88.

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“Hell is other people.”– Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit.




Before we pull together the various parts of purpose and proximate reality, I would like to consider briefly the concept of ‘other’ in existentialist practice where all  people – familiar and unfamiliar – are grouped in opposition to oneself. Following Rene Descartes’ separation of reality into the immediate or mental and the perceived or physical and Immanuel Kant’s epiphany that humans can never know a thing as it really is – the ‘thing-in-itself’- but only our perceptions of it, later German idealists started European continental philosophy on a course of paring the subjective from the objective. Johann Gottlieb Fichte began with a theory that the immediate self was transcendent and distinct from the posited world we experience including one’s ‘non-self’ as just another posited object.1

Later Edmund Husserl developed phenomenology to examine the world, but proposed a reflexive process he called ‘transcendental-phenomenological reduction’ through which he thought we can identify a ‘transcendental ego’ or ‘pure consciousness’ for which everything else in the world is an object. In his late works Husserl suggested the transcendental ego even survives the disappearance of the world (including the worldly self), a theory seemingly in line with Fichte’s thinking.2

Martin Heidegger picked up next although he denied the transcendental ego. Instead he locates human existence or dasein as ‘being-in-the-world,’ with the unfortunate consequence of  the forfeiture of real being in the distractions of everyday things and people – the ‘they.’ Humanity then is “the indifferent and anonymous crowd – das Man” and our everyday existence is entirely public with and for others, alienated from our true being.3

Enter Jean-Paul Sartre who argued Being  consists of two components; (1) being-in-itself which is fixed, complete, and absolute (essentially the world of objects and things), and (2) being-for-itself which is incomplete, fluid, and indeterminate (effectively human consciousness). We, as being-for-itself, live in the temporal world with ‘others’ and, in fact, need others to fully realize our own being, thus we are also being-for-others making these two facets inseparable. This sense of ‘other’ is disclosed in feelings of shame (i.e. the ‘self’ exposed to the ‘other’) and in the phenomenon of ‘the look’ (of the ‘other’) which threatens to turn one into an object or being-in-itself and thereby endangers one’s freedom.

For Sartre the only defense is an objectification of the ‘other’ leading to a continuous back and forth battle of subjectivity versus objectification. Worse one’s body is utilized by the ‘other’ turning one’s physical self into a body-for-the-other. As  a result love fails because inter-subjectivity cannot be achieved and objectification is inevitable. In effect, Sartre argues that there is no being-with-the-other, no authentic relationship with the other people.4

(continued next post)


1Scruton, Roger, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy. Penguin Books. New York, 1999. ISBN 0 14 027516 9, pages 43-46.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 4, pages 97-98.

3Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 3, pages 460

4Magill, Frank, Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form. Harper&Row Publishers, 1961, pages 1079-1089.

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The next negative facet of ‘strangerness’ applies to those persons known to each other who have a falling out – a process known as estrangement. Most often we hear this with former couples, but in fact, one can become estranged from any family member, friend, or acquaintance. An important element of estrangement is that it applies to individuals rather than groups. It is difficult to see estrangement as anything other than a failed relationship, but we learn from failure as well as success. These setbacks can be repurposed in at least two ways: as lessons on prudence in our choices and as practice in self-improvement.

Alienation is more subjective than estrangement and applies more to one’s feeling of disconnection from groups or institutions. This concept was developed by Karl Marx in his economic philosophy where he theorizes that workers in a capitalist system come to feel dehumanized and detached from the product or service that make up their work life. Over time the term alienation has been used more broadly to include disconnection from any and all levels of society including friends, family, and one’s social circles. Sociologists believe the causes of alienation are feelings of powerlessness and meaninglessness, isolation, and self-estrangement.4

Albert Camus seems to present the extreme of alienation in his 1942 novella, The Stranger. After the loss of his mother, the protagonist becomes increasingly alienated from life and society, commits a murder, and is sentenced to death. Camus offered this interpretation: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”5 I must confess however that to me the more general lesson is that alienation itself is fatal, and perhaps this is its purposeful understanding, which is to say, alienation is a thing to recognize but not accept as the consequences are devastating. Effectively we have come full circle, alienation leads to separation from humanity, and except for spiritual hermits, such separation is incompatible with a flourishing life.


4See https://www.thoughtco.com/alienation-definition-3026048 for a discussion of On the Meaning of Alienation, a 1959 paper by sociologist Melvin Seeman.  

5Wikipedia, The Stranger.

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A third positive aspects of strangers is the opportunity for exposure to diversity. It appears it is human nature to settle into routines where we feel most at ease typically with family, friends, and acquaintances, but strangers offer us the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, and experience novelty and difference. All of my life I have been intrigued by people from foreign countries – their languages like secret codes, their contrasting lifestyles, their different experience of life, their alternative thinking. We return to Santayana’s thesis that civilization offers us three advantages – greater wealth, safety, and variety of experience.2 Thus one purpose of strangers and foreigners in a meaningful life is their contribution to the variety of our experiences.

The fourth value of encounters with strangers is the potential for new acquaintances and friends. The  logical necessity – future acquaintances and friends must be current strangers – should further open us to meeting new people given all the possible benefits that derive from some of these encounters as have been outlined in earlier essays and magnificently described by Emerson in his essay on friendship.3

The obverse side of the stranger coin begins with unsociability or a propensity to evade meeting new people. This seems to me to be a psychological rather than philosophical issue, though I confess to limiting my own social activities in order to pursue what are mostly solitary activities such as reading philosophy or writing these blogs. The philosopher likely adopts an Aristotelian moderation to prudently limit access to strangers preferably to those  of the most propitious nature. Ultimately, closing oneself off to all new people is detrimental to one’s own growth and happiness.

One step beyond unsociability is xenophobia – dislike or distrust of foreigners. This inclination may be biologically based, that is, survival in the wild is enhanced by wariness of other animals and by territoriality. However primitive human groups benefit from mixing with outsiders via the exchange of information and knowledge and by the exchanging of members for mating purposes, so it seems equally true that we are racially programmed to accept others. Personal discomfort regarding differences in appearance and custom must be overcome in order to benefit from the different perspectives, and experiences outsiders bring to our society and our individual lives.

(further continued next post)


2See the blog titled Societal Virtue – Service, 1/25/2021 on this site.

3Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Essays and English Traits. Grolier Enterprise Corp., Danbury, Connecticut, 1993 (The Harvard Classics). Pages 106-119.

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“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”– Shirley MacLaine.



We return now to proximate reality and purpose where we have already considered romantic interests, family, friends, and acquaintances. The final category of others at this level is those unknown to us, but upon whom we happen – strangers. Three subtle distinctions justify rehearsal here. First those we never meet are indeed traditionally considered strangers, but as they never cross over into proximate reality; they are more appropriately included in my next level of reality – societal reality which includes the majority of humanity that we simply never have a chance to meet. Second, all direct relationships (perhaps excluding family) were once strangers with whom our lives became entwined. Third, ‘strangerness’  is reciprocal – a person who is a stranger to me alike considers me a stranger. For this blog and the ones that follow, I wish to look at the purposeful aspects of initial meetings with others whether a single occurrence or followed by the development of a greater relationship; and the significance of ‘strangerness’ in the spectrum of life.

The domain of stranger is a two sided coin. On the positive side are propriety, charity, diversity, and the potential for future relationship; on the negative are unsociability, xenophobia,  estrangement, and alienation. It is these aspects of the idea of stranger that I seek to collate with the purposeful life.

We have already looked in detail at propriety in the section on virtue.1 Strictly speaking, propriety is not ethically based, but imposed by societal norms. Such norms evolve to maximize the happiness  or at least diminish unease of others and thus reciprocally benefit ourselves. As such appropriate demeanor and etiquette facilitate the purpose of making good lives for oneself and for others. Confucius is the archetypical philosopher-guide on propriety in the meaningful life.

The biblical tradition offers the summit of thought regarding the welcoming of strangers and the place of charity towards them. The New Testament includes several examples on how we should interact with unfamiliar person. Matthew 25:35 says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” St. Paul commands in Romans 12:13, “Extend hospitality to strangers.” But the best and perhaps most instructive example is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) wherein a traveler is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on a road. A Jewish cleric and then a Levite pass by uncomfortably and distance themselves from the stranger. Then a Samaritan (a group usually despised by the Hebrews) stops to help the unfortunate stranger.  The lesson is poignant, how we treat strangers is the measuring rod of divine judgment. In fact the treatment of strangers seems to me to be the defining principle and great human legacy of Christianity.

(continued next blog)

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Schopenhauer does see two values of acquaintances; first as a means to better understand the character of humanity or in his words “the melancholy elements of which most men are made.”7 Each experience of the traits of others should be seen as additional information, “Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.”8 The second is the opportunity to practice restraint or as he tells us, “it will be found that all those who profess to give instruction in the wisdom of life are specially urgent in commending the practice of silence…”9 after which he quotes an Arabian proverb: “The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace.” It seems after all that there is a bit of the stoic in the cynical Schopenhauer with this: “Give way to neither love nor hate, is one half of worldly wisdom, say nothing and believe nothing, is the other half.”10

We turn next to Schopenhauer’s American contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the optimist/romantic with his whimsical, high-minded opinions. Consider this, “We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken…the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a kind ether.”11 He urges us to welcome strangers and honor mere acquaintances and rejoice to be among them. For Emerson, “a new person is to me always a great event and hinders me from sleep.”12 Clearly he views strangers and acquaintances from the vantage point of potential friendship not animosity.

Yet even Emerson admits “What a perpetual disappointment is actual society, even of the virtuous and gifted!”13 and he advises we “be admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be.”14 The purpose of acquaintance for Emerson then is as a pool of persons whom we filtrate for potential friends secured by a gradual process of cultivation. We must take the blame for our failure: “Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of a tough fibre of the human heart… we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit in the garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen.”15 It is almost as if he is reminding Schopenhauer that acquaintance requires time and effort to develop into friendship.

Between the Stoics and these two 19th century thinkers we conclude, the society of acquaintances may be disappointing and unsettling, but is essential to human thriving. The value of the company of others is not only the tangible need for human interaction, but also the opportunity to confirm one’s capacity to maintain inner tranquility, experience the benefits of restraint and silence, and learn more on the nature of mankind. And of course, acquaintances are the pool of invaluable friendships. Next we look at the last area of purpose and others – strangers.


7Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 66.

8Ibid.                                  9Ibid., page 81.                     10Ibid.

11Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Essays and English Traits. Grolier Enterprise Corp., Danbury, Connecticut, 1993 (The Harvard Classics). Page 105.  (You would never hear this from Schopenhauer.).

12Ibid., page 107                            13Ibid., page 109 .                14Ibid., page 117 .

15Ibid., page 109 .

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“There is nothing by which a man exasperates most people more, than by displaying a superior ability of brilliancy in conversation. They seem pleased at the time, but their envy makes them curse him at their hearts.”– Boswell’s Life of Johnson.


We return now to the purpose acquaintances bring to the meaningful life. We saw how the Roman stoics agreed there is a need for the society of others, which nonetheless must not be permitted to undermine the internal need for tranquility and order; and we reviewed the techniques they developed to overcome external disturbances. Today we jump forward to the 19th century where we find two philosophers with nearly opposite views of acquaintance – one pessimistic and the other optimistic.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), our pessimist, is unambiguous in his twin essays, Our Relation to Ourselves and Our Relation to Others. He admits we must live with others and advises we accept their flaws rather than try to change them following the maxim “Live and let live. That however is a task which is difficult in proportion as it is right; and he is a happy man who can once and for all avoid having to do with a great many of his fellow creatures.”1 He follows this with the curmudgeonly “The art of putting up with people may be learned by practicing patience on inanimate objects, which…oppose a stubborn resistance to our freedom of action – a form of patience which is required every day.”2 His corollary is that it makes no more sense to be angered by another than by a stone.

People of similar nature, we are told, tend to find agreement in thought which he says explains how ordinary people can be so sociable and why they are drawn to each other. The fact is there are a large number of people “of vulgar tastes and inferior intellect.”3 Schopenhauer is blunt: “…most society is so constituted as to offer a good profit to anyone who will exchange it for solitude.”4 The superior person will limit time in society as “Great minds are like eagles and build their nests in some lofty solitude.”5  His advice on the frequency of time with others: “Memory is…like a camera obscura; it contracts everything within its range, and so produces a much finer picture than the landscape affords. And, in the case of a man, absence always goes some way towards securing this advantageous light…Hence the prudent thing is to see your friends and acquaintances only at considerable intervals of time…”6

His other advice is equally unforgiving:

  • Do not spoil acquaintances by being too indulgent or charitable or by loaning them money.
  • Do not discuss overly personal matters.
  • Maintain a level of independence and self-sufficiency.
  • Let others know their relationship is dispensable; which paradoxically may lead to friendship.
  • Disdain of others wins regard and respect.
  • Do not rush to good judgment of others.
  • Pay attention to character in trivial matters.
  • Relationships should be based on ideals not material interests.
  • Measure friends by their response to misfortune.
  • It is wise to be polite and stupid to be rude.
  • Don’t mimic others; be oneself.
  • Never combat another’s opinion or correct his mistakes.
  • To make your judgment accepted, don’t express it with passion.
  • Never praise yourself as it will be seen as vanity.

(continued next post)


1Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 54-55(author’s italics).

2Ibid., page 55.                     3Ibid., page 56.                     4Ibid., page 26.

5Ibid., page 56.                     6Ibid., page 57.

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“…it is not rank but virtue that makes a man good; not office but character. A proud man disdains his former friends, ignores acquaintances made yesterday, is contemptuous to old companions.”– Lothario Dei Segni (Pope Innocent III).


Stoic teaching comes down to a metaphysic of cosmic order based on benevolent but deterministic Providence mirrored in human rationality and virtue, an ethic of universal brotherhood and unanimous duty to participate, and a psychology of apatheia or detachment leading to inner tranquility. The four most famous Roman Stoics discussed in the last 8 blogs arrive at a consensus on the following points.

First, humans are naturally social animals and thus have a need for others. On this Seneca is unequivocal; human society is necessary for human flourishing. Second the world of others is the arena of activity where our providential role and duty are fulfilled. Here Cicero emphasizes the importance of honor among acquaintances while Marcus Aurelius repeatedly observes that the harmony of the whole is dependent on the performance of the individual. Third, the challenge of dealing with others is the test of the philosopher’s capacity to maintain tranquility. Epictetus goes further seeing a superadded purpose in our serving as a model to attract others to a philosophical disposition. A fourth Stoic purpose of acquaintances is their potential to contribute to our self-improvement and honing of virtue. And last, as Marcus Aurelius reminds us, we may need to turn to acquaintances for help as circumstances require.

According to these great thinkers, the need for the society of others must not undermine the internal need for tranquility and order. They offer many techniques to overcome external disturbances such as mental preparation for the day ahead, withdrawal into oneself when in a crowd or when exposed to disorder, maintenance of a cosmic perspective on the ultimate insignificance of temporal disruptions, charitable acceptance of the inevitable imperfections of others, and control of one’s thoughts regarding others.

Drawing on the Hellenic traditions of Stoicism and Epicureanism, the Roman Stoics define our individual purpose with regards to other people more clearly than perhaps any earlier or later school. As a result, their teachings were adopted and modified by Christianity and serve as guidance even to this day. Next we look at two opposing thinkers from the 19th century – Arthur Schopenhauer and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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The emperor-philosopher’s final guidance concerns our actions among other people – from our habitual behavior to the pursuit of fame or the seeking of help.  For example, it is no surprise that he inverts the issue of troublesome people on to oneself with “You should take no action unwillingly, selfishly, uncritically or with conflicting motives. Do not dress up your thoughts in smart finery: do not be a gabbler or a meddler.”14 When dealing with others, he advises “in each case we must say: this has come from god; this is due to a juncture of fate, the mesh of destiny, or some similar coincidence of chance; and this is from my fellow man, my kinsman and colleague, thought one who does not know what accords with his own nature. But I do know: and so I treat him kindly and fairly, following the natural law of our fellowship, but at the same time I give him his proper desert in matters which are morally neutral.”15 Regarding anger and fame he sees them as passion and desire in which one surrenders oneself to the offence or judgment of others. As for needing help from others he says, “Do not be ashamed of help. It is your task to achieve your assigned duty, like a soldier in a scaling-party, What, then, if you are lame and cannot climb the parapet by yourself, but this is made possible by another’s help?”16

There is much, much more. Book 2:5 and 4:24 offer guidance on concentration on meaningful activities. Book 3:4:1 disdains wasting one’s time thinking about others faults or actions. Book 6:48 recommends cheering oneself up by reflecting on the good qualities of acquaintances. And amazingly, Book 11:17 gives a 10 point list of how the experience of others does not and cannot harm you. Marcus Aurelius is still a remarkably fresh guide to the reality of others as the furniture of the world. It is in this inhabited world where we must perform our duties and where we encounter the relationships that permit the demonstration of our capacity for kindness and our skill in maintaining tranquility. Next time we will sum up the Stoic idea of purpose in acquaintance, reviewing Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Join me then.


14Meditations, Book 3:5.   15 Book 3:11:3.    16 Book 7:7.

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In the last two blogs we saw that the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius centers  on Providence, duty, and universal brotherhood and is premised on active participation  in the world. We also learned about his four basic techniques to maintain tranquility and his advice to prepare for each day and for the meeting of new people. Today we pick up a third flavor of Marcus’ counsel which addresses dealing with the faults and malice of others.

Take for example his advice for dealing with self-interested persons. “How cruel it is not to allow people to strive for what seems to them their interest and advantage! And yet in a way you are forbidding them to do this when you fuss that they are wrong; surely they are drawn to their own interest and advantage. ‘But is it not actually so?: well then, teach them, show them, do not fuss.”10  Another example is his reflections  on those with a variety of other faults. “Whenever you are offended at someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: ‘So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?’ It is not possible. Do not then ask for the impossible. This person is just one of the shameless inevitably existing in the world. Have the same thought ready for the rogue, the traitor, every sort of offender. The recognition that this class of people must necessarily exist will immediately make you kinder to them as individuals.”11

Marcus also has an almost Christian attitude to his adversaries. “When another blames or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what kind of people they are. You will realize there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any other opinion of you. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends…”12  Or we can follow a different course, “In the field of play an opponent scratches us with his nails, or gives us a butting blow with his head: but we do not ‘mark’ him for that, or take offence, or suspect him afterwards of deliberate attack. True, we do keep clear of him: but this is good-natured avoidance, not suspicion or treating him as an enemy.” 13 There is much more on maintaining composure in the face of others characters, for example: ignorance, disloyalty, or ingratitude (Book 9:42:3), wrong-doing (Book 5:25, 5:35, 8:56, 9:2, 9:20, 9:42:2, 10:30, and 12:11), untruthfulness or injustice (Book 6:47), propensity to criticism (Book 10:13, 11:13), obstructivism (Book 11:13) and even grief-sharing (Book 5:36).

(final continuation next post)

10Meditations, Book 6:27.            11Book 9:42.        12 Book 9:27.        13 Book 6:20.

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