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The War Within

By Mika Kasuga

I was a little bemused when I saw that the NSA scandal caused sales of 1984, George Orwell’s masterpiece, to rise more than 3,000 percent.  Although it warms my heart to see exponential book sales – for a title that isn’t Fifty Shades, too – the world that Orwell imagined has not come to pass.

 In 1984, the figure of Big Brother watches over the citizens of Oceania, enforcing total obedience to the following maxims:




 Antonyms can be synonyms, if Big Brother makes it so: by reconciling opposites, the official language of Big Brother, called Newspeak, aims to diminish the range of thought and make insubordination impossible. Whether Oceania is at war,  against whom, and why  is irrelevant. Orwell’s dystopic vision is rooted in opposition, in the assumption that only an outside threat can truly unite a group.  Fear of the Other is what anchors Ingsoc , and what justifies the total loyalty, obedience and group cohesion that Big Brother demands.

Orwell’s nightmare future originated in his concerns about his present – the title of 1984 came from Orwell flipping the last two digits of 1948, the year he completed the novel.   But with the fall of the Soviet Union, the global political order went from the bipolarity of the Cold War to the unipolarity of American primacy.  We no longer had an implacable, ruthless Other.  And with 9/11 and the War on Terror came a hyper-awareness that the enemy was potentially everywhere and nowhere.  The homeland became the battleground; monuments became targets.  Containing the Other was no longer necessary, and so US culture shifted away from ideas of the “un-American” and gazed inwards, focusing on “homeland security.”  You can see one manifestation of this shift in recent shows like “Homeland” and “The Americans” – despite the very Cold War concept of Russian sleeper cells – which emphasize a war within, a narrative of self-doubt and dueling selves, in an environment of self surveillance.

This shift inwards has been mirrored in our recreational lives; with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., self-surveillance has become a kind of pastime.  We broadcast our activities and our locations, along with who we’re with; often, we provide a tastefully retouched picture too.

 As such, it seems appropriate that Dave Eggers’ dystopic novel The Circle is set at a Facebook/Google amalgam that runs search engines, social networks, and seeks to record every moment of every life, everywhere.  Eggers is a brilliant, entertaining writer, and his dystopic vision recognizes that changes in technology and politics have rendered the nightmare of 1984 slightly old-fashioned.   Still, in an homage to Orwell, the corporation known as the Circle has a three-fold motto:




 Compare Orwell’s and Eggers’ maxims and you have, in a nutshell, the difference between the 20th century dystopia and the 21st century one.  Orwell fears a society where the government controls your thoughts; Eggers mocks one where a corporation requisitions them.

 So, what does this shift mean for the future?

Obviously, I don’t have the answer to this.  Nobody does: the inherently conjectural aspect of the utopia/dystopia genre  is what makes it so exciting.  But I do think this shift is the key to how and why  the activities of the NSA, the revelations of Edward Snowden and the existence of Wikileaks have effected so little change in how we live our lives. Knowing that the US government houses and stores my personal data hasn’t stopped me from using my iPhone for, well, everything – nor has the knowledge that Google does the same stopped me from using their search engine. To question and change this pattern would require a massive overhaul of my daily personal and business habits – more than just deactivating my Twitter and Facebook accounts, but also using a search engine that didn’t store my searches, and finding a phone that was just a phone.  The services are free, and I am lazy: it’s that simple.

On any given day, companies buy and sell the information we yield up to them: the information that is us, in some strange way.   Our status as data lodes determines the ads that follow us around online, the offers we get via email, the ‘suggested friends’ we should get in touch with.  Our digital selves shadow our IRL activities, but they exist and interact beyond us; they are bought and sold by third parties and they bring our darkest, most twisted secrets into the light of day. (For much, much more on this, I’d highly recommend reading Julia Angwin’s book Dragnet Nation) And yet, the very term for an online presence — a “profile” — suggests that our digital selves are merely one-half of who we truly are: our joys and our sorrows, our memories and our ambitions, our sense of personal identity and free will are greater than the sum total of gigabytes that companies like Facebook and Google mine from us.

 To be suspected of being a spy used to mean an allegiance to a larger organization.  The great spy novels of the Cold War – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Hunt For Red October – were about individuals caught between two sides. Even 1984 is about Winston’s ultimate failure to carve out a life away from Big Brother and the Brotherhood.

 But The Circle is not based on an old-fashioned struggle; instead, it’s a riff on Dante’s Inferno.  The central conflict of The Circle is how far the protagonist, Mae, is willing to go to further her career, to guarantee a brave new world where the old social evils no longer exist.  The battleground is her morals, her sense of self.  The cost – so slight – is her privacy.

We spy on ourselves, now.  And so the modern dystopia and the modern spy narrative share the same terrain: self-doubt, self-conflict, self-betrayal.  But the question still remains: for who are we spying, and why?

Reading List: The Circle1984Dragnet Nation


61 comments on “The War Within

  1. Agatha
    April 10, 2014

    Do you enjoy Facebook-stalking others on a day to day basis?

  2. segmation
    April 15, 2014

    Better watch out what you place on social media then? Right?

  3. Ted Luoma
    April 15, 2014

    Interesting that the shift went from government rooting out information to the individual freely sharing his personal information.

  4. awax1217
    April 15, 2014

    Eventually we will all be gpsed. They will find us with a click of the mouse. Then mind control will be refined as subliminal messages will be put in our cortex as in The Time Machine. Welcome to the future.

  5. Rii the Wordsmith
    April 15, 2014

    Interesting concept. I hadn’t heard of The Circle before – previously I liked to read 1984 side-by-side with Brave New World, but perhaps you are suggesting The Circle would be a good book to read at its side, maybe not instead but in addition to? I’ll have to look into it.

    • Mika
      April 15, 2014

      Thanks for checking out my article! And yes, I’d recommend reading it, though not necessarily side-by-side. Brave New World and 1984 have very different mindsets (the use of soma is all about a culture of distraction, numbness – not control), and The Circle uses both to get its point across.

      So yes, definitely in addition to!

      • Rii the Wordsmith
        April 16, 2014

        I love the juxtaposition of Brave New World and 1984 for that reason – reading just 1984 brings about a very specific fear of being controlled, but BNW and soma show that one should be wary of more than just total lack of privacy and thought. 1984, the gov’t controls with fear. BNW, the world is controlled through pleasure. But I’ll add The Circle to the list. I’ll have to drop by the library and pick up a copy.

        • findhandmade
          April 26, 2014

          My two most powerful books – 1984 for it’s nightmare qualities, and Brave New World for the complacent consumerism.

  6. gossipgirlnetherlands
    April 15, 2014

    Love your blog! Follow me back!

  7. optitracer
    April 15, 2014

    Seems like there’s no perfect system, with capitalism your oppressed and spied on by corporations, with totalitarian regimes your oppressed and spied on by the government. There’s no winning. “Freedom” just means people are free to enslave.

    • bonsaimartin
      April 16, 2014

      The problem with capitalism, as it is applied in the democracies of the west, is that the power is in the hands of the government. Why does a government need to have power? All that is required of a government is that they put into place the legislation and services that the electorate identify as needs through their MPs, calculate the costs, and tax the electorate accordingly. It is simply administration. If the government had no power to overrule the requirements of the electorate, there would be no one for the capitalists to lobby or influence. The corporations would have to lobby the public instead. When the people collectively have the power to control government, we have a fair and just government. When the government have the power to control the people, we are inexorably on the path to totalitarianism. It isn’t capitalism that’s at fault, it’s that we don’t have truly democratic government.

      • Spinning For Difficulty
        April 16, 2014

        “…When the people collectively have the power to control government, we have a fair and just government….”

        If people have the power to control government you would end up with no government. With power in the people’s hands ‘government’ would become no more than a collection of service providers operating in a free market. And without the power to FORCE us to pay for and use their services they would soon find themselves going out of business as people switched to using cheaper, more efficient, more customer friendly, more innovative, more peaceful, more environmentally friendly, more moral and more effective free market alternatives to government services.

        A ‘fair and just government’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s like saying a fair and just rapist.

        A ‘government’ is just a euphemism for a bunch of people using coercion and violence to achieve their objectives. Governments do not actually exist, only PEOPLE exist …. some people interacting peacefully and voluntarily…… and other people pointing guns at other people and making demands.

        A ‘government’ is defined as:

        A group of people within a given geographical area who claim and violently defend a monopoly on the legal and moral right to *initiate force* against others to achieve their aims.

        The issue we face is therefore is not an issue of ‘government’ – it is the issue of people using the INITIATION OF FORCE to get their way.

        Let’s say I want you to pay for something that I want but which you do not want, and don’t want to pay for either. At the moment I can ‘vote’ for the government to FORCE you to pay for it, using the threat of being kidnapped and put in a cage (which usually works) …… or … I can dispense with ‘government’, build a cage in my back garden and come round you house – gun in hand – and threaten you in person.

        They are essentially the same scenario. The only difference is that in one scenario I have outsourced my threats of violence (my terrorism) against you to a third party (ie that group of thugs who call themselves ‘government’).

        Democracy is no different to any other human activity or human interaction – what matters is whether or not force is being initiated!

        Ten friends voting for which restaurant to eat dinner at does not involve the initiation of force against anyone else – so it’s all cool. But ten friends voting for which girl at a nightclub to kidnap and gang rape does involve the initiation of force – so it’s not so cool. Both are bone fide examples of ‘democracy in action’.

        Morally speaking, voting for a government to initiate force against others on your behalf (as your elected representatives) is the same as initiating force against them personally. In the current system of western democracy people do not vote for ‘a candidate’ or ‘a party’…. they vote for a candidate or party to INITIATE FORCE against others, on their behalf. They vote for threats of violence to be made against the rest of the population, on their behalf. They vote for a third party to use terrorism against everyone else, on their behalf. That’s what political voting means.

        Voting for ‘Obama’ to point guns at people and demand they pay up and do as they’re told is no different to voting for ‘Tony’ from your local mafia to point guns at people and demand they pay up and do as they’re told.

        A ‘government’ is basically a mafia + control of education (ie indoctrinating the minds of the young into accepting this particular mafia as somehow legitimate and moral).

        If using coercion and violence to get your way is immoral, then it follows that getting a third party (a mafia, a street gang or a government) to do all the coercing and violence ON YOUR BEHALF is just as immoral.

        Therefore a ‘government controlled by the people’ is just as bad as a fascist/ communist dictatorship IF the people carry on initiating force against each other to get their way.

        “…..It isn’t capitalism that’s at fault, it’s that we don’t have truly democratic government….”

        I would agree that it isn’t capitalism which is at fault. Capitalism just means a respect for property rights and voluntary transactions in a free market. We do not have a capitalist system, except in isolated pockets (the ones government has yet to pick).

        But the problem cannot be democracy (or lack of it). The problem is having a population which still accepts the initiation of force as legitimate behaviour when to comes to key aspects of social organisation.

        In everyday life (personal and business) we all accept that the initiation of force (assault, coercion, murder, rape, theft, kidnapping etc) is immoral and totally unacceptable. So why do we view it as both moral AND necessary when it comes to key areas of social organisation like banking, business, education, the economy, healthcare etc?

        And why do we imagine that simply by ‘voting’ for a third party to coerce and enact violence against other people on our behalf, we can somehow make that coercion and violence any less immoral, barbaric or uncivilised?

        This absurd contradiction in our minds (and in our moral standards) is the root cause of this, and probably all, dystopian nightmares.

        • spikey1one
          April 17, 2014

          What a great definition of Government, I love it:)

          • Spinning For Difficulty
            April 17, 2014

            Yes it’s a great definition (because it’s so true and to the point).

            I think I first heard government defined that way HERE by Stefan Molyneux.

            It’s a testament to the propaganda machine that is the education system/ media/ politics that we have to discover the true definition of ‘government’ in adult life from obscure philosophers on youtube!

            Although, Stefan gets millions of views these days, so he’s only obscure relative to the mainstream media – and he’s catching up fast 🙂

      • progressivewatch
        April 16, 2014

        The problem today lies in the clock of deception that the progressive hoard has draped over our eyes. This vale blinds us to the truth of the world, and keeps us squabbling between ourselves.

        They mask socialism and tyranny as capitalism. They tell us we have a choice right or left, communism or fascism. But in all actuality there is no choice. Communism, fascism, are not the difference between right and left. The only choice progressives offer are variances in the theory of how to control the mindless masses. Both paths lead to enslavement. Both lead to a state that controls your life.
        the problem lies in the fact that we have been fooled into believing that the choice is between one radical form of tyranny over the other. When the choice has always been between liberty and opportunity, or tyranny and mediocrity. A progressive can only guarantee you the later.

    • progressivewatch
      April 16, 2014

      Freedom means you are free to fail or succeed. You either stand, or you fall. Freedom means that you are unbound by artificial limitations set by pompous lords.
      The poem on the Statue of Liberty speaks to this ends. Here on our golden shores, even the frailest of beings can become a lion. You are only a slave if you allow yourself to be one.

      Of course our progressive government has done everything it can to ensure that climbing up the ladder is a but impossible. They prefer in stead to drag those who have succeeded down, out of “fairness” of course.

  8. rexalamaar
    April 15, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Lives Of The (in)significant. and commented:
    That is a scary thought- thinking that people are watching you.

    • spikey1one
      April 17, 2014

      Take a trip to Britain some time, they have more cameras than people.

      • rexalamaar
        April 17, 2014

        I am infact British so I know exactly what you mean!

  9. rly1987
    April 15, 2014

    I learned a lot from 1984, but George Orwell is such a hypocrite in my opinion.

  10. callumdownes
    April 15, 2014

    Privacy is rapidly becoming an undervalued commodity. Will be a very interesting read, cheers for the heads up!

  11. kirilpiril
    April 15, 2014

    Reblogged this on kirilpiril.

  12. Ed
    April 16, 2014

    Your post was well written. I wanted to know, where do you get these classy graphics from? 🙂

  13. ekandza
    April 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on Walfe.

  14. bonsaimartin
    April 16, 2014

    I don’t think that allowing others to spy on us is quite the same as spying on ourselves, that seems to be a catchy trope thrown in at the end to tie up your post. Neither is self-spying either inevitable or universal; Facebook and Twitter and so on are popular, but far from being obligatory and there are still far more people on the planet who do not use these things than those who do. What concerns me about this issue is how little push back there has been from the public demanding that their privacy be honoured. We obviously can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but your revelation about increased sales of 1984 suggests to me that maybe people are taking more interest than my skepticism supposes, and that can only be a good thing. Increased book sales, whatever book they are reading, is also an encouraging sign. Thank you for this.

  15. harulawordsthatserve
    April 16, 2014

    A well written and very thought provoking piece. Thanks for sharing.

  16. gangtokay
    April 16, 2014

    🙂 I especially liked the concept of leaving a reading list. Like a teacher.

  17. Spinning For Difficulty
    April 16, 2014

    It’s a shame you didn’t mention Aldous Huxley. He was Orwell’s French teacher at Eton, and was also a member of the elite think tank the ‘Fabian Society’, who’s emblem is a wolf in sheep’s clothing (very apt).

    It was Huxley’s connection to the elite ruling class in the Fabian Society which probably gave him insider knowledge of their social engineering plans for society … which in turn allowed him to ‘predict’ future society so well, even as long ago as the 1930’s (when he wrote Brave New World).

    Apparently after he and Orwell became friends they would debate their visions of the future dystopia. Orwell imagine the future society being more overtly police state, whereas Huxley imagined more of a ‘psychic dictatorship’ where the prison bars have been installed in our minds through endless conditioning.

    I think there is a good case to make that they were BOTH right and our modern society is actually a blend of the two.

    If I may quote from a speech Huxley gave to Berkley students in 1962, a year before his death (a recording of the full speech is also on youtube I believe):

    ‘…..Today we are faced, I think, with the approach of what may be called the ultimate revolution, the final revolution, where man can act directly on the mind-body of his fellows. Well needless to say some kind of direct action on human mind-bodies has been going on since the beginning of time. But this has generally been of a violent nature. The Techniques of terrorism have been known from time immemorial and people have employed them with more or less ingenuity sometimes with the utmost cruelty, sometimes with a good deal of skill acquired by a process of trial and error finding out what the best ways of using torture, imprisonment, constraints of various kinds.

    But, as, I think it was (sounds like Mettenicht) said many years ago, you can do everything with {garbled} except sit on them. If you are going to control any population for any length of time, you must have some measure of consent, it’s exceedingly difficult to see how pure terrorism can function indefinitely. It can function for a fairly long time, but I think sooner or later you have to bring in an element of persuasion an element of getting people to consent to what is happening to them.

    It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude. This is the, it seems to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions shall we say, and this is a problem which has interested me many years and about which I wrote thirty years ago, a fable, Brave New World, which is an account of society making use of all the devices available and some of the devices which I imagined to be possible making use of them in order to, first of all, to standardize the population, to iron out inconvenient human differences, to create, to say, mass produced models of human beings arranged in some sort of scientific caste system. Since then, I have continued to be extremely interested in this problem and I have noticed with increasing dismay a number of the predictions which were purely fantastic when I made them thirty years ago have come true or seem in process of coming true…..’

    • Mika
      April 17, 2014

      Huxley was definitely in the back of my head as I was writing this piece – however, a lot of Brave New World focuses on the need for people to constantly buy products, which, bearing in mind that the vast majority of social networking sites are free, runs slightly counter to my argument.

      Further, the use of soma encourages a dissolution of self, a lack of self-awareness. The descriptions of Lena as “pneumatic” throughout the text give the casual sex a mechanical feel that is in line with their worship of Ford. All of which suggests, to me, a movement away from self-examination, self-branding, etc. Isn’t that the whole problem with the Savage? That he is given to introspection (the love of Hamlet) in a society that denigrates that attitude?

  18. vericag
    April 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on verica's Blog and commented:
    Well thought out arguments. You’ve inspired me to re-read 1984 this weekend 🙂

  19. idealistrant
    April 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on idealistrant and commented:

  20. NY PC Rescue
    April 16, 2014

    It’s social media, if you put your life online one must be prepared for the consequences.

  21. NY PC Rescue
    April 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on NY PC RESCUE and commented:
    If you put your life online, you must be prepared for the consequences.

  22. rescatooor
    April 16, 2014

    Not only do we voluntarily publish information about ourselves but also about the people around us. Even the information we try to keep to ourselves may be easily cheated from our loved ones. When somebody knows everything about you, it will be easy for them to manufacture false information on you. This information might put you in a such a bad light that it will be difficult to prove its incorrectness.

  23. earlgrffn2
    April 16, 2014

    I’ve often pondered the inevitable effects of such a depth of knowledge that social media provides. One could easily design political platforms by examining the topics people care about on such websites. This is an excellent blog. Thanks for sharing.

  24. seantsmithauthor
    April 16, 2014

    Great post! As technology becomes more invasive and enables our lassitude, I shudder at what the world will look like in fifty years.

    • Ed
      April 16, 2014

      It’s gonna be fine! 😉

      • spikey1one
        April 17, 2014

        That really depends on your height in the pyramid.

  25. seantsmithauthor
    April 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on Author Sean T. Smith and commented:
    This is a great article

  26. katmphotography
    April 16, 2014


  27. Joseph Kerniger
    April 16, 2014

    The Sarkist Times supports a post progressive view: Capitalism is a fast-forwarding way of eliminating us from the dark ages. We need to lose privacy in order to gain common, global information.

    Privacy and individual rights are not easy to let go because from our perspective they are intrinsically valuable but in the future we will lose them voluntarily to provide a common view on our life and all views combined will provide the image of modern man.

    In the meantime this privacy will be abused by corporate companies but we have to look further.

    Best regards,

    Joseph Kerniger
    Publisher, The Sarkist Times

  28. amlakyaran
    April 17, 2014

    very nice post…

  29. davidgesteira
    April 17, 2014

    Reblogged this on Viejo Corsario.

  30. screechmonkey
    April 17, 2014

    Reblogged this on A Better Life – Without Permission and commented:
    What a fantastic piece on modern spy culture.

  31. lmarks04
    April 18, 2014

    Yeah I wonder how much further this is going to go in the future or if the public in general is going to put an end to the anti privacy trend. Who knows.

  32. truth1nchrist
    April 18, 2014

    Jesus is coming back soon.

  33. uparekh
    April 19, 2014

    great post nice written i love it


  34. Prexaspes
    April 19, 2014

    Glad to see someone talking about this. The question of privacy is a big one. Jaron Lanier discusses it in his book “Who Owns the Future” and for him it comes down to the monetizing and selling of personal data by individuals, privacy literally consisting in refusal to sell one’s goods.

    I’ve written a short blog post about it myself at

  35. leavesbrustlin
    April 20, 2014

    This is great. Tried to re-blog this three times just now, and is just not having it. system system system. Thanks for being

  36. chiefchimurenga777
    April 20, 2014

    Reblogged this on The African Patriotic Front .

  37. Big Blogger of Knowledge
    April 20, 2014

    The Circle… I’ll have to put that on my list.

    Amazing, yet terrifying how prescient Orwell was and how relevant his works still are over 60 years later. He who controls the past controls the present…

  38. A.L.E.X.
    April 21, 2014

    Reblogged this on Yet another fine blog … 😀 and commented:
    A very good read, thank you for posting.

  39. Nymphe Foresther
    April 22, 2014

    Hello! My name is Nymphe Foresther. Do yo want to perform web banner exchange with me ? I have traffic on my blog so if we join ours then we have more together… More info about me ? Just click my avatar profile picture or name. Thanks. N.F.

  40. vicbriggs
    April 22, 2014

    I have to disagree with you about Orwell’s world not coming to pass. We are living in that world, while blind to its existence.

  41. wa1marktng
    April 23, 2014

    I found the comments as interesting as the original piece.

    I haven’t read any of the books, mentioned, and Orwell seemed so upper middle-class, in the way that Burgess, Philby, Mclean, and the others were… Public School educated, concerned at the way the secret world of the elite controlled people and things.

    The real enemy of the people are the Bankers who pull the strings from behind the curtain – the Wizards of Oz, I’ve likened them to, but the alternatives to their shenanigans, real money, are about to steal their thunder (as the saying goes)

    LIBOR, EURIBOR, Precious metals manipulations, Secret deals to foreign governments and National Banks, and even dare I suggest – the Big M…

    Social Media just gives governments and huge corporations a fast track to our innermost thoughts, via what we share. But the real sin is “Bread and Circuses”
    The Romans used it to great effect in the dying days of their empire too…

    The Coming Battle, between the people and the bankers will be intertesting – in the same way that one commentator, writing home from St Petersburgh, Russia in 1917 wrote – “there seems to be a little trouble in the streets” – a masterpiece of uderstatement.

    Crypto-currencies, and Precious metals widely used will be their undoing, and I hope to be around long enough to see it happen…



  42. annkelley14
    April 24, 2014

    Reblogged this on Ann'sRazzJazz.

  43. empoweringlifechoices
    April 25, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Point.

  44. Povonte
    April 26, 2014

    This was a good light read, can’t wait to read more of your posts

  45. 3duir
    May 11, 2014

    Great Post. The act of observation (or spying if you prefer) has a dual fold influence on the psyche. We like to know someone is looking out for us; watching our back, someone’s watching the kids–that makes us feel good, comforted, secure. Conversely, covert observation makes people fearful, paranoid and guilty -feeling, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. Like when a floorwalker observes you in a dept store–you may have done nothing wrong but you feel vaguely guilty anyway. One begins to adopt artificial and paranoid behaviors. There’s the why (or part of it) the whom is….well all of us. We tend to be most angry at high income/ authority spys like NSA, Government, and Corporate data fishers, but we have lots of local busy bodies in our neighborhoods all too willing to report their neighbors to ‘the authorities’, usually for circumstances that are not posing a clear and present danger but merely make the observer uncomfortable. A reason for that too.

  46. imperfectionbloger
    May 12, 2014

    Thanks for the good info.

  47. retrace
    June 3, 2015

    That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.

    Simple but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.

    A must read post!

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This entry was posted on April 8, 2014 by in Literature, Mika Kasuga, Thought and tagged , , , , , , .
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