Objectivism Part 1 - Transcript


0:00 - Introduction to Objectivism and Personal History
3:13 - Discussion on Ayn Rand's Social Group
6:50 - Evaluating Ayn Rand's Achievements in Metaphysics
8:45 - Ayn Rand's Imperious Assertiveness in Metaphysics
10:52 - The Impact of Ayn Rand on Personal Growth
17:49 - Transition to the Realm of Ethics
19:35 - The Challenge of Deriving Ethics without Religion
22:50 - Analyzing the Approach to Ethics
24:43 - Willpower in Ayn Rand's Ethical Philosophy
27:09 - Comparison of Ayn Rand's Methods with Religious Practices
34:30 - The Gray Areas of Ethics
39:25 - The Failure of Ayn Rand
48:22 - The Journey to Ethical Clarity

Long Summary

In this extensive lecture, I delve deeply into objectivism, tracing back to my personal history and the profound impact Ayn Rand had on my intellectual development, particularly in metaphysics and epistemology. I provide a detailed examination of Rand's life, highlighting pivotal moments and career achievements as a writer and philosopher.

Acknowledging the complex persona of Ayn Rand, I express both admiration for her intellectual contributions and reservations about certain aspects of her character and the objectivist movement. Reflecting on the challenges and triumphs of Rand's work in shaping my philosophical beliefs, I maintain a balanced perspective throughout the discussion.

The discourse explores Rand's influence on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, praising her emphasis on logic, empirical reality, and common sense. While acknowledging the strengths of Rand's arguments, I also point out perceived weaknesses, especially in fully closing certain philosophical loops and proofs.

A critical analysis of objectivist ethics unfolds, focusing on the struggle of deriving moral principles from empirical facts and reconciling Rand's ethical framework with my own beliefs. I delve into the difficulty of substantiating morality without resorting to religious or willpower-based justifications, expressing a curiosity towards exploring alternative approaches to moral philosophy.

Continuing the nuanced perspective on Ayn Rand's work, I balance admiration with critical examination, culminating in a reflection on the challenges and intricacies of objectivism. The lecture invites further exploration and discussion on the complexities of ethics and philosophy.

Shifting gears, the lecture then tackles the challenge of crafting irrefutable proofs that transcend personal biases and preconceptions. I share a quarter-century journey grappling with establishing ethical arguments devoid of implicit universal values, aiming for arguments that are universally inescapable.

Drawing parallels between my ethical approach and Rand's, I stress the importance of comprehending the journey towards an ethical standpoint rather than simply arriving at a predefined moral position. Through vivid metaphors and thoughtful insights, I distinguish between navigating ethics and succumbing to willful assertions.

The discussion dissects the dangers of substituting willpower for irrefutable proof in philosophical discourse, highlighting the necessity of addressing uncertainties and complexities in ethics for a robust ethical framework. I emphasize the importance of rigorous reasoning and principled argumentation in ethical discourse to cultivate a genuine understanding of ethics.

In conclusion, the lecture advocates for earning ethical definitions through reasoned dialogue and deep engagement with uncertainties, steering clear of dogmatism and simplistic assertions. By fostering a more intellectually honest and nuanced approach to ethics, genuine progress and meaningful dialogue can flourish in the philosophical realm.


[0:00] Introduction to Objectivism and Personal History

[0:00] Good afternoon, donators, my precious, precious crew. I have decided to begin the highly challenging work on objectivism, and I hope that you will forgive the first bit of this, which is going to be my experiences with objectivism, my history, and my personal relationship with objectivism. Since, in full disclosure, by far the largest intellectual influence on me has been objectivism and Ayn Rand and everything of value about epistemology. And I would say metaphysics and epistemology, for sure, I got from Ayn Rand. And there's no other place, I think, in the modern world that I could have gotten this from. So the debt remains eternal in the realm of the metaphysical principles, epistemology, the determination of truth from falsehood. I just think that it's a magnificent achievement, not just in the content, but in the form and the presentation.

[1:13] There's many, many ways that you can evaluate Ayn Rand as a human being, as a philosopher, as a wife, as the leader of a movement, as an artist, as a communicator.

[1:30] And I have complicated relationships to all of them, right? I mean, the thing to me that is so amazing about Ayn Rand is that she was both an astonishingly complicated and an astonishingly simple woman, in my opinion. This is going to be just opinion, right? I'm not going to try it, but we'll get into the philosophy as this series moves forward. But I can't jump into the philosophy without the full disclosure of my history and maybe it might have some resonance for you as well.

[1:59] So we can start with just a brief overview of the life of Ayn Rand. She was born, I think, around the time of the revolution in Russia, came in, I think, the early 19—before the revolution, it came in the early 20s to America, where she hooked up with an actor who was not particularly successful, Frank O'Connor. Louis B. DeMille, I think, ended up—she ended up taking a taxi cab ride with him and became a screenwriter for a while, began publishing. Publishing, first novel was We the Living, and was not very successful. And then I think Anthem came, which was a science fiction story about the discovery of the word I, also not very successful. And then she worked for a couple of years in an architect's office and spent five years writing The Fountainhead, which was published in 1944, which was a great success. And then she She followed that up in, I think, 1957. I think it was 13 years between them with Atlas Shrugged, which took her 13 years to write. I think she spent two years on Galt's Speech, which propelled her to a great deal of success, a great deal of international success. And she went from being a writer to being a leader.

[3:13] Discussion on Ayn Rand's Social Group

[3:13] I mean, there was a social group, which they jokingly called themselves The Collective, that people like Leonard Peacock, Nathaniel Brandon, Alan Greenspan, and other people they would meet and talk philosophy and so on.

[3:29] It was a sort of 60s mess in a lot of ways. I'm sure there were some great conversations, I wish that they had recorded them. There was a culty aspect to it. There was an incestuous aspect to it. There was a wife-swapping aspect to it that I just find pretty distasteful. Let me get to my opinions later. And there was a sort of kangaroo court aspect to it, in that there would be reviews of people who may have sinned against the philosophy of objectivism, and then they would be expelled in these mock trials. And it all just got, to me at least, very silly and very unpleasant. And when things go off the rails, as far as that stuff is, that to me has always indicated a fundamental flaw in the ideas. If the people who are practicing their values end up in situations where nobody really looks upon that with a great deal of respect, and Murray Rothbard was driven out of that group because he was considered to be a heretic, then there's something wrong with the ideas. I mean, that to me is just basic. I mean, if the ideas, when practiced by the people who claim to be the best at them, result in wife-swapping, mock trials, expulsions, and a complete failure of objective, then there's something wrong. There's something wrong with the ideas.

[4:53] As I mentioned in this sort of premium content style podcast before, either the people are practicing the ideas in a valid manner, in which case…, the ideas aren't practicable, or they're practising them in an invalid manner, while claiming to practise them in a valid manner, which means that they're hypocritical. And if they themselves don't believe in their own ideas, how much ground can they achieve in that realm? How much sort of credibility can they achieve in that realm? So when I first read Judgment Day, it was Barbara Brandon's book that I first read that opened my eyes. I almost knew nothing about Ayn Rand for the first 10 years after I started reading her. I almost knew nothing about her life other than, you know, minor stuff, like she was into tiddlywink music and collecting stamps.

[5:40] But about her personal life, I knew almost nothing other than that she didn't have kids and she'd been married to the same guy for quite some time. Years, decades, decades. And that he wasn't much of a talker. I mean, that's really all I knew. I mean, I certainly did have an instinctual understanding of things when, I mean, as you know, I first got into Ayn Rand at about the age of 16, because a friend of mine listened to Rush, the drummer for Rush, blah, blah, blah. And I read The Found Head and Devoured Atlas Shrugged, went into the nonfiction books, which I read assiduously and avidly and over and over. And when I first saw the notation that is at the back of, I think, the Romantic Manifesto, one of the books, where Ayn Rand says Nathaniel Brandon is no longer associated with objectivism with me or with this movement in any way, shape, or form, I said to my friend, who's now a professor, who gave me the books to begin with, I said, oh, so they had an affair. And he's like, oh, don't be ridiculous, right? I mean, she's a philosopher. He was a student. He probably just betrayed her in some intellectual manner and so on. So I kind of got that even at the age of sort of 17, that that was a little bit more than an ideological or philosophical disagreement.

[6:50] Evaluating Ayn Rand's Achievements in Metaphysics

[6:50] But let's start with the pluses, which are enormous and frustrating, right? Because the pluses in the realm of metaphysics, she's, I mean, I think she's without parallel. Yeah. She's without parallel. The confident assertion of common sense is so rare in the realm of philosophy that the degree to which Ayn Rand practiced it and preached it is amazing and wonderful, and in hindsight is obvious, but of course was unprecedented.

[7:21] So, to her goes all of the credit for that. I mean, yes, Aristotle had done it before, but Aristotle didn't write anything down, right? Almost everything is pieced together from notes of his students. And Aristotle had not pulled it together enough that he could not also be foundational to the Catholic Church's understanding of philosophy during the Dark Ages or in the early Middle Ages, where they simply called him the philosopher, right? Because this is before the Neoplatonism and the later spiritualism, but any philosopher which can be used by the Catholic Church as a foundational aspect of truth versus opinion must have something wrong with him. And we can talk about Aristotle another time. I took a whole course on the guy, So we can talk about Aristotle another time, but you can certainly never imagine that they could use Ayn Rand for that. So as far as her basic metaphysics go, existence exists, I exist, you exist, reality exists, independent of consciousness. The fact that when she says that existence exists, presupposes two things, external existence and somebody to perceive that it exists and so on.

[8:22] Wonderful, fantastic, and enormously impressive. impressive, so obvious. But to codify the obvious, as I know from my own work on ethics, to codify the obvious is pretty damn difficult. And the more emotional the obvious stuff is, the more difficult it is to codify. And certainly to codify metaphysics in this kind of way.

[8:45] Ayn Rand's Imperious Assertiveness in Metaphysics

[8:45] Was an enormous feat. I don't think that, I mean, the frustrating thing about Ayn Rand, which we'll get to more a little bit later, is that she was a little bit more into the assertion than she was into the proof. And so, she had an imperious kind of assertiveness to it, as Harold Bloom has called it, a sub-Nietzschean assertiveness. And by that, it just made, well, this is obvious, this is self-evident. She was very, very keen on axiomatic assertiveness. Proof, which, I mean, an axiom is scarcely a proof, right? But the fact that she said, well, existence exists, if you were tempted to that direction already as a thinker or as a human being, then her assertiveness swept you up and got you there. But I don't think that she was able to close the loop and make the kind of case that I'm striving to complete, right, this approach, approach to make it incontrovertible, right? To say that it is logically impossible to say that existence is not objective or that human beings don't exist or that other people are a projection from your own mind or whatever, in the worst sort of Descartesian or Cartesian view. I don't think she closed the loop that way. I think that that is a weakness of her imperiousness.

[10:01] So Ayn Rand had this incredible willpower and, I mean, she could just power through and invent from very early on, right? I mean, there's amazing plots and, well, not quite so amazing characters, but amazing plots, philosophical, passionate communications, and the power of ideas, the fundamental nature, the foundational nature of ideas in identity and relationships. You know, she powered through all of that stuff. I mean, she levitated herself from the deep well of ignorance of the species and just managed to achieve an enormous amount. out. I mean, she turned the stars into constellations and the world into something that was open to reason. And for that, we just, I mean, I'm enormously grateful. I just don't think that I would be one-tenth of one-hundredth of one percent of the man that I am if I had known to be in the other direction, if I had not taken what she said to heart.

[10:52] The Impact of Ayn Rand on Personal Growth

[10:53] But that, of course, is the great challenge with Ayn Rand.

[10:56] That is the great challenge with Ayn Rand. That's why she you remain somebody who ignites you or doesn't, right? That is the enormously frustrating thing about Ayn Rand, right? I mean, if you've ever tried to light a wet match, you know, you've got one match and it's sort of wet, the matchbook, you know, like you just keep doing it and then you get the flare and you can't predict it and so on. And that's sort of what it's like with Ayn Rand, that there's nothing irresistible to Ayn Rand to those who don't find her irresistible to begin with. And that is the great frustration of Ayn Rand. And I think that comes out of, well, a variety of things which we can get into as we go forward.

[11:37] But that is, I mean, I very much remember Nathaniel Brandon writing about this, saying that he read some of Ayn Rand and he was fascinated and the guy made a pretty fairly decent parasitical career out of working with Ayn Rand at the beginning. And I just don't think he's done anything quite as good since. But, He said, this is the most amazing stuff. He gave it to his sister who said, you know, it's interesting, good plots and so on. But if Ayn Rand doesn't ignite you, then she just doesn't ignite you, right? And in a sense, there's no way you can convince somebody of how great Ayn Rand is if they don't already think that she's great, right, within the first paragraph or two. And I remember very clearly sitting in my bedroom reading the first paragraph or two of The Fountainhead and loving everything about it. I mean, from the very beginning, I mean, despite the personal elements that Peter Keating has within my own life, and the admiration that I had for Howard Rourke, who's my favorite of her characters, right? I mean, still psychologically nonsensical, but, you know, a great animated statue, as most of her heroes really are. So, for metaphysics, I mean, God, you just absolutely ignited my mind. I mean, that Olympic torch that burns in my brain to this day, her doing, right? I mean, her doing. And that, just nothing but great things to say.

[13:05] Epistemologically, fantastic. Logic, evidence from an empirical reality, I just think is fantastic. Some of her validation of the census proofs, good. I wouldn't say great. Right. Again, she has a very tough time convincing those who aren't already on board. And by on board, I just mean sort of ready or have a personality or an ability or a simpaticoness, a synchronicity that works with her ideas. She doesn't have crowbars. Right. She has podiums. A crowbar is like you can prize someone to change their mind with relentless logic. Even if they think you're a jerk, even if they're not ignited by anything that you're saying, with relentless kinds of logic, you can really change people's minds, even if they don't want you to. But with Ayn Rand, you can change your mind if you don't want her to.

[13:52] And that, to me, has really been the most frustrating aspect of her, which, you know, there's nothing wrong with that frustration. I think that it certainly impelled me to try and do what I can to close the circle, to finish the job, and to expand it in other areas. But epistemologically, I thought that was wonderful. Her respect for science, her respect for empiricism, her respect for the validity of the senses, her respect for Aristotelian logic, I mean, just magnificent, and gives emphasis on the of tools that, I mean, I still use and will forevermore use as a philosopher. So, fantastic, fantastic. And the presentation, of course, right? I mean, the presentation of ideas in a fictional standpoint, having done my fair stab at it myself, and I mean, achieved nothing compared to what she has, is incredibly difficult. And her ferocious willpower, which I think is the one defining strength and weakness of her as a communicator, her ferocious willpower allowed her to power hour through the challenges of how to present philosophy in an artistic sense or in an artistic world in a way that...

[15:01] I mean, it's sort of like, you can get those kind of antibiotics that will not only cure your infection, but also kill off all the bacteria in your stomach, so that you're a little bit less of an ecosystem and just sort of carved out, but not quite enriched as a biological species. And I sort of feel that's a little bit, to use a revolting metaphor, I think that's a little bit what Ayn Rand did with her books, that she willed these books, this art into existence and did jam together with this amazing, ferocious Russian willpower. She jammed the art and the ideas together, and that's been amazingly powerful, and it certainly did cure a sickness of subjectivism and mysticism within me, not that I really had any philosophical leanings before reading Ayn Rand.

[15:49] But it also, like in curing mysticism, it's a little like Ayn Rand says, it's either this like hyper antibiotics or it's a kind of radiation therapy, like a kind of chemotherapy, where it's like, great, my cancer is gone, but so is a large part of my soul. Role that I think was a great challenge for me. And I did try. I mean, I don't know if a lot of people do, but I think most of us do. And I did try being cold, calm, cool, and reserved and so on during that whole time and that whole process. And afterwards, and, you know, being vaguely superior and so on, it just didn't really fit me at all. I couldn't really keep it up because I have too, I think, ironical and self-critical and self-mocking a personality to stay in that That role, particularly, is too long for me going underwater. I can stay there for a bit, but I've got to surface after a while.

[16:40] So, where I think that Ayn Rand really began to break down was in the realm of ethics. And this, I think, was where she and I, I mean, for want of a better phrase, and she never even knew me, but for want of a better phrase, she died when I was 18. Gosh, 82? I guess I was 18, 17? I'm born in 66. 76 is 10. 86, 16. So, no. Anyway, so I really had problems with the ethics. And I think this is where her amazing and ferocious and wonderful and terrifying willpower both served her and did not serve her, right? So it is what allowed her to will her way to achieving the most amazing artistic and intellectual triumphs. The willpower got her there, but unfortunately, the willpower got her too far. I think she overshot, and we'll go into a more rigorous analysis of this over the next couple of podcasts. And I hope that you don't mind me particularly doing this ramble fest.

[17:49] Transition to the Realm of Ethics

[17:50] But I wanted to sort of talk about my experience and my evaluation so that, you know, it doesn't start off with just a blank analysis or just detailed analysis.

[18:02] But it is in the realm of ethics that her willpower made her leap across a canyon that I don't think she really ever admitted existed, again, based on my knowledge of her writings and her speeches. beaches. So the challenge is the ought from the is, right? How do you derive the ought from the is? And Ayn Rand faced that challenge, knowing instinctively that murder was wrong, that theft was wrong, that violence as a whole and fraud to some degree is wrong. Knowing all of this, as she did grasp instinctively, as almost all human beings who aren't really damaged, to grasp instinctively with her gut more than her head, that these things are wrong, And the maddening inability for non-religious people to prove that it's wrong has been really fundamental to the survival of religion. There's no better service that I can do to the end of religion than the argument for morality. The argument for morality is going to kill religion much more so than anything else that I've done.

[19:06] All the disproofs around religion, I've got some decent ones, but that's all been done before for thousands of years. But the challenge of how you prove morality is something that has never, I think, has never been successfully achieved by a secularist. And, of course, it's not that religion proves it either, but religion makes the proof of it unnecessary, right? Just as religion makes the proof of free will unnecessary. The ghost in the machine is God.

[19:32] And the reason we obey commandments is because God gives them and God is perfect.

[19:35] The Challenge of Deriving Ethics without Religion

[19:36] So it's just obedience to the will of a perfect being that is morality, right? So you don't have to prove morality other than did God say it, right? Of course, that doesn't make it any more objective and it doesn't make it any more proven, but it removes the need for proof, which is a huge relief, right, to people.

[19:55] Whereas I think that the focus that I've tried to take on proving morality without God or willpower And without taking the Randian approach of life is the highest value, therefore, you know, anything which interferes with the pursuit of the highest value is evil. And I've argued that point countless times with people, and I've never felt it have the same kind of traction in my gut that the free domain radio argument from the argument for morality has. So, I think in the realm of ethics, I think that the form of what Rand talks about is very good. I mean, it's very, very good, and she and I would not disagree on many of the ethical commandments or the basic ethical rules that we would both put forward. The challenge, of course, the devil is in the details, and the challenge is in the consistency and in the proof. The challenge is in the proof.

[20:53] And in the crowbar of proof, right? So that the proof becomes inescapable even for people who aren't emotionally invested in the proof, right? So even if you really dislike the argument, even if you really dislike the person who's doing the argument, even if that person has no credibility for you whatsoever, right? The challenge is to create a proof that simply can't be denied. Denied, that the only person, the only person can change the topic, the person can leave the conversation, but the person cannot deny the proof. That is the great challenge. That's the standard that I try and set for myself, at least in the philosophical side of things. Because if you can't get that, then you're only preaching to the choir, you're never going to change the world. So, in the realm of ethics, that's the 25, a quarter century journey for me, not quite, but almost, a quarter century journey that I struggled with to try and find a way to prove something with regards to ethics. Without creating implicit values that are supposed to be universal, objective, and absolute.

[21:58] And that was the argument for morality for me, right? So that's the moral argument that I take. I don't think Ayn Rand made it. And the differences that we have in terms of our ethics are not substantial, not substantial enough to spend much time analyzing, but how we get there is very important, right? How we get there is very important, right? So if you think about the wild, some crazy wild jungle, two people can end up in the same spot, the same glade in the woods, the same cops. And...

[22:34] One of them could have gotten there because Pygmies clubbed him over the head, put him in a potato sack, and he was unconscious and was carried through the jungle and dumped there. And somebody else could have got a compass and a map and aimed to get there and gotten there and knows how to get back.

[22:50] Analyzing the Approach to Ethics

[22:51] That, to me, is a little bit of the difference between the way that I've tried to approach ethics and the way that Ayn Rand approached ethics. That Ayn Rand... And so we both got to the same spot, but I think I navigated there and I think Ayn Rand got there just... I mean, in a sense, the Pygmies were her own willpower to stretch the metaphor probably beyond all sense, but she willed for us. She knew that that glade is where morality has to get to and she just kind of willed herself there. And of course, if you just want to get to that glade and you don't care how, then you're going to believe what the woman says about ethics. Life is highest value that which sustains and improves life is the highest value that which opposes it is the opposition to the highest value and so on, but saying life is the highest value is begging the question the question is are there values and you can't then say well the answer is morality is their preferable behavior you say well life is preferred, well no it's not lots of self-sacrifice in the animal kingdom and the human kingdom people who go to sign up for the draft and kill themselves.

[23:52] Life empirically is not a universal highest value. Freak, look at Darfur. Life is like cheaper than a quarter. People will kill each other for nothing. Life is not the highest value because people die for ideas and people kill for ideas. If life were the highest value, there'd be no such thing as religion. People wouldn't be killing each other for ghosts. All right. So, the, That's the challenge, right? That life is the highest value axiom, and we'll get more into the ethics. So she knew, my God, I've got to get to that clearing in the woods, because that's where ethics are. And she just willed herself there, right? Right. And so she, you know, got herself the pygmies of her will, put her in the burlap sack, got her to that clearing. She went up and said, see, here we are. But it's wishful thinking. She willed herself there. She wished herself there.

[24:43] Willpower in Ayn Rand's Ethical Philosophy

[24:43] And so if you really want to get there and she says, hey, you know, these pygmies are great at getting you here. You're like, great. You know, I'll jump in the sack and here I go. Right. But if you don't know that that's a good destination, you're not going to submit to the pygmies of will. This metaphor is, you know, hopefully not going to turn on me, but, right? But the challenge is how do you navigate there, right? How do you navigate there? Because, I mean, if you're down for the whole deal, then, yeah, the pygmies are like, great, I am, I'll be one of the pygmies. You know, you put me in the sack, you get me there, and that's great.

[25:17] But even if you want to get to that clearing, but you don't want to get, you know, you want to know how to get there and get back, you don't want to, you know, the pygmies are going to say no thanks, right? No pygmies for me, right? And this instability, right? This substitution of ferocious willpower for incontrovertible proof, right? And the fact when you will yourself to that clearing, the ethics, I mean, two things happen, right? One is that you stop looking for how to get to the cops, right? The glade, the clearing, whatever it is, the square of ethical forest, right? I mean, you stop navigating. Once you can will yourself there, right, any more than if you could teleport yourself to Los Angeles, you wouldn't figure out how to drive or fly there. You would just say, I'm there. Why do I need to? It's silly. So you stop looking.

[26:12] Second thing that happens is that if you will yourself somewhere, and you are an avowed empiricist and rationalist and so on, if you will yourself to a particular place with regards to ethics in particular, then there's an instability, right? There's an instability at the core of your thinking. There's a can't-go-there aspect to your thinking.

[26:32] And since it's a ferocious willpower that got you to that clearing, but you think it's logic, right, then you are always going to be be tempted, and that tempting is going to escalate, it's only going to escalate. You're always going to be tempted with your ability to substitute willpower for syllogism, willpower for rationality. And that coldness, the emphatic nature of Ayn Rand, the I brook no dissent aspect of Ayn Rand, the totalitarian, frankly, aspect of Ayn Rand, and although, of course, there's no real fundamental moral equivalent.

[27:09] Comparison of Ayn Rand's Methods with Religious Practices

[27:10] There certainly is an aesthetic parallel in a minor level between the show trials of Stalin and the kangaroo courts of the Ayn Rand Collective. So, right, when you will yourself somewhere, but you think that it's reasoned, right, you think then when people begin to say, well, I don't know how to get from here to here, right? So we're not in the woods, and then we're in this clearing in the woods. I don't know how we get there like I don't know I don't remember the journey I remember the pygmies I remember the sack and blacking out a bit but I don't remember like I couldn't reproduce it when there's that gap, then when people bring that question up.

[27:53] Then there's a hostility, towards that question right when you have a when you substitute willpower and emphasis for rational steps, then whenever somebody questions that or asks that, then they're attacked. This, of course, is fundamentally religious, right? Religion is the endless substitution of emphatic willpower for rational steps. So when you say, well, how do we get there from first principles with God, and you get this ontological nonsense, which makes It makes no sense. You get this alternate universe stuff, which is pretty pathetic. But you sure as hell, even if you go with ontology, you certainly don't get to organized religion, Ten Commandments, drink the blood of Jesus the zombie Jew, right? I mean, you don't get that. You don't get there, right? That's just will. But they're honest about it. They call it faith. I mean, they're pseudo-honest about it because they still want to constantly have the crown of reason while having the… They want the exercise of reason….

[29:00] Just use the steroid of health, right? So, of faith. So, that's something that religion openly says, well, you know, you pray, and if you get it, you get it. And if you don't get it, you will it. And if you don't will it, and you don't get it, you go into hell, right? There's no, nobody says, here's the steps that go from A to Z. And the horrible thing about, right, I mean, religion goes from A to Z with nothing in the middle, right?

[29:26] Ayn Rand skipped like two or three letters, which is, you know, a staggeringly wonderful, great achievement, right? Now, if I've been able to fill in one or two of those letters, she's still greater than I by whatever, whatever, right? I mean, that's, that's, I mean, no question. I know the people who come after me will say, well, Steph did miss this accent aigu or circumflex or whatever, but, or maybe a whole lot more. But that to me was the real challenge that was at the core of the objectivist philosophy was this question of value, this question of value. Now, that inability to provide an argument for ethics that could not be denied, right, that could not be denied. And so far, I guess it's been about two years since the argument for morality went out. And a number of people, quite a number of people have taken pretty good swings at it. And I don't think that it's fallen down, right? To me, the argument for morality is just so incontrovertible, right? I mean, any moral proposition must be universal. You don't have to make them, but if you are going to make them or deny them or come up with some alternate thing, right? If you're going to argue for or against ethics, it has to be universal or consistent. I mean, to me, that's just, again, it's a scientific method. It's price at a free market. It's incontrovertible, right?

[30:46] And I think it's had a lot of traction, right? And I mean, that's some of the, I mean, for me, that's the greatest thing that's been able to be pulled off in this conversation. And it's because I wasn't happy with the pygmy hijack to get to the proof of ethics. I was never quite satisfied. I remember actually the trial lawyer, and quite a spectacularly good one, and he and I had an hour and a half debate about ethics. And I was able to change his mind, and to a small degree, the minds of those listening to a large degree.

[31:22] But I still felt like there was something not quite right with my argument, right? And that was a, you know, I hadn't argued ethics in a while to that level of intensity. And so, again, I was getting back to this bit where it's like, you know, there's that thing about project management, you do all these things, and then here a miracle occurs and the project gets done. Well, there's a little bit, like that's the pygmy hijack, right? But let's just get to the woods. There are some pygmies here. They'll knock us out. They'll drag us there. Fantastic. I mean, because we know that's where we've got to go anyway, when we know that we've got to get there anyway. So let's just have the pygmies do it. We can, you know, use them to get back and forth to the woods.

[32:01] And I was sort of aware, and I had to sort of manipulate the argument to avoid this sort of core issue. And he, because, you know, he wasn't a philosopher, he just didn't know to really press me on that point, which, you know, was not something I was wildly proud of. And it was that lack of pride that came out of that very long and intense debate over dinner that I think prompted me to say, well, you know, I smell pygmies, right? Like there's something not quite right with this in a fundamental kind of way. Like I'm really not able to convince myself in a way that is satisfying to me. And if I can't convince myself in a way that's satisfying for me, then A, what have I been doing for the last 20 years? And B, am I really going to be able to convince others, right? So it's recognizing that there was that gap, the pygmy hijack in the realm of ethics, that nobody I've ever read has satisfactorily. Now, they say that Hans Hoppe has had some argumentation ethics and so on, and I don't know. I haven't read that stuff, and I hadn't read any Rothbard when I started working on this kind of stuff.

[33:06] But in the realm of ethics, that's a problem, right? So there's a substitution of willpower, right? As soon as you accept the non-aggression principle, it's universal. But getting there is the challenge. And I think that's why Ayn Rand doesn't convince those.

[33:21] She doesn't ignite any wet matches. She only ignites the dry matches. And the dry matches are few and far between, which is why I think she's not been able to affect the kind of change that she was hoping to in the world. People read her, and they have trouble integrating it. And, you know, there's the pygmy hijack as well. Well, for me, there's always – there's an extreme discomfort with the gray areas, right? I mean, nobody really thinks that murder is wrong. It's connecting that in a universal way consistently, right, and finding ways to make that so logistic so that you can say with, you know, convincing and true emphasis that it's wrong and here's why and here's how we know the difference and so on, right? So there's all of these – but there are these gray areas, right, in all science. In all science. I mean, there's gray areas in physics, too. They just tend to be things we don't know yet, right? But like gold atoms through a prison go in different directions and things that affect each other, which couldn't conceive like too far apart or whatever. But so there are gray areas, things that we don't know. In biology, there's gray areas, mutations. So in ethics, there's gray areas, which we've talked about more recently in podcasts.

[34:30] The Gray Areas of Ethics

[34:31] And those gray areas, when you got the pygmy hijack that gets you to your ethical stance, those gray areas are things that you really don't like to talk about, right? Those things that you don't really like to talk about because they're a great challenge to where it is that you get to, right? Because the clearing is certainty about ethics. The clearing, in other words, is certainty about ethics. And if you don't know how you get there, then you don't know where that certainty – when are you at the clearing? Are you just dumped in the middle of the clearing? And you go, oh, the pygmies dunked me here. And so now it's like, perfect, look at that. I mean, I can see everything's black and white. But when you are getting to the clearing, right, then you go from opinion to aesthetics to ethics, you know, then you know that there's a blend, right? You know that, yeah, sure, when you get to the middle of the clearing, right, rape or whatever is wrong, wrong, wrong. But that's not particularly the challenge of ethical systems has not been to convince people that rape is wrong. The challenge of ethical systems has been to get people to understand that ethics should be consistent, right? And that has a lot to do with metaphysics and epistemology, particularly the rejection of the anthropomorphism of concepts, that it's a state, a god, people have ethical natures. So getting all of that stuff out of the way is a real challenge.

[35:46] So you don't like the gray areas when you get the pygmy hijack that gets you right to the center of your ethical theory. You don't work your way towards it and recognize all the complexity that's there, right? And so if you don't recognize the gray areas, then you are more prone to dictatorial conduct yourself, right? So if you just get, you take the pygmy hijack right to the center of your ethics, then everything looks clear, right? Everything looks certain, right? When you work your way towards your ethics through, you know, opinion, preference, aesthetics, right, all the way to the core, universally preferable behavior, then you know that there's a lot of gray areas there.

[36:22] When does a child become a perfect moral agent? When is proportional self-defense? Great areas for sure. That's what happens when you work your way towards the clearing and then finally get there. You go like, wow, there's a lot of forest between not knowing a thing and being right in the center of this clearing. Between the other side of the planet and right in the center of this clearing. Whereas if you swirl yourself to the center of the clearing, everything seems clear. Everything's black and white. Everything seems kind of simple. And then people who bring complexity challenge the pygmy hijack and the enemies. Get out. You're trying to sow doubt. you're a relativist, you're whatever, right? And so, for me, that pygmy hijack that she had with regards to ethics, to values, you know, that which serves life, good, that which opposes, well, compared to what? Good for who? Good for what? I mean, again, to me, that's just, it doesn't follow. And again, I'll get it. I'm not sort of, you don't believe me based on that. I'll get into that in more detail.

[37:18] And so, because there's a pygmy hijack, there's an intolerance of the gray areas, everything seems relatively simple. Because everything seems, and again, I'm not saying that Ayn Rand was simple or anything like that, but you never got a strong sense from the objectivists, and you never do, at least I haven't been around objectivists in a while, but you never get a sense that there's a lot of gray areas, complexity, and challenges in this realm. So because they will themselves to the center of ethics, it seems very simple, it seems very clear. And so anybody who has gray areas, doubts, there must be something wrong with them, right? Because it's so clear when you will yourself to the middle. That's clear, right?

[37:58] And, of course, when you do work your way to the clearing of ethics, then you realize because the journey is so difficult that it's, of course, it's obvious then in hindsight why it's taken human beings so long to at least come up, I think, with decent ways of getting to that clearing without doing the pygmy hijack, the willpower, the faith, whatever, right? Right. And so when you will shift to the middle, it seems easy and it seems obvious. Right. Which which means that you become contemptuous, which means you become superior, which means you become aggressive, which also means you become a little hysterical and intolerant, which is not unknown in the in the objectivist community. But again, it all comes back to this gap that they did not earn their definition of ethics. Right. According to their own philosophy. Right. Reason from first principles. They did not. Ayn Rand did not solve the problem of ethics. She moved it forward, right? I could get to UPB from Rand. I don't think I could get there from Spinoza or Hume or Aristotle or whatever, right? So she moved it forward as we're trying to move things forward now. But she didn't earn the ethics, right? She didn't earn the ethics within her own system. And therefore, it seemed simple, right? Therefore, it seemed simple, right? And because it seemed simple, there was an arrogance, there was an imperiousness, there was a condescension, there was a contempt, and there was a hostility. And that's why it failed, in my opinion, right? That's why it really didn't work.

[39:25] The Failure of Ayn Rand

[39:26] And that is a real shame. That is a real, real shame. But, you know, I don't want to sound harsh. I mean, I think Ayn Rand was fantastic. I'd love to have met her. I think she and I would have butted heads and not stayed long in each other's contact, but I love the woman nonetheless. I mean, she's just an absolutely magnificent human being. Because the solution is the problem, right? I mean, the solution is the problem with Rand, right? The ferocious willpower that let her power her way through to where she got to was also the ferocious willpower that caused her to overpower her own doubts about ethics, which she had, which manifest themselves as intolerance and expulsion and mock trials and hostility and so on. on, right? I mean, when I saw her, let me finish that thought. So, I mean, this willpower that lets her blow through all obstacles also lets her blow through the obstacle of proving ethics, right? And thinks she's done it, right? I mean, and the enormous achievements that she did make made that one achievement that was kind of fundamental that she missed, right? Which is kind of the point. I mean, I view it this way, right? So, I mean, the logical progression is metaphysics, the nature of reality, epistemology, the nature of knowledge, ethics, the nature of virtue, politics, the nature of social organization.

[40:47] But really, that's how it works in the sequence of thought, but that's not how it works in the sequence of life, right? We work with personal ethics in our life, and then we can advocate social ethics in society as a whole, right? And then when those aren't working, then we turn to metaphysics, right? then we turn to epistemology and so on, right? But we don't do that in life, right? We don't start off with people saying, hey, what do you do? What do you like? What do you not like? And so on, right? We don't say, do you live in reality? How do you determine truth from falsehood? I mean, that can happen, but it's not very common. And so what was later on in the game for Ayn Rand, because she had such a rigorous analytical mind, right? Right? Relentlessly, I might say. What was later on for Ayn Rand, which was, you know, ethics and, you know, she knew where she wanted to get to and so on. Just get to the clearing. Whatever pygmies I got to take, I'll take. But for most people, that's not, you know, philosophy doesn't start with metaphysics, right? Philosophy starts with personal ethics. How do I deal with this situation? How do I judge this person? And then, you know, to their business, to their kids. And then it sort of radiates outward to society, right?

[42:01] I mean, she was so relentlessly analytical that she just got to get there and, you know, just went there, starting from the metaphysics and so on. And so, that final leap, in a sense, she could live with herself a little bit, because she'd done so much work to get there, and so much great work to get to that final leap around creating value, right? Saying that the is of human existence is the ought of human existence, should flourish, should continue, which doesn't, right?

[42:26] Certainly not axiomatic, certainly not like A is A, rock is a rock or anything, right? So for her, it's like, well, now, you know, I've done all this work, it's just one final step, right? Whereas for how philosophy works in the real world, in the world of people's lives making choices, that is the most important thing, right? That is the most important thing, right? Like, religion didn't start from the ontology argument, right? Religion didn't start from, okay, so we've got this lightning and we've got reality, right? Religion started from people needing to have answers about things in their lives, right? And religion also started, you know, control and the kings and the priests and so on. But religion started because people had questions they couldn't answer about their own lives, right? Where does the lightning come from? What is good? What is right? Should I obey this person? Should I do this? Should I do that, right? As soon as we had consciousness, we had questions. As soon as we had questions, we had doubt. As soon as the lightning of the Precambrian mind struck us or whatever it is, as soon as we had consciousness and choice, for want of a better phrase, as soon as we evolved free will, then we didn't know what we were supposed to do, right? I mean, and we had to find some way to do it, right? An amoeba doesn't think about what to do, it just does it, right? And so, philosophy Philosophy is really centered around this question of how do you get to the clearing in the woods called ethics, right?

[43:52] Philosophers like the evidences and senses and so on, and that's great, right? But that's not where philosophy is for most people, right? So while in Ayn Rand she does like 99 great things and then does this 100th step is, you know, let's just use the pygmies for the last mile of a thousand-mile journey, right? We've done 1,999 miles on our own. Ugh, this pygmy is once. But for everyone else, like who's not a core philosopher, the ethics thing is 999 miles of the journey. Everything else is just like blah, blah, blah, right? Like for the consumer who's buying a pencil, right? The iPencil thing, right? Six million people have been involved in the pencil and so on, but it all comes down to, can I buy the pencil at a store for a price that I'm willing to pay, right? That's how I know whether everything else, it all comes down to that, right? That is the whole point of the economy. If that didn't happen, nothing else would happen.

[44:47] Because the guy buys the pencil, 6 million people are going to devote themselves to making the pencil and shipping the pencil and advertising the pencil and pricing the pencil and packaging the pencil, right? Because of that final interaction, right? So, because that final interaction occurs, everyone else is willing to do the 6 million other things, right? Right. And so if you can get ethics proven in a personal way that people can live with and make decisions about in their lives, that's the buying the pencil. Right. So if the pencil comes from Malaysia, again, I hope this metaphor works. I think it does. If the pencil comes from Malaysia to New York, right, and there's a shop on Broadway and it makes it to like three streets away from the shop in Broadway. way, right? Then people say, ah, you know, it made it from Malaysia 5,000 miles to, like, it's like.

[45:38] 99.9999% of the way to the shop where it's supposed to be sold, sitting in a warehouse, right? But it's infinitely far away as far as the consumer goes, because there's no pencil in the shop, right? And that difference of a view, I think, is something that it takes a real philosopher to miss that, if that makes any sense. I don't know what that makes me, but, right?

[46:00] We only do the metaphysics, we only do the epistemology, we only do the validation of the senses, we only do all of that stuff so that we can validate the ethical systems that help people make decisions in the real world in their life. That's the buying the pencil that makes doing the whole pencil thing possible, worthwhile, achievable, reasonable, rational, whatever, right? Everything is for that final transaction, right? That, in a sense, that's the tip of the pyramid that makes the pyramid worthwhile, the inverted pyramid, right? If that doesn't happen, it all goes away, right? So for Ayn Rand, she's carrying the pencil from Malaysia to, she's like, oh my god, this is far enough. And of course, from that perspective, it is. But from the people's perspective who want to buy the pencil, it's like, there's no pencil. It might as well still be in Malaysia. So if you can't make that ethical system compelling, if you can't give it the crowbar to change people's minds, even who despise it, than the metaphysics, the epistemology. None of that means anything. And I think that's why Ayn Rand has not been compelling. So people who like going to Malaysia, picking up pencils and going on the journey and this and that and the other, they love it. They love Ayn Rand because she's fantastic.

[47:10] But the people who want to go in and buy a pencil, they don't get Ayn Rand because it's like, well, there's no pencil. And then the store owner goes into this long thing which says, A, it is so close to here that it doesn't matter. I mean, it's so fussy. Do you know it's come 5,999 miles? Have a look at all of this. Look, it went from the warehouse here. Look how efficient this is. And then the plane that flew it across the ocean, fastest plane around, blah, blah, blah. People are like, yeah, but there's no pencil. I mean, that's great. If you love that kind of stuff, like... It's like the 40 million lines of Windows code that works. So what, right? The one line that keeps crashing on you.

[47:46] So for philosophers, you have this base of metaphysics and epistemology and all that leads you up to ethics, personal decisions in the everyday world that you have a logical framework to resolve. So if you skip a couple of steps at the top, it's not like you've messed with the foundation. But for other people, right, for non-philosophers, it's the exact opposite. Where the pyramid is inverted. Everything rests on, can this thing give me ways to make logical decisions in my everyday life that I know for sure are proven and validated, that I can change people's minds even if they don't agree with me and this and that and the other, right?

[48:22] The Journey to Ethical Clarity

[48:23] And if it can't, then there's no pencil. They don't care, right? Some people love editing the registry file to make Windows do what they want. Most people don't. If I've got to do the registry file, I don't want to do it. Then it doesn't work.

[48:42] So that, I think, has been the mismatch between the Randian approach to philosophy. And that's why, for me, it's about make decisions in your life. Forget Ron Paul. Go talk to your father. Forget a stateless society. Go clean up your relationship with your mom. Forget about political freedom in the 23rd century. Get the bad people out of your life. For me, it's all about make the decisions in your life now. And that's the horrifying fascination of the Freedom Aid radio conversation, right? Because I keep prompting people to make the decisions in the here and now, not to talk about epistemology and ethics in the abstract, but to do the basic right things in the here and now. And here's, by the way, here's how we validate them, here's how we know, and here's where we want to go as a whole and blah, blah, blah, which is all great and interesting. But frankly, the DRO model is simply there to break people free of the family. I mean, I can't tell you how many questions I get a week, a day, about how do we get there. What do you mean we? You and your family. You and your friends. You and your sibling. There's no we. There's you and your family. How do you get to a free society? Go talk to your people in your life.

[49:56] Going to get there is, I don't want to get there personally, right? When somebody says to me, we, they mean I don't want to, right? I don't want to go talk to my mom. I'd rather talk about how we might get to anarcho-capitalism, right? I mean, this guy who was, was it Conrad, I think it was, who was like, yeah, but Steph, you said that in five years, we're going to get to anarcho-capitalism and here's how it's going to happen. It's like, dude, like, shut the fuck up and go talk to your dad, like, or go talk to your mama. I can't remember who it was he had personal issues with, but, right, there's this relentless focus that I'm always going to take, right, but do it in your life in the real world, right? That's inverting. Everybody wants to get involved with philosophy because they want to talk about existence of God. That's good. That's useful. That's helpful. That's training, right? And I think that Ayn Rand just never got that because she was so relentless. Again, the strength was the weakness. I mean, so often is the case, right? The willpower to get all this stuff built was the willpower to skip the last steps, which to her, she could kind of justify maybe in an unconscious way of saying, well, the last couple of steps, but that's the whole thing for the consumer philosophy, right? Who is the person who needs to make decisions in his everyday life, right? DOS is faster than Windows once you get the hang of it, but people don't want to use it, doesn't matter, right?

[51:13] So, that to me was what you missed out on. And that translated itself into this imperiousness, into this coldness in a lot of ways, into this, you know, terrifyingly narcissistic syllogism which said, we must love that which is the most rational.

[51:30] I, Ayn Rand, am the most rational. Therefore, everyone must love me the most. Right. I mean, that was not even implicit in hanging around with Ayn Rand, right? Rationality is the highest value. Ayn Rand's the most rational. Everybody's going to love Ayn Rand. And what that also translates to is, since Ayn Rand is the most rational, anyone whose opinion conflicts with Ayn Rand is basically irrational, because Ayn Rand's... And that's Ayn Rand, when you... Here's the terror, right? The awful thing about taking the pygmy hijack is that you become the pygmy hijack, right? And that's not good, right? That's really not good. And that causes the movement to become scary, right? I mean, people get, like, in their gut that there's something fundamentally wrong with that. Like if Ayn Rand couldn't create a positive and happy group of people who were achieving great things in their lives in a positive and humanistic and rich and deep way, then something's wrong with the philosophy, right? So, again, people are like, well, okay, so it came 9,999 miles, but it's not in the store when I want it, so something's wrong, right? So I'm not going to go hunting in stores around for this pencil, right? I'll just buy another pencil. It's got to be there when I want it. It's got to make sense. And when I saw, I think it was Dick Snyder, I first saw Ayn Rand being interviewed. Gosh, I had left theater school. I was working on a play called Seduction that I'd written. I was directing and producing it. And...

[52:57] From the library, I found interviews with Ayn Rand on The Dick Snyder Show and so on, and popped him in. And not so good. Not so good. I thought that she was gnomish, hunched over. I thought that she had hard, bitter, cold eyes. I thought that she cast quite an air of suspicion on people. I think that she was defensive. I think that she was, and these are all just, you know, body language, excuse me, eye language and what's in the eyes, which, you know, I think is pretty valid, right? But she didn't have, you know, the sort of relaxed and spontaneous kind of joy that she ascribes to, you know, people like, oh, what's the chicken out the shrugged? Dagny, Taggart, right? The lightness, the competence.

[53:49] It was kind of like an attitudinal kind of thing that she had in these interviews. And I watched a bunch of interviews with her and just didn't find them to be, you know, that was just like, who is this bitter old Russian broad? Like, frankly, this was sort of what I got out of it. And so I began to pursue more of the personal stuff and found out about this, you know, wife swapping kind of thing that went on with Frank O'Connor and Barbara and Nathaniel Brandon, and that, you know, Barbara Brandon is having panic attacks, calling them up, and they're saying, hey, this is our time to screw, get lost, right? And that you have this 60-year-old woman having an affair with a guy 20 years her junior who's not sexually attracted to her, and he can't tell her, and that kid was just gross. It's just gross. And that just seemed so fundamentally sad to me. Just so fundamentally not right.

[54:44] And lots of people jumped all over me for having these. I literally felt desolate. When I first read this book, and I read a bunch of them written about the collective, I felt, like, literally felt desolate. I remember saying to the girls, God, I feel desolate. The hopes and dreams are gone, that the fantasy of this as a practical, as a practiced philosophy that I can respect in the form as well as in the content, that I felt just desolate. And it was a hellish, hellish thing to go through. I literally walked around for weeks just.

[55:21] Fundamentally doubting everything, right? I mean, that's the horror, right? If somebody says the pencil came 999 miles, it's never in the shop. You don't even know if the pencil is even there, let alone whether it traveled, let alone this. So I went through this whole process that was really quite, oh, it was just hell. It was just hell. I mean, I'd invested a lot into this philosophy. At this point, I was cooking on eight or nine years. And to finally see, you know, the randroid in action was not particularly good, not particularly elevated. And then I went to an objectivist group.

[56:04] Before this, I'd been in an objectivist group and it was filled with people who I thought were pretty strange and lost souls, if that sort of makes any sense. And there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, lost souls, I mean, it's not like they're not present at Free Domain Radio, but there's a methodology to find them themselves, right? Not to just pour themselves like a container into other people, other people's thinking, right? I mean, we're trying to get them to think for themselves, right? And there's lots of ways in which I have tried to really consciously model myself on the antithesis of Ayn Rand as far as whatever leadership that I have in the community. I've really, really tried to focus on not having that be part of it. I think also with Ayn Rand, because of this pygmy hijack, there was a significant problem in terms of her being able to elevate other people, to make other people feel big. One of the reasons why the dream analysis is so essential to what it is that we do, and the depth analysis and the analysis of familial history, is that if people get that their dreams have incredible wisdom in them, they feel bigger. They feel bigger. They feel bigger than me. They feel bigger than philosophy. They feel huge.

[57:14] Because if I get people to understand just how incredibly wise and knowledgeable they already are, then that makes them feel big and powerful. Whereas when you run around saying, well, what would Ayn Rand think, then people don't feel big and powerful. It diminishes them. Because Ayn Rand puts himself forward as the most rational person and infallible. And when you're around people like that, then you feel smaller. And it's been my express goal to try and make people feel bigger and more powerful or to reveal to them how big and powerful they already are. Because we can't get rid of the state by making people feel small. We can't get rid of the government by making people feel small.

[57:53] That's been a pretty conscious plan of mine to do whatever it is that I can, including, you know, self-deprecation, laughing at myself, putting myself down, because that gives people the room to feel bigger. Whereas if you're narcissistic and say, I'm always right, then people will feel smaller around you, right? And the people who have the potential for growth will leave. And then, right, you can't control them anymore. Just kidding. But no, I mean, I really consciously wanted to make that environment somewhere where people would not be comparing themselves against whatever my towering intellect or whatever you want to call it, but they would be comparing themselves with the wisdom and knowledge that they already have within them. And that's why I think the psychological aspect, and we'll get to this in a little bit more detail down the road of the series, Ayn Rand's staggering genius and unbelievable blindness when it comes to psychology. But I think that I've gone for an hour now. I think that this is certainly enough to get us started. I really do appreciate you listening to this. I will go into a bit more of a detailed analysis of the critiques that I have of particular syllogisms within the objectivist lexicon. But thank you so much for listening. As always, I will talk to you soon. And thank you people so much for making this possible for this community to have me be able to produce this kind of stuff. I just can't thank you enough. All the best.

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May 2024

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