Reply to D. Marshall

David left a long and very thoughtful comment to a post from a few days ago on Derrida. Go check out the comment.

In that comment he leaves this question for me:

I would like to know, however–because I am not a student of Derrida and have read very little of his work–just what he offers that your average pluralist does not. What makes Derrida unique? How might integral use Derrida? How do you use Derrida? Could you give an example or two? Also, if there are any particularly useful books or articles by Derrida I would appreciate knowing what they are. I don’t have much time to spend on him (the shorter they are the better), but I feel there may be something important there, and I would like to understand it better.

As far as a short introduction, I recommend Gregory Desilet’s eulogy for Derrida. The link is here. Desilet brings out that the core element for Derrida is that division is inherent to being, at its very heart. There are particularly reasons for this given his understanding of grammar, linguistic structures, and epistemology. The application of this insight to texts is known as deconstruction (or perhaps better termed deconstruction/reconstruction). All of which is more the details, fine points, but the main essential point is division/otherness (differenace).

Desilet writes:

This potential for endless fracturing of the text opens the door to the “deconstruction” of the text—the uncovering of new and perhaps unexpected interpretations. These interpretations nevertheless require, contrary to what some critics of deconstruction’s relativistic slant have suggested, rigorous justification, evidence, and argument in their presentation.

It’s certainly true that there are a lot of bad deconstructors who are in fact not following rigorously the methods, nor would pass muster of this particular knowledge community (the craft in MacIntyre’s terminology). And Desilet is correct that the canons of deconstructions are fairly rigorous, However, and this is where Desilet and I would part company (I think), there is no larger evaluative tool to distinguish between gradations of better/worse even among those that have properly followed the rules, i.e passed the muster. In that regard something like a stage conception of development is necessary as a way of grounding such (necessary) distinctions.

That being said, it is worth experiencing the space of the infinite iteration of all texts/interpretations. That is, in a larger sense, to feel the space of the “other side”, of “division.” Within oneself, one’s community, communication, and so on.

It can be powerful voodoo to some (at first), but in the end it’s just one among a million different dimensions of existence/spaces in the Kosmos. Absolutized–i.e. taking it as the de facto final point of development, the terminus/Omega Point–is highly problematic.

As a practical example of what I mean, Derrida’s of notion of nonviolent (this is a major starting poit for Desilet’s own writings).

Desilet writes:

If Derrida is right, a fundamental—but not passively embracing or uncritical— affirmation of the intrusions of difference may become the essential step in achieving nonviolent diverse community. By acknowledging the necessary presence of the other as an essential part of ourselves and as an inescapable element of difference and variation in our modes of communication, it becomes much more difficult to radically exclude, negate, or violently eliminate the other in our communities.

Relatively, inculcating as a value within oneself, the practice of seeing the other in oneself, oneself in the other, non-coercion in communication, being vigilant about patterns of scapegoating, of creating a final us/them duality are all deep practices. As absolute practices, however I’ve argued elsewhere, this can lead to madness or at the least not following a proper ethic of self-defense/self-care. [As a sidenote, the radically diverse plurality, nonviolence themes again highlight Derrida’s overall thought as green/pluralist not turquoise/construct aware.]

As I noted in the earlier post, even Derrida towards the end moved towards Habermas’ political views on the EU, which have some element of interventionism (Habermas supported the First Gulf War and Balkans Conflicts of the 90s not the Second Gulf War).

So there is the permanent practice of learning to see the other as never simply the other. As never simply all-in-one him/her/itself. Just as we are never all in one. And to the degree community rules and ethics can be worked out to respect the difference and embrace that plurality in a manner respective of all sides, it is to be preferred, however recognizing (here would be an integral transcending/including of this) that there are times and places where dialog will not suffice and however necessarily evil it can and will be, other methods must be brought forth to deal with conflict and violence. Still (and here is the Derridian insight as a permanent feature) in such a situation, integral should never fall victim to the universal tendency to demonize/scapegoat the other.

It is like Wilber’s invocation of the Bhagavad Gita: Remember the Lord and Fight. (or perhaps “Struggle.”). Remember the Lord means remember not only the Moral Law and Spiritual Reality of Truth but also one’s enemy is in a sense a reflection of the Lord (hence can not be scapegoated/demonized). But you must still fight.

As even Gandhi said, he was not interested in non-violence but rather “truth-force.”

Update I:  Linking back to an old post, at this point in my life I’m spend a great deal more time and find much more of value in the phenomenological and hermeneutic tradition of Continental thought.  Rather than the post/structuralist school.

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Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Derrida Construct Aware? Redux

Warning: Nerd Alert. Heavy integral theorizing ahead.  Read at your own mental peril.

A while back (June of last year to be precise) I wrote a short piece commenting on an article by Gary Hampson in Integral Review. Gary just recently commented on the original post, along with some questions for me.

Gary’s original article is available here in pdf from. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the link next to his name.

My original post from last year is here. Gary’s comment is at the bottom of that post.

I’m going to take a bigger view and hope that in doing so I cover the questions Gary has asked.  Much more after the jump: (more…)

Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 11:06 am  Comments (3)  
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Response to Matthew

Matthew has a post up with a call out to “fans and ex-fans of Wilber” to answer the question of whether Wilber’s definition of integral exudes fascistic elements based on the definition of fascism employed by Jonah Goldberg.

Goldberg’s definition of fascism (excerpted from Matthew’s post, Matthew’s emphasis):

I see fascism as a political religion. That doesn’t mean I think there’s some book, like a bible, that if you read it you will become a convert to this political religion. Rather I think it is a religious impulse that resides in all of us — left, right, black, white, tall, short — to seek unity in all things, to believe that we need to all work together to go past any of our disagreements and that the state needs to be, almost simply as a pragmatic matter, the pace-setter, the enforcer of this cult of unity. That is what I believe fascism is.

… Today we don’t use the word “totalitarian,” because the connotations have been so hardened in our minds. But we use these other words like “holistic” all the time. This quest for wholism, this idea that everything goes together, that we are all part of a single political, social organism … was deeply and profoundly central to the intellectual movements and eddies that fed into Nazism.

Now the first thing to say is that I don’t agree with Matthew that this is a “good definition of fascism”. It’s too abstract imo to be of much value. [Goldberg, I think, wants, really needs to make his definition of fascism so broad as to be able to fit “liberals” under its umbrella]. i.e. Before deciding on Wilber’s definition, the first thing I think to ask is: is this even a good definition of fascism?

Goldberg says that everybody has a fascist impulse. Ok, that’s fine. I agree. Why not. So in that sense Wilber does, as do I, as does Goldberg, as does Matthew, as does everybody. I guess you would need to do a fascism scale, as it were, to compare.

As proof that all of us have this fascistic impulse….The National Review, a paper which employs Goldberg, wrote an editorial praising Augusto Pinochet, an actual fascist dictator, upon his death. [While Goldberg worked for the paper btw]. Prior to Goldberg, NR also wrote an encomium to Francisco Franco, another actual fascist.

So yes, “we are all fascists” (the title of a chapter in JG’s book) if you want. Although writing laudatory praises of fascist dictators would I think put one farther down the sympathetic road than some vague desire for unity. But I digress.

Now to the specifics of his actual definition, which I find wanting in many ways.

1)Fascism as a political religion.

–Well….Iberian Fascisms (Spain and Portugal) along with their Croatian cousin are typically referred to as Catholic Fascism. i.e. The Catholic Church aligned with the state was the source of this enforced cultural unity. That seems to weaken his thesis.

German Nazism certainly used the state to enforce its will. It was also however a revival of Teutonic Pagan religion–along with occultist spiritual practices in the inner circle. Himmler read the Bhagavad Gita as essentially his revelatory text.

Political religion as long as you realize that it can be melded with religious religions, which relativizes the state element.

The Fascism that Goldberg has most clearly in mind is Italy under Mussolini (check the subtitle of his book and Ch.1), prior to the outbreak of the war. And that I gather prior to its industrialization and mobilization for war.

But what is totally missing (because the definition I think is not particularly historical or concrete) is the militarization of society. Fascism is not just the desire to seek unity in all things, but in European Fascism actually enforcing that unity through a systematic use of violence.

So it is not some abstract version of “getting beyond our differences” to achieve a goal (that might just be political compromise and pragmatism for God’s sakes). The history of Fascism suggests the concerted elimination and repression of differences–e.g. Jews, gays, and “imbeciles” in concentration camps.

And if you are a fan of the Islamo-fascist label, then the imposition of a non-democratic guardian council of religious clerics who say execute women caught in adultery publicly by stoning in a soccer stadium (i.e. Taliban Afghanistan).

Last time I checked Integral Institute didn’t have an armed militia, brown shirts, or try a putsch against the US government. [Sorry I forgot we are talking about “liberal fascism” here which has a smiley face and a Hitler mustache. A nice, friendly, “feminine” fascism :)].

Now granted Matthew admits that Wilber’s philosophy isn’t fascist outright but rather “exudes” (possibly) fascistic elements. Still, I bring up the history, particularly the violence because I think talking about “fascistic” without describing/analyzing actual historical fascism is highly problematic any way you slice it. Particularly when the definition in question (conveniently I would say) leaves this pervasive violence element out.

That’s why I don’t like people calling Bush-Cheney a fascist nor people calling liberals fascists. Unless your goose-stepping calling for the return of The Third Reich, then I don’t think fascism is a good choice of words.

Other words than fascist–given the history and the connotations involved–that could be used to describe the negative tendencies Goldberg has in mind are collectivist, pathological wholism, and depending on the context, statist. I think the word totalitarian still possesses strong valence; it is telling in my mind that Goldberg wants to extricate fascist from totalitarian because again of the violence/terror issue I would say. Totalitarian to most people, I think, evokes violence (e.g. concentration camps, gulags). And 20th century Progressives were not the most violent of people as compared to the Fascisti.

The only event in progressive-New Deal Liberal America that qualifies I suppose as fascist/totalitarian was FDR’s concentration camps against Japanese-Americans (“forced internment“)–note the violence. Though on the other hand that brutal activity was over-turned by the Supreme Court, which the executive branch obeyed. I don’t think Hitler was accepting a checks and balance system. Perhaps also eugenics legislation, e.g. forced sterilization (promoted by both the left and right at the time sadly in the US).

2)Fascism as wholism (religious impulse).

As I said, in my earlier review of his interview on the book, Goldberg is on better ground here. Again this relates to early Italian (and somewhat German) fascism, though the seeds of violence were already there from the get-go.

This tendency is strong in many ecological critiques of modernity (particularly stemming from Heidegger who in fact never apologized for his Nazi affiliation). Though again you can find that critique from Michael Zimmerman, connected to Ken Wilber.

Now as Matthew has I believe read Wilber’s book Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, he will know that someone who has spent a great deal of time criticizing “holistic” philosophies as having fascist underpinnings is of course Ken Wilber. My own opinion is that Wilber has a deeper philosophical and spiritual understanding of why this drive for unity, as Goldberg says, is within us all and why it can turn deadly and violent and evil. But that is a sidepoint–either way there it is.

For those not in the know about this side of fascism, the short answer is this. Fascism (as Goldberg rightly points) conceived of society as an organism. Like a single body, everybody else then is a organ or digit in the body. If the brain (i.e. The Fuhrer/Il Duce) says move, you move, just like a brain telling the finger what to type. Resistance to this social body is then conceived (in this model) as a contagion or virus. A disease, like a cancerous tumor, in sum. And in medicine, you cut out the tumor–hence for society along this model, you “cut out” the offending disease (i.e. mass systematized, intentional violence and murder). Contagions could be political dissidents (liberals, socialists, communists) as well as races (e.g. in Nazi ideology The Jews as a verminous plague, sapping the vitality of the “pure” Aryan organism).

Wilber, however, holds to a holonic (not holistic) view: namely that individuals are members of society not parts thereof (the latter view is termed holistic and is quasi-fascist). Members as opposed to cogs in the machine have (or should have) the right to choose to participate or not in a group (free within the bounds of the legitimate law of course). Holons and quadrants emphasize that a person is both a free individual and a member of a social groupings. Autonomy and relationality.

The political consequences of this theory is the state is not intrinsically the de facto pace setter of this unity. Wilber’s political philosophy, based on a notion of levels of development, is largely to let each level police itself (as I read his politics). Which is a conservative judgment btw.

Now, whether or not one thinks levels is a valid concept, for the sake of the argument, that is hardly enforced comprehensiveness. Also Wilber’s work being taken up by business interests, religious and spiritual communities, NGOs/development workers, among others, hardly suggests the state as the prime trend setter of the unity (which btw the theory doesn’t absolutize, i.e. unity, as an end in itself to begin with).

Wilber’s work also teaches nonduality, which contrary to misunderstanding does not seek unity in all things–that view is called monism. Nonduality teaches that there is a One and a Many and that the Ultimate Truth is that which is the essence of both, neither seeking to impose the One on the Many nor wanting all the Many-s to fly off in all directions, disconnectedly. Greater integration, complexity, and differentiation.

So in Wilber’s terminology of Two Truths, relative (quadrants/holons) and Absolute (awakening), then neither exudes fascist elements in my judgment.

3)Wilber’s definition of integral as “comprehensive, not leaving anything out”.

This is what Matthew is really after. Now the reason I took the country road to get here is that I think minus understanding that context just outlined, the words “comprehensive, inclusive, not leaving anything out, balanced” could easily be misunderstood and I suppose placed in the context Matthew places them be read (read into?) a fascistic echo. Those words don’t make any sense without some basic sense of Wilber’s thinking I argue.

Parenthetical remark: Per the earlier comment that this fascist, if you will, tendency is within all, then yes “comprehensive/not leaving anything out” could veer towards a kind of collectivism and by this definition must have some of that “f-word” within it. So could anything (by the definition), so I’m not sure how much learning takes place there. Again I don’t think fascist makes any sense minus militarization & violence, but whatever, there it is.

But given “everybody is a fascist” the real question is does Wilber’s definition of integral have say more fascistic elements than others? More tendencies in that direction in other words. Gotta judge on a gradient for this idea to have any specific relevance, make any heads or tails of this, I think.

The problem I have with the way Matthew has written his piece is that he helpfully gives Goldberg’s definition of fascism–and the quotation is long enough to give him (Goldberg) space to expound on what he means by certain words. The definition of integral from Wilber is de-contextualized and gives no reference from him (KW) concerning what he means by those words quoted.

The parallel would be if I were to summarize Goldberg’s definition of fascism thusly: a holistic, seeking unity, political religion.

Would you be able to answer a question based on that definition? I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. I’d get some sense, but it could also be open to major misinterpretation, particularly when placed in a context that (seems to me) like a leading question. If I saw such a line, I would rightly want to know what the author means by holistic, a political religion, etc.

I think the same thing should be done with the Wilber quotation. Wilber is a philosopher and is using those words I believe in a specific philosophical context. [The quotation in question also functions as an attempt at a summary of his view, which like all summaries is prone to obscure and dumb down more than it clarifies or articulates.] In other words, I’m not sure Wilber means those words in the way that (so-called) common wisdom/understanding might suggest. Might, might not, but minus any other information, how am I or anyone else in a position to judge?

Philosophically, I would maintain those words (by his own theory) apply only within his conceptualization of the integral worldspace. So the comprehensiveness in question, is already highly circumscribed and contextualized. And again voluntarily chosen. So I see a chasm there from that to fascism (as poorly defined by Goldberg imo).

And hell, even minus the philosophical question, things like comprehensive, not leaving anything out, and balanced sound like very good qualities I would want in for example a judge, a college admissions board, a police officer/criminal investigator, an actuary. They might just mean thorough and not, I don’t know, fascistic.

Context matters.

Even if one thinks that Wilber’s definition of integral needs no more unpacking, the charge of exuding.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines exude as 1. “oozing forth” (as in sweat) as well as:

2. To exhibit in abundance: a face that exuded self-satisfaction.

I take Matthew’s question about whether Wilber’s def. of integral exudes fascistic elements to be of this second definition. By that meaning of the term, then no I don’t think his philosophy exhibits in abundance fascistic elements. [Maybe MD has a different understanding of exuding?].

A)I think the definition of fascism provided is a poor one. (see above for argument as to why) And that’s not just a dodge, btw. Rather I think an argument that makes government-managed health care a version of fascism is wrongheaded at the least, ideological at the worst. One could make an argument such a system is illiberal, excessively statist, especially if the government-managed system has a monopoly, but fascist? Particularly if it is installed by democratic process and not say via violent revolution.

B)I don’t think Wilber’s definition of integral (or philosophy more broadly) exhibits in abundance fascistic elements.

–Again I think a legitimate debate could be had on a question of liberal vs. illiberalism. 1)In the theory itself 2)In the practice. Questions about how much emphasis and what role, if any, the federal state legitimately has. Is discussion free enough in the integral community online (a la Habermas)? But fascistic, come on.

–But again I’m going to harp on this point, without the systematic use of violence as a weapon of terror to upset the status quo governing system attempting to create the conditions necessary for a revolutionary takeover of power—-how is this fascistic?

[On how Goldberg leaves out the history of right-wing American fascism, here.] Jonah’s response to that piece here.

Published in: on January 11, 2008 at 5:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Meditation on Integral

There’s a wise saying that goes: For something to be true, it has to be false.

Meaning, for something to have value there must be times, places, and in contexts in which it is not valuable. If something is always right then it is never particularly right. It is never right specifically about anything.

This I take to be the prime lesson of the work of Ken Wilber. That the mind tends towards the absolutizing of relative truth. Making what is a valid interesting pov on a certain subject(s) into the final, end all truth for all times. The mind can de-absolutize (negate) while still holding the true nuggets of wisdom (preserve).

It is ironic but not unexpected (though still sad) that Wilber’s own work has been interpreted by too many as the final truth. Enacting the very disease it was originally designed to cure.

[Long time readers will likely recognize that these thoughts grow out of the series of dialogues (sometimes heated) between myself and Matthew Dallman. Also my current reading of NT Wright, his scholarship, and what he calls his view of critical realism.]

These are provisional thoughts only, and I’m not totally satisfied with them, but I want to float them & get some feedback.

Where are the limits of integral (AQAL specifically for the purposes of this post)?

One answer I’ve offered before, which I still stand by though I think is by itself insufficient, is a 3rd-tier worldspace. From experience though I don’t want to tout that fact or own it in some egoic fashion. The difficulty there is that such a worldspace is so rare and so new in the Kosmic grain, that it is almost content-less. At least in terms of description in rational language like I’m employing here.

And I don’t mean the more intra-integral jockeying over fairly abstract/arcane micro-subpoints of the theory. e.g. Mark Edwards has done better with the social-communal holons, emphasizing the 2nd person pov better, and so forth. That’s true as well, but not what I’m after here.

Nor even a more general point about how the map is not the territory and any theory is just that and should not get in the way of our experience of life. Christop Schaub has a number of good posts on this theme from Integral world (one here).

I mean more specifically from within an integral space in the realm of thought and study. And with a spirit that finds the limits as a joyful experience, not to cut down, to claim as “conquered” or whatever. But to be grateful and humbled to know that one is now free in participation with this learning, having really and truly absorbed its great lessons and enduring wisdom.

First off, where I think AQAL is most clarifying, most enheartening. (For me a requirement is that a theory not just make clearer the world, but make me be able to love it more honestly, experience it in a raw-er fashion).

1)Within fragmented academic disciplines.

–Here I believe AQAL is very helpful for categorizing the different sub-theories within a field (e.g. religion or sociology). Often especially through the use of the quadrants/perspectives. Also stages. Sometimes called “indexing”.

–This tendency has been dissed by some by I continue to believe this is vitally important. There will not generally be good cross-fertilization of scholarship until the different disciplines are within fairly centered within themselves.

2)Politics, social thought.

–Whenever we get done as people (locally, nationally, globally) to make decisions, the value systems immediately emerge. Without taking into account stages here, the tendency is strongly towards one traditional political pov/camp and the fight to demonize the other.

3) Religion (or the question of values more generally).

–When religious groups describe their beliefs, outline their goals, annunciate their ethical positions, perspectives (horizontal and vertical) again clarify and enhearten.

4)Mysticism. (not as substitute for experience/praxis but for understanding & embodiment of).

–More than a vague sense of spirituality or contemplation either though.  The actual path outlined by the shamans, saints, sages, and siddhis for millenia now.

–It should not come as a surprise that the view of stages originally grows out of mystical communities.

5)Cosmologies/Philosophy of Science

There may be others I’m forgetting. Commentators feel free to fill in any gaps I left.

If the saying goes that there is altitude and aptitude, then the foregoing is basically altitude only.  Or at least the recognition of altitude–and the clarification that recognition brings.

There’s an aptitude-praxis of ILP, 321 Shadow & God. All very good. But not an aptitude/methodology yet for this other thing I’m trying to point towards. Don’t have a word for it. Something more than spiritual state and psychological technologies and the mental yogas described above.

It does circle me back to humanism, praxis in the world.

As a classmate of mine said, one tradition of thought runs through Hegel to Nietzsche (and I add James Mark Baldwin, Teilhard, Piaget-Dev. Psych., Habermas, and Wilber). This is the tradition of modern, postmodern, post-postmodern/integral. The stages, the post-metaphysical construct, the evolutionary outlook (Evolution as Manifestation of Spirit), all come from this strain. The 5 contexts I named earlier in which this strain (for me) works best.

The other tradition (in Western Christianity) goes from Augustine to Wittgenstein (?), to Radical Orthodoxy, to N.T.Wright. It is the strain that seems a commonality to human nature. Augustine’s “On Christian Learning” is a pivotal text in this stream.

Whatever it is, that this stream offers is this point where AQAL is generally not suited in my mind. For one, it’s not aiming at this dimension.  It already is out there and the intellectual wheel does not need to be re-invented. But I think that “not aiming at this dimension” aspect should be described in the form of say a disclaimer.

Otherwise there tends to be a reliance on certain texts intuitively grasped as crucial and enlightening without the criteria for this or that text being so dominant made clear.

To step back for a second, the praxis in AQAL is to ask first:  where is everyone right?  So I think I’m just following that logic out beyond its generally assumed to be existing boundaries.

On the other hand, I don’t want it to appear there is an unbridgeable gulf between the two streams.

Figures that work as intermediaries between those traditions in my mind: Gadamer, Ricoeur, Dilthey.  Even these however are still interested in a more structural (though still hermeneutic question):  how do we understand each other?  What are the conditions–like Kant’s categories of the mind–that allow for humans to understand each other and to understand texts?  Questions before the actual undertaking of the reading and interpretation.

Another route that I took on occasion–that again I still think is right just not all I want to say anymore–is that the humanities/canon (fill-in-the-blank with whichever term you prefer) are the inside of the interior from a quadratic view.  That the perspective model just reminds us to take these perspectives and does not replace the actual doing, contemplation, practice, study in this tradition.

I think the combination of these two traditions is a source of great creativity and in this case 1+1=3.  Something emerges that is more than the sum of the parts.

What I found writing my manuscript on Integral Christianity was that I had to know the history of Christian mysticism thoroughly on its own terms.  From the inside.  But that AQAL lens opened it up to an even greater degree and allowed this dimension/lifeworld to connect with others.  With science, with economics.  Something a traditional humanistic-only lens did not provide.  But without that grounding, AQAL only lacks in specific content.  Lacks flesh on the bones.

For the moment I want to let even that view go. Again, not because I think it is wrong, just not a full immersion into this other strain. Still only comes half-way there.  Still seeing the “other” through one’s own lens.

[Although to be fair, the Great Books programs and so on that are oft discussed in this context, to me still exhibit some of these patterns of systematization.  One I generally see these programs not acknowledging.  But that’s neither here nor there for right now.  For those interested, I think this article gives a very good overview of all the sides].

I’m very busy at school, but am setting as intention, particularly for this blog, to explore this other side, as it were, more deeply.  It’s not my native disposition to be sure.  I’m a historian, theologian, long range political thinker by trade.  I see systems, patterns, evolutionary traces and future projections.  But the creation from the inside, that is harder for me.  The cleansing of that lens for the time of “tree touching” (as opposed to forest seeing my normal disposition) is very difficult for me.

The likely entry way for me will be the writings of N.T. Wright.

Published in: on October 3, 2007 at 10:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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