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Author Topic: Some Thoughts on the Ethos of Capitalism  (Read 60129 times)
charleslb
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« on: September 13, 2010, 04:40:22 PM »

    In the same year that saw the outbreak of the American war of independence a quirky academic who definitely fit the popular profile of a crackpot, a peculiar-looking, hypochondriacal, absentminded professor of philosophy who was known to literally wander the streets talking to himself, and who remained a lifelong bachelor with an unusually close relationship with his mother, Adam Smith, wrote a bulky book, The Wealth of Nations, that has ever since provided the capitalist system and its true believers with a handy rationalization for selfishness and greed.

     In a thousand or so stodgy pages Smith constructed an argument that supposedly turns looking out for #1 into a social virtue. At least the crass choir of corporate bosses, bankers, and Wall Streeters that he continues to posthumously preach to think so. But despite his sophisticated if strange mind, Smith’s vaunted case for self-interest boils down to little more than Gordon Gekko’s uncouth assertion that “Greed is good”. Professor Smith fancifully theorized that in a so-called free-market society greed would operate like an “invisible hand” guiding all the participants in the economy to do the pragmatic and productive thing, and orchestrating the creation of a lavish prosperity that would trickle down even to those at the beggarly bottom of the economic totem pole.

     Talk about a ludicrously counter-commonsensical ivory-tower theory! Those of us living in economic real time, so to speak, know that turning people loose to follow their greed is a prescription not to increase the general welfare but rather to wind up concentrating a despicably disproportionate amount of wealth in the grasping hands of a few cutthroat alpha male capitalists. When avarice is deregulated the result is NOT a free-market meritocracy in which hard work is fairly rewarded, in which enterprising individuals generate affluence for society as a whole. What we really and lamentably get is a society in which a few aggressively greedy captains of industry and finance grab and lock up most of the capital created by the labor of working people, leaving only the economy’s crumbs for everyone wearing a blue collar.

     It should come as no surprise at all that this is the way the world really works under capitalism. If you allow people to be wantonly guided by greed do you really think that you’re going to have a system in which the big boys of big business don’t monopolize as much of society’s bounty as possible? A society in which the super rich, out of some kind of ethical good sportsmanship, refrain from exploiting their power to unfairly rig the game? And a global economy in which the wealth of nations is equitably spread around?

     The notional notion that you can harmlessly and beneficially harness greed is actually far more unrealistic than the supposedly discredited socialist conviction that greed can be put in check by a system based on altruism and social compassion. At least socialism recognizes greed as a dangerous human foible and attempts to discourage it. Capitalism, on the other hand, tries to fool itself that greed can be channeled as a force for good. Capitalism and its diehards make the exact same mistake with the greed that lurks in our human nature that “the company” in the movie Alien makes with the frightfully feral creatures discovered on a distant planet. Capitalism and “the company” both mistakenly think that they can safely manage and make use of an unmanageably destructive quantity. And the result in both cases is ruefully disastrous.  

     The Ripley character in Alien had the right take-no-prisoners idea about how to deal with an untamably dangerous force, you fight it, you don’t try to make it your b**ch. You can dismiss socialism as a utopian pipe dream if you like, but at least socialists choose to nobly fight not foolishly accommodate our selfish and anti-social tendencies.

     Let me reiterate by referencing another movie, self-interest is most certainly NOT an “enlightened” guiding principle to live our lives by, rather life experience and history teaches that it leads straight to the dark side, for individuals and societies. Capitalism willfully embraces the dark side that our greed inclines us toward, and socialism resists it. Capitalism then is the Darth Vader of socio-economic systems, and socialism is Luke Skywalker leading the revolt against it.

     Unfortunately today the world has been swallowed up by Darth Vader’s evil empire, global capitalism is in the geopolitical and economic catbird seat for the present and the foreseeable future. The pro-greed ethos of capitalism is having its way with human history, setting it on a course for more and more misery.

     The materialism and ethical egoism (“The view that each individual should seek as an end only his own welfare” –  Runes’ Dictionary of Philosophy) at the empty heart of capitalism have created a spiritually unfulfilling, morally unhealthy, and economically unjust existence for us to endure. And the human condition under such a system is only likely to grow more socially and spiritually sickly.

     We already live in a world in which billions, with a B, are serving an undeserved life sentence of poverty, powerlessness, exploitation, drudgery, and grief. And not only does there seem to be no hopeful prospect of a general pardon or compassionate parole for the innocent masses of mankind currently jailed in the morbid reality of capitalism, things clearly appear to be going in the opposite direction of hopeful. The wealth gap between the poor and the plutocrats who sit pretty at the top of our society’s food chain continues to obscenely widen. The economic, technological, and military goliath nations continue to pursue globalization in ways that cause horrendous hardship for the enlarging underclass of the Third World. And the ecological chickens of the greed-driven Industrial Revolution are beginning to come home to roost in a big way in the form of catastrophic climate change.

     Ironically, even though they pride themselves on being “realists”, none of this makes much of a dent in the devotion of capitalism’s adherents. They can certainly see the mote in the eye of “Marxism”, to use their favorite word of reproach. They’re always quick to cite the fact that the Soviet Union was an unpleasant and ultimately unsuccessful system as conclusive confirmation of the conventional wisdom that socialism is a failed experiment, a historical footnote to the wishful idealism of those of us on the loony left of the political spectrum. The demise of the Soviet Union is supposedly proof positive that capitalism, a system “rationally” predicated on the profit motive is the only genuinely viable system and that anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a cloud-cuckoo-land. If conservatives would only apply the same critical analysis to their beloved capitalism!

     Alas yes, it turns out that it’s really capitalism’s faithful who are delusionally out of touch with the entire unpretty picture of cold, hard reality I’ve been painting. They enjoy smugly thinking that the commies we’re knuckleheadedly naïve for believing that selfishness could be socially engineered out of human nature and refuse to acknowledge the plainly pernicious social consequences all around them that result from the blatant way we befriend our greed under capitalism. They like to speak in euphemistic terms such as free enterprise and the Protestant work ethic. They glibly blame the victim when it comes to homelessness and poverty, simplistically surmising that anyone not doing well must doubtlessly lack drive and a well-developed work ethic. Some still even cling to denial about the glaring reality that industrial capitalism is helping to cause global warming and threatening our very survival as a species. Etc., etc.

     Whatever it takes to keep their flimsy faith that self-interest is enlightened and greed is good, hmm? Yep, the intellectual dishonesty of free-marketeers seems to know no shame when it comes to rationalizing their own wishful idealism. Never mind that the touted triumph of capitalism has come about by trampling upon the working class, upon the democracy we profess to hold dear, and upon morality, spirituality, and social solidarity. Never mind any of that, capitalism lets people freely fly their greed flag, and that freedom is supposed to covers its multitude of sins! Staunch supporters of capitalism just curl up with this libertarian rationalization, retreating into the ideologically defensive fetal position of being proponents of “freedom” and refusing to face the real-world evils of a system that gives way too much free reign to man’s piggish proclivities.

     Let me be perfectly blunt here, the greed, consumerism, and ethical materialism codified by the capitalist system are sending our civilization down an express road to perdition in a Gucci handbag. But the corporate owned media establishment keeps propagandizing us to think that me-ism, mammonism, and materialism are working for us. Capitalism may have taken away our spiritual sense of direction and moral moorings, but not to worry, just keep your hungry-eyed gaze fixed on that carrot of upper middle-class affluence it dangles in front of you. Keep selfishly chasing the dream of living the lifestyle of the rich & famous. Keep shallowly functioning as though man does live by bread alone, and as though you can never have too much bread. This is the bourgeois programming we’re constantly bombarded with by our culture nowadays...

     If you're interested in exploring this and related topics with me in greater depth, you're invited to visit my new website. Just click on or copy & paste the address below. Thanks. And no, this is not spam advertising, it's just a friendly invitation.

www.thetotalrevolutionproject.com


 Smiley
« Last Edit: September 13, 2010, 04:42:08 PM by charleslb » Logged
JustSayNoToStatism
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« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2010, 05:47:18 PM »

Quote
Whatever it takes to keep their flimsy faith that self-interest is enlightened and greed is good, hmm? Yep, the intellectual dishonesty of free-marketeers seems to know no shame when it comes to rationalizing their own wishful idealism.
I have no faith in the idea that self-interest produces positive outcomes. I don't need it. I just refer people like you to this thing called history.

That computer you typed on was not made because someone thought "I just really care about your well-being, and your ability to [edit: read: spam] on people's forums." The people who designed that computer wanted to make money for themselves. Looks like you both won. Self-interest is a very powerful force, and in the absence of a vehicle of institutionalized violence will take us to new heights.

[Edit: last comment deleted by user to be less mean]
« Last Edit: September 13, 2010, 09:24:46 PM by JustSayNoToStatism » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2010, 05:57:39 PM »

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Why am I responding to this? stupid. stupid. No feeding the trolls.

Oh come on. You troll their websites and they feed you all day long. You gotta feed them back. Besides, troll he may be, but that doesn't mean he can't be converted. I say, let the dialogue keep rolling. We haven't got anything better to do, do we?
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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2010, 09:22:20 PM »

I guess the term troll is a little bit subjective  Smiley
The forums I go onto have sections dedicated to arguments with outsiders, so I'm actually welcome, and don't feel like a nuisance. Not that we wouldn't accept outsiders, we'd be happy to discuss with them. However, I would not expect this person to have any intention of engaging in discussion. It looks more like a cookie-cutter spam posting, no way this was written with anarcho-capitalists in mind, and no way this person is going to change his/her mind while trying to promote a "rise up proletariat" website (and has already sunk the money on the domain name).
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2010, 09:28:52 PM »

You're probably right. Good call. I was hoping we would have some intelligent debate. Oh well. In the future, perhaps.
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2010, 09:41:31 PM »

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and socialism is Luke Skywalker leading the revolt against it.

Oh my god, I can't stop laughing! It hurts!

People, by there nature and their intellect, choose to serve their self-interest. If you want people to stop being "greedy", you either need to reprogram them or put a gun to their heads. The dumb ones you'll be able to reprogram, but the ones with some sense (like us) will require the latter. I'm willing to die to defend my life, liberty, and property. Are you willing to kill me to take them away? I eagerly await your reply.

Cordially yours,

Darth Rattlesnake
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cengime
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2010, 04:17:31 AM »

Adam Smith is awful. Read Turgot instead.
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infowarrior
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« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2010, 10:22:41 AM »

The only problem with socialism is.. IM NOT YOUR SLAVE! You dont have a right to my income or my property and you most certainly do not know whats best for me(like so many socialists seem to think).
« Last Edit: September 17, 2010, 10:24:13 AM by infowarrior » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2010, 09:25:17 PM »

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The only problem with socialism is.. IM NOT YOUR SLAVE! You dont have a right to my income or my property and you most certainly do not know whats best for me(like so many socialists seem to think).
But what if our overlords are popular and benevolent and wise and love puppies. Then it's okay, right?  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2010, 11:04:40 PM »

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that has ever since provided the capitalist system and its true believers with a handy rationalization for selfishness and greed.
Greed and egoism are inescapable facts of life. Trying to 'rationalize' it is like trying to rationalize gravity; it's a fact that doesn't require a 'reason'; it just is.
Anyone who really was willingly a selfish and greedy individual needs no 'rationalization' or 'excuse'. So, even if we went with your fanciful tale, it would instead prove that altruists and idealism are trying to find a way to account for the boon of markets and property.

You fail. But one can hardly expect sense from the left, with their religion of Humanity and Equality. They are ever blind to the individual, bodily man and his uniqueness.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2010, 11:06:14 PM by ChromodynamicGirl » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2010, 10:44:45 AM »

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Trying to 'rationalize' it is like trying to rationalize gravity; it's a fact that doesn't require a 'reason'; it just is.

So....Trying to 'rationalize' it is like trying to rationalize gravity free will; it's a fact that doesn't require a 'reason'; it just is.

hahaha

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Anyone who really was willingly a selfish and greedy individual needs no 'rationalization' or 'excuse'.
People can't willingly do anything.

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They are ever blind to the individual, bodily man and his uniqueness.
I find it hard to believe that a nihilist can also be an individualist. As I've pointed out before, the individual is probably a non-concept. One cloud of matter can't "define" one cloud of matter as an individual, it's just an illusion like free will  Grin

Alright, now copy and paste this and respond in the nihilism thread. That way the conversation can be more coherent, and not scattered all over the place. (although coherence is meaningless  Cheesy )
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« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2010, 05:49:43 PM »

You're a retard.
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« Reply #12 on: October 17, 2010, 12:59:41 AM »

Good argument. You win.
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« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2010, 09:02:25 PM »

You're a retard.

The only possible saving grace for this post is that it was said with the same inflection as Allen said "retard" when referencing "Rain Man" in "The Hangover". I think I'm too cynical to believe that to be true, though.
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« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2010, 11:17:46 PM »

I think a big problem in the freedom movement, specifically in anarchist circles, is an unfortunate miscommunication of ideals which I believe to be one of the greatest challenges to Anarcho-Capitalism. As a stepping stone towards a world of peace, we must over come this mis-education. This is meant to try and bridge the gap between different schools of anarchist though so we may overcome this challenge together and take joy in the fact that we all actually agree politically, and the fact that we have different and interesting social and moral views outside of the role of violence (politics).

I agree with a lot of what you said as far as the problems with wall street, monopolies, exploitation, etc. However, you made one HUGE mistake. Capitalism does NOT result in exploitation like this, government does. Check out this article for more explanation of that point (http://www.thefreemanonline.org/headline/gekko-greed/). Government is the enemy. But not just government, anyone who believes they can initiate force( an archist) is a criminal, it just so happens that the idea of government tends to be behind the largest number, and the worst, criminals in all of history. To get to my point, there is a miscommunication between individualist and collectivist strands of anarchy, specifically between Anarcho-Capitalists and the other forms of anarchist thought. This miscommunication tends to come down to how we define one word: Capitalism.

Anarcho-Socialists, Anarcho-Communists, Geo-anarchists, left-anarchists, anarcho syndicalist, and so on all tend to adopt Marx's definition of capitalism as a system of exploitation and defines capitalists as essentially the people doing the exploiting (my apologies if my Marx summary isn't spot on, but I think I got the main point needed for this article). Here is the all crucial moment when we must define what capitalism means. Marx, and by extension most leftists, are referring to state capitalism when they use the term capitalism. While leftists use the word free market to erroneously describe this economic system, it couldn't anything further from a truly free market. State capitalism, also referred to as cronyism, crony capitalism, and corporatism, is essentially an economic system where there is a partnership between big government and big business, and while there is an appearance of private ownership of property, everything is heavily regulated by the government. In other words, this economic system is exactly the exploitation Marx was talking about. America is currently in a very corporatist economy. The bail out would be a perfect example. A few big businesses which were heavily subsidized went under, and the government bailed them out. We now have a nationalized car company! For more instances look around you. All the regulation and licensing out there makes sure that people can't start a business, and sometimes even get in the business world. Schools cost too much because they get subsidized which allows them to keep their prices artificially high. The government regulates every business making it incredibly costly to do get a job beyond working as a waiter (which is why most of my employment has been at restaurants and bars). It's just too expensive! For instance, right now I'm trying to get my real estate liscence. I have to pay a few hundred dollars for a class. Then pay again to take a cumulative test. Then pay again for a cumulative test from the state. Then pay again to get the liscence after passing both exams. This does not take into account all the loopholes of the actual real estate business that cost smaller businesses alot of money and force them out of business painfully. If this isn't exploitation I do not know what is. It's illegal to give out haircuts in your own home and charge people money for it. it's illegal to sell drugs. it seems to me that when impoverished people try to make money, the government makes what they're doing either illegal without an expensive liscence and other regulations which are very expensive to follow, or they make the act out-right illegal. This was the economic third-way pioneered by fascist italy, nazi germany, and new deal america. and I agree with you and marx that it is evil. Every day the middle class get smaller and we all get poorer as the rich get richer due to their political connections. This is NOT a free market. As murray Rothbard noted, "The difference between free-market capitalism and state capitalism is precisely the difference between, on the one hand, peaceful, voluntary exchange, and on the other, violent expropriation."

So, now to define what us Anarcho-Capitalists mean we say Capitalism. We mean a system of absolute property rights. In other words, a system where no one may initiate violence against you. This is why Murray Rothbard also meant when he famously said that capitalism and anarchism are the exact same thing. Now while every left-anarchist might be screaming "NO THEY ARE NOT!" let me make a quick distinction. We are talking politics here, nothing else. In other words we are talking about the legitimate role of violence in our world. Anarchism is very simply, a political structure where one is not ruled. What does this mean? It means that no one can force you to do anything, and on the other hand you cannot force anyone to do anything they do not want to do. This is what peace is, outlawing violence. So what do you have when no one can initiate force? Absolute ownership of yourself and your property. In other words: laissez-faire capitalism. Notice that I said this was a political discussion. Let me unpack that idea.

Politics is a branch of philosophy that discusses the moral application of violence (if there even is such a thing). This makes politics a subset of ethics, the branch of philosophy which discusses right and wrong, which I will designate as capital Morality. So ethics discusses Morality (what is right and wrong) just as aesthetics discusses art and epistemology discusses knowledge. Under ethics i would define two major subsets: politics and (lower case) morality. Many philosophers use different words for all these terms, but a rose is a rose, so this is my simplified form of the distinctions philosophers make between what you have to do and what you should do. Lower case morality discusses the right things we should do but are not compelled to do, whereas politics discusses what we have to do/are compelled to do/the role of violence. So, politically speaking, anarchy and capitalism (free market!) and synonymous. Very simply, if one is to have a an anarcho-commune, and does so through force, they are no longer anarchists. However, if people peacefully form a commune, that is fine. A free market allows any voluntary action, including voluntary socialism. Which brings us to another important distinction: positive and negative rights.

A positive right is a right to something, such as a meal, descent living, drug free environment, etc. A negative right is a right to freedom of speech, of religion, etc. If one politically enforces positive rights, they do so at the expense of negative rights. If one enforces the positive right of a decent living through income redistribution, they violate people's negative rights to their property. However, if one politically enforces negative rights, they do not do so at the expense of positive rights. If every negative right that one can deduce from the non-aggression principle (no one can initiate force against anyone else, EVER) is enforced, leading to a state of anarchy, one can still voluntarily pool their money into charity and work to ensure that a decent living is had by all. In other words, anarchy let's you have your cake and eat it to.

... deep breath...

So, if one is to look at the many divisions of anarchists (http://www.ozarkia.net/bill/anarchism/TypesOfAnarchism.html. a good start), one finds a miscommunication of ideals. We all pretty much agree politically, no one should be allowed to initiate violence, or rule over any body else. The main contention comes up when we discuss what would be the moral way to organize such a society. Some believe that we should reject profit and adhere to the LTV. Others think land should be owned communally and all should chip in some money to rent said land. Still others believe we should be pacifists. Now this rant has gone on long enough, but suffice to say that all those different ideas are not a political discussion. They are a moral discussion. They offer different views of society and how it should be structured. They discuss different ideas of the good life, and what is simply the right thing to do. At the end of the day, being an anarchist means being against using violence against innocent people. In other words, only retaliatory force is politically legitimate (if even that). I see this as being one of the greatest challenges to Anarcho-Capitalism, as well as Anarcho-anything. We must realise that we all feel the same about politics, and if someone thinks using initiatory violence is legitimate, they are no anarchist. Unfortunately, some left-anarchists apparently think it is ok to use government as long as it exists, and others think it is ok to use violence to force communal living in the absence of a state. Regardless of their philosophical justifications for doing so based on the idea that no one can one land, etc., even if one finds a justification for using violence against someone who has not first initiated violence, it is a sick joke to call such a philosophy anarchy. That is what statism is. These people are not anarchists. As i said before, a rose is a rose no matter what you call it, you can call yourself an anarchist but if you think violence is legitimate, you certainly are not.

one final thing, many capitalists are not fans of adam smith, I am not although i use some of his terminology (invisible hand). I think he's a pretty big idiot. If you want to truly critique the economic ideology held by most current anarcho-capitalists/agorists/classic liberals/libertarians/individualist anarchists, look up some Austrian economics. Also, as i made clear above in the distinction between politics and morality in ethics, many anarchists who don't fall on the socialist side of things are not necessarily individualists morally and many anarchists on the socialist side of things are individualists (Proudhon). There are plenty of egalitarians, traditionalists, etc. who embrace "our form" of anarchist thinking. Also, there are individualists who are not ethical egoists. And I'm sorry to say your understand of rational self-interest is flawed. Ayn rand did a lot to damage that term, it has nothing to do with being selfish. As you pointed out, being selfish is not smart. Star Wars is a perfect example, Anakin Skywalker lived a pretty shitty life. Clearly, being selfish is not acting in one's long-term, or RATIONAL self-interest. This has gone long enough, but maybe in another article I will tackle what ethical egoism is really about (self-actualization).

So in conclusion, as i said, Anarchy lets you have your cake and eat it too. Fully enforcing negative rights politically allows any and all positive rights to exists (as history has shown through the failure of government and the egalitarian success had by many anarchic societies, this might be the only way to truly have such positive rights exist). The only major difference between socialist anarchists and capitalists anarchists is their beliefs on the moral way to organize a society. However, I believe that difference is also over stated, yet again that is another topic for another time. In short, in a truly free market, I believe (as Austrian Economics proves) society will function without the problems that currently plague our world economically. Regardless, a Capitalist political system allows socialism, communism, fascism, or any other -ism one can think of as long as it is based in mutual consent of all the parties involved.

I believe it is nothing more than state propaganda that drives us apart. We are told from day one that anarchy is wrong and in anarchist circles all these ridiculous divisions are made to make sure we never rise up and over throw the tyrants that truly exploit us. So let's embrace the truth together and chain them up for once (that's the retributivist in me talking, yet again, nother topic, nother time).

So let us join together and get rid of all of the worlds criminals, we must bring down the state, and outlaw the use of force. Only in this state of peace may we all further advance our own unique views of the ideal life, rather they be collectivist or individualist. Tolerance is an important part of peace, and hopefully we can tolerate each other enough to join forces and focus our energies on the true enemy: any and all archists
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