Noam Chomsky: Can Civilisation Survive Really Existing Capitalism?

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with Noam Chomsky

Anti Capitalism

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MyUCD-Apr 3, 2013

UCD Philosophy Society Inaugural Lecture 2013

One of the world’s leading intellectuals and political activists, Professor Noam Chomsky has been awarded the UCD Ulysses Medal, the highest honour that University College Dublin can bestow.

The award was inaugurated in 2005, as part of the university’s sesquicentennial celebrations, to highlight the ‘creative brilliance’ of UCD alumnus James Joyce. It is awarded to individuals whose work has made an outstanding global contribution.

Professor Chomsky was presented with the UCD Ulysses Medal by the President of UCD, Dr Hugh Brady, following a public lecture hosted by the UCD Philosophy Society and the UCD School of Philosophy at University College Dublin on Tuesday 02 April 2013.

Full story


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43 thoughts on “Noam Chomsky: Can Civilisation Survive Really Existing Capitalism?

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  8. David, I am in wholehearted agreement with everything that you said in your last comment. Despite the heavy weight of everything we are up against, I believe that we have the ever-magical creative force with us in this effort, and the cooperation of that great being, our own Terra Gaia, our planet. If you believe in the unified energy field or overconsciousness, then every step we take up will make a difference. It is time for the great activation to begin. For everyone who reads this comment, are you ready? I am.

    • More than ready…so agree, we should never underestimate small steps ~ if they are in the right direction!

    • Peacevisonary and David , any kind of magic , even white magic is a self willed self initiated activity that in the long run does not really work . one must question its overall effectiveness. though, maybe well meaning (maybe) usually ends up morphing into some sort of optimistic utopia ..and utopia by its very definition is a place that does not exist. The bottom then drops out.

      don’t mean to ruin the party between you two , but i view optimism as the enemy of real hope because i don’t think man can save himself . history will back up my position . every attempt at this has failed . i call this empty new age promises ” . where is the foundation for this to actually work in the real world ? what is this foundation made of ? human beings cant even find agreement on so many trifles , how in the world can we find agreement enough to bring a lasting world peace?

      i am not a pessimist. don’t get me wrong . pessimism and optimism are the 2 sides of the same coin . that great being that peacevisonary speaks of , i take it is our own self … the great Self. its as if , and please correct me if i am wrong by misunderstanding what you meant by this term , but it seems that this expression is that we are THE greatest Being going , as if there is not a clear cut difference between the collective US and the whole notion that there is someone separate and utterly transcendent from us , namely a Creator … who has also been called ”that great being”.

      if this juxtaposition be the case–if you are both game … then what i propose first is comparisons and contrasts between Saint Anselm’s 10th century divine Ontology verses today’s Self form of Ontology . We may be able to bring in bridge men like Jung and James for some common ground.

      have a good weekend .

      • Well, thanks Rocket and good rocking in St Louis ~ I can’t leave this interesting string of thoughts you trailed, just hanging in the air unacknowledged.

        First off, I think we should appeal directly to that Great Spirit in our own sanctified way. Each individual has a consciousness that is unique and a spiritual path that is theirs and theirs alone. A sacred path to walk in their own moccasins. But as the old saying goes, only when you become that Path, may you begin to get somewhere.

        There’s this mathematical curvature entity that I believe is called an asymptote, that is forever infinitely close but never quite touches or coincides with another curve.

        That is how I envisage this notion of greater Self, that is only diminished when reduced to a personal anthropogenic extension; somehow it seems more authentic and wiser to forego the deceptive “higher self” ideation ~ that so easily feeds into an illusory personal self ~ by keeping the aspiration, the enthusiasm and the impulse external to one’s own limited identity or phenomenological ego. Such experience must be freely acquired. Shamans master elemental spirits and conjure ancestral energies, become the wind, talk to animals. Socrates had his Daemon. That is a good and holy thing in my book.

        We should never fear our Sacred Daemon nor be averse to the utterance of any Divine Muse, whom the ancients conceived as evidence of pure Genius ~ that in the theurgical language of Neoplatonic mysticism, was the unique “autopoietic” expression of one’s Holy Guardian Angel or Augoeides.

        • David , great answer. All of this begs these questions :
          1. Do you perceive the self as its own deified entity that has what it takes apart from any creator to effect lasting change on a micro or macroscopic level ?

          2.If so , where in your view is the source of this self derive its power and wisdom to accomplish this task ?

          3.If so , what historical examples besides the ones you gave can work on the level to the masses. ?

          4. If it has been sufficiently proven over the arc of time and history that the self as the be all and end all cannot escape its own self ( as Cioran contends ) , would it be too far fetched to even consider for serious discussion sake a proposition that there is an entity totally independent of the self (” a Necessary Being ”–using Aquinas definition ) that can effect real lasting change by its will thru us?

          in conclusion : when you mentioned the individual and consciousness and uniqueness , i would like to apply the Kierkegaardian scalpel if i could . Yes S.K. would give a hearty amen to the individual and uniqueness of each ones path , but being the 2 edged sword that he is he would give a thumbs down to the usage of the word ”consciousness ”. for as S.K. says ”Consciousness is the problem ”. Jung would partially concur with that statement .

        • You may be right about the consciousness, so long as it is a definite material description referring to something of which we have absolutely no real coherent understanding, because to know what it is, generically, would require us to separate ourselves from the agent of knowing. It’s sounds like pure Zen to me.

          Self is another dangerous word we seldom hear being discussed or see defined in a way that perhaps runs contrary to our expectations or habitual sense of its inferred meaning and significance.

          I reckon it ought to take at the very least a lifetime of Raja yoga to analyse the mind sufficiently precisely to be even provisionally sure about anything. These are big questions, too big to trivialise for sure.

          The neuro-psychological fraternity are now saying that the male brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. That’s just the brain, what about the temperament, social cognitive skills or the ethical development?

          You are concerned about the masses as any good catholic will be. My problem with that is the sheer impossibility of even beginning to conceive of a million other humans in any detail, let alone billions. Robin Dunbar gave us his functional social group number as around 150. So the notion of the masses needs to be rethought simply because it is a category that simply means “a very enormous number.” Even Marx couldn’t have possibly grasped the depth of such a concept, except in the abstract.

          So I’m with the ecologists and evolutionary biologists on this one. Things are what they are and will become what they will be according to (self-evident) principles and processes of development, change and adjustment, providing they are not actually prevented from being what nature intends for them to be. In that sense there must be a sort of plan, but the plan itself I suspect is provisional, more like a contingent formula. In a sensible reality that formula would itself be consistent with a greater adaptive purpose or meta-process and therefore subject to further adjustment. But the ecological point is to let things flourish, not to interfere too much. As Vandana Shiva puts it, the acorn already knows how to be an oak.

          Once you get to these levels of speculative meditation, it seems to me we are where Freeman Dyson suggested that “God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”

        • David , yes indeed the self is a complicated thing . i have been impressed by a book called ”The Fragmented Self : comparisons and contrast in Kierkegaard and Freud .
          first it has to admitted that we are as a species walijg around with a fragmented self –something akin to a Picasso painting .
          can one put all of their eggs in that basket to accomlish such a large task ? stay tuned folks .

          Over population –an interesting debate between Gore Vidal and Malcom Muggeridge . Old Mugg actually won stating that overpopulation was a myth foistered and promoted by the the ruling class soe that they can clone themselves thur birth to contiue an aristocracy . Vidal was laughing his ass off . Mugg stated that the ruling class wants the lower classes to not populate , but that they should . Vidal so much as conceded the debate . of course things have changed since aloy since then

        • Rocket, lately I’ve been listening to some really fabulous free jazz, while I go about mundane household tasks like redecorating, painting etc. organising my stuff.

          Somehow it just makes enormous sense. I think it must be to do with the unpredictable strangeness of these crazy sounds satisfying our innate need for novelty. It never gets boring, so I find it quite inspired.

  9. Peace visionary said the magic word ”Atonement ”, but said it in the wrong context. True atonement can only happen horizontally ( man qua man ) after it has been accepted vertically ( God qua man ) . To put the cart before the horse is utopianistic and impractical because men will always find a way to screw it up . ..unless they first experience the saving grace and atonement from an all merciful creator who is love. When that loved is lived out , really lived out ….reparations to others will come naturally .

    We need to save Bruce Willis for the movies , not real life . that is what the movies are for David . i love the Die Hard ones the best.

    • P.S. –the root word atonement historically does not mean at-one-ment . it means to atone for someone elses sin and wrongdoing . it needs a scapegoat to pay the penalty for another .

        • you may see this as semantics, but i have a very practical reason for using its original meaning in all respects to you, and that is that i don’t think anything short of a real atonement will change things that will really last.

          what i am interested in is a lasting change that has real effects in real lives on this earth that will really change hearts first (getting to the root), and then these changed hearts will reach out in love to those most marginalized and rejected and abused and despised of this world and bring them real social justice..that wont fade away into another wash of history.

          i believe that you basically have that same vision, and so does David. where we differ is the how. as the saying goes –”the Greeks ask why, but Galileo asks how”.

        • We do have different visions of how humanity can shift into a higher level of spirituality. Perhaps the change that we all want will happen in many different ways. It may happen in the way of the parable from the Bible of a farmer throwing seed at planting time. Where the ground is rocky and hard, it doesn’t take root. And perhaps some of us have to crack open in order to receive the seeds of change for growth to occur.

        • That is essentially how I feel about it too peacevisionary, I am an unapologetic and relentless advocate of diversity; some ground is indeed barren, until enriched ~ hence the spiritual value of an experience like “breaking open the head” attributed to S American purgative Ayahuasca rites, by many who have reported life-changing benefits.

          Friends of mine just returned from Andalusia where they are working with devoted teams to rescue animals who are most brutally treated, and I mean brutal. This is endemic and stomach churning in its vileness, not something anyone with a shred of decency can forget or forgive ~ it is a national scandal and a human disgrace.

          People assume that rights should exist, but you cannot claim that everyone is entitled, when some are so decadent and depraved that they deny even the right to life to other sentient creatures. We cannot ignore the abuse and cruelty to animals that is so prevalent in some places. In Spain the abuse is so savage, wanton, gratuitous and culturally “accepted” by most, I am ashamed to call myself European.

          We are going to take this to the European parliament, since laws do exist but they cannot be enforced, because of the pathological “cultural” norms that predominate, and in some places these “galgaros” and Gitanos are so anarchic and given to arbitrary savagery, even the police fear them. To these inhuman specimens excruciating torture and the most painful violence is everything, they celebrate it and inherit a “taste” for it, so that it is the rule. It is clearly sickeningly pornographic. How do you cure that?

        • I suppose you could argue the cruelty is culturally imbedded into human society, the cruelty of wars, of killing people with drones, of abusing animals. of torturing, of depriving people of a livelihood. The truth is that evil exists. However, as long as our systems bring out the worst in people and actually encourages it, we are not going to come out of this stage.

          And the world is dangerously unbalanced right now. We are faced with evolving and coming together or perishing.

          I am very concerned right now at the way the Japanese have been mismanaging the crisis at Fukushima. Why isn’t the international community responding to this crisis? It impacts everyone on earth for many generations to come. Each one of us responds viscerally to various issues that touch a raw nerve. It can be overwhelming, but each of us needs to make a personal shift out of a sense of frustration, recoil, and powerlessness to make changes to figure out the first step we can take to make things better.

          I have decided to form an international council of concerned people to address the threat that Fukushima continues to pose. I will write a mission statement and find individuals and organizations willing to work on it, and funding agencies. Sometimes, people just need someone to lead the way and figure out what steps need to be taken to address a problem. We suffer a huge vacuum of leadership in the world today as the worst, most criminal types are running things.

          Although people are often brutish, cruel and evil, I also believe in the greatness of the human spirit, and that we can rise to the occasion. We are in great peril. Leadership takes many forms, and everyone needs to rise to contribute what they can. Perhaps we all need to better cherish love, kindness, and compassion, and encourage these instincts in ourselves and others.

        • yes , that is a good view of how real change can come . no doubt . it was that one parable alone when i really heard it that cut me in half . another parable that must be considered is the mustard seed . things always start off small , a small pebble thrown in a sream and then a ripple in the world , the butterfly effect so to speak . this whole idea of an inner kingdom , that moves in the hearts of those who have been moved by the divine . invisible to the world at first , and then over the arc of time it manifests itself . damn ! why does history take such a long time ?

          meantime we must continue with works of mercy . set the wheel in motion .

        • So very well said, and I admire your initiative enormously. Fukushima is indeed an invisible menace we dare not ignore.

          There is a colossal amount of denial in evidence, people seem to opt either for the opiate of consolation or the sheer frisson of irrational panic. So I think it falls to those of us who have the courage and the conviction, to initiate effective ethical actions to counter this tendency toward extreme disequilibrium.

          We are up against a money power that is of itself such a violent, corrupt and rapacious abuse of vital energy, that only by the coherence and integrity of our individual cognitive and symbolic virtue, are we likely to make any difference. We must manifest the legitimate individualized truths that will resonate through the propaganda fog to liberate those core values that best exemplify our common planetary destiny.

          I am sure we shall be witnessing extraordinary developments in due course, world-wide; even feel energies from beyond our solar system, so we need to keep a watchful eye on the real event horizon, and not be distracted or seduced by the illusory projections of political fantasists and their corporate masters of spin. The only spin worth heeding is the Earth’s eternal rotation on its celestial axis.

          For a new ecological civilization to be born from the ashes of this epoch of immense change and destructive force, it will require huge presence of mind, attention to fundamental institutional revaluation, real innovative wisdom and great leadership.

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  11. However, if we get caught up impugning others, we might end up finding our own names on the wall. It’s so much easier to hate than to love, although love is THE creative force in the world.
    Instead, might I suggest, not a wall, but designating great living trees that we tie many colored ribbons with our greatest ideas and dreams written on them?

    • A wise comment peacevisionary.

      I concur so long as those lovely ribbons are biodegradeable and harmless to the ecosystem!

      Perhaps the ancients were right, and there is no exemption from eventual passage through the Hall of Judgment where all souls are weighed against the feather of truth.

      My own view is that if we are to emulate the gods by establishing courts on Earth, then just punishment should be measured and conceived in terms of restitution. The guilty parties ~ those unequivocally responsible for terrible crimes against Nature ~ should bear full responsibility in appropriate kind, for their atonement; by endowing, creating and cultivating thriving new forests for the wild animals, and for our children to celebrate, enjoy and venerate.

  12. Pseudo-science “creationism” in alliance with technologically proficient “destructionism” ~ is this the the new normal? The irony is perfect: smart ALEC for the really stupidly RECD.

    The utter horror that is “our” very own planetary triumphalist Plutocracy “feeds” parasitically on petro-chemical extraction. This is a metastatic global cancer that either must be cured, or will surely render biodiverse life on earth terminal.

    Is that alarmist or just realist?

    France 24 this week, broadcast an interview with Maria Van Der Hoeven, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency at the 14th International Oil Summit under way in Paris ~ that “brings together energy ministers and oil executives from all around the world” to discuss “the future of oil and where is the world’s energy going to come from?”

    Maria tells us that expected global oil consumption, driven by Chinese “development” is forecast to increase steeply by at least 30% over the next twenty years, augmented massively by the short-term “great success” of boomiing US shale-gas ~ albeit still “environmentally controversial.”


  13. Things wont change until we have a basic cultural change where money is seen as a tool not an end goal of economic activity.

  14. I appreciate Dr. Chomsky’s analysis and the questions that he raises. Somehow people have deluded themselves that we still have market capitalism and that we have still have democracy in the U.S. I’ve been reading David Felix, the economist that he refers to, who had a fairly accurate take on how financial practices of leveraging and hedging have threatened financial stability in the world. Felix recommended that the U.S. start taxing financial transactions, which would be a good start towards regulating Wall Street. However, Felix doubted that there was the political will to carry it out, and I don’t think anything has changed since he wrote that shortly before his death at age 91 in 2009. We can analyze the problems of capitalism ad nauseum, and it could be productive to do so if our knowledge expands and we use it to construct something better; however, in the final analysis we do need to develop a better financial system… one based on the quality of life for everyone and stewardship of our planet instead of profit. We need a better political system than democracy… one that does not give away the power of people to governments to wage wars, one that has direct involvement for individuals in decision-making rather than giving our power away to representatives and corporate interests.

    • “We need a better political system than democracy… one that does not give away the power of people to governments to wage wars”

      I very much like your comment and would agree on all counts except the above. It contains an internal contradiction or a misconception. The very meaning of democracy is “power of the people”, therefore in a real democracy that power isn’t given away. Maybe you meant to say “parliamentary democracy” – that is indeed a system that has lost its democratic legitimacy, because it is largely disconnected from the will of the people.

      But as long as we hold on to the very meaning of it, there isn’t any better system than democracy. The problem is that what we have now is not democracy – it is merely called that way.

      • Actually, the way democracy works is that you vote for representatives to represent you. I am claiming that in a better, more evolved political system, we would not surrender our power to anyone else, but would be directly involved in decision-making individually. Democracy works as a system where there is a surrender of your power to someone else. As a word, democracy has become nearly meaningless. It does claim to be a system of government for the people, of the people, by the people. It’s true that if you go strictly by that definition that we don’t have democracy in the U.S. today. But was it ever?

        Women have had to struggle for the vote. Blacks have had to struggle for the vote. What does the vote mean today when it gets counted by a private company in a presidential election? When international monitoring bodies are not allowed to monitor it in the U.S.? When Diebold voting machines that we can’t trust to be accurate are used in elections? When nobody bothers to follow through to make sure that all the mail-in ballots are counted, and if they do, it still doesn’t change anything? (When all the ballots were finally counted in 2000, Gore had actually won.) When the public is lied to and misinformed so that they can’t make good decisions? When the mass media serves corporate interests?

        The idealistic concept of democracy has never been fully implemented anywhere. Perhaps it was an ideal it was good to strive for, but perhaps it was just a weak ideology. I believe real power to the people comes from truth, the truth about ourselves and the world we live in. Power flows from nature when we are in balance. We are presently so whacked out of balance that we are destroying the very planet that sustains us. How sane is that?

        If people are to survive, we must evolve and find better ways of organizing ourselves… and this might just mean breaking up the nation states and cities, dispersing into smaller communities spread out across the land, communities small enough for everyone to be involved directly in making decisions, more commonly-held property, more open interdependence… a lot of changes in how we live our lives. These changes could make our lives better rather than worse. We could have lives that were freer and more fulfilling.

        • What you are advocating peacevisionary sounds very similar to Vandana Shiva’s profoundly intelligent notion of earth democracy, that is probably the only viable long-term option for the so-called developing world.

          Relentless urban pollution and the ecological footprints of cities present huge challenges, but solutions are just over the horizon as Herbert Girardet and others make abundantly clear, if only the will to change would prevail.

          There will always be social visionaries and innovative pioneers, but life-crippling power broking is the dominant lethal habit of investment bankers, greedy industrialists and political self-promoters who only traffic in symbols and not in ecological realities.

          I think we should create an index of infamy, to name and shame the world’s polluters and destroyers, fully evidenced with complete, verifiable and historical body-counts and inventories of ecocidal insults.

          Then post it on a gigantic internet wall of shame.

        • I like that idea, David. A wall of infamy should also include war profiteers, war criminals, and people who have caused great harm to other people. I’d put Henry Kissinger at the top of the list.

        • The trouble with that witch hunt mentality is that it is what Hedges calls ”externalizing evil” instead of dealing with it within ourselves.

          politics and activism is just one part of life, but if it usurps the need for us to re-assess our own lives then we got our prioritys bass-ackwards.

          ”The unexamined life is not worth living ”Socrates said . Instead of an ”internet wall of shame”, why not an ”inner heart hall of change”? let us see how we are polluting our environment with our vibrations that are not loving . And what about our sins of omission –the things we don’t do that we should be doing like reaching out to feed those without food, visit prisoners, love those who don’t like us, help the handicapped and the mentally ill, volunteer at homeless shelters, take care of mother earth, etc. etc.

          we can never save the world , but we can save our little corner of the world . As far as Democracy goes, it doesn’t exist. Neitzche said ”little acts of rebellion are more important than a revolution”. it has taken me years to really see what that statement is about .

        • Important thoughts Rocket, thank you. The Nietzsche quote is great. Even shopping or, better, creating an edible landscape, can be profoundly radical acts.

          I’m not keen on witch-hunts, but I am enthusiastic about international (environmentally driven) jurisprudence ~ elsewhere, peacevisonary suggested a “phantastic” forest of dreams instead of a wall of shame, so maybe she is on the right ecological track there.

          Despite my high regard for Laozi’s political philosophy, that tends to place the emphasis on our ethical independence from the constraints of hyper-organised society, I find it very difficult to envisage an orderly world without effective courts of law.

          I believe the Internet can contribute to a more effective and transparent judicial process, and I see Wikileaks, for example, as contributing hugely to that end.

          The Malaysian war-crimes tribunal is another fine example. So if the ICC is incapable of doing the job, recording TRUTH large on the digital wall may serve the cause of justice better.

          Of course, we still need to determine what we really mean by “justice.” Some would say vengeance is not an unhealthy sentiment. I prefer to think of it in terms of spiritual economy, much like yourself. Reparation is more intelligent than emotionally driven gratification, but I must confess I am occasionally mildly gratified by the “symbolic actions” of Bruce Willis!

          It all rather depends on one’s cultural context.

        • I’m a strong advocated of reparations as a way to bring about justice. In the case of war crimes, I believe it is the only way to make war unprofitable. In the case of Iraq, where the lies about WMD as the pretext for invasion have been substantiated, every company that profited from that invasion should pay reparations to the people of Iraq, and to the taxpayers of the U.S. Every member of Congress who voted for this war, every person in the administration who pushed for it, should be tried for war crimes. We could clean the house then.

          Also, the crash of 2008 should be thoroughly investigated and the banks that were “too big to fail” that have been receiving taxpayer bailouts and paying gross profits to their shareholders ever since, should also pay restitution for these bailouts, and the decision-making individuals responsible for criminal acts should be prosecuted. All they have to do is make reparations, not pay fees. Usually the fines and fees that do get made are insignificant, and clearly do not stop criminal behavior.

          Really, we need to rethink Wall Street, and perhaps eradicate it from the way it operates as it’s become a major leech on the American and global economy.

          Restitution and reparations appeal greatly to me as a form of justice. However, I also think atonement is just as important. Atonement – at one ment. Becoming at one with others. Feeling the pain of people you’ve hurt. Doing something to alleviate it. It all begins with recognizing publicly that you’ve hurt others. For those people who are unable or unwillingly to face the consequences of their actions, we do need accountability that not only makes them admit that they’ve harmed others in a public forum, but also STOPS them from continuing to do it.

          Our justice system has gotten skewed. Justice is no longer served by a legal system where those with money can get off by hiring the best lawyers to find loopholes in the law. Then precedents get set, and the more people who use the loopholes, the further from justice we get.

          Clearly, we need new systems. Better systems, perhaps based on more enlightened principles. It’s time to reexamine everything that we do which has enabled the worst people in the world to make decisions for everyone else.

        • I couldn’t agree more with the thoughts and aspirations expressed by peacevisionary below my last comment.

          If only there were robust and effective ways (and means) of prosecuting these renegade elites. The snag is, when you’ve got all the money, power, lawyers and influence anyone could wish for, why subject yourself to a humiliating climb-down and likely incarceration or permanent exile, since that is the only way the system appears to be geared to work right now. So all these big companies use deceit and operate on the calculated risk of token fines and buy-offs. They have no fear of prosecution.

          Changing the “cognitive map” that Gillian Tett (a Financial Times editor) refers to and whom Graham Peebles quotes in his excellent, recent long post about Corporate India, that is the real challenge.

          It’s going to take a lot of careful thinking, and dramatic “re-education.”

        • I am heartened by this discussion. Really, if anything is going to change, it has to begin with visualizing how it could be different. And we need to start examining every idea we hold, turn it upside down and inside out. The evolutionary way takes bold leaps. We begin by using our imagination. So, any idea, any idea at all, that gives a fresh perspective and perhaps a different viewpoint, can perhaps lead us out of this swamp. People whoT have the time and inclination to consider these matters have a duty to see where they can go with it. Most people are so burdened with day-to-day matters that it’s overwhelming to give concepts of justice and building new systems much thought. So perhaps the baby boomer generation has a chance now to redeem ourselves.

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