At the Edge

Commentary on the Big Issues

Category: Society

Understanding Feminism

I’m a feminist. And I’m tired of people coming up with criticisms of feminism that don’t even rise to the level of idiocy. To be sure, there are legitimate criticisms of the modern movement. That doesn’t change the reality: sexism exists today, and needs to be fought. Feminism is the movement that challenges that sexism.

I’m a feminist because, throughout the world, individuals face the denial of social, political, and economic opportunities just as a result of their gender. I’m a feminist because I want to resist this system of oppression which defines the lives of multiple individuals: the lives of soldiers who are denied the ability to serve because they are trans men or trans women, the lives of same-sex couples merely seeking the right to marry and live their lives together, the lives of adolescents being abused in cruel “gay conversion” camps, the lives of men who defy gender roles imposed on them, the lives of women who are denied the right to equal pay and to employment, and who are shunned as “impure” during their menstrual cycles, the lives of nonbinary folks who’re simply trying to resist social impositions that confine them to certain standards they don’t want to meet.

Mary Frith scandalized British society by wearing “male” clothes and behaving in a way that society perceived to be masculine. Photo Credit: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

In this post, I’m going to help readers understand feminism, and give you my views on it (i.e. why am I a feminist?). I’m also going to redefine patriarchy. 

Defining ‘Feminism’

The definition of feminism I’m going to use is an ideology which resists discrimination or the violation of individual rights based on gender, and the movement that advances the ideology through actionable social and political change.

To understand that definition, we first need to understand what “gender” means. It’s difficult to come up with a definition because different people mean different things when they say “gender.” However, gender does not mean having XX or XY chromosomes. There’s a distinction between biological sex and gender that we should not blur. Gender is understood as being a social construct corresponding to biological sex. Specifically, gender is the expectations of a community placed on individuals belonging to a certain biological sex. It restricts the freedom of individuals of certain biological sexes and places expectations on them.

Gender is often framed as a binary. In the gender binary, there are two ideal groups of characteristics, the masculine and the feminine, which are expectations placed on members of the two biological sexes. Intersex individuals are excluded. All individuals who defy the group of expectations placed on them are excluded and shunned. This means folks who ascribe to the opposite role to the one placed on them, and those who don’t ascribe to either of the two overly restrictive roles.

Why did these roles arise? Insignificant neurological features that cause behavioral differences in infants, e.g. in the preference of toys, which dissipate later on. These have primarily been observed in chimpanzees. These neurological differences correlate with the biological sex of individuals. While they’re too mild to have a real impact, when families notice behavioral differences in infants and observe that these correlate with sex, they ascribe gender roles to their children. Since then, cultures have emerged ascribing various gender roles, in most cases in the form of a binary.

In general, feminism argues that gender roles are harmful, and disproportionately affect women and nonbinary individuals.

The Case for Feminism

The system of gender roles that is followed in much of the world today is a patriarchal system. This isn’t the traditional definition of patriarchy (i.e. a “world of male domination”). It’s more nuanced than that. Patriarchy is a specific kind of gender role in which people who belong to the “male” gender are expected to be the breadwinners of stable families, and are given a notion of “masculinity” to fulfill wherein they should be dominant/aggressive emotionally, professionally, and sexually (in the latter case, feminists often call it “toxic masculinity,” an expectation of sexual dominance which has probably led to the majority of rapists being men). Similarly, people who belong to the “female” gender are forced into being homemakers, and are expected to be passive and demure emotionally and professionally, and they lack any sexual freedom given to them.

The notion that patriarchy — as defined above — doesn’t exist in most of the world today is indefensible. Because patriarchy exists, and is the predominant system of gender. It’s why “homosexuality” is seen as weak. It’s also why women are often not allowed to be in the military or to pursue free professional lives. Feminism suggests that patriarchy is disproportionately harmful to women. There are multiple examples to prove this. I’m going to use the examples of female genital mutilation, sexual assault, and workplace discrimination.

Female Genital Mutilation. In efforts to constrain the sexual freedom of women, families practice female genital mutilation, the ritual removal of parts of the external female genitalia, a dangerous and often painful process. In a study of merely 30 key countries, UNICEF found that thirty million women and girls had undergone such processes. Harms include chronic pain, fatal bleeding, and the development of cysts.

Sexual Assault. I’m going to mainly talk about rape, i.e. sexual penetration without a person’s consent. With the sole possible exception of the United States [see note], rape is disproportionately suffered by women. This is because of a culture of sexual dominance, in which masculinity often requires male sexual domination, whereas women are expected to be “passive” and docile. Note: In the U.S., when considering in-prison rape, men are raped more often, but the rapists are still males over 90% of the time. This is also an unclear statistic because, in many cases, people?—?both males and females?—?don’t report rapes.

Workplace Discrimination. I’ll talk about this more in later posts, but, in short, women are often not paid equally compared to men, they’re not hired due to fears of pregnancy, they’re denied paid parental leave, and they face sexual harassment in the workplace disproportionately, especially in workplaces with insufficient sexual harassment policies.

Regardless, patriarchy is harmful to the freedom of men, women, and nonbinary folks. In fact, all forms of gender roles are harmful. If a biological male wants to pursue activities that are typically considered “feminine” in nature, they’re rejected and shunned, unless they undergo sex-reassignment surgery and change their gender identity (and then, they’re shunned as trans women). Similarly, when a biological female wants to pursue “masculine” activities, they’re excluded unless they change their gender identity, after which they’re discriminated against because they’re trans men. People who don’t fit into this rigid binary are discriminated against and rejected. Patriarchy exists everyday: standards of beauty and appearance (e.g. “clothes for men” and “clothes for women”), casual sexism (e.g. so-called “chivalry”), and so on. And the more dangerous forms are equally pervasive. Patriarchy is when men are scared to report their rape by women because they’ll be rejected; it’s when equal marriage isn’t granted; it’s when women face massive harms in terms of denying economic opportunities, social equality, or sexual liberation. Feminism is simply the quest to fight this patriarchy. That’s a good quest, without question, and one we should all support.


Unfortunately, society ascribes to — and accepts — a patriarchal system. A system which normalizes the sexual and professional repression of women, glorifies the ostracism of nonbinary individuals, and the emotional repression of men [though the latter are probably better off than the former two]. A system which rejects the LGBT community and parades the pervasive discrimination inherent within society.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. At any level plausible for us, it is our obligation to resist the structural injustice experienced by individuals—many of them our friends, family, and acquaintances—and to fight the patriarchal system, a system which infringes on equal protection and on freedom. The institution of gender, as a whole, is one built upon subjugation and oppression. It is exclusionary, both to those who conform to the binary, and to outliers. And the goal of feminism is equality and justice, so we all must fight the patriarchy.

Why I Oppose Jallikattu

With the four-day harvest festival of Pongal emerging in January, precisely one month ago, so did the debate about jallikattu, a 2000-year-old sport typically celebrated on the third day of Pongal, referred to as Mattu Pongal, in which individuals try to latch on to the humps and horns of bulls in an effort to tame them, with gifts of money and gold tied to the sharpened horns of the animal.

The sport of jallikattu was banned when bulls were added in 2011 to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which restricted animals performing for entertainment under the fear of animal abuse. In 2014, the Supreme Court, presented with evidence from the Animal Welfare Board of India with regard to the “torture and cruelty” endured by bulls during jallikattu fights, upheld the ban. On January 8, 2016, the Ministry of the Environment revoked the order to add bulls to the PCA Act and, by extension, legalized jallikattu. However, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the order in response to a petition issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India and PETA India, leading to protests in January 2016 statewide, with the World Youth Organization demanding a ban on PETA.


Thousands of pro-jallikattu protesters at the Marina Beach. Credit: Gan13166 via Wikimedia Commons. 

By Gan13166 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

However, when the debate on jallikattu was reignited this Pongal, so too were the protests, with much greater intensity. It began when hundreds of jallikattu supporters organized a rally at Chennai’s Marina Beach protesting the ban on jallikattu and calling for immediate change. 220 pro-jallikattu protestors at Madurai were detained one week later. In response, many more students gathered at the Marina Beach to protest, and many volunteer groups and individuals began protesting, leading to a push for an ordinance by representatives of the Tamil Nadu state government to repeal the ban on jallikattu. Soon, in the push for the ordinance to be signed by the President of India, 2 million people gathered at the Marina Beach in what was termed “Occupy Marina.” Most organizations in Tamil Nadu shut down in solidarity with the protesters. On January 23, with protesters refusing to leave, forceful evictions occurred. In response, the protesters engaged in arson and stone-pelting, using “petroleum bombs,” and torching police stations. The Tamil Nadu State Assembly passed a uninanimous bill legalizing jallikattu in Tamil Nadu temporarily.

These protests require us to answer tough questions. Is it justified for the police to forcibly evict protesters? Is democracy on the streets, or on the ballot box? Those are questions that require abstract, philosophical answers: ones that are too vague and abstract for ordinary debate. What is up for debate, however, is whether it is justified, in such a scenario, to pursue a sport that engages in animal exploitation. In this post, I’m going to argue against jallikattu — specifically, I’m going to provide my arguments against it, and refute some common arguments in favor of it.

The Case Against Jallikattu

Animal Cruelty

The first reason I oppose jallikattu is direct: it harms the bulls. A common claim among supporters of jallikattu denies any harm to animals caused by jallikattu. Consider this article, which suggests that that jallikattu is a “fair sport” in which “both human and animal are aware of the game,” and that regulation is sufficient to end animal abuse. All of that is nonsense, and is provably false. The idea that animals are “aware of the game” is obviously false. Animals can’t “consent” to doing something like that when the people initiate it. The fear displayed by bulls also demonstrates clearly that the bull doesn’t consent.

Regulation is insufficient simply because jallikattu is fundamentally abusive. It may not be as harmful as Spanish bullfighting — which, for the record, organizations such as PETA do fight — but it’s still pretty abusive. Inspections jointly conducted by PETA and the Animal Welfare Board of India demonstrate that under regulated jallikattu, massive physical abuse takes place to incur the bulls to respond. In the arena, multiple people pounce on the bull, inducing massive psychological trauma, in which, according to PETA’s conclusions from the inspection, “the bulls become so frightened by the mob of men who participate that they slip, fall, run into barriers and traffic – and even jump off cliffs in their desperate attempts to escape – frequently leading to broken bones or death.”

Just a few days ago, three bulls fell into wells due to their fear. There’s also physical harm from the participants actually hitting the bulls, and even the weight of multiple participants together. Which means, even if abuse is “regulated,” the sport becomes fundamentally about harming the bull. Furthermore, the police themselves engage in abusing the bulls, which means they won’t enforce regulation — but they will enforce a blanket ban because it’s easy to prove that a jallikattu event happened. It’s hard to prove specific abuse.

The government should legislate to prevent animal cruelty. As I’ve already argued before, animals have rights. Since bulls are self-aware and are sentient, under a utilitarian framework, they ought to have rights. While it’s downright impossible to ban meat eating, for instance, and doing that would be demonstrably harmful to society, the only benefit from society is “entertainment.” Jallikattu is a directly harmful sport that should be illegal, as should other, similar sports, such as Kambala.

Edit 3/14/17: The claim that jallikattu as it is currently practiced does not follow the “real rules” of jallikattu — and that those real rules are humane — is ridiculous. First, that’s absolutely not the case, considering that these rural areas built the practice of jallikattu. Second, and more importantly, that doesn’t matter. Insofar as it involves even a single person holding on to the bull’s hump, the bull is going to panic. The sheer psychological trauma is what causes so many bulls to die in jallikattu games. Furthermore, these “real rules” aren’t going to be enforced, and I’ve already explained how a jallikattu ban solves.


Jallikattu is not merely a tradition that oppresses animals. It discriminates among humans as well — as alluded to in T. M. Krishna’s popular column on the issue. Jallikattu inadvertently perpetuates casteist and sexist marginalization. For instance, feminists have objected to the relegation of women to merely caregivers of bulls, while men are the only ones who actually “wrestle” the bulls — spreading notions of “masculinity” and sexism within rural communities.

Similarly, others have noted that jallikattu is casteist. Dalit activists decry jallikattu as divisive, because the sport is often exclusionary to members of “lower caste” individuals. The same article mentions that Tamil Nadu’s villages are often segregated on the basis of caste, and Dalit portions of villages, which are typically slums, have much more subdued jallikattu events. If there is an integrated event, Dalits are disproportionately pushed away to unpaid and less glamorous jobs, like “playing a percussion instrument to set the tone” and to “take care of the bulls” [quoted from the same article]. Other opinion articles have condemned jallikattu as sexist and casteist as well.

Rebuttal to Common Arguments

Proponents of jallikattu have consistently argued the same things: that jallikattu protects indigeneous breeds, that it is an integral part of Tamil culture, and that organizations such as PETA are somehow conspiracies to erode this culture. All of the arguments fail. I’ll address each of them here. Comment if you have anything else; I’ll respond to it.

Indigeneous Breeds

The argument that jallikattu protects indigeneous breeds is based on the idea that the bulls used for jallikattu are used to impregnate other cows, thus allowing for indigeneous breeds to be protected from extinction. This argument fails for three reasons.

Bos taurus indicus.jpg

Zebu (Bos taurus indicus), one of the breeds used in jallikattu. Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons.

First, this impregnation can happen anyway. Farmers won’t get rid of cows if jallikattu is prevented since there’s no monetary benefit from jallikattu. These bulls aren’t going to be sold to slaughter. Second, “preserving indigeneous breeds” doesn’t benefit the bulls. The members of these breeds are just going to suffer and die. The only supposed benefit is from the milk of the cattle — which is fundamentally and inherently tied to animal exploitation. Third, the idea that jallikattu is the only way to preserve indigeneous breeds is preposterous. Economic and market support for cattle farmers is possible. It just never happens. If preserving indigeneous breeds is the reason to support jallikattu, that’s much more effective.


Cultural norms are discontinued or reformed all the time, to make way for social progress. Sati (the practice of a widow ending her life on her husband’s death upon social pressure to do so) and child marriage — both barbaric practices — have been ended to make way for social progress. This isn’t a strong or compelling argument. As an article in The Diplomat explains:

The monolithic entity that Tamil culture seems to have become during the progression of the debate over Jallikattu has culminated in the proponent camp decrying any and all opposition of Jallikattu as inherently anti-Tamil.

The idea that jallikattu is intrinsically tied to ‘being Tamil’ isn’t necessarily true — because culture should not be about cruelty and oppression. It should be about inclusion.


Most conspiracies surrounding jallikattu are ridiculous. The idea that PETA is trying to “open the market for Western companies to advertise their cattle,” or, even more ridiculous, trying to “sell bull semen” is ridiculous. There’s no evidence whatsoever for these assertions, and none of it forms any offensive reason to allow jallikattu.


Jallikattu is a sport hinged upon marginalization and animal cruelty. However, it carries with it cultural intricacies most urban individuals won’t understand. The current practice of jallikattu, however, needs to be abolished — not merely by the government, but by rural community as a whole. The reinvention of the sport as something to truly uphold culture while spreading compassion without oppression is necessary.

Insofar as that is not amended, jallikattu is fundamentally the exploitation of animals for entertainment — something that Tamil culture should not be proud of. We should be ashamed of abuse of any form.

Note that none of this criticism is unique to jallikattu. It applies to all blood sports which involve animals. Spanish bullfighting, for instance, and things like dogfighting and cockfighting, are even more horrendous than such sports. Animal cruelty in the name of entertainment or culture is unjustified, because justice requires the recognition of animal rights. We ought to end cruelty for entertainment.

Anti-LGBT Laws

LGBT discrimination still exists today, even in the United States, despite the fact that Obergefell v. Hodges solved for a major portion of it. It’s disgusting and despicable, and with this (very brief) post, I hope to highlight a specific issue on LGBT rights: “religious freedom” laws. 

There are still 29 states in which individuals can get fired for being gay, or face similar abject discrimination just because of who they are. Take the case of Casey Stegall, a children’s social services worker who was fired just because of his sexual orientation. That’s the sort of thing that happens in America — progressive America. Why? The push from the Republican Party’s religious right, of course, in the form of bills such as the First Amendment Defense Act and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

All of these bills claim to be for the “preservation” of religious freedom, but the real objective behind them is obvious — this is a push against the LGBT+ community. In other words, they want to give people the right to destroy other people’s lives — making them unemployed, denying them healthcare or education, etc. — simply because they’re against the “religious principles” of those people. And by “they are against,” I’m saying that their existence is against the reactionary religious beliefs of certain individuals (including this bunch of far-right politicians).

The classic example of this form of discrimination is the example of people refusing to bake the cakes of LGBT individuals. That is hardly the main focus here. The main focus is cases such as those when hospitals can turn away LGBT people even in cases of emergency, causing the deaths of individuals. It’s when huge corporations can exploit LGBT individuals because of their conservative inclinations, by firing individuals, and thus destroying their lives, because of their sexual orientation. This should be reason enough to reject such despicable laws: engineered to rid individuals that don’t fall into the far-right’s precepts of their lives.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. This is a vast threat to social justice that the conservative establishment wants. Because they don’t care about the people as much as they care about their pathetic principles. The way these laws form a crux of politics is despicable, and they should be rejected with the deepest fervor.

The Censorship of Expression

There are a few features that undoubtedly characterize totalitarian regimes. The presence of a paranoiac, often-reactionary leader who lives in constant fear of uprising tries to check the keys to their power — doing so by providing the wants and needs of the crucial individuals of utmost importance to maintaining power, while taking to other means that involve less spending or fiscal intervention to check the power of the people. Censorship of expression was, as such, fundamentally brought into existence to prevent the dissemination of information against the state, thus consolidating political power in subtle intellectual repression.

Unfortunately, the legacy of such ruthless leaders as Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin, and even Adolf Hitler, at least with regard to the censorship of information, continues. This restraint exists simply to consolidate the very same political power that such authoritarian rulers wished to centralize; albeit this repression is subtler, and, therefore, more dangerous to the institutions of democracy. It brings memories of Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror,” an enforced authoritarianism with the claimed objective of replacing the wasteful, totalitarian French monarchy — when all it succeeded in doing was oppressing the people every bit as much as the monarchy did.

This repression continues in modern democracies by methods that seem justified at face value. Laws are crafted to, for instance, prevent defamation or censor what is deemed “hate speech.” We see that in grossly conservative societies such as India, where criticism of certain religions is prevented. But even in substantially more liberal societies, such as the United Kingdom and Norway, the freedom of expression is prevented — with what is deemed “bigotry” being censored or such speech prevented.

Of course, it is possible to appreciate the fact that the United Kingdom and Norway are trying to stop bigotry — for there is no doubt that expression of, for example, neofascism is intellectually and ethically repulsive. But silencing the dissemination of opinion is not the way to deal with the rise of such a blatant threat to liberal society, because then it shines under the hypocrisy of trying to ensure liberty. The purpose of preventing bigotry is to ensure that individuals can enjoy their right to freedom: but by preventing liberty, are you really censoring bigotry? For the intolerance to a perspective — however inane that perspective may be — by means of silencing it is undoubtedly bigotry. But it is not solely the blatant hypocrisy of them that causes me to oppose “hate speech” and “libel” laws. My concerns go beyond that, and branch into three broad contentions.

Note: I do not oppose laws that prevent expression that is a direct threat to security or stability (e.g. banning the shouting of “fire!” in a crowded theater), or that are a threat to confidentiality or intellectual property. I also do not oppose all libel laws — some of them genuinely attempt to prevent the spread of deliberately misleading information. But others are ridiculous, and often abused.

Political Power

The first concern of censoring expression is political power. For this, we require a critical analysis of the objective of censorship. The reason speech is censored is not “justice” or “freedom,” despite the romantic claims of even liberal societies such as the United Kingdom. It is the spread of ideological homogeneity, grounded in fear of challenge. Challenges to the fundamental political ideology or spectrum of a country prevent the consolidation of political or economic power.

There are two ways in which this objective manifests. First, the government censors expression that it deems “hateful” because it goes beyond the black-and-white political spectrum of the nation. For example, it silences homophobia, not because homophobia is bad and inclusiveness is important (of course homophobia is despicable, and of course inclusiveness is important), but because it goes against a certain specific political ideology that the state tries to spread to consolidate its power. Deviation from these norms is fundamentally criticism of the government, so even censorship of hate speech is fundamentally to prevent criticism of government and to consolidate the state’s power. This consolidation of power blurs the line between “hate speech” and what is now considered “political correctness” (e.g. avoidance of “microaggressions,” etc.).

Second, and even more dangerous, the government creates particularly rigid “libel” laws, intended to prevent criticism of individuals and corporations. It is an acknowledgement of the reality that words have power to change opinions massively, and to centralize corporatist power, you need to censor expression. In modern capitalist societies, capital is concentrated among a few individuals and functions almost exactly like political power. By challenging the current distribution of capital, you are threatening the wealth of individuals who also carry great political power (as a direct result of the fact that they can finance important political campaigns). They will try to prevent that influence by ensuring that the government acts in their favor as well, preventing any hint of resistance. Preventing the criticism of individuals similarly acts to centralize economic and political power.

Both manifestations are vastly problematic, because, in a democracy, political power and capital should be decentralized and evenly distributed as much as possible. The moment power or capital is centralized in a democracy, the public no longer has sufficient influence over political decisions. It is an already existent problem (see, for example, the level of influence corporations hold over political decisions due to broken systems of campaign finance), and any policy that exacerbates this condition ought to be prevented, if you care about democracy at all. Hate speech laws and certain libel laws (though not all of them) exacerbate the condition of near-oligarchic dominance. In other words, “hate speech laws” that seek to censor ideas often espoused by fascism are inherently fascist in nature.


Speech is fundamentally about spreading information, regardless of whether the information is accurate, misguided, or deliberately false. Censorship of expression prevents this spread of information insofar as we are talking about hate speech laws and libel laws. There are three reasons it is critical to not block this flow of information.

First, blocking the flow of information directly contradicts the principle of epistemic humility. A hate speech law assumes that “hate speech” (e.g. expressions of racial superiority) is a bad thing, which in turn assumes that what it censors is false (e.g. that no race is superior to any other). Of course, I agree that racial superiority is a stupid and reprehensible notion, but that doesn’t mean I am unwilling to hear a perspective on it — in other words, I concede that I might be wrong about it. This humility is important because it is impossible to uncover information without questioning one’s own views.

Second, the dissemination of information and opinions is critical for the function of democracy. Democracy is about public participation in the political process. But only if the people are informed about every side of an issue can they participate in said political process. If they are uninformed about any opinion, then the consent of the people in the framing of laws is illegitimate because of the asymmetry of information. But if the public knows the arguments in favor of and against any opinion — including things like what certain corporations are doing, and whether they are ethical entities — they are qualified to act regarding the same. If the knowledge of the public is restrained, then they cannot participate in democracy. But more importantly, lacking opinions on certain private entities and individuals, the public cannot gain background regarding certain policies, and the impact those policies have on them. As an extension of this impact, when people have sufficient information to deal with major issues, they can act, either directly or via protest. Notable examples of this occurring include the fact that the freedom of the press is directly linked to preventing famine (as the groundbreaking work of certain economists such as Amartya Sen suggests).

Third, the presence and dissemination of information acts as a check on the abuse of power. If the people are informed of what the government or certain private entities are doing, they can spread said information and discourage entities from acting against the interests of the people. It works in the same way negative reviews of restaurants persuade said restaurants to change the way they function (but there have been actual instances where the restaurants have sued people who wrote negative reviews for defamation [i.e. libel] and won!). Critiques of major oil and pharmaceutical corporations have successfully created change before.

Thus, abolishing hate speech laws and certain libel laws aid in disseminating information to the public, in turn creating substantially positive outcomes.


The third reason free expression is important is, quite simply, the right to liberty. Individuals have the right to self-ownership and freedom. This freedom entails that they can do whatever they want unless there is evidence of an objective net harm to other individuals resulting from any action. John Stuart Mill wrote:

“The only purpose for which power can be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

In the context of most societies, there is no objective net harm from the freedom of expression. There are objective harms, undoubtedly, of hate speech and defamation — threats to dignity of individuals, and emotional harm, for instance — but when you weigh those impacts against the positive impacts of free expression, and the fact that such harms exist anyway, the right to liberty and democracy substantially outweighs this. The moment the government exercises control over individuals against their will with no good and legitimate reason, then it essentially becomes authoritarian. Indeed, authoritarian governments have consolidated their power in the past by censorship of speech

But more nuanced than control being exercised over the people who speak is the impact of control being exercised over those that hear. I have the right to hear and know opinions of other individuals. The government does not have the legitimate ability to take that away from me. The moment that happens, it essentially controls every process and exchange of information and ideas — becoming an essentially totalitarian entity. Christopher Hitchens writes:

“The right of others to free expression is part of my own. If someone’s voice is silenced, then I am deprived of the right to hear. Moreover, I have never met nor heard of anybody I would trust with the job of deciding in advance what it might be permissible for me or anyone else to say or read. That freedom of expression consists of being able to tell people what they may not wish to hear, and that it must extend, above all, to those who think differently is, to me, self-evident.”


Insofar as the state cannot take away an individual’s liberty to speak and hear, it ought not impose hate speech laws, and certain unjust libel laws.


Censorship of expression strips individuals of the ability to express ideas, and hear them. It blocks the flow of information, while serving to consolidate the power of corrupt governments, ruthless individuals, and oligarchic corporations. Hate speech laws and libel laws both contribute to the damage that an oligarchy causes to our democratic institutions, while allowing the spread of injustice.

Saint Augustine’s declaration that “an unjust law is no law at all” rings true — we have an obligation to fight the battle for democracy and against the endless concentration of political power and capital. Every generation, the battle for the freedom of expression needs to be refought, and in the digital age, that is our obligation — because there is always an endless urge to shut out bad news and opinions that people don’t want to hear. It is our duty to remember that democracy is on the streets, and not on the ballot box. It is our duty to ensure that, no matter what the government tells us, ideas are bulletproof.

The Case Against Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime.” This does not include killing someone in action — it solely involves punishment, after trial and conviction of a crime, by execution. Of the 195 sovereign states that are members or observers of the United Nations, 102 states have fully abolished it for all crimes. Another 6 countries — Brazil, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, and Israel — have abolished it for all cases except exceptional circumstances such as war criminals. 50 countries retain capital punishment de jure, but have not used it for 50 years, so it is not used de facto. That leaves 37 countries — China, the United States, India, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand and 24 others — that actively practice capital punishment.

I am arguing, in this blog post, that the position of those 37 countries is deeply flawed — and that capital punishment is a primitive form of punishment that should be abolished. I am going to make the case for abolition of capital punishment.

I’ve polled a few friends of mine and a few people I know about their opinions on capital punishment. The immense amount of support for the death penalty is shocking. Indeed, only four of the thirty-or-so people I’ve asked have said they do not support capital punishment. When asked to justify their position, I have primarily received three justifications for this being the case: (1) some people deserve to die, and justice requires that retribution be done; (2) the death penalty will deter would-be criminals from committing those crimes, aiding society in the process; and (3) it takes a lot of money and resources to keep a person in life imprisonment, while death will significantly reduce the amount of resources. I will refute those arguments in today’s post, in addition to providing my own case against the death penalty.

So I’m first going to tear down all the arguments in favor of capital punishment, and then, in its place, erect a case against capital punishment, thus providing reasons to abolish the death penalty.

Let’s look to the first argument. That argument makes no sense — because it’s merely blind retribution, revenge, which is utterly pointless. There’s no doubt that retribution is a part of the criminal justice system because that’s what societal values ask for, but the harms created by the death penalty (listed below) far outweigh this one.

Next, the death penalty doesn’t deter crime at all. 88% of criminologists polled agree that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. The notion that the death penalty deters homicides relies on a certain econometric model called “rational choice theory.” Rational choice theory is a model that suggests that, in the demand-side and among the common populace, choices are taken based on analysis of costs and benefits. For instance, it would suggest that, if someone were to buy a sandwich, they would subconsciously weigh the costs and benefits of buying the same sandwich, both long term and short term. The same is applied to the death penalty, wherein people suppose that would-be murderers won’t commit crimes because of the fear of death awaiting them. And it is natural instinct for people to think that, because all of us fear death.

The problem is, that intuition is probably false. The death penalty is a long term consequence, but the reality (and, upon thinking through it, we all realize it) is that people typically consider short-term consequences when performing actions and fail to properly weigh the magnitude of those actions. For instance, when a person buys some French fries, that person only thinks of the short-term consequences (immediate pleasure and relief from hunger), failing to consider the fact that it could have potential, long-term adverse effects to their health. The same applies here. When someone commits a major crime, they only think of the short-term consequence, or act impulsively. Dr. Jonathan Groner explains,

“The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind — they do not consider the consequences in a logical way.”

 The American Civil Liberties Union confirms that the majority of homicides are murders of passion, committed under the heat of the moment, and even pre-planned murders tend to be based solely on short-term consequences. To whatever extent that the death penalty deters homicides, other forms of imprisonment serve as an equal deterrent. Indeed, there’s no statistically significant correlation between the death penalty and reduction in crime rates either. Murder rates in states that have the death penalty are not significantly different — or are even higher — in states that don’t have the death penalty. A study by John Donohue and Justin Wolfers finds that there is no correlation that suggests deterrence.

The third argument fails too. In fact, the death penalty costs more than other forms of punishment. Why? Two reasons: (1) liberal judges that oppose the death penalty always try their best to not give it as punishment, which requires significantly more lawyers and resources in the court; and (2) when it comes to the death penalty, there needs to be some level of certainty as to whether a person is guilty (though even that isn’t successful in determining accuracy, often), so a lot of resources are spent. A study by Sherod Thaxton found that a single capital case (i.e. a case where the death penalty is being considered) costs $2 million more than any non-capital case. Indeed, even the resources spent on life without parole are less than the resources used up by the death penalty. Research finds that, since 1978, $4 billion taxpayer dollars have been spent on the death penalty in the state of California alone. That’s $308 million per execution. Indeed, the cost of (a) a capital case, combined with (b) the cost of keeping a prisoner on death row, is greater than the total cost/resources spent on life imprisonment.

Thus, the arguments usually presented in favor of a death penalty are unsound. Now, let’s move on to my own case against the death penalty: why the death penalty should be abolished.

First, capital punishment causes psychological damage. The death penalty causes significant psychological harms to people other than those convicted of the crime in question. The first people affected by capital punishment are the executioners — people who are responsible for carrying out the execution. Executions require a team of executioners to oversee what’s going out and to carry out the execution itself — no machine can accomplish this on its own. But the experience of killing another human being is incredibly traumatic. Jerry Givens, a former executioner from Virginia, explains:

“I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I’m going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job.”

Empirical research shows that executioners can suffer from paranoia and clinical depression as a direct effect of executions. Because carrying out an execution is painful.

The psychological trauma faced by the family of the executed is also immense. While, generally, there is collateral damage caused by any punishment, the level of damage caused by an execution is far beyond that. Children whose parents have been executed face severe psychological harm and are often socially ostracized as a result. Researchers Robert Cushing and Susannah Sheffer found that the family of the majority of executed inmates faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Second, the application of the death penalty is inhumane to people who’re executed as well. It’s definitely worse than life in prison. People on death row often face severe psychological distress and experience suicidal tendencies, in what is called “death row syndrome.” Conditions on death row are terrible. Methods of execution are also often grossly inhumane or torturous. India uses hanging — a form of execution which fractures the spinal column and leads to death by slow, painful asphyxiation. While the method of hanging used — the measured long drop — is more humane than others, it still can lead to botched executions. Indeed, in the United States alone, there have been 43 botched executions since 1982… and the United States uses more humane methods than India does. So, quite simply, the death penalty is immoral.

The problem extends beyond this. It being “immoral” might not be sufficient reason to abolish it for some people. The problem lies in concentration of power in what seems to be an oligarchy. How much power do we wish to give to societal structures and the state which consists of a small group of people that most of us haven’t even met? In a democracy, power is spread evenly, and exists at the grassroots level. We shouldn’t give the power to torture people to death to a power structure consisting of officials we haven’t even met.

Third, the death penalty causes the deaths of innocent people — men and women who were merely at the wrong place in the wrong time, and, as a result, had to face the brutality described above under the power of the public’s own elected government. According to the National Academy of Sciences, globally, 4.1% of those on death row are innocent of their crimes. And, from the start of the 20th century, 0.5% of all those executed were innocent. Take the case of Jesse Tasero — an innocent man executed for a crime he didn’t commit, in what inmates reported to be a torturous electrocution.

The issue of erroneous application of the death penalty is one that has been seen in India as well. Led by ex-Supreme Court judge P.B. Sawant, 14 former judges sent separate letters to the President of India pointing out that in 15 years (from 1996 to 2012), the death penalty had been erroneously given to fifteen people, of whom two were hanged.

So keeping the death penalty is allowing an entity of officials most of us haven’t even met to possibly cause the death of innocent people. It gives the power over life and death to a group of faraway elected officials. That’s not a world we should live in.

Lady Justice seated at the entrance of the Palace of Justice, Rome, Italy. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia.

As such, I have proven that (1) the commonly presented arguments in favor of capital punishment are unsound; and (2) capital punishment has serious harms that justify its abolition. In the words of St. Augustine, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Since the death penalty is such an unjust law, as proven above, it is no law at all, and should be abolished.

Recommended Reading: 

  • Christopher Hitchens. “Staking a Life.” Lapham’s Quarterly. Web. Retrieved 28 July, 2016.

Animal Rights

With the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu recently, and the demand for a ban on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a new debate on whether society should recognize animal rights has spurred. I argue that justice requires the recognition of animal rights, and animal exploitation is typically unjust. [Edit 2/16/17]

The typical justification for animal exploitation is that animals are inferior to humans since humans are more rational creatures and have psychological and biological differences to non-human animals. But this is discrimination is because the same logic was applied to justify racism during the 19th century, to justify the lack of voting rights for women during the early 20th century, and so on. Only, this persecution of animals is as horrifying as slaver in the 19th century.

Animal abuse exists everywhere in India as well. People might claim India’s religions and so forth prevent animal abuse, and might point to ahimsa within Indian religions — such as Jainism and Hinduism — and the respect for species such as cattle. Sadly, this is but a delusion that still prevails. India mistreats animals just as much as any other company, and almost everyone who has paid attention while traveling on an Indian road should have noticed that. They should’ve noticed hundreds of live chickens crammed into cages, with their feathers falling out and sores on their skin, with fear in their eyes, as they see their brethren get slaughtered brutally before their eyes — knowing that they’re next.

But this abuse exists all over India, in different species. Nobody in India pays heed to cattle on the street — they think, due to the religious respect for cattle, they would not be mistreated — but cattle are mistreated in brutal ways. People might assume that the whips of the owners of bullock carts don’t hurt much, but they do. Cattle in India are let out to eat garbage since the owners can’t afford feed.

India has a fairly large population of meat eaters, much like the rest of the world. 60% of Indians eat meat — a vast majority of the Indian population. The majority of meat in India comes from factory farms. The abuse in Indian factory farms is absolutely horrendous. It begins with the journey to the slaughterhouse. An article on Indian animal abuse states:

“For farm animals the journey to the slaughterhouse entails further suffering — they are packed onto lorries, squashed together and often shipped abroad for slaughter in foreign abattoirs where their short lives are ended in barbaric ways. Broken bones, and wings, injuries and sickness over and above the lack of food water and rest. Fear, pain, frustration, despair, and hopelessness are just some of the negative emotions we are guilty of causing them.”

 Following that, animals are placed in cramped spaces, and are subject to extremely cruel factory procedures. For production of beef, cattle are placed in cramped, very unhygienic enclosures and pumped full of hormones to increase “tenderness” of meat, along with multiple artificial chemicals. They are treated rather brutally, often kicked, fed growth enhancers and oxytocin, and are given cement dust as feed to increase the weight of meat. The chickens bred for meat are given growth hormones to speed up their growth, and their breasts often grow so much their body is unable to support the weight, and they injure themselves severely in attempts to support their own body weight. During production of eggs, male chicks are just killed or discarded as useless. Chickens are kept in wire cages merely 20 inches wide, and they sit with their excreta, with complete lack of hygiene.

A commercial chicken house in the U.S. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Public Domain.

The same article linked above says about pigs and pork production:

“The pigs are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs.! Again, these animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer extremely painful arthritis and deformities in their limbs. They are abused in factory farms where sows are kept in gestation crates all their lives with no room to move. To the industry, they are just piglet producing machines. They are allowed to nurse their piglets while still confined for 2 weeks after which the piglets are torn from them to be fattened for slaughter. The sows are immediately impregnated to begin another 4-month cycle.  Pigs normally form strong bonds with their young for two years, but because it is not profitable, they are deprived this natural bond by the industry. Many of these pigs raised in this captivity demonstrate extreme discomfort, but as long as they produce piglets, this goes ignored. When their bodies are worn out — which doesn’t take long — they, too, are dragged to slaughter. At the time of their demise, they are often too weak to even walk. If allowed to live out their life, these animals can live up to twenty years.”

 But abuse exists in multiple other areas as well. People with absolute respect for animal rights unknowingly find themselves using products that were produced with animal abuse. An instance of this is the usage of feather shuttlecocks used to play badminton.

The manufacture of feather shuttlecocks is horrifying. Though many people don’t know this, ducks — and occasionally geese — are slaughtered for the manufacture of these. The conditions they face in factory farms are horrendous. They are crammed into wire cages, such that sores develop on their wings. Their sensitive beaks are sawn off. Their feathers start to fall. According to this source, ducks are usually slaughtered specifically for shuttlecocks in India, since duck meat is unpopular — which means using feather shuttlecocks is endorsing a whole industry of slaughter.

This brings me to the more philosophical part of my post: why should animal rights be upheld? Does justice require the recognition of animal rights? I argue that it does — to maintain true moral obligations, one must recognize animal rights. In fact, it doesn’t matter if morality is objective — because not recognizing animal rights is an intellectually dishonest position to take, regardless of morality.

The strongest ground for animal rights lies in the philosophical position known as “utilitarianism,” which suggests that the purpose of morality is to maximize benefit and minimize harm. The reason that is a strong moral framework is that the purpose of morality is to cater to the “interests” of individuals. The fundamental interests of individuals are pleasure and pain. Therefore, those interests should be the basis for morality.

There is no coherent framework that gives much difference between humans and animals when it comes to morality. Humans and animals have no morally relevant differences. Morality is all about the ability to suffer, and animals can suffer. Most research agrees on that. Humans are more “rational” than animals — but babies and those that are mentally enfeebled have the right to life and right against torture. These rights ought to be extended to animals as well. Respecting humans over animals in certain cases is incoherent because there’s no morally relevant difference between them.

That is exactly why respecting human rights over animal rights is incoherent. If humans and animals have no differences relevant to morality, it’s incoherent to assign an arbitrarily greater value to the human species alone. Utilitarianism — weighing pleasure and suffering of individuals, treating their interests equally — is a much more rational and intellectually honest viewpoint.

The problem is this: we can’t simply place a blanket ban on all meat, or ban animal use entirely. The flaws in the “abolitionist” movement is simple: entirely abolishing treating animals as property, like we do now, is against the societal values of India and would disrupt social order as a whole. The same applies with almost every country. Social order is critical. So the alternative I propose is a more pragmatic one: (1) the government should make very strict regulations on factory farming, mandating only absolutely humane methods, significantly raising restrictions on conditions; (2) encourage pursuing organic farming as an alternative to factory farms to increase animal welfare; and (3) encourage “humane” labeling that follows much stricter standards than what the law requires as well.

But there’s one more thing that needs to happen — which is beyond the influence of merely the government. Collectively, as a society, we must all encourage greater animal welfare. We, as individuals, must promote this, by reducing/abandoning meat consumption (e.g. I’m a vegetarian), and by not using products that cause the death of animals when alternatives exist. That’s how the revolution must be carried out.


Marriage Equality

In the landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose restrictions on same-sex marriages. Yet it seems that — with such a conservative social attitude — India will never achieve such an objective. Most people don’t know much, or care, about the rights of same-sex couples. With this post, I’m going to try to change that, and to destroy the homophobia inherent within Indian society.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in India. The matter of SSMs is a complicated one, because it’s very tough to determine whether — or not — SSMs are constitutional. The Indian Constitution defines marriage as a civil partnership between two people that gives socioeconomic benefits. There is no explicit allowance or rejection of same-sex couples. However, most legal experts agree that it is implicitly rejected. The laws have “heteronormative underpinnings,” and have been interpreted to not accept same-sex unions. It doesn’t seem like the future is going to be positive for same-sex couples either. 

And India’s attitude towards same-sex marriage is also hardly positive. There’s very little knowledge from anyone on the issue, and Indian society is scattered with homophobia. Most Indians are uncomfortable talking about the issue, and conservatives take this as acceptance of their homophobic position. People are often opposed to SSM because of religious reasons. Multiple religious leaders have expressed their opposition to SSM. Religious organizations and leaders all stood against such unions. The Daily News and Analysis called itthe univocal unity of religious leaders in expressing their homophobic attitude. Usually divisive and almost always seen tearing down each other’s religious beliefs, leaders across sections came forward in decrying homosexuality and expressing their solidarity with the judgment.” 

But there are multiple reasons to disagree with the position that same-sex marriage should be illegal. There’s no rational reason to ban same-sex unions at all. India’s laws against same-sex couples have no proper rationale. Every restriction on civil liberties has to be properly justified, else it certainly is discrimination. The Constitution guarantess “equality” as a fundamental right. And treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples infringes on this equality.

People should be held accountable only for their actions, and their choices. We all have choices to make, and our choices define our worth. Not allowing same-sex marriage restricts the ability to substantiate equality. Legalizing SSMs allows for the recognition of true love in all its forms. Not allowing this causes psychological distress and creates mental health disparities due to lack of recognition. Research shows,

Psychological distress is lower among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who are legally married to a person of the same sex, compared with those not in legally recognized unions. [A] study . . . published in the American Journal of Public Health also has implications for understanding mental health disparities based on sexual orientation: There were no statistically significant differences in psychological distress between heterosexuals, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons in any type of legally recognized same-sex relationship. A large body of research has shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people generally experience higher distress levels than heterosexuals due to social exclusion, stigma and other stressors. Research also shows that, on average, married heterosexuals experience better mental health outcomes than their unmarried counterparts. Since most lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are denied the opportunity to legally marry a same-sex partner, they are potentially denied the positive emotional benefits of the institution of marriage.

John Stuart Mill, the famed utilitarian philosophy, held that — in what he termed the “harm principle” — the only purpose for which control can be exercised over someone is to prevent harm. Not following those conditions infringes on individual liberty. Therefore, governments ought to legislate using the harm principle. If they don’t, bans on using utensils to eat or singing songs could be justified — leading only to the dictatorships that challenge the principle of democracy on which India is built.

There are no real harms to same-sex marriage. All the arguments raised against it are easily refuted. I’ll try to address some of those below.

First, many people argue that homosexual feelings are “unnatural,” and therefore it should be illegal. Most importantly, this logic is bad. Just because something is unnatural doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Computers, televisions, and the progress of technology is unnatural. They aren legal. Let me phrase this in reductio ad absurdum form:

A. Anything that is unnatural is illegal under Indian law, therefore so should SSMs (assumption)

1: Computers are legal under Indian law

2: Televisions are legal under Indian law

3: Anything that is unnatural is illegal (follows from A)

4: Computers and televisions are unnatural (since they are man-made)

C. 3 contradicts 1,2,4, therefore A is false

Furthermore, being gay is not unnatural. Epi-marks, the genetic switches that regulate how genes express themselves, trigger such attraction. The superachasmiatic nucleus of a homosexual is twice the size of that of a heterosexual. Homosexual attraction has also been observed in non-human species.

Second, there is a common philosophical objection to same-sex marriages that suggests that legalizing such a form of marriage corrupts the definition of marriage — setting a precedent to legalize polygamy, child marriage, et cetera. But that is a “slippery slope” — there is no reason to believe such an impact results or such a precedent is set.

If the government justifies the legalization with the harm principle, the only precedent set is to legislate based on it. Thus, since child marriage and polygamy can bring harm, this precedent will only encourage their ban.

Some people also claim that same-sex parents aren’t as good as opposite-sex parents. That is objectively false. The majority of scientific research has consistently shown that gay parenting is, on balance, a positive for children. Children raised by same-sex couples are psychologically and socially as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples. The only proper study that suggested that same-sex couples have worse parenting is one by the NFSS, led by sociologist Mark Regnerus, that suggested children adopted by same-sex couples had some psycological harm. But that study has been thoroughly refuted for all these reasons.

The study by Regnerus focuses on children who watched short, unsuccessful, non-comittal relationships between their parents, so the impacts are similar to those children raised by divorced couples. Regnerus concedes that only two same-sex couples in his study had committed relationships, and in both cases, the children were raised as well as a committed heterosexual relationship. Gay parents, like any other adoptive parents, choose parenthood — so they are arguably better than biological parents, who have kids by accident. They actually really want to be parents. Outside of the two exceptions mentioned above, all the other same-sex couples in Regnerus’s study were adopted after birth and a year or so in foster care. The foster care system is quite bad in the locations which the study in question concerned, and, as such, the children were already affected by foster care. Furthermore, the vast majority of research contradicts Regnerus’s study, and the scientific consensus is against that position.

The White House illuminated in rainbow colors on the eve of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Public Domain.

There’s no reason to be against same-sex marriage. And every reason to be for it. India should embrace #MarriageEquality.


Why Abortion Should Be Legal

Induced abortion has become a major debate within society and politics, in multiple countries. Conservative viewpoints question the morality of abortion, and argue that a fetus has a right to life. Liberals say that the right to bodily autonomy of women outweighs the right to life of the fetus, and hold fully developed humans to be morally superior to fetuses. I tend to lean towards a liberal view of abortion, and intend to defend the status quo in the United States, India, and multiple other countries in this post.

For clarification, I will define abortion. I will use the definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which says:

“[Abortion is] the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus, as . . . the induced expulsion of the human fetus.”

My first argument is that abortion has significant utilitarian harms. Government policy is decided on the basis of “utilitarianism,” i.e. in an attempt to maximize net benefit to the citizens, and to minimize harm to them. The government lacks any legitimacy unless it seeks to do that. And adopting a ban on abortion won’t maximize benefit, for one main reason. A ban would be ineffective, except in increasing danger. The fact remains that people will seek abortions regardless of whether it’s legal. Abortion is inevitable, and the illegality of such a practice will fail to deter people from aborting.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes,

“A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it. Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy.”

There is more harm than benefit here. Women simply seek back-alley abortions, which are extremely dangerous. There is thus no utilitarian benefit to banning abortion, but there are harms.

Furthermore, the fetus is not subject to moral consideration. This is because a fetus is completely inanimate and non-sentient until around the 20th week of pregnancy. A fetus can’t feel pain until the 24th week of pregnancy. Utilitarian calculations of morality are based on positive and negative mental states. Utilitarianism is ideal for normative ethics, because it holds what is desirable. A moral obligation itself is an “ought,” which indicates desirability. What is desirable? Something that maximizes positive mental states and minimizes negative ones. So maximizing desirability is an ideal framework for normative ethics; that’s utilitarianism. The fetus lacks mental states, therefore isn’t subject to moral consideration; a fetus is equal to a chair, except with potentiality.

That’s why abortion should not be banned. Thanks for reading this post.

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