Happy new year 2017! This is a brand new forum. Please feel free to post and open threads. This is mainly a philosophy related forum. The more topics that are discussed, the more sections will be opened and the forum will begin to form it’s own identity. Ontic Philosophy Forum encourages the creation of threads and posts that are in the form of beginners guides. If the topics are more complex, please be as informative as possible. You can either start a debate, discussion, conversation or you can watch as others do so.
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Derrida’s deconstruction of Husserl and Phenomenology
Superstructuralism builds on a key field of language theory. Husserl is an ‘I’ philosopher. He’s after an especially ‘true’ level of language from an ‘I’ philosophers point of view, he says it is necessarily and exclusively human and draws an absolute distinction between human signs and natural signs. True language then to Husserl is in terms of expression, where meaning is willed and intended by the utterer. Derrida, on Husserls behalf says –
Expression…is conscious through and through, and intentional.
Meaning thus understood is not just meaning in the sense that words mean, but in the sense that someone means them to mean. This orientation towards ‘expression’ tilts Husserl’s theory of language inevitably towards the use of Voice. But what could have caused the idea that anyone else has a mind in the first place, if not their words, their signifiers?
It is because of these inter-subjective problems in Husserl, that he relegates person-to-person speech to secondary status and discovers ‘expression’ most purely present in the intra-subjective use of Voice, in interior monologue. When one talks to themselves, they understand perfectly and directly the intention that animates the words.
Derrida explains on Husserl’s behalf:
My words are “alive” because they don’t seem to leave me: not to fall outside me, outside my breath, at a visible distance; not to cease to belong to me, to be at my disposition “without further props”.
The inward voice takes place in time, but does not take place in space.
Husserl even admits that what is required for his conception of interior monologue is that one already knows everything one is going to say to oneself before starting to say it. Language has in effect been reduced to a mere appendage and has no real reason for continuing to exist at all.
Husserl’s insistence on all ‘true’ language is necessarily and exclusively human has enabled him to dissolve the existence of objective verbal signs entirely in favour of subjective human ideas. This is good for an ‘I’ philosopher, but highly unsatisfactory from the viewpoint of anyone who wants to consider language as an important reality in its own right.
Derrida and writing
Derrida wants to do exactly that. For Derrida, ‘true’ language is not language at its most human but language at its most language-y, language at its most self-sufficient – even to the extent of being independent of human beings.
The structure peculiar to language alone, which allows it to function entirely by itself when its intention is cut off from intuition.
Husserl points to an extreme interior monologue of Voice, Derrida tilts all language towards the opposite extreme of Writing.
Writing is language at its most self-sufficient because it is language at its most spatial, writing exists, not insubstantially in the mind, nor briefly and transparently in sound-waves of the air, but solidly and enduringly in marks upon a page. Such marks do not need to be propped up by the presence of their marker; on the contrary, their marker is always essentially absent, and may even be dead. Writing is orphaned and seperated at birth from the assistance of its father.
Writing represents the passage of thought out of consciousness. Derrida has to turn the common-sense way of looking at the world completely upside-down.
Derrida does not deny that the use of speech comes before the use of language for every human. He denies the assumption that we ordinarily make without even thinking about it: the assumption that the original form of a thing is somehow its ‘truest form’. Thus we tend to assume that we could finally explain language if we could only rediscover its most rudimentary beginnings in primitive communication. This assumption comes very naturally to us.
Derrida proposes a radical seperation of historical and conceptual priority. The fact of writing follows from the fact of speech, but he non the less asserts that the idea of speech depends upon the idea of writing. Or to put it another way – writing is the logically fundamental condition to which language has always aspired.
No doubt this is a difficult position to grasp. Consider this analogy-
A tree rises and flourishes by virtue of some deep and inwardly hidden source of life. We tend to imagine a single essential center which was there from the earliest stages of growth. But a tree lives on the outside, by the circulation which flows through its green bark and sapwood, and its center is mere dead heartwood, endlessly supplanted and left behind.
We could consider the language of mathematics too, that if we trace all later developments back to counting with sticks or stones or beads or whatever, we will arrive at the purest and truest form of mathematics as a language. But these have all been supplanted and left behind in the real world in modern times. The square root of minus one does not exist in real world terms at all. Rules have to be made up in order for that to exist at all. In a sense, mathematics reveals its ‘truest’ form in its ‘unnatural’ and most supplementary developments.
The logic of supplements
This is a new centrifugalist way of looking at the world.
The strange structure of the supplement appears…by delayed reaction, a possibility produces that to which it is said to be added on.
Structuralists vision of superstructures, is that culture has become so fundamental to human existence, that there is no possibility of delving down under it. Culture can predominate over a nature which existed before it.
Derrida goes all the way with the seperation between historical and conceptual priority, he overturns our assumptions about origins and culture no less than our assumptions about origins in nature. The logic of supplements also applies to thinking about language itself, as we shall see shortly, but also applies to our way of thinking about meaning within language.
What is in the writers mind has no special priority over the meaning of his words. The writer discovers the meaning of his words upon writing them. The written sign is not only sent it is also received, even the writer is just another reader. There is a surplus of meaning with written words.
Can a something have two meanings at once that make it contradictory? A philosophical zombie is a term or concept that is both dead and alive, it is an undecidable – the Greek word ‘Pharmakon‘ means both ‘remedy’ and ‘posion’, for example. According to Derrida, the Greek language is saying two quite different things about Plato’s text, two very divergent things about writing, simultaneously and undecidably. He finds many more remote meanings with this word, such as perfume, dye and even a scapegoat for the good of the community! The centrifugal movement of meaning within language could not be more plainly demonstrated.
For Derrida, the centrifugal movement of any single word ultimately spreads out across every other word in the whole language.
Derrida refuses to allow any meanings in any mind at all. He gives a very simple answer to a philosophical problem that goes like this –
When we try to look at the meaning of a word in our minds, we never seem to encounter any decisive mental content or image but only absence and emptiness.
Derrida’s answer is – the signified does not exist.
This is very much like David Hume’s statement –
“For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…. If any one, upon serious and unprejudic’d reflection thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu’d, which he calls himself; tho’ I am certain there is no such principle in me.”
The signified is merely an illusion that human beings have invented because they feared to face up to the consequences of a materialist conception of language.
There is no movement from signifier to signified, but there is movement from signifier to signifier. Signifiying is signifiers in motion. What’s more – the movement is unstoppable. In the ordinary conception of meaning – the signifiers points away from itself but the signified does not, the signfied represents a terminus where meaning grinds to a halt. In Derrida’s conception – one signifier points to another and another and another ad infinitum.
Derrida describes this state of language as dissemination, no rich harvest of meaning, but rather spillage and waste, endless loss. Language manages to avoid social responsibility and individual irresponsibility, it’s anarchic and unpredictable level of functioning subversive of all rigid proper meanings on the ordinarily socially controllled level. This is the Post-Structuralist mode of language – the mode of the Sign’s real being.
Derrida dispenses with a simultaneous totality of a system of language (as if langauge fell from the skies ready-made) by saying words are not self-identical or fixed in the same place. It’s endlessly unbalanced and out of equilibrium. Derrida’s theory of language still works with differentiation – with a difference, or to be more precise – with différance.
On the one hand, différer indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernability: on the other, it expresses the interpretation of delay, the interval of a spacing and temporalising that puts off until ‘later’ what is presently denied.
Différer in this sense approximates to the English verb ‘to defer’, and like the English verb, it brings into play the notion of an action in time.
Oppostions of words do not exist by virtue of their opposition, but rather by the virtue of deferring of the meaning. The meaning is put off only for the present, it still impends, still awaits and in time the meaning that defers will have to flow over into it.
The phrase from the German pessimist, Arthur Shopenhauer best encapsulates what anti-natalism is all about – ‘Better never to have been born’. In more recent times, South African philosopher, David Benetar released a book in 2006 entitled ‘Better Never to have Been : The Harm of Coming into Existence’.
To better explain what these phrases mean, we have to start from an existential position (one that starts from existence and all meaning is a posteriori, existence preceeds essence) that suffering, pain and death are the only qualities of life that any one person, animal, or any form of sentience can be guaranteed to experience during a life time and that given this is true we begin to base our ethics in a negative utilitarian sense.
Unlike positive utilitarianism which holds the maxim, ‘I should act if and only if my actions lead to happiness of others’, negative utilitarianism reverses this and asserts ‘I should act if and only if my actions lead to less harm and suffering.’
We also need another existential premise that only a living being who has been born, any form of sentience that is, is capable of desire and valuing. Needs are created whenever a new sentient being is born, they need to eat, have shelter, clothing, clean water and then they develop desires as they get older and will consume, produce and will eventually grow older and older and experience pain and suffering, as well as satisfaction. Satisfaction always leads to more desire, desire is never fulfilled.
As for other sentient beings that are other than human, mainly insects for example, they often live very short lives that have no purpose other than to reproduce and they die either immediately, through starvation, or worse, they become food for other animals.
Anti-Natalism tackles the problem of over-populating the planet. There are as of 2015, around 7.3 billion human beings on the planet. The principle concern is resources. Poverty and inequality is the highest and most divided in human history, climate change is irreversible and the potential for war, famine, climate refugees, lack of employment and many other long term problems that offer fewer and fewer prospects of progress and improvement are likely to unfold in ways that are beyond our control.
Given that there are no guarantees that the future will hold positive prospects and that no individual can possibly change the world on their own, survival becomes difficult without passing on our genes. Given that sentience is the only thing that can create value, need and desire, we can’t say that a non-existent being who is not yet concieved through sexual reproduction has any say, that the desire to reproduce is a selfish (or rather autonomous) decision on behalf of the would-be-parent of the one who is yet to be conceived.
The basic principle of Anti-Natalism then, is that it is unethical given the absolute guarantee of suffering and inability to prevent harm, to bring a sentient being into existence.
The argument is best shown using a kind of game theory, it’s called a zero-sum game. It’s very similar to Prisoners Dillemma, so each player has to act rationally.
Scenario A where x exists shows how the presence of pain is bad and how the presence of pleasure is good. Okay so far, nice and simple.
Scenario B however, where x does not exist reveals how pain is absent and this is a good – obviously as x does not exist and so can’t be harmed in any way. Then we have to consider whether or not the absence of pleasure is good or bad. Well, given that x doesn’t even exist it can’t even experience it.
Before I explain the conclusion, let’s say we have a doughnut that we enjoy and it gives us pleasure and let’s say someone who is torturing us by sticking knives under our toe nails gives us pain. Not hard to see how this gives us good and bad. Now let’s say we didn’t eat a doughnut, we are neither in pleasure but we are not in pain either. Let’s say we are not being tortured any more, or we were never tortured – that’s always a good, or more good than before.
So x not existing to eat the doughnut and not existing to have knives under toe nails gives us an assymmetry. Not having pleasure is niether good nor bad, it’s just not bad.
Absence of pleasure is bad! Is usually the way people repond, but think about it for a moment. Not being in pain is good, obviously, but not eating a doughnut is niether harmful, nor is it pleasureable, it’s just not bad.
The assymmetry looks perplexing at first. The zero-sum game of pleasure being absent as bad, does not contemplate how a non-existent being is incapable of desiring a doughnut in the first place and so creates sentience in the belief that procreation allows others to experience pleasure and this comes purely from a selfish decision to procreate. It does not, cannot, come from the desire of a never existent being.
By not bringing someone into existence, we certainly don’t immediately improve the over all suffering as that is beyond our control in the most general sense. What we can do however, is not add to the problems. This is the basic principles of anti-natalism.
Pleasure outweighs pain!
Another objection is that if we are lucky, we can tally the goods with the bads and a life with more goods was probably worth living. Anti-natalism does not deny the existence of goods, but it can’t guarantee it, it can only guarantee that we will eventually all suffer at some point and die. In developing countries and in more poverty stricken areas of the developed world, pain and suffering are more likely and so pro-creation definitely does more harm than good as parents have to provide, thier life becomes a burden. On the other hand, better off people tend to consume more stuff than a mass of poorer people and this puts a strain on resources for everyone. Rich or poor, no one can avoid climate change, pollution, disease and war if it occurs.
The assymmetry contains the maxim of ‘better never to have been born’ as not harming and not having pleasure are both good and not bad. Existing contains bad and good and so loses the game of rational choice.
Traditional thinking within any society is that having children is what we live for and not having them would make life meaningless. This is easily tackled, what I call the Simpsons argument – ‘Wont someone please think of the children?” when we remember that sentience creates value and although the desire to pro-create was around before we ourselves were born, it is only a desire. We can choose to have or not to have children, but if we do it is because of our own selfish choice. A non-existent being does not have choice, it has no say until it is born.
Relative problems need relative solutions
While we could take negative utilitarianism and anti-natalism to the extreme of ending life gracefully, not only not bringing more life into existence, but to end humanity for it’s own good, I want to stress that the problem is only a problem while it is a problem.
If people stopped having more children, then resources would not be as strained as they are and will become. If people stopped producing more children in poor countries, they would not be so easily exploited by global capitalism. If women stopped having children for now, it actually serves as a positive feminist issue in that it eradicates the roles of a woman as a mother through natural obligation. If we stop having children, we can do more with our own lives instead of trying to raise children in an increasingly uncertain economy. If population started to drop, there would be less panic as a whole. If it dropped low enough and there was too few of us and there was enough to go around and the environment was stable, then by all means – have children again, but within the limits of what is possible to sustain.
A here and now solution
Not acting is a form of action. This is a simple solution that anyone can understand and it’s something that can be done by everyone to stop adding to the global problems and to generally improve life for themselves and others.
Hope that was clear enough, I want to remind everyone I am not trying to offend anyone and it really is up to yourselves whether you choose to have or not have children. If you do, make sure it’s for the right reasons.
The way a political organisation labels itself often holds sway on their influence. A political spectrum is a system of classifying different political positions upon one or more geometric axes that symbolize independent political dimensions. Commonly we use the terms “left and right” to distinguish between political ideals and practices.
Since the 1970s however, this divide has become almost obsolete, politics is governed by economics and the Brexit backlash was a statement of resistance against this phenomenon, the people want a movement where politics grasps the reigns of economics once more, but there is another meta layer behind the left and the right that unifies them as bound to the same economic principles that produce the main causes of resentment and the drive for change towards their preferred political ideology.
You would think that a party with a name like “Liberal Democrats” would be considered as “left”, when we look at their main ideals, we see “classical liberalism” and “neoliberalism”, which all sounds very nice, after all “liberal” means willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas, favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms, regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change. They are technically described as “center”, which I would dispute is now center right after the coalition government, blatantly once Nick Clegg leaned toward the Tories instead of Labour and definitely when he raised university fees.
In reality and practice however, “Liberal” is as deceptive as it gets. Mainly when we hear any one of these liberals and how they propose we sort out various problems in society, they end up acting in a way that is, well, quite right wing and conservative, which is confusing to say the least.
So what is classical liberalism? It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress. It is one of the main ideals behind American Conservatism. Historically, they were opposed to the movement of social liberalism, that child labour was forbidden, minimum standards of worker safety were introduced, a minimum wage and old age pensions were established, and financial institutions were regulated with the goal of fighting cyclic depressions, monopolies, and cartels. Classical liberals opposed these new laws, which they viewed as an unjust interference of the state. They argued for what they called a “slim state”, limited to the following functions:
Protection against foreign invaders, extended to include protection of overseas markets through armed intervention, protection of citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens, which included protection of private property, enforcement of contracts, and suppression of trade unions. They assert that rights are of a negative nature which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with the free market, whereas social liberals assert that individuals have positive rights, such as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the right to a living wage. For society to guarantee positive rights requires taxation over and above the minimum needed to enforce negative rights.
We can see how these classical liberals have set the theme we see today. Economics over Politics. Which brings us to Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism became prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and ’80s by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Thatcher and Reagan are the prime examples of the neoliberal ideal.
Its advocates avoid the term “neoliberal”; they support extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.
The private finance initiative (PFI) is a way of creating “public–private partnerships” (PPPs) by funding public infrastructure projects with private capital. Developed initially by the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom, and used extensively there and in Spain, PFI and its variants have now been adopted in many countries as part of the wider programme of privatisation and financialisation driven by an increased need for accountability and efficiency for public spending.
The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 as one of the ultimate results.
It’s quite surprising, when one takes into account that these are conservative or right wing ideals, yet it is under the guise of a liberal or left sounding name. It is essentially meritocratic, Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. We can see how classical liberalism has informed this ideology.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
This definition scratches the surface of what Neoliberalism causes in our society, the other chief issues are how it views all citizens into a consumers. Then there is the European Troika, an organisation composed of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Troika, is policing the countries that got themselves into trouble; governments are constitutionally bound to the principles of good housekeeping. Greek unemployment remains the highest in Europe at almost 25% – and just under 50% among the young. Many companies are relocating to Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Cyprus as a result of over-taxation.. In Spain, it is now commonplace for three generations to survive on a single salary or a grandparent’s pension; unemployment is running at 26 per cent, wages go unpaid and the rate for casual labour is down to €2 an hour. Italy has been in recession for years, after a decade of economic stagnation, and 42 per cent of the young are without a job. In Portugal, tens of thousands of small family businesses, the backbone of the economy, have shut down; more than half of those out of work are not entitled to unemployment benefits. As in Ireland, the twenty-some-things are looking for work abroad, a return to the patterns of emigration that helped lock their countries into conservatism and underdevelopment for so long.
The commission’s cure for the Eurozone crisis prescribes neoliberalism finessed by technocrats. Neither Remain nor Leave has a credible vision of how things would go, notably as regards the EU’s own future.
With all of this uncertainty, it’s not hard to see why Brexit would seem appealing, where do you think all of these people, who are the victims of ‘fiscal austerity’ across the EU, are going to go?
The EU has emerged significantly more autocratic, German-French-dominated and right-wing, while lacking any compensatory charm.
Not having a say in how Brussels will manage trade and fees could be a problem however. On a wider, farfetched worry, the collapse of the Euro currency could be disastrous too.
Any resistance to the EU has been met by a fierce wrath from the neoliberal intelligentsia, calling anything that resembles resistance, right wing, yet the EU and neoliberalism in general and the way it has emerged, is anything but ‘left’ in the sense of improving socialism, or even advocating socialism to regulate capitalism.
Neoliberal effects on the EU
The Troika – it has no official name – was scrambled together in April 2010 to take over direction of the Greek economy, as the condition for its first EFSF loan. Composed of functionaries from the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF, it now governs Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece, and has been permanently inscribed in the European Stability Mechanism. The Troika issues Memoranda of Understanding on the same model as the IMF, which dictate every detail of the member states’ legislative programmes: ‘The government will ensure that the legislation’ – for cuts in health and education, public sector redundancies, reductions in the state pension – ‘is presented to Parliament in Quarter 3 and agreed by Parliament in Quarter 4’; ‘the government will present a Privatisation Plan to Parliament and ensure it is speedily passed’; even, ‘the government will consult ex ante on the adoption of policies not included in this Memorandum.’
The Troika’s record of economic management has been abysmal. Greek GDP was forecast to fall by 5 per cent from 2009 to 2012; it dropped by 17 per cent and is still falling. Unemployment was supposed to peak at 15 per cent in 2012; it passed 25 per cent and is still rising. A V-shaped recovery was forecast for 2012, with Greek debt falling to sustainable levels; instead, the debt burden is larger than ever and the programme has been renewed. No one has been held to account for this debacle. Further rounds of cuts are scheduled for 2013, without any economic rationale. Another 15,000 public sector workers have to be sacked to meet the requirements of this summer’s quarterly review; the entire staff of the Greek broadcasting corporation has been dismissed. The number of doctors by headcount fell by another 10 per, as in 2012; hospital costs are to be cut by another 5 per cent, after 8 per cent in 2012, and the Troika wants to see a substantial further reduction in hospital beds.
Question everything…except liberalism and capitalism, you sophist!
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.
Austerity catch 22
The question is whether or not, Britain, in or out of the EU, can stand against austerity while neoliberalism is the dominant economic practice on both sides of the political spectrum. Left and right are now obsolete distinctions.
Both neoliberalism and neo-conservatism although disagreeing on amoral principles, uphold free markets, austerity and privatisation, making the left and right divide of the political spectrum a blurred continuum.
Political correctness and social justice
One major component of neoliberalism however is its political correctness ideology, that on the surface may seem like it is heading towards tolerance and understanding of diversity, but in truth, it is just another means of production, another trend to sell, a fad, a brand. Neoliberalism takes that which is profound and turns into the profane, neoliberalism has slickly achieved three things to ensure its robust longevity: “first, it has enabled the mutation of the state into a firm; second, it has given birth to the responsibilised and self-governing citizen; third, it has constantly projected experiences of human precarity and risk as entrepreneurial developmental funding opportunity”. These adaptions are infused with social identities and categories. Alliances built by neoliberal politicians to assist the flow of money up the economic hierarchy are complex, flexible, and shifting, yet the contexts of their concretion are always forged by “the meanings and effects of race, gender, sexuality, and other markers of difference”
Myth of the ‘posts’ in society
Commonplace discourses assume that western societies have largely overcome problems of racism, sexism, and heterosexism, homophobia. Political myths of “posts”, post feminism and fantasies of transcendence are espoused by both liberal and conservative forces
The result is a contradictory political and cultural climate replete with ideals of equality, accompanied by an unbending refusal to see the persistence of deeply entrenched inequalities of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and citizenship-status. Framing social life not as collective, but as the interaction of individual social entrepreneurs, neoliberalism denies preconditions leading to structural inequalities; in consequence, it congratulates itself for dismantling policies and discrediting movements concerned with structures of injustice. Thus neoliberal assumptions create the conditions allowing the founding conceptions of intersectionality—as an analytical lens and political tool for fostering a radical social justice agenda—to become diluted, disciplined, and disarticulated.
Ultimately, we see how neoliberalism has been the illness that has destroyed social services across the UK and Europe through privatisation and has worshipped the free market in a very exploitative way that looks for cheap labour while advocating austerity, consumerism and debt slavery.
How can we destroy it?
As we have examined the ideology behind left and right, we should seek a form of politics that can tame economics, scrap the fiscal policies of austerity and preserve social services like health care and education, schools that are better equipped for tolerance and diversity without the inauthentic shade of marketing tolerance and diversity for the ends of laissez-faire capitalism.
A coherent alternative has to be proposed. the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.
Also see: The new series about capitalism on Disjunctive Media
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For Those at Odds with the World and Who Care with Courage