The ABC of Wokery

The politics of identity that undergirds the obsession with social justice obliterates individuality. It subordinates human psychology—always an ambiguous terrain—to sweeping platitudes and self-certain dictates; it boxes all of us in. Worst of all, it smacks of determinism, trapping the present in a never-ending past that steals the innocence from any collective future.     —Thomas Chatterton Williams, The Atlantic, March 2023

Originating as black American parlance for resisting racial and social inequality, Woke has morphed into a generic term for radically left-wing social and political awareness. According to Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post it represents the following doctrines for the American Left: rejection of American exceptionalism; a claim that the United States has never been a true democracy; a claim that non-white people (“people of colour”) are victims of systemic and institutional racism; that white Americans enjoy “white privilege”; that African Americans deserve reparations for slavery and post-enslavement discrimination; that disparities among racial groups are explained by discrimination; that US law enforcement agencies are designed to discriminate against people of colour and so should be defunded, disbanded or at least heavily reformed; that women suffer from systemic sexism; that individuals should be able to identify with any gender or none; that US capitalism is deeply flawed.

Bacon’s list is not definitive, but the common subtext of Wokeism is invariably victimhood. This is a psychologically determined attitude, considered by Wokeists to transcend any contrary empirical evidence. Professor Jean-François Braunstein of the Sorbonne has remarked that Wokeism offers theories of knowledge that validate feelings over facts. Sometimes celebrities empathise with victimhood by claiming it for themselves. Prince Harry wanted us to believe that he had been “cut off” financially by his father, despite having been able to buy a multi-million-dollar Californian mansion; he also claims to “want his family back” and an apology from it, picturing himself as the injured party after insulting the royal family repeatedly in public.

Victimhood is now also becoming an excuse for violence by fringe groups with a dubious and anti-science agenda, for example “trans-activists”. Generational victimhood relating to climate change holds white civilisation responsible for creating global warming in the industrial revolution and exporting climate-damaging technology to the rest of the world, which is not therefore responsible for climate damage and should be paid reparations. Little or no mention is made of the astonishing benefits to mankind yielded by the industrial revolution, or of the self-critical culture of free countries that made them the first to urge action against climate change (as also against slavery).

Although European countries have quite different political and social features from America, they have imported Woke ideology pretty much wholesale. Even France, arguably the country least susceptible to Wokeism due to its “universalist” tradition, which in principle is blind to people’s colour and origin, has now got an incipiently woke Minister of Education. Pap Ndiaye told Le Monde that he did not experience racism growing up in France and only “realised that [he] was black” when he was twenty-five and studying in the United States. Indeed, importation to Europe happens chiefly through academia, where mediocre scholars have weaponised Woke ideology as a way of advancing their power by targeting individuals and institutions that can be presented as insufficiently conformist to Woke assumptions.

A favourite tactic is to accuse an institution of “systemic racism”. In the Woke world, as in the Salem witch trials, accusation is enough to convict. Universities, institutions and corporations often hasten to accommodate irrational or mendacious Woke demands or accusations. In some cases this is because they are led by people who have themselves completed what the communist thinker Antonio Gramsci called “the long march through the institutions” to achieve executive power, and they genuinely believe in the pseudo-revolutionary claptrap of Wokeism. In most other cases however they are simply afraid for their image or their careers. Wokeism has succeeded in creating an atmosphere in which anyone accused is guilty until it can be proved otherwise (by which time it is usually too late to repair reputational damage); this negates a fundamental tenet of free societies and the rule of law, whereby each person is considered innocent until proved guilty by due process. The inversion of that principle is the basis for Stalinism, fundamentalist theocracies and similar types of polity.

“Woke” as a reference originally became current in left-wing circles and was self-congratulatory. Now it is probably better known as a sarcastic description by conservatives of increasingly unhinged activism, particularly in the fields of culture, education, gender and healthcare. Woke people are very critical of “stereotyping”; but their own arguments are based on stereotyping, particularly in regard to “white” people, “white supremacy”, “white privilege” and so forth. Wokeism is an attitude of mind that brooks no rebuttal; or, if an accusation is met with a (usually cringeing) apology, brooks no forgiveness. Its operational methodology is “cancel culture”, whereby someone who is resisting Woke propaganda is subjected to verbal mobbing on social media, with a spillover to the boulevard press. Woke assertions are entirely self-referential, like the theses found scientifically wanting by Karl Popper as being unfalsifiable. In the world of Woke, tolerance is replaced by coercion, debate is replaced by no-platforming, neighbourliness by surveillance, and civility by the smear. 


The ABC of Woke

Activism, as in Performatve Activism: Activism designed to increase one’s social capital instead of devotion to a cause. This is a complaint voiced not only by conservatives but also by some Wokeists who feel their cause is being hijacked by an attention-seeking middle class. Black Lives Matter protests have often been accused on this head. For example, 28 million Instagram users participated in the “Blackout Tuesday” movement, which merely involved posting a blacked-out square image in order to show support for the George Floyd protests.

An example of performative activism is that of the Scottish actor who returned his Order of the British Empire seventeen years after he received it from the Queen, in order to advertise his horror at the evils of the British Empire, not neglecting to post a report on his action to his admirers on Instagram.

CNN, which uses almost as much airtime eulogising its own contributors as for its ads, is tailor-made for reporting performative activism. One program ended with a Hollywood star sitting in a boat that acts as a taxi for illegal migrants across the Mediterranean and exclaiming, “How can it be illegal to help someone?” Being an accomplice to people-traffickers thus becomes virtuous. See also Woke-washing.

Aggression, as in Passive Aggression: Passive aggression undoubtedly exists (the surly waiter, the no-speak phase of a marital row). Wokeism has extended its range so as to be able to claim that any statement or ironic gesture they disagree with is “offensive”. A Woke television interviewer may exhibit passive aggression, but the interviewee is not expected to respond in kind. A classic case of the perils of Wokeist passive aggression was the fate of a woman interviewing Jordan Peterson on the UK’s left-wing Channel 4 News. Her suggestion that something in his book was potentially “offensive” unleashed an eloquent response from Peterson who pointed out that the insinuations she had continually been making about him as a person were also offensive, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t treat her with politeness or make insinuations about her. The interviewer had not anticipated such a response (Peterson is, after all, a clinical psychologist) and the interview was regarded as such a car crash that it has been used since as a monitory training video for aspirant television journalists.

Cambridge University, under a Woke vice-chancellor, tried to impose a code on faculty and students that among other things gave the passive aggressive example of someone raising an eyebrow when a person from a minority was speaking in a seminar. Wokeism is an irony-free zone.

Allyship: Merriam-Webster gives, among others, this example of the use of this neologism: “Poor allyship is speaking over marginalized people by taking credit and receiving recognition for arguments that the unprivileged have been making for their entire lives.” This looks like a union demarcation dispute between Woke activists and those on whose behalf they claim to be speaking. See also Activism.

Black Lives Matter: This famous slogan raced round the world after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman. Of the police colleagues who were present at his murder, one was Hmong American, one was black, and one was white. The prosecution did not advance a “racist” motive. The Anglican Church has described Floyd as a Christian who mentored young people against violence. This was after his parole in 2013 following eight criminal convictions, one for aggravated robbery.

The outbreak of mass demonstrations across Europe under the banner of Black Lives Matter was a pivotal moment for performative activism. At its peak an Indian academic at Cambridge wrote that “White lives don’t matter. As white lives.” Explaining this in a later Tweet, she wrote: “My Tweet said whiteness is not special, not a criterion for making lives matter. I stand by that.” This somewhat edited version was based on a convoluted argument about systemic racism in the UK, the alleged existence of which is a touchstone of Woke theology. Like much of that theology it falls into its own trap. If whiteness “is not a criterion for making lives matter”, why should blackness be?

The media played an important role in validating bogus BLM demonstrations in Europe. In Austria the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Vienna on June 4, 2020, drew 50,000 people. This, according one report, indicated that “the message and cause behind the movement’s heightened cry for change is also painfully relevant here”. No, it does not. Austria is generous in taking migrants and treats them well. It has no history of slavery and black ghettoes. The comment is simply a lie.

Cancel Culture: Verbal mobbing designed to discredit and deactivate views regarded as undermining Wokeist orthodoxy. The least agreeable aspect of this has been the moral cowardice of sections of academia that have failed to support professors being hounded out of their jobs for holding views unacceptable to activists. As George Orwell observed, if freedom of speech means anything, it means the freedom to express views that people do not want to hear.

Cisgender: People who gender-identify with their biological sex at birth. Often derogatory, with suspicions of cisgender hegemonic behaviour.

Critical Race Theory: The intellectual foundation of Wokeism combining inter alia elements of Gramsci, Foucault, Marcuse and slightly rinsed Marxism. It is often expressed in the opaque language of structuralism, which facilitates claims of misrepresentation. Whole faculties (known as “grievance studies”) have grown up to accommodate it. An influential guru in gender studies is Judith Butler, who writes portentous prose like the following: “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender … identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.”

Cultural Appropriation: The official Woke definition of cultural appropriation is when a majority culture adopts aspects of a minority group in a disrespectful, exploitative or stereotypical way. This is all highly subjective. “Exploitative” presumably refers to making money out of the minority culture—for example, there have been objections to non-Mexican students wearing sombreros handing out leaflets advertising the opening of a Mexican restaurant. As for stereotypes, nations with a refined sense of humour, such as the Austrians or the Australians, invent ironic stereotypes of themselves. But what are the notions of “white supremacism” and “white privilege” if not stereotypes?

Decolonising: The latest target of so-called “decolonising” is mathematics. The academic theory of “decoloniality” states that, as well as colonising the world physically, Europeans have dominated it by promoting the “European paradigm of rational knowledge”. Unfortunately for this exciting new slogan in the culture wars there is a flaw in it, namely that it isn’t true, especially in regard to mathematics. There is nothing particularly European about rational knowledge. “Maths has always been an astonishingly international pursuit,” writes maths professor John Armstrong:

The digits 0123456789 we use today were first written in India and inspired by Chinese mathematics. They were popularised by Persian and Arab mathematicians and then made their way to Europe via the Moors’ conquest of Southern Spain. Admittedly the Moors’ conquest of Spain was a form of colonialism, but apparently not the type of colonialism we are meant to be outraged by.

Dysmorphia: Persons, especially young people, who believe, or who have been led to believe, that their body is the wrong sex, are fertile soil for Woke victimhood. As Jordan Peterson wrote in March:

Politicians and, more generally, trans activists and their “allies” pushing the gender-affirmation agenda … are not trained in diagnosis. They know nothing about measurement, or the ethics of measurement—they do not even know that such a field of endeavour exists. They are not clinicians. They are instead insisting in the most shallow and self-aggrandising manner possible that their vaunted compassion is so comprehensive that whatever a child says goes—including the desire for extreme surgical alteration (castration, hysterectomy, phalloplasty, vaginoplasty, etc.). In the most extreme situations, that means children enticed to “socially transition” while still toddlers, and early-stage teenagers subjected to, among other surgical mutilations, double mastectomy (13 years old, in the case of Layla Jane; 15 years old, in the case of Chloe Cole, both now suing Kaiser Permanente in the US—and this follows a spate of such lawsuits in the UK, many focusing on the disgraced Tavistock clinic).

Diversity: Making people from minorities more visible in society. Inevitably the basic idea, which is not without merit, has undergone mission creep among Wokeists. For example, complaints are made that the countryside in the UK is “too white”. Theatre has something of an obsession about diversity, with persons of colour declared eligible for any white role, though the reverse proposition is not allowed. The producer of a popular television crime series set in a West Country village incautiously said that the village was a “last bastion of Englishness”, to explain why none of the characters were black. The production company said it was “shocked and appalled” at this comment and suspended him. Diversity sometimes results in its own version of discrimination (such as Asian students being denied places at an American university because their entrance exam results were too good, thus making the results of other minorities look bad).

Ethnic Profiling: Attempts by the police to diminish crime in minority communities (usually black in America and the UK, North African in France) are deemed “racist” if they involve “stop and search” (for example in an area with substantial knife crime). After Black Lives Matter took off, there were demands from activists in US cities that certain districts should “defund” the police. This despite the fact that many of the victims of BLM riots were themselves African-American shopkeepers. “Defund” dovetails with the attitude that “society” is responsible for high crime rates. Holding individuals responsible and accountable for their malevolent actions is just another way of “blaming the victim” (unless of course the perpetrators enjoy “white privilege”, in which case they should be held responsible not only for present evils but for past ones as well).

Eurocentrism: Looking at the world through European eyes and being cognisant of its remarkable civilisation. Very bad, especially if you are a European.

FIFA: The world’s most corrupt organisation. Added to which, its Woke president thinks Europeans should be apologising to Qatar (which denies migrant workers their basic legal rights) for the last “3000 years” of hideous European oppression and also for “the next 3000 years”. That is, from the Trojan War until the demise of the planet through climate change caused by Europeans.

(White) Fragility: This phrase is pasted on white people should they become “defensive” when accused of racism. The technique is rather like Russian diplomacy which attacks another state and then accuses any who help that state to defend itself of “escalating” the war. Wokeist guru Robin DiAngelo seems to have coined the term “white fragility”, and contends that white people are all racist, and if they object to being called racist, they are simply providing evidence of their racism. Douglas Murray reminds us that such an argument exhibits the same logical flaw as that used by the advocates of witch-dunking in the Middle Ages: if the woman drowns, she is innocent; if she floats, she is a witch and can be burned.

Gammon: An insulting term for people with a high flush (usually late-middle-aged men and pensioners). It became popular with Woke people as shorthand for the awful reactionaries who voted for Brexit (average age fifty-two). According to Woke activists, there should have been an upper age limit on voting, because the vote affected the future of the young. Since Western societies are ageing, this looks like a promising start to pushing the idea of cutting out expensive pensioners from the vote in the future.

Gender: Something which is “socially constructed” according to influential Woke ideologues like Judith Butler.

Gender Fluid(ity): According to Wikipedia, “Gender fluidity is a non-fixed gender identity that shifts over time or depending on the situation. These fluctuations can occur at the level of gender identity or gender expression. A genderfluid person may fluctuate among different gender expressions over their lifetime, or express multiple aspects of various gender markers at the same time.” Current gender options stand at seventy-one on Facebook (up from fifty when gender fluidity was discovered), but hardliners now say there are a hundred “or more”.

A British rail company has polished its LBGT+ credentials with an event advertising that it welcomes gender fluid persons aboard (it has been dubbed Intersex Intercity). There is no evidence that such people have not been welcomed in the past, or indeed that anyone noticed whether they were aboard or not. The public reaction to this stunt was not universally favourable, frustrated travellers claiming that money wasted on such things would be better spent on reducing high fares and having the trains run on time occasionally.

Homophobia: See LGBT+ below. Anyone not wanting to wear a pink ribbon in solidarity with LGBT+ people is suspect.

Inclusive, Inclusion: As with diversity, it is a key claim of Wokeism that ethnic minorities are systemically “excluded in the UK”, even if the Prime Minster is of Indian heritage, likewise the Home Secretary, while the Foreign Secretary’s mother is from Sierra Leone and the Business and Trade Secretary’s parents are Nigerian. Flummoxed by this, the Woke members of the Opposition have resorted to accusing minority ministers of “gaslighting” for Conservatives (that is, making Wokeists feel as if they doubt their own sanity).

Institutional Racism: The claim that the prevailing governance of an institution is based entirely on racism. There is an ever-expanding market in “training” offered to institutions such as the civil service or corporations. Woke missionaries explain to bewildered employees (who have been put on a mandatory course) how to recognise and deal with their racism. Claiming not to be racist is evidence you are racist. See (White) Fragility.

Intersectionality: “The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” (Merriam-Webster). This is a somewhat verbose summary of the victimhood mentality of Wokeism. A much more concise Hungarian saying goes: “Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”

Islamo-Gaucheisme: A new Woke enthusiasm of the French Left is summed up by the British diplomat John Jenkins as follows:

Hamas and Hezbollah are not simply to be understood as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left”, in the notorious formulation of the American queer theorist Judith Butler. They are also [in the words] of Jeremy Corbyn, “friends” of progressives everywhere. Given that Hamas, Hezbollah and most other Islamist movements are constitutively anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic, supercessionist, totalitarian, supremacist and generally illiberal, this is an astonishing claim. It is even more astonishing when you consider the different ways in which Islamists and the left understand the world. The latter think absolute truth does not exist: the former think God has given them unique access to it.

Jew(ish): For the purposes of condemning “white supremacism”, Jews are white people, while Palestinians, also a Semitic people, are completely acceptable. Wokeism dovetails at this point with the radical Left’s anti-Semitism, whereby Arab terrorists are regarded as freedom fighters but Jews, whose State of Israel is irritatingly democratic compared to the corrupt and violent nations that surround it, should be relentlessly denounced.

Karen: Patronising and abusive term for the demanding sort of white middle-class woman who is good at getting her way and is definitely not Woke.

LGBT+: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-sexual and other “genders”. Woke people have learned from Marxism how to simulate the pretence of mass representation and thus speak of and for the LGBT (and other) “communities”. Analogous was the Muslim Council of Britain that succeeded for a while in being the voice of Islam in the UK—until mainstream political parties dropped it for suspected support of extremism. The LGBT+ community has been very active in organising Gay Pride marches or getting people to wear pink LGBT+ ribbons and so on.

Misogyny: According to Wikipedia, “Words derived from the word misogyny and denoting connected concepts include misogynoir, the intersection of anti-black racism and misogyny faced by black women; transmisogyny, the intersection of misogyny and transphobia faced by transwomen and transfeminine people; and transmisogynoir, the confluence of these faced by black trans women and transfeminine people.” There is still quite a lot of victimhood mileage left in misogyny.

Multiculturalism: Officially declared “dead” by Angela Merkel in 2010, multiculturalism was the doctrine that immigrants could live happily with their own culture alongside that of the host country. According to Merkel this had “failed utterly”, although she emphasised that immigrants were welcome in Germany and of course invited one million of them in 2015. The buzzword replacing multiculturalism is “integration”, which must logically be into the dominant host culture. Wokeists are ostensibly in favour of integration; on the other hand, many disguise their wish for an open-door immigration policy by objecting to any proposed solution whatsoever to curbs, even or especially on illegal migration, by raising endless legal and human rights objections to each suggestion.

Nativism: Derogatory term for those favouring the interests of indigenous or existing populations against immigrants. Now commonly used in conjunction with the word xenophobia

No-Platforming: Disinviting speakers to universities because the Woke muppets of the Students Union (generally representing virtually no one) disapprove of them and threaten violence if they appear.

Occidentalism and Orientalism: A biblical text for Woke is Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) which offers an often questionable series of generalisations about Western attitudes to what used to be called the Orient. Occidentalism (2005) is a similar book about attitudes, but written from the reverse perspective. Orientalism is a key work for Wokeists as it laid the basis for post-colonial studies which are for the most part extremely hostile not only to Western imperialism but to the West and “Eurocentrism”. An American classicist, Bruce Thornton, described Orientalism as an “incoherent amalgam of dubious postmodern theory, sentimental Third Worldism, glaring historical errors, and Western guilt”.

Oikophobia: Word coined by philosopher Roger Scruton to describe a visceral intellectual and cultural hostility to one’s homeland. It is common among adolescents but most people grow out of it.

Populism: Generally agreed to be a bad thing by left-liberal Wokeists because it implies that politicians are listening to what the voters want (or don’t want), while of course liberals are above all that. This is why they are suspicious of referendums and, like the EU, are inclined to demand that referendums that don’t deliver the correct result should be re-run to correct the error.

Presentism: “Uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.” Now largely a branch of oikophobia. Post-colonial studies are full of Wokeists toiling in the vineyards of Presentism.

(White) Privilege: Wokeists on the losing end of an argument are often ready with what they regard as the killer rejoinder, namely: “Check your privilege.” Michael Moore, in a book called Stupid White Men, concludes that “you name the problem, the disease, the human suffering, or the abject misery visited upon millions, and I’ll bet you ten bucks I can put a white face on it”.

Problematic: Somewhat sinister term used by Wokeists to suggest that an idea or statement or (in effect) a person may need to be “cancelled”. Equivalent to “deviationist” under Stalinism.

Pronouns: Woke people append their pronouns to correspondence or when meeting someone for the first time. (“How do you do? My pronouns are he, him, his.”) Since it is now contended that there are seventy-one or more genders, there is still a certain amount to do in building the grammar of Wokeism. You will see the pronoun difficulties if you look up the seventy-one genders on the internet, such as “Affectugender”, based on the person’s mood swings or fluctuations; “Agenderflux”, mostly “agender” with brief shifts of belonging to other gender types; “Alexigender”, somebody with a fluid gender identity between more than one type of gender although they cannot name the genders they feel fluid in.

Queer: Formerly a term of abuse, now a badge of (gay) pride.

Racist: Blanket term used by Wokeists to characterise not only individuals but whole histories, cultures, institutions and systems—if they are white, that is. The racism of countries like India and China is tactfully avoided, as is inter-tribal racism, including slave-trading.

Safe: Woke people do not feel “safe” when walking past the statues of long-dead persons who they think have done wicked things. They therefore demand that the statues should be removed. Sometimes they are removed as a result, sometimes not. Oriel College, Oxford, had planned to remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes, but changed its mind in a highly principled manner when most of the college’s richest donors wrote in to say they would cease their donations if the college went ahead with the removal.

Sensitivity Readers: The modern acceptable censorship of books that are said to contain words or passages that are offensive to Woke eyes and ears. Children’s books are re-edited with particular zeal and even Agatha Christie’s somewhat wooden prose has been deprived of passages that escaped the notice of earlier generations of readers. Offensive references to fat people are a particular target, lest fat readers should feel shamed—as they often are by the medical profession.

Stale White Males: See Gammon.

Supremacism, as in White Supremacism: See (White) Privilege.

TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist): Derogatory term used by the trans-sexual lobby to describe feminists, some of them lesbian, who refuse to abandon the conventional scientific definitions of male and female based on chromosomes. Such an unwholesome attitude is deemed “transphobic”. The boldest of these has been J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, who enraged the trans lobby by ridiculing notions of persons with penises claiming to be women. She remarked wryly that she had received enough death threats through the post to paper her living room wall.

Unconscious Racism: See (White) Fragility. Similar to Marxist “false consciousness”.

Vocabulary: Stanford University has listed words and expressions to be eliminated according to Woke principles. Even brave, seminal, American, take a shot at and submit could fall foul of their thirteen categories of potential discrimination. Brave might conjure an offensive image of the “noble courageous savage”. Black box and black sheep are potentially racist. However, the project is currently on hold after a backlash in the press.

Woke-washing: This is the specialty of large corporations that issue pious mission statements designed to head off potential trouble from Woke vigilantes. Usually they are an excruciating mix of the school chaplain’s sermon and Uriah Heep.

Xenophobia: See Nativism.

Yousaf, Humza: The Telegraph recently reported that Scotland’s new First Minister has vehemently deplored the fact that nearly all the top jobs in Scottish public life are occupied by white people. Since Scotland is demographically at least 95 per cent white—and even more white in the middle-aged group that furnishes the cohort for the most senior jobs—it is hard to see his point. Then again, Yousaf, of Punjabi parentage, has got the top job of all, despite a record of spectacular ministerial failure.

Zero Tolerance: This used to be a phrase associated with right-wing politicians like Rudy Giuliani of New York who made sure that every drug-fuelled window-breaker knew who was boss; now it has morphed into anxious corporate-speak to show that the corporation boss is Woke-sensitive. People wrongly accused of racism can often rely on a friend to say they “don’t have a racist bone in their body”. Obviously this is suspect, since bones are not brains.

Nicholas T. Parsons is a freelance author, translator and editor who lives in Vienna.


3 thoughts on “The ABC of Wokery


    A valuable compendium of wokery. The sad outcome for us all is that the application of the psychological aberration called wokery has done only harm. Those that think they’ve benefited from the woke revolution are the biggest losers of all.

  • Rob H says:

    Sadly conservatives still refer to the US as a democracy, It is not and never has been. It is a Constitutional Republic with limits on the power of Government over the sovereign individual..

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