Long and significant strides have been taken by the nation's blind in the eleven years since the first convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Through successive advances in public assistance and social welfare, by improvements in vocational guidance and placement, and with increasing gains in economic opportunity and cultural participation, the blind are moving steadily closer to the ultimate goal of full and equal membership in American society. A very great deal, of course, remains to be done; and it may be well to remind ourselves, on this anniversary, of the several dominant features of the Federation program with which we are today most actively and immediately concerned.
Perhaps first in any listing of the ends to which our organization is pledged, is the goal of understanding which, in negative terms, means nothing less than the total eradication of the ancient stereotype of the helpless blind man, that age-old equation of disability with inability which remains today, as ever, the real affliction of blindness. Second, and closely dependent upon the first, is the assertion of our normality: the elementary truth that the blind are ordinary people, and more exactly that they are persons unique individuals each with his own particular as well as his general human needs. Third among our objectives is security, representing a normal human striving which is only accentuated not transformed by the fact of blindness, and to which the programs of public assistance are especially addressed. But security remains a static and even a stultifying concept without the further element of opportunity, which is the fourth of our objectives: opportunity to participate and to develop, to become useful and productive citizens. Fifth in line (but not in importance) is the goal of equality, which is both a precedent and a product of all the rest: equality which flows from the sense of belonging, from the frank acceptance of the community, and which entails equal treatment under the law, equal opportunity to employment, and equal rights within society. Sixth is the objective of education: education of the blind in terms of social adjustment and vocational rehabilitation; and education of the sighted parents, teachers, employers, and the community in terms of the several goals already mentioned. Seventh and last is the platform of adequate legislation, permanent safeguards based on rational and systematic evaluation of our needs and erasing once and for all the restrictive barriers of legal discrimination and institutionalized ignorance.
These are only the most general and conspicuous of the goals to which we are committed. Within each area, of course, there are concrete problems and particular emphases. In public assistance, for example, the overriding need is to secure adequate protection while actively encouraging the efforts of recipients to surmount the relief rolls by way of self-sufficiency; and in the field of rehabilitation, the objective is to improve the services of training and placement while retaining administration by those qualified to understand the distinct needs and problems of the sightless. On every level the accent varies; but when all parts work together in harmony under skilled direction, they express the underlying theme of Integration social, psychological, and economic. And the dominant note that emerges is one of hope; for if it is true that we are a long way still from equal partnership with the sighted in the continuing experiment of democracy, it is also true that by contrast with our status only eleven years ago we are a long way toward it.
In this brief summation of goals and achievements, there is however an implicit assumption which is so generally taken for granted that it is only rarely recognized. The assumption is that the blind are fit to participate in society on a basis of equality; that there is nothing inherent in their handicap, or invariable in their psychology, which renders them incapable of successful adjustment and adaptation to their society. And the corollary of this assumption is that there is nothing fixed or immutable about the obstacles encountered by the blind in their progress toward integration; that social attitudes and opinions are essentially on our side, and that where they appear otherwise they are based on ignorance and error and can be changed.
These are large assumptions; and they carry an immense responsibility. For upon them rests the entire structure of social programming and welfare services to which this organization is dedicated. But suppose, for a moment, that these assumptions are false. Suppose that the blind are not just ordinary people with a physical handicap, but psychological cripples; and suppose, further, that the complex of attitudes and beliefs about the blind entertained by the general public are at bottom completely hostile and immune to change. If these suppositions should somehow receive scientific sanctionor even if they should become widely accepted among the public and among the blind it is easy to see that the consequences for programs of education, assistance, rehabilitation, and employment (to name only the most conspicuous) would be profoundly different from those we now pursue. The long campaign to integrate the blind into society on a basis of equality would have to be discarded as naive and utopian; the effort to enlighten public opinion and to erase its gross discriminations would have to be abandoned as illusory and futile. The blind would become again, as they have been so often in the past, a caste apart, a pariah class; and our efforts on their behalf would be reduced to the administration of palliatives designed to make their social prison as comfortable as possible but not to help them escape.
To all this it may be replied that there is after all no danger of such reactionary suppositions gaining credence in informed circles; that the weight of scientific and theoretical opinion is altogether on the other side. And so in fact it has appeared; as recently as last year's convention I should have agreed wholeheartedly with this belief. Today, however, I am compelled to announce that this confidence is no longer justified. For the suppositions I have outlined are precisely those avowed and put forward by two recent writings that lay serious claim to scientific status: one of which asserts that the conditions of blindness invariably impose a neurotic personality structure a psychological crippling; and the other of which declares that social attitudes toward the blind are fundamentally a sublimation (a deflection) of aggressive instinctual drives, carrying an inescapable undercurrent of hostility. The first of these may be called the thesis of the neurotic blind; the second, the thesis of the neurotic public.
What is most surprising about these theories, at first glance, is that they are the work of two outstanding individuals who are themselves blind, and whose sympathetic and generous contributions in the field have earned distinguished reputations for both. One of these gentlemen, Dr. Thomas Cutsforth, is a prominent psychologist and authority on problems of the blind, whose classic work The Blind in School and Society, published over fifteen years ago, has been credited with greatly modernizing the fundamental concepts of the psychology of blindness. The other, Mr. Hector Chevigny, is the author of two notable books on blindness, besides being a reputable historian and a skilled professional writer. About the complete integrity and considerable ability of both these men there can be no question; but about the truth and value of their respective theories there can be and there is a very large question indeed.
The first of the two views as expressed by Dr. Cutsforth in a symposium on blindness published last year1maintains that the response to blindness under modern conditions results invariably in a pattern of behavior indistinguishable from that of neurotics. To his credit, Dr. Cutsforth does not say, as so many psychologists have said in the past, that it is the physical defect which created the disturbance; rather he says what amounts to much the same thing, that the conditions imposed by blindness make such personality distortion inevitable. The blind person, we are told, comes to evaluate himself as society in its ignorance evaluates him; and as a result he soon feels inferior and alone. In his effort to regain both self-respect and social esteem, he reacts in either of two ways and two ways only the way of compulsive compensation, or the way of hysterical withdrawal. Both responses, according to Cutsforth, are fundamentally neurotic which means, among other things, that they hinder rather than assist the individual to adjust to his handicap and to society.
Such terms as compulsive and hysterical, of course, plainly beg the question; they are neurotic by definition. Most of us, however, would probably agree that the ostrich reaction of withdrawing from reality and retreating into infantile dependence is no solution to the problem of adjustment; but the author's attitude toward the familiar adjustive mechanism known as compensation is less easily accepted. We shall say more about compensation later on; for the moment it is enough to point out that even the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, whose rigid theory of organ inferiority made neurosis a virtually inevitable accompaniment of physical handicap, nevertheless maintained that the defect could be overcome and complete adjustment achieved through compensatory activity.2 Not so, however, Dr. Cutsforth. In following this pattern [of compensation], he asserts, the individual develops along the lines of the compulsive personality.Therapeutic or educational emphasis upon compulsive symptoms leads in the dangerous direction of creating lopsided personalities, monstrosities, or geniuses as the case may be compensations are as much evidence of personality pathology as the less approved and more baffling hysterical reactions.3
Clearly, there is little hope for the blind person within the terms of this analysis. He is committed to behaving either compulsively or hysterically and both ways are equally neurotic. What is more, any attempt to combine the two mechanisms only makes matters worse. Nor is there much hope to be derived from clinical treatment of this blind neurotic; for it is obvious, says Cutsforth, that any therapeutic program for the adjustment of the blind personality that concerns itself only with the correction of either or both of these personality malformations is doomed to failure.4 Since these malformations are the only ones allowed, it is a bit difficult to know what else a therapeutic program might be concerned with. But it may be supposed that what the author has in mind is a broader program aimed at the modification of unsympathetic social attitudes, which are admitted to lie at the root of what he calls the neurosis involved in blindness. This is, however, very far from his purpose. Observing that until recently the blind and those interested in them have insisted that society revise and modify its attitude toward this specific group, he continues: Obviously, for many reasons, this is an impossibility, and effort spent on such a program is as futile as spitting into the wind.5
Only two of the many reasons, evidently the most clinching, are vouchsafed to us. The first is that society has formulated its emotional attitudes not toward blindness itself, but toward the reaction pattern of the blind toward themselves and their own condition.6 But since the reaction of the blind to their own condition has already been defined as a reflection of social attitudes, this amounts to saying that the social attitudes are formed in terms of something which itself is formed by social attitudes a neat bit of circular reasoning which avoids coming out anywhere. The second reason advanced against this spitting into the wind that is, trying to change social attitudes should be of particular interest to members of the National Federation of the Blind: it is extremely doubtful, claims Dr. Cutsforth, whether the degree of emotional maturity and social adaptability of the blind would long support and sustain any social change of attitude, if it were possible to achieve it.7 And finally, he declares: It is dodging the issue to place the responsibility on the unbelieving and non-receptive popular attitudes. The only true answer lies in the unfortunate circumstance that the blind share with other neurotics the nonaggressive personality and the inability to participate fully in society.8
The implications of this extremist theory for the broad field of social programming are not difficult to make out. In its assignment of the primary responsibility for maladjustment to the blind individual alone, it discourages attention to the home and community environment in which character is formed and personality develops; and, even more specifically, in its emphasis on the immutability of social attitudes, it disparages all attempts to modify or revise them as futile and even dangerous. Indeed, Dr. Cutsforth labels as hypocritical distortions all efforts to, as he puts it, propagandize society with the rational concept that the blind are normal individuals without vision.9 If the blind are not normal, there is obviously little point in attempting to educate or prepare them for a normal life. If they are compulsive and hysterics, far from seeking equal treatment and full participation in society they should be content with the exiled status of the misfit and the deranged. There is no need to spell out in specific terms the numerous ways in which this verdict would operate to undermine the progress of the blind toward equality and integration. The only one of our programs which might in some sense survive its test is that of public assistance but it would be an assistance shorn of opportunity and bereft of dignity, an empty charity without faith and without hope. The Cutsforth thesis of the neurotic blind, in short, would seem to rule out any and all solutions to the problems of rehabilitation and adjustment other than that of prolonged psychotherapeutic treatment on the individual level and even here, as we have seen, it is not at all clear what there is to be treated.
Fortunately, there is an answer a scientific answer to this defeatist theory. But before turning to that it is necessary to consider the other recent theory which by implication supports the reactionary suppositions we have outlined: namely, Hector Chevigny's thesis of the neurotic public. (This viewpoint, as set forth in a book called The Adjustment of the Blind,10 is the joint property of Chevigny and his co-author, Sydell Braverman; but because he is the senior author and because his name is most widely associated with the ideas in the book, we shall refer to the formulation as Chevigny's.) Observing that the emotion which is most commonly encountered in attitudes toward the blind is that of pity, Chevigny subjects the pity concept to a psychoanalytic examination along the lines of classical Freudian theory, coming to the conclusion that pity derives from an original cruelty impulse through either sublimation or reaction formation.11 This original impulse is variously and ambiguously defined as fear, guilt, and sadism; but the implication is plain throughout that expressions of pity always represent a deflection of deep-seated feelings of hostility. Chevigny next attempts to distinguish between pity and kindness, maintaining that kindness has a different origin in the psyche and represents beneficent rather than hostile feelings. Curiously, however, kindness itself is later conceded to be a sublimation of the aggression toward one another present in all children, [and] it may also be the end product of a less sound defense system against the same drives.12 In short, kindness, like pity, is essentially a sublimation of aggressive drives; from which it would appear that the distinction between the two emotions, if any, is one of degree rather than kind. Far from distinguishing pity from kindness, Chevigny has succeeded only in making the point that all attitudes toward the blind, however apparently well-meaning, are founded on a subterranean rock of antipathy and aggression.
The inconsistency of this psychoanalysis of attitudes becomes understandable when it is seen as a particular instance of the paradox inherent in the whole system of Freudian instinctivism: the paradox that, as Freud himself expressed it, the things of highest value to human culture are intelligible as a consequence of frustrated instincts.13 The most virtuous emotions love and affection, toleration, sympathy, and compassion all are explainable in terms of the sublimation of innate aggressive drives; even the sense of justice, as Erich Fromm has pointed out, was traced by Freud to the envy of the child for any one who possesses more than he.14 Freud's psychological determinism does not consist however, as popular writers often suppose, in the reduction of all behavior to the sex drive, but rather in the conception of a dialectical struggle between the forces representative of life and death a struggle underlying all human history, individual and cultural. The tendency to aggression, he insisted, is an innate, independent, instinctual disposition in man and constitutes the most powerful obstacle to culture.15 But if the existence of culture depends on the suppression of natural instincts if, as Freud put it, the core of our being consists of wishes that are unattainable, yet cannot be checked16then cultural equilibrium is at best precarious, if not foredoomed to destruction. Indeed Freud came to wonder whether civilization might not be leading to the extinction of mankind, since it encroaches on the sexual function in more than one way.17 As he saw it, observes a prominent modern psychoanalyst, man is doomed to dissatisfaction whichever way he turns. He cannot live out satisfactorily his primitive instinctual drives without wrecking himself and civilization. He cannot be happy alone or with others. He has but the alternative of suffering himself or making others suffer.18 Short of destruction of the species, then, the conflict of man and society must remain forever unresolved. Whenever the inhibiting social forces are for a moment relaxed, we see men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien.19 But on the other hand, whenever the inhibitions become too severe, or the frustrated instincts pile up against the blocks as periodically they must then, says Freud, the organized explosion known as war becomes inevitable. A period of general unleashing of man's animal nature must appear, wear itself out, and peace is once more restored.20
So much for the Freudian theory of instincts, and the extreme cultural pessimism to which it gives rise. It is relevant to our present purpose insofar as it illuminates the consequences for social programming which might be expected to follow its application to the psychology of social attitudes. For if Chevigny is correct, and all social attitudes toward the blind, antagonistic, or benevolent, are explainable as the consequence of frustrated instincts, then by Freudian standards two conclusions may be said to follow: First, that the services and programs based upon these attitudes, like all cultural products, are achieved only at the cost of general neurosis and are therefore unhealthy and precarious; and second, that the submerged hostile feelings toward the blind must periodically erupt over the barriers in outbreaks of persecution and aggression. It would seem evident that this thesis the thesis of the neurotic public affords little hope of any rational and sustained progress in the social welfare of the blind; at least until such time as the general population may be induced to undergo extended psychoanalytic therapy. In the face of universal hostility, however well-disguised, there can be no serious thought of achieving recognition and integration; and the solution to the problems of the blind must perforce be sought in the reinforcement, rather than the removal, of the medieval barriers of isolation and segregation.
It may however be flatly stated that the Chevigny thesis of the neurotic public is not widely entertained by serious students. The validity of its Freudian assumptions has been sharply and effectively challenged by major developments over the past ten years within psychology and the social sciences most notably, perhaps, in the sphere of the cultural anthropologists. An impressive number of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts as well, concluding that man's biological nature need not condemn him to conflict with society, declare that in fact anxiety and conflict are largely the product of institutions which, being manmade, are subject to alteration. In the words of Harry Stack Sullivan, the present social order operates destructively on human beings, not only as it sets limits within which the patient's interpersonal relations may succeed, but as the source from which spring his problems, which are themselves signs of difficulties in the social order.21 The relevant conclusion for our purpose is that the personality problems of the blind may not be placed at the door of their defect or even of their personal frustration, but rather have their focus in the arena of social relations and institutions. Again, in rejecting the theory of innate aggressive propensities, these post-Freudian social scientists interpret attitudes of genuine affection, sympathy, and compassion as the healthy expressions of natural human attributes. It may be suggested that, according to this modern formulation, the concept of adjustment as extended to the blind would signify not their conformity to immutable outer circumstance but rather the adjustment and arrangement of social conditions and attitudes in closer harmony with the established physical needs of the blind.
With this we return to the Cutsforth thesis of the neurotic blind the thesis that denies the possibility of altering social attitudes and places the blame for maladjustment squarely upon the blind. Nothing would be gained, of course, by rejecting these contentions on moral or sentimental grounds. They make their claim on a scientific basis: the only relevant test is whether they are sustained by the scientific evidence. And it may at once be said that the main contentions of the Cutsforth theory are not supported by the available data compiled by research psychologists and social scientists. His claim that inner responses to blindness are reductible to the two mechanisms of compulsive compensation and hysterical withdrawal is questionable on several counts. Hans von Hentig22 has pointed out that the loose habit of referring to aggression and withdrawal as the main reactions to disability is of course a simplification. There are many intermediate responses. And he notes especially, what many in today's gathering have long since discovered for themselves, that there is a matter-of-fact attitude, taking the handicap as it is, [like] poverty, hunger, bad luck, and neglect, making no fun of the handicap, yet not stressing it by trying vainly and painfully to disregard the infirmity. Another observer, Vita Stein Sommers, discovered after intensive study of blind adolescents that her subjects displayed a variety of adjustive behavior. Some showed mechanisms of adjustment which served to reduce emotional strain and tension, and contributed to a solution of their mental conflicts. No apparent harm to their personality development was indicated.23 Sommers found no less than five major types of response to blindness; and, in direct refutation of Dr. Cutsforth, she concluded that the most satisfactory was that of compensation. The cases, she writes, support the belief of many psychologists that compensation is the most healthful form of adjustment, frequently resulting in superior forms of accomplishment.24 This conclusion coincides with the conviction of those psychologists influenced by the teachings of Adler, who himself maintained that by courage and training, disabilities may be so compensated that they even become great abilities. When correctly encountered a disability becomes a stimulus that impels toward a higher achievement.25 A recent survey of research in the field of disability has reported that the Adlerians find that both compensatory behavior and inferior attitudes do occur in physically disabled persons, but that they are by no means of universal occurrence. Some investigators, the report continues, question whether these symptoms are any more frequent than in the general population.26 From all of this it may be concluded, in reference to the Cutsforth thesis, not only that there appear many other responses to blindness than those of compensation and withdrawal, but that compensation itself an ambiguous and little-understood phenomenon has generally the appearance of a positive and adjustive, rather than a neurotic, form of behavior.
As to the claim that the conditions imposed by blindness necessarily lead to personality disturbance, the available evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. One European psychologist who has devoted particular attention to the problem of physical impairment declares that even the most serious physical disability does not necessarily result in a distorted personality. Although there are often factors in the environment of the crippled person which tend to produce distortion, other factors operate at the same time to lessen the probability of its occurrence.27 Again, a wartime study based on the neuropsychiatric examination of 150 blinded soldiers found that emotional disturbances do not always or necessarily occur and that the soldier of sound personality structure, free from pre-existing neurotic or psychopathic traits, is fully capable of making an adequate emotional adjustment to his disability providing adequate orientation and rehabilitation facilities are available. The authors further conclude that blindness, as a mental stress, does not appear to be capable, by itself, of producing abnormal mental or emotional reactions.28
Dr. Cutsforth's assertion that it is dodging the issue to place the blame on social attitudes, and that these are somehow out of bounds to investigators, receives even shorter shrift from the findings of research psychologists and social scientists working with the handicapped. Instead there is general agreement that, in the words of Lee Myerson, the problem of adjustment to physical disability is as much or more a problem of the non-handicapped majority as it is of the disabled minority29; and, unlike Dr. Cutsforth, the data uniformly indicate the practicability, as well as the need, of changing the attitudes of parents, teachers, employers, and the community generally. Some students, such as Roger Barker, emphasize the similarity between the minority status of the blind and that of racial and religious subgroups, and suggest that the solutions found to problems of prejudice in general through such means as education, psychology, propaganda, learning, and politics may be equally applicable to the physically handicapped.30 An opinion area of primary importance, of course, is the home environment. Sommers, among others, asserts that parental attitudes and actions constitute the most significant factors in setting the fundamental habit patterns of the blind child; but, since parents themselves reflect the attitudes of the community, she concludes that our main concern in dealing with the problems of personality development in such an individual must be an effort to shape the reactions of his environment. The training of the handicapped and the education of those with whom he is most closely associated and of society at large must take place simultaneously.31 Her concluding words are especially worthy of quotation: The ultimate results will depend on the extent to which the home, the school, the community, and society at large coordinate and direct their efforts toward giving [the blind child] sympathetic understanding but not undue pity, encouraging independence and initiative, and helping him to achieve success and happiness as a contributing member of the family group and as an adult member of society.32
In summary, it may be said that this view of the relation of blindness to personality development, espoused by the great majority of research psychologists and workers with the blind, denies that any single personality pattern is invariably associated with blindness, holding rather that individual responses depend primarily upon such variable, and modifiable, factors in the environment as the attitudes of parents and the community. The practical implications of this more optimistic explanation lie definitely in the direction of encouraging the modification of public attitudes and relationships toward the blind, and of fostering programs directed toward the greater all-around participation of the blind in society. The great objective of public understanding first among our seven organizational goals emerges in the light of this empirical evidence as not only necessary but eminently practicable; and along with it the erasure of false stereotypes and the establishment of our normality. The various specific programs of education and legislation, of rehabilitation and social security, are similarly supported by these findings as indispensable means toward achievement of the ends we have set for ourselves the ends of full equality, of unlimited opportunity and of total integration.
This, then, is the scientific evidence that underlies the growing structure of programs and services supported by the National Federation of the Blind. It is this evidence that finally gives the lie to the antique notions of inferiority and incapability which have surrounded the blind from earliest times. And it is this evidence that effectively refutes the reactionary thesis of the neurotic blind and its corollary of the neurotic public; for it asserts that there is nothing in the psychology of the blind which miscasts them for the role of equal partners with the sighted and that there is nothing in the psychology of the sighted which prevents their recognition of this demand. It would of course be premature as in scientific matters it is always premature to claim either that present knowledge is complete or that the achievement of integration will follow automatically from its publication. But it is not too much or too soon to declare, with all the conviction at our command, that the blind are capable of fulfilling the equalitarian destiny they have assigned themselves and that society is capable of welcoming them.
1. Paul A. Zahl, ed., Blindness: Modern Approaches to the Unseen Environment (Princeton University Press, 1950).
2. See Rudolf A. Dreikurs, The Social- Psychological Dynamics of Physical Disability. Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 4, No. 4 (1948), p. 42.
3. Op. cit. supra note 1, pp. 176-177.
4. Id. at p. 176.
5. Id. at p. 179.
8. Id. at p. 183.
9. Id. at p. 179.
10. Hector Chevigny and Sydell Braverman, The Adjustment of the Blind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950).
11. Id. at p. 148.
12. Id. at p. 149.
13. Quoted in Joseph Jastrow, Freud: His Dream and Sex Theories (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1932), p. 290.
14. Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York Norton Co., 1941), p. 294.
15. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (London: Hogarth Press, l946), p. 102.
16. Quoted in Jastrow, op. cit. supra note l3, p. 290.
17. Quoted in Franz Alexander, Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis (New York: Norton Co., 1948) p. 323.
18. Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth (New York: Norton Co., 1950), p. 377.
19. Freud, op. cit. supra note 15, p. 86.
20. Clara Thompson, Psychoanalysis: Its Evolution and Development (New York: Hermitage, 1950), p. 140.
21. H. S. Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry (Washington, D.C.: William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, 1947), p. 87.
22. Hans von Hentig, Physical Disability, Mental Conflict and Social Crisis, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 4, No. 4 (l948), p. 27.
23. Vita Stein Sommers, The Influence of Parental Attitudes And Social Environment on the Personality Development of The Adolescent Blind (New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 1944), p. 65.
25. Alfred Adler, Problems of Neurosis (New York: Cosmopolitan Book Company, 1930), p. 44.
26. R. G. Barker, Beatrice A. Wright, and Mollie Gonick, Adjustment to Physical Handicap and Illness (New York: Social Science Research Council, Bulletin 55, 1946), p. 84.
27. Id. at p. 85.
28. B. L. Diamond and A. Ross, Emotional Adjustment of Newly Blinded Soldiers, American Journal of Psychiatry, (1945), vol. 102, pp. 367-371.
29. Lee Myerson, Physical Disability as a Social Psychological Problem, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 4, No. 4, (1948), p. 6.
30. Roger G. Barker, The Social Psychology of Physical Disability, Id. at p. 31.
31. Sommers, op. cit. supra note 23 p. 104. See also Stella E. Plants, Blind People are Individuals, The Family, Vol. 24, No. 1 (March, 1943), pp. 8, 16.
32. Sommers, Id. at p. 106.
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