Let’s Not Beat Ourselves Up: We’re Just in the Minority

The news of one of neoliberalism’s champions kicking the bucket has eventually trickled down to heteconomist land. Few keystrokes will be wasted here on that score other than to lament that she did not take neoliberalism with her. The truth is, she couldn’t, even if she’d wanted to. Why? Because it is widely embraced, and few will let go, present company mostly excluded, of course. Is this the fault of progressives? A failure of progressive “messaging”? I say we can spare ourselves the hand-wringing. For the time being, most people, in their actions at least, are nasty pieces of work. Yes, in our society nastiness is encouraged. The problem is systemic. Is this much consolation?

There was a reminder of this today in a comment by jrbarch:

I was in a ‘Human Services’ office the other day and all that I could see was an economic prison camp with a lot of hypnotised people on both sides of the counters. … I think If I had mentioned a BiG [basic income guarantee] I wouldn’t have gotten out of there alive! … I think people will have to revalue what is precious before any major changes can happen – and precious to the heart of a human being more so than mind or body.

Without meaning to be negative – scrap that, the negativity is fully intended – I doubt there is much prospect of the majority re-evaluating priorities any time soon. Maybe this is just the pessimistic outlook of someone living at the “arse end of the world” (the private and apt description of this nation by a former prime minister). Down here, it is obvious what the majority wants: more for itself, less for others, cruelty to refugees, meanness to the unemployed, intolerance, war on foreigners, wider inequalities of income and wealth, austerity, privatization of public utilities, more raping of the environment, dumbing down, “reality” television, and other crimes against the universe too numerous to mention.

Perhaps there is some kind of awakening occurring on the rest of the globe? I hope so. That would mean we at the arse end of the world would attempt to imitate it twenty years from now. Or maybe prospects are just as grim there as here, with neoliberalism as entrenched as ever?

Jim O’Reilly has a good post on a somewhat related topic of political groups seeking to “reclaim the center”. As far as I can see, those who claim the center for themselves typically value and push for greed, cruelty, and the various crimes against the universe partially listed above. As Jim notes:

There are few terms in our political discourse more abused than “the center”, having as it does the valuable connotations of being non-radical, reasonable, intelligent, and moral. It’s way past time we assign it a proper meaning.

I propose we consider political views “central” if they’re rooted in the real world and conform to the basic moral philosophies common to the major world religions and philosophical works.

Compassion, Schopenhauer tells us, is the basic center of morality and that view is widely shared in most religious and philosophical traditions. Veblen perceptively linked the brotherly love aspect of Christianity to the instinct of workmanship and its serviceability to the common good. Without getting any more philosophical, I think it’s reasonable to claim that compassion, brotherly love, and the common good are reasonable distillations of widely shared moral teachings and are therefore fundamentally centrist.

From what I can tell, anyone who attempts to live by basic moral teachings that are currently held up as mainstream (e.g., the teachings of Jesus, in the West), will be treated as an extremist by the same mainstream that professes to believe in these teachings.

The social objectives of progressives largely align with these mainstream teachings, compassion being central, and this must partly explain the hostility we confront. For the majority, these objectives are to be piously mouthed, never put into practice, in fact actively opposed if expressed through action. The social objectives themselves are not radical at all. Rather, most people’s lives are radically at odds with the religious or philosophical claims they make for themselves.

A basic income guarantee should be a no brainer in societies where government macroeconomic policy deliberately ensures some people who want a job will not be able to obtain one. It is radical to suggest otherwise.

But most people clearly do believe otherwise. Most of those in the middle class who have come under financial stress since the onset of crisis, and who may currently consider their situation unfair, evidently didn’t care about those who were in a similar predicament prior to the crisis.

For the past forty years the middle class has:

– voted for high unemployment on the understanding that it wouldn’t apply to them;
– were indifferent to the withdrawal of social safety nets for the dispossessed and marginalized;
– celebrated the liberation of money capital and enslavement of child labor;
– offered no critique of the Art of Modern Finance until it offended their aesthetic sensibilities personally;
– smiled on Western military aggression and extreme deprivation of the poor of the world, or turned a blind eye.

But now we’re meant to care that the Joneses might lose their McMansion in Shitsville, granny’s afraid of the scary immigrants, and uncle talks back at talkback radio.

When the suffering affects middle-class people directly, they suddenly discover a social conscience. But when they think the neoliberal policy agenda will leave them personally unscathed, their concern soon goes missing.

By the same token, if the positions of a poor person and a rich person were reversed, how quickly would the “values” and political positions of the two hypothetical individuals reverse as well? Probably, in most cases, pretty darn quickly.

My guess is that if it were up to the majority, things might well be worse for the poor than what the ruling class currently thinks it can push through politically. In all likelihood, the attack on personal liberties and the rise in recent years of police brutality against those who oppose the current social injustices through protest would be more – not less – extreme if the majority had its way. (On police brutality, it’s hard to go past this article from 2011: Read This Before You Protest: An Open Letter to Occupy Portland from a Public Defender. Hat tip to Antipas Ministries for this link.) There might well be more war, not less, more environmental destruction, more poverty, more bigoted foreign policy, harsher conditions on welfare recipients, and so on, if the majority had its way.

Most people were bigots in Jesus’ day, or Gandhi’s day, or whoever’s day, and most people are bigots today.

One view, as jrbarch discusses in his comment, is that all this is just a dream or illusion:

Where is the movement, where the rest on that shore?
There is no water, no boat; no oars-man there
There is not so much as a rope to tow the boat, nor a man to draw it
No earth, no sky, no time, no-thing is there: no shore, no ford!

There, is neither body nor mind: and where the place that shall still the thirst of the soul? You shall find naught in that emptiness.
Be strong, and enter into your own body: for there your foothold is firm. Consider it well, O my heart! Go not elsewhere.[Kabir]

[A]ll of you good folk treat [macroeconomics and the economy] as very real! I have been making some sort of attempt to bridge the two worlds but I can see it is impossible for me. It needs experience. Seen from the perspective of economics the above from Kabir would seem other worldly, ethereal. Seen from a place I know within myself it is perfectly straight-forward and substantial – the earth, humanity and the play we have enacted for ourselves ‘other-worldly’. Unreal in fact. Incredibly unconscious.

Maybe all this is just a game to see how low we are capable of stooping? Hitler and Stalin may be in the lead as we speak, with the neoliberals some way behind, but there is still at least a little time remaining on the game clock!

Whether it’s real or just an illusion, of course progressives should continue to defend and promote their basic values, which are broadly in line with what the majority claim to believe but deny through their actions. But I see little point in hand-wringing (though we do it so well!). The lack of social progress is not primarily due to the inadequacy of progressive efforts to promote positive change. We can be the change we want to see in the world, and we can try our best to encourage such change at the societal level, but the majority also has to come to the party if things are to get better for all the world’s people.

I don’t disagree with jrbarch that we can and should go within, and am open to the possibility that this is key to seeing through illusion, but a hungry person, or a sick or injured person, does not have much hope of achieving this before their basic needs and economic security are met.

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16 thoughts on “Let’s Not Beat Ourselves Up: We’re Just in the Minority

  1. “By the same token, if the positions of a poor person and a rich person were reversed, how quickly would the “values” and political positions of the two hypothetical individuals reverse as well? Probably, in most cases, pretty darn quickly.”

    Animal Farm.

  2. You’re right, Magpie. Plus, it’s the weekend!

    By the way, are we In Bizarro World, or are you just characteristically optimistic today? 🙂

  3. David Bohm developed the concept of physical reality being a super-analog of holographic imaging: the ex-plicated order over the in-plicated order.

    Assuming the concept is true, the question “Who am I in the in-plicate order?” and the suggested “How am I as the projector of the physical reality I am conscious of being in?” lead to the perception of how immense can the answers be and the possibilities of perception open to awareness.

    The idea of a “projector of reality” being the deep I or Self is very Leibnizean, as one easily remembers the monads. How many monads can exist? An educated guess would be an infinite countable number of monads. Each one is an I. What can Is do in their indestructible flow of perception?

    A very anthropocentric answer is to talk, to party together to explore the higher infinite number of products of monads perceiving the possibilities. Now, for this, good manners are required. Being an animal appears as a strong challenge or learning way for acquiring manners… Earth also a School…

    Also in a more adventurous way it could be the case that for one to get access to these super-powers, that can put an I truly as the master of her or his destiny getting a wide degree of choice of which physical and social situation one is in, good manners are required. That is one can understand good manners – liberté, egalité, fraternité – as an unlocking device of the super-powers produced by co-existence, interaction and concerted action in a space of augmented possibilities of entities that perceive.

    Finding oneself in a human social reality determined by a vast majority of apprentices of good manners, including trolls leading social policies and worsening manners, is a problem one can face. In the holographic model of monads projecting reality this finding can be interpreted as one being unaware of needed one’s capabilities.

    For example, it could be the case, among others, that one is not understanding and dealing in an appropriate way with trolling in the social realm. Trolling in the social realm, using one’s power to enhance one’s experience at the expense of other fellow humans, is akin to experimenting with, would I say it, the dark side of the Force. If one chooses the bright side, one must be aware and know the dark side. Fact is that the physical world does not distinguish good manners from bad ones, cooperative social behavior from pathological social behavior, construction from destruction. All of it can happen.

    If the physical world does not restrict the human social world in the sense above, then an advanced human world is built on expanded and heightened human awareness and consciousness. To attain prosperity, a social experience beyond the actual boring, reduced experience of struggling animal spirits, awareness is definitely required.

  4. Paulo, this is the history of human thought that extends back into the mists of prehistory in all cultures. There are two aspects of it. One is speculative and the other experiential. These are combined in those whose conceptual models are experienced based. Experience and understanding are combined two great methodological approaches, the so-called mystical tradition of perennial wisdom and modern science. These are now meeting on the field of knowledge in combined study such as transpersonal psychology and consciousness studies.

    This is the field of study in which I have specialized for over forty years, both experientially and intellectually. In fact, my master’s thesis, Revolution or Evolution? Toward a Theory of Social Change (submitted 1972), sought to show that social change is evolutionary, based a rise in the general level of awareness, also called the level of collective consciousness. It’s interesting that people writing on management at the time like Abraham Maslow and in economics like Kenneth Boulding were incorporating this ideas. These people were considered primary thinkers of the day and were extremely influential in the development of the counterculture.

    For those interested in the holographic model of consciousness-reality, see Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe (1991). There’s a gaggle of stuff now, but Talbot recounts the development of the idea at the time by physicist David Bohm and psychologist Karl Pribram.

    For a contemporary account of perennial wisdom asserted to be based on experience, see Meher Baba, God Speaks. This conceptual model breaks the perennial teaching out in terms of nested levels of consciousness, and it includes the Western, Sufi, and Vedantic terminology.

  5. ‘The King wonders what it would be like to live the simple life of the peasant, free from the burden of State. The peasant wonders what it would be like to live the life of the King, free from the burden of poverty. Both go to their death, bound head and foot’. [Probably Kabir ?]

    I would vote for any politician whose central policy was compassion and harmlessness – there would go a ‘real’ human being. Christ as I recall, called to himself the poor and demonstrated right human relations by feeding people and healing where he could. Buddha talked about the nature of illusion, dharma, and a path to the real.

    Our existence is real. The compassion within every human being real. It’s useless if just held in potential. Our behaviour decidedly Bizarro! Animal Farm!! (LoL)!!!

    Watch a body being lowered into a grave or burnt on a funeral pyre and you will know something about illusion.

    The thing is, you have to look within to be certain.

  6. @Peter,

    “By the way, are we In Bizarro World, or are you just characteristically optimistic today? :)”

    I guess sometimes even I, for brief moments, when no one’s around, feel sorta optimistic… But, let’s keep it among ourselves: don’t tell anyone… 🙂

  7. Today is Sunday, people!

    Let’s be happy and laugh for one day, at least!

    So, for your amazement and/or amusement, a gem I found over the net:

    “These underproduced goods are not seen because they don’t exist.”

  8. I am always fascinated by the types of discussion that ultimately come down to an outlining of the widespread moral decay, one could almost say, a cancer, that eats away at the body politic. This cancer has crept into the bones of the body and is loosening the nerve and muscle connections which can now no longer respond to the voices of reason. Ours is a society most in need of a creed to live by, complete with compass and map; we unfortunately, none of us, have neither. We are unable to stop the growth of the cancer and can only sit by and watch it destroy our world. We may espouse beliefs we hold dear but have no way to see them put into a place of action in the real world; in short we live in fantasy worlds built around glittering towers that house our moral virtues. The larger political world activated by arcane economies of destruction, in short, cares nothing for us-that is those who appear here today.
    One may look to leaders of the past, say M. Gandhi and Frederick Douglass for guidance. First to Douglass and I would urge readers to follow the link and read the whole speech wherein he castigates white abolitionists of the mid 19th century who wanted no truck with the freed slave they supposedly held in high esteem. These white latter day Abraham type patriarchs were in fact steeped in phoney aesthetics pertaining to so called decency and were offended by the rag-tag appearance of the freed slaves.
    From Douglass’ speech at Canandaigua, New York on August 3, 1857:

    “Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

    This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”

    http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress
    Strong stuff that, my thought is we need to, for those of us who want to take up the struggle, devise a plan for active resistance in a way that works no bodily harm to others -say by a national strike day where hundreds of thousands of workers in each of our 50 larger urban areas pitch a strike by taking to the streets on a work day instead of going to work. If 20 or 30 million were involved it would work a miracle

  9. Pete!

    A post by Nick Rowe where he gives one step back and one step forward. Without mentioning it, he is discussing Say’s Law, from a macro and a micro perspective.

    The macro bit drove me mad and I was about to do what I loath to do: to shoot from the hip; but the micro bit isn’t bad. Isn’t bad at all.

    Check Rowe’s post (“Saving isn’t a thing, it’s a non-thing. It’s a residual. It’s defined negatively, as not consuming part of your income.” [*]) and compare it with my latest.

    [*] http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2012/01/why-saving-should-be-banned.html

    In other words, Rowe admits (for the first time, if I’m not mistaken) that there is no automatic connection, let alone equivalence, between “not consuming” and investing.

  10. ORBIT
    In early April there was a series on ABC1 entitled Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey depicting the effects of the earth’s annual journey around the sun, and the tilt of the planet to its equatorial plane and daily rotation. Besides the wonderful graphics and satellite imagery the bit that I got was that (on average) we only have seventy laps around the sun. That’s not many!

    Every day at 1670km/hr (at the equator) we are on a gigantic merry-go-round, rotating through 40,075 km; travelling in orbit 940,000,000 km each lap at 107,219km/hr (30x faster than the proverbial speeding bullet). When you get up of a morning picture this and put your work day and concepts about life on that real canvas and laugh! What are we doing? Where are we really going? If you think of it as 25,550 days it sounds a little bit better – but then if you had $25,550 in your bank account you’re not exactly rich. What are we spending our $days on?

    For 14 laps you’re a kid. Probably that means you have a funny haircut, different clothes; and if you were a polar bear you would die your hair fluorescent green and violet. It takes another 14 laps to decide who you are and what to do with yourself. By the end of the next 14 you are in crisis mode because you still have no clue and hate your job. And for the last 2 cycles you spend complaining about everything to anybody who will listen while the senses and capabilities slip away.

    The documentary also reminded me of some chicken pens I once visited, at night. Switch on the lights and a thousand chickens stand up and start doing the chicken thing in extremely cramped quarters; switch them off and they all sit back down again and head off to sleep! It really reminded me of the sunlight, sweeping around the planet as the earth rotated – we are such busy busy busy little beings. For seventy laps mind you – then it’s all over, forever – (at least for that one personality that you and I are). The universes may come and go, but that one persona will never be repeated, ever – again. It was and each will always be, unique!

    King Yudisthira is reputed to have said: ‘the most wonderful thing in life is that every moment we see people dying around us, and yet we think that we shall never die’. There was never a love in this world which did not know decay except the yogis said, for one! This kind of stuff has been talked over for thousands and thousands of years. For 200,000 years human beings have come and gone on the face of this earth; wondered and wandered, billions and billions of us – each to disappear without a trace. Only the pigeons really care about the statues. The pyramids are restored to the desert, grain of sand at a time. The guys that wrote about this stuff a very long time ago had a word for this world – Maya!

    Maya
    The coffee cup you are holding in your hand is maya; the trees growing in your garden and the fragrance from their blossoms is maya; the lips of the loved ones you kiss are maya; the sweet new-born-babe cradled in your arms is maya. Your job is a part of that maya; your career is maya, your ego is maya – all of the mountains you may climb in this world are maya as are all of the pleasures and enjoyments you seek on the face of this earth, and the pains you need to avoid. These writers were very kind, very loving, generous and very intelligent men and women – what in the world were they doing calling everything maya?

    What they meant is that Nature is a veil over everything and that back and behind of the veil was the reality – even though both the reality and the veil came from the same source. That the nature of the veil was illusory in the sense that it was meant to fool you; and it does a wonderful job. It hypnotises people.

    For example, taking the coffee cup: the cup is only revealed first of all, because there is light. Light allows us to ‘see’ what is already there. The light rays bounce off the object, focus on the back of the retinae and create little electrical pulses that travel along the wiring to your brain centre. Up to this point there is no ‘vision’ – just the instruments of vision and physical energy at work. The brain (according to these old world yogis) then sets up vibrations in the finer and material mind stuff that creates the ‘picture’ of the coffee cup. Within the mind there are to one degree or another faculties evolved of intellect, discrimination and egoism which can process and react to the picture received – however beyond the mind, above the mind and detached from the mind, resident in even finer substance is the true Self of man: the calm, sentient Witness and Intelligence, Consciousness –who actually ‘views’ the coffee cup. If somehow somebody could substitute a beautifully red Gerba for the coffee cup in your mind, then that is what you would see. The yogi’s claim is to have slowed down these processes of perception frame by frame, to a rate whereby the whole process is perceived. The persona to them is a vehicle of the Self and the whole instrument, a part of maya. The desire of the Self in man is actually to rise, expand until it comes face to face with that Absolute principle out of which it has been made, whilst simultaneously building a bridge to the persona. Both persona and Self are to make an effort. The techniques the yogis devised were all aimed at teaching the persona how to sit quietly somewhere, relax focus and concentrate and break through the ceiling of mind to the Self, and from there ‘fulfil the quest of the heart’. The Self in its realm becomes aware that the persona is at last willing to make some effort, and reaches down helping to build the bridge; and reaches up to the Absolute helped by a teacher. Heart, soul, Intelligence, Self are all synonyms (in my understanding of these processes).

    A second technique harnessed the power of devotion and the love that arose in the heart of the aspirant, directed towards some longed for union with a faith established Divine. The energy was focused and once again used to break through the ceiling of mind to the Self. Other techniques harnessed mental, emotional, and physical forces and the energy of love to the same end. The Self was always the initial goal: then in Self-Consciousness the higher path was sought and taught.

    Persona
    The persona then, can be easily understood and interpreted in the light of the Self. For those personas on the face of this earth who seek power, it is because there is within them a Self who seeks to participate in the strength, shelter and creativity of the Divine. For those personas who respond more to the energy of love, around their feet their loves will one day lie forever shattered as the heart opens to the Absolute Energy to which all rivers of love flow (returning through them as the only love that is in the Universe that is actually free). They will love their loved ones again, but now no longer as beggars. For those that get caught up in the intellect, discriminative faculty and egoism, making hopefully useful studies of everything they see in the universe around them (including human consciousness) – one day will realise that Intelligence was actually in them, and when in combination with the energy of love Wisdom too. All desires, all loves, all knowledge and all creativity lead to the Self and from there to the Divine. For these old world philosophers and practitioners the multifaceted ever evolving kaleidoscope of culture and civilisation around the planet and the personalities that create them, all reduced to one simple principle in Nature – the Self and that which gave it birth.

    For them the world was a very simple place and they knew how deeply the effects of maya ran. Within each persona may be found a ‘feeling’ – a certain vibration and quality of energy that most of us call our ‘heart’. The heart longs for something and we know not what. The world has its formulas and promises – ‘a few golden balls are rolled through’ – and most chase them; but nothing seems to suffice. Walk down the aisles of the terminally ill at your local hospital and look into their eyes and you will ‘see’ that. Something is unfulfilled. To those who listened, who had a little bit of understanding and saw the reality of their conditional existence: who had faith in themselves and their capability and held a sincere desire to fulfil their thirst and understand their own nature – the yogis offered a rope by which through their own efforts these aspirants could haul themselves up to the Self. With each knot climbed, the presence of the Absolute, its Light and its Love were felt more and more and the aspirant encouraged by his own endeavours, until his heart burst asunder in the presence of the Divine. The teacher reminded and reminded and kept them safe and secure.

    World
    Such say the teachers, is the world today. As we do our individual 70 laps around the sun we need to remember that whatever we believe, life is very short. For those who assert Maya is all that there is then may they go peaceably and respectfully of others and the planet, with well-developed ethics and sensibilities. Unfortunately one can easily see that in the world of today many personas have grasped the wrong end of the stick of power, and are selfish and violent; greed is rampant. That minds, intellects, discriminative faculties, egos and desires are in confused conflict and probably will be so for a long long time to come (I could not even begin to guess how many laps)! However, this pursuit of the Self is still being taught in this world, and if one feels a sincere longing from their heart to know more, understand more and experience more – then demand creates its own supply: and the supply is actually Infinite so that is never a problem. The good thing about such a pursuit is that the persona learns how to trust itself first and foremost, work on its own understanding independently, and take one step at a time in its own time and under its own steam. There is no compulsion other than the dictates of learning how to listen to one’s Self. All is practiced in the daily life that you live – no need to give up your day job or join a monastery these days!

    Well, I just wanted to provide a little colouring and an alternative view to what is talked about every day on the economic blogs. peterc has been kind enough to allow me to make these comments on his blog now and again – sorry its been so long-winded: of course we must respect heteconomist does not have a category for spirituality – just Humour where all good spirituality should be filed. Often there are people wringing their hands and frustrated that although solutions are obvious, their implementations are not. I am definitely in favour of shifting the idea of money off-stage for a while and sorting out the resource distribution business first – people just need to understand that human beings create money and it is not a constraint? I don’t see why our earth should be turned into a factory, casino or blood-bath. I think we should get over expressions of pomp and glory, and primitive beliefs of what it means to be rich. That the ‘play’ of the persona should become real. I do think people need Peace – that dignity, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. That it is the Self (heart) alone that can bring sanity to egoism and the mind. However, that is just my opinion. Whatever happens we should try to enjoy each of those 25,550 days!

    After 200,000 years on the road, what is a human being?

  11. Nice song Will!

    To free the battery human is actually quite easy – (s)he just needs to become conscious, that’s all.

    If the desire to be free arises from within, then the best place to look for freedom is within.

    Looking out through our window (‘mind’) at the natural world we admire its beauty and its power; we ponder what would it be like to merge with Nature even though we already are. We wonder if this would set us free?

    Turning around and looking within through the same window, allowing it to become clear and still – feeling takes over. The heart is felt and through its pulses, its rhythm and song, its grace and magic, it is though a knotted rope is dangled down from above. Kabir climbed this rope and he too sang the songs of his poetry. The Universe was a different place.

    Even the ‘corporate’ world must one day become conscious – that’s my thought for ‘this fine morning’! 🙂 – because we too are a corporation …..

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