The ‘Prime Directive’ Delusion

 

Among the many fascinating tropes in the Star Trek fictional world is the Prime Directive in which Star Fleet personnel are barred from interfering with the development and evolution of alien cultures.

It is almost a perfect caricature of the self-image of the secular humanist liberal as a near-omnipotent, transcendent being high above the planet’s surface down where the innocent primitive types live untainted by the sins of modern culture and tech, protected against religious missionaries, crass commercial marketers and Western ideas.

In stark contrast, the United States of America was founded to be a beacon to other peoples and cultures and to show that democracy was possible and rightful. We are (or used to be, anyway) a living repudiation of the Prime Directive.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  -Declaration of Independence.

That paragraph applies even if the despot is the legal heir to a throne, anointed by a church, or claims the role of Caliph.

It was once widely held by Americans that limited elected government established to protect human rights was inherently desirable to all peoples.  Our bitter Fascist enemies in WWII (Germany and Japan) soon became highly successful free-market democracies as did every liberated nation.  The half of Korea we saved is vastly more free and prosperous than the part we did not.  Even after our defeat in Vietnam, those people quickly shucked central planning to move towards a free market economy.  The USSR fell and its satellites became democracies even if Russia itself has not.

Both presidents Bush assumed that liberal democracy was sought by Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan as had consistently been the case in the rest of the world.  They appear to have been wrong about that.   Islam may have a built-in immune system rejection of the philosophical and cultural premises of Western progress and freedoms.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Western intellectuals have been busy squeezing themselves into the tiny-brained binaries like oppressor/oppressed and “colonizer.” And many in the West now believe that the export of liberal democracy is an inherent injury to native cultures.  Even without a President Gore to effect a union with the United Federation of Planets, the Prime Directive is an integral part of the campus-induced mindset.

If Islam were a separate low-technology planet (with no large deposits of petroleum dilithium that might attract the interest of Klingons of Romulans and thus create a geopolitical issue) such that the West could take it or leave it as we floated safely above in our Galaxy class (or even Intrepid class!) starships, then the Prime Directive could be easily applied.  But the reality is that we all live on the same planet surface where there are no First Contacts yet to be made and cultural cross-influences are common.

The inapt use of the tiny-brained “colonizer” epithet hurled at Israel is the equivalent of the notion that Westernized beings should never have left the ship to disrupt the local primitives from whatever development path they were embarked upon.  The ultimate danger in this form of kneejerk support of violence against Jews is the narcissistic delusion of transcendent immunity, that once safely aboard the pose of moral and intellectual superiority whatever is done to those Western interlopers in Israel will not be repeated elsewhere, even in American cities.

The Islamic world is not noted for introspection or soul-searching after terrorist acts are done in its name nor for deference to moral guidance from Western intellectuals.  To the extent its developmental path (as would be recognized in the Prime Directive) entails continued attack on our values and very existence, the Prime Directive no longer applies.

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  1. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    And let the first comment be to decry the violation of both the Prime Directive and the laws of planet Edo, that Wesley Crusher was not turned over for execution.

    • #1
  2. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Support the Yangs’ struggle against the Coms. E plebniste!

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Support the Yangs’ struggle against the Coms. E plebniste!

    Technically that was an intervention to try to ameliorate Captain Tracey’s earlier violation of the Directive.  It is an open question whether Kirk’s recitation of the original text of the pledge of allegiance was violative.

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos: Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Western intellectuals have been busy squeezing themselves into the tiny-brained binaries like oppressor/oppressed and “colonizer.” And many in the West now believe that the export of liberal democracy is an inherent injury to native cultures.  Even without a President Gore to effect a union with the United Federation of Planets, the Prime Directive is an integral part of the campus-induced mindset.

    Speaking of academia, the latest issue of American Historical Review has a few prominent articles that tell histories showing how those tiny-brained binaries, as you accurately call them, don’t work. I started one this morning that’s about the Philippines. The fact that the authors need to make that point tells you something that you probably already know about their peers in academia, but the most effective correctives of those tiny-brained binaries are also coming from academia, sometimes even from young academics.  (Non-academic historians can join the American Historical Society and get the publications, so I’ve been paying the very reasonable annual membership fee for that category for at least 20 years now.  I haven’t renewed for next year yet, but I think last year it was about $60/year. But almost all of the articles and reviews are written by academics for academics.  Sometimes the wokeness masquerading as history seems to be taking over, but I’ve also found good stuff to read in every issue. And the reviews have led me to a lot of good books to read, so I stay with it.) 

    • #4
  5. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Western intellectuals have been busy squeezing themselves into the tiny-brained binaries like oppressor/oppressed and “colonizer.” And many in the West now believe that the export of liberal democracy is an inherent injury to native cultures. Even without a President Gore to effect a union with the United Federation of Planets, the Prime Directive is an integral part of the campus-induced mindset.

    Speaking of academia, the latest issue of American Historical Review has a few prominent articles that tell histories showing how those tiny-brained binaries, as you accurately call them, don’t work. I started one this morning that’s about the Philippines. The fact that the authors need to make that point tells you something that you probably already know about their peers in academia, but the most effective correctives of those tiny-brained binaries are also coming from academia, sometimes even from young academics. (Non-academic historians can join the American Historical Society and get the publications, so I’ve been paying the very reasonable annual membership fee for that category for at least 20 years now. I haven’t renewed for next year yet, but I think last year it was about $60/year. But almost all of the articles and reviews are written by academics for academics. Sometimes the wokeness masquerading as history seems to be taking over, but I’ve also found good stuff to read in every issue. And the reviews have led me to a lot of good books to read, so I stay with it.)

    My recent lunchtime habit has been to watch YouTube videos of the excellent Fall of Civilizations podcasts expanded into videos.  It includes empires I never knew existed and details of others that it was a pleasure to learn.  The similarities in the reasons for the rise and for the fall and the strengths and weaknesses of great leaders help dispel the myth that the rise of modern West was some unique event or evil that must be put in brackets.  It is also instructive to see the vast array of architectural, socioeconomic and engineering wonders that have never been limited to any one culture, era or race.  There are great things and flaws inherent in human nature that make silly race-based models useless on their face.

    • #5
  6. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Support the Yangs’ struggle against the Coms. E plebniste!

    Technically that was an intervention to try to ameliorate Captain Tracey’s earlier violation of the Directive. It is an open question whether Kirk’s recitation of the original text of the pledge of allegiance was violative.

    Does this mean I am depending on some Star Fleet officer to violate the directive to my America?

    • #6
  7. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    DonG (CAGW is a Scam) (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Support the Yangs’ struggle against the Coms. E plebniste!

    Technically that was an intervention to try to ameliorate Captain Tracey’s earlier violation of the Directive. It is an open question whether Kirk’s recitation of the original text of the pledge of allegiance was violative.

    Does this mean I am depending on some Star Fleet officer to violate the directive to my America?

    Only if we are dumb enough to forget the actual words.

    • #7
  8. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    America enacted its own sort of Prime Directive with regard to the American Indian in the late 19th Century. Anthropology was on the upswing and despite periods of rapid, successful assimilation in many areas, the unassimilated tribal peoples were mired in poverty, addiction, and bitterness over the long chain of broken treaties and trampled sovereignties. 

    Suddenly, the “enlightened” way forward was to reinforce the tribal traditions as being true to their people, and excuse the frequent poverty of educational support as relieving its victims from the threat of assimilation to the alien ways of the white man. Freeze them in time. And, of course, subjugate them under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The problem was, those “pristine” native cultures largely collapsed over the preceding centuries owing to the shock of contact with the white man and the resulting conflicts and disease exchange.

    Speaking with tribe members today, the key concern I have encountered is how to rediscover what that pre-invasion culture was. History only comes about once writing is adopted by a culture. In an oral culture, only what is transmitted is preserved. There is a Cherokee medicine book (ISBN 978-0-935741-27-8) that was painstakingly assembled at a time when it was still possible by James Mooney, a son of Irish immigrants who was enamored of Indian cultures and studied several tribes.

    These sorts of works were already late to the game, but they provide fascinating insights into the minds of men contending with nature and each other under very different conditions than we have experienced. Needless to say, even sympathetic accounts in our culture utterly fail to do justice to the depth and complexity of Cherokee thought and culture as presented by Mooney.

    The anthropological view of the issue was a response to frictions over the successful assimilation in some communities that was encouraged right up to the moment when Indian men successfully courted white brides in certain communities. It was cloaked as the “Science”, but the culture they were claiming to protect was a pale shadow of what came before. 

    • #8
  9. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    uddenly, the “enlightened” way forward was to reinforce the tribal traditions as being true to their people, and excuse the frequent poverty of educational support as relieving its victims from the threat of assimilation to the alien ways of the white man. Freeze them in time. And, of course, subjugate them under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The problem was, those “pristine” native cultures largely collapsed over the preceding centuries owing to the shock of contact with the white man and the resulting conflicts and disease exchange.

    A Jesuit historian giving a lecture about 50-some years ago said that the tragedy of the Norman-English invasion of Ireland was not just that they came but that they did not finish the conquest and bring Ireland into a much earlier trajectory of becoming a nation-state as the Normans did for England.

    Being half-conquered–no longer able to practice the old ways but not able to assimilate to the more efficacious ways of the conqueror is always a disaster.  

    Jane Jacobs talked about something similar.  In the late nineteenth century, mechanized farm equipment across the USA did the work of ten men.  But the nine displaced guys could move to the city to work in the larger economy that made those machines.  In the early twentieth century when mechanized farm equipment arrived in South America, those displaced nine guys had no comparable urban economy to move into and went into the forests to do slash-and-burn farming instead which was bad for the environment and generally impoverishing.

    Reservations were always a terribly half-a$$ed idea.  And with tribes of the Great Plains whose entire culture was centered on the white man having brought horses to North America, what is the definition/delineation of authentic culture.

    • #9
  10. BDB Inactive
    BDB
    @BDB

    Whereas ST was classically liberal, STTNG was always a Democrat shovel.

    • #10
  11. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    A Jesuit historian giving a lecture about 50-some years ago said that the tragedy of the Norman-English invasion of Ireland was not just that they came but that they did not finish the conquest and bring Ireland into a much earlier trajectory of becoming a nation-state as the Normans did for England.

    Being half-conquered–no longer able to practice the old ways but not able to assimilate to the more efficacious ways of the conqueror is always a disaster.  

    Wait a minute!  I thought you were against simple binaries.  And now you’re in favor of them?

    Jane Jacobs talked about something similar.  In the late nineteenth century, mechanized farm equipment across the USA did the work of ten men.  But the nine displaced guys could move to the city to work in the larger economy that made those machines.  In the early twentieth century when mechanized farm equipment arrived in South America, those displaced nine guys had no comparable urban economy to move into and went into the forests to do slash-and-burn farming instead which was bad for the environment and generally impoverishing.

    That’s an interesting observation, but the nine displaced guys who moved to the city and got good jobs there have also impoverished us in many ways.  Urban people now dominate our electoral system and vote Democrat. 

    Reservations were always a terribly half-a$$ed idea.  And with tribes of the Great Plains whose entire culture was centered on the white man having brought horses to North America, what is the definition/delineation of authentic culture.

    Reservations weren’t an idea.  They were negotiated.  They were part of the arrangements by which land wasn’t simply “stolen” as the brain-dead binaries would have it. 

    • #11
  12. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    And let the first comment be to decry the violation of both the Prime Directive and the laws of planet Edo, that Wesley Crusher was not turned over for execution.

    Ah, but it’s not just to enforce laws that are not known.  That’s Kafka-esque.  Or, Cardassian.

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  13. Globalitarian Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    I always thought the Prime Directive should have allowed for the importation of off-world antibiotics.

    • #13
  14. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Globalitarian Misanthropist (View Comment):

    I always thought the Prime Directive should have allowed for the importation of off-world antibiotics.

    Well, they were apparently allowed to interact with more primitive cultures as long as they didn’t reveal their true origin etc.  At least not widely, since – for example – Tyree knew the truth about Kirk but mostly kept it to himself, except for his treacherous wife.

    • #14
  15. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Globalitarian Misanthropist (View Comment):

    I always thought the Prime Directive should have allowed for the importation of off-world antibiotics.

    If the Federation’s Rich Guy Council at Davos thinks that primitive planet would be better off without its tiresome middle and lower classes, then no meds.

    • #15
  16. Al Sparks Coolidge
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Old Bathos:

    In stark contrast, the United States of America was founded to be a beacon to other peoples and cultures and to show that democracy was possible and rightful. We are (or used to be, anyway) a living repudiation of the Prime Directive.

    I’m not sure about that.  The manifest destiny era didn’t begin until 1812 when the country started to expand beyond the Louisiana Purchase (purchased in 1803).  The country was founded in 1776 (?) or perhaps 1783 (Revolutionary War ends).  I doubt that the delegates to the constitutional convention in 1787 thought in those terms.

    One of the first science fiction books I read was Galactic Patrol by E. E. Smith (first published in the 1930’s in the pulp sci-fi pulp magazines of the time, and no I’m not that old).  It was 2nd or 3rd in his Lensman series.  Basically the plot included higher beings, the Arisians, who influenced the human race in a very hands off manner, also helping them fight the Eddorians.

    So by the time Star Trek came around, I was already introduced to a variation of the prime directive concept.

    And I can understand the arguments for the prime directive when you look at the harm done to Native Americans and other primitive cultures which includes alcoholism that you still see today.  As mentioned above, the reservation system we have contributes to it.  But those primitive cultures don’t adjust without a lot of death including suicide.

    I can accept that the United States after 1812 was a repudiation of the Prime Directive, but that repudiation included subjugation of those primitive peoples.  I can accept an argument that in the long term, our annexing of the present United States was a good overall.  But we broke a lot of eggs to make that omelette.  And it would not have been a strong argument until the latter part of the 19th century that we were benefitting any other peoples beyond ourselves.

    • #16
  17. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Al Sparks (View Comment):
    One of the first science fiction books I read was Galactic Patrol by E. E. Smith (first published in the 1930’s in the pulp sci-fi pulp magazines of the time, and no I’m not that old).  It was 2nd or 3rd in his Lensman series.  Basically the plot included higher beings, the Arisians, who influenced the human race in a very hands off manner, also helping them fight the Eddorians.

    “Five Million Years to Earth” (aka “Quatermass And The Pit”) takes a different angle on that.

    • #17
  18. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    I always thought the Prime Directive was more of a sign of humility.   Don’t try to force people to follow your way of life.   In essence, is you want to be Gangster Planet, you can do so.   I don’t think you should force another society to adopt your culture outside of a war.

    • #18
  19. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    BDB (View Comment):

    Whereas ST was classically liberal, STTNG was always a Democrat shovel.

    Wasn’t the Prime Directive on TOS  really just a commentary on US involvement in Viet Nam?

     

    • #19
  20. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    I’m not convinced that Muslim countries are any more or less inclined to want freedom. The problem with bringing freedom to countries is that freedom is a fragile thing that must be planted in fertile ground, watered, fertilized, and tended carefully to flourish. It dies easily because freedom and self-determination isn’t our natural state, even if freedom is an unalienable right. Too often people will give up their freedom for the promise of protection, of security, or the appearance of calm. Freedom means that every person has to be responsible, while servitude means that responsibility is not required, just obedience. 

    We forget that what we think of as our normal civilization is really a thin veneer over lawlessness and chaos that erupts when the critical infrastructure of civilization breaks down. 

    • #20
  21. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):
    I’m not convinced that Muslim countries are any more or less inclined to want freedom. The problem with bringing freedom to countries is that freedom is a fragile thing that must be planted in fertile ground, watered, fertilized, and tended carefully to flourish.

    Agreed. The enthusiasm for this was real.

    • #21
  22. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Chris O (View Comment):

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):
    I’m not convinced that Muslim countries are any more or less inclined to want freedom. The problem with bringing freedom to countries is that freedom is a fragile thing that must be planted in fertile ground, watered, fertilized, and tended carefully to flourish.

    Agreed. The enthusiasm for this was real.

    Freedom requires tolerating differences, imperfections and having to compromise.  It also requires checks on uses of power and not looting public funds.  A wry comment by an Islamic commentator in one of the then-recently freed Soviet republics:  “Democracy is like toilet paper.  You use it once then throw it away.”  The idea of tolerating future challenges to the new regime in an ongoing natural state of democracy is a foreign experience and idea for many.  Recall the rage in the Bush White House (especially by Cheney) when our man in Iraq Ayad Allawi, who was set to win by a large margin, still cheated on a grand scale.

    There is also the religious notion that an ideal society is one in which a devout ruler has unchecked power to enforce shariah which ideal makes it hard to tolerate grossly imperfect rule and not welcome a strongman takeover.

    • #22
  23. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I always thought the Prime Directive was more of a sign of humility. Don’t try to force people to follow your way of life. In essence, is you want to be Gangster Planet, you can do so. I don’t think you should force another society to adopt your culture outside of a war.

    That’s part of it too.  But (according to certain parts of Star Trek) they found that even letting developing societies know that more-advanced technology etc existed, turned out to be distorting and damaging.  And if they actually gave some of those technologies to them that they hadn’t developed naturally on their own time, it was even worse.

    The “Enterprise” series was full of crap in several ways, but the episode “Dear Doctor” covered some of those issues.

    • #23
  24. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):

    I’m not convinced that Muslim countries are any more or less inclined to want freedom. The problem with bringing freedom to countries is that freedom is a fragile thing that must be planted in fertile ground, watered, fertilized, and tended carefully to flourish. It dies easily because freedom and self-determination isn’t our natural state, even if freedom is an unalienable right. 

    Except you’ve got islam saying the opposite.

    • #24
  25. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    A wry comment by an Islamic commentator in one of the then-recently freed Soviet republics:  “Democracy is like toilet paper.  You use it once then throw it away.” 

    And that other one, something like “freedom/democracy is like a train, you ride it to where you want to be, then you get off.”

    • #25
  26. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    I always thought the Prime Directive was more of a sign of humility. Don’t try to force people to follow your way of life. In essence, is you want to be Gangster Planet, you can do so. I don’t think you should force another society to adopt your culture outside of a war.

    I always that the humility was to not play God.  Peoples have to discover and make their own destiny while confined to their planet.  Let a 1000 flowers bloom!   Eventually all the successful planets discover warp drive and then are put under the thumb of The Federation. 

    • #26
  27. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Recall the rage in the Bush White House (especially by Cheney) when our man in Iraq Ayad Allawi, who was set to win by a large margin, still cheated on a grand scale.

    Yeah, it’s messy. Witness South America and its inability to free itself from corruption. Allawi had Hussein’s example, South America had the example of the Spanish who came to do one thing: loot. Thus are political cultures born and perpetuated until something interrupts the cycle, if it does. My point with the photo was the enthusiastic participation of the voters.

    • #27
  28. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Freedom requires tolerating differences, imperfections and having to compromise.  It also requires checks on uses of power and not looting public funds.  A wry comment by an Islamic commentator in one of the then-recently freed Soviet republics:  “Democracy is like toilet paper.  You use it once then throw it away.”  The idea of tolerating future challenges to the new regime in an ongoing natural state of democracy is a foreign experience and idea for many.  Recall the rage in the Bush White House (especially by Cheney) when our man in Iraq Ayad Allawi, who was set to win by a large margin, still cheated on a grand scale.

    There is also the religious notion that an ideal society is one in which a devout ruler has unchecked power to enforce shariah which ideal makes it hard to tolerate grossly imperfect rule and not welcome a strongman takeover.

    There is a concept of a culture of freedom of which the Liberal Democracy is the best example we have to date.  The rights of all are protected by rules and customs that protect the minority and the majority from an imbalance of power.  But…as you point out, freedom also requires that people feel that they have a chance at being in charge, or at least being left alone by those that are in charge.  That requires things like honesty from the bureaucracy and the politicians.  It is why corruption is so devastating to freedom and faith in gov’t.  Mexico is a wealthy nation by its population and natural resources, but the corruption that reigns in its gov’t has turned it into a third-world cesspool.  The lack of trust in the gov’t to “do the right thing” led to armed gangs taking over and providing basic services to ensure their illegal trade ran.  We see some examples of that in the US where gangs run the inner cities and people won’t cooperate with the police out of fear, and also because the gangs will take care of the problems (if the people are subservient to the gangs).  It is a reversion to a warlord system of gov’t which is extremely inefficient.

    The only way to actually build up that trust is to have it grow over time (years and decades).  The US took a while to settle into something that we would recognize today, and that took 8 years of George Washinton whom no one would gainsay.  It really didn’t settle down until after the 1824 election which was almost 50 years after the Declaration and 30 odd years after the Constitution.  Oh, and then 30 years after that we had a Civil War.  The idea that Iraq, or any country would be able to implement Liberal Democracies in 10 years is ludicrous and even 20 is short.  That would be absent the type of outside influence that was destabilizing them.

    • #28
  29. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Except you’ve got islam saying the opposite.

    That is partially because for Islam it is 1445 AH.  Think about what was going on in the 1440s in the Common Calendar, there were still crusades going on (Vlad Dracul wipes out the Ottomans as one example).  For the next couple fo hundred years, the Church would send out missionaries to convert the natives to the one Church because the concept of plurality didn’t exist yet.

    Yeah, Muslims should “get it”, but their religion is a few hundred years behind Christianity in development.

    • #29
  30. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Except you’ve got islam saying the opposite.

    That is partially because for Islam it is 1445 AH. Think about what was going on in the 1440s in the Common Calendar, there were still crusades going on (Vlad Dracul wipes out the Ottomans as one example). For the next couple fo hundred years, the Church would send out missionaries to convert the natives to the one Church because the concept of plurality didn’t exist yet.

    Yeah, Muslims should “get it”, but their religion is a few hundred years behind Christianity in development.

    But even after a few hundred more years, their holy book will still say to conquer the world, subjugate or kill the unbelievers, etc.

    • #30
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