Re-thinking Spengler Part 1: Morphological Thinking

It must be more than ten years since I first read Spengler’s The Decline of the West. My recollection was that I found it a little tedious and that I skimmed through some parts while broadly agreeing with the ideas for which the book is most famous, almost all of which are, as the title of the book suggests, critiques of the current state of western society and culture. Most of those critiques have only become more perspicacious in recent times.

At the end of last year, I realised I needed to read Spengler again, mostly to work through a hypothesis that occurred to me while writing my Unconscious Empire series, which was that the modern West has been undergoing what seemed to me like a Magian pseudomorphosis. This idea contradicts one of the key components of Spengler’s own analysis which is that what is really going on in the West is that we are entering the Civilisation phase of the cycle, the final transformation before “death”. 

So, I used the Christmas break to re-read Spengler and in this series of posts I want to address some of the major themes that occurred to me, including the idea that we are in a Magian pseudomorphosis (spoiler alert: it’s complicated). By coincidence, 2023 is also the 100-year anniversary of the publication of the combined edition of The Decline of the West (originally published in 1923). So, what better time to re-evaluate one of the great works of historical analysis.

From a personal point of view, the big change in mindset I have gone through since first reading the book is exactly the one which Spengler describes in the introduction and which forms the core of his critique of modern history as a discipline and the new method of history which he proposes. I have been calling this mindset symbolic or archetypal thinking but Spengler refers to it as morphological analysis. We can distinguish this approach from the default mindset of our culture known to all and sundry as simply “science”. Science looks for cause-and-effect relationships while the morphological approach looks for structure and pattern.

Long-term readers of the blog would know that it was corona which really got me into archetypal-thinking especially through the works of Carl Jung and then Jean Gebser. So, in this sense, reading Spengler for the second time has been far more intense and also far more rewarding as I’ve been able to compare the paradigm I have been using against Spengler’s. I now have a far more precise picture of where I agree and disagree with Spengler and I’ll be sketching that out in later posts.

In any case, the tools of the job are the same whether you’re doing Spenglerian, Gebserian or Jungian analysis. We summarise them as follows using Spengler’s vocabulary:-

ScienceMorphological Analysis
Cause and EffectForm/pattern, Morphological Analysis, Archetypes (Urphänomene)
Logic/CognitionIntuition, Comparison, Empathy, Instinct
Space, Matter, LifeTime, Destiny, Death
“Hard Science”“Humanities” (“soft science”)
Pretty much everybody elseGoethe, Spengler, Gebser, Jung, Nietzsche (sort of), Gregory Bateson, Systems Thinking (esp. Weinberg)

When Spengler criticises the historians of his time (as well as the psychologists) he is accusing them of the category error of applying the methods of the hard sciences where they don’t belong. Corona provided us with a perfect example of this exact error and so we can use it as a way to elucidate the distinction between the two ways of thinking.

It is the Destiny of all living things to die. The pattern, or morphology, that this takes for a person is so obvious that we never need to spell it out. But let’s do so here for the sake of argument: you’re born, you come of age, go through middle age into old age and eventually die. That is the archetypal pattern in a stable society, although obviously death can come earlier for a variety of reasons. This pattern or archetypal way of thinking about death leads us to statements of the obvious like the older you get, the more likely you are to die. Nevertheless, over the last 3 years, such statements of the obvious were completely disregarded in favour of “science”.

Science wants to know about causes and so the cause of death becomes the primary bit of information. But what is the meaning of cause of death when the person dying has 5 co-morbidities and is 85 years old? According to the “science” way of thinking, the cause is all important. Somebody was alive, caught a cold and then died. Ergo, the cold is the cause of death. According to the morphological way of thinking, the cold is irrelevant. The person is at the end of their archetypal life-journey and something is going to do them in. If it’s not a cold, it will be something else.

In a world where causal, “scientific” thinking dominates while archetypal or morphological thinking is no longer acceptable, these most basic facts of life and death are ignored. That’s what we saw during corona. Ironically, even the broader facts of “science” have become irrelevant.

Consider this. Over the past 3 years, the median age for somebody in Australia to die “with covid” is about 3 years older than the median from all causes. In other words, on average the people dying with a positive covid test are older than those dying without one. Taking this statistic at face value, we should all want to get covid. We’ll live longer.

How did we end up in a society which commits such basic errors of understanding? The answer to this question can be found in another question: why did morphological or archetypal thinking become verboten in the West? The answer lies with WW2 and is therefore tied up in the Hitler Complex I wrote about last year.

It was the German-speaking countries that were at the forefront of the morphological approach and Spengler is a prime exponent. That approach had roots in German romanticism and it was the language of German romanticism that the Nazis used for their propaganda. Concepts like destiny, race and fatherlands, all discussed in intricate technical detail by Spengler, were used as propaganda by the Nazis. To this day, anybody who gets themselves into the public sphere and so much as hints at these kinds of ideas can count on being smeared with those most terrible of labels “far right” or “fascist”.

Thus, even Spengler, who called the Nazis “idiotic” and foresaw that they would bring disaster to Germany, got tainted by association. So did Nietzsche. Jung was pushed aside for Freud (who was in the “hard science” camp) while Gebser and his milieu were merely forgotten about in the chaos. The result is that we now live in a culture that is in active denial of almost all the elements in the right-hand column of the table above and this denial is present not just in the general culture but even more in academia and among the “elites”.

Of course, we should acknowledge that the thinkers referred to above really did get caught up in German romanticism. Even Spengler, with his hard-nosed scepticism, cannot help but declare his new method to be the last great historical task of Faustian civilisation before it dies a heroic death at the hands of fate. He also projects the archetypal romantic concept of the misunderstood genius onto the “Faustian soul”. Nobody in the future will understand us Faustians. That is the cross we must bear.

In fairness, Spengler would not shy away from this judgement. He assumes that all “real cultures” are not understandable by other cultures and his invocation of a prime Faustian archetype is not a problem within his framework. Maybe he’s right. But the sceptic in me can’t help but be wary whenever the language of romanticism creeps into a scholarly work.

Unfortunately for Spengler, it is the same language that Hitler would later use and so the challenge can be levelled against Spengler that Dostoevsky, through the character of Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov, makes against the whole romantic movement; namely, that when a scholar’s words are put into action by a lowly scoundrel like Smerdyakov (who is not at all dissimilar to Hitler) and horrific outcomes ensue, to what extent is the scholar responsible? Looking at the last years of Spengler’s life, I wonder if that thought didn’t cross is mind as he watched the Nazis rise to power. (Spengler died of a heart attack in 1936).

A hundred years later, with a fuller understanding of what happened next and watching the current madness of our own time, I think we should be able to see that Spengler, Nietzsche, Jung and Gebser really were on to something and that what they were onto might be just what we need. Certainly now would be a good time to do that since our society seems to be descending into a similar kind of madness to the Germans of the early 20th century. If the Germans were obsessed with the right hand side of the table, we have arrived at blind worship of the left. Either way, we’re massively out of balance.

To finish, let’s apply the distinction between science and morphological analysis to elucidate the problem of corona and pandemics in general.

There are 3 different disciplines involved in the analysis of a pandemic: virology, epidemiology and medicine.

Virology, in theory, belongs in the “science” camp. I say in theory because science is all about cause-and-effect and the cause-and-effect relationship between a virus and a purported disease has only ever been weakly shown. If we believe the latest research, there is no necessary cause-and-effect relationship between being “infected” and getting sick. At best, it is nothing more than a probability distribution and that probability distribution changes over time both for the individual and the population. Think of it like a game of poker only the cards you hold in your hand are constantly changing so that you never really know with any certainty what the probabilities are.

Interestingly, this was an issue that Spengler noted was creeping into science even during his time. He talks in his book about how the “hard” sciences were becoming more probabilistic. That’s even more true of virology. We really are scraping the bottom of the cause-and-effect barrel.

Medicine is another discipline that would claim to be in the “hard science” camp and yet, especially in relation to nursing and personal patient-doctor relationships, it has always had a strong humanitarian bent. Nevertheless, our technocrat overlords are doing their level best to remove all humanity from medicine and reduce everything to tests and pharmaceutical interventions. Even if they succeed (and God help us if they do), medicine inevitably deals with the human body, one of the most complex systems in existence, and any pretense of “hard science” is just that, pretense.

With epidemiology, things are much clearer. It is definitely not a hard science as it does not deal in cause-and-effect but simply looks for patterns of disease and death. Thus, it falls into the morphological analysis category. Epidemiology is completely reliant on virology to provide it with accurate infection statistics and medicine to provide it with accurate disease and death statistics. If these statistics are wrong or noisy, any patterns that epidemiology finds will be meaningless.

With these considerations in mind, here is how our general culture/official narrative would categorise the 3 disciplines involved in viral disease:-

Hard ScienceSoft Science

Personally, I would draw it like this:-

Hard ScienceSoft Science

What this means is the viral disease and pandemics are to be understood using the elements in the right-hand side of our table.

Viral disease and pandemics are a function of Time and Destiny. Any individual’s likelihood of dying from all causes, including respiratory viruses, increases as they get older and/or as their general health deteriorates. All of the copious data collected during corona has done nothing more than affirm these simple statements. The people dying were the elderly and those who were already in poor health. These results are exactly what we would expect from basic intuition and all the data in the world hasn’t added anything to this basic understanding.

What all this amounts to, of course, is common sense. And here we have an important point which Spengler would probably disagree with but which seems true to me. Morphological thinking is founded in our basic intuitions about the world including common sense but also empathy and compassion. All the so-called compassion we have seen during corona has been completely fake. In truth, genuine empathy and compassion has been missing in action.

This is not surprising when we go back to our table and realise that the right-hand column, which includes the concept of empathy, has been systematically removed from our culture. The post-war loss of the humanities and the blind worship of “science” has had the effect of creating the society around us which is more and more lacking in basic empathy and compassion. Hence, the people who wish death on the unvaccinated. Hence, the people who wish death on those who follow a different political party or any of the other craziness we see on an almost daily basis. It’s actually the quite logical outcome of having erased an entire mindset of understanding from the culture.

And so here is another reason to rescue the lessons that Spengler, Jung and Gebser have to teach us: so that we can reconnect with empathy and compassion. This is also why it’s so important to see beyond the language of German romanticism because that language was explicitly masculine with a grandiosity that made it so easy to apply to military adventurism.

The irony is that two of the prime exponents of that language style, Spengler and Nietzsche, were not especially masculine men. They were both sickly recluses, unmarried, living alone on small pensions. Both died young in their mid-50s. In addition, they had both clearly cultivated the (feminine) trait of empathy to an extremely high degree. That is a mandatory requirement to do morphological/archetypal analysis.

Were they simply compensating for lives devoid of what we might call everyday masculinity? Was that what was behind the grandiose, heroic language? Maybe. But it’s also true that both men, and Jung too to a lesser degree, were following the archetypal Faustian man which includes Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and, of course, Faust. It’s what I like to call the Hyper-Masculine. In the next post, we’ll unpack it in more detail.

24 thoughts on “Re-thinking Spengler Part 1: Morphological Thinking”

  1. Another excellent post, Simon. By coincidence, or perhaps not, I was writing something along the same lines, although dissimilar in many ways. It may appear on “The Seneca Effect” in the coming weeks. The common thread is that compassion has disappeared from our world. Strange to see in what desperate condition we reduced ourselves. There are to be reasons for that, maybe…

  2. Ugo – thanks. I look forward to reading it. As the saying goes – great minds think alike 😛

  3. You have hit the nail on the head regarding the romantic language. This to me is one the primary reasons this book, along with Nietzsche and Junger is intellectually ‘banned’ for many people.

    I think it actually has much to do with making something entertaining for the reader. These German thinkers were big on style, and if the book didn’t have it what was the point. It contrasts markedly with the plain language of much British based analytical philosophy.

    As we have discussed before, the most life changing thing about this book for me was how it opened my eyes to what I thought was rock solid is not, and that there were multiple ways of looking at reality, even something as seemingly universal as time. There is plenty to critique in Spengler’s super rational and potential dangerous 19th century understandings of plants and animals, his bombastic tone and the lethal danger inherent in his schema in the wrong hands (it’s fate for me to squash you like an insect).

    But the ability to at least attempt to understand that the way we see the world is not universal, that all our supposedly solid foundations are built on our unique cultural experience and others might see things differently, is something that has immense value, if only to us here and now.

  4. Skip – my first exposure to that style was reading Nietzsche at uni, which is a bit like learning to swim by being thrown into shark-infested waters. It seemed to me obvious that Nietzsche was “doing it on purpose” as a didactic technique and I still think that’s true but it leads to a big problem because you have to try and sort out which parts Nietzsche means literally and which are traps he is laying for you.

    Now, if Nietzsche were alive, you could just ask him “what did you mean by this”. But he’s not. And so, this is largely a problem of textual interpretation (which was Nietzsche’s expertise – philology). But even if he was alive and he gave an answer, we can still say “yeah, but you’re just projecting the shadow” or whatever. So, what happens is you get into a infinite regress where the “truth” is not contained in the meaning of the words but is a function of the acting of looking for truth. But that function can be applied endlessly leading to an infinite regression. So, there’s an infinite number of interpretations. How Faustian!

  5. Indeed, Nietzsche is the ultimate at making you question if he is, to use a blunt Australianism, taking the piss. There is sly smile behind every aphorism.

    Spengler critiques the romantics (including Nietzsche) pretty heavily in Decline of the west so he was aware of all the issues but obviously preferred to write in a similar style. Perhaps it’s a German thing, and via translation just has a certain feel to us native English speakers.

    It certainly makes it more fun, and I think it is important to the best writing. Can you imagine Mcarthy’s Blood Meridian without the biblical style?

  6. True. In the best writers/thinkers, the style is inseparable from the work. Sometimes it backfires, though. I couldn’t stand Peter Carey’s “True History of the Kelly Gang”, for example. Grammar might play a role here too. I can’t think of anything written in English that comes close to Hegel for sheer turgidity. I wonder if native German speakers find Hegel to be as indecipherable as he is in English translation.


    “CERTAINLY, Nietzsche was not a philosopher in the strict sense of the word. He is essentially a poet and sociologist, and above all, a mystic. He stands in the direct line of European mysticism, and though less profound, speaks with the same voice as Blake and Whitman. These three might, indeed, be said to voice the religion of modern Europe — THE RELIGION OF IDEALISTIC INDIVIDUALISM. If it were realised that his originality does not consist in an incomprehensible and unnatural novelty, but in a poetic restatement of a very old position, it might be less needful to waste our breath in the refutation of theses he never upheld.

    It is true that we find in his work a certain violence and exaggeration: but its very nature is that of passionate protest against unworthy values, Pharisaic virtue, and snobisme, and the fact that this protest was received with so much execration suggests that he may be a true prophet. The stone which the builders rejected: Blessed are ye when men shall revile you. Of special significance is the beautiful doctrine of the Superman — so like the Chinese concept, of the Superior Man, and the Indian Maha Purusha, Bodhisattva and Jivan-mukta.”


    “The New Idol
    Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.

    A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.

    A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”

    It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.”

    For Nietzsche, State=Corporation?

  9. Zarbarzu – yes! But this is one of the main bits of evidence that justifies my hypothesis that we are in a Magian pseudomorphosis.

    Nietzsche’s Antichrist is arguably the purest denunciation of the Magian from the point of view of the Faustian that you could write. Nevertheless, Zarathustra is a prophetic work and even takes the name of one of the primary Magian prophets. Thus, what Nietzsche considered to be his most important work was written in the guise of a Magian prophet complete with biblical tone. This is just one of many examples from that time. Jung turned to alchemy later in his life but alchemy also belongs to the Magian. These developments in the intellectual sphere coincide with the obsession with “the Jews” in the general culture. But that obsession is larger and seems to be with the Magian (the occult revival is yet another example of the Magian in the general culture of the time).

    What is German romanticism if not a Magian pseudomorphosis?

  10. So is what John Michael Greer expects to be the foundation of a future North American great civilization – individual liberty – what you’re describing as Magian, of the non-pseudomorphotic kind?

    And yes, Hegel is stultifying if read in German, too.

  11. Michael – the technical meaning of pseudomorphosis in Spengler is that there must be a young culture “growing up” under the form of an old culture. Thus, the hypothesis that we are in a Magian pseudomorphosis assumes there must be a new culture trying to find itself. This obviously contradicts Spengler’s position which was what was happening was a transition of the Faustian from Culture to Civilisation.

    One way to reconcile the ideas is to posit that the transition from Culture to Civilisation includes a kind of reverse-pseudomorphosis where the forms of another culture are incorporated back into the dominant Culture. This is exactly what happened in the Classical which took on Magian religious and social forms during its Civilisational phase. If true, this would mean that both Classical and Faustian culture incorporated the Magian in the transition to Civilisation.

    For modern day North America and Australia, which were already under a Faustian pseudomorphosis, this would mean a double pseudomorphosis i.e. a layer of Magian over the top of the Faustian.

    Interestingly, if some force were really, really trying to prevent the emergence of a new culture, layering on old cultures over the top to try and “smother” it would be one way. Starts to sound like the Devouring Mother at work 😛

  12. Simon – ‘5 co-morbidities’? You really made me laugh. Though of course it’s common. Or more than 5. And a lot of them would be side effects from medications. Re cause being all-important – for me this connects w/ the mainstream medical mindset that sees all abnormalities as pathologies to be treated, w/ normalisation the objective (over & above quality of life). Re being smeared w/ the ‘far-right’ label, when the Covid vaccines hit the market, the leftist press started popping out articles linking new-age values & practices (alternative health etc.) to Nazi Germany. I’ll be fascinated to see how you relate the Hyper-Masculine to the current fashion for indeterminate gender. 🙂

  13. Indeed; it would explain the repetitive boredom that forays into a Second Religiosity exude.

  14. Shane – from memory, the average number of co-morbidities a person has at death is 3. Given people die with covid at an older age, they probably have more 😛

    Michael – I wonder if the second religiosity can be a different religion from the one that gave birth to the culture. My recollection is that Spengler believed they should be the same but maybe any old religion will do, even blind faith in “progress”.

  15. Are pseudomorphotic phenomena perhaps what’s within reach of a declining civilization? Are they “solution machines”, exoskeletons employed at ever greater speed once decline accelerates, only to evaporate once solid ground is reached?

  16. The base case for pseudomorphosis is an emerging culture trying to break free of an older culture that has been overlaid on top of it. So, it might be clearer to have a different concept for what happens when a culture is transitioning to civilisation and adopts the practices of a different culture.

  17. And yet the older culture’s patina is what gives it its name, not the new wanting to break free.
    That’s what I meant – a pseudomorphosis is always at hand, whether as a vestige for a more vigorous culture emerging from beneath it, or a crutch for one declining in health.
    If you want to separate the two terminologically, I’m all ears 🙂

  18. Am glad to see this analysis/de-bunking and suggest you may find Darren Allen , on Self and Unself, etc of interest. The usurpation of life by “hard scientists” is the huge enemy of living, especially since, so far as “our” world is concerned, they and their political/economic colleagues rule, distorting language and undermining common sense. As Humpty Dumpty knew, words are powerful as a weapon of control.
    Since the “soft scientists” have , through positivism, been seduced in numbers [ I think of too many celebrity historians, for example] we need to be aware of pseuds everywhere, of course.
    Westerners have been educated well beyond their intelligence/ humanity.[cf.Illich}
    I tend to think that other “civilisations” are also bereft of valid “morphological” pointers.

  19. David – thanks to the reference to Darren Allen. Hadn’t heard of him before but he sounds right up my alley. It’s an irony of history that the “soft sciences” got infected by physics envy at just the same time that physics, through quantum mechanics, started to question the most basic presupposition of “hard science”: cause-and-effect. A prime example of enantiodromia!

  20. Just to add a personal note to Spengler et al . I attended a lecture by Arnold Toynbee at the University of Melbourne in, I think,1956. His “challenge and response” formula for how history unwinds seemed to me a productive idea, closer,perhaps,to an English tradition than the German and other European schools,with their huge weight of philosophical romanticism , if not culminating in, at least flirting with nihilism.
    It is worthwhile, I consider, for those interested in historiography to read at least the two-volume summary of A Study of History. Without prejudice [!] one might argue that Toynbee’s substantial contribution to thinking joins what is a gentle strand in the national psyche, eschewing the less desirable , hysteria-inclined varieties both in the “English” schools and in too many of the “continental”. Australians of my generation,that of Pilger and Greer were, I think/like to think,fairly open to a reading of history and life which owed much to prevailing decency and humankindness.Not so much to “ideology “, “metaphysics ” or the ether.
    It is quite dismaying/appalling to observe how low someone like Rupert Murdoch has tried to drag popular “taste”- as,I understand , even Prince Harry has seen.
    What’s that got to do with Spengler etc ? Well, Toynbee wrote of how every advance in the technology of arms has been accompanied by a decline in “civilisation”. A fertile thought which I have had in mind for , well, close to 70 years !
    Those who aspire to “weaponise” thinking and words [check etymology of “polemics”] and who are often cheap, sad hate-mongers are no doubt as bad or worse than anyone who actually pulls the trigger.

  21. David – good points. Toynbee is close to the top of my reading list now that I’ve gone down the history rabbit hole 🙂

    It is noteworthy that Spengler speaks very positively of Britain, mostly in the political and legal realm. I think Edmund Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution is still the best summary of the problem of grand ideals and inflammatory language. I wonder if Britain’s more laid back attitude is simply due to the relative political stability that it enjoyed (obviously not without a lot of bloodshed beforehand). It had the luxury of being able to tweak and tinker (and that tweaking and tinkering gave birth to the Industrial Revolution too!)

  22. Simon, you may wish to investigate a relatively new [ that is, to me, perhaps wider too] “debate” on what the English Establishment labelled “The Glorious Revolution”. I would not presume to question the relevance of this to subsequent developments ,even down to our days. However, the relatively new phenomenon of academic “productivity” raise its head here, as, probably, almost everywhere where the post-graduate flocks are convinced that eternal revisionism is a duty and a bread-winner.That is not a gratuitous, condescending throwaway, but a reflection of a real[“post-modern”] trend .
    Spengler’s view of “Britain” [always, imho, vital to identify “England” as the super-power , sole arbiter in the game] sounds like that of, say, Voltaire . One inevitably , or almost inevitably, tends to approach the study of other states/peoples with one eye on one’s own , so that complicates constructing “balanced” views of the Other.
    I would hope to see , before I snuff it, an “in-depth” study of the English Tories since, well at least the”Glorious” Revolution- the time they were created and of their “Whig” competitors/colleagues. The combined influence of these Great and Good has been, imho, a huge,possibly unequalled factor in the Decline of The West , since their malign, if not always manifest destiny has been to lead us to where we are today -that is, the whole world , not just “The West”, which has dragged other peoples down to its sad level and , possibly definitively, has ensured that “resistance is futile” anywhere.
    For Spengler, looking at the tragicomic mess of Weimar and impressed, no doubt by the superficial gentility of many leading Englishmen [Mr Baldwin, Lord Halifax etc] Britain may well have seemed a rather decent sort of place.
    I wonder if he had read Marx and Lenin on the British Empire?
    As for Burke, I’d stick with the assessment that he pitied the plumage, etc. Even in his day,that is, Burke’s stance was inhuman. That is not, of course, to absolve the Revolutionaries of all “excesses” {cf.also the Bolshevik Revolution ,from its inception facing British etc intervention}
    There is a good case to be made,I believe , for close analysis of the term “stability”,which sounds “positive”as a value; and secondly, to consider whether the ruling class and especially its intellectual gatekeepers [ “guard-dogs” the French would say] are astute enough to construct their public image to suit what they perceive as likely to be acceptable to the general public. Thus, the English ruling class [incredibly] gets away with an image of “fairplay” , such as the English hoi polloi expect of their leaders [the Scots, Welsh and Irish are less easily fooled,I think , as were many Australians a half-century or more ago].
    Naturally,these matters of “national identity” are a minefield, the more so the less one looks at the socio-ecomomic picture .
    On “tweaking and tinkering ” , I suggest a close look at the hey-days of enclosure.

  23. David: well, you’ve opened up several cans of worms there ;). No doubt powers corrupts and the media is there to cover up for the fact. I suppose what I see in the English is a relative (emphasis of relative) lack of ideology compared to “systems” such as the legal system and the entrepreneurship of the industrial revolution. Of course, it all causes existing structures, including social ones, to break down but it may be as Kenneth Clark said that Europe’s ability to “re-invent” itself (destroy and rebuild) is the defining thing about it.

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