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Where Do You Get Your Morality?


thebeesknees
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I think that the religious nutjobs may have a point-without a god, does there still exist an objective moral standard? Perhaps it's 16 years of being steeped in Catholic morality, but I'm confused. Without god, how do I decide to be good? What is good? For awhile, I found solace in hedonistic utilitarianism-happiness is the only intrinsic good, so we must seek the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. And I get that. But why is it good for me to make other people happy? Isn't morality simply a social invention?

 

I find everything I just wrote repulsive-as a deconvert, my conscience about silly things has evaporated. I'm no longer ashamed to question everything. But I still have a strong conscience that physically pains me when I feel I've done wrong. There has to be some sort of moral standard-I just need to find it.

 

nick

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The question about where morality comes from troubled me for a long time after I deconverted.

 

I don't claim to be an expert, but here's where I am right now.

 

First, religious claims that god provides them with absolute morality are bogus. Religious people do not agree on morals, and there are often gray areas for the morals they claim to hold. For example, is slavery moral? For centuries many christians claimed that it was since the bible says nothing against it. Today, most christians would say that slavery is immoral, yet there is nothing in the bible to base that on. The bible tells slave owners to be good to their slaves (not to set them free.) Modern christians hold slavery to be immoral because general society has progressed to that point. Is it moral to tell lies? Most christians would tell you no, maybe based on the commandment against bearing false witness. Yet, most American christians would be ok with an American spy lying to gain intelligence for their nation. Christians claim to have clear and absolute morals from their god, but in practice that isn't the way it works.

 

Secondly, I think each person (atheist or otherwise) comes up with morals on their own and there are no absolutes. Most of us use empathy when determining what is moral and what is not. We know how it feels to be lied to, hurt emotionally or physically, have our property stolen, etc, and so we know how other humans feel in the same situations. In general, most of us feel that we should avoid harming others and that's the basis of our morality. When we disagree on morals, we have governments and other societal institutions to work out compromise. And, we have laws and law enforcement to isolate people who don't share the same moral standards (such as murders, thieves, etc.)

 

Good luck working through it all.

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Here's a start for you, thebeesknees:

 

Absolute Morality: Does It Exist?

 

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?

 

TexasFreethinker made some good points. Morality is natural and human-based, contrary to what religion teaches. Without sentient beings, with their feelings of empathy and vulnerability to suffering and death, morality would not be possible. It is how we treat one another, rather than what a god expects. A god has no feelings or vulnerabilities.

 

Christians are moral for the same reasons Ex-Cers are. They just imagine a god dictated everything.

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Guest Valk0010

The only true absolute moral code we have is don't do harm, how that is applied is where we get different societies and culture, and those cultural only developed they way they do in reaction to outside influence.

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Texasfreethinker makes a good point: EVERYBODY has a different set of morals. Morality has shifted and changed over time. There are no absolute morals. There are moral values that seem to have persisted over time and across cultures, but the reason for that is more plausibly explained by similarities in human cognition and social behavior than by positing an invisible, immaterial, transcendent being that nobody can confirm.

 

Moral values seem to follow the same course as human language. Indeed, morality is carried and expressed through human language. There is no absolute language with nouns , verbs, adjectives and grammar rules existing independently "out there" in the mind of a god and emanating out to human kind so we will always know what to say.

 

Languages are human structures deeply rooted in our cognitive abilities as a species. They change, adapt, expand and blend as human cultures come into contact with one another and engage in dialog, negotiations and the sharing of ideas.

 

When somebody violates the rules of language, we know it. If somebody says, "I ain't got no coffee to save my ever-loving life," most people will cringe because they know intuitively that a value rule in language has been violated. The consequences may be minor. Who cares if someone says, "Ain't got no?" The Rolling Stones made millions by singing "Can't get no satisfaction." Some people can get away with such blatant violations of language rules. But others aren't so lucky. It might cost them in respect, inclusion or even career opportunities if they don't learn to speak appropriately for a given situation.

 

I think of morality as a structure that can easily be overlayed on language structures. As social primates, we have had to learn how to interact in mutually beneficial ways to insure a sense of order, stability and a basis for inclusion. This has gone on for at least couple of million years. As humans developed and as human societies became more widespread and complex, moral systems changed , adapted, expanded and blended. The basis for moral developement in societies is the same as with language. As human cultures come into contact withone another and engage in dialog, negotiation and the sharing of ideas, we develop rules for right and wrong, good and bad behavior and acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

 

Some moral "truths" or "rules" seem so prevalent that it may seem like there is something called "absolute morality." But I believe those basic, almost hard wired moral truths are intuitive and not handed down by some force or entity that exists independently of the human race. Just like most of us know "Can't get no satisfaction" is horrible grammar, most of us know that murder, stealing, child abuse and a number of other moral no-no's are horrible wrongs because those values have been affirmed and reinforced in various ways for millenia.

 

Now, notice this about morality as well. Read the next few sentences:

Some people can get away with such blatant violations of moral rules. But others aren't so lucky. It might cost them in respect, inclusion or even career opportunities if they don't learn to behave appropriately for a given situation.

 

Notice how the sentences in bold are taken almost verbatim from the sentences about language above (almost in bold). What is true about language is also true about morality. Failure to follow moral rules can be costly, extending into imprisonment or even death.

 

I used to think there was an absolute standard about the English language known as the Grammar book. But there are many grammar books - and they don't always agree. In fact, when I was a kid I thought the grammar books from which I was taught were "The Rule" or "The Standard." But as I matured, I realized that grammar books just represent a snapshot of language rules at a particular point in time. While it might be preferred to have one Standard grammar book, the assertion of such a standard is a convenient fiction for those who want to control the propagation of language rules.

 

Few people realize this about language. Fewer still seem to realize this about morality. While many have chosen to write about the rules of morality, there is no one "Rule" or "Standard" for moral behavior. At best "Holy Books" are a snapshot of the moral landscape 2000 or more years ago. More realistically, they are impediments to real thought and dialog about right and wrong. It may be preferable to have a "Moral Standard," but the reality is we have always gained access to moral knowledge through our upbringing as a child and our interactions with other humans.

 

I would say 1) trust yourself to find the right thing to do 2) don't ignore your moral training from childhood, just grow beyond it and improve upon it 3) continue to engage in dialog with a diverse range of people about substantive moral issues and 4) tread carefully. Your moral decisions - even the ones you feel most strongly about, can have broad repercussions.

 

I don't believe the hard part of morality is in knowing right from wrong. For most situations, that is a piece of cake. I believe , because of item number 4 above, moral courage is what most of us need to concern ourselves with developing.

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I decided when I deconverted three years ago to keep most of the Christian rules (obviously just the ones that weren't about god) as my de facto moral code while I worked out what I really believed in. Whatever didn't pass the logic/common sense test went out the window. Most of those were about sex. I also accepted that lying, stealing, and other "absolutes" weren't always wrong

 

It's kind of a two sided question, of course. Where morality comes from and where it should come from aren't the same thing, contrary to what we believed. A lot of it comes from those in power trying to keep those under them in line. The better part of it comes from wanting to be a productive member of society. If you don't do it for the latter, you get shunned and ostricized for it.

 

I have a certain fondness for those who have treated me with kindness in the past. I want to do things that help ensure that kindness will continue, More importantly, I want to treat others the way they treated me, so I can earn the same respect. For me it just comes down to one of the things Jesus was actually right about, if he indeed said it -- treat people the way you want to be treated.

 

I think what both ends have in common -- rulers forcing their will and ordinary people following the golden rule -- is that the element of morality is our attempt at making the kind of world we want to live in. It's not that there actually needs to be someone "holy" enough to decide the rules, people just made up gods to act as figureheads for what they wanted. The persuit of morality should be aimed at keeping the best interests in mind of as many people possible so they in turn will make whatever contributions of their own they're willing to make, so everyone will benefit. Those that threaten this goal by hurting people should be shamed, punished, and if the case is extreme enough, removed from society.

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But why is it good for me to make other people happy?

 

Because you are a human being and your brain enjoys the whole process of reducing the suffering and hardships of others in your species. Just accept it and don't kill yourself making excuses and wondering about why you might want to start acting amoral. It's more trouble than it's worth.

 

I got my humanist morality from Lao-tze, Buddha, Voltaire, Jean-Jaques Rousseau and Noam Chomsky...air mail delivery. But mostly from Sunday school classes.

 

However...all the Christians who taught me ended up being hideous hypocrites...and after their Church left me to go on a sadistic war, corruption, bullying and pedophilia binge, I just kind of stuck with the program. Go figure

 

Cheers

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Not believing the god myth doesn't change one's character. Good people are still good people and assholes are assholes, before and after.

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I think I am becoming weary of the word "morality" because it seems so weighed down with connotations I associate with overly religious people. I'd rather contemplate and cultivate virtue. Virtue strikes me as being a more encompassing concept. Among the things I think are virtuous is the capacity for compassion, the ability and willingness to empathize with another living being's suffering and actually share the feeling of it.

 

I don't believe we need rules to be moral. I think we just need to have the imagination necessary to remove ourselves from the center of the universe and genuinely try to experience things from the perspective of others. When we can do this consistently I think moral behavior will flow naturally from new understanding.

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I don't believe we need rules to be moral. I think we just need to have the imagination necessary to remove ourselves from the center of the universe and genuinely try to experience things from the perspective of others. When we can do this consistently I think moral behavior will flow naturally from new understanding.

Nicely said.

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This reply might be a bit redundant, but.... There IS NO objective standard of morality. All systems of morality are rooted in subjectivity. Hopefully, most people agree that the root assertions of a system of morality is the subjective opinions that all human life is good and enjoyment of life by all is good. One can then establish that the goal of a system of morality is to produce the greatest amount of enjoyment for mankind. Then, one could possibly devise an objective set of rules that best achieves this goal.

 

Of course, everyone has their own ideas about how to achieve this goal. Everyone has their own ideas about how to balance their own happiness with the happiness of others. And what makes some people happy does not make others happy. While it might be theoretically possible to create an objective set of rules to accomplish a goal based on a subjective assertion that human life and happiness has value, in practice, this is impossible. Even if it were possible, it would not be an objective standard of morality, because it's root goal would still be based on subjective assertions.

 

Even if god did exist, there would not quite be an objective standard of morality. god's supposed system of morality is based on the supposed subjective opinions of god. And to follow them, one would have to have the subjective opinion that what god says is good and anything that contradicts god's word is bad. Is flying an airplane into a building full of people good? It might be to those whose morality is based on the subjective opinion that doing god's will is good and at the same time believe that it is god's will that they fly a plane into a building. The subjective roots for the systems of morality for the religious and the non-religious are different, so it makes sense that such systems of morality conflict.

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Whose morality are we to use for a base, Jerry Falwell's or mine, or those of someone in the mid east? The best rule for morality is to fulfill all of one's obligations and do not impose one's self upon another person that interferes with their pursuit of happiness. Peaceful coexistence is always preferable over enforcing laws that only protect religious beliefs anyway. When someone starts pointing their knuckles at someone else, they are usually preaching their religious beliefs concerning behavior. No one cares. Live life without causing harm to someone else.

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Live life without causing harm to someone else.

 

Sums things up quite nicely.

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Without god, how do I decide to be good?

 

Why does it take a diety to inspire you to do good? Do you need the fear of punishment or promise of a reward to force you to live as another says you should? You were told what to do and how to act according to the "church" for the self preservation of the church.

 

The mantra of, give that which you wish to recieve, works no matter its origins.The key is to OWN your actions and be willing to take the rewards of your behavior.Not measure yourself by the standards of a cult. :grin:

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree with what everyone brought up, question is though why do you (OP) need god to decide on morals? Every moral decision is fraught with gray area and uncertainty. There's really no moral rubric or guide other than some basic values like don't do harm or the golden rule I suppose. It certainly makes a number of decisions more complicated because you can't flee to a religious textbook anymore. But that's what makes it a good thing, because now we are thinking about our own moral choices and not letting them be dictated by a deity or clergy...

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think that the religious nutjobs may have a point-without a god, does there still exist an objective moral standard? Perhaps it's 16 years of being steeped in Catholic morality, but I'm confused. Without god, how do I decide to be good? What is good? For awhile, I found solace in hedonistic utilitarianism-happiness is the only intrinsic good, so we must seek the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. And I get that. But why is it good for me to make other people happy? Isn't morality simply a social invention?

 

I find everything I just wrote repulsive-as a deconvert, my conscience about silly things has evaporated. I'm no longer ashamed to question everything. But I still have a strong conscience that physically pains me when I feel I've done wrong. There has to be some sort of moral standard-I just need to find it.

 

nick

My view of morality is...the best I can call it, subjectively objective.

 

I say that because, all my view of morality is experiential. This is pinpointing to me, and humans as a species as a whole. When we do something, there is a response and thus we learn from the response. We have been around for awhile now as a species so we have an evolving and changing moral perspective as we become more aware.

 

You know what is good based on what we have learned as a species. If you are searching for something to validate what we have learned as a species beyond our ability to become more aware...I can't help you there because that's a question I don't play that hypothetical exercise.

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It took me forever to work out morals outside of Christianity, but I'd never had any strong ones as a Christian either.

 

Christianity does not provide an absolute morality no matter what it claims. Christianity gives you a list of rules and claims that they are a moral absolutes; that the version of morals you get from other humans who claim to be speaking for God is The Right Thing and will be Good For You. So, as a strongly pattern seeking animal, I tried to figure out what the base moral rules were that all these specific "God given" rules were derived from. I figured this would help me determine God's will when I hit the grey areas that the Bible did not address specifically. But I was never able to find a self-consistent system of morals there, and I discovered that the claims of "these rules will work best for every human" were false.

 

After deconverting I was able to admit to myself that many of the rules that Christians pass off as a moral system were unworkable or just wrong, but I had nothing to replace it with. I fell back on my innate empathy and the idea of "do no harm". Except, I forgot to apply the "make people happy" and "do no harm" to myself. I never came out to my family because it would hurt them, and my entire moral system was "make people happy". Even in the utilitarian sense, my family is several people and I am only one person, therefore the "greatest good for the greatest number" means I should lie and be miserable so they could be happy.

 

As you can guess, that was unworkable. I started talking to a friend of mine who's been an atheist a lot longer than I have about where he gets his morals from, because he really has a strong sense of morality and is consistent about it (even if I don't totally agree with his moral system). I discovered a few things: one, that figuring out morality is a lot of work, two: the only thing we have to go on is empirical evidence, three: like math, as some point you have to make some starting assumptions, and four: sometimes there is no good answer, or you have to make compromises. My friend, for example, derives his morality from a strong sense of the right of individuals to self determination. The golden rule to him is about not interfering with others' rights. I, however, have a strong sense of... communalism, of a need to actively contribute to the whole. To me, the golden rule is about fulfilling this primary moral obligation. I almost derive my sense of individuality from my sense of, uh, communalism, because it's unfair to others to expect them to take care of you, therefore you should be a strong individual so that you can contribute more than you take. I eventually decided, based on the experience of multiple emotional breakdowns, that being responsible for myself really ought to have equal moral weight to being a contributing member of society since not being responsible for myself makes me a drain on society. But, uh, that leads to a lot of conflicts. If my friend needs emotional support and so do I, when should I say "sorry, I can't deal with this right now" and fix myself, and when should I put off dealing with my own needs to care for someone else? There isn't a single answer to that question and there never will be. Life isn't that clean. But at least by thinking through the issues and having some idea on what basis I'm making these decisions, I can choose to either take care of myself or delay that to care of someone else, with a relatively clear conscience. And if the decision I make turns out to have unintended negative consequences, I add that to my empirical knowledge about how people/the world works and try to make a better choice next time. So I figure that up until I die, I will be frequently updating my moral rules based on my experiences, and using my default assumptions to direct those changes closer to my ideals. If I ever deciding I have all the answers and quit learning from my mistakes then I'll probably end up accidentally making immoral choices that hurt people.

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Just to add my bit, As I do not believe that there are any gods at all - then you have to ask where did morals come from anyway? The only answer left is us, developed and changing over time.

Therefore there is no problem. The only issue left is for societies to become rational about this and work out what is necessary for society to function at its ideal.

I look forward to the day when we throw religion out of all debates and political decisions, and work on the best solutions using rational and logical thought.

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Where do you get your morals?

 

Costco. Cheaper by the gross.

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An it harm none,

Do what ye will

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  • 3 weeks later...

There are no objective morals. The closest you can come is shared subjective morals. Even basic tenants like like not harming others and equal rights are subjective because they stem from a subjective moral conclusion that the rights and well-being of others are equal to your own. There have been many caste societies within which the rights and well-being of a higher class has more weight than those in a lower class. Is such a system more or less moral than equality? Most of us, including myself, would say that this is less moral, but we are biased since we already practice equality.

 

I guess I view morality as an evolutionary process. There are no ideal forms. There is only what works in a particular time and place and that is constantly changing. Even within those parameters there is an enourmous potential diversity in what there COULD be, but what you have is usually just a variation on what came before.

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  • 2 weeks later...
There has to be some sort of moral standard-I just need to find it.

 

Yoga is a rational non-religious system to acquire peace and happiness of mind.

They have their own moral codes called yama and niyama.

 

All the do's and don'ts in the yama and niyama are aimed at achieving the goal of enlightenment, of perfect happiness.

Most of the morals in religions resemble yama and niyama in some way or another although the rational behind the morals is absent in religion and so people feel they are being imposed promising damnation for those who don't or won't follow them.

 

It would seem the goal of yoga is a type of selfishness, but the opposite is true, it is all about expanding or losing the small self and embracing selflessness more or less the same as in buddhism.

 

 

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There has to be some sort of moral standard-I just need to find it.

 

Yoga is a rational non-religious system to acquire peace and happiness of mind.

They have their own moral codes called yama and niyama.

 

All the do's and don'ts in the yama and niyama are aimed at achieving the goal of enlightenment, of perfect happiness.

Most of the morals in religions resemble yama and niyama in some way or another although the rational behind the morals is absent in religion and so people feel they are being imposed promising damnation for those who don't or won't follow them.

 

It would seem the goal of yoga is a type of selfishness, but the opposite is true, it is all about expanding or losing the small self and embracing selflessness more or less the same as in buddhism.

I'm going to enjoy conversations with you. Good to have you on the forums.

 

I guess I would say that the goal is not some external standard to follow, but some internal state to achieve. That internal state guides and governs external actions. A heart full of love cannot act contrary to love. The do's and don'ts lists are really more cautionary guidelines and best practices to not interfere with that growth or development into that state. There are not judgment tools of worth, rather more like saying if you want a healthy, fit body, to eat potato chips, french fries, drink beer, watch T.V., and never exercise will make you fat and not healthy. Likewise if you wish to attain a state of higher love, you need to set aside obstacles that distract you or work against you in finding that in yourself.

 

The thing is, Love, is creative. It acts in creative ways, and cannot be defined by or achieved by a adhering to prescribed book of actions. It is natural and flowing and comes from within to without, from without to within in an ever manifesting circle of Life. That cannot come from a list of do's and don'ts, but by achieving that internal state which becomes external reality. Anything that works against that Goal, is to be avoided or overcome. That's your standard. To move beyond self to becoming Self. It's an internal standard.

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The thing is, Love, is creative. It acts in creative ways, and cannot be defined by or achieved by a adhering to prescribed book of actions. It is natural and flowing and comes from within to without, from without to within in an ever manifesting circle of Life. That cannot come from a list of do's and don'ts, but by achieving that internal state which becomes external reality. Anything that works against that Goal, is to be avoided or overcome. That's your standard. To move beyond self to becoming Self. It's an internal standard.

 

I agree that the do's and don'ts would become almost automatic when you are already more or less established in the mode of "creative Love".

But it is my own experience that people are forgetful and will let their weaknesses get the upper hand when they are not reminded where these weaknesses may lie.

 

Of course the goal itself is not to stick to do's or don'ts.

As you said they should best be the natural automatic external expressions of that internal state. But they may help remind you how this internal state, when not yet achieved or fully lived, becomes easier to achieve by not getting side-tracked by limited goals.

 

For instance it is much harder to direct your mind to a desired point if it keeps getting side-tracked in running after ever more material possessions or if that mind gets too much tied up in other types of limited desires.

You may say that when your love for that desired limitless goal grows ever bigger, you will automatically lose interest in limited things, but that may not always seem so easy. Inspiration always comes and goes in waves is my experience.

 

And the most important two of the yama and niyama have not so much to do with what you actually do or don't do, but focus on how you perceive your own role in what you do or don't do.

These two are in fact exercises in mysticism, exercises in the mystic approach to life leading to the liberation of the small self.

The other eight do's and don'ts automatically follow from the two main ones.

The do's and don'ts should not become goals in themselves, they are just aids along the way.

 

For instance one of the yama's says that you should always speak in the spirit of benevolence, with the idea of helping or protecting others. If your love for others is already part of your whole being because you have realized that your Love cannot be divided or should not be limited in any way, then you will automatically do that.

But if you have the weakness that you tend to hurt certain people by your words, then you need to be reminded that this will hinder you yourself also in a spiritual way.

 

Religious people will say that God said that you should never lie.

But what if you are hiding a refugee and someone wanting to harm that person rings your doorbell and asks if you are hiding someone in your house?

Will God be on your side if you tell the simple truth and the refugee is taken away to a concentration camp because of your action of sticking to your religious rule?

I think you are right, not the literal following of do's and don'ts is important but the spirit behind them.

In religion however the rules themselves become tools to judge and condemn people by.

I think this is because in religion the goal is not well understood or pursued.

 

What I like about the historic Jesus is that he fought against the mentality that rules should rigidly be followed without properly understanding their deeper purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

But why is it good for me to make other people happy?

 

Like it has been said, morals are objective to the individual. But, we are selfish, selfish creatures. We evolved that way to survive. It is natural for me to want to care for my children, family and friends because I need them to help me through life and to continue my family into the future. This caring is love. This love gives us good feelings.

 

The more our cultures have expanded outside of our little groups, the more we developed the need to rely on outside sources. And therefore our love and empathy has expanded globally now.

 

It is only the restrictions on that love through the oppression of empathy for cultures that are different from what we understand or believe in that causes immorality. Morality cannot be absolutely defined. But belief in harmful ideas does promote immorality where it didn't exist before.

 

 

 

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