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Inalienability of the self

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Wheylous Posted: Sun, Jun 17 2012 9:50 AM

According to standard AnCap theory, the self is inalienable.

Why?

Next, the reason you can't have voluntary slavery is because of this inalienability, right?

What voluntary slavery entails is the ability of another party to legally use physical force on you.

If the self ought to be inalienable, then you cannot grant the legal power to someone else to use force on your body.

Yet if this is so I don't see how we can have heart surgeons or rescue teams.

Am I confused?

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:29 AM

It's the inalienability of the will.  You cannot transfer your will to anyone else in the sense that no one else can control your body and your thoughts.  Inalienable literally means "non-transferable".

Voluntary slavery is a messy business because libertarians don't all seem to agree on what it even means.  Some libertarians say that because you cannot transfer your will, then you cannot truly become a slave of someone else.  The decision to follow or not follow orders is still your own.  Some libertarians say that you can still legally transfer your rights to another.  I think the disagreement stems more from definitions and semantics than anything else.

When you agree to heart surgery, you are not alienating your will.

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Rothbard goes into it in Chapter 19 of EoL:

Let us pursue more deeply our argument that mere promises or expectations should not be enforceable. The basic reason is that the only valid transfer of title of ownership in the free society is the case where the property is, in fact and in the nature of man, alienable by man. All physical property owned by a person is alienable, i.e., in natural fact it can be given or transferred to the ownership and control of another party. I can give away or sell to another person my shoes, my house, my car, my money, etc. But there are certain vital things which, in natural fact and in the nature of man, are inalienable, i.e., they cannot in fact be alienated, even voluntarily.

Specifically, a person cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own will and person, and he is, if you wish, "stuck" with that inherent and inalienable ownership. Since his will and control over his own person are inalienable, then so also are his rights to control that person and will. That is the ground for the famous position of the Declaration of Independence that man's natural rights are inalienable; that is, they cannot be surrendered, even if the person wishes to do so.

Or, as Williamson Evers points out, the philosophical defenses of human rights:

are founded upon the natural fact that each human is the proprietor of his own will. To take rights like those of property and contractual freedom that are based on a foundation of the absolute self-ownership of the will and then to use those derived rights to destroy their own foundation is philosophically invalid.

Hence, the unenforceability, in libertarian theory, of voluntary slave contracts. Suppose that Smith makes the following agreement with the Jones Corporation: Smith, for the rest of his life, will obey all orders, under whatever conditions, that the Jones Corporation wishes to lay down. Now, in libertarian theory there is nothing to prevent Smith from making this agreement, and from serving the Jones Corporation and from obeying the latter's orders indefinitely. The problem comes when, at some later date, Smith changes his mind and decides to leave. Shall he be held to his former voluntary promise?  [...]

 

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What if I sign a contract with someone giving them permission to whip my body any time I don't do what they want me to? I wouldn't be alienating my will in such a case. If you're saying that alienating the will is what is required by slavery, then you're saying that slavery has never existed...

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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gotlucky replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 8:54 PM

FotH,

I think you should reread what JJ and I have posted.  I'll requote myself, but JJ's quote of Rothbard is probably better:

gotlucky:

It's the inalienability of the will.  You cannot transfer your will to anyone else in the sense that no one else can control your body and your thoughts.  Inalienable literally means "non-transferable".

Signing a contract with another does not alienate your will (your control of your body and thoughts).  You alone still maintain control over your body and thoughts.  

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Exactly. It doesn't exclude what most people mean by slavery. Rothbard's point is that slavery is impossible, not that it is unethical.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Fool on the Hill:
Exactly. It doesn't exclude what most people mean by slavery. Rothbard's point is that slavery is impossible, not that it is unethical.

One more time:

"Hence, the unenforceability, in libertarian theory, of voluntary slave contracts."

 

I'm sorry, where was it again that Rothbard even implied "slavery is impossible"?

Christ if you're going to try and argue you people could at least avoid straw men.  But then again, I guess that's all you have when you're wrong.

 

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Rothbard's point is that slavery can only be done through aggression and that one's will cannot be voluntarily be contracted away.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 9:54 PM

As JJ was saying, Rothbard and other libertarians are talking about why slavery is unenforceable in a libertarian context.  Rothbard is not saying that it is impossible, just that it is immoral.  Slavery has to do with law.  It is either legal or illegal (it can depend on certain contexts, such as private slavery is illegal in America, but public slavery can be legal in certain instances).  For libertarians, slavery should be illegal in society except perhaps in the cases of indentured servitude regarding restitution to victims (maybe there is another).

But slavery in general should be considered illegal.  Let's take a specific example: military slavery.  Not only are we against consription, but we support the ability to "desert".  Soldiers should be allowed to quit their jobs, but it is currently illegal for them to do so.  We are against this.  Perhaps there could be clauses in their contract that state that they are liable for whatever should they desert in the field (perhaps), but that soldiers cannot quit even if they are not in action is wrong.

Also, ThatOldGuy put it well: it has to do with the fact that you cannot even voluntarily alienate the will.  Enforcing slavery means using aggression, which libertarians are against.

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John James replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:04 PM

Nope!  Rothbard says slavery is impossible!  You lose.

 

 

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:07 PM

John James:

Nope!  Rothbard says slavery is impossible!  You lose.

Is that directed at me or FotH?

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John James replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:11 PM

I think I was channeling foth at everyone.

 

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ThatOldGuy replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:14 PM

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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gotlucky replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:25 PM

Good, because otherwise them's fighting words!

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John James replied on Sun, Jun 17 2012 10:33 PM

I thought the video made it obvious frown

 

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Sorry if this was said before.

So it seems to me one of these two things are being claimed:

1) Selling yourself into slavery is impossible by definition, because slavery implies coercion.

This would seem to be an issue of semantics, though I think the point is absolutely correct.

Or

2) An individual somehow cannot enter a "slave contract." 

This would make no sense to me at all unless it was arrived at via the reasoning in (1).

EDIT:

Just read through the thread. Can someone define slavery here? If I consented to 20 years of servitude, in which the terms explicitly stated that I subject myself to coercion at any attempt of mine to break the contract, is that slavery? Is that immoral? Is it antithetical to self ownership? I think answering yes to any of these questions disputes self-ownership itself.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Jun 18 2012 1:17 AM

NonAntiAnarchist:

 

1) Selling yourself into slavery is impossible by definition, because slavery implies coercion.

This would seem to be an issue of semantics, though I think the point is absolutely correct.

It's not that it isn't impossible.  Slavery is a legal institution.  It's just that slavery requires not only force, but aggression, and therefore cannot work with the NAP.

So, technically, there could be instances of slavery which are in fact in line with the NAP (i.e. indentured servitude).  It would just have to not violate the NAP.  So, forced resitution through indentured servitude could be in line with the NAP.

NonAntiAnarchist:

 

2) An individual somehow cannot enter a "slave contract." 

This would make no sense to me at all unless it was arrived at via the reasoning in (1).

So long as the "slave contract" is in line with the NAP, it is valid.  Indentured servitude is a better name for this than slavery, as slavery has far more negative connotations than indentured servitude (not that indentured servitude doesn't have any).

NonAntiAnarchist:

 

EDIT:

Just read through the thread. Can someone define slavery here? If I consented to 20 years of servitude, in which the terms explicitly stated that I subject myself to coercion at any attempt of mine to break the contract, is that slavery? Is that immoral? Is it antithetical to self ownership? I think answering yes to any of these questions disputes self-ownership itself.

Well, slavery is involuntary servitude.  Indentured servitude is entering into a contract where one works for another and both have certain obligations.  If you read the link, I think you will see a key difference between the two and I will quote the first line:

Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture.

Indentured servants and their masters both have certain contractual obligations, whereas slaves and their masters do not.  So, if we take your example of entering into 20 years of servitude, we have to ask ourselves what is the relationship between you and your master.  If it is a slave relationship, then as libertarians, we have to reject that as legitimate.  The only way for your master to assert his ownership of you would be through aggression, and that would violate the NAP.  If you enter into some kind of indentured servitude for 20 years, then it depends on whether or not you can break it.  Historically, people entered into indentured servitude as a way to pay off a debt.  If the indentured servant were to break the contract, they would actually be guilty of theft.  Historically, at least in the American colonies, the debt was typically regarding passage to the colonies.  Someone would pay for your travel, and you would pay off this debt as an indentured servant.  If you were to quit before your time is up, then you would be stealing some amount of their money.

So the question really depends upon how one enters into servitude and the particulars of the contract.  I think it's really confusing how Walter Block keeps referring to "indentured servitude" as "voluntary slavery".  Perhaps I'm misreading him, but I think it would make a lot more sense if he distinguished between "slavery" and "indentured servitude".  Not doing so just creates needless confusion.

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So it is a semantic issue, no?

I used the term "slave contract" because I lacked the sufficient alternative that "indentured servitude" is. As I said, I agree that "slave-contract" is a contradiction in terms in reference to the standard definition of slavery.

However, just to be clear:

If at the time I reached the age of consent, I sold myself to a willing buyer in which the terms stated I was his sole property for the rest of my existence (obviously an actual legal arrangement would be more specific in what such an agreement implies, but I hope that doesn't take away from the point), is that compatible with NAP?

I'm of the opinion it is.

Historically, people entered into indentured servitude as a way to pay off a debt.  If the indentured servant were to break the contract, they would actually be guilty of theft.  Historically, at least in the American colonies, the debt was typically regarding passage to the colonies.  Someone would pay for your travel, and you would pay off this debt as an indentured servant.  If you were to quit before your time is up, then you would be stealing some amount of their money.

Gotcha. Makes sense.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Jun 18 2012 2:20 AM

NonAntiAnarchist:

 

However, just to be clear:

If at the time I reached the age of consent, I sold myself to a willing buyer in which the terms stated I was his sole property for the rest of my existence (obviously an actual legal arrangement would be more specific in what such an agreement implies, but I hope that doesn't take away from the point), is that compatible with NAP?

I'm of the opinion it is.

Well, I can't remember if Block would agree with you on this issue, but I know for certain Rothbard does not (not that Rothbard is the end all be all of libertarianism).  With the terms that you stated, I do not believe that this is compatible with the NAP.  Let's look at it in two different ways:

1) You join the military (forget conscription, let's suppose you volunteered).  Typically, you are allowed to quit any job you hold except for the military.  In my opinion, this is a violation of the NAP (and Rothbard agrees on this point, but not everyone does).  The reason is that the only way to enforce the contract is to aggress against you.  It is possible certain stipulations could be made to say that you cannot quit in the middle of a mission, but you are not allowed to quit even if you are on base pushing papers.  So long as you have stolen nothing from the other party, holding you to the agreement would require aggression.

2) You borrow $200,000 to finance your kids education, and you agree to work as an indentured servant for 5 years.  If you break the contract at 4 years, then you owe your "master" one more year or the equivalent in money.  This would be in line with the NAP in my opinion.

So, in my opinion, if you just sign an agreement stating that you are going to be someone's slave for life, I would consider such an agreement to be incompatible with the NAP.  Essentially, you are making a promise and not a contract (Rothbard differentiates between the two).  Let's suppose that you do make such a promise, and let's go ahead and say that it is a legally binding agreement.  What happens if you break the contract?  Well, what happens if you break any other contract?  If you contract to build someone's house and you take a down payment, if you break the contract, at the very least you owe the other party the down payment.  So, what if you break a slave contract?  What have you taken from the other party?  Nothing.

Now, if I remember correctly, Block's objection is that what if you give someone a gift and then take it back.  You have stolen the gift.  He (or anyone making this argument) has a valid point.  But this brings us back to the inalienability of the will.  You cannot alienate your will.  You can alienate a gift.  And I believe this is the crucial difference.  You can never transfer your will to anyone else, so any contract stating that you are transfering your will is nonsense.  So this leads us back to the NAP.  Since your will was never transferred, it would require aggression in order to enforce the slave contract should you decide to break it.

It's late, so my response is rambling.  I hope it makes sense.

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1) You join the military (forget conscription, let's suppose you volunteered).  Typically, you are allowed to quit any job you hold except for the military.  In my opinion, this is a violation of the NAP (and Rothbard agrees on this point, but not everyone does).  The reason is that the only way to enforce the contract is to aggress against you.  It is possible certain stipulations could be made to say that you cannot quit in the middle of a mission, but you are not allowed to quit even if you are on base pushing papers.  So long as you have stolen nothing from the other party, holding you to the agreement would require aggression.

Well, if you assume the conditions in the contract are explicitly stated, or said another way; so long as both parties are aware of the implications of the contract and properly consent, enforcement of the contract could not entail aggression, because, since consent was given, it is by definition not aggressive. 

2) You borrow $200,000 to finance your kids education, and you agree to work as an indentured servant for 5 years.  If you break the contract at 4 years, then you owe your "master" one more year or the equivalent in money.  This would be in line with the NAP in my opinion.

Sure, sounds reasonable. But what if I explicitly consented to endure a wipping if I broke the contract. Sure, I could flee, and it's not necessary that the "penalty" for breaking such a contract to be any more severe than a demand for restitution. That's not the qestion. The question is, if the other party member whipped me, would he be aggressing, and thus be subject to punishment? I think the consistent answer would have to be "no". And if you stretch that same principle, I think two people can enter into a "slave-like" contract where the owner is given the authority to use deadly force, and I think he can act on his authority justly within the bounds of NAP.

I'm not well read on libertarian theory regarding this, so I'm not sure how it handles the "giving up of rights."

 You can never transfer your will to anyone else, so any contract stating that you are transfering your will is nonsense.

Of course, I too think it is logically invalid to transfer a "will" because a will is not property. It makes decisions regarding property, such as my mind (will) consenting to certain terms concerning treatment and transfer of my body (property).

Late here, too, so I'll most likely not see this 'till morning.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Jun 18 2012 10:28 AM

I'm responding to your last section first as everything else will get built around it:

NonAntiAnarchist:

Of course, I too think it is logically invalid to transfer a "will" because a will is not property. It makes decisions regarding property, such as my mind (will) consenting to certain terms concerning treatment and transfer of my body (property).

Your mind and body are linked together.  You cannot separate the one from the other.  This is a section of the quote that JJ posted above from the Ethics of Liberty:

Specifically, a person cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own will and person, and he is, if you wish, "stuck" with that inherent and inalienable ownership. Since his will and control over his own person are inalienable, then so also are his rights to control that person and will. That is the ground for the famous position of the Declaration of Independence that man's natural rights are inalienable; that is, they cannot be surrendered, even if the person wishes to do so.

You cannot transfer control of your body to anyone else.  This is why any such contract stating that you have transferred control is invalid.  The transfer cannot ever occur.  Enforcing a slave contract would require aggression, using violence to take something that is not yours.  This is why slave contracts are not compatible with the NAP.  Obviously, slavery can be legal in any society, but it cannot be legal in a society based upon the NAP.

NonAntiAnarchist:

Well, if you assume the conditions in the contract are explicitly stated, or said another way; so long as both parties are aware of the implications of the contract and properly consent, enforcement of the contract could not entail aggression, because, since consent was given, it is by definition not aggressive. 

Well consent is not enough.  A person can rescind consent at any time, because the will (control over mind and body) is inalienable.  Legally,  it is theoretically possible to sell yourself into slavery in a society that permits slavery, but even in such a society, you have still not actually sold your will (control over mind and body).  For the slave owner to get you to do his bidding, you must always do it yourself, as you are the only one in control of your will.

So it would require aggression to enforce the contract, as the slave owner would have to use violence in order to take something that is not his own.

NonAntiAnarchist:

Sure, sounds reasonable. But what if I explicitly consented to endure a wipping if I broke the contract. Sure, I could flee, and it's not necessary that the "penalty" for breaking such a contract to be any more severe than a demand for restitution. That's not the qestion. The question is, if the other party member whipped me, would he be aggressing, and thus be subject to punishment? I think the consistent answer would have to be "no". And if you stretch that same principle, I think two people can enter into a "slave-like" contract where the owner is given the authority to use deadly force, and I think he can act on his authority justly within the bounds of NAP.

I'm not well read on libertarian theory regarding this, so I'm not sure how it handles the "giving up of rights."

Let's suppose you agree to be whipped should you break the contract.  Okay, but the contract right from the start is considered invalid as you never can transfer your will (control over mind and body) to another person.  Even if you broke your agreement, you would not have taken anything from the other person.  So you have not committed a crime.  But if the slave owner then whips you for breaking the agreement, he would have committed aggression because he has used violence on you when you have not taken anything from him.

It all stems to the inalienability of the will.  Since the will, control over mind and body, cannot be transferred, any contract stating that is has been is nonsense.  If someone were to enforce a slave contract, it would require using aggression.  It is aggression because the will was never actually transferred.  It still remains yours, no matter what the contract states.  That is why slave contracts are incompatible with the NAP.  Indentured servitude is another story, but I don't think we are talking about that anymore.

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gotlucky:
It's the inalienability of the will.  You cannot transfer your will to anyone else in the sense that no one else can control your body and your thoughts.  Inalienable literally means "non-transferable".

Alienability of the will isn't really the issue -- no one is out there claiming that you can somehow removed the will from one person and hand it over to another by way of contract.  The issue is of over alienability of rights.  If I have a right not to be agressed against, can I voluntarily give that right away?

Block says yes, Rothbard says no.  I think Rothbard's position is consistent with his view on natural rights.  Block's position is consistent with his view on rights, but his view on rights is utter nonsense so it doesn't really matter.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Jun 18 2012 6:43 PM

mikachusetts:

Alienability of the will isn't really the issue -- no one is out there claiming that you can somehow removed the will from one person and hand it over to another by way of contract.  The issue is of over alienability of rights.  If I have a right not to be agressed against, can I voluntarily give that right away?

Rights are a social construct.  They only have meaning within society and more specifically, the law.  When we talk about rights, we are talking about who is acting in the right, legally speaking.  As libertarians, we often talk about rights as they ought to be in accordance with NAP and our sense of justice.  What we want is for our sense of justice to also be the law of the land.

Let's take the example of Frederick Douglass escaping slavery.  Regarding Southern law at the time, his master would have been in the right to capture Frederick Douglass, but in the North, he would not have this right, legally speaking.  However, as libertarians, we look at this and say that the law in the South was wrong, and that Frederick Douglass had the right to escape slavery and go to the North.  But we are talking about justice there.

So, when we say that someone has alienated his rights, we are saying that he has given someone else the legal right to overide his will.  Rothbard's point is that, since this requires aggression in order to enforce it, it is incompatible with libertarianism.  So yes, you can give away whatever rights you want, but only if the legal framework allows for it.  But it is highly likely that this legal framework is incompatible with libertarianism.

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gotlucky:
Rights are a social construct.

Whether or not this is the case is inconsequential to what's being discussed.  Obviously Rothbard believed in natural rights, and the debate over alienability has always been framed in those terms.

If we switch from a natural law framework to a legal positivist framework, then there really is no debate.  Of course extant rights can be transferred or even taken away, because rights, in this sense, are simply claims with matching sets of obligations.  The state has a right to levy tax on my income, and if they chose to, they could transfer that right to someone else by way of contract or simply waive their claim altogether.

So, when we say that someone has alienated his rights, we are saying that he has given someone else the legal right to overide his will.  Rothbard's point is that, since this requires aggression in order to enforce it, it is incompatible with libertarianism.

No.  Rothbard's main point is that the source of man's rights is the nature of man qua man, which makes them non-transferrable.  According to him, one's right to liberty can either be violated or respected, but never taken away (either by force or voluntarily).  That any attempt to enforce a transfer of natural rights requires aggression is simply a corollary of this more fundamental point.

 

 

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Jun 19 2012 12:22 PM

mikachusetts:

Whether or not this is the case is inconsequential to what's being discussed.  Obviously Rothbard believed in natural rights, and the debate over alienability has always been framed in those terms.

With all due respect, you really don't know what you are talking about.  First you say that inalienability of the will isn't the issue, but then you say that it must be framed in Natural Rights, which requires talking about the inalienability of the will.  I brought up legal rights versus libertarian just rights in order to explain this in a different way, since you decided to just handwave my point away.  

So, let's talk about what Rothbard actually said:

Property Rights and the Theory of Contracts:

For the important question is always at stake: has title to alienable property been transferred, or has a mere promise been granted?

Even better:

Property Rights and the Theory of Contracts:

 Let us pursue more deeply our argument that mere promises or expectations should not be enforceable. The basic reason is that the only valid transfer of title of ownership in the free society is the case where the property is, in fact and in the nature of man, alienable by man. All physical property owned by a person is alienable, i.e., in natural fact it can be given or transferred to the ownership and control of another party. I can give away or sell to another person my shoes, my house, my car, my money, etc. But there are certain vital things which, in natural fact and in the nature of man, are inalienable, i.e., they cannot in fact be alienated, even voluntarily. Specifically, a person cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own mind and body. Each man has control over his own will and person, and he is, if you wish, “stuck” with that inherent and inalienable ownership. Since his will and control over his own person are inalienable, then so also are his rights to control that person and will. That is the ground for the famous position of the Declaration of Independence that man’s natural rights are inalienable; that is, they cannot be surrendered,even if the person wishes to do so.

Notice how in Rothbard's mind that the inalienability of rights is derived from the inalienability of the will?  To dismiss the inalienability of the will is to dismiss Rothbard's premises.

We can even look a little further into the chapter:

Property Rights and the Theory of Contract:

Hence, the unenforceability, in libertarian theory, of voluntary slave contracts. Suppose that Smith makes the following agreement with the Jones Corporation: Smith, for the rest of his life, will obey all orders, under whatever conditions, that the Jones Corporation wishes to lay down. Now, in libertarian theory there is nothing to prevent Smith from making this agreement, and from serving the Jones Corporation and from obeying the latter’s orders indefinitely. The problem comes when, at some later date, Smith changes his mind and decides to leave. Shall he be held to his former voluntary promise? Our contention—and one that is fortunately upheld under present law—is that Smith’s promise was not a valid (i.e., not an enforceable) contract. There is no transfer of title in Smith’s agreement, because Smith’s control over his own body and will are inalienable. Since that control cannot be alienated, the agreement was not a valid contract, and therefore should not be enforceable. Smith’s agreement was a merepromise, which it might be held he is morally obligated to keep, but which should not be legally obligatory.

Notice how he says "should not be enforceable"?  Notice how I brought up law as it is and law is it ought to be?  You can dismiss that point all you want, but when it comes down to it, Rothbard brings it up too.  He wants natural law to be the law of the land.  He recognizes that it isn't.  I did not switch the argument from natural rights to legal positivism.  I specifically stated, "As libertarians, we often talk about rights as they ought to be in accordance with NAP and our sense of justice.  What we want is for our sense of justice to also be the law of the land."  This is exactly what Rothbard just said in that paragraph.  He talks about certain promises being upheld in current law and that it should not be the case.

I may not take a Natural Rights viewpoint anymore, but you should put in a little more thought before you start dismissing things.

mikachusetts:

If we switch from a natural law framework to a legal positivist framework, then there really is no debate.  Of course extant rights can be transferred or even taken away, because rights, in this sense, are simply claims with matching sets of obligations.  The state has a right to levy tax on my income, and if they chose to, they could transfer that right to someone else by way of contract or simply waive their claim altogether.

The state has a legal right to do what it wants, by definition.  It is statutory law.  It makes the law.  This is one of the reasons I find statutory law to be so disgusting.  It is because the state has the legal right to do what it wants.  This is in direct opposition to the libertarian concepts of just rights.  From what you wrote, it seems as if you are saying that I am combining the two together in order to say that the state has a just right to tax people.  That is not at all what I said.

mikachusetts:

No.  Rothbard's main point is that the source of man's rights is the nature of man qua man, which makes them non-transferrable.  According to him, one's right to liberty can either be violated or respected, but never taken away (either by force or voluntarily).  That any attempt to enforce a transfer of natural rights requires aggression is simply a corollary of this more fundamental point.

Watch what I do next.

No.  Rothbard's main point is that the will is inalienable, and therefore rights are inalienable.

Natural Law is not law.  It is a theory, and it is a mostly good theory, but it is not law in any society and it never has been.  If you read the quotes again that I provided, you will see that Rothbard does make a distinction between law as it is and law as it should be.  He wants law as it is to line up with Natural Law, which is what he thinks it should be.  Just because you cannot take away someone's just rights according to Natural Law does not mean that legal rights cannot be taken away.  There is no need to be so dismissive of what I wrote, as it is actually far more thought out than what you wrote.

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Just wanted to thank you for the thorough post, Gotlucky. I'm convinced of the point. 

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Gotlucky,

I didn't mean to sound so snarky in my previous posts, so I apologize if you took it that way.  At any rate, you are looking at only Rothbard's side of the debate.  Here's Block (the other side of the debate):

In any case, the “will” is irrelevant to our deliberations.  We are debating not over the will, but over the body, that is, over the right to engage in the use of violence against a person’s body who sells himself into slavery and then reneges on this contract.

This is pretty similar to my initial statement that it has nothing to do with the will, and everything to do with rights.  My point, and Block's, is that bringing the will into the argument misses the mark.  I'm not saying that Rothbard never talked about the will, I'm saying that he was incorrect to do so (and this is consistent with what I have said in the last two posts, though I wasn't explicit about it).

Regarding "just" rights, I don't think you were mixing legal rights with "just" rights, and didn't mean to imply that you were.  All I want to add is that I don't think Rothbard thought of natural rights as what rights ought to be if they are to be just, but as actually rights that we all have, even though the current law is in violation of them.  Not sure if you were including Rothbard when you said "libertarian concepts of just rights," but if you were, I don't think it squares properly with how he saw things.

Regarding law as it is, and law as it should be, I'm not sure what I point of mine you are attacking.  It might be a lack of clarity on my part, but I don't think there is a single place where I suggested that Rothbard doesn't distinguish between law as it is and as it ought to be. 

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Jun 19 2012 4:49 PM

mikachusetts:

 

Gotlucky,

I didn't mean to sound so snarky in my previous posts, so I apologize if you took it that way.

Don't worry about it.  I'll get over it.  blush

mikachusetts:

 

At any rate, you are looking at only Rothbard's side of the debate.  Here's Block (the other side of the debate):

 

In any case, the “will” is irrelevant to our deliberations.  We are debating not over the will, but over the body, that is, over the right to engage in the use of violence against a person’s body who sells himself into slavery and then reneges on this contract.

 

This is pretty similar to my initial statement that it has nothing to do with the will, and everything to do with rights.  My point, and Block's, is that bringing the will into the argument misses the mark.  I'm not saying that Rothbard never talked about the will, I'm saying that he was incorrect to do so (and this is consistent with what I have said in the last two posts, though I wasn't explicit about it).

Well, I think Block is mistaken here.  Rothbard's point was that the mind and body (which he refers to as the will) are inalienable.  The only way you can transfer control of your body is to separate it from yourself.  In other words, you can transfer a kidney.  You can chop off your arm.  You can sell your liver for after you die.  Those kind of things.  But you cannot alienate control of your body.  And the point is, since you cannot transfer control of your body to another person, any contract stating that you have is invalid.

Of course, it is possible to legally sell your body into slavery if the area you are in permits that.  But Rothbard's point is that while it may be possible according to whatever the law is where you are, it is not possible according to Natural Rights theory.

I don't subscribe to Natural Rights or Natural Law, but I think Rothbard is right nonetheless.  My viewpoint is that the only way to enforce a slave contract would be to violate the NAP.  In other words, you cannot transfer title to control of your mind or body to another person.  So for someone to take control of it would mean that they have to aggress against your person.

So, I guess the problem with Block's quote is that he is making a distinction between the will and the body, but the body is not separate from the will.  The will is control of the mind and body.

mikachusetts:

Regarding "just" rights, I don't think you were mixing legal rights with "just" rights, and didn't mean to imply that you were.  All I want to add is that I don't think Rothbard thought of natural rights as what rights ought to be if they are to be just, but as actually rights that we all have, even though the current law is in violation of them.  Not sure if you were including Rothbard when you said "libertarian concepts of just rights," but if you were, I don't think it squares properly with how he saw things.

I think you are right that Rothbard is of the viewpoint that we all have natural rights and that the state violates them, but he does also claim that natural rights ought to be the law as well.  In other words, it is possible for someone to think we have natural rights but then go ahead and feel like it is okay to violate them in certain cases.  I think that is the source for the whole "government is a necessary evil" line of thinking.

Regarding "libertarian concepts of just rights", I do include Rothbard.  As I said above, he is of the opinion that not only do people have natural rights, he thinks that the law ought to reflect that.  Rothbard has talked about "just property" and "unjust property" in some of his essays, especially regarding thieves.  And he also has stated that rights are properly viewed in terms of property rights.  So I think it's safe to say that he does believe in just rights, it just so happens that his concept of just rights is also natural rights.

mikachusetts:

Regarding law as it is, and law as it should be, I'm not sure what I point of mine you are attacking.  It might be a lack of clarity on my part, but I don't think there is a single place where I suggested that Rothbard doesn't distinguish between law as it is and as it ought to be.

It was mostly a response to when you started talking about legal positivism versus natural rights.  It seemed like you were implying that I believed that positive law was also just law.  But above, you said that this was not what you were doing, and I believe you.  So that's the end of that. 

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I'm sorry, where was it again that Rothbard even implied "slavery is impossible"?

Rothbard says: "a person cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body." So a person can't physically give up control over his body. Then he says: "Since his will and control over his own person are inalienable, then so also are his rights to control that person and will." So since a person can't physically give up control over his body, he can't give up his right to control his body. If slavery means taking over all control of someone's body, then slavery is impossible. The right to control all of someone's body is dependent on the ability to do so. One can't have a right to do something that is impossible. However, if Rothbard is saying that because someone can't physically give up complete control over their body, they don't have the right to grant partial control, then he's simply using invalid reasoning.

I agree with Mika, and apparently Walter Block, the allowance of voluntary slavery is more consistent with voluntarism. I don't see why the fact that I can't completely remove control over my body excludes me from giving someone else license over it. If I owned a road, I could give someone unrestricted lifetime access to it while still retaining ownership, could I not? And if I later changed my mind and blocked his access, he could take legal measures against me to enforce the contract, could he not? So why can't I grant someone unrestricted access to my body?

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gotlucky replied on Tue, Jun 19 2012 9:25 PM

Fool on the Hill:

If slavery means taking over all control of someone's body, then slavery is impossible.

Well that's the problem with your argument.  Slavery does not mean that.  Slavery is forced servitude.  It is not voluntary, despite what Block may try to say.

Fool on the Hill:

If I owned a road, I could give someone unrestricted lifetime access to it while still retaining ownership, could I not? And if I later changed my mind and blocked his access, he could take legal measures against me to enforce the contract, could he not? So why can't I grant someone unrestricted access to my body?

You should really read the chapter from The Ethics of Liberty that I was quoting from earlier.  It is PROPERTY RIGHTS AND THE THEORY OF CONTRACTS.

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Well that's the problem with your argument.  Slavery does not mean that.  Slavery is forced servitude.  It is not voluntary, despite what Block may try to say.

Then there is simply no logic in Rothbard's argument. You can't put it into a syllogism without essentially including the conclusion as a premise.

Coincidentally, I just came across an interesting criticism of Rothbard's position from a slightly different angle:

There are thus a host of problems with Rothbard’s ethical theory as it applies to the family.  It licenses any number of terrible acts, impedes the ability of parents to parent, fails to defend abortion rights robustly, and doesn’t extend any protection to the most vulnerable children.  At this point, I’d like to return to Okin’s argument, and examine just how successful Rothbard is at evading it.  As we’ve seen, his escape here depends on his contention that self-owning humans cannot transfer their future will to another person.  It is an inalienable possession.  This position is not at all obvious, however.  As Walter Block has argued, from a libertarian perspective, if people cannot sell themselves, it is difficult to see why they should be seen as possessing self-ownership.  After all, the ability to sell something seems to be an important criterion of ownership.  Block, however, fails to see the real problem with Rothbard’s argument.  Rothbard argues that one cannot alienate one’s future will through a contract, because one retains possession of that willpower despite the contract.  Thus such contracts are unenforceable.  This position would seem to render any contract based on future services unenforceable.  After all, if I pay a someone fifty dollars to water my plants, I am certainly making a claim to his future willpower – namely, his act of watering my plants.  Alternatives to this interpretation are hard to come by.  One could say I am in fact not buying any specific act by any person, I am only buying the state of my plants being watered.  After all, if he in turn pays a friend twenty dollars, and my plants end up watered all the same, I hardly have any grounds for complaint.  But even here I still have had a claim on my waterer’s willpower.  He must cause the state of my plants being watered to come into effect.  The fact that he may choose the means by which he achieves this doesn’t alter that fact.

According to Rothbard, however, future will is inalienable, and cannot be the subject of contract.  Any agreements which are premised on a claim to someone’s future willpower are mere promises, and not enforceable by law.  In one fell swoop, he has disallowed all contracts where money is exchanged up front for future services.  This may not appear to be significant – one could imagine a world in which services always come first, and payment second.  There are a host of services, however, for which this arrangement would seem to be impossible.  The most important of these is Rothbard’s means of enforcing contracts in his anarcho-capitalist society: defense agencies.  Rothbard argues that the system of justice he describes would be administered by private agencies to which consumers subscribe in return for the assurance that their agency will be responsible for securing restitution in the case of any breach of their rights.  Leaving aside the sociological problems with this system, under Rothbard’s system of justice the subscriptions paid by consumers would be unenforceable contracts, since they involve the claim to people’s future willpower.  Rothbard is explicit on this point, noting that ‘Most likely, such services would be sold on an advance subscription basis, with premiums paid regularly and services to be supplied on call.’  Under such an arrangement, consumers clearly purchase a claim on people’s future willpower – they purchase the assurance that their agencies will in fact bring their aggressors to justice.  Given that such contracts are unenforceable, however, there is no reason why anyone would ever subscribe to a defense agency, since the people on whose willpower they made a claim could always simply change their mind with no consequences.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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gotlucky replied on Tue, Jun 26 2012 10:53 PM

Fool on the Hill:

Then there is simply no logic in Rothbard's argument. You can't put it into a syllogism without essentially including the conclusion as a premise.

You never accurately portrayed Rothbard's argument to begin with.  You were redefining the word "slavery" so as to make Rothbard's argument into nonsense.  Let me quote our conversation:

Fool on the Hill:

If slavery means taking over all control of someone's body, then slavery is impossible.

gotlucky:

Well that's the problem with your argument.  Slavery does not mean that.  Slavery is forced servitude.  It is not voluntary, despite what Block may try to say.

So you see here, your argument is built upon a definition of slavery that is your own, not Rothbard's.  Furthermore, Rothbard is using the standard dictionary definition, whereas you were just inserting your own.  It is one thing for you to use your own definitions in your own arguments (if you explain them), but it is disingenuous to insert your own definition into someone else's argument.

Anyway, I really suggest you just go ahead and read the link I provided to you earlier.  And if you want specific sections, just check out the sections I quoted in my conversation with Mikachusetts.  I even bolded the important stuff.

Also, Rothbard is not begging the question in his argument.  The whole point is that he is demonstrating that slavery is entirely aggressive.  Always.  It cannot be any other way.  What if Rothbard were explaining about the fact that bachelor's are unmarried?  If he starts going into how husband's are married, and bachelor's are unmarried, would his explanation lack logic?

I'm not really sure what is so difficult about this.  Slavery is by definition not voluntary.  Rothbard just goes about explaining why it is not voluntary, and not only that, but how it is aggressive in nature.  So, because it is aggressive, it violates the NAP.  I just don't get why this is so difficult.

Fool on the Hill:

Coincidentally, I just came across an interesting criticism of Rothbard's position from a slightly different angle:

This is full of straw men.  I am astounded how you can call this an interesting criticism.  It is neither interesting, nor is it actually a criticism of Rothbard's position.  This guy is attributing beliefs to Rothbard that if you were to bother reading the link I provided to you right above, you would see that these are not Rothbard's beliefs at all.

So, I will suggest again that you read the link above.

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According to standard AnCap theory, the self is inalienable.

I'm drunk right now.  All I will say is, if you have studied "alienation" and wish to think about will and self, read Max Stirner.  He ought be taken more seriously in libertarian and sociological philosophy.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 8:15 AM

Unfortunately, I've felt obligated to conclude that Rothbard tries to "jump the shark" of the is-ought problem in going from inalienability of the will to self-ownership. While the will can certainly be considered inalienable, that in no way means that one must (i.e. is bound to) consider another's will to be legitimate (i.e. not to be responded to with violence) at all times, or by default. As I see it, the is-ought problem remains insurmountable, which is why I consider "is" and "ought" to be orthogonal to one another.

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 9:32 AM

Autolykos,

I don't see how Rothbard made the case that one must consider another's will to be legitimate at all times.  His point was that enforcing a promise against someone's will is tantamount to slavery, and then goes on to make the case as to why slavery must always be aggressive, so it cannot be reconciled with the NAP.

That said, I agree that Rothbard did not solve the is-ought problem.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 9:49 AM

gotlucky:
Autolykos,

I don't see how Rothbard made the case that one must consider another's will to be legitimate at all times.  His point was that enforcing a promise against someone's will is tantamount to slavery, and then goes on to make the case as to why slavery must always be aggressive, so it cannot be reconciled with the NAP.

Well, given the inalienability of the will, it's literally impossible to enforce a promise against someone's will in the sense of changing his will such that he'll now carry out the promise, or otherwise making him carry out the promise. But I think that's a different matter from him previously agreeing to some sort of punishment if he refuses to carry out the promise within a specified period of time. Of course, note here that his prior agreement is required - it's not legitimate to hurt or otherwise punish someone simply because he had promised to do something but then changed his mind. Also, punishing a person for failing to carry out a promise is not the same thing as enforcing the promise itself.

gotlucky:
That said, I agree that Rothbard did not solve the is-ought problem.

Yeah, he really didn't. Take this quote, for example (from JJ's post):

Murray Rothbard:
Since his will and control over his own person are inalienable, then so also are his rights to control that person and will. [Bold emphasis added.]

The latter actually does not logically follow from the former.

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Conza88 replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 9:52 AM

So much bs in this thread...

Voluntary Slavery

  • Stephan Kinsella: I agree with David Gordon. I disagree with pro-voluntary slavery libertarians, like Walter Block (Thomas L. Knapp is another, though he pettifogs on the use of the term "voluntary slavery").
  • Jeremiah Dyke: I too think it's insane not to have the ability to contract any percentage of your labor for any duration of time. [Sarcasm]
  • Stephan Kinsella: This is not an argument. Abilities don't come from opinions. Let's be clear: to justify voluntary slavery means you have to justify the use of force by a would-be "master" against a would-be "slave", if the slave tries to run away or changes his mind or disobeys an order. The libertarian thinks use of violence against another person's body is unjustified aggression, unless it is (a) consented to, or (b) in response to aggression.
  •  But the slave has not committed aggression, so (b) is not a possible justification. Some alienabilists disingenuously argue that it IS "aggression" since the master owns the slave's body, so it's trespass (aggression) for the slave to use the master's property (the slave's body) in ways the owner (master) does not consent to. This argument is disingenuous because it is question-begging; it presupposes the legitimacy of body-alienability, in order to prove it. So this does not fly. I will say that I get very tired of people who engage in question-begging arguments. They do this all the time in IP -- where they label an act of copying "stealing" in order to show that what was "stolen" must have been ownable property. Horrible reasoning. I hope you don't engage in this kind of dishonest trick.
  •  As for (a); clearly the slave who tries to run away does NOT consent to the force the master wants to apply to him. The only way the alienabilist can get around this is to say that the PREVIOUS consent the slave gave (say, a week before) is still somehow applicable, i.e. that the slave cannot change his mind. Why not? because ... well ... because ... well ... because the slavery contract was binding! So we see, yet again, the sneaky and dishonest resort to question-begging; slavery contracts are binding because they are binding. Neat trick, that!
  •  The reason people can change their minds is that it does not commit aggression. And the reason a previous statement of intent is relevant is simply that it provides evidence of what the current consent is. It's a standing order, but one that can be overridden with better, more recent, evidence. If a girl tells her boyfriend he may kiss her now, and any time he feels like it in the future, then when tomorrow comes he is reasonable in assuming that she is still actually consenting NOW to another kiss, even if she says nothing, because she set up that presumption earlier. Her previous statement was not a binding contract, but just a way of establishing a standing presumption about what her ongoing consent IS. But if he goes to kiss her and she says NO, then we know that the previous statement about what her future consent WOULD be, was a bad prediction and has been undermined by the better, present/current evidence she is giving.
  •  It is no different in all the voluntary slavery situations.
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Autolykos replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 9:56 AM

Conza88:
So much bs in this thread...

Thanks for sharing your exquisitely reasoned opinion. cheeky

Now then, do you have a source for the quote-wall you provided?

Edit: Thanks for linking to the source, I do appreciate it.

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Conza88 replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 10:05 AM

Furthermore also relevant:

  • Jeremiah Dyke: I too think it's insane not to have the ability to contract any percentage of your labor for any duration of time. The problem is that many libertarians like Rothbard, Stephan Kinsella, David Gordon and Barnett, believe that such a condition is either an impossibility or shouldn’t be allowed.."
  • Stephan Kinsella: I think a careful reading of Rothbard shows that his view does not rest on "impossibility" (as I used to think). Instead, I think Rothbard was not talking about the case of commission of crime, but only the narrow context of a would-be voluntary slave who has not committed aggression. Rothbard notes that it is impossible for the slave to get rid of his will, and "therefore" the promise to be a slave is not binding, i.e. his body is not alienable. I think what Rothbard was getting at is this: in the normal, default situation, each person IS a selfowner BECAUSE he has a will: i.e., a direct control over his body.
  • This direct control is the natural position, and gives the person a better claim to his body than anyone else. That is WHY he is a selfowner. Hoppe later makes this argument explicitly: the reason we are self-owners is that each person has a unique and direct connection to his body: his direct control over it--or, as Rothbard says, his will. Now Rothbard is implicitly recognizing that the slave who promises to be slave still has his will, as he did not literally alienate it. Therefore, he still has the best link to his body, and thus he is still its owner. Now it is true that it is possible for someone to alienate their rights to their body, despite still having a will: by committing aggression. When you commit aggression you overcome the default presumption that you have the best right to control your body; now your victim has a better right to your body, despite your having the direct link to and direct control over it. But the point is the would-be voluntary slave never did commit aggression, so for him, he is able to change his mind.
  • In short, a promise about what you will consent to in the future is just a prediction. IT may be right or may be wrong...

Edit: yes, here.

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Jun 27 2012 10:05 AM

Autolykos:

Well, given the inalienability of the will, it's literally impossible to enforce a promise against someone's will in the sense of changing his will such that he'll now carry out the promise, or otherwise making him carry out the promise.

This is the point.  The only way to make the person carry it out would be to use aggression.

Autolykos:

But I think that's a different matter from him previously agreeing to some sort of punishment if he refuses to carry out the promise within a specified period of time.  Of course, note here that his prior agreement is required - it's not legitimate to hurt or otherwise punish someone simply because he had promised to do something but then changed his mind.

It depends, was it a promise or a contract?  Just because you promise to do something or else you will will be fined does not necessarily make it a valid contract.  I suggest you read the link I provided to FotH.  Rothbard goes into this point when he talks about the movie star and the theater owner.

Autolykos:

Also, punishing a person for failing to carry out a promise is not the same thing as enforcing the promise itself.

This is true, but I'm not sure how it is relevant.  The punishment is aggression if it was only a promise.

Autolykos:

The latter actually does not logically follow from the former.

Well this depends upon what type of rights you believe Rothbard is talking about.  I believe he is not talking about legal rights per se, but about his conception of just rights.  If I am reading him correctly (which I believe I am), then I do think it follows.  You cannot alienate the will.  No one else can possibly have the right to control your will.  They physically cannot do it.  There is just no way for someone else to possess the right to control your will.  This is what Rothbard means.

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