Scientology vs. Critical Psychiatry — Bruce Levine

By Bruce Levine

For many Americans who gain their information solely from television, all critics of psychiatry are Scientologists, exemplified by Tom Cruise spewing at Matt Lauer, “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. . . . Matt, you’re so glib.” The mass media has been highly successful in convincing Americans to associate criticism of psychiatry with anti-drug zealots from the Church of Scientology, the lucrative invention of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

However, Americans who gain their information outside of television and beyond the mass media may be aware of a secular, progressive tradition that is critical of how psychiatry has diverted us from examining societal sources of our malaise. This secular, humanistic concern was articulated, perhaps most famously, by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980).

In The Sane Society (1955), Fromm wrote:

“Yet many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of ‘unadjusted’ individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself.”

Is American society a healthy one, and are those having difficulties adjusting to it mentally ill? Or is American society an unhealthy one, and are many Americans with emotional difficulties simply alienated rather than ill? For Fromm:

“An unhealthy society is one which creates mutual hostility [and] distrust, which transforms man into an instrument of use and exploitation for others, which deprives him of a sense of self, except inasmuch as he submits to others or becomes an automaton.”

Fromm viewed American society as an increasingly unhealthy one, in which people routinely experience painful alienation that fuels emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Unlike Tom Cruise, Fromm would not have been terribly upset that actress Brooke Shields found happiness in antidepressants. No genuinely humanistic critic of psychiatry believes that adults who choose prescription psychotropic drugs should be mocked, shamed, or prohibited from using them. Rather, humanist critics of establishment psychiatry advocate for informed choice about all treatments.

The essential confrontation for Fromm is not about psychiatric drugs per se (though he would be sad that so many Americans nowadays, especially children, are prescribed psychotropic drugs in order to fit into inhospitable environments). His essential confrontation was directed at all mental health professionals — including non-prescribers (such as psychologists, social workers, and counselors) — who merely assist their patients to adjust, but neglect to validate their patients’ alienation from society.

Those comfortably atop societal hierarchies have difficulty recognizing that many American institutions promote helplessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, alienation, and dehumanization for those not at the top. One-size-fits-all schools, the corporate workplace, government bureaucracies, and other giant, impersonal institutions routinely promote manipulative relationships rather than respectful ones, machine efficiency rather than human pride, authoritarian hierarchies rather than participatory democracy, disconnectedness rather than community, and helplessness rather than empowerment.

In The Sane Society, Fromm warned:

“Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man. The specialists in this field tell you what the ‘normal’ person is, and, correspondingly, what is wrong with you; they devise the methods to help you adjust, be happy, be normal.”

In the “adjust and be happy” sense, there is commonality between establishment mental health professionals and Scientologists. Neither Dr. Phil nor Tom Cruise are exactly rebels against the economic status quo; and their competing self-help programs, though different, are similar in that they instruct people on how to adjust, be happy, and be normal within our economic system.

The source of the mutual hostility between psychiatry and the Church of Scientology, as depicted by the mass media, centers around psychotropic drug use; but my sense is that the root cause of their feud is a fierce competition between them. Both establishment psychiatry and Scientology are competing for the same people — those more comfortable with authority, dogma, and insider jargon than with critical thinking.

Both the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard and psychiatry’s DSM (the official diagnostic manual in which mental illnesses are voted in and out by elite psychiatrists) have much more to do with dogma than science. Both Scientology and psychiatry embrace science fiction techno-babble that poses as scientific fact. In Scientology’s “auditing,” the claim is that the Hubbard Electropsychometer (E-Meter) can assess the reactive mind of the preclear by passing a small amount of voltage through a pair of tin-plated tubes that look like empty soup cans which are wired to the E-Meter and held by the preclear. But psychiatry is no more scientifically relevant, as its trendy chemical-imbalance theories of mental illness have shelf-lives of about a decade, with establishment psychiatry most recently having retreated from both their serotonin-deficiency theory of depression and the excessive-dopamine theory of schizophrenia.

While Scientology can claim auditing adherents, and psychiatry can claim even more antidepressant advocates, neither treatment has been shown to be consistently superior to a placebo. And rather than validating their treatments with legitimate science performed by independent, financially unbiased scientists, both Scientology and psychiatry rely on what amounts to a well-funded public relations apparatus.

Scientology and establishment psychiatry have something else in common. They are both orthodoxies that deal harshly with their ex-insiders who have come to reject them. Currently, psychiatry is the more prevailing orthodoxy, and, as George Orwell explained, the mainstream press does not challenge a prevailing orthodoxy. Orwell wrote:

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. . . . Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

It is my experience that psychiatry, Scientology, and fundamentalist religions are turnoffs for genuinely critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are not so desperate to adjust and be happy that they ignore adverse affects — be they physical, psychological, spiritual, or societal. Critical thinkers listen to what others have to say while considering their motives, especially their financial ones; and they discern how one’s motivation may distort one’s assumptions.

A critical thinker would certainly not merely accept without analysis Fromm’s and my conclusion that American society is insane in terms of healthy human development. Perhaps a society should not be labeled insane just because it is replete with schools that turn kids off to reading, for-profit prisons that need increasingly more inmates for economic growth, a mass media that is dishonest about threats to national security, trumped-up wars that so in debt a society that it cannot provide basic health care, a for-profit healthcare system that exploits illness rather than promoting health, etc.

A critical thinker would most certainly point out that there have been societies far less sane than the United States — and Erich Fromm made himself absolutely clear on this point. In the barbaric German society that Fromm fled from, disruptive children who couldn’t fit into one-size-fits-all schools were not forced to take Adderall and other amphetamines, but instead their parents handed them over to psychiatrists to be euthanized. Fromm, however, knew that just because one could point to societies less sane than the United States, this did not make the United States a sane, humanistic society.

Bruce Levine has shared several of his articles on this Beyond Meds:

Listen to him speak here: Opposing the dominant paradigm in mental health and promoting holistic, person-centered alternatives

Articles here:

Books by Bruce Levine:


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25 Responses

  1. As a 27 year ex Scientology staffer, who finally upon reading and listening to L. Ron Hubbard’s (founder of the Scientology subject) works since leaving, I learned of Scientology’s theory basis for disputing and hating most of psychiatry. Hubbard believed all our mental ills are from mental turmoil, stemming from this lifetime and past lifetimes. And confidential theory only given, but never allowed to be discussed by members, is learned at the OT 3 level of Scientology, where one learns all humankind, each person, is infested with tens of thousands of dead humanoid souls (humanoids from planets in this part of the galaxy). But ALL that troubles us, are only the mental imagery, either our own single soul’s past imagery, or the imagery that leaks into our thoughts from the hitchhiking souls. Scientology blames our mental troubles on thoughts, our accumulated and our hitchhiking souls’ accumulated mental turmoil, namely the “engrams” the ultra traumatic incidents that warp our thinking into irrationality. Scientology disallows the confidential theory of the hitchhiking souls’ mental imagery affecting us, and concentrates on attacking psychiatry’s extreme offensive past/present surgical (lobotomy, electroshock, brain damaging drugs). Scientology/Hubbard placed little concentration on the brain’s imperfections physically or chemically, rather to Hubbard/Scientology it is all the fault of the ultra trauma “engrams” past incidents that warp or rationality and leads to all manner of the related human ills mental and psychosomatic and even physical. Scientology/Hubbard will only discuss the non confidential theory of Hubbard, since Hubbard laid permanent penalty rules for discussing publicly their confidential hitchhiking souls theory, although all Scientologists rising to the OT 3 level and above are well aware of the hitchhiking souls problems, since the levels OT 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 deal directly with the hitchhiking souls, and all those levels procedures and theory is NOT allowed to be discussed. This is all you need to know about Scientology’s theory of the mind. Chuck Beatty, ex Scientology staffer, 1975-2003, Pittsburgh, 412-260-1170

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  2. thanks Chuck,
    that’s very interesting….
    I actually have a bunch of documents on confidential Scientology beliefs as someone got a hold of them and emailed a ton of them to me…but I’ve not read them yet…

    I wasn’t familiar with the hitchhiking soul ideas…I find all religion fascinating….I was a Religious Studies major…

    I often have conflicted feelings about people who are critical of psychiatry being so nasty to Scientologists as I figure if we share some of the same concerns we should learn how to work together….but perhaps it is prohibitive if the underlying belief system as to why we are critical of psychiatry is so different…gotta think about that more…

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  3. If we’re all interested in the same outcome to the same issues, in this case mental wellness, it would be lovely if we could disagree without bashing each other. I’m sad that’s not the case, both with psychiatry and Scientology and other things. I tend to think Fromm was right that we live in an unhealthy society, to put it kindly.

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  4. The Levine article was a valuable read!

    re: “I often have conflicted feelings about people who are critical of psychiatry being so nasty to Scientologists as I figure if we share some of the same concerns we should learn how to work together….but perhaps it is prohibitive if the underlying belief system as to why we are critical of psychiatry is so different…gotta think about that more…”

    …aside from which, Scientology is a cult, many of the classic signs being present. Cults can propagate a few fair ideas, but their motivation (underlying belief system, as you put it) is suspect. Hubbard’s motivation as founder was allegedly financial gain after previous get-rich-quick schemes fell through. I’m sure he didn’t mind all that adulation either.

    There was a great feature article in Rolling Stone magazine about a year or two ago. (I have it buried deep in old papers, sorry.) The writer got in deep with current and past Scientologists and gave a wide view of the organization’s structure as well as the basic trade secrets of upper OT-levels. Cult-like practices include telling people to cut off ties completely with anyone, even family members, who has left the church.

    Hey, it’s my dream to go back to school (I majored in English) and this time major in Religious Studies with a healthy side-order of philosophy. Did you have a particular focus? For me, it’s all comparative, but I’m particularly attracted to eastern religions right now, from Hinduism to Taoism.

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  5. I think I read that Rolling Stone article in any case I’m going to read it again and here it is:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/9363363/inside_scientology/print

    I’m into comparative religions too…that is my interest now…

    My emphasis at the time within a comparative framework was Christianity though. Mostly by default as I came to the major late. I changed majors multiple times and the classes available to me to meet my requirements were in Christianity…none the less the degree was still in comp religion with an emphasis in Christianity…

    at this point my interest in organized religion is purely academic, though I do have a deep sense of the spiritual which continues to redevelop as the drugs leave my system…

    I went from being deeply spiritual to having no sense of the spirit at all while on heavy drugs….it’s all coming back now and I’m not sure where I’ll end up!!

    I suppose if I were pressed I practice Buddhist philosophy the most…but I guess my heart is in the idea of the perennial philosophy really.

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  6. Chuck Beatty: “But ALL that troubles us, are only the mental imagery, either our own single soul’s past imagery, or the imagery that leaks into our thoughts from the hitchhiking souls. Scientology blames our mental troubles on thoughts, our accumulated and our hitchhiking souls’ accumulated mental turmoil,… (… ) Scientology/Hubbard placed little concentration on the brain’s imperfections physically or chemically,…”

    Now, hichhiking souls are for some reason or the other a bit too far out IMO. But, on the other hand, I have to admit that I personally do regard ALL our troubles as a result of “mental imagery” (“mental noise” – Eckhart Tolle), of our thoughts, or our identification with our thoughts, rather than seeing them as the result of physical or chemical imperfections of the brain (which to me sounds a bit too much like “chemical imbalances”).

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  7. niroz

    “But psychiatry is no more scientifically relevant, as its trendy chemical-imbalance theories of mental illness have shelf-lives of about a decade, with establishment psychiatry most recently having retreated from both their serotonin-deficiency theory of depression and the excessive-dopamine theory of schizophrenia.”

    Wait. What? I’m not saying that psychiatry is right or not, but it hasn’t backed away from those theories.

    Anyway, interesting article, but I feel I have to mention one thing. Critical psychology is actually sociologists (usually Marxists) masquerading under the label of psychology. Although I’ll refrain from attacking sociology or psychology to point out which is better, I’ll say that the two disagree with each other quite strongly.

    Having said that, if all scientologists where replaced with critical psychologists, I’m be more than happy.

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  8. Hmmm. Hitchhiking souls? So what Hubbard has done, presumably, is taken the superficial manifestation of mental illness, and sought an explanation for it. Somehow or other (and we’ll probably never know how), he has settled on this idea of alien life forces inhabiting our minds.

    It’s difficult to imagine what evidence he found to support that notion, given that nobody seems to be sure whether or not there is any other sentient life in our Universe, aside from us, that is, let alone humanoid sentient life (it’s very specific isn’t it, this theory of Hubbard’s?).

    However, there is a theory about “comparmentalization” of the mind, in mainstream psychotherapy. And in NLP, it is called Parts Theory. If one draws these parts of the mind together merging them (eg, as I have done, here, linking the apparently absurd nature of Scientology’s beliefs with something seemingly very similar from a more “acceptable” source), particularly parts that are in conflict, then one introduces a sense of serenity, which replace the turmoil, because the roots of the two beliefs are identical – it’s just the explanations that people found for the phenomenon that are different.

    Anyway, Parts Theory is just that – it’s an abstract notion until one sees it done well, and then one starts to understand the skill of practioners who can manipulate ideas in this way. It’s a shame that people such as Derren Brown are seen as entertainers, rather than intellectuals.

    Matt

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  9. Sorry Niroz,
    It’s true….most of those theories have been discredited, or come into grave doubt especially among research psychiatrists…

    the ideas, unfortunately hang around polluting the minds of treating psychiatrists so that they continue to poison us with their all too often deadly drugs when in truth there are kinder, gentler alternatives no one researches…..the money is still in pharma.

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  10. Matt,
    curious to hear more about this compartmentalization stuff…

    as far as Ron goes…well his whole religion is based on aliens…it’s not surprising that they should take part in “mental illness.”

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  11. This was a very interesting article. I like the following:

    Both establishment psychiatry and Scientology are competing for the same people — those more comfortable with authority, dogma, and insider jargon than with critical thinking.

    I believe that there a a vast pool of people who do not think–they either do not want to or can’t. As a result they take the path that seems easy and/or popular. However, later many of them get frustrated because their lives did not turn out so well. It seems that if someone is trying to convert you or if you pay someone to help you (psychologists, psychiatrists), they will listen to you or at least pay some attention to you. We want others to treat us well, so we follow along, then end up addicted to pills or in some cult.

    I seem to do better when I try to figure out things for myself, although it takes time. It would be easy to just go to a church and listen to someone tell me how to live. In the end, I study the bible and zen to get insight into what is right and how do I fit in the universe. Then I have to come to acceptance that I can’t be number 1 in everything. Some of us are supposed to just help others along in life. I have to see my place as maybe just writing a few things on a blog from time to time, instead of writing books that everyone reads.

    Books, religions, and listening to others can help. But for my satisfaction, I need to do a bit of thinking myself. But I’m speaking just for myself. Maybe most people would be happiest just following a person who is a good, smooth talker.
    Jim S

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  12. Hey gianna,

    I’ve probably summarized it pretty completely, already. It’s one of those funny things that one understands better, when one sees it, rather than when somebody is trying to explain it. Thus if I tried to describe a species of flower to you, your understanding would be almost wholly incomplete, but if I had a specimen to show you, further comment from me would be irrelevant!

    From what I can tell, our ideas are just combinations of neurons, firing off. Sometimes, we have seemingly incompatible patterns firing off simultaneously, in relation to a particular thing – choices, in other words. Perhaps if these choices are very similarly matched, in terms of pros and cons, this manifests itself in indecision, or something. How do we merge the choices we have together, such that we can take one course of action that solves the issue in front of us? Is it possible to do that?

    Who knows, but I entertain myself endlessly finding out. As I wrote, one understands better, when one sees it in action. Mail me, if you’d like to give it a whirl, but be sure to choose something completely innocuous for subject matter, such as musical taste, or something, if you do. You don’t know me well enough to disclose personal stuff.

    Matt

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  13. The significant difference between scientology and psychiatry is that psychiatry can lock people up and do what they want with their prisoners. Change the english language to change the impression of what they do to people. They don’t jail people they hospitalize people. They don’t forcefully drug people they medicated ill persons for their brain chemical imblances. Psychiatry is helping people while scientology is a harmful cult. Right.

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  14. Doe

    Again, another great article. I printed it out to read to my partner, who was really the one to help me with my mental health to say “Maybe it’s society and not you that’s crazy”.

    I know he will like it. He is planning on being a therapist some day and what bothers him about his current therapist–even though he loves her and she has helped him tremendously–the thing he doesn’t like is that her style is to help clients fit into society, rather than validating their not being able to do so (as the article says…).

    Since we’ve been together, I’ve changed my lifestyle to one that is more “outside” of society (to the degree that it’s possible to do that), and have become more mentally healthy for it. I’ve come to accept (through a lot of hard work, it wasn’t easy at first, and I still feel “fucked up” from time to time that I can’t seem to fit in–it’s probably a very primal need we have, to fit into our tribe, and so it’s painful when we can’t, because doing so endangers our sense of well being).

    Anyway, I’ve come to accept: No I can’t work in a cubicle doing something I couldn’t give a shit about for 40 hours a week. No I can’t separate my “real” personality from my “work” personality. Having to compartmentalize myself like that makes me feel and act crazy. No, I can’t have some impersonal “work evaluation” by some supervisor who doesn’t know me or my work at all, but just sits in a bigger office with nice clothes and wants to rate me (or berate me) by some sort of numbers scale. No, I can’t be called into the office like a child at the principals because I’m ten minutes late and get written up for it. The idiocy of that sort of petty bullshit drives me insane!

    I’ve worked to find the jobs that allow me flexible hours so I can create my own schedule, live by my own particular rhythms, and in unconventional work situations (usually small non profits with just one or two employees!) where I can act and dress like myself. It’s much less stressful on me. I don’t work full time. I’m not built that way. But I work harder and better, with more integrity than I ever did at my more “socially acceptable” jobs.

    So that was quite the diatribe…obviously, I related, and agreed with the article, a great deal!

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  15. thank you Doe,
    your diatribe was quite welcome…I’ve missed hearing from you…

    I too, won’t ever return to “normal” society, but I’m still struggling with trying to figure out just what I will do…!!

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  16. Doe: You’re probably right that it’s a sort of primal need to fit into our tribe. But I regard it just as much a primal need to fit into (our) nature, and since our “tribe” – the majority – has (been) moved as far away from (our) nature as I see it has, one has to choose: “tribe” or nature.

    To me nature seems the healthier choice (for everyone, actually, with or without mental health problems), especially since there always are others, who chose it, too, or at least fully accept and support one’s choice, so you’re not completely “tribeless” whatsoever.

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  17. Doe

    Great point, Marian 🙂 And it’s an interesting journey, discovering what our true nature needs and desires (and a harder than usual thing to find out being conditioned as we are in this culture! Very worth the difficulty indeed!)

    Gianna–LOVE the new pic!

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  18. Gianna: Just take good care of yourself and getting well, first of all. You’ve been through so much lately, its no wonder you feel pooped. It’s nothing less than admirable that you do have the energy to post anything these days. BTW: Awesome post, the “12 Essential Rules…”! – And thanks for being part of my “alternative tribe” 🙂

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  19. J

    Although it’s a good idea to not take anti-psych drugs
    if you have to you have to. Not taking them is serious
    business. When i stopped taking Seroquel I didn’t
    miss it. The same with Benzo’s. I was then left
    on my own with schizophrenia, serious anxiety,
    no therapist and no p-doc.

    After 2 years I stumbled on somethings
    that worked for anxiety; “Transdermal Magnesium”
    (not cal/mag, Mag pills, powders, or supplement liquids
    which are great for constipation but not so great for
    anxiety) and an oral reduced glutathione that actually
    works from a site run by Roberta Maria Atti.
    I was put off by certain things but the content is
    really superior & judging by the effectiveness of
    the glutathione I’m more than sure the rest of
    the protocol will do what it says it will do.
    It is not quack site for curing herpes & she
    makes no claims for glutathione regarding
    anxiety.

    http://www.herpes-be-gone.com/privacy-policy.html

    If anyone is stuck like I was with not being able
    to tolerate anti-psyches or if you don’t want to take them
    these suggestions will work. Of coarse, there
    is one catch. I can only now see the futility
    of bitching and moaning about anxiety and
    at the same time drinking excitotoxins like
    coffee and caffeine. I don’t know how well
    anything will work if you are actively defeating
    what you’re taking.

    And no, stopping caffeine had no effect on my anxiety.
    I thought if I made this big lifestyle sacrifice i
    would be rewarded. It made not one fraction of
    difference.

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  20. Matthew Holford wrote:
    “So what Hubbard has done, presumably, is taken the superficial manifestation of mental illness, and sought an explanation for it. Somehow or other (and we’ll probably never know how), he has settled on this idea of alien life forces inhabiting our minds.

    It’s difficult to imagine what evidence he found to support that notion, given that nobody seems to be sure whether or not there is any other sentient life in our Universe, aside from us, that is, let alone humanoid sentient life (it’s very specific isn’t it, this theory of Hubbard’s?).”

    I’ve read a little of his Scientology writing and it sounded an awful lot like psychiatry but with key terms replaced by his own jargon. So he seemed to be arguing with established psychology using his own brand of same. That is telling of the weaknesses in the originating system, that he could adapt many of those concepts into propaganda for a cult.

    How did he come up with these ideas? He wrote science fiction before he wrote the dictates of scientology. Evidence? He believed in the “space opera” theory where, even when he was writing science fiction (remember that movie where scientologist John Travolta played a villain in some space adventure that tanked at the theatre? that was based on a Hubbard story), he believed that our minds pick up on events playing out in space and time far from us.

    I don’t have time to make sure every statement I just made is 100% accurate, but it’s a start if you want to do some googling. 🙂

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  21. J

    L Rod Hubbard was tired of scrapping and scrounging
    for money by writing pulp SiFi. He wanted to invent
    a religion, make the claims as rediculous as possible
    by using a particularly popular religion who specialized
    in the rediculous as a model and getting that tax free privilege.
    He figured if they (shall remain unnamed but easily guessed) could get away with it he could see them and raise them
    one better. I doubt that the majority of Scientologists
    believe the crap they preach but take that tax treatment
    VERY SERIOUSLY.

    Like

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