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Sep 29, 2022 5:08 AM
dath ilan marian alt in atlas shrugged
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Nobody was ever supposed to die. 

In this particular case, she did the fault analysis half-subconsciously in about thirty seconds, and - well, it doesn't mean much, that she can't see any obvious mistakes. The majority of Civilization is smarter than her, anyone involved in Governance is a lot smarter than her, and anyone making decisions on the scale of 'should planes be stocked with parachutes' is going to spend four orders of magnitude more time on this particular no-longer-hypothetical scenario than she has, right now, and so it would be actively surprising for there to be errors in judgement that she could perceive. 

This may or may not be a rationalization, but it helps, and Merrin is super not inclined to spend what are probably the last few minutes of her life poking at whether her emotions are a proportionate and calibrated response to the situation. If she wakes up later - and she's not going to, clinging to that hope is a level of rationalization she won't tolerate in herself - but if she did, that would be the time to process a thousand feelings that don't, in fact, matter right now. 

She takes all the right actions. Probably. Merrin maintains certifications for half of Exception Handling. She's aware that you don't get to know, in real emergencies, or even in re-enactments since it would sort of defeat the point if they weren't realistic in that way - and this time there won't be a debriefing and analysis, afterward. Which is mildly frustrating, if she's going to die in a freak plane crash she would at least like credit for being the person to stay calm and orient quickly and help the probably-terrified airline staff to coordinate who exactly should be doing what. She can– no, she's not going to bother keeping a mental list of petty frustrations to debug later in her personal analysis, what would be the point, and she needs all of her working memory right now. 

For such a small number of minutes, there are really a lot of petty emotions that she has to consciously remind herself not to make memory handles for. Her parents are going to be traumatized, and – wow, okay, apparently the way she feels about that is 'I wish they wouldn't do that', which is obviously incoherent because it's not like she wants her parents to love her any less. It's hard not to feel guilty about the fact that flying around the world as often as she does made the probability of ending up in the one freak plane crash a lot higher, even though she doesn't regret anything, and - well, even if she had been optimizing for a safe life over her best life, why would you avoid flights, planes just aren't actually very dangerous. Except for this ONE TIME, APPARENTLY and it would have been MORE POLITE of reality to pull this on her return flight, she's had an incredibly busy month and she really needed her upcoming date with a particular millionaire possessed of infohazardous tastes in bed. 

She's going to miss this year's Alien Invasion Rehearsal and she's annoyed about that, she was looking forward to it and she spent a lot of time preparing, and it's stupid to now feel like that time was wasted, it wasn't. Even in a horrifyingly broken version of Civilization - which is the sort of hypothetical you spend a lot more time contemplating when you're an endurance EMT who also keeps active Exceptional Circumstances Certifications with five different organizations - but even in a world where bridges collapsed and planes crashed and wildfires destroyed towns, even in a world where True Death could come to you with a heart attack or an infection, you wouldn't just...spend your life refusing to ever plan ahead. 

There's a four-year-old on the plane. This is also VERY RUDE on reality's part. They're trying to improvise a parachute - or, well, Merrin isn't actually working directly on that, she's not an engineer, she was coordinating the team at first but someone else on the plane turned out to be an infrastructure project manager and he's not as practiced at Merrin at quick-and-dirty-satisficing but it's still a better fit. She's not comforting the kid because the kid's mother is there and that clearly leaves Merrin with no comparative advantage for it. It's still really distracting. 

 

...She's a little wistful that she never figured out the sex thing. It's not like it was ruining her life or even especially making her sad, she's never been an Ace Girl Who Feels Like Being Ace Is An Angsty Curse And Knows Society Thinks She Doesn't Need To Feel That Way But Fuck Society Actually*, she was pretty content with her cuddlefriendships, she didn't have time for more commitment and of course sex isn't the same thing as commitment but it sure does appear to correlate. And then the Keeper approached her, and that was just a bonus, discovering that the dark joy and satisfaction she's always found in pushing herself to her limits - in hiking twenty miles over the course of twelve hours with all her medical equipment on her back, in staying awake for thirty hours straight, in running and swimming and climbing until her muscles burned and everything felt sharper and clearer and brighter - did, in fact, correlate with liking certain other things, and allowed for some very mutually beneficial exchanges with excitingly attractive millionaires possessed of complementary tastes. (It's mildly inconvenient that this is considered an infohazard. It would be different, if half of people were like her. Of course, Merrin's entire life would be very, very different if half of people were like her.)

In any case, though, she had intended to get around to chasing down those trailing threads of her sexuality eventually, to nab even more of that delicious bonus utility, and...in hindsight, pushing it off to later probably was just a rationalization. A symptom of the fact that, whatever one can say about her talents and hard-earned useful skills, however much evidence she has to point to of her conscientiousness and determination, she's in a certain sense lazy. Low curiosity, the career advisor said, and - it's odd, in a way, to look at a life half spent training the skills to handle dozens of out-of-context disasters for Civilization, and say 'that person likes to stick to their comforting routine', but it's sort of true - 

 


*A four-syllable word and common Gendertrope in Baseline. 

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- people are screaming, now, and they're not going to finish the parachute in time, and it's - pointless, to feel like it matters whether she finishes her last-minute referendum of who she is as a person and all the choices she's made.

Her existence has made the world better rather than worse, which isn't bad for someone an entire standard deviation below average intelligence and more than that on numerical ability specifically. That matters to her. She's been happy. That matters to her too. And - and nobody needs her, to hold anything together, Civilization has its protocols and will be fine and absolutely nothing will fall apart in her absence and you would think that might sting, but instead it's oddly reassuring. 

She doesn't scream. Not at all, not even at the very end. It won't make a difference to anything, but it's the one thing left that she can control. 

It hurts, but less than she had expected - even taking into account private information she has about her pain tolerance, and her knowledge of how bodies react physiologically to adrenaline - and not for very long. 

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What. 

She also wasn't expecting there to still be anything afterward! She really, really wasn't expecting that! It's very surprising! 

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Some other surprising things, which Merrin might notice in any order:

- She is completely uninjured.

- She's not in the wreckage of a plane, and is instead in a small apartment.

- Which is furnished at an unusually low tech level.

- There is a man looking at her in great surprise.

- When he says, "Where on Earth did you come from?", it's not in Baseline, but is nonetheless perfectly understandable.

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- she falls almost immediately into a random-bystander-emergency-response* mode, because she is at this point, clearly, well outside the bounds of both any known Civilization protocols, and her intensively-overtrained skills, and also she is really not at her best in terms of reasoning ability.

 

"There was a plane crash," she starts, and only then realizes that - apparently - neither his words to her, nor her response, were in Baseline. 

What. No, seriously, though.

 

(...She's not actually sure how surprising this should be? Or even what direction she should be updating in after having observed it? She's ever read discussion forums, because she may mostly not have time for a personal life but she doesn't have zero time for it, and - Merrin would absolutely not have claimed to be within the top 10% among dath ilanis most prepared to randomly wake up in a ??simulation?? -) 

((- whatever this even is, that she's experiencing, she definitely needs to make some kind of update about the nature of reality because she IS experiencing it but maybe she's just delirious in a hospital after having been improbably rescued from the site of the plane crash -))

(((...And she is apparently now trying to go meta on that thought, which - she doesn't actually know any of the philosophical frameworks she could use to approach this productively, because she's -1 SD on intelligence and why would she have prioritized learning that when it wasn't even interesting–)))

...Stop. Focus. 

Merrin has not, in general, been prone to the common dath ilani problem of getting stuck in excessively-deep piles of meta-thoughts, because she is (as she well knows) in some senses cognitively lazy and low-curiosity, but she is nonetheless very prepared to notice herself falling into that particular failure mode. 

 

........Right. She's now noticed it. Now what. 

- probably the most useful thing she can do right now is just to clearly communicate the information that she has (and prioritize communicating information she has more reason to think is private-to-her)?

 

"- Sorry, I - I wasn't expecting this. I - so my recent memories would indicate that I was on a plane and the plane crashed and I should've died? Except apparently I'm here, now, instead."

 

 

*A two-syllable word in Baseline.

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So the most obvious thought here is that she's insane, but she literally just appeared out of thin air, and also she doesn't look insane. Her voice is steady and her eyes are focused and she looks, actually, more present in reality than a lot of people Eddie has had to look at lately. Which leaves him to conclude . . . nothing. He has no conclusions. He should try to say something useful anyway.

"I just saw you appear out of thin air! You're in New York. Where were you trying to go? And who are you? I'm Eddie Willers."

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(The young woman in front of him, currently scrambling to her feet and looking around in a noticeably-overwhelmed but nonetheless calm-and-steady way, is wearing clearly foreign but very comfortable and functional-looking clothing, and has her hair cropped boyishly short, and is, from the muscles around her neck and collarbones, visibly very fit.) 

 

- Merrin briefly considers whether she should conceal any of her current (non-private and non-infohazardous) information, and decides against, she's natively very bad at it and also she's so confused and also - well, maybe she's in some sort of bizarre simulation which is running one of those adversarial-strategy-games that she's vaguely aware exist, but even if that were the case, she really isn't interested and would rather visibly nope out from the start. 

"....Okay, um, so the first thing is that I - seem to know your language but I don't actually know how I know it, I definitely haven't learned it before. I guess it makes as much sense as anything else that I'd appear out of midair?" Assuming this is a simulation being run with information extracted from her miraculously-retrieved-and-frozen brain, which probably isn't even the most likely scenario here but it's the first one Merrin was able to concretely form. "I - wasn't trying to go anywhere in particular? Since I thought I was going to die and all. What's 'New York'?" 

Pause. 

"- Oh, sorry, and my name is Merrin. I appreciate-knowing-of-you*, Eddie Willers." 

 

....Wow that came across really weirdly in the local language which she apparently inexplicably understands and can speak? It took so many words to say? And now apparently Merrin is experiencing a Social Anxiety. Which she hasn't felt since she was a teenager, and really didn't miss. 

 

*A rarely used Baseline greeting, mostly seen in the context of science fiction stories. 

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"You don't remember learning English? What language do you know? Where are you from?"

Most of the places that don't speak English are People's States, but most People's States don't have much in the way of airplanes, but maybe that doesn't mean anything because hers crashed. What is this person's deal?

Also, people don't just appear out of thin air! Even with everything else going on he had really thought that at least reality was governed by physical laws and that was a comforting thought, and it turning out to be less than completely reliable is making him kind of miserable on a level he isn't consciously looking at.

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Merrin never made this her primary focus, but she has any actual training in reading people's emotional state from their body language. It was relevant in her emergency-situation training - where you can't expect to have time to explicitly communicate everything - and also in her medical work with younger children, and also in all the various scenario-rehearsals where the premise included adversarial-deception-dynamics. 

She notices that the man is uncomfortable and alarmed. She can guess that this is because her sudden arrival in his - ??apartment?? - is just as unexpected and baffling to him as it is to her. She has a lot of uncertainty on that, though. 

"I'm from - Civilization?" she says, uncertainly. "I speak Baseline?" 

(The capitalized-proper-noun nature of these terms doesn't super come across, when spoken out loud in the language that she inexplicably seems to suddenly know, and Merrin can notice this.) 

"I - gah, I'm really not in the mood for this right now, but - I think maybe we need to back up several steps and question some premises here?" 

She really hopes he's going to helpfully step in with something, because questioning premises sounds very exhausting; she knows all the right mental paths to follow and can gesture at the right concrete questions-about-the-world to ask but she would really rather not, right now. 

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". . . I don't recognize either of those. Do you want a map of the Earth you can point at? Or some facts about New York?"

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Oh, wow, concrete offers of information that is especially likely to help her confirm-or-deny any hypotheses she's managed to form! 

(...She hasn't managed any, yet - unless you count 'this is a simulation' but that doesn't help her make specific predictions - this is kind of embarrassing*, if she'd paid more attention– but why would she have prioritized that, every single thing about all of this is VERY SURPRISING and literally no one should plan their life and training based on being maximally prepared for the hypothetical scenario where -))

((Okay, stop, she's getting distracted trying to shove the current situation into a framework she understands, and it makes a lot of sense, why she wants that - why it's the path of least resistance, right now - but that doesn't mean it's correct -))

 

"Yes. Both of those sound very useful! - Also any facts you can give me about the major cities that 'New York' has trade relations with?" 

 

*This word has a different connotation in Baseline compared to English, with less focus on external social perceptions and more on the internal sense of one falling short of optimality (in this case, epistemic optimality).

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What an interesting way to phrase that, he thinks as he walks to one of his several bookshelves and grabs an atlas. Probably means she's a businesswoman and not from a People's State. (Or there are still businessmen in People's States; he only has the newspapers' word for it that there aren't, and what's that worth.) 

"New York is the largest city in America. It's a center of industry; I work at the headquarters of Taggart Transcontinental, the largest railroad in the world." He says this with the quiet but obvious pride of a knight naming his lord. "The other center of the country is the state of Colorado; new ventures are starting there every day." 

The atlas has a map of the United States and one of the world. It's several years out of date, but Eddie has carefully pencilled in "People's State of" in front of the names of a couple more countries.

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…Wait what, she’s also mysteriously able to read this language which has an alphabet and script that are very obviously not dath ilani? 

- That is definitely not the highest-priority mystery to pursue right now. (Actually, Merrin would really prefer if there were ZERO mysteries, because she just went through a lot and used her brain to its ful extent and she's tired, but that too is a pointless frustration and she sets it aside. Effortfully.) 

She looks at the map provided. 

She...thinks that's a continent-shape she recognizes? Every single other thing on the map is unfamiliar, though. Which isn't surprising, per se, but somehow still manages to be disorienting. 

(Did she get kicked forward in time? That - also seems like definitely the kind of thing that doesn't actually happen, but surviving a fatal plane crash and finding oneself 'appearing out of thin air' in someone's office is ALSO something that doesn't actually happen, so.) 

 

 

WHY is she still feeling socially anxious about telling this man that she doesn't recognize anything on his map and is therefore going to inevitably make his day even more complicated. It's not like she can by sheer effort of will decide that the situation is any less bizarre and inexplicable than it actually is! 

 

 

"- I, um, I - don't recognize any countries on your map. ...To be clear I'm not actually surprised that I don't? I mean, relative to - everything else about this situation."

If she were smarter and had higher verbal ability, then she could probably say something more helpful, even in this inexplicably-acquired language which is terrible for actually conveying what she's thinking without her having to put (what feels like an unreasonable amount of) effort into it. However. She isn't, and she's had a very overwhelming last few subjective-minutes, and she apparently isn't, actually, very motivated to try harder at this.

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Dagny would have some brilliant six-word response that would make Merrin feel like everything was going to be okay because Dagny is an unstoppable machine of making everything be okay. But Dagny is even busier than Eddie is right now and Eddie had been drawing up a freight schedule instead of going to bed when this happened. 

At least it isn't another goddamn law.

There isn't, really, any reason not to ask. "Is your country a People's State?" He doesn't really know what goes on in People's States but they might not have accurate maps, especially regarding America in particular.

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....And that word, in a foreign language she didn't speak ten minutes ago and has no idea how or why she now understands, sure does come with a lot of connotations! Mostly connotations that Merrin can't even begin to wrap her mind around. 

"I - um - no. I'm pretty sure I'm not. Actually, can you unpack a bit for me what 'state' means? I'm...pretty sure I'm not - from here. I think this is an entire different Civilization somehow and no I don't have any good hypotheses for how or why I ended up here." 

Is she in a fantasy novel. It's clearly not a Science novel because this place looks weirdly low-tech and she's getting the vague sense from half-understood word connotations that the 'People's States' are probably worse

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"A state is--a part of the world, with a government and a set of laws and a set of people who live there. Uh, in America states are usually called countries because the units America is divided into are also called States, sorry about that. Colorado is a state in the part of America sense. New York is a state but we're in New York City which is a city and a lot of people just say New York to mean the city because it's the biggest city in the state by a long shot. Did that make you less confused?"

It had never occurred to Eddie what a mess the word "state" was before. He feels embarrassed about the English language, like a host who fails to notice his dirty floors until a guest arrives. At least his literal apartment is acceptably clean.

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"...That was a clear and informative explanation and I think I'm more confused now but that's not your fault. There - are places with different Governance and different Law? How different?" 

(That feels like it can't possibly be a stable equilibrium although when Merrin queries herself on why she mostly gets 'math reasons???', and maybe that works differently at lower tech levels although this place doesn't seem that low-tech, their language has a word for 'airplane' and her five-second guess would have been that having airplanes would be close enough to dath ilan tech level that the stable equilibrium would be the same, although that is a WILD guess and she's never particularly thought about this question before and maybe if she were a Keeper who knew the screened-off history and was three standard deviations higher intelligence then it would make perfect sense.) 

After a pause:

"- I should actually get a summary from you on what Governance is like here, I guess. Or a book on it, if that's easier?" 

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"Yeah, that's--probably a good idea. Things are changing quickly enough that I should just explain it myself, all my books are out of date. I'm just going to pretend you're--from the lost city of Atlantis or something something, just interrupt me if I'm not giving enough context or saying too many obvious things."

"So, most of the world is People's States, where all the industries are run by the government and there's no private property. They're dirt poor. Nobody ever leaves, I don't know if they can't or if they just don't think there's anywhere better. America and the other few countries with private property send them aid, food and machinery and stuff--not that we can afford it!--never mind. . . . Anyway, the current government . . . they've been passing all sorts of laws, I don't know to what purpose, there's got to be a purpose. The Equalization of Opportunity Bill, that doesn't let one person work in more than one industry. The Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule, destroying the small railroads . . . I don't know where it's all headed. Maybe the same way as the People's States, for all that. Is where you're from different?" Over the course of this series of sentences, his face has gone from that of a man with an interesting puzzle to the face of a soldier in a trench whose eyes have forgotten how to see past six feet. It looks less natural on his face, but more usual.

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Wow that's incredibly concerning! Also incredibly confusing! Although...less confusing in one sense, maybe, if things are changing fast then it's got to be because the current equilibrium isn't stable, right, that's how that works? 

She has SO MANY QUESTIONS and is having some difficulty teasing them apart and putting them in order so she can actually ask any of them.

"Y...es," she manages, after another pause. "I maybe don't understand what you mean by 'there's no private property', I - don't see how taking the literal interpretation of that lets you have an economy at all? Setting aside global trade, how would you do trade internally, what does it even mean to have an industry if it's not selling things because people can't own things, what actually happens to the goods being manufactured...?" 

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"The governments decide what gets made and who it gets given to. I heard they plow their farms with horses, now, because they have no tractors."

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They plow their fields with what now? Merrin sort of feels like she needs a DIAGRAM to even picture what's being described there. Probably it would make slightly more sense if she knew HISTORY. Or maybe if she had read more of the Science Fantasy genre where a protagonist encounters pre-industrial aliens; she mostly hasn't, the genre as a whole tends to assume that the reader wants way more math in their leisure reading than Merrin is usually in the mood for. She knows what to do if menaced by animals in the wilderness, that's an Exception Handling cert, but she has no idea how one would go about using animals for industry

It's also been nearly a decade since she last thought about principles of economics in any detail, when she was taking those classes, and she's pretty sure she knows enough to make more sense of this than she's managing so far, but she's having to dig for it. Why couldn't she have instead ended up somewhere that had easier problems to understand, like, say, a massive natural disaster that called for an endurance EMT. 

"I - okay, I'm going to paraphrase what I think you're saying to make sure I'm understanding it right. In a People's State, all the capital is owned by - the legal entity that is their government? As opposed to the individuals who work in Governance, which would be - sort of like the government was a corporation that happened to be the only one in its region and owned everything, which to be clear I also don't think would actually work but at least it'd give the leadership some incentive to use efficient processes so they could get more profits. But it sounds like, uh, no one including the people working in Governance are going to personally get any of the gains-from-trade if they improve a particular industry, and so they're not incentivized to try that hard? And, uh, if the government decides that the factories should make, hmm, shoes or whatever, this year, instead of tractors, then - nobody who's making that decision has a short-term incentive to think about whether it's the right call, and the people actually working in agriculture, who presumably have a lot more context on how useful tractors are, don't have the option of investing in a different company instead that could open a competing factor and profit off the tractor shortage?" 

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"Yes, that all sounds right. I'm not sure there's a difference between the legal entity of government and the individuals in it, or that they would respect it if there were, but--nobody seems to want to make things better. No, not nobody. Dagny is trying to fix it, Henry Rearden is trying to fix it, some other people too--they'll keep building things, whatever happens."

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"And, uh, there are places that are People's States now and didn't used to be? And the state - country - we're in now isn't a People's State but you think it might be headed that way? I...uh, I think I'm still pretty importantly confused about why anyone thought that was a good idea." 

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Eddie answers almost in a whisper. "I wish I knew . . . but I'm afraid to find out."

It's strange, that he's admitting that, when he's admitted it to so few people. But Merrin is looking at him like she really wants to know things, like she cares about what's happening, and it's such a rare look that he finds himself wanting to explain everything, even the things he doesn't usually want to think about.

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Merrin's interpersonal instincts are screaming that this is someone under a LOT OF STRESS and that this conversation is likely to be more productive if she steps back from problem-solving for a moment and focuses on reassurance, except that it doesn't feel like any of her standard scripts for reassurance are applicable here and she has no idea what to say that won't somehow make him feel worse. 

And also it's bothering her a lot, actually, that she doesn't understand why THIS seems to be the equilibrium that the current unstable situation is sliding toward, and it feels really pressingly important, like an itch she can't reach to scratch - people do things for reasons, and Eddie Willers is apparently afraid to know what those reasons are and THAT is also bothering her to a kind of surprising extent and she wants to poke it even though her social instincts are screaming that he needs zero poking right now. 

 

 

...And there's also the unresolved mystery of what she's even doing here, what's happening, what is reality made of right now - if she imagines being the sort of person who did read Science Fantasy with loads of math in it for fun, she would probably be thinking something about quantum mechanics and many worlds and anthropics, but in fact she is not that person and can only get as far as those concepts sort of bouncing around in her mind without finding any traction. 

"I'm sorry," she says quietly. "I - it feels really obvious to me that the thing the People's States are doing is just going to predictably result in nobody having tractors anymore, and that - trying to do that here is a terrible idea - actually I would've thought that should be obvious to people who aren't me, too, I guess maybe once Governance is already doing that thing then maybe that's a - hard equilibrium to get out of again? Because in the short run nobody has the right incentives to make incremental changes? But if people here know that the People's States are poor, then - that seems like a really clear reason to not try the same thing and expect it to somehow go differently this time?" 

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