Book of the Day: P2P Towards a Post-Capitalist Society

By hartsellml


* De Wereld Redden. Met P2P naar een post-kapitalische samenleving. Michel Bauwens en Jean Lievens. Houtekiet / Oikos, 2013

Dear Friends,

P2P Foundation is looking for an English, and other languages, publisher for Bauwens and Lievens, P2P Towards a Post-Capitalist Society. This book achieved its third printing in a very short time in the Flanders (Flemish) French translation is already secured.


English presentation and summary:

“With P2P towards a postcapitalist society

Our present society is based on the absurd idea that material resources are abundant and immaterial ideas are scarce. We behave as if the planet is infinite and exploit the earth in a way that endangers survival of the human species. On the other hand, we are building artificial walls around human knowledge to prevent and impede sharing as much as possible.

The peer-to-peer model of Wikipedia (knowledge), Linux (software) and Wikipspeed (design), inspired by open source, wants to turn this logic on its head. According to Michel Bauwens, the sharing economy, P2P-networks, open source, crowd sourcing, fablabs, micro-factories, hackerspaces, the makers’ movement, urban agriculture… all new phenomena forming patterns that lead us towards a postcapitalist society, in which the market will be subsumed to the logic of the commons.

Just as feudalism developed within the womb of the Roman slave society and capitalism developed within feudalism, we are witnessing the embryo of a new form of society within capitalism. In order to save the world, we need a relocalisation of production and an extension of global cooperation in the field of knowledge, code and design.”


Save the world is based on a 12-hour interview by former journalist Jean Lievens with Michel Bauwens, and is divided into six chapters:

Chapter 1: The Economy of P2P

For the first time in history, people all over the world can connect with each other and produce common value: a universal encyclopedia (Wikipedia), an operation system (Linux) or the design of a mother board (Arduino). They are building complex systems outside traditional organizations such as companies, government institutions or NGO’s. In addition, they don’t do it for the money, but because they like to do it, because they want to make themselves useful, because they want to solve a problem… Therefore, we are dealing with a new (proto-) mode of production, peer production. It is a hyper productive mode of production because it is based on passionate production and therefore, it has the tendency to outperform traditional businesses. In this chapter, Michel Bauwens places P2P within a historical framework and explains this new form of collaboration, sharing en producing.

Chapter 2, the politics of P2P

How will this transformation towards a new form of society in which P2P will become the dominant mode of production, take place? What are the social and political forces that will help determinate this transition? How will the ‘old world’ resist change and hinder the new emerging world? Will this transition be smoothly or will it be a revolutionary process?

Michel Bauwens considers P2P as the ideology of a new class of knowledge workers, with the same appeal as the ideas of socialism were for the industrial workers in the nineteenth century. The first political expressions – from the Swedish Pirate Party and the Greek Potato Movement to the Five Star Movement of Bopped Grillo – are still in their infancy. In addition, these new political formations need to find progressive partners to work out a program to defend and promote the interests of immaterial and material commons. In this Chapter, Michel Bauwens also tackles the role of the state that needs to transform itself from welfare state to partner state.

Chapter 3: P2P and spirituality

We cannot understand spiritual expressions and religious organizational structures outside of the historical social structure in which they originated and developed. Tribal religious forms like animism and shamanism didn’t have developed hierarchical structures as they arose within a social framework with egalitarian relationships relying on kinship. The large organized religions originating in highly hierarchical societies are defined by complex hierarchical structures. There is only one truth to which members have to obey. The protestant reaction was characterized by democratic features reflecting the values of a new urban bourgeoisie representing mercantilism and a nascent industrial capitalism. New Age reflects modern capitalist practices where even spiritual experiences have become consumer goods. In this chapter, Bauwens explains how the transition towards distributed networks will also have great consequences for spiritual development.

Chapter 4: the Philosophy of P2P

Michel Bauwens rejects methodologies that are trying to explain phenomena from one point of view. Not only do we need to take into account the objective, but also the subjective elements in their interdependency. At the same time his integral approach is a form of truth philosophy. According to Bauwens, truth needs to be constructed contributively and every object needs to be approached from as many angles and perspectives as possible. However, this integral approach also poses dangers, as shown by the reactionary nature of the ideas of Ken Wilber. For Michel Bauwens, the P2P-movement is a progressive, integrative emancipation movement.

Chapter 5: the P2P Foundation

The P2P Foundation is an international organization focused on studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer-to-peer practices in a very broad sense. This website is our knowledge commons and it’s collaboratively built by our community.

Chapter 6: a Biography of Michel Bauwens

Bauwens is founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property. He is listed at #82, on the Post Growth Institute’s (En)Rich list as one of the 100 most inspiring people in the world. He worked among others for BP and Belgacom as e-business strategy director and writers for online media as Al Jazeeera English. He is also economic adviser of the government of Ecuador.

Appendix; The Story of the book

Michel Bauwens and Jean Lievens met in the second half of the seventies at the Free University of Brussels, were they were active in the student movement. More than three decades later, the ideas of P2P brought them together again. Now in their fifties, confronted with a broken system that threatens the survival of the human species, they consider the transition towards a P2P society as a way out of the present crisis.

More information

The book is based on a 12-hour interview by former journalist Jean Lievens with Michel Bauwens, and is divided into six chapters: the Economy of P2P, the Politics of P2P, P2P and Spirituality, the Philosophy of P2P, the P2P Foundation and a Biography of Michel Bauwens, who was elected on the Enriched List of the Post Growth Institute, a list with the 100 most inspiring people (dead and alive) ever in relation to sustainability.

216 pages | ISBN 978 90 8924 254 9 /


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Occupy Scrum: How Sprint Retrospectives Brought us to Agile Nirvana

By Kevin Flanagan

We are big fans of Loomio and have been using it for a while now for organising tasks and decision making here at the P2P Foundation. It’s always interesting to learn about how other groups work. I recently came across this article on how Loomio use Agile and Scrum methods to get things done.

Loomio is a tool made by a ragtag bunch that grew out of the Occupy movement, anarchist and activist circles, free-thinking musicians and artists, open-source advocates, techno-utopians, social entrepreneurs, and collective community builders. We’re a worker-owned cooperative company with no bosses. As you might expect, we aren’t predisposed to enjoy being told what to do, having role titles, or submitting to strict rules.

Like most developers, we’d heard of the Agile Method of Software Development, and we picked up bits and pieces gleaned from blogs or conversations. But we still resisted any kind of “oppressive” restrictions on our freedom.

We just didn’t get it – the Agile Manifesto isn’t so different from what you might see in an Occupy manifesto. It says right in the Scrum Guide that Scrum teams are “self-organizing”. We were hyper-conscious of process in our general meetings right from the start, but it took us a lot of trial and error, and practice, to apply the same rigour to process in our workflow.

Turns out, Scrum is what freed us, but only when we submitted to it fully.

Embracing Scrum In Its Entirety – It Ain’t Easy!

Because we’re stubborn, we had to learn the hard way, by making mistakes. More than a few times, just as we thought something we were building was nearing completion we’d realise it was not quite right (or even very wrong). Or things would take way longer than we thought. Or people would get frustrated at the way the team was working.

We’d have informal conversations about process improvements, or just carry on building until it worked. Tasks could continue indefinitely. We had no way of tracking our performance, and as the team and project grew, we were finding it increasingly difficult to make changes. Sometimes we felt like the app was locking us in to a particular trajectory against our will.

Loomio co-founder and lead dev Jon was frustrated by this dynamic but didn’t quite know how to change it. One day, he stumbled across a video by Ken Schwaber, and was inspired to study up hard.

Jon asked for team buy-in. He asked for permission to be an asshole about it until we actually got whipped into shape and started following Scrum for real. We might be a bunch of wilful individualists, but we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t prepared to do what’s best for the project first and foremost, and we saw that this was it. All consented to some much-needed bossing around.

It certainly wasn’t easy at first, and Jon had to continually repeat the phrase “let’s stick to the process” until he was blue in the face. The main thing that Jon asked of the team, and the main take away that he got from Ken’s talk, was this: to get full value from Scrum, you must adopt it entirely, following it to the rule.

Retrospectives are the Most Important Part of Scrum

The real magic of Scrum is not just the Scrum techniques themselves, it’s that continuous process improvement is built in. You can’t do that without retrospectives.

Retrospectives are a formalised way for the the team to reflect on the sprint that just finished and discuss the good and the bad of it. It’s about resolving conflicts or misunderstandings, and celebrating the good things that happened during the sprint, with the purpose of making process improvements for the team to adopt in the next sprint.

Following Scrum process closely is hard. We found that we needed plenty of practice to get a rhythm as a team. To get good at it, we had to learn together through practice, reflection, and communication.

We developers like to think we can teach ourselves anything by reading about it on the internet. But there are some things that you just don’t comprehend without stepping out of your comfort zone, actually putting it into practice, and making some mistakes you can learn from. You cannot really understand retrospectives by reading about them on the internet (yes, we are aware of the irony that you are reading about this on the internet – go out and try it for real!).

When you’ve got a lot of work you want to get done, or you’re already sure your opinion about something is correct, facilitated processes can feel like they are slowing you down. But our experience has taught us that in the long term, they absolutely pay off.

“I usually approach any meeting with a certain degree of trepidation, as it feels like it is getting in the way of real work. However giving the retrospective the time it needs has paid off time and time again. The simple exercises you participate in as a team brings out how everyone is feeling about the state of the project. You can’t help but address the major issues in the room. Having timeboxed conversations in order of priority and finding process improvements to address issues is the therapy that the team needs. Despite initial resistance, I regularly come away from a retrospective with renewed faith in the team.” – Rob (crotchety old Loomio dev)

Sometimes retrospectives are a place for challenging conversations and confronting issues you might otherwise avoid. It’s a place for anyone in the team to say what’s bothering them. These frustrations, which might otherwise fester, can be turned into great process improvements when facilitated properly. When you have great facilitation, the group benefits from shared understanding and protocols, skill at helping everyone communicate effectively, and tools for handling conflict.

Here are some facilitation techniques that have worked for us:

  • Visual: drawing progress lines, mood graphs, walls of post-it notes, and writing up the agenda of timeboxed conversations clearly

  • Verbal: consciously deciding on speaking protocols depending on time constraints and content, to empower people with varying communication styles. Some examples are a round (going in a circle, everyone speaks once), popcorn-style (people ‘pop’ whenever they feel they have something to say), a stack (people add their names to a list and they are called in order), or other agreed protocol (such as not speaking again until two others have spoken)

  • Cultural: personal circumstances, stress and emotions are legitimate dimensions to how people work. We start meetings with a check-in round focused on personal wellbeing. We make it OK to mention issues related to mental health, family obligations, gender dynamics – whatever needs to be acknowledged. We explicitly celebrate people taking time off to rejuvenate or study new skills.

Process Improvement in Practice: Experiment, Learn, Repeat

Here’s an example of how one of our processes improved through formal retrospectives.

When we first started, we deployed code as soon as whoever was working on it and whoever else happened to be around thought it was ready. This worked at first when Jon was the only developer on the team, but as the team grew it meant that we were missing certain necessary checks. Just small stuff like making sure the UX was intelligible, and that what we’d built was actually responding to the original customer need we’d set out to address (!).

During one of our retrospectives, we arrived at the conclusion that we needed a sign-off process. In traditional Scrum, the Product Owner signs everything off, so we decided to try that. This wasn’t the final answer, though, because we found that it wasn’t always clear what criteria exactly the Product Owner should be using. We tried giving the Product Owner a check-list of criteria, but it was time consuming for them to have to chase different people around to see if certain things were done. Also the Product Owner isn’t a code or design expert, so things were still getting missed.

Next we experimented with what we called ‘sign-off parties’ – get everyone together at the end of the sprint and do it all at once. We had a senior designer as Design Owner and a senior developer as Code Owner, and everything could be verified at once without the Product Owner needing to track people down. The problem with sign-off parties was that, inevitably, problems would be discovered (a good thing) but we’d find ourselves at the end of the sprint suddenly finding out we had a bunch more work to do (a bad thing). This bottlenecking caused every single sprint to start going over.

Finally we arrived at our current iteration of the process – rolling sign-off during the sprint. Now, when someone thinks their work is ready, they send it for sign-off by the Design Owner and Code Owner. There’s a checklist to make sure it’s been user tested, QA’ed, and cross-browser compatible. By the time it finally gets to the Product Owner for sign-off, they can see that all this has been done and don’t need to chase anyone around to make sure. Deployments can happen continuously and to a high quality standard, and doing this work is incorporated into the sprint itself, allowing us to actually finish what we set out to complete by the time the sprint is up.

It took three iterations of continuous improvement to get to where we are. Of course, our process around sign-off will continue to change as we grow, but we’re confident it will always change for the better because we’ve got rock-solid retrospectives.

Roles are Key, Even if You Are All in it Together as Equals

We are a highly collaborative team making a tool for collective decision-making, and a bootstrapping startup without the resources to employ people in Scrum roles who aren’t also on the Product Team. This creates an inherent tension with the traditional Scrum roles, which call for separation from the dev team, and hierarchical authority to make decisions.

We’ve worked through this tension by learning that Scrum roles are about personas and archetypes, not the individuals who happen to be in them. In fact, many people think that cross-functional managers are ideal for Agile, and at Loomio, every member is a manager. Thinking about the roles this way has helped us optimize them quite separate to anyone’s personal ego.

We encourage all our team members to learn about the roles and support them upskilling to the point they can take them on. We rotate people through roles periodically, to share the load and the learning, and to prevent anyone from getting too dictatorial. Going out to get external training is a great way to import Agile wisdom and culture into these roles.

We’re a cooperative company, meaning we’re all business owners, so the ‘business team’ serves everyone, and the traditional Agile ‘product owner’ has had to be adapted to our context, making it a highly collaborative role interpreting a wide set of priorities into a coherent work plan.

It’s up to the Scrum Master to facilitate the retrospectives. Once Jon had the process up and running, he handed the scrum master mask onto Mix – having a flair for the dramatic, he literally wears a black zorro mask when acting as the scrum master, so that he can take off the mask and participate in discussions as himself as well, and people don’t confuse the two personas or take it personally when he invokes the powers of his role.

The Scrum Master maintains a structured framework for the two-hour retrospective meeting, and ensures everyone’s voice is heard. We get through complex discussion points with minimal friction. The scrum master needs permission from the group to be a bit of a stickler, e.g. setting time limits on conversation topics and reminding people to stick to the conversational protocols we’ve agreed to.

Since we all own the business, we aren’t working for a paying client. So the idea of having a single product owner making the final decision on what features do and do not get built took a bit of getting used to. But it’s a very essential role to include and respect, to make sure we’re setting the right priorities and responding to feedback, user testing, and business circumstances.

Our current product owner, Rich, took over from Ben when he took off to talk about Loomio around the world. Rich stays in continuous contact with the user support, research, design, development and business teams, synthesizing all of that input into a coherent set of priorities for each sprint. He’s conceived his role as a communicator across different parts of the project, and a synthesizer of all the inputs.

What We’ve Learned:

  • Adopt the whole scrum process
    AKA: “Either scrum or don’t scrum. Don’t scrum haphazardly.” Take the time to learn it for real and get good at it, especially retrospectives. Attend a few external classes. Share the job of adopting scrum amongst your team. We owe a lot to the workshops held by Boost Media here in Wellington, who hold classes on many aspects of Scrum.

  • Focus on writing good stories
    We’ve learned the importance of writing better user stories, specifying clearly the who, what, and why of each feature. When you’re writing good stories and running good retrospectives, you can really start to feel the self-organising, self-improving nature of Scrum.

  • Make your sprints work for you
    Once you learn the rules, then you can start learning to bend them a bit. We started with standard weekly sprints, but found that the overhead of sprint planning and running a good retrospective meant that we didn’t have enough time during the sprint for all of the work we had to do. We’ve since moved to a 2 week sprint and made a strategic decision to start on Wednesdays rather than Mondays. This means we aren’t pressured to deploy on a Friday – meaning we’re no longer enslaved to the project all weekend worrying about bugs and fixes and things. Only through following the process strictly can you control variables enough to effectively experiment.

  • Track velocity
    Our mentor and code-guru Craig Ambrose recommended “velocity tracking”, a measure of user-facing value delivered per week. We dropped the ultra-flexible Trello in favor of the highly-opinionated Pivotal Tracker, with velocity tracking built in. Estimation is something that we naturally get all fussed about as developers. It’s hard. The best estimations involve all members of the team looking at well documented stories, and it rapidly highlights if a story isn’t clear. Estimating shows differences in the understanding of each story, allowing us to catch it much earlier. As we improve at this, having a good idea of task sizes helps us have an increasingly accurate view of what we can achieve in the short and long term.

  • Visualise progress
    We’ve experimented with visualising the sprint on a whiteboard. This helps us check in on our progress during daily standups, increases the visibility of stagnant tasks, and helps us see who is available for pair coding. In the example at the stop of this post, we were able to note how we slipped up on sticking to the stories in the sprint and made process improvements based on that.

Do you want us to work for you?

All this could be yours. We’ve got capacity over the next few months to work on your project. Join us in Agile nirvana!


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How Land Property Is Tied To Inequality: the UK example

By Michel Bauwens


This article on land and wealth originally proposed for New Start magazine in the UK, in October 2014, by Robin Murray:

” In Britain in 1700 agricultural land accounted for three fifths of all wealth. Land and its rents were the source of power and the pre-occupation of politics. Until the mid 19th century they remained so – in Parliament, in literature as in political economy. The franchise was based on landed property holdings. Jane Austin’s characters assessed their mutual prospects in terms of their annual rent rolls. The economist, David Ricardo, argued that land rent and its stranglehold on industrial growth was the primary economic problem. His focus was not was on the returns to a landlord’s investment on his estates but rather on the growing proportion of his returns that came from his control over the land itself – the so-called ground rent.

By the time of the First World War, the long dominance of the great landed estates was largely over. Their power had been challenged by the new industrial, financial and labour interests. Agricultural land fell to less than 5% of all wealth, and today is less than 1%. The great 18th and 19th questions of enclosures, land rents and rural depopulation have now been shifted to the countries with large peasant populations in the South.

In the North, the land issue has re-appeared in a different form. In the UK as in France, while wealth is partly held in stocks and shares, three fifths of it is now in housing. In both countries the rack rents paid by the tenant farmers of the 18th and 19th centuries now take the form of mortgage payments and urban rents paid largely by their descendants. For many people today housing accounts for as much as a third of their disposable income. Housing and the land on which it stands now has the same significance in wealth and inequality as rural land in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thanks to the remarkable work of the economist of the moment Thomas Piketty, we can trace the continuities in the concentration of wealth. In 1810 the top 10% owned 80% of the wealth in the UK. In 2010 the figure was still 70%. The common factor has been the concentrated ownership of land. Land is tied to inequality like the shirt of Nessus.

* Land and speculation

The link between them is partly direct. Tenants pay landlords rent. But now it is also through finance. Finance and landed property are like partners in an economic dance. Of the £540 billion gross lending in Britain in 2013, a third was for domestic mortgages. A further 30% was to businesses, in which the leading sector was real estate companies. Other companies commonly use their real estate as security for the banks. A full £180 billion of British banks debts were held against commercial property.

In Britain, land and its rents have been financialised. They now serve as a store of value, a source of capital income, and are the primary security for the financial system. They are also an object of speculation.
As became clear in the collapse of 2007/8, easy money had led to a property bubble. It was a bubble based on fictitious expectations about the future value of land rents. In the post crash policy debates the focus has been on the pyramid of financial instruments that the banks developed on the basis of mortgages (so-called derivatives). Little attention has been paid to the source of the problem – the very existence and control of ground rent itself.

* Reclaiming rent

Land by its nature is scarce. A site in Mayfair cannot be reproduced like a pair of shoes. The monopoly rent it commands plays no productive role. It acts as a private tax on the productive economy. The question has always been what can be done about it.

The first approach has been tax, from the French Revolution onwards. In modern Britain there have been three successful attempts by post 2nd world war Labour governments to tax the increases in ground rent (the so called betterment). They all faced the problems that land and wealth taxes have always met with: regular and accurate assessment, evasion, exceptions, and strong political opposition. All three Labour initiatives (in 1947, 1967 and 1976) were quickly repealed by incoming Tory governments. Some forms of property tax have survived, notably Council taxes and stamp duty, but none have tamed the tiger of property speculation.

The second approach has been to socialise ground rent. The Prussian state, with its great patrimonial estates and public railway developments, were so successful in this that they could keep tax rates close to zero. In the UK successive governments used compulsory purchasing powers to take over land, primarily to limit the land costs of state infrastructural investment. By 1980 this has grown to be a large public bank of land that was removed from the mainstream land market.

In the past thirty years the tide has turned. Privatisation, the sale of council houses, the funding of budgetary deficits by property sales, have all returned a substantial part of public land to the forces of the private market.

* Community ownership

An alternative current – limited by the 20th century predominance of the state – has been the expansion of the social economy. Land reform in Scotland has seen whole islands returned to the ownership of their inhabitants. Throughout Britain there has been an expansion of co-operative housing. Councils in England and Wales have transferred the ownership of public housing to their tenants ‘in common’. There has been a remarkable growth of community land trusts – 170 to date in Britain, 300 in the USA.

The most ambitious of these projects is an old one. Letchworth Garden City is over 100 years old. It is based on the principle of the community ownership of the freehold, so that any increase in ground rent could be enjoyed by the town’s citizens in common. Today, though Labour’s 1967 Leasehold Reform Act meant that many residents bought their freeholds, the town still collectively owns the industrial and commercials freeholds. It receives £7 million a year, with which it funds a day hospital, a museum, a public cinema, extensive parks and a great variety of activities.

Ebenezer Howard’s Letchworth is co-operative and ecological in its inspiration. It provides model for the reclaiming of the control of land as a platform for the diverse inventiveness of its leaseholders. The recent winners of the Wolfson Economics Prize for the design of new garden cities have adopted Howard’s principles of a common freehold, and shown how the developmental value of the ground rent in a new garden city would be sufficient to fund all necessary infrastructure. They also identify forty sites in England where such cities could be developed. The development of garden cities is now supported by all three main political parties. Similar support should be given to the rapid expansion of community land trusts.

* Reversing enclosure

The Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi, writing in the shadow of the Great Depression and the Second World War, insisted that land, like labour and money, could not be treated like any other commodity. When they have been, society has been in danger of falling apart. The speculative turbulence of the current private land market, and the concentration of land ownership by the top 10%, bear out his argument. To resolve the current housing crisis, to tame the financial tiger and to curb the ever growing inequality that eats like an acid into our common bonds, now calls for a major initiative: to reclaim the freehold of Britain’s land for the public and the social realms.”


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Video of the Day: 3 hacks for a resource-based economy

By Michel Bauwens


From the notes to the video:

The Zeitgeist Movement Ecuador invited Michel Bauwens to talk about a possible transition towards a Resource-based economic model and the “hacks” he proposes to achieve this (edited to include English audio only).

Michel Bauwens:

In this video I explain how, through the Commons-Based Reciprocity License, one can create an ethical entrepreurial coalition which co-produces commons, and which can, through the adoption of open book accounting and shared open logistics, move the ‘stigmergic’ mutual coordination which already exists for the production of immaterial goods (knowledge, code, design), to physical production itself.

This is a quote from our latest book, ‘Network Society and Four Scenarios for the Collaborative Economy‘, which touches on that issue:

“Through the ethical economy surrounding the Commons, by contrast, it becomes possible to create non-commodified production and exchange. We thus envision a resource-based economy which would utilize stigmergic mutual coordination through the gradual application of open book accounting and open supply chain. We believe that there will be no qualitative phase transition merely through emergence, but that it will require the reconstitution of powerful political and social movements which aim to become a democratic polis. And that democratic polis could indeed, through democratic decisions, accelerate the transition. It could take measures that obligate private economic forces to include externalities, thereby ending infinite capital accumulation.”


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Evolutionary Biologist Divulges The Secret To Human Coexisting

By Kevin Flanagan


Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change in Majorca, Spain talks with Evolutionary Biologist and Futurist Elisabet Sahtouris about her life’s work. She studied algae which covered Earth in its first 2 billion years to find that there’s a maturation cycle of all life, wherein the costs of competition are too high and the solution for survival is cooperation. She is now applying her finding to the study of the evolution of human society.


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