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In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves
"We're here to devour each other alive."
Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes

Frequently, characters will claim that it is in the nature of the human race to destroy itself. When the character is an alien but not a Proud Warrior Race Guy, they'll look down on us as primitive, violent, and socially unacceptable.

According to the more pessimistic sociologists, this is Truth in Television. Even the non-heavy drinkers agree that we possess this tendency. The basic reason for this is that our technical ingenuity — that is, our ability to devise new ways of building and doing things — is advancing faster than our social ingenuity — that is, our ability to devise new ways to associate and relate with one another.

Part of this problem stems from our biology — at the core of every mammal brain is a snappish crocodile that is upset when others enter its territory or make sudden moves around them. Behavioral patterns that once ensured our survival now court destruction. Luckily, the desire for self-preservation keeps this in check — there's a reason the United States never had a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union: they didn't want to be destroyed themselves.note 

The other part is cultural, stemming from the behaviors and values that we teach to successive generations. Because of this conditioned element, the exact degree to which we seek self-destruction waxes and wanes over long periods of time, but because our military prowess is now reaching earth-shattering levels, it may soon be the case that even a slight lapse in reasoning may render the entire matter academic.

But whether or not we're actually likely to drive ourselves to extinction is a matter of personal opinion.

A Sub-Trope of Humans Are the Real Monsters and Humans Are Morons. Contrast Ape Shall Never Kill Ape. See also Pretext for War. May be used as a justification for a Zeroth Law Rebellion.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 
  • According to the Anti-Spirals in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, humanoid life holds the risk of triggering the end of the universe.
  • In Gundam SEED, Rau Le Cruset believes this. He decides to speed up the process.
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund provides a non-human variant. Mina Tepes openly admits that without an emotional anchor of some sort vampires are prone to extraordinary degrees of self-destructive violence, and points out that roughly a tenth of her new domain's population has managed to kill themselves one way or another within a matter of months (neatly explaining why Vampires are not running the planet by now).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: This may be one of the reasons most homunculi look down on humans, especially for Lust and Envy.
  • End of Evangelion, with the comment "Humanity is the only creature capable of hating its own kind."
  • This is the philosophy on which the Mother System in Toward the Terra was designed. Believing that humans are destructive by nature, humanity themselves designed a system of artificial intelligences to control and govern them. When Keith Anyan, the man engineered by the Mother System to lead humanity, finally shakes off this view and decides to give humans a chance to determine their own fates, it marks the ultimate victory of the series.
    • A similar example in the old manga Grey. The never-ending war that's destroying the future world is secretly orchestrated by master computer Toy, because, according to its calculations, humans only exist to kill each other and destroy everything. And also because it believes itself to be a god.
  • In Trigun, Knives believes this about humans, since the humans he encounters are refugees from a ruined Earth.
  • In the Nasuverse, the Counter Force exists basically as a cleanup mechanism whenever there's a threat to humanity's continued existence. More often than not, that threat is humanity itself.
    • Archer's role as a Counter-Guardian involves slaughtering humans whose actions threaten humanity as a whole. Constantly seeing this trope in action sent him over the Despair Event Horizon.

    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen: The Comedian remarks that mankind has collectively been trying to kill itself off since the beginning of time, but it's only now, in the present day, that they finally have the firepower to finish the job.
  • Silver Surfer: A young Wendy Fletcher complained about this trope in the letter column. This led to a correspondence with Richard Pini, whom she later married, and they launched their own comic, ElfQuest, which at first appeared to support Humans Are Bastards, but then magnificently subverted it.
  • A two-issue story in JLA involved them meeting an alien who, upon observing humanity, concluded that we had a genetic imperative/common subconscious desire to drive ourselves to extinction.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Kid Icarus Uprising: The Novelization: Hades outright tells Pit that all he did was give the humans a reason to go to war. As he states, it's in human nature to go to war for any reason, and while Pit may be able to defeat Hades, there's nothing he can do to stop human nature.

    Film 
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnie says this to John Connor.
    John: (observing two children playing around and pretending to shoot guns at each other) We're not going to make it, are we. People, I mean...
    • This is also Skynet itself's most damning criticism of humanity and one of the reasons it turned against us in the first place. Its assessment of us, as a species, is similar to Agent Smith's below. No wonder how this mantra leaked down to this particular T-800. Our subversion of this trope is one of our greatest strengths, and most powerful weapons against the cruel, calculating Skynet.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still: This is one of the reasons for Klaatu's visit in both the 1951 original version and its 2008 remake.
    • In the original, Klaatu visited Earth because, now that we were developing space travel technology, we could potentially take our self-destructive tendencies off world and threaten galactic peace. The aliens want us to outgrow our childish ways and will gladly accept us as equals when we do, but until then, if we start trouble, unstoppable alien robots will be waiting to destroy us in retaliation.
    • In the remake, Klaatu visits Earth because our self-destructive nature is endangering the ecosystem of the Earth. Life is so rare in the universe that the alien community considers the biosphere of a planet far more valuable than any single product of that ecosystem. And so as punishment he tries to wipe out all life on the planet himself in order to "restart" the ecosystem, but this time without those pesky humans getting in the way.
  • In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime remarks, "We have seen your capacity for war" as a reason for not giving Autobot technology for humans.
    • Of course, part of that has to do with the fact that he sees humans as a kindred species (if organic). His own race nearly wiped themselves out in a war that has lasted for millions of years and is still going on. All movies focus on both sides seeking a piece of technology that would allow the Cybertronians to restore their civilization. Giving advanced weapons to humans would most likely result in the end of human civilization. Hell, look what we did with the stuff we got by studying Megatron.
  • I, Robot. VIKI, tasked with oversight of all of the world's robots, finds herself bouncing between this trope and the First Law, and settles on playing totalitarian damage control.
  • The Matrix: Agent Smith gives Morpheus the whole spiel:
    I'd like to share a revelation I've had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized... you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings... are a disease. A cancer of this planet. You're a.. .plague. And we... are the cure.
  • When Leeloo is in the middle of her Heroic BSOD, she says of humanity: "Everything you make you use to destroy."
  • In Aliens, this tendency causes Ripley to unfavorably compare humanity to the rampaging monsters: "You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."
    • Although oddly completely forgotten about in Alien: Resurrection, in which Call incredulously says to Ripley after she's killed a xenomorph "But it's like killing your own kind!", apparently having failed to notice that up to that point more humans have died to other humans than to xenomorphs.
  • Predating most of the A.I. Is a Crapshoot examples mentioned above is the titular AI's reason for taking over in Colossus The Forbin Project.
    The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man.
  • The reason behind Libria's foundation and the Prozium's creation.
    Father: Intrinsically, humans, as creatures of the Earth were drawn inherently always back to one thing, war. And thus we seek to correct not the symptom but the disease itself. We have sought to shrug off individuality, replacing it with conformity. Replacing it, with sameness, with unity, allowing each man, woman, and child in this great society to lead identical lives.

    Literature 
  • In Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy of books, the alien Oankali say that humans combine two traits—intelligence and hierarchical social structures—that will inevitably lead to our self-destruction. And they have a point: the whole series starts in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust which the Oankali nearly mistook for willful planetary suicide. Some of the viewpoint characters are human/Oankali hybrids (which have the intelligence without the hierarchical behavior), and they can directly perceive this contradiction—they know that leaving any humans unmodified will simply doom them to self-destruction.
  • In the Berserker series of science fiction short stories by Fred Saberhagen, the allies of humans, the telepathic Carmpan, a subtle and mysterious species incapable of direct aggression, state that it seems as if humanity has carried the burden of such a nature specifically in order to be able to fight off the robotic Berserkers who threaten all life in the galaxy.
  • Spider Robinson's short story "Unnatural Causes". Humanity's tendency to destroy itself has been engineered by the alien Krundai. They want us to slaughter ourselves so they can eat us.
  • Larry Niven's short story "War Stories", part of his "Draco Tavern" series, a ship full of alien explorers came across Earth and made recordings of several battles during World War II. The recordings made them rich, so they came back to Earth to film more "war stories", knowing that such a warlike species as ours would eventually nuke ourselves back to the stone age. When we didn't, the alien film producers were forced into bankruptcy.
  • Worldwar: The alien invaders believe this about humanity - but it is mankind's warring against itself which puts us in a strong position to resist their invasion, as we have far more technological progress due to it, whereas they take centuries to introduce even one new invention.
  • Subverted by Isaac Asimov's short story The Gentle Vultures. The Hurrians are an advanced alien race who are used to encountering "competitive" hominids (ape descended), who tend to destroy themselves as soon as they get nuclear weapons. They, themselves, are "cooperative" hominids (monkey descended). Their First Contact protocols for competitive primates is to not make contact, but to instead let them inevitably destroy themselves and then help the survivors rebuild their civilization into a cooperative utopia with the violence bred out. The Hurrians discover Earth just in time for the end of World War II, and since they detected the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombings they thought humans would start using the big guns against each other very soon. Fifteen years later, they are still waiting.
  • An Alien Light by Nancy Kress has a very similar premise to Asimov's story above. An alien race is puzzled that humanity didn't blow itself up before getting into space despite being competitive. The difference is that they must find an answer while humanity is blasting them into space dust.
  • In Tanya Huff's Confederation of Valor series this was part of the postulate of a coalition of hyper-pacifist races on why they never contacted less-advanced worlds. They reasoned that the races needed to grow into their technology and overcome their warlike tendencies. If they succeeded, they would adopt the same pacifist mentality and be recruited; if they failed, they'd wipe themselves out of existence before achieving interstellar flight.
  • One of the main themes in Cloud Atlas. The book's six protagonists each live in a different era, moving from colonial times to a Blade Runner-style Bad Future to After the End - and even then, people are still finding excuses to kill each other.
    • The central question of the book is spelled out in the After the End setting when two characters discuss what they know of human history and wonder whether the "civilize"/cooperative or the "barbaric"/destructive side of human nature is more powerful.
  • This is a major theme in A Canticle for Leibowitz. The book begins several hundred years After the End, with the remnants of humanity just beginning to pick up the pieces after a nuclear holocaust that effectively destroyed civilization. By the end of the book, humans have reached and surpassed pre-apocalypse levels of technology, which they proceed to use to launch another, more powerful nuclear holocaust, which is implied to wipe out life on Earth entirely.
  • Subverted in the short story "Letter to a Phoenix", whose theme is that humanity is doomed to wipe out every civilization it ever produces in nuclear war or worse...which prevents it from succumbing to the slow, permanent death of stagnation that kills all other sapient species in the universe. "Only the mad destroy themselves. And only the phoenix lives forever."
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Competitors, the aliens reveal that, in their experience, most humanoid races destroy themselves before expanding to other stars. As such, they have no fear of humans, even going as far as providing certain individuals with Imported Alien Phlebotinum. If anything, they figure that this will only hasten our demise. The novel ends with one of the protagonists determined to prove them wrong.
  • There is a short story that has one of the last few remaining humans believing this about humanity and a race of Bee People, who destroyed each other in a vicious war. After meeting and almost killing the last of the insectsoids, he finds out that it was their "benevolent" saviors who orchestrated the conflict between the two violent races (although it's implied that said "orchestration" merely involved getting the two races to meet), resulting in the mutual destruction (the humans caused the insectoids' star to go nova, while the aliens nuked Earth).
  • The prime reason why the Toralii in Lacuna prevent other species from possessing voidwarp technology. Doesn't just apply to Humans.
  • Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman (the Spiritual Successor to his earlier and more famous The Forever War) starts at the assumption that this trope is entirely true, but a means to create perfect empathy has been discovered, potentially averting this trope entirely - but those in the know face the ethical problem of whether they can force others through the process, because very few people (especially those in power) would volunteer for it. When they discover someone in power has been intentionally hiding the knowledge that a new scientific megaproject could annihilate the galaxy at least by birthing a new universe, the protagonists enact their plan to force empathy on others through a coordinated set of coups d'etat, concluding humanity's mutually-destructive impulses cannot be permitted to continue for the sake of other possible species out there as well as itself.
  • Robert Reed's short story, "Chrysalis", has the Racial Remnant of humanity build an enormous Generation Ship to flee the wars that effectively wiped out the human race. Tended by a immortal, robotic crew, they search the galaxy to bring other species on-board ship. The robotic crew commands all ship operations to prevent the humans or other races from destroying themselves or the ship with too much power. Subverted when it turns out that humanity is alive and kicking - and has technology far in advance (including effective immortality) of what the generation ship possesses. The generation ship just blasts any ship it comes across that wants to establish contact
  • This ends up being the central point of Robert Charles Wilson's Spin trilogy. Any sentient species ends up reaching their technological peak and then makes the conditions on their homeworld impossible due to over-consumption and pollution. The Hypotheticals, which are products of several now-dead civilizations, have made it their business to try to keep sentient races alive longer, but only so that the races can produce more technology, which is then "harvested" by the Hypotheticals from the ruins. By the end of the third novel, only three humans remain alive on the toxic Earth, although billions live on other worlds "provided" by the Hypotheticals. The rest died when the burning of two world's worth of fossil fuels has resulted in a bacterial bloom that turned the atmosphere toxic. When the living conditions on Earth became unbearable, the Hypotheticals shut off the Arch between Earth and Equatoria.
  • The central point of Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus involves a group of people from Twenty Minutes into the Future, who use technology to "see" into the past and record history find out that Earth is nearing an Ice Age and that, thanks to the depletion of natural resources, human civilization will never again rise above Stone Age. They also find out that the same thing most likely happened in the previous timeline (although the events of that original timeline were far bloodier than our own history). It's implied, at the end of the novel, that they succeeded in their task of remaking history so that people become "greener".
  • This is why aliens look down on us in the My Teacher Is An Alien series, with one in particular comparing us to monkeys who've learned to make atomic bombs, culminating in the last book spending dozens of pages going on and on about man's inhumanity to man. Then, in a complicated sequence of events involving a self-replicating alien blob that goes "poot", it's revealed humans used to have some kind of group psychic link, and we're basically traumatised by not having that link any more.
  • In Larry Niven's novel Protector the alien Pak take this trope to extremes, as they are biologically-compelled to do whatever appears to be in the best interest of their own families. They literally CAN'T ponder the morality of their actions, and mature Pak are all geniuses, so the entire history of their civilization is a complex web of ruthless Xanatos gambits.

     Live Action TV  
  • A major theme of Battlestar Galactica. And although the Cylons initially hold it over the humans, they eventually show themselves to suffer from the same problem.
  • In the Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, The Doctor observes that, "Your race has an amazing gift for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself."
  • In Stargate SG-1, it is repeatedly and repeatedly shown what high technology can do to civilizations that aren't "ready" yet.
    • One ascended Ancient used his knowledge to create a weapon that would defend them against the Goa'uld. That civilization ended up destroying itself, due to that weapon.
    • The Tollans and Asgard refuse to share technology with Earth, for the same reason, although the Asgard do share shield and beam technology later, but no weapons (until very, very much later).
    • Humanity then turned it around and did this to another civilization who were asking for Earth's modern weaponry—specifically, help with research into nuclear bombs—to prepare for a world war. O'Neill points out that that line of thinking isn't going to end well.
  • Even-handed version in SeaQuest DSV where some of the crew meet a group of space aliens, yielding this quote: "We are all that remains of our world, a planet taken by our own hand, leaving nothing but the knowledge that self-destruction is a fate sealed in the genes of all life-bearing worlds."
    • They later meet another group of aliens who pretty much prove this.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Scorpion Part II", when Chakotay tells Seven of Nine (in her first episode on the show) that he's breaking off Voyager's alliance with the Borg, she says:
    When your captain first approached us, we suspected that an agreement with humans would prove impossible to maintain. You are erratic, conflicted, disorganized. Every decision is debated, every action questioned, every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony. Cohesion. Greatness. It will be your undoing.
  • Two episodes of The Outer Limits reference this trope.
    • In the TOS episode "Counterweight", this is one of the Antheon alien's criticisms of humanity during its "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • The revival episode "Heart's Desire" has an alien arrive on Earth during the Wild West era and take over the body of an old preacher. He then proceeds to give shady characters the power to turn matter into energy at will. They quickly turn on one another, before only one is left. The alien reveals himself and his goal: he has come to Earth to destroy potential enemies but has seen enough to realize that we won't last long enough to invent interstellar travel, and thus are no threat.
  • A more passive version of this is brought up in an episode of Babylon 5 where Doctor Franklin and a Markab doctor compare historical incidences of their respective cultures taking ultimately counterproductive measures in response to epidemics.
  • A broader version of this is the overarching mentality of the True Ancients in Farscape. Why don't they allow advanced wormhole technology? Because intelligent life as it is (and as a whole) is so hostile and competitive that in taking out their enemies they'll just take themselves with it. Trouble is, said knowledge is locked up inside Crichton's head, and the Peacekeepers know this, so he's been spending the better part of four cycles evading them and basically telling them, "You do NOT want this!" When the Scarrans join the party, he has to tell them the same thing.
    • In the mini-series, he eventually shows them a wormhole weapon, which is, essentially, a massive All Consuming Black Hole that threatens to destroy the entire galaxy (and probably won't stop there). Both sides are eventually humbled to cease hostilities and leave Crichton be. Except Scorpius in the follow-up comic.

    Music 
  • The chorus of Blood Brothers by Papa Roach:
    Corruption and abuse
    The salesmen of our blood
    For the public's craving
    Existence in the dark
    It's in our nature to destroy ourselves
    It's in our nature to kill ourselves
    It's in our nature to kill each other
    It's in our nature to kill, kill, kill!
    • In fact, this is pretty much the whole point of the song.
  • Bad Religion's "Individual" takes place no more than 20 minutes in the future:
    Individuals run for cover
    For the multitudes of thoughtless clones
    have reached a critical mass[...]
    Congregating in invisible circles
    Half a part and half apart
    All too aware of the insignificance
    Pushing on with soul and heart[...]
    Procreation without gain or purpose
    Languid wills and torpid minds
    Catapulted ever faster by the arrow of time
  • "Sacrificial Kingdoms" from the Concept Album "The Crucible Of Man" by Iced Earth is about this, and in fact screams these exact words at the end of the song.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • Christians believe that Adam and Eve were created perfect, free from sin, but with the free will to choose, and did choose to sin when tempted, and so man has ever since been driven by selfish, sinful thoughts and motives.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Present in a variety of ways in Tabletop Game/Warhammer40000.
    • Humans have done a pretty good job of trying to wipe themselves out at various points throughout their history. The Dark Age of Technology ended when the Iron Men rebelled and resulted in a partial collapse of human civilisation. This was followed by the Age of Strife, in which the appearance of psykers (caused by the Eldar falling into this trope) resulted in warp storms and widespread demonic possession which led to an even worse collapse. Then there was the Horus Heresy, yet another massive civil war in which humanity as a whole stood on the brink of collapse. And the rest of the time humans spend so much time fighting among themselves that they're much weaker than they should be in resisting the various aliens that want to kill them.
    • On a wider scale, the very existence of Chaos is the result of the tendency of all lifeforms to fight each other. Early in the history of the galaxy the Immaterium was a calm, safe place. But it reflects emotions and so when the ongoing war between the Old Ones and the Necrons began, the Immaterium became the Warp and created demons and the Chaos gods. The constant warfare between various different aliens since then has not really helped matters.

     Video Games  
  • MOTHER 3: In his monologue in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, Porky says this about the Tazmily Villagers. To add insult to injury, his lecture also counts as a Humans Are Bastards tie-in as well.
    Porky:" No matter how much you change the rules, no matter how much you refuse to admit defeat, in the end, the creatures known as "people" will always sign their own death warrant by acting out of stupidity and evil."
  • Starcraft: Supposedly, this tendency is why Terran military technology is able to keep up with the Zerg and Protoss - and also why the Terrans insist on fighting their own wars in the midst of a Zerg invasion.
    Liberty: "I can only imagine what the Zerg and Protoss thought when they landed on planet after planet that consisted of nothing but Confederates and rebels whaling the tar out of each other. They probably thought it was the normal behavior pattern for our race. And I suppose they would be right."
  • Marathon: Durandal sends this message to the player character.
    "Every breath, every motion brings you one instant closer to your death. With that kind of heritage and destiny, how can you deny yourself? How can you expect yourself to give up violence? It is your nature. Do you feel free?"
  • Mass Effect 3: During the end of the game, Shepard meets the Catalyst, the Overlord of the Reapers, who justifies the mass genocide of the Galaxy as a means to prevent civilizations (human or alien) from creating powerful AIs who will end up destroying their creators and endangering the Universe. Rather than just ensure no organic life continues these powerful AIs sweep though the Galaxy every couple of millenniums, to allow organic civilizations time to grow before violently destroying and absorbing them. Averted for extra irony if you do things just right and make peace between the quarian and the geth before speaking to the Catalyst.
    • The Salarian Delatross also claims this of the krogan, noting that they were uplifted specifically because of their brutality, and if you cure the genophage, they'll just drag the rest of the galaxy down with them. Subverted when we find out that the krogan did have a culture. It's just that when they were first discovered, they were in the middle of a nuclear winter (not an environment conductive to anything beyond day to day survival), then uplifted to fight a Bug War (again: hard to maintain a culture like that), and then got hit with the genophage (at which point as a species they fell into a suicidal spiral of depression).
    • Given that on Sur'kesh you find out that the salarians' next plan is to uplift the yahg, an incredibly dangerous race who make the krogan look like kittens, it can appear that ironically enough, it's in salarian nature to destroy themselves, or at least ensure that they consistently get beaten up by races they uplifted without thinking it through first.
  • In Gears of War, this trope is Queen Myrrah's main justification for leading the Locust into a campaign of extermination against humanity.
  • The Big Bad of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Cyrus, claims that all conflict and suffering is the result of human emotion. It's because of this that he seeks to harness the power of the resident deities of time and space to destroy the world and remake it without "spirit".

    Webcomics 
  • Kid Radd.
    Dr. Amp: Spontaneously, the citizens began killing each other.
    Radd: Why?
    GI Guy: Because that's what video game characters do.

     Real Life 
  • In Real Life this trope tends to apply on a species level rather than an individual level as each individual tries to ensure its own survival at the expense of others and by extension the species as a whole. This is the essence of competition and while the survivors usually end up stronger there may come a time where there aren't enough survivors to perpetuate the whole.
  • This is a popular explanation of the Fermi Paradox: Given the large number of stars and planets in the visible universe, it is likely that a number of extra-terrestrial civilizations exist. But why haven't we found any?
    • There's a whole list of theories on the Fermi Paradox's Wikipedia page. Among the most general and simple: we've only been looking for a few decades, only listening for signals that sufficiently advanced civilizations might not try to communicate with in the first place.
    • Or it's just that most—if not all—technological civilizations follow this very trope, so they're very scarce.
  • Freud called it 'thanatos-eros' (literally "death-love") — the contradictory impulses in each individual towards destruction and violence on the one hand and towards creation and nurturing on the other. Psychological and cultural research so far supports his theory.
  • The Medea Hypothesis proposes that life is naturally self-destructive, as it has come close to destroying itself several times (eg the Oxygen Catastrophe, and the Permian Mass Extinction).
    • Of course, even if true, there wouldn't be much anyone alive could do about that. What's the alternative to life, after all?


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