Chapter 3 of The Next 100 Years

Private intelligence agency STRATFOR was founded by George Friedman. He wrote a book titled The Next 100 Years dedicated to his predictions about the next 100 years. So far his predictions have been mostly correct. Here is the chapter 3 of his book describing the primary force behind the events that will unfold in the next 100 years:

In 2002, Osama bin Laden wrote in his “Letter to America”: “You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve pas­sengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.”

As this quote indicates, what al Qaeda is fighting for is a traditional un­derstanding of the family. This is not a minor part of their program: it is at its heart. The traditional family is built around some clearly defined princi­ples. First, the home is the domain of the woman and life outside the house is the purview of the man. Second, sexuality is something confined to the family and the home, and extramarital, extrafamilial sexuality is unaccept­able. Women who move outside the home invite extramarital sexuality just by being there. Third, women have as their primary tasks reproduction and nurturing of the next generation. Therefore, intense controls on women are necessary to maintain the integrity of the family and of society. In an inter­esting way it is all about women, and bin Laden’s letter drives this home. What he hates about America is that it promotes a completely different view of women and the family.

Al Qaeda’s view is not unique to Osama bin Laden or Islam. The lengths to which that group is prepared to go may be unique, but the issue of women and the family defines most major religions. Traditional Catholicism, fun­damentalist Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism, and various branches of Buddhism all take very similar positions. All of these religions are being split internally, as are all societies. In the United States, where we speak of the “culture wars,” the battlefield is the family and its definition. All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to re­ define the family, women, and sexuality.

This conflict is going to intensify in the twenty-first century, but the tra­ditionalists are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. The reason is that over the past hundred years the very fabric of human life—and par­ticularly the life of women—has been transformed, and with it the structure of the family. What has already happened in Europe, the United States, and Japan is spreading to the rest of the world. These issues will rip many societies apart, but in the end, the transformation of the family can’t be stopped.

This is not to say that transformation is inherently a good idea or a bad one. Instead, this trend is unstoppable because the demographic realities of the world are being transformed. The single most important demographic change in the world right now is the dramatic decline everywhere in birth­ rates. Let me repeat that: the most meaningful statistic in the world is an overall decline in birthrates. Women are having fewer and fewer children every year. That means not only that the population explosion of the last two centuries is coming to an end but also that women are spending much less time bearing and nurturing children, even as their life expectancy has soared.

This seems like a simple fact, and in a way it is, but what I want to show you is the way in which something so mundane can lead to groups like al Qaeda, why there will be more such groups, and why they can’t win. It also will illustrate why the European Age, which was built on a perpetually ex­panding population (whether through conquering other people or having more babies), is being replaced by the American Age—a country in which living with underpopulation has always been the norm. Let’s begin with the end of the population explosion.

It has been generally accepted in recent decades that the globe was facing a severe population explosion. Uncontrolled population growth would out­ strip scarce resources and devastate the environment. More people would require more resources in the form of food, energy, and goods, which in turn would lead to a rise in global warming and other ecological catastro­phes. There was no disagreement on the basic premise that population was growing.

This model no longer holds true, however. We already see a change tak­ing place in advanced industrial countries. People are living longer, and be­ cause of declining birthrates there are fewer younger workers to support the vast increase in retirees. Europe and Japan are experiencing this problem al­ready. But an aging population is only the tip of the iceberg, the first prob­lem presented by the coming population bust.

People assume that while population growth might be slowing down in Europe, the world’s total population will continue to spiral out of control because of high birthrates in less developed countries. In fact, the opposite is true. Birthrates are plunging everywhere. The advanced industrial countries are on the cutting edge of the decline, but the rest of the world is following right behind them. And this demographic shift will help shape the twenty­ first century.

Some of the most important, advanced countries in the world, like Ger­many and Russia, are going to lose large percentages of their population. Europe’s population today, taken as a whole, is 728 million people. The United Nations forecasts that by 2050 it will drop to between 557 and 653 million, a remarkable decline. The lower number assumes that women will average 1.6 children each. The second number assumes 2.1 children. In Eu­rope today, the fertility rate per woman is 1.4 children. This is why we will be focusing on the lower projections going forward.

Traditionally, declining population has meant declining power. For Eu rope, this will indeed be the case. But for other countries, like the United States, maintaining population levels or finding technological ways to aug­ment a declining population will be essential if political power is to be re­tained in the next hundred years.

An assertion this extreme has to be supported, so we must pause and drill into the numbers a bit before we consider the consequences. This is a pivotal event in human history and we need to understand why it’s hap­pening.

Let’s start simply. Between about 1750 and 1950, the world’s population grew from about one billion people to about three billion. Between 1950 and 2000, it doubled, from three billion to six billion. Not only was the popula­ tion of the world growing, but the growth was accelerating at an amazing rate. If that trajectory had continued, the result would have been global ca­tastrophe.

But the growth rate has not accelerated. It has actually slowed down dra­matically. According to the United Nations, between 2000 and 2050 the population will continue to grow, but only by about 50 percent, halving the growth rate of the previous fifty years. In the second half of the century, it becomes more interesting. Again, the population will continue to grow, but only by 10 percent statistically, according to other forecasters. This is like slamming on the brakes. In fact, some forecasts (not by the UN) have indi­cated that the total human population will decline by 2100.

The most dramatic effect will be seen in the advanced industrial coun­tries, many of which will experience remarkable declines in population. The middle tier of countries, like Brazil and South Korea, will see their popula­tions stabilize by mid-century and slowly decline by 2100. Only in the least developed part of the world, in countries like Congo and Bangladesh, will populations continue to increase until 2100, but not by nearly as much as over the past hundred years. Any way you look at it, the population explo­sion is ending.

Let’s examine a critical number: 2.1. This is the number of children that each woman must have, on average, in order to maintain a generally stable world population. Anything above that number and the popula­tion grows; anything below, the population declines, all other things be­ing equal. According to the United Nations, women had an average of 4.5 children in 1970. In 2000, that number had dropped to 2.7 children. Remember, this is a worldwide average. That is a dramatic drop and ex­plains why the population continued to grow, but more slowly than be­fore.

The United Nations forecasts that in 2050, the global fertility rate will decline to an average of 2.05 births per woman. That is just below the 2.1 needed for a stable world population. The UN has another forecast, based on different assumptions, where the rate is 1.6 babies per woman. So the United Nations, which has the best data available, is predicting that by the year 2050, population growth will be either stable or declining dramatically. I believe the latter is closer to the truth.

The situation is even more interesting if we look at the developed re­gions of the world, the forty-four most advanced countries. In these coun­tries women are currently having an average of 1.6 babies each, which means that populations are already contracting. Birthrates in the middle tier of countries are down to 2.9 and falling. Even the least developed countries are down from 6.6 children per mother to 5.0 today, and expected to drop to 3.0 by 2050. There is no doubt that birthrates are plunging. The ques­tion is why. The answer can be traced to the reasons that the population explosion occurred in the first place; in a certain sense, the population ex­plosion halted itself.

There were two clear causes for the population explosion that were equally significant. First, there was a decline in infant mortality; second there was an increase in life expectancies. Both were the result of modern medicine, the availability of more food, and the introduction of basic pub­lic health that began in the late eighteenth century.

There are no really good statistics on fertility rates in 1800, but the best estimates fall between 6.5 and 8.0 children per woman on average. Women in Europe in 1800 were having the same number of babies as women in Bangladesh are having today, yet the population wasn’t growing. Most chil­dren born in 1800 didn’t live long enough to reproduce. Since the 2.1 rule still held, out of eight children born, six died before puberty.

Medicine, food, and hygiene dramatically reduced the number of infant and childhood deaths, until by late in the nineteenth century, most children survived to have their own children. Even though infant mortality declined, family patterns did not shift. People were having the same number of babies as before.

It’s not hard to understand why. First, let’s face the fact that people like to have sex, and sex without birth control makes babies—and there was no birth control at the time. But people didn’t mind having a lot of children because children had become the basis of wealth. In an agricultural society, every pair of hands produces wealth; you don’t have to be able to read or program computers to weed, seed, or harvest. Children were also the basis for retirement, if someone lived long enough to have an old age. There was no Social Security, but you counted on your children to take care of you. Part of this was custom, but part of it was rational economic thinking. A fa­ther owned land or had the right to farm it. His child needed to have access to the land to live, so the father could dictate policy.

As children brought families prosperity and retirement income, the ma­jor responsibility of women was to produce as many children as possible. If women had children, and if they both survived childbirth, the family as a whole was better off. This was a matter of luck, but it was a chance worth taking from the standpoint of both families and the men who dominated them. Between lust and greed, there was little reason not to bring more chil­dren into the world.

Habits are hard to change. When families began moving into cities en masse, children were still valuable assets. Parents could send them to work in primitive factories at the age of six and collect their pay. In early indus­trial society factory workers didn’t need many more skills than farm laborers did. But as factories became more complex, they had less use for six-year­ olds. Soon they needed somewhat educated workers. Later they needed managers with MBAs.

As the sophistication of industry advanced, the economic value of chil­dren declined. In order to continue being economically useful, children had to go to school to learn. Rather than adding to family income, they con­sumed family income. Children had to be clothed, fed, and sheltered, and over time the amount of education they needed increased dramatically, un­til today many “children” go to school until their mid-twenties and still have not earned a dime. According to the United Nations, the average number of years of schooling in the leading twenty-five countries in the world ranges from fifteen to seventeen.

The tendency to have as many babies as possible continued into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of our grandparents or great-grandparents come from families that had ten children. A couple of generations before, you’d be lucky if three out of ten children survived. Now they were almost all surviving. However, in the economy of 1900, they could all head out and find work by the time they reached puberty. And that’s what most of them did.

Ten children in eighteenth-century France might have been a godsend. Ten children in late-nineteenth-century France might have been a burden. Ten children in late-twentieth-century France would be a catastrophe. It took a while for reality to sink in, but eventually it became clear that most children wouldn’t die and that children were extremely expensive to raise. Therefore, people started having a lot fewer children, and had those children more for the pleasure of having them than for economic benefits. Medical advances such as birth control helped achieve this, but the sheer cost of having and raising children drove the decline in birthrates. Children went from being producers of wealth to the most conspicuous form of consumption. Parents began satisfying their need for nurturing with one child, rather than ten.

Now let’s consider life expectancy. After all, the longer people live, the more people there will be at any given time. Life expectancy surged at the same time that infant mortality declined. In 1800, estimated life expectancy in Europe and the United States was about forty years. In 2000 it was close to eighty years. Life expectancy has, in effect, doubled over the last two hun­ dred years.

Continued growth in life expectancy is probable, but very few people anticipate another doubling. In the advanced industrial world, the UN projects a growth from seventy-six years in 2000 to eighty-two years in 2050. In the poorest countries it will increase from fifty-one to sixty-six. While this is growth, it is not geometric growth and it, too, is tapering off. This will also help reduce population growth.

The reduction process that took place decades ago in the advanced in­dustrial world is now under way in the least developed countries. Having ten children in São Paolo is the surest path to economic suicide. It may take several generations to break the habit, but it will be broken. And it won’t re­turn while the process of educating a child for the modern workforce con­tinues to become longer and costlier. Between declining birthrates and slowing increases in life expectancy, population growth has to end.

THE POPULATION BUST AND THE WAY WE LIVE

What does all this have to do with international power in the twenty-first century? The population bust affects all nations, as we will see in later chap­ters. But it also affects the life cycles of people within these nations. Lower populations affect everything from the number of troops that can fight in a war to how many people there are in the workforce to internal political conflicts. The process we are talking about will affect more than just the number of people in a country. It will change how those people live, and therefore how those countries behave.

Let’s start with three core facts. Life expectancy is moving toward a high of eighty years in the advanced industrial world; the number of children women have is declining; and it takes longer and longer to become edu­cated. A college education is now considered the minimum for social and economic success in advanced countries. Most people graduate from college at twenty-two. Add in law or graduate school, and people are not entering the workforce until their mid-twenties. Not everyone follows this pattern, of course, but a sizable portion of the population does and that portion in­cludes most of those who will be part of the political and economic leader­ship of these countries.

As a result, marriage patterns have shifted dramatically. People are put­ting off marriage longer and are having children even later. Let’s consider the effect on women. Two hundred years ago, women started having chil­dren in their early teens. Women continued having children, nurturing them, and frequently burying them until they themselves died. This was necessary for the family’s well-being and that of society. Having and raising children was what women did for most of their lives.

In the twenty-first century this whole pattern changes. Assuming that a woman reaches puberty at age thirteen and enters menopause at age fifty, she will live twice as long as her ancestors and will for over half her life be in­capable of reproduction. Let’s assume a woman has two children. She will spend eighteen months being pregnant, which is roughly 2 percent of her life. Now assume a fairly common pattern, which is that the woman will have these two children three years apart, that each child enters school at the age of five, and that the woman returns to work outside the home when the oldest starts school.

The total time the woman is engaged in reproduction and full-time nur­turing is eight years of her life. Given a life expectancy of eighty years, the amount of time exclusively devoted to having and raising children will be reduced to an astounding 10 percent of her life. Childbearing is reduced from a woman’s primary activity to one activity among many. Add to this analysis the fact that many women have only one child, and that many use day care and other mass nurturing facilities for their children well before the age of five, and the entire structure of a woman’s life is transformed.

We can see the demographic roots of feminism right here. Since women spend less of their time having and nurturing children, they are much less dependent on men than even fifty years ago. For a woman to reproduce without a husband would have created economic disaster for her in the past. This is no longer the case, particularly for better-educated women. Marriage is no longer imposed by economic necessity.

This brings us to a place where marriages are not held together by need as much as by love. The problem with love is that it can be fickle. It comes and goes. If people stay married only for emotional reasons, there will in­evitably be more divorce. The decline of economic necessity removes a pow­erful stabilizing force in marriage. Love may endure, and frequently does, but by itself it is less powerful than when linked to economic necessity.

Marriages used to be guaranteed “till death do us part.” In the past, that parting was early and frequent. There were a great many fifty-year marriages during the transition period when people were having ten surviving children. But prior to that, marriages ended early through death, and the sur­vivor remarried or faced economic ruin. Europe practiced what we might call serial polygamy, in which widowers (usually, since women tended to die in childbirth) remarried numerous times throughout their lives. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, habit kept marriages together for extraordinarily long periods of time. A new pattern emerged in the later twentieth century, however, in which serial polygamy reasserted itself, but this time the trend was being driven by divorce rather than death.

Let’s add another pattern to this. Whereas many marriages used to take place when one or both partners were in their early teens, people are now marrying in their late twenties and early thirties. It was typical for men and women to remain sexually inactive until marriage at age fourteen, but today it is, shall we say, unrealistic to expect someone marrying at age thirty to re­ main a virgin. People would be living seventeen years after puberty without sexual activity. That’s not going to happen.

There is now a period built into life patterns where people are going to be sexually active but not yet able to support themselves financially. There is also a period in which they can support themselves and are sexually active, but choose not to reproduce. The entire pattern of traditional life is collaps­ing, and no clear alternative patterns are emerging yet. Cohabitation used to be linked to formal, legal marriage, but the two are now completely decou­pled. Even reproduction is being uncoupled from marriage, and perhaps even from cohabitation. Longer life, the decline in fertility rates, and the additional years of education have all contributed to the dissolution of pre­vious life and social patterns.

This trend cannot be reversed. Women are having fewer children be­ cause supporting a lot of children in industrial, urban society is economic suicide. That won’t change. The cost of raising children will not decline, nor will there be ways found to put six-year-olds to work. The rate of infant mortality is also not going to rise. So in the twenty-first century the trend toward having fewer, rather than more, children will continue.

POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES

The more educated segments of the population are the ones where life pat­terns have diverged the most. The very poorest, on the other hand, have lived in a world of dysfunctional families since the industrial revolution be­gan. For them, chaotic patterns of reproduction have always been the norm. However, between the college-educated professional and business classes on the one side and the underclass on the other, there is a large layer of society that has only partially experienced the demographic shifts.

Among blue- and pink-collar workers there have been other trends, the most important of which is that they have shorter educations. The result is less of a gap between puberty and reproduction. These groups tend to marry earlier and have children earlier. They are far more dependent on each other economically, and it follows that the financial consequences of divorce can be far more damaging. There are nonemotional elements holding their mar­riages together, and divorce is seen as more consequential, as are extramari­tal and premarital sex.

This group comprises many social conservatives, a small but powerful social cohort. They are powerful because they speak for traditional values. The chaos of the more highly educated classes can’t be called values yet; it will be a century before their lifestyles congeal into a coherent moral system. Therefore social conservatives have an inherent advantage, speaking coher­ently from the authoritative position of tradition.

However, as we have seen, traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstance into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is family the crit­ ical economic instrument it once was. Divorce is no longer economically cat­astrophic, and premarital sex is inevitable. Homosexuality—and civil unions without reproduction—also becomes unextraordinary. If sentiment is the basis of marriage, then why indeed is gay marriage not as valid as heterosex­ ual marriage? If marriage is decoupled from reproduction, then gay mar­riage logically follows. All these changes are derived from the radical shifts in life patterns that are part of the end of the population explosion.

It is no accident, therefore, that traditionalists within all religious groups— Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and others—have focused on returning to tradi­tional patterns of reproduction. They all argue for, and many have, large fam­ilies. Maintaining traditional roles for women in this context makes sense, as do traditional expectations of early marriage, chastity, and the permanence of marriage. The key is having more children, which is a traditionalist principle. Everything else follows.

The issue is not only cropping up in advanced industrial societies. One of the foundations of anti-Americanism, for example, is the argument that American society breeds immorality, that it celebrates immodesty among women and destroys the family. If you read the speeches of Osama bin Laden, this theme is repeated continually. The world is changing and, he argues, we are moving away from patterns of behavior that have traditionally been re­garded as moral. He wants to stop this process.

These issues have become a global battleground as well as an internal po­litical maelstrom in most advanced industrial countries, particularly the United States. On one side there is a structured set of political forces that have their roots in existing religious organizations. On the other side, there is less a political force than an overwhelming pattern of behavior that is in­different to the political consequences of the actions that are being taken. This pattern of behavior is driven by demographic necessity. Certainly there are movements defending various aspects of this evolution, like gay rights, but the transformation is not being planned. It is simply happening.

THE COMPUTER AND AMERICAN CULTURE

Let’s look at this from another perspective, that of technology. As the Amer­ ican Age opens, the United States has a vested interest in the destruction of traditional social patterns, which creates a certain amount of instability and gives the United States maximum room to maneuver. American culture is an uneasy melding of the Bible and the computer, of traditional values and radical innovation. But along with demography, it is the computer that is reshaping American culture and is the real foundation of American cultural hegemony. This will become extraordinarily important in the next hundred years.

The computer represents both a radical departure from previous technol­ogy and a new way of looking at reason. The purpose of a computer is the manipulation of quantitative data, that is, numbers. As a machine that manipulates data, it is a unique technology. But since it reduces all information— music, film, and the written word—to a number, it is also a unique way of looking at reason.

The computer is based on binary logic. This simply means that it reads electrical charges, which are either negative or positive and are treated as a 0 or a 1. It uses a string of these binary numbers to represent things we think of as being very simple. So the capital letter A is represented as 01000001.

The small letter a is 01100001. These strings of numbers are reorganized into machine language that in turn is managed by computer code written in any of a number of languages, from Basic to C++ to Java.

If that seems complex, then simply remember this: To a computer, every­thing is a number, from a letter on a screen to a bit of music. Everything is reduced to zeros and ones. In order to manage computers, completely artifi­cial languages have been created. The purpose of those languages is getting the computer to use the data it has been given.

But the computer can only manage things that can be expressed in bi­nary code. It can play music, but it cannot write it (not well at least), or ex­plain its beauty. It can store poetry but cannot explain its meaning. It can allow you to search every book imaginable, yet it cannot distinguish be­tween good and bad grammar, at least not well. It is superb at what it can do, but it excludes a great deal of what the human mind is capable of doing. It is a tool.

It is a powerful and seductive tool. Yet it operates using a logic that lacks other, more complex, elements of reason. The computer focuses ruthlessly on things that can be represented in numbers. By doing so, it also seduces people into thinking that other aspects of knowledge are either unreal or unimportant. The computer treats reason as an instrument for achieving things, not for contemplating things. It narrows dramatically what we mean and intend by reason. But within that narrow realm, the computer can do extraordinary things.

Anyone who has learned a programming language understands its logi­cal rigor, and its artificiality. It doesn’t in the least resemble natural language. In fact, it is the antithesis of natural language. The latter is filled with sub­tlety, nuance, and complex meaning determined by context and inference. The logical tool must exclude all of these things, as the binary logic of com­puting is incapable of dealing with them.

American culture preceded American computing. The philosophical concept of pragmatism was built around statements such as this by Charles Peirce, a founder of pragmatism: “In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception one should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the con­ception.” In other words, the significance of an idea is in its practical conse­quences. An idea without practical consequences, it follows, lacks meaning. The entire notion of contemplative reason as an end in itself is excluded.

American pragmatism was an attack on European metaphysics on the grounds of impracticality. American culture was obsessed with the practical and contemptuous of the metaphysical. The computer and computer lan­guage are the perfect manifestations of the pragmatic notion of reason. Every line of code must have a practical consequence. Functionality is the only standard. That a line of code could be appreciated not for its use but for its intrinsic beauty is inconceivable.

The idea of pragmatism, as it has evolved into languages like C++, is a radical simplification and contraction of the sphere of reason. Reason now deals only with some things, all of which are measured by their practical consequences. Everything that lacks practical consequence is excluded from the sphere of reason and sent to another, inferior sphere. In other words, American culture does not deal easily with the true and beautiful. It values getting things done and not worrying too much about why whatever thing you are doing is important.

This gives American culture its central truth and its enormous drive. The charge against American culture is that it has elevated the practical be­yond all other forms of truth. The charge is valid, but it also fails to appre­ciate the power of that reduction. It is in the practical that history is made.

If we look for the essence of American culture, it is not only in pragma­tism as a philosophy but also in the computer as the embodiment of prag­matism. Nothing exemplifies American culture more than the computer, and nothing has transformed the world faster and more thoroughly than its advent. The computer, far more than the car or Coca-Cola, represents the unique manifestation of the American concept of reason and reality.

Computing culture is also, by definition, barbaric. The essence of bar­barism is the reduction of culture to a simple, driving force that will tolerate no diversion or competition. The way the computer is designed, the manner in which it is programmed, and the way it has evolved represent a powerful, reductionist force. It constitutes not reason contemplating its complexity, but reason reducing itself to its simplest expression and justifying itself through practical achievement.

Pragmatism, computers, and Microsoft (or any other American corpora­ tion) are ruthlessly focused, utterly instrumental, and highly effective. The fragmentation of American culture is real, but it is slowly resolving itself into the barbarism of the computer and the instrument that ultimately uses and shapes the computer, the corporation. Corporations are an American adaptation of a European concept. In its American form it turns into a way of life. Corporations are as fragmented as the rest of American culture. But in their diversity, they express the same self-certainty as any American ideology.

SUMMING UP

The United States is socially imitated and politically condemned. It sits on the ideological fault line of the international system. As populations decline due to shifts in reproductive patterns, the United States becomes the center for radically redefined modes of social life. You can’t have a modern econ­omy without computers and corporations, and if you are going to program computers, you need to know English, the language of computing. On one hand, those who want to resist this trend must actively avoid the American model of life and thought. On the other hand, those who don’t adopt Amer­ica’s ways can’t have a modern economy. This is what gives America its strength and continually frustrates its critics. Falling populations are re­ structuring the pattern of families and daily lives. Computers are trans­forming, simplifying, and focusing the way people think. Corporations are constantly reorganizing the way we work. Between these three factors, love, reason, and daily life are being transformed, and through that trans­formation American power is growing.

Old institutions have shattered, but new ones have not yet emerged. The twenty-first century will be a period in which a range of new institutions, moral systems, and practices will begin their first tentative emergence. The first half of the twenty-first century will be marked by intense social conflict globally. All of this frames the international struggles of the twenty-first cen­tury.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 3 of The Next 100 Years

  1. Pingback: Source of progressivism’s strength | Me in Words

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