Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/September 1877/Domestic Retrospect and Prospect

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 11 September 1877  (1877) 
Domestic Retrospect and Prospect
By Herbert Spencer
 

THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY.



SEPTEMBER, 1877.



DOMESTIC RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT.[1]
By HERBERT SPENCER.

INDUCTION has greatly predominated over deduction throughout the foregoing chapters; and readers who have borne in mind that Part II. closes with a proposal to interpret social phenomena deductively, may infer either that this intention has been lost sight of, or that it has proved impracticable to deal with the facts of domestic life otherwise than by empirical generalization. On gathering together the threads of the argument, however, we shall find that the chief conclusions forced on us by the evidence are those which Evolution implies.

We have first the fact that, little as it might have been expected, the genesis of the family fulfills the law of Evolution under its leading aspects. In the rudest social groups nothing to be called marriage exists: the unions of the sexes are extremely incoherent. Family groups, consisting of mothers and such few children as can be reared without permanent paternal assistance, are necessarily small and soon dissolve: integration is slight. Within each group the relationships are less definite; since the children are mostly half-brothers or half-sisters, and the paternity is often uncertain. From such primitive families, thus small, incoherent, and indefinite, there arise, in conformity with the law of Evolution, divergent and redivergent types of families—some characterized by a mixed polyandry and polygyny; some that are polyandrous, differentiating into the fraternal and non-fraternal; some that are polygynous, differentiating into those composed of wives and those composed of a legitimate wife and concubines; some that are monogamous, among which, besides the ordinary form, there is the aberrant form distinguished by a wife married only for a part of each week. Of these genera and species of families, those varieties which are found in advanced societies are the most coherent, most definite, most complex. Not to dwell on intermediate types, we see, on contrasting with the primitive kind of family group that highest kind of family group which civilized peoples present, how relatively high is its degree of evolution. The marital relation has become perfectly definite; it has become extremely coherent—commonly lasting for life; in its initial form of parents and children it has grown larger—the number of children reared by savages being comparatively small; in its derived form, comprehending grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., all so connected as to form a definable cluster, it has grown relatively large; and this large cluster consists of members whose relationships are very heterogeneous.

Again, the developing human family fulfills, in increasing degrees, those traits which we saw at the outset are traits of the successively higher forms of reproductive arrangements throughout the animal kingdom. Maintenance of species being the end to which maintenance of individual lives is necessarily subordinated, we find, as we ascend in the scale of being, a diminishing sacrifice of individual lives in the achievement of this end; and, as we ascend through the successive grades of societies with their successive grades of family, we find a further progress in the same direction. Human races of the lower types, as compared with those of the higher, show us a greater sacrifice of the adult individual to the species; alike in the brevity of that stage which precedes reproduction, in the relatively heavy tax entailed by the rearing of children under the conditions of savage life, and in the abridgment of the period that follows: women especially, early bearing children and exhausted by the toils of maternity, having a premature old age soon cut short. In superior family types there is also less sacrifice of juvenile life: infanticide, which in the poverty-stricken groups of primitive men is dictated by the necessities of social self-preservation, becomes rarer; and juvenile mortality otherwise caused decreases at the same time. Further, along with the diminishing sacrifice of adult life, there goes an increasing compensation for the sacrifice that has to be made: more prolonged and higher pleasures are taken in rearing progeny. Instead of states in which children are early left to provide for themselves, or in which, as among Bushmen, fathers and sons quarreling try to kill one another, or in which, as Burton says of the East Africans, "when childhood is past, the father and son become natural enemies, after the manner of wild beasts," there comes a state in which keen interest in the welfare of children extends throughout parental life. And then to this pleasurable care of offspring, increasing in duration as the family develops, has to be added an entirely new factor—the reciprocal pleasurable care of parents by offspring: a factor which, feeble where the family is rudimentary and gaining strength as the family develops, serves in another way to lessen the sacrifice of the individual to the maintenance of the species, and begins, contrariwise, to make the maintenance of the species conduce to the more prolonged life, as well as to the higher life, of the individual.

A fact not yet named remains. Evolution of the higher types of family, like evolution of the higher types of society, has gone hand in-hand with evolution of human intelligence and feeling. The general truth that there exists a necessary connection between the nature of the social unit and the nature of the social aggregate, and that each continually moulds and is moulded by the other, is a truth which holds of domestic organization as well as of political organization. The ideas and sentiments which make possible any more advanced phase of associated life, whether in the family or in the state, imply a preceding phase by the experiences and discipline of which they were acquired; and these, again, a next preceding phase; and so from the beginning. On turning to the last part of the "Principles of Psychology" (edition of 1872), containing chapters on "Development of Conceptions," "Sociality and Sympathy," "Ego-Altruistic Sentiments," "Altruistic Sentiments," the reader will find it shown how the higher forms alike of intellect and feeling, made possible only by the social environment, evolve as this environment evolves—each increment of advance in the one being followed by an increment of advance in the other. And carrying out this doctrine he will see that since altruism plays an important part in developed family life, the higher domestic relations have become possible only as the adaptation of man to the social state has progressed.[2]

 

In considering deductively the connections between the forms of domestic life and the forms of social life, and in showing how these are in each type of society related to one another because jointly related to the same type of individual character, it will be convenient to deal simultaneously with the marital arrangement, the family structure, the status of women, and the status of children.

Primitive life, cultivating antagonism to prey and enemies, brute or human—daily yielding the egoistic satisfaction of conquest over alien beings which prove to be weaker, daily gaining pleasure from acts which entail pain—maintains a type of nature which generates coercive rule, social and domestic. Brute strength glorying in the predominance which brings honor, and unchecked by regard for others' welfare, seizes whatever women fancy prompts, adding to them and changing them at will. And children, at the mercy of this utter selfishness, are preserved only when and as far as the instinct of parenthood predominates. Clearly, then, weakness of the marital relation, indefinite incoherent forms of family, harsh treatment of women, and infanticide, are inevitable concomitants of militancy in its extreme form.

The advance from these lowest social groups, hardly to be called societies, to groups that are larger, or have more structure, or both, implies increased coöperation. This coöperation may be compulsory or voluntary, or it may be, and usually is, partly the one and partly the other. We have seen that great militancy implies predominance of compulsory coöperation, and that great industrialness implies predominance of voluntary coöperation. Here we have to observe that it is deductively manifest, as we have found it inductively true, that the accompanying domestic relations are in each case congruous with the necessitated social relations.

The individual nature which exercises that despotic control and submits to that extreme subjection implied by pronounced militancy in developing societies, no less than the fostering of egoism and repression of sympathy by a life devoted to war, inevitably determines the arrangements within the household as it does the arrangements without it. Hence the disregard of women's claims shown in stealing and buying them; hence the inequality of status between the sexes entailed by polygyny; hence the use of women as laboring slaves; hence the life and death power over wife and child; and hence that constitution of the family which subjects all its members to the eldest male.

Conversely, the type of individual nature developed by voluntary coöperation in societies that are predominantly industrial, whether they be peaceful, simple tribes, or nations that have in great measure outgrown militancy, is a relatively-altruistic nature. The daily habit of exchanging services, or giving products representing work done for money representing work done, is a habit of seeking such egoistic satisfaction as allows like egoistic satisfactions to those dealt with. There is an enforced respect for others' claims; there is an accompanying mental representation of their claims implying, in so far, fellow-feeling; and there is an absence of those repressions of fellow feeling involved by coercion. Necessarily, the type of character thus cultivated, while it modifies social actions and arrangements, modifies also domestic actions and arrangements. The discipline which brings greater recognition of the claims of fellow-men brings greater recognition of the claims of women and children. . The practice of consulting the wills of those with whom there is coöperation outside the household, brings with it the practice of consulting the wills of those with whom there is coöperation inside the household. The marital relation becomes changed from one of master and subject into one of approximately-equal partnership; while the bond becomes less that of legal authority and more that of affection. The parental and filial relation ceases to be a tyranny which sacrifices child to parent, and becomes one in which, rather, the will of the parent subordinates itself to the welfare of the child.

Thus the results deducible from the natures of militancy and industrialness correspond with those which we have found are, as a matter of fact, exhibited. And, as implying the directness of the alleged connections, I may here add an instance showing that in the same society the domestic relations in the militant part retain the militant character, while the domestic relations in the industrial part are beginning to assume the industrial character. Commenting on the laws of inheritance in ancient France, as affecting children of different sexes and different ages, Königswarter remarks that "it is always the feudal and noble families which cling to the principle of inequality, while the ideas of equality penetrate everywhere into the roturières and bourgeoises families." Similarly Thierry, speaking of a new law of the thirteenth century, equalizing rights of property between the sexes and among children, says: "This law of the bourgeoisie, opposed to that of the nobles, was distinguished from it by its very essence. It had for its basis natural equity."

 

And now we come to the interesting question, "What may be inferred respecting the future of the domestic relations?" We have seen how the law of evolution in general has been thus far fulfilled in the genesis of the family. We have also seen how, during civilization, there has been carried still further that conciliation of the interests of the species, of the parents, and of the offspring, which has been going on throughout organic evolution at large. Further, we have noted that these higher traits in the relations of the sexes to one another and to children, which have accompanied social evolution, have been made possible by those higher traits of intelligence and feeling produced by the experiences and disciplines of progressing social states. And we have, lastly, observed the connections between special traits so acquired and special types of social structure and activity. Assuming, then, that evolution will continue along the same lines, let us consider what further changes may be anticipated.

It is first inferable that, throughout times to come, the domestic relations of different peoples inhabiting different parts of the earth will continue to be unlike. We must beware of supposing that developed societies will become universal. As with organic evolution, so with super-organic evolution, the production of higher forms does not involve extinction of all lower forms. As superior species of animals, while displacing certain inferior species that compete with them, leave many other inferior species in possession of inferior habitats, so the superior types of societies, while displacing those inferior types occupying localities they can utilize, will not displace inferior types inhabiting barren or inclement localities. Civilized peoples are unlikely to expel the Esquimaux. The Fuegians will probably survive, because their island cannot support a civilized population. It is questionable whether the groups of wandering Semites who have for these thousands of years occupied Eastern deserts will be extruded by societies of higher kinds. And perhaps many steaming malarious regions in the tropics will remain unavailable by races capable of much culture. Hence the domestic, as well as the social, relations proper to the lower varieties of man are not likely to become extinct. Polyandry may survive in Thibet; polygyny may prevail throughout the future in parts of Africa; and, among the remotest groups of hyperboreans, mixed and irregular relations of the sexes will probably continue.

It is possible, too, that in certain regions militancy may persist, and that along with the political relations natural to it there may survive the domestic relations natural to it. Wide tracts, such as those of Northeastern Asia, unable to support populations dense enough to form industrial societies of advanced types, will perhaps remain the habitats of societies having those imperfect forms of state and family which go along with offensive and defensive activities.

Omitting such surviving inferior types, we may here limit ourselves to types carrying further the evolution which civilized nations now show us. Assuming that among these industrialism will increase and militancy decrease, Ave have to ask what are the domestic relations likely to coexist with complete industrialism.

 

The monogamic form of the sexual relation is manifestly the ultimate form; and any changes to be anticipated must be in the direction of completion and extension of it. By observing what possibilities there are of greater divergence from the arrangements and habits of the past, we shall see what modifications are probable.

Many acts that are normal with the uncivilized are, with the civilized, transgressions and crimes. Promiscuity, once unchecked, has been more and more reprobated as societies have progressed; abduction of women, originally honorable, is now criminal; the marrying of two or more wives, allowable and creditable in inferior societies, has become in superior societies felonious. Hence, future evolution, along lines thus far followed, may be expected to extend the monogamic relation by extinguishing promiscuity, and by suppressing such crimes as bigamy and adultery. Dying out of the mercantile element in marriage may also be inferred. After wife-stealing came wife-purchase; and then followed the usages which made, and continue to make, considerations of property predominate over considerations of personal preference. Clearly, wife-purchase and husband-purchase (which exists in some semi-civilized societies), though they have lost their original gross forms, persist in disguised forms. Already some disapproval of those who many for money or position is expressed; and this, growing stronger, may be expected to purify the monogamic union by making it in all cases real instead of being in some cases nominal.

As monogamy is likely to be raised in character by a public sentiment requiring that the legal bond shall not be entered into unless it represents the natural bond, so, perhaps, it may be that maintenance of the legal bond will come to be held improper if the natural bond ceases. Already increased facilities for obtaining divorce point to the probability that, whereas, in those early stages during which permanent monogamy was being evolved, the union by law (originally the act of purchase) was regarded as the essential part of marriage, and the union by affection as non-essential, and whereas at present the union by law is thought the more important and the union by affection the less important, there will come a time when the union by affection will be held of primary moment and the union by law as of secondary moment: whence reprobation of marital relations in which the union by affection has dissolved. That this conclusion will seem unacceptable to most is probable—I may say, certain. In passing judgment on any modified arrangement suggested as likely to arise hereafter, nearly all err by considering what would be likely to result from the supposed change, all other things remaining unchanged. But other things must be assumed to have changed pari passu. Those higher sentiments accompanying union of the sexes, which do not exist among primitive men, and were less developed in early European times than now (as is shown in the contrast between ancient and modern literatures), may be expected to develop still more as decline of militancy and increase of industrialness foster altruism; for sympathy, which is the root of altruism, is a chief element in these sentiments. Moreover, with an increase of altruism must go a decrease of domestic dissension. Whence, simultaneously, a strengthening of the moral bond and a weakening of the forces tending to destroy it. So that the changes which may further facilitate divorce under certain conditions are changes which will make those conditions more and more rare.

There may, too, be anticipated a strengthening of that ancillary bond constituted by joint interest in children. In all societies this is an important factor, and has sometimes great effect among even rude peoples. Falkner remarks that although the Patagonian marriages "are at will, yet when once the parties are agreed, and have children, they seldom forsake each other, even in extreme old age." And this factor must become more efficient in proportion as the solicitude for children becomes greater and more prolonged, as we have seen that it does with progressing civilization, and must continue to do.

But leaving open the question what modifications of monogamy, conducing to increase of real cohesion rather than nominal cohesion, are likely to arise, there is one conclusion we may draw with certainty. Recurring to the three ends to be subserved in the order of their importance—welfare of species, welfare of offspring, welfare of parents—and seeing that, in the stages now reached by civilized peoples, welfare of species is effectually secured in so far as maintenance of numbers is concerned, the implication is that welfare of offspring must hereafter determine the course of domestic evolution. Societies which from generation to generation produce in due abundance individuals who, relatively to the requirements, are the best physically, morally, and intellectually, must become the predominant societies, and must tend through the quiet process of industrial competition to replace other societies. Consequently, marital relations which favor this result in the greatest degree must spread, while the prevailing sentiments and ideas must become so moulded into harmony with them that other relations will be condemned as immoral.

 

If, still guiding ourselves by observing the course of past evolution, we ask what changes in the status of women may be anticipated, the answer must be that a further approach toward equality of position between the sexes will take place. With decline of militancy and rise of industrialness—with decrease of compulsory coöperation and increase of voluntary coöperation— with strengthening sense of personal rights and accompanying sympathetic regard for the personal rights of others, must go a diminution of the political and domestic disabilities of women, until there remain such only as differences of constitution entail.

To draw inferences more specific is somewhat hazardous : probabilities and possibilities only can be indicated. While in some directions the emancipation of women has to be carried further, we may suspect that in other directions their claims have already been pushed beyond the normal limits. If from that stage of primitive degradation in which they were habitually stolen, bought and sold, made beasts of burden, inherited as property, and killed at will, We pass to the stage America shows us, in which a lady wanting a seat stares at a gentleman occupying one until he surrenders it, and then takes it without thanking him, we may infer that the rhythm traceable throughout all changes has carried this to an extreme from which there will be a recoil. The like may be said of some other cases: what were originally concessions have come to be claimed as rights, and, in gaining the character of assumed rights, have lost much of the grace they had as concessions. Doubtless, however, there will remain in the social relations of men and women, not only observances of a kind called forth by sympathy of the strong for the weak irrespective of sex, and still more called forth by sympathy of the stronger sex for the weaker sex, but also observances which originate in the wish, not consciously formulated but felt, to compensate women for certain disadvantages entailed by their constitutions, and so to equalize the lives of the sexes as far as possible.

In respect of domestic power, the relative position of women will doubtless rise; but it seems improbable that absolute equality with men will be reached. Legal decisions from time to time demanded by marital differences, involving the question which shall yield, are not likely to reverse all past decisions. Evenly though law may balance claims, it will, as the least evil, continue to give, in case of need, supremacy to the husband, as being the more judicially-minded. And, similarly, in the moral relations of married life, the preponderance of power, resulting from greater massiveness of nature, must, however unobtrusive it may become, continue with the man.

When we remember that up from the lowest savagery civilization has, among other results, brought about an increasing exemption of women from bread-winning labor, and that in the highest societies they have become most restricted to domestic duties and the rearing of children, we may be struck by the anomaly that at the present time restriction to indoor occupations has come to be regarded as a grievance, and a claim is made to free competition with men in all out-door occupations. This anomaly is traceable in part to the abnormal excess of women; and obviously a state of things which excludes many women from those natural careers in which they are dependent on men for subsistence justifies the demand for freedom to pursue independent careers. That any hinderances standing in their way should be, and will be, abolished must be admitted. At the same time it must be contended that no considerable alteration in the careers of women in general can be, or should be, so produced; and, further, that any extensive change in the education of women, made with the view of fitting them for businesses and professions, would be mischievous. If women comprehended all that is contained in the domestic sphere, they would ask no other. If they could see all that is implied in the right education of children, to a full conception of which no man has yet risen, much less any woman, they would seek no higher function.

That in time to come the political status of women may also be raised to something like equality with that of men, seems a deduction naturally accompanying the preceding ones. But such an approximate equalization, normally accompanying a social structure of the completely industrial type, is not a normal accompaniment of social types still partially militant. Just noting that the giving to men and women equal amounts of political power, while the political responsibilities entailed by war fell upon men only, would involve a serious inequality, and that the desired equality is therefore impracticable while wars continue, it may be contended that though the possession of political power by women would possibly improve a society in which state-regulation had been brought within the limits proper to pure industrialism, it would injure a society in which state-regulation has the wider range characterizing a more or less militant type. Several influences would conduce to retrogression. The greater respect for authority and weaker sentiment of individual freedom characterizing the feminine nature would tend toward the maintenance and multiplication of restraints. Ability to appreciate special and immediate results, joined with inability to appreciate general and remote results, characterizing the majority of men, and still more characterizing women, would, if women had power, entail increase of coercive measures for achieving present good, at the cost of future evil caused by excess of control. But there is a more direct reason for anticipating mischief from the exercise of political power by women, while the industrial form of political regulation is incomplete. We have seen that the welfare of a society requires that the ethics of the family and the ethics of the state shall be kept distinct. Under the one the greatest benefits must be given where the merits are the smallest; under the other the benefits must be proportioned to the merits: for the infant, unqualified generosity; for the adult citizen, absolute justice. The ethics of the family have for their correlatives the parental instincts and sentiments, which, in the female, are qualified in a smaller degree by other feelings than in the male. Already these emotions proper to parenthood, as they exist in men, lead them to carry the ethics of the family into the policy of the state; and the mischief resulting would be increased were these emotions, as existing in women, directly to influence that policy. The progress toward justice in social arrangements would be retarded, and demerit would be fostered at the expense of merit still more than now.

But, in proportion as the conceptions of pure equity become clearer; as fast as the régime of voluntary coöperation develops to the full the sentiment of personal freedom, with a correlative regard for the like freedom of others; as fast as there is approached a state under which no restrictions upon individual liberty will be tolerated, save those which the equal liberties of fellow-citizens entail; as fast as industrialism evolves its appropriate political agency, which, while commissioned to maintain equitable relations among citizens, is shorn of all those powers of further regulation proper to the militant type; so fast may the extension of political power to women go on without evil. The moral evolution which leads to concession of it will be the same moral evolution which renders it harmless and probably beneficial.

 

No very specific conclusions are to be drawn respecting future changes in the status of children. Parental and filial relations, less regulated in detail by law and custom than all others, have more readily changed under the influence of changed sentiments and ideas, and, while becoming generally liberalized, have become so far varied that it is difficult to characterize them.

While an average increase of juvenile freedom is to be anticipated, there is reason to think that here and there it has already gone too fair. I refer to the United States. Besides in some cases unduly subordinating the lives of adults, the degree of independence there allowed to the young appears to have the effect of bringing them forward prematurely, initiating them too early in the excitements proper to maturity, and so tending to exhaust the interests of life before it is half spent. Such regulation of childhood as conduces to full utilization of childish activities and pleasures, before the activities and pleasures of manhood and womanhood are entered upon, is better for offspring at the same time that it is better for parents.

How far is parental authority to go? and at what point shall political authority check it? are questions to be answered in no satisfactory way. Already I have given reasons for thinking that the powers and functions of parents have been too far assumed by the state; and that probably a reintegration of the family will follow its present undue disintegration. It seems possible that from the early form in which social and family organizations are compulsory in character, we are passing through semi-militant, semi-industrial phases, in which the organizations of both state and family are partly compulsory, partly voluntary, in character; and that, along with complete social reintegration on the basis of voluntary coöperation, will come domestic reintegration of allied kind, under which the life of the family will again become as distinct from the life of the state as it originally was. Still there remain the theoretical difficulties of deciding how far the powers of parents over children may be carried; to what extent disregard of parental responsibilities is to be tolerated; when does the child cease to be a unit of the family and become a unit of the state. Practically, however, these questions will need no solving; since the same changes of character which bring about the highest form of family will almost universally prevent the rise of difficulties which result from characters of lower types proper to lower societies.

Moreover, there always remains a security. Whatever conduces to the highest welfare of offspring must more and more establish itself through the replacing of children of inferior parents reared in inferior ways by children of better parents reared in better ways. As lower creatures at large have been preserved and advanced through the instrumentality of parental instincts; and as in the course of human evolution the domestic relations originating from the need for prolonged care of offspring have been assuming higher forms; and as the care taken of offspring has been becoming greater and more enduring; we need not doubt that, in the future, along with the more altruistic nature accompanying a higher social type, there will come relations of parents and children needing no external control to insure their well-working.

One further possibility of domestic evolution remains. The last component to show itself among the feelings which hold the family together, the care of parents by offspring, is the one which has most room for increase. Absent in brutes, small among primitive men, considerable among the partially civilized, and tolerably strong among the best of those around us, filial affection is a feeling that admits of much further growth, which is needed to make the cycle of domestic life complete. At present, the latter days of the old whose married children live away from them are made dreary by the lack of those remaining pleasures to be derived from the constant society of descendants; but the time will come when this evil will be met by an attachment of adults to parents which, if not as strong as that of aged parents to children, approaches it in strength.

Further development in this direction will not, however, occur under social arrangements which partially absolve parents from the care of offspring. A stronger feeling to be displayed by child for parent in later life must be established by a closer intimacy between parent and child in early life. No such higher stage is to be reached by walking in the ways followed by the Chinese for these two thousand years. We shall not rise to it by imitating, even partially, the sanguinary Mexicans, whose children, at the age of four, or sometimes later, were delivered over to be educated by the priests. We shall not improve family feeling by approaching toward the arrangements of the Koossa-Caffres, among whom "all children above ten or eleven years old are publicly instructed under the inspection of the chief." This latest of the domestic affections will not be fostered by retrograding toward customs like those of the Andamanese, and, as early as possible, changing the child of the family into the child of the tribe. Contrariwise, such a progress will be achieved only in proportion as both moral and intellectual culture are carried on by parents to an extent now rarely attempted. When the unfolding minds of children are no longer thwarted, and stunted, and deformed, by the mechanical lessons of stupid teachers—when instruction, instead of giving mutual pain, gives mutual pleasure by ministering in proper order to faculties which are severally eager to appropriate fit knowledge presented in fit forms—when, with a wide diffusion of adult culture, joined with rational ideas of teaching, there goes a spontaneous unfolding of the juvenile mind such as is even now occasionally indicated by exceptional facility of acquisition—when the earlier stages of education passed through in the domestic circle have become, as they will in ways scarcely dreamed of at present, daily aids to the strengthening of sympathy, intellectual and moral, leaving only the more special cultures to be carried on by others ; then will the latter days of life be smoothed by a greater filial care, reciprocating the greater parental care bestowed in earlier life.

  1. Conclusion to the chapters on "The Domestic Relations," which complete vol. i. of the "Principles of Sociology."
  2. As included in the general theory of the adaptation of organic beings to their circumstances, this doctrine that the human mind, especially in its moral traits, is moulded by the social state, pervades social statics; and is especially insisted upon in the chapter entitled "General Considerations."