What is Fordism? In present-day economic theory Fordism refers to a way of economic life developed around the mass production of consumer goods, using assembly-line techniques. A few large companies came to dominate the key sectors of the economy, they dictated the market, and dictated what consumers would be offered.
http://www.yorku.ca › anderson › Unit2 › fordism
This is going to be a two-part entry—I’m one of those people who writes to figure out what they want to say—divided loosely on a micro vs macro level.
Let’s start with the key caveat that while I’m phrasing these arguments about a technologically-driven radical decentralization and modification of economic structures that have been central for (micro) two centuries and (macro) around three millennial, my point of reference is the relatively narrow/specialized part of that economy I’m familiar with, software engineering. Some of the arguments don’t generalize and big Fordist institutions will prevail: global scale production of low-cost batteries is not going to come out of distributed remote teams, and more generally, most of these arguments rely on a couple critical points in the production process which have zero, or near zero, marginal cost, which does not apply to most physical processes. Most. That said, I think at least some of these arguments generalize, in sometimes surprising ways, but that’s for the next essay.
A further caveat: I am not projecting complex economies with exclusively anarcho-libertarian business structures (well, mostly not, but again, that’s the next entry…), but I am arguing against the Fordist structures currently dominating much of IT (and the economy more generally). Part of the difficulty here is an absence of a sufficiently detailed vocabulary: we use the same word, “manager”, refer to someone coordinating remote self-managing groups (good, and I’ve worked with some people highly skilled at this) and butts-on-seats doofuses embedded in the middle of massively inefficient Fordist corporations (bad). These are totally different roles, and we need different vocabulary, albeit probably more nuanced than “coordinator” vs “parasitic tyrant”, though I rather like “coordinator.” As we will see in the next entry, decentralized self-managed production has been the norm for almost all of economic history, and is very common even in today’s industrialized economies: they are not a utopian vision.
As typical, I start this entry referencing the zeitgeist from the mainstream press  Taking just a sample over the past week, an extended discourse on the WTF/breaks-all-the-rules nature of current economic situation here and here; (there have been hundreds of similar articles), and then a series from The Economist on how the [tech] mighty have fallen (or at least are falling) here, here, and here, and finally Mark Zuckerberg’s “the floggings will continue until morale improves” moment over at Meta, here and despite/because-of this, Meta is doing really badly, here . And its not just the tech sector: HIMARS notwithstanding, the defense acquisition process remains distressingly messed up due to Fordist anachronisms: here. And finally Ezra Klein on how incredibly pervasive and potentially [dystopian] society-changing these institutions are: here, here and, Yuval Levin, here.
The real background
That’s the zeitgeist, and just a tiny fraction at that, but the core motivation for this is more prosaic: Over the past week or so a major player in the machine learning field was recruiting me: I’ll leave them anonymous beyond a subtle hint  when we return to the opening key at the end, as the experience has been surprisingly pleasant and the recruiter I dealt with was quite intelligent on both emotional and technical dimensions, and I think the interest was sincere  The positions were remote; salary was attractive if, on an hourly basis, about what I’m currently making; benefits would be kind of irrelevant—though I’d love to see the look at HR when confronting “What do you mean he’s on Medicare?”. I pursued this as far as I did due to the attraction of working with smart people on reasonably interesting problems with access to absolutely stupendous hardware, which is never going to be available in government or academia.
But, alas—or “just as well”—I realized a week or so into the process I would sooner or later run into an insurmountable wall as these mega-corporations have an entirely different model than the one I’ve been quite successfully following. But in the process gained at least somewhat more insight as to what is going on. Leading to this essay.
So here’s the career narrative I’ve been telling myself: I’ve [obviously] spent about thirty years effectively developing multiple generations of event data coding systems in multiple environments ranging from “cool, I’ll see what I can do over the weekend” to being embedded as a subcontractor for assorted massive defense contractors. I’ve been telling myself these projects were successful initially because I’d been working with a professional partner (and wife) Dr. Deborah Gerner, who handled the people side while I handled the technical, and after she died of cancer—”that damn disease”— in 2006, this all fell apart  and thus I would eventually cast myself adrift as a lone freelancer in the world of private consulting.
Except that’s not how the story actually went, as I realized once I started working on a detailed “industry” resumé, several iterations away from my academic vita. After 2006 the large managed projects actually continued, and while they were different without a professional partner handling the people management, the post-2006 managed projects were actually larger than those before, and were still generally successful—I found other collaborators skilled on the people side—and opportunities for managed projects continued to present themselves after I “went feral” in 2013.
But a point came when I not only starting avoiding being a lead on managed projects, but after about 2012, if I did get involved with such projects, I regretted it. Instead, I was working on my own, typically with other individuals with high levels of technical skills in “peer-to-peer”  remote projects, and things went just fine. Periodically I’d ask myself why I wasn’t surrounding myself with a covey of code monkeys and data wallahs, but interesting work was getting done and opportunities continued to present themselves so, well, it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Only now am I realizing it’s not me, it’s the changing environment, specifically open source (and its supporting infrastructure such as Linux, Python, Github, and Stack Overflow) creates the ability to do more and more with less and less. Some of this is consistent with my own advice over almost ten years of remote contracting— here, here, here, and here—but I’m realizing there’s a lot more to it.
Gimme a model
So let’s move to the mythical here, and look at two models. The monopolistic corporations currently dominating IT are Fordist (and Taylorist), with massive hierarchical structures exercising strict command-and-control over a uniform workforce of generally replaceable individuals: The particular outfit I was talking with has a “boot camp” intake period of 5 to 8 weeks (!) during which one is supposed to internalize the corporate norms. So we’re basically talking Patton or, to be a bit more contemporary, Game of Thrones.
My world, on the other hand, is Justice League of America, or if you prefer, X-Men: projects are done by a bunch of free-wheeling misfits with diverse skills and attitude issues who come together, get the job done—you know, save the universe, that sort of thing—and then go their separate awkward ways, but keep in touch in case something else—there’s always another super-villain—comes along.
So in the aftermath of a recent Fordist project that was an abysmal failure—subtly alluded to in my previous entry—some of the technical leads reassembled—remotely, of course—minus the useless posses and parasitic gaggles of the failed project, and in a few months (albeit with a new technology) successfully completed the task the Fordist rendition had failed to do in four years and $2-million. This is a feature, not a bug, and while this was an exceptional case-that-proves-the-rule—same task, diametrically opposed organizational structures—I’ve done about a dozen of these peer-to-peer projects successfully over the past decade.
Why, and why now?
In all likelihood, this change is accounted for by three aspects of open source (and here, generally, we are dealing with open source as expressed in programming language libraries, not stand-alone programs):
- Everything routine that needs to be done is now available as a library, or more frequently, several libraries, the best ones having filtered to the top in a virtuous cycle which augments their code and documentation. You just need to be able to write glue code to put it together
- The collective wisdom is now on Stack Overflow 
- The cutting edge which determines whether or not projects will succeed requires expertise, not just moderately-skilled code monkeys
So, smart-ass, then why are the MAAMAs  so successful and you are just sitting in your miserable little sunlit office a quick walk from six coffee shops and not building a survival bunker in New Zealand like a real techie? Loser: you aren’t even making crappy deals with billion-dollar penalty fees while sending out interminable “420” jokes on Twitter! 
Yeah, sucks, doesn’t it? But returning to the narrative, I’m pretty sure “this isn’t just me” and—consistent with all of the WTF/OMG!!! articles cited as the underlying zeitgeist—in the software engineering space, 2022 is in fact fundamentally different than 2012. Ever mindful that the duck/owl of Minerva quacks/flies only at dusk, from the perspective of 2022 this transition occurred in three stages:
Stage 1: Large corporations accepted open source
This was a long and gradual process but I’d argue was pretty much complete by 2012, and the gateway drug was Linux (In data analytics, the gateway drug was R, despite the suits wanting SAS if not SPSS.). If an anarchist hippie from Massachusetts and an unknown geeky nerd from—huh, Finland??—could create the seeds of an operating system—operating system!!—that by the 2010s was running the server side of essentially the entire web, as well as open source providing additional libraries used in vast amounts of core software, well, pigs may be flying, but the floodgates are open and they aren’t going to close. Contrast this to the contract I got from Lockheed at the beginning of the ICEWS project in 2008—said contract roughly the length of a mature work by J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin—which not only prohibited the use of open source code without advance permission, but specifically prohibited anything involving Python. 
The consequence of open source has been that greater and greater amounts of common tasks which earlier would have been handled by managed teams of interchangeable code monkeys  have been “libraried” out of existence. You’ve still got the first-mile and last-mile coding problems—cleaning the digital offal provided by the client and visualizing the eventual results for the client—but astonishing amounts of the intermediate steps can be handled by a few lines of library calls. Sure, you can do a better job with customized code, but can you do a more affordable job?: probably not. This is classical Christensen disruption: the technology is not as good, but it is good enough, and it is far cheaper/efficient/accessible.
At this point, however, these corporations, and most of the jobs, remained Fordist, stuck in the 1970s model of The Mythical Man-Month and the development of IBM’s OS/360. Well, except for jeans and t-shirts, tattoos and body piercings, foosball tables, slightly more women and minorities in the workforce, and vastly lower consumption of hard liquor.
Stage 2: Remote distributed teams emerge during the 2010s
This trend was evident watching the discussions in the Charlottesville CTO group—I’m not a CTO but was invited to join because I write this blog —in the late 2010s where the discussions increasingly revolved around a couple highly successful firms that had always been 100% remote, and other start-ups now headed in that direction. And in my own experience, I worked on a large distributed project that was highly successful, and shortly there after, as a remote contractor for a generally classical butts-on-seats project that was an abysmal failure. By 2018, well before COVID, we have Ines Montani’s famous EuroPython talk “How to Ignore Most Startup Advice and Build a Decent Software Business” (30-August-2018), which is effectively an anti-Fordist manifesto.
Stage 3: Out of necessity, COVID clinches the remote model
COVID accelerated the transition to remote distributed teams, and put the lie to the necessity of having a manager looking over everyone’s shoulder and the future of the company resting on chance encounters in coffee rooms and hallways. That sort of expertise—”Talk to Jane; I think she ran into that situation in her previous job”— was in fact now embedded in libraries, Stack Overflow, and occasionally Slack or Google search: recall from the previous entry that I was finally able to grok transformer models thanks to a PDF of a presentation from an engineering school in the Czech Republic. Yes, those breakthrough encounters may very occasionally occur—though the panopticon manager is a decidedly mixed blessing for anyone with significant experience, so we’re already at the level of “I don’t wear a seatbelt because in an accident I want to be thrown free”—but they don’t provide a critical edge the way they would, say, in a university computer center in 1975 (where that sort of information transfer was definitely needed).
This model definitely satisfies the original intention of explicating the revelations I uncovered constructing my resumé: the shift from managed to peer-to-peer work, plenty of that available, managed outcomes bad, peer-to-peer outcomes good, as well as explaining some local observations such as CVille CTO peeps shifting to all-remote models and a couple friends quitting their long-time University of Virginia jobs when their sniveling sexist kiss-up-kick-down entitled manager insisted they return to full-time butts-on-seats having performed their tasks perfectly well remotely for the previous 30 months. But can we generalize further to the zeitgeist?
Probably. Not explicitly stated but obvious from the above is that Fordism is inefficient: by maintaining Mythical Man Month structures, the MAAMA have excess capacity both in technical workers who have now been long redundant due to open source libraries, and in excess layers of in-person managers where subcontracts to self-managed peer-to-peer groups would be more efficient. The astronomical profit margins of the MAAMA, and until recently the availability of free capital for those tech darlings who find it difficult to consistently make profits (most notoriously, WeWork, Uber and Twitter), thoroughly cover up those weaknesses, but they are both real, and serious vulnerabilities. Per Warren Buffet’s ever-quoted observation that only when the tide goes out do you find who is swimming naked, the tide is going out at least on free capital, and remarkably swiftly at that.
Second observation accounted for is the MAAMAs perceived inability to recruit talented labor and more generally the widespread resistance by a significant—by no means all—portion of the workforce to returning to butts-on-seats, another part of the popular media zeitgeist which is so prevalent, with literally daily articles, that I am choosing to be lazy and not provide citations (except this one). This was originally interpreted as “The Great Resignation,” with individuals supposedly unwilling to return to work, but I think that explanation has now been recognized as mostly measurement error: Bureau of Labor Statistics methodologies work very well with Fordist corporations, and are okay with traditional small businesses and self-employment, but, from my [limited] understanding, would have been seriously challenged by small 100% remote peer-to-peer groups relying mostly on subcontracts, and these are proliferating.
Meanwhile remote self-management is attractive in [at least] three ways, though again, I’ve written extensively about this earlier, and well before COVID. First, it is disproportionately attractive to the sorts of “talent” the MAAMA are hand-wringing about, and after all, the word BOSS originally came from “butts on seats supervision.” Second, small groups are more able—again, imperfectly—to extract compensation in line with their marginal contributions, rather than having this diverted to private equity and/or the owners’ projects for Mars colonies, immortality, survival bunkers, and/or super yachts. Third, remote self-managed groups are more likely to successfully complete tasks, and from a pure ego/quality-of-life perspective, I can tell you that having worked on projects that succeeded, and projects that failed, I’m happier working for projects which will eventually succeed.
SIDEBAR: Initially the weak point in this model seemed to be the labor-intensive production labeled data, which is vital to many machine learning models. But, and I’m guessing this provides further evidence for the model, we’re now seeing an emphasis on reducing these labor requirements: semi-supervised learning, transfer learning, efficient leveraging of small data sets, highly efficient machine-assisted labeling systems such as prodigy, outsourcing to MechTurk, and greater efficiencies and quality control for existing data. When labelled data is the issue, the collective wisdom seems to be moving towards investing in finding ways around this rather than hiring and training a team. This is also consistent with my own experience, where devising highly customized machine-assisted coding environments enabled me to reduce labor requirements for two data collection projects by a factor of three to four.
Finally, as noted at the beginning, organizing complex economic production using a network of small contractors is anything but unusual: think construction, medicine (until recently), dentistry (even now), retail before the rise (and now demise?) of the department store and…agriculture (!!). The MAAMAs are, arguably, a very odd anomaly whose effervescence depended on a temporary advantage in hardware, free finance, and positive network effects, but this is quite possibly only temporary. Again, I will pursue this in more detail in the next entry.
So, why don’t we see this happening? Where’s the Economist special issue?
The reasons are long, and mostly pretty obvious, but the key ones would be
- Technological lag: innovations require about a human generation. Boomers—and the educational system, such as it is—still think that a corporation needs to look like Ford’s Rouge River complex or Alfred P. Sloan’s General Motors.
- A giant oak shades out the saplings long after its core has rotted. And then, suddenly, it falls. Astronomical profit margins, network effects  and vast quantities of investment capital can sustain completely uneconomical but buzz-generating companies—Uber and WeWork certainly, probably Twitter, probably cryptocurrencies.  And once you’ve got your hand in Uncle Sugar’s pocket—think coal, shipping, airlines on multiple occasions, the auto industry on multiple occasions, the military-industrial complex permanently—the trough is never empty, and the MAAMAs with their massive investments in lobbying have learned that lesson well.
- It is happening, but quietly, little rodents eating the surviving dinosaur eggs, but nothing fancy, and in the meantime the 2008-2009 recession and COVID stirred up a lot of conceptual mud that’s been hard to grok through.
- VC’s have been known, perhaps despite themselves, to throw good money after good: Hundreds, thousands, of small independent startups have been purchased by the giants, usually just to inhibit competition but occasionally to get the products. Simply aiming for acquisition is now a very common start-up strategy, and this is a far cry from the world-dominating aspirations of Steven Jobs, Bill Gates, and Sergey Brin, to say nothing of John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and two or three generations of late 19th century robber barons.
- Beyond that, these are apex predators and create environments optimized for their own survival. Notoriously, defense contracting. 
So where does this go? Probably what we will see is these giants gradually wilting and vanishing from the scene, much as we saw with the giant retail chains (visit your local deserted shopping mall): after all, the average expected future lifetime of a business is [apocryphally?] always ten years, however old the business is.
Meanwhile MAAMAs : can’t find quality help? Maybe you need to update your operational model, and I’d focus on two things. First, recognize that most of the skills you needed when your companies started decades ago have been “libraried away” (or Stack-Overflowed-away) and you need a different set. That’s also the set of skills competent programmers want to offer, rather than solving rescue-the-princess puzzles as a precondition to employment. Second, efficiently outsource to small, distributed teams rather than insisting on building Rouge River complexes.
I was at an exhibit on the French Impressionists which pointed to a curious and, apparently, under-appreciated trigger for Impressionism: oil paint in tin tubes with screw caps. These became available in the middle of the 19th century, and had three effects:
- Artists no longer had to be associated with an institution which had the materials, expertise, and labor required to create fragile oil paints
- When a new color became available or popular, it could be immediately acquired at a modest price
- Painting could be easily done outside of the studio, opening a huge array of new possibilities
All of which broke two centuries of utter stagnation under the monopoly of the Academie des Beaux-Arts and its endless focus on wall-sized soft-core porn in the guise of Biblical and classical mythology, Photoshopped elite portraits, and bloodless battle dioramas.
Open source libraries are our tubes of paint, eh?: cheap, flexible, available without institutional constraints, and thus opening new creative possibilities.
My, those dinosaur eggs taste good.
And as for this job opportunity: remain with the mutants or become a foot soldier for—let us be blunt—House Lannister? That’s even a choice?  When did you last see a rat swimming towards a sinking ship?
1. These references are probably mostly paywalled but, hey, unlike paywalled academic publications, which restrict access to work largely funded by the public, the folks writing these articles are doing high quality work in the for-profit sector and in order to survive need to make, well, a profit. So supporting them is a virtue lest we be reduced to consuming only low-quality “news” in 280-character chunks and/or click-bait.
2. Drop back a month for similar renditions at Twitter, though at the moment we’re in Act II, and the revolver introduced in Act I will not be picked up until Act III.
3. For which Putin should be grateful or his WWII-model forces would be facing ten innovative systems with the operational effectiveness of HIMARS rather than one, and at half the price. Instead in NATO defense acquisitions we’ve got Frederick the Great plus FARS, a system so abysmal that NASA was reduced to using Russian equipment—and much to their credit, Russian engineers excel at creating robust systems out of utterly crappy material—to sustain the International Space Station, and are stuck “developing” a horrendous expensive launch system based on 1990s concepts and, at times, even parts. Plus a long term problem of defense consolidation leaving us with US-style engineers working in Soviet-style organizations.
4. yeah, right…
5. The alt-hypothesis is I’d been contacted without the recruiter doing the due diligence of ascertaining my age—in order to avoid wasting everyone’s time, I’m not exactly subtle about this factor on my LinkedIn profile—and they were subsequently told by HR that in the interest of CYA “You broke it, you bought it.” But I’d like to imagine the interest was sincere.
6. The nuanced reader will detect the use of past participles here rather than past tense: if you haven’t gotten in a habit of reading John McWhorter, do so!
7. One large 2006-2007 project did in fact fall apart amid the adjustments to Gerner’s death, but only one. Continuation was a team effort: everyone was affected, and it took the entire team to grieve, regroup, and then finally get back on our collective feet to carry on.
8. “expert network” is apparently another buzzword for these structures.
9: And, it goes without saying, obligatory “coding exercises” and “rescue-the-princess”-style puzzles which nominally assess the candidate’s intellectual capacity more accurately than, say, thousands of lines of operational code and a score or so of successfully completed projects over forty years. These elements of the hiring process do, in fact, select for the weak-willed and easily domesticated. But, as is utterly transparent, fundamentally function as Boomer removers.
While these are invariably phrased as “boot camp”—with very, very few exceptions, those involved have never been anywhere remotely close to a military boot camp, to say nothing of combat, and likely this absence of familiarity extends back at least two generations—the more appropriate comparison would be Edward L Katzenbach Jr’s classic, but now, alas, inaccessible on the web “The Horse Cavalry in the Twentieth Century: A Study On Policy Response.”
10. Patton reflected an actual organization. GoT…well, it’s fantasy, and pre-modern polities didn’t actually work that way, at least at scale. Albeit the most elaborate fantasy element in GoT is not the dragons, but the logistics.
11. Clever advice recently posted on our local Slack channel on the most efficient use of Stack Overflow: post your question, then from another account post a really inane answer to it. Which will trigger a series of outraged replies giving you one or more correct answers.
12. Meta, Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon. Previously the FAANG: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix [sic], Google.
13. Aspiring bloggers: in musical composition terms, this paragraph is a “bridge”, providing momentary relief for the by-now repetitive incoherent rants of the early theme and marking a transition to a new set of repetitive rants on the central theme, while contributing nothing of substance to the exposition.
14. As with so many things Lockheed, I found this specificity truly odd, but in retrospect, Lockheed probably had some automated formatter they ran code through—there would be very good reasons for doing this for purposes of security and standardization—which messed with white space, and hence Python specifically would make some managers seriously upset. This in contrast to Donald Knuth’s famous characterization: “I decided to master Python; it was a pleasant afternoon.” I ignored the restriction, of course.
15. Sure, we programmers see ourselves as heroic ubermensch, but in truth we’re little more than wanderers who stumbled upon a mountain stream littered with gold nuggets, and had the sense to collect a few. As the saying goes, the 10x programmer is real, but they aren’t going to work for you.
But the self-appointed toxic genius and HR-nightmare programmer: they can’t wait to sign on!
16. Hey, Ron, we miss you, dude! Drop us a line sometime!
17. You will be thrown free. To impact a tree or guardrail while traveling at the speed of the vehicle.
18. No, I just made this up. But can we start an urban legend?
19. But network effects, over sufficient periods of time in proprietary systems, are over-rated, as Meta and Twitter are discovering to their horror: What we see, in fact, are reverse network effects where the last thing a new generation wishes to be associated with are the social networks of the previous generation, not just those of their parents, but even older siblings. And remember, a defining characteristic of Fordism is monopolistic restriction of consumer choice. If a social network free of spam, disinformation, and toxic content were available, would you use it? Would you [try to] insist that your kids use it?
20. This is not new: visiting Harper’s Ferry recently, I was reminded that in the 1840s companies continued to invest in fabulously expensive canals—the C&O in this location—long after it had become abundantly clear railroads were more efficient and flexible. In Indiana we were actually required to learn this in high school history, as canal investments caused Indiana to go bankrupt in 1841, but I’m guessing few tech investors went to high school in Indiana.
21. There’s a fascinating example of the reverse of this happening with the establishment of the massive defense contractor SAIC, which in the early1970s consolidated hundreds of small independent defense and intelligence consulting shops, though this proved [somewhat] unstable and SAIC itself eventually split. Even SAIC never went to the Rouge River Fordist model, with both SAIC and its split-off Leidos (now being acquired by OMG Lockheed) distributing work across hundreds of still relatively small operations: Quietly, quietly in a major city you are never more than a few miles from a SAIC/Leidos shop, to say nothing of a SAIC/Leidos subcontractor.
22. Will private equity rapidly kill off the dominant IT companies the way they have killed off brick-and-mortar retail? Probably not: the value in those IT companies are employees with legs and LinkedIn profiles, not readily reconfigured real estate. Acquisition is still viable for small start-ups as these have generally assembled proprietary pipelines (and/or client lists and/or data sets) that have not made it to the level of common use. With the Fordist companies, more likely we’ll just see a series of organizational-suicide-by-charismatic-CEO episodes per the now loathed Jack Welch’s destruction of General Electric, once the very pinnacle of Fordist excellence.
23. Elon Musk: makin’ a list, checking it twice…
24. Like they give a rat’s ass:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge, many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
25. Which is why JLoA and X-Men are so popular, and why in popular media, Fordist corporations, almost without exception, are mocked: if Euripides were writing today he’d be working with the theme of an arrogant boss who fires the quiet but in fact central member of a team in order to satisfy the demands of corporate, who are facing a downturn due to bad decisions by the founder. Which is pretty much what Euripides wrote about anyway. Patton was a single movie; the fictional exploits of the skilled norm-defiers of Mash lasted longer than the Korean War itself.