Category Archives: Free Thought

State Sanctioned Make-Believe

Children love to play ‘make-believe’.  Younger children are often enamored with inanimate but active objects like bulldozers and tractors.  We’ve probably all seen toddlers zoom around the room with their arms straight out to the side pretending to be an airplane.  As they get older, make-believe becomes more complex and social.  Children join together in groups of two or more and pretend to be cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians or mommy or daddy.

Though not perfectly accurate, ‘make-believe’ is very descriptive of the cognitive process involved.  Children use their imaginations to ‘make’ (as in, to create or fabricate) a ‘belief’ for their purpose of play and entertainment.  What they create isn’t really a belief so much as a fiction which they will themselves to accept on a temporary basis as a predicate to their preconceived plan to have fun.  Adults naturally understand what they’re doing and often play along to be helpful and encouraging.  Importantly, neither the children nor the adults have any misconception about what is real during any part of this process.  The children always remain aware that they aren’t actually airplanes, cowboys or parents and the adults understand that the children are not deluding themselves or anyone else.

The ‘make-believe’ associated with the gender identity issue is quite different.  The belief created isn’t a temporary acceptance of an acknowledged fiction.  Rather, it is the embracing of one’s personal feeling or desire as a proxy for objective reality. The ‘belief’ created is long term and adopted as an individual’s chosen ‘reality’ rather than momentary and adopted only to serve a passing purpose.  Regardless of what one might think of an individual’s decision to delude himself in such a manner, those who value liberty and individualism have little problem leaving him to his decision so long as it isn’t being imposed on anyone else.  But the calculus changes when he or his agents take action to impose his chosen false sense of reality upon others.

California recently enacted the “Gender Recognition Act” which will allow citizens of that state to change the gender on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses without having undergone any treatment or surgery.  Further, those who do not identify as either male or female will now be able to choose a third option – “nonbinary” – essentially declaring themselves to be genderless or gender ‘neutral’.

Some may suggest that California is doing no more than the adults in the childhood make-believe scenarios – trying to be helpful or encouraging to those who’ve chosen to delude themselves as to the biological reality of their gender.  But the State of California is not an individual adult acting only for himself in the context of an isolated event of childhood play.  It is the state and experience well demonstrates that the actions of the state often have much wider implications than might first appear.  The state’s willingness to give its imprimatur to that which is objectively untrue rightfully gives rise to questions about what might follow with respect to policy initiatives, funding, or even the potential of protected class status for those who ‘believe’ themselves to be that which they are not.  Should such wider implications materialize, the liberties of citizens who choose not to affirm such objective falsehoods may be jeopardized or disadvantaged.

Winston Smith, the lead character in George Orwell’s “1984”, got into trouble with the government because he wrote that “freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four.”  His antagonist and representative of the state was a party official named O’Brien.  O’Brien showed Winston four fingers and tortured Winston until he finally acknowledged an objective falsehood – that O’Brien was holding up five fingers.  It’ difficult to imagine that California will resort to torture to force it’s citizens to acknowledge the objective falsehoods it has chosen to countenance as reality.  The potential coercions we could more realistically envision are gentler but no less an affront to individual liberty.  Torture isn’t necessary for tyranny to exist.  Torture is only one means of denying a person his individual rights.  It would be tyrannical for California to take any action to affect an individual citizen’s willingness or ability to affirm objective reality.  Just as “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four”, freedom is the freedom to say that a boy is a boy or that a girl is a girl.

California’s residents should be on guard.  Now that it has officially sanctioned make-believe on official documents, its citizens should be alert for any indication this official position may spill over into other government actions which aren’t as benign as gender designations on driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

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The ‘Obligation’ Of Self-Sacrifice

A friend recently told me about a situation at work that could have turned out badly for her.  She had scheduled a matter on behalf of her boss which required the services of an outside vendor.  She got a call from her boss when the vendor didn’t show up at the appointed time.  Fortunately she had made the necessary arrangements and was able to forward her boss an earlier email she had sent to the vendor confirming their phone conversation and the date and time of the event.

Having recently read several excellent essays on individualism and the value of self-interestedness to society in the economic context, my thoughts turned to my friend’s self-interested behavior with respect to making sure the responsibility for this scheduling mistake fell where it belonged – with the vendor rather than with her.  It made me wonder, why does society seem to readily accept the contention that there is societal value, even rising to the level of a personal moral obligation, in selflessness in the financial or material context but not in others?  If sacrificing for the benefit of others is an inherent good or even a personal moral obligation when it comes to money, why not other, less tangible things like credit for good work or blame for mistakes?  Why doesn’t society expect my friend to selflessly accept the blame for the vendor’s mistake?

Some might argue that money and material goods are different than credit or blame and it is that difference which justifies a societal moral mandate that money should be sacrificed for the benefit of others but credit and blame need not.  Let’s examine some of the potential bases for such an argument:

  1. The distinction lies in the severity of consequences of the unmet need.  Some need money for the very necessities of life such as food, clothing or shelter.  Because it’s potentially a matter of life and death, self-sacrifice of money is required where self-sacrifice by yielding unearned credit for good work or accepting blame which is the responsibility of another is not.

Such a response might be worthy of consideration if expectations of financial selflessness were limited to meeting only the most minimum needs of the most unfortunate among us, but that is not the case.  Self-sacrifice for the benefit of numerous endeavors and causes is approved if not lauded by society at large.

  1. Credit or blame are often objectively earned by virtue of the actions of the persons involved.  In the example of my friend, the responsibility for the scheduling mistake was clear and therefore should be attributed to the person who made it.

This argument fails in the financial context anytime the money involved is ‘objectively earned’ by the potential giver or the ‘responsibility for earning it’ is clear.  Moreover, I have never heard or read that society’s endorsement of financial self-sacrifice is dependent upon how money was acquired, i.e., that financial altruism is a moral obligation only when the ‘giver’ came by his money by means other than his own effort, labor or inventiveness.  To the contrary, financial self-sacrifice is most often supported on the basis of relative need, e.g., ‘those who have more than they need should give abundantly to those in need.’  This raises the second basis for the argument that money is just different than credit or blame…

  1. It makes no sense to attribute credit or blame on the basis of need. No one ‘needs’ unearned credit and no one ‘needs’ to avoid blame.  Conversely, some people have more money than they need and some don’t have enough.

Setting aside for the purpose of this discussion the question of who is to determine the type and degree of ‘need’ required to trigger the moral obligation of self-sacrifice, the premise of the argument is faulty.  It is every bit as ‘reasonable’ to attribute blame or credit based on need as to do so with money.   It takes little effort to come up with hypotheticals to illustrate the point. For example – one new employee is on an initial probation period and has already made a few minor mistakes while a second has been employed for fifteen years during which he has built a record of top performance and near perfect accountability.  If the second employee performs an important and difficult task without any assistance from the first and the employer asks who accomplished it, the ‘relative need’ argument would dictate that the second employee defer to the first because he ‘needs’ the credit more.  Experience tells us that most of society would not accept this reasoning.  Thus, ‘need’ does not explain why society has expectations of altruism as to money but not with respect to attributing credit or blame.

  1. Money is different than credit or blame on a fundamental level.  Money is impersonal while getting credit and avoiding blame are very personal.

Money is no less ‘personal’ than getting credit for a job well done.  Indeed, money is the ultimate ‘credit’ for a job well done.  To an individual who works for three hours to earn $50, the loss of that $50 represents three hours of his life.  The loss of three hours to a task for which he foregoes remuneration is at least as personal as losing the praise for doing it, arguably more so.  If you work for three hours, which would you rather do without, the pay you earned, or the pat on the back?

  1.  Money is very important to a comfortable life while getting credit and avoiding blame are not. 

This argument is merely a modified version of the ‘necessities of life’ argument but it extends the contention beyond the necessities of life to ‘a comfortable life’.  The argument can be extended even further to illustrate its ineffectiveness, e.g., ‘It might be argued that ‘money is very important in acquiring a major league baseball team while getting credit and avoiding blame is not’.  Ultimately, the premise of this argument conflicts with the common understanding of society’s expectations with respect to self-sacrifice.  Society at large would balk at the notion that some owe a moral obligation to provide a ‘comfortable lifestyle’ to others.  Society’s acceptance of the concept of financial self-sacrifice does not go that far.  So yes, money is different than credit or blame.  In the abstract, most would acknowledge that money is more necessary to achieving a comfortable life style than obtaining credit or avoiding blame.  However, since society generally does not acknowledge an obligation of some to provide a ‘comfortable lifestyle’ to others, this argument does nothing to answer our question.

Perhaps the reason society has come to view financial self-sacrifice as beneficial to society and a personal moral obligation but has not done so with respect to the attribution of credit or blame has little if anything to do with the differences between the two.  Perhaps the answer lies in what the progressive movement has always sought to achieve in the realm of redistributive politics.

The original notion of a ‘safety net’ has greatly expanded beyond assuring the necessities of life because the government has acted in accordance with progressive principles of egalitarianism rather than classically liberal principles which permit individualism and personal responsibility to flourish.  Over the decades, the progressive and collectivist notion that ‘we’ have an obligation to provide any number of goods and services to those who can’t afford them or won’t conduct their personal affairs or modify their spending priorities so that they might acquire them for themselves has only spread and become more prevalent.  Thus, the safety net has morphed into a welfare state that imposes the rank redistribution of wealth upon society.

In order to dissuade the populace from outright rejection of this long term program of egalitarianism, leftist forces in government, academia and some religious institutions have systematically inculcated the people to accept the notion of an obligation toward financial self-sacrifice without any logical, well-reasoned support for the obligation itself and without any definition as to its limits.  The lack of any defined limits in the societal context then extends to egalitarian policy making…government is not constrained by any limiting principles when redistributing wealth in advance of egalitarian goals.  Accordingly, it is by this undefined but ever growing and widely accepted obligation of financial self-sacrifice that government is able to undertake its egalitarian wealth redistribution activities without so much societal push back and often with societal approbation.  Society having been inculcated to accept the obligation in the abstract, is effectively conditioned to acquiesce when the government implements specific redistributive policies.

In contrast, inculcating society to the notion that credit or blame should be selflessly reattributed would do nothing to precondition society to accept wealth redistributing policies.  To the contrary, as I hope I’ve demonstrated in this essay, inducing the populace to consider altruism with respect to the attribution of credit and blame would likely have the opposite effect by illustrating, rather than obfuscating, the lack of any rational basis for such an obligation.  It is by comparing and examining the difference between society’s amorphous but seemingly ever widening expectations of financial self-sacrifice to society’s lack of such expectations with respect to other, less tangible things like credit for good work or blame for mistakes, that we can more readily see the lack of any well-reasoned basis for a moral obligation toward the financial altruism with undefined or nonexistent limits society seems to countenance.

Notwithstanding the counterproductive nature of such a program to progressive and collectivist egalitarian goals, we are seeing instances of redistributive policies taking effect with respect to credit and blame.  Such policies are being manifested in public schools in the form of group work or working in teams.  The group is graded as a group, regardless of the amount or quality of the contribution of the individual group members.  The hardest working contributor gets the same grade as the laziest slacker.  The ostensible reason for group work is often said to be an effort to teach students to work collaboratively since collaborative work is necessary in many jobs.  But I fear there may be some who intend that group work lacking in individual accountability will be the next step in conditioning society to extreme collectivism.  Such efforts could conceivably lead successive generations of students to accept that they will not be blamed for failure, nor credited for success, other than in a group context.  It is hard to imagine a more successful intermediate step toward the ultimate societal acceptance of wholesale collectivism.

We should think more about the supposed moral obligation of self-sacrifice in any context.  Is there a logical and well-reasoned basis for such a moral obligation?  If so, what is it?  What are its limits?  If there are none, what should they be?  Why should we accept that we have a general and undefined moral obligation to give away money and material items but no corollary obligation to reattribute anything else that might also be needed or helpful to others?  Coming to grips with these issues is important to understanding and reversing our decades long trend toward bigger, more redistributive government and collectivism and away from first principles, individual liberty and personal responsibility.

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Why Do I Like Trump?

As an advocate of individual liberty and constitutionalism, I find a lot to dislike, or at least distrust, about Donald Trump’s coming presidency.  Though he and his closest advisors pay lip service to a smaller Federal government, there aren’t many indications that he’ll really do much in that regard.  Obamacare is an atrocity and should be repealed outright, but Trump’s repeated insistence on replacing it at the Federal level doesn’t instill confidence in his understanding of the constitutional limits on the Federal government’s power.  Further, using the bully pulpit to coerce businesses to do that which they don’t deem to be in their best economic interest isn’t the hallmark of one who genuinely believes in economic liberty or the benefits free markets render to society at large.

I hear the oft repeated mantra’s…‘he’ll be far better than Hillary’ and, ‘it’s all about the Supreme Court’.  I get it.  But I’ve long recognized that the U.S. has, since at least the 1930’s, always taken at least two steps toward statism for every opposite step towards a return to constitutionally limited government.  If one were to construct a graph with the horizontal axis representing time from 1936 to the present and the vertical axis representing the relative degree of statism, the graph would reflect a clear trend to greater degrees of statism.  Sure, you would see momentary diversions representing brief respites, but they’d all be followed by a return to the trend line which has consistently led to bigger and more intrusive government and less individual liberty.  Nothing I’ve heard from Donald Trump suggests to me that he’s going to do anything to change that trend line.  In order to change it, the American people must be persuaded to the societal benefits of liberty and dissuaded from the false promises of supposedly well intended coercion founded only on the immoral premise of democracy.  Donald Trump is not the President who will lead that effort; not because he isn’t capable, but because he doesn’t believe in it.  I’m happy that Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected.  And I’m glad at the prospect that Trump’s judicial appointments will likely be better by comparison.  But these will be among the many respites; comforting, but fleeting. Ultimately, a return to the trend line awaits.

So why have I enjoyed the Trump pre-presidency so much?  This question has perplexed me.  The very substantial degree to which I’ve enjoyed Donald Trump’s post-election period as president elect isn’t warranted by my assessment of his ultimate effect on our ever rising trajectory into greater degrees of statism.  So what’s going on?  What is it that I like about Trump?

I’ve come up with two primary factors.  The first is obviously important and a credit to Trump – he is a constant and vocal opponent of global government and we need leadership on that point right as never before.  Though nationalism has understandably earned a bad connotation in many contexts, it has taken on a crucial legitimacy as a response to governmental globalism.  When ‘nationalism’ means respecting the Constitution and American statutory and common law as the only legitimate law of the country and rejecting efforts of globalist to allow treaties or United Nations pronouncements to effectuate even the subtlest of influences on our unalienable rights, nationalism is a very good thing indeed.  Preserving the United States as a nation state, sovereign and unyielding in the face of any global efforts to infiltrate our substantive law is critical.

Though important, Trump’s anti-global government stance isn’t enough to explain the pleasure I’ve had in witnessing his pre-presidency.  It’s the second factor I’ve identified which appeals to my base human impulses and thus better explains my enthusiasm. Better yet, on reflection, it may actually provide some hope for a future different than I would have supposed just a few months ago.

In short, I like how he’s sticking it to the worst elements of the left.  Those watching the media and the public reaction to it over the past decade may reasonably have concluded that too many of the American people have stopped thinking for themselves.  The left leaning national media seemed to have an almost magical ability to define the issues worthy of public attention and then set the narrative as to those issues.  Similarly, leftist academic speech police and self-appointed enforcers of political correctness seemed to have acquired the ability to thwart the free exchange of ideas whenever their personal sensibilities were offended or the legitimacy of their perspectives were threatened.

Trump has demonstrated that the national media doesn’t necessarily control the narrative and that perhaps the ‘thought police’ are all bark and no bite.  Just maybe there aren’t quite so many stupefied citizens who blindly follow the prompts of the national media and leftist elite.  Maybe good people just needed a champion to give them a voice.   I understand the concerns over his sometimes heavy handedness but I have to wonder whether he would be so successful in foiling the leftist machinery without the entertainment factor.  Let’s face it, people like it when bad actors get called out and exposed.  Trump’s brashness may be a necessary ingredient in his recipe for success.

The important question for the future is this: has Trump set a workable example for how others might successfully neuter the national media and leftist elites?  If we ever manage to elect a President who will work to persuade people to the societal benefits of liberty and constitutionalism, can he or she learn from Trump’s example in order to deny the left the power to control messaging and impose sanctions on those with whom they disagree?  If so, that may ultimately be the prevailing legacy of his presidency, and a worthy legacy that would be.  If the Trump experience permanently exposes the fallacy of the leftist elite’s ‘authority’, if he enables the American public and those in positions of power and influence to not only see, but comfortably declare, that the emperor’s new clothes are imaginary and the leftist elites are naked of the power which they have presumed for themselves and in which too many have acquiesced for too long, then he will have provided at least one great and lasting service to his country.

In the meantime, I hope to continue to enjoy watching the leftist elites flounder as they employ their old playbook over and over again to no avail while I wait with fingers crossed to see what Trump’s presidency actually brings.

 

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Trump’s Muslim Border Policy And The Echo-Chamber

Only a small fraction of the news coverage and hand wringing over Donald Trump’s suggestion that non-citizen Muslims be temporarily barred from entry into the United States has addressed the policy’s merits. The question of whether it is necessary or helpful to temporarily bar non-citizen Muslims from entry in order to protect the homeland from terrorism has been largely overlooked. Instead, the focus has been on whether such a policy, if implemented, is a betrayal of American values, or worse, indicative of racism or a step toward ushering in fascism.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the focus has been on the subject of our American values rather than the efficacy of the suggested policy. Focusing on the values question enables media and politicians the opportunity to demonize disfavored candidates while shoring up their own ‘political correctness’ bona fides. There’s more opportunity for widely broadcast soundbites and for political mileage to be gotten out of debating the moral qualifications of a disfavored candidate than debating whether his policy is simply wrong or unnecessary. Moreover, by now we should all be accustomed to the fact that politicians and the national media live inside of the elite media echo-chamber where every word written or uttered is examined through a prism of political correctness. Washington elites almost instinctively pounce upon anything that smacks of political incorrectness. Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” in response to Trump’s call for such a policy. Because politically correct positions are seldom challenged, there was no need for Graham to explain why Trump’s position on this border policy is sufficient to conclude he is a bigot.

Which brings me to the question I wish to address — assuming that one has made an honest assessment and determined that temporarily closing the borders to all non-citizen Muslims is necessary or helpful to ensuring the safety of the homeland against terrorism, does suggesting the implementation of a policy in accord with that assessment constitute race-baiting, xenophobia or bigotry? Is the implementation of such a policy ‘un-American’? Does suggesting such a policy indicate a lack of appreciation for American values? I’ve concluded the answer to each of these questions is ‘no’.

The United States of America, exists for the benefit of its citizens. The U.S. government has no higher obligation than the safeguarding of American citizens within our borders from external threats. No non-citizen has a right to cross our borders. We should permit non-citizens to enter only when it is in the interest of our citizens to do so.

We can objectively recognize that the vast majority of the terrorism with which we have been threatened and to which we’ve been subjected has been threatened or perpetrated by persons who identify themselves as Muslim and claim that their actions are perpetrated in the name of that religion. At a time when we have heightened concerns over terrorism from abroad, if the information available as to whether persons seeking to cross our borders intend us harm is insufficient for us to make a determination, excluding the larger set (Muslims) from which the smaller subset (terrorists) comes, may be a necessary and intelligent policy reaction.

Under those circumstances, the implementation of the policy is not racist or bigoted, because it is not motivated by hatred or unfounded bias. Rather, it is motivated by the objective facts. That the United States has not implemented such a policy in the past should demonstrate that it has no ill-regard toward Muslims. It may be proper to implement such a policy now, not because we have developed an unfounded bias against Muslims, but because it has become necessary to our security. Excluding those Muslims who cannot be vetted from entry does not make us bad or evil. It does not mean that we’re deviating from our values. We can fully recognize the dignity and decency of the vast majority of Muslims who might wish to cross our borders while implementing the policy as a necessary reaction to the unfortunate circumstances we face — we cannot identify which of those seeking entry are terrorists. The implementation of such a policy is not intended to offend Muslims; nor should it, given the objective fact that terrorists almost exclusively come from their ranks.   Under such circumstances, a policy excluding from entry all non-citizen Muslims who cannot be properly vetted simply reflects the reality that we have no other way to ensure the security of Americans at home. Those who wish to portray the suggestion of such a policy as necessarily based on racism or a broad disdain for Muslims are either ignorant or trying to spin a political agenda.

Many have expressed surprise that Donald Trump’s support among the citizenry does not appear to have eroded as a result of this policy suggestion. I suspect that surprise is born of the echo-chamber, where punishment for violations of the code of political correctness are swift and harsh. Forgotten is the fact that the electorate does not live in the echo-chamber and is therefore untainted by its perverse effects. Individuals know the content of their own hearts. They understand their own desires and motivations. They are acutely aware whether they harbor a nefarious, unfounded disdain for a people unlike them or whether they are merely making a rational judgment concerning the events taking place around them. As a result, no amount of slick marketing or amplified and oft repeated politically correct dogma can convince the American people that a policy suggestion which makes common sense to them is actually an expression of racism or bigotry. Because the American people are not racists or bigots, because they do not harbor hatred or disdain for Muslims in their hearts, they are able to accept Trump’s policy suggestion for what he represents it to be — an unfortunate, but potentially necessary, common sense approach to safeguard American citizens.

 

 

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Anchor Babies And Thought Control

The topic of the day is the use of the term “anchor babies” by certain Republican candidates for president.  Both Donald Trump and Jeb Bush were recently asked by members of the press why they are using this “offensive” term.  Put on the spot, both candidates asked their inquisitor for a less offensive substitute.  They might, instead, have asked what exactly is offensive about the term “anchor baby”.  The short answer – only it’s intended meaning.

Confucius said that “when words lose their meaning people will lose their liberty.”  Language control has been a staple of those who would impose their political will since the dawn of politics.  In our self-governing society, the usurpation of language has always been a favored tool of the left.  By controlling language, they affect messaging and ultimately thought.

Sometimes they co-opt words which have gained favor with the public and redefine them, presumably in the hope that the positive connotation will continue even after it has been redefined.  There is perhaps no better example of this tactic than the progressives’ theft of the word “liberalism”.   Once, “liberalism” defined a political perspective which valued individual and economic liberty, private property, very limited government and the strict application of the rule of law.  Because the progressive movement stole the term and redefined it for its own purposes, this original conception of “liberalism” is now typically referred to as “classical liberalism” in order to distinguish it from modern liberalism.  As Ralph Raico wrote so succinctly, “The qualifying ‘classical’ is now usually necessary…because liberalism has come to be associated with wide-ranging interferences with private property and the market on behalf of egalitarian goals.”

On other occasions the left usurps language by demonizing it.  By deeming a term or phrase politically incorrect, offensive or even racist, they hope to block the transfer of ideas in two ways.  First, they seek to gag the messenger.  Most people are concerned for their reputations and do not want to be seen by the public as intolerant or narrow minded.  If an idea can be squelched before it’s uttered, it never makes its way to the intended audience.  Second, they hope to poison the potential listeners’ perspective.  If the public can be made suspicious of certain words and phrases, the message being communicated may not find open minds willing to consider it.  By demonizing language, the left seeks both to gag the speaker and taint the receptiveness of the listener.

The term “anchor baby” refers to children of illegal immigrants who are argued to have achieved U.S. citizenship by virtue of having been born here.  The babies’ alleged citizenship, provides a legal tether to the U.S. for their families thus “anchoring” them here.  Those who are here illegally and wish to stay, as well as those who support them may find the term offensive because it calls attention to their illegal status or because it might lead one to speculate that illegals intentionally birth babies in the U.S. in order to provide them that tether.

There’s a stark distinction between being offended by words and phrases that society has generally come to disdain for their ugliness or insulting nature and being offended by words and phrases because they effectively communicate an idea with which one simply disagrees.  “Anchor babies” falls in the second category.  To suggest that the term is offensive and should not be utilized is to advocate the stifling of an idea which is particularly pertinent in the greater debate over illegal immigration.

Perhaps the next time a candidate has an opportunity to challenge an inquisitor on this issue, he or she will challenge the notion that the term is offensive rather than merely suggesting that there is no better alternative.  They would do society a favor by standing in the way of yet another leftist attempt to highjack language in order to thwart effective communication and thus control public thought.

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