Complete Whimsy, Individual v. Collective, Liberty, Live and Learn, Uncategorized

Liberalism is Kinda Boring

Bored Cat

Liberalism has been called a lot of things. Some seem to think that the term is synonymous with good, others think it’s naive, Michael Savage called it a mental disorder, etc.

But the one thing I don’t hear it called very often is boring. And it many ways, it is just kinda boring.

There seems to be a formula with modern liberalism and whatever event comes up, just plug in the formula and, wala, you have the ‘correct’ way to think about it hand delivered with the utmost convenience, like they use to do with milk. And it seems that whoever is in the bigger victim category becomes the one who’s in the right. So for example, an employee sues the company, and the company might as well be named Enron.

Let’s take the George Zimmerman case. George was white and Trayvon was black, so obviously George was at fault. OK, George was actually Hispanic, but that isn’t as high as black on the victim list, which I think goes something like this:

1. Black

2. Jew

3. Middle Eastern

4. Hispanic

5. Asian

6. Pupppies

7. White

And so the headlines go, “White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman” and “Open Season on Unarmed Black Kids” and so on. Since when are ‘unarmed’ and ‘harmless’ synonyms for each other? And since when is a 17 year old teenager with a  history of fighting considered a ‘kid’?

It is certainly difficult to make out exactly what happened, and George Zimmerman is obviously not completely innocent. But it’s also quite apparent that Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman. After all, Zimmerman had two black eyes, a broken nose and two lacerations on the back of his head. Other than the bullet wound the only injury Trayvon Martin had was to his knuckles.

The whole Zimmerman thing is a distraction of course. After all, there were 532 people murdered in Chicago alone in 2012! And some 93% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Yet, one Hispanic who killed one black teenager who was assaulting him after said Hispanic followed him represents white supremacy because it was ruled self-defense?

I’m not even saying that everyone on the left thinks the same or even that George Zimmerman wasn’t guilty of something (although it certainly wasn’t first degree murder). But the left appears to be like a line. You may be liberal, or you may be really liberal, but with a few exceptions such as Glenn Greenwald and Thaddeus Russell, you’re pretty much just some shade of liberal. Something like this:

So a liberal will be against the war. A hardcore liberal will want to dismantle most of the American military and send reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan. A liberal will be for regulation, a hardcore liberal will be for nationalization, etc. Even leftwing communists and anarchists tend to blur.

Yes, the right can be similarly annoying. I’m a libertarian, more or less, and even roll my eyes a bit when everyone and everything is called a statist. But on the right, not only do you have different variations from moderate to extreme, but you have libertarians and neoconservatives and the religious right and white nationalists and survivalists and paleoconservatives and on and on and on. And from what I gather, the religious right has no problem throwing corporations under the bus, and neither do libertarians for that matter, as long as the corporation is somehow tied to the federal government. To paleoconservatives, free trade is bad, to libertarians it’s good. Drug legalization is good for libertarians, but bad for the religious right. White nationalists obviously oppose to civil rights legislation, neoconservatives (“liberals who were mugged by reality”) usually support at least most of what is currently on the books and libertarians split it on the private vs public grounds. All of these groups are on the ‘right.’ I see almost nothing like this kind of disagreement on the left.* So it looks something like this:

Left - Right Political Scale

This is likely why according to at least one study (and my experience), liberals don’t understand conservative beliefs as well as conservatives understand liberal beliefs. And that leads to such inane name calling as Matt Yglesias, who opened his recent column on Detroit as follows:

Detroit is everything that conservatives hate—labor unions, black people, pensions—so in some quarters there’s almost a kind of glee around this idea that Detroit is a preview of the American future.

Well, it came off to me as an olive branch of sorts.

Anyways, perhaps the ‘right’ became every political philosophy opposed to liberalism. And perhaps that’s to liberals benefit as they can accuse the right of being racist because of the white nationalists and theocratic because of the religious right and anti-labor because of libertarian views on unions. And perhaps that drives everyone but the white men (and the white women those white men enslave) into the Democratic party.

But that does come with some contradictions. After all, when it comes to gender, the victim chart looks like this I think:

1. Transsexuals

2. Hermaphrodites

3. Women

4. Kittens

5. Men

But the liberal reports on Trayvon Martin talked about how black males are stereotyped as being dangerous and thereby could be shot for “the crime of being black.” As President Obama said:

There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

But don’t black women come with the “double oppression” of being black and female?

How can men’s disproportionate crime rates be blamed on male power (even while often overstated) and African American’s disproportionate crime rates be blamed on white power (when not being distracted by things like the Martin/Zimmerman affair)? Then add in that male violence usually comes from the least powerful men and is usually directed at other men of their own race and the simple liberal dichotomy falls apart.

The one obvious exception to this is the government, which the left appears to view ambivalently. Namely, while the left pushes for the government to grow, the government can certainly be wrong if say, they launch a war on Iraq (but maybe not if they launch a war on Libya… it depends how far left on the line you are).  But if someone in one wing of the ‘right’ says maybe those high black crime rates have something to do with the welfare state and the incentives it creates, meh, they’re just racist or something.

While I’d like this to be taken as a warning for everyone (including libertarians and their rush to call people statists), the left is by far the worst offender here. The world is far too complicated to be boiled down to such simplicity. People, especially liberal people, please do not use a formula to figure out which side to be on on whatever issue! Otherwise, it’s just so… boring.

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*I should note the one odd exception, which is prostitution. This is one where some hardcore liberals of the feminist variety tend to oppose it (and ironically lock hands with the religious right) and some of the more libertine liberals support its legalization.

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Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn

John Stossel Rundown

Here are some of my favorite, mostly recent, discussions on some very relevant topics by the man with mustache himself:

 

John Stossel with Chuck Devore and Matt Welch comparing why Texas’s smaller government model is better than California’s big government model

John Stossel with Nick Gillespie debate Thoedore Dalyrymple on the Drug War and Obama’s Hypocrisy

John Stossel with Radley Balko on the troubling development of police becoming more militarized

And then John Stossel’s special, which I highly recommend, Illegal Everything. Nothing better sums up out of control bureaucrats than this:

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Dubiously Free Trade, Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn

Wealth Inequality in America: A Partial Critique

So I’m a little late on this one, but there is a viral video on wealth inequality in the United States going around that compares what a survey of 5000 Americans said they thought wealth inequality should be and then compared that to what it actually is. Well, as many of you know, wealth inequality is substantially larger than most Americans think it is:

Now I should start off by saying I agree with this video in part. Wealth inequality in the United States is too high and it’s getting worse. While proponents of free markets rarely complain about income inequality directly like say Joseph Stiglitz, they do complain a lot about corporate welfare. Tim Carney’s book, The Big Ripoff, is to me the best rundown on the whole bloated mess. And what would corporate welfare probably lead to… well, more income inequality.

That being said, there are problems that should be highlighted. Some of these problems relate to what is considered wealth but the big one is actually a sort of meta-problem with the way that normal people think about inequality. In other words, what people think inequality should be doesn’t make any sense if they actually think about. Why you ask? Well, let me explain:

1. The Big Missing Variable

The big missing variable when discussing income inequality is increased exponentially in terms of it’s importance when discussing wealth inequality. Indeed, it may be startling to think of how simple a variable this is.

Age.

It seems obvious now that you think about it, doesn’t it.

After all, how much money were you making when you were 25 compared to 45. Probably less than half. But when it comes to wealth, oh lord, it’s not even close. The wealth inequality figures discussed in the video make no attempt to control for age. And as a matter of fact, the gap in wealth between the young and the old has been growing.

According to a Pew study, the net wealth of those over 65 between 1989 and 2009 went from $120,000 to $170,000, a 42% increase. For those younger than 35, their wealth actually decreased from $11,500 to $3500, a 68% decrease. And more importantly, $170,000 is 4850% of $3500!

Now remember that these aren’t the same people being measured over time. Perhaps this has something do with people going to college more and thereby 1) starting their career later and 2) having a lot of student debt to pay off. Thereby they’re worth less when they’re young, but more when they’re old. Or perhaps kids these days just don’t know how to save like they’re folks did.

But when you boil it down, people under the age of 44 only possess 11% of the wealth in the United States. That’s an incredible figure if you think about it. And remember, these people are going to get older. They’re going to pay off their student debts, get that big promotion, pay off their house, inherit their parents wealth, etc.

For example, take this thought experiment; say everyone in the country made the same income, but each decade of life they got a promotion. They start at $20,000/year in their 20’s, then they go to $30,000/year in their 30’s, etc. In addition, they save 5% of their income each year and make no return on their savings. Assuming there are as many people in their 70’s as 20’s (which of course there aren’t, but bear with me), this is what the income and wealth inequality would look like:

Wealth inequality Spreadsheet

Or as the video presents it:

Wealth Inequality Graph

And that’s assuming that everyone is equally talented, that every industry is equally as profitable and that everyone has just as good of saving and investment habits. Furthermore, if I put in just a small return, that chart would be skewed even more. At 3% interest, if the person contributes every month, on their 30th birthday they will be worth $11,627. On their 60th, they will be worth $198,486. In that case the bottom 20% is worth only 2.69% and the top is worth 45.6% of the total. And that acts as if everyone in their 20’s is worth over $10,000 when in reality most are worth next to nothing.

Any serious look at wealth inequality, and income inequality for that matter, has to take age into account.

2. Entitlements

OK, our entitlement systems are a little underwater, but ignore that for a second. Payroll taxes are capped at $113,000, so in some ways it acts as a regressive tax. But then again, it’s not supposed to be a tax, it’s a government mandated insurance scheme.

Well, throwing in Medicare and Social Security add a little for the rich, but they do add a substantial amount of wealth to the poor in relative terms. How much more wealth would the poor and middle class have if instead of paying into a government program they were mandated to put that money in a health savings account or IRA or something to that effect? Well, it would be quite a bit. This would smooth out the curve a bit. While it makes sense that the author of the study don’t include entitlements since it’s based on when you need it (Medicare) or how long you live (Social Security), conceptually, we need to take them into account.

So let’s take a shot at it. According to Bankrate.com:

… A male average earner who retired at age 65 in 2010 paid out $345,000 in total Social Security and Medicare taxes, but will receive $417,000 in total lifetime benefits ($464,000 for a woman)… In the case of a household with only one wage earner, the taxes paid out were $345,000, but the benefits received by both parties will be $778,000. For two-earner couples where one earned the average wage and the other earned a low wage ($19,400), tax payout was $500,000, but benefits will be $800,000.

OK, that doesn’t sound particularly sustainable, but if that average person is taking out some $400,000 plus in benefits, couldn’t that be thought of as a form of wealth?

3. Individuals vs. Families

In the video, the narrator describes the survey as separating the American population into “groups.” Groups of what? Well he doesn’t say. Luckily the links in the lowbar did. And you guessed it, it’s family wealth, not individual. Once again I have to clarify this ridiculous error. When family sizes vary in shape and size you simply cannot compare them as if they were the same. As Thomas Sowell has noted:

 Households are of different sizes, they vary over time, they vary from one group to another, they vary from one income level to another. So for example, there are 39 million people in the bottom 20% of households, and 64 million in the top 20%. So you’re saying, yes, 24 million additional people do tend to have more money.

Or in other words, the top 20% has almost 60% more people in it than the bottom. Even if there were an equal number of people in the other three “groups” and every individual had the same wealth, the top 20% would have almost 25% of the wealth and the bottom 20% would have barely 15%. When we further take into account that many in the bottom 20% are in prison, single parents, people on welfare, disabled, drug addicts, homeless, etc. it becomes clear that dividing the country into such groups is simplistic at best.

In Other Words…

Now again, even after all that, I do think this is a problem. And I will join liberals in denouncing the major role corporate welfare played in all of this (and I would add, Federal Reserve policy). However, before liberals get too far into their rant about about taxes being too low and regulation being too light, I should note some other possible reasons.

1. Immigration: I believe the impact is relatively small on income inequality (David Card, for example estimates it’s share is only 5% of the increase between 1980 and 2000), I do think it’s effect on wealth inequality is large. Most immigrants, after all, come to the United States relatively poor.

2. Dependency and Welfare: Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart, makes the case that the values of the upper class and lower class have diverged, and I do think there’s something to this. Indeed, while in 1960 only 9% of men in the bottom 30% between the ages of 20 and 64 were working. In 2000 it was 30%! In 1996, only 0.286 people in single person households in the lower median worked. It’s hard to increase one’s income, and very hard to increase one’s wealth when you aren’t working. How much has this separation in values played a part? And oh by the way, the decline in marriage probably hasn’t helped either.

3. Technology: I think this is the big one. Charles Murray touches on it a lot as have many others from all across the political spectrum. To use Murray’s example, in the 60’s, someone who was really good at math could become a math teach and make a decent living. Today they could go work for a Quant Fund on Wall Street or maybe for Google and pull seven figures a year. Or take music. Back in the day, musicians wasn’t such a feast or famine gig, because there were no recording devices. So the gigs were how you made a living. Today there’s a bunch of starving artists and a few megastars. And then of course there’s automation and robots and computer algorithms that are making lower end manual labor jobs less necessary, and they’re starting to do a number on service jobs as well.

In other words, the problem is complicated. I do think globalization plays a role (although I think it plays a role in lowering poverty levels around the world too). And of course it should be mentioned too that people have different levels of talent and produce different levels. Those who produce the most should be rewarded. And without some inequality, there’s no incentive, at least no material incentive, to work hard and bring great products and services to the market.

It’s just that inequality is too high. And while that’s still a subjective opinion, I think it rings true for most of us. Just be careful to wade through these statistics before yelling that the sky is falling.

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Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn, Obama Says

Glenn Greenwald Slaps Down More NSA/Edward Snowden Nonsense

David Gregory asks Glenn Greenwald the idiotic question of whether he should be charged with a crime for basically being an investigative journalist. Greenwald also explains why, although it’s true that Eric Snowden is guilty of a crime for exposing the NSA’s invasions of privacy, that the espionage charge is ridiculous.

How quickly (most of) Obama’s supporters give up the values they held circa 2001-2008:

 

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Complete Whimsy, Individual v. Collective, Liberty

Are Liberals Really Pro-Choice?

So this is a slightly older piece from ReasonTV that took place during the Democratic National Convention, but it is absolutely hilarious. It seems that liberals have a bit of a bad habit of saying they support things they actually don’t… like you know, science and peace (at least when a Democrat is president). Here Reason tests the theory that liberals are “pro choice.”

Transfat Ban – For – Anti-Choice

Four Loko Ban – For – Anti-Choice

Light bulb Choice – Against – Anti-Choice

Right-to-Work – Against – Anti-Choice

School Choice – Against – Anti-Choice

Abortion – For – PRO-CHOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess 1 out 6 equals pro-choice. However, if abortion is all about choice, should men get to choose whether to financially support a child they don’t want for 18 years? I suspect there would be little enthusiasm for such choice. Things that make you say ‘hmmm.’

I should note I could extend this list quite a long ways and will probably do so in the near future.

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Complete Whimsy, Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn

Musicnomics Part II: Decline and Fall

So a while back I wrote an article about the wacky world of music where talent is ignored in favor of prepackaged, overproduced tweenie heart throbs and beauty queens who have little discernible talent other than a voice that would typically rank around 7 to 8 on a scale from 1 to 10. I have a friend who’s in a very good band called The Hoons. Quite a few have commented that they should be famous or that they will soon become famous… You know, when people realize they’re really good. Unfortunately, since being good is not a qualifier for musical fame, I would hesitate to make such predictions.

The problem is this; people really like music and thereby many will dedicate themselves to it even if the odds of financial windfall are small. Who wouldn’t rather be a musician than say, an insurance salesmen? Thus, there are a lot of really talented musicians and bands out there and they get lost in a sea of other music. The market is over saturated. Whereas there is probably plenty of room for improvement regarding the talent of insurance salesmen.  This may have not been the case in the past as much, but it certainly is now. People can only keep so many bands in their heads at any given time. Dunbar’s number dictates human beings can only conceptualize something like 150 people as friends or acquaintances of note. Everyone else is a number. I suspect our tolerance for musicians and bands is substantially smaller.

Record companies know this, so they’re not really selling music, they’re selling a brand. Why do you think every movie that comes out today is a remake/reboot/reimagining/sequel/spinoff/prequel or adaption of a TV show, video game or at least a book (which seems to be becoming more and more rare). The established brand helps guarantee that the $100 million or so the studio dumps into filming our 2 hours of escapism will come to the top of the enormous mound of garbage begging for our attention (and money). And so it goes with music, just make a smaller investment up front and try to sell a charismatic and attractive “musician” who can technically sing and maybe dance a little. Then sell them songs written by someone else (or something else) that have been scientifically tested to be as catchy (and empty) as possible. While the songs are often overproduced, they are also simple, with very few and very predictable chord changes. This makes them easy to dance to, sing along with and get caught in the head. Throw all that together with said “artist” and boom, a famous musician is born… or probably more accurately designed, tested, manufactured and marketed.

This all makes me rather sad. But at least I could console myself that we had so much music at our disposal anyone could dig through and find stuff that is actually of quality. The production side may be an upside down mess, but the consumption side is an oyster or smorgasbord or something like that.

Then I had a recent conversation with my guitar teacher (who is very good musician, and of course, not famous). He mentioned that in Mozart’s day, he was well known for his operas no his symphonies. At the time, operas were the music of the masses. Lawrence Edelson describes it as follows:

The opera house was the first musical institution to open its doors to the general public. The first opera house was opened in Venice in 1637, presenting commercial opera and run for profit!  …It offered new entertainment to anyone who could afford a ticket.  By the end of the seventeenth century, Venice had sixteen opera houses open to the general public. [Bold in original]

Can you imagine Joe Shmoe or some trailer park rednecks going to the opera today? Or maybe some wanksta’s: “Yo Homie, let’s get hella faded and then catch some Pavarotti up in this hizzie!” Sorry, I digress. Sure, it’s great that the masses had a form of entertainment available to them they hadn’t previously had. Indeed, Edelson notes the [positive] change that was starting to take off in the early to mid 1800’s, “During the first half of the nineteenth century, “new forms of popular culture were developing as the industrial revolution generated the two preconditions for mass entertainment: mass production and a mass audience. “

That is great. The problem, is that today opera is considered the music of the snobby elite. It’s classy music meant for a more sophisticated audience. So opera went from being a music for the general public, to a music for the elite. My guitar teacher is convinced this is the trend throughout time, and unfortunately, he’s probably right.

Jazz and blues’s were both considered to be the music of “bars and brothels” during the early 20th century. Now they’re classic. The Beatles made mindless, pop music, now they’re the epitome of classic rock and hugely respected as musicians. And I should note, while I do like the Beatles, the simplicity of their songs and the ease with which they are too play, is rather astounding.

OK fine, I like blues and jazz and the Beatles are OK. And I don’t particularly like opera. In fact, I don’t like it at all. But look where this trend is going! Liberals may worry about leaving a wrecked planet to their children (or maybe I should say child…) and conservatives worry about leaving a massive debt. But we can both agree we shouldn’t be leaving Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to our children… dammit, too late… to our children’s children. They’re popularity should die with us.

Unfortunately, it seems we are intent on justifying our hormonally influenced adolescent musical preferences in adulthood by giving such pop music the “classic” label. And with the way this trend is going, it appears that the likes of Britney Spears and Ludacris will become the “classic” music of the next generation. Hell, today their stuff is already turned into symphony arrangements for college marching bands to make fools of themselves with. It’s just a matter of time. Hence a generation more and Beyonce and T Pain will become the operas of the 21st century. Snotty elites will pontificate about the important matters of the day while embracing the deep themes of how “I kissed a girl and I liked it.”

Or maybe they’ll all just go the way of New Kids on the Block… hopefully.

Or maybe it’s just too much to risk and it would be better if robots just took over.

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Game Theory, Individual v. Collective, Trust

Republicans use Political Correctness Too

In my series of “mommy he did it too” articles, I now turn to the dreaded political correctness. Political correctness apparently came to us from the Frankfurt School and critical theory which, as Herbert Mercuse posited, the oppressed should have the rights to free expression, but the oppressors should be bound by censorship. Or at least something to that effect. Thereby, Django can kill a bunch of white people but just imagine trying to make that movie the other way around. And if you say the word “macaca” you can lose your Senate race. You can have different prices for different people if your bake sale is protesting the mythical wage gap, but not if you’re protesting affirmative action. It can get so out of hand that a student employee reading Notre Dame vs the Klan (where the Klan is portrayed as the bad guy) can be found guilty of racial harassment. Or if you say there is a possibility that the reason there are more men than women in the top levels of science is maybe because while women and men have the same average IQ, men possibly have a higher variance putting more men at the bottom and the top, then well, you get fired from being the Dean of Harvard. On the other hand, if you say that men can benefit from being falsely accused of rape, like Catherine Commins of Vassar College, well oh well, ho hum.

And thus conservatives complain ad infinitum, often with good cause.

But wait,  wasn’t Helen Thomas forced to resign for saying negative things about the Republicans favorite ally, Israel?

Ward Churhill may have been a plagarist, but even before that came to light, conservatives were calling for his job solely for his anti-American rhetoric.

Indeed, much of John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign centered around anti-American comments made by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Or how about how some anti-war people were treated, especially by the likes of Fox News, prior to the Iraq War. It wasn’t so easy to be anti-war then like it is now. Here’s one example with Janeane Garofalo, who I should note, I’m not much a fan of.

It may be easier to make fun of Christianity these days then say Islam, but then again, the only open atheist in Congress lost his bid for re-election. Just try running for office as an atheist or even an agnostic and then let me know how that goes. Some Jews and Mormons have been elected. But how about running as a Muslim. Best of luck to you.

While being in favor or women’s issues or talking about a mostly imaginary “war on women” can get some votes, being a radical feminist, or even labeling yourself a feminist isn’t particularly popular these days in anything other than the coffee shop, urban yuppie, oh-sure-I’m-a-feminist-because-I-believe-in-equality-although-I’ve-never-really-thought-about-it sort of way. Same goes for race. Being against racism is good, being in favor of liberation theology or black nationalism or anything like that, is bad. And while our government grows and grows, openly supporting socialism is certainly a no-no.

And some of this backlash isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bad ideas and merely unpopular ideas are more likely to get shot down. But while the left may jump on anyone for making an even slightly racist (against non-whites), sexist (against women), homophobic, or anti-religion (other than Christianity) comment, the right is little better. Make an anti-American, anti-Christian or pro-socialist comment and see how well you fare. You may be able to get by like Barack Obama did after Reverend Wright’s speeches came out. Or you may go the way of Helen Thomas. And I should note, even anti-white comments can get you fired from time to time. Think of what happened to poor Shirley Sherrod.

Indeed, some on the right (or on the left, but victims of liberal political correctness none the less) endure. Patrick Buchanan may have gotten fired from MSNBC for his book, but while Charles Murray got blasted over and over again when he released the highly controversial Bell Curve with Dick Hernstein, the book was a bestseller. Sometimes the outrage from political correctness run amok works in the ‘any press is good press’ sort of way. And it obviously didn’t destroy Murray’s career or make him untouchable. After all, he just recently had another best seller.

Still, just because political correctness can backfire on those who wield it, does not make it a good thing. And while some may say that political correctness is just politeness, it is of course, not. After all, it isn’t particularly polite to boycott, slander and fire people for having an opinion you dislike. No, political correctness is an attempt to control speech and thereby thought. Indeed, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against hateful speech or even mere bad ideas. But the firings, intimidation, threats, boycotts and slandering often go too far. Often way too far. Remember, political correctness adheres to no particular ideology. In Nazi Germany, antisemitism was politically correct. In the Soviet Union, expropriating people’s homes and property was politically correct. Under the Khmer Rouge killing off intellectuals and merchants was politically correct. Political correctness is a means to shut up the opposition to whatever policy those enforcing said political correctness want. The policy could be good (although it usually isn’t), but the method used to enforce it, i.e. political correctness, is not. And the means don’t justify the ends.

Just don’t think that liberals have a monopoly on this particular means.

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