Secular Conservatism, Libertarians, Progressives, and Marriage

 

I take conservatism to be an appreciation and defense of what has been proven to work, and which benefits society and the individual in a balance.

If that seems overly-broad, let me provide an example.  Morality is effective in curbing largely destructive impulses and reactions, therefore morality is worth defending in principle, with some room for debate on many fronts.  Not all morality is the same, and it is not always helpful in the particulars.  But to hold that morality is not a necessary part of society is anti-conservative in my view, as morality is the most tested method for a society to control its own behavior with respect for the society and the individual in balance. 

Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual.  Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages.  To a secular conservative, the Bible is one of many instruments to this end.  Just because there is a religious proscription against adultery doesn’t mean that only religious people can defend a belief that adultery is harmful to individuals and society.  Likewise with other religious proscriptions.

Religion is, of course, a large component of the conservative movement, but philosophically it is not a necessary component of a thoroughly conservative position.  Not even for marriage.  I view the partnership between religion and conservatism as a co-development from a common origin.  Shared predicates yield shared conclusions, and therefore common interest.  Where religion ascribes things to God, secular conservatism agrees to the extent that it is destructive of society and the individual for mankind to mess with certain things.  Progressivism on the other hand is the confidence that a small group of people in the present know better than (on the one hand) everybody else across time, and better than (on the Other hand) God in His infinite wisdom.  Secular conservatism and religion get along just fine as defenders of our culture.

I see value in describing much of libertarianism as allied with progressivism, because conservatism is where the middle is, and to pull us off that mark either this way or that is just as destructive.  If a movement seeks to abolish our traditions as proven over time, it is not conservatism.  Progressivism and libertarianism get along just fine as disruptors of our culture.

There is already a philosophical position consistent with conservatism which enshrines human rights and the liberty of the individual: it is called conservatism.

Now, not every tradition is valuable, and a slavish devotion to traditions which are not good is not conservatism; that’s mechanism, on the process level.  Radical opposition to a flawed and failing government is not anti-conservative, but radical opposition to the institutions of our culture, most definitely is.

For example, you could argue that big spending by government is now a tradition and that it is therefore conservative to defend it and radical to oppose it, but this is wrong for a number of reasons.  First, it may be a tradition, but empirically it has not been proven to be a useful one.  Some spending is necessary, some spending is excessive — making judgements is important, and at any rate, even if all projects were equally worthy, the sheer sum of spending which displaces other worthy but non-government projects must be taken into account and weighed for relative merit.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it is destructive.

Second, the dependencies come to play in that objects and policies are not the only subjects to be appreciated and defended.  The decision to spend less is no less valuable than the process by which we arrive at that decision, and its implications.  If we feel that the accumulated wisdom vouchsafed in our culture is probably more valuable as a guide for society (in the aggregate) than the intellect spawned in a few brilliant fellows, then a process which lends itself to operation gently over time by many rather than abruptly, once, by the few is an inherently conservative method of arriving at conclusions.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it operates through an anti-conservative process.

As the free market is operated gently by many, and government spending is operated forcefully by few, any problem not specifically recommended for government remedy is probably better handled outside of government.  So no matter how “traditional” big spending may have become, it is not conservative in itself, and it is not conservative to defend it merely because it is the status quo.

Marriage pre-dates any law.  It simply is, and it is between one man and one woman.  This may sound circular, or like a “no true Scot” defense, but I assert it as a foundational fact.   Marriage is not produced by law any more than our rights are.  Marriage is enshrined and defended by law in our culture, and if the law should fall, marriage would remain, just as our rights do.  The law does not trump marriage.

This should not be too alarming; conservatism is a platform, a set of positions.  Some planks rest upon others and not all must be as heavily pedigreed.  I hold that marriage is a foundational plank in the conservative platform.  I hold that marriage is an emergent cultural defense against various destructive impulses and reactions, including those of jealous males, engineering females, and hostile out-group sentiment.  Good manners are a defense against some offenses which can become lethal, and marriage is a defense against outrage.

Humans are sexual beings (as our grade-schoolers are reminded every minute by government busybodies), and many of our impulses and reactions are not rational in the way we would like, no matter how logical they may be from a chromosome’s point of view.  As manners are typically maintained by society itself, morality is often maintained by religion as a specific example of a philosophy operating in context.

As the male-female pairing is not up for debate in conservatism (I challenge you to convince me that it is not what has been proven to work), so the societal adaptation which defends it is a necessary component of conservatism.  I realize that many “conservatives” disagree with this, but they are mistaken about either their conservatism or their conclusions.

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  1. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Misthiocracy:

    Fred Cole: Okay. Well for the purposes of our discussion, I consider fraud to be theft, and therefore a form of violence.

    Therefore, according to your definitions of the terms, “force” is not required for an act to be “violent”?

     Don’t interrupt him, he’s on a  roll.  For his next trick he will demonstrate that open borders anarchy is conservative because LIBERTY!.

    • #121
  2. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    anonymous: This is concise and easy to state, but its ramifications are complex and subtle, requiring an entire book to work out just the most obvious cases. …  It is, for example, entirely consistent with the ZAP to restrict immigration under the doctrine of trespass and to prevent forced contributions from residents to support indigent immigrants.

    First, if the most obvious cases require an book to work out, perhaps it’s not a realistic principle to organize around, and represents a destructive disruption of society.  

    Second, if an illegal alien insists on coming across, our withheld consent notwithstanding, how should we respond? Is it force to obstruct the passage of another? Is there a principle of collective defense, that is if A slaps C, can B intervene with force?

    These questions have been asked and answered.  See any cowboy movie for this society’s take on it.

    The use of force is a fact of life, is not going away, and requires societal norms far more effective than any law to regulate for the benefit of society and the individual.  Some people need a good old-fashioned passionate butt-kicking.  Most don’t.

    • #122
  3. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Salvatore Padula:

    Ball Diamond Ball: I well know who Bastiat is. He is one of the clearest proponents of limited government conservatism. He was a liberal in his day, meaning that he was opposed to a powerful government, But he was a conservative in that he saw a necessary function in government, of the “men are not angels” variety.

    Bastiat’s position on government is basically the standard modern libertarian position. In The Law he wrote that state action is only justified as a “substitution of a common force for individual forces” and that an individual may use force to protect “his person, his liberty, and his property.” If you agree with Bastiat you’re functionally a libertarian whatever you prefer to self-identify as.

     No, you’re a libertarian if you agree with Bastiat but cannot stomach the rest of conservatism.

    • #123
  4. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Salvatore Padula:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Salvatore Padula:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Fred Cole:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Hmmm, good question. Try this: Society is those people who have instituted a government among themsleves to guard their persons and their culture from invasions and impositions of foreign ways of life. Oh, and borders.

    Okay, so society is the government? Or just the people who instituted the government? Or just the supporters of the government?

    Hmmm, good question. Try this: Society is those people who have instituted a government among themselves to guard their persons and their culture from invasions and impositions of foreign ways of life. Oh, and borders.

    I think it would help clarify things if you could explain if/how you think society can act apart from through government.

    Normative morals. Social obligations. Expectations of assimilation. Welcoming strangers as Americans. Group outrage at egregious transgressions of minority rights. (Also, group transgressions of minority rights — society is not always positive, but it is usually less harmful than government).

    Helpful?

    Yes. Now why is it that you think libertarianism does not value a society which acts in these ways?

     Um, you would take the first three?

    • #124
  5. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Ball Diamond Ball: Marriage pre-dates any law.  It simply is, and it is between one man and one woman.  This may sound circular, or like a “no true Scot” defense, but I assert it as a foundational fact.   Marriage is not produced by law any more than our rights are.  Marriage is enshrined and defended by law in our culture, and if the law should fall, marriage would remain, just as our rights do.  The law does not trump marriage.

    It seems like people have been harping on the OP’s framing of marriage. Has anyone pointed out how this is pretty much consistent with libertarianism and an all around unobjectionable phrasing?

    • #125
  6. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Ball Diamond Ball: Don’t interrupt him, he’s on a roll. For his next trick he will demonstrate that open borders anarchy is conservative because LIBERTY!.

     You must have missed the entire comment where Sal said that the vast majority of libertarians agree with ehte concept of national boarders and the need to protect them. You must have also ignored such minor libertarian thinkers as Milton Friedman on the subject.

    Your straw men illuminate nothing they are as helpful as me labling conservatives as Regressive Luddite Theocrats.

    • #126
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Salvatore Padula: The distinction between conservatives and libertarians relative to societal obligations isn’t about the degree of freedom an individual has to opt out of his obligations. It’s about the extent of the obligations society imposes on an individual.

    Would you enumerate the social obligations conservatives wish to impose on an individual which cross the libertarian line, in your opinion?

    • #127
  8. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Salvatore Padula:

     

    Bastiat’s position on government is basically the standard modern libertarian position. In The Law he wrote that state action is only justified as a “substitution of a common force for individual forces” and that an individual may use force to protect “his person, his liberty, and his property.” If you agree with Bastiat you’re functionally a libertarian whatever you prefer to self-identify as.

    No, you’re a libertarian if you agree with Bastiat but cannot stomach the rest of conservatism.

     What do you mean? Libertarianism is only a political philosophy. Bastiat’s statement was about the proper role of the state. That’s pretty much all there is to political philosophy. If you think that state action is justified for purposes other than the protection of individuals’ life, liberty, and property you disagree with Bastiat on a very fundamental level. If you think government should be limited to those purposes, you are a libertarian as a matter of political philosophy, regardless of your views on other matters.

    • #128
  9. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Salvatore Padula:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Salvatore Padula:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Normative morals. Social obligations. Expectations of assimilation. Welcoming strangers as Americans. Group outrage at egregious transgressions of minority rights. (Also, group transgressions of minority rights — society is not always positive, but it is usually less harmful than government).

    Helpful?

    Yes. Now why is it that you think libertarianism does not value a society which acts in these ways?

    Um, you would take the first three?

     Of course I would. Since we’re not talking about the state enforcement of such things why wouldn’t I?

    • #129
  10. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Don’t interrupt him, he’s on a roll. For his next trick he will demonstrate that open borders anarchy is conservative because LIBERTY!.

     Excuse me, not for nothing, but how is this in any way helpful?  How is this productive?  How does it further the conversation?

    I could be nasty in return, but I don’t believe in doing that.

    • #130
  11. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Misthiocracy:

    Fred Cole: Okay. Well for the purposes of our discussion, I consider fraud to be theft, and therefore a form of violence.

    Therefore, according to your definitions of the terms, “force” is not required for an act to be “violent”?

     Well, I usually try to avoid this kind of stuff by saying “force, fraud or coercion.”  I took the shortcut here and now its a thing.  Murray Rothbard called it all “aggression.”   So, let me rephrase.  For the purposes of our discussion, I consider fraud to be theft, and therefore a form of aggression.

    • #131
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Salvatore Padula: Libertarians take the view that the obligations imposed by society are quite narrowly limited.

    With regard to the definition of marriage, too? Does the government get to impose the definition (as SSM has been almost entirely through the courts) or does society have a say? When SSM is imposed by the Supreme Court on the entire country, will you admit it is a failure of libertarian theory? How many Christian bakers must be shunned, shamed, and sued for libertarians to come to their defense? Or is their “animus” to gays justification enough to supersede their rights of conscience?

    • #132
  13. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Western Chauvinist:

    How many Christian bakers must be shunned, shamed, and sued for libertarians to come to their defense? Or is their “animus” to gays justification enough to supersede their rights of conscience?

     What makes you think libertarians don’t come to their defense?

    • #133
  14. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Western Chauvinist:

    With regard to the definition of marriage, too? Does the government get to impose the definition… or does society have a say? When SSM is imposed by the Supreme Court on the entire country, will you admit it is a failure of libertarian theory? How many Christian bakers must be shunned, shamed, and sued for libertarians to come to their defense? Or is their “animus” to gays justification enough to supersede their rights of conscience?

     The libertarian position is that the state should not be involved in marriage at all. Failing that, opinion about SSM varies among libertarians, but the rejection of court imposed, rather than democratically enacted, SSM is overwhelmingly the position held by libertarians. Extra-constitutional judicial activism is not due to libertarianism. Our judiciary is not libertarian. I know that you’re really agitated about the plight of Christian bakers, but I’m not sure how you’re holding it against libertarianism. Libertarians believe that any private business should be able to discriminate against whomever it likes. I’m on your side as far as any lawsuits go. As for the social stigma the bakers may face, you can’t compel people to like you.

    • #134
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fred Cole:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Excuse me, not for nothing, but how is this in any way helpful? How is this productive? How does it further the conversation?

    I could be nasty in return, but I don’t believe in doing that.

    For once, I agree with Fred. We’re all pretty passionate about these issues, but Ricochet is notable for an environment in which we make the effort to minimize snark. I’m as guilty as anyone of violating Ricochet’s cultural norms, but I’d like to see this conversation take a productive turn. How about we all try to clarify what we think without making accusations about the other guy’s motives or ideas?

    I tend to attribute decent motives to libertarians, I just think they’re wildly off-base when they accuse conservatives of wanting to use the force of government on individuals. Not licensing same-sex couples for marriage is not coercion. I would never force a homosexual to marry someone of the opposite sex.

    Now, for my libertarian friends, what is the harm of licensing male/female couples, either historically or in the present?

    • #135
  16. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Western Chauvinist:

    Now, for my libertarian friends, what is the harm of licensing male/female couples, either historically or in the present?

     The harm is to freedom.  You, as the person advocating the affirmative action, have the burden of proof put on you.

    • #136
  17. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Fred Cole:

    Western Chauvinist:

    Now, for my libertarian friends, what is the harm of licensing male/female couples, either historically or in the present?

    The harm is to freedom. You, as the person advocating the affirmative action, have the burden of proof put on you.

     Freedom is not a person.  If a person isn’t being harmed why do Libertarians care?

    I think the codification of marriage by the state solely on the basis of public health (ensuring the prevention of consanguinity, for instance) is enough of a good that this very minor infringement upon freedom is acceptable.

    EDIT: This is one of those areas where it seems to me that Libertarians are doctrinaire and uncompromising, but it would better suit them to concede the fact that there are reasonable tradeoffs to be made in such public policy disputes.  This isn’t even a topic where on one side of the issue sits good and on the other side sits perfect; this is an issue of order and disorder.

    • #137
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Salvatore Padula: The libertarian position is that the state should not be involved in marriage at all.

    I disagree with that statement.

    There is no single “libertarian position”.  Many libertarians have many different positions.

    I could agree that all libertarians agree that, “the state should be less involved with marriage,” and that their debate is all about where to set the limits of the state’s involvement.

    • #138
  19. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Misthiocracy:

    Salvatore Padula: The libertarian position is that the state should not be involved in marriage at all.

    I disagree with that statement.

    There is no single “libertarian position”. Many libertarians have many different positions.

    I could agree that all libertarians agree that, “the state should be less involved with marriage,” and that their debate is all about where to set the limits of the state’s involvement.

     Fair enough.

    • #139
  20. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Majestyk: I think the codification of marriage by the state solely on the basis of public health (ensuring the prevention of consanguinity, for instance) is enough of a good that this very minor infringement upon freedom is acceptable. EDIT: This is one of those areas where it seems to me that Libertarians are doctrinaire and uncompromising, but it would better suit them to concede the fact that there are reasonable tradeoffs to be made in such public policy disputes. This isn’t even an topic where on one side of the issue sits good and on the other side sits perfect; this is an issue of order and disorder.

     Couldn’t the public health argument also work for SSM? To prevent the spread of various STDs and encourage health monogamous sexual behavoir between homosexuals?

    Or, we could just get government out of this business all together and not give preferential treatment to any couple.

    • #140
  21. FloppyDisk90 Member
    FloppyDisk90
    @FloppyDisk90

    This whole libertarian vs everyone else little internecine food fight we continue to have is so old it expectorates dust.  Honest question:  why do the good editors of Ricochet see fit to promote/antagonize this conflict with constantly promoting the latest post du-jour that pokes a stick in the hornets nest?

    • #141
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: Now, for my libertarian friends, what is the harm of licensing male/female couples, either historically or in the present?

    Firstly, we must recognize that there is a difference between a licence and registration.

    When a state licenses an activity, it can withhold or revoke that license for those it identifies as hostile to the state. Without the ability to withhold or revoke a license, there would be no need for the license in the first place. The state also gets to define the prerequisites for obtaining the license. If an activity requires a license from the state, by definition that means that individuals do not have a right to engage in that activity.

    When a state registers individuals in a database, it does so for some purpose that may be beneficial to the individual, but is definitely beneficial to the state. Usually the purpose is related to taxation. If the purpose of the registration is beneficial to the individuals, then there should be little need for the registration to be mandatory.

    • #142
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Misthiocracy:

    Fred Cole: Okay. Well for the purposes of our discussion, I consider fraud to be theft, and therefore a form of violence.

    Therefore, according to your definitions of the terms, “force” is not required for an act to be “violent”?

    Don’t interrupt him, he’s on a roll. For his next trick he will demonstrate that open borders anarchy is conservative because LIBERTY!.

    There is no need to suspend civility.

    • #143
  24. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Jamie Lockett:

    Couldn’t the public health argument also work for SSM? To prevent the spread of various STDs and encourage health monogamous sexual behavoir between homosexuals?

    Or, we could just get government out of this business all together and not give preferential treatment to any couple.

     Due to the fact that there are and always have been a certain number of incorrigibles at the edges of society.  This is why we can’t have nice things.

    My position on the business is that it is a fine compromise to create civil unions specifically for same-sex couples which are the functional equivalent of marriage.  This gets around the whole business of kicking open the door for consanguineous and polyandrous relationships while accomplishing your stated goal.

    But that’s not what this is about.  This is about cramming gay marriage down the throats of people whom the left regard as hateful bigots and forcing people to clap loudly for gays and punishing, shaming and driving from respectable company those who don’t clap loudly enough.

    • #144
  25. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    FloppyDisk90:

    This whole libertarian vs everyone else little internecine food fight we continue to have is so old it expectorates dust. Honest question: why do the good editors of Ricochet see fit to promote/antagonize this conflict with constantly promoting the latest post du-jour that pokes a stick in the hornets nest?

    Because it gets comments.

    Also because the discussion may include some items that cause new thoughts, or re-examination of old ones.

    • #145
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Fred Cole:

    Western Chauvinist:

    How many Christian bakers must be shunned, shamed, and sued for libertarians to come to their defense? Or is their “animus” to gays justification enough to supersede their rights of conscience?

    What makes you think libertarians don’t come to their defense?

    Indeed. The question should be about how a libertarian would come to their defense.

    Most libertarians wouldn’t use force or its threat to prohibit the ostracism of Christian bakers, so long as the ostracism wasn’t achieved by force or its threat.

    After all, if people freely choose not to do business with a Christian baker, that is surely their prerogative.

    Similarly, as long as it’s not libelous, slanderous, or threatening, I consider “shaming” to be free speech. A libertarian can offer counter-arguments, but would never legally prohibit free speech.

    Choosing to not do business with someone or communicating publicly your displeasure with their beliefs, is not a violation of their rights of conscience.

    Now, suing Christians to prohibit them from doing business because you disagree with their beliefs, that’s different, because that means using the state’s monopoly on force against them.  Of course most libertarians would oppose that.

    • #146
  27. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    FloppyDisk90: This whole libertarian vs everyone else little internecine food fight we continue to have is so old it expectorates dust. Honest question: why do the good editors of Ricochet see fit to promote/antagonize this conflict with constantly promoting the latest post du-jour that pokes a stick in the hornets nest?

     Why do the conservatives keep raising the issue? I have yet to see a post from one of the libertarians at Ricochet intentionally antagonizing conservatives with inflamatory language and poor charactarization of conservative positions.

    • #147
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Jamie Lockett:

    FloppyDisk90: This whole libertarian vs everyone else little internecine food fight we continue to have is so old it expectorates dust. Honest question: why do the good editors of Ricochet see fit to promote/antagonize this conflict with constantly promoting the latest post du-jour that pokes a stick in the hornets nest?

    Why do the conservatives keep raising the issue? I have yet to see a post from one of the libertarians at Ricochet intentionally antagonizing conservatives with inflamatory language and poor charactarization of conservative positions.

    One does not attack those one hopes to persuade.

    Therefore, those who attack libertarians do not hope to persuade libertarians. Their attacks are meant for a different audience.

    • #148
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    The King Prawn:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Libertarianism involves (or ought to involve) tireless advocacy for free association, for people’s freedom to choose to bind themselves to one another through ties of mutual obligation.

    I think it is the “flexibility” of the obligations in which libertarians and conservatives differ mostly.  A libertarian can wake up on the wrong side of his [bed] one day and opt out of the society which he had previously adhered himself to because by gosh he’s a free individual.

    But he typically cannot do this without grievous damage to himself.

    If I don’t show up to work one day, I could get fired. If I don’t treat my family well, why should I expect them to be there for me at the times I’ll most crave family support?

    If I renege on debts and promises, I gain a reputation (through poor credit score, lack of good references, etc) that makes it harder for me to flourish in the future.

    Even people with self-destructive tendencies typically aren’t wholly self-destructive. Self-preservation is pretty instinctive. And if someone utterly lacks self-preservation, how much, really, can others do about it?

    • #149
  30. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Salvatore Padula: The libertarian position is that the state should not be involved in marriage at all. Failing that, opinion about SSM varies among libertarians, but the rejection of court imposed, rather than democratically enacted, SSM is overwhelmingly the position held by libertarians. Extra-constitutional judicial activism is not due to libertarianism. Our judiciary is not libertarian. I know that you’re really agitated about the plight of Christian bakers, but I’m not sure how you’re holding it against libertarianism. Libertarians believe that any private business should be able to discriminate against whomever it likes. I’m on your side as far as any lawsuits go. As for the social stigma the bakers may face, you can’t compel people to like you.

    Well, the bakers were an example used earlier as a comparison to the draft (I’m trying really hard not to violate my own advice to avoid snark… it’s so difficult!)

    But, the broader point is, if you’re a friend of my enemy (the Left on SSM, and much else), aren’t you kind of my enemy? 

    Also, because male/female coupling often produces non-consenting minors, the norm is government involvement. Right?

    • #150
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