Tag: Human Rights

Civilian Slaughter Is Somehow Legal in Apartheid Israel

Ryan Lau | @agorisms

The apartheid state of Israel has long tried to hide some of their more barbaric practices. Most notably, they adamantly refuse to admit their possession of nuclear weapons, despite possessing up to 400 of them. The country has also stolen weapons-grade uranium from the United States. Moreover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself is far from an innocent man. He famously asserted that the terror attacks on 9/11 were good for Israel, and has smuggled nuclear triggers for his own program.

Sadly, though, these all pale in comparison to the Jewish state’s latest stroke of immorality. Continue reading “Civilian Slaughter Is Somehow Legal in Apartheid Israel”

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How Noah Berlatsky and CNN Got Free Speech Wrong

Francis Folz | United States

In a recent CNN opinion piece, author Noah Berlatsky contended that “protecting Nazi speech doesn’t protect free speech” and concluded that a Nazi salute by a group of teenagers endangers the speech and lives of all non-Nazis. Although I credit Mr. Berlatsky for his laudable zeal and well-expressed opinion, his article is laced with multiple fallacies regarding free speech that must be confronted.

Firstly, our Bill of (Human) Rights are not, and should remain, non-negotiable, and that includes the first, second, and fourth amendments. Mr. Berlatsky attributes the belief that safeguarding controversial speech, which inadvertently protects less contentious or innocuous speech, to free speech ‘purists’.

Need I remind anyone it was less than 54 years ago that countless Civil Rights demonstrators were savagely attacked for merely utilizing their freedom of speech, expression, and assembly by law enforcement and firefighters on their solemn march to Montgomery from Selma.

It is for similar reasons that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from his Birmingham jail cell, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I wonder if Mr. Berlatsky disagrees.

Mr. Berlatsky proceeds, “Defending the speech of white kids doesn’t necessarily protect… marginalized people.”

To some extent, he’s right. Defending those kids doesn’t necessarily guarantee everybody’s speech of every demographic is going to be protected every time in the future. However, it does set a precedent favoring free speech compared to censorship, which should be a commonly held interest.

Mr. Berlatsky’s most startling, misguided premise about freedom of expression is whenever he discusses “giving free speech to fascists” and how organizations and judges need to balance ambiguous ‘interests’. Mr. Berlatsky blatantly misunderstands that our rights are not given to each other by society, rather they are innate, endowed to us by our Creator.

We don’t ‘give’ each other the human right to privacy, just like we don’t ‘give’ each other the 14th Amendment right to birthright citizenship. All of our rights are intrinsic to our humanity, inseparable from our existence, and deserving of our unwavering defense.

At some point in his article, I questioned if Mr. Berlatsky is aware of the equal protection clause since his attempts to justify censorship tend to fall apart when applied to groups outside of fascists. In regards to the Charlottesville rally in 2017, Berlatsky suggests that since white supremacists used their freedom to ‘terrorize’ people and one individual killed one person and injured nearly 20 others, that is cause to deny every individual within the group their human rights.

Using Mr. Berlatsky’s logic, shouldn’t all members of Antifa have their constitutional rights suspended? After all, when a Hillary Clinton supporter in Portland refused to surrender an American flag to the domestic terrorist group, Antifa members cracked his head open. And that’s only one example of their repeated malice. Shouldn’t their hatred be enough to disband the violent, left-wing faction?

What if you applied Mr. Berlatsky’s logic to religious fanatics instead of ideological extremists? Wouldn’t the tragedy of September 11th be enough to deny every American Muslim the freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly because of the actions of 19 men?

After all, haven’t Islamic extremists terrorized multiple nations and killed thousands of people throughout the globe in the last two decades? Any reasonable person would not punish a group of people for the actions of its individual members but would advocate for equal protection under the law, foils to Mr. Berlatsky’s arguments.

Next, Mr. Berlatsky makes the case that the Wisconsin school district should’ve reprimanded the students for their inappropriate picture that appears to show them performing a Nazi salute, despite being off-campus and unaffiliated with the school district at the time of the photo. In an attempt to buttress his argument, Mr. Berlatsky reports that a school suspended 20 students for a tweet that falsely accused a female teacher of flirting with students, justifying the suppression of expression.

The problem is that the Salem students were guilty of libel and accused a staff member of coquetting with her pupils, a criminal offense. The only crime the Wisconsin teens committed was taking a reprehensible picture, making the situation incomparable.

Mr. Berlatsky’s final argument centers around discipline and race. According to the Government Accountability Office, Black students, in 2014, were 15.5 percent of the U.S. student populace, yet accounted for almost 39% of suspensions. Mr. Berlatsky attributes the disproportion to schools inevitably using their disciplinary authority against ‘marginalized students’ at the expense of others.

However, American schools are extremely localized, meaning parents and administrators have the final say on countless decisions, from electronics to dress codes to disciplinary policies. Regrettably, American schools are nearly as segregated as they were in the 1960s.

So in other words, the black students who are subjected to disproportionate suspensions are largely attending non-white majority schools which choose to chastise their students at a rate that is, apparently, acceptable with school personnel and parents.

Free speech is under siege like never before in American history. I hate bigotry. I detest fascism. However, I appreciate our collective, human right to speech and expression, even if I disapprove of somebody’s opinions and/or actions.

Today, the groups whom people loathe most are nazism and fascism. Nazism, by definition, is national socialism. Socialism is just a few steps away from communism. Communism has left over 100 million people dead in 100 years. What would people think if you could no longer raise your fist in public because of it’s communist insignia?

We are better as a society for the ability to openly express all of our ideas, even ones we don’t concur with, rather than only tribal-mentality approved perspectives, regardless of ideology. If detestable, bigoted opinions are allowed to be expressed in the open, it allows society to weed out the most reprehensible of ideas. It is best we don’t take for granted the ability to communicate freely and openly with each other, as anything less is a form of authoritarianism, oppression, and tyranny.


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GDP is Dead, and the Social Progress Index Succeeds It

By Craig Axford | Canada

The gross domestic product (GDP) made sense in the 1930s. For one thing, we lacked both the understanding and the tools to effectively track progress in many of the areas that people really care about. For another, we were in the midst of a depression that demanded some means of confirming the success of our efforts to escape it.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the GDP was likewise a useful statistic to measure economic progress in countries that had been ravaged by the conflict. Though it was understood by some, including the economist who developed it, Simon Kuznets, that it wasn’t necessarily an indicator of human welfare, the fact remained that anything like human welfare was impossible to address in nations whose major cities had effectively been reduced to rubble.

The US, for its part, saw only positive impacts from the conflict. The war had pulled it from The Great Depression while two large oceans had made a bombing campaign against cities and industries based on its mainland impossible for either the Germans or the Japanese to practically pull off. Given its unprecedented economic and military position on the world’s postwar stage, America’s decision to use what was then referred to as the GNP to track economic activity and growth almost feels in retrospect like rigging the game to ensure the score always placed it way out in front.

What society measures are an indication of what it values. To Americans, the GDP figure has achieved something like the same status E=MC² enjoys amongst physicists. Donald Trump could hardly contain himself when the last quarterly report indicated America had temporarily achieved greater than 4% annualized GDP growth and felt certain that such growth figures had vindicated everything from his fiscally irresponsible tax cuts to his dangerously ill-conceived tariffs.

The problem, as has been pointed out by figures no less notable than Robert Kennedy, is that the GDP doesn’t distinguish between car accidents and car sales. The GDP “does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.” Kennedy continued, “It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” Nearly three months after he delivered those words, the GDP measured the amount of money spent to mourn and bury Robert Kennedy after an assassin shot him in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel.

Some will undoubtedly object that Robert Kennedy was being unrealistic. ‘We can’t measure the beauty of our poetry’ they will say, ‘or the intelligence of our public debate.’ What society needs, according to these GDP apologists, is an objective measure of how the economy is doing and, according to them, that’s precisely the role the GDP plays.

But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning, and it’s a big one: the economy isn’t an objective thing, at least not in the sense many economists and politicians mean. There isn’t a family on the planet that thinks that because a loved one’s death took roughly the same financial toll as their last family vacation together these two events are objectively equivalent. There isn’t a soul on earth who thinks that a weekend spent engrossed in a hobby that they truly enjoy or playing with their children is less valuable than a miserable day at work just because the GDP counts the latter as the larger contributor to economic activity. What things cost reflects how much we pay for them, not how much we value them.

In his book, Utopia For Realists, Rutger Bregman demonstrates why the GDP has always been too blunt an instrument to use as an accurate indicator of progress. Output has always been what the GDP measured best. However, automation and other improvements to efficiency are now dulling the GDP to the point that it’s practically useless as a tool for dissecting what’s happening within the economic sphere. Bregman writes:

When the musical mastermind [Mozart] composed his 14th string quartet in G major (K. 387) in 1782, he needed four people to perform it. Now, 250 years later, it still requires exactly four. If you’re looking to up your violin’s production capacity, the most you can do is play a little faster. Put another way: Some things in life, like music, resist all attempts at greater efficiency. While we can produce coffee machines ever faster and more cheaply, a violinist can’t pick up the pace without spoiling the tune.

In our race against the machine, it’s only logical that we’ll continue to spend less on products that can be easily made more efficiently and more on labor-intensive services and amenities such as art, healthcare, education, and safety. It’s no accident that countries that score high on well-being, like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, have a large public sector. Their governments subsidize the domains where productivity can’t be leveraged. Unlike the manufacture of a fridge or a car, history lessons and doctor’s checkups can’t simply be made ‘more efficient.’

Policymakers and citizens alike are likely to make better choices when they have a diverse collection of data resources from which to draw. The GDP lumps too much together under the same umbrella, counting money spent on cancer treatment the same as money spent visiting a national park. When GDP growth alone is a nation’s primary public policy goal policies that often increase personal costs yet worsen people’s lives are too frequently incentivized.

Source: Social Progress Index website

Fortunately, there is an alternative to GDP. The Social Progress Index (SPI) tracks a nation’s progress by creating a score for categories and subcategories listed under three main headings: Basic Human Needs, Foundations for Wellbeing, and Opportunity. So, for example, one of the four main categories listed under Basic Human Needs is nutrition and basic medical care. To determine how a nation is doing in this area the SPI looks at a country’s rate of undernourishment, depth of food deficit, maternal mortality rate, child mortality rate, and deaths from infectious disease. The SPI evaluates 50 indicators overall to determine the score for any given country.

The Index aims to be a practical tool that helps leaders and practitioners in government, business and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress. To achieve that goal, we measure outcomes in a granular way that focuses on specific areas that can be implemented directly. The framework allows us to provide not only an aggregate country score and ranking, but also granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness which allow change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies. ~ Social Progress Index methodology

Unfortunately, citizens are not used to thinking about all the particulars that go into creating maximum wellbeing and opportunities for fulfillment, and politicians from across the political spectrum too often seem to like it that way. Political leaders have an interest in keeping their voters focused on a single number rather than having the information they need to identify areas needing improvement within their communities, states, and countries.

The pleasure Donald Trump recently took in reporting a temporary quarterly spike in growth is a prime example of just how toxic focusing on GDP alone can be for a society. Because he had “good” GDP numbers to report the president was able to not only completely ignore the ongoing stagnation in wages but divert the public’s attention away from the slow-motion economic and political crisis that stagnation is creating. In addition, America’s skyrocketing health and education spending actually increase the GDP, incentivizing politicians that associate economic improvement with gains in this single metric alone to potentially make these problems even worse for the average American rather than better.

This laser-like focus on the GDP causes us to lose sight of the big picture. We believe we have an indicator that functions as a kind of grand unified theory of economics. In fact, the data used to generate it comes from too many disparate sources to tell us much of anything about how the economy is really doing. It tells us even less how the people that make up that economy are managing.

The GDP is a kind of life preserver thrown to the status quo. It makes it difficult to impossible to hold government, business, or other civic institutions accountable or to develop plans that target specific problems that are often desperately in need of our attention. The GDP in Flint, Michigan, for example, will probably go up in spite of the lead in its water because increases in health care spending are one of the many unfortunate side effects of lead poisoning. But while Flint’s GDP may rise, its Water and Sanitation and Environmental Quality scores on the SPI cannot. This fact alone should be enough to give those defending the GDP some objective considerable pause.

“Growth for the sake of growth,” the American writer Edward Abbey wrote, “is the ideology of the cancer cell.” We should have started asking ourselves a long time ago what ends all this economic growth was meant to serve. Instead, we lazily allowed growth itself to become the end to which all other aspirations take a back seat.

It’s always possible to convince yourself you’re making progress when you’re measuring how far you’ve moved in the wrong direction. The US does have the largest GDP on the planet, for example, but it also has tens of millions of uninsured and under-insured citizens and an infrastructure that is decaying much faster than current investment can keep up with. The $1.5 trillion in student debt that disproportionately burdens its young and poor all adds to the nation’s GDP as well but at the expense of leaving them feeling increasingly hopeless and angry.

America, along with much of the rest of the world, can keep putting off a great debate about what really matters but sooner or later entropy will demand that debate not be postponed any longer. Climate change, if nothing else, looks increasingly poised to force the issue. The SPI gives us 50 places to start the discussion, but this needn’t represent an exhaustive list. The GDP, on the other hand, represents the “ideology of the cancer cell.” Left untreated we all know where that leads.

*Author’s note: The original measurement of economic activity was known as the gross national product (GNP). The US switched to the GDP in the early 1990s. Since the criticisms raised in this article apply equally to both means of measuring economic activity, the relatively minor differences between these two methods have been intentionally ignored. With one small exception, I chose to apply the contemporary term “GDP” throughout the article for consistency’s sake.


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America Needs To Let Go of Zero-Sum Thinking

By Craig Axford | United States

If only the world could be neatly divided between winners and losers, and complex issues reduced to arithmetic that can quickly be done on the back of a napkin. But, alas, our problems are rarely that simple, and not solvable with zero-sum thinking.

Zero-sum thinking is a theory that suggests that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. It is a pitiful philosophy that casts aside human collaboration and compassion. Zero-sum thinking implies a finite amount of resources in the world, and an antagonistic nature to social relations. In many ways, society has moved beyond this primitive way of thought.

Donald Trump, however, sees the planet in just those terms. He’s convinced millions of Americans that anyone who thinks global challenges can’t be addressed in 280 characters or less is needlessly complicating things in an effort to bamboozle everyone else. Through this purely additive and subtractive lens, immigrants are merely sucking scarce resources from the wallets of one group so that they can be added to their own. Likewise, trade is only beneficial when the words balance or surplus are attached to it. The presence of a trade deficit signals Americans are being taken advantage of, so government intervention in the form of tariffs is necessary to initiate an adjustment.

This zero-sum thinking is taken directly from the traditional playbook of nationalists and racists. If you don’t think so, it shouldn’t take more than a day or two on Twitter reading white nationalists’ responses to critics of the zero-tolerance policy Trump imposed at the US/Mexico border to convince you. One unapologetic white supremacist just kept stating over and over again in broken record fashion that my opposition to the policy necessarily meant I wanted to “displace white people,” or worse, “hated” them. By the time I finally blocked him it was clear he thought I was a traitor to my race.

In his mind, any decline in America’s white majority meant whites were losing. My suggestion that the only race we needed to worry about was the human race went nowhere. He, like too many others, had used zero-sum thinking to separate humanity into separate locks that only allowed boats to rise by drawing precious water away from others that needed it to keep their own floating high.

Astronauts consistently wax poetic when they speak of viewing our home from space. Sooner or later they all mention the profound change in perspective that they get from seeing the world without artificial lines. Our capacity for abstraction, like our fondness for forming strong group identities, casts a shadow over our minds. No other species has so far come up with the idea of creating so many obstacles to inhibit their own movement. Eventually, I’m convinced, we’ll see the wisdom of taking down our walls and opening up our checkpoints, but, it seems that day is somewhere beyond 2020.

For now, we must begin to reacquaint ourselves with ideas like reciprocity. Human relations are best when they are a game in which all the players are striving to make sure everyone wins rather than a scramble for scarce resources that can only be fully enjoyed by a precious few. There is no one on this planet that does not have something to share. There is no one from whom we cannot learn something we do not know. When that wisdom is shared, the one offering it does not lose it so that we might have it. It becomes the property of even more people than was the case before. Knowledge multiplies. The more it does so the more likely we are to find solutions that work to the benefit of everybody.

Seen in this light, the question we should be asking ourselves is not what those crossing into the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their children will cost us, but what they have to offer that we have not yet identified. Cultures only clash when minds are closed. They are better suited for blending. Contact creates richer more dynamic experiences for those willing to overcome their fear of the unknown. No culture will last forever no matter how fiercely we defend it, but culture itself will be around as long as people still walk the earth. It describes a process rather than a destination.

Eventually, the current crisis will pass, hopefully without bloodshed. Regardless, we already have a pretty good idea who the winners will ultimately be. Those individuals and societies that are open to new experiences and fully embrace the ideal of reciprocity will be the ones that gain the most. Those who recognize that every newcomer comes with a gift and do not cling excessively to a particular identity are the ones best positioned to enrich their own lives and the lives of others in return. It’s not that life isn’t a struggle. It is. But in the struggle to survive cooperation has consistently proven itself to be the best strategy. The wider the circle of cooperation the better. That’s how our species got this far.

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Part II- Humans and Animals: Defining Justice

By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

On social media, there are often pictures of gruesome images with recently killed rhinos, elephants, lions, primates, etc. With these images typically comes a plethora of heated comments and arguments, opinions about the well-being of the animals, threats against the lives of the humans responsible, and haughty judgments from a First World nation to that of those of a Third World nation.

Animal rights activists, especially the radicals, scream about the “morality” of such an act as killing a rhino for its horn, or killing elephants for their tusks. The pictures that anger them the most are of Westerners who paid to kill animals for trophies. These animal advocate extremists will go at no length to find out who the Westerner, or specifically the American, is and then to threaten the big-game hunter’s life. In 2015, in Zimbabwe, Dr. Walter Palmer of the US killed “Cecil” the lion, and once his picture caught on the web the extreme harassment and threats began. He had to close his dentist office for a while as the threats against his life persisted. The activists felt ‘Justice’ was necessary for the death of the lion.

However, from a philosophical understanding of jurisprudence and the origins of Justice, it is not possible for nonpersons to partake in Justice as it is only a compromise between people as an intraspecies agreement as opposed to interspecies. The Eighteenth Century philosopher David Hume believed animals could also be rational, perhaps to a lesser degree than humans, but are still incapable of being a part of the legal and ‘Just’ parts of human society.

In contrast, the leading vegan and vegetarian philosopher of modern day, Dr. Peter Singer, argues that bestiality is permissible so long as it does not harm the animal, but animals outside of humans should be treated the same when it comes to limiting pain. Throughout Singer’s work he explicitly claims humans are not equal to other animals, but we humans should not partake in “speciesism,” and we should all adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle because he believes human suffering to be equal to that of animal suffering.

I do agree that animals feel pain and pleasure, although I would argue that it is not to the same degree as humans. While the varying degrees do not determine equality or inequality under the law, it does argue there is a fundamental and natural difference between humans and other animals. This also does not provide enough reason that humans ‘should’ change and limit or eliminate animal use and consumption.

Often in philosophy, law, and even in daily life, people use the word “should” as meaning ‘ought’ or ‘obligation,’ yet conflate the two unbeknownst to them. It is typical for us to read past such a word as ‘should,’ and think nothing of the use or mention. If the word was meant as ‘ought,’ then it is a moral personal choice to make; if the word is meant to be interchangeable with ‘obligation,’ then Singer is either suggesting a deity will punish those that do not oblige his vegetarian or vegan code of ethics, or a legal system will punish. An ‘obligation’ would indicate there is a backlash from one’s actions.

Perhaps, being a secular utilitarian, he equates humans to other animals and believes it is not in humans’ best interest to use animals for human consumption, and the ‘obligation’ arises from the possible negative consequences as “punishment” for consuming animals. A natural consequence would not be ‘Justice,’ as it must be intentional at bare minimum.

Certainly then, the only form of ‘Justice’ possible is an objective one; and as controversial as it may be, it is equality under the law for humans and humans alone. If ‘Justice’ sprung forth as a natural ideology of protection for the division of individuals, it is still only a human idea. To take this human idea and force it upon animals as a means of thinking it benefits the animal, we can easily come up with plenty more that we can force upon animals such as obeying all laws, animals respecting other animals, social norms, customs, paying taxes, not using the restroom in public, wearing clothes, respecting property rights, and so forth. No matter the case, ‘Justice’ is established for humans in general, and animals are unable to reciprocate the necessary parts ‘Justice’ requires to maintain.

This is where some will respond that the same can be said for infants, elderly, and mentally disabled. However, infants have the potential capacity to become full-fledged persons while their being and assets may be held in trust by their guardians; the elderly were full-fledged persons and while they are of mental capacity they determine who shall handle their assets and life, etc.; and the mentally disabled are continually held in trust by their guardians acting in responsibility of their well-being.

Furthermore, ‘Justice’ is based on property rights. As the philosopher John Locke suggested, we have property intrinsically within ourselves as our Life and well-being, property in our Liberty and actions, and property extrinsically from ourselves as in goods or things in the world. Animals do not possess these things, and we cannot force that upon them. Even if they did have these things, there was never a means to negotiate a contract with animals from our species to other animal species.

Simply put, those that scream for ‘Justice’ for other species outside of humans are either misunderstanding the very concept of ‘Justice,’ or they are intentionally misapplying it and are advocating for the subjective and varying concept of “social justice.” Perfectly stated by lauded economist F.A. Hayek, Justice is an attribute of individual action. I can be Just or unjust towards my fellow man; But the conception of a ‘social justice’- to expect from an impersonal process, which nobody can control- to bring about a ‘Just’ result is not only a meaningless conception, it’s completely impossible.”

Hayek’s work on the topic of ‘Justice’ suggests that if one puts a word in front of the word ‘Justice’ then it is no longer ‘Justice.’ Justice does not require anything else with it, it is either equality under the law for everyone, or subjective infringements will begin to deteriorate the entire process.

Nevertheless, organizations like PETA, have continually asked for so-called “Justice” for animals killed in hunting. For example, with the case of Cecil being killed by Walter Palmer, PETA’s President Ingrid Newkirk released a public statement on July 28, 2015, in regards to Palmer, “…he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged…” Yet, no one has done anything in regards to the legal and moral issues of threatening the life of the man.

Set aside the concept that these animal rights activists believe humans to be equal to other animals, and that they desire some imaginary system of ‘Justice’ that also incorporates equal animal rights, the point is that we do have a ‘Justice’ system and it was originally created by people, for people. So, to threaten a fellow person’s life automatically negates ‘Justice,’ and removes the unbiased impersonal third-party, i.e. the governing body to judge the case as to negate prejudice. Extrajudicial actions, such as summary executions, are what was seen in the Jim Crow South of instant punishment without fair and equal trials via lynching.

What these activist groups do not seem to realize is that their concept of ‘Justice’ as seen through the monster of “social justice,” is nothing new. For some reason, there is a common misconception that Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) are only left-leaning individuals, when in fact they can be right-leaning as well.

Politics aside, “social justice” does more to harm the fabric of society and ‘Justice,’ itself, from the left and the right. Written in 1940, in his work Interventionism, An Economic Analysis, Ludwig von Mises wrote, “The ‘progressives’ who today masquerade as ‘liberals’ may rant against ‘fascism’; yet it is their policy that paves the way for Hitlerism.” Indeed, it was on these social and subjective agendas that Hitler, who became mostly vegetarian by the end of his life, rose to power, verifying that “social justice” can equally be found on the political right or left. And as cliché as it may be to bring up Hitler anymore, his being a vegetarian at least indicates just because someone is a vegan or vegetarian, it does not make them a better person.


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