The Objectivity of Language

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

In this week’s brief column I want to take a few minutes to address something that should have been dealt with in my very first entry. In “Foundations of A Philosophic Conversation” we examined the context of conversation and some of the inescapable implications of the very act.

One thing that seems to keep popping up in articles and attacks on the ideas of liberty that I’ve encountered this week, is the notion of the subjectivity of language. This notion is most often, I’ve found, a confusion based on the fact that words in a given language can have more than one specific definition, and this definition often has to be derived or presumed from context. Yes, it leads to mistaken assumptions of meaning… but that does not demonstrate that language itself is subjective. The fact that a word can have multiple, objectively understandable meanings does not mean language is subjective. It just means more specificity or reasoning from context is required to determine which objective meaning is being conveyed. The fact that language conveys objective meaning is evident by virtue of what language is. It’s entire communicative purpose is to do so. And to the extent that your statement “language is subjective” succeeds with the hearer understanding that statement, you have proven your assertion wrong. A conversation might go like this:

Person A: “Language is subjective!”
Person B: “Interesting… and how have you chosen to convey that conclusion to me?”
Person A: “I’m telling you right now”
Person B: “Why did you think I would understand this statement?”
Person A: “Because you can read the English language”
Person B: “Yes, I can. So by saying this to me, you assumed that I could assign meanings to the words you were speaking, based on a set of mutually understood defintions?”

We can see here that in the very act of stating “Language is subjective,” the proponent of this assertion has affirmed, and depended upon, his conclusion being incorrect.

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No, Virgina, There is no Santa Claus

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Every‭ ‬Holiday‭ ‬season,‭ ‬Francis‭ ‬Church‭’‬s‭ ‬famous‭ ‬editorial‭ ‬reply‭ ‬to‭ ‬a‭ ‬question‭ ‬asked‭ ‬by‭ ‬8-year‭ ‬old‭ ‬Virginia‭ ‬Hanlon‭ ‬in‭ ‬1897‭ ‬makes‭ ‬it‭’‬s‭ ‬way‭ ‬through‭ ‬the‭ ‬popular‭ ‬culture.‭ ‬Although‭ ‬generally‭ ‬upheld‭ ‬as‭ an ‬icon‭ ‬of‭ ‬holiday‭ ‬sentiment,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ “‬giving‭ ‬spirit‭,”‬ ‬I‭ ‬find‭ ‬the‭ ‬editorial‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬deeply‭ ‬disturbing.‭ ‬I‭ ‬can‭’‬t‭ ‬recall‭ ‬a‭ ‬time‭ ‬in‭ ‬my‭ ‬childhood‭ ‬when‭ ‬I‭ ‬did‭ ‬not‭ ‬at‭ ‬least‭ ‬suspect‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬a‭ ‬falsehood.‭ ‬Ever‭ ‬since‭ ‬the‭ ‬reality‭ ‬was‭ ‬confirmed‭ ‬for‭ ‬me‭ ‬as‭ ‬a‭ ‬child,‭ ‬I‭ ‬have‭ ‬been‭ ‬disturbed‭ ‬by‭ ‬this‭ ‬famous‭ ‬editorial‭ ‬both‭ ‬because‭ ‬of‭ ‬its‭ ‬efforts‭ ‬to‭ ‬substitute‭ ‬the‭ ‬believed‭ ‬for‭ ‬the‭ ‬real,‭ ‬and‭ ‬for‭ ‬it‭’‬s‭ ‬callous‭ ‬failure‭ ‬to‭ ‬simply‭ ‬give‭ ‬a‭ ‬child‭ ‬the‭ ‬truth‭ ‬about‭ ‬reality‭ ‬they‭ ‬are‭ ‬seeking.‭

Children‭ ‬are‭ ‬trusting‭ ‬by‭ ‬nature,‭ ‬and‭ ‬highly‭ ‬dependent‭ ‬on‭ ‬those‭ ‬around‭ ‬them‭ ‬as‭ ‬a‭ ‬barometer‭ ‬about‭ ‬reality.‭ ‬Conflicting‭ ‬messages‭ ‬can‭ ‬lead‭ ‬to‭ ‬a‭ ‬deep‭ ‬mistrust,‭ ‬especially‭ ‬when‭ ‬asserted‭ ‬as‭ ‬a‭ ‬matter‭ ‬of‭ ‬authority‭ ‬or‭ ‬on‭ ‬the‭ ‬basis‭ ‬of‭ ‬fear‭ ‬of‭ ‬punishment‭ ‬as‭ ‬psychologist‭ ‬James‭ ‬Kimmell‭ ‬has‭ ‬explained.‭

Rather‭ ‬than‭ ‬dissect‭ ‬the‭ ‬problems‭ ‬with‭ ‬this‭ ‬editorial‭ ‬line-by-line,‭ ‬or‭ ‬take‭ ‬a‭ ‬systematic‭ ‬look‭ ‬at‭ ‬the‭ ‬metaphysically‭ ‬and‭ ‬epistemologically‭ ‬monstrous‭ ‬assertions‭ ‬it‭ ‬makes,‭ ‬I‭ ‬have‭ ‬chosen‭ ‬to‭ ‬write‭ ‬the‭ ‬reply‭ ‬Virginia‭ ‬should‭ ‬have‭ ‬received.‭ ‬A‭ ‬careful‭ ‬contrast‭ ‬between‭ ‬my‭ ‬reply‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬original‭ ‬should‭ ‬reveal‭ ‬my‭ ‬specific‭ ‬concerns.

‭”‬DEAR‭ ‬EDITOR:‭ ‬I‭ ‬am‭ ‬8‭ ‬years‭ ‬old.‭ ‬Some‭ ‬of‭ ‬my‭ ‬little‭ ‬friends‭ ‬say‭ ‬there‭ ‬is‭ ‬no‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus.‭ Papa‭ ‬says,‭ ‘‬If‭ ‬you‭ ‬see‭ ‬it‭ ‬in‭ ‬THE‭ ‬SUN‭ [‬newspaper‭] ‬it‭’‬s‭ ‬so.‭’ ‬Please‭ ‬tell‭ ‬me‭ ‬the‭ ‬truth‭; ‬is‭ ‬there‭ ‬a‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭?”

Virginia,‭ ‬your‭ ‬friends‭ ‬are‭ ‬correct.‭ ‬They‭ ‬probably‭ ‬have‭ ‬done‭ ‬a‭ ‬lot‭ ‬of‭ ‬thinking‭ ‬about‭ ‬the‭ ‬parts‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭ ‬story‭ ‬that‭ ‬seem,‭ ‬and‭ ‬are‭ ‬indeed,‭ ‬impossible.‭ ‬They‭ ‬may‭ ‬have‭ ‬even‭ ‬seen‭ ‬their‭ ‬parents‭ ‬hiding‭ ‬presents‭ ‬or‭ ‬laying‭ ‬them‭ ‬out‭ ‬on‭ ‬Christmas‭ ‬Eve‭ ‬instead‭ ‬of‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus.‭ ‬You‭ ‬are‭ ‬old‭ ‬enough‭ ‬now,‭ ‬being‭ ‬8‭ ‬years‭ ‬old,‭ ‬that‭ ‬you‭ ‬have‭ ‬probably‭ ‬thought‭ ‬of‭ ‬some‭ ‬of‭ ‬these‭ ‬things‭ ‬yourself‭ ‬and‭ ‬would‭ ‬have‭ ‬figured‭ ‬this‭ ‬out‭ ‬on‭ ‬your‭ ‬own‭ ‬soon.‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭ ‬is‭ ‬not‭ ‬real.‭ ‬Your‭ ‬mind‭ ‬is‭ ‬strong,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it‭ ‬is‭ ‬the‭ ‬only‭ ‬tool‭ ‬you‭ ‬have‭ ‬for‭ ‬deciding‭ ‬things‭ ‬about‭ ‬the‭ ‬world.‭ ‬Don‭’‬t‭ ‬ever‭ ‬let‭ ‬anyone‭ ‬tell‭ ‬you‭ ‬that‭ ‬your‭ ‬mind‭ ‬is‭ ‬something‭ ‬that‭ ‬is‭ ‬broken,‭ ‬or‭ ‬that‭ ‬you‭ ‬should‭ ‬set‭ ‬it‭ ‬aside‭ ‬in‭ ‬favor‭ ‬of‭ ‬what‭ ‬others‭ ‬have‭ ‬decided‭ ‬for‭ ‬you.‭

I‭’‬m‭ ‬not‭ ‬going‭ ‬to‭ ‬tell‭ ‬you‭ ‬that‭ ‬your‭ ‬parents‭ ‬didn‭’‬t‭ ‬lie‭ ‬to‭ ‬you‭ ‬when‭ ‬they‭ ‬told‭ ‬you‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬was‭ ‬real,‭ ‬because‭ ‬they‭ ‬did.‭ ‬But‭ ‬I‭ ‬want‭ ‬to‭ ‬help‭ ‬you‭ ‬understand‭ ‬some‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬reasons‭ ‬why‭ ‬most‭ ‬parents‭ ‬tell‭ ‬this‭ ‬lie‭ ‬to‭ ‬their‭ ‬children.‭ ‬You‭ ‬should‭ ‬also‭ ‬ask‭ ‬them‭ ‬about‭ ‬it.‭ ‬I‭ ‬am‭ ‬sure‭ ‬your‭ ‬parents‭ ‬want‭ ‬you‭ ‬to‭ ‬trust‭ ‬them,‭ ‬and‭ ‬once‭ ‬they‭ ‬realize‭ ‬that‭ ‬you‭ ‬know‭ ‬the‭ ‬truth‭ ‬about‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus,‭ ‬will‭ ‬help‭ ‬you‭ ‬to‭ ‬understand‭ ‬why‭ ‬they‭ ‬did‭ ‬it.‭

‬There‭ ‬are‭ ‬a‭ ‬lot‭ ‬of‭ ‬traditions‭ ‬in‭ ‬this‭ ‬world‭ ‬people‭ ‬enjoy.‭ ‬A‭ ‬tradition‭ ‬is‭ ‬something‭ ‬that‭ ‬gets‭ ‬passed‭ ‬down‭ ‬from‭ ‬parents‭ ‬to‭ ‬children,‭ ‬and‭ ‬people‭ ‬just‭ ‬sort‭ ‬of‭ ‬go‭ ‬along‭ ‬with‭ it because‭ ‬it’s always‭ ‬how‭ ‬things‭ ‬have‭ ‬been‭ ‬done.‭ ‬My‭ ‬parents‭ ‬taught‭ ‬me‭ ‬about‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus,‭ ‬as‭ ‬did‭ ‬theirs‭ ‬and‭ ‬theirs‭ ‬before‭ ‬them.‭

Our‭ ‬parents‭ ‬love‭ ‬us,‭ ‬and‭ ‬every‭ ‬year‭ ‬they‭ ‬enjoy‭ ‬seeing‭ ‬the‭ ‬happiness‭ ‬that‭ ‬they‭ ‬can‭ ‬bring‭ ‬us‭ ‬through‭ ‬giving‭ ‬gifts.‭ ‬For‭ ‬many‭ ‬people,‭ ‬it‭ ‬is‭ ‬embarrassing‭ ‬to‭ ‬take‭ ‬credit‭ ‬for‭ ‬a‭ ‬gift‭ ‬and‭ ‬it‭ ‬is‭ ‬easier‭ ‬and‭ ‬more‭ ‬fun‭ ‬to‭ ‬give‭ ‬a‭ ‬gift‭ ‬when‭ ‬someone‭ ‬doesn‭’‬t‭ ‬know‭ ‬it‭ ‬came‭ ‬from‭ ‬you.‭ ‬Have‭ ‬you‭ ‬ever‭ ‬given‭ ‬someone‭ ‬a‭ ‬present‭ ‬secretly‭? ‬Wasn‭’‬t‭ ‬it‭ ‬really‭ ‬fun‭ ‬seeing‭ ‬how surprised‭ ‬and‭ ‬happy‭ ‬they‭ ‬were‭ ‬without‭ ‬them‭ ‬knowing‭ ‬it‭ ‬was‭ ‬you‭ ‬who‭ ‬gave‭ ‬them‭ ‬the‭ ‬present‭? ‬Pretending‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭ ‬every‭ ‬year‭ ‬is‭ ‬just‭ ‬a‭ ‬fun‭ ‬way‭ ‬for‭ ‬your‭ ‬parents‭ ‬to‭ ‬give‭ ‬you‭ ‬gifts‭ ‬without‭ ‬you‭ ‬knowing‭ ‬they‭ ‬came‭ ‬from‭ ‬them.‭

You‭ ‬are‭ ‬a‭ ‬very‭ ‬smart‭ ‬girl,‭ ‬Virginia.‭ ‬I‭’‬m‭ ‬sure‭ ‬you‭ ‬would‭ ‬have‭ ‬figured‭ ‬this‭ ‬out‭ ‬soon‭ ‬even‭ ‬if‭ ‬I‭ ‬did‭ ‬not‭ ‬tell‭ ‬you.‭ ‬Now‭ ‬that‭ ‬you‭ ‬know‭ ‬the‭ ‬secret‭ ‬about‭ ‬the‭ ‬Santa‭ ‬Claus‭ ‬game,‭ ‬I‭ ‬hope‭ ‬you‭ ‬have‭ ‬a‭ ‬lot‭ ‬of‭ ‬fun‭ ‬with‭ ‬your‭ ‬friends,‭ ‬family‭ ‬and‭ ‬your‭ ‬future‭ ‬children‭ ‬giving‭ ‬them‭ ‬secret‭ ‬presents‭ ‬at‭ ‬Christmas‭ ‬time.‭ ‬But‭ ‬please‭ ‬don‭’‬t‭ ‬feel‭ ‬like‭ ‬you‭ ‬ever‭ ‬need‭ ‬to‭ ‬lie‭ ‬to‭ ‬them‭ ‬about‭ ‬something‭ ‬you‭ ‬know‭ ‬isn‭’‬t‭ ‬real.‭

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Talismans and Tiger Repellent, the Religion of the State

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

As adult humans, we hold a lot of beliefs that we bring to bear on our day-to-day actions. Many of these beliefs, assumptions and expectations come from our cumulative knowledge of the operations of the physical world in which we live. We have extracted them as larger principles from an observation of these principles operating in the world around us (induction). In other cases, we have arrived at truths or eliminated falsehoods by their contradictions of one another, or contradictions of observed reality (deduction). These type of “beliefs” or determinations are the rational ones. That is not to say, necessarily, that an idea arrived at through other processes is inherently wrong, or necessarily contradicts reason, but merely that it was not adopted because of its conformity to reason and evidence.

The other area of human beliefs is one which I would refer to as “faith-based”. These beliefs, are those that are handed down to us by our surrounding society as presumptions or divine bestowals. Presumptions which we have not formed on the basis of evidence or logic, but which are given to us on the basis of the fear of what will happen if we do not accept them. Perhaps a systematic examination of religion in general, and the typical tactics by which religious determinations are transmitted in early childhood would be merited in a later article. For the moment, however, I wish merely to describe the nature of religious determinations in general, in order to properly categorize faith in the institution of the state as being religious and not rational in its basis for adoption.

Anyone who has advocated for the absence of the state has noticed that when a person is confronted with that idea, the “disaster scenario” immediately comes forward. When you get the response “what about the roads” or “what about the murderers” you are not getting a logical argument. What you are getting is a glimpse into the inner psychological turmoil of the person to whom you are speaking, and a glimpse into the basis for their belief in the state. They have accepted this belief in the state on the basis of faith and societal indoctrination, and on the basis of fear of the disaster presented to them.

Philosopher / novelist Ayn Rand referred to this practice as “social metaphysics”. Metaphysics, in philosophical terminology, simply means the study of the material world around us and its nature. In short, “social metaphysics” is the practice of reaching determinations about the nature of reality through social means, instead of on the basis of our individual observations and reasoning. So when a belief reached through these means is threatened, naturally the fear scenario which motivated the acceptance of the belief will come to the forefront.

It is in this way, the state has been religiously accepted as an ex-post-facto cause for the peace, prosperity and social cooperation which preceded and enabled it. The real cause of whatever orderly and prosperous civilization we have now, is the widespread acceptance of basic interpersonal morality known as the non-aggression principle. If you still believe that the existence of laws is what causes our relative peace and stability, and not this larger moral principle, ask yourself why you are not stealing or murdering someone right now. Is it really merely because you know it is illegal?

The state came later as an innovation designed to feed on the newly emerging economic surplus.

In one of the greatest “Simpsons” episodes ever made, and one of the greatest examples of political satire in general, Lisa Simpson points out the fallacy behind Homer’s assumption that his government “Bear Patrol” program is effective.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm!
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

The best way to understand people’s belief in the necessity, morality, and effectuality of government is to think of it as a belief in a magical talisman. They have always had it in their pocket, and the disasters which they assume would result in its absence, have never happened. The correlation they see becomes, because of societal conditioning, the cause of the absence of the disaster they fear.

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Applying Obamacare Complaints Consistently

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Lately much of the political landscape, and consequently much of the dialogue among philosophical libertarians and the “libertarian” wing of the Republican party, has been focused on opposition to President Obama’s health care program. Once all of the partisan name-calling and complaints about failing websites is stripped away, there is one core argument to which Republicans keep referring that actually has some philosophical merit.

In the words of Sean Hannity on his Fox-hosted television show,

“How can government force me to buy a product that I don’t want to buy? The arrogance of this is amazing!”

Mr. Hannity is, of course, absolutely correct in his application of the principles of self-ownership and rights, to the legislative exercise in question. It is morally invalid, because it proposes to force people to buy a service against their will, even though it claims to do so for their safety and best interest. What Mr. Hannity is mistaken about, is the blindly selective approach he is taking to apply this important principle.

Isn’t the idea of Obamacare just a natural extension of the basic idea of government itself, and the same basic arguments any conservative republican would offer if you challenged the legitimacy of a government forcing all taxpayers to buy its own services? What is government, supposedly, if not a “protection” service which we are all forced to buy? How is being forced to buy an insurance company’s product for planning for my health, substantially different in principle from my being forced to buy the United States’military’s plan for protecting me from terrorists?

The spectacle of partisan politics is such that it can’t help but demonstrate the inherent hypocrisy and selective implementation of any valid argument either side might assert. If Mr. Hannity honestly believes it is wrong in principle to force someone to buy a product that they don’t wish to buy, he must reject the very core idea of government itself.

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Making the Most of the Shutdown

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

We are now a couple weeks now into the supposed “government shutdown” and, of course, the horrific chaos and societal meltdown that was presumed to ensue. We are starting to see the ways this strategy has backfired.

By forcing the shutdown, both parties seem to have expected that the people would blame the other and clamor for a return of the budget and programs that they, respectively, see as essential. It is critical that proponents of liberty not align on either partisan side here, as they both have based their positions on philosophically anti-liberty presumptions. The association with the “tea party” as being a partially “libertarian” movement has already severely damaged the perception about the philosophy of liberty… and these Republicans are not acting on that philosophy.

What both parties seem to have failed to anticipate was that, by going through this supposed “shutdown” we would see that life goes on. People have witnessed the ridiculous spectacle of government agents being paid to “shut down” and prevent access to national parks, even though the park service is independently profitable and needs no tax funding. Faced with the outrage and unashamed defiance of these edicts, the agents of the state have backed down and allowed access to many of these sites. How were they going to pay people to keep people out anyway?

As an anarchist I see this as a huge opportunity, and one that should not be missed by anyone who desires to significantly reduce the operations of any level of government. Point out to people that their life is still going on. With every private or volunteer solution that steps in to fill the void of an unavailable Federal service, point out to people that the free market will accomplish those things that are important to people.

No activism, or bitter tirades are necessary. Those tend to turn people off. This is a battle for a perception, and humor is the best weapon here. Use every opportunity to expose the absurdity of the situation, and expose the contradictions involved to ridicule it.

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Government Shutdown, Too Good to be True

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Being an outspoken anarchist (advocate for the absence of the state) is quite an interesting vantage point during a public spectacle such as the recent “government shutdown.” While many react with fear, outrage and accusations, mine is one of restrained jubilation. Part of me, like a kid anticipating Christmas, wants to believe it might actually happen… but it’s too good to be true.

Although the leaders of the competing gangs of rulers (political parties) have painted themselves into a corner with a public game of “chicken,” a real shutdown is not happening. Their threats and fear-mongering remind me of the classic empty threat of a father on a family road trip:

“Don’t make me turn this car around! I’ll do it! I mean it!”

Everyone in the car knows he’s not going to turn around halfway through a road trip. There is too much invested in terms of effort and expectations. It is the same with our supposed “government shutdown.” All of the individual office holders have too much at stake to actually shut down the apparatus of their own power and sense of self-importance. They would never actually do so, and risk the rest of us seeing first-hand that life goes on without them. In a real government shutdown, especially of prolonged length, we’d find that the “critical services” they provide can and would be accomplished in other ways. One very real example of this dynamic is the way residents of Detroit have responded with private alternatives after desired government services shut down.

For those of us who would be happy at the prospect of real government shutdowns, don’t be too disappointed. Even though government will continue for now, there is a lot that we can do to take advantage of this situation. Use every opportunity to ask questions and highlight the nature of the charade we are witnessing. Two examples:

  • If they’re only shutting down “non-essential” services, why haven’t they done that already since they’re billions of dollars in debt?
  • Why are they shutting down national parks and other things that many people enjoy, but not shutting down tax collection and the IRS?

Let’s use this opportunity to help people realize that their lives continue to go on, and to illustrate the absurdity and irrelevance of the political charade occurring hundreds of miles away.

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