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Penn Law Prof. Amy Wax on Her Controversial 'Return to Cultural Norms' Editorial

“People believe that the elite academy is destroying our country, and what’s good about it.”

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax argued in an editorial that many of the problems plaguing American society—opioid abuse, unemployment, inner-city violence—can be traced to "the breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture."

Wax and her co-author suggested the "re-embrace" of cultural norms such as education, marriage before children, and respect for authority by Americans would "significantly reduce society's pathologies."

The firestorm that followed the editorial's publication culminated in 33 members of the Penn Law faculty publicly denouncing Wax in an open letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. The professors did not engage Wax's arguments on the merits, but instead spoke of their concern for an ideal educational experience in which people "respect one another without bias or stereotype."

The letter concluded with a thinly veiled invitation to students to report Wax or anyone else who doesn't toe the company line when it comes to matters of diversity: "To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it."

Wax told me she viewed the letter's closing line as "an invitation to squeal and complain." She said "the invitation feeds into and reinforces the current mode of shutting down controversial speech, which is to evoke hurt feelings or offense." Wax also said that in the wake of the open letter, Penn Law students have been discussing "establishing their own complaint committee to which students can tattle when a professor or fellow student says something they don't like"—an institution one student called the "Stasi Committee."

Sadly, this kind of committee is par for the course on campus nowadays—while Penn does not currently have a formal bias reporting system, a recent report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) found that hundreds of colleges and universities around the country maintain formal bias reporting systems, most of which actively solicit reports of offensive but protected speech from students and faculty.

In our conversation, Wax also lamented the effect this rat-out-your-neighbor atmosphere is having on campus, noting that "lately students have been complaining to me about peer pressure, name-calling and intimidation on the part of other students," and about "the oppressive atmosphere of political correctness." Although Penn has strong free-speech protections in place, "most students are fairly cynical about the readiness of the university to defend them from censure or sanction if they say 'the wrong thing,'" she told me.

There has been one silver lining for Wax: support has poured in from people around the country. She has received quiet whispers of support at Penn, but the real show of support "has come from ordinary citizens, from the forgotten man, and many have been quite thoughtful and intelligent. I have learned—although I already knew—the progressive professoriat really is despised by a good part of the citizenry. People believe that the elite academy is destroying our country, and what's good about it."

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The firestorm that followed the editorial's publication culminated in 33 members of the Penn Law faculty publicly denouncing Wax in an open letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. The professors did not engage Wax's arguments on the merits, but instead spoke of their concern for an ideal educational experience in which people "respect one another without bias or stereotype."

    So a cultural norm made itself known.

  • ThomasD||

    If by 'cultural norm' you mean 'paying lip service to the notion of free and open debate when, and only when it suits our desires' then yes, I'd say the cat is clearly out of the bag.

    Not that they care.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There has been one silver lining for Wax: support has poured in from people around the country. She has received quiet whispers of support at Penn, but the real show of support "has come from ordinary citizens

    Samantha, you could have shortened this sentence with 'Trump supporters'.

  • Mitsima||

    She could have shortened it to 'the Bourgeois', or she could have lengthened it to, 'people with a touch of common freak'n sense'.

  • colorblindkid||

    Many are likely not Trump "supporters", per say, but rational people who are pissed off enough to reluctantly vote for the asshole.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    There you go.

    Not everyone who voted for Trump likes to go around calling him "Daddy."

  • SQRLSY One||

    Trump-Daddy to the res-CUE,
    Trump-Daddy to the res-cue!
    Go, Trump-Daddy!
    Go, Trump-Daddy!

    (The bill for the Trump-Daddy rescue, though, is coming due, and it sure ain't pretty!)

  • Zeb||

    Also, I'm pretty sure Paul's comment was intended to be humorous and not literal.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    *phht*Phhht* Is this thing on?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    When no one likes your jokes, I often find the best thing one can do is wait until you're alone to cry.

  • lap83||

    to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden

    Sure, I'll do that as soon as the minority, handicapped, transgender babies stop requiring my selfless assistance

  • lap83||

    oops, I should've put the whole quote

    But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden.

  • SQRLSY One||

    WHEN will "the downtrodden" include politically incorrect people? They look pretty downtrodden to me, especially in academia and most segments of the media!

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Never gonna happen. The "grievance industry" has become too deeply rooted -- and too profitable -- to go away, at least in our lifetimes

  • Juice||

    Wax and her co-author suggested the "re-embrace" of cultural norms such as education, marriage before children, and respect for authority by Americans would "significantly reduce society's pathologies."

    Education, sure. Not schooling, but real education. Yes.

    Marriage before children? Maybe. It's a good idea, but not really a solution to any particular problem.

    Respect for authority? Suck my ass. That won't solve shit.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    Some authority is legitimate - like, say, a business setting terms for employees, and customers deciding which businesses to patronize.

    Or a private school selecting its students and setting rules of behavior.

  • Juice||

    That's not how I read her use of the term.

  • colorblindkid||

    I think it means children respecting their parents and teachers. Not this bullshit today where kids try to physically fight their teachers all the time and scream and curse at their parents when they're 11.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If your threshold for respect is to not yell or physically fight someone, okay. I don't mind that. A general belief in civility is very valuable.

    But I also don't believe respect for authority figures is especially good if it means that we take what they say without any consideration or criticism.

  • sparkstable||

    IMO... an unwavering FU to illegitimate authority is awesome. But... an unwavering defense of legitimate authority that is acting to defend rights should be cultivated. Often we see people fighting authority that is seeking to do just and good things. A child opposing their parent or teacher (not necessarily a public school teacher) or employer etc because they (the child) wants to continue a selfish, ignorant, and beligerant lifestyle that violates other people... that crap has got to stop.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    "Marriage before children? Maybe. It's a good idea, but not really a solution to any particular problem."

    Fatherless children tend to be overrepresented among criminals. And among the ranks of poor children.

  • Juice||

    That doesn't mean that if the sperm donor married the mother that things would be any better.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, I think that having children when you aren't prepared to raise them properly is the more relevant issue than whether the parents are married. I'd rephrase it as "a stable relationship and the means to support and properly care for children before having children".

    Two parents cohabitating isn't going to be better in every case. But two parents who get along and are decent parents should generally be the best situation.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I agree. The fatherlessness was a symptom of a different problem. If you could magically make those fathers that abandoned the household stay home and play 'dad', I'm not sure your outcomes would change, and they might even get worse.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    "Yeah, I think that having children when you aren't prepared to raise them properly is the more relevant issue than whether the parents are married."

    Hmm...for some reason these issues strike me as related.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    "Can I stick it in?"

    "Not if we aren't married."

    "OK, let's get married."

    "No, I don't want to marry the likes of you."

    There we go.

  • Paloma||

    Oh, for sure, they may become abusive. But marriage at least makes things clear between the individuals, and not only that clear to those around them.

  • Eman||

    Could be, but couldn't the parents' and kids' respective behaviors both be results of a third cause?

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    I think that cultural change has been positive in one way. Staying married just for the sake of raising a kid was a toxic idea. Splitting up unhappy couples probably does less damage than keeping them together to raise a child in a hostile environment. But we're slowly creeping to a point where we damn near celebrate being a single mother as more virtuous than being in a happy marriage

  • Paloma||

    I agree with Chip. And many times being a husband and father incentives men to grow up. Married men make more money than single men, and tend to be promoted more.

  • SQRLSY One||

    What I want to know is, when is the last time that academia or Government Almighty or lamestream media EVER had the balls to say...

    "Hey, ya know what, peoples? If you can NOT properly raise and support your children, it is NOT very cool to have them, and expect your neighbors and taxpayers to raise and support them on your behalf! Charity and mercy and all that, are way-cool, but how about some RESPONSIBLE behavior here, eh?"

  • Ecoli||

    You will never hear the left say such a thing, SQRLSY. If they did, they would be the right.

  • DarrenM||

    No. Staying married for the sake of raising a kid does not have to involve toxicity, though maybe that's all you know. It's often just a matter of sacrificing some your own personal happiness for that of your children. However, if someone is not adult enough to do that, it probably is better to get out of their lives before you screw them up. Each situation is different.

  • Ecoli||

    ^^^^ Absolutely correct.

  • KBeckman||

    No, I'm pretty sure staying together for the kids has statistically been shown to be bad for kids. You're not exactly setting up great examples as to what a healthy relationship looks like.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Booyah

  • Mark22||

    Splitting up unhappy couples probably does less damage than keeping them together to raise a child in a hostile environment.

    You'd think that after a year of dating and a year of engagement, people would know whether they are "hostile" to each other or not. After that, they should be able to behave like adults towards each other even if they fall out of love.

  • ThomasD||

    "That doesn't mean that if the sperm donor married the mother that things would be any better."

    That ultimately depends on what your notion of marriage is.

  • Juice||

    So I get to decide who is an authority or not? And I get to decide who I respect or not? Then what's the difference between saying "have respect for authority" and just saying "have respect for others"?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The problem is not a lack of respect for authority - there's way too much of that. There is, however, vicious disagreement over which authorities should get all that respect.

  • colorblindkid||

    Too much respect for bad authorities and not enough respect for good authorities. We have it backwards.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    Kids today will respect a cool black president, but they despise their boss who yells at them for being on their phone during their shift

  • DarrenM||

    Respect authority until there's a reason not to.

  • mtrueman||

    A time machine would be more fun than re-embracing a cultural norm. Otherwise, if you want Americans to educate themselves or hold off on bearing children etc, then prove it. Pay them. They'll do almost anything if the money's right. Exhorting Americans to re-embrace cultural norms is not going anywhere, as Wax surely understands.

  • Juice||

    And she really means, embrace older cultural norms. It's just another one of those "it was better in the good old days" arguments.

  • MarkLastname||

    As usual, you don't have a point.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    Not everything she said was great. She also had a sentence about patriotism and being a good citizen. But 60 years ago what she said was basically considered common sense. That she was condemned as a white supremacist by her students is ridiculous

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Really, she seems to be a garden-variety social conservative. Respect your elders, do what you're told, stay in school and help old ladies cross the street. In other words, I agree, she's worse than Hitler.

  • ||

    "establishing their own complaint committee to which students can tattle when a professor or fellow student says something they don't like"—an institution one student called the "Stasi Committee."

    This sounds rife for Netflix or NBC or somebody to put Nick Offerman or Ron Livingston in the midst of.

  • Agnes||

    I always thought I was more of a 'progressive baby boomer' than a 'millennial.'

    Wax makes some very solid points. Like it or not, human beings function better with set boundaries and discipline.

    My mother never asked much of me other than don't get pregnant before marriage and don't live with a man before you're married. Being that she birthed me, nourished me physically and mentally by forcing us to stay outside and 'make things,' not to mentioned put with me during my asshole years and pay for my education, I at first unwillingly complied. She knows I've had sex, she let me get on birth control when I was 17, and she knew my ex-boyfriend use to stay over at my apartment 4-5 nights a week. Never had a problem with it - just no living together before marriage.

    The older I get, the more I realize she's really right. (this is not meant to criticize or judge people who do live together before marriage, if it wouldn't break my mother's heart, I wouldn't care.) But I understand more what she means. Especially being a woman dating in the era of the eternal Peter Pan time wasters, I appreciate her 'rule' a little more. Commitment is missing. Commitment to a person, an idea, a career, a religion...whatever it may be. People don't commit to their sexuality much less a job these days. They bounce around because they 'can' and I think they're unhappier for it.

  • ||

    It always comes down to the individual. My "wife" and I are not technically married, but we've lived together unmarried for 25 years and have a 10-year-old daughter.

    But I completely know what you mean by "the eternal Peter Pan time wasters" - I've known well more than one woman who let a guy move in only to have him promptly lose his job and become a permanent couch-dweller. Having a "you keep your own place until I've decided you're worthy of permanent consideration" attitude can certainly be helpful as a rule of thumb.

  • Tony||

    I prefer to remain untethered to ancient, pointless cohabitation rituals, and I'm not out scoring heroin or trafficking humans or anything.

  • Sevo||

    I wouldn't brag, Tony. It may not be heroin, but it's something:

    Tony|9.7.17 @ 4:43PM|#
    "I don't consider taxing and redistribution to be either forced or charity."

  • MarkLastname||

    It's quite well demonstrated that children raised by single parents in unstable households do worse off, so those rituals definitely aren't pointless.

    Sorry Tony, but all 'lifestyles' are not equally constructive.

    Of course, if people want to have kids out of wedlock and unemployed that's fine; but if we're going to let them make their own choices, then they can starve when those choices fuck them in the ass. But if 'society' is required to bail them out with monthly checks, then 'society' has every right to tell them what they can and cannot do. If you're going to make me sell you car insurance, then I absolutely get to tell you where, when, and how you can drive.

  • Tony||

    if we're going to let them make their own choices

    Do you really have a choice in your system?

    they can starve when those choices fuck them in the ass

    Including their completely innocent non-agent children?

    But if 'society' is required to bail them out with monthly checks, then 'society' has every right to tell them what they can and cannot do

    If you choose to impose moral busybody nonsense as conditions. You could just choose not to and trust people to make their own decisions anyway--something you people claim works best anyway.

    People with a little more money make better decisions than those who are scrounging for basic needs, don't you think?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    If that last sentence is intended as some level of defense for the welfare system as we know it, you are sorely lacking in evidence

  • Azathoth!!||

    If the Money Fairy comes once or twice a month to bestow upon one cash money, one never learns to make better decisions. As the cash increases, so too do the follies

  • creech||

    "support has poured in from people around the country"

    Penn will take notice when that support is from alumni withholding their next donations until Penn forcefully supports free speech and has a more ideologically balanced faculty.

  • EscherEnigma||

    If she wants to be a stay-at-home mom drugging herself out on laudlem every night, that's her choice. But she's going to need more than nostalgia to get the rest of us to play along.

    Or are we supposed to have away all the problems with the doctor's like she did, with a dismissive one-liner that ignores the scope and enormity if the problems?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Wow, autocorrect was not kind.

    *"Wave away all the problems of the fifties"

  • SIV||

    What "problems of the fifties"?

    Peace and prosperity (after Korea)? Abundant remunerative employment opportunities requiring little more than a desire to show up on time and work hard? Women free to chose to be homemakers? Stylish chrome-laden and finned automobiles? Defined benefit pensions? Merit-based college admissions for an excellent education that could be fully-funded by working part time? Rock? The Golden Age of Television?

  • Tony||

    Plus black people knew their place!

  • SIV||

    They stayed in school, worked hard and got married before having children?

  • Tony||

    And they managed to fit in being systematically oppressed to boot. Those were the days.

  • DarrenM||

    And things are better now?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Tony prefers it when they are shooting themselves in their teen years. It's easier that way.

  • Ecoli||

    Tony needs to take the red pill.

    Listen to Thomas Sowell about the condition of black people today versus 70 years ago. I think Sowell is a bit more intelligent than poor little Tony, and he actually lived it.

    Take the red pill, Tony. It's bitter but you will cease to be a laughing stock after.

  • MarkLastname||

    Actually, reverse the clauses to learn the lesson here: fact that black people were experiencing massive gains in education and income when they were subject to broad discrimination but have increasingly stagnated in a society where they enjoy more legal rights demonstrates the utter failure of the welfare state to uplift the downtrodden.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    It's almost like it's not designed to help them at all but to get them voting a certain way for 200 years...

  • Tony||

    A stagnation implies that what worked before is not sufficient to keep up the momentum, and more is needed. There has not been a backslide. There are pockets of trouble, and you can explain that as either: something still is wrong with society that disadvantages blacks, or: there's something wrong with blacks that makes them be an underclass by nature. Which one do you prefer?

  • Cy||

    "There has not been a backslide."

    Umm... where have you been the last 10 years? Obviously not Chicago.

    "There are pockets of trouble, and you can explain that as either: something still is wrong with society that disadvantages blacks, or: there's something wrong with blacks that makes them be an underclass by nature. Which one do you prefer?"

    Could it be that the government has made them a protected class, therefore solidifying them in their victim-hood?

  • MarkLastname||

    It never seems to dawn on you that you're the only one here with such a fervent obsession with race.

    Also, you lefties are always waxing nostalgic about the 50s too, with the high (not really, but we'll pretend) marginal tax rates and sense of civic communitarianism, before individualism and commercial capitalism came in an ruined it all.

  • Tony||

    Everything has its positives and negatives, and everything in American politics has always been mostly about race.

  • Paloma||

    That's where you lose me. It's mostly been about religion.

  • SIV||

    Damn ampersand glitch!

  • MarkLastname||

    I mean, I guess you can just ignore everything she actually said and just throw some shit on the floor and yell at it. That's a perfectly valid response too.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    "laudlem"? You need to disable autocorrect entirely and turn to a manual dictionary, assuming that what you meant was "laudanum"

  • SIV||

    There has been one silver lining for Wax: support has poured in from people around the country.

    God bless those "authoritarian right-wingers"

  • Tony||

    One wishes the left could apply its scrutinous zeal to, like, winning elections now and then.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Take heart: You'll always have Chavez.

  • Paloma||

    Well, Chavez' daughters anyway.

  • MarkLastname||

    It's precisely its zeal that makes people afraid to vote for leftists. Try dropping the Bolshevism for starters.

  • Ecoli||

    Clubs and guns are probably going to be required, Tony. The left has hit its zenith, it's all down hill from here.

  • DenverJ||

    Wax also lamented the effect this rat-out-your-neighbor atmosphere is having on campus...

    You know who else encouraged people to rat out there neighbors?

  • Lord_at_War||

    Big Brother?

  • Vernon Depner||

    Willard?

  • Sevo||

    Burkean conservatism, and some points are hard to dispute. But at the same time it suggests that any progress is (like the enlightenment) should be denied.
    Regarding the kids who are now 'failed by the public ("government" you bozo!) school system', there's strong evidence it's true; kids lacking any discipline are prone to immediate gratification, regardless of the immediate costs to others and the long-term costs to themselves.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    Cultural Justice Warriors are just as misinformed as the dumbass Social Justice Warriors. This woman literally is blaming the symptoms instead of the disease. All of these problems have their root cause in our fucked up economic system: namely we have a fiat currency that is imploding before our eyes and profligate spending by a government that picks and chooses who wins and loses. Remove that problem and much of the symptoms (though not all) disappear.

    FFS, did none of these doofuses actually study what it was that caused the collapse of the Western Roman Empire? It was the degradation of the Denarius that caused the ills of the Empire, not the fact many of the leaders were crazy fuckers who humped everything in site and ate until they puked. This "return to conservative values" is nonsensical and won't help matters except to produce more sheep for the fleecing by authorities. It leads to the same totalitarian impulses as the goddamn Progtards that want us all to sing "Kumbaya" while they prepare to stab us in the back with a sword.

    Fuck. This. Shit.

  • Cy||

  • IceTrey||

    Another case of the nuts promoting diversity by shutting down speech they disagree with. The real problem is she misses the real solution which is ending the War on Drugs.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Everyone urges a "real solution", but there is no single "real solution". In the meantime, personal norms of behavior have been flushed and Wax identifies a key to the problem: the death of the "bourgeois" family. Are there problems that restoring the family does not address? Certainly. Would reaching backward and restoring "family values" take us forward? You bet.

  • Samson M||

    Wax's arguments are the worst of social conservatism for sure... but the liberal pc cry babies whip themselves up in a fervor while everyone else smirks proudly about how ridiculous they are.

    I dont really find Wax's arguments interesting at all. We all know about the problems of crime, drug use, breakdown of education, but "lets go back to 50s bourgeois culture?" Are you serious? Was she just trolling or that's her solution to all this. I mean c'mon i dont know whats more a joke... pc identity politics or this?

  • mysmartstuffs||

    "establishing their own complaint committee to which students can tattle when a professor or fellow student says something they don't like"—an institution one student called the "Stasi Committee."

    This sounds rife for Netflix or NBC or somebody to put Nick Offerman or Ron Livingston in the midst of.
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  • mysmartstuffs||

    "support has poured in from people around the country"

    Penn will take notice when that support is from alumni withholding their next donations until Penn forcefully supports free speech and has a more ideologically balanced faculty.
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  • inoyu||

    Western civilization will replace males with 'mannish' females or a more virile culture will overcome the west in the near future.

  • Lester224||

    What does she mean by "respect for authority"? I hope she doesn't mean respect for statists, or caving on civil liberties.

  • Lester224||

    She probably does.. Soc Conservatism blah blah

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    No, I think she means accepting direction from your parents, teachers and coaches. Not saying "fuck you" to a cop just because you can, and so forth.

    Has everybody forgotten that one of the oft-cited reasons kids get into gangs is because they find "family" there?

    And who says that exercising your civil liberties means that you have to display disrespect? Going through life with a chip on your shoulder doesn't make you smart, articulate, or even correct. It just makes you angry. And all anger brings us is a lot of heat and very little light. We have more than enough of that these days.

    Give children a stable environment. Let them know love and loving correction. Let them learn how to talk to parents and others instead of screaming to get what they want. Let them know that they won't always get what they want, and that's the way of the world and it's okay. Love, structure and stability are the three most important things to any child's growth and development, and you can't get them all without a stable family. Take it from someone who has tried.

  • Enemy of the State||

    The only criticism I have of her brilliant op-ed is that it didn't go far enough to blame metastasizing government interventionism and its various "wars on..." as a cause for the destruction of many nuclear families, the revolving door between prison and welfare, and its various attacks on the no/low-skilled workers who it seeks to make permanent residents of the social-welfare plantation....

  • Azathoth!!||

    We should re-establish an adherence to the values of the middle class.

    That's what she said.

    And she's right. It was the emergence of the middle class that gave us the foundations of societies based in individual liberty. A way for people to make the silver spoon to place in their children's mouths.

    But that's not what she said.

    She said that many of our problems can be traced to "the breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture."

    Bourgeois culture.--that's important.

    See, bourgeois culture is the name given to the middle class by the people who wanted to destroy the middle class--who STILL want to destroy the middle class. That's the language she used. Know why? Because it's the pervasive language of academia, and the media and of much of the political class. She phrased it that way because even when defending it, she's fighting the feeling that it's somehow wrong--because that is what she was taught.

    THAT is where the fight begins. In our own heads. To free us of the propaganda placed there as 'education'

  • Kreach1||

    I just think reinstating 50s cultural norms wont work. Its a pipe dream. A lot has happened between now and then.

    She's right about the antiassimilation attitude of blacks, hispanics, and some other immigrant populations. The problem not being acknowledged is the cost of assimilation, which means giving up your old way of life. How do you acheive that without it being a brutal imposition?

    I mean I think there should be ground rules but the cost of multiculturalism should go both ways. It doesnt all have to look like a 50s picket fence idyllic fantasy.

  • Ron||

    would you rather live behind a picket fence or a chain link barricade?

  • Kreach1||

    I wish there were a better choices.

    Picket fence here I'm assuming is just a stand in for civility, responsibility, hard work, individual liberty, justice, etc. I just reject the idea that those all necessarily have to live behind a picket fence.

  • Kreach1||

    I dont know how to argue this because its an inherent division between conservatives and liberals... some will never accept "the back to trad values" approach. Why not new traditional values that acknowledge and include race, gender, sexuality? We're sorely needing a return to basic social norms I just think we should make new social norms.

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