I didn’t know that much about Milo Yiannopoulos until recently, but he’s a pretty complicated man. I knew that he had been kicked off the Twitters last summer for inciting some attacks on Saturday Night Live Star, Leslie Jones. I didn’t read much about that, but I did tweet my support for Jones. She’s hilarious. All I knew was that this Milo person was the consummate internet troll and a darling of some of the alt-right.
He was a senior editor at Breitbart. That’s not exactly in my wheelhouse, so I didn’t pay much attention to him. Well, I didn’t pay that much attention to him until the last couple weeks, beginning with the riot on the UC Berkley campus that preempted a talk that he was supposed to give. I was kind of paying attention to the Facebooks that week, so I saw how some of my conservative friends were posting about how all the liberal snowflakes were violent and hate-filled, anti-freedom commies.
I had to agree with that to a certain point.
That Milo Guy and the First Amendment
I certainly don’t think that every liberal snowflake is violent or hate-filled or anti-freedom. I’m a liberal snowflake, and I’m none of those things. I did appreciate the irony of free speech being so violently undermined at the campus that was so vital to the free speech movement 50 years ago.
I had to agree that the whole “PC culture” thing is running rough-shod over the right to free speech around the country. People should be able to say what they want — with certain limitations. No, I’m not defending hate speech or anything that anyone has said, least of all that Milo guy, but he has the right to speak his opinions. We’ll never be able to change people’s minds by silencing their voices. We must listen to them, so we know where they stand. Then we have to use facts to show them how they may be wrong.
We’ll never be able to change people’s minds by silencing their voices.
Ultimately, we don’t have to make them agree. I’ve said that quite a bit on social media. We don’t have to agree. I often pass by things that I don’t agree with, just to avoid a pointless argument. I may just give my two cents and blow off any replies. Maybe I’ll engage for a while. Often, I’ll leave whoever it is with that simple statement. We just don’t have to agree on things with everyone, and more importantly, they don’t have to agree with us.
A better approach to Milo would be to go to the event if he has a question-and-answer period. Give some fact-based responses to things that he said that may be false. We could even just blow the whole thing off. He seems like an attention whore who thrives on controversy. If you don’t give him attention or riot outside of places that he’s supposed to speak, he won’t make the news.
Who cares if your conservative friends go see him speak? Just be sure you engage in any discussion about him with facts. You may think that he’s an asshole — and I might agree with that for the most part — but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss him entirely. He’s been a relatively influential person. You can only counter that influence by engaging in the discussion.
Milo Yiannopoulos, if nothing else, is an advocate for freedom of speech, and I wholeheartedly support that. I can agree with his stance on the First Amendment. I don’t have to agree with anything else he says — no one does — but silencing him is bad for our country and the cause of liberty. Sure, there are limits to free speech. That’s why we have libel and slander laws. There’s no law against being full of shit. He can do that. We just have to counter his bullshit with facts.
He was also on Real Time with Bill Maher last week. I’m a huge fan of Maher and the show. I agree with much of what he says, and I think he’s hilarious. He interviewed that Milo guy on last Friday’s show. Sure, Maher was kind of soft on him — which did surprise me, at first — but he’s not on 60 Minutes. His show has a panel discussion of political issues. He always tries to have liberals and conservatives on for some semblance of balance. No minds are changed, but both sides are often shown.
There’s no law against being full of shit. He can do that. We just have to counter his bullshit with facts.
Maher’s main hobby horse is freedom of speech, and as the interview went on, I recognized that it was a perfect example of how to have a discussion with someone we don’t agree with. Go ahead and watch it.
After the show, in the “Overtime” portion of the show on YouTube, Yiannopoulos joined the panel. He insulted other guests of the show, and was told to fuck himself by a couple of them. And this shows one of the major problems with political discourse in our country, and probably the world, today. No, I have no problem with Larry Wilmore and Malcolm Nance telling Milo to fuck off. I have a deeply held belief that he should fuck off. The problem is the initial decline of the discussion toward insults and attacks.
We see it all the time on social media. Memes say that people who believe this or that political thing are a “special kind of stupid.” Some of them are funny, but they don’t exactly encourage an honest discussion. Most issues aren’t black and white, but when we insist that people who don’t agree with our point of view are stupid, it’s hard to get back to the gray area of the issue.
There are genuinely stupid people out there, but it doesn’t help to say things, like, “You are a stupid person.” Indeed, as a recent episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee pointed out, we need to attack ideas not people. “Mitch McConnell,” she said, “I take it back. You are not a dildo. Your ideas are a dildo.” The video also shows her interview with Glenn Beck, another great example of people with different ideologies having a civil discussion.
That Milo Guy and the Pedophilia Controversy
Earlier this week, he found himself further embroiled in controversy when video surfaced of him talking about gay men and boys and his experience of molestation as a teenager. I saw the video in question — at least I think it’s the video in question, and I can understand both the outrage and his defense that he posted on his Facebook page.
I honestly don’t think he was trying to show support for any pedophile, apart from the priest who abused him. He used the term “boy,” instead of “young man,” and that may have fed into a common myth about gay men. But, seriously, when I was in my 20s, I probably would have said “girl” instead of “young woman,” and I certainly wasn’t looking for someone who was underage.
Although he refused to call it molestation, he spoke in rather fond terms about his abuser and of the event as a “coming of age” moment. This is the heart of the problem. He’s accepted that he was abused as a 14-year-old, which is great, but he’s also confused about some appropriate boundaries around sex that’s related to that event, which is probably pretty common among survivors of molestation.
So, it’s perfectly understandable that he might be confused about his experience, but his cavalier attitude about it is, at best, problematic. It’s certainly not acceptable. He had every right to say what he did, but there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Many comedians say similarly offensive things. They push limits just like Milo does. They also piss people off and offend people. Some things they say can affect turnout at their shows or TV writing gigs that they may or may not get. Milo, while he’s certainly not as funny, is getting that same treatment.
He’s accepted that he was abused as a 14-year-old, which is great, but he’s also confused about some appropriate boundaries around sex that’s related to that event, which is probably pretty common among survivors of molestation.
Now, do I think Milo should have been forced to resign from Breitbart over these comments? No. I can understand them within the contexts of his history of abuse (whether he considers it abuse or not) and his explanation. But I can also understand why people are offended. Sexual abuse is offensive, whether Milo respects that or not.
A Final Word on Free Speech
While there may not be many legal limits to free speech. There are certainly financial ones. Saying things just to be controversial may get some people all the attention they want, but when they say things that offend the masses, there are consequences.
The bottom line is that we should respect each other. We don’t have to agree on matters of opinion, or even agree on which issues are matters of opinion, and we don’t even have to respect everyone’s opinion. There are some really stupid, uninformed opinions out there. (Talking to you, flat-earthers.) But perhaps we should learn to respect each other as we disagree, and for crying out loud, let’s not be cavalier about child abuse.