The liberal defense for Milo Yiannopoulos

The liberal defense for Milo Yiannopoulos July 20, 2016

It cannot be understated how problematic I find many of Milo Yiannopoulos’s views.

Whether he is egregiously painting feminism as perpetuated entirely by a horde of overweight lesbians or denigrating atheism as a privileged fad, Milo’s compulsory provocations have given myself and other classic liberals fodder for revulsion, discussion, and at odd times, agreement. It is simply intellectually dishonest to boil down the opinions of a man who says so much so often into a neatly packaged political serving, fit for embrace or rejection with the label of “bigot”. Anyone who can quickly do so without carefully considering one’s own views is not taking themselves seriously.

So what is one to do when such a man is banned from what is arguably the most accessible social sphere ever invented — Twitter? As the throngs of leftists from the moderate to the far end of the horse-shoe trill in excitement that the internet has been cleansed of one negative presence, I cannot help but cry out that the betrayal of liberal principles here, ironically in favor of a man who skewers liberalism for breakfast, is worthy of our sincere outrage.

Whether or not you consider various pages of the internet to be within the purview of free speech (arguments about the responsibility of such platforms to uphold free inquiry have already been suggested by Dave Rubin), we should be discussing the sort of world we wish to live in and the most favorable way in bringing it about. For the sake of simplicity, let’s pretend for a moment that Milo’s views don’t present a complex and uncomfortable arena for discussion but are instead purely vile and unworthy of our time. One must ask oneself in all honesty whether or not they want to exist in a dimension where such views don’t exist or are simply hidden because someone else decided what was best for you to see.

Expurgating a popular voice because it expresses what are thought to be unfavorable opinions demonstrates all too clearly what Twitter thinks the answer to the question should be. Far from the tawdry arguments about First Amendment protection, the proliferation of the culture we desire, for which custody we are entirely responsible, is precisely what is at stake. I, for one, desperately wish to have a liberal utopia, but cannot abide the thought of one brought about by illiberal principles. As Audre Lorde said (again, using a touchstone of gender studies to defend Milo is an irony he might appreciate), the tools of the master will never tear down the master’s house. Censorship, social censure, revocation of privilege — these are the tools of dominating and fascistic majorities, and one will never create a culture of free thought by employing them. If one wishes to live in a society opposed to social authoritarianism and bowdlerization, that rejects censorship and guards free inquiry, dialectics, and vigorous debate, we have a duty to be at the vanguard of defending the expression of opinions to which we are utterly and absolutely opposed. If you are serious about rejecting fascism and tyranny and thought-crime, it means actually supporting the rights of men who hold opinions you despise. It means legitimately hearing them and welcoming to the debate, so that their positions may either shed light on complex problems or reveal themselves to be useless in the course of time.

Furthermore, the internet and the public sphere will never be safe spaces. One cannot be custodian to the force and fury of free thought and, even if one could, the cost of social censorship is too high a price for what seems, on the surface, to be peace in the people’s square. Twitter’s attempt either to punish rhetorical wrong-doing or to provide for the common good in this way can only ever fail: too many disagreeable opinions exist to begin to censor them all; too many opinions differ too greatly on the nature of offense. We should hold as sacred that such debates are possible, and refuse to relegate to any person the privilege of deciding for us what is acceptable to read, to engage or dismiss, to think, or who to ignore. If you want a world that doesn’t listen to Milo Yiannopoulos, create one that disagrees with him, not one that can’t. 

As a liberal, I simply must reject the concept that some speech is too nasty to be read and must be eliminated, thereby eliminating my right to contemplate and decry it. For the sake of all personal agency, I hope you hold yourself to the same standard.

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