It is fascinating that so many individuals on the censorious left of politics are cheering the demise of Milo Yianoppoulos, but as of yet are still unable to grasp why he fell from grace. After years of attempting to no-platform Milo or shut down Yianoppoulos’ talks through vicious protests, disruptive riots, seeking to remove him from campus: these actions only fed his growing persona and thrust him into the media spotlight. Ultimately, it was Milo’s own words that caused him to fall on his own sword. That free speech brought down Milo Yianoppoulos is apt and not entirely unforeseeable. Milo’s achilles heel is that he served as a controversialist.
Controversialists have a limited pool of resource, much like a watering hole in the Serengeti in the height of the dry season. Making controversial statements shocks individuals that someone dared utter a naughty and contemptible thing. However, dare they say that too many times, then they risk becoming tedious, or monomaniacal: much like the Serengeti’s drying water hole, the water is limited, you can only drink a single gulp of water once. Hence any provocateur requires to delve into making other statements, or taking even more concerning stances. A controversialist needs to be careful, dare they say too much, then they will run out of material all too quickly. Then, they risk becoming seen as someone who solely exists to shock, and like that Serengeti watering hole, run dry.
Stopping Milo from speaking is what gave him the bizarrely subservient cult like support which he commands. It stopped his voice from becoming hoarse and him running out of opposition or ridiculous stances to take. Milo’s own messages, often a little vapid and designed to be reviled by the minorities and those who defend them, became slowly dwarfed by opposition to those on campuses who decided that he should not have the right to speech.
Individuals who would be at the forefront lambasting Milo’s ideas were uncomfortably forced to defend his right to speak.
Milo could have been dismissed, or simply ignored, yet the fierceness of the opposition was what made Milo a credible force. It is a valid piece of advice to give anyone seeking to shut down the career of a controversialist or provocateur, often just let them continue speaking. Giving people enough rope to hang themselves by allowing them to speak is a devastating tactic.
There are so many flaws in Yianoppoulos’ logic that one can easily pounce on them. Rather than allowing Milo to speak and exposing him for some severe inconsistencies, authoritarian campus troglodytes decided that they would censor him. These people, of course, claimed that they were stopping Milo due to his rampant and many prejudices, but these people became so intolerant of Milo and his argument that their violent reaction became the story of intolerance. Their intolerance of discussion became the intolerance that was focused upon and weaponised against them, even if these liberation and equalities movements made logical points opposing him.
Provocateur should not in itself be a dirty word, it is a good thing that we have individuals who provoke discussion and opinion. Universities and academic spaces that do not challenge established thinking lead to sterile thinkers. These thinkers tend to struggle with controversial ideas, hence requiring protection from them, and this also results in groupthink. Whilst safe spaces are inherently flawed, it is groupthink that poses a real danger. Milo Yianoppoulos presence and ability to be allowed to debate on a campus often reassures me: why? Not because I agree with much of what Milo says, or think he is a helpful proponent of his arguments, rather I believe being able to debate Milo or allow him to speak shows a tolerance of ideas.
If you observe Milo speaking, you might observe that often, whilst he presents some cogent cases for free speech, he is both reactionary and often unable to defend his more controversial outbursts. Cathy Newman, on Channel 4 News, effectively skewered him on his previous writings about women and the headlines he chose whilst he was Breitbart Editor that demonstrated an unnecessary prejudice. Milo really isn’t that hard to debate.
So why are students finding it so hard to debate Milo fairly and openly? That elements of the student population violently protested, and later rioted at UC Berkley gave Milo the ability to claim that he was the victim. Any scrutiny was ultimately dismissed in the clamour to condemn the actions of is opposition. Why not, instead of lobbing a Molotov cocktail, walk into a lecture hall and ask him about some of his statements on women or circumcision?
Take circumcision, Milo argues: “Women don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they say it’s fine and they don’t mind. But they do. Cut your kids.” Are we really unable to propose an argument that indicates that perhaps engaging in a non-consensual, irreversible, cosmetic alteration because women aesthetically prefer it, may be a deeply flawed argument for the rescinding of fundamental rights to individuals to be protected from irreversible bodily alterations that they cannot consent too? Students really think the most effective way to oppose Milo is to no-platform this individual. It took me 3 minutes to find that link noting his opinions. Consider how much I could find after a day of research.
Perhaps if students had engaged more rationally with Milo, his prominence would never have happened. When students attempts to no-platform, silence and violently riot against his speech, this only led to massive increases in his book sales. A figure over 12,000%, in fact. The no platform was not only ineffective, it became counter-productive.
The Streisand effect seems to be something many modern-day students are unaware of. Preventing individuals from speaking actually draws attention to individuals, others wish to know what was so contemptible an utterance the led to the ban. Additionally, if you seek to constantly silence someone, individuals who may be sympathetic to your argument against that person are often forced to defend the censored. People are then forced to defend an individual they dislike, if they are intellectually honest, from hypocrisy.
If the debate was on Milo’s ideas and intellectual consistency as merits alone, I suspect he would have faired poorly. Indeed, it was revealing his previous comments led to the cancellation of his book, his resignation from Breitbart and dis-invitation from CPAC, due to seeming inconsistency on child abuse. Also, though Milo claims to have himself never apologised for or supported any form of child abuse and pederasty, there are records of him boasting about underaged sex he witnessed at parties in the United States.
Can students really not see how this individual is easy prey? Simply ask Milo why he didn’t report pederasty that he witnessed is a powerful question. Abandoning victims of sexual abuse is a damning weakness. But I have come to the conclusion that many of these individuals don’t want to actually silence Milo, or even debate his ideas, they simply need an ideological villain to attack. Milo presents himself as the perfect villain, does he not? With some repulsive and contemptible utterances, he is easily held up as the opposition to these students so keen to silence dissent. They hold him up as a comparison, it seems to be you either have nasty Milo, or benevolent, leftist censorship?
But in all of this, there is a middle ground, surely? Students who can support Milo’s right to speech, whilst accepting that occasionally, on issues surrounding free speech and hypocrisy on the left, he makes coherent points. However, we should acknowledge that Milo is also controversial for controversy’s sake and his slurs against minorities and attacks on individual rights cannot be endorsed.
Perhaps it is time for us to remember: one can defend an individual’s rights and rights to expression without defending the individual themselves.