In a quote often attributed to Voltaire, he said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It is a creed I have long lived by, believing that preventing someone from being able to speak is far more dangerous than any idea they can espouse.
I read a quote from Noam Chomsky that gets close to my thinking – “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” The same could be said for free speech – it is easy to fight for the free speech for those we support, but that’s not the real test. The real test of free speech is those screaming at the top of their lungs something that you oppose with every ounce of your being – will you fight for them?
For me the answer is yes, which is exactly why I will fight for the repugnant views of Milo Yiannopoulos to be heard. I do not like the ideas of the students protesting his speech to be belittled, they are sincere and deeply-rooted beliefs that should be heard. That is why I intentionally did not comment on the substance of their letter yesterday.
But today I will. I don’t agree that his speech should be canceled. That is not going to make his ideas go away. If anything, it will force them underground and, for too long in the last eight years, we have relegated the views of the alt-right to the fringes of the internet and society – where, unconfronted, they were allowed to fester and grow.
The problem here is that is exactly what he wants to happen. He is intentionally coming to liberal university campuses and wants to demonstrate the intolerance of the left by generating protests and efforts to shut him down.
The act of protest, the attempts to shut him down make his voice grow louder. I actually think the best response would have been to ignore him completely. But that hasn’t happened.
“Students aren’t used to hearing alternative points of view,” Mr. Yiannopoulos wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “That has been the case for a decade or more. It enrages them that not only do I make evidence-based arguments and consistently beat them on the rare occasion they show up, but I do so with style, sass, and my trademark humility.
“If you don’t want to come to a Milo Yiannopoulos lecture, don’t come. But you have no right to deny others the chance to,” he wrote. Aside from a “tiny minority” of “social justice warriors,” he continued, “pretty much everyone else agrees with at least some of what I’m saying, because they recognize that, for example, feminism hurts women as much as it hurts men and they are mystified that feminists are unwilling/incapable of defending their wacky positions.”
He is exactly correct here – tactically speaking. People are not used to hearing alternative points of view. There have been articles that have demonstrated that the social media phenomena have done more to bifurcate and segregate views that anything.
On the other hand, the man has some pretty whacky views himself. The idea that feminism hurts women is certainly his right to believe. Openly advocating that men flush their partners’ contraceptives down the toilet is just weird. Here is an article where he argues “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
Twitter permanently banned him as it cracked down on his targeting of Leslie Jones, the actress in “Ghostbusters.” But you have to wonder, as the Washington Post reported, “Reactions to Yiannopoulos’s suspension fell along the lines you’d expect: His supporters — he had more than 300,000 followers at the time of his suspension — rallied behind the #FreeMilo hashtag, which trended in the United States for several hours, and said that he’d done nothing wrong. Many others cheered Twitter’s decision to ban someone whose mocking, trollish tweets about people on the alt-right’s bad side were often the prelude to a mob of abuse.”
The ban probably only made Milo stronger, although, you can hardly blame Twitter for not wanting their platform to be used to abuse someone in the way it appears Mr. Yiannopoulos did.
So what is the best remedy here to a guy who enjoys getting attention, and takes pride in flipping his middle finger to the establishment?
The best response here would be to allow him to speak, and ignore him. He craves attention, don’t give it to him.
The second best response would be to allow him to speak and offer a counter-measure. Attack his ideas.
The worst response is to attempt to ban him and give him the attention that he craves.
It is not the answer that some people want – I get it. But, then again, I did not support shutting down N.W.A. and Ice-T for their anti-police raps. Or Tipper Gore putting warning labels on my music albums in the late 1980s. Efforts to shut down offensive music did not work. Efforts to shut down offensive alt-right speakers will not work either.
At the same time, taking the high ground has its virtues. The letter notes, “We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff, and alumni, strongly object to the Davis College Republican’s invitation to host Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Davis on January 13th…”
They continue, “Milo Yiannopoulos is well known for his espousal of racist, sexist, and islamophobic hate speech targeted towards numerous members of our campus community.”
Instead of DEMANDING “that campus administrators and the Davis College Republicans cancel this event” and arguing, “The use of campus facilities and resources to host and therefore legitimize a white nationalist runs completely counter to the stated goals of the University of California and serves as a direct threat towards traditionally marginalized groups on campus,” they should have turned this on the College Republicans.
They should have said something like we are appalled that the College Republicans would ask a man who has espoused racist and sexist views to speak at UC Davis. Is that what the College Republicans stand for?
By doing that, the issue would not be about free speech, the issue would be about guilt by association. The weak link here is the College Republicans – is this man what they are about? I await their answer.
—David M. Greenwald reporting