Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Encomium of Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo Yiannopoulos. He is many things to many people: darling to the alt-right, scourge to SJWs, receptacle to black wangs. Transcendently polarizing, he is adored and vituperated in seemingly equal measure.

Nearly everything that Milo says and does is, by careful design, outlandishly offensive. He has elevated online trolling to an art form, so successfully so that Twitter has found it necessary on now two occasions to single him out for draconian and undeserved punishment. All of this only to discover that Milo is the Hydra, and Twitter is no Hercules: after he was stripped of his verification credential, his popularity soared on social media; after a permanent ban, he's now practically a household name. Since the ban, anyone literate enough to string words together has either rushed to his aid or gleefully celebrated his demise.

Yet whatever you think of Milo Yiannopoulos, he is necessary.

If you hadn't heard his name before this week and all you know about him is that he was banned from Twitter for a spat with actress Leslie Jones, take a moment to explore the rich tapestry that is his journalistic body of work before writing him off as an insensitive, misogynistic, fat-shaming xenophobe. For, you see, behind the bleach-blonde facade of targeted abuse and flame-fanning, Milo exudes an indispensable commodity: well-argued unpopular opinion.

I don't agree with Milo about very much. I'll admit to being endlessly entertained by his outrageous slanders and take-downs of feminism, for example, but our views are decidedly more divergent than concordant. I need only point to our respective views on the candidacy of Donald Trump (or "Daddy," as Milo disturbingly refers to him) as a case in point. Yet it is this dissenting worldview, this contradiction of many of my intuitions and values (he famously enjoys trolling atheists) that earns my attention. Milo Yiannopoulos is what so many people on the liberal (and regressive) left desperately need - an echo-chamber-shattering contrarian - though few seem to realize it.

We all benefit from a fecund and cosmopolitan marketplace of ideas. There is no societal progress without discussion, without disagreement. There is no personal growth without exploring the possibility that our most deeply-held and strongly-believed views are categorically mistaken. Yet in our online communities we stake out little agreeable enclaves of safe space and populate them exclusively with others amenable to our worldviews. We slap labels onto other people as an excuse not to have to interact with them intellectually or consider any viewpoints diametrically opposed to our own.

A glance around any social media platform will reveal the grim consequences of this behavior - a world in which narrative has supplanted reality.

This is a world that needs Milo Yiannopoulos. A world that needs someone who will embark on a "Most Dangerous Faggot" tour and go to college campuses and declare confidently that "feminism harms women," or "Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization," or "being gay is a choice," or "the gender wage gap is a myth," or "Angela Merkel's immigration policy is a disaster," or "free speech is under assault on college campuses." Not because these statements are necessarily true, but because you'll never even consider whether they're true unless someone forces you to. Is the gender wage gap real? How do you know? Have you ever really looked into it? Could you hold your own in a discussion with someone in possession of a mountain of facts and figures, or would you end up sounding like an imbecile?

There are three ways to handle Milo Yiannopoulos. The first is to ban him from voicing his opinions. This is what many college campuses have done and what Twitter has most recently and most famously done. This generally results in a massive increase in his visibility and popularity, which is precisely what happens whenever anyone bans anything. The second is to dismiss his views outright without consideration or to ignore him. This is a possible option, although Milo is not easily ignored. The third (and in my view the most productive) is to engage with him and his ideas. If you think he's entirely backwards about something, try to prove him wrong. He has even done you the favor of articulating exactly how to beat him. It's not easy - it requires remaining calm, removing emotions from the discussion, waiting for your turn to speak, and doing your homework. This is how discussion takes place in civilized society, and if Milo Yiannopoulos is the only person left who understands this, then we need to let him speak.

Besides, just look at him. #FreeMilo