Since Bill Maher’s controversial decision to have Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos appear on his HBO Real Time show, events sort of exploded on Milo like a bad money shot. The conservative (?) site Reagan Battalion reposted a video from last year in which Yiannopoulos endorsed pedophilia in terms of his own relationship with a Catholic priest when he was a teenager. The backlash from this required CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) to disinvite the alt-right darling from this month’s yearly convention, subsequent to which Milo resigned his position at Breitbart (apparently it was either that or get pushed). Maher, as is his wont, took credit for Milo’s downfall, on the grounds that exposing offensive individuals is proof that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
As it turns out, the reason the tape surfaced was because it was brought to light by a teenager in Canada who is described in Vox as right of center but disturbed by what was happening to the conservative movement. The girl seemed to recall an event where Yiannopoulos gave a Devil’s Advocate endorsement of pedophilia in the Church and by extension other man-boy relationships, in the same way that I recalled an researched an essay from the not too distant past where Milo said that social media trolling was hurtful and ought to be discouraged.
But when conservatives get embarrassed, rather than admit it or engage in self-reflection, they pull defensive schemes like the “they did it too” fallacy. Milo posted a video where Star Trek veteran and gay rights advocate George Takei talked about his formative experience with an adult when he was 14 years old. And Maher, an arch-liberal who nevertheless professes to loathe “political correctness” and has said very “incorrect” things about Islam, is a target of both the Left and the Right. So it’s no surprise that people went to the effort to dig up a tape of his old show where he defended the pedophile teacher Mary Kay Letourneau. But in response to attacks, this week on Real Time, Maher simply pointed out that if it was bad to give Milo an audience, “Donald Trump was the apotheosis of the alt-right, and the media gave him the biggest platform ever.”
Still, the contrast makes it at least seem like there’s a double standard. Is it okay for Maher and Takei to endorse something that fellow travelers gutted Milo over?
No, but that’s dodging the point. For one thing, Maher was doing the same thing with Letourneau that he was doing with Milo: playing Devil’s Advocate himself. Even if one accepts that on a rhetorical level, it’s still wrong. Maher and Takei seem to avoid the point that even if a juvenile consents to sex with an adult, the law still considers it statutory rape. While one might posit that an individual might be in position to consent, there’s a reason that the legal concept of statutory rape exists, and there isn’t a serious legal or moral challenge to it.
In any case, I don’t think either Maher or Takei went so far as to “out” a trans woman at a university speech the way Milo did, nor did they, as Milo allegedly did, wish to use their speeches as an opportunity to expose illegal immigrants on campus.
So if you’re a “conservative” and you still think you can win this case of tu quoque… I have a wall on the border I’d like to sell you.
In fact, I would argue that the main double standard is one imposed by conservatives on themselves. It is possible for a conservative to be a hypocrite, but not a liberal. But that is because hypocrisy means disloyalty to what one actually believes, whereas liberals don’t really believe in anything except getting what they want. In politics, most Democrats don’t believe in “progressive” principles more than they believe in getting elected, and then getting re-elected, to which extent they will twist their prior positions around more than a pretzel. Similarly, with civilians like Takei and Maher, you can’t see them endorse a culture of libertinism and act too surprised. Tied into this is a general perception among mainstream liberals that “morality” on public matters should concern practical issues more than matters of conscience. For instance, most Catholic Democrats, like Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine, are considered to personally agree with the Church’s position against abortion, but are pro-choice insofar as they think the state should not be making that decision for others. Liberals (and some libertarians) do not consider that hypocrisy, but a proper regard for what decisions should be made on a public level.
But when conservatives are more and more convinced that personal morality is the same as political morality, when they publicly contradict said morality, that becomes an issue, both by their standards and the public-agenda standards of liberals. Milo is actually a case in point. However fabulously out he may have been, in his more serious moments he endorsed a fairly traditional defense of Catholicism and conservative morality. I refer here to an interesting piece on the Patheos site, which extensively quotes from video pieces where Yiannopoulos explains his defense of conservative Catholicism. The author tells the reader: “(Yiannopoulos’) goal is to reinforce Catholic guilt.” He later quotes Milo in regard to his fellow gays: “I don’t think gay people deserve any time to be bullies to settle into their position of authority and I think it does gay people a lot of damage to see these bitter, hysterical, nasty queens bullying and lecturing and hectoring ordinary people of faith. ”
For such rhetoric, a lot of Milo’s critics see where his gayness intersects with his conservatism. While he says, accurately, that people are complicated and that the Left often doesn’t acknowledge the “messy” contradictions within the individual, at the same time, these are contradictions, and not attempting to resolve them creates negative consequences whether or not you believe in sin. If a straight woman had a sex life like Milo, she would be in danger of venereal disease, and probably be subject to unwanted pregnancy. Unless of course she used either contraception or abortion, both of which conservative Catholics are against. Conservatives would generally prefer a pregnant woman keep her baby whether married or not, but this raises the prospect of an unprepared parent with no resources to take care of a family. And then such people go on about how children aren’t being raised right.
In fact one reason Milo’s critics on the Left despise him so much is that his flamboyance seems a calculated image that plays up a stereotype of gays that a lot of younger gays are less familiar with and do not embrace. In this respect he’s a sort of Stepin Fetchit who is loved by conservatives mainly because his negative and comedic traits justify a prejudice they already have.
Which is a practical reason why embracing hypocrisy is problematic. Just last week I said: “Encouraging the fellow travellers of actual fascists like Richard Spencer is not only dangerous in terms of who you let into government, it is immediately dangerous on a street level. It is that much more dangerous when you’re a flamboyant Brit who repeatedly brags about getting fucked by big black cock. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the racist Right or the Stalinist Left. With collectivists, it is far more dangerous to be their friend than their enemy, because you would expect your enemy to stab you in the back.” You are dealing with authoritarian people who define themselves mainly in terms of who they hate. And when you go out of your way to dismiss your opponents and make them into outright enemies, you can’t expect a lot of help when your “friends” inevitably turn on you for the hypocrisy they tolerated only as long as you were an asset to them.
I have a few conclusions on all this.
First, this is yet another case of why conservatism and libertarianism are not the same thing, and why conflating them is actually dangerous. Conservatism is tolerant only to the extent that tolerance and individualism ARE part of the classical liberal philosophy at the foundation of this country. However most conservatives, in this country and elsewhere, really hearken back to an older tradition where church and state were either not neatly separated or they were actually united. Libertarianism may share conservatism’s disdain for the Left and its often illiberal agenda, but it is liberal in the sense that it endorses the freedom of the individual to find their own identity, including sexual identity.
Two, however much conservatives and others might think that hypocrisy serves to uphold morality, it often serves more to justify immorality. Rather than endorse a culture of guilt or shame that creates a vicious cycle of “sinning”, we should endeavor to create a culture of responsibility that encourages the individual to give up bad behavior after recognizing its consequences to oneself and others.
Third, it’s still the case that hypocrisy does reveal that “conservatives” still have some boundaries. The Party of Trump might have allowed or endorsed a spokesman for sexism and racism, yet even they will draw the line at pedophilia.
I wonder if any of them have heard of Jeffrey Epstein…