Milo, Revisited

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.”

Something I pointed out a while ago.

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…

Milo vs. Maher and the Logistics of Trolling

“In this world, every act is a political act.”

-Andrew Sullivan, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This weekend’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher created a bit of controversy when Maher decided to have a one-on-one feature interview with writer and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional provocateur or, in more prosaic terms, a troll. Yiannopoulos is an Englishman of Greek descent who has his hair styled and frosted in such a way that he resembles David Bowie, specifically Bowie just before he realized that endorsing fascism was a terrible mistake.

Yiannopoulos had already been a controversial figure for his “alt-right”, anti-feminist and pro-Donald Trump statements, to the extent that his planned speech at Berkeley got cancelled after violent protests. With regard to this interview, Maher’s other guest, left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill, refused to appear on this week’s show specifically because it would give Yiannopoulos attention – which of course only gave him more attention. This was something that Maher himself pointed out to Milo when he said, “You are so helped by the fact that liberals always take the bait.”

But in the body of the interview, Maher went over the issue of Yiannopoulos’ provocative stance and “I’m just kidding” demeanor. He said, “I think a lot of people miss your humor, and I’m a guy who always defends jokes- right up to the point that they pointlessly hurt people.” Maher went on to say that he DID hurt some people intentionally, for the sake of the truth, and Milo concurred that “I hurt people for a reason.” But then Milo got to explain his perspective: “The reason (the Left) want to police humor, which is very important to both of us, is that they can’t control it. What all authoritarians hate is the sound of laughter.” And Maher responded, “And also because when people laugh, they know it’s true… laughter is involuntary.”

Which is actually a good measure to start with when examining good humor versus bad humor and “good” trolling (what Yiannopoulos would call ‘virtuous’ trolling) from bad trolling.

For instance, along with Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was famous for writing the essay, “A Modest Proposal”  in which he proposed that babies be sold and eaten as food. This was NOT ACTUALLY MEANT as an endorsement of eating babies. It was rather an attack on the contemporary culture of the English-occupied Ireland where Swift lived: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”  In other words, to “get the joke” you have to have a finely developed sense of sarcasm, which, to take Maher’s implication, means a sense of how the joke contrasts with reality.  But in the 4chan culture of the alt-right, irony is so overused that one’s sense of sarcasm is burned out, since most participants don’t have much engagement with the real world of consequences to begin with.

So when you are capable of getting the comparison between satire and reality, your satire works.  If you have to explain a joke, then it’s not very funny.  Likewise, if you have to explain why your offensive statement is “just kidding” then either it’s not a very good joke or you were being disingenuous about something you really believe.  One of the reasons Milo creates such disgust (and often creates sympathy for his targets) is not only that his jokes are often unfunny, but that he is taken as inspiration by people who are not joking at all.  Last year, when Saturday Night Live stars Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and former star Kristin Wiig did an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters with Melissa McCarthy, this attracted a lot of ire from a mostly male section of the fan community who acted like this very concept ruined their childhood.  (I’ve seen the movie, and while it’s not going to make anyone forget the original, it’s actually pretty good in itself.)  But this hate got that much worse towards Jones, who is black.  Several Twitter posters compared her to Harambe and other gorillas.  As it happened, Milo (under his Twitter handle ‘nero’) had not only egged on the anti-Ghostbusters campaign but had posted Jones’ Twitter address so as to get his fans to let her have it.  And because that was not the first time that “nero” was reported for violating Twitter’s terms of service, the medium banned his account permanently.

That is impressive in itself. Getting kicked off of Twitter for being an insensitive troll is like Dave Mustaine getting kicked out of Metallica for drinking too much.

But then you see the difference between “good” trolling and bad trolling. Calling Leslie Jones a gorilla isn’t necessarily “punching down” when, as Milo points out, she’s a fairly successful celebrity. The question is, what’s the point? This isn’t a punchline where you tell the joke and everybody gets it. Unless the punchline you want to convey is “(I think that) Leslie Jones is an ape.” Which means the punch line is “I’m a racist and I expect that to be socially acceptable.”

I have already mentioned how normalizing bad behavior only serves to make that the standard, and how that point USED to be a conservative argument. Encouraging the fellow travelers 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.

I cannot put this point any better than J.K. Rowling did. See, the week before the Milo interview, Real Time With Bill Maher previously made news when Maher had Australian comic Jim Jeffries on a panel with British “journalist” and professional twit Piers Morgan, talking about Donald Trump’s order against immigration from seven Muslim countries, and when Morgan insisted to Maher that “there is no Muslim ban,” Jeffries responded, “Oh, fuck off.” And then Harry Potter author Rowling got on her Twitter account to say, “Yes, watching Piers Morgan being told to fuck off on live TV is *exactly* as satisfying as I’d always imagined. ” To which Morgan sniffed that he’d never read Harry Potter books. (When it turned out that he had.)  Rowling responded,  “.@piersmorgan If only you’d read Harry Potter, you’d know the downside of sucking up to the biggest bully in school is getting burned alive.”

That’s what it comes down to. At some point there is a line to draw. And that is why, whatever my issues with the Left and the moribund Democratic Party, I do not endorse Trump, Trumpism and what calls itself “conservatism”, not even in an antinomian, punk rock, “Belsen Was a Gas” kind of way.  Because some of the people cheering the joke don’t think it’s a joke.

But maybe I’m overthinking this. See, I’ve done some online research into Milo’s history with a website he co-founded, called The Kernel, now owned by The Daily Dot, and it turns out Yiannopoulos has a dark past. No, not his status as openly gay AND openly Catholic and guilty about his own sexuality and “lifestyle.” I mean his dangerous brushes with tolerance and liberalism. Specifically, he wrote an essay for The Kernel in 2012 called: “The internet is turning us all into sociopaths.”  And in it, he writes, among other things: “There has always been abuse on the internet, but, before the social revolution, it was largely restricted to anonymous comment threads, message boards and chat rooms. Any site owner who allowed anonymous comments could reasonably be held responsible, morally and legally, for the content appearing on his site.

But now there is a disturbing bleed from anonymous hatred to defamatory and spiteful language being posted under the authors’ real names using their social networking profiles. It’s as if our usual moral safeguards are being broken down by a terrifying new online landscape in which the default mode of communication is a form of attack. … It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol.


At which point, my response to Milo would be: “So… what happened?”