Milo Yiannopoulos has had a very bad week. First his keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference was cancelled, then his $250,000 book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster was rescinded, and finally he was forced to resign from Breitbart, the far-right publication where he was employed as technology editor, after colleagues threatened to quit if he stayed on.
For years, Milo has been spewing the worst kind of hate, so it’s no surprise that the schadenfreude — full of righteous pomp and glee — is practically palpable. Those who hate everything he stands for are now happy to see him humbled. While I understand the inclination, I’m less interested in him (after all, he’s not really going anywhere) and more interested in how this fiasco reveals the right’s hypocrisy.
The man who has been peddled around by the alt-right and Conservatives (in this country Ezra Levant has declared “#JeSuisMilo”, while Barbara Kay fawned all over him in a recent cringe-worthy column) as the de facto martyr and poster boy for freedom of speech was finally brought down by a year-old video where he seems to be totally fine with pederasty and pedophilia. This was the line in the sand for Conservatives, and Milo crossed it.
Under the lofty guise of defending someone’s right to say what they want, you allowed your prejudices and dislike of social movements that aim to equalize the playing field for marginalized minorities to find a voice in Milo’s hate. You called it “refreshing” and “candid” and a “strike against PC culture.” Milo allowed you to channel your distrust and hatred of feminism and Black Lives Matter and anything that challenges the status quo under the loftier and convenient pretence of saving people from being silenced.
It also bears remembering that if you think anyone opposed to Yiannopoulos’ particular brand of bigotry is a lover of censorship and authoritarianism you don’t really understand the definition of free speech.
Freedom of speech is, simply put, the right to speak freely without fear of government censorship or retaliation.
Freedom of speech is essentially there to protect dissidents from government censorship and the political power to silence. It’s not there to act as a safe space for hateful, racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-Semites who use public forums for financial gain, an ego boost, and notoriety. Going to colleges and giving speeches where you encourage your audience to harass transgender people and undocumented students isn’t freedom of speech. It’s inciting hate, breeding contempt for others and encouraging physical and emotional violence.
Most importantly, freedom of speech does not imply freedom from the consequences of said speech. Milo wasn’t silenced. He’s free to speak and say whatever he wants. You, in turn, are free to listen to him and read anything he chooses to write. But he’s not entitled to an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference or Berkeley, or a book deal, or an account on Twitter. Those are things that can be given and taken away. Sometimes free speech is also free in the sense that no one’s going to pay you for it.
Despite what many conservative pundits would have you believe, we’re not living in an era where speech is silenced and censored. We don’t have to watch everything we say, and no one’s kowtowing to the “thought police” and being vilified for their desire to debate difficult issues. If anything, the rise of Brietbart, and Milo’s invitation onto mainstream TV shows by hosts such as Bill Maher, prove that we’re giving way too much space to the outrageous and the hateful, all for the sake of shocking audiences and boosting TV ratings.
We’re not dealing with a brilliant intellect who is sharing hard-to-digest truths that need protection from the subpar intellects of the hoi polloi and a regressive government that fears him. Milo’s a professional provocateur who lives to incite outrage. He ceases to exist if you don’t react to him. Spend some time listening to his interviews or reading his columns and you’ll quickly realize that there is very little the man won’t say or do in the constant quest to troll, shock, and outrage people. Intellectually speaking, there isn’t much there to analyze, admire, or process. Bill Maher’s assertion that Milo’s a younger version of Christopher Hitchens is both absurd and insulting. Hitchens would have eaten Milo for breakfast.
Milo’s very bad week is neither a long-term victory for the left nor a brutal blow to the right. While it’s certainly exposed Conservatives for the free-speech hypocrites they are, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the man who hired Milo Yiannopoulos in 2014 at Breitbart is the same man who’s busy advising Donald Trump in the White House. Milo is a shiny, giggling, Coco Chanel bead-wearing bauble that should not distract from the ugliness of the real political influence Steve Bannon is exerting behind the scenes.