And what is that issue exactly?
It can be summed up in this quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall:
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Or if you prefer Oscar Wilde’s take:
“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
These quotes encapsulate my feelings about Milo, yet as I read and learn more about him, and the myriad of controversies he finds himself in, I find this sentiment lacking. Instead, I’m essentially presented with a list of reasons why he shouldn’t be allowed to say what he does.
(As a disclaimer, I’m a liberal leftie so I vehemently disagree with Milo on pretty much everything).
The real issue is the balance between freedom of speech, freedom against hate and freedom to disagree with one another (but still be able to co-exist peacefully). These three elements represent a very tight balancing act, and one that I don’t think we’re achieving at the moment.
Let’s dive in a little bit deeper.
We all know of freedom of speech. But freedom of speech comes with a big, giant asterisk. That asterisk goes along the lines of “as long as you’re not attacking a person or group of people based on attributes such as their sex, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation and so on.” Because that stuff right there veers from freedom of speech, to hate speech.
As a gay guy who has been afforded protections based on this provision, I see the value in it. As a liberal leftie, I also defend it because I think it’s the right thing morally. No one should be singled out, shamed, mocked, threatened, bullied or harassed because of one part of who they are.
Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and hate speech is kind of like trying to drink a cup of hot coffee while you’re driving in a carpark, trying not to spill any while you’re going over the speed bumps. It’s tough. And sometimes you can end up scalding yourself.
Enter political correctness. For me, being PC is fine because it aligns with my values. For others, like Milo, they see it as limiting their free speech. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong here. This perception divide exists, and it has since the 90s.
For the past few decades, voices have been silenced. Opinions that aren’t politically correct have slowly been removed, or at least reduced, from many spheres of public life. Any non-PC comments tend to be quickly squashed and apologized for.
Cut to today and the age of the internet. These days, the voices that were once silenced can find places online where others, who share their views, can connect. Whether it’s conservative news outlets, alt-right websites or the toilet bowl of the internet, chat forums – technology has broken down the barriers between us, for better and for worse.
That’s why blocking, banning, firing or silencing Milo won’t work. He’s already been blocked from Twitter. But there are other social media channels he can use. Lost a book deal? There’s a good chance he’ll find another publisher. No longer contributing to Breitbart? He can start his own website with just a few mouse clicks.
The point is – Milo’s not going anywhere. So the question becomes, how do we respond?
I mentioned before the right to have freedom against hate. And this is one area where I admit, I don’t know how to achieve this.
A classic example of this is Milo getting banned from Twitter for trolling actress Leslie Jones. Whose rights take precedence here? Milo’s right to free speech, or Leslie’s right to not experience hatred and have a safe space? This is a tricky one and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
I do have a couple of thoughts though on how we, as a gay community, might consider responding to Milo.
Milo isn’t our chosen representative so we can make it clear that his views don’t reflect our views. But that same argument can be applied to us lefties too. Our views don’t represent the entire gay community either.
The gay community has no democratically elected leaders or spokespeople. So it’s safe to say no one ever speaks for all of us. We’re a pretty diverse bunch. We’re going to have a wide range of viewpoints and opinions. We have to accept that. And we have to accept Milo.
Again, accepting him doesn’t mean agreeing with him. But his views are his own, and he’s entitled to them. And whether we like it or not, there are people – within our own community – who also share those views.
Now we could shun them and push them aside. But they’ll just find other places to go and other avenues to channel their expression into. In many cases, becoming shunned and an outcast gets ironically twisted into becoming their strength and support rallying cry. (Hello: Donald Trump in the US, Nigel Farage in the UK and Pauline Hanson in Australia).
Milo Yiannopoulos is just one person, expressing his opinions. We need to find a way to let him do that, while expressing counter opinions and arguments that show how wrong and without merit so many of his positions are. That’s no quick or easy to achieve this, but surely it’s worth a try?
I’m going to finish with a quote I came upon just recently. Since reading it, it has started to shape and change the way I see things. In many ways, it’s what allowed me to write this article. It’s my hope that if more people adopt this attitude, we might all be able to get on a bit better (or at least hate each other a bit less).
“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge… is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.”