Saturday, February 25, 2017

Laurie Penny's Spiteful, Censorious Take On Milo

As I hope I made clear Wednesday, Milo Yiannopoulos has earned the social opprobrium that has resulted in rather severe commercial consequences for his career, i.e. it appears extinct. Yet whenever I read anything by Laurie Penny and agree with large parts of it, my immediate reflex is to ask whether I've missed something. I can answer that now with a "no" with respect to Milo's behavior, but in nearly every other aspect, Penny's analysis is plainly wrong.

First, it's important to lay out the areas of agreement. They are two:
But that is the end of it. The serial misandrist employs the worst epithet in her arsenal against his camp followers, labeling them "sweaty teenage trolls". Men are bad enough, but in their protean form, intolerable, something she emphasizes with a snide, cheap shot at Dungeons & Dragons players. She imagines a deeply, obviously wrong reason why an openly gay man might find acceptance among religious conservatives — "for all that the American right likes to show off pet homosexuals to prove its modernity, it turns out that it still hates gays" — which fails to consider how it is that such a flamboyantly open homosexual could have gotten where he is in the first place. (Walter Olson's explanation makes the most sense of any: briefly, Yiannopoulos confesses his sin but embraces the mother church, which plays better with certain religious conservatives than culturally-conservative-but-not-sinning Log Cabin Republicans.) She looks deep into the soul of a Milo fan, and sees only bigotry (emboldening mine, as usual):
It is horribly ironic that of all the disgusting nonsense Yiannopoulos has said — about women, about Muslims, about transgender people, about immigrants — it is only now that the moderate right appears to have reached the limits of what it will tolerate in the name of free speech. The hypocrisy is clarion-clear: This was never, in fact, about free speech at all. It was about making it OK to say racist, sexist, transphobic, and xenophobic things, about tolerating the public expression of those views right up to the point where it becomes financially unwise to do so.
How is it that the "moderate right" was responsible for expelling him from a CPAC address? Were they the same ones who threatened to resign from Breitbart if he didn't?  In the end, it's just another label for her to feel superior to, just as she declares "Milo Yiannopolous [sic], possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist", as though the rest of them are. (Presumably, Penny feels guilty about her racism, and of course we need not ask her about sexism.) Too, she fails at understanding what it is that finally felled Milo. She chalks it all up to moral conservatism, rather than Milo's ambiguity and indifference to appearance. Even in apology, he failed to understand what he appeared to defend.

But what is most puzzling about that passage is her claim that Milo was never about free speech. We see this directly here:
Rewind two weeks. It’s a wet night in Berkeley, California, and Yiannopoulos is running away from the left. He was scheduled to speak at the University of California–Berkeley, but the event has been shut down. It was shut down because thousands of anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters decided that there should be no platform for what they called white supremacy. They are marching to say that free speech does not extend to hate speech, that the First Amendment should not oblige institutions to invite professional trolls to spout an auto-generated word-salad of Internet bigotry just for fun, and that, if the institutions disagree, students and allies are entitled to throw fireworks and smash things until the trolls run away. Which is exactly what has happened.
 People actually smashing things, exercising the heckler's veto, silencing the "trolls" — these people receive not a word of vituperation or contempt from her, unlike everyone else in this essay. Does her conception of "free speech" include "hate speech", whatever that is? For all she claims she opposes "no platforming", she clearly granted herself some wiggle room when she wrote, "I think no-platforming is a bad tactic in almost all circumstances." Almost all. We do not know the precise dimensions of that space, but we can guess them, and they fill a void near the size of Milo Yiannopoulos. Why does she think she should be able to demand, at some website where the user base clearly opposes her opinions (viciously and crudely), she should be able to moderate comments out of existence she finds offensive? Hers is the voice of an expansionist and totalitarian view of speech that uses "safe spaces" as a sword; it is not the voice of tolerance. As with Anita Sarkeesian, whose censorious tendencies only became explicit censorship advocacy through her work with the ITU, the answer may come eventually, whenever an opportunity arises.

Update 2017-02-27: this is good:
So why are conservatives cozying up to such hideousness? The best explanation they offer is that inviting someone so beyond the pale will shatter the tight boundaries drawn by political correctness and open the space for a wider airing of ideas. But the problem is that by using a stink bomb like Yiannopoulos they'll make their own ideas malodorous. Who will take conservative praise of civility, tradition, family values, manners, honor, moderation, and dignity seriously if a 31-year-old, out-of-control adolescent is their champion?

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