Milo Yiannopoulos: An Unexamined Life

On Tuesday November 1st, Milo Yiannopoulos, the flamboyant “alt-right” provocateur, visited Dartmouth College to deliver a speech titled “In Defense of Hazing.” In addition to supporting the practice of hazing itself, Milo derided feminist attempts to stifle what he views as healthy masculine behavior expressed in fraternities. Along the way, Mr. Yiannopoulos drank a flask labeled “piss,” was waterboarded by his staff, and called multiple female Dartmouth administrators “dykes.” Clearly, Milo embraces a unique form of political discourse. The self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot” finds traditional methods of discussion to be quite dull. Instead, Milo employs an irreverent and provocative style to crusade against political correctness and the cultural left. While this approach appeals to many who have felt scorned by progressivism, we believe that it is counterproductive in the quest to defend and spread conservative principles. In particular, we question the cohesiveness of Milo’s ideas and dispute the methods with which he communicates them: Mr. Yiannopoulos’ reliance on crass ad hominem arguments and ridicule is a basic indication of the crudeness of his philosophy.

Milo Yiannopoulos

One of the principal reasons we find Milo’s method of discussion unproductive is that he rarely fully develops his ideas. It is one thing to use unconventional rhetoric in the service of a consistent ideology, but one would be hard-pressed to discover one underneath Milo’s invective. He has no need to see a string of logic to its end because he often has no substantial conclusions to make. As a result, he wavers between a number of different issues while taking cheap jabs at his intellectual opponents. While amusing to his audience, this tactic does nothing to advance his ideology. For example, he calls this election “a pitched battle between men and women” then asserts that Hillary Clinton embodies all of the classical female virtues, “right down to the scissoring.” After the audience roared in disbelieving laughter, Milo went on to call Huma Abedin “quite hot” and insinuated that she and Ms. Clinton are having an affair. After this tangent, Milo began discussing the election in conventional terms, without returning to his original claim that the election was a battle between men and women. This episode is typical of Milo’s rhetorical style. He makes a claim, ridicules people to his audience’s amusement, then moves on to a different point. This process occurs again after he makes a foundational claim for his lecture on hazing: men and women relate to each other in different ways. He argues that men bond by taunting each other, whereas women are more “sort of vicious backstabbers…like gays.” This use of humor detracts from his argument and conveniently excuses him from having to make a serious argument about the way women form bonds. The result of this rhetorical style is an unfocused lecture where few claims are truly developed.

The few claims Milo attempts to develop are often hyperbolic arguments that lack nuance. He equates media outrage about the Trump’s lewd conversation with Billy Bush with an assault on “ordinary masculine nonsense.” He argues that those who condemn Trump’s comments all do so because he is politically incorrect and doesn’t care about micro-aggressions. Obviously, this is untrue. One can condemn brutish speech without subscribing to leftist speech codes. But this type of intellectually shallow hyperbole is common throughout his lecture. Milo argues hazing is “far too masculine for…lesbianic feminist administrators to cope with.” He goes on to argue that putting these “lesbians” in charge of college students’ developments is equivalent to putting Hitler in charge of a museum of Jewish antiquities. It’s only after he made this series of outrageous comments that we arrived at some semblance of a substantiated argument: it is not the university’s role to police language and sexual development. As soon as he articulates this point, however, he switches focus and argues that masculinity benefits women. Mr. Yiannopoulos’ constant use of humor and short attention span prevent him from developing crucial parts of his argument, to the detriment of thematic cohesion.

Mr. Yiannopoulos also professes a wrongheaded theory of political and social change. He believes that it is effective to attack people, not ideas. He intends in this way to shift social discourse rightwards. His violation of social norms is meant to induce a shift in the Overton Window: that which is within the allowable bounds of discussion. On the surface this would seem to justify some of the more egregious parts of the “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” If Mr. Yiannopoulos is pursuing a desirable end, his method might be thought of as less concerning. His theory needs testing, however, and an analysis will find it wanting.

Does attacking leftists really shift the common discourse rightward? The answer is no. The distinction lies in the qualifier “common” – attacking leftists personally may well incline the already-converted towards a more strident and unapologetic conservatism, but it also will incline those on the left towards a more strident and unapologetic leftism. The extreme left on campus already thoughtlessly conflates political ideas with personal attacks; A well-known political figure insulting them in actuality will only further alienate leftists and polarize discussion. There is no surer way to shut down debate than to insult someone. The apathetic or undecided middle, who haven’t yet made up their political minds, will see the spectacle of Mr. Yiannopoulos and be justifiably repulsed. Even among people who are right-wing, Mr. Yiannopoulos does not so much shift the discourse towards the right as shift it towards vulgarity and abuse. There is a distinction between weakening political norms and all social norms. Milo sacrifices all of the benefits of the former in favor of the latter. What Milo proposes in an already polarized society is not a shifting of norms but rather their destruction. Just like a community, a conversation needs two people who share certain basic standards, and the project of Mr. Yiannopoulos is to attack those standards and eviscerate the basis of dialogue and thereby community.

A more obvious problem with Mr. Yiannopoulos’ theory is that it is immoral. Even if it actually shifts the discourse rightward, gratuitously insulting people and not ideas is still rude. To condemn Milo’s display is not to condemn what he describes as the “vitality” or the “energy” of the right. It is good sometimes to take less seriously the strictures of social decorum; however, to insult people constantly and to disregard basic courtesy is morally condemnable. The fact that Mr. Yiannopoulos cannot recognize this as such speaks volumes.

 Moreover, Mr. Yiannopoulos’ theory of shifting social norms recognizes only destructive argumentation, and ignores its productive counterpart. Mr. Yiannopoulos attempts to tear down norms without arguing for their replacement. What is to replace PC? What is to replace courtesy in discourse? What is the alternative to leftism? He leaves his audience without resolution. This should be deeply concerning to any intellectually honest observer. Milo is playing with fire; what if the new social norms are worse than the previous ones? Milo might even be culpable as an arsonist; rudeness and vulgarity would seem to encourage the production of an even less friendly discourse.

Another problem with destructive argumentation alone is that in order to truly think about ideas, one has to propose something. To hold a system of ideas in the mind is to see in what manner they interrelate. It fosters nuance and understanding. Milo’s lack of any coherent counter-proposal is an indication that he has not thought deeply about conservatism, and his lack of any counter-proposal deprives his audience of the same benefit. To argue constructively is more difficult than to argue destructively, it is therefore also more rewarding and convincing. Part of the problem with the “Dangerous Faggot Tour” is that there is little that might lead students towards an examination of their beliefs. If Milo argued for something instead of against something that might not be the case.

Mr. Yiannopoulos purports to be a valuable ally in the fight against political correctness. But political correctness, in itself, cannot be called an evil unless it suppresses the truth. We all should hope to live in a society where some actions are socially marginalized: racism, pedophilia, islamofascism – all of these ought to be relegated to the margins of society. Political correctness is a problem because it seeks to bypass true debate and dialogue that has not yet been completed. But Mr. Yiannopoulos’ agenda is not an attack on political correctness, it is an attack on all social norms of speech.  His modus operandi is to be so offensive in mannerism as to obscure the shallowness of his ideas. Indeed, his tactics replicate the PC mechanisms that he opposes. Any attack on his views he rebuffs as “cucked,” any objection to his language is “PC.” Mr. Yiannopoulos does not attack Political Correctness – he violates common standards of decency and kindness. A right that stands for cruelty is a right that will continue losing the major political and moral battles of our time.

Defenders of Mr. Yiannopoulos claim that his actions are justified by the principles of free speech. This is patently wrong. Yes, controversial speech plays a valuable role in reminding us that we live in an open society in which no views may be legally suppressed. But we also have a duty to condemn speech that we find morally opprobrious. Indeed, Mr. Yiannopoulos does a great disservice to the principles of free speech: personal attacks serve only to close off the dialogue he claims to desire.

We owe it to ourselves to honestly examine the actions of Mr. Yiannopoulos. He owes it to all of us to do the same. It is impossible here to find anything but weak ideas surrounded by unjustifiable insults. Whoever confuses the strength of Mr. Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric with the strength of his philosophy makes a basic mistake. He uses insults to cover logical leaps. He makes kindness the enemy of truth. He praises the “classical virtues;” he embodies none of them. He is not courageous. His is a sort of false courage, a claim to bravado that is proven empty by the intellectual cowardice of his tactics. And it is impossible to call him temperate. Is the virtue of temperance expressed in a man who seems to seek the very extreme? In a man who openly revels in his own hedonism? Wisdom has no purchase in the sort of man who revels in his own contradictions. There is no seeking of truth, only a desire for “fun,” for comedy, for entertainment. There is no wisdom in Milo. There is only the vulgar spectacle, however attractive, of one man’s unexamined life.

  • Dan Borchers

    Milo is just one of many flamboyant Alt-Righters.

    Many of the Alt-Right hold a neo-Confederate worldview which emphasizes blood and soil above all else and runs counter to the Constitution.

    See new book – #NeverTrump: Coulter’s Alt-Right Utopia – now on AMAZON at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M9JQU7Q/.

    • nps_ca

      Irony is this so called revolutionary isn’t even a US citizen, the alt-right taking advice from a foreigner – his play in this election is a little over extended but loved by those in that same thought of the world.

  • Daniel Duerst

    Check out this INSANE footage of the anti Milo protest @ DePaul University. https://youtu.be/vn-l3C8kn94?list=PLoQTg3myRNTeBbH_wcuw6VEX77ZiFst8H

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