Twitter suspended my 10-year, 5,000 follower account, apparently for asking Wil Wheaton a rhetorical question.
I haven’t always been the best behaved on Twitter, but have been for some years now as the platform, and my relationship with it have evolved.
To be suspended for such a silly reason, which doesn’t even breach any of their terms of service, is a bit of a shock but I’m not the only one. Twitter is suspending many people from the platform in a ‘purge’ which is barring people from all across the political spectra from having access to it.
In a horrible irony, many of the people who have been calling for more censorship (and who probably helped cause this to happen) have flounced off Twitter this month. They are demanding that the platform censor Alex Jones (of Info Wars fame) because of his conspiracy theory nonsense and the harassment and problems it has led to – even if not directed by Jones himself. They’re demanding even more censorship.
I consider myself aware of the implications and issues of the online space, I was a (relatively) early adopter of various aspects of the Internet, I have been a critic and have offered analyses of Internet culture and technology, and yet I was still blindsided by just how much of an effect this has had.
Why this is Serious
Stop for a moment and consider how much you use your social media. The odds are that Facebook, Twitter – or perhaps your Google account – describe the primary method by which you interact with the Internet. You use these things to communicate with your friends and family, to serve up exciting content, to follow celebrities, topics and content you like. Moreso even more than you likely use search engines.
Social Media has also become a tool of convenience for logging into third-party sites, games, comment sections and applications of all kinds. Media interactions – participation in culture, art, news – are all driven by social media.
It is also an essential aspect of a business, cheap marketing, providing support, finding people to do contract work, calling for artists, writers and so forth.
It’s a route to fame, notoriety and success – by going viral.
It’s essential for crowd-funding, Kickstarters, raising money for charities or personal emergencies. To many people and businesses, if you’re not on Social Media, then you don’t exist.
The Internet itself was a transformative technology, social media has been a transformative use of that technology, but our culture, laws and social ‘rules’ are lagging far behind that technology, and this lies at the root of most of our problems when it comes to that technology. The public square is in private hands, but we fail to understand this.
A Little Internet History (Web Portals)
Does anyone remember web portals?
Back in the earlier history of the Internet, this was how the significant sites of the time, like Yahoo or AOL, tried to provide usability to new users and to make the Internet less ‘scary’ by serving up content and links as a ‘front page’ to the Internet.
It didn’t work, it wasn’t personalised, and most people wanted to move well beyond that walled garden of advertising and the stories of the day that they decided you should know. That older way of doing things died off fairly rapidly.
How were people connecting with content? Mostly via email. Friends and family would send you links to something they thought you might find interesting. Unfortunately, this would also, often, include chain-emails and bloated files full of ‘funny’ images that took ages to download on dial-up but even so, your friends formed an informal Internet curation service of trusted links and material.
When social media finally took off, those companies – especially Facebook – found a way to monetise our trusted networks of friends, as well as to personalise advertising and to insert it into that trusted stream, gaining from second-hand trustworthiness via context.
Social Media is now your ‘frontpage to the internet’ with a great many people only really interacting with the internet via a handful of sites, social media topping the bill.
A Little Internet Futurity
China’s a bit ahead of the curve than the rest of us when it comes to the likely future of social media. China’s government is bringing in a ‘social credit’ system to identify good citizens and more and more China is integrating anything and everything they can with social media. If you’re in China’s cities and don’t have Aliexpress or WeChat Pay you often can’t even buy anything.
China is using this system to throttle people’s Internet, restrict their travel and to enact numerous other modes of social control. With your neighbours and friends enforcing your compliant behaviour because – in part – their reputation in the systems is interdependent with yours.
This system sounds horrific and dystopian – and it is – but it is just a governmentally formalised version of what is already happening here in the west.
Not a day goes by where we don’t hear about someone being fired for a bad joke, perhaps even made years ago. Businesses are now in the habit of checking applicants’ social media before offering them a job. The line between your personal and professional life is eroding, and it often doesn’t matter if what you’ve done or are doing is legal, a company might still fire someone for exercising fundamental human rights that are supposedly guaranteed.
Single Point of Failure
Different sites have different rules. Some will value free expression, many were founded with that as a fundamental principle (Youtube, Twitter) but have been beaten into submission by commercial interests and threats to their bottom line. When it comes to Social Media sites, it seems that you can have principles, audience and commercial viability – but you can only pick two.
Alternative sites have begun to spring up, but there’s something that they can’t – yet – overcome.
Whatever a site’s stance, whether it embraces free speech, political liberty, sexuality or not it just cannot sidestep the payment services.
You would think your money would be yours, that you could spend it on anything (legal) you wanted to, without repercussions. This is not how money in the modern age works, however. It’s a service, not something you own. The banks and payment services sit in judgement, and it’s their rules – not the law – that allows them to block payments, deny payments, charge higher fees, lock accounts and even to steal your money if they judge you’re engaged in ‘high risk’ or ‘immoral’ transactions.
People working in adult industries get hit by this all the time, but it has been spreading to the blockading of other content as well. The most recent case being Mastercard threatening to withdraw services from crowdfunding site Patreon if they did not block certain political commentators and sites from being funded via their service.
Echo Chambers & Prisons Become Camps
A massive problem with the modern Internet, one made worse by social media and its content algorithms, is the phenomenon of the ‘echo chamber’. We surround ourselves with people we like and trust, people who agree with us. This self-insulating behaviour is only natural, nobody likes to be disagreed with or proven wrong, but it’s vital that different ideas mix and battle and at its best, social media has fostered that kind of discussion. Not so much any more, however.
Increased commercial pressure has increased the demand to serve up what we ‘want’ to see, rather than what we need to see. Political polarisation and social polarisation have fed each other, forming a dangerous positive feedback loop. How often have you seen people post on their social media platforms that if you ‘disagree on X’ then you should unfollow them?
There has also been a proliferation of blocking lists. People are even proud of the fact that they cut off tens of thousands of people on the opposite side of even the pettiest of issues. The effect of this is to force even the people who work hard to expose themselves to other points of view, into ‘echo-prisons’.
We’re now seeing the next stage of this process of dangerous division, the audiences which used to mingle and battle on shared social platforms, are now moving onto their ‘
?6yt;[p’own platforms, some for the ‘left’, some for the ‘right’, segregated and policed to one degree or another (or just by their nature) so that interaction and discussions become even less likely.
As bad as things are now, they’re going to get worse if this goes on.
I’m sorry to say that there are no real solutions. My eyes have been open to all these problems for years, and I’ve done what I can to avoid becoming too reliant on any single platform and not to exist in an echo chamber.
I failed, via a combination of sheer convenience and the adverse actions of others.
We can’t force anyone to do anything; we can’t make anyone do anything. All we can do is – in and of ourselves – to try and act how we wish others did. It’s a cultural change that’s needed, and we can’t legislate or bully that into existence, though many continue to try.
If we want this to change we need to make sure that we, as individuals…
- Respect the right to free expression of people, even those with whom we disagree.
- Separate personal and professional lives and stop punishing people professionally for what they do personally.
- Support people, financially and socially, who foster conversations that reach across the fractures in modern society.
- Seek out ideas, arguments and sources of news and information that disagree with us.
- Be forgiving.
- Take personal and individual responsibility for what media we consume and how we react to it. Control our own feeds, block, mute and unfollow, rather than asking for people to be silenced.
- Spread these ideas, and hold others to these standards.
Many tout so-called ‘Alternative Tech’ (unfortunate name) as a solution to this. They say that people should move to new social platforms that will respect their free expression and which have this as a founding value.
Twitter and Youtube had free expression as founding values. It’s only a matter of time until commercial pressures or a buy out compromise these new players – if they’re a success.
Another problem is that the first settlers of new media are most often those forcibly excluded from other forms of social media. Unfortunately, even if they were banned illegitimately, that does tend to mean that Alternative Media gets colonised by conspiracy theorists, crazy people and political extremists. Something which gets in the way of site growth by creating bad – undeserved – reputations.
Lastly, the monetisation problem often hits Alt-Tech sites hard, forcing them – almost immediately – to bend the knee to the demands of the payment processors or to move to crypto-currency. The problem there is that crypto is not user-friendly and is overrun with scammers, spammers and incompatibility issues.
Of the alternatives that are available, Minds.com appears to be the most viable for social/micro-blogging and Bitchute for video. There’s still a long way to go for there to be any challengers to the primacy of Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, but the only way to change that is to use the alternatives, even while they’re imperfect.
We let these things get this powerful and this important, and we didn’t work to guarantee our rights and to make these companies live up to their professed values and obligations at the same time. The only way to create change is to do it ourselves, and that’s hard. Even understanding these things as well as I do, being aware of these problems, I was drawn into it and still managed to be shocked when the rug was yanked out from under me.
Social Media might seem trivial; you might well be able to get by without it – for now – but if you work online, rely on the internet in any significant way it is now critical and is only going to get more so as technology relentlessly marches on.
We need to make a concerted effort to update our social contracts and our laws to match this technological reality, and letting companies off the hook because they’re ‘private enterprises’ cannot be a valid excuse.
Still, it all starts with us.
‘SJW’ has become a cartoonish stereotype. ‘Regressive Left’ is dying on the vine as a term, thanks to its overuse in certain quarters and the absolute refusal of much of what – at least – calls itself the left to pause for even a moment of self-reflection. Still, these terms – even if used in scare quotes – retain utility, even if they switch some people off from what you’re saying the moment they come up. They retain usefulness because they describe a genuine phenomenon, a recognisable stereotype, a particular group of people.
It can be hard to explain to people the problem, the feeling of absolute betrayal that many ‘old school’ lefties harbour towards this new group, Lector-like dressed up in our severed faces. Ironically they call themselves progressive, and that’s why ‘Regressive Left’ is accurate – and stings them.
There’s a particular case-in-point that I think serves as a particularly graspable instance of their behaviour and distorted thought processes. One that I think may help people to get a grasp on what the ‘Regressive Left’ really is, why it’s regressive, and why it’s a betrayal of the traditions and values of the left.
That case-in-point is sex.
The modern ‘Regressive Left’ has an attitude towards sex and sexuality more often found in the evangelical right in times past and has even allied with the repressive and authoritarian right in their mutual goal of mandating and controlling people’s sexuality.
Anti-porn campaigners take tea with Conservative Party leaders and help shape internet censorship legislation and ‘porn passes’. Something that evidence suggests will only profit a handful of porn companies and may make sexual harassment and even rape more common, not less.
SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) inflate bogus stories about sex trafficking and encourage the adoption of the Nordic Model (criminalising clients) as a way of tackling sex work. This, like anti-drug legislation against the advice and erudite entreaty of experts, including actual sex workers who choose that way of life and all but beg for decriminalisation.
A Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, can – without a hint of self-awareness – simultaneously hail the Trump balloon (rightly) as a symbol of British commitment to free expression while banning pictures of a woman in a bikini from the London Underground. This while left, and right are, again, united in their determination to censor and control social media and to criminalise all manner of, harmless, online behaviour.
We have radical feminists trying to prevent trans participation in Pride, to the point of laying down in the road in protest and delaying the march. At the same time, we have others trying to control and mandate speech, neither camp being the kind of people who place personal liberty and choice at the top of their agenda.
In the world of kink, something I take no small amount of interest in, there are feminists trying to claim that BDSM is inherently misogynistic and patriarchal. This seems peculiar because BDSM includes femdom (something that some give a pass) and has explicit consent, something feminists often push, built-in, voluntarily. BDSM has been becoming ever more popular as unhappy housewives try to put their 50 Shades fantasies into practice and vanilla men, feeling unable to be masculine outside the kink scene, seek someplace they can be themselves.
That’s right. Conventional, entirely vanilla masculinity now – pretty much – qualifies as a fetish.
It didn’t used to be like this. The left used to be synonymous with libertine philosophy and allowing people to let their ‘freak flag fly’. It is for this reason that the left has long been seen as the ally of the LGBT(&c) community and why the liberal left has often been decried as ‘degenerate’ by the hard right. Now the hard left has their own term they give to excuse their censorship and authoritarianism; ‘Problematic’.
It was the left that brought about the NHS, greatly helping women throughout the UK with their sexual health. It was left wing campaigners that helped push the Conservative Government of 1961 to offer the contraceptive pill on the NHS, and it was Wilson’s Labour Government that legalised abortion in 1967. It was also a Labour Government that followed through with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The sexual revolution, the idea of giving people choices and rights over what sex they had and with who, was firmly an ideal of the left, and one that won the arguments with the right. Sexual liberation was also women’s liberation, an end to dorms and chaperones and escorts, freedom from the threat of pregnancy and the tyranny of biology – a necessity to the full adoption of other rights and full equality. It was the left that understood and articulated that what people got up to, consensually, between one another was nobody’s business but theirs (so long as nobody got permanently hurt).
Now? Well, we’ve already been over it. Social conservatism, SWERF and TERF, and attitudes that wouldn’t be out of place in Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League. The way the left has become censorious and authoritarian has begun sticking its nose into peoples’ bedrooms the way the Christian Right used to is just one example of their betrayal of left-wing values. It’s just the one, I think, it might be most accessible for people to see.
Sometimes, to progress, you actually have to double-back.
In what is becoming something of a pattern, Buzzfeed goes after a leading atheist with various allegations, and people in the atheist/skeptic community are surprisingly unskeptical when it comes to certain claims. There’s a bit more meat on these bones though.
Plants caused a mass extinction, but also the conditions that led to new forms of complex, energetic life – eventually human beings.
This happened because of a single radical change, the advent of photosynthesis. This swept away the overwhelming majority of other forms of life and was such a powerful change that it almost wiped out the organisms that stumbled across it.
Yet, coming out the other side, this was the great shift in biology that brought us to where we are now.
It’s no secret that I don’t like philosophy. It’s an improvement on religion, but it’s still – essentially – a blind groping after truth that falls victim to its own pedantry far more often than it produces anything useful or insightful. It seems scared of the prospect that we might be able to know something and is rife with internecine wars over terminology and meanings that – to an outsider – seem blindingly obvious (such as the Empiricism/Rationalism conflict, which is absurd, reason needs something to operate upon and confirm its hypotheses).
Still, after yet another argument over these points and the absurdity of metaphysics, I had something of an epiphany about just why science is so powerful and transformative. Why it has had the massively disruptive effect that it does and how this can be analogous to great biological shifts.
Consider this. Early life had no real way of reasoning or experimenting as we would think of it. We sometimes use these terms to describe evolution, but this is anthropomorphising it. Our language relates primarily to human activity, and so we have a tendency to humanise these forces. Still, evolution operates by blind chance, combined with selection.
A bacterium cannot consider the value of photosynthesis or strive to discover it, but variation and mutation down generations can modify and differentiate randomly and, eventually, a particular strain will ‘hit’ upon a successful change. Like developing the capacity to photosynthesise.
Before the capacity to think evolved this was the only way an organism could ‘reason’ or modify its behaviour. Via survival. This is – obviously – immensely wasteful, and this is akin to theology. The blind groping of faith, the superstition of the false positives – as we find with the ‘religious pigeons’ experiments. Perhaps, by chance, this would occasionally discover something useful or applicable, but more often than not it would not.
The capacity to think, to reason, exists at many different levels in the animal kingdom and so is hard to pinpoint, but we do know that animals besides humans are able to puzzle out their surroundings and solve problems, to a degree. Squirrels will negotiate assault courses and solve simple puzzles to get at nuts. Crows, dolphins, otters, apes and monkeys have been observed to use tools in their problem-solving. This has greatly increased their capacity to survive and deal with their surroundings and this is, perhaps, analogous to philosophy. It’s better than the massacre-dependent blind automata of semi-random evolution, but not by a great deal. It did provide the evolutionary impetus for the development of intelligence, however, and that gets us to humans.
One can argue over whether humans have a monopoly on what you might call ‘true intelligence’ but it is different to the problem solving we see in other animals. We are able to self-modify, to use technology and to think in the abstract in a way animals do not. We can take a solution to one problem, take it apart, reformulate it and apply it in other situation. We’re capable of storing, transmitting and teaching complex knowledge and this is revolutionary. In the analogy, this is like the advent of science and like humanity, science has become utterly dominant and has killed off a great deal of its opposition, a mass extinction of invalid modes of thought – like religion and philosophy.
Science has provided us a way of genuinely knowing what is true and extrapolating fundamentals and applications from that knowledge. This is dramatically better than anything else and the only way we really have of knowing that anything is real or true. It’s systemised, self-correcting, without hanging speculation, self-critical and – most importantly – it works.
Theism clings on, in volcanic pools, hydrothermal vents and the anaerobic depths of stygian sediment. Philosophy clings on because hitting a shell with a stone will sometimes get you a nut. Science, however, science is a quantum leap in knowledge, a way of testing and understanding any validity of any other claim and there is nothing else that does what it does.
Show us what’s actually true.
Perhaps that’s why philosophy and religion hate it so much and try to undermine it. They know they’re obsolete and marked for extinction.
I am an angry, disaffected, far leftist. I find, constantly, that my ire is not directed where it should be – to the Trumps and Brexiters of this world – but towards my own side.
You expect the right wing to be sociopathic, hypocritical cunts. That is, after all, their modus operandi. You do not, however, expect it of the left with its professed values of reason, tolerance and fairness.
And that’s why I end up railing against my own side so much. They have betrayed these values and continue to betray these values. They have developed an arrogance, an orthodoxy, a set of commandments and taboos. They have forsaken equality for a spectrum of special interest groups. They’ve forsaken fairness for special pleading. Principle is gone, science is gone, reason is gone. They won’t even bother to make their case any more.
It’s almost religious.
When they attack people like Trump I often find myself compelled, through my own principles of fairness to defend him. Principles I considered to be left-wing.
The constant misrepresentations, lies and – yes – ‘fake news’ represent a moral and ethical outrage to me.
They’re especially baffling when there’s so many good, legitimate reasons to be horrified by the international swing to the right. There are sp many good arguments to be made with factual bases to them, and they’re not being made.
Why lie instead?
There’s one manifestation of this collapse and betrayal of principle I take pretty personally though.
It’s awkward and dispiriting every time I run into something that Laurie Penny has written.
If we weren’t ever friends we were once acquaintances (I’d discovered her via the writer Warren Ellis). It was possible – in the past – to have a discussion with her about one topic or another and, while it was clear we came from different traditions and perceptions of what ‘the left’ is, we could talk.
It’s also awkward because we’re now ‘friend of a friend’ to each other in ‘meatspace’.
From Laurie’s perspective it seemed, to her, that I slowly drifted to the right. My becoming interested in free expression issues, my engagement with men’s issues, my growing involvement in the skeptic community appeared – to her – to be someone becoming more reactionary and conservative.
But, in the immortal words of Hans Zarkov: “I haven’t changed.”
I’m the same libertine, skeptical, rationalist, far-left optimist but primary pragmatist I ever was.
Rather, the ‘left’ (I regard the scare quotes as unfortunately necessary) changed. It went from being the principled, funny, consistent, even-handed and rational voice to the mirror-universe version of everything it had once opposed.
Schoolmarmish, authoritarian, censorious, irrational, elitist, racist, sexist, prejudiced and otherwise insane.
My criticisms and issues with my own side, my attempts – however feeble and unsuccessful – to keep the ‘left’ on track and my warnings about what was going to happen were ignored. They made me a ‘Cassandra’ and Laurie, ultimately, fed up with being argued with and contradicted (especially after my critique of one of her books and the dismantling of a book by one of her feminist icons) cut me off. Secured her safe space against transgression with a block of an honest interlocutor.
(She also participated in the disgraceful failure of reporting on Cologne).
For a while, fairly recently, Laurie was doing her bargain-basement Hunter S Thompson bit and trailing around after the ill-fated Milo Yiannopoulos, ’embedded in his entourage’. After the Berkeley riots over his college tour she ended up being accused of being a ‘Nazi sympathiser’ for her writing and work around him.
I had hoped – against hope – that this would lead to a moment of awakening for her similar to the various ones I’d had.
“These people have good intentions, but – by Klono’s iron hooves – they’re divorced from reality.”
When I saw a new article, ‘On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right’ I was hopeful that we might see something of a revelatory article of realisation and self-relection – especially in the wake of the Traditional Conservative coup that sparked Milo’s downfall.
Alas, it was not to be.
While there are some insightful moments in the article, there are also some breathtaking absences of self awareness and missed opportunities. Another lapse in the integrity and fairness which I, perhaps unfairly, have high expectations of in others (as in myself).
This is a story about truth and consequences. It’s a story about who gets to be young and dumb, and who gets held accountable. It’s also a story about how the new right exploits young men — how it preys not on their bodies, but on their emotions, on their hurts and hopes and anger and anxiety, their desperate need to be part of a big ugly boys’ own adventure.
Almost right from the get-go Laurie demonstrates that she doesn’t understand what has happened or who Milo’s audience is. That a lot of them are on the libertarian end of the new authoritarian/libertarian divide and a lot of them are more properly on the liberal/left end of the spectrum. They’re just alienated by a left that has abandoned every principle for… some reason.
It’s not so much that the right has preyed upon these people, or their emotions, but that the left has abandoned a huge swathe of people, has become too insane to support in its current incarnation and that people like Milo – sincere or not – are at least saying some of the things that people want to hear. Traditionally left-wing things.
Reason – or at least the appearance thereof.
As I write, Yiannopoulos, the fame-hungry right-wing provocateur and self-styled “most dangerous supervillain on the Internet,” is fighting off accusations of having once endorsed pedophilia. Former friends and supporters who long tolerated his outrage-mongering as childish fun are now dropping him like a red-hot turd: His book deal has been canceled, CPAC has disinvited him as a speaker, and today he resigned from his job at Breitbart.
The absolutely most important part of this summary of events is missing.
That these accusations are false.
If you don’t believe me, go and listen to the podcasts in their full, original form, with the context, cadence and tone intact.
The second most important thing about these events is also missing.
That these attacks did not come from the left, which has singularly failed to land a meaningful blow on Milo since his star became ascendant (and its not as if he’s not a target-rich environment).
They come from the right.
The traditionally conservative, anti-Trump, anti-libertarian wing of the American right. McMullen and the ‘Reagan Battalion’.
I’ve been following Yiannopoulos’ tour for months, and I can absolutely confirm that he means almost nothing he says, that he will say almost anything for attention, and that none of that matters to those who face violence and trauma as a result. Yiannopoulos has cashed in hard on the cowardice of American conservatives, exploited their complete allergy to irony. Now it’s payback time.
This passage is one of those unselfaware moments.
While I agree with the assessment of Milo’s character – I don’t like the guy and the difficulty of spelling his surname lends a false intimacy of most people using his first name – this is absolutely not the story of Milo.
The cowardice that Milo has cashed in on is that of the ‘left’. The unwillingness of the left to debate, to argue, to make a case. The way the ‘left’ has come to treat its viewpoints as holy writ and any skepticism or dissent as blasphemy. The way the ‘left’ has tried to silence and crush opposition and expression.
That cowardice is what has allowed Milo to bloom.
Not only has the left’s cowardice and authoritarianism caused it to quit the field of debate – and leave it open to the right – it has made Milo’s meta-message, that of freedom, scrutiny and debate – appealing to people on the liberal left, like me.
We ‘Voltarian’ cultural libertarians may despise much of what he has to say but we support his right to say it and that puts us at odds with the authoritarian wing.
That divide and fracture only increases when they start calling culturally libertarian leftists Nazis. They did that to you Laurie, but you didn’t tackle it. You displayed that same cowardice and failing.
Nobody has faced any violence because of Milo.
Plenty of people have faced violence because of the failings of the ‘left’. I don’t think Laurie – or people like her – are responsible for that any more than I agree with them that Milo’s mere words place anyone in danger, but there has been an abject failing to oppose that violence when it occurs.
Yiannopoulos should know full well the American tendency to take sick jokes seriously, and the reason he should know it full well is that it’s the entire reason his shtick works in America when it didn’t work in Britain. It’s the entire reason hordes of teenage fans follow him from speaking event to speaking event, hanging with desperate loyalty off every word that comes out of his face.
I criticised Laurie’s book, ‘Cybersexism’ because she didn’t seem to understand the internet, at all, despite claiming to have essentially grown up on it. All her conclusions seemed 180 degrees from reality to me. coloured by the dogmas she has bought into since, and this is no different.
Gamergate gave Milo a big rise in his profile. It’s also the reason I don’t like him.
It was clear to me from the get go he was both using Gamergate for personal gain and trying to sell right wing viewpoints to a younger, tech-savvy, libertarian demographic. He was, however – at least at the time – the only person willing to report fairly and accurately on the movement and beggars can’t be choosers, even when Gamergate itself was – and remains – primarily left-libertarian.
That, even though it has grown far beyond Gamergate, is the character of his audience. People steeped in irony. People, genuinely, raised on internet culture. People used to the freedom that the internet can provide. People who play with sick jokes and irony and manifestly do not take them seriously.
When people like you, Laurie, take it seriously you’re doing a disservice to yourself, your readers and to Milo’s ‘fans’ (across the political spectrum). When people honestly report, po-faced, that drinking milk in front of failed art installation ‘He Will Not Divide Us’ is a fascist act, all they’re doing is providing ‘lulz’ and showing how stupid they are.
Godfrey Elfwick couldn’t succeed without people’s dishonesty and ignorance.
People follow him, primarily for the free speech issue (which he’s absolutely right about) and for the fact he’ll broach and argue topics that are otherwise verboten (which he may or may not be right or wrong about to varying degrees).
His audience, however, knows not to take him too seriously.
Or are those teenage trolls smarter, more savvy and better at parsing intent than you?
This time, it’s backfired. This time, an ugly joke about having been taught to give head by a Catholic priest fell flat, as did a selection of quotes from video debates where, in Miracle Boy’s own words on Facebook: “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that.” Yiannopoulos protests that, this time, he really didn’t mean it, that his words have been taken out of context, that child sex abuse is real, and that he understands that words have consequences for victims.
A joke that people got and understood in context. A joke which caused no problem for an entire year. A joke many of us heard, in context, when it was first made and which, while it had shocking effect in the moment, was contextually not to be taken seriously. A self-deprecating joke even, about his own victimhood.
He was taken out of context, he never said child abuse wasn’t real.
As to the apology I think that was insincere and out of character for him, and he probably shouldn’t have made it but there weren’t a lot of available choices in the moment.
This time, the same shtick fell flat as a burst tire on the freeway, and the pile-up is getting ugly. The reason it fell flat is that, for all that the American right likes to show off pet homosexuals to prove its modernity, it turns out that it still hates gays. Christian conservatives worldwide are still unconvinced that LGBT people deserve human rights, and the old false slurs — that gay men abuse children and ignore the age of consent — still hit home.
This passage, at least, is accurate and describes what is really going on.
This is a counter-coup against the more libertarian and socially progressive (believe it or not) wing of the current American right, by the traditional conservative right. They’ve already hemmed Trump in (aided and abetted, sadly, by the mainstream media channels) and now they’ve attempted to take out Milo.
I suspect Milo may prove to be more resilient given he has a pre-made social media platform waiting for him. We’ll see.
This attack upon him is, I believe, rooted in homophobia and the smearing attempts to link homosexuality with paedophilia or – sorry to get all ‘MRA’ here for a moment – the misandrist assumption that all men are paedophiles by default and treating them as such. Gays get this worse, but it does occur for all men and is enshrined in company policies etc, to little protest.
This attack did come from the Christian conservative wing. Trump doesn’t give a fig about gays, Milo represented a degree of progress – love him or hate him – on this issue that aspects of the Christian Right are still struggling with.
What has happened now is a counter blow and, to the shame of the left which had been trying to attack Milo for years, it came – successfully – from the right.
All the ‘left’ could do was bandwagon on it, at the abandonment of their supposed principles and progressivism. Doubling the shame in their opportunistic, revenge fuelled glee.
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. Those suddenly dropping Yiannopoulos are making a business decision, not a moral one — and yes, even in Donald Trump’s America, there’s still a difference. If that difference devours Yiannopoulos and his minions, they will find few mourners.
And I think that would be a mistake. I think you should be mourning Laurie. I think you should have the integrity to be shouting much louder about what you and I have both noticed; that this is a homophobic attack upon a prominent gay man.
You may hate Milo for a lot of things but he does represent part of a step forward for the right, a more progressive right. The right may be morally and ethically bankrupt for only caring about the bottom line but you, and the ‘left’ as a whole are morally bankrupt for not applying their professed principles to an enemy.
That’s the test of a principle. How you apply it to people you don’t like.
Milo’s ability to talk about issues with feminism (not women), about Islamism, about the transgender issue, about the immigration issue is about free speech. Free expression absolutely includes being able to say ‘racist, sexist, transphobic and xenophobic things’ not that I would agree this is necessarily what he does, nor agree with a lot of what he says.
These are just things you don’t agree with or won’t countenance discussion on.
That you’re happy to silence someone like him for secular blasphemy while tte right is happy to silence someone like him for religious and financial blasphemy makes you as bad as each other. An illustration – again – of the new political divide between authoritarianism and libertarianism.
Yiannopoulos followed the path of least resistance until, suddenly, it resisted. Now he knows just what it is to have the Internet turn on you and take away your control of the narrative. Now the entire alt-right is realizing, in full view of a few million popcorn-munching online leftists, that they were never the new punk. They were never the suave and seductive blackshirts of the new American authoritarianism. They are, at best, the brownshirts, and they are becoming less useful to their benefactors by the day.
Except Milo isn’t alt-right, at least not as the definition has settled. The fascists have successfully, largely as a result of left-wing media hysteria, wrested control of the term. For a while though it was closer to representing something more like what Milo, Lauren Southern and Paul Joseph Watson were selling. A more libertarian right. The ‘Ron Paul’ legacy. A more progressive – in many ways – culturally libertarian and, dare I say it, progressive and intellectual (or at least pseudo-intellectual, points for effort) right. Certainly one I’d rather have as the opposition, since we can agree on a few points, rather than the authoritarian, Christian, corporatist, dominionist right.
Tactically alone, we should have been shoring up Milo and those like him for the sake of long term progress.
As things stand now?
Maybe the ‘alt-lite’ will end up becoming a part of the new, radical centre that’s emerging, as the authoritarian left and right both get increasingly bucked against by the small ‘l’ libertarians across the spectrum.
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.
Well this is sort of promising. This passage seems to betray a kind of confusion. You don’t want to defend Milo and his fans but at the same time you don’t appear to really want to condone the violence that occurred over mere speech.
I think you understand he’s not racist, not fascist and I think you feel – just a touch – of inward ‘cringe’ at the AntiFa and other idiots whose actions so spectacularly backfired.
Perhaps because it was in the aftermath of this event that you were personally attacked, and felt the absurdity of their sting yourself.
Five minutes after I arrive on campus, klaxons are blaring in the event space and the entire team on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” has been obliged to make what might generously be termed a tactical retreat. Police in full riot gear are everywhere, and the whole place is evacuated because of the real possibility of everyone inside getting a serious — and arguably deserved — kicking. Whatever the rights and wrongs of punching fascists, if people of good faith and conscience are publicly debating whether or not you deserve a smack in the mouth, it’s probably time to have a think about your life.
And then you let me down again.
If people are trying to shut you up in such manifestly illiberal ways, maybe you’re onto something. Maybe people who are willing to toss aside their own principles so easily shouldn’t be listened to, and maybe when someone is trying to shut you up you have something worth listening to.
That’s why these actions aided Milo so much and, while he’s not a fascist, why historically and currently violence and hysteria has aided actual fascists.
Nobody who isn’t engaged in violence deserves a kicking.
This is a case where there isn’t an argument. There’s no ‘right or wrong’ about punching fascists for thought or speech crime.
It’s just wrong.
The team is mostly composed of young men. Extremely young men. The sort of young men who are very brave behind a computer screen and like to think of themselves as stalwart fighters for the all-American right to say whatever disgusting thing they please, but who are absolutely unequipped to deal with any suggestion of real-world consequences. I end up spending most of my time stuck in a hotel lobby, interviewing the people who follow Yiannopoulos around, doing his grunt work and getting into scrapes as if the whole thing were a holiday lark rather than a serious political project with real repercussions for real human beings.
There shouldn’t be consequences for free speech. That’s what makes it free. There shouldn’t be ‘real world consequences’ for mere speech, online or otherwise. Again, that’s what makes it free. This is why the internet is so liberating and so important.
This whole tour and event absolutely is more of a holiday lark. It’s not really a serious political project and it would have zero consequences if not for violent idiots beating people in the street and setting fires, whipped up on their own hype and hysteria.
You can’t have it both ways.
If it’s serious, debate and deal, address the ideas and don’t rely on outrage.
If it’s just trolling, then we all know – or should know – not to feed the troll.
Milo’s opposition has failed consistently to do either.
It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.
Milo isn’t a fascist or a dictator. His fans are not fascists. Many of them are still on the left, the Voltairian left. This is why he is able to talk with people like Dave Rubin and why his Maher appearance was successful, marked by the stark contrast between his interactions with Maher – a genuine liberal – and his panel of faux-left authoritarians who could only muster a ‘fuck you’.
In this passage you also demonstrate why Milo has gained a following and why much of that following, that disagrees with him so much of the time, is cheering him on.
You bring race and gender to the table. Telling people merely because they’re white or male that they have ‘privilege’.
Not only is this a semantic atrocity and deeply racist and sexist in itself, but it’s untrue. This is also unrelated to the point here, save that it’s you demonstrating why so many young people, not just whites, not just men, are so disaffected and pissed off with the snake oil you’re selling. Why there has been a reaction of ‘white’ and ‘male’ identity politics to the racist sexist identity politics of the pseudo-left.
There’s no fascism here, no threat from Milo or his fans. They’re just enthusiastically pointing out that the ID politics Emperor has no clothes. That’s a preferable reaction to the other potential one, a rise in genuine, actual white supremacism. A tulpa conjured into being where it barely existed by the paranoia and hyperbole of the ‘left’.
If the left would debate, fight, argue and reform then there would be no space for the right to move in, in their wake.
It’s your own absurdity and bigotry that creates the crisis.
As the evacuation gets going, the young men in Yiannopoulos’ gang seem scared. They’re right to be — these protesters aren’t playing, and there has already been real violence at these events. One week earlier, in Seattle, a Yiannopoulos fan shot an anti-fascist protester in the stomach. The victim is expected to survive. The impression that this is all an exciting adventure in pranking the left, a giddy game of harmless offense where nobody actually gets hurt, is not holding up so well.
You fail to note that the shooting was in self defence. At least that appears to be the case from witnesses and the reaction of the police.
The violence is not coming from Milo fans. To my shame and what should be yours, it is coming from people who supposedly share our political stance and philosophy. It’s our side that’s the thugs, the ‘brownshirts’. By resorting to violence our ‘side’ is aiding those they claim to oppose. Without their violence that’s exactly what it would be – harmless offence where nobody gets hurt.
For all the attempts the pseudo-left makes to equate words with violence, they’re simply not. Violence is violence, words are mere words, and it’s not Milo or those like him causing any actual violence.
The vehemence of the protests and the headline-baiting images of masked men setting fires and breaking glass represent a small win for Yiannopoulos: He gets to go on Fox News and play the victim. The rest of the crew are purely freaked out. One of the younger hangers-on has an anxiety disorder and had to fight down a panic attack that could have held up the swift retreat. Whatever anyone claims, it’s hard to shake off being run out of town by 3,000 people screaming that you’re a Nazi. It’s the sort of thing that gives everyone but the coldest sociopath at least a little pause, and most of this crew don’t have the gumption or street smarts to function outside of a Reddit forum. They’re not the flint-eyed skinheads that many anti-fascists are used to fighting. I’m not a brawler, but I’d wager that these kids could be knocked down with a well-aimed stack of explanatory pamphlets, thus resolving decades of debate about whether it’s better to punch or to reason with racists.
It was a huge win and it continues to resonate. He wasn’t playing the victim, as so many do, he really was one (as he is now). For someone so unwilling and incapable of skepticism when others play the victim, I suppose I should be pleased you finally find the gumption to be skeptical for once and I hope it is evenly applied in the future.
The fact is that he’s not a Nazi. You’ve been accused of Nazi apologia yourself. You know you’re not a Nazi, right Laurie? Yet a lot of people were screaming that at you. Are they right or just hysterical? Might that not be the case for others, so accused?
They’re not flint-eyed skinheads or brawlers, sure. They’re also not remotely fascists, so why should anyone expect them to be? Who created that dishonest impression in the eyes of AntiFa and the other protesters?
If Milo’s joke about blowing a priest is in bad taste, yours about punching people with different ideas (he and his fans aren’t racist either) is in much worse taste.
I was hustled in past the police barricades with three wide-eyed young event volunteers, to thunderous cries of “shame” from the crowd. They’d no reason to know that I wasn’t a volunteer myself. When the evacuation bell sounds in the stifling green room, the bravado rapidly dissolves into panic as the team heads through a maze of corridors to the car park. One look at what’s happening outside tells me that if I value my bodily integrity, I’d better go with them.
And yet you’re still making excuses for this mob. Did the accusations – both on site and since – scare you too much to do the right thing? Do you still have principles? Are you liberal – and in favour of free expression – or not? Do you honestly think violence is an acceptable response to mere words?
“I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement,” says one young man, who is Yiannopoulos’ voiceover artist. “I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”
This is probably true and it’s why the moral bankruptcy of the ‘left’ over what has happened now with Milo outrages my principles so much. In many ways these people are, and could be, our allies. Their natural home should be more amongst the left, but the left has changed, lost its way.
The right was weak and there was space for them to be pushed, but now they’re biting back, that traditional right, and the left has forgotten what it’s about – leaving a vacuum.
These young men seem to have no conception of the consequences of allying yourself publicly with the far right, even before their hero gets accused of endorsing pedophilia in public. Yiannopoulos has been good to them. They’re having a great time. Over the course of a few hours, I find myself playing an awkward Wendy to these lackluster lost boys as I watch them wrestle with the moral challenge of actually goddamn growing up.
Here’s the ultimate irony. These feckless nerds and their ringleader, their Peter Pan, are the ones who pass for grown ups in this situation. They’re able to parse humour, to handle irony, to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. They are the adults and the black-clad protesters setting fire to buildings, not to mention the nose-picking pixie in their midst (you’re more like Tink than Wendy, Laurie, to be honest) are toddlers throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get what they want. A romper-suited riot with all the finesse and nuance of a child being denied a packet of Haribo at the checkout in Tesco.
It is the left that needs to rediscover its maturity and capabilities. To make a commitment to its principles again. If these people are children, the Berkeley rioters are infants, but then so is most of the ‘left’ now.
I enjoy most respectful conversation, and these boys are scrupulously polite to me. They were polite to me a month earlier when I slept on their tour bus — right until a door closed between me and them, and they immediately started talking loudly, to each other, about the crass and anatomically implausible things they wanted to do to me. Intellectually, they must have known that I could hear them, but these kids grew up on the Internet, the world’s locker room, where if you can’t see a woman, she doesn’t really exist. The one grown man on the bus started yelling at them to go the hell to sleep — “there’s a girl back there!”—and they yelled back that they’d let me sleep if I let them “suck my titties.” It’s no surprise to hear that they’re still yearning for the teat, but these babies had best be careful where they go slobbering for the milk of human kindness. I’m just about dried up.
They were fucking with you. Treating you like one of them. ‘The bants’. You should be happy to be accepted and treated equally. Instead you vacillate between comprehension and praise… and damnation. Turning their acceptance of you into an insult.
This is What Equality Looks Like.
Being one of the boys.
These are not the scheming crypto-fascist masterminds I was led to expect. Seabass is 18 years old going on 12, Argentinian, and the sort of person who thinks that “Seabass” is a pretty cool fish to call yourself after if your mother named you Sebastian. His mother was worried about him palling around with Yiannopoulos “because he’s gay, and she always says how handsome I am” — but apparently calmed down after seeing how much Yiannopoulos has helped her son, fixing him up with connections and equipment to produce video and photos. Seabass is the one person who seems entirely unaffected by the full-on riot we’ve just run away from, but Seabass has had several root beers and two Magnums (the ice cream) and is on too much of a sugar bender to care about anything. I ask him how he sees his future. I’ve been asking this of everyone I meet in the Scream Room of Trumplandia. “I want to make a lot of money, get married,” he says, thoughtfully, “and then I want to kill God.”
Good for him, because much as I suspect religion led to his mother’s concerns, it has fuelled the scurrilous smear attacks on Milo.
Here’s the thing though, the thing you notice and should be trumpeting. These are not fascists.
You know it. I know it. They know it.
‘Fascist’ has just become another in a long line of meaningless attack labels and sadly it’s overuse is giving cover to genuine fascists as the word now causes suspicion of the accuser rather than outrage at the accused.
I suppose we should be thankful that ‘paedophile’ hasn’t yet lost its power to disgust (despite the best efforts of Salon and others). If this keeps up, that too will lose its ability to shock and motivate. I’ve already seen an uptick in it being used as a meaningless attack.
Most of them seem more than a little surprised that this has actually happened, that Trump is actually president. “I voted for him because I thought it was funny,” one of them tells me. “I don’t think that he can become a dictator like people say he can. We have too many checks and balances for that, and that’s why we have checks and balances. Right?” He picks at the label on his beer bottle.
This is likely true for a lot of people but, looking forward into the future, Trump may well be – painful as it is to admit – the better of the two prospects that were offered.
Trump is, at least, some sort of change and his artless, guileless method of governing is exposing the rotten guts of the American political machine to the public, much as Hilary’s breathtakingly corrupt campaign exposed the rotten guts of political campaigning and funding. Both could provide an opportunity for reform.
If we can moderate and take the edges off the inevitable left wing backlash to the current administration, if we can reform, update and make the left sane again this is a massive opportunity for both the USA – and the world – to make some genuine progress in the not-too-distant future.
And the kid’s right and, again, has shown a great deal more maturity and a better sense of perspective than most. Trump isn’t Hitler, you have checks and balances, the world isn’t ending. It’s just more difficult for people for a while. Could be easier if his more libertarian advisers and politicos got more support.
What they do, in fact, is have a long late-night fight about whether or not gay marriage will encourage the spread of AIDS, whether Britain is already overrun by Sharia Law (I assure them that it isn’t), and exactly how stupid the voting public has become.
Aside from the last one, can you imagine a band of left-wing activists having any similar, transgressive discussions? At all? Or is there an established orthodoxy, straying from which gets one burnt as a witch?
Whether there’s an answer to these or not (and IMO there is and I would tend to agree with you) just the fact that there is a discussion is an indication of relative maturity and healthy debate. One absent on the ‘left’.
“I’m pretty sure Milo has three times the brain capacity of Donald Trump,” says one young man who is aimlessly editing video of the protests. He still thinks right-wing voters were duped — in Britain and America both. “You’re giving the decision to do something that is so intricate and economically complex to an entirely uninformed, uneducated populace,” he opines. “The day after Brexit, the most Googled thing is ‘What is the European Union?’ I think that’s how Trump got, I would say 75 percent of people voting for him. He made a lot of promises, but the words he was saying — he was saying a lot, and not saying anything. I don’t think Trump knows what he’s doing.”
And this passage, a quote from a ‘spotty teen troll’ is more insightful and on point than much of what you’ve written yourself in the last couple of years Laurie.
Shocking, isn’t it?
Most of these young men are looking to build careers in media — as filmmakers, newscasters, producers. Yiannopoulos mentors them, gives them advice and equipment and support and connections. That’s what most of them are getting out of this deal, but many of them may now have to consider how the consequences of a known association with Trumpism might affect those careers after tomorrow, when the rush and rage of this tour is over and most of them have to go home and face their parents. These are not the “just following orders” kids. These are the “just making my career” kids. The two are functionally the same in the United States, but this still feels filthier.
Why though? There’s precious few opportunities these days so why shouldn’t they be ‘forgiven’ for taking the opportunities presented? Why should voting for Trump – a mainstream candidate for a mainstream party – be treated like voting for some KKK aligned militia leader?
You know these lads aren’t fascists, you seem to be being as sympathetic as you dare before swinging back to condemnation. Surely you recognise that the rhetoric and hate in and from the ‘left’ is out of hand here? Misapplied?
Trump’s terrible, but no more or less so than Dubya. Just more transparently terrible.
Slow down here, because this is important. However they may bluster online, the new right and the alt-right hate being called Nazis. They’ve all seen too many movies for it not to matter somewhere deep down where they tell themselves the story of their own heroism. In fact, ever since Inauguration Day, the alt-right has been in meltdown, splitting and splintering in cascading identity crises as only a formerly underground movement can when it attains power. Of course, it’s not my job as a reporter to give activists advice, but if it were, I’d say: No, they’re not all fascists, and not everyone reacts to being called one by changing their tune. But the strategic application of Nazi-shaming works. The real pity is that conservative hypocrisy seems to work faster.
It doesn’t work outside of the pseudo-left echo chamber, where it whips up black-bloc to the point where they’ll attack people for semi-comedic college tours. Elsewhere it has, indeed, lost its power.
Nobody, however, likes to be called something that they’re not. To my shame, again, it’s the ‘left’ that more closely resembles the Nazis these days. Deeply racist, deeply sexist, deeply elitist. Almost occult in the religious way they treat symbolism and ideological orthodoxy, and the first to reach for violence as a tool for political gain. Authoritarian, censorious, irrational.
The alt-right has been shaking down its meaning, but that’s not really the same thing as an identity crisis.
‘Nazi shaming’ has been a tactical disaster Nazi punching even more so. The sad fact of the matter is not that conservative hypocrisy works faster, but that it is the only thing that worked (much to the left’s quiet chagrin I think) and that it worked at all.
You may have noticed that, in this piece, I have not explicitly described Yiannopoulos or the movement that has made him famous as white supremacist, Neo-Nazi, fascist, or racist. The main reason for that is that it has been made explicitly clear to me that, were I to write such a thing, a libel suit the size of Mar-A-Lago would drop on me, and Yiannopoulos would use every trick in his surprisingly defensive playbook to prize out an apology, because that’s what friends are for. He’s done it to other reporters. He’s not the only one. In fact, a defining feature of the new-right populists is their ability to build a reputation as rhino-hided truth-sayers while flailing their hands in panic if anyone uses whatever words happen to hit them where it hurts.
I think you’ve given your own answer there. They style themselves as truth-sayers. Libel and slander must, necessarily, be untrue. If you can demonstrate that they are true, then they’re not libel and slander. If you are weaselling an accusation in this passage, you’re also admitting you can’t make the case.
The fact is that for all their obnoxiousness and as much as I disagree with Milo and his ilk they’re not Nazis, they’re not fascistic and they’re not racist, sexist or whatever other accusations you care to hurl at them. They’re really, when you get down to it, just the libertarian right, and their ‘crime’ is a mild blasphemy. Wanting to talk about things, to debate and discuss things the ‘left’ considers settled and orthodox.
So, for legal reasons, I must state that Milo Yiannopolous, possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist. For moral reasons, however, I must state that Yiannopoulos’ personal beliefs are irrelevant given that he’s built a career off peddling bigotry in public. What about sexism? “Sexism I don’t have the energy to wrestle with you over,” says Yiannopoulos, who, I can personally confirm, is the maple-cured bacon of misogynist piggery — oily and sweet and crass and, on a gut level, dreadful for your health.
‘Possibly of all the smug white people in the world…’ see, this is the kind of thing that gives people like Milo their power. You decry racism, but you are then massively, unapologetically racist in your assumption that all white people – except Milo – are racists. A child can see through such hypocrisy.
Disagreement isn’t bigotry. Rejection of ideological feminism’s overreach isn’t misogyny. It is hard to have the energy to debate that with someone who thinks rejection of an unsafe ideological house of cards equates to hatred of a gender.
He questions, he probes, he challenges – usefully if not sincerely – but that doesn’t make him a bigot and that accusation is as spurious and self-defeating as the accusations of Nazism or, indeed, paedophilia.
It seems perfunctory to point out the hypocrisy of building a movement and a career on the back of insulting people — Muslims, migrants, women, people of color — while nursing a hair-trigger sensitivity to any personal attack you haven’t pre-approved. That hypocrisy, though, does not appear self-evident to anyone within this movement, because a fundamental tenet of far-right pro-trolling is that it’s only other people’s feelings that are frivolous. Their own feelings, by contrast, including the capacity to feel shame when they’re held accountable for their actions, are so momentous that infringing them is tantamount to censure, practically fascism in and of itself. These are men, in short, who have founded an entire movement on the basis of refusing to handle their emotions like adults.
This is the part that prompted me to this lengthy reply, because the desperate lack of self-awareness in the last sentence is almost physically shocking.
I was ‘triggered’, if you will.
Laurie, you’re on the ‘side’ of people who want to turn entire campuses into safe spaces. Who retreat to a childhood of Play-Doh and colouring books at the slightest hint of a different point of view. Who throw destructive, public tantrums because someone else gets to have a ‘sweetie’ (in the form of a speech).
Milo and his followers may dress up their discussion in crass humour and /pol irony, but at least they’re having the discussion.
Are they insulting Muslims or discussing Islam? If people as calm, measured and intelligent as Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz will get called racists and hatemongers for having far more careful discussions about the topic, why not just have the discussion without regard for that hypersensitivity?
Are they insulting migrants or discussing the problems around immigration? There are problems. There are discussions to be had, are there not?
Are they insulting women or discussing the overreach and dangers of the worst end of ideological feminism? Again, we have more scholarly people addressing these issues in a more moderate way, but they get treated just as badly. So why even try to be politic?
Are they insulting people of colour or underlining issues that both political wings know exist but posit different solutions for? Are they looking at statistics and trying to glean the truth or propagandising? What about their opponents? Should we not be concerned about the black supremacy in BLM or the craziness of their demands?
If they’re truth warriors and speaking a truth that they feel they can back up, that’s very different to the accusations tossed at them which you seem, at times, to acknowledge aren’t true.
Has refusing to have these discussions and defend or modify our positions done any good or has our dogmatic adherence to unmovable writ allowed the right to move free and unopposed in these debates? To present their concepts and interpretations unchallenged and without alternatives?
Who, really, allowed Brexit and Trump to happen? The lying right or the arrogant, elitist left – unwilling to even countenance debate.
I believe the left, the genuine left, has better answers to all these issues, or is capable of compromise and revision, but the pseudo-left dominating the (lack of) discourse does not and won’t even try.
For all his faults and his insincerity, Milo is at least having the conversations and making a case. We should do the same.
Many of them don’t agree with what Yiannopoulos says, let alone what Trump says. They agree with the way he says it, because their life experience does not extend beyond interpreting being criticized as censorship. Yiannopoulos’ brand is all about “fuck your feelings.” But the kids following him around are nothing but feelings. I have empathy for fragility. What frightens me most is the feeling that the only way to deal with the new right is to treat them as monsters, when it is precisely their idiot humanity — precisely the fact that they are fundamentally decent kids who have done fundamentally despicable things — that makes them dangerous.
They’re not dangerous. They’re hopeful. They hold and retain many of the ideals the left has forgotten. Free expression, tolerance, trying to use facts to come to conclusions. That’s what they agree with, that’s what I agree with. That even horrendous speech should be free. That there should be a free and open marketplace of ideas and that even people I disagree with, even people I hate, have basic and fundamental human rights – such as speech.
They have feelings, yes, but they’re not led by their feelings in the majority, unlike their opposition. They’re angry at an authoritarian and interfering world, and they have every right to be.
The way to deal with them is not to treat them as monsters, because they’re not, but we – on the left – have become monsters. Everything we used to rail against. The right has its own monsters, which are stirring again and have tried to gobble up Milo as one of their first acts. The small ‘l’ libertarian left and right are caught between two insane monsters with nowhere to go.
They haven’t done despicable things. They’ve done the right thing. Our side, Laurie, has done despicable things. Betrayed its principles. Betrayed its foundational philosophy and identity. The authoritarian right? They’ve always been monsters. That part doesn’t surprise or shame me.
Over the course of these hours, the boys start telling me how they got lost. I hear stories of strict religious parents, sexual misadventures, a feeling of drifting in a world which has not offered them a clear way to be heroes. A desperate longing for something to belong to, for adventure and friends and enemies to fight. It would be adorable if it weren’t fundamentally chilling. They are wedded to a political analysis that might as well be written in fuzzy felt. “I’m not sure how you can be a feminist and want more refugees,” one of them tells me, “because of the ways they treat women.”
And you’ll hear similar stories amongst the bored middle class protesters LARPing at being Che Guevarra before they crawl on home to have their mistress peg them with a black rubber cock.
At least Milo’s entourage aren’t hurting anyone or breaking anything. At least their scope exists beyond a miseducated upper middle class of genuine privilege. At least they’re real people.
That analysis isn’t fuzzy felt, it’s cogent and it’s something we need an answer for (or would, if I considered myself feminist). If you are concerned for women’s rights how can you not experience a moment of pause about importing people from some of the most genuinely patriarchal and misogynistic cultures on Earth? The answer might be ‘they can live a more liberated life here’ but you also have to account for incidents like Cologne, which you so famously dropped the ball on Laurie.
You offer no answer to his question. Do you have one?
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for them. That “almost” is important. There are many uses for empathy. To point out that the people who join this far-right movement are damaged and hurt is not to minimize the hurt and damage they themselves are doing. On the contrary: the pain is the point. Stripped down to its essentials, the new far right is an ideological vacuum calcified in a carapace of pain. Hurt people hurt people. That’s nothing new. These hurt people are hurting other people deliberately, in order to up-cycle their uncomfortable emotions, reselling the pain they can’t bear to look at as a noble political crusade.
They’re not hurting anyone though. All they’re hurting is feelings and ‘fuck your feelings’ or ‘reals over feels’ is a perfectly valid, indeed absolutely key, principle. What matters is what’s true, not what feels nice.
They’re not far right but they are hurt and ignored and as Trump’s election has demonstrated, as Brexit has demonstrated, you have to address the concerns of these people in a democracy or it comes back to bite you on the arse – and not in a good way.
The ‘left’s’ racism and sexism, it’s retreat into orthodoxy created new victims of genuine prejudice and hatred, left to rot for not having the right ID politics designation. We forgot that class and wealth cuts across all these meaningless identities and we allowed ID politics to deepen divisions and leave many people, deserving of help, behind. Now we’re experiencing a backlash.
Yes, there’s a vacuum we left for the right to fill. That’s on us. You’re perpetuating it.
I don’t believe that Yiannopoulos endorses pedophilia. I do believe that he exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?
What happens is that they end up ripping apart the authoritarians on both sides of the spectrum unless one side or the other finally learns and absorbs the lessons around these seismic political shifts. Whether the old prejudices of the right wing or the new prejudices of the left wing are the first to crumble determines the future.
At least you admit he’s not a paedophile or a paedophilia apologist. Credit where it’s due, unlike that greasy little cervical smear Owen Jones, you didn’t bandwagon. Maybe I still like you a little because of it.
You still don’t understand the people you’re talking about though. You’re projecting, from the ‘left’ when you talk about children burning down the world. That’s the protesters. Not the people following Milo’s career. They only look like it, because they have a sense of humour. To me, however, that’s a sign of relative maturity.
Whether or not these kids deserve a second chance matters far less than whether the rest of us can afford not to give them one. There are millions of them, after all, and not all of them have the strength of character to recognize their wrongdoing and make amends. They are, however, coming to see their mistake. Some part of them believed that this was a game that would end when Trump became president. That was the big boss, the ultimate defeat of liberal social justice snowflakery. But guess what? You don’t get to check out at this level and quit the game and go back and cuddle your cat. Politics is a whole different kind of game, and the stakes are real, and there are no non-player characters.
It’s not down to you to give them a second chance, it’s whether they give us on the left (or ‘left’) a second chance. This arrogance, this belief that it’s down to your, our, largesse is what will scupper us and another thing that has contributed to our losses. Until we deal with that and kill it, we’ll continue to lose.
They haven’t done anything wrong. There’s nothing for them to make amends for. We have and we have to make amends.
Trump wasn’t the ‘final boss’ because the regressive left has responded to Trump not with introspection and adjustment for the most part (Justice Democrats being a visible exception) but by doubling down and entrenching in the existing mistakes.
Politics is a different game and we on the left are reaping what a fixation on morally, ethically and scientifically bankrupt ID politics has sown.
It’s not up to these kids to fix things. It’s up to us to fix things and win them back.
If Yiannopoulos is as screwed as he seems, the left has little to celebrate in the manner of the defeat; he has been brought down, after all, by the one weapon we don’t want to give power to. He has been brought down not by reasoned liberal argument, nor by moral victory over his cod theories, nor by anti-fascist agitation. He has been brought down by conservative moral outrage. Specifically, by conservative moral outrage over gay male sexuality. I can think of nobody on Earth who more richly deserves to be humbled and held accountable. I just wanted my team to be the ones to do it.
And you didn’t, because you couldn’t.
You didn’t bring him down by reasoned liberal argument because you didn’t try, and you had none.
You didn’t counter his theories for the same reason.
Anti-Fascism was never going to work when the fascists only exist in your tortured imaginations and your childish desires to fight a moral battle as pertinent as WWII, when there isn’t one like it left to fight.
He was brought down by conservative homophobia and the establishment seeking to nip this secular, libertine, libertarian version of conservatism in the bud, by their dishonesty.
The right thing to do would have been to have stuck up for and supported Milo, to have firmly established ourselves on the moral high ground. Yet the closest we seem to have come on any large scale level is your milquetoast equivocation on the matter.
It seems demonising a homosexual man as a paedophile, with no evidence, is perfectly acceptable so long as that gay man is conservative. Conservatism won’t protect you from right wing hypocrisy and homosexuality won’t protect you from left wing hypocrisy.
He deserved a comeuppance, sure, but for something meaningfully wrong he actually did -like his failure to deliver on various projects, his dodgy business dealings or the few times he’s absolutely and confirmably wrong in every regard, as with his supposed transgender statistic on Maher.
The ‘left’ couldn’t make their untrue smears stick, the right did. That has to sting, but it’s not right to lie about someone to bring them down, whatever political wing you’re on.
Today, absolutely nobody, from his publishers to his former tour promoter, is defending Yiannopoulos’ right to consequence-free speech. This is not liberalism winning the day. This is the victorious far right purging the brownshirts.
These aren’t brownshirts, this is a counter-revolution of the traditional conservative right. It traces back to a virtually admitted hit piece published by the ‘Reagan Battalion’ with links to a fringe anti-Trump presidential candidate and Democratic anti-trump groups. This isn’t conspiracy theory like the ‘the right wing paid for the protests at Berkeley’ thing, it’s out of their own mouths.
I, however, at least do defend his rights. Me. Someone who doesn’t like the guy in the least. I at least have the comfort of standing on unwavering, universalist principle.
Professional trolling is a perilous profession in a country where people take your bullshit seriously. The best thing Yiannopoulos could possibly do now is go and live quietly somewhere he can have a think about the damage he’s done — and he will be allowed to do that if he wants, because those are the sort of consequences personable white men face in America today, when and if they ever get over themselves.
Laurie, when you’re continually calling someone a racist, sexist bigot you should probably stop being a shameless racist, sexist bigot yourself constantly.
There is a big question here though. You’re not stupid. Most people, at least in editorial positions in media, aren’t stupid. So tell me… why is anyone taking him seriously? Isn’t that dishonest? Doesn’t it make you look idiotic when the proverbial 14 year old troll on the internet is better able to parse English in context than a supposed media professional? Is it about the clicks? Isn’t that just as morally and ethically bankrupt as your earlier statement about the right being led by money?
Where’s the integrity? Where’s the intelligence?
Where’s the honesty?
As of today, Milo Yiannopolous no longer has the luxury of that choice. His fall from grace has collapsed not just the cult of personality he built around the emptiness inside himself, but also the entire edifice of conservative self-deception around Free Speech. They can take down Yiannopoulos, and they must, but they can’t do it without proving to the entire world that this was never about the First Amendment — it was about plausible deniability for weaponized prejudice, and that alibi has just vanished.
It hasn’t collapsed his support. He could, instantly, have a very lucrative career on new media. Indeed he seems to be about to launch his own efforts and he’ll probably be very successful in doing so. A hatchet job by the establishment and by old media will only cement him as a folk hero for the internet and for left and right libertarians everywhere.
A status he honestly doesn’t deserve, but for all his faults and issues he does underline and expose fractures and problems in society and in the establishment – both sides of the aisle.
The conservatives may have been self-deceiving, but Milo’s followership wasn’t. They mean it. That will save him.
It wasn’t about weaponised prejudice either. Again, regardless of Milo’s intent or sincerity it was always about reasserting and securing free expression. Even for difficult and taboo topics. The lesson to be learned is that, at least in that aspect, they are entirely right.
The truth is that the new right never had any interest in principles of freedom. The truth is that Yiannopoulos was always a weak joke under a bad bleach job. The truth is that Peter Pan was never a folk hero, but a malevolent man-child whose parable remains racist to the core. What will his Lost Boys do now they have outlived their usefulness? Somebody might offer them a teat to run back to, but it won’t be me. I’m done. That whining noise you can hear is a string symphony of the world’s tiniest violins. I think they’re playing Wagner.
The new right did. The old right didn’t. The new pseudo-left was so blinded by ideological hatred they couldn’t see Milo et al’s rise as a twisted kind of progress, just an enemy. Well the old familiar enemy is back at the tiller now – and that’s not an improvement.
You won’t offer them anything because you forgot how to be left wing, you forgot how to be liberal, you couldn’t see that – at least in part – these ‘trolls’ are upholding the principles we let slide. We have to reach out, we have to reform, we have to get them on side if we want to win and to make progress.
Ironically, for all you rail against ‘bigotry’ throughout your piece, it’s your bigotry that won’t allow you to do the right thing, even for tactical reasons.
I do not like Milo. I think he is a shallow, narcissistic, terrible person.
He exploited Gamergate to his own ends. He has been terrible on things like the ‘privilege scholarship’, a bad joke that could make a genuinely positive change for some people that desperately need it. He has left a string of discarded and disgruntled volunteers and business partners behind him who are worth talking to about how he actually is – or can be – a bad person.
This paedo thing however? Bullshit. As are the overwhelming majority of it unintentionally ironic accusations of bigotry you have tossed at him.
He’s an arsehole, but a useful arsehole. The ‘kids’ around him are not bad people, not Nazis, they’re people whose natural home should be on the left. The left I remember anyway. The left that cared about equality, not ID categories. The left that attacked social issues regardless of race, gender, sexuality or status. The left that was rooted in science, in logic, reason, evidence, debate, understanding. The left that was able to shift and moderate and adapt. The left that cared about and protected freedoms, even for people it disagreed with.
If Milo is a monster, he’s a monster of our creation from our negligence, from our bigotry, from our ideological missteps, from leaving a vacuum for the right to fill.
And he’s right about free speech.
There’s yet another post about street harassment doing the rounds on Facebook. While, of course, this kind of thing is deplorable and upsetting I never stop at virtue signalling with a quick thumbs up or reblog. I can’t help but start thinking about the why’s and wherefores, the context in which this occurs. I can’t help but compare it to the situation men face and to ask myself whether the panic over this is justified and why things are so gendered around this stuff.
Let’s drop a few facts first to contextualise things then.
- A random street rape is the least likely scenario for women to be sexually assaulted. Most such attacks are by people the victim knows.
- Catcalls are unpleasant, but there’s plenty in life that’s unpleasant.
- Men are roughly twice as likely as women (3.8 vs 2.1%) to suffer violence of any kind (Crime Survey for England and Wales) and when it comes to random street violence are half-again as likely as women (150%) as likely to suffer random street violence.
- In those incidents, men are far more likely to end up dead or injured than women.
- Men also suffer street abuse, it just doesn’t tend to be sexual. Just more like ‘Wanker!’, road rage, random, nasty insults, challenges and attempts at violence.
In our society men suffer worse and more frequent random violence, yet this only concerns us in very general terms about the level of crime overall. We do not consider that a gendered issue, even though it far outweighs violence against women. We obsess and concern ourselves with ‘Hey beautiful!’ but not so much about fifty year old men given a fatal shoeing for challenging teenagers smoking pot in their driveway.
So me, being me – and believe me, this causes me more pain than it should and I don’t recommend it – I have to ask why? Why do we care more about women’s momentary discomfort than men’s deaths and injuries? Why is it that when you bring this up, seemingly because it involves men, it’s instantly dismissed and mocked?
I ask myself why women have what appears – from a male perspective – to be an irrational and phobic, disproportionate sense of fear and why men do not have that same fear. Should women be this afraid? Should men be more afraid? The statistics would seem to suggest at the very least that women should be less afraid (but then again, maybe their actions through fear are WHY there’s such a divide in incidence).
Are we really going to waste time and money criminalising people for saying ‘Hey baby!’ especially when this will end up being heavily concentrated in poor and ethnic communities where such actions are more common? Worse, are we going to let this spread to the internet with loose and poorly worded ‘anti-harassment’ regulations and even laws? That’s what people seem to want.
There is sexism here, but it’s in our disproportionately big and one-sided response to women’s problems, however trivial they are (or seem) and our minimal response to men’s issues, which after 50+ years of political concern over women’s issues have been left unaddressed and allowed to fester.
A particularly stark example of this dichotomy relates to another arena, with reference more directly to sexual violence. Men and women suffer almost the same amount of domestic violence (60% of victims are women, 40% are men – Parity, and other studies) yet while there’s thousands upon thousands of places of shelter and aid for women, there are less than 100, nationwide, for men and men’s charities dealing with male victims have been defunded (Mankind Initiative).
Our compulsion as a society and as individuals to help women is commendable. However, it also infantalises women, treats them as weak and incapable. It is a sexism of its own. The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ and it also hangs our society’s men out to dry.
Pointing this out, however calmly, however accurately, no matter the amount of data you present will only – ironically – get you abuse, wild, dismissing nonsense about ‘patriarchy’ conspiracy theories or the semantic atrocity that is the Orwellian misuse of the word ‘privilege’.
Unwanted attention is (or at least can be) bad, but if we have limited resources we have to practice some form of triage. What is more pressing, the much higher amount of violence and abuse that men face, or someone’s discomfort at being drunkenly asked for a blowjob?
Really. Honestly. Think. Put the same effort into thinking about this, contextually, as I have before you comment or answer.
I mean, seriously for once. What ABOUT the men?
In the wake of the recent Youtube demonetisation scandal – a surprise to some, not to others – abrupt in its revelation and unexpected in its extent, a lot of my fellow sceptics, atheists and members of that broader community have reacted on two poles. One group, much like me, treats this as another example of creeping online censorship of social media. Another group seems to brush this off and to claim is isn’t censorship, disturbingly echoing many SJW arguments as they do so.
While some people in the first group may be overreacting, people in the second group are just flat out wrong. Some of this is down to not understanding the principle of free expression or the meaning of censorship. Some of it seems to be ideological, where free market, economic libertarianism seems to come into conflict with the principles of individual rights and freedoms and they seem unable to negotiate the clash between the two.
In large part I tend to blame the dominance of the American First Amendment over these kinds of discussions. It turns these arguments into legalistic and governmental ones, when the right to free expression is a universal human right, enshrined in but not deriving from documents like the US constitution, the United Nations declaration on human rights and many, many others.
The discussion and argument is far, far bigger than American law.
What is Censorship?
The Oxford English Dictionary is about as definitive a guide to the meaning of the English language as you can get, and defines censorship thus:
The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.
In other words, anything that reduces or eliminates expression, on any basis – legitimate or otherwise – is censorship. Anything. The argument is usually not whether something is censorship, but whether said censorship is justified.
The ACLU has a noteworthy, modern understanding of censorship and describes it thus:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period.
Freedom of expression is, meanwhile, perhaps best expressed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
To reiterate. Your right to free expression is that to hold and impart opinions without interference, through any media, regardless of frontiers. Clearly a great deal interferes with that, some justified, some not, but that’s the ideal. Anything that does interfere with that is censorship. That censorship can come from government but also from private groups, companies, individuals and even from oneself, either through free personal choice or under pressure and duress (it can be hard to disentangle the two).
When the government bans and prosecutes child pornography it is justified on the grounds of protection of children. When the government bans pornography created by and for consenting adults it is, arguably, not justified.
When a pressure group, such as those operated by former campaigner Mary Whitehouse tries to shut down ‘lewdness’ and ‘immoral content’ on television they’re largely unjustified, but are engaged in attempted censorship. When a pressure group has indisputable evidence that certain content can harm the development of children they may justifiably argue for censorship or constriction. Pressure groups on campus no-platforming speakers are engaged in censorship. Again, anything that suppresses or prevents speech is censorship. The threats of violence from Islamic extremists against cartoonists, causing them to self-censor – again, censorship.
All of this is censorship.
The only good justifications for censorship are under the harm principle:
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” – JS Mill, On Liberty.
Can we, then, say that what is going on at Youtube is censorship?
That it is a private company makes no difference here. Censorship does not require government involvement to be censorship. Youtube does censor certain content, but this has been deemed reasonable by most of the community (nudity etc is disallowed). I would disagree there too, but that’s a different argument. Youtube has not outright banned any additional content, so it’s not outright censorship, it has ‘merely’ removed monetisation on the basis of some rather opaque and vague criteria.
This loss of monetisation, which is tied to ‘controversial topics’, politics, news and other forms of content may not be outright censorship but it is ‘suppression’, refer back to the definition. Content that can’t make creators money will become less common, the livelihoods of people who produce Youtube content full time will be threatened. Certain forms of commentary and news coverage will be affected as will support organisations, charities, fiction of certain types, tutorials and more. ‘Controversial topics’ is particularly contentious, I’ve had perfectly lucid, explanatory videos on ‘Gamergate’ demonetised.
That people the sceptic/atheist/anti-SJW community have beef with have also been censored doesn’t make the problem less of an issue, it just means it’s affecting more people. That they’ve had their demonetisation reversed (Laci Green) while others have not does lend some weight to this being a political bias, or at least fear on Youtube’s part of bad publicity from some quarters and not others.
Whatever the specifics, yes it’s censorship as it is suppressing certain forms of expression.
Is it Justified?
It’s censorship, but since anything that suppresses or bans speech is censorship the question is whether it’s justified or not. So where’s the harm being done?
Ostensibly this censorship is being made at the behest of the advertisers, but why?
Youtube only benefits from more people using and watching their platform. It costs them very little to host any particular person’s content and the more there is and the more variety the more people are likely to watch. The more creators and the more content they put out and promote, the more to watch. It’s in Youtube’s interest to have the least amount of restriction possible.
Users do not have their experience improved by the censorship, they are harmed by it (less content, less entertainment). Some may say they’re harmed by seeing expression they don’t like, but the solution is simply not to watch it.
Creators are harmed directly by the censorship. Some might say they want it – there was a push against ‘roasting’ and other response videos recently, but again the solution is simply not to watch it.
Advertisers are supposedly the ones asking for this as it is ‘advertiser friendliness’ that is the excuse given. How could an advertiser be harmed here? The kinds of content being targeted are clearly popular and draw a lot of eyes, which is what the advertiser is paying for. This is not sponsorship, there is no direct link between the product and the content and while seeing adverts for Barbie showing next to ‘Uncle Anaconda’s Underage Trouser Power Hour’ might be amusing, nobody except the basest moron would associate the one with the other unless there was sponsorship. Advertisers already advertise around news programmes, edgy comedy shows and more on television. What’s the difference here, if there is any? None.
Nobody appears to gain from this and everybody is harmed – even the advertisers who end up with less exposure.
There’s no justification for it that holds up under scrutiny.
Are we then, those who protest, justified in seeking to exercise control over a privately owned media platform?
Youtube is not like an art gallery. It has – essentially – unlimited space to host content. A gallery could justify turning you away based on limited space or lack of talent or not fitting their remit. The cost/benefit is in favour of them. On Youtube however it costs them virtually nothing (per individual case) to host content and they gain. There’s not much of a defence there on economic or practical grounds.
Moral grounds? This becomes more tricky. If they don’t want certain kinds of content then to an extent that’s their prerogative. However, we live in interesting times. The public square is privately owned and the hard won freedoms we have when it comes to things like free expression, that protect us from the government, do not protect us – at least not in law – from private companies. This becomes an issue in the case of social media giants like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook because they now own the public square and their censorship has a massively deleterious effect.
There’s precedent for the state (acting as the will of the people) stepping in to protect people’s rights form private entities. Some of these are obvious – regulation on dumping waste, not being allowed to make false claims in advertising and so on, others are less obvious or more contentious. Is it right that we step in to protect a homosexual couple’s access to services for their weddings, or should we allow private businesses to be conducted according to their own conscience? What if they want to turn away blacks, or women? Is that OK?
This appears to be the sticking point for many, especially the economic libertarians, anarcho capitalists and so on. The abuse of power that comes in a wholly free market appears to be inevitable and this kind of censorship is an example of that – albeit a mild one. This is especially a problem when the company in question – such as Youtube – has such a de-facto monopoly.
This is where our argument and discussion should be occurring. Where individual and business rights collide, how monopoly status and the cheapness of digital storage interfaces with that.
Some Practical Solutions
1. First I suggest that anyone who runs into advertising on Youtube make a note of who is advertising and then contact them later. Express – politely – the issue with demonetisation and that blame is being placed on the advertisers. Tell them you prefer Youtube as a free speech platform and you do not want to support a company that suppresses free speech. If enough people do this to enough companies (explaining that advertising and content is divorced) then there may be some traction and a shift.
2. Give advertisers the freedom to advertise on ‘edgy’ content if they wish. Flag content as ‘limited monetisation’ if you wish, but let the advertisers choose if they want their adverts to run there or not, rather than simply demonetising. Many advertisers probably don’t care. Many would probably like to advertise next to very popular, controversial and topical content as it may fit their product profile better. Advertisers that don’t want to do so wouldn’t have to, advertisers that did would benefit, creators and viewers would continue to benefit from monetisation.
3. Allow Youtube Red to apply to the content you’re limiting. This would allow ‘edgy’ content to get money as if advertising were present, coming from the Red subscription. It would also encourage creators to encourage their followers to support Youtube Red, with a knock-on benefit for Youtube itself.
It is censorship. It’s not justifiable under the harm principle. Holding Youtube (and similar companies) to uphold free expression is a controversial and arguable point – an interesting discussion to have – but there were other ways to deal with this problem, and better ways than springing it on people.
People need to understand that censorship is more than governmental. That free speech is not limited to the US constitution. That the media landscape has changed and that rights and legislation need to catch up.
Political comics aren’t just limited to newspapers. You also find them online, related to various issues. This one’s been doing the rounds lately and while all such political cartoons are simplistic, this one is particularly terrible. I don’t think I’ve seen one that misrepresented the issue of free speech so badly since the somewhat notorious XKCD one. That was a shame, as XKCD normally has something of a level head. This one, however, is just ludicrous.
It is, of course, alluding to various online spats from Gamergate to ‘Ghostbros’ to the regular Hugo Awards side show, but it utterly misrepresents.
Panel 1: Title – Ironically, it may well turn out to be accurate rather than sarcastic.
Panel 2: The idea that feminism attacks free speech is meant to be seen as ridiculous, but it does – indeed – happen. There are any number of examples from building moral panics about video games (now the idea is that they cause ‘sexism’ rather than ‘violence’) to collusion with government to ban forms of pornography (Gail Dines and the UK kink porn production ban) to No-Platforming and Safe Spaces. It’s not just limited to feminism, but it is found across a swathe of people who – ironically and laughably – consider themselves progressive even as they attack people’s free expression, sex lives and other fundamental human freedoms they should be fighting for.
Panel 3: Case in point. ‘Calling out sexism in video games’ doesn’t mean that there is sexism and ‘criticism’, coming from the likes of Anita Sarkeesian or Jonathan McIntosh is not ‘criticism’ in the sense most people would understand it. This is not “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work,” or even “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.” This is claiming that these things do harm and should not exist. It is not presented as a matter of opinion or a disagreement that can be discussed, but something that ‘is’, and something that is ‘bad’. It is a bald assertion and any attempt to discuss, debunk or otherwise counter that claim is treated as confirmation of that claim and as a crime or violence in and of itself.
So ‘feminist criticism’ is, indeed, a threat to free expression because it’s not criticism, and it presents calls to action to change, remove and to force artistic works and other expression to change or be removed. If you think censorship is limited to governmental action, this kind of ‘criticism’ works there too, but even so, the ACLU has a fairly up to date definition which includes:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.
This isn’t differences of opinion. They are presented as facts, beyond question and to reiterate – since its important – any rebuttal is treated as confirmation and as an ‘attack’ of its own.
It’s also important to note for later that these kinds of ‘critics’ seem genuinely incapable of telling the difference between thought and action. So they will see a cultural artefact that includes – say – violence against women as violence against women (and approving of and encouraging it). This also works in reverse as we saw in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It allowed many people – even artists and writers – to refuse to commemorate and support Charlie Hebdo because they could not see a meaningful difference between Charlie Hebdo’s criticism of Islam and the ’emotional pain’ it caused, and the violent, actual, physical backlash they suffered.
Panel 4 & Panel 5: One of the great things about social media is that it empowers people to criticise, comment and debunk. This is, of course, not popular in some quarters which is why many sites of various kinds, but tending to have common ideological slants, have taken to removing comments sections or even up and down votes. This stifles the ability of people to point out problems in the assertions directly and such ‘fighting back’ is often conflated with the trolling etc that goes on, making a handy excuse to dismiss, deflect or drown out criticism. The irony here of course is in ‘critics’ lashing out at things people love and then recoiling in terror when they get the same kind of treatment in return. When their ideas are picked apart and tested – as they should be.
Panel 6: Here we see the conflation of criticism and trolls. Anyone and everyone who posts a controversial opinion of any sort online will get blowback and everyone gets trolled. Some people seem to advertise their soft-spots to trolls though, and yet still act surprised when they get attacked on it. A fat acceptance activist will be attacked for their weight, a feminist will receive trolling masquerading as misogyny, black people will receive trolling masquerading as racism. Trolls are not sincere, that’s the definition of a troll – someone who says something horrific or controversial simply to get a response. There are genuine crazies as well, of course, but – again – what happens is that all criticism and rebuttal gets lumped in with the trolls, and the trolls treated as sincere.
Panel 7-8: Nobody is being actively silenced here. They are deciding for themselves to stop speaking. All they have had is disagreement, sometimes strident, online from people they have insulted and tried to censor. The people coming at them have no ‘institutional power’ to do so, while in the reverse you will often find people going to authorities (see earlier) or abusing site rules, DMCA rules etc to silence people. In this instance there is no censorship going on. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone amongst the enemies of these ‘critics’ who advocates that they should not be allowed to speak or present their views. Rather they’re happy to have a free exchange of views, a ‘marketplace of ideas’. This is a very real and important difference. If they truly believed in their ‘criticisms’ they should be willing and able to stand by them, argue for them in the teeth of criticism. That instead they run, hide and attempt – again – to censor dissent suggests that their ideas are indefensible.
Panel 9: Indeed they did. They didn’t silence anyone, they stood up against people who attacked them and forced them to retreat. To any rational and reasonable onlooker who genuinely understands the terms and the differentiations, this is a victory for free expression – just couched in sarcastic terms by someone who knows nothing about it.
And mostly succeeded I think. Though I had to bite my tongue a few times. It is distressing to me that I can have this kind of reasonable discussion with someone whose politics I abhor and not with people ostensibly ‘on my side’ with whom I differ on far lesser points.