Playing Wendy: Laurie Penny amongst the ‘Lost Boys’

nadyaphoto1I 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.

Laurie Penny.

***

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.

That…

“These people have good intentions, but – by Klono’s iron hooves – they’re divorced from reality.”

…moment.

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.

Freedom.

Fairness.

Equality.

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.

Do you?

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.

That’s it.

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 13557130_544070502462556_200033014_nlogic, 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.

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Censorship, Justification, Youtube and Business Vs Individual Rights

6219961958_f51291fba0_oAlright, let’s do this as a blog, rather than a video as the internet is still playing up and it might be better to do this in this format.

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

Pax.

Meditations on Cultural Libertarianism: Censorship

Censorship is always a contentious topic and in the video above Ms Southern makes a point I’ve been making for some years now, that censorship is not limited to governmental action and that acts of social censure often end up being enforced by the government in the end anyway. Take Gail Dines’ anti-pornography initiatives, now being strong-arm enforced in the UK thanks to the Conservative government drawing strength from her actions, or look at how entry to the UK (and Australia) has been denied to the rap/hip-hop artist Tyler the Creator on dubious grounds, in no small part due to pressure from feminist groups.

Before we go on, though, it’s necessary to define censorship. People who want to censor, tend to claim that an act of censorship can only come from the government. This seems to me to be an odd definition since the office of censor originated theologically, and we also talk about issues like ‘self censorship’. It also seems absurd not to call the threats of death and violence to cartoonists over the Muhammed issue censorship.

The ACLU has a more up-to-date definition:

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.

They also caution on problems with pressure groups, boycotts etc, which can become dangerous. I strongly suggest reading the whole item.

Let’s take censorship out to its complete extension then, censorship is:

Anything that suppresses, controls or constricts free expression.

The next important point to get across then, is that censorship is not necessarily, inherently, bad. Sometimes there can be valid reasons to constrict free speech – and I say this as a free expression radical. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes, including this one.

Contextually it may be better not to tell your wife she looks fat in that dress. It may be better not to expose very young children to images of torture, abuse and dismemberment. It may be better not to allow someone to sell pictures of grown adults having sex with children, and so on.

So given censorship is not an inherent evil, how do we navigate when it is, or is not, justified (which is the real argument around censorship)?

  • Does it do real harm?
  • What is the context?
  • What is the cost/benefit?
  • Is it avoidable?

The most important aspect here would be the Harm Principle of JS Mill.

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.

Which is to say that the only true justification for the exercising of any power over others, including censorship, is if it prevents harm, if it is for the greater good individually and collectively.

When we ask ‘does it do real harm?’ we are asking a scientifically answerable question and the truth is, simply, that for most forms of expression there is little or no evidence that it really does – unless it exists in a monoculture. A diversity of opinion allows for what one might consider harmful viewpoints to be challenged and debunked and for new ideas and thoughts – however controversial the source – to circulate.

Expression, then, should not be impeded without being shown to be harmful. The problem we run into here in society right now is that so much activist oriented and funded research is rubbish, as is a great deal of privately funded research – telling people what they want to know.

When we ask ‘what is the context?’ we are determining whether any such control or censorship might be limited, or whether we may allow some things at some times and not at others. We might allow something for adults which we don’t allow for children, for example. In a febrile atmosphere of racial tension we might constrict speech along those lines, more than we might during times of greater peace (even racists, on both sides of the colour divide, have a right to free speech normally).

What is the cost/benefit is an interesting question. There may be some forms of speech, such as the aforementioned racist speech, which have attached costs and benefits, the benefit being that allowing it defines us as a free society and guards against the stifling of other speech via spurious accusations of racism (such as calling criticism of Islam racist). The cost is that it can allow hate to spread and bad ideas to take root (though the best solution to this is generally more and better speech).

The last question is a relatively new phenomenon. Is the expression avoidable? There is, I think, a fundamental difference between a man shouting sexist abuse in the street and the same man doing the same thing on social media. You can ignore, but you cannot ‘remove’ the man shouting in the street without invoking the force of the state. On Twitter, Facebook or similar you can simply block him and he will vanish from your existence.

That’s active media, but what about things such as television, radio and so forth? There you can simply choose not to consume the expression. You can choose not to buy it, not to watch it, to change the channel or to close the book. There it’s even easier – even on broadcast media – and there’s even less reason for restriction.

What about billboards or public advertisements? Two reasonable recent incidents involve those, one a helpline that painted all men as abusers and which was protested by New Fathers for Justice (IIRC) and the other Protein World’s fitness-prompting posters which were said to be misogynistic and fat shaming. Both are unavoidable, but the ‘harm argument’ is not particularly strong in either case, and better met with more speech – in my opinion.

The overall point, which I hope I’ve made clear, is that constricting speech is only really excusable in those instances where harm can be directly shown and, to be even more abundantly clear, that means actual harm. Not hurt feelings, not offence, but actual, lasting harm backed by compelling evidence that this is the case.

Enforcing moral or ideological censorship, purely on the basis of personal objection, cannot and should not be possible and even people with ideologically opposing beliefs, even hatred, have a basic right to free expression. So long as we have a pluralistic media landscape where many ideas and concepts circulate we are all better off.

Meditations on Cultural Libertarianism

Allum Bokhari, a liberal fellow writing for – of all places – Breitbart, has posited that we are experiencing a new cultural phenomenon, which he dubs ‘Cultural Libertarianism‘, and which has been somewhat discussed – critically – by the Centre for a Stateless Society, pointing it out as one side, or an emerging counter-revolution, in the increasingly vicious culture war.

Mr Bokhari defines this Cultural Libertarianism largely by defining what it is in opposition to, rather than what its values and positive characteristics are. He does cover, briefly, what he identifies as Cultural Libertarian values which I’ll use as the basis for this discussion.

  • Championing free expression.
  • Resisting Identity Politics and public shaming.
  • Defending and understanding humour.
  • Opposing nannying and ‘safe spaces’.
  • Defending personal freedom.
  • Facts over feelings.
  • Valuing consumers and producers over third parties.
  • Celebrating culture in all its forms.

Some of these seem redundant to me and the aspects which are oppositional to what is being called ‘progressivism’ often stem from existing values. In promoting that positive value you inevitably come into opposition with others.

If I were to identify what I thought of as the core values of this emerging phenomenon, I would identify them as such:

  • A belief in the inherent value of free expression.
  • A belief in the equality, potential and strength of human beings.
  • A belief in the power and value of personal liberty.
  • A belief in the power, utility and relevance of reason.

It is, probably, necessary to define ‘libertarianism’ (small ‘l’) before going any further. If you say ‘libertarianism’ to most people, they picture some some of Ayn Rand worshipping anarcho-capitalist with an absolute belief in the free market and no sense of fairness or life-goals beyond unbridled profit.

This isn’t necessarily an unfair assessment of many economic Libertarians (big ‘l’) but libertarianism is not so specific an idea. The toxic and specific definition is so pernicious it has even begun to infiltrate dictionaries. Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought includes the extreme laissez-faire economic perspective, but also describes more classical libertarianism as a form of liberalism which…

…believes in freeing people not merely from the constraints of traditional political institutions, but also from the inner constraints imposed by their mistaken attribution of power to ineffectual things. The active libertarian is engaged in a process of liberation and wages war on all institutions through which a man’s vision of the world is narrowed… …among them the institutions of religion, the family and the customs of social – especially sexual – conformity.

This doesn’t quite describe what we’re talking about here either, though you can see the spirit of it within it. You can see echoes of what we’re talking about in both economic and social libertarianism though. An economic libertarian advocates minimal – or no – societal (governmental) interference in the conduct of business, a social libertarian advocates minimal – or no – societal (governmental) interference in social conduct and, then, a cultural libertarian would advocate minimal – or no – societal (or governmental) interference in cultural conduct.

  • An economic libertarian might argue against business regulation.
  • A social libertarian might advocate for the legalisation of sex work and recreational drugs.
  • A cultural libertarian might advocate against any and all constrictions of free expression.

To me, much of this seems to be what I have often longed for in the past five years, a reassertion of Enlightenment values and of classical liberalism.

All of western society which, love it or loathe it, has been powerfully successful, derives in its modern form from Enlightenment values of reason, empiricism, skepticism, independence, individualism and, you might say, an attempt to bring about the maturity of society by separating it from political and religious tyranny.

Classical liberalism, to finish contextualising cultural libertarianism, has the asserted values of:

  • Belief in the supreme value of the individual, their freedom and rights.
  • Belief in natural rights, inherent and independent to society and government.
  • Recognition of the supreme importance and value of freedom, with the view that interference should be limited and minimal and only justifiable to the extent that it maximises freedom.
  • A humanistic view of human affairs, rather than a theological view.
  • Universalism, that rights and duties transcend place and time and that the human condition is our common experience.
  • Advocacy of tolerance in morality and religion.

I believe we can see a common thread, then, running from the explorations of the Enlightenment, through classical liberalism (and democratic socialism, much as that may shock and horrify some cultural libertarians) through to today’s new cultural libertarians.

That’s a noble tradition.

Of course, there are points of confusion where the values from this heritage also seem to be held by cultural libertarianism’s opposition, or where it seems to run at odds to some of the other values of people who might be dubbed cultural libertarians. I don’t want to dwell too much on the negative – as I stated at the start – but some aspects are worth pointing out.

It confuses many how people of such opposing values on other scores can find themselves in common cultural cause. I, for example, have little I agree with – say – Adam Baldwin or Katie Hopkins on, but however obnoxious I find them or they find me, I think we all would agree on one thing. That we each have the right to our opinions and the right to express them. Supporting a person’s right to free expression does not entail agreeing with their economic or social positions. People are so quick to slap an identity on someone – friend or foe alike – that nuanced discussion becomes impossible because you’ve been written off as a ‘conservative’ or a ‘misogynist’ or whatever else.

People are more than their identity tags.

Another point of contention might be the nature of freedom and of rights. There’s always a tension between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ and between a person’s right to do something and another person’s right to be free of something. ‘The right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose’, so to speak, but how much nasal protection is in order?

Cultural libertarians will tend to favour ‘freedom to’ and JS Mill’s formulation of the Harm Principle would seem to offer a good guide to where intervention is morally and ethically justified.

“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.”

‘Harm’, of course, is the centre of much of the modern debate, what constitutes actual harm, whether it includes emotional harm, whether it includes taking offence and whether it’s acceptable to take offence on behalf of someone else. I would argue that cultural libertarians mean genuine and actual harm – such as direct advocacy of violence – and not insult or offence.

Tolerance is the last arena I shall briefly touch on, where confusion might arise. Tolerance, in common parlance, has come to mean ‘strenuously not offending or upsetting anyone’, whereas tolerance in this sense – and more properly if I’m any judge – means putting up with and coping with running into contradictory views and being able to cope with their existence. Ironically the opposite of what ‘tolerance’ has come to mean.

These are some initial thoughts on a phenomenon and proposed ‘new’ social movement that I find fascinating and I shall probably continue to discuss and attempt to identify what it means as time goes on.

#News Internet Reporting: Tyler the Creator Barred from Oz

A couple of days ago I made this video, a sort of ‘how-to- guide to avoid a great deal of the internet reporting mistakes that most news outlets slip into. By great fortune, an event fell into our collective lap to show how media fails to report on the internet, and how these guidelines might help.

Rapper ‘Tyler the Creator‘ has – allegedly (at time of writing this was not confirmed) been denied entry into Australia to do a show, largely due to the agitation of a feminist organisation called ‘Collective Shout’ and in particular one of their members Coralie Alison.

You already know you’re in for a bumpy ride when online feminism is concerned, but when you involve the rap community, a controversial rapper, and you account for the fact that Tyler is known to many people for this tweet…

cyber-bullying-tyler-the-creator

Then you know things are going to get extra interesting, wise as the tweet is.

So to recap, a rap performer has (allegedly) been denied a visa to perform in Australia, due to the intervention of a feminist group. How is this being reported?

Not very responsibly.

It’s being reported in terms of ‘misogynistic hate mobs’ attacking feminist activists, and the fact that they have successfully (it would seem) prevented an ‘undesirable person’ from entering their country to practice their free expression has been largely ignored. I mean, it’s obvious that the only reason anyone might be angry or upset is because these people are women, right? It couldn’t have anything to do with censorship, authoritarianism or lack of understanding of rap culture, could it?

Let’s apply the rules…

1. Am I being trolled?

Yes.

A huge amount of the abuse etc directed at Coralie and vice versa appears to be trolls. There are egg account, low volume accounts, brand new accounts and clearly dedicated trolling accounts all involved. Much of the ‘worst’ of the abuse can be dismissed as irrelevant trolling that isn’t representative of either side.

2. Understand what a troll is

In addition to the above, many of the angry people have genuine reasons to be angry. They’re not trolling or being abusive or harassing, but expressing their outrage and anger over what has happened. They have legitimate beef, as do the anti-censorship activists and others. Disagreement, however strongly, doesn’t make one a troll, abuser or harasser.

3. Understand online movements

Reaction here is organic. Individual people and existing networks of interested parties (such as anti-censorship groups) have latched on because the controversy fits their interests. This is very different to organised harassment, it’s emergent behaviour.

4. Understand Chan/Anon culture

Tyler’s tweet on cyberbullying virtually makes him a patron saint of anon/chan culture. So if he gets in trouble it’s going to draw them. Amongst the trolls you’ll find plenty of people expressing their anger in less-than-pc terms, but this still isn’t evidence of misogyny or other nasties, their anger is legitimate, they’re just not saying it in a way the general public is used to. A tech reporter should know better. What’s happened also plays into identity politics, which is the philosophical opposite to anon/chan.

5. Be Fair

The story is being reported in a one-sided fashioned, centred around the supposed misogynistic abuse of the people responsible for the censorship and visa denial (allegedly) and downplaying the fact that a huge act of artistic censorship has taken place. The other side of the story should be more important, especially since it plays into the motivation of those who have objected and explains their anger. It also annihilates the (pre-existing) ‘harassment of women online’ narrative by making it clear that what’s being hated is not women, but a specific group of feminists and one particular woman, because of something they have done. Not what genitals they have. This is not misogyny, but giving a woman or group of women a free pass when they do something wrong (like censor an artist) ‘because vagina’, is sexism.

6. Clickbait and Gonzo

Gonzo isn’t a problem here, but clickbait is. ‘WOMAN TARGETED BY SEXISTS!’ will draw attention, play into an existing culture war and cause comment battles, all of which means clicks. It’s not, however, an accurate reporting of the story. This may be made worse by the fact female journalists are the one female group that has been shown to get a bit more abuse online than the norm – which is fairly equal.

Conclusion

So what would a responsible and informed report look like?

Well, to hit the main points…

A controversial rapper has (apparently) been denied a visa to enter Australia and perform, thanks to the influence of a feminism pressure group. This censorship, enacted on their behalf by the Australian government has caused a significant online backlash on social media against the office of immigration and the feminist group, particularly Coralie. I would then compare this to the deportation of Islamic extremists or the barring of entry to the UK which was enacted on pick-up artist Julien Blanc.

The most important aspect here is the censorship and the angry reaction to it. It’s irresponsible to claim this is misogyny (hatred of women for being women) when there is a very clear and obvious cause and effect, and it’s irresponsible to lump those with legitimate anger and outrage in with obvious trolls or a fringe minority of genuine abusers.

What do you think?

Beyond Gamergate – Boycotts & Harm: Fiscal & Creative

Again, not an academic, see previous posts.

The next question in the series that I was asked was:

Demonstrate that you were boycotted. Demonstrate that you suffered economic harm from a boycott against yourself. Demonstrate that said boycott changed your creative behaviour, and how.

This will necessarily get personal and some of you may find some of this article difficult since it will relate to mental health issues and further knock-on issues surrounding those. Furthermore this is a personal question, dressed up as an academic question and since it directly affects me I cannot really be considered a reliable source. To establish this completely firmly I would have to disclose a great deal of personal, financial information and records which I’m not disposed to do and in some cases am contractually withheld from doing.

I shall do my best though.

Establishing direct financial impact of boycotts and disinfo campaigns is, frankly, beyond my mathematical skill. The business I am in (primarily self publishing) does not have a steady stream of sales in which one can establish upward or downward ticks. Rather sales follow the Long-Tail Model. For those who are too lazy to click, this means you get an initial spike in sales and then these rapidly drop off, but go on for a long time.

So an income chart for my personal imprint, Postmortem Studios, would more closely resemble a heartbeat than a normal sales chart. This is even further complicated by the fact that with each new release you draw attention to your back catalogue and so end up with extra sales of old products. You also have to consider that some products do better than others.

Also controversy, in my personal experience, tends to spike short term sales, but may be to a longterm detriment in overall sales down the line.

TL;DR – The maths is too complicated for me.

Income does relate to productivity, the more you produce the more you sell. Perhaps I could look at output in terms of pages or something similar, but then you have books of different sizes and how do you compare card games to books? Plus there’s the complication of freelancing.

Controversy and boycott attempts are documented, though finding archives of the petitions is proving a little tricky you can find corroborating evidence here (citations 8 & 9). More recently companies and individuals went so far as to threaten to boycott sales points, most specifically RPGNOW. More information and a collection of references can be found HERE.

Lowered productivity definitely does have financial impact though and the personal toll of all this has been pretty huge. I am now only able to work four half-days a week with any real reliability. Keeping in mind that this is a crude measure and limiting to OBS personal releases I can show that prior to In Defence of Rape in June 2012 (issues had arisen before, but this was when it got intense and boycotting etc began) I was maintaining an output of approximately…

21.76 pages of saleable material per month in the 35 months after

And after an output of approximately…

87.3 pages of saleable material per month in the 35 months before

This is an incredibly unreliable measure. It excludes art books but includes books where I sell material by others, with my role being editing/layout/production. It includes some of the work for Chronicle City but not all as some hasn’t made sale and I currently have a LOT of written material in limbo. If those were included I think we’d see a relationship of work values closer to half than 1/4.

So it’s really impossible, to reiterate, to assess the impact of boycotts and reputational damage economically without some assistance to wrangle the mathematics. On a personal basis the impact has been considerable. It has required me to adopt pen-names, it has led to the loss (or lack of consideration) of freelance work, which isn’t reflected in these figures. It has also cost me two suicide attempts and something in the region of £5,000 and rising in medical bills for ongoing therapy and drug treatment. In a country with a national health service, this is a lot.

I think the surveys and the attempts to strongarm Onebookshelf show that the boycotts and reputational damage are serious, even without the the hard economic data. The harm to my health also has a financial cost attached in terms of treatment costs and capacity for useful work.

The second part of the question is how has this affected my work?

There is no way to demonstrate this that isn’t anecdotal, so all I can offer is a statement.

I write about the things that interest and concern me. In my corpus of work, if you’re familiar with it, you will find a common thread of interest in sexuality in games, low fantasy, magical realism in the form of plausible societal structures, dystopian fiction, the interplay/blur between the real and imaginary and – less pretentiously – games as fun, separate from such analysis. Because I am largely free to follow my enthusiasms I tend to work according to where my inspiration and waning energy is. This is why you have The Little Grey Book, this is why you have Privilege Check and this is why you have Gamergate: The Card Game – because these things are interesting and because I like to challenge censorship.

So in some part I am ‘running on spite’, defiant in the face of attempts to censor and control and even more fascinated the more I encounter resistance, trying to understand offence culture, provoke it, understand and expose it through satire. In other ways I do find myself self-censoring because I have to weigh-up whether I have the mental energy and resilience to wade through another fight and another round of character assassination and misrepresentation.

I would have liked to have given Kagai! a more explicitly sexual and ero-guro element but a combination of budgetary and depression based factors got in the way of doing so. For a long time I wanted to produce more specialist versions of Hentacle/Cthentacle to expand the joke but while both were originally well received in the mode intended they have since been used as a stick to beat me with, so the yaoi and furry versions will never see the light of day because at this point the smaller niche markets for such material can no longer secure sufficient sales and the threat of being censored from the main sales outlets would leave me out of pocket. Not to mention the tragic and untimely death of the original artist. I have also long wanted to do a better, more serious version of the adult material supplements I once wrote for Mongoose, but again given the effort people put into misinterpreting and accusing it simply doesn’t feel worth the hassle even though I consider it a worthwhile project.

Letting myself self-censor in such a way, simply to avoid the threats and misrepresentations of fuckwits also feels like a personal failing and contributes to the aforementioned depression. I feel like I should be able to plough on regardless.

If anyone can suggest how I can extract useful information from my sales data to determine the effect of boycotting and extortion I might be able to turn up more useful, harder data but as things stand this is all I can offer at present. The problem with many boycotts – such as the ones against me – is that they derive from wilful misrepresentation and libel that bears little or no relation to the facts of the matter, but which – nonetheless – fire up people’s emotions.

Pax

Spree Preach?

free_speech

This XKCD cartoon has been doing the rounds with various people agreeing vociferously with it. I’ve written quite a bit about the rise of private censorship before and yet we’re still having this argument and people are being extremely slow to wake up to the changing nature of communication and creativity in the modern world.

This very old fashioned and tightly defined idea of what censorship is, is no longer really useful. The government, despite all the (legitimate) worries about surveillance culture, is not really the main concern for anyone in the modern arena. What is the concern and what has the greatest impact is private censorship in the form of corporations and activist groups (social media being to reasoned discussion what the 24 hour news cycle is to informative current affairs).

As is pretty much usual with capitalism, power and wealth has accumulated in a handful of truly influential groups. Examples would include Google, Paypal, eBay, Facebook and Amazon. These companies have a hugely disproportionate effect on people’s ability to freely express themselves. Google is no longer a truly neutral search engine and on its other products content is filtered and removed. Ebay restricts the sale of legal materials on a ‘moral’ basis. Paypal has repeatedly tried to restrict payments for certain, legal, materials and has confiscated or delayed funds raised by crowdfunding. Facebook’s surveillance is far creepier and intrusive than any other and again, even legal material is censored and banished, even if privately shared or promoted. Amazon has de-listed certain titles, its crowdfunding arm has also cancelled and withdrawn perfectly legal projects.

Are there other channels? Yes. Are they as successful, as broadly available? No. Not by orders of magnitude. To any practical extent many of these channels – perhaps most especially PayPal – are the only game in town.

When it comes to activist groups, especially those calling themselves ‘progressive’, social media shrieking draws the attention of mainstream media desperately trying to remain relevant and lends power and voice to tone-deaf controversies such as Suey Park’s ‘#cancelcolbert’ or pointless campaigns such as No More Page 3. Worse is when these kinds of campaigns are base on lies, such as Gail Dines anti-pornography activities or those of the various anti sex work organisations, lies that drown out, censor and marginalise the voices of those genuinely in the know and involved in these things.

There is precedent for guaranteeing the rights of people in a private context.

We have the right, for example, not to be discriminated against by a business for our sexuality, gender, race or religion. Something that businesses used to be free to do. While there are some backward steps –  such as people within businesses being given permission in some countries and states to refuse services based on religious objections (contraception provision etc) but overall there has been progress in guaranteeing basic rights in the private as well as the public sphere and free expression should be included in that, in my opinion.

That isn’t to say anyone should be forced to see anything they don’t want to – though this attitude is creating dangerous echo chambers – just that those providing services should not be able to censor and control in contravention of one of the basic and most universal of human rights (enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights).

By way of example, say you host internet fora as a company. The individual fora should be able to enforce their own rules and standards for who can use them and what’s acceptable behaviour, but in order to preserve free expression communications companies, such as hosts, should be beholden to host legal material. When it comes to payment companies the idea that they can steal people’s money or block payments for legitimate, legal purposes also needs to be challenged. How can conservative groups that claim to be in support of a free market also support the idea that a person can’t spend their own money on whatever legal goods they please?

This outdated view of what constitutes censorship leaves the door open for huge amounts of injustice from the silencing of dissent in important social debates to the denial of services and the constriction of a free internet to an end to online anonymity and the opportunities for free expression it presents.

Think twice before you smugly, and erroneously, say ‘censorship is just a government thing’ and consider what – exactly – you’re excusing.