I am an angry, disaffected, far leftist. I find, constantly, that my ire is not directed where it should be – to the Trumps and Brexiters of this world – but towards my own side.
You expect the right wing to be sociopathic, hypocritical cunts. That is, after all, their modus operandi. You do not, however, expect it of the left with its professed values of reason, tolerance and fairness.
And that’s why I end up railing against my own side so much. They have betrayed these values and continue to betray these values. They have developed an arrogance, an orthodoxy, a set of commandments and taboos. They have forsaken equality for a spectrum of special interest groups. They’ve forsaken fairness for special pleading. Principle is gone, science is gone, reason is gone. They won’t even bother to make their case any more. It’s almost religious.
When they attack people like Trump I often find myself compelled, through my own principles of fairness – that I considered to be left wing principles – to defend him. 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. So many good arguments to be made with factual bases.
There’s one manifestation of this collapse and betrayal of principle I take pretty personally though. Laurie Penny.
It’s awkward and disappointing 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 – from her perspective – 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 necessary) changed. It went from being the principled, funny, consistent, even, rational voice to the mirror-universe version of everything it had used to oppose. 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, 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. Blocked. Secured the safe space against transgression. (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 – 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. Alienated by a left that has abandoned every principle for… some reason. It’s not so much that the right has preyed upon these people, or their emotions, but that the left has abandoned a huge swathe of people, has become too insane to support in its current incarnation and that people like Milo – sincere or not – are at least saying some of the things that people want to hear. Traditionally left-wing things.
Reason – or at least the appearance thereof.
As I write, Yiannopoulos, the fame-hungry right-wing provocateur and self-styled “most dangerous supervillain on the Internet,” is fighting off accusations of having once endorsed pedophilia. Former friends and supporters who long tolerated his outrage-mongering as childish fun are now dropping him like a red-hot turd: His book deal has been canceled, CPAC has disinvited him as a speaker, and today he resigned from his job at Breitbart.
The absolutely most important part of this summary of events is missing.
That these accusations are false.
If you don’t believe me, go and listen to the podcasts in their full, original form, with the context, cadence and tone intact.
The second most important thing about these events is also missing.
That these attacks did not come from the left, which has singularly failed to land a meaningful blow on Milo since his star became ascendant (and its not as if he’s not a target-rich environment) but that they come from the right. The traditionally conservative, anti-Trump, anti-libertarian wing of the American right.
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.
And that divide only increases when they start calling culturally libertarian leftists Nazis.
As they did with 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.
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 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.
That, even though it has grown 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 you’re doing is providing ‘lulz’ and showing how stupid you are.
People follow him, primarily for the free speech issue (which he’s absolutely right about) and for the fact he’ll broach and argue topics that are otherwise verboten (which he may or may not be right or wrong about to varying degrees).
His audience, however, knows not to take him too seriously.
Or are those teenage trolls smarter, more savvy and better at parsing intent than you?
This time, it’s backfired. This time, an ugly joke about having been taught to give head by a Catholic priest fell flat, as did a selection of quotes from video debates where, in Miracle Boy’s own words on Facebook: “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that.” Yiannopoulos protests that, this time, he really didn’t mean it, that his words have been taken out of context, that child sex abuse is real, and that he understands that words have consequences for victims.
A joke that people got and understood in context. A joke which caused no problem for an entire year. A joke many of us heard, in context, when it was first made and which, while it had shocking effect in the moment, was contextually not to be taken seriously. A self-deprecating joke even, about his own victimhood.
He was taken out of context, he never said child abuse wasn’t real, as to the apology I think that was insincere and out of character for him and he probably shouldn’t have made it, but there weren’t a lot of available choices.
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 and now they’ve attempted to take out Milo (I suspect he may be more resilient, 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.
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. This was 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 they 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.
That you’re happy to silence someone like him for secular blasphemy while hte 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 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 fired, 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.
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, 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. 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. 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.
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 and it’s not Milo or those like him causing it.
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 willing and incapable of skepticism when others play the victim I suppose I should be pleased you finally find the gumption to be skeptical and hope it is even 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?
They’re not flint-eyed skinheads or brawlers, sure. They’re also not remotely fascists and 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.”
And 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 push, but now they’re biting back, that traditional right and the left has forgotten what it’s about.
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.
And 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 of a child being denied Haribo.
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 rather than outrage.
I suppose we should be thankful that ‘paedophile’ hasn’t lost its power to disgust, but if this keeps up, that too will lose its power.
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, much as Hilary’s breathtakingly corrupt campaign exposed the rotten guts of political campaigning and funding.
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 a while.
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?
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.
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. They’re really, when you get down to it, just the libertarian right and their ‘crime’ is a mild blasphemy. Wanting to talk about things, to debate and discuss things the ‘left’ considers settled and orthodox.
So, for legal reasons, I must state that Milo Yiannopolous, possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist. For moral reasons, however, I must state that Yiannopoulos’ personal beliefs are irrelevant given that he’s built a career off peddling bigotry in public. What about sexism? “Sexism I don’t have the energy to wrestle with you over,” says Yiannopoulos, who, I can personally confirm, is the maple-cured bacon of misogynist piggery — oily and sweet and crass and, on a gut level, dreadful for your health.
‘Possibly of all the smug white people in the world…’ see, this is the kind of thing that gives people like Milo their power. You decry racism, but you are then massively, unapologetically racist in your assumption that all white people – except Milo – are racists. A child can see through such hypocrisy.
Disagreement isn’t bigotry. Rejection of ideological feminism’s overreach isn’t misogyny. It is hard to have the energy to debate that with someone who thinks rejection of an unsafe ideological house of cards equates to hatred of a gender.
He questions, he probes, he challenges – usefully if not sincerely – but that doesn’t make him a bigot and that accusation is as spurious and self-defeating as the accusations of Nazism or, indeed, paedophilia.
It seems perfunctory to point out the hypocrisy of building a movement and a career on the back of insulting people — Muslims, migrants, women, people of color — while nursing a hair-trigger sensitivity to any personal attack you haven’t pre-approved. That hypocrisy, though, does not appear self-evident to anyone within this movement, because a fundamental tenet of far-right pro-trolling is that it’s only other people’s feelings that are frivolous. Their own feelings, by contrast, including the capacity to feel shame when they’re held accountable for their actions, are so momentous that infringing them is tantamount to censure, practically fascism in and of itself. These are men, in short, who have founded an entire movement on the basis of refusing to handle their emotions like adults.
This is the part that prompted me to this lengthy reply, because the desperate lack of self-awareness in the last sentence is almost physically shocking.
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 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. 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 paedophila or a paedophile 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.
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 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.
This paedo thing however? Bullshit. As are the overwhelming majority of it unintentionally ironic accusations of bigotry you have tossed at him.
He’s an arsehole, but a useful arsehole. The ‘kids’ around him are not bad people, not Nazis, they’re people whose natural home should be on the left. The left I remember anyway. The left that cared about equality, not ID categories. The left that attacked social issues regardless of race, gender, sexuality or status. The left that was rooted in science, in logic, reason, evidence, debate, understanding. The left that was able to shift and moderate and adapt. The left that cared about and protected freedoms, even for people it disagreed with.
If Milo is a monster, he’s a monster of our creation from our negligence, from our bigotry, from our ideological missteps, from leaving a vacuum for the right to fill.
And he’s right about free speech.