Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right’s angel and perennial provocateur, is slated to speak at Auburn’s campus Oct. 7 and the University of Alabama Oct. 10.
Recently, a friend of mine wrote an eloquent opinion in The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s newspaper, calling for UA to disinvite Milo Yiannopoulos.
I couldn’t disagree with his stance more.
While I disavow Milo Yiannopoulos and his views, attempts to suppress his voice are not the way to go about stopping his movement.
Instead of hiding his voice away, we should engage with it. And no, it’s not the equivalent of engaging with a sixth-grader who makes “your mom” and “women belong in the kitchen” jokes.
While Milo and a misogynistic sixth-grader are equally ridiculous, the two are importantly dissimilar in the fact that Milo’s rhetoric actually carries weight in shaping peoples’ minds. To conflate Milo with a sixth-grader is absurd; the two must be treated differently.
If the goal is to untangle alt-righters from Milo’s ideology and prevent it from spreading to more minds, disinviting him from speaking is an impractical, even if well-intentioned, means to that end.
Paradoxically, disinvitations lend his ideas more credence in the eyes of his followers and paint Milo as a freedom fighter for free speech, thus potentially pushing the undecided toward him.
This disengagement inadvertently gives off the impression that ideas like multiculturalism and Black Lives Matter are weak or ill-founded.
Milo thrives off the left’s penchant to censor and end discussion, while thinking that by ending discussion, it has miraculously solved or mitigated the deep-seated issues our people face.
From the mouth of Milo himself, “The bigger of a taboo you make something, the more attractive it is for young pranksters.”
The left’s work in shifting social paradigms has been important and beneficial for humanity.
More people than ever acknowledge microaggressions are real, gender roles are arbitrary and belittling, racism is rampant and homophobia is awful.
But the methodology many on the left opt for has its excesses. Silencing those who spew racist, misogynistic or homophobic ideas may seem preferential and more comfortable in the short run, but it ends up spreading and maintaining the disease it’s meant to cure.
Creating a religion out of censoring speech does not destroy bad ideas, and it’s especially unsurprising it doesn’t work in a country like the United States, where freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas is an integral part of our national identity.
To those who are already sucked in by the alt-right movement, this sort of censorship screams cowardice and to others, sometimes folks who haven’t been swayed one way or another, it stinks of elitism and pure laziness.
Like it or not, image is central with regards to whether a movement will be successful or not. We have to operate within that reality and try not to come off as elitist, lazy or cowardly.
Instead of disallowing Milo from speaking on campus, it would be more beneficial with respect to furthering discussion if campuses let Milo speak and students invited speakers who disagree with Milo to come speak as well.
This way, people who are susceptible to Milo or already following him would be more willing to listen to arguments against Milo.
You can’t expect this sort of open-mindedness if you disallow them from having their opinion showcased on campus. And of course, there will still be folks on both sides who simply aren’t interested in listening to the opposing side at all.
Nevertheless, we should still choose the course of action that will lead to the most people being open to anti-Milo ideas.
An important component to consider is that universities allowing speakers who are invited by students to speak at universities is not any more an endorsement of that speaker or their beliefs than my writing a defense for their right to speak is.
This non-endorsement shouldn’t be confused with something like a university hiring a professor to teach things like homeopathy or astrology, which unlike the student-invited speaker case, involves the university directly selecting and paying an individual, which amounts to an endorsement of sorts. The two are importantly different.
Universities aren’t compromising their integrity by merely allowing people to state their opinion, even if the opinion shared is misguided or immoral when put into practice.
So long as speakers aren’t openly advocating riots, theft or physical harm, universities should feel comfortable allowing opinions should be freely exchanged and debated.
Furthermore, speakership should not be contingent upon the speaker’s values being in line with those of the prospective university they plan to speak at.
If this were the litmus test by which speakership were determined, would Bobby Kennedy have able to speak at the University of Alabama before it was desegregated in 1963, a time when the University’s values clearly weren’t aligned with the values of any integrationist? No.
Obviously, to say the worldviews of Milo Yiannopoulos and Bobby Kennedy were congruent would be a terrible lie.
But their presence on the fringes of a debate is exactly alike. It is the ideas which reside out on those fringes which need special protection, lest we forget all of those in the past who brought forth contrarian and, at the time, seemingly immoral ideas such as the earth not being the center of the universe, the divine right of kings being a sham or in the Deep South, slavery being a vile institution.
None of Milo’s ideas are commensurate with the aforementioned ideas, but the principle we need to hold is that contrarian ideas must be protected. Even if it means bad ones are brought before the public sometimes.
If a university’s values were to instill fear and hatred into folks (a silly, but useful example) would falling back on the justification “so-and-so’s values don’t align with the university’s” seem as good an idea? It wouldn’t.
This intuition shows that a university having values doesn’t inherently mean those are the only values which should be expressed or shown just by virtue of them being the university’s values.
Having Milo on campus is a great opportunity to advertise and push forward the ideas which run against his worldview.
It’s a great opportunity for people with better ideas to put their ideas directly against his. Instead of hiding Milo from the student body, the student body should attend his event, ask him tough questions and have a countering event of their own that showcases beliefs which differ from Milo’s.
Perpetuating the partisan echo chamber does a greater disservice to the American body politic than a provocateur ever could.
Weston Sims is the Opinions editor for The Plainsman. He can be reached at opinion@ThePlainsman.com.