Milo Yiannopoulos reaches the limit for his "free speech" argument. (Image Credit: Instagram/milo.yiannopoulos)
Every legal system in the world recognizes gradations of bad behavior. It’s why, thank the judiciary, a person will face different penalties for stealing a wallet than robbing a bank. Yep, both are wrong. And what’s more, they’re both wrong within the exact same category of crime – theft. But the scale – of both cash taken and, more importantly, people impacted – is not really comparable.
Ergo, different penalties.
So I was surprised, then shocked and finally disturbed at a string of tweets Monday night expressing a certain type of outrage over Milo Yiannopoulos losing a book deal with Simon & Schuster.
For those who don’t know, Yiannopoulos was (he resigned, as of yesterday) an editor at Breitbart News whose provocative headlines were reliably incendiary. Some exemplary titles: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism Or Cancer?”
Yiannopolous has never been entirely clear about whether or not he actually believes the things he writes or says, or is just using his weaponized language to mask what amounts to an R-rated version of 21st century crank calling. Which is one way to get lots of attention and book deal money, especially since Yiannopoulos is unapologetically gay, and that’s not your expected right-wing identity box.
He first came to fame by leading the Gamergate movement, a male-centric backlash to a push by female game designers to promote gender equality in video games. Yiannopoulos and his troll army went to work cyberbullying female game designers. Since then, they’ve been similarly happy to turn their Pepe angst against Black Lives Matter and “cuckservatives” (alt-right term for conservatives who aren’t in the tank for Trump).
Adults have options. If someone says something sexist or racist to you, you’re an adult. You can think through that, and come up with a solution. But children don’t have options in that way. Their brains are not capable of understanding historic context – they’re not even fully able to process their own emotions.
Then Yiannopoulos got himself kicked off his @Nero Twitter handle for the racist way he and his followers attacked Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones. Their coordinated hate campaign included Yiannopoulos putting up made-up screen shots that tried to portray Jones as promoting her own racist ideas. Are you in love with Milo yet??
Naturally, liberals have despised Yiannopoulos from the get-go, but plenty of Republicans also reject his tactics, if not all of his policy aims. He’s a provocateur – being hated is his bread and butter.
But after the Conservative Political Action Conference invited Yiannopoulos to speak, some disgusted politicos of the right-leaning bent finally had enough. They dug up video of Yiannopoulos suggesting that the sexual age of consent is more or less a problem. His words: “We get hung up on this kind of child abuse stuff … this arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent.” As the New York Times reports, Yiannopoulos also says “he has no problem with older men abusing children as young as 13.”
And for that, Simon & Schuster dropped his book deal with them.
Which was the right choice, obviously. But here’s what kind of threw me on Twitter – loads of liberal reactions that amounted to: “Oh, so THAT’S where you draw the line? Pedophilia? REALLLY?”
Racism Is Ok, Pedophilia Isn’t: Simon & Schuster Axes Milo Yiannopoulos’ Book https://t.co/2qapYihIjp
— jamiaw (@jamiaw) February 21, 2017
Takeaway: Major book publishers will give lucrative deals to an overt racist, misogynist, and Islamophobe, but draw the line at pedophilia
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) February 20, 2017
— Kathleen J Frydl (@kfrydl) February 21, 2017
And in my mind, I was like, “Uh, yeah. That would be a new line.”
Because there actually is a pretty huge difference between being a bigoted, racist, sexist man who launches online attacks against innocent ADULTS, and promoting the sexual abuse of CHILDREN.
Uh, yeah, friends. That is a different ballpark of awful.
Adults have options. If someone says something sexist or racist to you, you’re an adult. You can think through that, and come up with a solution. It doesn’t make the perpetrator’s actions right – which is exactly why one of your solutions can sometimes be to take legal action. You can understand and express coherent arguments against the heinous ideology behind racism, xenophobia, sexism, etc.
But children don’t have options in that way. Their brains are not capable of understanding historic context – they’re not even fully able to process their own emotions. Yiannopoulos describes sexually “mature” 13-year-olds. Which is a whole new level of sick, because a 13-year-old has no way of being sexually mature.
This is why we have age of consent laws. We are trying to protect kids from being preyed upon by sexual predators.
Can you imagine a worse crime than the sexual abuse of a child? Where do you think the trope of prisoners taking their own special vengeance on those convicted of such crimes comes from?
It’s a new level of sick. It’s a different level of unacceptable.
There are gradations of behavior. Racist, sexist statements and attacks – those are recognizably, undeniably wrong. But they are not at the level of promoting the abuse of children.
You can ask if Simon & Schuster should have ever agreed to a Milo Yiannopoulos book deal. I’d point out that publishing companies have been printing racist material pretty much since the printing press became a thing. Last I checked, you can still get a copy of Mein Kampf, for eff’s sake. Simon & Schuster is allowed to make their free speech case, and you and I are allowed to not believe them. I think it’s pretty clear that such a move was profit-driven, exclusively.
I would not want to give a known bigot a bigger microphone. Who would?
But their decision to drop him after these videos surfaced is understandable. Even if it is only because they can no longer get away with hiding behind “Oh, but free speech!”
That argument at least fails here, if nowhere else, when it comes to promoting the sexual abuse of children.