If you have an interest in politics that borders on obsessive–and let’s face it, if you’re reading this site you probably do–then it’s doubtless that you’ve heard about all the brouhaha surrounding Brietbart editor and resident social media troll Milo Yiannopolous. Typically this isn’t a problem for Milo, who courts brouhaha the way Harry Reid courts shady real estate developers, but in this case his antics have come back to bite him pretty hard. As in Sharknado hard:
Employees at Breitbart News are reportedly prepared to leave the company if controversial senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos is not fired.
Another senior editor at the publication told Washingtonian Monday that “at least a half dozen” employees are prepared to leave to organization because of remarks Yiannopoulos made about pedophilia that gained attention this weekend.
At first glance, you might think, “Aw, geez. What kind of fake outrage are the social justice warriors throwing at Milo this time?” This is, after all, the guy who got banned from Berkeley when rioters there burned half the place down rather than let him speak.
But, as it turns out, there’s more to Milo’s free speech than any of us wanted to hear:
This arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent, which totally destroys the understanding that many of us have of the complexities and subtleties and complicated nature of many relationships. People are messy and complex, and in the homosexual world particularly some of those relationships between younger boys and older men, the sort of coming of age relationships, the relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and, sort of, a rock.
I’m the father of a 15 year old daughter and 12 year old son. To me, the idea of consent isn’t arbitrary, and it sure as hell isn’t oppressive. To me, the kind of moral equivalency at the heart of this statement is stomach-turning. Underage boys, by virtue of being underage, cannot give consent. And an adult man who would take advantage of a confused young boy at a vulnerable time isn’t loving–he’s a predator.
There really isn’t any other way to spin this–which is why CPAC withdrew its invitation to have Milo speak, and why Simon & Schuster have canceled publication of his forthcoming book. This is a line neither one of them wanted to cross, apparently. But is this a setback for free speech? No doubt, Milo will attempt to cast it as such. When even his fellow travelers at Breitbart are demanding his ouster, though, you have to know there’s more to it than that.
Free speech, after all, is a right to speak–not a right to be heard. And it isn’t encumbent upon the conservative movement or its institutions to provide a forum for Milo Yiannopolous just because he tweaks liberal pieties. More than that, the conservative moment has its own right to associate with whomever it wants, and even to shun others. If CPAC no longer wants to be associated with Milo’s brand, they’re under no obligation to host him. Distancing itself from his speech is not nearly the same thing as censoring it.
It’s also smart thinking, and maybe an opportunity for conservatives to reevaluate themselves a bit. The Era of Trump has led to a lot of confusion as to what we are and what we want to be–primarily because we’ve been coasting on a lot of emotion, whereas before our tradition has been mostly based on ideas. The emotional side is still reveling in the victory last November, and taking great satisfaction in the rolling back of Obama’s excesses. It’s also the first time in a long while that they’ve felt ascendant, and they want to keep that going. The intellectual side, meanwhile, is still exploring the why of what the administration is doing, and how–or even if–it fits into the traditions of conservative philosophy. They wonder where all of this will end up, and whether we’ll like what we find when we get there.
Both sides are correct, in their own ways–and if we can find a way to bring them together, I think we can build some powerful momentum for the reforms that America desperately needs. In the meanwhile, though, perhaps Milo’s tale can be a warning to avoid our own excesses.