Monday, February 20, 2017

It Was Never About Free Speech

Milo's been dropped from Simon & Schuster, as well as CPAC, after clips came out showing him defending pedophilia.

This is long overdue, but it also is brutal to all the defenses given for inviting Milo onto these forums (and others -- looking at you Bill Maher) in the first place. Not because all the awful things Milo had said before made it predictable that he'd also have said this particular awful thing. Rather, the issue is that the decision to now say "too far" gives lie to standard apologia the right has been giving for trotting Milo out -- that of "free speech."

It was striking that virtually none of Milo's inviters would actually come out and endorse the content of his screeds. When asked why he was being brought to Berkeley or the public press or wherever, the answer was always "freedom of speech!" "Don't silence him!" "Hear his perspective!" Now let's be clear: "free speech" is quite relevant once Milo has been invited to give a talk or a speech. Specifically, it takes certain remedies off the table -- government can't ban the speech, private actors can't violently disrupt it, and so on. There are other remedies that "free speech" very much doesn't take off the table -- nonviolent protest, for instance, much less vitriolic criticism. Free speech represents important values, and I strive to defend them even when the subject is an awful little troll like Milo.

But while "free speech" can tell us something about how to respond to an invited speaker, it can't tell us anything about who to invite. That decision has to be made on the basis of a different set of values -- values that roughly translate to "this person has a perspective worth hearing."

And herein lies the problem. The decision to now disinvite Milo demonstrates that conservatives (and Simon & Schuster) are entirely able to make adjudications regarding the sorts of statements and advocacies which they think are worthwhile and "in-bounds" in public discourse. For instance, we now know that pedophilia is out. But we also now know that all the other things Milo had said -- the horrific racism, the blatant misogyny, the unapologetic harassment, the vicious transphobia, the nasty assault on immigrants -- all of that was in.

Milo wasn't invited to speak because of some unadorned desire to vindicate "free speech". He was invited because the people who invited him thought those perspectives, specifically, were worthwhile. Pedophilia no, racism yes. Pedophilia no, misogyny yes. They looked at the former and said "too far", which means they also looked at the latter and said "fine."

That's an evaluative appraisal that has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It speaks to the inviters' other values. And we are entirely justified in drawing conclusions about the character and the moral worth of the people who hold such values. It does not speak well.


Suzanne S said...

Your analyses are so thoughtful and valuable. Thank you. I'm fairly well-informed, but your postings make me smarter.

Bienvenido Then said...

I really do not get your point at the end of your piece or was it just about keeping a high moral ground? Beacuse as far as I can tell, I have never seen Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, just to give an example, avoid debating the most backarwd minded people or ideas.

In the war of ideas and morality we do need to have thick skin and be ready to face anyone. Because if we do not give the opportunity to challenge that kind of thinking, it does not mean it will go away, by letting MIilo talk at the end he set himself on fire and showed his true colors.