Lashing the Tongue

IN THESE “SKIRMISHES” of mine, I try, for certain definite reasons, to keep to that mass of trivial and transient happenings which is known under the name of “current events,” or more widely yet as “news.” I try to get beyond the mere happenings as they happen—for I am fully aware that the “news” of today shall be the “olds” even of tomorrow—and to indicate how they might, if we but think on them, show us the way to some wider view. For this I try ever to begin from some definite article present in this or that newspaper or journal. Today however I am not going to write of something which is to be found in the news—but rather something which is most interestingly absent, and has been for some time: namely, the fate of one Milo Yiannopoulos.
      Not four months ago one almost could not touch the internet without encountering his name somewhere or other, generally circumscribed by flames of infamy. It is not strange, of course, that a man should fly so prominently before the public eye for a week, a month, half a year, before fading thereafter once more into comparative obscurity. This is even the pattern of fame, governed as it is by the stunted memories and ephemeral hungers of the public. But Yiannopoulos’ cannot be described as a fading into obscurity so much as a plummeting into oblivion—a sudden, wrenching fall, precipitated by certain inflammatory comments. He made a brief reappearance lately when he announced he would be suing Simon & Schuster, the publishing house which dropped his book deal in the wake of the outrage elicited by these same comments—but this news item was something like a disturbance in a flock of pigeons: loud, brief, and quickly forgotten.
      I believe the conventional account of Yiannopoulos’ rise and fall could be put something like this: Yiannopoulos made a name for himself by going about spouting flagrant insults and unseemly comments on sensitive subjects, until one day he crossed the line with a number of really horrendous remarks which seemed to justify or mitigate pedophilia. Looking at his overall career, one might say then that he had courted controversy in order to attain notoriety, but pressed the game too far, and so became persona non grata, losing at once his job, a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and a speaking appointment with the CPAC.
    So much for the conventional account. Yet in truth the matter is considerably more interesting than that. In the first place, the by-now infamous remarks for which Yiannopoulos was shunned in fact date from January 2016, a full year before the scandal in question. They were brought to light with the specific intent of darkening Yiannopoulos’ image, to convince the CPAC to cancel his speaking appointment; they were published, that is to say, with defamatory intent. They were so wildly successful for the simple reason that they were picked up subsequently by Yiannopoulos’ most powerful detractors on the left, and brought against his reputation like a wrecking ball.
      Now, throughout all of this the question of freedom of speech of course was much bantered about—the question of the appropriate limits of that freedom, if there should be any at all, and just what that freedom is meant to protect. It is therefore easy to conclude that Yiannopoulos’ remarks simply transgressed those appropriate limits, and that he was silenced for having outraged the public morality. This in and of itself would not be particularly disturbing. No one believes that freedom of speech should protect an individual from public indignation, should he choose to utter immoral or reprehensible remarks. Freedom of speech is a legal, not a social, principle. The silencing of Milo Yiannopoulos would appear then to be nothing more than an utterly wholesome response to a rather detestable series of statements.
      But slow, now—for the plot thickens. According to what we have just said, Milo Yiannopoulos was cast out for having attempted to blur the clear moral lines distinguishing adult consent in sexual acts, from child abuse. Those who spoke most fervently against him, we may then suppose, are precisely those who refuse to countenance any blurring of the lines whatsoever.
      And if the matter were really so clear, we could let it rest in the silence to which it had rightly been consigned.
      Salon Magazine wasted no time in publishing numerous articles denouncing Yiannopoulos’ statements, and defending limitations on freedom of speech for the sake of democracy. Decidedly the moral high ground. This is the same Salon, however, which in that same period conveniently deleted an article it had previously published in which a man who self-identifies as a pedophile defends his urges. This is the same Salon which to this day has a several articles (see here and here) which seem to accord perfectly, if not with Yiannopoulos’ original remarks, then certainly with the apology he later made for them.
      Or again—Huffington Post ran a series of infuriated articles on the scandal, among which we find one entitled “Milo Yiannopoulos’s Downfall Demonstrates the Necessary Limits of Free Speech.” All well and good—save that this is the same Huffington Post to ran an article celebrating a little shop in New York which panders to those who fetishize sexual fantasies involving babies.
      The issue here, as should be abundantly clear, is not pederasty; the issue is that Yiannopoulos had, quite prior to this scandal, made himself detested amongst the liberal community in the United States. He was but fruit ripened for the fall. The issue here really does regard freedom of speech—but it does not at all regard our freedom to speak on matters of pedophilia. What is at stake here is rather our freedom to speak against this pious nonsense known as “political correctness.”
      Yiannopoulos made himself hated because he refused to bow to this piety. He made a name for himself in part by rubbing salt in open wounds. In what is perhaps the most infamous of these episodes, he mocked and reviled an especially poor actress, even pointing out rather gleefully that her responses to his mockery were semi-literate. (They were: evidently we are not permitted any longer to hold individuals even to the standards of good grammar.)
      There is little of chivalry in all of this, I will grant—but we are not living in chivalrous times. The fate of Yiannopoulos, the unofficial censorship to which he has been subjected, and the mass of pretexts and utterly misleading rationales that are given to defend it, is extremely disquieting. I have claimed, and I will claim again, that freedom and equality are at best uneasy bedfellows, and at worst incompatible and mutually destructive ideals. It seems to me that this entire episode is but another instance of how freedom is ceding fast to equality in our day, how our societies are becoming more and more egalitarian even at the expense of human liberty, and how the pious powers that be are forcing us to bow before this ludicrous ideal of human equality, even when it means suppressing our awareness of the most obvious and once uncontroversial differences between human beings. Indeed, I genuinely fear that we are fast heading in the United States toward that specific form of despotism to which our contemporary democracies are most especially prone. In the future, the confluence of our technology and our egalitarian ideology could well force us all into the shoes of Milo Yiannopoulos—reticent to speak our minds on any subject you please, for fear that some odd comment or other we have once made in passing might suddenly arise to strangle us into submission, lashing our tongues, costing us our jobs, our reputations, and our very futures.
      The already nigh-forgotten fate of Milo Yiannopoulos is important for us to remember, because it may well be but the harbinger of a nightmare which might fall upon all of our heads.

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The New Taboo

BILL MAHER, no stranger to controversy, has recently risked his job for the first time in fifteen years. For the use of a single word during one of his broadcasts, he has called down a rain of holy wrath, and has been accosted by heated demands from all sides that he should resign his position, or be forcibly removed from it. Well might one ask what word in our obscenity-obsessed and godless day any longer could possibly swing this kind of weight against its speaker. Maher broke the new taboo: he took the word “nigger” in vain.
      I have always had a certain distant respect for Maher. He seems to me a man who is willing to speak his mind even against those who agree with him, and in this he displays a kind of uncommon independence and courage. Back in 2001, but a week after the attacks on the Twin Towers, and when it was just becoming fashionable to refer to the terrorists as cowardly, he dared to point out that the word “coward” might not be a very appropriate fit for a man who sacrifices his life for a cause, no matter how erroneous or abhorrent that cause might be. He was roundly reproached for this simple shall we say semantic criticism, but he never apologized for it (his apologies centered merely on the misunderstanding of what he had said), and had to be taken off the public network where he then worked. But what might have been the ruin of another man was for him but the stepping stone to greater fame.
      Anyone who even occasionally watches Maher can attest that he has never lost this proclivity to defy those who support him, as is witnessed most saliently by his vocal and unpopular opposition to Islam. Yet this latest utterance proved a step too far, even for an inveterate scandal-seeder like Maher, and he was quick to apologize for his statement. Evidently, he found either his career or his conscience hanging in the balance—and in either case the episode is of some interest.
      One can always perceive the stark silhouette of a society’s deepest pieties in what it will not permit to be the subject of fast use and ridicule. Censorship of all kinds, and particularly that which is effected not by governmental fiat but by social convention, stems always from one of two urges: from the desire of the ruling order to maintain its power by silencing or shuttering opposition, or else from a society’s protective sense of the holy and the good. Modern censorship in the liberal West issues mainly from the second category. For instance, it was not so very long ago that one could count on strict regulation in the United States of vulgarities, and in certain European countries, like Italy, of blasphemies. The United States thus revealed its devotion to civility and propriety, and those other countries to Christian piety. This is surely no longer true. Under the auspices of freedom of speech, all of these prohibitions have been worn down to the nub, and stand to disappear completely. It is no longer to God nor even to decorum that we bow our heads in these latter days. No other word escaping from Bill Maher’s lips could have brought his employers to reprimand him, nor him to buckle. Perhaps the only other words which might have come close would have been other racial slurs. For we cherish nothing any longer, save the vague hope that each individual should be able to exist without feeling himself discriminated against. Our new piety is the piety of tolerance.
      Now, Bill Maher, for all that he is often esteemed as something more, is at bottom a comedian, and comedians in our liberal society are given a liberty of speech which is not permitted to anyone else. There is not a single act nor issue, nor matter how heinous nor sensitive, that one of our comedians has not pilloried upon the stage. Infanticide, rape, mortal diseases—all’s fair game. Yet the racial question is evidently not to be touched—at least not by white comedians. Nor is this the first time this single word has fallen upon its user: Michael Richards, for instance, effectively had his career ruined when he let this little word slip in a comedy club, nor could redeem himself even in an abject ceremony of contrition which make Maher’s apology seem like a stiff-lipped concession to merest necessity. Nothing any longer is sacred to us—not virtue, not religion, nor any mystery of human nature or human deed—nothing except “diversity.” We have replaced the sacred with this wretched sense of obsequious slavishness in the face of our neighbor, this hankering fear of troubling his soul or upsetting his holy equilibrium. We codify this in our “political correctness,” that ubiquitous vague commandment to avoid stepping on toes, which replaces divine will with the whims of the weakest among us. Is it any wonder then when those most subjected to this code finally throw it off in an act of indignant liberation? For truly, one can build a culture and grow a people around the sanctity of the name of a god, and laws which punish the blasphemer and the impious; but around this silly urge to spare feelings alone, one cannot even form up a decent self-help group.
      And this leads me to the second question underlying Bill Maher’s gaffe. This word “nigger” does not exist in a kind of sealed verbal container, so that it and it alone of all the words in the lexicon causes such wrath and disease: on the contrary, it is but most salient exemplar of a trend. It summons forth the same angry instinct which brought Professors Bret Weinstein and Nicholas Christakis to grief when they dared defy the growing racial animus now infecting our universities. All of this is but sign of a growing hostility toward whites as whites, an emerging sense that whites are somehow given by virtue of their birth some kind of “privilege” which non-whites lack, and that they must therefore some way or another be brought to feel shame for this. Shame, we are made to understand, even if very few will ever say as much, is the only means by which we may dispossess ourselves of our cruel “privilege.” The new censorship is built almost exclusively upon this idea, and would crumble to dust without it. It really is, as I have called it elsewhere, the glue that binds.
      This censorship is all the more insidious insofar as it does not come from above, from government, but rather from “around,” from society. No court of law has come down on Maher’s head to tell him to retract his statements; HBO and various celebrities and journalists have done all the work. And it is HBO that has unilaterally decided that no future broadcast of this episode will contain Maher’s offensive remarks, but they will be expunged utterly from the record. Or take again Bret Weinstein, mentioned above, who had the gall to refuse to distance himself from campus on account of his white skin. The faculty of his own university are gathering against him now, calling for disciplinary action, accusing him of endangering the student body. Anyone who has seen the footage of him speaking with the students will witness in him the admirable embodiment of calm reason in the face of an angry mob, and will recognize that the only person in any danger that day was Weinstein himself. But our ability to confront the ludicrous accusations against him with the reality of what happened, depends decisively on the decision of private individuals: for the original video was most conveniently taken off of YouTube for reasons of “violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying.” (One would like to know, harassment and bullying of whom precisely?) We are witness more and more to a creeping and purely social censorship, justified on the grounds of political correctness, everywhere accepted, no where challenged, except on the loose fringes of our society.
      The going ideology would have us build pluralistic societies. I wonder on what basis they hope to accomplish such egregious utopias? Taking but one of the most advanced examples of such a society—the blacks and the whites in the United States of America, who have lived together now a quarter millennium—one really must wonder: how are these two groups alone ever to form anything like a pluralistic union, if the one of them is forever harping about oppression, and the other is forever tiptoeing about in fear of reprisals for behaving in “racist” ways? The past is heavy, too heavy to cast off so lightly as that, and I tremble to think on the future. For in a spirit which is best characterized as vindictive, non-whites are quickly establishing a new taboo, forging a new sacred and untouchable ideal, something lodged deep in the non-white heart which they call their “identity” and which they permit no man to besmirch. It is an ideal in which whites have absolutely no part, but before which they are made to genuflect regardless. Any who defy this taboo will be cast out and spurned—and it would be ingenuous in the extreme to suppose that this tendency will diminish in coming years, as non-whites become the more numerous and more powerful, and as whites diminish in both numbers and in influence. Nay, but matters shall so proceed, and this taboo grow to monstrous proportions and potencies, until the one group is able to forego its resentment, or the other group its shame.

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