The very notorious Milo Yiannopolous visited Melbourne the other day, and very predictably there were demonstrations and conflict at his appearance*. I rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw it on the news, knowing it was inevitable, but hoping for a more meaningful response.
Milo passes for a highbrow among the lowbrow right. In reality he’s just a bunch of re-hashed slogans and reactionary posing – posing it what he does best. It’s enough to excite and incite the easily excitable and often combustible right wing loonies. It does much the same for the left.
More than anything else Milo is an agent provocateur. I suspect nothing delights him more than riling up the ‘snowflakes’ and soft edge of the left. He targets soft options such as feminism, and Islam, using extravagant language and often extravagant gestures. It’s enough to give his hangers-on a leery hard-on, and to whip the left to a frenzy.
This is the pity of it really. Milo is best ignored. He’s not an intellectual. He has no original thoughts. He is a persona. He is a poster child for a position, a provocative and slightly outrageous character designed to stir the pot. That he does very well, and unfortunately, as we saw this week, it’s rare that the left he so despises doesn’t fall for it.
Being of liberal disposition I’m disappointed that so many of similar disposition are so gullible. Starve Milo of oxygen and his message goes no further than a few grubby types. Turn up waving placards and chanting slogans and dead-set that will draw out the fascist element only too eager for confrontation. Once that happens it becomes news, and Milo’s poisonous little message gains traction. It’s dumb, and he aint worth it.
There’s something else about it which troubles me. We live in an age of extremism. Outrage comes easy. Those sort of things are generally dumb, and it’s no different now. One lot yells yes. The other yells no. That’s pretty well it. There’s no intelligence in it, no reason.
So okay, maybe reason is a bit much to ask for, and while I understand and support there are occasions when a stand must be made, when a demonstration is necessary, the best that can be hoped for from it is that a point is made. I wonder what the point was the other night.
In this case I find myself agreeing with something Milo said: that this was an attack on free speech. Unlike others, I don’t believe that free speech should be unfettered – there are limits, and boundaries that should not be crossed. Though I have varying faith in the application of such ambiguous laws, I’d rather rely on them than the skewed perspective of those for and against.
I think Milo is a fool, and his followers worse than fools. I think most of what he spouts bigoted claptrap. As a general principle, however – like Voltaire – I support his right to espouse his views as long as he doesn’t cross those lines. This is what we call democracy. The moment we deny him that right and try and shut him down we become the fascists we’re so busy deploring.
It is a time of extremes, and so often the extremes join at the end of the loop. It’s all reaction and outrage, all personal offence, and no intelligence.
There was an interesting survey the other day about the government we want. People are sour on politics, no surprise there. The surprise was that 20% of respondents were open to a dictatorship – benevolent, I presume. That was a shock to me, though I imagine many have no real conception of what it means. But then, I presume, those who responded like that are open to a dictatorship that accords with their political leanings, either left or right. As long as we’re running the show it’s all good.
This marries up to the behaviour we see at these events, the lowbrow left battling the lowbrow right, the socialists doing battle with the brownshirts, chanting slogans and throwing rocks. There’s nothing democratic in it, and little sense.
* This was a pretty lame event, as are so many events like it. It only ever becomes something more when the drama begins to seethe. In this case the drama of left wing anarchists confronting right wing idiots was elevated by the presence of a large (riot) police contingent, guaranteeing good air time on the nightly news. Not worth reporting, but, how much ‘news’ these days is really worthy of the term? But that’s a rant for another day.
It’s pretty ordinary and depressing, even banal, which is fine until it hits our TV screens and becomes a thing.