Dedicated to the people who lost their lives trying to drive change, armed with their idea of righteousness. May their ideas not fall upon deaf ears.
February 2017: Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist and former Breitbart writer, is expected to speak at UC Berkeley. Violent protests break out on the campus, successfully preventing Milo from speaking.
February 2017- Current: College campuses and major cities see a rise in these same types of protesters publicly gathering to advocate the banishment of hate speech under the name Antifa or AntiFascists. On the same side of the barricade is Black Lives Matter, Feminists and Social Justice Warriors. Counter to these groups are proponents of absolute free speech, but more commonly, the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis and the KKK.
12 August 2017: A “Unite the Right” protest is held at Lee Park in Charlottesville, VA by the same right-leaning parties. Also in attendance are the above-mentioned left-leaning parties, largely advocating the removal of the city’s historic Robert E. Lee statue. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr of Maumee, OH drives his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, injuring nineteen people and killing thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer, a city resident. Specifics about the intent of the attack are mostly unknown, only that Fields was right-leaning and present to attend the “Alt-Right rally”.
What a complex time to be involved in politics.
For several years now, Social Justice Warrior agenda, Feminism and identity politics have been my most pursued brand of politics on social media and have dominated the conversations I’ve shared with friends and colleagues. From the looks of today’s media, I’m not alone in this topic preference.
For most, Milo Yiannopoulos needs no introduction. For some, he’s hateful, hypocritical and opportunistically inflammatory. For others, he is one of today’s most famous proponents of absolute freedom of speech. Admonishing followers against involvement in identity politics while simultaneously identifying as a gay, Jew, who dates Black Americans, Milo is a walking contradiction. He’s the easiest brand to monetize and the easiest to hate. For me, he is all of these things. The far-left buries their heads in the ground at any mention of his name and the far-right hails him as “savior of the western world” at any opportunity. Although the extremists on either side tend to be the loudest, I suspect that most of our opinions of him fall somewhere in the middle, leaning comfortably and characteristically in a familiar direction.
In response to the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of many others, Milo had this to say-
This time, and many other times, Milo is wrong. So wrong. I suspect most would agree the content of this message requires no further explanation as proof of that.
Many social media platforms are monetized. Popular users often benefit from likes, shares, and views. Some of the most prolific journalists make a living off this monetization. The more attention-grabbing a post, the more earning power the page’s user generates. Whether someone is always, rarely or never wrong, we should hold value in their presence if their thoughts are inflammatory and thought-provoking. We need these people in our lives.
These people don’t walk through the front doors of our lives, have a coffee, talk about the weather and leave. They tell us our picture frames are crooked, suggest a better brand of coffee, ask us about our deepest fears, and make us suggest that “it’s getting late” before they’ll leave.
They leave us feeling thoroughly challenged, emotionally and intellectually spent. They disrespect status quo. They push us off balance, bring our hearts to our throats and suggest change. They solidify our strongest views and destroy our weakest. Maybe we say “Fuck you, crooked pictures are an inside joke in my family” or maybe we say “Wow, this coffee is better than what I was buying”. We will never know which one it will be unless we invite these blood-sucking, vampiric figures inside. We must have faith in our fellow man, faith in our own capacity to know the difference between constructive and destructive ideas like our future depends on it. It does. To ignore a source of ideas solely to avoid the bad ones would leave us intellectually stagnated.
There will always be people who support figures like Milo because he panders to their race, political party or tax-bracket. I’m not advocating that idea. Should we unfollow these media icons because they’re often wrong if some of their statements bring value to our intellectual development? Milo being perceived as hateful doesn’t subtract from the fact that he is the current champion of Free Speech. Milo’s kind of people are gifted in organizing ideas, finding flaws in logic and yes, often they are good at being provocative. It’s the reason they hold any value on social media platforms.
This doesn’t imply that they see the whole picture. That’s our job. Even experts are limited to the scope of their field. They must rely on the cooperative effort and input of professionals in parallel fields. Our dietitians don’t just advocate healthy diets when cancer is found, they recommend surgeons. Similarly, the deliberation and study of political issues likely isn’t your full-time job. Most Americans have the difficult task of participating in our democracy and politics AND making a living from something else entirely. We owe it to ourselves to be open to the ideas of others. We mustn’t ignore the opinions of others because they conflict with our current belief system, rather, with any faith in our belief system, we should derive meaning from these outlets and adjust accordingly. We may not hold scalpels and operate on patients, but we do rest our hands on keyboards, we voice our opinions and we vote.
Good ideas and bad, alike, won’t come looking for us if we don’t open our doors up to them. This includes the now dominating source that is social media. At a time where people don’t often subject themselves to this kind of tortuous developmental tool, we likely won’t find these ideas in conversations with our co-workers and family members. It’s up to us all, individually, to find a balance between comfort and development when it comes to exposure to diverse social media content. It’s that balance that is the answer to the complexity of today’s political involvement. While Milo’s name in any form will ensure that his social pedestal is gold plated and Gucci adorned, so will it ensure that absolute freedom of speech is elevated to the same height.
The only way to support one is to support both. If there’s a better way, you’re more than welcome to suggest it; you’re still free to do so.