Nathaniel Kublin | Brown University
Now that Free Speech Week has come and gone, I look back on the rabbit hole I fell into. Reading articles to watching youtube videos, I lost myself in the enigma that is Milo Yiannopoulos. The flamboyant former editor for Breitbart makes a career out of being provocative in the most rude ways imaginable, but I do admit that there is something to his crudeness that is appealing. People have always found my fascination with the right wing journalist to be a sign of hidden away conservative values that I secretly cherish, but this could not be further from the truth. I can best explain my enthrallment with Milo through one of my first memories I made in college.
I was sitting with 3 other incoming freshman late at night during our first week, and we began having a conversation about politics. There were three of us, including myself, that were liberal, and one libertarian who leaned to the right. While I may not have agreed with this man’s stance on many issues, I was interested in hearing him speak to learn why he believed what he did. I started thinking to myself, “This is what college is about. The exchange of ideas and points of view.” Just as soon as this high came, it vanished, as I watched one of the fellow liberals stand up and leave without a word. This confusion quickly became disappointment when I received a text saying, “Sorry I left, I just couldn’t hear another word out his mouth.”
I am proud to be a student at Brown University, and I am impressed daily by the exchange of ideas on this campus, but I can say confidently that when it comes to political ideologies, that exchange is nothing more than individuals reaffirming that they have the “correct” beliefs. My university, like many across the nation, is a liberal bubble, an echo chamber of progressive beliefs, filled with those who do not understand the foundation of right-wing beliefs.
A student wore a “Make America Great Again” hat on campus one day during my freshman year, and it exploded as the main gossip on campus. He was stared at and observed from afar, more akin to an animal at a zoo than a peer. Having been born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, I was ingrained with the background associated with being conservative. From family to friends, to neighbors, to classmates, to teachers, the people that influenced my upbringing proudly proclaimed to be conservative. In fact, for the first 16 years of my life, I myself identified as a conservative. Somewhere along the way in high school, after many open conversations about political beliefs with my peers, I found myself shifting towards the left, leading to my highly liberal viewpoint that I have today.
This respect for the open flow of ideas is why I am intrigued by Milo Yiannopoulos. My peers in college are convinced that they have the “correct” beliefs when it comes to politics, which leads to a complete dismissal of anyone with differing views, as well as an air of condescension which only furthers the divide between the left and the right. Milo is the voice for millions of conservatives who are tired of being talked down to for having an opinion, for those who are treated as less than equal for being “wrong.”
Milo’s flamboyant personality and abusive language make it easy for the left to write him off, which only goes to reaffirm the sentiment that the right feels. On the flip side, when liberals engage with him, he goes on to insult, trigger, and provoke people until they come off as irrational, giving the right validation in the idea that the left should not in fact have an air of condescension.
In an Interview with KTVU, a Fox News affiliate in the Bay Area, Milo said, “The reason I’m doing it [being a provocative figure head for the right in entertainment and media], the reason I do everything I do, is to draw attention to hypocrisy and double standards. The reason I do everything is to make space for others. I don’t want everyone to be like me. I don’t want everyone to be a bomb thrower. I don’t want everyone to be rude, and mean, and vindictive, and spiteful, and catty. That’s my thing.” He soon follows that up with, “When I am mean and spiteful and bitchy… when we do that, we open up a space behind us for other people to speak more freely, and to be more confident in expressing their views.”
Unfortunately, much like many liberals today, he tends to work away from this goal in practice.
Milo’s appreciation for freedom of speech is admirable, but he takes his provocative language too far for his own good. He claims that feminism is a cancer, that Black Lives Matter is a hate group, and that gays should stay in the closet. His violations of twitter’s policy made him lose his account verification, just months before he was permanently banned for his racist tirades against comedian Leslie Jones. It quickly becomes blatantly clear that what Milo calls “bomb throwing,” is harassment at the lowest level, and hate speech at the at the highest. Freedom of speech protects our right to voice our opinions and enjoy a dialogue, but unfortunately it also protects people’s ability to spread negativity as well.
The hypocrisy in Milo’s stance is as simple as this: he claims to provide a voice to the silenced right, when his bully-like nature does nothing but close off debate and worsen the political divide. The face of Berkeley’s Free Speech Week claims to be fighting for the rights we all love and cherish, but taints the name of said rights through his actions. Giving Yiannopoulos a platform is politically, socially, and culturally irresponsible. Liberals realize this, colleges realize, and even Breitbart realize this. Both the left and the right need to work to fix the toxic relationship between the two, because a poison like Milo can only thrive when there is are tensions for him to toy with.