Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lies of the Left: "White Nationalism"

I don't know if you've noticed, but the professional Left* loves thinking in terms of binaries: black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Left and Right.

For the media, it means easy headlines: find the Black Hats, and you've got your story. Likewise for Hollywood: drama depends on conflict, and what better conflict is there than that between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil? Academics tend to take a little more prodding before they will admit to thinking in such reductive terms, but get them talking about power and oppression and the categories will become clear. 

"We" (the speakers) are necessarily the Good Guys. "They" (those who think wrongly about sex, race, and gender) are the Bad Guys. All the Good Guys are on the side of the Oppressed (blacks, women, the poor); all the Bad Guys are on the side of the Powerful (whites, males, rich).

It does not matter that the categories make no historical sense, whether because they are recent inventions ("race" as something determined by evolution rather than culture or language), or because they are a fact of being mammals who reproduce sexually, or because there has never been a human society in which there were not some who commanded more resources than others. To refuse to think in the terms of these binaries is of itself to declare yourself a Black Hat.**

From the perspective of the professional Left (trust me on this, Jane Fonda said it just the other day), there are no viable categories of human community that exist outside these binaries. Every other category--nation, church, commerce, friendship, family--must be collapsed into them. Conversely, because the Left themselves think always in these binaries, they assume that everyone else does, too. 

Have you ever wondered why "the Right" seems to have such a hard time defining itself? This is why. There is no such thing as "the Right" except as a projection of the Left. The Left needs a "Right" to oppose itself to, which is why the Left talks all the time about "fascism" as the enemy when both Leftists and fascists are, in fact, totalitarian. Actual conservatism cannot exist as far as the Left is concerned.

Which is how we get "white nationalism." 

Defining nationalism

Nationalism, properly speaking, has nothing to do with race as biologically defined, never mind with something so literally superficial as skin color. As Roger Scruton has limpidly argued, it is a way of answering the questions "to what do we belong, and what defines our loyalties and commitments" without adverting to "a shared religious obedience, still less in bonds of tribe and kinship." 

Nationalism defines "us" through "the things that we share with our fellow citizens, and in particular in those things that serve to sustain the rule of law and the consensual forms of politics."

What are these things that "we" share? To start with, Scruton says: territory. "We believe ourselves to inhabit a shared territory, defined by law, and we believe that territory to be ours, the place where we are, and where our children will be in turn. Even if we came here from somewhere else, that does not alter the fact that we are committed to this territory, and define our identity--at least in part--in terms of it."

From this perspective, it is as nonsensical to talk about "global citizenship" as it is to claim that democracy can or should exist without national borders. In Scruton's words: "Democracy needs boundaries, and boundaries need the nation state. All the ways in which people come to define their identity in terms of the place where they belong have a part to play in cementing the sense of nationhood." 

Second, albeit closely tied to territory, are the history and customs according to which a particular territory has been settled. These customs may include, but do not need to include, religious ceremonies; secular rituals observed in common are equally potent, as are stories about how the territory was settled. 

These stories, as Scruton notes, tend to be of three kinds: tales of glory, tales of sacrifice, and tales of emancipation. But they change according to who thinks of themselves as we: we English, we Scots, we Americans, we Mexicans, we Chinese, we Russians, we French. For the English and those nations derived from England (like America), one of the most important of their national myths is that of the common law. Again, in Scruton's words: "We who have been brought up in the English-speaking world have internalized the idea that law exists to do justice between individual parties, rather than impose a uniform regime of command." 

(In contrast: "To someone raised on the doctrine that legitimate law comes from God, and that obedience is owed to Him above all others, the claims of the secular jurisdiction are regarded as at best an irrelevance, at worse a usurpation"--for example, among those raised in dar al-Islam. This, as Scruton points out, is one of the most important reasons for many Islamists' resentment of the West and its representative, the United Nations: the imposition of the idea of the nation with its ideals of secular law and citizenship on Muslim communities founded rather on "divine law, brotherhood, and submission to a universal faith." Perhaps paradoxically for many modern secularists, the secular nation is a peculiarly Christian construct, grounded in the idea of the separation of Church and State.)

Showing once again his English roots, Scruton insists: "The essential thing about nations is that they grow from below, through habits of free association among neighbours, and result in loyalties that are attached to a place and its history, rather than to a religion, a dynasty, or, as in Europe, to a self-perpetuating political class." 

From this perspective, America would seem to embody the ideal nation. 

Defining America as a nation

Still in Scruton's words:
Under the American settlement, people were to treat each other, first and foremost, as neighbors: not as fellow members of a race, a class, an ethnic group or religion, but as fellow settlers in the land that they shared. Their loyalty to the political order grew from the obligations of neighbourliness; and disputes between them were to be settled by the law of the land. The law was to operate within territorial boundaries defined by the prior attachments of the people, and not by some trans-national bureaucracy open to capture by people for whom those boundaries meant nothing.
My colleagues in the History department gathered again yesterday to talk about the implications for America of a Trump presidency. While they seemed to believe that it was important that America continue to exist--the one American historian talked explicitly about whether the Republic was in danger--it was difficult for me to understand why they thought it should. Except for the one Americanist, all the others work on other parts of the world: China, Eastern Europe, medieval Germany, Mexico, Marxist theory in the original German. As a group, those who work on the modern world seemed willing to champion the idea that other nations should exist in their own territories with their own histories and customs, but whether America has a place in that constellation seemed somewhat unclear.

Our Mexican historian spoke forcefully (and correctly) about the degree to which America is already and always has been Mexico. I get this intuitively, having grown up in New Mexico and spent my childhood wondering why all American history seemed to begin on the East Coast. (I'm old; I know this is not the version of our national history kids these days are learning.) "But what," I asked him in the Q&A, "do Mexicans think about us? Do they agree with you when you say that Mexico is already and has always been America?" "Oh, no, they think I am crazy for siding with the gringos."

Likewise, our Chinese historian spoke eloquently about the way in which China looks at the rest of the world through the lens of its own national history, particularly the imperial system of competitive examination. The current ruling elite in China, he told us, value expertise above all. To them it is nonsensical that we as America seem so willing to undermine ourselves competitively, while at the same time they are unsurprised. China, after all, is the Middle Kingdom, the place where heaven and earth meet. (I paraphrase somewhat, adding my own understanding of imperial China from my undergraduate days--I got to play Empress in our recreation of Qing politics.)

But what President Trump said yesterday in his inaugural address? Dangerous.

Unless, of course, you have been reading Scruton.

"We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people." That is, we are neighbors who live and work together, fellow settlers in the land we share, obliged to each other through neighborliness.

"Together we will determine the course of America and the world... We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done." Here Trump invokes all three tales of the nation at once: glory, sacrifice, and emancipation.

"This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people." The nation is defined, again, as a shared territory, the we of those of us who live here as citizens under the same law.

"At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves."  Note the explicit emphasis on neighborliness and the implicit appeal to the understanding that the nation grew up from the free associations between neighbors.

"We are one nation...We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny." America is a shared home with a story, a territory with a history and a future as the place where our children will live.

"We must protect our borders..." Trump's signature promise: America exists as a territory, not just an idea or a people, but a region in which particular laws are enforced to do justice to the individual parties involved.

"We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone..." We recognize that our customs are not others' customs.

"...but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow." But our customs are real and can serve as an example to others for how to imagine their nations.

"At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other." Our nation depends on feelings of neighborliness and belonging to the territory and customs that we share.

"When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." We are the ones who live here in America together. Our sense of nation depends on this shared neighborliness, not on a shared religious obedience or on bonds of tribe and kinship, but on our shared history (which is why it is so important that we have one) and our national narrative of living under a common law.

Those, like my colleagues who have spent their lives building communities of scholarship with likewise elite intellectuals around the world, have a hard time with such territorial claims to allegiance and belonging. They (as I know from long experience living here in Chicago) do not tend to think of themselves as Chicagoans or even know that much about our city where they live. They participate only in a limited fashion in the life of the community around us, whether through church or other hobbies. (Most of them aren't here that much, if they can help it; I take my sabbaticals on my couch.) When I pushed them at another point in the conversation about the long-term effects of automation on the American workforce and how important it is for human dignity to feel oneself skilled at making things, they had a hard time imagining actual hobbies in which one might engage if he or she did not read books. "Looking at screens" was the only thing they seemed to think most Americans not in academia do with their leisure time. (To be fair, one suggested raising heritage chickens.) In their imaginations, I am sad to report, except for my fellow medievalist and I (you gotta wonder), America did not exist.

Which is most likely why they, like most of the mainstream media, could not hear President Trump when he said: "It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag."

In other words, our nation qua nation is not about race--and never was.***

Why the Left needs "white nationalism"

The Left depends for its very existence on the narrative that nations exist only as expressions of something other than territory inhabited by those with shared customs and history. As Scruton shows elsewhere, it came into being explicitly as a rejection of history (that of France), and has depended ever since on the imposition (often by violence, as in the Terror) of universalizing ideals at the expense of local custom and practice.

From the beginning, it has likewise depended on identifying all those who stand against its narrative of rupture and cleansing as enemies, counterrevolutionaries who would turn back the clock on the redefinition of society according to the Left's own uncompromising standards of virtue (as, for example, in the Vendée). Like its founding father, Maximilien Robespierre, the Left thinks in terms of absolutes, of virtue guaranteed through terror. The nation built up through custom and the habit of free association between neighbors is anathema to such a top-down, idealizing vision.

It, therefore, cannot be allowed to exist.

"White nationalism," like the patriarchy, is a myth. To be sure, there were Scots in the late nineteenth century, most famously among them Rudyard Kipling, who talked in terms of "the white man's burden," but as Arthur Herman has shown in his history of the Scots and their influence on the development of the West, this "burden" was never, at least in the English-speaking world, what later post-colonial theorists have imagined it to mean. (Perhaps it was for the French, which would explain Foucault.)

The Left, however, given its own founding mythology, cannot admit that it is working with a radically different understanding of nation. Nor, it seems, will those of us who are forced by definition to call ourselves conservatives be able to get them to see why we are conservative not in the sense of wanting to preserve all customs unchanging or the control of this or that biologically-determined race over our country, but simply in the sense of being neighbors living and working together under a common law.

It is rather like the Sphere in Flatland trying to explain itself to the Square. The Square only knows how to see in two dimensions, but the Sphere exists in three.


Roger Scruton, How to Be a Conservative (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), pp. 31-40

_______, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)

Cartoons courtesy of Polandball.

*The mainstream media, most of my colleagues in academia, the paid protestors at Trump's rallies and presidential inauguration, most Hollywood actors and actresses, the Beltway elite, you know.

**David Horowitz puts it somewhat more apocalyptically in his new book on Trump
Why do progressives have hatred in their hearts for conservatives? Why do they sound like hellfire-and-damnation preachers when they are on the attack? Because they are zealots of what can only be described as a crypto-religion modeled on the Christian narrative of the Fall and Redemption--the difference being that they seem themselves as the redeemers instead of the divinity. To progressives, the world is a fallen place--beset by racism, sexism, homophobia, and the rest--that must be transformed and made right. This redemption was once called communism and is now called socialism, or "social justice." Theirs is a vision of a world that has become a "safe place"--where there are no deplorables, or where such irredeemables are outlawed and suppressed.
***And, no, of course, we have not always lived up to our own ideals as Americans in this respect. I am talking about the way in which we imagine ourself as a nation.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

Thanking Milo for standing up for freedom of speech, 
even as protestors try to shut down his talk at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Free Speech Fundamentals: Building a Platform

Milo's platform
It is without a doubt one of the sillier complaints that protestors at Milo's talks have regularly made when they are trying to shut him up for having conservative political opinions about freedom of speech.

For example, at UC Davis, where the protestors effectively shut down Milo's event the night before with their violence, after which the next day one of them demanded of Milo as he was talking to the crowd gathered outside to hear him speak (see video at 4:01): "Where's my platform? Where is everyone else's platform?" Milo admonished him: "You had it last night, brother," but of course the young man was not satisfied. He thought that it was Milo's fault that nobody wanted to listen to him.

Trigglypuff at UMass Amherst had the same complaint, if imperfectly expressed (see video at 1:26): "But this is free speech! If you're so concerned about free speech..."--meaning presumably hers, as she clearly wanted to continue shouting, "Fuck you!" in the middle of Christina Hoff Sommers's remarks rather than sit quietly and wait for the Q&A.

Somebody needs to get these kids a conch. (Does anyone still read Lord of the Flies in high school, or does it cut too close to the bone?) Not only do they seem to have no understanding of taking turns while speaking, they don't seem to have a clue about what it means to have a platform from which to speak. Maybe they think all they need is a megaphone--like the one Milo used at UCDavis when he was speaking outside--or a podium, like the one from which Sommers was attempting to speak.

Well, I have news for them. Nobody cares what they think. If they don't have a platform, it is not because someone has taken it away from them. It is because they have not built one in the first place.

UC Davis protestor's complaint
Much as they would like to think that they are striking a blow for freedom of speech, their response to popular, invited speakers like Milo and Sommers is pure envy. In effect, they are saying: "Why are all these people listening to him or her and not me? Shut him or her up, I want to speak!" It is they who want to steal somebody else's platform and make it their own, but as Milo has proven over and over again with his campus talks, that doesn't work. They can shout him down and make him change the venue for his talks, but they cannot steal his platform because his platform isn't a thing like a megaphone or a podium. It is the audience that he has built through his writing and speaking. And that is something that they cannot steal, only enhance by drawing attention to his speaking through their protests.

I have a message for all of Milo's protestors, as well as some words of advice that I hope will be helpful to his fans. If you don't want people giving their attention to particular speakers or writers, censorship and shouting is not the answer. What you need to do is build your own platform and offer something better.

Vox Day put it perhaps most powerfully: "Give a man a platform and he will speak his mind. Deny him a platform, and he will build his own...and you will never silence him again."

Here's how to build your own, starting with what not to do:

1. It's not about you. Nobody except possibly your mother is ever going to care as much about you as they do about themselves. Less bluntly, if you want to capture people's attention, start with something that will be of benefit to their own lives.

This, in a nutshell, is why identity politics are so seductive: they provide a ready-made platform for capturing people's attention. Everyone likes hearing about themselves, so if you give them something to identify with--being a woman or man, being white or black, being straight or gay, being American or Christian--you've already got them partially hooked.

Even Milo does this. If you aren't paying proper attention, you might think he talks only about himself, but in fact he almost never does. Sure, he talks in general terms about his black boyfriends and his hair, but what his audiences hear him talking about is themselves and the kinds of things that they are worried about.

It is much harder to get people to pay attention when they cannot see how what you are saying has any relevance to them. It is next to impossible when you have not earned their trust by offering them something of real value in exchange for paying attention to you.

2. Content matters. This should go without saying, but if you want people to listen to you, you have to have something to say beyond, "Fuck you!" You may get As on all your papers for school, but your teachers are paid to read them for you. (Your mother will read them for free.) Out in the marketplace of ideas, if you want someone to pay attention to you and perhaps even pay you for your words, you have to have something to sell.

Ideas do not come cheap. It may not take precisely 10,000 hours to become expert in your field, but it is going to take a long time and a lot of hard work. The reason that people invite Milo and Sommers to come speak to them on campus is because both have put in the years of work that it takes to become skilled and knowledgeable in a particular field. (I know, Milo is ridiculously young, but Brits mature early. It has something to do with their schools, although even there, they are doing their best to change it.)

Nor is it enough simply to know a lot of things. You need to be able to express your ideas clearly, which means practicing writing and speaking. All those papers you have written in school are just the beginning. Most writers have drawers and drawers full of journals, drafts, unpublished papers, notes from college and graduate school, exams, more unpublished papers, blog posts nobody will ever read. Nobody becomes a writer or a speaker overnight, even if the vicissitudes of fame sometimes make it seem that way.

If you start now, it will most likely take a minimum of ten years before you develop sufficient expertise and skill to impress anybody other than your dissertation committee. It will take even longer to impress your colleagues at your tenure review. Or to get a literary agent to read your work.

3. Sell yourself. You have ideas, you want to share them. And still nobody will listen. This is because you have forgotten lesson number one: it is not about you.

Attention is humanity's single most valuable resource. Nobody is going to give it to you unless you can persuade them to make the exchange. Sure, you could tie them to a chair and force them to listen to you (you can untie your mother now), but ideally you use words to capture their interest. Images can work, too, such as the photo of Milo looking gorgeous that I used to capture your attention for this blog post.

Aristocrats like Tocqueville could expect their readers to put up with almost anything--the more dignified and recherché the better--but those of us living in rough-and-tumble democracies have to build our audiences from the ground up. (Seriously, are you surprised that Trump was good at sales?)

Which is a good thing. It means we have to dig deep down into ourselves and figure out WHY what we are doing matters and then communicate that WHY to others. It means we have to learn how to make a pitch.

Pitches come in lots of sizes. They may be a single word: "Prayer." A question: "Would you like to learn how to pray like a medieval Christian?" They may rhyme: "Fencing Bear at Prayer." Or come in a subject line of an email or as the title to a blog post. Unless you're Milo or Martin Shkreli, they might even come in a Tweet.

If you're Pixar, they will come in the form of a story: "Once upon a time people prayed to the Virgin Mary. Every day they would say her Hours. One day a famous Frenchman named Voltaire made fun of this practice. Because of that everybody got embarrassed. Because of that nobody says her Hours anymore. Until finally Fencing Bear wrote a book explaining how important these prayers were for the history of Western civilization."

As Daniel Pink has shown, for a pitch to be successful, it needs to do one of two things: arouse curiosity or offer something useful. Promise to explain "how to" or get someone to wonder "why," and it is much more likely they will read your blog post or come to your talk. If you do it really well, they might even buy your book.

Pro tip: It also helps if you frighten them or make them think about sex. As in: "The Dangerous Faggot Tour."

4. Serve others. Are you sensing a theme here? Again, it is not about you. If you have gotten their attention, you now have a responsibility to come through with your promise to teach or entertain. This is why capitalism, contrary to everything you have most likely ever heard, is not just effective, but ethical. It depends, as George Gilder has shown, on thinking first about others and what they need.

In Gilder's words:
Capitalism begins with giving. Not from greed, avarice, or even self-love can one expect the rewards of commerce, but from a spirit closely akin to altruism, a regard for the needs of others, a benevolent, outgoing, and courageous temper of mind... Not taking and consuming, but giving, risking, and creating are the characteristic roles of the capitalist, the key producer of the wealth of nations, from the least developed to the most advanced.
Academics have a hard time with this truth. We think everyone should want to read our work because it is finely crafted and well-thought. But, again, we're not aristocrats; we have no captive audience, not even our students (who pay us to teach them). If we want them to listen to us, we need to think first about what they need. We need to learn to say what every shop assistant learns to say on the first day on the job: "How can I help you?"

Trump won because he promised to help Americans: "Make America great again." Clinton lost because she was worried more about herself: "Ready for Hillary."

5. Build relationships. Start long before you have something to say. Attend obsessively to the media in which you hope to build a platform. If you want to write, read books, journals, magazines, blogs, even the news. If you want to make videos, spend hours of your day watching YouTube. (You already do that? Good!) If you want to make music, listen to music. Pay careful attention to the writers, video and film makers, musicians, and other artists whom you admire. Follow their work, notice how it changes over time. Think about what they are doing to sell themselves and why you are attracted to their content. And then find ways to get in touch with them.

This is essential advice for those thinking of going to graduate school. Professors are people, too. (I know, we seem like robotic monsters sometimes, but trust me on this!) If you want to learn how to become a professor, you need to talk with a few of us. (Pro tip: That's why we have office hours.) And if you want to apply to the institutions where we teach to study with us, you need to convince us that you know something about our work that would make us a good fit to teach you.

Other professions have similar cultures of building contacts and relationships, but all have this feature in common: the people in them care more about themselves than they do about you. (They are not your mother.) Take an interest in them, their work. Find out what they are interested in, study it if it interests you. This way you will have something upon which actually to build a relationship, other than your desire to participate in their status, which, see above, is more about your wanting to steal their platform than serve them. Pro tip: They will know in an instant if your interest in their interest is faked.

Begin by listening to what others have to say. Encourage them to talk about themselves and take a genuine interest in their interests. You will win more friends if you make them feel important than you will by trying to make yourself seem important to them. Be sincere in your interest and your attention. Smile. Know their name.

6. Watch for envy. You know the saying, I'm sure. "Academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low." But, in fact, the stakes are incredibly high, they just don't always involve money. They involve something even more precious: attention. And nothing is more bitter than seeing somebody else get the attention that you feel like you deserve.

Well, you don't. Nobody deserves attention (except from his or her mother, and not even always then).

Here's the other thing about attention: you can never get enough. With the corollary: there will always be others who get more than you do.

Suck it up, and don't be greedy. This, as Bob Sorge has brilliantly shown, is the real lesson of the parable of the talents that Jesus told. Not, as those of us who grew up Presbyterian usually think about it: "Don't let your talents go to waste!" (Good Protestant work ethic there.) But rather: "Acknowledge the importance of having even one talent, rather than feeling envious of the ones who have two or five."

Every writer at some time or another obsesses about how many hits she is getting on her blog or how many copies of his book have sold. In academia, we get to practice this discipline every time we do a job search and have to eat our guts out over how much more our colleagues have managed to publish or how many invitations to lecture they have received.

It is the green-eyed demon who is goading you on to scream at other speakers so as to shut them down. Don't listen to it. Get on with your own work.

7. Give yourself a medal. Because no one else will. No, it is still not about you. But it is you who is trying to build a platform from which to speak. And this will take courage because nobody but you (and your mother) will want you to.

Your family will most likely mock you. Your friends will be nervous, lest you say something embarrassing about them. Or worse, say nothing about them at all. Others will be afraid of you, especially when it becomes clear that, thanks to the hard work you have put into developing your expertise, you know something that they don't. And if you say something that conflicts with what they have believed about themselves or their place in the world, they will come howling for your blood. At which point, even your friends who encouraged you in your earlier efforts will desert you, and you will be on your own. And this is if you are lucky: it means someone will have noticed what you have said.

The Cowardly Lion's medal for courage
It may take years for you to capture enough people's attention to be considered a threat. It may never happen. But if and when it does, cherish the few who do not desert you. Like Wisdom, they are more precious than rubies.

You think it is easy to stand up in front of an audience, even one that is not trying to shout you down? Thrilling, yes. Easy, no. Not even when you are as popular as Milo.

It is even worse having no audience at all, other than your mother. But in the end, she is the only one who really matters.

All other rewards for speaking are but dust in the wind.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How to Answer the Offense

There you are, giving a lecture. Perhaps you are talking about the difference between wages and earnings so as to explain why there is no such thing as a "wage gap" affecting women in the United States. Or perhaps you are talking about the Christian West as the source of ideals such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Or perhaps you are talking about the legal situation of gays in countries that are governed by strict adherence to sharia.

And then it happens. Someone starts screaming: "I find that really offensive!" "This is hate speech!"

Your mind boggles. (Okay, it boggles if you aren't Milo. He's used to this kind of response.)

You thought you were stating facts. How is it hateful, you think to yourself, to say that women in the freest countries in the world, when given the choice, choose certain kinds of careers over others and sometimes even prefer to stay home with their children when they are growing up? How can it be offensive to suggest that the ideals of our American culture have particular historical and religious roots? Why is it hurtful to note that, according to Islamic law, homosexuality is punishable by death, and in many Islamic countries, is?

"Lies lies lies!" you hear someone in the audience scream when you try to point these things out. "Take your hate speech off this campus! Take your hate speech off this campus!"

Your pulse racing, you try to think how best to respond. What should you do?

1. Fuck your feelings. More precisely, watch your feelings carefully, as the first thing you are likely to feel is alarmed, followed by a desire to go on the offensive. Breathe. Relax. You are not in danger from someone else's speech. They can yell and scream all they want, and it will not hurt you. More to the point, their yelling and screaming is not, in fact, about you. It is about them, their feelings, their emotions.

This is the most important rule in learning how to listen empathetically: paying attention to the way in which your own feelings interfere with your ability to hear what the other person is saying. Your first impulse will be to try to defend yourself against what you are feeling: that you have been unjustly attacked (which you have), that the other person is trying to shame you (which he or she is). It is critical at this point that you do not take the bait.

The person who is yelling at you is already in distress, for reasons that almost certainly have nothing to do with you. If you are giving a public lecture and the person is yelling at you, this is above all a failure of manners, which means the screamer is behaving like a child who wants attention. The whole reason for screaming is to get your attention, which for some reason or other, the screamer feels he or she must have.

This rule applies in less public conversations as well, when someone challenges you on something you have said and his or her voice (or written affect) takes on an aggrieved or hurt tone. He or she is hurting and wants you to hurt, too. The whole point of the attack is to make you respond, to go on the offensive yourself, so as to make the feelings of hurt seem justified. Again, you did not cause these feelings, they were already there. It is not your job to take them away.

Pro tip: It helps to keep yourself on a relatively low-carb diet. Attacks like these trigger our "fight or flight" response, which relies greatly on the availability of glucose. There is a reason the Desert Fathers fasted in order to be better able to control their emotions: it works. Plus, it keeps you fabulous and beautiful.

2. Be like water. As Bruce Lee put it: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless--like water." Keep yourself fluid, not rigid, and don't get stuck in knee-jerk responses.

First, do not apologize. You are under an emotional attack, not a logical one. You have been talking about facts, but the person screaming at you does not care about facts, only emotions--the emotions he or she is feeling on hearing things that do not accord with his or her previous understanding of the world. Do not apologize, do not let them make it about you.

Second, be gentle, stay cheerful. The whole purpose of the attack is to justify the screamer's feelings of anxiety and hurt. He or she may have the body of an adult, but the child inside is terrified and wants to lash out at the world for being so hateful and cruel. "Darling!" you might say. "Pumpkin! You need to settle down."

Third, find something in what has been said that you can agree with, ideally something you can make a joke about. My favorite: "Milo sucks!" which the protestors at West Virginia wrote on one of their signs. As Milo said, "I do!" Alternately, give them a gift, a selfie, some form of attention. Their whole narrative for why they are hurting depends on believing that you are the source of their feelings of being hated. The more you resist, the more they are confirmed in their need to attack. The more you can be like water, giving way just enough, the less they have a reaction to build off of.

Fourth, be firm. You might make a joke about yourself or acknowledge in some other way that you have heard them, but do not apologize for what you have been saying or allow them to change the terms of the argument. If they persist in their accusations, simply say, gently but firmly, "No." Repeat as necessary without further elaboration. Remember Arlo Guthrie, sitting there on the Group W bench, not proud...or tired, just singing his song.

"You hate women!" "No, I hate people who lie to them about things like the wage gap and campus rape culture."

"You hate minorities!" "No, I hate people who lie to them about the problems that they face in American society."

"You hate Islam!" "As an ideology that oppresses women and gays, yes."

Special case: The screamer refuses to stop screaming, claiming that his or her free speech is being violated. At this point, you give a lesson in manners: "Wait your turn." If he or she does not understand this concept, it is time for the adults to intervene and take him or her for a time out.

3. "That's not a question." You think, in giving a lecture or sharing an article on Facebook, that you are giving information or suggesting an argument, but this is not necessarily what you will get in return.

"I find that offensive!" is not an argument. Nor is: "That's really shameful of you, Rachel. I can't believe you would say that." Nor is: "I suppose you support killing everyone who disagrees with you." Nor is: "I'll bet you are happy when people are discriminated against." (I am sure you can give other examples from your own experience.)

Here's the thing: none of these accusations deserves or requires your response. They are not requests for more information; they are emotional attacks designed to put you on the defensive and elicit a counterattack. You cannot counter them with facts because at this stage facts are irrelevant. You need to shift ground.

How you do so depends in large part on the relationship that you have with the person who claims to have been offended.

If you are speaking, like Milo, before a public audience and someone comes to the Q&A with such an accusation, simply be firm (as above), and reiterate: "That's not a question," until your accuser formulates an actual question or it becomes clear that he or she has none, at which point you say, "Next question."

If you are speaking with one of your friends, there is likely something somewhat different, albeit related, at stake: your accuser's sense of self in relation to you. Bluntly, at some level, your friend needs or wants your approval for his or her perspective on the issue--and you are refusing to give it.

In either case, at some point, you may find it works to ask your accuser: "Why is it so important to you what I think?" Turn their personalization of the issue back on them, not as an accusation (which is what they expect), but as a reflection of their own interest in shaming or silencing you.

In a more intimate context, this tactic may enable you to get them to talk about what is actually troubling them, which will help clarify the emotions that they are feeling and projecting onto you (see above, on feelings). In public, it will tend to reinforce your authority, which they themselves are acknowledging through their need to fight you: they are afraid of you because they fear you may be right, which challenges their sense of their own righteousness.

If they respond, "I'm not afraid of you," then you win as long as they continue to attack you--now, by their own account--for no reason.

4. Keep a record. The whole point of such attacks is to silence you as a speaker, preferably by making you censor yourself, thus in your accusers' minds acknowledging the righteousness of their original initial attack. Do the opposite: make everything that they say as public as possible, either by posting videos of the interaction or, if the exchange has been less public, for example on your own Facebook feed, by writing about it on your blog.

Here it is important to take the high ground: name only those who have gone public with their accusations themselves. Otherwise, leave your interlocutors anonymous, generically defined as "friends" or "people at my talk." Expose yourself fully, but protect those who have not named themselves.

They will howl and scream and vow to come after you. (Trust me on this; it is not just Milo who has attracted their attention.) They will insist that you should be denied a platform from which to speak. To which the only appropriate response is, speak louder. Talk more. If you do not have a platform of your own, for example, a news site, create your own, like, for example, this blog.

The only reason Milo has the platform that he does is that he built it by way of hard work and persistence. He thought of the idea of doing a campus tour; he wrote newspaper columns; he wrote a book. It is nonsense to claim that he has taken away someone else's freedom of speech through his speaking. Likewise, it is nonsense for them to claim that your speaking prevents theirs. They are simply jealous that you have attracted an audience--and they haven't.

5. Support others. You know what it is like to be standing alone before the crowd, how frightening it can be even when you know that their only real weapon (as long as they stick with speech) is their ability to turn others against you through their accusations.

There are many reasons that people choose not to get involved when they witness this kind of attack: fear of the crowd turning against them, fear that they will not be able to withstand the attack, sometimes even fear of losing their loved ones or livelihoods.

But you have taken the podium, published that blog post, shared that article on Facebook. You are out there now, taking the heat. Do not let others take it alone. Be there for them, whether by writing blog posts in their defense or commenting on their Facebook shares. Refuse to be silenced by the fear of what others might think.

Morale, as Vox Day has argued, is here key: "Be quick to come running when your allies call... Pay closer attention to them than usual if you know they're under attack and provide them with tactical advice if you've got any and moral support if you don't." (Milo, this blogpost's for you!)

Bear witness. In other words, accept your role as a martyr (Gk: witness). It is your responsibility to stand up for freedom of speech and support others because if you don't, no one else will either.

This is especially true, the dean of my college reminded me this past week, for those of us who are faculty in academia. If the faculty do not stand up for academic freedom, the culture of academic freedom dies.

And if academic freedom and freedom of speech die, we all suffer. Men, women, whites, blacks, straights, gays, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and Jews alike.

No offense, but it's true.

Friday, January 13, 2017

How to Spot a Heretic

Mary Magdalen
Painted by Frederick Sandys (1859)
I get it from starry-eyed prospective students all the time: they want to study...heresy.

Heresy, they have heard, is cool.

Heresy is hip.

Heresy is dissident, and being dissident is good. (At least, it is good again now that Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as president.)

Heresy, of course, being hip, is nearly as fruitful a category as superheroes. But more often than not, the students have only one particular group of heretics in mind: the Albigenses or Cathars, famous because they were wiped out by a particularly vicious crusade.

That is, if they had existed they would have been wiped out. Apparently, some of my colleagues aren't so sure anymore. Maybe the Church just made them up so as to have somebody to send out inquisitors to talk to and, occasionally, torture. But if they had existed, they would have been cool. Because, you know, they were dissident.

It's rather like Social Justice Warriors today, who, I am reliably informed, do not exist except in the fevered imaginations of right-wing conservatives. But if they did exist, I am certain my students would want to study them. Because Social Justice Warriors are dissident. And being dissident is cool. Not to mention hip. And good.

That's what the Cathars, if they existed, called themselves: good men, good women. Just like Social Justice Warriors, if they existed, would call themselves good. Because they are! They want justice for society. They want everyone to be treated equally, with progress, tolerance, and diversity for all. Except they don't exist.

There are other ways in which the Cathars (who did not exist) resemble Social Justice Warriors (who don't exist either).

1. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed that the God described in the Old Testament was evil, while the God described in the New Testament was good. In their view, the evil God created the visible, material world, while the good God created the invisible, spiritual world. Accordingly, they rejected the Old Testament as the work of the evil God, who, in their view, was a liar and a murderer. They believed that all the patriarchs of the Old Testament were damned and that John the Baptist was a devil.

In similar fashion, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) believe that the Founders of the United States of America were evil because many of the Founders were slave owners and the Founders who weren't slave owners didn't refuse to sign the Constitution, while they, the Social Justice Warriors, have access to the good, living Constitution since discovered by their own leaders, if they had leaders, which they don't because they don't exist. They reject the history of the United States up to and including the present moment as utterly infected with evil (racism), wholly the creation of the evil (racist) Constitution of the Founders. Only they have access to the good, living Constitution, which the Founders did not write.

2. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed, as the Cistercian Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay explained, that "the Christ who was born in terrestrial and visible Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem was evil, and that Mary Magdalen was his concubine and the very woman taken in adultery [described in the Gospel of John]; for the good Christ, they said, never ate nor drank nor took on real flesh, and was never of this world, except in a spiritual sense in the body of Paul." Accordingly, they rejected all images of the crucified Christ as depictions of this evil Christ and called veneration of these images idolatry, which they demanded be removed from the churches.

Similarly, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) see the Founders as evil and call for the removal of all images of the Founders and other historic figures from campus buildings and other public spaces, saying that to allow these images is to condone the evils in which the Founders participated. They believe the Founders, most particularly Thomas Jefferson, had illicit relations with their slaves, which they, as Social Justice Warriors, would never do, if Social Justice Warriors had existed at the time of the country's founding.

3. The Cathars (who did not exist) believed all material existence was evil because matter had been created by the evil God. They, therefore, rejected the sacraments of the Church that involved material elements: baptism, for its use of water; and the eucharist, for its use of bread and wine. They also refused to eat flesh, eggs, and cheese, because these foods were the product of sexual reproduction. And they considered marriage an evil because it brought forth children, thus trapping more souls in the evil, material world.

Many Social Justice Warriors (if they existed) refuse to eat flesh, eggs, and cheese. They also think marriage is evil when it is for the sake of bringing forth children into the world, which is itself evil. ("I can't imagine bringing a child into a world with so much intolerance, pollution, overpopulation, and hate.") They hate fossil fuels because fossil fuels participate in the material world, unlike wind and solar power, which depend on the air and sun and don't make waste. They see the world of things as corrupt and despise those who make things for profit so as to make others' lives more comfortable and pleasurable.

4. The Cathars (who did not exist) rejected the hierarchy of the Church as utterly corrupt along with its sacraments. They rejected baptism as necessary for belonging to the Church, when all that was required was a laying on of hands by other good Christians. They believed that only their preachers cared about helping them, and they supported them with gifts and hospitality. They believed they could be saved only through these good men, whom they welcomed as teachers. But they also believed that if one of these good men fell into sin, for example, by eating even the smallest morsel of meat, all those consoled by his laying on of hands would fall back into sin, too.

Likewise, Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) reject many of the institutions of the United States as utterly corrupt, most particularly, the idea of legally-enforced citizenship. They see no value in the teachings of the tradition, but only those teachings which they receive from their present leaders. They deny any legal requirements for entry into the United States (or any other country), which they insist should welcome all regardless of culture or willingness to assimilate to the values of the tradition. They believe that only their thought-leaders know the truth about salvation, but they also believe that even the slightest willingness to recognize any good in America (other than that which they identify) is cause for expulsion.

5. The Cathars (who did not exist) denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and insisted that souls, when they were saved, would be freed from the body. They believed all carnal sexual relations were "shameful, base, and odious, and thus damnable." They were, according to the Franciscan James Capelli, chaste and wrongfully accused of promiscuity. According to the Dominican Moneta of Cremona, they also denied the existence of free will. They refused to swear oaths or to kill for any reason. According to Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay, the Perfect or Good Men among the Cathars "sought to give them impression of never telling a lie, [but] they lied constantly, especially concerning God."

Social Justice Warriors (who do not exist) are often accused of being sexually promiscuous, but this, too, seems to be a slander, as sex for them is almost inevitably identified with rape. Whether women have the ability to protect themselves from rape seems to depend on the degree to which they are believed to possess free will. Social Justice Warriors say that they oppose killing, except babies in the womb, who don't exist either so long as they are only a clump of cells. And, according to Vox Day who says he has encountered many Social Justice Warriors, they always lie. Except they don't, because they do not exist.


Back in the thirteenth century, the Church expended a great deal of effort training preachers like the Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans to go out into the marketplaces of the villages and towns to instruct laypeople properly in the traditions of Christianity so as to counter the lies of the non-existent heretics. If only there were preachers willing to go to college campuses today to instruct the people in the history of our country and counter the lies of the Social Justice Warriors. If they existed.

Descriptions of the non-existent Cathars taken from Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages: Selected Sources Translated and Annotated (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969, 1991), pp. 235-41, 301-23.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Free Speech Fundamentals: Fame

I get it: lots of people don't like Milo. But here's the really fascinating thing: lots of people do. All you have to do is visit his Facebook page (go on, I'll wait) to see how many people love him.

And if you don't believe the five-star Facebook reviews, there are also the videos of the students and other fans who have spoken up at his campus talks to tell him how much he has encouraged them.*

The young black woman who stood up against the Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago and said to her peers who were trying to shout Milo down (starting at 56:33), "I know who I am. I am Kati Danforth. I am a math major and a junior at Depaul University and I'm working my ass off to become something!" The army sergeant in Houston who gave Milo his dog tags for speaking on behalf of the military against political correctness. The young woman from Kuwait who thanked Milo for standing up for her experience as a woman fleeing from an arranged Muslim marriage. The young woman who talked about how Milo helped her become more truthful in her political views, when formerly she had thought of herself as feminist. The young men who thanked Milo for his fat-shaming because it inspired them to lose weight. The young woman who talked about how it was easier coming out as bi-sexual than as conservative. The older woman who declared herself a two-time cancer survivor and insisted, to the cheers of the audience: "I'd rather have cancer than feminism." The young gay man who championed Milo's stance on Islam and its treatment of gays. The young man from China who thanked Milo for standing up against cultural Marxism. The young woman from France who declared Milo right about everything that is happening in Europe. The young woman from Mexico who talked about how Milo's being gay and Catholic gave her courage as a minority not to give into the identity politics expected of her. The young woman from Singapore who talked about how she sees Milo defending the right of students to have an actual conversation about different issues, not just follow the liberal line. The young woman who talked about how Milo gives conservatives courage to speak up in class. Not to mention Tom Cicotta and Ariana Rowlands who, in their introduction to his speech for the Annie Taylor Award for Courage in Journalism, talked about how much he had inspired them in their own fights to sustain their Republican student organizations on campus.

These are the people who have been pre-ordering Milo's book and who have made him a star. These are the people whom Ruth Ben-Ghiat writing for CNN accuses of "making hate profitable." These are the people whom Constance Grady writing for Vox accuses of helping to mainstream "all the rage of the white supremacists and misogynists and bigots on the alt-right." These are the people whom Sady Doyle writing for Elle anticipates will send people's lives up in flames at Milo's command. These are the people whom Adam Morgan writing for The Guardian accuses Milo of encouraging "to think of entire groups of people as less than human."

Even worse, these are the people whom Ian Tuttle, writing for National Review and ostensibly fellow conservative, accuses of being duped. In Tuttle's words:
Milo Yiannopoulos is the sort of interloper by whom Americans have long been enamored: Part P.T. Barnum, wrangling the latest circus of novelties; part Sebastian Flyte, flaunting his heathenism in the face of bourgeois mores; and part Frank Abagnale, dashing from con to con... Yiannopoulos is one of that new, unfortunate species: the right-wing Internet celebrity. It used to be a requirement that those who aspired to weigh in on matters of public concern experienced the occasional advent of a thought in their heads. But after years of conflating sobriety and informed judgment with "elitism," such barriers to entry have disappeared, replaced by a system in which success is based on one's ability to--as Yiannopoulos himself has put it--get "LOLs." The same impulse that turned the patriarch of a family of duck hunters into a political sage needs news to be entertainment, too.
Jealous much? Milo, of course, responded on his Facebook page with his usual tact, correcting Tuttle's use of "LOLs" ("The preferred formulation for anyone under 35 is 'lulz.' You're welcome") and his claims that Milo stiffed contributors to The Kernel or left the UK ignominiously; he didn't, much as the media loves to suggest that he did ("Working for National Review in 2016 you will be familiar with magazines falling on hard times"; Milo paid all the late invoices out of his own pocket).

Most damning of all, however, as Milo himself pointed out, is what Tuttle said about Milo's fans:
Your analysis, Ian, of how left-wing anguish rules my popularity has merit, but the conclusion I draw from your snobbery is simply that you don't much like how fame or celebrity works, and therefore perhaps don't like ordinary people very much either. Perhaps that is why no one has heard of you. As clownish and unsophisticated as you find me, I find your smug fogeyishness just as dull--as, apparently, do readers, who continue to wisely abandon your magazine in the thousands.
Young fogey that he is, Tuttle (whose writing I have actually long enjoyed) should be reading more of that great conservative go-to, Alexis de Tocqueville, if he wants to understand his fellow Americans better. Milo certainly does.

The problem, as Tocqueville would put it, is that Tuttle wants conservatives to write for aristocrats, while Milo writes--and speaks--for the people. The question for conservatives in America is which better serves democracy--and freedom of speech.

"In an aristocratic people," Tocqueville observes,
among whom letters are cultivated...intellectual occupations, as well as the affairs of government, are concentrated in a ruling class.... When a small number of the same men are engaged at the same time upon the same objects, they easily concert with one another and agree upon certain leading rules that are to govern them each and all. If the object that attracts the attention of these men is literature, the productions of the mind will soon be subjected by them to precise canons, from which it will no longer be allowable to depart.  
Such aristocratic circles produce literature and art of a high quality, carefully crafted according to certain canons of style, refined, elegant, delicate, always in exquisite taste.
The slightest work will be carefully wrought in its least details; art and labor will be conspicuous in everything; each kind of writing will have rules of its own, from which it will not be allowed to swerve and which distinguish it from all others. Style will be thought of almost as much importance as thought, and the form will be no less considered than the matter; the diction will be polished, measured, and uniform. The tone of the mind will be always dignified, seldom very animated, and writers will care more to perfect what they produce than to multiply their productions. It will sometimes happen that the members of the literary class, always living among themselves and writing for themselves alone, will entirely lose sight of the rest of the work, which will infect them with a false sense and labored style... By dint of striving after a mode of parlance different from the popular, they will arrive at a sort of aristocratic jargon which is hardly less remote from pure language a than is the coarse dialect of the people. Such are the natural perils of literature among aristocracies. 
It is quite the reverse, Tocqueville goes on, among people living in a democracy like that in America. There, there are almost as many writers as readers, every man (or woman) encouraged to participate in the production of the arts. Nor is it to be expected that "all who cultivate literature have received a literary education; and most of those who have some tinge of belles-lettres are engaged either in politics or in a profession that only allows them to taste occasionally and by stealth the pleasures of the mind." Accordingly,
they prefer books which may be easily procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches to be understood. They ask for beauties self-proferred and easily enjoyed; above all, they must have what is unexpected and new. Accustomed to the struggle, the crosses, the monotony of practical life, they require strong and rapid emotions, startling passages, truths or errors brilliant enough to rouse them up and to plunge them at once, as if by violence, into the midst of the subject.
Under such circumstances, authors will seek to achieve not perfection of detail and style, but a "rapidity of execution" marked by "rude vigor of thought.... The object of authors will be to astonish rather than to please, and to stir the passions more than to charm the taste." Even more importantly, they will have the opportunity as well as the compulsion actually to sell their books, not having a captive and leisured audience upon whom they can depend for fame, if not money.

Let's face it, Milo can at times be downright vulgar (L: vulgus, the crowd, mob, rabble, populace). He does not cultivate a particularly refined speaking style--quite the reverse. He gleefully encourages his audiences to be roused to emotions of patriotism and laughter. He likes startling them with provocative images and performing in costume. And he is a master at plunging them, by way of jokes and memes, into the midst of the difficult subjects on which he chooses to speak. Tuttle might prefer for Milo to be more refined in his speech, less flamboyant in his presentations, more aristocratic in his diction. But the audiences to which Milo is speaking are American--and Americans, being democratic, love a good show.

The Redneck and the Brit
This does not mean, as Tuttle implies with his snobbishness about Duck Dynasty, that they are not also interested in refined thought. (Milo was much more gentlemanly in his interview with Robertson.) What it does mean is that they like their literature to be practical, to speak to them directly, to address their everyday concerns. They don't want theories and abstractions, but real solutions to actual problems. Such as "Fuck your feelings" in answer to those who seek to silence them by being offended if they voice the wrong opinions about abortion or the minimum wage. Such as "America is the greatest country in the history of human civilization" in answer to those who would spend more time complaining about its imperfections than celebrating the liberties they enjoy. Such as "Feminism is cancer" in answer to those who would try to convince middle-class women and girls in America that they are somehow oppressed by the desire to have children and thus make their own choices about the balance between homelife and their careers. Such as "Build the wall" in answer to those who would insist that our nation should have no borders and no enforced legal restrictions on who gets to live here.

Tuttle, no great master of style himself, predicts that Milo's book will appeal to this lowest common denominator of literary production: "[It] will be forgettable by any reasonable standard of literary merit. It will not feature any passage of sparkling prose... It will not contain any particularly interesting ideas... It will be a between-two-covers repackaging of his on-going performance-art piece, which felt tired even on its opening night."

You can almost hear him yawning with boredom at the thought of yet another refined evening at the opera. Meanwhile, Milo's fans will be cheering for him as lustily as the French at a cabaret.


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Volume 2, chapter XIII: "Literary Characteristics of Democratic Times." The Henry Reeve Text, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), pp. 55-60.

*NOTE TO MILO READERS: Please let me know if you would like me to add your testimony, particularly if you did a video that I missed.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Shaming Works

You've felt it, I know you have. Okay, maybe not if you're a sociopath like Milo or Sherlock claims to be. (I have my doubts, on both counts.) But if you are a normal person who cares about what other people think of you. You've felt it.

The dry mouth. The skin on your forehead tightening. The clenching of your whole body as if in anticipation of a blow. The blood rushing to your limbs as you prepare for flight. Your pulse quickening. Your thoughts racing. The urge to apologize, make yourself small, promise you will never do it again. The SHAME.

"Shame on you, Rachel," my friends on Facebook are wont to say when I post yet another of my reflections on Milo and his talks. "Don't you know what a monster he is? He's a racist. A sexist. A misogynist. A homophobe. A white nationalist. An anti-Semite. A member of the alt-right! How can you defend him? Don't you know what he did to Leslie Jones?"

It doesn't matter that I know he is none of these things and that it is Leslie Jones who has benefited most from his Twitter ban. I still feel the panic rising as the devil makes his move.

"They will think less of you. You are risking everything standing up for this man. What if the neighbors found out? What if your colleagues on campus found out? What if your students found out? How would you face them?" And the final threat: "You would be cast out."

"So what?," you try to reassure yourself. "I don't need their approval." But you know you do. You want them to like you, to smile at you, to make jokes with you, not about you. You want their respect. You want them to listen to you, look up to you, greet you warmly. You want them to approve of you not just because they like you, but because you are in the right.

In short, you want, as Adam Smith would put it, to be lovely. In Smith's words (III.I.8):
Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only praise, but praiseworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise. He dreads, not only blame, but blame-worthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be blamed by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of blame.
It is not enough, Smith goes on, to find oneself the object of praise; one wants to be actually worthy of praise. Worse than being hated, in Smith's account, is to know oneself a proper object of hatred. This is shame, the feeling of being less than one knows in one's heart one ought to be, not only because one is not loved, but because he or she is not worthy of love. As Smith puts it (III.I.13-14):
Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavorable regard. She rendered their approbation most flattering and most agreeable to him for its own sake; and their disapprobation most mortifying and most offensive.
But this desire of the approbation, and this aversion to the disapprobation of his brethren, would not alone have rendered him fit for that society for which he was made. Nature, accordingly, has endowed him, not only with a desire of being approved of, but with a desire of being what ought to be approved of; or of being what he himself approves in other men.
We want, Smith says, not just to be loved, but to have the confidence that we are worthy of love; that we are the thing that should be loved and so are loved for our own sake, not just for what we appear.

Accordingly, we take no pleasure (if we are not sociopaths) in being loved for being something that we are not; for being able to fake loveliness, as it were, rather than ourselves being lovely. In Smith's view (which is a fairly sunny one, if you think about it), we do not like feeling ourselves hypocrites.

This, then, if we follow Smith's reasoning, is the source of the pain that one feels on losing one's friends' approval: the horrible suspicion that they may be right. That maybe one has done the thing that they say, stood up for a person or cause or idea that itself is shameful, thus losing one's own sense of being in the right.

Shame, in other words, is a species of doubt. Which is why Sherlock and Milo (purportedly) never feel it. Not (only) because they do not care what other people think, but because they know (or think they know) themselves to be in the right, whatever other people think of them.

Children and dogs feel much the same way, as do fools. And saints.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Free Speech Fundamentals: The Most Dangerous Game

The verdict is in. Simon & Schuster are wrong--courting danger!--to have offered Milo a book deal, even under their conservative Threshold Editions imprint.

"YUCK AND BOO AND GROSS," tweeted comedienne Sarah Silverman on the day the book was announced. "This guy has freedom of speech but to fund him & give him a platform tells me a LOT about @simonschuster."

"Simon & Schuster should be ashamed of giving vile Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos $250K to publish book," echoed Jeff Stein.

"Problem with just shrugging at Milo book as free speech is that not everyone has the same level of access to platforms for speech," tweeted Murtaza Hussain--who, like Silverman and Stein has a blue verification checkmark, which I think means he has a higher level of access on Twitter than say, I do, but never mind. Twitter is free.

Kyle Bella (no blue checkmark) commented: "Editors @simonschuster could have said, 'No, Milo [sic missing comma] we refuse to publish your book because you're racist and transphobic.' But they didn't."

And this was just the opening Tweets! (All citations courtesy of Milo's Facebook feed--yes, he knows what they're saying about him.)

That same day, The Chicago Review of Books vowed, again through a Tweet: "In response to this disgusting validation of hate, we will not cover a single @simonschuster book in 2017."

Perez Hilton opined: "Unfortunately, Simon & Schuster decided they'd rather take a chance on sizable profits opposed to human decency by providing Milo with a mainstream platform to spew his hate."

Meanwhile, pre-orders on Amazon shot the book to #1 the day after its announcement. Since then, things have gotten really interesting.

Simon & Schuster tweeted out a defense: "We do not and never have condoned discrimination or hate speech in any form. At Simon & Schuster we have always published books by a wide range of authors with greatly varying, and frequently controversial opinions, and appealing to many different audiences of readers. While we are cognizant that many may disagree vehemently with the books we publish we note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees."

To little avail--but continued sales.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, argues that Milo himself "is a barometer for the far rightward shift and expansion of the conservative movement in America to elevate figures that traffic in violent speech"--despite the fact that Milo has never called for violence against anybody; quite the reverse, it is he who has been regularly threatened, including by self-defined members of the Alt-Right.

Constance Grady, writing for Vox, sees a similarly dire future for publishing: "Milo Yiannopoulos is a hateful person who has built a career on bigotry, but it is not hard to see why an editor at a right-wing publishing imprint might think it would be a good idea to sign him. He is loud, he has a loyal army of followers, and he knows how to get people's attention. He has that all-important built-in platform. All of that equals press attention--such as the flurry of articles the book deal prompted, including this one--and press attention usually means increased book sales. In Yiannopoulos's case, it seems to have worked. Dangerous is currently a best-seller on Amazon...  Having brought in one Milo Yiannopoulos, it will be increasingly easy to bring in another, and then another, until all of the hatred and all of the rage of the white supremacists and misogynists and bigots on the alt-right is considered a valid part of cultural discourse, and just another strain of thought, as legitimate as any other. It will become normal."

Sady Doyle, writing for Elle, concurs: "Milo Yiannopoulos has an army of trolls who will do whatever he asks, and presumably, 'buy this book' is not a hard command to obey. Then again, neither is 'dox this movie star.' The very thing that makes Yiannopoulos marketable makes it irresponsible to publish him. If there were ever a man whose book should to be treated as a weapon, it's Milo Yiannopoulos. The book will presumably name another target--or, more likely, several--and people's lives will go up in flames as the result. The harassment that follows a brush with Milo isn't light teasing; it's violent assault."

And Adam Morgan, as editor of The Chicago Review of Books, has reiterated his decision not to review any Simon & Schuster books thanks to their decision to publish Milo's: "I remain convinced that to protect the victims of discrimination from its traumatic and sometimes deadly consequences, the literary community must stand against anyone--author or publisher--who peddles hate speech for profit."

Who knew publishing a book could be so dangerous? Especially a book that, thus far, no one has read. What, exactly, is it that makes this book so dangerous before it is even in print?

To judge from the outrage: because it promises to make Simon & Schuster, the publishers, and most likely Milo himself, a profit.

Think about it. Milo is already famous, much much more famous than he would have been simply by publishing a book. (Trust me on this.) And how did he become so famous? For starters, although I wasn't paying attention then, it would seem through his Tweets--which he published for free. Then, when he was banned from Twitter for chivvying Leslie Jones about playing the victim over Ghostbusters' bad reviews, through his Facebook page, which at the time I joined in September 2016 had about 200,000 followers, but which now counts over 1,000,000--which, again, he publishes for free. But most of all through his writing for, which, again, readers can access for free. (Try the link, I'll wait.) And, of course, through his Dangerous Faggot Tour of college campuses, videos of which...wait for it...he posts on YouTube...for free. Nor does he charge the student audiences to whom he is speaking fees; the only fees they incur are those set by their schools for security, lest the protestors to Milo's talks get out of hand.

And now we are supposed to believe that a book deal with Simon & Schuster is going to make him more accessible to the audiences he already has? How, exactly? They can already get Milo 24/7 (with repeats) as long as they have an Internet connection. If Milo is dangerous--as his critics insist that he is--he is dangerous not because he has written a book--which, again, nobody has yet read--but because he knows how to use the Internet, through which, stop me if you'd heard this already, his fans can access all of his previous content for free. It is true: many of his fans were more than willing last Thursday as soon as he posted the announcement for his book to go buy it. But the reason they were so willing was because they have been reading his columns and watching his talks--do I need to say it again?--for free. This book, this book that Simon & Schuster has signed with him for, is quite literally the first thing he has ever asked them to pay for, other than the t-shirts and mugs that he sells through his store to help raise money for his college scholarship fund (now accepting applications). If Milo wanted to, he could publish his book on his website for free, and it would more than likely get just as many readers as it will through Simon & Schuster's edition. He could even publish it through his store and charge money for it. This is the age of the Internet, after all. And, as even his critics concede, Milo is a master at trolling the Internet for attention.

It is true, as Murtaza Hussain noted in his Tweet, "not everyone has the same level of access to platforms for speech." But--here's the irony--neither would Milo if he hadn't built them himself. Twitter and Facebook and Youtube and, yes, Blogger are just as accessible as platforms to me or you or Hussain as they are to Milo. With a camera and better make-up, I could be making videos. Sure, Milo is employed by, but started exactly the same way: through Andrew Breitbart's own ingenuity in harnessing the Internet. (Here's Breitbart's own book about it, if you want the full story.) And has millions upon millions of readers, far more than Milo has fans. If the fear, as Grady puts it, is that publishing Milo's book will normalize the kinds of things he says, I have news for her: they are already normal to a large portion of our population. Even if Simon & Schuster never publishes another book, the things that Milo says are already "considered a valid part of cultural discourse, and just another strain of thought, as legitimate as any other." Newsflash: That's why so many people voted for Trump. (Whether Grady has characterized Milo's speech accurately is another matter. In my view, she hasn't.)

Which leaves only the money. We all want to get paid for our writing. I would love to get paid for my writing, although, of course, indirectly as a professor I do. But I don't make money as such off my writing, certainly not $250,000, although I have made enough over the years to buy a few foils. But I would--and I know this is the case--if I knew how to build an audience as well as Milo has. So, in fact, it isn't really the money. It's the attention. And nobody gives their attention for free.