Performing the Logos

I laugh, make a joke about how much mischief I’ve caused. They’re encouraged, it’s safe to talk, I’m not going to get upset. And then it comes: “I don’t understand what you see in him, he’s just a provocateur. Why should we encourage such people to speak on our campuses?”

I could answer a number of ways, insist that Milo bases everything he says on facts, even the jokes. “But that isn’t the point,” they say. “If he has an argument, why does he have to be so provocative about it?”

But what they really mean is, why does he have to come here?

I wondered that myself at first. Why did Milo insist on giving his talks on campus? Why not avoid the protestors, rent a hall, sell tickets, give the talks, and put the videos up on YouTube? It is working beautifully for Jordan Peterson with his new series of lectures on the Bible

But Milo always refused to back down and give his talks anywhere else. 

Today he gave a talk along with Pamela Geller to protest Linda Sarsour's invitation to speak at CUNY’s commencement exercises. This morning he did a short video on Facebook explaining his plans: 
Unlike some of the other speakers, I don’t want Linda Sarsour banned...I want her to debate in the open. I want her to come with facts and reason and logic. I want for her to be exposed. And so I’m going to be talking today about why I think she’s wrong, not why I think she should be cancelled.
But people like Sarsour’s supporters are not willing to debate Milo with facts, reason, and logic, as the protestors who showed up to protest his talk this afternoon proved by blowing whistles and yelling throughout his remarks. Milo is not going to change anybody’s mind with his arguments if his audiences are already provoked.

So what does he think he is doing? I think I know. He is embodying a myth. More precisely, he is embodying the myth at the heart of Western civilization: the myth by which, as Professor Peterson puts it, articulated truth brings the world into being. He is embodying the Word.

Milo describes his campus talks not just as speaking, but as doing something. Other conservatives, he insists, think that they can change people’s minds by writing a column or publishing a book, but that isn’t doing anything. And yet, it would seem, all Milo does is talk. (Or, occasionally, sing.)

Why give the talks on college campuses? Partly, because Milo cares about education. And partly, because college campuses are the place where students are introduced to the arguments Milo is trying to expose in their most articulated form. But mainly because college campuses are the one place in our contemporary culture (other than places of worship) where people come together to speak in person.

I have been exhausted all quarter, which is not entirely surprising. I’m still on this low-carb diet, so my energy for explosive action like speaking is limited. But I know what has been happening. I have been braced for attack. It is one thing to sit here writing about what I think. It is wholly another thing to stand up and speak it to a room full of other human beings.

You try it. Stand up in front of a group of people and talk to them. Yeah, right. It isn’t about your words anymore. It is your whole being that is at stake, every muscle, every nerve ending, every emotion. Your whole body is screaming: “Danger!” Your body is right.

It matters that Milo gives his talks before audiences of students who are in the same room with him. That is, whose bodies are in the same room as his. Whose bodies--and hearts and minds--will respond not just to his words or the sound of his voice, but everything about his physical presence. His movements. His gestures. His facial expressions. The force of his will.

What do you do when an audience is in the same room with you, listening? Do you speak in order to please them? Or do you risk conflict by speaking the truth?

In Professor Peterson’s words: “We use our bodies to represent things long before we understand what it is we are representing.” We speak with our bodies. (Professor Peterson, like Milo, makes particular use of his hands.) We act things out before we are able to articulate them in words.

Including the reason that it is so important to speak.

The single most important thing that Milo has done with his campus talks is stand up and speak the truth in the midst of the crowd. It helps that he has Navy Seals to protect him. But it is more important that he stand up, speak, and take the consequences. Like Christ.

I have gotten into a lot of trouble--okay, mainly by way of the Internet--for comparing Milo to Christ. But Professor Peterson has done it, too. Okay, maybe not directly, but he talks about Christ-like figures like Milo all the time. Except that he calls them individuals who play out the archetype of the hero by being willing to speak.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” What does this mean? Again, in Professor Peterson’s words (I paraphrase):
In the beginning was the Logos, that is, consciousness, because it is by no means obvious what there is, if there is no one to experience it. And this Logos or consciousness is associated with bringing reality into being. 
This, Professor Peterson explains, is what it means in Genesis that human beings--both men and women--are created in the image and likeness of God: with consciousness and the capacity to bring the world into being through speech. It’s bloody mind-blowing! And it comes with enormous responsibility.

A third time, in Professor Peterson’s words:
Don’t underestimate the power of your speech! Now, Western culture is phallogocentric. Let’s say it... It is predicated on the idea of the Logos. The Logos is the sacred element of Western culture. What does that mean? It means that your capacity for speech is divine. It is the thing that generates order from chaos. And then sometimes turns pathological order into chaos when it has to. 
Don’t underestimate the power of truth. There is nothing more powerful [than the truth]. Now in order to speak what you might regard as the truth, you have to let go of the outcome. You have to think, alright, I’m going to say what I think. Stupid as I am. Biased as I am. Ignorant as I am. I am going to state what I think as clearly as I can, and I am going to live with the consequences no matter what they are. 
Now the reason that you think that, that’s an element of faith. The idea is that nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth. You might have to pay a price for that. But that’s fine. You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do. And everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it. So if you’re going to stand up for something, stand up for your truth. 
Milo understands this. Seriously, it is why he wears a cross. Every word that we say matters because every word we speak either moves us closer to the truth or entangles us further in lies. Truths about the basis of our civilization, whether in the divinity of the individual or in the submission of the individual to God. Truths about the proper relations between women and men. Truths about speech and its effect on the world. We can choose not to speak and become, as Professor Peterson puts it, miserable worms. Or we can choose to speak, take the consequences, and bring a better world into being.

Like God.

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