The Milo Effect

Milo, like everything he talks about, is polarizing.

"Are you the real, true face of the alt-Right? Because I thought the Nazis were in there. How did they take you on board?," former intel analyst Malcolm Nance asked Milo during the Overtime segment on Real Time with Bill Maher.

"No, they hate me," Milo responded. "The worst people on the very far Left and the very far Right all hate me. They all hate me."

"I think you are leaving a lot of people out," comedian Larry Wilmore quipped.

Guess what? Wilmore was right!

If Milo talks about third-wave feminists as being misandrist and vindictive and hurtful to both women and men, the liberal Left says he is insulting all women. The conservative Right can't stand that he uses colorful language like "cunts" and "pussies."

If Milo talks about Black Lives Matter as not attending to the real issues putting black lives at risk, the liberal Left says he is insulting all blacks. The conservative Right can't stand that he talks about "sucking black dick."

If Milo talks about Islam and most Muslims' attitudes towards homosexuality or women as evidenced by opinion polls in the U.K. and the legal situation in many Muslim-majority countries, the liberal Left calls him Islamophobic. The conservative Right is shocked that he mentions that Mohammed had a wife who was only nine, making him a "kid fucker." (I'm making this up, I'm not sure what shocks the Right about what Milo says about Islam; they were certainly willing to be shocked about pedophilia this week, as they should be.)

If Milo talks about transgenderism and what it means for both women's safety and the mental health of the individuals affected, the liberal Left calls him transphobic. The conservative Right chides him for saying "faggot" and pretends it doesn't agree with him in the transgender debate.

If Milo talks about GamerGate and praises the gamers for being willing to take on the politically-correct suppression of their hobby, the liberal Left calls him misogynist and mean. The conservative Right can't see the value in playing video games and thinks gamers are losers.

And if Milo talks about being abused as a young teen-ager by his priest, the liberal Left accuses him of self-hate for his homosexuality. The conservative Right claims he advocates pedophilia and tries to ruin his career.

Why do I see and hear such a different person from so many of my colleagues and friends?

I am quite honestly struggling to understand. I never hear Milo speaking out of hate, although I do hear him speaking out of justice (which can sound harsh) and mercy, which he always is, even if he makes jokes at pretty much everyone's expense, including his own.

But others, some very close to me, hear the exact opposite. They hear him speaking only out of hate, above all hatred of himself and of his homosexuality, which as we have learned this week, has complicated and uncomfortable roots.

(He has often said that he thinks being gay is about 50-50 nature-nurture. He is not persuaded that there is such a thing as "born gay," which he argues was a political invention of the LGBT lobby in the 1980s to take advantage of arguments on the basis of civil rights.)

I see a young man willing to take enormous professional, social, political, physical, and, yes, spiritual risks to say things that nobody else is willing to say, in venues that nobody else is willing to dare, in order to defend the people he sees as hurt by the way in which other people talk about them, above all, women and blacks, young men, child abuse victims, victims of illegal immigrants--in fact, everyone the Left says he should care about, except that he refuses to do so in terms of their identity politics.

My friends and colleagues beg to disagree with me. He is an attention seeker. A menace. A danger. He is doing it only to get a rise out of people, not because he cares. He cares only for himself. He is selfish, vindictive, unprincipled. He creates situations in which people get hurt regardless of the consequences. It is his fault the trolls went after Leslie Jones on Twitter. It is his fault transgender people, lesbians, and gays get beaten up. It is his fault that the gamers were encouraged to send death threats to Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. It is his fault everybody is so angry with him.

Eius culpa, eius maxima culpa

Or is it? Christians are often chided by non-Christians for saying that they hate not the sinner, but the sin.

"No, no, no," non-Christians reply. "If you hate the sin, it must mean you hate the sinner, too."

Sin is a very hard concept to understand. Like Milo, it is also polarizing.

The conservative Right wants people to be virtuous, principled, sober. As National Review argued in its editorial on CPAC's canceling Milo's speech, this was a good thing, they didn't think he should have been asked in the first place because "whatever Yiannopoulos's politics they are not conservative in any meaningful sense." Nor, they continue, is his demeanor.

In the editors' words:
It has become fashionable in conservative circles to cheer every apparently right-leaning gadfly. But "trolling" is not conservatism, and there is no virtue merely in upsetting campus Democrats. There are many conservatives who do regular battle with left-wing agitators--but who also are of high character, and advance conservative arguments and defend conservative principles with poise, wit, and good cheer.
The liberal Left likewise wants people to speak in particular ways so as to avoid saying anything that anybody might find troubling or offensive. It doesn't matter that they might agree with anything Milo says. If he is rude to anyone they perceive as belonging to particular identity groups (basically, everyone other than straight white men), he cannot be forgiven.

I have news for both sides: speech codes are not about virtue. They are about social conformity, not sin.

Sin is much, much more dangerous than mean words that hurt people's feelings. 

People have been writing to me all week, first in response to my article published in Sightings, then in response to the media storm launched against Milo.

Some people are angry with me.
for all i know, you are a brilliant scholar in your chosen field. but when it comes to live in the 21st century, you are a pathetic joke... i notice in your self-description you believe that "ideas matter,' so here's my idea: shut the fuck up about matters outside of your subject expertise.
I actually think that you fail to understand the religiously-informed positions of those protesting against Milo's positions. It seems laughable to me that of all the contributing factors you believe this is what most represents a "deep crisis in religious thinking." We are most certainly religiously illiterate as a nation and uncomfortable with how religion enters into the public conversation in a religiously plural and secular society, and so on, but part of the resistance to Milo is that his positions are an abomination to the ideals and mores and deeply shared values across our many religious traditions.
You really are a fan-girl, aren't you?... James Kirchick did the best analysis of Yiannopoulos, and his peculiar mix of vacuity and incitement... [Milo's] a slimy piece of shit; the only positive thing he's doing is bringing out from under cover those people who share his point of view.
By far the majority, however, are grateful. Here are but a few:
I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your article about Milo. Thanks to those that sought to shut down actual free speech by burning their own buildings, we became aware of Milo for the first time. We are an older, conservative, white (horrors!) traditional couple. I agreed with just about every word in your article. I am so happy the snowflakes propelled Milo to such heights. I love his humor and your explanation of it. We have watched some of his interviews and speeches at colleges, and I've said many things you said after watching. The left has zero sense of humor and that cracks me up.... Thank you for such a thoughtful piece.
Thank you for your blog posts about Milo... I am horrified by the power of our political/cultural elites to shape the perceptions of otherwise decent and well-meaning people, especially conservative Christians. The effort to destroy just one more sad example. I appreciate your articulate witness against it.
I just wanted to let you know that, like you seem to be, I am a conservative Christian (I was raised Reformed Baptist) with an obsession for Tolkien/Lewis/Williams/ well as Chesterton and others. I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog since I discovered it (Thanks, Milo!). I haven't read this sort of detailed thought since I left college too long ago... Condolences on the whole Milo Thing. I firmly agree with your position.
You don't know me, but I have recently begun to follow you after seeing your name on Milo's FB. I want you to know how much I admire and respect your bravery. I wanted you to know that there are those of us out here who are unseen who have the greatest respect for you. I understand what you are doing (re Milo) and why. That we should all be so Christian to be brave enough to do what you are doing. I am especially happy that you are a Marian scholar, having been named after Mary when my mother almost died and she pledged that if she had another girl she would name her Mary. I have always felt a special connection and know that I beat cancer with my rosary. And I know she is with you now.
I apologize for emailing you (uninvited), but I had to thank you for the above blog entry. I have been following the chaos that is Milo today, and I pray he reads your blog and finds comfort in your words. Whether or not you posted that reading from Hebrews with Milo in mind [I did--FB], I think I am not far off in my thoughts that you, also, are lifting him in prayers of protection and forgiveness. For your affection and honest words, in your previous blog entries, show an open heart to his strength and intelligence, while understanding that he, like us all, is a sinner whom God and His Son love with no restraint. My heart aches for that young man, for I think in spite of his sassy-ness and his penchant for pissing off people while making them laugh, he has a gentle heart and must feel much fear in the anger that surrounds him.
Most of the people who write me directly seem to be older. They mention children and grandchildren. Long struggles that they have lived through. Conversions and ecstasies. Suffering and joy. But some of them are young, many in graduate school in my field of medieval studies, and they say they are writing to thank me for giving them courage in the future, as up till now, as conservatives in academia, they have felt very much alone.

And all, almost to a person, mention something in Milo that they see in themselves.

Particularly his pain.

As I tried to argue in my Sightings piece, we are experiencing a terrible crisis in our national culture. Even as people are struggling to hear each other over the screaming, their own anger at not being heard escalates into animal howling.

It seems that it is impossible for many even to listen to what Milo says without feeling he is personally attacking them. It is all well and good to make jokes about snowflakes and trigger warnings, they seem to be saying, but don't make jokes at my expense.

Everybody--Left, Right, liberal, conservative, progressive, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew--is on a hair trigger, ready to explode at the first instance of someone saying something with which they don't agree.

What has happened to us? Why are we so incapable of hearing things with which we disagree? Words that we find off-color? Jokes that cut a little to close to the bone? Why are we all so afraid all the time about what others might say or what we might hear?

Because we have no virtue. We have no discipline. We have lost our sense (if we ever had it) of what it means to train our souls.

Milo has said many, many off-color things. Yesterday in his press conference, he described his edgy style as a "blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor," which he is now horrified may have given the impression that he did not take seriously his concern for other victims of the kind of abuse he suffered in his early teens.

Perhaps it is because I have lived in England, I am more familiar than most Americans with his style. So I never heard him saying that he did not care about the things he was making jokes about. What I heard, and he said yesterday, was a wounded soul trying to find a way to cope with what he now realizes in retrospect were experiences too terrible to explain.

"I still don't view myself as a victim," he said. "But I am one."

Milo translated the pain that he could not otherwise deal with into the "black comedy, gallows humor and love of shock value" that has become his signature style.

"My experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous."

But, of course, it was actually the subject about which he talked the least. He is on record, on camera and in his journalism, talking about feminism, Black Lives Matter, Islam, and GamerGate over and over and over again. But the only time he talked about being gay, it was in jokes: about his black boyfriends, gay porn, big dicks and bigger parties. He made jokes about being cured, but when he talked about wishing he could have a child with the person he loved, he always talked softly and sincerely.

You could feel--every mother who has written to me over the past week to thank me for standing up for him--could feel how much pain, how much soul-searing pain was in those words, which he, as a gay man, has been told over and over and over again by his own people he is not allowed to say.

"When I came to America, I thought it would be a place where you could do anything, be anything, say anything." How awful it has been for him that he found this isn't the case.

Instead, he found when he came here that he was still told he could not say what he most needed to say, but that all of us who have been watching his talks heard him say over and over and over again.

"I have sinned, I have sinned, I have sinned. Father, forgive me, I have sinned."

The day before his public humiliation, Milo posted this status on his Facebook feed, but it was taken from something I had written to him describing what was happening to me over the Sightings article:
The progressive left hates me because they know they cannot win in an open fight. Because I have said nothing wrong. And they know it. All I have done is help up to them a mirror--and they hate what they see, and blame me.
Milo has held a mirror up to us all. If we hate what we see in his jokes and his facts, his costumes and arguments, his willingness to make himself a fool in order to get people's attention long enough to get them to listen, it is our fault, our great fault. It is our sin that we see in him.

We see ourselves in Milo, a fellow sinner, and want to destroy him, because when we look in the mirror it is not him, but Our Lord that we are supposed to be able to see. The Creator in whose image and likeness we were made.

There is a reason that Milo utterly refuses to play the victim when he was one.

There is only one Victim who can take away our sins.

And He already has, if only we can stop screaming long enough to listen to His Word: "I love you."

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