St. Milo the Dangerous and the Dragon of Chaos

This time last year, I thought I had myself pretty well sorted out. I had gotten over my writer's block and was looking forward to getting my book manuscript finished. I had qualified for the USA Veteran Fencing Team for 2016 and was going to Germany in October to compete in the World Championships. I was even making what felt like real progress in learning the fiddle. Sure, I was heavier than I liked, but all things considered I was doing well. I was going to be on leave for the Autumn and Winter terms, which meant going to Germany would not cut into my teaching schedule, and I was reasonably confident that I would be able to finish the revisions on my book in time to submit my manuscript to my publisher before going back to the classroom in the Spring. It was going to be a relaxing nine months, or so I thought. Little did I know how dangerous--and exhilarating--my year would be!

I have lost track of how many times I have told the story. About how our deans sent out the letter explaining to our incoming freshman that they should not expect to find “safe spaces” or “trigger warnings” at the University of Chicago. About how the letter made me curious to learn what all the fuss the previous Spring had been about, particularly with Milo’s college tour. About how after three days of bingeing on the videos of his talks I wrote to Milo, introducing myself as a professor from the University of Chicago and telling him how much I admired what he was doing in his tour. About how I started writing for and about him on my blog...and he started sharing my posts with his fans on his Facebook page. About how I became, in some circles at least, famous.

Happily, as it turned out, I was able to finish my book manuscript months before I thought I would, leaving me time throughout the winter to follow Milo on his tour. Virtually, for the most part, along with the rest of his fans, but one evening in December, when the bus came through Chicago, in person. (For the full story, listen here.) I have written in these pages about how much Milo inspired me and his fans. No matter how hyperbolic my praises became, Milo would be sure to top his previous performance. First there were his talks. Then there was his appearance on the Bill Maher show after the Berkeley riot. Then there was the dignity with which he faced his detractors after losing his speaking engagement, his book contract, and (by his own gentlemanly decision) his job.

That’s what made me most famous these past few months--when I called his conservative detractors...a naughty name. Friends--yes, I still have some--have sympathized with me, how much I have had to go through. With the backbiting from my fellow academics. With the refusals to take what I argued about the importance of Milo’s tour seriously. With the petitions and Facebook gossip and the articles in the campus newspaper. Okay, yes, it’s been hard. I have never had such vicious insults hurled at me, at least since I was a kid. But--truth be told--I have been having the time of my life! Are you kidding me? It is every writer’s dream to have had the numbers of readers I have had this past year. Over 1.2 million hits on my blog since October. Articles in Sightings and First Things. Interviews with colleagues. I’ve been on radio and in the newspapers. I have hundreds of new friends and followers on Facebook. I have received hundreds more emails and messages of support. I even got to meet Based Mom herself, Christina Hoff Sommers, after she tweeted about my adventures to her readers. And, of course, I got to meet Milo.

It has been a magical--better, a mythological year. Not only did I submit my book manuscript--a book I have been working on for the better part of fifteen years; it will be out in November. Inspired by Milo’s own diet and fat shaming, I got myself back on my low-carb diet to lose the “book baby-weight” and since October have gone from a size 12 to a 6. Inspired by Milo’s warmth in talking about being Christian (and not a little by finishing my book on devotion to Mary), I took the leap I have been meaning to for years and converted to Catholicism. Inspired by Milo’s courage in standing up to the Social Justice Warriors among my colleagues in academia, I started writing about him and why I thought his campus tour was so important--and was published in Breitbart. Every step was more exhilarating than the last; every day I found myself brimming over with things to write about him, about our culture, about what it means to be in the fray. And somehow, as Milo puts it, we kept winning, even when it seemed everything was lost.

What on earth was going on? It was like living in a dream--or a story. I kept trying to explain it, much to the consternation of my colleagues. After all, Milo was dangerous. Milo was saying things he shouldn’t. Milo, for goodness’s sake, liked Donald Trump! And I went and compared him to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Not as God--I never said that--but as Holy Fool, or if you prefer Professor Peterson’s word, Trickster. What I meant, and Jordan means, is that Milo seemed to be playing not just a political or cultural role (“provocateur”), but an archetype. Tricksters live on the edge, on the borders between order and chaos, civilization and the wild. They do and say the things that everybody is thinking about, but are too well-behaved (or scared) to do or say. They make fools of themselves so as to point up the foolishness in the established order. Jesus did this all the time. Just ask the money changers at the temple. Or the scribes and Pharisees who kept trying to trip him up with logic and the law. Everything tricksters do is calculated to have some specific effect--to ridicule those who have puffed themselves up with their own importance or to draw attention to the ways in which people try to hide their nakedness with lies. Jordan talks about the importance of telling the truth. Tricksters tell the truths that society has declared out of bounds. Truths about the tough things like money, prestige, and sex. Truths about the workings of the masses and the elite. Truths about God.

I read the manuscript of Milo’s book for him back in January, when he still had the contract with Simon and Schuster. (I can tell you this now--I’m in the acknowledgments!) At first read, it struck me as it seems to have struck more recent readers, as essentially a re-telling of Milo’s encounters with various opponents over the previous year. “Why the Progressive Left Hates Me.” “Why Twitter Hates Me.” “Why Feminists Hate Me.” “Why Black Lives Matter Hates Me.” “Why the Media Hates Me.” “Why Establishment Gays Hate Me.” “Why Establishment Republicans Hate Me.” “Why Muslims Hate Me.” “Why Gamers Don’t Hate Me.” But then, when in February he realized he needed to add another chapter so as to distinguish himself from the Alt-Right, it all snapped into place. These weren’t just opponents in the Social Justice Wars. These were out-and-out Monsters. Milo wasn’t just playing the Trickster, stirring things up with his harlequin antics. He was playing the Monster Slayer. The Hero. The Articulate Word. Even when he was dressing in drag.

It is why he made his comeback in May wearing the snake. Snakes are symbolically--as well as evolutionarily--the same thing as dragons. Heroes are the ones who slay the dragon and get the gold--or the virgin. Heroes are the ones who go out from the walls of the city, out from the boundaries of civilization into the wild to face the terrible dragon of chaos, the potential for disruption. It seems banal to say it so baldly; I much prefer the story that I told back in November, where I compared Milo to Po the Kung Fu Panda--and Jesus. But people seem to keep missing the point, so I will say it again, more plainly. Milo has tapped into the archetypes by which stories live. And in tapping into the archetypes, he brings them alive--and sweeps others up into the story as well. You saw the jacket he was wearing on Thursday at the party for the launch of his book? One-of-a-kind, custom Balmain, studded with gemstones. Could you imagine a more perfect treasure for a dragon to hoard? If in May, Milo appeared wearing a living snake, in July he came forth wearing its magical skin. Or maybe he was dressed as the Bride of the Lamb, the gem-studded Heavenly Jerusalem. Or maybe he meant the gemstones to recall the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom once at the center of the Christian world.

Of course he’s rude and says things that upset people. Sometimes people need upsetting. But he never doxes anyone--or threatens to--unlike some others in the media (cough cough CNN). Despite what you may have heard, he isn’t nearly as explicit about his sexual exploits as your average HBO blockbuster (cough cough Game of Thrones). And the only way he is able to perform as apparently effortlessly (and mischievously) as he does is because he has a loyal team of staffers working tirelessly behind the scenes (and occasionally on camera) to create the illusion of recklessness and mayhem in which the Trickster thrives. I know: I met them on the bus in December, before he was shamed. They are with him still, months after his purported end. (I don’t know in detail, but it can’t have been easy for them in March; certainly, March took its toll on me, and I was only watching at a distance.) All you have to do is listen to the things that people were saying about him at the party--my friend Shelly Kennedy was there on the spot to report (forgive the sound in this video, we are still novices at doing these): Milo gives people hope who have given up being able to speak their opinions in academia, in the arts, in politics, even in the media.

Just look what he has done for me. It is exactly what Professor Peterson says the Hero is supposed to do: go out into the wilderness to conquer the dragon and bring back its pieces for people to make things from. Or go down into the underworld and rescue his dead father--his tradition--from the belly of the whale. What makes Milo a conservative is not his lifestyle or his sense of style, but his belief in our Western Judeo-Christian tradition--which for some reason nobody, not even the so-called Establishment Conservatives, seems willing to defend, not at least as vigorously as Milo. Not with any hope of actually, you know, winning. Winning is not about being nice. It is not about being polite while the barbarians burn down your city. Winning is about putting on the armor of God--the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit “which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17)--and going forth into the fray, just as Milo goes forth onto our college campuses, wielding the Word. If it is politically incorrect to insist that Jesus is Lord, so be it. Milo is politically incorrect. But he is also right.

We can sit by and watch our civilization die, let the dragon in through the gate of the city to eat us. Douglas Murray has written about how many in Europe seem to think that being eaten is the only option. Certainly, they seem unwilling to say that there are things about their own civilization that are worth preserving, never mind fighting for, if only with words. Likewise, it seems, many here in the United States. Just look at the responses to the speech that President Trump gave in Warsaw this week. He says:
Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield--it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.
They hear:
In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too... The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white... In Trump and [Steve] Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.
It is true that Trump emphasizes the Christianness of what we call, for lack of a better term, “the West.” Peter Beinart, who words these are, would insist that the “Western values” of democracy and capitalism are not “Western” but “the universal aspiration of humankind”--begging the question of what to call those who do not accept the values by which those of us in “the West” would prefer everyone to live. Trump talks about people’s interiors--their minds, wills, and souls--while Beinart talks about their skin. What Beinart does not explain is how he proposes to defend democracy and capitalism in the absence of the tradition which gave these ideals birth.

“Sort yourselves out, buckos!,” Professor Peterson likes to say. “Never apologize. Work harder than everyone else. Stay humble. Be twice as funny as you are outrageous. Seek attention. Be hot. Have fun. Be dangerous," Milo says.
Read all the books that your college is too afraid to stock in the library. Find the thinkers and writers and the artists who have been shamed out of the mainstream, and find out why.... Write a song you’re not supposed to. Design a video game you’re not supposed to. Start a blog you’re not supposed to. Discuss ideas you’re not supposed to. Get on social media and tell a joke you’re not supposed to. Share a meme you’re not supposed to. State some facts you’re not supposed to. Be dangerous. Like that hot guy on the cover.
The most dangerous things Milo has said all year have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with culture. And culture, as Professor Peterson has shown, has everything to do with the stories we tell and the heroes we admire. It may or may not be the case that the Dragon-Slaying Hero is a universal archetype. It is the case that it is an ideal that has been at the heart of “the West” since before it was “the West.” And at the heart of the archetype of the Monster-Slayer is not someone who is white, but someone who is willing to risk death for his friends. It is someone whose eyes are open and who is willing to speak the truth, whatever the costs. It is someone who refuses to lie even to save himself from humiliation and shame. It is someone who takes responsibility for his errors--as Milo did in the speech that he gave the Wednesday after the Monday he lost his (then) career--and does not play the victim in order to escape. It is someone who goes out from the safety of the city, of the socially-accepted crowd, in order to confront the monsters whom no one else is even willing to name. It is someone who is willing, whatever the risks, to be an Individual, to stand out from the herd, take the insults and accusations, and return only love.

Such people are scary. But they are also lots and lots of fun to watch. They are even more fun to be. Just ask Milo. Or me.

“St. Milo the Dangerous Slays Simon & Shyster,” by Adrian Bryttan (photo courtesy of the artist)

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