The Strong, Bright Armour of Obedience
I get it all the time in DMs: “Why does Milo have to be so mean? I agree with him on most of what he says [there is always this qualification—FB], but what he did the other night just seems childish and petty. Don’t you think he should stop?”
Witness, for example, what Milo did the other night to Pawl Bazile, his personal assistant.
Er. Dogsbody. Er. Think Jeeves to Milo’s Bertie, but without the say over Milo’s clothes. Concierge, but with fewer privileges.
Milo had instructed Pawl to pick him up to take him to the hairdresser’s in preparation for the Straight Pride Parade. But Pawl not only went first to the wrong address (the hairdresser’s, rather than Milo’s); he also failed to make the proper appointment, so instead of the dreadlocks that Milo had planned to wear, Milo had (for Milo) only normally beautiful hair. (“You look great, boss!” Pawl assured him.)
That night, Pawl was Milo’s guest on Milo & I (livestream every other Friday with subscription on freespeech.tv!), and Milo had some videos to share. Several videos, in fact. All taken with his iPhone in Pawl’s car. All showing Pawl in the driver’s seat, but only Milo’s hand. Milo’s hand, that is, holding drinks or food which he was threatening to pour into Pawl’s lap.
And did. More than once. Pretty mean, eh? It got worse.
After showing the videos—with repeats—Milo explained that he had poured food and drinks in Pawl’s lap precisely because he knew it was the thing that would annoy Pawl the most.
“Pawl is really sensitive about his car,” Milo explained. “He just doesn’t like getting it dirty. Doesn’t like mess. So the first thing I did when I found this out was I took a Take Five, and I wrote ‘Hello’ in chocolate on the dash.” “Whhhhhhy?” Pawl begged in one of the videos, when Milo asked him whether he would prefer a small amount of sticky Diet Coke in his lap or the whole cup. “This is my one pair of pants!” His most wrenching cri-de-couer: “I don’t like that I can’t hit you!”
Meanwhile, Milo proceeded to pretend-fire Pawl—at least, I think it was pretend—and have Ryan, the tech guy for Gavin’s studio, take over as guest (by the by, making him sit in Pawl’s damp chair). Except Ryan wasn’t very funny, so Milo called Pawl back, telling Ryan, “It was a nice joke replacing Pawl with you, but you don’t have two brain cells to rub together. Go away.” Until Ryan started showing ... things ... on screen that Milo said he shouldn’t, so Milo called him back to be disciplined.
Here’s the question: Why doesn’t Pawl hit him? Even more to the point: Why doesn’t Pawl quit? Milo is his employer. Not his master. Not his sergeant. Not his lover. His employer. Who pours drinks on him when he makes a mistake.
I’ll show you why.
Here is Milo on a previous episode of Milo & I, this one with his good friend (no, really, they hate each other, can’t you tell?) Chadwick Moore as guest. Do you see what Milo is doing—to himself?
Pawl had brought Milo some junk food because Chadwick had been teasing Milo about being low on blood sugar. Milo started eating. And eating. And eating. Ryan started playing “The Candy Man” (B side: “I want to be happy”). Chadwick launched into an explanation of why Milo hates feminists so much—“Because he is one! Look at him eat!”—and Milo made a fool of himself, crying, “I want to be thin,” as he stuffed his face.
Chadwick elaborated: “The reason why Milo is famous is because he came after fat feminists. The reason why Milo is so hateful to feminists because he fucking is one. Look at him! I’m not lying to you. He’s doing this a little performancy, but this is serious. This is why he got famous for going after feminists who overeat and eat their feelings, because he is one.”
“I hate you,” Milo told Chadwick, “but it’s true.” And then he poured water on himself. “Can somebody get me a towel?”
Do you see what happened here? Do you understand why it gives Milo authority to discipline Pawl, Ryan, and Chadwick?
More to the point, do you understand why they allow him to discipline them—even as a joke?
We’ve been having some interesting conversations in Milo’s Telegram chat about how to follow the rules that Milo has set. The most stringent, following Telegram’s terms of service, is no porn, but there are other rules we have had to learn to negotiate. “No women in the chat” on Sharia Tuesday is fairly simple. But what happens when someone gets disciplined for being a monomaniacal bore or, worse, trying to use Milo’s chat as a place to garner sympathy for his own bad choices in life? We have had a few of those, several of whom have embarrassed themselves so badly that they have been excluded from the chat permanently. Occasionally, there is discussion after they leave. Occasionally, this discussion has gotten a bit mean.
I brought it up with Milo.
“It is hard for me to watch the others making fun of the ones you have disciplined,” I told him.
“But it’s me, too,” he said. “Not just them.”
“You do not do it behind their backs. You do it so that they know you are doing it. As I said in the Virtuous Troll post, you own what you have done. I think this is why you told us that the excommunicates are not to be spoken of. Where they can’t defend themselves. There is a difference. You give them the chance to rail at you.”
“I think social censure is better than the alternatives, ugly though it may be to watch,” Milo insisted.
“I am worried about the effect on those who join in the shaming. The ones throwing stones. I see what you are doing for N. and N. It is an important lesson for them.”
“I wonder,” Milo replied, “if there’s a way I can better guide their souls.”
“This is hysterical,” I told him, showing him the moment when he poured water on Ryan, “because you did this,” showing him what he looked like as he guzzled sweets.
And then I told him about a paper I had written in college, about the use of humiliation in the Rule of St. Benedict: “The paper was about the use of excommunication in the Benedictine Rule: the excommunicates were disciplined by being still there in the community, but they could not go into choir, and they had to prostrate themselves before the church door as the other brothers went into sing the Divine Office. It worked, I think, because all of the brothers knew they were subject to the same rule. Like hazing, for making brothers of fraternities, in a way. You need to be willing to be humiliated, in order to be able to face your own sins.”
Three years ago, when I first started writing about the lessons that I saw Milo attempting to teach, I argued that what my colleagues in academia and some of our students were responding to in their requests for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” was a lack of training in virtue. Training souls, I pointed out, is terrifying work. Nobody likes it. It means confronting yourself and your lack of real skills. Worse, it means confronting your sins.
Your gluttony. Your sloth. Your envy. Your anger. Your lust. Your greed. And your pride.
Above all, your pride.
Pride, as St. Benedict understood, is the root of all other sins because pride tells us we have no need to change. Pride tells us that it is somebody else’s fault if we are offended. Pride tells us that it is others’ responsibility to respect our status. Pride tells us that hierarchy is wrong. Pride demands equality—or else. Pride tells us our identity is sacrosanct. Pride makes us fight tooth and nail not to be humiliated or made fun of. Pride resists all correction. Pride refuses to learn.
Milo was delighted the other day when he caught me in a spelling mistake. I had confused “discretely” (separately, distinctly) with “discreetly” (prudentially, judiciously)—and I didn’t even notice the error when he called me out.
“YES!!!!!!! I got you on a spelling error,” he exulted. “It has taken YEARS. But I got you.”
I could easily have bridled. A few years ago even, I might have. But three years of friendship with Milo has taught me that there is no point. Everything is potentially a lesson if you don’t let your pride get in the way. And besides, Milo was right.
St. Benedict knew this truth. It is why he gave a whole chapter in his “little rule for beginners” to obedience. Not blind obedience as to a tyrant, but trusting obedience as to a father who loves you and wants only the best for you. “Abbot,” of course, means “father,” but the abbot was under the Rule, too. And the purpose of the Rule, as St. Benedict explained it, was to train souls for battle against the forces of evil—a.k.a. sin.
Everybody who comes into Milo’s chat wants to believe that he or she is important. The women, in particular, have this test—it is why we are excluded from the chat on Tuesdays, so as to test our ability not to pretend that we are not like other women, that we are special and should somehow be exempt. But the men have lessons to learn as well. Lessons of obedience and trust. Lessons of taking correction when correction is needed.
All too often the response of those whom Milo disciplines is to run away—and blame him. But those who pay proper attention realize that Milo does not impose rules on others that he does not impose on himself. Just like the abbot of a monastery, who himself was subject to the Rule.
By the by, Pawl seems to have found another pair of pants for the Straight Pride Parade the next day. I wonder where?
For my continuing adventures with Milo as a training in virtue, see The MILO Chronicles.