Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, October 24, 2016

In praise of Milo Yiannopoulos

Dear Hannah,

I'll admit that I hated Milo at first.  Something about the way he was making fun of fat women.  He seemed undignified, cold, and low; taking the issue far beyond the heresy of leftists and turning it into something personal -- something regrettable by anyone who has ever had an overweight mother or a sister.  The people who are against "fat shaming" (even if what they're against is only stating a preference for fitness) are really against health and beauty and taste, and thus perfectly worthy of a thrashing.  The overweight, on the other hand, are only overweight; and so long as they aren't demanding admiration for their fatness or forcing us to say that everyone is beautiful, may displease us sexually, but often make up for their unattractiveness with what we call a personality*.


That something as obvious as this (and fixable as fatness) is controversial to say is in itself proof that it needs to be said.  And we might even be tempted to say that in a world where we have gone to one extreme we need someone to tug us the way of the other.  But the truth is that men like Milo, while appearing to take us toward an extreme, are not actually taking us toward it.  They are reminding us of what we already know, and are too afraid to say for ourselves.  It isn't extreme that he's thinking it.  What's extreme is that he is saying it.

Yet when a man is saying something horrible because it is true (even when the truth is only a caricature of the truth), he still runs the risk of being told that he's horrible; and each of us, while silently assenting to the things that he says, still find ourselves cringing as if we had said it.  And when we take a deeper glance at ourselves, we begin to realize that the horrible person like Milo, while speaking about anything like gingers or obesity, is really more like us than we wanted to admit.  And the surprising thing about our inner unkindness is that if we were any other way, we wouldn't have survived long enough to be here in the first place.

We commonly think of the two sides of ourselves as the angel and the devil on our shoulders, but the truth is that both sides are the angel.  What we refer to as the devil was never an evil force rebelling against our saintly side, but the side of us that judges things as they appear so that we can do what we need to survive.  And the other side of us, more commonly referred to as the angel, isn't actually an angel, but a herd instinct; the thing that knows we need people to survive, and asks us what we have to do to survive amongst people.  The former says fat and fit and ugly and gorgeous and brilliant and stupid and stylish and tasteless, and the latter says if you say fat or ugly you might lose some good friends.  Without our "bad" side we could never pursue our happiness, which is inseparably associated with our avoidance of avoidables.  Without our "good" side, we'd never know what we have to hide or sacrifice so that we can pursue it in a group.

It is almost needless to say that society has a difficult time balancing the two forces within us; and that the complex arrangements we make for ourselves, and the innumerable webs of do's and don'ts that we know as our culture, may oftentimes run too far in one way or another**.  And it is the job of our intellectuals and social critics, above all, to let us know whether we have let one part of ourselves run too far over the other.  Too much toward the herd instinct, and we end up killing ourselves in an attempt to fit in.  Too much toward the side of inner judgment, and we end up killing each other with baseball bats and poisoned Gatorade.

Milo's place in the world (horrifying as he might sometimes be) is with the side of our inner judgment.  For dozens of years we have swung further and further toward our sociable side, until the things we have thought to be sociable are not only suffocating but dangerous.  And in this respect he serves as a liberator; as the voice that everyone needs to assert their self-worth and their taste, and a refuge against the endless tide of things we said would be nice to a few, and were actually cruel to the most.  Milo isn't a saint, and thank God it was never his intention to be.  But Milo is a savior of sorts all the same, putting himself on a cross when the rest of us were stuck in our sociable sins, and taking our beating when we should have been willing to take it ourselves.

What we can also appreciate about Milo is that he's actually interesting.  He's handsome.  He's brave.  He's stylish and original and something bordering on dangerous.  And if you read someone modern like Mises or Hayek and maybe end up worshiping them for their brilliance (I dare anyone to read Human Action or The Use of Knowledge in Society and not feel like he's the man who stepped out of Plato's cave), you'll never quite feel like either of them was fun.  Hayek is on your bookshelf like medicine is in your cupboard.  Following Milo on Facebook is much more like taking drugs.

Why someone as filthy as Milo is enjoyable is something that could never be explained to the majority of aging conservatives.  Simply put, they're dying, and the remaining carcass of their movement (if a movement can be called a movement whose only trajectory has been downward) has already long ago died before them.  The National Review (perhaps one of the most respectable conservative magazines in existence) is no longer run by Buckley; and its pages, although informative like so many other modern works of conservatism, are utterly a failure in terms of virility and inspiration.  Milo will cover himself in pigs' blood like Marilyn Manson to get your attention.  He'll shock your senses and say ugly things to get you to think of things that are beautiful.  And although at the end of the day he reminds us that our judgement needs judgment to judge it, and that even something so noble as truth requires some tact, he reminds us of a day when conservatives were known as liberals, and all the artists, all the rebels, all the people who terrified parents and started revolutions were talking about things like freedom of speech and unalienable rights, and turned the world over in search of their liberty.

I won't even pretend for a moment to endorse everything Milo says or the way that he says it.  But I am glad that he's saying it.  And if I'm not willing to say he's a sage or a saint or a scholar or even a great writer, he represents something much different from these and yet equally vital.  He represents the will to live freely and loudly and proudly in the face of oppression.  His shamelessness may be too shameless.  But in an age when respectable men are cowering beneath the shadow of a new and ugly heterodoxy, what we need are not always polite and political men.  Sometimes, like even the Puritans rallied around the rascally Monmouth, and the Protestants rallied around anyone as uncouth and ugly as Luther, what you actually need is more of a bastard.

Your father,
-J

*Your mother and I were not only obese in our formative years, with my weight peaking somewhere around 280lbs, but were heavily influenced by what's commonly known as awkward teenager or ugly duckling syndrome.   Because of both and the teasing we got, we ended up fighting to be liked; and because we both fought to be liked, both of us ended up likeable.  To be cool or especially good-looking in your childhood is almost a disability -- especially for women.  To be laughed at by strangers while you're running at the pool may leave you with a complex -- and the complex may lead you into a lifetime of fitness.  

**As one example of cultural development, Persian boys in the days of Cyrus the Great were taught to ride a horse, shoot a bow, and tell the truth.  If he wants to get ahead, a modern American teenager is trained to drive a car and hide the truth. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful essay. I have been so taken by Milo after I started following him on Facebook, and have been slightly horrified at myself for being so impressed. You articulated very, very well what he represents and why we should thank the people who are willing to put themselves out there to call out the Emperor's who have no clothes.

    ReplyDelete