Milo Yiannopoulos has been called many things, but I think he can be summed up in a couple of words: absolute enigma. He calls himself a provocateur, then his fans wonder why so much of the world detests him. He has made offensive comments about people of colour and the LGBT community; however, he is currently married to a black man. He has made comments that could be considered death threats to journalists, despite he himself having been a journalist. There’s much more controversy, the most topical at the moment probably being his comments regarding paedophilia and sexual assault – that’s sure to go down well given the events of the last few weeks. But despite all of this, the question has been raised – should Yiannopoulos, and others like him, be allowed to tour and speak in Australia?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: I have two arguments to justify why he should be allowed to enter Australia, which (with a backflip from our government and everything) he is now allowed to do. I should preface this by stating that I find the man absolutely abhorrent, and, so far, have not found a single thing he has peddled that I have agreed with or considered fair. Jordan Peterson rightly receives criticism for some of his views and ideas, but even he makes some worthwhile points that can’t be discredited so easily. Yiannopoulos has no such partial backing and is purely in the public sphere to stir tensions – as showed by the numerous protests that take place during his talks, including in Australia in 2017.
That being said, why then would I advocate for his right to return here?
Freedom of Speech and Thought
My go to quote here, that I have posted on this site before, is one by Noam Chomsky.
“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”
We cannot, and most certainly our governments cannot, be allowed to dictate what people say, with, in my view, the exception of inciting violence. This also applies to what people choose to listen to and what they think. The moment we start picking and choosing what is and is not permissible debate is the moment we open ourselves to having our own right to such freedoms torn away from us. That is not to defend or legitimise the disgusting things said by people like Yiannopoulos, but to defend one of our most basic human rights that, whether you like it or not, apply to everyone or no one.
There are some things, however, that I think are worth noting because certain commentators, like Isaac Butterfield, with a sizeable audience that are very much oversimplifying and hyping up concerns where there are none exactly. In his video, released after it was announced Yiannopoulos’ visa was cancelled, Butterfield called our government tyrannical for dictating what Australians could and could not listen to or think. This kind of rhetoric is false and misleading, because even if Yiannopoulos was not allowed to enter the country, there is nothing preventing people from listening to him or adhering to his views via other means. That also does not prevent people from within Australia voicing those views publicly, proven by having people like Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning in the Senate spouting similar nonsense.
Another point is where he and others say things like “he is only silenced because he goes against the mainstream view”. Sorry, but saying Hillary was a shitty candidate or that there are legitimate reasons to be sceptical about the EU that Jeremy Corbyn cites is going against the mainstream view. Blatant and intentionally provocative offense is not ‘against the mainstream view’, it is against all forms of human decency and should be called out as such.
So, while Yiannopoulos should have the right to speak, it is the right, and I would say duty, of all decent minded people to call him out and challenge his stances as they are clearly misguided and belligerent.
Education and Debate
The second reason I believe Yiannopoulos should be allowed to come here and talk, which Butterfield briefly mentions in his video, is that these kinds of negative views can only be challenged through education and debate. Now, there are certain comments by Yiannopoulos, like when he suggested paedophilia was fine because some youth are ‘mature enough’ to consent at 13, or his incitement to violence against journalists, that are just so baffling that education and debate are just not reasonable, because there is no potential for two sides – it’s objectively wrong. But other things, like his views on people of colour, his views on Islam, on feminism, on Trump, etc. etc. etc. can be debated.
Are the things he and his followers say abhorrent? Yes, but shouting over them and attempting to silence them only moves to strengthen their convictions and isolates them further. This leads to polarising events like Trump’s election, like Brexit. Saying “it’s 2019” doesn’t work, just like saying “it’s 2015” in 2015 obviously didn’t work. We need to have these uncomfortable debates about race, about gender, about sexuality, about all the other manufactured divisions. We need to have them so that we can educate people, truthfully and calmly, towards an outcome that is beneficial for everyone.
It is only once people are engaged civilly and begin to understand the faults in their views that they will change. If you cannot do this – and this applies to all sides – then immediately your opinion on the matter is null and void. If you cannot take part in proper discourse, no matter how much you might detest the garbage the other side spits out, then they have already won in their mind and in the minds of likeminded people. I have seen too many debates where one side turns to insults and patronising language, and whether it is justified or not it is disheartening to know that communication can break down so easily. And this is just online. Move it to the real world in a face to face confrontation and such a breakdown in relations can quickly turn violent.
It is not an easy thing to accept. I certainly would not miss Yiannopoulos at all if he were barred from the country permanently, but I can understand that it is important to allow this kind of stuff to take place. Give him the limelight he so desperately chases, and then with precise and fact-based arguments blow him and his supporters out of the water. Reveal the fallacies they spread so blindly, shine a light on the more wretched aspects of our humanity. To not do so is to let it fester and grow quietly as we pretend it doesn’t exist.
Now more than ever we need clarity and diplomacy – in some cases, it literally means the difference between progress or the destruction of human civilisation as we know it. Progress is needed, and progress needs you to keep it alive.
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