An open letter to Suzanne Simonot

This open letter is in response to an article by Suzanne Simonot in the Gold Coast Bulletin that covered Milo Yiannopoulos’ show on the Gold Coast.

Ms. Simonot,

I read your article regarding Milo and I wished to make a few comments.

First, I attended his show. Sure, I don’t agree with everything he says, frankly I think his position on Islam could do with a bit more nuance, his foreign policy is Israel-centric, and his idea that bisexuals aren’t real is just silly. I am also an atheist and critical of Abrahamic monotheisms, so I do not share Milo’s religion. But many (probably most) people who go to Milo’s shows have at least a few disagreements with him; he’s as much a showman as a commentator and this is part of why he is successful.

But I think your most substantial error is at the end of your article, in which you state that society must always make room for constructive debate but nothing is gained from inflammatory rhetoric.

This is only the case in an environment where people, as well as the institutions that determine the Overton Window (the range of generally respectable opinion) within our culture (such as the mainstream media and the academy) are themselves unbiased and willing to abide by the same norms of civilized, constructive discussion. And with all due respect, this is simply not true.

Are those who shout insults and pejoratives about ‘cis white males’ and routinely dismiss arguments on the basis of the identities of the arguer engaging in civilized, constructive discussion? Are they being intellectually honest? Not to mention, comedic commentary of the kind Milo engages in is hardly new; plenty of people on the left have engaged in it, from John Stewart and Steven Colbert and Bill Maher. Frankly, commentators like Milo and Ann Coulter are merely doing the same thing but from the ‘other side’ (to be fair Maher has been anti-PC for a long time too… and he gets some of the same slurs thrown at Milo directed towards him).

With the exception of economics departments and STEM fields, universities have become political monocultures. The mainstream media too is generally a political monoculture. Society needs space for constructive dialogue, but who is responsible for destroying civility and dialogue? Who homogenised most parts of the university and expelled those of differing viewpoints? Who constructed entire academic journals around esoteric theories which pathologised any disagreement as symptomatic of solipsistic ‘privilege?’ Who is teaching students to shout down, riot and claim imminent threats to mental health at the mere presence of disagreement? Who are the people engaging in advocacy research with the aim of proving that disagreement is ‘violence?’ And who exactly is determining the course content of today’s journalism, literature and communications degrees?

It is not merely people like Milo who are getting attacked; Milo is merely the most flamboyant. Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro, both of whom are very much the kind to stick with civil debate and play respectability politics, frequently get no-platformed and accused of being morally akin to Hitler. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an immigrant woman of color and a classical liberal atheist, gets accused of religious bigotry or racism, as does Maajid Nawaz for attempting to reform and modernise his own faith community.

These examples should make it very clear; you can be a classical liberal/libertarian or a conservative, you can even be on certain parts of the left (as Dave Rubin, Bill Maher, Carl Benjamin and Maajid Nawaz are) and you can play respectability politics make nuanced, calm arguments, and you will still be called a racist sexist xenophobic internalized-homophobic transphobic ableist cis-speciesist whatever. You will still be dismissed as a psuedo-intellectual lightweight unworthy of serious discussion, mocked, and called an uneducated redneck, if you dissent from contemporary intersectional social justice orthodoxy. Classical liberals/libertarians and at least the more intellectually inclined conservatives have been doing exactly what you claim they should keep doing for quite literally several decades. It has not worked.

I agree society needs space for reasoned discourse and debate. It needs to discuss hard topics in a serious, nuanced, fair fashion. But these norms of civility, intellectual honesty and open debate were destroyed a long time ago by a chorus of political correctness, an incessant patronizing chuckle of dismissal directed towards any dissenting opinion, and cries of rage proclaiming that dissent is violence.

Milo, frankly, is necessary. Civilised discussion, research and advocacy has not opened up more space in mainstream cultural institutions for ideas outside of an extremely narrow swathe of opinion favoured primarily by metropolitan Green voters. I’m sure I could make a distasteful, Milo-esque joke here about certain portions of the anatomy required to stretch the Overton Window a little bit wider, but I’ll spare you the indignity; the fact is that nuanced policy discussions conducted in a calm manner don’t radically reshape the terms of popular debate when popular debate is ossified and controlled and restrained, and it is this radical reshaping which requires the ‘culture jamming’ produced by people like Milo.

Speaking as a libertarian, more libertarians have been radicalised by Ayn Rand’s bombastic, non-nuanced, mythologized, transgressive and controversial novels than by reading dry economic texts. Civil and calm discussion is virtuous and no one (not even Milo) is claiming that the political-equivalent-of-shock-rock should replace nuanced policy-wonkery. But there is value in looking at a bigger picture than one of tradeoffs between effective marginal tax rates, and instead focusing on grand ideas and radically divergent views of what matters in life and how society should be. And this is going to offend people, whether it be establishment conservatives being offended by the sex scenes and unapologetic anti-theism in Ayn Rand’s novels, or establishment ‘diversity’ leftists being offended by the fact that the values of the Enlightenment have produced the best societies to date.

Thank you very much for your time, and I wish you all the best in the future.

Andrew Russell

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