Gross Indecency: The Fall of Milo Yiannopoulos
How much do you know about Oscar Wilde?
Gay. Self hating, and outrageous Wilde, who gained popularity for his biting wit, his criticism of the status quo, his flamboyance, and of course his genius was at once the spectacular showmen, menace, and tragic figure of his time.
Called out publicly by the father of his young lover, Wilde, the Elton John of his day outrageously SUED the father for libel. The opposition provided ample evidence that Wilde had engaged in sexual acts with at least twelve men and he found himself charged with gross indecency. He became at last The victim of his own hubris and public shenanigans. At the opening of his trial he gets laughs from the jury and judge. In his early testimony he’s charming, brash, and effortless…and then the young boys come forward. Prostitutes mostly, and just a few young men of higher social class.
Questioned about “The love that dare not speak its name” –a phrase from a poem almost certainly written about him he replies “….such a great affection of an elder for a younger man…. There is nothing unnatural about it. …and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.”
Asked about his relations with one of these impoverished and very young men, Wilde balks claiming “Oh no, never in my life, he was a peculiarly plain boy” And there he loses the jury. Confronted with this ugly proud predatory side of Wilde as victimizer, no longer the harmless fop they imagine him, they convict him and and sentence him to prison. There’s a persistent rumor that Wilde is given time to escape being sent to Redding jail but he says, famously, “I cannot escape my fate” and goes, abandoned by his lover and friends, to prison. An amusement turned monster in the public eye.
And now, Milo.
The differences are obvious. Milo doesn’t have anything beautiful or original to say and Wilde is a genius. Milo can’t write, he doesn’t create, he’s quick but not deep. His causes are vacuous at best, poisonous at worst. He seems to be, at his root, a confused, angry, self hating gay man who has destroyed himself with hubris and the comparison, for me at least, is too keen to ignore
There is a problem with the conversation about Milo: first and foremost that none of us seem to be willing to have the same conversation.
It’s a good thing that Milo’s power and influence have been curtailed by this recent exposure of what he said about sex with underage minors. It is also true that Milo is himself a victim of sexual abuse who was, in all likelihood, trying to justify and defend himself against the pain of his history. But being a victim does not excuse becoming a victimizer. It’s true that, we need the world to treat Milo the way he’s currently being treated. We need social and financial repercussions for the misogynistic, racist, and otherwise monstrous things Milo has said and done but it’s also true that Milo Yiannopolis is a human being. He’s 32. He’s too famous for his own good, he’s too stupid for his own good, and he cannot turn on a tv or open his computer without seeing someone, someone he probably admires, telling the world they hate him. I promise you Milo won’t be comforted for long by the anonymous twitter users who were willing to harass people for him. They aren’t there for him now. All of these things are true and talking about just one can not mean we ignore the others.
I don’t want anyone to read this as a defense. Milo has said and done terrible things. He played to the worst side of the ugliest crowd. The fact that it took THIS and not his past rape apology, cyber-bullying, outing of trans students, telling students to turn their classmates in to ICE, or his myriad other moments is a comment on our time. I have advocated publicly multiple times for his platform to be taken away for the good of others and I have and will continue to celebrate his fall for the good of society. We HAVE to be relieved that he is gone.
But that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of his humanity.
To paraphrase Sam Harris we would put tornados in jail if we could –but we wouldn’t pretend tornados were evil.
Because now that the dust is settled, now, in this moment of having “beaten” milo I think we owe it to ourselves and to him to PREVENT a new milo
Milo Yiannopoulos wasn’t created in a vacuum. He is the result of an internet that has lost its sense of decency; of a society that has lost its sense of responsibility for speech and of a generation whose ability to parent was outpaced by technology.
The world is filled with Milos, people who say and do terrible things for attention but it is the casual hobby of listening to people like him, our educational institutions’ paralyzed impotence at his menace, that dooms us all. We need to have complex conversations about the shared humanity and good intentions even of those we despise or else we are just biding our time until the next Milo comes along, and we owe it to their future victims to be better.
The left must stop ignoring or indulging its own absurd fringes. People like Milo feed off of them and use their absurdity to create straw men for the uneducated to deride. If we’re unwilling to address them we’re no less intellectually irresponsible than the right that ignores the bigots in its ranks. We need to be willing to have non-confrontational conversations with the ignorant and we need to forgo the easy work of shaming for the hard work of education
The right, unsavable as they may seem at times need to accept that not all violence leaves one bloody or bruised. The fact that words can’t hurt you does not mean they can’t hurt anybody. Extremists on both sides are unwilling to accept the lived experience of other human beings and the informed opinions of experts.
And all of us, all of us need to remember we are on the same side. With a few genuinely ill exceptions we all want people to be happy, we all want people to be healthy, and we all wanna go to outer space. We owed it to Milo to create a world where he was better educated, both intellectually and emotionally. Where he was better protected. Where he had the chance to be a better man. When we try to make caricatures of living human beings, we create monsters– or, as in the case of Milo, we encourage the ambitious outliers to make monsters of themselves. Wilde lied, sneered at those he believed were beneath him, and assumed he was above the law. Milo played the character we told him to play said what he thought would shock us until he reached “too far” a place he was promised he could never go.
And so we ended up where I was last night and where I am tonight. Glad that a 32 year old self hating rape victim lost his book deal and speaking appointment. And what we need to grapple with is that there was a moment in these past few days while you and I were caught up in our celebration that Milo was alone, trapped in the knowledge that the world that created him hates him. Like Oscar, an amusement turned monster in the public eye. And Both Milo and Oscar deserved better.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
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