In Praise of Milo Yiannopoulos

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 ideology of leftists and turning it into something personal – something regrettable by anyone who has ever had an overweight mother or 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 everyone is beautiful, they may displease us sexually, but they often make up for their unattractiveness with what we call a personality.

That something as obvious (and fixable) as this 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.  The truth is that men like Milo, while appearing to take us toward an extreme, are not actually taking us to an extreme.  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 he's horrible, and each of us, while silently assenting to the things he says, still finds himself cringing as if he himself 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.  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.  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 among 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 all your 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.

Society has a difficult time balancing the two forces within us, and the complex arrangements we make for ourselves, and the innumerable webs of dos and don'ts that we know as our culture, may oftentimes run too far in one way or another.  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 actually suffocating.  In this respect, Milo serves as a liberator, as the voice 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 most.  Milo is not 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 Mises or Hayek and maybe end up worshiping the economists 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 exciting.  Hayek is on your bookshelf as 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 pig's 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 judgment 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 very 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, as 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.

Jeremy Egerer is the editor of the troublesome philosophical website known as Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.

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 ideology of leftists and turning it into something personal – something regrettable by anyone who has ever had an overweight mother or 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 everyone is beautiful, they may displease us sexually, but they often make up for their unattractiveness with what we call a personality.

That something as obvious (and fixable) as this 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.  The truth is that men like Milo, while appearing to take us toward an extreme, are not actually taking us to an extreme.  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 he's horrible, and each of us, while silently assenting to the things he says, still finds himself cringing as if he himself 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.  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.  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 among 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 all your 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.

Society has a difficult time balancing the two forces within us, and the complex arrangements we make for ourselves, and the innumerable webs of dos and don'ts that we know as our culture, may oftentimes run too far in one way or another.  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 actually suffocating.  In this respect, Milo serves as a liberator, as the voice 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 most.  Milo is not 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 Mises or Hayek and maybe end up worshiping the economists 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 exciting.  Hayek is on your bookshelf as 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 pig's 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 judgment 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 very 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, as 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.

Jeremy Egerer is the editor of the troublesome philosophical website known as Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.