Tiresome “provocateur” and alt-right sympathizer Milo Yiannapoulos recently got what he always seems to want—a lot of attention and notoriety—for getting invited to give a keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, then being disinvited. This happened after an anti-Trump group brought everyone’s attention to a interview in which Yiannapoulos revealed that he was molested as a teen—and then went on to condone and even recommend sexual relationships between older men and adolescent boys as young as 13.
Technically, I’m told, this doesn’t make him an advocate of pedophilia. It makes him an advocate of ephebophilia: adults having sex with adolescents. For most people, and particularly for parents of 13-year-olds, that’s a pretty irrelevant distinction.
This didn’t exactly come out of the blue. The revelations were from a year-old, widely viewed video that was apparently already known to his fans. And it’s not like Yiannapoulos has a shortage of other outrageous positions. He has spent the past year running interference for the racist alt-right. He has a history of using his identity as a flamboyant homosexual as cover for saying derogatory and dismissive things about women. Oh, and there was his earlier history, under the name Milo Wagner, in which he flaunted Nazi symbols.
The comments about sex with teenagers hit a particular chord with CPAC, which notoriously refused to allow a gay Republican group at the event in 2012. Those innocuously mainstream gay Republicans were too hot for CPAC to handle, too controversial for the religious right. But now a flamboyantly gay provocateur who thinks sex with 13-year-olds is OK gets a keynote speaker slot? GOProud was too far out there, but NAMBLA is not? The transition from priggish intolerance to a total collapse in moral standards is pretty stunning.
In and of himself, Milo Yiannopoulos is not very important. These provocateurs and “outrageous personalities” come and go. What is worth discussing is how he got past the right’s defenses—how he came to be hailed by many as a hero and a warrior for the cause, in spite of or even because of the warning signs.
To understand this, all we need is the wisdom of Master Yoda. Well, Yoda by way of Ben Domenech.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the most prescient commentary on this was Ben’s description of the “post-apocalyptic culture war.” A year ago, Ben argued that the reason the religious right was flocking to Trump was that they have lost so much ground in the culture that they gave up trying to preserve the old moral order and just went into revenge mode, looking to hit back at Political Correctness with whatever blunt instrument was at hand. “For decades, religious leaders have spoken about the risks facing the nation in apocalyptic terms,” and they looked around and, lo, the apocalypse has already happened: gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, the whole descent into Sodom. So a section of the right gave up trying to achieve a positive end and went looking for a spiked bat to club the other side. “They don’t care if he’s a good person—they care that he’s a warrior for everything at odds with the elite opinion of the day.”
Ben wrote this about Donald Trump, but it applies all the more to Yiannapoulos. Here, for example, was CPAC’s Matt Schlapp defending Yiannapoulos as late as Sunday: “if we don’t all wake up and fight there will no one left to preach to.”
And that’s where Master Yoda comes in. Everything I have just been saying was famously summed up by the fictional diminutive green sage as the path to the Dark Side:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
The left’s victory in the culture war, and the brutal intolerance with which they imposed their new dominance provoked the fear and anger. Trump and Yiannopoulos are expressions of the hatred. And it’s all going to end in suffering.
Elsewhere, Yoda explains that this Dark Side is easier and more seductive, providing a false sense of power and action.
But boy does it come back to bite you, as we can see in this CPAC debacle.
In this case, the lure of hatred led many on the right to place the need for emotional venting above ideas, principles, standards, and morality. Those who succumbed to this temptation ended up placing their faith in some obviously shady characters and transparent hucksters. They have only themselves to blame when one of those outrageous characters turns out to be especially creepy.
Note how the people who allowed themselves to be driven by hate achieved the opposite of what they told themselves they wanted. They said they wanted to break the power of the left’s hair-trigger accusations of racism and sexism. By embracing this champion, though, they merely added fuel to those accusations. In the ultimate irony, they wanted to challenge the left’s practice of disinviting controversial speakers from campuses under political pressure—only to have a prominent conservative organization end up disinviting a controversial speaker under political pressure. Don’t think for a moment that you aren’t going to hear about that over and over again. Such is the result of following the path of hatred.
By “hate,” by the way, I do not mean what the left means by that word. For them, it has been reduced to a single, very narrow meaning: “disapproval of homosexuality.” What I mean by “hatred” is what the little green guy means in the movie: the actual emotion of hating someone, of wanting to lash out or strike back at them, even when it’s justified. More broadly, I mean the disastrous error defining yourself by who you’re against instead of what you’re for. The hate may be well earned, and the left has certainly given whole sections of the general public good reason to despise them. But allowing yourself to be driven by emotion, and particularly by a negative emotion, is ultimately destructive.
Milo, the poor fellow, is a good cautionary tale. His personal confession confirms what a lot of us suspected about the “Winning!” bluster of the pro-Trump agitators and the alt-right. Yiannapoulos puts forward a public image of the cool, unflappable provocateur who thrives on controversy, but it’s becoming pretty clear that underneath he is a lost soul broken by trauma and trying to compensate by seeking notoriety.
It’s not a good way to end up as an individual—or as a political movement.