I’m sure that many of you have heard about the recent events that took place at Middlebury College, following the protest of an event in which the Middlebury American Enterprise Club had invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak about his new book, Coming Apart: The State of America. Murray’s text explores the continued, expanding divisions between the monetary classes of white America, and how this relates to the recent election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. While some students and faculty of Middlebury did not support Trump’s election, or agree with his rhetoric, they believed that having Murray speak would be an approachable way to understand the opposition’s support for Trump. Even in disagreement, campus officials and students believed that open discussion and debate on the topic would prove fruitful for the student body.
However, what transpired during this event was not what the college had hoped for. Murray’s 1994 book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, in which he controversially argues that the uneducated black underclass is present in American society due to genetic, racial differences, was the primary reason for on-campus objections. Murray’s latest book caused frustrations as well, over its definition of poorer classes in America, with readers considering it to defend “classist” values. The troublesome works caused deep unrest with some of the student body and faculty which led to the violent and uproarious protest of Murray’s speaking last week. Rather than questioning, testing, and pointing out the problematic nature of Murray’s “findings” through civic engagement and rhetorical resilience, a portion of people who went to the event decided to instead chant, hold signage, slam down chairs, beat on doors and windows, and physical attack and chasing down the speaker and those attempting to allow him to talk.
What transpired at Middlebury is similar to what took place at the beginning of February at UC Berkely, where Milo Yiannopolous, former Breitbart editor and inflammatory provocateur, was slated to speak, but ended with violent rioting in protest and the subsequent cancellation of the event.
If you do not know Milo Yiannopolous, his career has thrived off of inflammatory headlines and offending/upsetting progressives. Watch any video of his on Youtube and you’ll see how his tactics work: he will engage a liberal in conversation, say something provocative in an attempt to upset them, and if or once they become upset, he will corner them, using their anger to belittle their argument. Put more plainly, he continually pokes at liberal ideologies until he “triggers” said liberal debaters. Following any agitated response out of the liberal debater, Milo is then able to portray liberalism as a “disease” and their supporters as “snow-flakes” and “fascists,” because of their unruly response to discourse they disagree with or find problematic. It’s not hard to see his methods at work, he even openly wrote about them a year ago, during the thick of his Dangerous Faggot Tour (see what I mean about his tendencies for provocation and triggering liberal ideologies?).
The tactics that Milo uses when dealing with progressives has been trending among conservatives over the past year, as seen in the rise of Tucker Carlson and other populism-based members of the media. The reason that these tactics work is that it allows for the commentator (say Milo or Tucker) to portray themselves and their fan base as the victims: they will provoke/trigger their current debater/guest, sit back as their opponent/guest responds defensively, while usually aggravated, and then the commentator can then ask them to calm down and refute their argument as they play themselves off as the victim in the situation. They are thus able to rationalize their problematic arguments because they are causing the opposition to be similarly inflammatory while reacting. In this way, Milo and Tucker, who complain at great lengths about “victimhood culture,” are able to use it to their advantage.
In portraying themselves as the victim, otherwise instigating their opposition, they are able to protect themselves from serious criticism. To put it lightly, Milo Yiannopolous is an edgelord. He is someone who is abrasive, rude, and reactionary because he can profit from it. Even amid his recent controversy, I don’t believe that it will have much affect on him, as he still has a large fanbase from riling up liberals over the past year. When his political opponents disagree with him, but do so in a frantic, provoked, equally-inflammatory way, he comes out with the upper hand. He wants you to act this way. It allows him to continue the narrative that he has been parading since the beginning of the 2016 election cycle. The Berkeley protests are a prime example of this.
Following the riotous events preceding his Berkeley talk, Milo was invited to a great deal of interviews, and while the media might not wholly agree with his beliefs and ethics, they felt for him, portraying him as the victim in this situation. He was able to use this as fodder against liberal higher education, demean any argument they might have had about him being problematic, as well as reasserting his method in instigating political unrest among progressives.
What happened last week at Middlebury College is similar. The difference is that Murray did not go there with the intention of poking and prodding the student body. Instead, some of the student body and college faculty openly attacked a man that should have been allowed to speak. And for conservatives, who view liberalism as a means to strip away civil liberties and free speech, this is just an affirmation for that ideology. It thus reasserts their belief that liberals are “snowflakes” and “fascists.”
In no way do I agree with the character that is Milo Yiannopolous or the racist statements of Charles Murray, but I do believe that they are allowed just as much an opinion as anyone else. While their ideologies and sentiments are problematic, that doesn’t refute what they believe in (Although I would argue that Milo doesn’t believe much of what he says. Rather, he is reactionary as a means of being a media socialite.). While many find it problematic to provide these people with a platform to speak from, that shouldn’t negate the forum of discussion and debate. Conservative students have just as much a right to host bigots to speak on campus as other students have the right to protest said bigots. However, acting violently in protest, is not acceptable.
With the election of Trump, accepting this or understanding this is becoming ever difficult for many progressives. But when it comes to bigotry, whether it be from Trump, Murray, or Milo, sinking to their level is not the answer. It solves nothing and allows the status quo to continue as it is and has been. You just end up falling into the trap that their narrative has constructed.
Photo: Lisa Rathke|AP