I’ll be straightforward: I consider myself to be a libertarian. This, broadly, means that I support conservative fiscal policy and that I would prefer to maximize liberty in the social sphere so long as harm is kept small or nonexistent. I oppose censorship and attempts to silence discourse that generates controversy. Further, I suggest that it is worse to allow questionable ideas to brew in private and then explode onto the scene than it is to engage in a public discourse with ideas that we might disagree with (or even find abhorrent), so as to allow everyone to evaluate them on their own terms.
With that out of the way, it might seem foregone to mention that I was greatly looking forward to Milo’s lecture. To see someone engage with an increasingly controversial ideology is usually interesting to watch, if only to see how the arguments of either side stand up to each other. How does an idea weather the test of time? Have things changed since the issue first arose? How do we know when an idea reaches too far or starts aiming in a different direction than when it was conceived?
I think these are the kinds of questions that merit answers. I was expecting these kinds of questions to be raised and addressed during the lecture. I was disappointed.
To call it a lecture might be too charitable, but to call it a bad comedy routine might be too harsh. Whatever it was, it was clearly not well prepared. Milo stood at the podium and alternatively hurled insults and read off news headlines plucked from the top of Reddit’s front page while exclaiming how ridiculous they were. This is the kind of behavior you can get away with at a rally of some sort, where everyone is on the same page and ready to laugh and be merry without going into depth about the topic at hand because they’re already familiar with it.
However, this was not a rally. This was an lecture at an academic institution, where claims should be backed up by citations and arguments are laid out carefully and with attention to clarity. I’ll paraphrase another student’s reaction, “˜for someone who claims that the facts are on their side and that their opponents are crazy, there was little in the way of actual facts presented. To my great dismay, that summation is quite accurate. This was not a lecture in any recognizable sense, and that is coming from someone who already agrees, at least in spirit, with the force behind Milo’s rejection of some feminist ideas.
I really don’t think that the content of the lecture was the worst part, actually. It was the appearance of it, “Highly controversial speaker comes to Trinity to give a talk!”, and people are going to come expecting to hear some hot arguments and fresh data. They come to hear someone they seem to disagree with speak convincingly about a topic that they are interested in. It might have been a different case had there been disruptive pickets or chants or anything of that sort, but instead it was just awkward laughter after one too many intentionally incendiary jokes fell flat. People who started out willing to be charitable to disagreement walked away with confirmation that their opponents aren’t even trying to have serious discourse.
“There are good arguments out there that support the ideas Milo was expressing!”
It will be that much harder to convince the left-leaning college population to give those ideas a chance when they were confronted with the vulgar display that was Milo’s lecture. I don’t have enough space to give them here because I’ve had to spend a whole article explaining why that sham of a lecture wasn’t representative of the ideas it claimed to express.
It might be the case that Milo is attempting to emulate a style of discourse that we have seen on the rise in our current election cycle. Ignoring your detractors, not even addressing them beyond dismissing them and focusing on the people who already agree with you. Tremendously effective as this might appear, I’ll have to cite Washington’s concern that factionalism would be the death of any well functioning Republic. Further, despite Aristotle’s suggestion that it might be necessary to use vapid rhetoric to sway the masses to good ideas, the exclusive use of emotional rhetoric was something to be detested by any rational individual. I saw a lot of vapid rhetoric at Milo’s lecture, and as a conservative I am bitterly disappointed that this is the image many people will be stuck with.