After making pro-paedophilia comments where he said it might be okay and consensual for a 28 year old man to have sex with a 13 year old child, Milo Yiannopolous, Senior Editor at the right-wing online magazine Breitbart has resigned.
It is likely if he hadn’t resigned, he would have been sacked. So, he jumped before he was pushed. The podcast in which Milo took a relaxed stance towards paedophilia was created a year ago, but has only just hit the media and social media spotlight, prompting a juggernaut of verbal protest and threats from advertisers to withdraw funding. It was therefore a commercial decision for Milo to go, but does this impede free speech and freethought? Has Breitbart, which has a reputation for controversy, succumbed to ‘the tyranny of political correctness’? No.
There is a difference between political correctness which has, at times, been rather over the top, and standards of common decency and morality. PC is only a problem when it is intimately related to the state which has the power to ban things, to censor. As an informal form of moral evolution, PC is unproblematic in this blogger’s opinion – it has simply reformed outdated attitudes on many social issues and made society better in the process. Overt racism, sexism, homophobia etc., are no longer seen as socially acceptable in a way they once were. The result? Levels of prejudice have indeed gone down. Reactionaries regard this as a ‘new conformity,’ but if it has evolved fairly spontaneously, this is wrong-headed – society just does require common moral standards in order to function. And if the newer moral standards are superior to the old, why not have something like political correctness? It would only be seriously problematic if the state was the administrator of the changes that have happened. By and large, it hasn’t been, though it has often exploited the new morality to jail or fine transgressors, which is wrong.
The case of Milo however, is not about the state. It was a commercial decision where Milo’s free speech rights have not been infringed at all. He can still spout his nonsense on an alternative platform, indeed the furore might encourage some of his supporters to fund a new site where Milo’s egomania can run amok. All that has happened is effectively that one particular platform – Breitbart – is refusing to host Milo’s views any more, and that is within their remit as a commercial enterprise. It is the same not just in the commercial sector, but elsewhere too. Political groupings, especially parties, reserve the right to expel members for breaches of policy, even at the level of what they say. This is quite right. In order for a social entity to pursue a particular course of action, it must have the freedom to decide the views it puts out, and cohere its membership along those lines, else it becomes dysfunctional.
The issue then isn’t ‘free speech’ nor ‘free thought,’ but freedom of association. Milo’s free speech and free thought hasn’t been impinged upon so long as the state with its thirst for prosecution is not involved. He has just been denied the privilege – not the right – to have a particular platform for his views. He can now go elsewhere, and sadly, will do, no doubt. But Breitbart or any other magazine or social entity must always be able to refuse publication of this or that article or otherwise disassociate itself from a rogue individual if that is in its own interests. To claim otherwise, to claim that a group should promote views it doesn’t believe in, is actually the real tyranny. What are the libertarians seriously trying to claim – that the state should force a private sector entity to promote ‘all’ views? ‘All’ views in that case would be the state’s own view, and discourse as a meaningful thing pursued by beings with intentionality and subjectivity would be subsumed under a kind of Mad Max-ism.