Milo Yiannopoulos has been making news lately. For those not yet familiar with the name, he’s a young writer currently working as an editor for Breitbart News. He’s best known for his alt-right perspective and his inflammatory writing which has earned him a fan base on the far Right and the derision and scorn from Moderates and Progressives.
Most recently, Milo was invited and then dis-invited to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) due to attention to resurfaced videos that appears to show Yiannopoulos defending consensual sex between adult men and underage boys. Yiannopoulos himself engaged in sexual acts with a priest as a young man and jokes about the experience in a positive light, saying it helped him to become more skilled at performing oral sex.
In addition, Yiannopoulos lost a book deal he’d signed with Simon and Schuster. The publishing house announced it was halting the publication of the book, “Dangerous” written by Yiannopoulos.
Using Yiannopoulos as a prime example, I could comment about the changing zeitgeist of American morality or the current state of the Conservative movement but those discussions are already occurring (almost ad nauseum) all across the news outlets and social media. I’d rather focus on the decision made by Simon and Schuster to stop publication of the book.
Even before his beliefs about age of consent became widely know, there was opposition to his book deal with the publisher. And considering the caustic nature of Yiannopoulos’s editorials and public comments, it’s not hard to understand why many people would not want to see his opinions shared on a larger scale.
I don’t deny that I disagree with his point of view and even find much of what he writes offensive. I could easily find myself chanting alongside so many others to silence his vitriol, but to indulge in that kind of emotional discourse would violate one of my founding principles.
I have stood firmly in my defense of the First Amendment of the American Constitution. I have embraced the spirit of the law and understand that while I may not always like or agree with the opinions of others, it is vital that everyone be given the opportunity to express their thoughts. Now, as I have mentioned in other blog articles, the freedom to speak one’s mind does not come without cost. One may be free to speak, but no one is free from the consequences of one’s words or actions. In this case, Yiannopoulos has discovered that there is a price to pay for hate speech and when one embraces intolerance, the universe will often throw that back with full force.
The real question I want to discuss is the role of the publisher. Should Simon and Schuster have vetted Yiannopoulos more carefully before signing a deal with him? Is it really their responsibility to do so? What was the reason they chose to cancel publication on his book? A brief statement from the publisher was given, but it provided little insight into the reason for their decision:
“After careful consideration, Simon & Schuster and its Threshold Editions imprint have cancelled publication of ‘Dangerous’ by Milo Yiannopoulos.”
I speculate that the decision was one of practicality and financial responsibility and not a moral one. I suspect that Simon and Schuster simply felt that the public backlash would harm books sales to the point that it would not be a profitable venture for them and thus cancellation was just a simple choice of doing good business.
Is this wrong? Should a publisher take a stand and enact their own levels of censorship before publishing books? Or is their job just to act as a conduit for ideas while allowing the reading public to decide what to make of the author’s work?
I tend to follow the latter train of thought. Unpopular or even potentially “dangerous” ideas should still see the light of day and the reason for this is simple. There has never been and will never be a consensus of opinion on what is “right” or “wrong” and perhaps there shouldn’t be. Without the introduction of new and radical ideas or information, a society cannot evolve.
Yes, there are books that may disturb or upset segments of the population. “Mein Kampf”, Adolf Hitler’s manifesto or LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” or “The Anarchist Cookbook” are all potentially controversial works that contain some radical ideas, but silencing ideas (even bad ones) before they can even be considered is more dangerous than the ideas themselves.
Galileo was called a heretic and believed by many (in the church) to have blasphemous thoughts as were other great men of science. Books like Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Salinger’s “The Catcher In The Rye” have been criticized. Orwell’s “Animal Farm” nearly did not get published because it criticized the Soviet Union. “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie caused such a violent stir in the Islamic world that the Iranian government issued a fatwa and ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie.
I have no idea how dangerous “Dangerous” would have been. I doubt I would have read it and based on my reading of the authors other work, I am pretty sure that if I had I would not have liked it. I am not trying to suggest that it would have been anything more than a sneering compilation of twisted hate and garbage, but it bothers me that it did not get published. When we silence those with whom we disagree, we give their ideas power, because it seems that we fear what they may say. Better to let a fool speak and suffer the consequences that to raise him to martyr status through censorship.
[Author’s Note: Since this article was published, it seems that Mr. Yiannopoulos has resigned from Breitbart News.]