Sam Kriss went to a Conway Hall event to hear from the brave champions of Free Speech.
Last night, I watched the trolls announce their revolution. At the launch of the Young British Heritage Society – something describing itself as a “new conservative and libertarian national student organisation dedicated to opposing political correctness on the university campus” – chairman Danial Mirza asked his audience for a show of hands: who among them had been banned from Facebook or Twitter? A loose thicket of arms suddenly rose out of the crowd.
These are the inexplicably furious young reactionaries of the internet, the people who every so often make the news, whenever they’re accused of ruining the life of another liberal journalist or feminist campaigner.
In order to protect free speech!
The biggest bogeyman stalking the hall was feminism. “They’re nothing like the original feminists who just wanted to vote,” one told me. “They seem to be actively anti-male.” Another explained his admiration for Donald Trump. “He’s getting rid of this horrible third-wave feminism movement that’s perpetuating racism and sexism. The only way racism will end is if we stop talking about it.”
It’s so not the case that “the original feminists” wanted the right to vote and nothing else. Some of the suffragists were one-issue, but they weren’t the only feminists there were.
[T]he Young British Heritage Society is the latest half-formed thing to rise out of our increasingly stupid free speech wars. Its general secretary, Jamie Patel, used his brief speech to announce that “cultural Marxists have hijacked the country’s institutions”, and that “any attempt to celebrate British history” is silenced by political correctness.
What is that “cultural Marxists” thing? I’ve seen trolls saying that before and I can never figure out what they think they’re talking about. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, “cultural Marxism.”
Free speech here doesn’t really mean free speech. These are, after all, people from the same alt-right milieu who in ” Gamergate” threw an extended tantrum over video-game journalists writing things they didn’t approve of, with the implicit prescription that these things should not be allowed to be written, and then another one over an all-women Ghostbusters film, with the implicit prescription that this film should not be allowed to have been made.
The anti-PC brigade aren’t angry that they can’t say what they want; they’re angry that when they do say what they want, other people sometimes disagree with them. The society is a protest against the unacceptable censorship of people edging away from them at parties when they start holding forth about how feminism poisons everything; it’s a fury against the fact that people get offended when you’re offensive to them.
All this is tied up with a deeply dispiriting debate-nerd pedantry. Speakers never tired of making fetishistic invocations of Logic and Reason and Facts…
Oh yeah, I know those types. They’re the ones who pipe up at “Skeptic” events: “Why are you dragging your feminism into my skepticism?” They’re the ones who think a proper skeptic is someone without any moral or political commitments.
But anyway, Kriss says, the crowd wasn’t really there for the deep thinking, they were there for Milo Yiannopoulos. They were all crushed out on him.
For his fans, Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t just a washed-up journalist with a head like a broom and a knack for annoying overly serious students; he’s a living god and an object of desperate, panting desire. “I’d love to meet him,” one acolyte told me. “I love Milo so much. He represents truth, logic and common sense. He’s amazing.”
A few people were trying to look like Milo, sporting the bizarre new far-right uniform of peroxide hair and denim jackets. When the sweat-stifled air got too much and Milo took his cardigan off midway through his talk, an anguished groan rippled through the crowd. In his question-and-answer session, hardly anyone could speak to him without a tremor in their voice. Milo is the king of the dweebs, but it’s hard to see why. He is, in the end, a deeply boring man.
Yes he is.
What he wants to be is an erudite, sardonic breaker of false idols, the man who says the unsayable and does it with style. In fact, he’s a try-hard. Little dabs of Christopher Hitchens and William F Buckley creep into his mannerisms; I’d be very surprised if he hadn’t spent endless hours watching all the late lamented tosspots’ bloviations on YouTube, practicing them aloud, perfecting the clipped dismissive tone of the rational, logical idiot.
Exactly! They all worship Hitchens, these bozos, and think they would have been his BFF if only he’d lived long enough to meet them. It makes me tired. (You know if you look at a troll’s Twitter bio and it has a photo of or a quotation from Hitchens – or, shudder, both – you need hesitate no longer over the block button.)
But whatever you think of Buckley and Hitchens, their arrogance came naturally. Milo’s, meanwhile, is all stage-managed, and drearily relentless. “I haven’t been in England lately,” he said. “I’ve been busy getting really famous and successful.” Later he remarked that “you’ll never have my looks or my hair, or my wardrobe, but I can give you tactics and strategies”.
But underneath it all he’s as pedantic a debate nerd as anyone else in that room, just one who’s learned to substitute a pompous drawl for the usual asthmatic wheeze.
A profoundly boring man.