From a policy and strategy perspective, people should focus less on troll provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos, and more on things like income inequality, for-profit education institutions, and Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Milo is, and shall remain, a bully who feeds on the negative energy of offended, decent people. More conversation only raises his platform, and I apologize in advance for this article paying him attention and contributing to his web presence.
However, in light of his publicized sexual abuse comments, which have made him lose a prominent speaking opportunity, a book deal, and his job at Breitbart, I think it is important in this moment to examine his psyche so the public knows how to approach people like him in the future. First, Milo’s worldview has likely been influenced by sexual abuse as a child, and his psyche is one devastating example of why we need stronger treatment and protection for abused children. Second, while Milo Yiannopoulos’ pedophilia statements are truly deplorable, he should have faced social consequences for comments harming other vulnerable groups much earlier.
To my first point, it is imperative that people recognize that Milo Yiannopoulos is a victim of sexual abuse and pedophilia. If you listen to his interview with Joe Rogan, Milo clearly admits and details his abusive relationship with his priest.
It is also clear that Milo himself does not recognize the nature of his abusive relationship. And this is the issue: Milo clearly needs serious psychological and even legal help confronting his years of sexual abuse by his priest.
This is just one reason why it is so important to call out, and stomp out, sexual abuse. It damages people so deeply that they perhaps cannot ever confront it, even as adults. Pedophilia can make a victim export a cycle of abuse. Judging from this specific instance, perhaps it has created somebody so unaware of their pain that they lash out at other vulnerable people. If it is not treated, somebody can go their entire life (and, say, build an entire public presence) without ever having confronted the heart of what makes their moral compass so twisted. Whether he admits it or not, Milo’s abuse as a child has likely influenced his toxic personality and punch-down diatribes.
And we the public, have an obligation to respond correctly. When we see these symptoms, we should dig deeper. When Joe Rogan heard Milo talk about his history of sexual abuse, he should have asked, “Are you okay?” and “Have you sought counseling and legal help?” We should not see his victimhood as an excuse for Milo’s politics whatsoever, nor conversely should anyone blame Milo for his own abuse. Rather, when there is an obvious correlation, the public should reach out, those responsible should be identified and held accountable, and the survivor should seek treatment. Just like any other case. This is not at all how anybody has responded.
Which leads me to my second point. As many on the Left have already stated, what is so odd is that this was the line that CPAC and Simon & Schuster (and less surprisingly, Breitbart) drew. Not his racism, not the transphobia, not Milo inciting violence against an individual college student, but a botched, pitch-black joke clearly coming from a place of personal suffering.
Politically correct norms exist to prevent future violence against vulnerable people, but more apropos here, they also protect those who have already suffered. I firmly believe that those norms must be owned and controlled by the people who are affected by the language, not their sensitive allies. The allies must listen, support, and enforce, not direct.
For example, non-Muslims should never and can never call a Muslim Islamophobic. A transgender person should never lose a speaking opportunity for a crude joke about gender identity. A disabled person should never lose a book deal for a joke about their disability. It’s an ownership issue.
These examples do not fit with Milo’s situation. In theory, Milo deserves to express himself without rebuke on his own lived experience in some way — including humor — that does not harm someone. Again, it’s an ownership issue. But in reality, Milo deserves the consequences for his speech not because of the subject matter of his speech (pedophilia), but because of the position he took on that subject matter (condoning pedophilia). And as a policy matter, those who consider themselves in solidarity with the political correctness project, including myself, should know to spot the difference between those two. Had his joke not condoned pedophilia, but been about pedophilia, I believe this would be a very different story.
Overall, it is a sad state of enforcement of political correctness that Milo’s “jokes” attacking vulnerable people — blackness, transgender identity, refugee status, religious persecution — were largely free of consequence, while a “joke” ultimately stemming from a lived, suffered, untreated experience resulted in a triple career hit. I would say that that is just as twisted as Milo himself, but Milo Yiannopoulos is a really fucked up dude, so I won’t.