The student group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) has been trying to shake things up at UCSB recently by inviting right-wing speakers to campus and pushing for and getting legislation passed within UCSB to extend free speech. The claimed reason: Colleges are insulated echo chambers, reverberating leftist ideology off of every syllabus tainted with a trigger warning. As open-minded college students, we need to hear more than one point of view and, more importantly, challenge the one narrative that is being forced upon us.
A noble goal, surely. Colleges were, after all, founded as places of higher education; you used to go to college to learn how to think, not necessarily to get a job. While many students attend in hopes of having a tall and sturdy corporate ladder to climb or create after graduation, such a goal is not mutually exclusive to expanding and opening one’s mind. An open mind and an ability to hear many points of view should be boons to whoever cultivates them.
It may come with some confusion to the reader that I do not recommend attending YAL’s next major speaking event. I am not advocating for a protest of the event, nor am I demanding that Milo be barred from speaking. I am recommending that you, the reader, do not waste your time. This conclusion came with considerable thought and multiple conversations, so just bear with me.
The last speaker to be hosted by the aforementioned group is a relatively well-known speaker and writer. I was curious to attend his talk in part because of the click-bait-esque title: An Encroachment on Liberty: How the Left Exploits Transgender Laws.
People are free to believe what they want; I do, in fact, understand the First Amendment. My problem is with a speaker coming to a university and not really engaging students.
If you don’t know me, know this: I do my homework. Before attending the event, I decided to read some of Walsh’s work. Skipping to the point, I read a piece he wrote that I felt would be largely regurgitated at his talk, as it covered the same topic. The article denounced the left’s use of transgender people to further their agenda, an agenda he claims can never be satisfied because it always needs the right to make more concessions. Whether you agree or not, Walsh claims it doesn’t matter because the left’s ideology is always changing, while his ideology, the Bible, is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Which is where I have a problem.
Not a problem with the Bible, mind you. People are free to believe what they want; I do, in fact, understand the First Amendment. My problem is with a speaker coming to a university and not really engaging students. Sure, he spoke and answered questions, but to what quality of answer? From two accounts of attendees, Walsh’s responses focused on self-aggrandizement and not on the issue. This is unsurprising given the content of the article I read. The article’s main argument against transgender people is that the Bible says its wrong. Given that the Bible is all the truth, that’s enough for Walsh. “God is right, lefties are wrong,” is not substantial as an academic argument.
We can go on and on and on about the philosophy behind whether there’s a God or not, and if there is, whether He is the God of Abraham or a group of many Gods as in the Hindu and classical Greek and Roman cultures. Great philosophical minds have debated the relative merits and implications of theism and atheism and they’re rather inconclusive, so coming down hard on one side or the other to make a greater sociological point does not make a compelling argument as much as make the arguer seem close minded. If God is your only point of argument, you don’t have an argument.
Claiming God is on your side does not make it so. Ask the Nazis, who wore “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles. From reading Walsh’s article, faith seemed to be his only real argument. To top it all off, Walsh has this to say about debating him on the issue: “It’s not debatable. It’s not a matter that can be discussed among intelligent grown ups.”
It seems unlikely to me that the YAL would invite a member of ISIS to come to UCSB and speak about how Western ideology is a disease that must be stamped out and replaced by a more moral culture and a higher religious truth. I do not believe that such a speaking event remains unlikely because of the close-minded nature of YAL officers, whose feeble brains would tremble at the intellectual rigor of ISIS’s arguments.
It seems astronomically more likely to me that the officers of YAL understand that the ISIS speaker would present his case as a matter of unarguable dogma. The argument from ISIS about the West’s moral failings can and should be easily rejected once one understands that the premise of “my faith is more true and thus morally superior to your faith” is weak at best. And that does seem to be the nature of ISIS’s arguments.
Claiming God is on your side does not make it so. Ask the Nazis, who wore “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles.
Now, I would be blown away by an ISIS member who talks about how U.S. foreign policy may be partly responsible for the sovereign-ish terrorist nation. Maybe they say that global climate change has put undue pressure on many cities in the Middle East. But this does not sound like ISIS. They are heavy on rhetoric. The same can be said about Walsh (the rhetoric, that is, not that he’s a sovereign-ish terrorist nation).
So when I critically analyze whether attending Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Feminism is Cancer” event will be worth the time, I first ask, “Is he going to give the same kind of argument that ISIS would?” That is to say, is he just trying to convey a narrative based on his point of view, which in turn is based on some underlying faith (read: unarguable opinion)? In the affirmative answer, I know that Yiannopoulos’ argument is unworthy of critical analysis because it does not rest on a premise that may be critically analyzed to a point of sure answer. In the negative answer, I know that I have more reading to do.
More reading is what I encourage the reader to do. Efficiently filtering information is a key skill for the technology dependent, whose daily life consists of an endless barrage of advertisements and media meant not only to distract but to swiftly persuade you of their importance. In this hyper-technological environment, having a known set of worthless arguments to ignore saves one time and helps one spend that time on more worthwhile endeavors. So reader, read up on Yiannopoulos — it shouldn’t take as much time as his event talk — and decide for yourself if the investment of attendance is worthwhile.
For myself, I know that attendance is not worthwhile. His position on feminism is one of my fast-tracked “waste-of-time” arguments. It amounts mostly to focusing on the most extreme feminists, using their fringe ideology to generalize and make an “other” of feminists in general and then use the generalization to dismiss the notion that any part of modern feminist ideology is worthwhile.
There is a clear ulterior motive for such a college tour as well: free media coverage. Just like the sign-wielding faithful that infrequently record interactions with students in the Arbor, Yiannopoulos’ speaking event is an act of theater. He invites antagonizing rebuttal, a favorite fuel of his to feed the fire of his followers, who eat up his — you guessed it — dogma. The same with the sign-wielding faithful. They don’t have the camera on just in case they need video footage as supporting evidence in a court case; the video documents the Godless, liberal college students antagonizing righteous Christians. It is taken back to the churchgoers and their religious fervor is renewed. It is the same game that YAL criticizes left-leaning UCSB departments for, yet both sides play it.
I have read his articles and observed his actions online. Both have been full of disappointingly shallow rhetoric, arguments and ego-boosting, the latter seeming to be one of Yiannopoulos’ primary motivations in life
Thus, Yiannopoulos’ talk comes with an inherent conflict of interest if one assumes he comes here to engage students and promote a healthy dialogue that will empower all of us. Under the assumption he gives his talk to engage students, it is expected that he presents himself and his arguments in such a way that people will listen to him. However, he named the talk “Feminism is Cancer,” an immediate and strongly worded attack on his object of criticism. Such an inflammatory title would surely prepare lefties for the “backfire effect,” where evidence that contradicts someone’s dearly held beliefs does not catalyze a change in opinion, but reinforces the existing one. After reading Yiannopoulos’ articles, his writing style leads me to believe that his talk, both in diction and in content, will only serve to reinforce already held opinions by audience members and won’t allow people to engage in critical thought.
Recent studies, such as Nadine Jung et al.‘s “How emotions affect logical reasoning…” show experimental results that claim negative emotional states negatively affect a person’s ability to reason logically. So if Yiannopoulos is presenting himself as a troll, he is most definitely trying to elicit a strong, negative emotional response from dissenting students, thus actively hurting dissenting students’ ability to engage and discuss the pros and cons of modern feminism.
The interest Yiannopoulos may have in engaging college students is most definitely in conflict with his interest in gaining notoriety and Twitter followers, and this conflict deeply compromises any valuable discourse the talk may bring.
Don’t get me wrong: We shouldn’t be ignoring people like Walsh and Yiannopoulos entirely. As Americans, we need to be exposed to and understand opposing points of view. I argue necessary and sufficient exposure can be carried out privately by reading a few published pieces online. As stated, Americans live in an environment of heterogeneous ideology, and exposure to many ideologies is the only assurance of an escape from ignorance.
A competent writer will be able to get their message across about a particular topic in an article; an incompetent one will not be worth reading, let alone listening to live. After such exposure by the reader to a new ideology, the reader must be able to categorize the ideology as thought provoking or thought reductive.
It is my educated opinion that Yiannopoulos falls into the latter category. I have read his articles and observed his actions online. Both have been full of disappointingly shallow rhetoric, arguments and ego-boosting, the latter seeming to be one of Yiannopoulos’ primary motivations in life. I am certain his talk will be mostly void of intellectual merit and any challenges to his person or ideology will be met with a reply along the lines of “I’m better than you, so shove it, kid.”
He is the troll king of his own echo chamber and all the dissenting voices the left can muster will not act as destructive sound waves against him. If anything, dissent will act on the psychology of the opposition, pushing them farther into the echo chamber and pushing dissenters farther into their own.
Let me finish this article by saying that I am only critiquing YAL and their guests so strongly because I see a blind hypocrisy within the group. They seem to claim to want to engage in discourse, yet they invite a speaker (Walsh) who claims he cannot be reasoned with. Perhaps their meetings provide a more intellectually stimulating discussion space, but judging from their guests, the YAL does not seem to be able to escape their own echo chamber.
Instead of critical discussion, the school is simply bombarded with unreasonable right-wing speakers. The group has yet to prove to me that they are anything more than agenda pushers, pushing from the opposite side against what they perceive as the dominant dogma with the same lack of evidence and holier-than-thou attitude they seem to disdain in others.
Benji Lampel sees no upside in attending the YAL’s event featuring Milos Yiannopoulos.