a reminder . . .

Milo lost his gig at CPAC. He was forced to resign from Breitbart. He lost his book deal and probably a lot of the speaking gigs that would have come with it.

This is not censorship.

To put it in classic XKCD terms:

xkcd comic about free speech

Now, I would quibble a bit with this comic. Free speech is broader than what the first amendment protects. It’s a statement of values that non-government entities can also uphold. For instance, I work at a private college. We value free speech even though we have no legal requirement to do so. But the point the comic makes is clear: communities decide the parameters of free speech, and may decide hostile speech intended to silence others violates those parameters. In the case of government entities that are constrained by the first amendment, there is plenty of case law that sketches out where those parameters lie. It’s not an absolute.

It’s fascinating that all of these blows to the previously untouchable Milo came at once. Apparently  deliberately deviant expressions of racism and sexism, as well as leading hoards to doxx and threaten others, was okay for his conservative fans because free speech and SJWs and the terrible oppression of political correctness, but whoops – talking about having sex with young teenagers is beyond the pale even though deviant sexuality was part of his fascist appeal. Milo tried so hard to shock everyone, and he finally found the button to push – the self-destruct button.

Dennis Johnson of Melville House books has been chronicling Milo’s book deal with Simon & Schuster with barely concealed incandescent white-hot rage since news of the $250,ooo contract hit. He addresses the “free speech” issue:

After months of staunchly defending its publication of Yiannopoulos as essentially a “free speech” issue, the company decided to cancel publication of his book “after the publication of a video in which he condones sexual relations with boys as young as 13 and laughs off the seriousness of pedophilia by Roman Catholic priests,” as a New York Times report detailed.

In other words, Simon & Schuster cancelled Milo Yiannapoulos’s book because of something he said.

Speech is always bound up in a complex of circumstances, including economic incentives. That’s how messy society is.

I’ve written elsewhere about the Milo book deal and the free speech bind it puts librarians (and publishers) in if you take the ALA’s Freedom to Read statement seriously. Put out by both librarians and publishers, the statement argues that both institutions have a duty to make all opinions available and oppose all acts to suppress viewpoints, however despicable. In practice, we don’t. We say we don’t have enough money to buy everything, or there’s just no room on next fall’s list for that controversial title.

We really need to talk about what we mean when we defend intellectual freedom, including the circumstances in which a provocateur like Milo may fall outside the bounds of what we feel should be rightfully protected. Libraries don’t generally carry copies of The Turner Diaries, for example, even though it’s a key text for understanding right-wing domestic terrorism.

So, let’s talk about it – because you can count on it that his book will be published, though not by Simon & Schuster.

 

Author: barbara

writer, librarian, curmudgeon-at-large

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