Steve Bannon, NAMBLA, and free speech: when ‘neutrality’ is picking a side

‘Steve Bannon Accepts Invitation to Speak at the University of Chicago’

HUMAN 0
This is bullshit.

I’m calling the administration to register my displeasure, and I suggest you do too if you’re an alumni.

I’m not going to ask the University to block the invitation, but I at least want a statement that he does not represent the University’s views.

If you’re an elite foreign student, someone who’d create a successful business but aren’t white, Bannon doesn’t want you in the United States.

A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

The exact quote starts around 17:40, but the link starts earlier than that for full context.

HUMAN 1
You should listen to the whole context. It’s a much more narrow scope than you are representing it to be:

“What do you think about this situation where you have American companies, particularly technology companies, that are letting go highly-trained American IT workers, blowing them out, having them train their replacements and hiring foreign workers. Just generally what’s your sense of that?”

That being said, I still disagree with his comment, but I don’t think you are being fair to it either.

I did listen to the whole context. I also have listened and read to other contexts including interviews and the website he ran that spell out his worldview more thoroughly.

The dude is a white nationalist. He believes in a coming civilizational war where an American is someone culturally Christian of European descent and a ‘foreigner’ is anyone living in the United States who is not.

I’m being more than fair to Steve Bannon.

HUMAN 1
Just because someone believes in an ideology doesn’t mean everything should be interpreted exclusively through that ideology, nor does it justify expanding the scope so broadly.

For example, if Steve Bannon says he doesn’t like chocolate ice cream, is this necessarily reflective of his deep-seated hatred of black people?

I say this because I would argue that many people who aren’t white nationalists probably agree with Bannon on this particular issue. Outsourcing can really suck.

HUMAN 2
Ah yes, who can forget when Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington, Andrew Grove, Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang, Pierre Omidyar and Charles Pfizer fired their American staff to replace them with H1-Bs. (Or when Steve Jobs, who was born to a Syrian migrant father, tore apart our civic society.)

If you want to discuss outsourcing, there are better people to talk than Bannon.

His views which are correct are unoriginal and half-baked. His views which are original, and come up every time a rant seems in order, are anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and terrible. I don’t think we should be censoring a public figure. But if condemnation is a sin then so is willful elevation of views one judges, as a private body, to be corrosive to civic society.

HUMAN 1
Yes, but who judges? And by what right? Should it be UChicago who determines what its students should believe, or should it be the students themselves?

HUMAN 2
The University as a private organization. Under the rights afforded to us by our Constitution. Through, you know, the civic society Bannon claims to fight for.

If UChicago students have the critical-thinking faculties to contextualise Bannon’s comments they can properly weight a disclaimer. In any case, students aren’t the audience. Packaging the talk with the UChicago logo to be blasted across the country, directly and through the media, is the goal. Bannon is borrowing the University’s credibility and reputation to promote his views–all of them. That cannot be totally avoided. But “not totally avoidable” doesn’t mean “un-mitigatable.”

HUMAN 1
I am not disputing the University’s ability to censor or disavow Bannon. However, doing so abrogates its position of principled neutrality.

Not sure how familiar you are with the alt-right, but that strategy seems atypical. Bannon is likely not interested in borrowing the university’s credibility, as the followers of his particular ideology are deeply skeptical of the university as an institution. I think Bannon is spoiling for a fight to regain some relevance in the aftermath of his humiliating dismissals from the White House and Breitbart News. Taken this way, his motives are likely more personal than any grand scheme.

HUMAN 2
You hold the University’s principled neutrality higher than it not affiliating with anti-Semites. I disagree and hope the University does too. There is no rule placing one principle over another, and in fact, this is a matter of contemporary social consequence.

HUMAN 1
Sure, and I think we both agree that the university cannot have it both ways. If they believe that principled neutrality is not as important as taking sides against an anti-Semite, then they should do that.

Anyhow, I do think that we are better off in the long run if educational institutions are neutral. Let the burden of judgment fall upon the people, not the administrators.

So, a few of things from above, and note that I’m coming at this from a different perspective than H0 but I think similar to H2.

First, not everything a biased person says is indicative of that bias. However, many things they choose to say and not say certainly are. That we’ll never know for certain for each particular thing is not actually very important. I’m going to come back to this analogy because I find it to be usefully stark and shocking, but if a member of NAMBLA tells me that he really enjoys youth soccer or I find him reading a children’s swimsuit catalog, I don’t think the fact that he also is an Arsenal fan or also has a nephew to be more relevant information in interpreting his statements and conduct than a general bias he’s well established.

That is, looking for evidence to find some interpretation that’s most exculpatory is not equivalent to being fair-minded; it is just the opposite.

Second, the University of Chicago is not behaving in a neutral way by providing him a platform. By inviting him and saying someone with his views is worthy of listening to and considering, they are not necessarily taking his side, but they are making a seat for him on one side of the table. Again, it would not be accurate to say that inviting the editor of a publication for child rape would be neutral, even if ostensibly all that publication advocated for was ‘more enlightened views on high age-discrepant romantic relationships’.

The reason I make this comparison is that the difference between raping children and white supremacists is this: one is actually considered bad in itself and the other is bad only when it’s too open about it. But someone who wants to create a white ethnostate does not have a non-violent, non-genocidal way to go about doing that.

As it is not being overly sensitive of someone to oppose me coming onto campus to say, ‘Kill such and such person’ or ‘This is such and such person’s address. Go into their home and drag them out of it and continue beating them up until they stay away’. It’s not being overly sensitive to oppose someone coming to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if all such and such people were gone’ even if the way that’s carried out is left in some polite ellipses.

In any case, we saw exactly this with Milo Yiannopoulus. ‘Free speech’ is the cry when it comes to saying and encouraging awful things about women in general, lesbians in particular, trans people, minorities, expats. Freedom freedom freedom, freedom of speech, neutrality. But then it came out the dude also says sex with minors is a good thing, and everyone realized that, actually, you can fairly easily shun someone who regularly endorses awful things, so long as you actually consider it awful beyond the point of debate.

It’s worth asking, ‘Well, where is the line exactly then?’ And the answer, as I think H2 already said, is that it’s where the student body, faculty, alumni, and donors in particular collectively tell them.

If they invited someone from NAMBLA to speak on the subject of age of consent laws, I assume the general reaction would be that such a person’s views are regarded as deviant, to be outside the standard deviations considered acceptable, debatable, or even provocative—to not be within the reasonable spectrum of views on that subject—akin to a flat-earther speaking at a geology conference or mercantilist giving an economics lecture on why gold and silver reserves are the chief measure of national strength, except with the added threat of intrinsic violence added to both of these.

There are worse people than Steve Bannon. But that’s an argument for also shunning people like Richard Spencer, Andrew Anglin, and Yiannopoulus, not treating Bannon as someone whose views are more palatable by comparison.

HUMAN 1
If the line is wherever the mob decides it is, what’s to stop them from censoring anyone they find disagreeable? Or to meet words with violence, as we have seen in many instances? After all, is it not the majority opinion on college campuses today that speech can constitute a form of violence? (No seriously, there was a shocking survey that showed something like an 80/20 split in favor.)

If someone at the university thinks someone at NAMBLA or the Flat Earth Society is worth hearing, then they should invite them. I doubt very many people will show up though. I wouldn’t. And feel free to protest them, so long as you do not harass or commit violence against the people who do turn up to listen.

I don’t see how faculty, other staff, students, and alumni expressing their disapproval with someone, even vociferously, is a mob.

And again, ‘meeting words with violence’ is not really accurate when those words involve inherent violence. ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ to ‘Someone should knock the crap out of that guy’ to the laissez-faire police state in modern Russia where it’s understood that if something bad happens to an opposition figure, there will be no consequence. Milo Yiannonpoulous is a much more petty sort of figure, but when he singles out a trans student attending a university for extended ridicule and scorn because they used a bathroom, that’s not harmless.

As we’ve seen with the University of Washington and Charlottesville, it’s not two equally or undistinguishably bad actors involved on opposite sides. You have a movement whose primary goal is to eliminate the existence of other groups of people, by murder, forced expulsion, or making them too afraid to live their lives openly, and another group whose goal is to stop that and disappears in the absence of the threat.

If someone at a university thought it was a good idea to invite someone from NAMBLA to talk about consent, and that person bothered to spend some time on stage talking about some particular student at the university and their young boy—or even about how hiding a sexual relationship with a boy from his parents is perhaps maybe justifiable—you would hope that no one showed up.

But it is the issue that more people than you’d think would show up, some maybe only curious, but enough to embolden the others. And the faculty member doing the inviting would not be a neutral or disinterested party the moment he extended dignity of the University of Chicago to such a person, at least to anyone with their own children or who cared about other people’s.

HUMAN 1
There is only one question we need to bother with: Are words equivalent to violence? If the answer to that is yes, then the only appropriate response is violence, either that of the state in the exercise of police powers or that of the individual in self-defense.

So the faculty of the University of Chicago are only allowed to invite people that meet a set of qualifications that nobody has written down anywhere? Do you realize how dangerous and stifling that is?

Also, I hope you do realize that what you’re saying puts you on the wrong side of history. All censorship does, whether it is the soft variety or the hard, is allow bad ideas to fester. We should encourage these ideas to come out so that they may be marginalized in the public square. Besides, Bannon, for better or worse, has relevance in today’s politics. It is important to understand his ideas and examine why they exist and hold sway. (We can separate listening from believing, I hope.)

It is obvious that words are equivalent to violence depending on the words, and our law already treats it as such. ‘I’m going to kill you’ is a terroristic threat, and in Texas, where I’m from, it’s listed under assaultive offenses.

The response to violence is self-defense, and one of the tactics is to present an intimidating front that makes attempts at aggressive violence seem less likely. Dozens of neo-Nazis descending on a town with torches and clubs to hold a rally about how the Holocaust didn’t go far enough should be met with hundreds of people willing to do violence in self-defense because at the point where four anti-Semites with cudgels stand over a Jewish person, they stop caring so much about principles of free speech and rigorous logic in debate.

University of Chicago faculty are, at present, apparently allowed to invite anyone they want without restriction. And I’m saying that students, staff, faculty, alumni, are allowed and ought to be encouraged to cause so much friction when an abominable person is invited that abominable people are not invited.

Steve Bannon does not have anything important or novel to say about any subject, and you don’t need a white supremacist to understand white supremacy. They are the least helpful people in understanding it, in fact.

If you censor Nazis from your bar, you make it a place welcoming for all the people who would be a target of Nazis. Because Nazis are like dudes who smear themselves in shit. If you say, ‘We welcome everyone into our bar, no matter how much human waste they have caked on them,’ at some point, very quickly, that bar will only be filled with people caked with shit because those are the only people who don’t mind being surrounded by it.

I have no problem with shunning and shaming out of public anyone who believes that other human beings ought to be murdered for their unalienable characteristics, even if they want to make that point terribly politely.

HUMAN 2

“We should encourage these ideas to come out so that they may be marginalized in the public square”

How do you think marginalization in the public square occurs? What we’re suggesting here, disclaiming a public speaker whose discourse (and implicitly views) a university has chosen to elevate from the background, is precisely that.

HUMAN 1
Well, there is no clear and present danger, and there is a difference between “I’m going to kill you” and “he ought to be killed.” However, Bannon said neither of those things. If you’re going to argue that his supporters do, well, then nobody can speak for fear of some extremist committing crime on his or her behalf.

Your local bar does not have a position of principled neutrality like a university does.

I really wish you would stop conflating white nationalists/supremacists with the alt-right. You’re making them seem a much bigger threat than they are, and this is the sort of thing that empowers them, not dis-inviting them from a university lecture. Your refusal to understand your enemies is also troubling.

H2: Not like this. And come on, you really think the university is the one doing this? The media and our political system were the ones who made Bannon relevant

If you’re not aware of how deeply in the tank Steve Bannon is for white supremacists, and how the alt right is a full synonym for that, I highly recommend you read more about it.

BuzzFeed’s investigation based on leaked Breitbart internal emails is a good start.

David Neiwert’s Alt America is a book but also worthwhile, especially because you seem to think the threat of literal violence and homicide is being overblown.

You can be ignorant of their relationship, but only by being willfully ignorant.

Meanwhile, if your position is that ethnic and sexual minorities should feel safer walking into a bar than around a university campus, that says a lot about our ability to come to any understanding.

HUMAN 1
I am aware of the overlap between white supremacy and the alt-right, as well as the alt-right and conservatives, but conflating them in various ways is extremely unhelpful.

Oh man. Buzzfeed? Come on. You are not helping your case pushing an article from that news source. Their strident partisanship and willingness to publish totally unsubstantiated news has dragged their credibility into the gutter. Pew found that they were the most distrusted news source in the country on both the left and the right. Even Breitbart is more trusted than they are at this point.

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