Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos tried to speak at UC Berkeley, only to be shut down by violent protesting and rioting. Although I disagree with about 99.9% of everything he says, completely preventing him from speaking is entirely counterproductive to conquering the forces of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny. Violence and stopping free speech are the worst possible means of achieving social progress.
The success of people like Trump, Tomi Lahren, and Yiannopoulos have only shown that the left’s means of aggression have failed to produce the ends of creating a more accepting society. Admittedly, merely shutting down or shunning perceived hateful or intolerant speech appeared to be a tactic that would work after Obama was elected and demographics slowly shifted away from a majority white Christian America. It felt inconceivable that we could ever elect a president like Trump who is this socially conservative and anti-immigrant. After years of just shoving away and hiding the dirty laundry of America, the left must accept now that merely being intolerant of the intolerant is no longer a politically viable way to succeed.
In order to elect people to power that will fight for social justice, the key objective must be to change as many people’s minds as possible. Therefore, social movements need to ask themselves this: how would you convince someone like Milo to agree with you? Throwing a violent tantrum or being condescending to him will do little to change his mind. Remarkably, the first step to trying to change his mind is actually listening to him. No matter how offensive or out of touch he is, there is no way to know how to change his mind without knowing what he is thinking. In order to come up with counterarguments, you need to know what facts or statistics he is trying to use, his logic, and most of all, what underlying emotional motives may be behind his stances.
Earning votes and gaining political capital takes effective debating and gaining sympathy from everyday people. Therefore, like any business trying to sell a product, how a political movement brands itself is essential to its success. Whining and complaining about how people are terrible for not accepting your beliefs will gain no sympathy, but peaceful means of political discourse will. The classic counterargument I have heard justifying violence by the left is that America was founded on violent acts like the Boston Tea Party or that violence has been used by white supremacists and thus retaliation is justified. In reality, whether the means of violence are effective depends on context. Figures like MLK and Gandhi knew that in their situations, their movements could not gain the sympathy and political support needed if violence was used. Thus, the means of violence and suppression of free speech used by the left is harming their brand and strategic interests.
By only reacting to differing controversial viewpoints with aggression, it shows a form of intellectual laziness. If you feel that your beliefs are clearly superior, then effectively debating people like Milo should be no problem. I challenge SLU to truly step out of its comfort zone and go so far as to invite Milo Yiannopoulos to our campus. No protests, no shutting him down, just showing the world that SLU can hold our own discussions and debates with anyone.