Milo Yiannopoulos Learns About Unlimited Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos has finally got caught saying something that has cost him a speaking engagement, a book deal, and even his job at Breitbart. It wasn’t a specific rant against anyone in particular this time, but rather a video of him defending limited forms of pederasty. Considering all of what he’s said for attention in the past. it’s not too terribly surprising that he finally said something he can’t defend.

Mr. Yiannopoulos has been thriving off controversy masquerading as free speech advocacy.
He’s a walking, talking example of the mistake many people make conflating unlimited speech with free speech. When he’s been banned from speaking engagements, there’s usually an outcry about free speech that follows. The idea is that despite the awful things he says and does, he should be allowed to talk no matter what. Some people even go so far as to say that he’s being censored.

Sadly for them, that’s not what being censored means. Censorship involves an official, a government agent that can restrict speech according to law. Without the use of law, nobody can censor anything. Those people are merely restricting speech in some capacity.

Free speech only exists in the context of legal rights to speech. For example, if a local municipality revoked a license for a rally Mr. Yiannopoulos hosted, that’s a free speech issue (like those Nazis wanting to march through Skokie, IL). Barring that, the issue only becomes one of whether he can have his speech restricted in other ways. When people are screaming that Milo’s free speech is getting violated, they’re really trying to argue he should be able to speak without restriction.

Unlimited speech causes more problems than it solves.
Essentially unlimited speech advocates call for a world where everyone has to host and put up with everyone else’s bullshit. Reacting to speech is a greater public sin than saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Sometimes the view goes so far as to imply that people can’t control their own spaces when it comes to conflicting speech. You can see a lot of this in public back-patting with regards to refusing to moderate Internet forums.

Mr. Yiannopoulos highlights why this isn’t tenable. If saying he can’t speak at a private university is censorship, it means universities can’t control what is said on campus. By extension, it means they can’t control what gets taught in their classrooms. Media outlets can’t control what gets said on their shows. Website operators can’t control what stuff gets said on their websites. It all has to go through no matter what.

In other words, I’m saying that speech cannot overrule certain private property rights. Just as I have a right to make sure some jerk with a bullhorn isn’t talking about global warming on my lawn at three in the morning, I also have the right to determine what speech I listen to in places I control. Otherwise, I can’t control them. This is true whether I’m talking about private housing or a campus I own or a television station I own.

Here is a helpful comic strip to further make my point.

Image source. Reprinted under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license.

Image source.
Reprinted under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license.

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17 thoughts on “Milo Yiannopoulos Learns About Unlimited Speech

  1. I was listening to two people in the UK argue this out. One wanted a speaker banned, the other said the talk should be allowed. What it seemed to come down to on both sides was who funded the space used. the one against said he paid school dues so he has a right to say no to the talk, which the one for said he also paid dues and so he had a right to hear the talk. The discussion got very heated because the one person was against the speakers prior statements / actions, while the other person felt it was a right to speech issue of an invited guest. IN the situation of Milo I would let him talk, then bring in another speaker to show the other side of the issue. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see your point, Scottie, but I would disagree with the speaker who thought it’s a speech issue. Private property rights actually overrule speech rights; it’s why you can put whatever political yard sign you want on your front lawn. The question of whether Mr. Yiannopoulos should be allowed by private individuals to speak is a separate matter entirely.

      I point this out not to be nitpicky, but to show that there aren’t many wrong answers for a person to control speech on their property. Think of it this way: what if someone asked to put a pro-Trump yard sign in your front yard? Whatever you choose to do is the right course of action.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I agree with you on that S.B. I was just pointing out it is an issue all over , not just here in the states. I got into trouble on Jerry Coyne’s web site because I said we should have a mandatory Q & A after each speaker. I got blasted as that was a violation of rights to speak. I gave up trying to figure it all out. Be well. Talk more later. Hugs

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  2. While your argument holds true for individuals and private organizations, state-supported public institutions like UC Berkeley are required to uphold the First Amendment rights of all their students, faculty and staff. In fact, said institution publicly acknowledges its commitment to “assuring that all persons may exercise the constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly, and worship.”

    Mr. Yiannopulos was an invited guest of the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR)—a registered campus organization, In denying Milo Yiannopulos the ability to deliver his speech, unruly protesters trampled upon the very rights they demand for themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Ron. I agree with you. On different blogs I see that many feel that the protesters did something against the very thing they claim to support. Most say the proper action was to let the speaker give their speech. If they felt they really had to protest a peaceful protest getting the idea out without stepping on the message by violence or property damage. The thing the progressives should have done is invite a speaker of the opposing viewpoint. It seems that by drawing attention to the speakers they object to the protesters gave them more publicity and more standing than the speaker deserved. What do you think is the proper response and actions? Hugs

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Scottie,

        I agree with you and think the correct response is to challenge opposing viewpoints with a strong, factual counter-argument. Resorting to violence demonstrates an inability to defend their position via reasoned discourse and cedes the moral high ground to their opponents.

        Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right that agents of public entities are treated as government actors for the purpose of First Amendment protections. However, schools are given a little more leeway than most other government agents. This is because they’re responsible for security of the campus as a whole. That said, it is a bit self-serving for one group of people to threaten violence just to avoid having a public speaker.

      Nonetheless, a good argument also could be made that Mr. Yiannopoulos’s speech is incitement cloaked in politics. He’s said things for no other reason than to harass people. He also can’t complain that if he says things in an inflammatory manner to get attention, such inflammatory speech actually has its intended effect.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fair comment. But is there any evidence his speeches have incited his audience to cause demonstrable harm towards others (i.e. aside from hurt feelings)? Because in most of interviews I’ve watched he refers to himself as a professional troll or provocateur; hardly the makings of an insurgent leader.

    I readily confess that I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. Once you start adding riders and conditions, no matter how justified you may deem them, you’re on the slippery slope to full censorship. Please note that I’m referring only to speech alone here. Speech accompanied by harmful actions is an entirely different matter.

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    • I’m referring to his deliberate incitement of crowds to anger. He has magically found a point where speech has to get curtailed because of security reasons. Since it has been his aim to upset people, he can’t complain of his own success.

      Admittedly, he is a very specific exception to a very broad rule here in the States. That he has not been injured yet is remarkable; crowds have visited violence upon hated speakers for far less. Here is a person who is deliberately seeking it. There is no speech protection which requires a speaker to successfully get hurt before he or she can be refused public access.

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      • Are you implying that he deserves to be injured for being controversial? Please bear in mind that his speeches are delivered behind closed doors in lecture halls and attendance is completely voluntary, so those opposed to his message have the option of staying far away.

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      • I am not implying anyone deserves to be injured. I am flat out saying what he’s doing is dangerous. He’s getting in front of groups of strangers and saying things he intends to be inflammatory. That attendance is voluntary is besides the point; not everyone who goes to listen is there because they like him.

        People have gotten hurt by angry crowd members in the past through sheer accident. He is someone who angers people on purpose. Therefore, it’s entirely foreseeable that eventually he’ll draw at least one angry person to one of his events. He is doing the equivalent of playing in traffic.

        Liked by 2 people

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