The Guardian is calling for censorship of Milo Yiannopoulos’ upcoming book, Dangerous, but argues that it isn’t censorship.
The newspaper is only the latest publication to echo calls to boycott the book, following a story on the Huffington Post, which argued that although the boycott may have a chilling effect on free expression, allowing Milo’s brand of “hate speech” is worse.
Following the news that Simon & Schuster would be publishing his new book, celebrities and journalists alike responded with condemnations of the publisher, with outlets vowing to boycott all books being published by the publishing house.
The Association of American Publishers defended Yiannopoulos, and condemned attempts to censor his book. The organization argued that it would undermine the freedom of expression.
In response, the Huffington Post cited an anonymously written November essay on The Guardian, which argued that Yiannopoulos’ writing convinced him to become a racist. The piece is widely believed to have been penned by Godfrey Elfwick, a Twitter provocateur known for his incisive criticism of the progressive left, who took credit for writing it.
The Guardian’s take on it isn’t any better. Its author, Sam Sedgman, argues that while there’s nothing illegal about Yiannopoulos’ opinions, those who defend his “Islamphobic” and “misogynistic” views are “protesting too much.”
“And I’m uncertain that these organizations standing up to protect Yiannopoulous are doing the right thing —especially when what he says, and the people he says it for, are doing so much to poison reasoned discussion,” writes Sedgman, whose argument requires some unpacking.
Firstly, this implies that calling all men rapists and all white people racist—arguments Yiannopoulos often speaks out against—are “reasoned discussion.” And secondly, Sedgman describes dissent to such horrific, and baseless claims as a sort of “poison.”
It’s an insidious argument to make, and one that calls for the homogeneity, rather than the diversity of opinion.
“Free speech has its limits,” argues Sedgman. “You aren’t allowed to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre because someone’s probably going to get hurt.”
The highly cited analogy isn’t a good one to use, especially in regards to freedom of expression. It was employed almost a hundred years ago, in the Supreme Court case that saw Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, convicted for disseminating a pamphlet criticizing the draft in World War I.
His words were mild in comparison to calls for open riots against Donald Trump by journalists like former Vox writer Emmett Rensin. The case’s authority was effectively dismantled in 1969 in another Supreme Court decision, which declared the argument in violation of the First Amendment.
The argument continues to be cited by censorship advocates like Sedgman. Its invocation dooms free expression and polices thought. It’s an enforcement of politically correct views.
In the marketplace of opinions, the public should be free to come to its own conclusions. If your opinions aren’t gaining a foothold, perhaps it’s because they aren’t being marketed quite as well and you sound condescending. This isn’t to say that nonsense like flat earth theory and 9/11 trutherism have any merit to them, but the only way to counter such nonsense is through a good, and perhaps even entertaining presentation of evidence-based arguments—not censorship.