Our Individual Freedom to Be Good to Each Other, Research Time, 16/02/2017

I'd say one of the most frustrating parts of modern politics* is how absolutist basic liberal principles have become.

* That’s separate from the infuriating, horrifying, terrifying, enraging, and fucking hilarious.

That’s not to say that there aren’t milquetoast, bland, emptily shiny liberal politicians or parties anymore. But that middle-of-all-roads multifaceted hypocrite new liberal with a vague conscience where it’s mostly expedient** doesn’t have the loudest voice in the liberal brand anymore.

As people, we humans tend not to understand that absolutisms of any
value corrupt that value and make it completely dysfunctional. I don't
actually think Milo believes what he says he does – I think he's a con
man playing riots for cash.
** Bill Clinton administration, basically. And Jean Chrétien.

Guess who I’m about to name as that loudest voice of liberal values today. Of course I’m going to say Milo Yiannopolous.

How could such a wildly racist, flamboyantly transphobic, rich dick, gaygeoisie, misogynistic professional bastard represent liberal values? I don’t mean the liberal values of openness or diversity. I just mean the one liberal value that seems to have become the only one that matters among the new generation of radical liberals.

Free speech. Milo promotes himself as a free speech absolutist – his tours are performance art spectacles of boiling bile, bombs that clear a safe space for the most vile ideas and epithets that the human capacity for hatred can produce. From a particular perspective, it’s an important human service.

From more sane perspectives, it’s a glaring demonstration that absolutism of even the most straightforward benefits – freedom itself – can become cancerous to free society.

These thoughts turn over in my mind as I read On Liberty. It’s one of the texts considered at the centre of liberal political philosophy itself. Its ideas inspire a tradition of popular thought that includes literally billions of people now.

I’m curious to know how a typical Milo fan would respond when he reads Mill writing that our obligations to be benevolent to others always takes precedence over our self-interest and self-care. That an essential part of living in a society means we have to help our neighbours before we help ourselves.

Our personal freedoms don’t force our responsibilities into the backseat.

And Mill considers it a mark of maturity to accept this attitude that my responsibilities to my neighbours, friends, and countrymen take precedence over my more selfish desires. Which implies pretty clearly that if Mill were to meet Milo or his fanboys, he would consider them the most immature man-babies he’d ever seen.

It wouldn’t necessarily be the content of what the Milo contingent says and screams that bothers him. Mill was quite the racist himself, as I can tell when I read some parts of his Representative Government essay.

No, Mill’s shock would be at their sheer obnoxiousness, violence, their collapse of their own souls’ decency into the crumpled ego of self-absorption. The absolutism of free speech*** creates a twisted, crumpled soul who believes that his only worthwhile expression is how loud and how much he can scream.

*** Or at least one kind of absolutism, the worst kind of absolutism we have to deal with today.

You go back to Mill, one of the roots of liberalism, and you find that our freedoms are limited by whether they’ll do harm. Most often, we consider that harm an active assault, and Mill gives those examples. But he also talks about systemic avoidance of harm.

Here’s a vital moral responsibility we all share in our society of liberty – educating the next generation of our entire society to be morally better than we were.

That’s a standard to which Milo and Steve Bannon would have you rather fall well short.

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