Last week I decided to steal Milo Yiannopolous’s book. I was curious to see what was in this memoir that Simon & Schuster had originally paid $250,000 for before withdrawing publication, but I was loath to add to his sales.
Having never stolen anything before, I turned to Twitter for advice. One woman told me: “Look confident, be almost brazen, like you own it already. Don’t put it under a coat or anything. Just pick it up and walk out with it. Act like it’s yours already.” I took heart that someone who was clearly a hardened criminal was bound to know what she was doing until she revealed she owed her expertise to reading Oliver Twist.
I realized I didn’t need to read the book at all
At this point, I began to worry about being caught, and so I tweeted Waterstones asking whether they would prosecute me if I did indeed steal the book. They replied: “Since we don’t sell the book, this is too hypothetical to comment.” As this was not, technically, a no, I asked if they might consider stocking a copy especially for me to steal, to which they responded: “We like you, Raj, but we’re not sure we’re at that stage of our relationship already.”
After about a dozen phone calls, my criminal intentions were thwarted by my inability to actually find anyone in either Berlin or London who stocked the book. Again my Twitter friends rallied, sending DMs with instructions on how to torrent a digital copy, but I was reluctant to do this. I wanted to run out of a shop with the real thing in my unrepentant hands.
The problem was solved, however, when I read the first and most of the second chapter on Amazon and realized I didn’t need to read the book at all – because, as it turned out, there is nothing in it to read.
A thirty-two year old toddler, begging for a reaction
Reading Milo Yiannopolous is liked being trapped with a small child, or perhaps malodorous teenager, who is convinced that everyone hates him. In fact, he’s so desperate to be hated that he seems to have convinced himself this is the only way anyone will take notice of him. But in the end, one simply feels sorry for him.
These are the words of a person so terrified of rejection that they are determined to preemptively reject humanity. In doing so he rejects every aspect of life necessary for meaningful connection: friendship, dialogue, intellectual curiosity, human engagement. The best he can hope for, he has decided, is to gain “attention”, which is what his book is – a 288 page equivalent of the child’s rhyme, “Nobody likes, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go and eat worms,” a thirty-two year old toddler publicly masticating wriggling invertebrates while smacking his blood-stained lips, begging for a reaction.
None of this would be worth commenting on at all, were it not for the fact that Milo is a part of a loose web-based confederation of self-pitying worm-eaters that the media has dubbed the “alt right”: in the main, white males who cannot abide the fact that while they are in fact free to say whatever they please, the rest of the world is free to spurn them.
White supremacists, ironically, tend towards mediocrity
As women, people of color, gay people, trans people, and other, more discerning white males turn away from them and to each other instead, these Entitled Ones become louder and more aggressive, viewing the existence of anyone else with a voice as a threat to free speech (as opposed to a threat to hegemony). We see them daily online, just as we meet them in our lives, those mansplaining grandstanders unleashing the same empty platitudes, thin-skinned and abusive, persistently mistaking narcissism for strength, mediocrity for brilliance.
A pair of researchers into online gaming culture recently discovered that men who harass women online are quite literally losers. What this means is that those least skilled at the game, (in this instance something called Halo 3) are most likely to resort to aggressive bigotry.
This is true of the “alt-right” generally (who, of course, consolidated their base via gaming forums). White supremacists, ironically, tend towards mediocrity. They are the ones who feel most threatened my other white males, the ones who consider themselves likeliest to be bumped off the leader board as women and minorities gain greater equality. And so they erect barricades, hoping they can maintain the siege forever.
It isn’t necessary, or even possible, to enter into a dialogue with them
The problem isn’t mediocrity. Mediocrity is nothing to be ashamed of. If we scorn being average then we embrace the codes of a cruel, hyper-competitive society that relies on concepts of supremacy and superiority. The problem begins when we start to hate ourselves for it and, overcome by fear of usurpation, develop a preference for invective over dialogue, insolence over thinking.
This culture is fast metastasizing into the mainstream. We see it infecting liberal rhetoric, echoed even by members of the minority groups under attack; casual Islamophobia or transphobia, dull platitudes about free speech or all lives mattering or “not all white people”, shameless calls for compromise between those who want equality and those who want genocide.
It isn’t the ideas that are spreading. Having read two chapters of Milo Yiannopolous’s book I can confirm that there are no ideas, which is why it isn’t necessary, or even possible, to enter into a dialogue with the “alt right”. What Milo and his minions are selling is emotion: self-pity, rage, frustration, and most of all fear.
We can’t wait around for the Milos and the Richard Spencers of this world to change
The world, after all, is a frightening place. None of us want to be incinerated in a nuclear war, or rendered jobless or homeless, or diagnosed with cancer, or shot by a terrorist, or a policeman, or an ordinary civilian having a bad day. The Internet intensifies our fear, multiplies it, and as we’ve seen over the last two days in Charlottesville, the terrified easily become terrorists. We know that we can’t wait around for the Milos and Richard Spencers of this world to change, but we can be vigilant when it comes to ourselves.
The fear will not go away, but the virus of victim-blaming, of lashing out instead of growing up, must be resisted at all costs. We don’t need to steal Milo Yiannopolous’s book to know this.
Image: Max Pixel