Magazine | March 14, 2016, Issue

Into the Gophers’ Den

Milo Yiannopoulos is quick, clever, amusing, naughty, British yet charismatic, and would probably be the first to agree that his brand of Flaming Gayness could be seen from the International Space Station, like a burning field of Iraqi oil wells. (Much of what he says is not for sensitive ears; look for @Nero on Twitter if you want a sample.) If he toured campuses insisting on an end to heteronormative privilege and used gender-neutral pronouns like “xyr” and “xth,” the students would strew rose petals before his well-shod feet — composting them all later, of course. But he is a conservative who pokes a digit in the moist eyeballs of the Left. He knows what he is supposed to be and delights in being its opposite, so his appearance requires the vanguard of the next utopia to gird up xyr loins and plaster the campus with trigger warnings.

He came to Minneapolis with Professor Christina Hoff Sommers for a speech called “Calm Down! Restoring Common Sense to Feminism.” I went. Here’s what happened.

In the old days, polite Minnesotans would have acknowledged contrary ideas by pursing their lips. At worst, they would have issued the most stinging indictment their culture could muster: “Well, that’s different.” In the passive-aggressive vocabulary of the Northern Plains, that’s as harsh as you can get without striking someone, but since we hate physical contact, the act of punching a bad actor is just so . . . intimate. Aw jeez, for a second there we were touchin’ and all.

So when Milo and Christina came to town, I expected something less than the caterwauling, keening, and rending of garments that had attended their previous lectures. At Rutgers, for instance, students interrupted the speech by smearing blood on their faces, perhaps to counteract Professor Sommers’s observation that modern feminists are unable to hear contrary ideas without swooning onto a soft couch and taking refuge in the vaporous oblivion of a good faint. Perhaps the sanguineous youth were showing that they were taking to the fainting couch not because they had witnessed an outrage but because they had nicked an artery and were growing weak. It’s a demand that the college fight hemophiliaphobia, now!

So deep was the psychic wound inflicted by Milo’s presence that the Rutgers audience members felt it necessary to convene a fortnight later to discuss how the event had left them shaken, scared, and unable to sleep. It wasn’t so much that someone had said something contrary to their beliefs; it was that it happened on campus, a sacred spot where the iron certainties of youth are supposed to provide an adamantine carapace to prevent wrongthink from entering.

The University of Minnesota’s students are not that stupid, because the school doesn’t cost as much as Rutgers. It’s a commuter campus, which means a large part of its student body is required to have contact with the outside world on a daily basis. So the protest was small. A speaker with a megaphone shouted out alarums over Christina and Milo. Given that the Wicked Witch was inside, along with a Friend of Dorothy, it lacked only a male in a Cowardly Lion suit worrying his tail and muttering I do believe in rape culture, I do believe in rape culture.

There were plenty of police on hand, because conservatives were speaking. Packed house of 250 students, mostly male. (Of course. As if that didn’t say everything.) Professor Sommers and Milo took the stage to great acclaim, the latter wearing sunglasses and a huge red scarf, as though this were Cannes. Milo spoke first, and had gotten into a few minutes of lacerating the Left for intolerance and dishonesty when the most astonishing thing happened.

A young man stood up and said Excuse me. All eyes swiveled to him. “You’ve just made an assertion based on a logical fallacy, conflating two dissimilar things to discredit both, and — ” then he grew red-faced. “I’m sorry. That was rude. Couldn’t help myself. Go on.”

Oh, I’m kidding. Of course that didn’t happen. Three guys stood up and started blaring air horns while chanting “You’re an [bleep]hole” and extending their middle digits.

This may have come before or after the part about how the tolerant Left cannot abide dissent, but the point was made. They’re pro–free speech in the sense that they’re pro-choice: Eliminate that offending entity before it’s fully formed.

The protesters were led out to hoots and laughter; Milo beamed with gratitude. Back to the speech. A minute later, another disruptor: He stood and shouted Woman hater! — which would be homophobic if Milo’s conservative politics had not granted his opponents the Clarence Thomas Exception — and then he pressed the air-horn button. It gave one wet bleat and then tapered off into a high, thin whine. Apparently, the guy had it set on “Symbolic.”

You can chalk it all up to the hothouse world of college, where people pay vast sums to take classes in 17th-century Belgian sexual identities and expect that employers will shovel cash at them someday so they can live in the Bay Area and have a sideline as a YouTube critic of locally sourced toast restaurants. But it’s why Bernie thrives: A generation that grew up in the post-9/11 world, which should judge human perfidy on a sliding scale, has retreated to a fantasyland where it is acceptable to quaver with stammering indignation when someone disputes a statistic on gender-related wage gaps.

At least there’s no need to worry about how they might bedevil the real world. No serious profession would take them, and they can’t get hired anyplace where they’d do real damage.

Aside from the media, education, and government, that is.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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