No easy way to say this…

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There’s no easy way to say this, so I guess I’d better just dive in. Heretic TOC is going to be taking a sabbatical, probably for at least six months.

I need the time. A whole heap of stuff I should be doing has been long neglected and I feel I really must give myself a chance to catch up. In “Heretic TOC gets its mojo back” late last year, I was honestly able to report that the blog seemed to be going very well after a difficult patch. However, I also said time was a problem: “I would love to be spending time on writing books, and articles for academic publications, in addition to time spent on the blog. Right now, though, it just ain’t happening.”

It still ain’t. I don’t propose to take up space regaling you with details of all the projects I have languishing on the back burner – not just writing, but much more. I went into all that with an old friend of this blog, the estimable Leonard Sisyphus Mann, in an email exchange yesterday, and I can tell you my summarised sins of omissions pushed up towards 600 words.

And now, having mentioned LSM, it would be reprehensible not to add that he has a fabulous new blog post fresh out this very day, called “Dr Cantor & the Case of the Extrapolated Equivalence”, a title sure to whet the appetite of the many heretics who have followed the career of Jimmy the Screamer.

I nearly said I would be letting Heretic TOC lie fallow for a while, until it dawned on me that fields are left fallow when the crops are not growing too well and the land needs time to recover. But the “land” is still very fertile at the moment, judging by strong visitor numbers and encouraging feedback in terms of published comments and private emails. I also like to think some of my best work has been recent. Perhaps that is the root of the problem. Back in 2012 I started off with short top-of-the-head opinion blogs, doing one every day with what now seems ridiculous ease. But as you go on you tend to become more ambitious, probing the chosen topics ever more deeply. And that eats up more and more time…

So, after over 200 blogs in a little over four years (this is the 202nd) I need to change course, with almost immediate effect. A while ago, though, I said I would be tackling Ancient Greece as a theme, and I hope to do that soon as a final project before the sabbatical starts. It should be something very special as it will take the form of an interview with a leading scholar who has kindly agreed to grace Heretic TOC with his presence.

All I would add at this stage is my heartfelt thanks for your interest and often wonderful comments (of which 8,644 had been published as of yesterday), plus the suggestion that this would be a good time to think about becoming a regular subscriber to H-TOC, if you are not already signed up, so that future blogs will go straight to your email inbox. This will save the hassle of checking in from time to time to see whether anything new has appeared. That’s fine when there is always something new but could be irritating when there is a long gap between one blog and the next.

As for whether I will eventually return to blogging as regularly as I have until now, I rather doubt it. It’s not that I am running out of things to write about, quite the contrary: there are more and more, not least on account of the turbulent times we live in. On the plus side, my love of writing probably guarantees I will not be able to resist holding forth here again at least occasionally; guest blogs will still be welcome, too, and likewise lots of comments, of course. I will still be here to moderate and chip into the discussion. Also, I hope I will now be able to find time to bring out a Best of Heretic TOC book, with an e-book edition. This is one of those many projects I should be able to switch from the back burner to the front.

 

NEWS ROUNDUP

My blog last time about Milo Yiannopoulos, “Milo gives good (talking) head – usually”, coincided with one of those crazy spells when on-topic news is suddenly fizzing and exploding all over the place like a spectacular fireworks display. Lots of items would be worth a blog on their own, but – consistent with my intention to bow out for a while – I will settle for just acknowledging some of the main British ones briefly here.

  • Towards the end of last month the much heralded hearings of the massively overblown, unwieldy “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse” (IICSA) finally got under way under its fourth chairwoman, having already frittered away well over £20 million of taxpayers’ money in the two and a half years of its existence. Totally in accordance with this disastrously dysfunctional background, the first hearings focused on events thousands of miles away, decades ago, with the allegedly guilty parties all dead and so unable to defend themselves, and the institutions they represented no longer engaged in the complained of activities, so there are no continuing wrongs that must urgently be put right. The events in question have in any case already been the subject of a massive investigation on the far side of the globe. Could there possibly be any more utterly pointless exercise than expensively going through the entire process again? Some of the survivors (of what admittedly do seem to have been some horrible cases, primarily of callous child exploitation and neglect) said they wanted to see the guilty parties “named and shamed”, even though they were dead. Shamed? Someone should tell them the dead cannot so much as blush. They are quite literally shameless. The barrister Barbara Hewson wrote a good piece for Spiked on how an inquiry should be run.
  • Meanwhile, the police chief in charge of Operation Hydrant, which is supposed to be coordinating a whole string of other named police operations investigating allegations of “non-recent” child sexual abuse, has been showing signs of being just as overwhelmed as IICSA. So overwhelmed, indeed, that instead of redoubling his efforts in the face of hopeless odds, he has done a remarkably sensible thing by admitting defeat. But not on the “non-recent” aka ancient history front. No, apparently we can expect the police to keep on performing more “operations” than the NHS for the foreseeable future. Much more interestingly, the police chief in question has reiterated his remarkably liberal view that mere downloaders of child porn should not be jailed. Simon Bailey, who is the chief constable of Norfolk and lead on child protection for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said forces were operating beyond capacity because of the sheer volume of reports. This follows an NSPCC report claiming as many as 500,000 people in the UK could be involved with sharing illegal images of children online. Bailey said “we cannot arrest our way out of the situation…we must make prevention and rehabilitation a priority”. But this change of tack is surely far too humane and rational for the government to accept.
  • Not strictly news any longer, having been reported last August and somehow been neglected here, the extensive new statistics on sexual, physical or psychological abuse experienced before age 16 in England and Wales, published by the Office for National Statistics, are nonetheless important. This is because, unlike other surveys, these figures have been touted as “the first official estimates of their kind in the world”, conducted by a reputable survey body and based on a properly representative sample of adults aged 16 to 59, rather than a self-selected group, who were recalling their childhood experience. However, it has to be said that, in line with the spirit of the times, the questions asked seem designed to obscure rather than reveal the quality of the experiences in question. It appears to be assumed, for instance, that any sexual touching or penetration by an adult must have been unwanted. Table 9 is quite interesting in this regard, showing reasons why the “survivor” did not tell anyone about the sexual event. Although a number of reasons are set out their meaning is opaque, including quite a lot of responses categorised as “Some other reason”. What you will not find, but which is a definite possibility, is that many respondents did not regard the activity as “abuse” at the time. Another sign of the times is that genuine abuse – physical and psychological – is passed over very briefly in the report.

Milo gives good (talking) head – usually

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Father Michael, we were told, was young and hot. He was a “great priest”, too, but the gay 13-year-old boy, as he sucked the cleric’s cock with relish, probably had little head-space left over for pondering the Catholic teacher’s spiritual and pastoral qualities.

He just wanted flesh. Firm, handsome man-flesh. And nothing was going to stop him getting it, least of all the conventional scruples of an innocent young priest. So, barely into his teens, the boy made himself the predator, aggressively determined to corner his quarry into sizzling, sinful submission.

The name of that boy, that dazzlingly confident young moral, or immoral, entrepreneur, will be obvious enough to anyone who has been following the news lately. Long since all grown-up, but still with boyish good looks and a tongue so lively he could charm the cassock off the Pope himself, he was of course the wickedly iconoclastic Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yiannopoulos, or simply Milo to millions on both sides of the Atlantic since shooting to superstar one-name status, just like “the Donald”, on the back of his fame as a flamboyant political provocateur, scourge of political correctness and darling of the alt-right, was riding high only a couple of weeks ago. He had just made a glamorous appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, had a six-figure advance on a book deal and was due to give a prestigious keynote speech at the American Conservative Union’s CPac conference, where the Donald himself would be in attendance. The US president, indeed, had personally tweeted at the start of the month in favour of free speech after Milo’s scheduled appearance at the University of California’s Berkeley campus had to be called off following a  night of violent protesting against him being given a platform.

How ironic, then, that the high-flying Milo would soon be brought crashing down to earth by the same alt-right forces that had sent him soaring, and whose commitment to free speech was suddenly seen to depend entirely on what was said. As long as he was trashing Muslims and feminists, and mocking trans people, they were happy to defend his right to do so and cheer him to the rafters. But appearing to “condone paedophilia” was another matter entirely.

It was Milo’s casually risqué reminiscences with a chat-show outfit called the Drunken Peasants that did it. The offending section was lifted from a three-hour podcast that had been sitting on YouTube for a whole year, and tweeted via the Reagan Battalion as a short clip by outraged traditional conservatives on the eve of the CPac event. Within hours, the CPac platform was withdrawn, the publishers Simon & Schuster pulled out of the book deal and Milo was forced to resign his post as an editor at Breitbart in the UK, the far-right news operation to which he had been recruited by President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon.

For Milo to talk jokingly about a 13-year-old enjoying sex with a priest was anathema to conservatives. In a single salvo it shot down in flames the most insistently unchallengeable social dogma of our age: that any child in sexual contact with an adult must necessarily be a victim. The  taboo against such contacts could not be more fierce, as heretics here are all too well aware. So the slightest hint of subversive scepticism could not be tolerated.

It was far worse than slight, actually. The jokey stuff about enjoying oral sex with Father Michael could perhaps have been explained away as a victim’s black humour, a way of psychologically surviving a bleak experience. But he had also been unequivocally serious. He was entirely clear that there are young people capable of consenting to sex below the age of consent, saying he had been one of them. Especially in the gay world, he said, there were “coming of age” relationships between younger boys and older men, “in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable rock if they can’t speak to their parents.” He added:

In the gay world, some of the most enriching and incredibly life-affirming and shaping relationships, very often between younger boys and older men, can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys. They can save those young boys from desolation, suicide and drug addiction, all sorts of things, providing they’re consensual.

It is hard to see how anyone could have been much clearer or more seriously positive than that – except that, sadly, he quickly recanted once he came under attack and his world began to fall apart. In a humiliating press conference, he showed himself to be lacking the courage of his convictions, willing to say anything to save his skin. Not that it did.

So, can we take seriously anyone so utterly spineless and possibly insincere, a person who tosses outrageous assertions into the public arena simply to stir things up, get himself noticed and make a career for himself? Already, it has been suggested in comment here at Heretic TOC that we should not. It is a view shared by journalist Laurie Penny, who has come to know Milo better than most, having encountered him at the Republican National Convention last year and who reported extensively on his subsequent four-month Dangerous Faggot speaking tour of US university campuses, even sleeping on the tour bus.

She feels he has a very elite British approach, characterised by the view that debate is just debate: it doesn’t matter what you actually believe as long as you put up a stylish performance, with bags of confident swagger. She wrote:

Milo peddles a pageant of insincerity that is immediately legible to fellow Brits. Americans understand irony differently, and sometimes not at all. The crowd of excitable young and young-ish people gathered to hear him pontificate believe what he’s saying, even if he doesn’t. Which he doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter that he’s secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends. It doesn’t matter that somewhere in the rhinestone-rimmed hamster wheel of his mind is a conscience. It doesn’t matter because the harm he does is real.

Make no mistake, his words are sometimes seriously harmful, especially when he attacks named individuals. It was mentioned here last time that on his campus tour he singled out a particular male-to-female trans woman for mockery. He announced her original male name and projected an image of her for the audience to see. Basically, he said, it was obvious that this was just a man in a dress – a man who looked so manly he could see himself having sex with “her” himself.

My guess is that he failed to understand how cruel this was. He might even have thought he was being complimentary by implying the “guy” was good-looking. To be honest, that is what I thought myself. He was right: “she” the trans woman, appeared not to be a somewhat masculine-looking person in transition to womanhood but straightforwardly a handsome man. What Milo totally failed to comprehend or care about was the crippling, devastating, humiliation he had inflicted – a horrible, traumatic consequence that will be understood by anyone who takes the trouble to read the 4,000-word email poured out by this unfortunate student in a keening howl of pain and rage over the incident, directed at the university principal.

What matters in a wider context, though, is not whether Milo is or is not capable of empathy and sincerity. What counts more than his merits or shortcomings as an individual is the impact he has made. Suddenly, in one brief, brilliant burst of publicity, the unspeakable was spoken; for the first time in decades the relentless propaganda of the victim narrative was stopped in its tracks and a fresh new voice was heard: the voice of the consenting juvenile.

No wonder there was a huge outcry of panic and alarm, not just from the conservative right but also from the “liberal” (which these days means illiberal and censorious) left. This noisy response demonstrated beyond doubt that the political and cultural establishments, left and right, on both sides of the Atlantic, had heard loud and clear; the left, though, while immediately trashing Milo just like the right, did its best to muffle his message by relegating what he actually said in favour of man-boy sexual relationships to relative obscurity deep down in their stories – the Guardian managed to cover several angles on the affair, over thousands of words, while barely mentioning Father Michael and Milo’s consensual sex with him.

In effect, the media paedophiled Milo, as writers Joseph Fischel and Gabriel Rosenberg inventively put it in Slate magazine. In other words, the distorted “liberal” presentation of the story contrived to make it look as though Milo was a paedophile trying to excuse “child abuse”, rather than an adult-oriented gay man with favourable memories of a supportive relationship with an older man when he had been only 13. No interpretation could be more perverse and fundamentally dishonest. But this is what our most cherished “quality” newspapers and broadcasters have done. So the Milo affair may just turn out to be a seven-day wonder, soon fading in the memory and vaguely recollected by most of those who heard about it as just another case of a celebrity paedo who got his comeuppance.

There will also be those, however, who heard the truth and will remember – including the millions out there who have been growing increasingly sick of victim-feminist PC bullshit in its myriad manifestations, and whose understanding of its dishonesty is high among the factors that have energised the current widespread rejection of “elite” discourse by ordinary people. It is the reason, for instance, that plenty of women voted for Trump despite his self-confessed enthusiasm for groping any woman he fancies. Despite the shrill reaction of the victim-feminists, a lot of women simply saw him as a guy who might get useful things done, rather than being overly fussed by his private behaviour.

There will be those, too, who will remember an interview given by Star Trek actor, Twitter pundit and gay activist George Takei, in which he also spoke approvingly of his sexual initiation as a 13-year-old, in his case by one of the leaders at a summer camp. This interview languished in relative obscurity for many years but  was given new life by Milo’s outspokenness, and Takei has repeated what he said in further interviews. While these revelations have been played down by the mainstream media, they have been all over Twitter. And now the cat is out of the bag, who is to say Takei will be the last? Celebrity “first love” revelations might even become a fashionable rebuke to feminist censorship.

What does seem incontrovertible is that Milo and George between them have had a bigger impact in giving consenting juveniles a presence in the public consciousness than has been achieved by decades of low-level activism and intermittent academic research on the subject in the dark long decades that followed the brief radical spring we saw from the late 1960s to the late 1970s (and somewhat beyond in continental Europe, into the 1980s). The work of figures such as Theo Sandfort, Bruce Rind, Judith Levine and latterly Marshall Burns with his Consenting Juveniles project, has been important, but the far-reaching penetration of the public mind by less “serious” contributors is not to be despised.

I would go further. Milo Yiannopoulos has his faults, but listen to him for five or ten minutes and what comes across is the eloquent, fluent articulation of ideas that have plainly been thought out in some depth and are probably underpinned with more than a touch of erudition. This guy, despite his excesses, is a thinker worthy of our attention, not some crude neo-fascist shock-jock. Even Laurie Penny admits it, and she describes herself as a “radical queer feminist leftist writer”. She is quite a stylish one, too, but she has refused to debate Milo in public. Why? On this, too, she is candid: “Not because I’m frightened I’ll lose, but because I know I’ll lose.” And why would that be? Because Milo has genuine ability as a speaker, with valid points to make.

Penny calls Milo “a charming devil and one of the worst people I know”. It is a comment that echoes Lady Caroline Lamb’s famous remark about Lord Byron, who was said to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Lady Caroline, it turns out, was arguably madder and badder than Byron himself. So we need to be wary of seductively sonorous character assassination; it may be false. But let us take from it, by all means, the romantic inference that to be “dangerous” or a “devil” is to be a figure of significant stature. Milo, in other words, is worthy of that Byronic echo. Bill Maher compared him to a danger man of our own times, the maverick radical Christopher Hitchens. Others speak of him in the same breath as Oscar Wilde, another dandy with a biting wit.

What we should take from Milo, I suggest, is a valid attack on the censorious nature of the present left: we need a genuinely liberal left, one that encourages language that is polite but not policed. We should not be in any hurry to sign up for the trendy but divisive alt-right that gave Milo his short-lived platform. We should have no truck with that movement’s racism, its gay-bashing, its misogyny, its economically illiterate nationalist protectionism and its science-hostile climate-change denial. Milo’s critique of the left is a refreshing and necessary corrective to its very real faults. But we should not throw out the progressive baby with the PC bathwater.

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