Milo is not your worst enemy

Some unsolicited thoughts on the Milo controversy:

1. The total collapse of entertainment and politics into one another—i.e. The fact that the political arena is now under the umbrella of the entertainment industry as Fran Lebowitz said last Monday in conversation at New York Live Arts—means that we can no longer differentiate between POLITICIANS and ENTERTAINERS. It almost seems silly to mention in hindsight, but we saw this with the cult of Obama, who was “charming” and “adorable” and did things “like a boss,” never mind his merits as a statesman and his hand in paving the way for the Trump Administration, as well as the trickle-down cults of political heartthrobs Cory Booker and Justin Trudeau. (To paraphrase Fran again: politicians aren’t here to entertain you nor are you here to provide an audience for politicians. Their job is to represent your constituency.)

2. Milo is an entertainment personality NOT a policymaker. He is the Lena Dunham of the right insofar as the place he occupies in our online commons is that of the court jester. The outcry over his recently unearthed “pedophilia” commentary is not only DISPROPORTIONATE but also largely DISINGENUOUS.

3. It’s disproportionate because Milo’s comments on women, trans people, Muslims, etc. are demonstrably just as bad if not worse than his take on a nuanced and complicated conversation that has been happening in the LGBT discourse for some time as this article by Nathan J. Robinson in Current Affairs is correct and, frankly, brave to point out. Milo’s inability to capture its complexity in a punchline just goes to show what a poor excuse for a transgressive camp persona he really is.

4. It’s disingenuous because, as the piece argues, it allows the false solidarity of moral indignation to stand in for actual concern and compassion. Not to mention, Milo’s account of the teen encounter with the Catholic priest sounds every bit as insincere and confabulated as anything else that’s ever come out of his mouth (see: the canned “Father Michael” bit). It has all the airs of smut, designed as it is to simultaneously revolt and titillate. 

5. In a broader sense, no one has made an adequate case as to why someone on the left telling a Milo or an Ann Coulter or a Richard Spencer to “go fuck yourself” full stop is more “powerful” (especially for the majority of people who are not in the left or on the fence about the left) than someone on the right providing a list of examples of how the left has also been intolerant of dissenting opinions and free speech. We can all agree that Milo is degenerate and despicable—one of the lowest bottom-feeders to emerge from the overall lowering of the bar that flies for culture these days—but this contradiction of terms actually makes the case against him weaker.

6. The idea that Milo’s career is “over,” which has been gleefully circulating in left circles, is laughable. Since when did a well-publicized setback like losing a book deal spell the end for a professional opportunist? One of the worst traits of the left is the ease with which it rests its laurels on symbolic victories, often those it had nothing to do with, at the expense of structural critiques. Milo will be his own undoing but how he will finally accomplish it is yet to be seen. Most likely, it will not be redemptive for anyone involved.

Sexism is the least evil thing about Uber

The outrage over Susan Fowler's account of rampant, unchecked sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Uber is a perfect storm of woke sex crime hysteria and corporate lean-in logic. It plays on liberal feminism's tendency for sensationalizing sexual misconduct at the expense of structural inequality and plays to its newly minted role as the handmaiden of technocratic neoliberalism. The fact that media outlets from The New York Times to USA Today are tripping over their dicks to pick up the story—its built-in viral potential—should be a dead giveaway that you are being duped.

What looks like a potentially ruinous scandal is actually a massive PR victory for Uber. They'll announce their intention to mount an "urgent investigation" into the alleged claims, i.e. sacrifice a couple of middle managers who were "just following orders" and symbolically replace them with women of color, only to resume business as usual. Most likely, the announcement itself will curb any meaningful action before it can take place. Meanwhile, some "independent" researchers will undertake an audit that finds the solution is "more women in STEM." Never mind that the organizational chaos and bureaucratic stonewalling Fowler describes are hardly unique to Uber, but in fact a bug (feature?) of the tech industry at large. And never mind that her idea of feminism is still making individual gains in a male-dominated field (notice the cheerful plug of the bestseller she somehow managed to write while being emotionally gaslighted by upper management).

Don't get me wrong, Uber is a menace and must be stopped, but sounding the rape culture alarm is a distraction from the real issue that it and other organizations like it are the enemy of labor! Sexism and misogyny will not be "solved" by hiring more female tech leads and CEOs, but through an advanced state apparatus that protects all people against the predatory designs of Silicon Valley.

On Moravia’s Male Delusion and Female Pain

Alberto Moravia’s book The Conformist (1951), which was made into the internationally acclaimed and historically significant Bernardo Bertolucci film of the same name (1970), is often described as a psychological sketch of the fascist personality. Aside from being an excellent (and topical!) primer on the rise and fall of fascism, it is, like everything else Moravia, really about the imperiled identity of modern manhood. Although Moravia’s other novels—Conjugal Love (1949), Contempt (1954), Boredom (1960)—are less ambitious in both their scale and scope, preferring to retread the turf of bourgeois psychodrama, they also take as their subject the existential hysteria of an ambitious but blinkered anti-hero struggling in vain to escape his mediocrity.

Mediocrity is both the precondition and consequence of this lot. Moravia’s protagonists—a failed author slash professional dilettante in Conjugal Love; an aspiring “man of letters” who is forced to moonlight as a commercial screenwriter in Contempt; a middling painter fleeing his decrepit, domineering mother and her family money in Boredom—all suffer from the same problem: the lack of empathy brought about by too much material comfort and not enough self-awareness early on in life. In fact, you get the sense that one proceeds causally from the other as the absence of want creates no necessity for self-reflection. It’s not that there isn’t enough soul-searching going on, but precisely that there’s too much of it, all leading inward. Moravia’s types, cerebral, anguished, a touch hypochondriac, anticipate sexual politics in our day and age, where the feminist slogan “gender is over” is just another way of sprucing up the reality that neoliberalism has made girls out of men.

The Moravia man’s chief aim is to be taken seriously as an intellectual, which he attempts to do by upholding the norms of conduct and without ruffling any feathers, owing in no small part to his faith in the notion that civility equals culture. His central frustration, then, is the inability to gain respect on his own terms, fueled by the moral superiority he derives from this self-imposed conflict. Yet even in his folly, he can vaguely intuit the validity in the claim that too much freedom is its own kind of tyranny. Though, of course, as a friend pointed out recently, it’s impossible to be an intellectual without emotional intelligence. This, in a nutshell, is the thesis of Moravia’s work.

Like all great auteurs, Moravia is not so much an inventor of new aesthetic forms as an architect of existing psychological animas. Specifically, like Woody Allen, who turned shtetl humor and Holocaust jokes into artsy cosmopolitanism, or John Waters, who converted the misery and absurdity of smalltown life into gay camp—the two pillars of the high New York style—Moravia succeeds in elevating the particularities of experience to the level of canon. I forget who said this first, but Steven Spielberg is the reason why we have an 18-wheeler crashing through a barricade in every Michael Bay film. (This is the opposite of what’s happening now with today’s internet-mediated artistic production, where universal truths are reduced to the feminized moral tedium of opportunistic adversity and confessional poshlost.)

What more, as the auteur of male delusion, Moravia is, by inversion, an archivist of female pain. Critics of Moravia like to cite the apparent one-dimensionality of his female characters (one of his most recognizable formal devices is to describe the female pubis, in wonderfully painterly language, as a “black stain”). But this, it might be said, is the whole point: all women are different, but we all suffer the same at the hands of men’s insecurity, whether it expresses itself as outright hostility, or as is more often the case, an indifference bordering on cruelty.

All great art is an act of autobiography and Moravia was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but the comparison to his male protagonists ends here. The scion of a wealthy Roman family, he spent his youth bedridden due to illness and his adulthood banned from publishing by the regime. The compassion that radiates through his evenhanded, clinical prose stems from an early reckoning with trauma. Time and time again, Moravia's work reveals that the biggest threat to masculinity is its own moral cowardice. In his effort to protect his ego at all costs, the man must destroy the chief witness to his timidness and treachery: the woman.

Things finally comes to a head in The Conformist, Moravia’s psychographic masterpiece, when Marcello Clerici, a minor functionary of the secret police, not only fails to prevent but, indeed, actively causes the brutal murder of the beautiful and enigmatic anti-fascist agitator Lina (Anna, in the film) in spite of his underlying instinct against it and overwhelming affection for her. The horror of the outcome is compounded not only by Marcello’s failure to protect Lina/Anna as conventional wisdom would hold is a man’s duty, but the expedience with which he later rationalizes away his culpability in the matter. As a woman and, therefore, a symbol for society’s vulnerable and undesirable elements, Lina/Anna was never the intended target of the complot but she nonetheless becomes its greatest symbolic casualty. What is fascism, after all, than the moral degeneracy of a state that has appointed itself as the guardian of traditional values and conventional morality?

That Lina/Anna, an academic’s wife and lesbian suffragette, reminds Marcello of a prostitute he encountered in a brothel and was inexplicably drawn to en route to his assignment provides the crucial interpretive pivot. Not by accident, this detail explains why the work of Moravia, and indeed all postwar Italian art, normally so concerned with the aesthetics of urbanism, is equally grounded in the idea of the subaltern. Its finest examples, Moravia along with his colleague Federico Fellini and friend Pier Paolo Pasolini, championed a humanist ethic of welfare for all. And at least one of them, the openly Marxist Pasolini, may have paid for it with his life in a gruesome scene oddly reminiscent of Moravia’s fictional climax.

There is a tendency among liberal feminists today to see all modes of oppression as inherently masculine, or to conflate the micro (specific abuses and indiscretions) with the macro (a socially-sanctioned climate or culture), in a way that bypasses material questions of class and policy, not to mention, plausible psychology. Moravia, more than anyone else on the literary map, understood and elucidated how individual male actions—or quite literally inaction—amount to something like a systemic if subconscious complaisance with what we call the patriarchy.


A Tale of Two Cynics

Years ago, in 2013, I went to see the internet and technology critic Evgeny Morozov give a talk at MoMA PS1 with a guy named David Auerbach, who describes himself as a writer and software engineer, but in practice amounted to something like a Silicon Valley mouthpiece. At the time, Morozov had just published his second book, To Save Everything, Click Here, a takedown of what he called "solutionism," the Valley's basic organizational ethos that identifies problems as problems on the basis of whether or not they can be "solved" (and which has trickled down into the cultural vulgate as "there's an app for that").

The dynamic was instantly recognizable: good cop, bad cop. As the obvious bad cop, Morozov laid out the talking points of his polemic against the technocracy with his usual combination of Slavic deadpan and lashing wit. In the face of such opposition, Auerbach was left with little recourse but to feebly (and somewhat passive-aggressively) retread the now-discredited chants of techno-utopianism: Can the internet be a liberating force? Who says forking over the control of public services to private solutioneers is inherently bad? Still, after the evening was over, I had the vague impression that audience opinion was on Auerbach’s side.

I don’t remember now if it was Auerbach himself who floated the theory or someone else in attendance, but during the Q&A session, it emerged that Auerbach was the idealist and Morozov, the cynic (good cop, bad cop again). Probably, this had something to do with the intangible “preverbal” nature of the force of personality; Morozov is Belorussian, and like many of us from the Soviet bloc, can seem aloof and intimidating to garrulous Westerners. (On the flipside, personality is what turned garden-variety technocrats like Booker, Trudeau and, of course, Obama, into beloved “reformers” in the public consciousness.)

But the assertion that Morozov is a “cynic” while someone like Auerbach is an “idealist” has always struck me as hopelessly wrongheaded, an injustice not only to the parties involved but to the defense of truth. On Twitter, Morozov himself has recently come out against his reputation as an internet and technology critic, rightfully arguing that his targets are political and economic. As an intellectual free agent, it makes no sense that Morozov’s critique of neoliberalism would be motivated by cynicism. More to the point, to exercise intelligence, particularly in this day and age, is to be a pessimist, however begrudging, and to willfully deny this reality as centrist types often do (“America is already great”) is the highest form of cynicism.

Back then, I made a shitty joke to my friends that Russians are idealists passing for cynics while Americans are cynics masquerading as idealists. Now, it’s become clear that the format holds for the broad categories of the left, the people we call socialists and liberals. After all, true reform can only come from critique and dissent, which must be as relentless about one’s own standing in the cosmos as it is about the state of the world.

In defense of Phyllis Schlafly (sort of)

Ever since her death yesterday, I’ve been straining to understand the outpouring of almost unequivocal hatred against Phyllis Schlafly. As a useful civilian corrective for the inevitable downplaying of her misdeeds in official media coverage, the avalanche of funny tweets and subversive obits is entertaining for sure. But is it really that redemptive?

Of course, we can all agree Schlafly is a generally objectionable figure. Her stances on issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage are clearly indefensible according to any and all moral standards. And underneath much of her so-called policy is a thinly veiled contempt for the poor, minorities and those “elite globalists,” the Jews. Not to mention, it's just good fun to gloat in the delicious irony of her no-nonsense a-woman’s-place-is-barefoot-and-pregnant-in-the-kitchen rhetoric rubbing up comically against the reality of her being a more or less full-time lawyer, author and politician.

But hold up, slow your roll. Her position on women in combat is a beacon of reason in a nationwide discourse that would have mothers of children exposing themselves to bodily harm in the name of a growing list of dirty wars and proxy conflicts where the main casualties are typically, um, other mothers and their children. The idea that women should be allowed and, in fact, encouraged to participate in battle is only one part of the progressive delusion which disregards biology as the overall basis of sexual difference in its hamfisted bid to convince us that gender is merely “a construct” of language and not an essential fact of life. Not surprisingly, this verbal-based feministing is also responsible for the manufacture of “rape culture,” a nationwide epidemic supposedly sanctioned by a society which is really The Patriarchy (capital P) and not, you know, a consequence of sexual dimorphism and the male libido that is in fact regulated by the social contract, as Camille Paglia has convincingly argued.* (By the way, I’m sure I’ll get dragged for this but if you want the authentic experience of rape culture, maybe try moving to Saudi Arabia?)

Schlafly’s “feminism” is hardly ideal but it’s really no worse than the voguish, Foucault-humping liberal feminism that treats womanhood itself as a figment of social constructionism. These unshaven millennial agitators would have you believe that teaching “girls to code” should be a national priority but a neckbeard harassing them remotely on Twitter by the dank glow of a portal screen constitutes a capital offense. In this light, the supposedly unflattering Schlafly quote making the rounds, “Men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be,” starts to sound a lot like common sense—in that it gets to the heart of the ass-backwards identitarian impulse that encourages women to enlist in combat and eagerly flood the STEM fields like ISIS recruits as a furtive means of forwarding the agenda of neoliberal consensus. A woman’s place may no longer be in the kitchen, but it’s not on the frontlines of neoliberalism either.

In the day or so since her death, Schlafly has been roundly panned in the leftist milieu, but it’s Shillary and Sheryl who should be made to pay for the failures of modern-day feminism. Phyllis, after all, never claimed to be a feminist.

What Schlafly didn’t seem to fully appreciate and where she’s inarguably wrong is that, as feminists, we’re not fighting to fight but for the choice to have the choice. Although it runs counter to the spirit of feminism to legislate away a woman’s prerogative to volunteer for combat it does not preclude that this power to choose should be collectively discouraged (shamed, as they say) in the theater of public opinion. I’m aware that a similar argument has been advanced for Schlafly’s bogeyman, abortion, and while it’s frankly preposterous to argue against abortion for a bevy of socioeconomic reasons that don't need to be rehashed here, it’s fair and necessary to permit the nuance that late-term abortion is morally reprehensible, and should be condemned at all costs.**

And yet, the problem with liberalism is that it thrives on a false dichotomy which portrays conservative figures as one-dimensional villains because it lacks an instinct for evil and therefore fails to read intent. We saw this play out earlier in the week, when the SJWs, lying in wait, lost their shit over Lena Dunham’s relatively harmless remarks about football player Odell Beckham, Jr. while conveniently overlooking the greater violence of policing intentionality. (Dunham’s true offense wasn’t in making a black man look bad for ignoring her but in making not one but two black men—Beckham and actor Michael B. Jordan—look good compared to her as a means of ingratiating with POCs and thereby ramping up her cachet among her white peers.) Dunham, young, bubbly, hopelessly hand-wringing, stands out as an antithesis to Schlafly’s iron lady politics, but as a cultural barometer, she represents everything that’s wrong with feminism today, particularly its obsession with symbolic diversity to compensate for its aversion to political solidarity.

On the other hand, it’s counterproductive to deny that the Schlafly school poses the biggest and most unexamined threat to the principles we claim to uphold. In the scamper to protect their moral alibis, liberals have repeatedly consigned those elements of conservative doctrine that warrant a fair shake to the all-purpose swill of wickedness.

Call me a misogynist, but at the risk of lowballing the ladies yet again, Phyllis Schlafly was not nearly as bad as Scalia or, say, Kissinger, so why drag her up to that level?


*Consider the irony that liberal feminists don't seem to have an issue with the idea of women's bodies being blown to bits in combat because they "volunteered" for the indignity but are horrified when similar violence occurs in the course of a date rape. 

**Barring the case of disorders or deformities that are life-threatening for the mother and/or child, as one perceptive reader pointed out.