Open Letter To The Bruin Republicans Who Invited Milo Yiannopoulos To UCLA

Update, 2/15/18: On Wednesday evening the Bruin Republicans announced on their Facebook page that they had decided that internal disagreement among their board was too great to continue hosting the Yiannopoulos event. That the university respects free speech rights and that it was the club’s decision to make, is just as important as the outcome.

Editor’s note: On February 13, UCLA’s college Republican group, the Bruin Republicans, announced that they would be hosting Milo Yiannopoulos on campus to give a talk titled "10 Things I Hate About Mexico." Gabriel Rossman is a professor of sociology at UCLA who recently became a friend and informal advisor to the Bruin Republicans. This is his response to the Yiannopoulos invitation.

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An open letter to the Bruin Republicans,

I was very glad to meet everyone at a recent lunch. You seem to be a great group of students with serious aspirations and a strong interest in conservatism. As you will recall, in my remarks I expressed the hope that you would follow the traditional debating society model of the Harvard Republicans rather than the epater les SJWs performance art model of the University of Colorado Republicans as described in Binder and Wood’s Becoming Right. You will also recall a very specific corollary I mentioned: Do not invite Milo Yiannopoulos. It was for this reason that I was surprised when I learned Tuesday that you were doing exactly that, and for a talk entitled “10 Things I Hate About Mexico.”

One thing I left out of my remarks about the impact of the ideological skew of academia is that the dearth of conservative faculty means a lack of mentorship for conservative students. Which is part of the reason you see students at places such as University of Colorado engaging in ill-conceived political theater that can be amusing and provocative—but is ultimately counter-productive.

As one of the few conservative faculty at UCLA, and one of a very few who knows the campus club, I feel obligated to provide some mentorship here: I strongly urge you to rescind your invitation to Yiannopoulos. Allow me to explain why.

The most important reason not to host such a talk is that it is evil on the merits. Your conscience should tell you that you never want anything to do with someone whose entire career is not reasoned argument, but shock jock performance art. In the 1980s conservatives made fun of “artists” who defecated on stage for the purpose of upsetting conservatives. Now apparently, conservatives are willing to embrace a man who says despicable things for the purpose of “triggering snowflakes.” The change in performance art from the fecal era to the present is yet another sign that no matter how low civilization goes, there is still room for further decline.

I want to be clear that my point here is not that some people will be offended, but that the speaker is purely malicious.

Many speakers and many speeches will offend people, especially given the sense among many on the campus left that they are entitled to complete isolation from ideas with which they disagree.

This is different.

Looking at the fall quarter calendar, I see Richard Sander, Rafael Dagnesses, Keith Fink, and Ben Shapiro recently gave talks sponsored by your group. Lots of people disagree with these speakers, and I disagree with some of them about certain points, but none of them are malicious.

I can understand why some people were offended by Heather Mac Donald’s ideas when she spoke on campus last year. But reasonable people can disagree about whether all Americans, and especially African Americans, on net benefit from aggressive policing. More to the point, Mac Donald expresses her pro-police position without animus, so sponsoring her talk was an entirely legitimate and honorable thing to do.

If the Bruin Republicans were considering a talk with a journalist or scholar giving a temperate and reasoned lecture on “ten reasons why Mexico’s social development lags,” then it could be a very reasonable event to host, even if people were offended by it.

I would also caution you to expect that speakers who take ideas seriously are often repelled by association with deliberately offensive speakers. For instance, when the organizers of “Free Speech Week” at Berkeley circulated a list of (proposed) speakers, Charles Murray told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he “would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.” Obviously, Murray is someone whose ideas many people find offensive, but he expresses them without hatred and so declines to appear with someone he (correctly) considers a “despicable asshole.” Likewise, I know many conservative writers, but I imagine an invitation would be much less attractive to them (nor would I extend it) if they had to bring Lysol to clean the podium from the prior occupant.

There are other reasons not to associate yourselves with Yiannopoulos. Whether or not anyone notices, you want to be on the side of the person getting attacked for being a Jew (such as Ben Shapiro, who you have hosted before), not the person who mocks that Jew by dressing midgets in kippahs (and on a separate occasion debases “America the Beautiful” by singing it to an audience of giggling Nazis as they throw sieg heils).

The merits are more important than appearances, of course, but the fact is that people will notice if the Bruin Republicans host someone offering nothing more than alt-right camp and this is a secondary reason not to do so.

You need to ask yourselves, what is your goal as an organization? If you’re in it for the lulz and just want to see the world burn, then I guess go ahead and bring in a vapid provocateur.

But if your mission is to spread conservative ideas, you should recognize that hosting Yiannopoulos will only render your organization and our ideas toxic. The left often suspects that principled conservative positions are actually born of racism. Conservatives have traditionally pushed back against this criticism. Here at UCLA, that will be a much less tenable argument for Bruin Republicans to make if they host a talk by someone whose sole recommendation is that his offensiveness to others is his big idea.

My understanding of the proposed Yiannopoulos event is that it is intended in part to be a fundraiser. Remember the question Jesus asks in the synoptic gospels, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” In the case of the Bruin Republicans, the question is not poignant but pathetic: What does it profit a club to cover the costs of an event—and maybe get enough to cover an end-of-year party—if they lose their integrity and reputation.

I am a strong believer in freedom of political speech. However, there is a distinction between tolerating speech and sponsoring speech. Neither I, nor you, nor Chancellor Block have the right to say that Milo Yiannopoulos cannot give a speech on campus.

But neither does that mean that I, or you, or Chancellor Block needs to actively invite him and actively promote his childish provocations. If he wants to stand on Bruin Walk ranting with the other creeps and lunatics, he can do so. I believe people have the right to do all sorts of things in the privacy of their own homes, but that doesn’t mean that I would invite them to do them in my living room for an audience of me and my dinner guests.

If you go through with hosting Yiannopoulos, I will vociferously support your right to do so—and the duty of the UCPD to use force if necessary to maintain order and prevent a heckler’s veto. However, I must just as vehemently and publicly disagree with your decision to host him.

Specifically, should the event go forward, I will decline to have any association with the Bruin Republicans until it has experienced a complete turnover in membership. I hope that will not be the case and that I can continue to support you.

Sincerely,

Gabriel Rossman

Gabriel Rossman is an associate professor of sociology at UCLA.

Source : http://www.weeklystandard.com/open-letter-to-the-bruin-republicans-who-invited-milo-yiannopoulos-to-ucla-update-milo-canceled/article/2011582

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