Monday, February 20, 2017

Is this the end of Milo Yiannopoulos? Probably yes. Edited

Ann Althouse asked the question first. It didn't even occur to me. I just thought of it as more controversy and controversy is like oxygen for a guy like Milo. But I think this will be different.

Over the years a number of male friends —gay and heterosexual—have told me about having been teens initiated into sex by an adult. Maybe a dozen times I've been told such stories. The incident was typically described as a positive one and the attitude towards the adult responsible (and the bulk of the moral responsibility lies with the adult)* was one of gratitude. I'll be blunt and honest, some of these guys struck me as pretty messed up (others I didn't know well enough to say whether they were messed up or not). Was it the early sex that messed them up? Or were they going to be seriously messed up anyway and the early sex with an adult was just one of what was going to be a long string of bad decisions? I have no idea. But I'm pretty certain the early sex didn't help.

No woman has ever told me a story about being a teen having sex with an adult where the adult came off well. Never!

A woman I once dated told me how she had, at the age of 15, very deliberately set out to lose her virginity on a trip out west. She was utterly mercenary about it, describing her virginity as, "Something I had to get rid of." She met an older man on her trip and decided he was going to be the one and set about making it happen. She was absolutely clear that she enticed him into it, that she lied about her age and described the experience as a positive one that she has never regretted but when I asked her about the guy she angrily hissed that he was a bastard and a creep. And she picked him!

We tend not to talk about these things any more. People used to. One story in Alice Munro's masterpiece, Lives of Girls and Women, includes a series of furtive encounters between a teenage girl and an adult male that the girl deliberately sets out to provoke and yet the guy is still portrayed as a shit.

And times have changed. Lives of Girls and Women was written in 1971. There was a book describing sexual initiation from a boy's perspective called In Praise of Older Women written in 1966. I remember seeing a few arty films on the theme in the 1970s. But when In Praise of Older Women  was made into a movie in 1978 the subject was starting to be deeply controversial. Since then social tolerance for adult-teen sex has vanished.

And rightly so if you ask me. It's a bad, bad idea. Milo correctly makes a distinction between true pedophilia which is sex with pre-pubescent children and sex with sexually developed teens who aren't emotionally mature but that doesn't get him very far. It's still a crime and rightly so; people below the age of consent shouldn't be having sex with anyone! Not even with other teens! I'll cheerfully admit that the lines are hard to draw clearly. What age exactly is too young? How much of a gap in age is too much? We can't say with any certainty. The law draws a line though and everybody has to abide by that**. And, yes, people do really stupid things and get away with it all the time but that doesn't make it okay. It's still a bad, bad idea.

And it's a bad idea that the current culture has no tolerance for. I don't mean that it should have any tolerance for it—I make the distinction because there are other really bad ideas that the current culture does tolerate. So, yes, it's all over for Milo. He handled radioactive material and there is a price for that. I don't think he realizes it yet but his career is over.

* This sentence was edited. The relevant section originally read "the adult responsible for this crime (and it is a crime)". Since then, I realized that many of the incidents weren't a crime in those days, the age of consent being 14 and there being no law governing adults in positions of authority at the time. Both criminal and moral attitudes on the matter have hardened considerably since the days when I was a teen. 

** The law has changed in many jurisdictions. Up until 2008 when it was raised to 16, the age of consent was 14 in Canada. In addition, adults who are in a position of authority towards teens may not have sex with them even if they are over the age of consent (if I remember correctly that has been the case since the late 1980s). There were encounters I knew of in the 1970s and early 1980s, and lots of them, that would be crimes today. In most cases, I think some of the teens involved grew up well-adjusted but the line draw has to err on the side of being too careful.


  1. Glad to see you're blogging again.

    I agree with all you say here. But his comments were taken out of context.

    Especially easy to set him up, because as you say, there are gay men who believe this. Did you know that Donald Trump's comment about "blood coming out of her whatever" clearly has nothing to do with menstruation in context? I saw this comment referred to dozens of times, but the correction only once.

    I mention this as an example of how easy it is to pull remarks out of context and defame someone.

  2. Maybe I'm misreading you? My take on events is that he supported the existing age of consent laws, but stated that gay teens over the age of consent might have good relationships with people older than themselves. And then this, and some other things he said, were edited to make it look like he was advocating sex with 13-year-olds. I believe him that he opposes this.

    To me, it seems kind of crazy to read somebody out of public life for supporting the age of consent laws, but stating that it's possible for a 17-year-old to have a positive relationship with a 29-year-old. I understand that a reasonable person might disagree with him, but to see someone fired from their job and deprived of their book contract for this opinion seems excessive.

    But if he really had said it was okay for adults to have sex with 13-year-olds, then all the fuss would be much more proportionate. When I first commented, I was assuming that you believed the story about the 13-year-olds. But now I'm realizing that maybe you know that, and you are commenting about the things he said about the teens over the age of consent. So I apologize if my previous comment doesn't make sense.

    1. It seems kind of crazy to me too. My comments here are speculation about what might happen and not about what should happen. I don't think the public, especially the conservative public, has much tolerance for anyone who suggests that sex between adults and teens is harmless, even for teens above the age of consent.

      I think Milo would have been wise not to have supplied as much information here as he does. That said, he's a damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead kind of guy and he's been very successful at it.

      As you note above, the sort of talk about man-teenager and woman-girl relationships is not uncommon in the gay and lesbian communities. And Ms. Althouse has noted that The Vagina Monologues originally included the story of a 13-year-old girl seduced (with the help of alcohol!) by an adult woman. The age has been changed so she is a 16 year old girl in more recent productions but, even at that, Milo is getting raked over the coals for much less. And there are many other examples.

      I suspect that people with same sex attraction feel particularly attached to their initiation experiences. As a heterosexual man, I grew up in a culture that reinforced my sexual preferences at every turn. That was a huge advantage because the girls whom I made my first tentative explorations with were just as inexperienced and confused as I was. We proceeded at a very slow pace—and I'm grateful I was able to, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. There were a few adult women who expressed and interest in me at the time and I remember feeling attracted and repulsed at the same time. I wasn't repulsed by the women themselves, very much the opposite in fact, but at the thought of how such a relationship would play out socially. In the end, it was moot because I was far too timid to even imagine moving at the pace an older adult would have expected—blundering on at a glacial pace with girls my own age was exactly what I wanted, although I probably couldn't have admitted it at the time. And I'm very glad I did it that way when I look back now. But a person who feel same-sex attraction and who gets no support from the culture might well treasure the adult who helps them figure out how the same sex thing works.

      Final note in the long, rambling answer, I remember very clearly turning twenty and feeling a sea change. The year I was nineteen, I felt quite comfortable being attracted to 17, 16 and even 15 year olds. As soon as there was a 2 at the front of my age, I was aware of a strong taboo that made anyone younger than eighteen. I don't know why, but I felt it. By the time I'd reached my mid thirties, on the other hand, I wouldn't have hesitated even for a second to pursue a woman ten years younger than me. A twenty-six year old man who pursued sex with a 16 year old girl would, even though such a relationship would be legal, I would judge as a emotionally and morally immature man pursuing something that I don't think would be good for the girl. I don't know that I could justify these gut feelings, I only note for now that I have them.

  3. I agree that the kind of experience you had is optimal. But Milo, like many other gay men, didn't really have a chance to have the optimal experience.

    He was sexually abused when he was 13, so he had already been initiated at much too young an age. And then he's talked about how his family situation wasn't very good. I would assume that like so many gay men, he had difficulty forming relationships with his peers, also.

    So when he was 17, he met this older fellow who paid attention to him, and he felt cared for by this man when he didn't have other good relationships with adults. I can see how from his point of view, he feels like he got a good deal on that trade.

    Someone who has had an irregular life like this may find it hard to even imagine how much better it would've been for him if he'd had the optimal experience. Conversely, I wonder if someone like yourself who had the optimal experience may find it hard to imagine the circumstances under which this type of relationship could seem like a good deal.

    I'm curious what you think about this. It's an account of a groupie who lost her virginity to David Bowie at age 15.

    Now, I have read another account by a different teenage groupie that was very different – that woman felt exploited, as you would expect. But this woman says it was all romantic and glamorous.

    Does she not see the negative ways that affected her life? Does she prefer to present herself as a glamorous figure and therefore hides the negative aspects of her experience? Or was it really romantic and glamorous?

    I don't know what to make of it. Certainly I would discourage any woman from being a groupie, especially one so young. But I do think her sense that it was romantic and glamorous must be sincere.

    As for Milo, I think this is a serious hit for him, and any shot he had at forming relationships with institutions has been seriously damaged. But if it wasn't this, it would've been something else.

    The fundamental divide in American life right now is between people who trust institutions – academia, the media, the bureaucracy, and both the Democratic and Republican parties – and those who do not. Milo, like Trump, appeals to the people who want to see these institutions torn down. That is why he was attacked in this manner.

    It is now possible for a person to be an influential public figure and remain entirely independent of institutions. I doubt he has lost a single fan over the scandal, and the libelous way the tape was edited will earn him more sympathy. He's apparently planning to do a new media venture, and my prediction is that it will be successful.

    1. I also don't know what to make of it.

      A couple of thoughts though. Well, three thoughts.

      The first is that it's a statistical question. Why is smoking a bad idea? Because you'll get lung cancer? Actually, lots of smokers don't get lung cancer. I can't remember what the exact figures are but it's something like 20% of smokers who get lung cancer. That's obviously an unacceptable risk—to me anyway—but lots of smokers will get away with it. Similarly, most drunk drivers get home safely. We wouldn't take the testimony of a smoker who lived to be 96 as evidence of anything and I don't think we should take the testimony of people who had early sex as testimony of anything either.

      The second thought is that it's a correlation issue. Early sex correlates with bad life outcomes. Not 100 percent but high enough to raise red flags. But, as I say in my post above, we don't know whether it's the early sex itself that makes bad life experiences more likely or whether it's just a marker for high risk people—choosing early sex is a pretty likely indicator for poor impulse control and poor risk assessment skills.

      The most telling line in the piece by the former groupie is the following: "No. You need to understand that my life has never been normal. I have always been special. I always felt like the universe was taking care of me." Luck had a lot to do with it. I wonder how Lori Mattix's life would have worked out if she hadn't won the genetic lottery?

      The final thought is that most people don't want to see themselves as damaged goods. They tell their stories and then tell you that they're just fine and good on them. Portraying yourself as damaged so badly that you can't maintain successful relationships with other people would be self-fulfilling prophecy. But we might judge otherwise.

    2. PS: I think you've hit on something really profound when you say, "The fundamental divide in American life right now is between people who trust institutions – academia, the media, the bureaucracy, and both the Democratic and Republican parties – and those who do not." People who have a tendency to trust institutions instead of principles are sometimes called Tories. Interestingly, the people who opposed the revolution were Tories. I think it's important that the Tories keep losing.

  4. The problem is that the people opposing the institutions don't have principles either, and they include very few people from the world of ideas and communication. So this new political force is represented by the likes of Milo, Alex Jones, and Twitter memes.

    But the old order includes people like Dan Rather, who was actually caught forging documents and yet still has a career.

    And the crisis of institutions goes beyond just the media, of course. Have you heard about the replication crisis? It turns out that most major studies in psychology can't be replicated. But it's not just psychology, it's cancer research too. I have a friend who is an aerospace engineer, and he says his field is just as bad.

    I've become extremely skeptical about anything that any expert says, and I know many others feel the same. But the result of this that we now have a President who thinks that vaccines cause autism.

    Maybe in the long run, the collapse of the authority of all these experts will result in new institutions that are sounder. But in the short run, they are collapsing and there's nothing to replace them. I have several friends, intelligent people, who believe in Pizzagate. This is a conspiracy theory that postulates that Hillary Clinton and her associates are running a child sex trafficking ring. It's ridiculous, but I thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and I wasn't any less wrong than they are.

    But of course the other side of this is that those people who remain invested in the narrative are becoming desperate, either because its collapse threatens their power and status, or because the narrative has become their religion, or both. So we're seeing violence against people who go see Milo speak, and leading conservative Bill Kristol calling for the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected president.

    So are we better off? I think we are. I think the information world I grew up in was one where we were constantly being fed authoritative illusions. Now we know how fragile those illusions are. For 35 years, nutritionists told us that saturated fat caused heart disease. Up until a few years ago, I never heard anyone question this. Then the scientific consensus collapsed all at once. And now it's clear that the nutritionists involved never had an adequate scientific rationale for giving such strong advice in the first place.

    None of this is new, of course. I'm sure you're familiar with the fact that the Ukrainian famine was deliberately covered up by Western journalists. That could never happen today. So I'm hopeful that the shakeup will lead to a better equilibrium in the long run. But in the short term, it's going to be chemtrails and pro wrestlers in high office.