Shkrelopoulos and Willful Ignorance
Martin Shkreli and Milo Yiannopoulos are controversial figures. They're both top-five talked-about entrepreneurs, and by all accounts, bottom-five human beings. There's very little reason to like either of them, but a lot of reason to know about them in the first place – unsurprisingly, neither's popularity is linked to any kind of proficiency at their respective crafts.
Milo first gained infamy when he listed himself as Buzzfeed's "Social Justice Editor" on Twitter (a joke which is objectively funny), a medium he was later banned from for criticisms of Islam and more specifically calling Leslie Jones a "black dude" (a joke which is objectively less funny). Later hits include the 'Dangerous Faggot' tour and outspoken antisemitism, though he's both gay and Jewish. Shkreli of course was behind the 5600% Daraprim price hike (a douchey scheme) and the 'most-hated-man-in-America' smirk (making him look like a scheming douche). He was similarly subject to aTwitter ban, and celebrated by paying $2 million for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, a Wu-Tang Clan album that only exists in one copy.
This introduction contains only bad things about these individuals (which is not equivalent to the set of all bad things they've ever done, mind you). It just so happens that these things are also the reasons they are relevant. This is important – we'll come back to this.
On Friday the 13th, both Martin and Milo (the best one-two punch since Martin and Malcolm) were set to speak at UC Davis in a weird super-bro debate/publicity hybrid, one that featured the tagline "A Twitter Villain Extravaganza" (no, I didn't make that up). This event was cancelled because of mass protests, which resulted in entertaining headlines such as "Protestors… Throw Literal Shit at Martin Shkreli" and the later fact-checked piece "Shkreli says he wasn't hit in the face by dog poop". The university, which had originally (and correctly) allowed the event to foster an 'environment that avoids censorship', subsequently told the duo that their event could not continue, probably because of the #goldenshower rained down by the protestors.
These events – from the cancellation of the debate to its announcement in the first place – can be attributed to the concept of diversity. It seems that despite being in a somewhat liberal part of the country (California) and a unabashedly progressive school system (the UC), the concept of diversity still remains shallow. Many people, in their efforts to be diverse, seem to have forgotten that it isn't *just* the brown skin or the lip piercing that makes you diverse. Of all our intolerances, we lack progress on just one: those who think differently from us.
It's arguably the most impactful kind of diversity, albeit one that's not seen on the surface. Advocates for tolerance will argue that 'first impressions' – namely visual ones – should not be sufficient to disengage from communicating with a person. They must, however, extend that philosophy to the second and third impressions: the verbal matters just as much as the visual. Exile is hardly a suitable solution for a verbal disconnect – making the *person* go away is only a small victory, because it doesn't mean their idea will follow suit.
Which goes back to the point about the overlapping fame and negativity. If I told you that I wouldn't have engaged in rational conversation with (or hurled urine at) Gandhi or Einstein, you would think that I was foolish at best and bigoted at worst. But what if my reasoning was because I abhorred Gandhi for his views on rape-victim-blaming and honor killings, or detested Einstein for the slave-like rules he had for his wife. Or more recently, MLK's plagiarism or Steve Jobs' terrible parenting. The difference here is that we conferred 'greatness' upon these people for reasons that don't overlap with these, a greatness which made these tidbits recede into obscurity.
We tend as a society to front-run, because it's easier to just hate Milo for his new best-selling book, or to direct your ire at Martin for promoting the clovergender hoax. But that entirely ignores anything good about them, like the fact that Milo helps young people in tech or that Martin is a self-proclaimed feminist (okay, we’re a little bit light on the good stuff). This this isn't some zero-sum karmatic personality gauge, where we should focus on the diamonds in the rough or use the good to absolve and justify the bad. It's simply an acknowledgement that 'why are you giving him a platform' is a dangerous attitude to have.
Isn't it infuriating when you hear something like "Barack Obama is a Muslim… a terrorist… and no one will ever tell me different," and not just because that sentence should have ended with 'differently'? From that person's point of view, your ideas are equally as ridiculous to the point that they might single-handedly disqualify you from a productive conversation. From that person's mind, you're living in an equally warped reality where you make your own facts.
If you want to remove the person, do so in your argument, not from your space. Shkrelopoulos, in coming to UC Davis, invited the discourse. Disregard the person, challenge the idea. That's what they did, and that's what we should all do. That's how you go from wiping that (now literal) shit-eating grin off an individual's face, to wiping it off the face of the Earth.