What Do You Allow As “Free Speech?”: Milo vs. Maher

Are you open to dialogue with a staunchly entrenched opponent or do you just ignore them?

Notoriously liberal comedian and political TV host Bill Maher sat down with alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulis on the former’s HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher in a meeting of ideological extremes brought together by Maher’s push to get liberals to open up to that which they find, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, ideologically reprehensible.

Overall, through the course of the show, Maher was more open to listening to Yiannopoulis’ ideas than the rest of his panel of guests, which tends to lean left the majority of the time.

Neither Maher nor Yiannopoulis is known to hold back in the respective political and societal realms they occupy. Yiannopoulis’ infamy has skyrocketed in the last year as he was banned from Twitter in July of 2016 for inciting hate speech on the social media platform and was protested against to the point of canceling college speaking engagements, all while writing for the alt-right publication Breitbart. Maher was fired from his ABC show Politically Incorrect in 2002 after a 9-year run for being…politically incorrect when addressing how he believed America was in the wrong in what led up to the seemingly retaliatory 9/11 attacks.

Both are known to speak their minds regardless of the implications and do so in an unapologetic and, most often, irreverent manner.

Whether it is the outcries which took place on various college campuses protesting his appearances or those rising up against him signing a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster (which Yiannopoulis eventually lost) or this particular invitation by Maher to appear on the show, many people have stated strongly that Yiannopoulis should not be given a platform from which to spew his hate speech.

But, obviously, the United States has the First Amendment which guarantees one’s right to Free Speech. So how should that apply? How do we deal with that with which we don’t agree without suppressing the right to express it? Does suppressing and not meeting the opposing side head-on take away from the appearance of our own ability or credibility?

Now, true, Maher is giving Yiannopoulis a platform. And by platform, what is meant is, in and of itself, the show is merely an avenue to reach a segment of people. But it should not be seen as an endorsement of Yiannopoulis’ actions, views, or opinions. Some people may say that giving him such an audience will only embolden his followers while indoctrinating more.

So here’s the question: Aside from this case and when dealing with relationship strategy, what is the best approach to deal with those with which we vehemently disagree?

Whether in this case or any other situation surrounding the relationship between vast segments of a population and opinion, what is the best approach to combat the other side’s ideas?

Is it best to turn around and walk away? In essence, not provide any sort of platform, audience, debate, or discussion with that other side in order to seemingly mitigate the awareness and relevance of that side?

Or is it better to confront the opposition and argue, discuss, or debate the points of contention item-by-item?

In the former option, say we do turn around and walk away, are they not going to come at us, behind our back metaphorically — or, in some cases, literally — and attack us in a vicious and unrelenting matter without us being able to defend ourselves or offer prepared rebuttals? To those watching — whether on our side, their side, or undecided — do we not look as if we have anything to offer in combating opposing ideas?

In the latter option, we don’t turn our back nor let them come at us untempered with their bad ideas. We stand toe-to-toe and dismantle their arguments. Of the three audiences — ours, theirs, and the in-between’s — we build up the tools of our side, possibly convince the moderates to join our side, and, by some chance, convince some on their side as to the weaknesses we can point to in their ideology, whatever it may be.

Shouldn’t we be able to convey the merits of our own argument or is it better to ignore and suppress the other side?

Granted, you might be giving an audience to the other side, but, at least, with confronting them, you’re making an effort to offset the toxicity of their mission and stance, no matter what side we’re talking about.

Another benefit to addressing such opposition in these cases is to demonstrate to others how they should deal with that which they don’t agree with. Isn’t it better to deal with what you acknowledge exists and can proactively, strategically address than be caught off-guard? It leaves you better prepared for future opposition if you deal with today’s challenges. Otherwise, people are left shocked by and unprepared for what they come across later as that ideology gains momentum.

In the end, everyone will handle this type of situation differently. With regard to Maher’s show with Yiannopoulis, various reactions and approaches were represented. Whereas Maher listened to Yiannopoulis, frequently calling him out on his approach to issues, comedian Larry Wilmore appeared on the show as a fellow guest but lost his cool and snapped at Yiannopoulis during the panel segment, while regular guest, journalist Jeremy Scahill, decided to back out of sitting on the panel altogether when he found out about Yiannopoulis being booked for the same episode.

Negative experiences, to some extent, sharpen our resolve, preparation, reaction time and ability, while turning away from what makes us uncomfortable can leave us vulnerable.

This post is not meant to endorse any particular position or approach but is merely meant to ask, setting emotion aside, What might be the best approach to neutralizing the other side?

In the short term, some may agree turning away may be the best option, but what does that yield in the long-term? Is now a better, more workable point for discussion rather than later when the boiled-over contention has caused the train to fly off the tracks?

Where Do You Stand?

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