Odious though Julien Blanc is, he should not be barred from the UK. To paraphrase Voltaire, we may disapprove of what Blanc has to say, but we should defend his right to say it.
Odious though Julien Blanc is, he should not be barred from the UK. To paraphrase Voltaire, we may disapprove of what Blanc has to say but we should defend his right to say it
It was only a matter of time before a self-proclaimed ‘pick-up artist’ caught the attention of the authorities. Ever since the journalist Neil Strauss released his best-selling book The Game back in 2005, the previously miniscule underground ‘community’ has attracted (no pun intended) a growing number of followers.
Indeed Real Social Dynamics, the company which employs Julien Blanc, the controversial pick-up artist who advocates strangling women on the street and calling them ‘dogs’, appears to be a very profitable company if its packed seminars are anything to go by. There is at least enough of a market in the UK for the company to charge over £1,000 for a two day ‘boot camp’ in London’s bars and clubs.
Pick-up is big business, and consequently the views of people like Julien Blanc are being exposed to a level of scrutiny they perhaps wouldn’t have been 10 years ago when the ‘community’ revolved around a handful of people exchanging tips and tricks on the net.
Blanc has already been barred from Canada and thrown out of Australia, and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is urging home secretary Theresa May to block Blanc from entering the UK next February when he is scheduled to arrive in London for a seminar tour.
Caroline Charles, who set up a petition to deny Blanc a UK visa (the petition currently has 115,000 signatures) explained her motivation like this:
“To allow this man into the UK legitimises sexual assault and predation, and sends a message that women are playthings or objects without agency. Australia has already taken a stand by revoking his visa; let us demonstrate that we feel the same way about his message.”
While I agree with much of this, I don’t think the best way to ‘show how we feel’ about Blanc’s message is to revoke his visa. Let me try to explain why.
Before I start, this article invariably requires a certain amount of throat clearing on my own part: the views of Blanc are vile, misogynistic and in some instances racist. They are also based on a misnomer which many of his critics appear to have accepted: that it is somehow possible to ‘trick’ women into bed (sexual attraction just isn’t that logical).
The last thing I want is my argument to be confused with my having any sort of sympathy with Blanc or his views, hence this rumble in my larynx.
Anyway, back to the main argument, which breaks down into three points:
Firstly, it seems counterproductive for progressives to bandy around the UK’s already tough immigration laws simply because in this case it suits them to do so. Do we want to live in a country where the response to every unpleasant (and even dangerous) argument is to pull up the drawbridge on fortress Britain and let someone else deal with the problem?
The idea that barring Blanc from the UK solves the problem is also an illusion: anyone so inclined can go online and watch his videos on YouTube for free. If Blanc wanted to, rather than appearing himself he might host his seminars remotely over Skype. What are we going to do about that? Put up a Chinese-style firewall to block out anything misogynistic?
As the pacifists are fond of saying, you don’t kill ideas with bombs; and you don’t kill them with borders, either. Not in the age of the internet. Better then, surely, to protest outside of Blanc’s events – and thereby draw attention to what it is he is teaching, rather than achieve some false sense of victory by shutting it down (but not actually shutting it down at all) and making him a martyr.
While Blanc’s ideas are certainly toxic, the way the word ‘incitement’ is used by those advocating the ban on Blanc entering the UK is also problematic. Incitement is, after all, a matter of interpretation.
To give an example of what I mean, one person in every hundred may listen to a speech by a member of the British National Party and afterwards go on to commit an act of egregious racist violence. The other 99 who also heard the speech may dismiss it as sinister rubbish, but it could technically be correct to say that that one individual who did cross the line was ‘incited’ by the speech.
Should we ban or ‘no platform’ the speaker, then? I don’t think so, for ultimately it’s a matter of personal responsibility. A speaker may spread an odious message but (notwithstanding a few exceptions – the ‘fire in the theatre’ example, for one) the responsibility for any action ultimately lies with the person carrying out that action – unless they are under some kind of duress.
Finally, there has been very little interest on the part of those who do want to shut down Blanc as to why so many thousands of men are willing to pay vast sums of money to see dating coaches in the first place.
Undoubtedly some of these men do harbour sociopathic desires to control and manipulate women; but having actually met some of the men who go on these ‘boot camps’ my experience is that most of them are simply socially awkward young men who are naive enough to believe the hype surrounding companies like Real Social Dynamics.
They aren’t always bad people steeped in ‘the patriarchy’; a lot of the time they are simply lonely guys who just don’t know how to be normal around women.
Sneering at them and writing them off as ‘desperate losers’ isn’t going to help. There is a dearth of decent dating advice out there beyond empty platitudes about ‘just being yourself’, and noxious companies like Real Social Dynamics are filling that void. To think that none of this matters because of the historic oppression of women is myopic – and is a bit like saying that, because men tend to earn more over a lifetime than women, it’s irrelevant that boys are increasingly falling behind in school. Can we not worry about both?
Odious though Julien Blanc is (although I’m not sure he’s that much worse than some of the other pickup artists I’ve heard about), this is why I don’t think he should be barred from the UK. To paraphrase a certain someone, I more than disapprove of what Blanc has to say, but there are good reasons to defend his right to say it.
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.