Joe Rogan, the comedian, podcaster, and UFC commentator, has been getting into hot water lately. It started with his views on COVID vaccines and other measures. Now he’s being accused of being racist. Here are some thoughts.
This post was inspired by the above video by Philip DeFranco.
I’ve been a casual listener of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast since around 2012. I don’t listen to every episode. Not even most episodes. I’m not a Rogan fanboy. I think he can be kind of annoying sometimes. But he does get some interesting guests. There are several people I follow because I’ve seen them on his show. Rhonda Patrick immediately comes to mind. Gary Clark Jr. and Honeyhoney, Ms. Pat, and I’m sure a few others I can’t think of off the top of my head.
Rogan himself is fine. His adeptness as an interviewer can fluctuate wildly between excellent – check out his episode with North Korean defector Yeonmi Park, for instance – and other times can be downright aggravating, with constant interruptions and haranguing of the guest. Other times he can come across as inconsistent, being a chameleon to his guests’ views. But overall I think his podcast has been a net positive as far as conveying a great number of points of view to a wide audience. His long-form conversations are far better than the two minute soundbites you get on most cable news shows or the insufferable round-table style of people like Bill Maher.
Now that all of my personal biases on Joe Rogan are laid out, what do I think about the current controversy?
As far as the COVID stuff goes, I really don’t have a problem with hearing multiple sides of the discussion. I am pro-vaccine but anti-mandate. I hate that there is an orthodoxy around the issue that brooks no discussion. That’s not how science ought to be done. But I also don’t much care for the heretics – the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers – who are driven just as much by ideology and motivated reasoning as the standard bearers for the conventional narrative. Neither side is really concerned with the science. It’s all about the politics. Because if people actually cared about the science, they wouldn’t feel so angry about someone disagreeing with them. Silencing dissenters doesn’t make you right.
I made a video about a month ago covering Joe Rogan’s interview with Dr. Robert Malone that you can watch here:
My issue with Joe Rogan is that he has not been examining multiple points of view on COVID (so far). He did have an episode with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, but that was one where Rogan was constantly interrupting and haranguing his guest (I was only able to stomach about an hour or so of that episode, though I have seen elsewhere clips of how it ultimately ended). Rogan already has a conclusion that he accepts and is looking for voices that justify his belief – a classic case of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. Perhaps I’m mistaken or hasty in my judgment, but Rogan comes across to me as the kind of person who thinks that if you take enough vitamin supplements (a market in which he is conveniently involved) and swing enough kettlebells around, then COVID should be a non-issue for you. Getting sick and dying from COVID is something that only happens to the weak (and never mind spreading it to anyone else, even if you don’t get it bad). And maybe that’s all true. It’s certainly true that most people who die from COVID are either elderly, obese, immunocompromised, or some combination of the three. So maybe it is a sign of being weak to die from COVID. I don’t know. But what I do know is that Rogan doesn’t believe this for any sort of scientific reasons.
That being said, I have no problem with Joe Rogan having people like Dr. Robert Malone on his podcast. Dr. Malone is a legitimate scientist, whether you like it or not, and was himself important in the development of mRNA vaccines. If he has concerns about the vaccine then we ought to listen and look into the science for ourselves (as I do in the above video). It’s ridiculous to try cancelling Rogan over this. Sure, it’s important to let him know that he is being biased, and hopefully he will get more people on to actually discuss the science, but taking your music off Spotify in an attempt to get Rogan cancelled is performative virtue-signaling at its finest.
As far as the new issue of Joe Rogan being racist, I think it’s clear to anyone who has watched more than a carefully edited montage video of him that he isn’t a racist. He’s said the N word on his podcast, which he arguably shouldn’t have done (although this opinion isn’t unanimous, even among black people).
There is of course nuance here. There is a difference between being racist and uttering a mouth sound that has historical racist meaning. There is such thing as intent and context when uttering the word. People who say otherwise ought to beware, because if we’re allowed to indict people based on things taken out of context, then we could probably get every person in the country cancelled before breakfast. None of this is to say that it should be fine for people, and white people in particular, to say the N word, but someone saying it is not an automatic indictment of their entire character or indicator of their overall views on race.
I find it interesting that there is more understanding and forgiveness for people who were once avowed white nationalists who then realized the error of their ways and became activists against such overt racism than there is for someone who is clearly not actually racist but made some idiotic decisions in how they spoke. That’s not to denigrate anyone who deconverted from such ludicrous and dangerous ideas as white nationalism. Such people should be welcomed into decent society with open arms. The point of preaching compassion and empathy is to do just that: get people to stop being racist. But it just seems absurd and asinine to go looking for racism where it clearly isn’t.
This brings us to the topic of growth. Obviously, the transgressions for which Rogan is currently under scrutiny have been in the last 12 years or so. That doesn’t seem that long ago. It seems like a person ought to have known ten years ago that it’s not okay for a white person to say the N word. That’s probably true. But isn’t the point of calling people out for such transgressions to try to get them to see the error of their ways? Hasn’t Rogan done just that by ceasing his use of the N word in the past few years? Shouldn’t we be declaring mission accomplished on this front?
Cultivating growth is of course not the point. Cancel culture is performative, pure and simple. It’s about virtue signaling. It’s about exercising power in order to cow anyone else who might dare transgress the sacred orthodoxy. It’s about rooting out and tearing down heretics and infidels. It’s about venting hatred for the wicked. It’s a religious ceremony. The wailing an gnashing of teeth among the self-designated aggrieved serves to elevate their status as the infallible clergy; the outrage of the laity a demonstration of purity for their positions among the elect.
And this is my whole problem with all the cancel culture and critical race theory stuff. They are explicitly against seeking concrete solutions, which means they’re only interested in whatever pleasurable feelings they can derive from their adherence to the creed. I’ve said it in other posts that this makes me think of the Sartre quote: “The poor don’t know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity.” This is exactly what this cancel-happy crowd is doing with racism, essentially taking the position that “black people don’t know that their function in life is to exercise our antiracist virtue.” They don’t give a damn about actually doing anything to improve peoples’ lives. They’re in it for their own pleasurable experience brought on by the feeling of moral superiority. It’s reprehensible.
Trying to stamp out racism by cancelling Joe Rogan is at best an unhelpful waste of time. Even if you succeed you won’t have made things better for anyone. Besides, the guy shouldn’t be looked to as an exemplar of intellectual rigor or moral righteousness. Indeed, nobody should be. He’s as flawed as everyone. He just happens to be flawed publicly.
Edit: I think Sam Harris did a good job speaking on the subject: