Rogan in the Free World

Commentary Democracy is a messy thing, relying as it does on debate and dialogue.  This means that people we don’t like, or who express unpopular views, or who articulate ideas we find hateful or subscribe to ideas we think dangerous get to express their annoying, wrong-minded opinions.  As George Orwell put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the ability to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Practically, those of us who are devoted to democratic norms need to listen respectfully to our political adversaries, as well as to those who promulgate ideas that are not to our taste or liking. Dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy. Just as a musician requires the ability to improvise in different keys, so too do democracies require diverse opinions and free-flowing and open discussions. In short, we need to listen to interlocutors who say things we don’t want to hear. Free speech is the ne plus ultra of democracy.  The freedom to express ourselves candidly and openly protects us from groupthink, irrationalism of various kinds, and authoritarian diktats emanating from across the political spectrum. Investigating and critiquing all ideas and orthodoxies — especially the orthodoxy du jour – is a crucial aspect of democratic life. This leads us to the controversy between Neil Young and Spotify, which hosts the podcaster, Joe Rogan.  Young is unhappy with two guests Rogan has interviewed on his podcast, accusing Rogan of using his show to spread “dangerous misinformation” about vaccines and the Covid virus.  Young delivered an ultimatum to Spotify:  “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”  Spotify went with Rogan. “Misinformation” is a curiously wobbly concept.  It appears that misinformation consists mainly of ideas that those in power find inconvenient or troublesome. For example, a few months ago, anyone who said that “cloth masks don’t work” was accused of spreading misinformation. Today, we know that cloth masks are useless. A year ago, anyone who opined that Covid-19 likely originated from a lab-leak in China was swiftly condemned as Sinophobic conspiracy theorist trading in misinformation. Now, the preponderance of evidence points to Covid originating in a Wuhan lab. When politicians and their proxies in the media prattle on about misinformation, it’s a good rule of thumb to ask what they are trying to hide. The guests whom Young accuses of spreading dangerous misinformation are two well-credentialled and highly accomplished medical doctors.  Dr. Peter McCullough is a cardiologist and the most published physician in his field.  Dr. Robert Malone owns nine patents on the invention of mRNA technology.  By any standard, these two doctors are experts. Both men have misgivings about the safety of the Covid vaccines. Joe Rogan doesn’t assert whether these two doctors are right or wrong.  He claims no expertise.  But nor can Neil Young.  And, of course, having expertise is no guarantee of getting it right.  As Steven Weinberg says, “An expert is someone who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.” Yet Young somehow believes it is incumbent on him to determine the information appropriate to a critical discussion concerning social well-being.  He seems to think that Spotify should not host a show that debates the safety of vaccines and is doing his best to shut it down. Certain questions arise.  Why does Young think he should be the gatekeeper of what others can listen to?  Does he truly believe that people who listen to alternative views on the Joe Rogan show are incapable of weighing the evidence?  And why does Young – again, a man with no scientific expertise – label the doctors’ views “misinformation”?   Drs. MacCullough and Malone might well be wrong, but they are not cranks.  As with any scientific dispute, the way to ascertain the truth or falsity of their views is via an open debate, something Young disdains. Rogan, by contrast, is simply a “guy who sits down and has conversations.”  As he says, “Do I get things wrong?  Absolutely.  But I try and correct it because I’m interested in telling the truth. I’m interested in finding out what the truth is.  I’m interested in having conversations with people who have different opinions.”  As he puts it, he is not interested in speaking with people with “only one perspective.”  And like any true conversationalist, Rogan changes his mind in light of better arguments or evidence. Rogan is guided by genuine curiosity rather than party loyalty or ideological conformity.  He asks of his guests only what we all seek in our interlocutors: that they should speak sincerely.  The result is a conversation between someone with something interesting to say and a sympathetic, open-minded and non-ideological interviewer. There is no editorial control beyond the intellectual and moral norms that should govern any real conversation.  Like open-ended science, conversations set the stage for future theoretically endless talks.  Th

Rogan in the Free World

Commentary

Democracy is a messy thing, relying as it does on debate and dialogue.  This means that people we don’t like, or who express unpopular views, or who articulate ideas we find hateful or subscribe to ideas we think dangerous get to express their annoying, wrong-minded opinions.  As George Orwell put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the ability to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Practically, those of us who are devoted to democratic norms need to listen respectfully to our political adversaries, as well as to those who promulgate ideas that are not to our taste or liking. Dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy. Just as a musician requires the ability to improvise in different keys, so too do democracies require diverse opinions and free-flowing and open discussions. In short, we need to listen to interlocutors who say things we don’t want to hear.

Free speech is the ne plus ultra of democracy.  The freedom to express ourselves candidly and openly protects us from groupthink, irrationalism of various kinds, and authoritarian diktats emanating from across the political spectrum. Investigating and critiquing all ideas and orthodoxies — especially the orthodoxy du jour – is a crucial aspect of democratic life.

This leads us to the controversy between Neil Young and Spotify, which hosts the podcaster, Joe Rogan.  Young is unhappy with two guests Rogan has interviewed on his podcast, accusing Rogan of using his show to spread “dangerous misinformation” about vaccines and the Covid virus.  Young delivered an ultimatum to Spotify:  “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”  Spotify went with Rogan.

“Misinformation” is a curiously wobbly concept.  It appears that misinformation consists mainly of ideas that those in power find inconvenient or troublesome. For example, a few months ago, anyone who said that “cloth masks don’t work” was accused of spreading misinformation. Today, we know that cloth masks are useless. A year ago, anyone who opined that Covid-19 likely originated from a lab-leak in China was swiftly condemned as Sinophobic conspiracy theorist trading in misinformation. Now, the preponderance of evidence points to Covid originating in a Wuhan lab.

When politicians and their proxies in the media prattle on about misinformation, it’s a good rule of thumb to ask what they are trying to hide.

The guests whom Young accuses of spreading dangerous misinformation are two well-credentialled and highly accomplished medical doctors.  Dr. Peter McCullough is a cardiologist and the most published physician in his field.  Dr. Robert Malone owns nine patents on the invention of mRNA technology.  By any standard, these two doctors are experts.

Both men have misgivings about the safety of the Covid vaccines.

Joe Rogan doesn’t assert whether these two doctors are right or wrong.  He claims no expertise.  But nor can Neil Young.  And, of course, having expertise is no guarantee of getting it right.  As Steven Weinberg says, “An expert is someone who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.”

Yet Young somehow believes it is incumbent on him to determine the information appropriate to a critical discussion concerning social well-being.  He seems to think that Spotify should not host a show that debates the safety of vaccines and is doing his best to shut it down.

Certain questions arise.  Why does Young think he should be the gatekeeper of what others can listen to?  Does he truly believe that people who listen to alternative views on the Joe Rogan show are incapable of weighing the evidence?  And why does Young – again, a man with no scientific expertise – label the doctors’ views “misinformation”?   Drs. MacCullough and Malone might well be wrong, but they are not cranks.  As with any scientific dispute, the way to ascertain the truth or falsity of their views is via an open debate, something Young disdains.

Rogan, by contrast, is simply a “guy who sits down and has conversations.”  As he says, “Do I get things wrong?  Absolutely.  But I try and correct it because I’m interested in telling the truth. I’m interested in finding out what the truth is.  I’m interested in having conversations with people who have different opinions.”  As he puts it, he is not interested in speaking with people with “only one perspective.”  And like any true conversationalist, Rogan changes his mind in light of better arguments or evidence.

Rogan is guided by genuine curiosity rather than party loyalty or ideological conformity.  He asks of his guests only what we all seek in our interlocutors: that they should speak sincerely.  The result is a conversation between someone with something interesting to say and a sympathetic, open-minded and non-ideological interviewer.

There is no editorial control beyond the intellectual and moral norms that should govern any real conversation.  Like open-ended science, conversations set the stage for future theoretically endless talks.  The death-knell of dialogue is the dogmatic assertion, the suffocating orthodoxy that declares that the matter is settled and the conversation is closed. Dialogue is the enemy of certainty and fanaticism, which is why there is no genuine conversation in totalitarian regimes, only endless sophistry to buttress “the truth” or “the science”  or “the dear leader.”  Such regimes are experts at stifling “misinformation.”

There is something deeply appealing about Mr. Rogan’s personality, which undoubtedly accounts for the show’s popularity.  He is an old-fashioned liberal who displays open-mindedness, sensitivity and a willingness to listen.  His on-air personality exudes honesty, respect for others, fair-mindedness, thoughtfulness, attentiveness, and the other quiet virtues central to the art of conversation.  Of course, in any dialogue about serious matters, there will be disagreements. But on such occasions, Rogan is equanimous.  He uses disagreements as an opportunity to probe deeper into the interviewee’s views rather than as an occasion for ridiculing, shaming, or discrediting.

Joe Rogan is an old-fashioned liberal, that is, one who believes in such quaint notions as freedom of thought and expression. His openness to engage with people with differing opinions points the way forward for a liberal society. Like Rogan, we need to tolerate views antithetical to our own. At the same time, disagreements should be seen as opportunities to deepen our perceptions and understandings rather than occasions for finger-wagging, reprimand or triumphant boasting.

Now, if only Neil Young would get the memo.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Patrick Keeney, Ph.D., is an academic and columnist.