Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

On Experiencing Joe Rogan

The popular podcaster holds some ugly reactionary views and needs to do more research before he speaks. But his audience are people that leftists should want to persuade, and trying to stifle him will likely backfire. What we need is better, more trustworthy media.

On a recent YouTube clip of The Joe Rogan Experience, guest Randall Carlson implies that geologists and archaeologists are concealing evidence that the mythical lost continent of Atlantis was, in fact, a real place. Displaying maps and studies purporting to show a set of sunken islands in the Atlantic that match Plato’s descriptions of Atlantis, Carlson claims that he could go through “hours of this kind of research … Why it’s been pushed off to the side is anybody’s guess. But it just doesn’t fit the paradigm.” His own podcast features an approximately 10-hour presentation laying out his evidence for the existence of Atlantis, which he acknowledges is “geologic heresy.” Indeed, mainstream scholars are unified in believing Atlantis to have been mythical

Rogan is seemingly left astounded by the presentation. I am not sure he came away believing in Atlantis. But I do suspect he came away unsure of whether he believed in Atlantis, and more likely to tell anyone who denied the historicity of Atlantis that actually, there’s a lot of really interesting evidence pointing the other way.

I have absolutely no idea whether Randall Carlson has found the lost continent of Atlantis. He could be a crank. Or he could be a genius independent scholar whose ideas have been unfairly ignored by a hidebound and prejudiced academy. He is described as a “master builder and architectural designer, scholar, and teacher [whose] podcast, Kosmographia, investigates the catastrophic history of the world and evidence for advanced knowledge in earlier cultures.” It’s possible that a professional archeologist would look at Carlson’s presentation and think it was delusional and ignorant and be able to expose it within seconds. I can’t find any reviews of his work by historians, archaelogists, or geologists. Because I know little about such subjects as “crustal shifts and isostacy,” it is difficult for me—without doing hours of independent research—to check whether Carlson’s video on the subject is correct. I assume it isn’t. But I haven’t exactly vetted it.

A non-expert watching the Rogan episode featuring Carlson, coming in believing that Atlantis was fictional, can react in one of a few ways:

  1. Switch to believing that Atlantis was real, based on Carlson’s arguments
  2. Perform hours of self-education on geology to see if Carlson is a crank, then decide whether you think Atlantis was real
  3. Switch to agnosticism on the question of whether Atlantis was real, but don’t investigate it further, and if you hear someone saying Atlantis didn’t exist, tell them you used to think that but there was this guy on Rogan who laid out some pretty mind-blowing shit and now you just don’t know
  4. Stick with your position that Atlantis wasn’t real, despite not knowing whether Carlson’s evidence is compelling, because you trust that whatever he is saying has probably been debunked somewhere and the experts probably know more than a “master builder” with a podcast

Self-education (#2), I think, is the approach we would take if we wanted to make sure that we hold justified beliefs about the world. You could simply defer to experts (#4), and assume that the person must be wrong because nobody reputable shares their conclusion. But if they claim that the experts have overlooked critical facts, then what? How do you know they’re wrong, unless you investigate matters for yourself, becoming a part-time amateur archaeologist?

Because none of us has time to investigate every claim on every subject, we all—to one degree or another—rely on experts to tell us what’s true about the world. The reason I’m sure the Holocaust happened, and that Holocaust deniers are wrong, is not because I’ve carefully investigated all of the first-person evidence (poring through the Nazi archives, authenticating documents, reading and verifying witness statements in their original languages), but because the community of historians has done this, and they have reached a consensus, and I trust the community of historians to produce the truth. Part of the job of the media is to do something similar: to go out and look for the truth, adjudicate carefully between competing claims, and tell us what’s actually the case. Media outlets shouldn’t be “relativistic,” telling us that while some people say the Earth is flat, others say it’s round, and leaving us to sort out who is right. We need our media figures to tell us things that have a solid factual basis, because we ourselves don’t have the training or time to get to the bottom of things ourselves.

    But what if the mainstream press can’t be relied upon to tell the truth? What if, for good reason, the public loses confidence in journalists’ reliability? Many may try to do their own research. They may also turn to bloggers and podcasters who promise critical independence and appear more trustworthy than the corporate press. Indie media may in many cases be an improvement. The collapse of public confidence in expert opinion may be healthy, insofar as it leads to more skepticism and critical thinking. But it may also result in cranks and charlatans being treated as reliable sources, because we (the news-consuming public) don’t know how to decide who to trust. We might be led astray by people who tout their heterodoxy and freedom from ideological categories but don’t actually know what they’re talking about. 


Joe Rogan seems like an affable guy. He reminds me of many men I have met in the gym: cheerful bros who are open-minded to an alarming degree, meaning to the point where no idea is so insane that one can be sure they won’t find it persuasive. They could vote for Bernie, they could go Nazi, they could start believing in alien abductions or QAnon or chemtrails. They are not deep thinkers, so they can be excessively impressed by the fact “a study found” something, or “a doctor says” it. They are sincere in wanting to know the truth, they are not outright malicious, they change their minds (sometimes daily), but they are not trained in the research and critical thinking skills that are vital in sorting science from pseudoscience (or the loopy conspiracies from the true ones). 

I am inclined to like the cheerful bros. They can be relatively harmless if they do not wander out of the gym. But I would not want to put them in charge of curating and disseminating important public health information, especially during a crisis like a pandemic. People with this kind of thinking simply lack the background to evaluate claims adequately, meaning that they’re just as likely to tell you something bogus as something insightful, and if you yourself don’t have the knowledge to evaluate the claim, you may end up with a brain filled with manure instead of wisdom. 

The Joe Rogan Experience doesn’t look like a reputable source of news information. Hell, just glance at the logo, which impressively manages to give off both “pothead” and “conspiracy theorist” vibes. A typical episode is about three unedited hours of Joe Rogan and a guest—typically a comedian or athlete, but perhaps a psychologist, journalist, filmmaker, or musician. Rogan likes Cool Guy Shit: bear attacks, UFOs, DMT, MMA, Atlantis. He is a skilled interviewer: he puts his guests at ease, draws out compelling stories from them, and creates a relaxed vibe. For a guy whose previous job was making people drink donkey semen on television, the quality of his questioning is remarkably high. He doesn’t appear to use any notes, or follow any pre-planned structure at all. Rogan comes across as honest and authentic: you don’t get the sense that he’s concealing anything from his audience. He doesn’t even cut out the parts of episodes where his producer is trying to Google a source for something. There’s no grand introduction; Rogan and the guests are already talking when the show begins, and the listener feels as if they have wandered into a private chat and pulled up a chair. It’s easy to see why the show has built an audience, even if it’s still rather amazing that The Joe Rogan Experience is the most popular podcast in the world, attracting 10x the audience of MSNBC. I have spoken to people mystified by how anybody could sit through three hours of dudes (91% of guests are men) chatting aimlessly. Even though I can only endure Rogan in episode-length doses when required to for research, his appeal is not unfathomable. 

If The Joe Rogan Experience just covered the adventures of spear fishermen and bodybuilders, it would be a benign distraction. But Rogan, despite being fiercely nonpartisan, wades into politics frequently. Here, he is often completely out of his depth, because he hasn’t done any serious research. He brings guests on who make outlandish claims, and while Rogan often does his best to ask tough questions—and even demands citations for things, which he Googles to check on—sometimes he just fanboys. To Elon Musk he posed such hardball questions as “Do you feel like people define you by the fact that you’re wealthy and that they define you in a pejorative way?” and “What’s a dream house for Elon Musk? Like some Tony Stark type shit?” declining to use the opportunity to challenge Musk on his (sometimes quite dangerous) bullshit

Rogan’s lack of background in the subjects under discussion means people say all kinds of crazy shit on the show without the audience ever hearing counterarguments. For instance: Rogan’s second-most popular episode ever (after the Musk one) was a nearly 5-hour conversation with Alex Jones of InfoWars. As previously discussed in Current Affairs, Jones doesn’t have a political ideology so much as a set of extreme paranoid delusions. Jones elaborated on many of these during his marathon session with Rogan, including his belief that hospitals are telling mothers their babies have died and then selling the living infants to the Chinese for $500,000 each, and his theory that the government has “made deals with interdimensional aliens” and that “globalists” are creating “human-animal hybrids” that will form a “breakaway civilization.” Rogan takes all of this with a raised eyebrow, and tries to ask skeptical questions, but Jones steamrolls him, aggressively insisting that everything he says is fully documented, citing news articles he says back up every one of his claims, and promising to pay millions of dollars if anything he says is false. Jones, for instance, after claiming that cell phones are mind-control devices pushed on us by the “breakaway government” at NASA, insists that humans did not invent the technology, that it was secretly given to them by aliens: 

“They 100% in San Francisco, the main project site, literally have an alien base. And they are literally communicating and they’ve got like astronaut-level people taking super hardcore levels of drugs and going into meetings with these things and making intergalactic deals. And again, that’s what the government believes and says they’re doing.” 

Here Rogan meekly challenges Jones, saying that it’s an open question whether the experience of psychedelic drugs creates hallucinations or opens the kind of actual portal to another dimension that would allow one to do intergalactic deals with aliens. But throughout the episode, as Jones spins wild tale after wild tale, from the secret creation of humanoids to the extraterrestrial origins of cell phone technology, Rogan finds himself saying, “Maybe this is true,” “I believe some of what you’re saying,” “I agree with you,” and “You’re freaking me out. Some of it makes sense.” This is because to successfully interrogate and challenge a skilled conspiracy theorist you need to be as familiar with their sources as they are, and so when Jones says that “a BBC article” or “the MIT Review” or “a CIA report” confirmed everything he’s saying, Rogan is powerless to refute anything. (Amusingly, later in the episode, Jones himself gets a taste of how difficult it is to argue with a conspiracy theorist, as another guest shows up and sincerely tries to convince Jones to believe in a flat Earth.) 

We might assume that viewers are mostly watching The Joe Rogan Experience for entertainment; Rogan himself doesn’t seem to take Jones too seriously, and Jones’ rants about humanoids and interdimensional beings are so over-the-top as to be enjoyable as dramatic performance. But comments on the YouTube videos indicate that many people take Jones seriously indeed, and find what they’re hearing him say to be persuasive. A comment that “Its kinda funny, alex jones seems less and less crazy every day” has received 5.1 thousand likes. Others say things like:

  • “Alex Jones is actually a very educated man. This information is horrific.”
  • “The crazy part is that it was actually all true what alex was saying”
  • “Clearly he was right about something. They dont take someone completely off the internet when they are wrong.”

Because Joe Rogan didn’t put in the work to effectively refute Jones, he has created the worst possible interview: one that looks tough and skeptical, but in fact allows insane claims to go unchallenged. Audience members are left with the impression that Jones made a highly compelling case, since he was speaking to an interviewer disinclined to believe him but who couldn’t argue with the facts. 

Rogan even lets Jones get away with an egregious false account of his history of portraying the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting as a hoax. Jones presents himself as having been reasonable and making understandable mistakes. He says that in the weeks after the shooting, he came to question “anomalies” surrounding the event, but that he later learned that the anomalies “were not accurate” and admitted the massacre had happened. “I just moved on from it,” he tells Rogan. But Jones is lying about what he did, and a good interviewer would have read the complaints from the Sandy Hook victims’ families in their lawsuits against Jones. He definitely did not move on. He ran segment after segment on the shooting. In 2013, he said it had “inside job written all over it” but even in 2017 (the Rogan interview was in 2019), Jones was running segments like “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed” and saying things like “there was never been [sic] any even blurred photos of bodies or anything.” Jones tries to convince Rogan that he briefly asked some questions and overstated his claims. What actually happened was a pattern of sowing doubt that went on for year upon year, and as a result families who had suffered the worst imaginable tragedy had their misery compounded by relentless harassment from Jones fans calling them “crisis actors.” 

A viewer of Rogan’s show, then—unless they went off to do research on their own, and to read the legal filings by Sandy Hook families—would come away with a completely false understanding of what happened, and think of Alex Jones as being more reasonable and less of a brazen liar than he actually is. This is because Rogan himself is irresponsible: he doesn’t put in the work necessary to make sure his listeners get accurate information.

That may be in part because Rogan still sees himself as a comedian, rather than a journalist, and comedians tend not to think of themselves as having ethical obligations. But once you’re the world’s most popular broadcaster, if you’re going to stray beyond riffing on Cool Guy Shit, you’ve got to think seriously about the question of whether your audience comes away more informed or less informed. Because non-experts don’t have time to investigate every claim, the broadcaster needs to put in work to make sure what’s going out on the air has been checked carefully by someone—or, if one is exploring something dubious, to make sure the counterarguments are heard and professionals are consulted. It isn’t enough to tell the audience they should “think for themselves and do their own research” as a justification for presenting unrefuted falsehoods, because realistically most of us don’t have the capacity to fact-check a three to five hour video in which hundreds of assertions are made. 

Predictably, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogan’s credulity has led to his broadcasting of some false information. I have now listened to many episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience in which he discusses the pandemic, and erroneous or unsubstantiated claims are made constantly by Rogan or his guests. These have been discussed at great length elsewhere, but a few examples are necessary. 

Sometimes claims are erroneous medical claims, such as Rogan claiming that there is strong evidence for the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19. Speaking of a friend with COVID, Rogan says “Ivermectin essentially knocked him out of it. He was good within 24 hours after taking ivermectin.” This was too much even for Rogan’s guest, Alex Berenson, who has himself spread constant untruths about coronavirus and public health measures since the beginning of the pandemic. Berenson pointed out to Rogan that there was no compelling evidence that ivermectin works (except perhaps if you have both worms and COVID-19, since it’s a dewormer). But Rogan has repeatedly claimed that in a state in India, “they essentially cured COVID” by handing out ivermectin. (In fact, it appears the data here is “garbage.”) 

Rogan’s infamous interview with Dr. Robert Malone features many exchanges like this one, in which they both accuse public health authorities of inflating COVID-19 deaths: 

ROGAN:

So that it really is true that if someone has a gunshot wound and they’re dying of that gunshot wound and you check them for COVID, and if they’re COVID positive and they die, they mark that off as a COVID death. 

MALONE:

That is, by definition, from the CDC. That was a decision that was made early on. 

ROGAN:

That seems insane. 


It seems insane because it isn’t the case. The CDC has given very clear guidelines for classifying deaths, specifying that COVID should be listed when it causes the death. Determining whether COVID caused the death can be difficult, of course, and the standard won’t be applied correctly in every case, but as emergency room doctor Graham Walker pointed out in a long Twitter thread painstakingly debunking Rogan and Malone’s conversation, frontline doctors are very conscientious in trying to determine causes of death, and baselessly accusing them of lying about what people died of is a nasty smear against those who have done the most difficult work during the pandemic. Furthermore, anyone who discusses reasons why there might be overcounting of COVID-19 deaths without discussing reasons why there might be undercounting of COVID-19 deaths is not serious about getting to the truth of the matter. 

Sometimes the claims are not actually false, but they have the effect of promoting something else that is false. For instance, here’s Rogan speaking with Berenson:

BERENSON:

In the UK, 70+ percent of the people who die from covid are fully vaccinated.

ROGAN:

70?! 

BERENSON:

7 in 10. I’m going to keep saying it because nobody believes it. The numbers are there. It’s in government documents. It’s not a conspiracy theory.


Berenson is using this factoid to suggest that the vaccines aren’t effective in preventing deaths from COVID, but to do that he’s had to avoid disclosing a critical additional piece of information: that the rate of deaths among vaccinated people is much lower than the rate of deaths among the unvaccinated. The fact that, in this scenario, most people who die of COVID-19 are vaccinated does not prove that vaccines don’t prevent death. After all, if most people who die in car accidents are wearing seatbelts, that doesn’t show that seatbelts are ineffective. The relevant fact is comparative rates of death (between vaccinated and unvaccinated). But Berenson wants people to think vaccines are useless, and Rogan is happy to leave the claim unchallenged, leaving his audience with the impression that there’s not much point to getting vaccinated. 

Other types of claims are just wild speculative conspiracy theorizing. Here’s Rogan speaking with “internet entrepreneur, former MTV VJ, and podcasting pioneer” Adam Curry on an episode last month. Curry argues that “They” intentionally used COVID-19 to shut down the economy in order to stabilize the banking system, or something: 

CURRY:

JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, CitiBank, and Goldman Sachs collectively borrowed 11.7 trillion dollars just before the pandemic started. When the Wall Street shit happened in 2008-2009 it was about 8 trillion. And something was fucked up in the system. Then it melted down. Here they melted down the economy by shutting everybody down. Shut that shit down. And now we’ve got all this money coming into the system. CARES ACT. 2 trillion. Just trillions and trillions of dollars that are just being created. They need it to keep the whole system alive. 

ROGAN:

I’m getting confused, though. Are you thinking this is engineered? 

CURRY:

Yeah. Totally.

ROGAN:

The whole thing is shut down, the economy, that wasn’t done to protect people?

CURRY:

In my opinion that part was done—that was needed one way or the other. They could have done climate change, asteroids from space, I don’t give a fuck. They needed to shut it down. They needed to stop the money flow to fix it and get more permission to print money to flood into the system. There’s too much on the banking side and not enough on the people’s side. Go figure. They’ve been stealing it. So they had to give people money. And that’s what they did, they printed stimulus checks. In Texas today, if you and I start a consulting company, which is to motivate people to get vaccinated, we can get a grant of up to 1 million dollars.

ROGAN:

[seemingly amazed] What? 

CURRY:

Yes. This is how much money there is for this shit. And that goes into the system. And that’s what they needed to balance out this complete piece of crap. Now, is that going to work—

ROGAN:

But here’s the question: do you think it was engineered up until the point of releasing a virus? How far do you go with this? 

CURRY:

That’s hard to say, I mean maybe it was just the virus was made worse. They had practiced for this so they could trigger muscle memory with the people who were in the Event 201 drills. That’s not that hard to do…


Rogan, as you can see, is a skeptical questioner. He’s not immediately swallowing everything Curry says. But Rogan invites his audience to consider this guy’s totally unsupported speculative conspiracy theory that They intentionally made the virus worse, or perhaps even released it, in order to move money from the banking sector. And Rogan chooses not to invite an economist or policy analyst or anyone who actually knows anything about anything to respond. 

Edward Snowden has commented that the people who have the strongest views on Rogan’s show usually seem not to have listened to it. That may be so: Rogan is different from the caricature of him as a right-wing ideologue. Those who view him that way might be surprised to find Rogan aggressively challenging Dave Rubin over Rubin’s libertarian view that the free market makes building safety codes obsolete. Or Rogan taking Candace Owens to task for her ignorant denial of the basic facts of climate change. Or Rogan asking congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) to explain how Medicare For All is different in principle from having a public fire department. (It isn’t.) Rogan has argued aggressively with conservative Steven Crowder over marijuana prohibition and gave a rather moving explanation of why Donald Trump’s family separation policy was barbaric. In listening to his show, I have heard him highly praise The New York Times, John Oliver, and CNN’S Dr. Sanjay Gupta. A video on YouTube shows Rogan saying all kinds of progressive things, including his famous praise for Bernie Sanders. 

But Rogan’s beliefs are all over the place, and he is certainly not a “leftist.” He finds the concept of paternity leave risible, he repeats silly cliches about Marxism, and he has the kind of Jock Brain that enjoys calling fat guys “disgusting” and thinks saying the n-word is acceptable and racist jokes are funny. Rogan often has guests on who spew transphobic nonsense, such as Abigail Shrier and Debra Soh. (I have debunked Shrier’s book at painstaking length.) He doesn’t appear interested in any of the counterarguments to their positions, and himself has repeated nasty, erroneous right-wing talking points about trans people.

In fact, the idea that Rogan is equally open to all points of view is simply false. Rogan has chosen to sit down with serial fabricator and Holocaust denier Charles C. Johnson but not with Noam Chomsky. As Freddie deBoer points out, there is an unmistakable preference on his guest list for “anti-woke” types. Some of these people are conservative, some are the type who describe themselves as Classical Liberals, but they’re usually the type of people who rant about Social Justice Warriors and Cancel Culture. Like other self-styled intellectual renegades, he shrinks the realm of political discussion: there is little about policy and plenty about political correctness. The people who come on are often ideologues who know nothing about what they’re talking about; Jordan Peterson recently came on and delivered a bizarre attack on climate science, arguing that because climate affects “everything,” it was impossible to produce an accurate model of climate change, and thereby implying climate scientists’ models could be treated as virtually worthless. Naturally, climate scientists weren’t given an opportunity to respond. (In an excellent video showing that Rogan’s mind is less open than he thinks he is, Rebecca Watson plays a stunning clip of Rogan aggressively telling a PhD primatologist she is an idiot when she tries to debunk his cryptozoology.)

This makes the Joe Rogan Experience a maddening enterprise, like a news channel out of Idiocracy. Those of us who dedicate ourselves to painstakingly refuting right-wing lies find ourselves unable to keep up. The sheer volume of poorly-researched, “thing I saw somewhere” opinions is overwhelming. I can’t listen to political episodes of Rogan because the sounds of two extremely confident dudes talking out of their ass on a subject they haven’t read a book about is my version of “nails on a chalkboard.” As one rather nasty popular tweet put it:

Back when I was a kid you didn’t need Joe Rogan. Your best friend had a 27 year old brother who was a fucking loser who would smoke pot in a room with blacklight posters and tell you that the Mayans invented cell phones. 

This is a little unfair, but it’s closer to the mark than the remark by Libertarian Party congressman Justin Amash, whose view of Rogan is that he is “intellectually curious, challenges every guest, and readily admits when he’s wrong. That’s more than can be said about so many in the media. Check out an episode or two before accusing him of being the problem. We need more Joe Rogans of all ideological backgrounds.” While it may be true that he’s better than “many in the media,” I’ve checked out many episodes, and while Rogan might be curious, he isn’t competent. He’s not capable of holding conspiratorial or deranged guests accountable, and sees “research” as a matter of quickly Googling something. He has defended his COVID-19 takes by saying that while his opinion is “controversial,” it is not “uninformed,” citing the large file of COVID-19 articles he keeps on his phone. But a genuinely curious and knowledge-hungry person would not just have people on to confirm their biases, but those who challenge them—not just critics of social justice like James Lindsay, but “woke” scholars like Ibram X. Kendi. Get some critical race theorists on.

In response to Rogan’s failure to make sure that the things said on his show are credible and well sourced, there has been a campaign to get him kicked off Spotify, which famously made a $100 million deal with Rogan to lure him to the platform. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have pulled their music. New York Times opinion writer Roxane Gay pulled her podcast. The Spotify CEO groveled. 

I think targeting Spotify here is a colossal mistake, for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s not likely to work. Spotify paid a lot of money for Rogan, and would have to take a huge financial hit in order to consider booting him. The scandal might even prove lucrative for Spotify—being “canceled” often brings in more money. But even if Rogan and Spotify did part ways, Rogan’s audience would probably grow—moving his podcast to the platform actually limited Rogan’s reach and those who want him to have the fewest listeners possible should probably want to keep him there. 

But the whole campaign is also misguided because it leads to a public debate about censorship rather than a debate about the actual substantive issues that underlie this whole thing. There is a whole set of public figures, sometimes called the “intellectual dark web,” who have cultivated a brand as Dangerous Thinkers whose ideas are so bold and challenging to orthodoxy that the Woke Mob seeks to shut them down and destroy them. In fact, these people’s ideas are usually bogus, but so long as they make the conversation about whether they should be allowed to speak, they can spend their time arguing for “free speech” rather than arguing what is harder to defend (e.g., the claim that ivermectin cures COVID-19).

Rogan’s success as a broadcaster also reveals deep problems with American media that can’t be fixed by limiting his reach. People listen to him in part because they don’t trust the mainstream media, and that mistrust is warranted. What we need is good, trustworthy journalism and analysis that helps people understand the world. If it’s not there, then we can’t be surprised when someone like Rogan fills the information vacuum. If it’s not him, it will be somebody else. Media studies professor Victor Pickard points out in his recent book Democracy Without Journalism? that what looks like a “fake news” problem is in fact more to do with a lack of well-funded, trustworthy journalism. More important than “content moderation” is building powerful public media. “Deplatforming” the fakers is a fool’s errand. First, they will multiply, and portray themselves being silenced by The Powers That Be for telling Dangerous Truths. It gives evidence for the very narrative (Authoritarians Are Silencing Me) upon which they build their success. But it also doesn’t actually replace the false information with better material. There’s something almost “neoliberal” to it: it tries to regulate the private market, rather than accept that we have to build big new democratically-controlled institutions to provide the public service that is journalism.  

We should assume that the millions who listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast are ordinary people who would actually like to know what is true about the world. They go to him in part because he presents himself as curious, thoughtful, and open to new ideas. In fact, he is often ignorant and rarely seems curious enough to read books on the topics he does a three-hour show on. But we should operate on the assumption that his audience genuinely wants what he purports to be selling. His success is a sign that the rest of the media has failed to give that to them. 

There are millions of men like Joe Rogan in the United States. They have been raised with the prejudices of their race and sex. It takes years of education and reflection for a guy like that to realize that racist jokes aren’t funny, or that what looks like “just asking questions” can be based on transphobic assumptions. I certainly see why many people find him revolting, even if I also see why his audience thinks he’s a thoughtful and non-ideological truth-seeker. But on the left, we have a commitment to organizing, and organizing involves taking people who disagree with us and persuading them to join the left. The Rogans of the world are organizable; Bernie Sanders’ appearance on the show demonstrated that, and I disagreed with those who said Bernie shouldn’t have done it. In fact, I think as many leftists as possible ought to go on, and Rogan ought to be pressured to provide genuine, as opposed to fake, ideological diversity (when’s Chomsky being asked on?) I think Neil Young, instead of boycotting Spotify, should have gone on the Rogan show for a heartfelt conversation about why he feels so strongly about making sure vaccine information is accurate. When I wince in pain at some of the stupid shit said on The Joe Rogan Experience, I do not think “That man needs to be canceled.” I think “That man needs to be educated.” Let us spend less time trying to stifle falsehood and more time trying to spread knowledge. 

It’s tempting to say that Joe Rogan doesn’t matter and it’s a waste of time to pay him any attention. My friend Ben Burgis, in his book Canceling Comedians While The World Burns, argues that as the left struggles with powerlessness, we can sometimes choose fights we think we can win (like getting a problematic cultural figure deplatformed) rather than the hard fights that are more consequential (like tackling the climate catastrophe). Certainly, the amount of hubbub about Rogan in the last weeks makes this meme resonate: 

At the same time, Rogan isn’t just some podcaster. He is bigger than cable news. He is probably the country’s leading broadcaster, and so, regrettable as it may be, to analyze contemporary media means analyzing The Joe Rogan Experience. If it seems ludicrous that much of America is getting its information about the world from a podcast by a guy whose professional background is in getting reality TV contestants to eat spiders, well, such are the times we live in. We won’t fix that by shaming Spotify into making Rogan decamp for Rumble. We can only fix it through the hard work of organizing people and building new information channels that enrich the discourse with the information it lacks. Rogan is a symptom. He is a normal guy, the product of a country whose people aren’t taught much about the world and where the truth is kept paywalled. If guys like this aren’t yet “woke,” it’s our job to awaken them, to get them to question their biases and truly open their minds to different perspectives. I see no other viable path out. We are currently in dark and confusing times where all kinds of crazy theories are thrown around, and many people believe whatever stuff they hear being said by someone who sounds vaguely credible and relatable—or just extremely confident. Censorship (whether public or private) isn’t going to build the kind of new popular media that will be essential if we’re to have an informed populace capable of exercising its democratic responsibilities. 

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