Joe Rogan and the Weird New Definition of ‘Right-Winger’
Beyond the left/right binary. In a widely shared Sunday tweet, journalist Matthew Sheffield asserted that controversial podcaster Joe Rogan “overwhelmingly” favors “right-wingers” as guests. Rogan has been at the center of multiple outrage cycles recently (even the White House has been weighing in), with many progressives—including musicians like Neil Young—attempting to get the audio platform Spotify to cancel his contract. Proving that he’s some sort of right-wing nutjob has been a major thread in all this.
Rogan and his supporters insist that he’s simply open-minded and likes to talk to people from across the political spectrum—and a quick glance at some of his repeat guests would certainly suggest this.
Liberal actress Amy Schumer has been on Rogan’s show four times, while Trump-loving actress Roseanne Barr has been on three times. Liberal director Kevin Smith has been a guest (four times), as has conservative rocker Ted Nugent (three times). Sex advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage, Cenk Uygur of the left political show The Young Turks, whistleblower and civil liberties advocate Edward Snowden, and former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) have all been on Rogan’s show. As have conservative commentators and entertainers like Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and Alex Jones.
Many of Rogan’s guests don’t fit into neat political categories. For instance, politically independent YouTuber Bridget Phetasy has been on four times. Rogan also likes guests from the atheist and skeptic communities. Neuroscientist, podcaster, and author Sam Harris—best known for his writings on atheism and debates with religious believers—has been on eight times. Psychologist and author Steven Pinker (famous for books like How The Mind Works and The Blank Slate) has been on twice. Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer has been on six times.
In the chart made by Sheffield—who describes himself as “post-conservative” in his Twitter bio—all of the people listed in the above paragraph are coded as “right-wing.” So is English actor Russell Brand, who has campaigned against austerity measures and made a documentary against the war on drugs. So is Gabbard, who was literally a Democratic presidential candidate. So is Elon Musk, who describes himself as a “registered independent & politically moderate.” And so are all the Rogan guests associated with what was briefly termed the Intellectual Dark Web—folks like journalist Bari Weiss (on twice), biology professor Bret Weinstein (on seven times), Canadian author and professor Jordan Peterson (on seven times), and evolutionary biologist Heather Heying (on twice)—regardless of whether they personally consider themselves liberal or libertarian-leaning.
I don’t mean to single out Sheffield especially, but his tweet made the rounds, and it’s illustrative of the ways in which Rogan has been awkwardly folded into a conventional left/right political argument that doesn’t quite fit the podcaster, his listeners, or a lot of other discussions these days.
As writer Kat Rosenfield points out, “many of the ‘right-wing’ guests explicitly favor left/liberal policies and voted dem in at least the last 4 presidential elections.” Others on the right-wing list tend to lean libertarian, or to support a mix of policies and cultural attitudes associated with the left and with the right.
The whole thing makes no sense—except as an exercise in labeling anyone out of step with progressive orthodoxy in any way at all as a right-winger. That’s the thing all of the centrist or left-leaning folks that Sheffield labels as right-wing have in common: a quibble with some aspect of mainstream Democratic or progressive politics. In many cases, these quibbles are related to free speech, which much of the mainstream modern left has been turning against.
In the past, there seems to have been more acceptance of ideological diversity and policy differences within parties and political movements. But—alas—these days, many Democrats/progressives or Republicans/conservatives who refuse to march in lockstep with these groups’ thought leaders get cast as traitors. It’s nuts.
But the Rogan guest list highlights more than just the intensifying gatekeeping of political labels. It also showcases—as Rosenfield puts it—”the total breakdown of left/right as a meaningful political binary.”
These days, we’ve got Republicans calling for economic and regulatory policies that would’ve been considered too left for the left just a few decades ago. We’ve got liberals who reject all sorts of liberal values, like freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
We’ve also got a whole lot of independents who can’t stand either mainstream political party. More people now identify as independent than as either a member of the Democratic Party or of the GOP.
The list of Rogan guests does highlight something telling, just not what Sheffield thinks it does. It shows how inadequate the language of left versus right is for discussing politics and cultural leanings in 2022.
Free speech principles must go both ways. Two newsletters, from opposing political vantages, tackle censorship and “ideological surveillance,” including book bans and measures limiting school instruction (like this terrible proposal out of Florida).
“I have never in my adult life seen anything like the censorship fever that is breaking out across America,” writes David French in “Our Nation Cannot Censor Its Way Back to Cultural Health”:
As American animosity rises, we simply cannot censor our way to social peace or unity. We can, however, violate the social compact, disrupt the founding logic of our republic, and deprive American students and American citizens of the exchange of ideas and of the liberty that has indeed caused, as [Frederick] Douglass prophesied, ‘thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong’ to tremble in the face of righteous challenge.”
Meanwhile, in “Snitch Nation,” Jill Filipovic laments that “we have adjusted startlingly rapidly not only to pervasive surveillance and the end of personal privacy, but to the justification for punishment arising from that surveillance.”
“We can differentiate between the need to check those in positions of significant power and the baser urge to punish those who have bad or even harmful ideas, or those who do things we dislike that don’t actually cause tangible damage,” writes Filipovic:
Police who complain about body and dash cam rules, for instance, can suck an egg — when the state hands you a gun and gives you the authority to use it, you take on a higher level of responsibility and there is a significant public interest in making sure that you are not breaking the laws that you and your friends and colleagues are charged with enforcing. But punishing people whose ideas are wrong but not immediately physically dangerous — even if the people disseminating those ideas have some cultural influence or educational authority — leads us down a dangerous path. After all, it’s those in power who get to decide which ideas merit penalty. When that’s progressives at a liberal arts college, I tend to agree with their assessment. When it’s conservatives on a Texas school board, I don’t. Which is why we need to maintain a set of consistent principles when it comes to speech and surveillance that transcends (most) of that speech’s content.
On “free” COVID-19 tests, from The Wall Street Journal:
My 4-year-old daughter’s preschool requires weekly Covid testing. We were told not to worry about the cost—the tests are free. On a recent Sunday my family got tested at a pop-up tent outside a gasoline station. The sign on the tent advertised “free Covid testing.”
I didn’t pay for these tests, but they aren’t free. The cost is billed to my health insurance. A few days ago, I received a routine letter from my insurance company summarizing what it paid: $1,140 a month for my daughter’s weekly PCR test. That comes to about $285 per test, 20 times the cost of an at-home rapid test.”
The IRS is backtracking on a plan to use facial recognition software. In January, Reason reported that the IRS was requiring users of many of its online services to register with facial recognition company ID.me. “The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. Now, the agency has announced that it will “transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts” and “quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition.”
Canadian authorities are getting more aggressive against protesters in Ottawa. “Police in the Canadian capital are trying to prevent protesters who have parked an estimated 500 heavy-duty trucks in the downtown core from obtaining fuel, food and other supplies in a stepped-up effort to end the 11-day demonstration against Covid-19 vaccine mandates,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Among the new measures is the arrest of protesters and their supporters who attempt to ferry fuel and food into the main demonstration zone.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on Monday:
So far, hundreds of RCMP officers have been mobilized to support the Ottawa Police Services. We’re also working with municipal partners to further strengthen our response, and we’ll continue to be there with whatever resources are needed to get the situation under control.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 8, 2022
Meanwhile, on Monday, a judge ruled that protesters must stop honking their horns for the next 10 days. “Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought I’m aware of,” declared Judge Hugh McLean. Here’s how truckers responded:
After a judge ruled that honking is now illegal in Ottawa, the truckers responded by honking.
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) February 7, 2022
• A new study shows a correlation between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 severity and death rates. “A patient’s history of vitamin D deficiency is a predictive risk factor associated with poorer COVID-19 clinical disease course and mortality,” said study co-author Michael Edelstein, of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
• Oregon drug decriminalization is off to a successful start:
In the year since the state decriminalized drugs, Oregon has already been able to provide peer support, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, housing and job assistance to more than 16,000 people.https://t.co/3sBjDZS6Y6
— Truthout (@truthout) February 7, 2022
• Dangerous no-knock warrants and thwarted Second Amendment rights collide in the Minneapolis police killing of Amir Locke, notes Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post. (More about the unjustified shooting here.)
• A good thread from the founder of Wikipedia:
The New York Times is protected by Section 230, and by the First Amendment. Facebook is protected by Section 230, and by the First Amendment. There is no such thing in Section 230 as the distinction between a “publisher” and a “platform”.
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) February 7, 2022
• Techdirt: “The EARN IT Act is significantly more dangerous than FOSTA.”
• Facebook parent company Meta says European Union data rules may render it “unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe.”
• A proposed law in Kentucky would micromanage the teaching of history and ban teachers from discussing current events in classrooms without offering a full range of views on those events.
• Against Great Britain’s porn laws:
The Government is shafting civil liberties by resurrecting the porn laws
Forcing adults to enter personal information is a boon to scammers
Campaigners have beaten off the porn laws before, we can do it again #RepealThePornLaws
— Adam Smith Institute (@ASI) February 8, 2022
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