Now I have tried to listen to Joe Rogan as friends have told me he’s interesting or impartial or something. I tried and it just sounds like a couple of people smoking weed and spouting off half baked conspiracy theories and mindless, and I mean really mindless, banter at the intellectual level of an eighth grader. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind participating in that kind of thing, it’s just I don’t want to listen to other people doing it. Especially for three hours. My god.
But also, when I have listened to Joe Rogan I have heard him say all kinds of the ignorant shit that I have heard plenty of white dudes say when I was a teenager. I’m guilty of saying some of the same shit before I realized how wrong and harmful some of it really is. I get it, if you are raised in certain areas, like the entirety of the united states and its territories for instance, you basically have to unlearn the bigotry and the misogyny and all the stupid tropes that go with it, especially, but not exclusively, if you’re a white dude.
So it’s good Joe Rogan is apologizing. It’s good someone called him out. Maybe he’ll take it and have a little introspection on these things and as he says do better. I think that’s all anyone really asks, contrary to popular belief.
So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about cancel culture and freedom of speech. Because I think there is some conflation between the idea of blacklisting someone and people exercising free speech. I mean relax, no one is canceling Joe Rogan. Let’s recap what just happened and will probably continue to happen because I think people are just getting started.
Can Joe Rogan use his show to let guests compare vaccine mandates to the holocaust just a few weeks before Holocaust Remembrance Day? Sure, I guess, I mean it’s quite insensitive but he did it. How about then continuing a barrage of misinformation surrounding the vaccines and encouraging people not to take them. Sure, I suppose he can say that too if he wants to be completely irresponsible. And could that trigger hundreds of medical professionals to write an open letter asking him to stop? Yep, and that happened. Then can Neil Young demand that it’s either him or Rogan on Spotify? Oh yea, and Spotify is free to choose as they did. And of course they chose Rogan, they paid 100 Million dollars to have him exclusively. Does the fact that they paid him 100 Million dollars mean that Spotify is somewhat responsible for the consequences of Joe Rogan’s words? I’m not a lawyer but in a sane world I would say yes, yes it does. They are basically his sponsor now, and a common method of protest is boycotting sponsors.
Whew we need a new paragraph here. Ok then can India Arie make a n-word montage of Joe Rogan’s use of the n-word and also bail on Spotify. Yes. Totally. See that’s how free speech works. It’s all free speech and counter speech and that’s how it plays out. This is what they call the marketplace of ideas where supposedly more speech brings the truth to the surface. Of course I have plenty of examples where that did not happen, but that is the playing field we are on.
I also want to bring up one more point. Words have meaning, they have consequences, they are in fact sometimes dangerous and can cause harm. They can lead to greater freedoms and a better society or they can lead to death, destruction, war and police states. Freedom of speech therefore should come with some responsibility and that responsibility should be somewhat equal to the severity of their consequences. Does that always pan out? Sometimes. Can that be legally enforced? Probably not, and it probably shouldn’t be. But you can be charged for things like encouraging someone to commit suicide or starting a riot or famously yelling fire in a crowded theater.
So here’s what concerns me about what just happened with Joe Rogan. The first is this idea of cancel culture applying to people like Joe Rogan and Spotify. No, the reality is some people just want people to take personal responsibility for what they are saying. Is that really too much to ask? Can Joe Rogan, who is obviously influential, just be devoid of all consequences and responsibility for his speech? And Spotify? Especially when that language can have effects that could cost people their lives? Or further bigoted tropes that harm society as a whole.
I might not like what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it just as much as I’ll defend everyone’s right to tell you to just shut the fuck up and listen for a just a minute to how stupid you sound. That’s what India Arie did and it just might work and Joe Rogan might be better for it.