Joe Rogan, Neil Young and Me

Let me start by declaring my ignorance. I never heard of Joe Rogan until a few weeks ago. When Neil Young recently announced that he was pulling all his music off Spotify, I took an interest. And the more I read and listened, the more I admired what Young had done.

Watching Rogan engage in friendly banter with the likes of Canada’s Jordan Peterson or Britain’s Douglas Murray, you can instantly spot the appeal. Rogan is a smarter, friendlier version of Trump. People who listen to him a lot will challenge that, of course, but I wasted several valuable minutes of my life watching Rogan’s video trying to explain himself. After all, Young had accused him of something very serious: spreading disinformation about COVID through his enormously popular podcast hosted on Spotify.

I posted something on Facebook, as one does, that I thought would prove pretty uncontroversial among my friends. Here’s part of what I said:

“Hey, Joe Rogan, 3 million of your followers just heard you tell us how much you love Joni Mitchell, especially her song ‘Chuck E.’s in Love’. (Which, of course, is not her song.) And then you explained that from now on, you will follow ‘controversial’ guests (meaning liars) with ‘other viewpoints’. You’ll keep hosting people who spread disinformation about the pandemic, you won’t stop doing that, but you’re happy to tag on a reasonable person at the end of the show.”

I thought that was a pretty fair summary of what Rogan said. And most people I know agreed.

But not all. One British leftist who I actually met when he came to a Bernie Sanders campaign event a few years back, instantly denounced me with this comment: “It is called free speech. Something the Pfizer-left does not believe in.”

I don’t know why I bothered to respond, but knowing this fellow’s views on the pandemic (from elsewhere) I thought, what the heck. I’ll go nuclear with my response – that will shut him up.

I simply wrote, “Just out of curiosity – unrelated to Joe Rogan – do you support ‘free speech’ for Holocaust deniers too? Or do you place limits?” I guess my point was that maybe some “free speech” (like spreading COVID disinformation) might be a problem.

That was sure to return my Facebook page to its previous calm. I imagined he’d say something like “how dare you bring the Holocaust into this?”. (Which would be a fair point.)

But nope, that’s not what he said. What he wrote — and this is a member of the British Left, a Corbyn supporter — stunned me: “How would you know what Holocaust denial is unless it is expressed?”

A couple of exchanges later and he clarified exactly what he meant: “How would you know the contents of Mein Kampf unless they are available to read?”

That’s right — in defence of Joe Rogan, prompted by a cursory Holocaust comparison I admittedly raised first — I got this comrade to compare the Joe Rogan show to a publisher who releases a new edition of Mein Kampf.

I know that there are differences on the Left over the question of “no platforming” the Nazis. For many years it was true that in the US, most liberals and leftists opposed any kind of censorship at all. The American Civil Liberties Union famously defended the “right” of Nazis to march through a Chicago neighbourhood populated by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

But in Europe, a different view prevailed — especially in Germany, where Nazi propaganda is pretty much banned. If you want to buy Main Kampf there, you can — and this is very recent — buy a thick, heavily edited volume in which most of the text is from historians pointing out what crap Hitler’s book is.

I tend to line up with the “no platform for Nazis” crowd on this one.

Which brings me back to Joe Rogan. Apparently the number of people listening to Neil Young’s songs has gone up as a result of this, which is a good thing. But Joe Rogan is also now better known, which is probably not so good.

People who are worried about “censorship” can calm down. Spotify is happy to keep Rogan on air, because he’s a huge money-spinner for them. Apparently he’s worth more to them than Neil Young or Joni Mitchell.

As for critics of the (non-existent) “Pfizer Left”? Some of them, at least, seem to be just one Facebook comment away from defending the Nazis’ “right to free speech”. And that really is a depressing thought.

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.