Joe Rogan, Epistemology, and Brain Worms
...and also gross Matt Gaetz stuff.
Happy Friday my beautiful babies. There is a lot to cover in this one, so let’s get into it.
It’s a little dated, but I wanted to direct everyone’s attention to a segment from Joe Rogan’s podcast.
It’s worth watching, but if you don’t feel like it, basically Rogan:
Makes a statement about myocarditis being linked to the vaccines.
Is corrected almost immediately by his (expert) guest.
Says he thinks his guest is wrong.
Is shown proof that his guest is actually right.
Ultimately doesn’t believe his guest is right anyway.
Rogan has been in the news lately, since a collective of scientists signed a letter asking Spotify to take down his interview with COVID-19 skeptic/grifter Robert Malone, and Neil Young pulled all of his music off of Spotify after they refused to cancel Rogan’s show. Even today there is fallout from his interview with Jordan Peterson, where the two non-scientists “wax idiotic” about climate change.
I think “waxing idiotic” is a good way to describe Rogan’s show. In fact, he’d probably be OK with that as a descriptor, since he repeatedly tells his audience that he is an idiot who is not an expert, and that they should do their own research. He just has guests on and has long, sprawling conversations with them about various topics, with occasional interjections about Native Americans smoking DMT. It’s actually a fun format, mostly due to the fact that Rogan is a great conversationalist. He also has what I like to call “paper plate” knowledge: Even if he isn’t an expert on a specific subject that he’s talking about, he can still have a conversation with you about pretty much anything. That format is fine when the topic is whether or not Atlantis is real, or if UFOs are really hypersonic bats. It’s different when it comes to public health.
That’s where Rogan has been sort of a menace. It ranges from the small, like him posting deceptive pics on his Instagram where he implies that Biden did not get the booster shot:
It’s the, “All the world is a stage,” caption that sort of does the work. But most journalists would recognize the room that Biden is in as the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Building, a room that is frequently used by Presidents to hold public events (including Trump).
That is a small little nugget of evidence, but it’s worth highlighting because Rogan’s thought process from the small little nuggets flows into his more egregious actions, like suggesting that Ivermectin is a viable treatment for COVID, or that the vaccines are unsafe, or that masks are for “bitches.”
The main reason this is all relevant is because of size of Rogan’s audience, which is huge; he actually has more listeners than Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson combined. To be clear, I don’t think Rogan is in the same boat as Carlson (who knows exactly what he is doing and is happy lying to his audience) or Hannity (who is too stupid to know what he is doing). Rogan is much more curious - in a good faith sort of way - than either of Hannity or Carlson, even if the latter makes weird faces trying to imitate a curious person.
But Rogan’s popularity and relevance capture the mentality of a growing segment of the population in America. Rogan is naturally curious about everything, and believes wide access to an endless amount of information on the Internet has greatly increased his knowledge about almost every topic. A lot of Americans probably feel the same way, but walking into a library and reading ten or twenty of the books in it does not make you an expert on the books in the back row. And it also assumes that you, the random person who just walked into a library, can determine which books are valid and which ones are the Twilight series. So, Americans have become sort of like a warden of the library, telling people which books can be trusted and which ones cannot.
Julian Sanchez touched on this recently in a brilliant Twitter thread (I’m linking to the whole thing because I’m a Boomer):
This kind of defines Rogan’s appeal in a nutshell, but it also captures the popularity of the anti-vaccination movement, the 9/11 Truth movement, QAnon, the Las Vegas shooter, Columbine, etc., etc., go down the list.
What has basically happened is that Americans have now started trying to morph what they see in movies and in comic books into reality, so that they can feel like the good guys in their own little mini-series.
I’ll never forget a response I got to a semi-viral Facebook post that addressed the Plandemic movie that was spreading around social media in the early days of COVID. If you just experienced some trauma thinking about how long ago that felt and how we’ve been fully dealing with COVID for two years, lower your phone for 4 seconds, take a deep breath, and come back to this:
You read that right: I have defended both “big business” and the “socialist” agenda. It doesn’t actually matter that these two things are diametrically opposed, all that matters is that they are both, big “evils” that are easily identified. The commenter is engaging in the “cinematic epistemology” by identifying his enemies, big business and the deep state socialists (and me), and highlighting the struggle of Judy Mikovits1 (the “outsider”) against these entities.
You could have a longer conversation about how this behavior is starting to become more popular, particularly within the GOP, but I think it’s actually better to shift gears and try to address how you engage with people who have these beliefs.
In the clip at the beginning of this post, Rogan notably does not change his mind despite seeing proof that his beliefs were wrong. This is sort of the way it works in real life: If someone believes something that is unsupported by the facts, they usually ignore the facts and bury themselves further into their beliefs.
Recently at work, we were given a sort-of workshop on how to combat those beliefs, and it is a little thing called (funnily enough), street epistemology. We started watching the videos because an ex-QAnon believer said publicly that videos from Street Epistemology helped them come out of it more than any pleading family member throwing a thousand fact-checks at them.
The point of the questioning in the videos isn’t to rebut or debunk a person’s belief, but to try and get at why they believe what they believe. If you want a small introduction to the method, this is a great video that is a conversation with a COVID vaccine skeptic, and it has commentary from the guys who actually do street epistemology (including the questioner himself):
There are other examples, including ones that get at the heart of conspiracy theories, but you really can see the gears in peoples’ heads beginning to turn when the right questions are asked. It is, importantly, a more sympathetic approach to addressing a person’s disbelief, even if it is one that isn’t as personally satisfying as a good debunking (I am super guilty of this!).
So, I basically think America needs to have a big, long epistemology session with itself, but maybe we can just start with Joe Rogan.
The other, obvious big news this week was Stephen Breyer “announcing” his retirement. There is a good read here on why there probably will not be a full-court press from the GOP on Biden’s potential nominee.
But I have to highlight the absolute brain worms that are plaguing Ben Shapiro:
If you asked me to engineer a silly take in a lab, this is what I would come up with. There is not a single smart person who did not expect Breyer to retire before November, because everyone basically knows that McConnell and the Republicans will block any nominee forever once they take control of the Senate.
Related to this is the freakout that Biden is making good on his Campaign promise to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. Why conservatives are freaking out about it now, as opposed to when Biden made the promise, is a little beyond me, but of course such a promise is more than appropriate.
The primary reason is because we do not have to currently worry about the President “not selecting the best person for the job,” because there are so many people who can do the job right now. There is no single “best choice” (besides Richard Posner, but he is 83), so Biden can literally pull from a literally un-represented demographic on the Court and have the Court better represent the country as a whole.
And, of course, conservatives said almost nothing when Trump made a similar pledge:
Also, patron saint Ronald Reagan also made a similar pledge. Must be a weirdly slow news week in conservative media…
Some should-reads for the weekend:
A good analysis on why Biden is stumbling.
A good profile of my guess on who will replace Breyer, KBJ.
Good lord, but was Larry Summers (the “inflation is coming” dude I linked to a lot last year) right all along?
A great takedown of God’s worst practical joke on humanity, Alex Berenson.
MATT GAETZ IS GOIN’ JAIL. For the primary ewww: New reporting/legal stuffs sort of confirms what we were suspicious of before, which is that Gaetz had sex with a minor. But the secondary ewww from the new details is probably louder: Gaetz, upon learning that the person he had sex with was a minor, stopped contacting her for a few months, but then once she turned 18, paid to have sex with her again. Ewww. Gaetz is in a world of hurt, and given all the recent testimony in the case, it appears that his indictment is coming relatively soon.
Lastly, as a special treat that is related to the “…” just above, conservative media has been weirdly silent about the Gaetz stuff. In fact, The Daily Wire’s last story surrounding Gaetz is from October 2021 and it’s about “Biden’s DOJ” refusing to arrest a guy who threatened Gaetz. But the mainstream media is biased!
See everyone next week.