Published January 31, 2022
Last week, musician Neil Young issued an ultimatum: Spotify could either remove Joe Rogan’s immensely popular podcast or it could remove Young’s catalogue of music. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young explained.
The musician’s complaint came in response to what he deemed Covid-19 “misinformation” on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, including the host’s skeptical comments about the vaccines. After giving it some thought, Spotify took down Young’s music, explaining that the supposedly objectionable content on Rogan’s podcast did not meet the threshold for removal.
Young’s lonely lament might not have succeeded in silencing Rogan, but he did manage to win himself more attention than he’s had in decades. (I can say in all sincerity that I can’t remember having heard of him until this incident.) A staff writer at the Atlantic proclaimed, “In choosing Joe Rogan over Neil Young, [Spotify] has made its new priorities clear to listeners.” Spoiler alert: The new priorities are Very Bad. A CNN op-ed, meanwhile, hailed the singer for taking “a stand against Covid-19 vaccine misinformation,” saying he had “put his finger on America’s big divide.” Young also got a bit of support from fellow C-list celebrities Joni Mitchell and Brené Brown, who joined him in Spotify self-exile.
Their virtue-signaling departures from the streaming platform were more than a little amusing. Only a truly enormous ego could conceive of the idea to withhold one’s work and effectively silence oneself until the nation’s most popular podcast host is de-platformed. But, more concerning, the incident has demonstrated the Left’s insidious view of speech.
To be sure, Joe Rogan has no absolute right to share his thoughts in a podcast on Spotify or anywhere else — though it would be silly and spineless for the platform to silence him over “misinformation.” The worst thing about left-wing demands for his removal isn’t what it would do to him; it’s what it says about how the people demanding his cancellation view his listeners.
Calls for silencing someone’s “dangerous” speech are far less about the speaker than they are about those who hear him. The impulse to cancel Rogan on the basis that he makes people feel unsafe stems from the insulting premise that his listeners are too foolish to think for themselves and must uncritically adopt whatever beliefs the podcast host tells them to. The people pushing to cancel Rogan are operating from the premise that most Americans are stupid sheep, dimwitted blank canvases onto which the intelligentsia — be it Rogan or Anthony Fauci — can project their own opinions. And the purveyors of cancel culture want their opinions to be the ones proclaimed as absolute truth.
The impulse to shut down Rogan isn’t ultimately about making him go away; it’s about controlling what his listeners believe and what they do as a result. It seems not to occur to Neil Young and his admirers that half of Rogan’s listeners might well be tuning in because they want to mock him, or because he’s entertaining, or because they want to understand how their opponents think. The assumption appears to be that every Rogan listener will necessarily adopt his every opinion and adapt their behavior accordingly, even if it means marching to their untimely death.
Thanks to this insultingly low opinion of the average American, leftists want to silence Rogan not because his views are unquestionably wrong or objectively dangerous but because they want their ideas to reign supreme, and the easiest way to do that is to silence competing claims. If the stupid masses have access to the heterodox ideas available on Rogan’s podcast, public-health officials and Covid-crazy pundits will have less power over his listeners’ beliefs and less influence over their behavior. That’s what progressives can’t stand about free speech: They want to control what Rogan can say because they want to control what we think.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. @xan_desanctis
Photo by Jonathan Velasquez on Unsplash