David Heinemeier Hansson

December 10, 2021

Everything popular is problematic

I can completely see why Joe Rogan's podcast has become so popular. I've listened to maybe a dozen shows, and the way he lets his guests talk, at length, feels like a throwback. It doesn't have the intellectualism of a Bryan Magee or the inquisitiveness of a William Buckley, but it does have the spirit of letting people – with whom he, his audience, and others might disagree – present their thoughts in full. In our age, and a stage the size of Rogan's, that feels quaint. Where are the fast jabs? The quick dunks? The stupefied facial expression?

Such basic curiosity of trying to really understand what someone else might actually think or believe is in low supply these days. On many of the most controversial issues, even partaking in a conversation with "the other side" is often derided as "platforming". Under the proposition that if we let the wrong people present their bad ideas, they might convince some of the.. right people? That strikes me as a profoundly insecure and pessimistic conception of the listener.

Take William Buckley's interview of Eldridge Cleaver, for example. Buckley "platformed" a member of the Black Panthers, and gave him amble opportunity to present his view on "the pigs", the revolution, and all sorts of topics that Buckley himself surely considered "harmful" (to use a modern description). Did he fear that by letting Cleaver speak on his program that these ideas would infect his coddled viewers, and thus bring calamity upon his beloved nation? No. He thought they could handle – and benefit! – from hearing what "the other side" thought.

Contrast the faith Buckley showed his viewers with this archetypical analysis of Rogan by Alex Paterson of Media Matters in an interview with The Verge:

Since I started reporting on Rogan’s podcast... he hasn’t faced any real punishment from Spotify. And I think that’s emboldened him to continue pushing hate and lies on his podcast. Rogan has stated numerous times that Spotify has never spoken to him about the hate that he pushes on his podcast or taken any steps to try to curt him from doing so. Joe Rogan has shown really clearly that he will use his podcast to spread conspiracy theories, right-wing lies, [and] racist rhetoric in order to sort of promote himself.

So Rogan's show is "hate and lies", it's incredible that he hasn't been "punished" for it, and it's all just self-promotion anyway. Okay?

Or could it be that the opinions expressed by Rogan or his guests are sincerely held, shared with listeners who needn't be protected from them, and the popularity that have followed is in part a function of this?

That seems to be the key problem. The popularity. Why do people keep tuning into this man and his broad array of guests?! Why isn't someone in charge preventing this dissemination of ideas and opinions from happening!

Perhaps if our current popular media culture had more Magees and more Buckleys, Rogan's show wouldn't stand out as the throwback beacon that it is.

In the mean time, we should celebrate the fact that Rogan's show is as popular as it is. Where else would you hear from both Bernie Sanders and Ben Shapiro. From Michael Pollan and Michael Shellenberger. From Jewel and Snoop Dog. Then we should counter this quest for "punishment" that might deter other media outlets or personalities from engaging beyond their ideological dome. Finally, we should give viewers, listeners, and readers the same kind of respect that both Magee, Buckley, and Rogan have given theirs: confidence that they can listen to ideas across a spectrum and form their own opinions.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.