David Heinemeier Hansson

January 14, 2022

This swapping of roles is making me dizzy

Matt Taibbi wrote a great piece called The Left is Now the Right last year. It detailed how many of the tactics and thought processes anyone who came of age in the 90s would recognize as "of the right" are now being used by the opposite side of the political spectrum. A clip:

Conservatives once tried to legislate what went on in your bedroom; now it’s the left that obsesses over sexual codicils, not just for the bedroom but everywhere. Right-wingers from time to time made headlines campaigning against everything from The Last Temptation of Christ to “Fuck the Police,” though we laughed at the idea that Ice Cube made cops literally unsafe, and it was understood an artist had to do something fairly ambitious, like piss on a crucifix in public, to get conservative protesters off their couches.

He goes on to list a series of absurd instances of this bizarre swapperoo. But that was last year. Have things gotten better since?

Maybe on some counts. We now have people like John McWhorter who have entered the mainstream with an opposition to "wokeness" that would have been chased out of polite center-left company a year prior. We also saw an astounding political upset in Virginia over school policy that probably wouldn't have happened in 2020.

But in other ways, it seems like we're still regressing. Take this latest obsession with Joe Rogan. There seems to be very little curiosity into why he's become this huge phenomenon, and an almost blood-thirsty zeal to get him kicked off Spotify for daring to do what he does. Which is having curious conversations with a huge range of folks and letting them talk. A style in which he walks the path of William Buckley, Bryan Magee, and plenty of other interviewers who weren't afraid of letting their political or intellectual adversaries present their arguments.

The latest brouhaha is over an interview he conducted with Dr Robert Malone, a noted covid vaccine skeptic, who also happen to have been intimately involved with developing the underlying mRNA technology. I'm not going to litigate any of the specific claims here, because I think it's besides the broader point. Which is: What is science, if not an adversarial process by which we seek an ever-closer understanding of the truth through critical review from all sides? How can we follow The Science, if we do not subject it to such pressures? What kind of science do we get if we don't?

What's so dizzying about this quest to cancel Rogan is who it's coming from. I remember reading about the campaign to ban NWA in the 90s. Seeing the throwbacks to "this is your brain on drugs" PSAs from the 80s applied to weed. The Moral Majority type stuff. It was not only coming from the other side, but it was laughed at by liberals and progressives as preposterous.

It's possible some of this is generational. I'm sure plenty of people like me who were kids in those 90s also chuckled a bit about the hippies from the 60s, even if they broadly shared the same political vision. But it's not all of it. Things have shifted. Drastically and quickly.

Maybe in a year from now, the winds will start blowing in the opposite direction again, though. Like with McWhorter and "wokeness". The idea that a podcast host should be fired if he interviews the wrong people with the wrong opinions thrown back into the bin of bad propositions. Let's hope so.

In the meanwhile, I can't help but chuckle at how this outrage is performing the same function for Rogan that picketing parents did for Eminem: MAKE A LOT OF PEOPLE WANT TO LISTEN! It's like seeing Dungeon & Dragons being ripped off the shelves in the 80s from preachers proclaiming it to be a gateway to Satan

The more you tell people how dangerous this music/game/interview is, the more appealing it'll appear to many. It's basic human nature!

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.