Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Joe Rogan World Vs. NPR World

One country, two nations, divided by a lack of a common story and common storytellers
Performances At The Ice House Comedy Club

Yesterday when I drove up to the country to visit my mother, I listened to NPR until I couldn’t take it anymore. There was a story about black Mormons. Normally I would have found that compelling, given my interest in religion. The Mormon religion used to be formally racist, but changed its teaching. What is it like to live as a black Mormon? That’s a story that interests me. Or normally would, but I swear, I turned off the radio. Why?

It had nothing to do with the black Mormons. It had to do with NPR. I thought: they’re only interested in Mormons so they can find some new way to talk about American racism.

It feels like every time I get in the car and turn on the radio, I don’t have to wait long before I hear a story that highlights in some new way what a racist country America is, or how hard illegal immigrants have it in America, or how put-upon sexual minorities are, and so forth. I don’t know if NPR’s liberalism has always been like this, or if it has gotten worse — or if I have simply become thin-skinned about these issues. I have always known NPR was liberal, but that didn’t stop me from being a big fan, and even a contributing member. I feel that my NPR — the NPR that I cherished, even though it was liberal and I am conservative — has gone away, and I don’t know why. I used to love listening to it in the car, and not conservative talk radio, because I don’t want to have a voice on the radio rubbing my nose into some political narrative. NPR used to stand out because it proposed new ways of seeing the world, or at least ways that seemed new to me as a conservative. Now listening to NPR is giving oneself over to hosts who seek to impose a worldview that constantly says, about people who don’t fit the progressive narrative, that you aren’t worthy of our consideration or attention. That you are what’s wrong with America.

I switched over to Spotify to listen to Joe Rogan’s September 17 podcast episode with Douglas Murray, on the advice of a friend. It was excellent! Murray is more conservative than Rogan, but still, he’s a gay secular Briton, and Rogan is a pro-drug, pro-gay marriage, comedian and MMA commentator who has some conservative beliefs (or at least instincts), but who, above all, seems curious about the world. On paper, neither of these guys has a lot in common with me, but I hated for their conversation to be over, because they sounded like people I either know, or would like to know. They talked for a while about how bonkers the left has become, but neither one sounded like right-wing zealots, not in the least. What they sounded like was real people who were broadcasting from the real world, not from an aerie in the thin, cold air high atop Mount Progressive. Joe Rogan is profane, but when I listen to him, it feels like I’m listening to an actual person I might meet, and with whom I might enjoy a robust discussion, like people used to have. With NPR, it’s like listening to the Vatican Radio of the Religion Of Secular Progressivism, and you get the idea that if you met one of its young reporters, you would feel like a pot dealer who wandered into a Police Benevolent Association fundraiser.

I don’t mean to beat up NPR alone. I have the same experience reading The New York Times. Most conservatives I know don’t listen to NPR or read the Times, and could not care less about them. They assume that NPR and the NYT hate them, so they have no agony over failed expectations. But I have been listening to NPR and reading the NYT long enough to know that something has changed with those two institutions — again, institutions that I’ve always known were liberal, but loved anyway. If I had never learned to care about them, I wouldn’t get so wound up about it now.

That, and the fact that those institutions are such important bellwethers of elite opinion. You may not care what’s in the Times or on NPR, but the people who do are those who ultimately control a lot of things in your life. Never, ever forget the lessons in these two passages from Live Not By Lies:

It’s possible to miss the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. In 1951, poet and literary critic Czesław Miłosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident, wrote that Western people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of “might and coercion.”

“That is wrong,” he wrote. “There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”

In The Captive Mind, Miłosz said that communist ideology filled a void that had opened in the lives of early twentieth-century intellectuals, most of whom had ceased to believe in religion.

This is why NPR sounds like Vatican Radio from the Church of Secular Progressivism, and this is why The New York Times reads like L’Osservatore Romano of the same pseudo-religion. More from Live Not By Lies:

In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter.

Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”

This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who do not will leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”

This is how Your Working Boy gets from, “Black Mormons — hey, that’s interesting. I’d like to know more about what they went through” — which would be my stance in normal times — to “Black Mormons? Just one more NPR story about what a racist, oppressive, worthless country this is” to “NPR continues to tell the elites a narrative that they will use to tear this country down and rebuild it according to their ideological values.”

Just this week the Times has backed off of a central claim in its 1619 Project: that the introduction of slavery in the 17th century was the “true founding” of America. Its editors have stealthily, Winston-Smithily, altered the text in the online archive, and the 1619 Project’s matriarch, Nikole Hannah-Jones, after having been caught in lie after lie about her words, deleted all her tweets. But nothing will happen to her, because she is a progressive oracle. She may be a fraud, but she’s a fraud for the Left:

All of that is prelude to Douglas Murray’s recent piece in Unherd, in which he observes that America really does look like a country that is coming apart, because it lacks a shared story. Excerpts:

But while it’s certainly arguable that Trump has aggravated America’s problems and divisions, he certainly didn’t create them. The divide long pre-dates him and has grown and grown in recent years, to the point where the different parties look increasingly irreconcilable. That is because these divisions go right to the core of what it means to be American.

When Eric Kaufmann recently carried out opinion polls on self-described “liberals” in the US, the results were startling but not surprising. For instance, around 80% of respondents said that they would approve of the writing of a new American constitution “that better reflects our diversity as a people”. A similar number said that they would approve of a new national anthem and flag, for the same reason.

And over the last few months, some of the more activist section of the American “liberal” tribe have taken matters into their own hands, with statues pulled down across the country, not just of Confederate generals or people associated with the divisive elements of American history, but men who once united the American public. Who once represented and defined their shared history as a great nation.

When statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are pulled down, this no longer looks like a critique of certain aspects of American culture: it looks like an attack on the American Founding story. When senior Democrats like Tammy Duckworth — who has served in her country’s military — refuse to condemn attacks on statues of the Founding Fathers it becomes clear that this attitude is not confined to some street-protest fringes.


It is becoming harder to communicate across the gulf, as, increasingly, the two Americas cannot consort or discuss with each other. And if there is one reason above all why that should be the case it is because they no longer have a shared story.

A portion of the American people still revere their history, the Founding Fathers, the constitution, flag, anthem and much more. They see it as symbols of a glorious past, a country which has fought for its own and others’ liberty, and the once-admired idea of American exceptionalism.

Another portion believe that America is exceptional only in being exceptionally bad. Rather than thinking well of their country or their forebears they see the whole American experiment as unusually unfair and uncommonly unequal.

Read it all. 

This essay resonates with me, obviously; my NPR/NYT anecdote explains why. The thing is, it’s not that I am a rah-rah MAGA nationalist. I have written at length on this blog over the years how alienated the Iraq War experience made me from the institutional governance of this country. The lies the government told to get us into that war. This, in tandem with the Catholic abuse scandal — a simultaneous phenomenon, significantly — shook me to my foundations, and has caused a crisis of trust within me that will probably never be solved.

What’s more, I am associated, via my writing here and in The Benedict Option, with a pessimistic view of our liberal democracy’s sustainability. I think that Patrick Deneen is basically correct in his Why Liberalism Failed: it failed because it succeeded so very well in creating a hyper-individualist society. Liberal democracy cannot work without a metastory to set its boundaries. We had that story when America was more or less Christian, but we are now moving out of the secularized Christianity of the Enlightenment, and into Nietzsche’s dark prophecy of what would happen once we realized that we have killed God. There will be no clinging to Christian morality, with its claims of human rights, without the Christian god.

What we have, with the woke, is a pseudo-religion that tries to ape Christianity without Christianity’s sense of mercy, and without its tragic awareness that, in Solzhenitsyn’s memorable phrase, the line between good and evil passes not between peoples, classes, and nations, but down the middle of every human heart. As I write in Live Not By Lies:

The contemporary cult of social justice identifies members of certain social groups as victimizers, as scapegoats, and calls for their suppression as a matter of righteousness. In this way, the so-called social justice warriors, (aka SJWs), who started out as liberals animated by an urgent compassion, end by abandoning authentic liberalism and embracing an aggressive and punitive politics that resembles Bolshevism, as the Soviet style of communism was first called.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the cultural critic René Girard prophetically warned: “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition.”

This is what the survivors of communism are saying to us: liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized is fast turning into a monstrous ideology that, if it is not stopped, will transform liberal democracy into a softer, therapeutic form of totalitarianism.

This is the kind of country I believe that the people who tell the Other Story are building. I don’t think they see it, but it’s true. Even though I have come to doubt the naive version of the standard American narrative — the one that sees America as an exceptional nation that is always on the side of righteousness, and so forth — I still believe that the basic order we have is worth defending because … what else is there? Like it or not, we live in a pluralistic society, one in which Christians like me are already a minority, and are going to become a persecuted one.

My integralist friends are badly mistaken to think that a country in which most people have abandoned Christianity, and in which most Christians are really Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, has any kind of integralist future. This is why though my heart has been with Sohrab Ahmari, my head cannot abandon David French, the right-wing defender of the liberal order. Yet recent events have caused me to lose faith in the French scenario, because it seems that few if any people on the left believe in the old liberal democratic order either. If they did, they would be vehemently denouncing the toppling of statues of the Founders. They would recognize that wokeness is profoundly anti-liberal, and is tearing this country apart. They don’t see it.

I hope I’m wrong, but it feels to me very much like America is sorting itself as Spain did in the first decade of the 1930s, when the forces of dissolution pulled liberal democrats toward either the illiberal right or illiberal left, because there was no center left. Yesterday I received a long, thoughtful letter from a liberal reader of this blog, saying that he can no longer come around here. He simply doesn’t understand how I can see the world as I do, and miss things that are meaningful to him. He writes:

For a while now I don’t find anything interesting about what you’re posting. I am “anti-woke”, for lack of a better term and I did appreciate your posts on the matter. But it’s been an endless stream of virtually nothing but that for so long that I’m just not engaged by it. Clearly, I don’t see it as the existential threat that you think it to be.

Further, it just feels like a massive disconnect to me. I read the news and the latest atrocity of the Trump administration and Republican politicians and then I check your blog and none of that has happened. You don’t appear to be concerned about it in the least. I can’t get my head around the idea that I should be more concerned about these woke “intellectuals”, etc than I should be about Trump and McConnell and the real, actual power they have over our lives.

I know you don’t agree and I respect that, it’s your blog. But it’s driven me away.

His was a strong but respectful letter, and I wrote him back to tell him how much I appreciated his taking the time to write it, and the tone he struck. I told him that my take is undoubtedly conditioned by the fact that I’ve been immersed in the themes of my forthcoming book, and the way events this year have confirmed my theses. It is fair for him to wonder if my vision is selective — that I’m only seeing the things that confirm the narrative I prefer. On the other hand, I might be mistaken in the way I see the country, and current events, but I assure you that I’m not cynical — that is, I’m not pretending that things are as bad as I think they are. If I’m wrong, then I’m honestly wrong. And I believe the alienated liberal reader is being honest with me about how he sees things.

I don’t know him personally, so I don’t know what, precisely, causes him to interpret events the way he does. You who have been reading my blog for a while know why I believe that things are the way they are. Furthermore, I believe that we are headed for a crisis that will likely involve violence, and that social trust will not be easily restored, if restored at all. The socially progressive ruling class — in government, and across institutions — will implement a social credit system, both to control the population and to give people a sense of who they can trust. Americans may not realize that the advent of the social credit system in China was not merely to give the totalitarian government another means of controlling the masses. It was also because decades of communism destroyed the ability of ordinary people to trust each other. This is why the social credit system is not only useful to the state, but also to ordinary Chinese people.

I predict that progressives in power will eventually do this here in America. It’s where the logic of their movement, which has captured elites, will go, especially given the frightening facts about how close contemporary America is to fitting into Hannah Arendt’s model of a pre-totalitarian society. I detail that argument in Live Not By Lies; we can talk about it in more detail here when the book comes out next week. The point I want to make in this post is that Douglas Murray is right: we do live by radically different stories in America today. There aren’t just two stories, obviously, but the stories orbit around two basic left-right poles.

A fundamental and critically important difference is that many on the left want to silence the other story, and punish those who question their narrative. Take, for example, what’s happening to Joe Rogan, who just signed a $100 million deal with Spotify. Excerpts:

Last Wednesday, Motherboard published a report that draws attention to what appears to be an emerging tension between Spotify’s workforce and its leadership over content substance. Citing three anonymized sources, the report highlighted a recent company town hall meeting in which some employees raised concerns and submitted questions over Rogan’s history with comments deemed transphobic. “Many LGBTQAI+/ally Spotifiers feel unwelcome and alienated because of leadership’s response in JRE conversations. What is your message to those employees?” one question read.

There have been several examples of Rogan making such comments over the years, but more recent instances include an episode earlier this summer that saw Rogan bringing on Abigail Shrier, whose book “Irreversible Damage” has been criticized for describing gender dysphoria as a “social contagion,” and another episode just last week, which featured Rogan making a crude joke about Caitlin Jenner and the Kardashians.

According to Motherboard, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek acknowledged that “a total of 10 meetings have been held with various groups and individuals to hear their respective concerns.” Ek additionally commented upon the specific Abigail Shrier guest spot: “Joe Rogan and the episode in question have been reviewed extensively. The fact that we aren’t changing our position doesn’t mean we aren’t listening. It just means we made a different judgment call.” (He also told employees not to leak the conversation to the media, but, uh, here we are.)

One has to imagine that this is only the first sparks of a much bigger fire, and there will almost certainly be many, many more judgment calls to come. The fundamental question, in my mind, is how exactly Spotify — the platform and the publisher — will try and define its relationship to its own content, and the extent to which it will take responsibility for it in the eyes of the audience, the public, and its own employees.

Rogan’s “transphobic” podcast is an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Abigail Shrier, whose new book is about how the transgender social phenomenon is harming teen and adolescent girls. Listen to the podcast while you still can. We know that woke mobs inside liberal institutions like the NYT can successfully bully management to silence voices they loathe. If you’ve never heard Joe Rogan’s podcasts, I urge you to listen to them. Rogan has right-wing guests on, but only because he finds them interesting. He endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, favors drug legalization, supports LGBT rights, and so on. He’s a left-libertarian, as far as I can tell. What makes Rogan so much fun to listen to is — again — you feel that you are listening in to a conversation by someone who is genuinely curious about the world, and who is not afraid to talk about things that the prissy, censorious left-wing media are.

I am sure Joe Rogan differs from Orthodox Christian socially conservative me in a number of ways, but I would a thousand million times rather live in Joe Rogan World than NPR/NYT World. The stories Joe Rogan lives by are not the stories I live by, mostly, but I would trust Joe Rogan to defend people like me against the Pink Police State that the left seems bound and determined to create. One thing he said in that Douglas Murray podcast that resonated deeply with me: him and Murray agreeing on how insane Trump is, but how people on the left simply cannot grasp that they alarm many center-right people so much that they are less worried about crazy Trump than they are about the crazy left. This seems to be the neuralgic point between my self-described anti-woke liberal reader, and me: that we look at the same things, and dislike the same things, but that he is much more alarmed by Trump than by the woke, while I come down on the opposite side.

Where will each of us be in five years? Will we be able to talk to each other at all? This is not at all a crazy question. This was the story of Spain. It went from the fall of the monarchy and the installment of a democratic republic in 1931 to civil war in 1936, because neither the left nor the right trusted each other, and each came to see liberal democracy as a menace, because it provided a means for the Other to come to power.




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