Slate Magazine Blasts "The Joe Rogan Experience" for Selling Pseudo-Enlightenment to Angry White Men
Yesterday, Slate magazine ran a lengthy feature analyzing The Joe Rogan Experience, which regular readers will know as a major vector in the spread of pseudohistory and conspiracy theories. The podcast, hosted by comedian Joe Rogan, routinely plays host to provocateurs like Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson, and it has also featured stalwarts of the so-called “alternative history” movement, including Graham Hancock and Robert Schoch. In the article, Slate’s Justin Peters takes all of these disparate characters as part of a loose but thematically connected network of “grifters” and hucksters who are selling a worldview aimed at passing off white male hegemony as an intellectually adventurous form of enlightenment. To that end, Peters sees Rogan as trafficking in lies to the benefit of an aggrieved audience of mostly white men who espouse reactionary political views even as they profess to be open-minded, tolerant, and liberal.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with everything Peters wrote—he perhaps sees things through too much of an anti-Trump lens—but much of his analysis is spot-on.
The key portion of the article involves the literal and figurative products that the typical Joe Rogan guest is selling:
First and foremost they are selling themselves: their books, their podcasts, their websites, their supplements, their claims to some secret knowledge about how the world works. “Make hay while the sun shines” is how frequent Rogan guest Jordan Peterson put it in a recent episode. Peterson and his colleagues are intent on spinning hay into gold before they are inevitably eclipsed by newer, dumber gurus. Most guests of talk shows have something or other to promote. But a good number of Rogan’s guests seem to be marketing directly to those who crave enlightenment while rejecting the notion that it takes work to achieve it. […]
To this, we can add that the pseudohistory that Rogan guests often espouse reinforces this traditional power dynamic. The typical fringe history claim argues that indigenous people were not responsible for the achievements of their own civilizations but received the knowledge and skills required to create these achievements from an outside agency. In most cases, that outside force is envisioned as either an Old World white culture, a lost civilization like Atlantis populated by white people, or space aliens who take over the traditional colonialist role of white savior. It’s certainly no coincidence that at first the aliens were envisioned as superpowered white people, the so-called Nordics.
Even when writers of pseudohistory would personally be appalled by outright or explicit racism, they still have a hand in promoting Victorian imperialist and colonialist narratives that subtly (and often not so subtly) place white people at the center of the narrative of world history and the true source of wisdom, enlightenment, and genius. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a reason that Europeans reimagined native culture heroes as “white gods” and why modern fringe writers still emphasize the role of “white” gods like Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha above all others.
What is interesting, however, is the way Peters looks at the range of Rogan guests to draw out the underlying patterns. Sometimes it’s hard to find terminology to describe why Alex Jones is similar to Tom DeLonge and Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris and Graham Hancock and whatever alt-right personality Rogan is infatuated with in a given week. The differences among these people are profound. They don’t share the same political views, or social views, or economic views. Some are relatively serious and others are looney tunes. But there is no doubt that they exist on the same continuum that orbits in opposition to an imaginary mainstream culture that they define as totalitarian in its ability to impose a dogmatic orthodoxy that unfairly favors people who aren’t like them. They are also almost all white men, mostly over 40, and mostly see themselves as possessed of profound secret wisdom.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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