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JOE ROGAN and MATT WALSH
Rogan interviews the filmmaker of "What is a Woman?"
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A few things up front. First, I’m more or less neutral on Joe Rogan. If you don’t know who Joe Rogan is: Where have you been living for the past decade? He is a mega-popular podcaster, comedian, TV personality, actor, fitness guru of sorts. He has something close to 13 million subscribers, and over 2 billion views. He hosts The Joe Rogan Experience. Of course I’ve heard the hubbub about Rogan for years now; on the left he is a right-wing fascist who is in the old-school Gen-X/Early Boomer mold. On the right he is more or less considered some form of hero. He has been a trailblazer in podcasting and has been foremost in draining followers from traditional media and TV. He recently switched to Spotify for a ludicrous amount of money.
Rogan has dialogued and debated with all kinds of people, from Jordan Peterson to Alex Jones to Douglas Murray to, yesterday (11/7/2022), the right-wing commentator Matt Walsh. Walsh writes at The Daily Wire, which I do not subscribe to. Walsh has recently become semi-famous and embroiled in a political controversy over his Daily Wire documentary, What is a Woman?, wherein he basically wanders the country asking trans people this very basic question. I have not seen the film. I admit to being cautiously curious. Probably I will watch it soon.
This interview from yesterday with Walsh—episode #1895—is three hours and eight minutes long. (Much of the appeal in contemporary times of podcasts versus legacy media is the fact that you can have authentic, in-depth conversations which don’t seek click-bait mini-sound bites but rather foster genuine dialogue.) For the record I am a big podcast listener. My favorites are 1. The 5th Column; 2. Sam Harris (Making Sense); 3. Bill Maher; 4. Coleman Hughes. (Not necessarily in that order.) Podcasts, in my opinion, are far superior to traditional 24-hour media because hosts can discuss whatever they want and fairly honestly, at least more so than say CNN or MSNBC. Of course many pods have advertisers which certainly must limit, to some degree, what can safely be said or not. (With the exception of The 5th Column and Sam Harris, who do not have ads.)
I don’t want to get too into the weeds in this post about either Joe Rogan himself or Matt Walsh. But I did find a few things interesting about the interview. Besides being a Substack writer and developmental book editor, I also walk dogs on the side, and I walked three dogs in a row while listening to the discussion between these two men.
My first observation is that Walsh seemed to be pretty vague in general. Full disclaimer, I myself identify as a center-left free-thinking contrarian, skeptic, critical thinker. I’ve only ever voted for Democrats my whole voting history, and I’m including not only national but regional and local races. So that should tell you something. Since 2016—basically since Trump’s rise to power—I have become totally unmoored from the Republican side. They seem to have more or less lost contact with sanity and reality once Trump rattled everyone’s political and cognitive cages like the wild gorilla he is. Being a classical liberal has never been less popular than now, at least as displayed by the major news media.
QUOTE: Rogan: “There’s not a compromise in gay men that want to be married, love and want to formalize their bond so they can see their partner if there’s a medical emergency or if there’s a death where you assign assets to your loved one?”
That said, I also do understand to a large degree why people—especially white working-class voters—cast their ballots for Trump. (This is for another post sometime. Main thing to understand: Most Trumpers didn’t vote FOR Trump; rather they voted AGAINST the Democratic party, and I can see why.) Over the past six years I have watched, sadly, as the extreme wing of the Democratic party has moved further and further away from coalition-building and sanity and closer and closer to the exact reverse side of the nutty Trumpers they claim are evil. When you move far enough to the left you end up holding hands with the right. Two sides of the same extremism coin. Both sides now lie. Alternative facts affect both fringes. And both fringes to some degree own their respective parties. On one hand you’ve got Q-ANON and election deniers; on the other you have “pregnant men” and an untrue myth about police brutality which simply isn’t happening. (Check the Washington Post’s police killings database.)
I went into the Walsh interview with an open mind. Despite his being right-wing, I am curious about his film. Whenever the far left vehemently rejects something nowadays, be it podcast, film, book, speech, etc…there’s usually something important to look at; often all the nuance and meaning and true aim of the thing, whatever it may be, has been sucked out of the leftist discussion.
Walsh arguably started out strong. (Yet he was pretty vague when describing his views on trans kids.) But, when Rogan asked Walsh how many minors were likely on puberty-blockers in the country, Walsh admitted he didn’t know but then said it had to be “in the millions.” Rogan fact-checked him and the number was abysmally low; in the thousands at best. Walsh owned his mistake…but it’s a telling mistake. If he got that detail wrong: What else did he potentially get wrong? There was a trust-line stepped across there, for me.
I also had a general feeling that Walsh’s tone was a bit overly alarmist, dramatic and agenda-based. Biased, I suppose, is the word. And look: No shit, right? Bias is a human trait and it’s on both sides, clearly. But the tone of his voice, coupled with this alarmist sensation I felt, plus his gaff on a major data point; all of this sort of made me squirm.
But it was the last 45 minutes or so of the interview which really made me question Walsh. Rogan, as I said, has always been targeted as a right-wing guy, despite the fact that he’s dialogued with people from all across the political spectrum and has discussed what he considers to be his own classically liberal views. They got into a heated but respectful (which is crucial for fostering a non-censorious environment) disagreement about, mainly, marriage and family and gay rights.
Walsh repeatedly stated that marriage is, according to “Christian morality” (which he adheres to) solely between a man and a woman. This is not new rhetoric, obviously. Conservatives have been screeching this for decades. Walsh’s point seemed to be that marriage is not solely a legal agreement but is basically for more or less one single purpose: Procreation.
Now, I don’t dispute that this is essentially where the institution of marriage stems from originally. It’s to bind the man and woman so they can exist legally and cohabitate and bear children and rear a family. (And so the man can unfairly acquire the woman’s dowry.) However, clearly times change. We’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The gay rights movement has shifted the narrative around marriage. Fewer straight people, especially in major cities like San Francisco, New York City, Portland, Chicago, are bearing children. Many are choosing to not even get married, or if they do it’s because they want a legal bond, not for kids but for travel, love, tax purposes. It has in many ways become more of a symbolic act.
Somehow Walsh seems threatened by the notion that men can marry men, women can marry women, and more and more straight young people are choosing to either not have kids and/or not get married. Walsh believes it is a societal “duty” to produce children in a marriage. He seems to have a sort of “originalist” conception of marriage and family. (Just like constitutional originalists who believe everything written in the original document should apply now.) And look: I do think in general that having two caring parents raising a child is better than one parent. And I do think that encouraging family is a good thing in general. Much has been rightly said about low-income communities, cross-racially, and coming from poor single-family homes. But, like Rogan, I don’t think those two parents necessarily have to be “heterosexual.” Why are two male parents bad? Or two female parents? Or for that matter two trans parents?
Rogan stated that there are a lot of ways to slice the same pie, essentially (my language not his); that gay couples getting married and being parents shouldn’t have any impact whatsoever on traditional straight Christian couples who value eternal marriage and the producing of spawn. But why should that idea be imposed on everyone else? Walsh, to his credit, admits several times that he would never be in favor of legalistically “compelling” people to marry or bear children. The State should never get involved in these choices. (As a pro-choice advocate I’d argue the State should also not get involved with a woman’s right to choose an abortion.) Yet Walsh does seem to suggest (strongly) that there is a moral component to marriage, and that this moral component means that the act is solely between a straight man and a straight woman and that their only real purpose is to have kids. Walsh claims that to not have kids is somehow “selfish.”
QUOTE WALSH: “It is something that is reserved for that because the male-female union has this capacity to create life, whereas no other union has that capacity…“And so it is a different kind of thing. And it makes sense to call it something different.” (referring to the ‘difference’ between gay marriage and traditional marriage)
Like I said: This dialogue between Rogan and Walsh—specifically about the topic I am discussing—lasted for close to an hour. If you want to catch just this portion you can basically just listen to the final hour of the interview. (Rogan is on Spotify.) As an outsider who is not a regular Rogan listener and who knows only the bare bones about Matt Walsh and is not a Daily Wire subscriber—and who tends to criticize both sides equally—I found the hard-left narrative that Rogan is a hateful right-wing nut very questionable. Gay rights is clearly one of the pinnacles of contemporary liberalism. The gay community has had a very long fight, ever since Stonewall in 1969. (Not that the struggle started there; it was going on long before that.)
I want a more free society, not a more dictatorial one. Walsh’s notion that only straight people can or should get married and that being married solely means bearing children strikes me as so 1950. The culture has changed. Rogan gets this; he pushed back consistently and stubbornly against Walsh’s myopic, in-my-opinion retrograde views on this topic. I think everyone should be able to do what they want in our society, granted they don’t harm others. (Ideally not themselves, either.) I agree with Walsh that the leftist concept of “womanhood” as it clashes with the idea of trans-hood is complex and often bizarre. We’re seeing the traditional feminist movement in many ways crashing up against the wall of Trans activism. What happens when biological men transition to women and then play women’s sports? What about biological men who identify as trans and get sent to women’s prisons?
The bigger question is this: How do we react when kids, minors, children under 18 want to transition? (Especially when this means puberty-blockers, double-mastectomies, hormones, etc.) Walsh is right that this phenomenon is very new and thus we have very little data on it, which means that we’re basically experimenting on children. What will the potential long-term effects be? What about people who de-transition later and offer words of caution? (This happens fairly often.) What about the often angry, over-the-top, sometimes violent reactions from some in the trans community when these basic issues are even discussed? Aren’t these issues which very much SHOULD be discussed, debated, understood, fleshed-out? Should all doctors simply affirm gender transition for minors? As a parent, would you allow your 16-year-old to get a tattoo? Or to do scarification? Why not? How is this different than transgender surgery for minors? Aren’t our brains still developing into our early twenties? Are our decision-making skills up to par at 14, 16, 17? (Check out Blocked and Reported for more on this topic.)
In the end, as old-style Democrats used to say as recently as 2016, I think we can “walk and chew gum at the same time.” I detest some of Walsh’s more Conservative, Christian, in-my-opinion even dictatorial or fascistic perspectives. I’ve had and currently have many close gay friends. Why should they not marry? Why should anyone be culturally compelled to do anything which is a personal right? I feel this way whether it’s marriage, having kids, or being compelled to use certain gender pronouns.
In the end, though I largely disagree with Walsh, I don’t disagree with everything he said. He’s right about the problem we have with kids transitioning and that being questionable, especially since this is all so new. He’s right about parents being terrified and confused on these fresh issues. He’s right about the often censorious reactions from the hard-left and the trans community when it comes to free and open discussion and debate on these legitimate concerns. He’s right that Democrats will likely die on this identity politics hill if they don’t change their tune and start representing Democratic voters and not the tiny fringe wing of their party.
I will watch Walsh’s documentary, “What is a Woman?” Because it’s a good and fair question: If biological men can “become” women, and enter into women’s spaces—something women have been trying to resist for hundreds of years—then what does that mean for biological women? How are feminist activists and trans activists clashing right now, and how will they continue to clash in the future? This is one of the biggest failures (and there are many) of “identity politics,” and yet, in my view, one of the most promising aspects (ironically): Eventually, all these fractured and competing groups will end up destroying each other. And that’s probably the best way to break the ideological fever.
It’s going to get crazier on both sides before it gets any better. Especially with the midterms likely to bring Republican power back to congress. One thing worth saying: At least in this interview, Rogan staunchly defended gay rights. He defended the ultimate freedom of the individual to do what they want. He defended the notion that marriage and kids are one option but far from the only option. He defended the right to free speech and expression and religion, etc. He pushed Walsh hard. I almost felt bad for the guy. But then again: This is precisely what the art of dialogue and true “conversation” is about.
My final thought is: Whoever you are, however you identify: Be yourself. Live your life. Think creatively, critically and independently. I think the crux of the problem is tribalism and group think, no matter what side you stand on. Fuck sides. Fuck boxes and labels. I don’t believe in left or right, good or bad. I believe in complexity, nuance, conversation and commonsense.
And freedom. Always freedom.
I leave you with my favorite Rogan quote from about the last six minutes of the interview. I totally agree with this:
“I think this conversation that we’re having, one of the more important things of being able to have conversations like this is that people that do have different perspectives can have a civil conversation on why they believe what they believe. This is so sadly uncommon in our culture, and there’s gonna be people out there that agree with you that are listening to this that are like I’m on Matt Walsh’s side, and there’s gonna be people who see my point. But that’s just part of being a person. Part of being a person that exists in 2022 is that there’s a lot of different ways to live your life and a lot of different ways to see the world. And whether or not you and I ever come to an agreement is not that important. What’s important is that we have a chance to discuss it. And that is what scares the shit out of me about our culture today, that these kinds of conversations are not encouraged, they’re discouraged and that some would say, Oh you’re platforming a bigot to have this conversation; you’re putting those ideas out there. I think, this is one of the things that has led us into the mess we’re in right now.”