Dipping into degrowth

I’m a believer in the power of repetition to spread and embed ideas in our culture. Just as repetition is useful for learning new subjects or skills, it’s also useful for making certain ideas familiar to people. An example that’s relevant to this blog is the switch from using “global warming”, to using “climate change” in mainstream public discourse. It was a deliberate policy, pushed by Frank Luntz, because his focus groups thought the latter was less scary than the former. Not only did that effort work, but it also paved the way for climate deniers to say that the change was made by environmentalists because there wasn’t any warming.

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

-Frank Luntz

I think this approach is also why it’s now pretty normal to heard the Democratic Party referred to as the “Democrat party”, because someone decided that change made them look worse, and the Republicans look better. Luntz is a horrible person, judged by the harm he has done, but I think his understanding of propaganda is worth learning from.

All of this was to say that I’m aware that I repeat myself on this blog, and to some degree that’s deliberate. That said, this blog isn’t just about spreading a set number of messages I believe should be spread. It’s also an ongoing learning process for me, and for anyone who happens to learn from my work. That means that as much as I do repeat myself, I also try to delve into new topics on a regular basis.

Degrowth is one of those topics that I’ve been meaning to dig into, but I’ve been putting off. At my current level of understanding, it feels a little over-simplified, but like an obvious conclusion. Infinite growth is not possible in a finite world, and so any system that relies on infinite growth is definitionally unsustainable, and so dangerous. As with the constant calls to “organize” or to “build collective power”, my knee-jerk reaction is to ask, “Ok, yes, but how? What can we actually do in our day-to-day lives that counts as ‘organizing’?”

I don’t have the answer, and my guess is that most other people are in the same situation. We mostly haven’t been taught how a post-capitalist society could even exist. The default stance in mainstream “western” politics is that capitalism and liberal democracy are the end goal of humanity, and that they should be how everything is run for the rest of our existence of a species.

This is, apparently, as good as it gets.

It’s not surprising that we weren’t taught to think outside that box – that’s not what our education systems were designed for. So I’m trying to do at least a little to fill that gap, as one human among a multitude working on the same project. I’m going to start learning more about “degrowth” and writing more about it, about the proposals for achieving it, and so on.

For now, here’s a video from Our Changing Climate on the subject:

There are lot of ways a degrowth scenario could play out, the worst of which would be forced upon us by the climate. I remain firm in my belief that we can build a sustainable society that still benefits from advanced technology, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t require big changes to our own lives as we change things at a systemic level. I think that the more pro-active we are about this, the better our chances for a good outcome, and the more room we will have to screw up without disaster.

Going forward, I’m going to be putting more effort into degrowth content, and stuff like that, and I welcome any input and suggestions that you, dear reader, may have.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month (that’s like three pennies a day!) ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to some of the fiction and some other content.

Oh the tides, they are a-changin’: There’s a new report on sea level rise

As many of you are no doubt aware, a report has just come out about the rate of sea level rise. The news is not good.

A new report provides an alarming forecast for the US: Sea level will rise as much in the next 30 years as it did in the past 100 — increasing the frequency of high-tide flooding, pushing storm surge to the extreme and inundating vulnerable coastal infrastructure with saltwater.

The interagency report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows how scientists are increasingly confident that US coasts will see another 10 to 12 inches of sea level rise by 2050.

As the article says, the implications of this are enormous. Beyond the eventual inundation of low-lying coastal areas, sea level starts affecting us through the intrusion of salt into rivers and groundwater, and through higher storm surges. It’s also worth noting that in areas like Florida, the groundwater seepage can also represent a decrease in stability, which could lead to grim outcomes for housing and other infrastructure. I’ve delayed this post, simply because the whole thing is draining. I’ve been actively trying to get people to treat climate change like a crisis for about a decade. A lot more people have been doing it for a lot longer and/or a lot harder, and yet here we are. Right where we didn’t want to be. In some ways, I don’t have a lot to say about this. We knew this was coming. We knew what had to be done to stop or slow it. What we didn’t have was a global society capable of accepting reality and changing as needed.

Now that adaptability is going to be necessary for survival, because prevention didn’t happen, and we’re not going to be able to reverse course in any of our lifetimes, without technological and social change beyond anything we have reason to expect. So as I always say, organize. Practice pro-social prepping. If you’re in a low-lying coastal area, consider moving if you can afford to. And, as always, remember that as destructive as this rapid sea level rise will be, it’s just one aspect of what’s happening to our climate. It’s going to be a lot to deal with. For many folks it already is a lot to deal with. That means we also need to be proactive about our own mental health, and the mental health of those around us. Leaving aside the fact that higher temperatures literally mean hotter tempers, we have every reason to believe that things are going to keep getting worse, at least in some ways.

It should shock nobody that I appreciate Beau’s take on this:

To take a break from the doom and gloom, I wanted to address one thing mentioned in the video – sea level rise is not even around the globe. There are a variety of reasons for this. The first thing to remember is that the planet itself is not an even “globe”. It’s an “oblate spheroid”, which means it’s closer to a sphere that was slightly squished from its top and bottom. The next thing to remember is that gravity isn’t a one-way affair, even on a planet. The vast majority of the gravitational force is “down” towards the center of the Earth, but things like mountains also exert a gravitational pull. It’s very weak compared to a planet, but the inconceivably huge pile of water molecules we call “ocean” settles itself out, roughly, according to the various forces exerted upon it. That means that the ocean actually gets further from the center of the planet, and closer to space, as it gets closer to places like continents. The unevenness is spread out over such great distances that we don’t notice it as we interact with the water, but it’s there. Further, oceanic currents cause water to “pile up” against continents. Changes in sea level can also be caused by land sinking, as is happening in various places around the world.

I’ve shared it before, but this video from Minute Physics is a great primer on the subject of sea level:

Maybe I’m overly pessimistic, but I don’t get the feeling that any country is actually prepared for sea level rise, though some are closer than others. As I said earlier, I think we’re in for extremely stressful times ahead, and it’s going to feel like new hits keep coming from every direction. That’s going to be amplified by a media environment that profits far more from sensationalism than from honest reporting.

I also want to end on a less gloomy note. As it stands, things are likely to keep getting worse, but that’s not some unavoidable destiny. There are a myriad of things we can do to make life better for everyone (except maybe our current ruling class), even as the heat and waters rise. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and continue to fight as you’re able. I really do believe that it’s possible to turn this horror story into something more uplifting.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month (that’s like three pennies a day!) ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to some of the fiction and some other content.

A super sexy video from Some More News that’s totally not about any serious problems or anything.

Edit: To everyone who came here because of this post’s title, uh, sorry this wasn’t what you were looking for, but feel free to check out the blog when you have a moment!

So the language in this one is a bit more risqué than my normal content, but I think it’s a really good follow-up to the optimism video I posted the other day. Society is run by people who’re so thoroughly detached from “normal” people’s lives that I think they’ve lost the ability to think clearly about the state of the world. After all, everything’s going great for them.

And so the whole world has to stagnate and decay, so that a few people can cling to the illusion that everything’s fine. It’s possible I’m feeling somewhat irritated by all this. Here, have a video!

Tegan Tuesday: Amazon closes Westland Books, putting thousands of Indian writers in jeopardy

It should be no surprise to any readers of this blog that Abe and I are not fans of giant, conglomerate monopolies. Amazon in particular is a bit of work that is difficult to avoid. Whether it’s the stranglehold on data servers and hosting services, the fact that rural areas or many disabled people rely on Amazon dot com for daily necessities, or even hearing how Jeff Bezos wants Rotterdam to dismantle a historic bridge for his own personal pleasure. So cue my complete lack of surprise to hear of yet another bit of nastiness from Amazon, in this case, from Amazon India.

Effective March 31, 2022, the publishing giant Westland will be shuttered permanently. This was officially announced with no warning on February 1st of this year. Who is Westland and why should anyone care? Aside from the natural inclination to hate every decision Amazon is making, there are currently three trade publishers who stand above the rest in prestige, influence, and range of publications in anglophone literature: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Westland. India, as a former British colony, has the majority of its educated population able to read and speak English in addition to any number of Indo-Aryan languages. The Indian Constitution includes 22 languages, but estimates put the actual number at nearly 20,000 languages or dialects used as ‘mother tongues’ in India. There are now any number of articles wondering ‘What Westland Did Wrong’ that could merit their closing, for surely it was for a good business reason. This article in particular does an excellent job of comparing sales data and distribution rates for those three big publishers, looking to find an explanation for the sudden decision. Many of the authors, aware of Westland’s tendency to publish government-neutral or government-critical books, suspect this is part of the answer:

Speculations arose. Several of Westland’s new bestsellers were not exactly appreciative of the government of the day. Josy’s The Silent Coup boldly questioned the decline of democracy and citizen rights, making a case for investigating agencies “creating” terrorists out of nobodies. Jaffrelot used interviews from across the country to show how Modi’s government has equated the idea of the nation with the Hindu majority and relegated minorities to second class citizens. Aakar Patel’s Price of the Modi Years listed statistics and explained the damage brought upon the country by the BJP government.

Josy tells TNM, “Books like mine would not be a good fit for Amazon’s business in India because if they want to build their commercial enterprise here they wouldn’t want to nurture any thinking/writing against the government. To be fair though, I don’t think there has been any pressure from the government on this book until now but Amazon wouldn’t want any future trouble because of books like mine. Removing the thorns in advance so it doesn’t create any trouble in future, that’s how I would read it.”

But, ok, let’s assume good intentions. Let’s assume that this was for purely fiscal reasons and the correct decision is to close the publishing house. The next question is of course: where do the authors and existing titles go? This was the only Indian-based publishing house to play on the main international stage, and many of the top authors in India had contracts with Westland. The unexpected and sudden announcement has not included any plans for transferal of contracts or rights, and many authors and readers are concerned they will be considered collateral damage for the corporation. One additional thing that concerns me is the precedent that Disney set with it’s love of breaching contracts. Scarlett Johansson’s settlement over ‘Black Widow’ was extremely public but a number of writers and creatives involved in franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel have made allegations that Disney does not honor existing contracts and royalty payments. If Disney can do it, why not Amazon, which is significantly larger? It’s a situation I will be watching — I hope that I’m wrong and that the authors will be treated fairly, but it’s 2022.

When have artists been lucky recently?

Tegan has helped with beta reading and editing on this blog for a while now, and she decided she also wants to do a weekly post about topics that catch her attention. As always this is part of our effort to make ends meet, as my immigration status doesn’t allow me to get wage labor, so this blog is my only source of income.  You can sign up to help us pay the bills at patreon.com/oceanoxia. The great thing about crowdfunding is how little each contributor needs to put in; in this case as little as a dollar per month – that’s like three cents a day! Pocket change!

Anyway, thanks for reading, and take care of yourselves.

Video from Unlearning Economics: Steven Pinker and the Failure of New Optimism

I’m working on a couple big-ish pieces right now – one on economic sanctions, and one on a video game called The Outer Worlds, and in some ways this is relevant to both. One of the things that came out during the 2008 crash was that a great many people had seen it coming, and had been ignored or even fired for not being optimistic enough. I think there’s a very strong case to be made that a similar kind of reckless optimism is still the default among the ruling class (not surprising – things are great for them), but rather than an economic bubble, we’re facing something much bigger and much worse.

This is a long one, but I think it’s well worth your time. You can listen to it while commuting or doing chores or something, or you can just treat it like a documentary. It digs into the propaganda that’s being used to hide serious problems from those of us at or near the imperial core, and I think we’re still in the early stages of that narrative collapsing. I would expect to be hearing more “things are better than ever” propaganda going forward, and it’s useful to have an understanding of how they use “real” numbers to lie. I haven’t seen a whole lot from Unlearning Economics, but I think I’m going to change that soon.



Did you know that Earth has a pyroscape? Well, it does, and that’s changing too.

There are a lot of terms used to describe aspects of our planet. “Ecosystem” is a generally familiar one, and any minecraft players will be familiar with the concept of biomes. “Pyroscape” was one that I hadn’t encountered, but if you think about it for a second, it makes perfect sense. Fires have always been a part of life on Earth, so it stands to reason that there would be a “natural” pattern for fires over time – one that can be traced and analyzed, as Daniel Immerwahr writes:

Fire flourishes where life does, and the two depend on each other. There are pyrophilous (“fire-loving”) plants and animals that organise their lives around fire, such as the beetles that lay eggs in burned trees or pine cones that need flames to release their seeds. More than individual species, whole ecosystems depend on fire to clear space. In many habitats, fire is “as fundamental to sustaining plants and animals” as sun and rain are, a 2005 scientific survey found.

The most successful pyrophilous species is Homo sapiens. Early humans used fire for light, warmth, social gatherings and protection from predators. Fire lets us absorb nutrients quickly through cooking, rather than spending hours chewing every day as our primate cousins do. Chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas all eat raw food, and they all have much smaller brains. The caloric boost of cooking underwrites our large, resource-heavy brains. Simply put: no fire, no us.

No us in an evolutionary sense, and no us in a historical one, too. Every known human society has used fire. Our ancestors didn’t just dispel darkness and prepare food with it, they shaped their environments: repelling pests, flushing out game and making clearings. With spears, they could hunt individual animals; with firesticks, they could alter whole landscapes.

The article is a deep dive into the history of fire on Earth, and as in integral part of who we are as humans. I think it’s a useful perspective to have, given all the news about massive wildfires, and the less sensational discussions about the importance of things like deliberately setting seasonal fires as part of ecosystem management. I also think the historical perspective is important, because climate change has once again given us a rather counterintuitive scenario: Between 1998 and 2015, the total amount of land on fire in any given year decreased by a quarter, and this is not a good thing.

 The main reason fires are dwindling is that humanity is expanding. Sprawling settlements and industrial farms act as firebreaks in the savannas of South America and Africa and the grasslands of the Asian steppe. Livestock consume vegetation that otherwise might feed big burns. “A shift toward more capital-intensive agriculture has led to fewer and smaller fires,” the authors of the 2017 Science study concluded. And that decrease – especially in flame-reliant landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa and northern Australia – outweighs the uptick in headline-grabbing megafires.

It might seem that extinguishing wildfires has made the world safer. But what it has really done is made the fires stranger. Where flame grows rare, biomass that would normally have regularly burned instead piles up as kindling. Decades of fire suppression is enough to build timebombs, and the supercharged blazes that do break out are more severe and harder to control. This is what the US now experiences every year: overall, the number of its fires is shrinking, while their size and the cost of fighting them are growing.

I’ve talked before about the need to engage in active ecosystem management, and I think it’s fair to say that there’s a degree to which all of our current environmental problems come from us abandoning ecosystem management, in favor of a more adversarial relationship with the ecosystems that support us. Since there’s apparently been some confusion among my readers, let me be clear – I think that our only way out of the current crisis is forward, not back. I think we need to embrace technology as a part of who we are, rather than a way to make money or exert power. I also think that we need to pick up some “pre-industrial” practices like deliberate ecosystem management, and integrate those into how we live. We’re not separate from the rest of life on this planet, so we need to stop acting like it before we destroy ourselves.

That said, as terrifying as the “mega-fires” of recent years have been, relatively few people are actually killed by the flames. Far, far more die due to fire’s contribution to the ever-present companion to climate change: air pollution. Immerwahr continues:

It’s not that fires are harmless. It’s rather that the ways they harm people aren’t the ways that come most readily to mind. Unless you’re a firefighter, you’re extremely unlikely to die in a big blaze. But you might shave years off your life by inhaling the particulates and chemicals that fires release.

The death toll from wildfire smoke is enormous: 339,000 die a year from such smoke-related maladies as strokes, heart failure and asthma, according to the Australian public health scientist Fay Johnston and her fellow researchers. A few die in the affluent places known for their telegenic fires, such as North America and southern Australia (more than 400 from Australia’s 2019–20 Black Summer, Johnston and her colleagues have estimated). But the vast majority die in poorer places, where fires are smaller, yet chronic: sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia.

What’s more, fires are burning in new places, thanks to both climate change, and more direct human intervention. In both Southeast Asia, and in the Arctic circle, fires are now burning massive reservoirs of plant matter like peat, releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere, driving up the temperature, and hey look it’s another feedback loop!

Immerwahr is right to point out that for all a towering inferno captures our attention, the danger of climate change is not death by fire. The reality will be far more drawn out. I think we have a grim few decades ahead of us, but the fact that this is a slow process, by human terms, means that there’s a lot we can do to change course and improve our future, if we can build the political power to do so.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month (that’s like three pennies a day!) ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to some of the fiction and some other content.

Democracy is something you do every day: A video on worker cooperatives

I’ve long felt that our best hope for a peaceful transition away from capitalism into a truly democratic society would be through the worker cooperative model. The best policy proposal I’ve seen for moving in that direction was the one put forward by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the U.K., but there are a myriad of ways one could go about establishing a cooperative sector.

The basic idea, for those who are unfamiliar, is that every worker is also an owner/director of the company. While there may be a hierarchical management structure for day-to-day operations, decisions about hiring, firing, raises, changes in production, and distribution of “profit” are made democratically by the workers. There’s a lot of information out there about this business model, but for today I’ll leave you with this excellent video. It not only describes how these enterprises work, but also the kinds of work that go into creating a co-op, what it takes to run one, and so on. Check it out!



Spirit photography and cults

Hey, didja know that this blog is part of a larger blogging network? I know! It’s true! Unfortunately, I’ve been a less-than-exemplary community member over the last couple years. International moves seem to use up a lot of my energy, so I just kinda turned into a hermit. In the name of doing better about that, I’ll be cross-posting more stuff from my fellow Freethought Bloggers, starting with this:

There is a very strong desire among some segments of the population to make contact with dead people. This desire has been exploited by charlatans, people who claim that (for a fee, of course) they can channel your loved ones. The methods used have varied over time. In the US, the rise in interest in communicating with the dead coincided with the Civil War that saw massive numbers of dead people that left their families devastated and seeking some form of comfort.

I’ve found the occult fascinating for years, both as a social and psychological phenomenon, and because I enjoy the aesthetics. I think that the phenomena behind both occult fads and cults are related, and that’s something we’d do well to consider as we continue into this century of high technology and climate chaos. At times it’s hard not to feel like the world is ending, and with the predicted rise in death and destruction, I think a lot of people are going to end up turning to strange places for help. I also think that with traditional Christianity being so closely tied to political leadership in the United States, a lot of younger people are going to prefer things that don’t remind them of the folks who seem to be screwing everything up. Reading Mano’s post made me think of this Tumblr thread Tegan came across a little while back:



Check out Mano’s post (there’s a neat video there!), and maybe spread this post (or the Tumblr post) around, because I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those aspects of history we’d do well to learn from.



Scrying for Turtles: eDNA is a powerful new tool for ecosystem monitoring.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a small amount of experience doing reptile population surveys. The basic method is the same whether you’re dealing with lizards, snakes, or turtles – you try to catch and measure as large a proportion of that population as you can. If your method of capture is some kind of trap, then you’re probably also going to be recording other species that get caught. This can be a problem because it takes a fair amount of effort. If you’re looking for one species in particular, you might not want to waste your limited resources catching every turtle in a pond, only to find that your species was never there. How can we just… check and see if it’s present?

Obviously, we cast a scrying spell.

Specifically, we can look at what’s being called eDNA – environmental DNA. See, we animals are rather messy organisms. We’re always shedding bits of ourselves everywhere we go. For us land-dwellers, this ends up as the mix of particles, microbes, and shed skin cells we call dust. In water, in theory, we should be able to detect that “dust”, at least from those creatures that live there. A team from the University of Illinois tested theory to help them find alligator snapping turtles:

The research team knew alligator snapping turtles were in Clear Creek, a southern Illinois stream feeding into the Mississippi River, because they put them there. A reintroduction program has put 400 to 500 young turtles into the system since 2014 and work is ongoing to determine the introduced population’s viability.

Each turtle is outfitted with a tracking device. To find them, researchers have to walk or kayak around the site with a less-than-waterproof radio receiver, set up and check traps, and interact with potentially dangerous snapping turtles.

Image shows the head of an alligator snapping turtle. Its scales are a light tan color, its eye is murky brown with a hint of lighter color outlining a black cross over the pupil. Its mouth is open, shoeing a red, worm-like tongue lure, and the sharp edges of it beak.

Prehistoric monster, Photo by Seth LaGrange who apparently went back in time to get the picture.

“It’s time consuming and a lot of effort. And we’re limited by the number of traps that we can check in a day,” Kessler says. “With eDNA, we can just show up at a location and pull a quick water sample. You can cover a wide geographic area relatively rapidly. That saves money, too, considering the cost of traveling to these remote locations.”

To prove eDNA is capable of detecting alligator snapping turtles, the research team first identified genetic markers that matched all of the subpopulations across the species’ range, but differed from any other turtle species. After radio-tracking each turtle, they took water samples near the turtles as well as in dozens of random sites to determine how eDNA travels in a riverine setting.

The eDNA method was able to detect alligator snapping turtles up to a kilometer, or two-thirds of a mile, downstream. Remarkable, considering less than a gallon of water was taken from each sampling location.

“This was a great place to test the performance of eDNA, because there are only so many alligator snapping turtles in Clear Creek, and we know where many of them are. That gave us something like the control of a laboratory experiment, but under very natural conditions in a real ecosystem,” Larson says.

The study also identified shortcomings of the method. For example, the researchers found that stretches of the river that were exposed to more sunlight represented gauntlets of DNA degradation.

“We know ultraviolet light destroys DNA, but we didn’t know how much the sun would affect our ability to detect alligator snapping turtles,” Kessler says. “We ended up finding that UV exposure does have a slight effect on our ability to detect. It’s reducing the copy number, or the amount of DNA, in our samples.”

Even with reduced copy number in some samples, the researchers were able to detect the elusive species with fairly high fidelity. The results suggest eDNA detection could be used as a first step to find turtles in locations where their status is unknown.

This technique wouldn’t have helped with any of the research projects in which I was involved, but it’s not hard to see the myriad of potential uses for it. As we continue to try to monitor everything happening to this planet’s biosphere, I’m willing to bet we’ll be hearing more about eDNA as a non-invasive way to get an idea of a species presence in a given body of water. I don’t know to what degree it would work on dry land, but I’m sure someone’s looking into it.

Thanks to @cosmixstardust for sharing the article around! It’s always neat to see developments like this.

Is Joe Rogan worth trying to engage with?

There’s a reflex, when you think you know about a particular topic, to engage in discussions and disagreements using that knowledge as your primary tool. Most of the time this is fine, but when it comes to debates and public arguments, it turns out that being correct and knowledgeable can count for much less than being a fast talker who’s good at engaging with an audience. When it comes to Joe Rogan, it’s generally not hard to point out where he’s factually wrong, but as with young-earth creationists and climate deniers, that’s often not enough. It’s also important to consider how he responds to disagreement, and whether it’s worth engaging with him at all.

John Stewart recently declared Rogan to be “someone you can engage with”, which prompted Rebecca Watson to take a skeptical look not at whether Rogan is right or wrong about a given issue, but specifically at what happens when he is provably wrong, and someone tries to point that out to him.

And this is perfectly encapsulated in the Josh Zepps interview: Rogan takes approximately 10 seconds to say “for young boys in particular there’s an adverse risk associated with the vaccine: there’s a 2-4 fold increase in incidences of myocarditis.”

Zepps responds “Yes, you know there’s an increase in myocarditis in that cohort from getting COVID as well which exceeds the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine.” That also takes him approximately 10 seconds.

Rogan responds “I don’t think that’s true.” In the next 60 seconds, Rogan reads the article that says Zepps is correct, and argues that it’s not true for children, at which point Zepps needs to dumb it down for him a little to make sure Rogan understands that it IS about the cohort he’s talking about. When it becomes indisputable that Zepps is correct, Rogan objects to the source of the article, and just starts saying complete nonsense: “That is NOT what I’ve read before, and also it’s like even when we’re reading these things where are we getting this from even from the VAERS report, the amount of people that report, the underreporting.”

So he never actually admits that he was wrong. The best he can do is say it’s “interesting” and “not what (he’s) read before.” And that, to Jon Stewart, is an example of someone who isn’t an idealogue, someone we can engage with. And this is the BEST POSSIBLE CIRCUMSTANCE: Rogan was speaking with someone who already knew the actual answer to the single piece of misinformation he happened to spout at that time; Rogan’s opponent was a white man who he respected; and the opponent did not back down when Rogan continued pushing back.

Now let’s see what happens when Rogan says a piece of misinformation and is confronted by an expert in the field on which he’s pontificating, but it’s NOT a white man who he respects. On the Opie and Anthony show, Rogan claims that researchers recently found a new chimpanzee called the Bondo ape in the Congo, a 6 foot tall 400 pound chimp that nests on the ground, walks upright, and kills lions. Then a PhD primatologist calls in. Let’s see what happens (starting at 5:40)!

I bet some of you were thinking “well it’s not because she’s a woman” right up until he yelled “I have a vagina” at the end, weren’t you? Admit it. I mean, he’s also dismissive of men who know more than him but he doesn’t usually have the guts to scream over them quite so heartily.

And again, that was just ONE false claim. It took Rogan about a minute to make it, and when a primatologist had the nerve to point out that he was wrong (which he was: the “Bondi ape” was announced in 2003 and by 2004 researchers confirmed that it was a common chimp), he spent several minutes just screaming epithets over her. In the course of a regular Joe Rogan show, he can make dozens of false and misleading claims that no one would be able to rebut.

It can be difficult to navigate the confluence of free speech and bigotry at times, but this particular instance doesn’t seem particularly hard to figure out. I’m generally of the opinion that when someone has an outsized amount of power, they also have a comparable amount of responsibility to the rest of society. That means that they also are going to have more limits on their freedom, simply because of the damage they can do. Rogan’s massive audience means that he can’t just be some guy talking to people he finds interesting. He has a massive amount of influence, and he’s paid very, very well for that. He is responsible for damage that he does in spreading misinformation, and that should make him more careful about what he says. Hell, it wouldn’t even require him to do more work – at his level of wealth, he could easily pay people to do fact-checking and analysis for him, and to hold his hand through pre-interview research.

For a man with his resources, ignorance is a choice. For a man with his influence, willful ignorance is a danger. I think it’s very respectable for Young and others to choose not to associate with Spotify and Rogan, and all this hand-wringing about freedom of speech rings more than a little hollow. Maybe Rogan will change – I’m not optimistic enough to believe he’ll go away – but in the meantime I think Watson’s right. Rogan isn’t worth engaging with directly, and there are better ways to refute someone than going on their show to debate them. I’m not going to think less of people who keep their work on Spotify because they can’t afford not to – it’s certainly no worse than selling books on Amazon – but I am glad to see that they’re taking at least a little bit of a hit from all this.