There is a meditative quality to both Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson’s work that sucks you in. For Rogan, it is his voice — a soft, curious, always credulous murmur that lends itself to explaining complicated topics. Watching Rogan deconstruct a mixed martial arts fight can be a genuine pleasure for fans of the sport, like listening to a close friend really nerd out over something they’re passionate about. Peterson is not as blessed sonically — he sounds like Kermit the Frog as a freshman philosophy major — but he too projects the same blithe confidence in his own words that can make almost any topic sound compelling.
The only problem is, Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson are two of the dumbest people on earth. The wildly successful podcast host and self-help author’s careers have intersected and built on one another multiple times, as their core audience of disaffected young men is largely the same. Their paths crossed once again this week in a four-hour marathon conversation on The Joe Rogan Experience, during which Peterson bizarrely and very proudly wore a tuxedo. Their topics were varied, but almost all of them were intensely stupid, if not incoherent.
Here is Peterson, for instance, confidently proclaiming a theory on climate change loaded with circular arguments that all come back to the same point: It’s not real.
Holy moly. I don't think I can do this. First words out of Peterson's mouth in the Joe Rogan interview are complete self parody. I can't even dunk on it. pic.twitter.com/hIDYPi0KDc
— bad_stats (@thebadstats) January 25, 2022
Peterson appears to be saying that because there are a large number of variables that influence the climate, it’s impossible to ascribe change to any particular variables (like, say, our massive consumption of fossil fuels). This is false, as the entire point of climate science is to identify which of those variables correlate to statistically significant changes in temperature or ozone levels et cetera, et cetera. And yet, Peterson talks on, saying the word “everything” multiple times without actually saying, well, anything. “Mmhm,” Rogan responds. “What do you mean by, ‘everything’?”
This sort of credulity is both Rogan’s biggest draw and his worst tendency. Rogan has built his brand around open-mindedness, which he passes off as “free thinking.” But in practice, instead of thinking about what his guests are saying to him, Rogan’s first instinct is to “mmhm” his way through topics that frequently stray into conspiracies, bigotry, or simple stupidity. Rogan’s guiding ethos doesn’t seem to be much more complicated than “seek out the controversial, and popular,” which has led him, during the pandemic, to repeatedly platform or publish misinformation about coronavirus and vaccines.
Gibberish like this is laced throughout Peterson’s latest appearance. At one point, Peterson claims more people die from solar energy than nuclear energy, because they fall off of roofs while installing the panels. He and Rogan take turns ruminating about how you can’t say anything as a comedian these days, because of “protected classes.” And of course, things really take a turn when they discuss race. Rogan takes the lead in this clip, claiming that Black radio host and academic Michael Eric Dyson, a Peterson critic, is not “Black,” based on a complicated and truly idiotic discussion of various skin tones.
On Joe Rogan's Spotify podcast — Jordan Peterson claims Michael Eric Dyson is "not Black"
Rogan replies: "Unless you are talking to someone who is like 100% African from the darkest place where they are not wearing any clothes all day … the term Black is weird." pic.twitter.com/Wyk00WHwus
— Alex Paterson (@AlexPattyy) January 25, 2022
This one is basically a parody of itself, no debunking necessary. It even includes the sublime: “I’m not white, I’m Italian.” But in itself it’s a good example of why Rogan and Peterson are, collectively and individually, incredibly stupid and incredibly compelling. At the center of both of their work is the same mantra that blends conservative traditionalism and new-age guruism into a superficial concept of modern masculinity, a quick-fix guide for men who struggle to find self-worth in a fractured and callous world. Their work is aimed at people who are seeking enlightenment, people who think that they want to change their minds about something. What they’re served is a flood of babble that includes just enough introspection, surface-level analysis, and controversy to be passed off as incisive. This babble falls apart as soon as you step back and apply even a tiny bit of logic. We have mountains of provable data that certain climate variables correspond to climate change, racial identity is not tied to skin tone, and that falling off a roof and exposure to radioactive compounds are not comparable risks.
But there’s a reason Rogan’s podcasts often go so long, and that Peterson has published two lengthy books that basically say the same things: Once you’re in, you’re in. You’ve entered the mind palace. Your brain is just stimulated enough to fire off dopamine when one of these two instantly recognizable, friendly voices says something that confirms a prior belief or makes you feel better about something. The water is warm. There is nothing to fear. It’s a safe space to be a little racist, a little incredulous, a little simplistic. The only people it hurts are the uninitiated, those outside the tribe, and it’s their own fault for clinging to identities that don’t fit into the narrow philosophy Rogan and Peterson have distilled. If those people just man up they can come on in, as well. They can leave their brain at the door. All the thinking they need is clearly going on inside.