Entertaining New Realities In “The Joe Rogan Experience”
By David Metcalfe
March 15, 2019
One day, when I was in 6th grade, we had a substitute teacher for our science class. We were supposed to just work on our assignment while he supervised us, but he had a different plan. He started telling us a vast array of “scientific” theories he had, most notably: time travel. He held out a piece of paper and said, “Look at how far it is from one edge to another. But what happens when I fold it? Yes, the edges touch. That’s how time travel works: we bend time to meet at the same place as where you are.”
We loved that substitute teacher. We talked and laughed about his theories the whole bus ride home. Unfortunately, we were so excited about it, many of us told our parents, and surely enough, the school did not invite him back. From then on, we were taught boring, old, real science.
I don’t remember his name, and I have no idea what happened to him. I can’t imagine he continued teaching much longer, or, if he did, certainly was not spouting outlandish theories during school hours.
But what if, instead of being kicked out, he was allowed to teach his own “alternative science” class, where, instead of chemistry, biology, and physics, it was aliens, other dimensions, and time travel? And the students got to choose which class they wanted to attend? I’ll tell you right now, “alternative science” would’ve been packed full. Only problem is, we would have gotten a horrible education and none of us would be able to practice professions related to science when we grew up. However, we would’ve been quite entertained all through our school years.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that teacher someday ended up as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience. It’s a place where “alternative” theories get their time in the spotlight, and, just like how most of our 6th grade class would’ve learned science from our “alternative” substitute teacher, The Joe Rogan Experience draws huge numbers.
Reality isn’t all that entertaining. The process of understanding any complex topic as it really is requires massive amounts of research: collecting data, comparing it to existing data, interpreting it, discussing and debating with other experts in the field, and so on. In addition, reality rarely has spectacular results. Journalists frequently say things like, “Chocolate Cures Cancer!” But then, if you care to read the scholarly article it cited, you find out that it’s really, “certain chemical compounds may have some effects on the development of cancer cells among mice, and one of those chemical compounds is sometimes found in chocolate.”
But who wants to put in a bunch of effort to learn things that end up being fairly bland? Well, certainly not listeners of The Joe Rogan Experience, where they get to go to “alternative” university, and various pseudo-intellectuals, quacks, and conspiracy theorists get to make “reality” exciting! They don’t have to go through the proper academic channels (which they deem as corrupt), so they don’t have to have things like actual evidence, peer review, or unbiased analysis when coming up with their theories.
Joe Rogan is not well educated. He doesn’t have a degree, he doesn’t read academic articles, he doesn’t contribute to research or even write for a magazine. He is a funny stand up comedian, a decent actor, fairly creative, and a good talker. He’s stepped out of where he belongs, and into a political, social, and scientific sphere he knows nothing about. In his ignorance, he’s given a massive platform for people like Alex Jones to talk about why the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting are probably liars, for people like Elon Musk to get high and spout random conjecture about living on Mars, for people like Sam Harris to affirm that black people are biologically dumber than white people, for people like Jordan Peterson to suggest that women’s rights are a terrifying plague that needs to be stopped, and so much more.
Reality doesn’t always make for good entertainment, and in a culture that demands non-stop entertainment from our media, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people veering off it. My school didn’t invite my substitute teacher back, not because he was boring, but because his brief entertainment would eventually lead the students away from reality and into a “make believe” world. But we can’t “make reality” into existence just by believing it to be the way we like it. I’m glad we were taught real science in school, because many of my classmates went on to be engineers, health care professionals, and other important careers where science was used practically to make the real world a better place.
I hope America treats The Joe Rogan Experience like a brief and entertaining break from reality, and ultimately doesn’t invite him back for more, and instead turns to the actual experts when forming their views on complex topics and acting on them practically.