Mixed Signals

Being celebrity illiterate, I’ve never listened to Joe Rogan. I had to look him up on Wikipedia for context on the latest left and right virtue signal playground fight involving Joe and some other celebrities.

I prefer to remain more or less culturally illiterate when it comes to celebrity. That, and my general lack of interest in team sports rather limits my participation in much of the conversation at social gatherings, but if you want to talk about history or science, farming, finance, firearms, genealogy, GPU’s, recipes or books, I’m your Huckleberry.

Speaking of books, there has been abundant virtue signaling from both sides of the political divide around the movement promoted by a Texas state legislator to remove a number of titles from school libraries. Let’s get right to it. Generally speaking, book banning is…unwise. To be fully educated, and to make better decisions, we need all the information, not just the information with which we agree.

OK, so why not allow books about, say…improvised explosives in school libraries? Because some information, even in a free society, is dangerous. Well then, who gets to decide? That’s a tough question. My answer, in a perfect world, would be that the parents, working through their local school systems, would decide, and my hope would be that the people deciding had read all the books and not just the ones they found agreeable.

Of course, it’s not a perfect world, and that’s where the rubber meets the road. Generally speaking, our political divide separates people who want imperial Washington to decide for everyone, from those who prefer that power be distributed more locally. It’s an argument as old as the nation.

Curiously, it seems that many of the folks getting excited about Texas are unconcerned that “book banning” has been ongoing for years. Many school systems and individual educators have taken it upon themselves to declare that much of the core history and culture of the United States is bad, i.e., racist, sexist, homophobic or guilty of pronoun or other forms of thought-crime. Any book that provides a window into the dark ages before we became so enlightened, is at risk. Someone has decided that it is better to be ignorant than to be offended.

Corporate America is, in large part, on board with this kind of thinking, as are the extremes of the Coke and Pepsi national political parties. Being offended has become the ultimate and definitive signal of virtue in in some circles, and as a result of that, we now have competing lists on the left and right of books that need to be banned, and both sides don’t seem to understand how dumb that is.

Getting back to the Joe Rogan issue, virtual virtue is gushing around the virtuous self-sacrifice of millionaire musician, Neil Young. I didn’t have to look Neil up on Wikipedia, but I was somewhat amused to hear about his involvement in another kind of “book burning.” It seems that Neil is offended by Joe Rogan’s opinions, and he told Spotify that if they allowed anyone to hear those opinions on their platform, he would take his toys and go home. And so, he did.

Alas, freedom is not for the fragile. In the same way that the rule of law means that sometimes criminals will go unpunished in order to protect the rights of the majority, free speech means that a lot of stupid opinions will be allowed to flourish. I’m not implying that Rogan’s opinions, or those promoted by the books on the Texas ban list are stupid, but that is the opinion of those who want to silence their opposition.

Mark me safe from Neil Young’s exit from Spotify. “A southern man don’t need” his opinion about pandemics anyhow. Neither do I need Joe Rogan’s opinion. I don’t need Fox News to tell me what Joy Behar said on The View (had to Google her) and I don’t need to hear AOC’s “reaction” to what Fox News said about what Joy Behar said on MSNBC. I will listen to my own doctor, and if more people did that, I’ll wager that things would go a lot smoother.

Rumor has it that Yoko Ono has threatened to ADD her music to Spotify unless they remove Joe Rogan. I’ll be interested to see how this all plays out. If enough celebrities jump on the bandwagon, Spotify may cave to their demands and political censorship will have advanced another step in our nation. Or, by removing their own voices from the Spotify, Neil and anyone else who joins him in exiting the platform will simply make Joe Rogan’s voice even louder in their absence.

Yes, I said “political censorship” for the benefit of anyone who believes that this is simply a high-minded effort to combat “vaccine misinformation.” This pandemic is something that scientists are still struggling to understand. That understanding has evolved, and it is still evolving. This is the nature of science. Science is dynamic by definition. That’s why scientists never completely agree on anything. When science stops being dynamic, it ceases to be science and it becomes dogma instead.

Buckminster Fuller said that instead of tearing down an old system, it’s better to invent a new one that makes the old obsolete. Anyone who wants to ban books or silence opposing views has not done that.

Science must transcend human nature, value judgements, logical fallacy and cultural conditioning to qualify as science. Beyond that, science polluted by even the smallest amount of contamination becomes something else. Science plus celebrity equals entertainment. Science plus politics always equals politics. Our unfortunate belief that everyone is “entitled” to an opinion also prevents understanding. It sends mixed signals to those of us trying to make informed decisions. Everyone has a “right” to an opinion, including Neil Young and Joe Rogan, but to be “entitled” means that you have done the work and earned the credentials. Many of us assume that celebrity status automatically earns those credentials, and that is an unfortunate, even dangerous assumption.

As for the Texas books, we could almost wish that the effort is really some kind of satire. There is certainly plenty of irony to be found in the movement. For some time now the narrative has been dominated by complaints that our history and culture are fatally flawed by ideas and events that make our underserved and marginalized feel unsafe or uncomfortable or outraged. Texas is simply saying that there are fatally flawed ideas and facts which cause the majority to feel unsafe or uncomfortable or outraged, and they want to purge that information in the same way that Huckleberry Finn was removed from libraries and reading lists in other parts of the country.

An eye for an eye until everyone is blind, and dumb, and not in the service of justice, but in the pursuit of control. And that, my friends, is what this is all about, and what connects two stories that should be unrelated, but are tied together because both are ultimately about coercing what other people think by eliminating any opportunities to think otherwise.

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