Thursday, February 9, 2023

COLUMN: Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and finding masculinity and accountability

March 30, 2022
<p>Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson garner white males across the world. What makes them so appealing to this audience?</p>

Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson garner white males across the world. What makes them so appealing to this audience?

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

Let’s draw a Venn diagram.

The first circle is the target demographic of Jordan Peterson, an emeritus psychology professor in Toronto. The second is the target demographic of Joe Rogan, podcaster/comedian/TV personality and mushroom coffee lover.

There is really only one circle to be seen. No matter how different these two figures can seem on paper, their followers are almost exclusively male. How do two seemingly polar opposites share the same defining characteristic?

The short answer is that they are not polar opposites. Rogan and Peterson preach the same kind of message to the same choir, just in different tones. Peterson, with his academic credentials, signals to audience members that he is qualified enough to discuss a certain subject.

Like how a scientific journal with a good index score means that it is more credible, Peterson presents his arguments as fact. In his interview with The Wright Stuff, he repeatedly affirmed that “This is what the article said,” citing a Norwegian paper that found that women in countries with better gender equality are more likely to enter professions considered traditionally feminine.

He drew the comparison between men and the lobster, an animal he considered so similar to humans that antidepressants work on them, to further his point that human hierarchies must exist. Peterson leveraged his academic expertise to appeal to the audience by making them believe that he is speaking the language of science — of the truth. He is the expert who seeks to help them understand more about the world and themselves, and, as a consequence, they should believe him.  

Rogan, on the other hand, does not want to be considered an expert. In his opinion, he is merely the vessel through which his very large audience learns about the world, with his podcast featuring guests of important credentials, including the aforementioned Peterson.

Rogan willingly admits that he is not an expert on everything and is just an “average Joe,” but he is willing to learn and make sense of the world with his audience, making him reliable in the audience's eyes.

Where he lacks academic qualifications, Rogan makes up in other qualifications. With his experience as a comedian, the host of “Fear Factor” and an Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator, Rogan’s name is subconsciously connected with masculinity. He also boasts a physique that many guys at the gym dream about. He simultaneously is and is not your “average Joe.”

Rogan is an idealized version of what the “average Joe” wants to be and claims that the audience, too, can become that with his advice.

These factors make Rogan and Peterson the ideal defenders of modern masculinity against the upcoming waves of criticism. Both bemoan for a long lost time when a man can be a man without any questioning of his intent. They would argue that “women studies types” are destroying western civilization, that the world is crumbling under the invasion of social justice warriors, and colleges are churning out activists on state funding as more women studies professors indoctrinate students.

These sentiments are not new. These are the people that cry about affirmative action being the reason they do not get into prestigious universities. They are the commenters, ever-present at any discussion about Black Widow, nostalgic for the time all a female superhero should do is pose. But it is these two figures' strategic ways of going around the world that make them such powerful amplifiers of these opinions. And those are also what make them excellent ideology pushers, much like people they criticize.

Whilst condemning others, they seem to forget that they do not exist in a vacuum and also have ideologies to push.

“They group up,” Rogan said in reference to women's studies academics. “They form their confirmation bias. They formed some form of groupthink.”

Isn’t that what Rogan and Peterson have been doing as well, selling lobster T-shirts and beach towels branded with the JRE logo? Is that not grouping up?

Everybody has their ideologies and wants to push theirs. Life experiences dictate how people see life, and one can hardly ever be sure that their interpretation is factual and the closest to the truth. This column is very much ideological.

This column is hardly going to change the world. Rogan, Peterson and their overlapping circle of followers do. Every article that attempts to address Rogan and Peterson post-2016 have to mention how powerful and prominent the two have become as political influencers.

Businessman Andrew Yang, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Bernie Sanders all received an influx of hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations after they were mentioned before Rogan’s audience. Peterson's books are bestsellers, making him the kind of figure and authority in people’s lives to the point that after hearing him speak, a man was motivated to clean his room and get his life together despite years of his mother asking him to do so. And when they are faced with criticism from their opponents, both deflect criticism while feeding on it as they complain about being oppressed to their followers.

After a while, everything became a self-sustaining loop: criticizing them only gave them more support. It is like feeding fuel to the fire. And the fire is only going to spread further, the circle ever-expanding. The damage Rogan, Peterson and their following have done are well-documented and so intense that to this day, people continue to ask for Ivermectin when hospitalized with COVID-19 after Rogan promoted it. 

How do we put out these fires then?

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MSU professor Dustin Carnahan said the answer is all about self-affirmation.

“Nobody likes to be told that they are wrong, and especially when it is something that matters to you, when it is important to you or when you view it as kind of central to how you view yourself,” Carnahan said.

Another paper by Carnahan has found that we consume counter-attitudinal news as often as we do pro-attitudinal news, implying that it is possible to correct confirmation bias. The strategy, then, is normalizing the process of correcting your beliefs.

“We need to deploy strategies that are less keen on saying ‘You are wrong and here is why,’” Carnahan said. “(Strategies) that make people actually feel comfortable with the idea of being wrong and not feel like it is an indictment of the self.”

Persistent willingness to understand and sympathize seems to be the antidote to misinformation and anger, then. The issue comes to be more complicated when we remember that compassion can only go so far, especially when we know that the views the people we want to help hold have actively caused harm.

Healthcare workers have repeatedly voiced their frustration and “compassion fatigue,” denoting their desensitization to the anti-vaccination patients admitted into the ER. How are we supposed to help the people in our life knowing that their desire to feel secure in themselves contributed directly to the threatening of our rights?

“It’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ’50s ensconced in their comfortable secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity,” Peterson once lamented to The New York Times.

He conveniently forgot the fact that marriage can indeed become oppressive when one side depends too much on the other and is vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds. A husband could have just sent their wife to get a lobotomy in the 50s. Even today if I get married, as a Vietnamese woman, I am still extremely likely to be a victim of domestic violence

Here another self-sustaining loop occurs. In seeking security in manhood like this, one will inevitably alienate some of the people, further fueling the anger and sadness in their life. Will this loop ever end?

I do not think I have the answer for you, unlike your favorite podcaster or psychologist.


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