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Opinion: Clearing the airwaves

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Joe Rogan isn't terrible at what he does, but his statements on vaccines miss the mark, writes Andrew Mitchell this week.

It’s hard being an ethical consumer.

I do my best to avoid products made by slaves or child labour. I’ve stopped shopping at some stores that support right-wing causes and politicians, or that underpay their employees and fight unionization efforts. 

In a world where companies own companies that own other companies, it’s no picnic finding brands that are organic, fair trade, local, preferably Canadian, unionized, treat their people well, don’t enrich members of China’s Central Committee, don’t lobby against climate change efforts, and are generally good to the environment. 

And now I have to decide what to do about my Spotify Premium Family account.

If asked to choose between Neil Young, the “Godfather of Grunge,” and Joe “Bro” Rogan, a man who I thought did his best work in the ‘90s sitcom NewsRadio, there’s no contest. I’m baffled why Spotify would sink $100 million into any podcast, much less one that gives a platform to controversial guests like alt-right Svengali Jordan Peterson, who recently touted Exxon’s anti-climate-change talking points like they were his own scientific research.

It kind of feels like when MuchMusic turned its back on actual music in favour of trashy reality TV. Spotify is choosing a dubious male-centric talk show over some of the most celebrated musicians of all time. 

I honestly don’t have anything against Joe Rogan. I doubt we’d see eye to eye politically—in my experience a libertarian is usually just a conservative who smokes weed—but he’s not terrible at what he does, he’s not afraid to have people on his show that disagree, and he listens well enough to do a good interview. 

But his statements on COVID, followed by his sorry-not-sorry apology for his statements on COVID, don’t really cut it. 

Every time he opens his mouth on the subject, Rogan demonstrates that he has completely missed the whole point of vaccines. Unfortunately he has a lot of influence and has used it to peddle the dangerously stupid idea that vaccines are a personal choice. I mean, they always have been in a way, but almost nobody said “no” before. 

It isn’t that Rogan’s main point is factually wrong, it’s that it’s morally questionable. He’s right in saying that young, healthy people don’t have much to fear from COVID when compared to seniors, unhealthy people and people with medical conditions. Although there have been countless tragic exceptions, the vast majority of young people could get through this pandemic without a vaccine—or masks, or physical distancing, or any of the measures that have been taken over the last two years to stop the pandemic. 

Where Rogan goes wrong is by missing the whole point of how vaccines work. It’s never been about you specifically or your own chances of survival, it’s about protecting others and doing your small part to eradicate dangerous illnesses. It’s about avoiding being a carrier and maybe killing someone unintentionally. It’s about preventing our public health-care system, and all the exhausted people in it, from being overwhelmed. It’s about nipping things in the bud before the virus has a chance to mutate into something more dangerous. It’s about achieving herd immunity for the benefit of all.

And it doesn’t work unless almost everybody is on board. 

That’s why it’s never really been a choice if you care about others. Vaccines have also been mandated in schools, the military and all kinds of professions for countless years, and nobody thought much about it until social media and uninformed pundits like Rogan started asking stupid questions and treating mandates as a challenge to their personal liberties. 

Vaccines are a “we” thing, one of the crucial links that bind us all in a civil society. It’s like giving your seat on the bus to someone on crutches or holding the door for someone with a stroller—you don’t think about it, you just do it.  

This is also not something where anyone can realistically do their own research. Putting your trust in Rogan and social media anti-vaxxers over the teams of educated experts at the WHO, CDC, BCCDC, Health Authority of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, as well as pretty much every medical professional rocking in the free world, doesn’t make you a free thinker because—if you’re honest—even those “free” thoughts aren’t really your own. They were planted there. 

Researchers found that more than 60 per cent of vaccine misinformation on social media could be traced back to just 12 sources, many of which are selling unproven alternative medicines. The reality is that we’re all sheep at the end of the day; it’s just that too many of us have chosen to follow some dangerously unqualified shepherds threatening to drive every sheep in the world off a cliff. 

And for everybody who thinks that Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the other musicians taking their music off Spotify are attacking Rogan’s free speech, all they’re doing is exercising some free speech of their own. People are free to join Young in leaving Spotify or they can choose to stay. And even if Spotify caved on this (they won’t) then that’s a business decision, not censorship. Joe Rogan will always remain free to share his views with the world, such as they are.

I hear good things about Tidal.