Lost in Joe Rogan’s challenge to Baylor College of Medicine professor Dr. Peter Hotez to debate the COVID-19 vaccine debacle with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a striking truth about America today: We’re desperate for discourse. The left no longer even tries to defend its positions; it now relies on shutting down debate, silencing those who disagree with it, and using the bully pulpit in all its heavy-handed forms.
That’s why pledges poured into Rogan’s podcast, raising the donation that would be made to Hotez’s favorite charity to $1.5 million.
But the left’s calls to censor Joe Rogan (and Democratic presidential candidate RFK Jr. for that matter) are deeply anti-science, even if made in the name of “scientific consensus.” We’ll side with Galileo on the issue of scientific consensus: “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”
Yet the left’s demand to silence dissent is being misleadingly dressed up in a white lab coat.
Writing in USA Today, Stanford medical school professor Dr. Thomas Lew starts out well enough, writing “…the whole premise that scientific data needs to win over the masses to be true is flawed. Science is science, and objective data that can be reliably reproduced is true whether people believe it or not.”
That much is true. But he didn’t stop there.
“I am honestly surprised that we are still skeptical of the merits of vaccines, especially the COVID-19 vaccines,” Lew wrote. “To a large extent, no one should believe any ‘expert’ blindly, but when there are several high-quality studies, a preponderance of empirical evidence and a consensus among most of the scientific communities, then that should tip the scales toward belief over a random person on the internet with contradictory statements.”
The U.S. government is unmatched in making contradictory statements on COVID, and that’s why many on the left are desperately trying to salvage some of the legitimacy the politicized public health authorities threw away during the pandemic, with their demands that were often contradictory but never in doubt.
And in doing so, the left must rely on shutting down dissent – and discussion. As the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman put it, “Truth is put to the worse every day, and the kind of debates we’ve gotten used to only make it easier for falsehood to survive.”
He claimed, “When an expert ‘debates’ a crank, nothing is accomplished except elevating the crank to a status he doesn’t deserve. Few if any will be persuaded of the truth, and the result will be a less informed public.”
The public respectfully disagrees. What we’re seeing instead is a real and demonstrable hunger for substantive debate and in-depth discussion. Just look at the popularity of Rogan’s podcast (the top-ranked podcast in the world), which is essentially a long-form rag-chew, two or three hours of people simply talking about the issues. Visually, it’s usually just a couple of guys sitting in a studio. Clearly, people aren’t tuning in for the spectacle; they’re there for the ideas. The same thing goes for popular podcasts such as “The Rest is History,” and even Tucker Carlson’s new frills-free, visually boring Twitter show.
In 1985, Neil Postman warned we were “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in his book of that name: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”
Postman feared that Aldous Huxley was right – that “the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” That’s not wrong, but the American people shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
Their hunger for ideas and discussion, even debate, is evident. We could very well be at the cusp of a renaissance in the engagement of ideas, a rebirth of civil discourse. Perhaps that’s why so many on the left are now openly calling for political censorship and even the jailing of dissidents. They know they’re not ready for their ideas to be tested in the public square.