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Elite Panic In The Cathedral!

The Eppur si muove problem.


I wrote yesterday about the Joe Rogan problem our elite faces today, where even such leading intellectual lights as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle must take up the solemn duty of condemning their Spotify colleague who actually does the work his contract demands. Of course, the company’s decision to essentially add a “dangerous, do not ingest” warning to Rogan’s interviews is just a prelude to more crackdowns, as Zaid Jilani recognizes:

As Jilani notes, there has been a demonstrable increase in the number of leftists who favor censorship by any entity necessary — including private corporations — all in the cause of shutting down speech that they find irritating or inconvenient to the narrative they favor:

Young’s transformation from countercultural champion of freedom of speech to corporate censorship advocate and defender of the public-health bureaucracy didn’t occur in a vacuum. Progressives have become increasingly censorious over the past few years. A majority of Democrats now believe that both private tech companies and the U.S. government should “take steps to restrict false info online.”

This is the “reality based community” coming home to roost: where once the counterculture spoke of dying to defend the right to disagree, now they will bring down the entire house of individual liberty to shut you up. But what is a leftist to do when someone like Rogan can’t be shut up? When his work — bizarrely coming in the form of interviews so long they outpace Doctor Zhivago — is so defiantly popular that it attracts the eyes and ears of a nation hungry for more information?

In this case, they are turning into a mob appealing to the elites — in this case, The Cathedral — to shut down this troublesome talk. The network of power from the corporate media to the academy to big tech to the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder must act to save us all, before it’s too late!

This problem brings to mind a piece from two years ago, published at the onset of the pandemic in Commentary, by James B. Meigs, former editor of Popular Mechanics:

Disaster researchers call this phenomenon “elite panic.” When authorities believe their own citizens will become dangerous, they begin to focus on controlling the public, rather than on addressing the disaster itself. They clamp down on information, restrict freedom of movement, and devote unnecessary energy to enforcing laws they assume are about to be broken. These strategies don’t just waste resources, one study notes; they also “undermine the public’s capacity for resilient behaviors.” In other words, nervous officials can actively impede the ordinary people trying to help themselves and their neighbors.

As in war, the first casualty in disasters is often the truth. One symptom of elite panic is the belief that too much information, or the wrong kind of information, will send citizens reeling. After the 2011 tsunami knocked out Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, officials gave a series of confusing briefings. To many, they seemed to be downplaying the amount of radiation released in the accident. In the end, the radiation risks turned out to be much lower than feared, resulting in no civilian deaths. But, by then, the traumatized public had lost faith in any official statements. As one team of researchers notes, any “perceived lack of information provision increases public anxiety and distrust.”

The oddity of all this is that Rogan himself is not actually the source of the troublesome information the Covid authoritarians seek to quash. Instead, his show is merely the vehicle for them to express their opinions. He asks open-ended and often meandering questions before driving down to a point, seeking an answer from the person sitting across from him in ways that are, given the marathon length and intellectual breadth of the show, impossible to filibuster.

It is the rumbling host of intelligent guests with whom Rogan has these discussions — often with impressive credentials in multiple spheres, but with well-earned reputations for contrarian perspectives that run afoul of the dominant narratives in their field of choice — who are the real problem. And because CNN and Anthony Fauci and Prince Harry and his Hogwarts Ministry on Information Disorder can’t shut them all down, they are instead seeking to shut down the popularizer.

Joe Rogan isn’t the messenger. He’s just the interlocutor inviting the wrong people on an enormous stage. And how interesting it is that when he invites the “right” people, like Sanjay Gupta, they end up looking very foolish.

There is a tale told about Galileo Galilei that comes to mind here — one that is almost certainly apocryphal, given that there is little indication it was printed until a century after his death. Galileo’s heliocentric heresy, published in 1632 in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, resulted in a firestorm of reaction from the church. Intentionally or not — there is evidence Galileo never intended to offend his friend and ally Pope Urban VIII — the episode obviously resulted in his being brought before inquisitors, threatened with torture, and subjected to condemnation and imprisonment under house arrest for the duration of his life.

The legend is that, in the process of being transferred from one home to another, Galileo engaged in an act of defiance:

The moment he was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, Eppur si muove, that is, still it moves, meaning the Earth.

The inquisitions suffered by those who have defied the Covid narrative at very great risk to their careers are for the most part not comparable to anything suffered by Galileo, but they share certain commonalities. Pope Urban VIII was in some sense afraid of the machinations of court insiders and his foes who saw advantage in the moment, and cowed into going along with the persecution of an intellectual he admired.

There are similarly minded individuals today, largely silent, scattered around the heights of industry and politics. Their book recommendations and listening tendencies act as secret handshakes. They hold these views against the tide. They just don’t have Elon Musk’s F-you money.

The motivation of the Cathedral now to protect their power against what they view as an unruly, prideful, and disobedient rabble is not without basis. The people are indeed fed up with the elite panic. They have, as the Monmouth poll indicated this week, moved on — they believe “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives”.

But the Cathedral does not accept that they’ve lost control. They still think they can crush the revolt and re-establish the narrative. And they are too short-sighted to see the long-lasting and institution-destroying ramifications they are creating by engaging in such an obvious crackdown on people brave enough to tell the truth.