Sunday, June 2, 2013

My continually complex relationship with Joe Rogan

One of the things I've come to love most about training BJJ is the conversations you end up having.

I was talking with a brown belt that left my school and moved to Germany before I even set foot in the gym. Through the power of jiu jitsu weirdness and Facebook (aided by a couple of visitation rolls), we've still managed to connect as teammates and discuss all sorts of forbidden topics like religion, race, economics, know, fight starting stuff. He brought up Rogan because we were discussing people and movements being scared to take off the "training wheels" of their ideologies, and how common that is in conservative movements of various kinds. He didn't want to take credit for the "training wheels" phrase, and directed me to this compilation of some of Rogan's thoughts on religions, what's wrong with the world, etc.

Rogan poses such a conundrum for me. I agree with a lot of what he says, even to the point of occasionally admiring his thought process...but deep down, I think he's got a heavy axe to grind against some of the most basic elements of my existence...those being my gender and chosen faith.

Rogan, I do think, dislikes women for being women. I'm not talking about the references to "hot chicks" or whatever language he uses to refer to women he find acceptably attractive...that may be an obvious sign, but I'm talking about deeper things, like a point he made early on in that video.

He talks of the foolishness of ideologies, and starts listing religions. (The critique of religion alone while completely ignoring concepts like, say, capitalism or ownership of property, that impact our thinking and behavior on possibly deeper levels always irks me, but I'll move on.) He then, in discussing the ridiculous things that people do around their ridiculous beliefs, cites women in Africa that put plates in their lips...but they're not "women in Africa"...they're "African bitches." For their behavior? Their attitude? Something they said? Nope. They're bitches, and apparently ridiculous, because they engage in body alteration.

Let me just say that I am not the body altering type. I have one set of ear piercings that I didn't get until I was 19. I was done after that. Though I find them generally unattractive, I have no inherent problem with piercings or sub-dermal implants or whatever. This though is what gets me about his choice to single them out for simultaneous criticism and insult. He has paid someone to run a pigmented needle into his skin LITERALLY hundreds of thousands of times. He has tattoos. He, too, engages in body alteration, and I doubt he'd claim he's been ridiculous.

You could argue that his choice is based on personal expression and not cultural norm (debatable since those lines are far from clear and many of the women today choose whether they have another woman start the process for them), or because it's not connected to religious practices (from what I've read, neither is the insertion of a dhebi a tugoin). Even those thoughts would be based in the Western bias toward individualism. I think though, that it's nothing more complicated than the American man in a suit and tie (my personal preference) ridiculing the American boy wearing low-slung pants. "They look ridiculous! What a safety hazard!" laughs the man with the flowery noose-bib around his neck.

This is why I've come to believe that, while Rogan's got some good thoughts going on, at the end of the day, he is, somewhere deep down, a cultural supremacist disguised as someone who's willing to question culture. The kind of person who will loudly ridicule another for similar behavior with zero regard for cultural context. I can listen to and tolerate a lot of different views, but considering the evils that have been, and are perpetuated under that umbrella, that I just can't get down with.

Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.~Plato

All that has me questioning his overall intentions. He talks of wanting humans to just be "good people" and treat each other well, but still uses his platform to spread the attitudes that are the seeds of the war and persecution that he also urges these "good people" to leave behind. Wrapping a very subtle message of supremacy in one of human improvement...what is he really trying to accomplish? Maybe he just doesn't see it. Maybe he knows that the quickest way to get people to listen is to echo their cultural assumptions and he puts on a subtle attitude of supremacy that will resonate with his listening base and get him more fans. Maybe personal reflection just isn't his thing. Really hard to tell. All I know is that he's one of the many agnostic/atheists lately that have come to sway my naive thinking that bigotry was exclusive to the religious conservatives of the world. 


Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying here.
I listen to JRE often, but I try to extract the small tidbits of useful stuff and let the rest roll off. Keep in mind that most of the time on the podcasts, he's high. It may be high quality weed, but he often loses focus and is forgetful of basic facts. He digresses and his arguments lose coherence and cogency. To be sure, he has some experience, but he is far from being a guru. His thinking is often shallow and lacks discipline. Furthermore, he is surrounded by people that will agree with him or be shouted down or banned from his entourage. I'm not convinced a lot of critical analysis of ideas is really going on.
Perhaps your consternation is caused by the idea that if a person could be right about a lot of things, he must be right (or close to right) on all things. As students of Martial Arts, it's easy to come to this. Martial Arts is often set up as a heirarchy and monopoly on insight.
Very few are like this.
As for Rogan, I wouldn't necessarily label him 'cultural supremacist' or anything - he's just a dude with a bunch of other dudes, smokin' and jokin'. Nothing more.

Megan said...

"As for Rogan, I wouldn't necessarily label him 'cultural supremacist' or anything - he's just a dude with a bunch of other dudes, smokin' and jokin'. Nothing more"

I would 100% agree if he didn't have such a large platform. I don't expect him to be right, not even in most things, but at his level, I do expect some responsibility beyond "I'm just lookin' at stuff, bein' high and bein' a comedian". I hear more and more guys saying that they really like how he thinks and...I think he's just dipping his toe into the water of being another socially irresponsible media voice.

I expect responsibility well before I expect anyone to be right about anything. I think it's entirely possible to smoke, joke and be a cultural supremacist. I bet it happens all the time.

Jonathan said...

Interesting post. I actually like that video you posted of his, and I'm not a big fan of his, if I was going to critique something of his it would be some of his pseudo-science stuff, that kind of junk can be annoying. I'm not sure what you mean though when you say he despises women for being women. I don't care for his choice of wording regarding the "African Bitches," but I think maybe the point he was trying to convey had something to do with cultural relativism, that something being apart of a cultural isn't enough of a justification? I don't know, what do you think?

Megan said...

Hi Jonathan,

The women part. I don't think he despises women, but I do get a tone of general dislike from him (unless he finds one attractive). I got that general feeling after listening to a couple of podcasts. The "African bitches" comment just sealed the deal for me. I don't see any reason to insult someone because of their personal choices on their face, and the fact that he needed to specify gender said a lot to me. I mean, why not just "idiots in Africa" or something that matched up better with "ridiculous" behavior?

I feel you on the psuedo-science though. I could write the whole deal off as his likely being high while recording, but still...words are what they are.

Megan said...

Maybe...maybe re: the cultural relativism, but it still falls flat coming from someone who has full sleeve tats.

Jonathan said...

I see your point about the bitches comment. And regarding the tattoos and such, good point haha, they're both body modification.

Tree Frog said...

What about the complicated relationship with Nyjah Easton?

You have a great deal of commonality between being a woman, a woman who is athletic, the hair issues associated with such and being black in an often unwelcoming society for all of those things (damnit, I hate saying that, but it's true).

But she's also stuck hard with TLI, which has awful business practices, abhorrent people within it and a genuinely scary culture around it.

What happens now? Is Nyjah's skill on the mats and good points enough to outweigh her continued involvement in TLI's corruption?

Megan said...

Who exactly has a complicated relationship with Nyjah Easton?

If you aren't trolling, and genuinely think I do/should, I would say you fail to understand the elemental conflict of my feelings about Joe Rogan, and are assuming a stronger connection to Nyjah on my part because of your own biases. Is race alone enough for "a great deal of commonality"? (I'm skipping gender because I'll bet you didn't ask any non-Black women about their feelings.)

I would argue that the only thing that Nyjah and I have in common are being Black and female...and I'll let you in on a little secret...BJJ is one of the places in my life where race weighs the least, so my "Blackness" weighs just about as heavily as anybody else's "Whiteness" or "Asianness" when it comes to training. It's one of the things I enjoy most about BJJ.

The hair? Our hair is quite different...yes, both Black, but she processes her hair differently, colors it differently and wears it short (I aim to grow mine longer). The difference in our hair is precisely why I referenced her in a post about Black hair a while back. The post was meant to feature a variety of Black hair choices in training and each woman was chosen because of her differences from me. Her stance on TLI is precisely why I removed any links to her or TLI's site from the post months ago. I could honestly have a more connected conversation about hair experiences while training with Georgette and have more in common with Serena Williams if you must make race a part of the equation.

I do not fail to read between the lines of your post and your choice to ask the "questions" that you have here, and if leaves me wondering, if you would have asked those same "questions" of a White, male blogger who had the same haircut as Nicholas Schultz.

If you have questions for Nyjah and her involvement with TLI, I suggest you contact her via Facebook or some venue where she's actually involved...or perhaps you could find a woman in another venue outside of BJJ who's stuck with someone of sketchy character. I'm sure you have a rainbow of options.

If you have questions for me, Megan, about my experiences in BJJ, I'll be happy to discuss those.

Tree Frog said...

Hang on a sec.

I have the same "wade through the surprising amount of BS for little pieces of good stuff" relationship with Rogan as you do. I actively dislike his attitudes towards using language like "bitches" or his nonchalant dismissing of those who believe differently or behave differently.

He does have great access to relatively unfiltered interviews with fighters or scientific figures that I like, which is mostly why I pay a small amount of attention to Rogan. The UFC commentary job is the rest of it.

The reason I asked about Nyjah is because I believed that you had once reached out to her for her talk on hair and so on and that she did deliver an intelligent and complex response which was worth the reading when I did so a while back.

I didn't know the post was now edited and the tenuous relationship now summarily ended on your part.

My apologies for raising your defenses. It wasn't intentional and I was trying to see where other similarly complex relationships such as the one you or I have with Rogan can be found in MMA or BJJ. There was zero pro-Rogan stance or attack upon you intended.

All the best to you and to Prof. da Matta, who was one of my favorite interviews a while back.

Megan said...

Thanks Tree...apologies for misunderstanding what you were trying to say.

But yeah...I don't have any real conflicts when it comes to Nyjah mostly because, as you mentioned, her association with TLI is water I'm not willing to wade in and my lines are mostly drawn in that area. That said, I do have sympathy for her back-story with the entire situation, so I try not to cast too much judgement (aside from cutting links from my blog).

Thanks as always for reading and bringing up different perspectives.