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Joe Rogan interview with Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU

Published by marco on

I listened to the 2-hour interview #1595 – Ira Glasser by Joe Rogan (JRE Library) and took a bunch of notes as I listened. I’ve cleaned them up a bit, but most of them are stream-of-consciousness and may be a bit repetitive.

People have more ability to reach others than they ever have in the past. To that end, Twitter has become more like a public commons, where everyone can set up their soapbox.

First off, and obviously, private conversations should not be monitored. (Glasser expressed the same opinion.) There is no justification for anything else. Private conversations are private. I can’t even believe we’re having this discussion again, as if the viewpoint, “yeah, but I need to monitor what everyone else is saying to make sure they don’t say anything I don’t approve of” is anything that anyone worth talking to would entertain.

But what about the public speech on Twitter? Most of it is public, most of it is like shouting from a soapbox. Glasser does point out that Twitter is a private company and should be able to decide for itself—as far as the first amendment is concerned. However, when the government that is in charge of their oversight puts pressure on them to censor, then there is a first-amendment problem. It’s a back door to government censorship.

If Twitter is the public commons and the government is de-facto telling them who to ban, then it becomes a first-amendment issue. These conversations should be treated the same as yelling in the park. Anything you can say there, you can say on Twitter. You can’t ban somebody for being an asshole. That’s a constitutional right. Glasser expressed the point of view that these are private companies; they can regulate the usage as they see fit. Though, we’re nearly at or headed for a private information monopoly, which isn’t conducive to an open society.

Anytime you have censorship, you must ask who’s going to censor? Who’s going to decide what’s hate speech?

Ira: If there had been hate-speech laws in the 60s, then the most frequent victim would have been Malcolm X, not David Duke.”
Ira: Who gets to decide what’s hateful? And who gets to decide what’s banned? And it isn’t often going to be the ones who advocate for these codes.”

Granting powers of censorship is dangerous because power shifts. We’re currently thinking that it’s only ever going to shift toward what we are choosing to currently consider to be more justice, but it can easily go the other way, and then the censoring of dissident voices will be legal. When Glasser said that, he was talking to the scolds eager to censor whatever they’ve chosen to call white supremacists.

But anyone who disagrees with the government is a dissident, not just people who’s opinions against the government you happen to agree with. Trump is, technically, a dissident. Even the notion of sedition is kind of ridiculous to me, and not compatible with an open society and a democracy. It’s interesting how no-one—anywhere on the spectrum—really has a problem with that concept. Sedition is agitating against the government. Well…how do you change it without agitating against it? Aren’t sedition laws just ways of criminalizing protest?

Anyway, if the scolds get their way, then they will have legalized censoring dissident voices—we’re just not great at thinking of people like Tucker Carlson as dissidents. If FOX is thrown off the air, though, that is exactly what will have happened. I just want to be clear that I think it’s already bad if that happens—not just when it might happen to so-called progressive voices sometime in the future, when they inevitably slip from their fleeting power.

As soon as dissidents feel power, they want to exercise the exact same regime on their former suppressers. They are no more ethical or committed to principle than the idiots they’re replacing. They have no empathy for their newly conquered foes as the new dissidents, whose voices should be protected.

They think they’re inventing something, that we’ve come to the end of history and can now dispense with the ladder that they climbed up. They are wrong. They are pedestrian and small-minded and woefully small in their vision. They are traveling a well-worn groove in history. This is what always happens. You’re not unique. You’re tedious idiots.

Joe: Do we just leave everything up like in a town square? And let people decide for themselves?
Ira: I think so. The only alternative is to give someone the power to decide what is hate speech. And who would that be? I don’t think you can get out of that dilemma.”

Ira: Why would BLM activists want to trust their free-speech rights to somebody like Donald Trump?”

Now, in all fairness, the Trump administration didn’t do all that much to crack down on speech. They might have wanted to, but they generally couldn’t get their shit together to do anything really concrete. Anything they did had a lot of precedent—they didn’t invent anything new. The Biden administration seems to be much more earnest about it.

Ira: Power is the antagonist. And whoever has it, is a danger to civil liberties if they’re not restrained. And one of the restraints is in the first amendment of the Constitution, which reads ‘Congress shall make no law…’. Now, ‘no law’ means no law. It doesn’t mean ‘some laws’ […] because you can’t trust them to decide what is good and what is bad.”
Ira: That’s the distinction that you need to draw: not between the words that are hateful and words that are acceptable, but between words and conduct.”
Ira: The charge of incitement has a long, sorry history of being used against speech that everybody would think was protected by the first amendment now.”

I personally think that Ira lends too much weight to Trump’s words as literal, just like everyone else does. How is it that the metaphoric phrase “you have to fight” is continually referred to as the inciting statement when 99.9% of its usage in any other context is non-violent? You have to fight for that job. You have to fight to be heard. You have to fight the power. None of these are considered to mean real, fist-in-the-face violence.

Ira: Liberals are so anxious to get Trump […] that I’m nervous that the definition of incitement will be broadened and loosened to cover speech that, in fact, should be protected by the first amendment. It took 180 years to get to Brandenburg in 1969.”

At the end, Ira says he “should be convicted under the impeachment process”, which is pretty slippery because then he says that it’s because regular people can’t be impeached, so it wouldn’t broaden the general definition. For a general conviction, he worries (as noted above) that the Supreme Court would ride the wave of anti-Trumpism to broaden the definition of incitement.

So he’s basically saying that it wasn’t incitement, but he really hates Trump. This is better than many other people’s opinions, but still wishy-washy. He seems to want to exploit a loophole (that there’s a special rule for presidents under which due process is much weaker) to get Trump in a way that wouldn’t apply to anyone else (because in a real court, the charges wouldn’t hold up for a minute). That attitude doesn’t have much to do with a principled stance.

Ira: You’ve got the guy in your sights and you shoot the gas. And then…the wind shifts—and the political winds always shift—and pretty soon the gas is blowing back on you.”
Ira: Can the private sector so restrict speech so that it basically means that the only people who have access to speech are the people who have access to money and the means of utilizing the mediums? Yes. That’s always been the case, though. When I grew up, if you didn’t own a newspaper or radio or television network, you didn’t have much right to speak, except to the people right around you. The Internet changes all of that.”

We need more distributed sites instead of giant social-media centers. Every citizen should have their own site, unable to be DDOSed and unable to be taken down. The people behind Matrix (chat) and Mammoth (messages/news) that are pushing distributed, decentralized software have the right idea.

Tim Berners Lee’s Solid project aims to move the whole web back in this direction. Instead of fighting with Twitter and Facebook to democratize them, we should move away from them, to our own platforms, platforms not controlled by private entities. Of course, those could still be destroyed by Amazon or whoever hosts the servers, so we’re not out of the woods yet.

Ira: The question I have for Trump voters is, how did they bring themselves to vote for him this time? Knowing that this election was a referendum on racism and bigotry and religious discrimination. Those are the terms that Trump set. He was the one who turned our politics into a politics of either-or.”

I think that this is just wrong from start to finish. It was only a referendum on racism and bigotry in the fevered imagination of the people who had the luxury of spending their days glued to CNN. Everyone else was watching the economy fall into the shitter, along with their lives. The point Rogan made that “people just hate and don’t trust the Democrats” is mostly correct. They should also hate the Republicans, but they hate the Democrats more.

Trump did not start “either-or”. He took advantage of it. Glass is making a big mistake in assuming what people were thinking. He says he’d “like to know”, but it doesn’t sound like he’s made a serious attempt to imagine it—or even find out what it could be.

Even his question assumes the worst: that they all looked at all of the issues, with the same priorities as he and his lefty colleagues had, and still came to the conclusion to vote for Trump, despite him being the most obviously evil thing to walk the Earth (as everyone knows, according to orthodoxy). I’m not sure which latin phrase to apply to that form of argumentation, but it’s dishonest and unlikely to lead anywhere constructive.

Ira: A vote for Donald Trump—whether you intended it or not—was a vote for white nationalism and bigotry, for authorianism.”

Oh, Ira, now you’re making the argument that anyone who disagrees with your take on the situation is either a white nationalist or someone who’s so deluded that they can’t see that they’re supporting white nationalism. The arrogance is breathtaking. You know better what people are thinking than they themselves do.

Basically, almost no-one should have voted for Donald Trump and everyone should have voted for Biden, who is, apparently, not a white nationalist. That’s the stupid narrative that the fuckers in power set up in the first place. Ira’s take on this is so naive, ignoring the context of how the election even became a choice between a right-wing, doddering corporate stooge and a narcissistic man-child.

Instead of chafing at the constraints imposed by the business elite (the two-party “choice”) and the liberal elite (never Bernie), he falls back to Bush the younger’s “with us or against us” horseshit.

I can make the same argument: that Ira’s vote for Biden (which he admitted to) was a vote for drone-bombing Syrian children. There’s a direct line to Ira’s subconscious intent and dead children. It’s as a simple as that. That sounds stupid, though, doesn’t it, Ira?

Joe also challenged him on this. It was one of the only times he pushed back rather than just letting Glasser talk.

Joe: Don’t you think that there are plenty of other people that don’t share that perspective? There’s a lot of people that don’t think of it that way. They thought that, for whatever reason, Donald Trump has America’s best interests in mind. That what Joe Biden represents is politics as usual, that he’s going to bring all of the swamp creatures back into DC.

“And they were hoping that Donald Trump was going to fix everything. And they would point to the fact that the economy before COVID was doing fantastic. That unemployment was very low. That the stock market was booming. They felt like he was making the right steps in the right directions to strengthen the country. To frame it all entirely as bigotry and white nationalism. I just don’t think the people who voted for him see it that way.”

Now, that’s not terrible, but, obviously, Trump had his own swamp creatures and the economy wasn’t doing well—but it never is for most of us!—and people were suffering … but the media narrative—from, let’s face it, all sides—is and has been for decades that America is awesome and nothing’s ever wrong. The Democratic message of “leave the machine in place for us” was never very appealing. They don’t want to change anything Trump was doing; they just want to be in charge of it.

It sounds very similar to how Navalny in Russia has pretty much the same platform as Putin. He’s superficially against corruption as a lever to prise Putin from power, but has many similarly nefarious connections. He just wants Putin’s job. He thinks it would be a neat job to have. He’s not Bernie. He’s not MLK. Neither are any of the Democrats, when it comes down to it. AOC collapsed. Only Bernie shows a glimmer of hope and he keeps … capitulating.

Getting back to the interview: Ira didn’t care what Joe said. Just didn’t acknowledge the point at all. Instead, he doubled down and answered that he knows for a fact that people voted incorrectly. That “you [voters] could tell yourself [themselves] that you [they] were voting for him [Trump] for those reasons, but as a matter of fact, that’s wasn’t the case.”

I guess my entire family are secret white nationalists. So secret that they don’t even know it themselves. This is exactly the fucking arrogance that 70M people voted against. Literally this argument—that you, dear voter, are so stupid that you can’t even see that the election is about what I say it is and not what your poor pea-brain thinks it is. Good luck with that, you dumb fucks. See you in 2022 when you let the deranged Republicans back at the helm.

Ira says a bit later, “One can only hope that instincts for decency and respect for other people’s opinions prevails.” How does he not hear what he’s saying? Contrast that statement with the many times he metaphorically shat on any opinion that deviated from his own. If he really believes that, how does he square that with his previous complete disrespect and denial of people’s innermost opinions of themselves as non-white-nationalists?

This show was recorded on Jan. 15th, so they were still citing a lot of long-since debunked myths about that day—it’s amazing how they both just regurgitated the most extreme talking points—like the “zip-tie guy” or the “plans to murder Congresspeople”—with no evidence having been presented whatsoever. There was a picture! No context, nothing. Just a picture. And they both just swallowed it, despite both knowing how powerful images are for conveying a message without proof.

We are pretty much doomed once the AI news-stories and deep fakes really get going. Maybe they already have. Maybe they don’t need to, since people don’t read past the headline anyway. Why bother producing a deep-fake video when you just dangle a clickbait article that convinces 90% of the dazed masses?

Ira offers the same advice everyone gives to the Democrats by telling them to “add back concern for the people who were left behind by the modern economy.” That is literally not going to happen. Democrats don’t care about those people. They are deplorable. Irredeemable.

Ira: To be friends, while you continued to oppose each other, and fight in civil ways. We’ve gotten a long way away from that in recent years. We have to start moving on the way back. (Emphasis added.)”

Note how he uses the metaphorical “fight”. It’s obviously not incitement, right? So why interpret Trump’s call to fight as clear incitement? Ira just did the exact same thing.

Joe: I love that expression: different flavors of the same poison—because that it what it is.”
Joe: In podcasting, people think that if you have someone on that they disagree with, that you’re ‘platforming’ them. Or if you have a right-wing person on your show, then you’re now a right-wing person. They’ll miscategorize you.”

This is happening more and more in American media. Glenn Greenwald and Jimmy Dore and Joe Rogan and Matt Taibbi—all considered Alt-Right because they hold discussion on many forums, regardless of ideological bent. The discussion is the important thing, not the platform. If you can reach a different audience with a good message—that’s worth nearly infinitely more than preaching to the choir.

Near the end of the interview, Glass notes that it was neat that because Truman played piano, people started playing piano and Eisenhower played golf, people played golf. So he says that those are good things, that the presidents were guiding the country in a good way.

Ira: What worries me is that, when Trump lied, and created fictional realities to live in, a lot of people joined him. And, for a lot of people, those fictions are real now. And they have to somehow be weaned away from that. Not by calling them evil, and finding some way to rid ourselves of them. But by coaxing them back into the real world.”

Which world is that, Ira? The same bullshit world we had before? Are you saying we should go back to sleep and accept the official narrative again? I’m sorry, but how fucking tone-deaf can you be? He’s literally saying he didn’t like the fictional reality of Trump, but every other president was ok?

Truman dropped the fucking nuclear bombs! How in the name of all that is holy is anything that Trump did worse than that? How is it even close?

That’s all presidents do—blow smoke up your ass! The economy’s doing great! Unemployment is low! We’ve got COVID under control! Greatest healthcare in the world! Syria’s the enemy! Russia’s the enemy! China’s the enemy! There are WMDs! America is exceptional! What the hell are you talking about, Glass?

Are you mad because Trump did such a shitty and extreme job of it that way more people finally noticed that it was all unreal all along?

Joe asks him,

Joe: Is it because he became the king of the assholes? They realized they had a king now! And there’s so many of them.

Ira: Yes, that’s exactly right. The capacity of the president to legitimize certain kinds of behavior, to normalize, is very powerful and can be a force for good, and can be a very dangerous force, for evil.”

Like Obama? He wasn’t an overt asshole, but he broke a lot of shit. He gave all of our money to Wall Street while smiling his lovely smile at Main Street. Bush broke even more shit. What is the difference? Do we only care about appearances? Or do we really wish for a president who isn’t an actual asshole? A lot of us did but the other assholes dogpiled poor Bernie.

There is no room for a non-asshole at the table. Biden’s an asshole. He pretty much always has been. The only redeeming thing about him is that a lot of his close family died tragically. Look at his 50-year career—full of assholery. All of the presidents are assholes. Most of Congress is. It’s not even an open question. It’s answered. Go back to sleep.

Conversation’s almost over: Glass just invoked Godwin’s law. Now they’re talking about Hitler. I’m not even gonna take notes.

To be fair, he does end by saying that, on the whole, things are much better now than they were when he was born, that we all have to do our part to improve things and that “we tend to measure progress by the brevity of our own lives”, but that “it’s a relay marathon race.”

Since that’s his area, I suppose he means individual rights and freedoms, but the sphere within which most people can exercise those freedoms is quite limited. He seems to be missing the big picture: that while people superficially have more rights now, the economy has been bent at a higher level to prevent justice.

That is, inequality is phenomenally worse than it ever was in his lifetime, but he still expresses satisfaction that things are better because black people can legally vote. That now we have some black assholes in charge too. That’s the most progress we can hope for.

Still, it’s too narrow a scope—Glass has done a tremendous amount. He’s definitely done his part. Much more than I’ve done (or will likely ever do). But it’s this focus on the narrow by those who can really get things done that allows those who don’t focus on the narrow to continue to suborn their efforts, to nullify them. While Glass fought for voting rights and was satisfied with his wins, the assholes took literally everything else from the board.

Glass citing Vince Lombardi:

Ira: You know, I never lost a football game. Once in a while, time ran out. […] In our fight for civil liberties, that’s a game where time never runs out. You just keep playing. You absorb the losses. You call better plays. You tough it out. And you realize that the game is long and there have been more victories than defeats.”
Joe: Thank you for that and thank you for your dedication to free speech. I worry that the young people today don’t have that.”

Joe let Ira talk. He was a great interviewer. He could have pushed him a bit harder on the inconsistencies in what he was saying (often just a few sentences apart), but it was good to let him run, to give him enough line to be able to express his view, inconsistencies and all.