Small Fight Over a Large Issue
Neil Young took a stand that told Spotify if Joe Rogan was not booted from this platform, he would take a walk. Spotify let Mr. Young walk. Neil Young is ostensibly upset at what he considers misinformation brought forth on Mr. Rogan’s podcast, especially as it concerns Covid-19 and particularly the efficacy of vaccines. Surprisingly, a liberal icon wanted someone cancelled and he ends up cancelling himself.
In the end it is a minor kerfuffle. There are numerous places to find Neil Young music as well as Joe Rogan shows. As far as who owns the music and who can legally make the decision (Spotify seems to have willingly agreed to Mr. Young’s request), I will leave this to the copyright lawyers.
I personally lose as I am a paid Spotify subscriber who at times enjoys Neil Young music, and at the same time have never listened in on Joe Rogan’s podcasts. That said, I understand Spotify’s business decision as you do not keep a $100 million superstar on the bench. More importantly I agree with Spotify’s position from sheer principle. It is worth examining the larger issue over what seems like a minor squabble.
Is Neil Young a Hypocrite?
I never like to cast aspersions, but it is a relevant question. It gets to the heart of why Neil Young is taking this position. Is it crass or principled? Only God knows for sure whether Neil Young is acting from principle or hypocrisy. That said, there is good circumstantial evidence that suggest that Neil Young is being a hypocrite.
First, you can still find Neil Young on You Tube, he has not asked that his music be taken off that platform, nor delivered a Young or Rogan ultimatum to You Tube. Well, he might, as Joe Rogan has 11.8 million subscribers on You Tube. For that matter Neil Young is still all over the internet itself, the notorious home of Joe Rogan and multitudes of malevolent characters. To be pure, as Young suggests he is, is to perform your work in your room alone. This is of course nonsense, and Neil Young knows it. The clear implication is that there is something other than purity pushed to the point of stupidity going on here.
One thing may be that Neil Young has long had an issue with Spotify, regarding the quality of the audio feed. He took all his music down from all streaming services in 2015 because of this. That is until it dawned on him that he needed these distribution channels. Even though Neil Young “knows” what level of audiophile his fans should be, that kind of purity does not pay the bills.
Another, more banal reason, may be the fact that ole Neil has a new album and documentary coming out. It might be that wrapping yourself in a shroud of purity might just help you gather eyeballs and move merchandise. Relatedly, Mr. Young might be sadly trying to stay relevant to anyone born after 1980. In any event, there is ample reason to suspect that Neil Young is not as pure as he is making out. Then again, are any of us?
The Very Old Idea of Mr. Young
What is important about all this, regardless of Mr. Young’s motives is the idea behind his stance. The idea is the age-old zombie idea of intolerance. It is at least as old as when Socrates was made to drink the hemlock. Even if Young is operating from base commercial motives, he is playing to the base human predilection to intolerance. The idea is simple; we must not hear anything that disturbs us or makes us uncomfortable. It is a variant on the even older human failing of “I should have power over you”. As I pointed out awhile back, tolerance is a precursor value to creating a free and humane society. While it is true that Spotify is a private entity and can decide who to platform and deplatform (fortunately one of many such entities), both right and left (especially left) are willing to use the power of government to pressure platforms to eliminate disfavored information. In fact, the administration has weighed in on the side of silencing Mr. Rogan, not an idle threat from an entity that can regulate, tax, or dismember Spotify. That makes it censorship and a clear threat to a free society. Whether a hypocrite or not Young and his ilk are fine with censorship of information they dislike. It is just as baleful if Neil Young is using an immoral idea to further his commercial interests or because of actual ideological belief. This puts him on the wrong side of morality and, prayerfully, the wrong side of history.
The moral basis of free speech is absolute. To truncate speech and the dissemination of information is to deny a fundamental human right. If you are to own your own life, then you must own your thoughts and your speech. You must be allowed to give voice to those thoughts in any nonviolent way. Oh, not being pissed off or offended is not one of anybody’s human rights. Sorry, not sorry, the world is an inherently unsafe space. This may seem excessively dire, but it always starts with “some” ideas are off limits, then it grows from there, like cancer. Humanity has been down this road many times before. There is nothing at the end of this path but dust and death.
The practical case for free speech is, not coincidently, just as ironclad. I mean, what is disinformation anyway? Knowledge is constantly changing. Science, actual science, not “THE SCIENCE” (defined as “the majority”), is all about disagreement. All progress in human knowledge started out as someone’s “disinformation”. No doubt, Og said to Nog, as he was carving the wheel “fake science! fake science! This will never work”. Let’s peruse the storied list of disinformation specialists in human history: Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein…in fact, EVERYBODY whoever practiced science.
During this pandemic we have seen the shifting nature of knowledge at work. At one point it was racist disinformation to suggest that the virus escaped from a Chinese lab. Now we are not so sure, it just might have (we yet do not know for sure). First, you don’t wear masks, then you do. First any kind of mask, now N95 or KN95 is ideal. Vaccines will take years to develop, then they took less than a year. Various treatments have come and gone as cutting edge as we try different things to tackle the problem. The point is that we cut ourselves off from learning new information if we censor differing viewpoints, even at the cost of suffering some cranks amongst us.
In short, we arrest the progress of humanity. Why? Because someone was triggered. Too damn bad. Human improvement is not easy, and it is rarely pretty. Throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks is the way humanity learns. We stop this process at our deep peril.
Look at free speech and the free dissemination of ideas as an insurance policy we all take out against the possibility that we just might be wrong. It is an inexpensive policy compared to the loss suffered by not learning how to improve our world. Have enough faith in God to use the brains he gave us. As for Mr. Young and his very old idea; well maybe Skynyrd was right, a Southern man (or a Northern man for that matter) “don’t need him around anyhow”.
Praise Be to God