The Oracle of Delphi famously said that Socrates was the wisest man in all of Greece because he alone understood how little he actually knew.
The anecdote reflects the intellectual humility of Socrates, who had a knack for getting to the nub of things by asking good questions, which is a largely lost art today.
One person who does possess the skill however is Joe Rogan. One of the attributes that makes Rogan such a popular and influential podcaster—the Joe Rogan Experience averages 11 million listeners per episode, estimates suggest—is that he’s an extraordinarily skilled interviewer. Unlike many famous TV and radio hosts, Rogan actually listens closely to his guests, and he uses his skill of listening to ask just the right questions at just the right moment.
A case in point can be found in Rogan’s recent interview with Jann Wenner, the 76-year-old magazine magnate who co-founded Rolling Stone and owned Men’s Journal. In Rogan’s lengthy conversation with Wenner, who spoke at length about legendary Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson, the subject of censorship eventually popped up.
“Do you want the government to regulate the internet?” Rogan directly asks Wenner.
“Absolutely,” Wenner responds.
Rogan, who himself has been the target of censorship attacks, doesn’t immediately say he disagrees. Instead, he first asks Wenner another question—and it was a good one.
"You trust the people who got us into the Iraq War on false pretenses to regulate the internet?" Rogan asked Wenner.
Wenner struggles to answer, and after some cross \talk, he responds with his own question: “Who else is going to regulate it?”
Rogan, unlike Wenner, offers a clear response.
“If they’re gonna be in power and they’re regulating the internet, they’re gonna regulate the internet in a way that suits their best interest. The same way they do with the banking industry, the same way they do with the environment, the same way they do with energy, the same way they do with everything.”
Wenner is still not convinced. He says the internet must be regulated.
“[And] there’s no way to do that except through the government,” Wenner says. “There’s no way that you can do that except through the government… Human nature’s not gonna change.”
Rogan answers that the government is not going to change either. Wenner disagrees.
“The government is capable of change,” Wenner says.
The founder of Rolling Stone magazine wants the government to regulate the internet.— GaryJac (@G___JAK) October 7, 2022
Joe Rogan puts the 🤡 in his place pic.twitter.com/GlmJ42ZDhV
‘If Men Were Angels’
An obvious question Rogan did not ask Wenner is if he would trust the government to regulate the internet if a President Trump or President DeSantis (or take your pick) was doing the regulating.
If Wenner answered no—as he likely would have—the flaw in his logic would have immediately been apparent. He would be forgetting that this administration, the one he apparently trusts, will not be the only one to wield this vast power.
We cannot assume that power will be exercised solely by benevolent actors, especially considering the nature of power, which is a corrupting force. This is precisely why the framers of the US Constitution created a system of checks and balances: to frustrate the concentration of power because of the effect it has on humans.
“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” Madison and Hamilton wrote. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
The reasoning from Hamilton and Madison is clear. Men are not angels; if they were, they wouldn’t require government at all. And because they are not angels, they cannot be trusted with unchecked power over their fellow men.
This is the lesson Joe Rogan grasps, yet it evades Wenner, who concedes to Rogan that human nature is flawed, but then argues that “government is capable of change,” implying that the worst instincts of human nature magically disappear when humans enter government service.
In reality, the opposite is true. History has shown again and again that even seemingly well-meaning and idealistic people can become monsters when they are given power over their fellow man. It’s easy to forget that before he started lopping off the heads of political opponents during in the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre was a mild-mannered student of Cicero and Montesquieu who opposed the death penalty and was enamored by the idea of the "virtuous self."
Nor is it just history that shows the corrupting nature of power. Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford University prison experiment showed what giving the average person power over his fellow humans can do to them.
Zimbardo’s planned two-week social experiment was designed to investigate the psychology of prison life, using college students who played roles as “guards” and “prisoners.” The experiment was ended after just six days, however, because the students involved in the experiment began to experience extreme changes in behavior.
“In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress,” Zimbardo explained.
This is the corrupting nature of power, and its nature is something Rogan clearly understands and Wenner does not.
For this reason, government officials shouldn’t be given the power to “regulate the internet”—at least not until humans become angels.