I spoke to Dave Rubin on a very significant day for him. He was in San Francisco, en route to YouTube headquarters for a face-to-face meeting with CEO Susan Wojcicki. This meeting was a long time coming, as Rubin has been a very vocal critic of the ideological bias at YouTube and has often claimed that his show has been targeted for demonetization and buried search results.
More recently, it has been reported that YouTube has been making moves to mute the voices of independent content creators in favour of “authoritative” (read: authoritarian) content such as Vox or The New York Times.
As his Uber took him toward YouTube HQ, Rubin told me that there’s a huge conversation around the topic of cultural gatekeeping these days. “Who should be allowed to be in the public square? My general preference is that as long as an individual isn’t directly violating terms of service, they should have access to a platform. But it’s not a fair playing field. Shaun King can laud Antifa and praise the terrorist who attacked the ICE facility—we know that if someone on the right were to say that, they’d be banned for life. But just this week, Lindsay Shepherd, a free speech activist, got banned. I would love if these companies were more transparent and lived up to their own terms of service.”
He also addressed the cancellings that are plaguing our current cultural context. “If you’re an interviewer, you’re going to talk to some shady people. I’ve been criticized for being too much like Larry King. That’s like saying to Kobe Bryant that he’s too much like Michael Jordan. Think about Larry King’s show: on Monday, he would have Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, on Tuesday, he would have OJ Simpson’s defence team, on Wednesday, he would have some animal guy, on Thursday, he would have the cast of Friends, and on Friday, he would have Henry Kissinger. Nobody ever thought that he was friends with all of these people. I will talk to people who will treat me respectfully. Some will turn out to be shady, but I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
His car pulled up to his destination, he thanked his driver and we continued our conversation. “As we are talking on the phone right now, I’m outside San Francisco, literally standing on the campus at YouTube headquarters. I’ve been on YouTube for around six years. We’ve given them a high quality, broadcast-quality television show. If we got picked up by HBO, we wouldn’t have to change a thing. It’s clearly resonated worldwide. And I meet people every day who tell me that they have been unsubscribed from our channel somehow.”
But Rubin’s issues with the censorious platform are well-documented. “We don’t abuse the platform or do clickbait. We treat the platform exactly how they would want a creator to be treated. Up until recently, we had absolutely no contact with them. We have reason to believe we are getting hit on the algorithms and all of these kinds of things like shadowbanning and manipulated search results. I’m going to go in there and ask the best questions I can. And figure out how they can maybe be a little more transparent so that creators can create on these platforms.”
I asked Rubin what might be behind this current wave of censorship and algorithmic tampering. “We have every reason to believe that it’s all ramping up to the 2020 presidential election. The reason that I talk so much about identity politics is that I truly believe that it is the single biggest threat to the American republic and to western democracy. Identity politics is all about judging someone by the way they look. This is the essence of prejudice. This is the new bigotry and it’s becoming systemic. Identity Politics needs to be destroyed because it’s the antithesis of what America is really all about. We are a melting pot of diversity here and we’ve done that better than anywhere else.”
“The problem is that the good decent liberals, of which there are many, have lazily labelled every conservative and libertarian a racist and a bigot. Now they know that if they start calling out identity politics themselves, then they will be labelled as such by the woke crew. Look what happened to Nancy Pelosi. No one in their right mind thinks Nancy Pelosi is a racist, but she dared to speak out against the squad, and then they called her a racist!”
This is presumably why presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg cancelled his appearance on Rubin’s show. Rubin says that Buttigieg was set to appear on The Report until Carlos Maza of Vox, HuffPo journalists, and Angelo Carusone, the head of Media Matters, all lobbied to have Mayor Pete cancel the appearance by suggesting Rubin talks to “mean people”: “I don’t know if Buttigieg is a coward or if he just surrounds himself with cowards who bow to the mob. I think he really dropped the ball. If you can’t stand up to Dave Rubin, then how are you going to be able to stand up to China?”
There’s a fear in the air—especially online—and Rubin thinks it has to do with guilt by association. “People are actually afraid that if you treat someone with respect then that means that you agree with everything they say. There’s a weird thing going on right now. If you listen to the media and academia and the establishment, everyone that they say is ’good’ actually are the authoritarians. They are the ones who love to silence people. They are the ones who love to deplatform people. That doesn’t mean that everything on the right is perfect, but one thing I see on the right, right now, is a large swathe of people agreeing to disagree and being open to interesting conversations. When I do a speaking engagement, I ask the people who disagree with me to ask their questions first. Where on the progressive left, would they invite people with whom they disagree to speak up like that? It would never happen. They would shut it down and call everyone racist. If we don’t address this now, we’re all going to be bowing to this soon. I don’t want to bow. Maybe I have a back problem, but I won’t bow.”
As our conversation wrapped up, we discovered that we were similar in age. We talked about comedy and how the 90s and 2000s seem like paradise compared to the politically correct culture that has infused all of our entertainment these days. “I yearn for those days. Those were my formative years. Every episode of Seinfeld would be taken off the air today. The Simpsons was forced to cancel Apu because some triggered lefty was made fun of as a kid. It’s so insidious. Family Guy recently said that they would stop doing gay jokes. We need to make jokes.”
“That’s why identity politics is so dangerous. Nobody (except woke progressives) cares what colour you are. Nobody cares about your sexual orientation. We all just want to live and let live. But progressives have tricked us into thinking that people care about these things. Most Americans want to be free. They want individual rights and they want to say what they want to say.”
I posed one last question to Rubin: given that most people feel this way, but big tech, politicians and activists are dead set against ceding cultural control, how do sane people win the culture wars?
“People want to relish in their differences in America. I think more comedy would help. I keep telling people on the right to just be a little bit better. Be a little more welcoming and a little more okay with things you were uncomfortable with. Nobody on the right cares about gay marriage anymore. In just a few short years, they became more tolerant. Peter Thiel said that he was a proud gay man at the Republican convention and he got a standing ovation! There’s a great opportunity for a wide tent political movement. We need to not be so hysterical and let television be funny again, make comic books not be social justice disasters anymore. It would have been nice to sit through The Last Jedi and not cringe throughout. The more that people become equal, the more that people become truly tolerant, the more we get along, the more of a blow it will be to the progressive agenda that seeks to divide us.”
With that, Rubin was off to meet with the CEO of YouTube on a note of optimism despite the continuing cacophony of the culture wars. As always, Rubin had questions he needed to ask. And as always, he was willing to listen with an open mind to the answers.