Mike Rowe has parted ways with his fair share of friends. In fact, in one year, he lost as many as a million of them.
It was around 2013, and in his re-telling, his Facebook following dropped from three million to two after he appeared on “Real Time” with Bill Maher, the left-leaning political commentator who he has described as “opinionated, polarizing and controversial,” and, that same year, joined conservative radio host Glenn Beck for an interview.
“My buddies on the right just didn’t know what to do with the optics of me sitting next to Bill Maher,” said Rowe, who recalled the incident in a 2018 interview. “And my pals on the left just had no notion of how to square the cognitive dissonance that forced their heads to explode when they saw me sitting there with Glenn Beck.”
The former “Dirty Jobs” host added: “We’re in the world now, where it’s not what we say that gets us in trouble, it’s what we don’t. And it’s not where we are that makes people’s eyebrows arch, it’s who we’re next to. It’s the proximity of outrage. It’s the geography of all of it.”
Rowe’s observations, made during a “Sunday Special” conversation with Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro two years ago, continue to hold true — maybe even more so.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post published a 3,000-word tome about a random woman’s decision to attend a 2018 Halloween party as Meghan Kelly in blackface. Why? Two party guests who confronted the woman at the time were still upset over it, and wanted her to endure a full-throttled public humiliation, nearly two years after she privately apologized to the host.
Notably, Lyric Prince, one of the two guests, also wanted the host, an editorial cartoonist at the Washington Post, to condemn the woman — his own friend and a non-public figure — in public: “I want people who read this story to say to themselves, ‘I cannot excuse my friend’s bad behavior because it does reflect on me if I say nothing.’”
The woman has since been fired from her job. Cancel culture abounds.
According to Rowe, part of the problem can be attributed to social media. Like a gun, social media is a tool, and it demands a level of responsibility from its user.
“We’re right on the verge, I think, of discovering some really interesting parallels between the First and Second Amendment. And I think people who would never, ever consider or associate a firearm with goodness, are ironically using speech as a real cudgel and restricting it in so many ways,” Rowe told Shapiro.
But, how you use the tool remains an open question. “Most people simply don’t have the training or the maturity to handle it,” said Rowe.
“The violence and the anger, and the outrage that you’re seeing, I think in part, is a result of having an unlimited amount of access to a platform that gives you both the mechanism to say whatever you want, and the anonymity, and the comfort to hide behind it,” he said.
“So people are very shrill and they’re very brave in those scenarios,” said Rowe, who argued that those factors, when combined together, serve as the “portent to a mob.”
“I think that’s what you’ve probably seen. Things get accelerated, and then there’s no place left for it to go, and so they have to act out,” he said.
The New York Times recently reported an uptick in high school students and alumni using “social media to expose racism,” including the use of anonymous Instagram accounts, where students can submit stories about others for public humiliation.
One of the Instagram accounts, described by The Times, was used to share screenshots and videos of local students using anything from racial slurs to engaging in “cultural appropriation.” When students became angry about it, some started photoshopping images to retaliate, and fights between friends broke out online.
The Times reports that the specific Instagram page in question has since been shut down.
During the 2018 interview, Rowe told Shapiro that people in society seem to confuse passion with conviction, an observation that reminded him of the “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats’ early-20th Century poem that is infamous for its apocalyptic imagery.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
“If you don’t have the certainty of your convictions. If you can’t make a case….Then what is left? Nothing is left but an explanation of how you feel,” said Rowe.
“If your philosophy ultimately redounds to an explanation of how you feel, then you’re completely beholden to whatever feeling you might be experiencing at any given point. And then you’re just one of those people who follow their passion. Good luck with that,” said Rowe.
So what’s better than relying on feelings? Rowe suggests that “a good-natured skepticism, a ton of gratitude, and some honest intellectual curiosity” could be the best replacement for the “let me tell you how I feel” philosophy that dominates outrage mobs.
“I really don’t care how you feel, honestly. I mean, over a beer it’s kind of fun,” he said. “I just don’t care. It’s so much more interesting to understand why you believe what you believe, than it is to understand what you believe. That’s why mobs are boring,” said Rowe.