Dave Rubin: A Thinking Man in an ‘Age of Unreason’

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 31, 2020


When Dave Rubin began writing his first book in March 2019, he had no idea it would be released in the middle of the worst pandemic the world has seen in at least a century.

But fortuitously, the topics Rubin discusses in “Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason,” are “more relevant than ever,” he told The Epoch Times.

Apparently, many readers agree: Released on April 28, the book has quickly become a nonfiction bestseller. Its chapters include “Think Freely or Die,” “Never Surrender to the Mob,” and “Learn How to Spot Fake News”—all timely discussions, as a divided country wrestles with the fallout from COVID-19.

Rubin—a political commentator and comedian with more than 1 million YouTube subscribers—is the host of “The Rubin Report,” a show that revolves around free speech and thinking.

“We should have honest conversations about how much of our personal liberty we’re willing to trade to be potentially safe—not necessarily safe,” Rubin said.

“Because we’ve grown fat on freedom, we don’t even realize when our freedoms are being taken away.”

‘Holy Trinity of Left-Wing Lunacy’

The original title for Rubin’s book was “Why I Left the Left.” But as soon as he cashed the publisher’s advance check, he had a better idea.

“You don’t need me to go on for 250 pages about how the left has completely lost its mind. You already know this,” he writes. “Rather than being all-inclusive and fair, the left is now authoritarian and puritanical.”

The main reasons for his transformation, Rubin said, are that the left is no longer liberal, and American freedom and liberty are being challenged.

“True liberalism, classical liberalism, means you believe in individual rights, so everybody should be treated equally under the law. And [you] believe in the light touch of government,” Rubin said.

Today, when most people say “liberal” they actually mean “progressive,” Rubin said, and they support “big government policies.”

“Bernie Sanders, for example, is not a liberal. He thinks the government should pretty much do everything,” he said. “The governors of each state are supposed to have maximum control, and then the federal government gets involved in special circumstances.”

In his book, Rubin says his wake-up call began in 2013, when he moved to Los Angeles from New York City and began working for The Young Turks, a media network on YouTube.

“No matter what the conversation was about, there was always a smear on hand to shame someone into silence,” he writes.

When a black commentator was accused by the network’s main host of being an “Uncle Tom of the conservative movement,” Rubin began to wonder why “a good man [was] being lambasted as a fraud by ‘tolerant’ progressives.”

A second flashpoint for Rubin occurred when he caught an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO in 2014. Actor Ben Affleck interrupted Maher’s interview with neuroscientist Sam Harris by accusing them both of being “gross” and “racist” for debating whether Islamic doctrines violate liberal principles.

“Leftists tend to believe that because they feel something, it’s empirically true and morally right,” Rubin said. “And in most cases, they’re completely wrong.”

Rubin wound up dedicating the book to Affleck.

The third alarm bell sounded when Rubin saw what he felt was slanted media coverage of the 2015 terrorist attacks against the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” Two al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives murdered 11 people for republishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Amid national mourning in France, “my fellow lefties defended” the attack, Rubin writes, claiming that “criticism of the gunmen would be ‘Islamophobic.’”

Together, these three events “became the holy trinity of left-wing lunacy that set me on the course to divorcing the deluded from my life.”

The Intellectual Dark Web

This ideological break led Rubin into the company of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), a group described in a 2018 New York Times opinion piece as “a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades, and media personalities” who “are rapidly building their own mass media channels.”

IDW members have differing political viewpoints, but are committed to using social media as a platform for informed debate.

“Some have paid for this commitment by being purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought,” the New York Times piece said.

Members include Eric and Bret Weinstein, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Christina Hoff Sommers, and popular psychologist Jordan Peterson, who became Rubin’s mentor. In 2018, Rubin accompanied Peterson on a world tour that included 120 shows in 20 countries.

In the book, Rubin details a number of valuable lessons he learned from the bestselling author.

“If you create something worthwhile, then you’ve got to give it everything you got,” Rubin said, citing one lesson.

Like other IDW members, Rubin is concerned with the popularity of identity politics, which he calls in the book, “the reverse of the melting-pot principle that America was founded upon.”

“Hundreds of millions of people are afraid to say what they think,” he said. “Not because they’re racist, but because they just think something that’s sort of outside the woke, progressive dogma of the day.”

In the book, Rubin cites the mob mentality of “cancel culture” for stifling free expression. “Never, ever surrender to the mob,” he writes.

“I’m more concerned that we’re going to silence ourselves, than the government’s going to silence us,” Rubin said. He called online mobs an “outrage machine” that is “cowering good people.”

He acknowledges that some ideas can be “noxious” or “grotesque,”  but that “doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be able to say them.”

“The more that you stop people from saying their bad ideas, the more that you push those ideas underground. You give those people a sense that they’re victims, and that there’s some sort of conspiracy stopping them,” he said.

But the idea that “we should just start booting everybody we don’t like” is very dangerous, he said, “because eventually it’ll come for everybody.”

‘A Giant Troll Army’

Despite the title, Rubin isn’t concerned that anyone will literally burn his book. Instead, he said, there’s “a giant troll army that’s trying to wreck all our reviews.”

“That is what modern book-burning is,” he said. “They will try to overwhelm Amazon reviews. They’ll attack all of the online retailers. They’ll try to get stores not to carry it. They’ll try to suppress positive reviews and thumb up negative reviews.”

But the plan backfired.

“Dear trolls, You’re really helping the book sales while proving the point of the book,” Rubin wrote in a tweet on May 6. The following day, two weeks after its release, “Don’t Burn This Book” officially appeared on bestseller lists.

“If someone’s just disagreeing with you, and doing it in a respectful manner, then I encourage engagement,” Rubin said. “And I try to engage as many of those people as I can.”

His goal is to show these critics “a path forward,” he writes—a road map of “how to leave the left” and “where to go next.”

It turns out that one of Rubin’s toughest critics lives in his home.

When the lockdown began, Rubin learned that a number of animal shelters might have to start putting down dogs. So he rushed to a local shelter and rescued Clyde, a pit bull mix that was scheduled to be put down that day.

“Clyde literally ate the first copy of ‘Don’t Burn This Book,’” he said. “But we are gonna eventually auction it off, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to charity—probably an animal charity.”

Chris Karr is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times. He has been writing for 20 years. His articles, features, reviews, interviews, and essays have been published in a variety of periodicals.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.