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PART 1: Wokal Distance: The Campaign Against Joe Rogan and the Basis of Woke Ideology

“The notion of truth and objectivity is beginning to disappear.”

In this episode, we sit down with Wokal Distance, an expert in postmodernism and critical theory and a visiting fellow at the Center for Renewing America. We break down the underpinnings of woke ideology and the current campaign to cancel Joe Rogan.

“Think of postmodernism as being like a solvent or an acid. When you throw the acid onto the piece of metal, the metal doesn’t just evaporate [instantly]. It takes time. So the dissolving of objective truth isn’t an overnight process, but it’s been chipped away at. It’s been rusting slowly. It’s been crumbling since the ’60s.”

Jan Jekielek: Wokal Distance, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Wokal Distance: It’s good to be with you, thank you.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Wokal Distance, we’re using your pseudonym for privacy reasons and so forth, but it’s actually a pretty fascinating moniker to me. And why don’t we just start right there? Why Wokal Distance? And we’ll talk a little bit about what you do and who you are.

Mr. Distance: It’s a mixture of the two words woke and social distance. The name was created. It’s the name of my Twitter account and it came right as the pandemic was getting going, and right as the phenomenon of wokeness was really hitting a fever pitch in mainstream culture in Europe and North America. So, I decided to take those two things and put them together into what is called a portmanteau. That was my Twitter name and that’s the name that I go by online.

Mr. Jekielek: And so I have to say this, I think you’re actually probably one of the best explainers of, and I guess in the most simple terms, sometimes in very, very long Twitter threads of what this whole phenomenon is. And I’m very happy to have you here today, especially in the wake of this. You know what they’re calling the Joe Rogan controversy, right?

But for starters, how did you actually get into this? Because you’ve actually been studying the cortex, the actual work that was written around critical theory and the roots of this whole woke movement.

Mr. Distance: My first degree that I went to get when I was younger, was in theology. And in the 2000s in theology, there was a movement in theology that was dealing with what we call postmodernism. And this book here, “A Primer on Postmodernism” by Stanley Grenz. This is copyright 96.

So by the time, 2004, 2005 rolls around and I’m studying this stuff, this book had already become something of a well worn text in Christian circles. And it was his contention that we were moving from the enlightenment era, from the age of reason as they call it, and were moving into the postmodern era in the same way that we went from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, into the Enlightenment.

We were now going from the modern world through to something new that was postmodern. And that book was my first introduction. And then I went, for a while, I studied philosophy and people were talking about, still acting as though we were living in the age of reason and the age of science and sort of that Enlightenment era.

I kept insisting that no, we’ve moved into something else now, that we’re living in a new era, that there’s a new set of ideas which have taken hold. And those ideas are not the old ideas of objective truth and the power of science and human rights, the sort of God-given inalienable rights view or the idea, science is the way to knowledge. The view that reason and logic are absolute objective.

Those things were fading and they were being displaced by a new set of ideas that we’re coming out of the academy. And there was a new way of engaging the world and we were moving into that. And so I have been, now, I guess since 2020, when I started my account, ringing the alarm and telling people that these are a new set of ideas. The people who hold these ideas see the world very, very differently than we do. We need to understand what their world view is and understand how they see the world and how they understand the world so that we can engage and push back on some of this stuff.

Mr. Jekielek: We’re going to talk about, a little bit later, the anatomy of a cancellation using what’s been going on with Joe Rogan, as an example. Before we go there, though, why don’t you tell me, what is it that we’re seeing? How is this different? I find that at least in your threads, you’ve been very good at explaining this in a simple way, which, and somehow often it eludes simplicity in how it’s described.

Mr. Distance: Yes, there is this kind of quasi-academic jargon that they use to make their world view look a lot more scientific than it actually is, to make it look a lot more objective than it is. They play a sort of linguistic slight of hand when they’re hiding the concepts, they tend to redefine terms and play around in the language.

So, why don’t we go about it like this? I will explain what postmodernity is. Then I will take a couple of concepts from some French philosophers and explain what those are. Then I’ll give a brief introduction to how those things have worked like yeast through the bread of culture—so to speak.

Marni Gauthier wrote a wonderful book, “Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American Fiction” and describes postmodernism in the following way. Let me see if I can just pull it up here. She writes this, “As Jean Baudrillard and others note, postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals.” So let me break down what that means a little bit.

The idea is, when she says, “Fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra.” What she’s talking about is inauthentic copies, forgeries, and insincere statements and ideas that are floating around the world.

You could think of people on the news who tell lies, you could think of people who create inauthentic and fake academic papers in order to boost their credibility, people who are doing poor academic work that’s laundered to look like good academic work. You could think of it as though someone creates a facade. It looks like the wall has been repaired, but once you look underneath the drywall, all the cracks in the foundation are still there.

And then she says, “The traditionally valid qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity, are evacuated or dissolved within the random swirl of empty signals.” And so that’s speaking to the idea that we have a whole, instead of writing, for example, deep, meaningful love songs and poems, those are replaced with shallow, insincere, fake pop songs and poetry, which don’t have any real depth but are just at the most superficial level.

And the analogy there is that the real work that was done in the West to lay the foundations for what we’ve had so far, to lay the foundations for the enlightenment, to lay the foundations for science, to lay the foundations of the church, to lay the foundations of truth and goodness and beauty. All those have been replaced by inauthentic copies of the real thing, the equivalent of swapping out wine for Kool-Aid—that’s the idea.

So, rather than having deep meaningful conversations with real nourishing content, we’re left with the conversational and intellectual equivalent of empty calories. It’s the cotton candy version of the real thing.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, as you were reading this description originally in my mind, I was imagining the metaverse actually, but it’s interesting.

Mr. Distance: She’s pulling this from a French philosopher named Jean Baudrillard, who was writing in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Baudrillard is a fascinating figure, he’s a sociologist by training, but he’s deeply, deeply cynical of what’s going on.

Here’s the example I use. I want you to imagine for a second, a strawberry. Suppose that you are walking through, we’ll say a field and you come across wild strawberries. You pick one up, it’s red, it’s funny shaped and you eat it, and it’s delicious, and it’s wonderful. That wild strawberry is real. It’s nourishing, it’s part of the natural environment. That strawberry is real.

Some time goes by and people see that these wild strawberries grow and someone says, “Hey, why don’t we just take the seeds, plant all the seeds out, we’ll grow them, and then we’ll have strawberries all the time. Some time goes by and somebody goes, “You know what we can do? We can just take the seeds from only the best strawberries, and we’ll just plant those seeds so that the only strawberries that get grown are the biggest, reddest, juiciest, strawberries.” While someone else comes along and says, “You know what we can do, we can mash these strawberries up and we can turn them into pie.” Oh, okay, that’s a pretty good idea.

Then someone says, “You know what we can do, we can actually take the stuff that we made the pie out of, and we can mash it up and we can make it a little strawberry candy, and that’s pretty good. We can make a candy.” Well, then someone else comes along and they look at the candy and they say, “Well, what we can do is we can actually just extract the strawberry flavoring from the candy, and we can make a jolly rancher or some strawberry gum.” And that’s pretty good.

And then someone else says, “You know what we can do is we can just, rather than using the real strawberry extract, we can make a synthetic strawberry extract. We can make it using high fructose corn syrup and some cane sugar and some other flavorings, some… And we don’t even need the real strawberries, we can just make a synthetic strawberry flavoring and we can make candies out of that.”

And then someone takes the synthetically flavored strawberry candies and says, “You know what, we can take that flavor and we can make a strawberry soda.” And then someone else comes along and says, “You know what, we can make a slurpee that tastes like the strawberry soda.” And so we start out with a wild strawberry, and we end up with the slurpee.

Now you can imagine I have a son. I’m walking with my son and I give him a strawberry slurpee, and we’re walking with the strawberry slurpee and he’s drinking the straw slurpee. And while we’re walking, we come across a patch of wild strawberries. And he looks at the wild strawberries, picks them up and he eats it. He goes, he says, “Dad, this kind of tastes like my drink, but I like the drink better. It’s much tastier Dad. We don’t need these. These aren’t real strawberries. This is a real strawberry.”

That’s what Baudrillard thinks has happened. Baudrillard thinks that what we’ve done is we have taken everything that exists, our whole human experience, and we’ve processed it, and we’ve distilled it, and we’ve changed it, and we’ve extracted it, and we’ve turned it into the strawberry slurpee equivalent of reality.

And you could think about this, an easy way to think about this is look at social media. Take Instagram, for example. A hundred years ago, when they first invented the picture, you just had a picture of somebody—it was black and white. And then there was a picture of people in color, and that’s what they looked like.

And then somebody invented makeup. And then somebody else came along and invented fancy lighting. And then somebody came along and invented fancy cameras. And then somebody came along and invented Photoshop. And then someone came along and invented airbrushing. Then someone came along and invented plastic surgery.

We’re at the point now where we can see people on Instagram that nobody looks like, even the person who it’s a picture of doesn’t even look like that because they’re covered with so many layers of makeup, and with filters, and with everything else that the image isn’t real. So he thinks that this is what’s happened with everything. That we’re left now in a world of appearances where we no longer have real newsmen anymore.

He said, “At one time we had people who would read the news and give you just the facts. Now, you have a bunch of people who will give you a… They will selectively edit the facts to tell their own opinion, and then they’ll layer it thickly with their own editorializing, to the point where, when it’s done, you have no idea what the actual facts are.”

We used to get the facts, we don’t get the facts anymore, we just get various opinions. And so you have one guy on one channel, and he’s just giving his opinion. You have another guy on his channel and he’s just giving his opinion. And who knows what’s true?

Because the art of real journalism, of authentic journalism, of truth telling, and fact collection is gone and it’s been replaced by people who have put on TV something that looks like journalism, but somebody is in fact just editorializing. And he thinks that we’ve done this with pretty much everything. He thinks that all of the authentic, real ways in which humans have gone along with each other, have been processed and faked to create the strawberry slurpee version of the real thing.

You can use food for an example. How much real food is in a Fruit Roll-Up? And he thinks that we haven’t just done that with Fruit Roll-Ups and Diet Pop, he thinks we’ve done that with reality itself. With our truth making institutions, we no longer have real professors who teach real truth about real morality and about real good art to students so that the students can learn what is really true, and good, and beautiful. He thinks we have professors who are standing up and doing something that looks like that, but really, it’s something else. We have an artificial fake copy of the real thing, that’s what he believes.

What he actually thinks and this is hard, it’s not just political theater, it’s beyond that. He doesn’t just think that we’ve created the strawberry slurpee. He thinks that the wild strawberries are gone, that we can’t find them anymore, that we don’t know where they are. So his contention is even if we wanted to go back to real journalism, we don’t have a reference for what that would be and what that would look like.

Nobody knows how to go back and be the Walter Cronkite of the day. That doesn’t exist. Nobody knows how to make real foods or how to take real pictures of real humans and post them in a way that’s an accurate representation of what they would really look like. All of that is gone. Now, the veneer, that fake copy of the real thing is all we have left. We don’t have the real thing anymore. We don’t know how to do that.

Mr. Jekielek: So how do the people that adhere to this woke ideology understand this?

Mr. Distance: Now that we have that set up, that sort of hyper reality, we have to pair that with a couple of other things in order to really understand, because wokeness doesn’t really get a lot of its intellectual punch from Baudrillard.

Wokeness gets it from critical theory, and then I would say the philosophy of certain aspects of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida’s philosophy. So I will unpack Derrida, and then I will unpack a little bit of Foucault, and then I will unpack a little bit of critical theory, and then I’ll explain how wokeness sees the world. And once we do that, we’ll be able to understand why it thinks the way it does.

So, wokeness would look at Baudrillard and would say, “Yeah, everything is socially constructed.” Of course, it’s all made up because everything’s just made up. The whole world is just humans making things up. Everything is made by us. We made all the buildings, we made all the TVs, we made the podcast that we’re on right now, this microphone, these glasses. It’s all made by us. So the world is socially constructed. Everything is socially constructed. And all of the meaning that we attribute to things is also socially constructed.

There’s no inherent meaning to say the sun or to a rainbow, we humans put the meaning in that. So they would say the gay community says that the rainbow is the symbol of gay rights and they would say that. The Christians would read the story of Noah’s Ark and say, “No, the rainbow is the symbol of God’s promise not to flood the earth again.”

And they would say in both of those cases, it’s humans that are deciding what the rainbow means. We make it all up, it’s up to us. So what they would say, of course, everything is constructed and they would accept that. Now, there’s something else going on that’s deeper than that because you could hear that, and you could say, “Yeah, they have a bit of a point,” but there’s something more to it. So let’s try and dig into that.

One of the ideas that has gained currency with the woke comes from Jacques Derrida. And again, it would take hours to unpack Derrida, but I’ll try to use a simple example to explain what Derrida was thinking about.

I want you to picture four men on a construction site. The four men have relatively large buckets and they take the buckets and one guy turns the bucket over and he sits on it. And he turns another bucket over and a guy sits on the second bucket. And then he says to the other guy, “Hey, grab a chair, let’s have lunch.” And so, the other guys take buckets over and sit down and start eating. Okay, those buckets are now chairs.

Now, when they turned the bucket upside down, was there some essence, some special energy of chairness that magically flowed from the world and into the buckets to turn them into a chair? Was there some special substance, some special energy from the world that got, well, no, it’s just the buckets became chairs because they were using them to sit on, right?

And what Derrida is arguing is that there is no essence. The bucket is a bucket because we say it is. And then if we use that as a chair, it becomes a chair. It is what it is in its context. It’s defined entirely by its context. And they can be anything. It could be a door stop if we wanted it to be, it could be a small table if we wanted it to be, it could be a chair, or it could be a bucket. It is whatever we use it as, and whatever we say it is. We give it its meaning.

And he says this about everything. He applies this to texts. So he says, “Look, you look at a piece of art, I look at a piece of art, we interpret it differently. You have one interpretation. I have a different interpretation. Both of those interpretations are equally valid.”

There’s no fact about how to interpret it. You can just interpret it however you want. And that’s got some, I would say some intuitive force to it. I mean, you might look at the Sistine Chapel or at Michelangelo’s David, the Mona Lisa, and you might think, to me, that means this. And someone else comes and look at it and says, “Well, to me it means this.” And you might say, “Okay, that’s a fairly good idea about interpretation.” You might think that, until you realize that Derrida means that about absolutely everything. Everything.

So there is no inherent objective, stable, absolute meaning to anything. Everything is interpreted purely within its context and purely by its context. It’s not like when you read something that you’re pulling out some existing meaning that’s in there, it’s that he thinks that you, the meaning comes when we interpret it. So, there was a very influential essay written called “The Death of the Author,” which kind of is in the same ballpark.

Derrida didn’t write it, but it’s in the same ballpark. And “The Death of the Author” says that the author doesn’t decide what the piece means. An author can write a poem, but the author doesn’t get to decide what that poem means. Once that author lets that poem go into the world, it can be interpreted by hundreds of people in any way they want. Anyone can interpret it any way you want.

Now again, when we’re dealing in literary theory, when we’re dealing with poems and stories, you might say, okay, maybe there’s a point to this. But if we’re doing cancer research and the doctor’s going to hand out somebody’s cancer treatment, you wouldn’t want the nurse to look at this and say, “Well, I’ll just interpret this my own way.” I interpret this as a call to not do anything at all so I’m going home. Or an architect, if we’re building say a skyscraper. I don’t want the architect interpreting the design of the foundation metaphorically, and then just designing it however he wants. That’s not good, we can’t do that.

So the problem that Derrida runs into is that Derrida thinks that words don’t have any objective stable meaning to them, he thinks it’s all just interpretation. And so we can interpret it in varying to different ways. Now he would say, you can’t interpret it just any way you want, you have to interpret it within the context. The problem is, who decides what the context is?

My context coming to reading it from my perspective is different from someone else’s context. And there’s no way to adjudicate or to decide which context is right. And so there is no objective, long-standing, firm, stable, true, correct way to interpret anything, including reality itself.

All we can do is read reality the way that we read texts. And he thinks, Derrida thinks, look, if we’re paying close attention to context, we avoid relativism. I think it’s in 2005’s “Paper Machine,” he says that he’s not a relativist and that there’s no relativism in his view at all. And my response is, “Derrida, you’re stuck with relativism because even if you pay attention to context, the question is whose context?”

And there are new contexts created all the time and that means that there’s a potentially infinite number of interpretations for any text and a potentially infinite number of ways to interpret reality, and none of them are right. None of them are objectively true or correct because it’s all just interpretation and reinterpretation. There’s no antic reference to pin it to.

Another example might be, say, the word car. While the Ford Model T is a car, the Honda Civic is a car, a drag racer is a car, a Tesla is a car. All right, well, what if I have a hovercraft, is that a car? What are the boundaries of what’s considered a car?

And Derrida’s going to say, “Look, back in the day, the Model T with four wheels and steering wheel that runs on gas was what we meant by car. In the future, the hovering thing that runs on electricity, that will be a car. And we might have in 10,000 years, spaceships that go from planet to planet and we might call those cars.” And he would say, “Look, the definition of what we mean by car shifts over time, depending on how we use it, there is no objective reality of what counts as a car.” And this is what he thinks.

You can see how that’s a problem. You can see, how do you get to the truth? Because as soon as you make a statement, I make a statement, the cat is on the mat. Well, someone else is going to come along and say, “Well, what do you mean by cat?” Someone else is going to come along and say, “Well, what do you mean by mat?” And they’re going to interpret it differently. And all of a sudden, you start getting into these gray areas where human communication becomes very difficult, right? So that’s the language piece. Okay, so you can see how that would fit in with the Baudrillard thing.

On the one hand, everything is inauthentic, there’s fake, we can’t tell the real from the non-real. We’ve got our cotton candy and our strawberry slurpee that have replaced the real strawberries. So we did that, and then we came along and said, “Wait, anything can be interpreted and reinterpreted.” So all of those pictures on Instagram that are fake, and all of those newsmen are fake, all that information can be interpreted and reinterpreted in as many different ways as you like. Okay, so that’s the two things.

So the next point is Michel Foucault. Foucault came along and he said, to oversimplify to the extreme that everything was about power. Foucault basically said that people make all of their claims to get power.

You say that X is true because it benefits you to say that. You have constructed what counts as true, because you want those things to be seen as true, because it empowers you. You think that your ideas are true and right because it benefits you to think that. Now, I’m oversimplifying, and the Foucauldian scholars are going to hate me for this, because they’re going to say, “Well, he wrote so many books.”

True, but his work, how it’s been used, is basically to say that the yearning and the lust for power is the one thing that undergirds the motivational structure of everyone. And so when people are making claims about truth, what they’re really trying to do is make a claim to power because if you are the person in society who gets to decide what is true, that’s a lot of power.

If you get to go on the news every night and decide what’s true, and then everybody believes you, you have a lot of power. And so the view is that truth is a product of social processes that are warped by people’s biases and their own interests. And so his idea was that all claims to truth are the product of social processes that have been warped by people’s biases, interests, and lack of perspective. That’s a pretty simple idea.

So now we’ve got, everything is kind of fake. We have languages unstable, doesn’t grasp the world perfectly, and we have all of our ways of knowing truth are warped by people’s biases. And you can see what’s happening, right? The notion of truth and objectivity is beginning to disappear.

Finally, the last thing we’ll talk about is critical theory. Critical theory comes out of the neo-Marxist tradition. There was a group of scholars called the Frankfurt School and they were a group of neo-Marxist thinkers in the humanities. And they forged a tool, or discipline, or way of doing analysis called critical theory.

The kickoff for that was in 1937 when Max Horkheimer wrote an essay called “Traditional and Critical Theory.” He said, “A critical theory must do three things. It must explain what’s wrong with society as it is, it must be a practical theory, and it must have a moral vision for society.”

He said that critical theory can’t just have any direction or moral vision, the moral vision must be geared toward the emancipation “of human beings.” What critical theory calls liberation. So, a properly critical theory is not content to describe the way the world works. It’s not like science or physics where it’s just trying to tell you how things work. A properly critical theory, a good old neo-Marxist critical theory looks at the world and seeks to fix the way things are in order to emancipate people.

And the underlying assumption of critical theories that we are being dominated or oppressed by our society. And so, questioning the legitimacy of every single aspect of our civilization is deemed necessary to achieve liberation from all the oppression. So they would say that society is, the current crop of critical theorists would say, and we’ve all heard this before, “We live in a patriarchal, racist society that oppresses women and anyone who isn’t white and anyone who isn’t straight.” That’s the view.

But critical theory says that the assumptions and presuppositions of our society rests on need to be criticized ruthlessly. And so that’s everything from reasoning, logic, beliefs, tradition, practices. Anything that our society has produced needs to be critiqued along these lines.

So, you add all that up together, here’s what the woke worldview looks like. The woke would say that our claims to truth that science is a way to know things or that science is the way to know about the physical world, our ideas that logic and reason are the way to figure out truth, our ideas that there are objective, absolute, moral values. They would say all of that comes out of a society which was shot through with sexism, and racism, and homophobia, and it’s a patriarch and all the rest of that.

And so then they would follow Foucault and they would say that all of the ideas that you put forth about human rights, all of this is a veneer for what’s really going on, which is people preserving their own power, maintaining their own privilege, trying to preserve their space in the hierarchy, trying to create and keep their own power.

And then, under the influence of Derrida, they would deconstruct our doctrines. They would take our doctrines, they would rip them apart and show how the way that we’ve interpreted the world, the way that we’ve interpreted science, the way that we interpreted human rights, the way that we’ve understood the world is really a product of the biases, and the power-seeking, and the clout-chasing. So where we would say, look, we’re doing careful science, we’re creating hypotheses, we’re testing them, we’re doing careful philosophy to figure out what is true, what is good, what is beautiful. And we’re building a civilization.

They would say, “No, no, no, that’s a veneer. Once we do our analysis of your language, we can see the shifting sands and the different interpretations. And all you’re really doing is privileging your white, straight, heterosexual, male interpretation so that you can make yourselves the ones in society who know what’s true. And the ones in society who get to decide what’s true.” And that’s how they understand the world.

So, when they call literally everything racist, what they’re saying is look, all of your presuppositions, all of your ideas are really just built to protect the power of white people, that’s what they think. So, you sit around and you think, well, okay, let’s use logic and reason. And they go, “Ah, ah, ah, your ideas about logic, your interpretation of logic is really just you trying to take the way that white people have seen logic. And you’re trying to build that up as the way to do logic so that you privilege the interpretations and the interests of white people.” And they do this with absolutely everything.

And so, they think that literally everything in our society is shot through with the biases, assumption, pre-suppositions of white, cisgendered, heterosexual, all the isms that they keep bringing up and that’s their view. And it’s extremely complicated and it’s extremely convoluted but once you get down to it, it’s really just a bunch of people saying, everything you believe is racist, everything you believe is sexist, even reason, even logic, even math.

Mr. Jekielek: How many people out there could possibly believe what you just described?

Mr. Distance: Well, that’s interesting because there are quite a lot of people who have come out of universities who have been taught this. And the way that they may get intuitive is through the literary tradition, right? Because to be able to read a text and to see, and to be, to think that I suppose you read some Shakespeare.

And in Shakespeare, let’s suppose one of his plays doesn’t mention anyone from say, India, or doesn’t mention anyone from China, you can say, “Well, we can reinterpret plays our own way. You have your interpretation of Shakespeare. I have my interpretation.” Okay, and you go home. If you didn’t include anyone from China, that’s excluding Chinese people. Oh, he’s racist against Chinese people. And it’s as simple as that and you just reinterpret it.

So they make it intuitive, they make it feel like it’s just a natural way to look at the world by coming out through the arch and they teach it and they spit it out with these sort of prepackaged little lines where it kind of looks like it’s right. It kind of looks like they have a point.

Like when they say look, meaning is relative, all your statements about truth are relative, they can be reinterpreted. Hey man, look at a painting, we all reinterpret paintings and you kind of go, “Yeah, that’s a good point.” We do reinterpret paintings and people forget that we reinterpret paintings, but hopefully we don’t reinterpret the plans for skyscrapers and the ingredient list for chemotherapy just however we want, right?

I don’t think that this is a dominant view. I think it is a view that has been absorbed by people who live in the media ecosystem. So people who work in music, movies, television, journalism, those sorts of people have adopted elements of this. They have adopted this kind of worldview where everything can be reinterpreted through infinitely many lenses, this kind of cynical view that seeks to uncover the real motivations behind the cannon of Western civilization, you could call it or the cannons of Western thought.

Now, if you ask them, do you believe in absolute truth? They’ll say, “Well, of course I do. Of course, I do.” But as soon as it comes time to cancel somebody, the person says, “Hey, you’re accusing me of this, but that’s not what I meant.” They say, “Ah, impact not intent.” Impact not intent, it doesn’t matter what you meant, it matters, it’s not what you said, it’s what people hear.

All of a sudden, well, you said you believed an objective truth a second ago, but all of a sudden now you’re saying, well, it doesn’t really matter what you meant. We get to decide what you meant, and the objectivity is gone. Now, it’s now a matter of subjective interpretation.

So, most of the people I don’t think will absorb the full, will face full on the relativism, the nihilism that’s latent in the postmodern vision that is wokeness. I don’t think people will follow the postmodern inclinations of wokeness to its logical conclusion and accept the full on relativism.

But in the way that they deal with the world, they use it and the practical consequences of it is that they are eroding all of the truths and they keep stepping back, and stepping back, and stepping back, and stepping back, and stepping back, to try and say, “Well, I’m not dissolving everything. I’m just dissolving that thing over there. I’m not relativizing anything, I’m just reinterpreting that thing.”

Meanwhile, the guy next to them is reinterpreting a different thing and the other guy is reinterpreting something else. And all of a sudden, everything is being reinterpreted and the fog is starting to roll in. So, if you think of postmodernism as being like a solvent or an acid, when you throw the acid onto the piece of metal, the metal doesn’t just evaporate like that, it takes time.

So, the dissolving of objective truth isn’t an overnight process, but it’s been chipped away at. It’s been rusting slowly, it’s been crumbling since the ’60s, since these post on interviews started coming up. So it’s not, I wouldn’t say that it’s a view that everyone has adopted full force, but I do think we’re absorbing it, we’re breathing it in through the culture.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s absolutely fascinating. There’s so many vantage points here. Let’s do this though. Let’s look at this, the practical application, because we’ve been watching this institute and Twitter, and then of course has expanded well beyond the cancellation of Joe Rogan step by step, and frankly their reactions to this. You did a really, really…

To me, I actually, as soon as I saw it, I said, “This is a fascinating view into what just happened.” Because you actually describe a kind of methodology, a kind of playbook that’s replicated. Just explain that to me, how that works and frankly, where we got to, where we’re at now within that process.

Mr. Distance: Sure. I think the way to go about this is, I’m going to try and tie all the stuff I’ve just said to the way that the cancellation of Joe Rogan is working, okay? First of all, because of the reinterpretation, we can cut things up and we can reassemble them however they want. I can take whatever I want and I can slice it up as much as I want, and I can tell whatever story I want, because I get to slice things up however I want to—it’s my interpretation.

So it’s perfectly legitimate for me to slice things up, right? I can take any video clip, I can slice that video clip up as much as I want. I can rearrange it however I want, to tell whatever story I want. I actually did a thread about this, about the, remember the Kenosha shootings? Remember when that happened?

Well, that night, I watched that night as people who were pro-Rittenhouse and anti-Rittenhouse. They all had access to the exact same footage and the people who wanted to, really didn’t like Rittenhouse, would cut that footage up and show the parts they wanted to show. And the people who liked Kyle Rittenhouse would cut that up and show the parts that they wanted to show.

And so you could see two narratives building in real time, two interpretations of the fact building in real time, the night of the shooting. It didn’t even get the… The narratives were set and we know which one the media picked up on, but you could see them building at the time. And anyone who had access to everything could say, “Look, if you don’t cut it up and just look at it, there’s a pretty clear set of facts here. And we saw what the verdict was, right?”

But when you accept the Derridan view, when you accept the postmodern view, you can slice things up however you want, because you can interpret them however they want. And we see that with Rogan. What did we have? We have a video of Joe Rogan saying the N-word and what did they do? Did they include the big, long conversation so that we get all the context? No, they just sliced up him saying the N-word and it’s one right after another.

So what’s each of the context of him saying the N-word is just in that video, the context of him saying the N-word is just the other times that he’s to at the N-word. And the nuanced discussion is lost. Maybe he was quoting a rap song, maybe he was discussing when it was okay or not okay to say the term. Maybe he was discussing the way that somebody else used the term. Maybe he was talking about why the term is never okay to hurl at somebody.

But all of that is tossed away, thrown away, because it’s been sliced up, because remember, we can interpret it however we want. And when Joe Rogan says, but I’m not a racist and he tries to give the context for what he said, what do we do? We say, “Impact, not intent. It doesn’t matter what you meant, Joe, it matters how we’re interpreting it. And we’re allowed to do that.”

So what do we do? We post it up online. Click, PatriotTakes takes that video and puts it up online. Now, who’s PatriotTakes? Well, PatriotTakes is a group that was originally called ParlerTakes and they find embarrassing or cringe-worthy that conservatives have said, and they post them up to laugh at them. And they have about 400,000 followers.

But, that’s not why that clip went viral. There’s a super packy Democrat super PAC called MeidasTouch. And MeidasTouch picked up on this video because they work with PatriotTakes. In a discussion they had with Dave Porter from Borstal, they admit that they do compliance work with PatriotTakes, they know PatriotTakes. On PatriotTakes’ Twitter account, they say that they work with MeidasTouch. Well, MeidasTouch takes its 700,000 followers and it amplifies the Joe Rogan N-word video.

Well, each of the three guys who work with MeidasTouch, who is again, a Democratic super PAC, which raised four and a half million during the 2020 election cycle. Those three brothers all have more than a hundred thousand followers and so what do they do? They amplify the video.

So it goes through the 400,000 followers or so, from PatriotTakes, to the 700,000 followers of MeidasTouch, to the 100,000 followers of each of those of the owners of MeidasTouch, and all of a sudden what happens? Well, that’s well over a million people who’ve now seen the video. But they don’t stop there, they just keep retweeting it over, and over, and over, and over again. Why?

Well, it’s not that they didn’t just tweet the video as some kind of organic reaction, it was a pre-planned media strategy and the goal is to retweet it, and retweet it, and retweet it, and retweet it, until they get saturation so that people see it over, and over, and over, and over again.

Because if they just tweet it at once, not everyone’s on Twitter at the same time, we don’t really know how the Twitter algorithm works. People might not see it. So you have to retweet it over, and over, and over again. Once it begins to go viral, then what do they do? They start doing what? They start retweeting other videos of Joe Rogan that are maybe cringe-worthy or taken out of context. And they retweet those over, and over, and over.

What are they doing? They’re creating a narrative. This is a professional media out shop. They’re going to take all this and they’re going to repeat it over, bang it like a drum so that everyone sees it, so that it launches into the national conversation.

Then what are they going to do? Well, PatriotTakes released a statement bragging about how much they had done, “Yes, we’ve launched this into the national conversation. We’ve made everyone aware of this video. And now if Spotify doesn’t get rid of Joe Rogan, they’re a racist. You’re racist Spotify, unless you get rid of Joe Rogan.” And why are they doing that? Because they want Joe Rogan off of Spotify.

What they’re doing is, this isn’t an organic thing. Like if you think about an analogy of a forest fire, sometimes lightning strikes a tree and causes a forest fire. And sometimes the guy grabs a bunch of twigs together, lights them on fire, fans the flames, and then throws gasoline on it. One of those is a forest fire that happened organically, and one of those is someone burning down a forest.

What they’re trying to do is they want to burn down Joe Rogan’s life, but they want it to look like a lightning hit a tree. Like this was just the lightning of social media, a video just goes viral. No, no, no, no, no, no, this is the guys from MeidasTouch grabbing the twigs together, lighting it, fanning the flames, pouring as much gasoline on it as they want and saying, “Well, this is just the free market. People are just choosing to boycott.” As if they didn’t light the match and pour the gasoline all over everything, right? That’s what they’re doing.

Why? Because Joe Rogan has a large platform and Joe Rogan gives that large platform to people who disagree with MeidasTouch. Jordan Peterson gets to go on Joe Rogan, Dave Ruben gets to go on Joe Rogan, and Ben Shapiro gets to go on Joe Rogan. And Sam Harris, Brett Weinstein, and Eric Weinstein get to go on Joe Rogan and spread their views. And these guys don’t want that so they want to take away Joe Rogan’s platform and what are they going to do?

They’re going to use those same tactics, they’re going to reinterpret things and they’re going to slice up a video and squash it all together. So it’s all out of context, and they’re going to launch that. Then they’re going to have this insincere fake ginned up outrage that they create by retweeting over, and over, and over, and over again to get the thousands of retweets and everything else.

Then they’re going to demand that he be fired and they’re going to create the impression that everyone wants Joe Rogan to go. And all the normal people who don’t know these social media tactics and aren’t professionally paid are just sitting there with their 50 followers going, what do I do? I don’t want to get canceled.

If they can cancel Joe Rogan, they can cancel me too so everyone just puts their head down and what happens? It looks to the whole world like everyone wants Joe Rogan canceled, even though truth be told, I would bet that if you took a vote, nobody wants Joe Rogan canceled. It’s a very small number of people, but that very small number of people, when they add themselves together, can make themselves look like they’re a huge number. And that’s what they did.

Mr. Jekielek: Let me see if I got this right, okay? You believe these folks, because this also sounds like a political operation, right that-

Mr. Distance: Yes.

Mr. Jekielek: … you might see in dirty politics or whatever. At the same time, there’s these let’s say woke principles or woke ideology infused into it. So there’s some small group of people that believe the things you do that once they see what Joe is doing, of course they’re against it because he has a kind of power they don’t believe he should have. And so are these folks that have these large accounts activating these people? Wouldn’t there be some kind of a response? And how big is that group of people that actually believe these things in the first place? You’re suggesting it’s very small.

Mr. Distance: I would say that that group, the group of people who have fully embraced this is rather small. I think most people know that context matters. I think most people know that when that clip, the outrage that a lot of people showed was purely performative.

There are videos of Howard Stern and Blackface, there are videos of Sarah Silverman in Blackface, there’s videos of Joy Behar in Blackface, there’s videos of Governor Northam in Blackface, there’s videos of Jimmy Kimmel and Blackface. Man, there’s a lot of video of really famous people in Blackface but for some reason, that just doesn’t get the same outrage, does it? Because it’s performative outrage.

It’s the strawberries slurpee of outrage, right? It’s the ginned up synthetic fake outrage. It’s not  real authentic, I’m deeply hurt outrage. It’s, if I get really upset about this, people will feel compelled to give me what I want. So I’m going to performatively act like this is the end of the world. And meanwhile, then they go home at night and go like, “Oh good, I got 10,000 likes.” That’s what’s actually happening here for a lot of it. I’m sure that there are some people who had their feelings really hurt. But for the most part, there’s a lot of performative outrage going on here.

So, the people who are engaged in the, who are sufficiently woke might be 10 or 15 percent of the population, maybe 20. The people who are kind of sympathetic to the things that woke people care about, who are largely on the left, are very concerned about racism, sexism, and fairness. That might be another 30 percent of the population who’s concerned.

But those people who are concerned about those things, don’t adopt the same view of the woke people. They don’t believe that society is constructed entirely of a hierarchy of oppression. They don’t believe that the world is socially constructed through systems of power. They don’t believe that there are systems of discourses, that there are systems of ideas, which socially conditioned people to believe what they believe.

They don’t believe we’re trapped in a matrix of, you know the movie, The Matrix in there, they go into that computer. They don’t believe that we’re… We could use that as a nice analogy, actually where the average person has been programmed by society to believe certain things. The woke kind of buy that; you’ve been programmed, you’ve been socially conditioned, you’ve been trained by your society to believe white, sexist, racist things.

I don’t think most Americans believe that. I don’t think most people believe that. I think most people go, “You know what? I don’t think society brainwashed me with social power and systems of sexism.” And I don’t think that, I don’t think most people believe that. But I believe there is a cohort of people, maybe 15 to 20 percent of the population who do.

And because they’re so fixated on how language works, and because they’re so fixated on how media works, and on how social power works, they’re very, very effective at using media, and the language, and communication. And they’re very, very good at using the arts, music, and movies to spread their message. And they know how to blanket the world to make it look like everyone agrees with them but really, I don’t think most people agree with them.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and here’s the thing that I’m thinking, right? There could be another group, let’s say people who are skilled in the tools of politics, of political operation that maybe don’t believe this, but might realize how incredibly easy it would be to manipulate this group because they understand what it is that would set them off, right? So this is, as you’re describing-

Mr. Distance: Yes.

Mr. Jekielek: … this, you can imagine. I’m imagining this kind of feedback loop. So, are you actually saying that you think that these people are being manipulated potentially by political actors that might not actually share the ideology? And there’s this weird, I don’t know, confluence here.

Mr. Distance: Oh, I absolutely think that there are political actors who are cynically, ginning up woke people to cancel people all the time. I absolutely believe that. I think there are people who might not agree with the woke, but think, you know what? We’re kind of close and I’m far enough, I’m close enough to you that you’re not going to come after me.

So if you want to go after all those centrist and right wingers that I don’t like, I don’t like Rogan. I may not agree with the woke, but hey, if I can use the woke to get rid of Rogan, I’ll do that. So I absolutely think that there are people who are cynically taking advantage of this for their own personal gain, and for their own political advantage. I absolutely believe that there are people who are using it.

You could see how easy it would be to do it. I’m not sure that the MeidasTouch guys, if you asked them 10 years ago what they thought or even five years ago would be on board. I mean, to just think the one guy was the social media manager for Ellen like five years ago. Okay. Ellen almost got canceled. I don’t think that that guy was sitting there being like, “Yeah, cancel my boss or whatever it was.” I don’t think that’s true.

I think that they are taking advantage of the current social climate and taking advantage of the woke activists to advance a political agenda. I absolutely believe that is going on, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some sincerely woke people. But even the most sincerely woke person is still very cynical, by their nature. So I believe, yeah, there’s cynicism and political advantage right to the bone. I absolutely think that.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so Wokal Distance, I’m going to wrap up here. First of all, because I have to, but I think we definitely need to do a part two here because we haven’t really dived into the neo-Marxist or Marxist element of this whole thing, which I understand to be kind of critical. So we’ll do that.

A second thing is I noticed in your feed, in your top pin tweet, you have a reference to a number of different accounts that you recommend people follow, people who are talking about these issues consistently, and straightforwardly, maybe it would be the right term. So maybe I’ll get, I wanted to flag that. Any final thoughts as we finish up here?

Mr. Distance: I would say that a lot of the stuff came in through education. A lot of these ideas particularly the neo-Marxist stuff, but a lot of the kind of view that everything is racist, everything is sexist, everything is about power. A lot of that was learned through colleges of education. And the person leading the way right now in the charge to get curriculum transparency so we can see what’s being taught in the schools is Chris Rufo.

So if you want to give Chris out, @realChrisRufo on Twitter or follow, he’s excellent. The Center for Renewing America is a group that I’ve worked with and I continue to work with, that’s Russ Voughts Group. And they’re right in there in the CRT fight and right in there in the fight for curriculum transparency, and those are two really good groups that are doing something to get some of this stuff out of the education system.

James Lindsay, @ConceptualJames on Twitter is an excellent resource for information on this. Peter Boghossian the philosopher from Portland State. Mel Chen, is excellent. The group, Counterweight which was Helen Pluck Rose’s group, is an excellent group. You can find Counterweight at They’re a fantastic group. I would say Melissa Chen and yeah, and oh, I love Jordan Peterson and stand with Rogan if you can.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and so Wokal Distance, we’ll have you back on within the next couple of weeks for sure to finish this up. And it’s such a pleasure to have you on.

Mr. Distance: Thank you for having me, and I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Mr. Jekielek: We live in an age of weaponized information and censorship. To be the first to know about new American Thought Leaders episodes and related content. You can sign up for our newsletter at You can just hit the check mark on American Thought Leaders.

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