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An Interview with Dave Rubin: We Need to Listen to One Another

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Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report discusses the left’s opposition to free speech, polarization, third party candidates, and finding common ground in an interview with Merion West.

Dave Rubin joined us at Merion West for an interview on May 24th to discuss how he sees the current political climate, how young people fit into it, and the possibility of softening polarization through engaging opening with a wide range of ideas.

You gained a lot of notice not long ago for a video in which you described walking away a bit from the Left in response to the movement’s crack down on free speech. Our publication focuses on providing commentary from across the political spectrum and reaching a younger audience. So, to what degree do you think this move away from free speech is a phenomenon specific to this new generation?

It’s interesting because the Left as a whole has just become this whole hysterical, shrieking, screaming monster. You’re getting it from older people, professors at colleges and from the younger people they influence. There is this endless desire to have the highest rate of victimhood and therefore be the most virtuous. I actually pity the students falling for this because it is being spoon-fed to them by the academics.

It’s a very easy ideology. The reason it attracts so many people is because it’s so appealing. If you’re lazy, it’s easy to believe the whole system is rigged. You can just say “I’m oppressed I’m oppressed I’m oppressed,” figure out what your oppression is, and then claim that your oppression is worse than anyone else’s. It’s like putting your hands up and not taking responsibility for your own life, which is the reverse of what an individual should do. It’s your life, go figure out how to make the most of it. So this victimhood situation is coming, in part, from the older generation that is teaching these ideas. Then it’s also partially coming from the younger generation that, unfortunately, has been brought up in it. They’re afraid of hearing ideas that counter their own, and they are protesting people instead of having debates. It’s just a terrible mix.

This was a big issue at Yale, last year with the Halloween protesting. You’ve probably seen the video of the student yelling at the professor, telling him that he was not caring enough. 

She was screaming about how this was supposed to be a safe space and that college isn’t a place where ideas should be challenged. Everything she said in that video is the reverse of what college is supposed to be. College is where you get your ideas challenged, so that you learn to formulate ideas using logic and reason. Then when you go out into the real world, you can actually make a difference. If college doesn’t arm you with the ability to make coherent arguments, you’re going to be screwed when you get to real life. 

Moving on a little bit, you’ve talked a lot about how you’re a classical liberal. What was your progression towards coming to identify as such? Was that a philosophy you found early on or something that evolved over time?

Well I’ve always considered myself a liberal. I remember when I was in 7th grade in 1988, we did a mock election in my social studies class. George H. W. Bush was running against Michael Dukakis. I remember very clearly Michael Dukakis backtracking from Bush labelling him as a liberal, and I just couldn’t get it. I thought liberals were the good guys. Liberals cared about other people, they didn’t want poor people to starve, they cared about minorities, they didn’t want to go to war, all of these things, and that sort of morphed into what became modern day progressivism. Unfortunately, now, being progressive has nothing to do with being liberal. What being liberal truly means, in the classical sense, in the John Stuart Mill sense of liberalism, is to live and let live. 

Liberalism has been hijacked by Leftism though. Progressives are not liberal in that they are not tolerant of other opinions. They are not tolerant of diversity of thought. They love diversity of immutable characteristics, so they love the supposed diversity of religion, color, ethnicity, and nationality. But by doing this, you are actually eliminating the individuals. You are always getting rid of the true minorities, the minorities within the minorities. You’re getting rid of the real free thinkers; you’re abandoning all of the people who live under totalitarian regimes all over the world, and, more than anything else, the left has become authoritarian. They simply are not allowing for any diversity in their movement.

I see this consistently as someone who is liberal and for gay marriage, who is pro-choice. I’m basically for single-payer healthcare. I would love to reform the prison system. I believe in some level of a social safety net. I’m against the death penalty, and on and on. I only get invited to colleges by conservatives, and Republicans, and libertarians, and I’ve got literally zero invites from progressives. What does that tell you about who actually cares about diversity and hearing outside thoughts?

I think that’s a good distinction to draw. You’ve discussed being an atheist; what role do you see religion now playing in politics?

I’d say that I’m a “little a” atheist in that it’s not something that I think is incredibly important to talk about. Yesterday I was watching the Cavs game, and let’s say you said LeBron James dunked from half court, I would say I need a little evidence of that.  Why would I treat the biggest questions of the universe with any less intellectual rigor? If you say to me there’s a man in the sky and he’s watching us and he doesn’t want this and that, I think there’s no logical reason to believe in that. I’ve talked to plenty people of faith, of course, who say that’s exactly why you believe in it. It’s about taking that leap of faith.

I don’t even really judge people, as long as you are believing whatever you want in the privacy of your own home and not trying to legislate your beliefs. We’ve had that problem from the Christian Right, and we’re seeing that problem seep out in other ways. But I personally don’t care. If we could be flat-out governed by just the Constitution of the United States, it is a pretty beautiful document. It keeps power in check, it hands liberty to the individual, it allows you to control your life and pursue life, liberty and happiness, and own property. It has checks and balances. It’s almost as perfect a document as humans could come up with. I would much rather have our politicians be sworn in on the Constitution than the Bible. That said, I understand that there are underpinnings of our society that come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Basically, in America, we have an incredible multicultural society that is a truly tolerant, even though people on the Left will tell you about what an evil, patriarchal, racist, white supremacist society we have here.

Everyone still wants to come here. Nobody is leaving America, and, at the same time, the Left will tell you how horrible the whole country is. And, in the same breath, they’ll tell you they want open borders. So if the whole place is so terrible, why would you want everyone to be forced to come here and suffer under this evil patriarchal regime? It’s all just nonsense, but basically the atheist thing is sort of a personal decision, a personal matter, that I just sort of get pinned into talking about sometimes. 

I know that you discussed having voted for Gary Johnson. Obviously Governor Johnson was plagued by a few errors on the campaign trail that may have held him back, but could you see a future libertarian or third-party candidate getting more traction?

So look, my feeling was, about August of last year, let’s support Gary Johnson—or at least I’m going to support this guy so that we can get another voice into one debate. And I said, he’s not a great debater, so Trump will just browbeat him in the debate. Hillary will out-policy him. I said he’s not a great libertarian, and he’s not the best candidate But I’ve had him on my show, and I’ve chatted with him privately; he’s an extremely nice guy, and I would love to be friends with him. He’s a good human being, which is probably why he’s not a great politician.

Then there was that Aleppo thing, there was that tongue thing, he couldn’t name a foreign leader. He was just incredibly ill-prepared. I never thought that someone could turn me against weed. But after watching his campaign, I started to think that maybe marijuana is not so great. When I was driving to the polling place, I did not know who I was going to vote for. I felt that Hillary and the DNC were just so deeply, deeply corrupt, there was so much obvious collusion with the media, and so much true corruption there, that I couldn’t do that. Trump, although I liked that he was taking a hatchet to the system, I didn’t and still don’t know what his moral center is. What is Trumpism? It’s not conservatism. Is he just governing everyday by the crisis or the event that happens by the day, so I didn’t really want to vote for him. I also knew that I was in California, where Hillary was going to win in a landslide no matter what, so I did vote for Gary Johnson just in pure protest.

But for all my reservations about Trump, and I have no idea what’s going to happen here, his winning has created such fertile ground in this country. Before this election, the screws were being tightened about political correctness and authoritarianism and big government. But he has loosened these screws. People weren’t talking about classical liberalism two years ago. They are now, so this is fertile ground. The conversations we are having now are great. And the simple fact is that: if Hillary were president, we wouldn’t be having these discussions right now. 

We have one last question for you. A lot of people are bemoaning that these are very polarized times. Obviously, in the course of American history, there have been times that have been more polarized than others. For goodness’ sake, we had a Civil War. During the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a lot of polarization. But these days, you’ve done a great job of interacting with people on both the Left and the Right. Do you think that if this becomes more widespread, getting people on the Left and Right talking, are you optimistic that we can become a bit less polarized in the coming years? 

By nature, I think I’m somewhat of an optimist. Otherwise, I don’t know how I can do what I do. More than anything else, though, I’m a realist. So I’m optimistic because I believe that the human spirit is good, and I think most people want the same things, which is to live a decent life and have a decent job, and hopefully find someone they love and maybe start a family and maybe own some property.

But we get completely lost in this crossfire of political craziness and social media with everyone fighting everybody all the time. I don’t think what I do is rocket science. I try to talk to people. I have interesting discussions. I like hearing people that argue from completely different places. A couple months ago, on the same day, I had an hour with Jerry Coyne, who’s a world-renowned evolutionary biologist, and then I had Dennis Prager, who’s conservative and talks a lot about Judeo-Christian values and how he believes religion has a role in the country. These two people could not be further apart from each other, and I sat down with both of them. I fully enjoyed talking with both of them. And I fully respect both of them.

This constant idea that you have to be right all the time, that you have to know everything all the time is just nonsense. I don’t know everything all the time, and I try to be upfront with my audience about that. We’re allowed to evolve. People say: “You said this three years ago. Now you’re saying this. You’re a flip-flopper,” and it’s like “no.” Actually, you have a flexible mind; you have some neurons firing in your brain. If you accept that you don’t know everything, that what you thought at 25 may be different than what you think at 40, that’s a beautiful thing. I think different things about basketball now than I did three years ago. 

I do have hope. Young people growing up in these times when we’re all fighting on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook need to remember that if you put technology down and meet regular people, most of the time you’re going to have a lot more in common than you have apart. People would never dare say the harsh things they say on social media to someone’s face. Now we need some of the younger generations to step up and understand what is liberty, what is freedom, why should we care about these things, and why we should fight for them.

Follow Dave Rubin @RubinReport. 

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