The Emptiness of Dave Rubin

Recently, a Quillete author called out the Intellectual Dark Web and, more specifically, Dave Rubin for giving casual viewers a false sense of impartiality. It’s remarkable if only for the reason that it isn’t coming from a predictable leftist rag, but from an outlet that is completely sympathetic to his camp. The article itself is less interesting or insightful than Rubin’s outsized response on Twitter, expressing disappointment in editor Claire Lehman for publishing the article in the first place.

While the article itself does fall short in a number of ways, it does prompt the broader discussion of what role exactly Dave Rubin serves in the public conversation. Less of an intellectual or thinker, he acts as more of a facilitator, host, and general tag-along. This is a perfectly acceptable role to play in a media landscape wherein everyone playing is clearly slanted left, but Dave Rubin’s primary stated goal is to promote conversation and dialogue. Conversations are the best way to find truth and combat disinformation, he says. But when we look closer at The Rubin Report, this motto appears to be donned as nothing more than a marketing gimmick. The most obvious case was seen in his response to a superchat asking him to have social democrat, Sam Seder, on his show.

On the right, we can turn to someone as mainstream as Gavin McInnes who became an actual victim of the censorious left. Even if you think McInnes should have been banned, you’d assume a dialogue crusader like Rubin would be ready to discuss the other side of the story. Meanwhile, Rubin tweets out that he’s about to hit one million subscribers, affecting a veneer of victimhood. In the real world, his followers naturally started unsubscribing to mess with him as is often the case with any YouTuber who makes these types of announcements.  He immediately assumes YouTube is sabotaging him. The question of why social media corporations would target his show never seems to occur to him. After all, most disagreements on his show are about mundane political trivialities like to what degree tax policies should be adjusted or whether we should keep this or that regulation on trade or whatever. He strictly hosts what’s almost a cult of narrow, mostly self-described classical liberals. What exactly differentiates people like Sam Harris, the Weinstein brothers, and even Ben Shapiro that he so often cites? Save for a few issues, these are pretty solidly neoliberals with no real foundational disagreements; they adhere uniformly to the libertarian ethos of “live and let live.” It’s worth emphasizing that there isn’t inherently a problem with having a show dedicated to promoting a particular viewpoint — not every channel is meant to be a debate show — but it does become a problem when you tell viewers that they’re being exposed to diverse perspectives, when it’s far from the truth.

The reality is that there are responsibilities and costs for those actually facilitating open dialogue and pushing political boundaries. A classical liberal who moves beyond lip service can be seen in YouTuber and now UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin, who has made numerous efforts— at great personal expense—to engage with and provoke his most fierce critics both on the left and right. Unlike Rubin, Carl Benjamin ventured out of the cozy ownage factory of SJW, anti-feminist videos to address his fiercest critics head on, going so far as to challenge the Alt-Right and lost his patreon because of it. Even if he weren’t willing to do that, he made an effort to expound on them in long form. The same simply can’t be said of Rubin, who scolded Quillette editor Claire Lehmann for posting the article that included a paragraph critical of him. Hosting the types of conversations Carl Benjamin did may not be professionally advantageous, but it is interesting and boundary pushing — qualities with which Dave Rubin seems to want his show associated, but without any of the actual risk.

Another model for freethinking and fearless curiosity is found in Christopher Hitchens, who’s certainly a source of inspiration for many within the IDW. He was willing to have intellectual confrontations with truly dark figures, even as extreme as John and Tom Metzger. No one is saying that everyone is capable of this. After all, the only you way you can host these figures is by preparing and having a firm grasp on the issues. Take for example when the conversation guy Dave Rubin embarrassingly invites Tommy Sotomayor on to his show, but fails to research him enough to challenge his position on homosexuals. He could only default to his script about conversations. Afterward, Sotomayor expressed disgust to his audience that he “shook that man’s hand.”

The most accurate model someone like Dave Rubin aspires to emulate might be Joe Rogan. His freewheeling discussions actually run the gamut of characters otherwise banished by civil society. He pushes back and asks legitimately challenging questions, is more or less informed about his interviewees’ backgrounds, and is occasionally funny to boot. As a comedian-turned-interviewer, it reveals the ultimate problem with Dave Rubin. He doesn’t really meet any of that criteria and has evidently never prepared to discuss anything other than what amounts to ‘conversations are good.’  

In the end, when we review his mostly uniform catalog of neoliberal guests, it’s clear his show isn’t dedicated to diversity of thought. The few moments he is willing to host guests that are controversial, he’s unable to properly challenge them on the issues that matter. Essentially, he fetishizes the idea of conversations without ever actually being able to have serious ones. What pushed Rubin to prominence in 2015 was dunking on college feminists and social justice warriors as a reasonable ambassador from the left. As that tired exercise becomes outmoded, the question again arises, what role does Rubin serve moving forward? The only clear one is a ramp off of which neoliberal centrists can ollie. The only thing that anyone should expect of him is that he’s honest about that.

Perhaps he doesn’t truly embrace actual conversation because, implicitly, he even recognizes that conversations rarely get us anywhere, especially when our disagreements are as fundamental as they’ve become.