If you are of a certain age and you’ve been following the news, you know there is a bit of a dust-up between Joe Rogan and Neil Young. Young, the aging 1960s rocker, is angry at Spotify for permitting podcaster Joe Rogan to spread “misinformation” about COVID-19 and the vaccines. He wants Rogan taken off the air, censored.
On Monday, Young posted an open letter to his management and record label, urging them to remove his music from the streaming service if Rogan remained on the platform. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” Young wrote. On Wednesday, Warner Brothers formally asked Spotify to remove Young’s catalog. By Wednesday night, Young’s songs were no longer available.
Among other things offensive to Young’s sensibilities, Rogan has had various COVID skeptics as guests, questioned the efficacy and value of the vaccines, and, in his own bout with COVID, used a host of therapeutics, including monoclonal antibodies and the long-approved generic drug, Ivermectin. Of course, the exact details of Rogan’s so-called misinformation are difficult to identify. But Rogan is firmly ensconced within the skeptic community when it comes to official pronouncements on COVID, while Young is a typical older liberal, who feels no burden is too much for the young to bear so he can rock on one more day.
This spat is emblematic of a broader conflict between the Baby Boomer generation and everyone else. The Boomers were an enormous—and enormously influential—generation. Their sheer size led to their dominance of pop culture and later business and political culture. But their characteristic disdain for restraint—whether imposed by tradition, laws, religion, or notions of duty—contributed to their reputation for being overbearing and irresponsible, a destructive whirlwind in contrast to the quietly dutiful “Greatest Generation” and the much smaller, more cynical Generation X that followed them.
While it is a complex subject with many caveats for individual cases, it can fairly be said that the Boomers destroyed much social and economic capital in their quest for liberation and personal fulfillment. After fighting the Vietnam War draft and the family-oriented sexual mores of their parents, the destruction was inflicted upon their children, as enormous numbers of Boomer parents went on to obtain “no fault” divorces in the 1970s and ’80s.
As the generation matured, constraints on the financial system had to go, because they limited the Boomers’ ability to amass wealth. When the “don’t trust anyone over 30” generation got older, mandatory retirement and similar customs that encouraged passing the baton to the young also had to go. This led to the long persistence of Boomers in academia, business, management, law firms, and an associated lack of upward mobility for the rising cohorts in Generation X and among the Millennials. By way of example, there is a reason Chuck Schumer (b. 1950), Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940, so not quite a Boomer, but still a beneficiary of the Boomer push to remain relevant), and other old-timers are still running the show in Congress, just as they have since the 1980s and 1990s.
I always liked Neil Young (b. 1945). He has some great songs and an interesting, unique voice. But in listening to some of his recent concerts on YouTube, I note that he’s become very cringe—lecturing the audience about climate change and now asking for censorship of Joe Rogan.
On the surface, this would seem to be a betrayal of the rebellious attitude of the ’60s, but in retrospect those who have thought deeply about it recognize that the ’60s were less about rebellion and self-expression, as advertised, and more about simple generational narcissism. Then, the past had to go because it constrained the youth and their rise to power and influence. Now, as that same group enters the sunset of their lives, the future and their obligations to future generations must also be set aside. There is a reason Boomers are notorious for embracing the “reverse mortgage.” Thrift and restraint were the values of their parents and are an obstacle to their whole-hearted and narcissistic embrace of living in the moment.
The entire conflict between Young and Rogan is a metaphor for broader differences between Boomers and Generation X. Rogan doesn’t neatly fit into any box. He began as a comedian and has a low-key “everyman” quality, which makes him popular. He also is not rude; he has real conversations, even when he challenges his guests in his long-format podcast.
If the Boomers were powerful on account of sheer numbers, Generation X was skeptical, cynical, and self-reliant because its members suffered the consequences of the Boomer social revolution and because of their own relative generational powerlessness. Rather than changing the world, they tend to be focused more on self-help and self-improvement. And that broadly libertarian and individualist set of values is exemplified by Joe Rogan (b. 1967).
Far from being a cesspool of disinformation, the mainstream media are slowly catching up with the skeptics. The skeptics said COVID wasn’t as dangerous as we were told; now, belatedly, so does the CDC. Skeptics warned that the vaccines were leaky, did not stop transmission, lost efficacy quickly, and that endless boosters posed certain health risks. Now cardiologists are sounding the alarm about vaccinating the young, particularly young men, who have an order of magnitude greater incidence of myocarditis and similar dangerous inflammation when vaccinated.
In contrast to their opponents, Rogan and other COVID vaccine skeptics have not tried to ban, shame, or impoverish the vaccinated. They have not wished them ill or sought to deprive them of medical care. The venom and will to control is an entirely one-sided affair. They—we—simply want to be allowed to make our own decisions regarding a new medical treatment with unknown long-term consequences in the face of what is, for almost everyone, and particularly the young, a highly survivable health threat.
For younger readers, the title of this piece is based on one of Young’s better, more haunting songs, about heroin addiction. Of course, in our zeal to combat COVID, overdoses are at an all-time high, accelerated by the disruptive, stressful, and completely pointless “lockdowns” undertaken in the name of public health.
The Baby Boomer generation exemplified their characteristic disregard for restraint and proportion in their collective response to the COVID crisis. The implicit assumption of the entire public health establishment, with their lockdowns, vaccine mandates, mass firings, and draconian mask rules imposed on children, is that the young must be sacrificed for the old. The generation that never wanted to get old does not know how to handle their impending and inevitable mortality with grace and magnanimity.
Thus, Neil Young is a perfect exemplar of the Baby Boomers: He made some great music, but his politics and self-absorption are a danger to us all.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated Neil Young’s birth year. The correct year is 1945.