Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Podcasts for a better life

The sales pitches can eat up slightly more airtime than ads for mattresses and grocery delivery services on other podcasts. But the main thing is the philosophy of personal development that goes with them — and it has won a huge following. Tim Ferriss told me his books have sold over four and a half million copies in North America alone. Several of these podcasters say they reach millions of listeners each month. In 2016, Joe Rogan put his figure “in the neighborhood of 30 million downloads per month”; his show is ranked second on the iTunes podcast chart, right behind Oprah’s.

Don’t dismiss the podcast bros merely as hucksters promoting self-help books and dubious mushroom coffee. In this secularized age of lonely seekers scrolling social media feeds, they have cultivated a spiritual community. They offer theologies and daily rituals of self-actualization, an appealing alternative to the rhetoric of victimhood and resentment that permeates both the right and the left. “They help the masses identify the hole in the soul,” Karli Smith, 38, a fan who lives in Tooele, Utah, told me. “I do feel the message is creating a community.”

All this continues a long American tradition of self-help and creative, market-minded spirituality. The 19th century brimmed with gurus ready to guide you to other dimensions and prophets of the path from rags to riches. The podcasters’ exhortations to cultivate character and learn from the habits of successful businessmen, scientists and soldiers (whom they invite for interviews that sometimes stretch longer than two hours) could come straight from the pages of Victorian self-improvement manuals. When I asked Mr. Marcus about his admiration for his guests on the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast,” he said: “It’s self-mastery of the ego, knowing you have nothing to prove. That’s real strength, real masculinity.”
Joe Rogan:
Most of the time, “The Joe Rogan Experience” consists of pleasantly rambling, profanity-laced conversations with Australian bowhunters, mixed martial arts fighters and celebrities like Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith. But one of Mr. Rogan’s “all-time favorite guests” is Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychologist whose taste for political street fighting — mainly with the radical left — brought a wave of media attention, launched his best-selling self-help book, “12 Rules for Life” and made him a darling of the podcast bro circuit.

In conversations with Mr. Peterson, Mr. Rogan disdained the “the social justice warrior brigade,” but also lamented President Trump’s failure to distance himself from white supremacists. Mr. Rogan has said he’s “mostly on the left.” What troubles him is “when people just ramp up their positions and get more ideologically based, and they’re doing it as a reaction to the other side instead of just being who they are, instead of having some sort of a personal sovereignty,” he said last year. (Mr. Rogan’s website sells T-shirts emblazoned with the political affiliation “Freak Party.”)
And so:
This is the podcast bro ethos: Ditch your ideologically charged identity. Accept your evolutionary programming. Take responsibility for mastering it, and find a cosmic purpose. “I’m not saying it’s only personal responsibility that matters, but you have to start there,” Mr. Marcus told me.

But wait — how does cutting down carbs and tossing kettlebells set me up to serve the universe? Here is where the podcast bros get metaphysical. Many have a strong interest in spirituality, and see practices like Buddhist meditation or consuming hallucinogenic “plant medicine” as not just a way to improve daily performance, but a path to something deeper.

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