But that’s not why people are obsessed with him. In reality, it’s because Joe Rogan is a tireless optimist, a grab-life-by-the-throat-and-bite-out-its-esophagus kind of guy, and many, many men respond to that. I respond to that. The competitive energy, the drive to succeed, the search for purpose, for self-respect. Get better every day. Master your domain. Total human optimization. A goal so hazy and unreachable that you never stop trying, until you realize with a kind of enviable Zen clarity that the trying is the whole point. If the world isn’t giving you much in the way of positive feedback, create your own. It’s a tough message for a very rich guy like Joe Rogan to sell, but he pulls it off because he has never stopped coming across as stubbornly normal. He’s from a middle-class Boston suburb, he’s bald, and for God’s sake, his name is Joe…

Rogan seems like a regular Joe, but he’s not. He is driven, inexhaustible, and an honest-to-goodness autodidact. I used to think of myself as pretty pan-curious—it comes with the job—but my Joe Rogan experience was humbling. His brain is wicked absorbent, like Neo in The Matrix, uploading knowledge through a hot spear jammed into the back of his skull. He’s a freak of nature, and most of his fans cannot, in fact, be just like him.

One of the downsides of total human optimization is that you’re always coming up short, and in the wrong stew of testosterone and serotonin, it can turn into a poison of self-loathing and trigger-cocked rage. And a key thing Joe and his fans tend to have in common is a deficit of empathy. He seems unable to process how his tolerance for monsters like Alex Jones plays a role in the wounding of people who don’t deserve it. Jones’s recent appearance on the podcast came after he was sued by families of children and educators murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre—a mass shooting that Jones falsely claimed was a hoax, which families of the victims say prompted his gang of fans to harass them. (Jones has since acknowledged that the Sandy Hook massacre occurred.) So is Joe really nurturing a generation of smarter, healthier, more worldly men, or an army of conspiracy theorists and alt-right super soldiers? At the very least, he shows too much compassion for bad actors, and not enough for people on the receiving end of their attacks.