The thing I like least about the Intellectual Dark Web is the name 'Intellectual Dark Web'

The NY Times published a piece today by Bari Weiss which takes a look at the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. That’s the half-joking name for a group of talkers and thinkers that includes everyone from Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro to Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris. The piece really serves as an introduction to the group which is only loosely held together by their mutual interest in talking civilly about controversial topics: race, sex, religion. What binds them is a willingness to step outside the accepted bounds that seem to have descended over many of those topics.


Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”…

It’s a pattern that has become common in our new era of That Which Cannot Be Said. And it is the reason the Intellectual Dark Web, a term coined half-jokingly by Mr. Weinstein, came to exist…

A year ago, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were respected tenured professors at Evergreen State College, where their Occupy Wall Street-sympathetic politics were well in tune with the school’s progressive ethos. Today they have left their jobs, lost many of their friends and endangered their reputations.

All this because they opposed a “Day of Absence,” in which white students were asked to leave campus for the day. For questioning a day of racial segregation cloaked in progressivism, the pair was smeared as racist. Following threats, they left town for a time with their children and ultimately resigned their jobs…

Sam Harris says his moment came in 2006, at a conference at the Salk Institute with Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other prominent scientists. Mr. Harris said something that he thought was obvious on its face: Not all cultures are equally conducive to human flourishing. Some are superior to others.

“Until that time I had been criticizing religion, so the people who hated what I had to say were mostly on the right,” Mr. Harris said. “This was the first time I fully understood that I had an equivalent problem with the secular left.”

After his talk, in which he disparaged the Taliban, a biologist who would go on to serve on President Barack Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues approached him. “I remember she said: ‘That’s just your opinion. How can you say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?’ But to me it’s just obvious that forcing women to live their lives inside bags is wrong. I gave her another example: What if we found a culture that was ritually blinding every third child? And she actually said, ‘It would depend on why they were doing it.’” His jaw, he said, “actually fell open.”…

While most people in the group faced down comrades on the political left, Ben Shapiro confronted the right. He left his job as editor at large of Breitbart News two years ago because he believed it had become, under Steve Bannon’s leadership, “Trump’s personal Pravda.” In short order, he became a primary target of the alt-right and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the No. 1 target of anti-Semitic tweets during the presidential election.


That’s just a sample. There are similar vignettes about Jordan Peterson and others who consider themselves part of the group. Weiss points out that there is a danger to being so open as to allow anyone to associate themselves with the group. Joe Rogan, for instance, has interviewed conspiracy nut Alex Jones. That association, however tangential, becomes a way to discredit the broader IDW.

I like most of what these folks are saying, especially about the authoritarian impulse on the far-left. And I don’t blame anyone in this group for wanting to have a club of their own. But for god’s sake don’t ever suggest it’s cool. Cool is a function of media buzz and passing celebrity (of a kind). A lot of people glom onto a trend and are just as quick to jump off the moment it comes under attack from people who want to see the heretics burn brightly. At that point, the same media that wrote features praising the promise of this new group will turn and write that they are now discredited and uncool. No doubt some are already writing that, but the process will accelerate if the people involved take their collective eye off the ball.

And one more thing, calling yourself (even jokingly) the intellectual dark web seems like a concession that what you’re saying is important because it’s dangerous rather than because it’s true. Maybe that sort of gallows humor is unavoidable given the experiences of some of those involved but it’s giving the opposition another cudgel to beat you with.


That’s why the thing I like least about this group of thinkers is the name Intellectual Dark Web. It’s just the sort of faddish news hook that will help the media (which just happens to be dominated by the left) proclaim this a passing fad as soon as they have an excuse to do so. I’d much rather see it remain something entirely apart from that celebrity buzz culture. That’s one way to ensure the ideas remain the focus long after the media gets bored with this shiny dark object.

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David Strom 10:40 AM | April 12, 2024