The Intellectual Dark Web…

The first and most obvious thing to say about the “Intellectual Dark Web” is that it is an awfully pretentious and self-serving name. The odour of smugness that it emanates is symptomatic of a deeper rot: a self-satisfied Whiggishness that encourages its adherents to think themselves paragons of epistemological rectitude. This means a lot of liberal and positivist platitudes are elevated to the realms of deep profundity, and glib bandwagon leapers like Dave “let’s talk about talking about ideas” Rubin are elevated to the realms of intellectuals. Perhaps this is a less political than aesthetic problem. Can you restrain your cringe when Michael Shermer tweets, of the uninspiring New York Times columnist Bari Weiss:

Do you have Weissophobia? There’s something you can take for it: reason-contin and science-codone. But be careful: [Wiess’] writings are addictive.

Am I petty? Yes, perhaps. But this self-satisfaction bleeds into IDW analysis, such as Sam Harris’ stubborn misunderstandings of moral philosophy, or Christina Hoff Sommers’ adamantine obliviousness to cultural trends.

Still, I like a lot of people on the Intellectual Dark Web. Quillette is an excellent magazine; not just because, and sometimes in spite of the fact, that they publish me. Jordan Peterson is an interesting man with a lot of valuable advice. Joe Rogan has a very entertaining podcast.

More importantly, the Intellectual Dark Web is right where a lot of other influential people are wrong. Its members are far from uniform in their opinions but there are basic premises they share. First, and most importantly, debates of factual matters should not be encumbered by censorship. Second, social inequalities cannot be wholly explained by structural discrimination. Third, social science has taken an anti-scientific, reductionist and authoritarian turn towards Marxian and third worldist analysis.

Those premises, which would be hard if not impossible to frame as controversial for the average man or woman, are still anathema for the contemporary left. It is obvious from Henry Farrell’s recent Vox essay that the enormous range of factual premises and moral preferences which people who accept these propositions might hold, ranging from those of the liberal Steven Pinker to those of the Alt-Right Richard Spencer, are, for him, if not equivalent then eerily similar in ideological terms. Farrell seriously thinks a movement helmed by Jewish intellectuals like Bret and Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris and Christina Hoff-Sommers might collapse into quasi-fascism. A challenge to the closed-minded hard left consensus that prevails in the universities and seeps into social and corporate life is welcome even if it is so far from being optimal. At least I can be sure most members of the Intellectual Dark Web would take my criticisms with good grace, whereas I suspect five minutes with the average leftist would be enough to provoke a storm of coffee mugs.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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13 Responses to The Intellectual Dark Web…

  1. Sea squirt says:

    Ben, the IDW is approved opposition. According to the intro to 12 Rules, JBP was selected and elevated by the mainstream media. Shapiro has been pushed by billionaires. Even Richard Spencer is promoted by the leftists as a leader because he fits their narrative. The others hardly diverge in opinion (especially on issues related to Israel).

    I plan to start using ‘paragons of epistemological rectitude’ in as many conversations as possible; thanks for that gem.
    Still, the key dynamic is that our masters are trying to annoint safe opposition to coopt real opposition. I hope you’re not angling for a spot on the team.


    • bsixsmith says:

      Dude, if I wanted to start writing about snowflakes and individualism all the time I would have taken by chance by now,


    • Simon says:

      I suspect Spencer has become the face of the US far right more likely on account of all the financial backing that he receives from the Regnery business dynasty. That revelation is basically why I’ve become more skeptical of the far right’s narrative about itself, ie that even the most fringe parts of the right who have any audience of note only do so on account of corporate astroturfing from allies within different cliques of the elite than those currently on top. I suspect that if the Richard Spencers of the world got major influence they’d ultimately end up useful idiots for agendas they wouldn’t support themselves.


      • Simon says:

        Also from what I know of Peterson, his stated politics largely fall in line with rather boring centrist Christian Democrat type of Catholic conservatism with the underlying philosophy being . Right-wing politics don’t get LESS fringe than that. I think the man himself hasn’t even noticed how many of his fans are more genuinely radical libertarian/paleocon types which probably explains in part why gets lumped in with that crowd.


  2. Shane Taylor says:

    Your comment about the Whiggishness of so many “dark web” intellectuals is spot on. And yet, it is something they share with most progressives. Maybe that is why Vox fears them, because it could make them more relatable to the people who read Vox. After all, Vox originally sold itself as a paragon of epistemological rectitude.

    But like you said, members of the IDW are (more often than not) right where progressives are wrong. So while I roll my eyes at their branding, I am glad that they are causing so much distress among the woke set. Maybe, just maybe, these wannabe Platonic guardians will lose some of their audience because of their conniption fits.


    • bsixsmith says:

      Maybe that is why Vox fears them, because it could make them more relatable to the people who read Vox. After all, Vox originally sold itself as a paragon of epistemological rectitude.

      Great point Shane. I think you’re right.


  3. Bevin says:

    I would rather hear views/analysis/opinion on what specifically the IDW people have said than comment/opinion on their manner of communication, affiliations, etc. The latter doesn’t serve.


  4. Simon says:

    Interesting thing in my personal experience is that if you step far enough outside academia and the opinion pages of political news media it suddenly looks like the faultlines shift to something rather different, but I do wonder if it’s really that different.

    One thing I’ve noticed after getting a completely new real life social circle where the politically inclined people are grassroots level activists rather than academics or media people who are very online is that Corbyn/Mélenchon/Sanders-type left-wing populists often tend to be friendlier with conservatives and right-libertarians as well as more genuinely open to their ideas than towards middle-of-the-road social democrats and Rockefeller/Soros-style liberal establishment types.

    I wonder how much of it has to do with a shared distrust of the liberal positivist ideology you describe and most notably the institutions that uphold it, despite ostensibly holding very different conceptions of the big picture? Or maybe that people who are the “wrong kind of leftists” (eg Angela Nagle and the rest of the Zero Books crowd – I’m friends with an author who has worked with them) aren’t trusted that much more by the academia/media gatekeepers than actual right-wingers.


    • I try to find instances the shared beliefs and thus affinity between individuals/groups of individuals who are otherwise ideologically different. It is difficult if not impossible in the United States. Whether one did or did not vote/support Trump is a demarcation that overrides commonalities of political party, religion, ethnicity, gender, education, socioeconomic class, and even where one falls on the big government versus libertarian divide.

      Your point is well-taken about “the wrong kind of leftists”. Maybe they are not liberal progressives, just progressives, or just socialists? They are not in thrall to tropes of white privilege, hate speech horror, and the victim mindset, and share similar concerns and attitudes toward key aspects of public policy as those who are nominally far, far to their right. This is the best example I can think of, which is from an Australian literary journal, but the themes are common to the US, UK, EU: In Defence of the Bad White Working Class. This sort of thing seems to be the exception for now, as we who have shared goals but different worldviews, are worlds apart.


      • Simon says:

        I’m referring to things like the argument made by John Pilger in his book “Hidden Agenda” that everything Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are reviled for nominally social-democratic statesmen like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have done even more of: Privatization of public services, expansion of the surveillance state, support for far-right Third World regimes as long as they were allied with NATO… (eg Suharto’s Indonesia)

        Another example from this interview with the punk singer Rob Miller, best known from the bands Amebix and Tau Cross:

        “If I said in America, for instance, that the Obama administration are equally as guilty as the Bush administration, are perpetuating the same fucking system of international aggression, have done nothing to stem the illegal torture of people in Guantanamo Bay and have done nothing to address some of the pertinent issues that rose up from the 9/11 fucking farce, people would say, “You’re a fucking Republican.”

        [However,] I’m definitely not. People can maybe take a side and if they’ve taken that side they’re absolutely unwilling to criticize the dealings of the particular side that they’ve taken.”

        He also seems to be unusually sympathetic to right-libertarianism for a nominal ancom, see the fact that Tau Cross’ second album has a song about the Deep State…

        While we are at it: Here in Denmark the far left and far right can also ally with no problems as long as it’s against the EU.


      • bsixsmith says:

        I think this is somewhat true but only up to the point that they think conservatives are irrelevant. Peter Hitchens inspires a lot of affection among a lot of leftists but if he somehow became Britain’s most influential columnist tomorrow that would disappear.


      • Simon says:

        On the other hand a not insignificant amount of Bernie Sanders supporters flipped to Trump in the US general election of 2016. Then we have the percentage of Corbynists who are former UKIPers, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to bother the rest of them.


  5. WordPress Reader says:

    Coincidentally, I was just reading this:

    “There are many areas where you find broad swathes of agreement between traditional religion and an evolutionary explanation of human behavior. The honest observer will see this over and over in things like traditional sexual mores, patriarchy, hierarchy, rituals, civil punishments, property laws, etc. So, somewhat ironically, as the neoreactionary school coalesced, we kept finding these situations where devout religious traditionalists (like myself) were finding broad areas of agreement on various subjects with secular atheists (like Nick Land).”

    My point is that, as you say here, Blank Slatist Social Constructionist Progressive Orthodoxy (BSSCPO) is so far out-there, that trying to group everyone who disagrees with BSSCPO together is bound to produce some strange bedfellows. And yet, these bedfellows seem able to disagree civilly, without the hysteria that typically comes from the BSSCPO.

    Liked by 1 person

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