Patterico's Pontifications


Trump and the Iran Deal

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:48 am

If Trump leaves it, as I assume he will, I think he will be making the right move, for two reasons. First, how can you have a treaty that was not properly ratified as a treaty? Second, how can you have a deal that makes certain sites off limits?


[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

The New York Times on the Intellectual Dark Web

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:44 am

This morning’s New York Times has an interesting piece by Bari Weiss on the “Intellectual Dark Web”or “IDW” — a phrase I had not heard until I read the piece. Here is how it opens:

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.”

I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.

Today, people like them who dare venture into this “There Be Dragons” territory on the intellectual map have met with outrage and derision — even, or perhaps especially, from people who pride themselves on openness.

These things don’t seem that startling to me. There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. If you don’t agree with that, you’re too stupid to dress yourself in the morning. Free speech is under siege. Do we live the same country? And identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart.

So I want to know more about a group that has no problem saying things like this.

The inclusion of Sam Harris got my attention. As I recently wrote, Sam Harris came to my attention as a result of this article in National Review, about Harris’s being smeared by Ezra Klein for standing up for Charles Murray. I soon realized that I had seen Harris before, on an episode of Bill Maher’s show, teaming up with Maher against Ben Affleck on the nature of Islam. (Dana wrote about that here.) Harris is a fierce Trump critic, but not a silly partisan one. I don’t agree with him on, say, his views about Christianity, but he is a fierce opponent of identity politics and a very interesting and well-spoken thinker. You get a good feeling for Harris from this passage about Harris’s realization that his thinking made him enemies on the left as well as the right:

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.”

Also listed by Weiss among the group associated with this term are folks like Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Claire Lehmann. You all know Ben Shapiro, whom I find interesting because he shares my views about limited government, yet is honest about Donald Trump and the alt right. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to me, is simply a hero of the modern world. Claire Lehmann is the publisher of Quillette, an online magazine that recently invited me to submit a piece about intellectual diversity on the right. (It will likely appear next month.)

Not a bad group. Weiss says:

[T]hey all share three distinct qualities. First, they are willing to disagree ferociously, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject: religion, abortion, immigration, the nature of consciousness. Second, in an age in which popular feelings about the way things ought to be often override facts about the way things actually are, each is determined to resist parroting what’s politically convenient. And third, some have paid for this commitment by being purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought — and have found receptive audiences elsewhere.

Those are important qualities, and they are shared across a wide range of political beliefs. That’s fine. If you’re smart and you honor freedom of speech and are intellectually honest, I’d rather talk to you than to some partisan robot — even if you have a different set of political beliefs than I do. Maybe even especially if you do.

One of the interesting issues that Weiss discusses is the fact that the commitment of “IDW” folks to talk to almost anyone leads them to talk to people who are, let’s be frank, stupid and crazy.

Go a click in one direction and the group is enhanced by intellectuals with tony affiliations like Steven Pinker at Harvard. But go a click in another and you’ll find alt-right figures like Stefan Molyneux and Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich (the #PizzaGate huckster) and Alex Jones (the Sandy Hook shooting denier).

It’s hard to draw boundaries around an amorphous network, especially when each person in it has a different idea of who is beyond the pale.

“I don’t know that we are in the position to police it,” Mr. Rubin said. “If this thing becomes something massive — a political or social movement — then maybe we’d need to have some statement of principles. For now, we’re just a crew of people trying to have the kind of important conversations that the mainstream won’t.”

But is a statement of principles necessary to make a judgment call about people like Mr. Cernovich, Mr. Molyneux and Mr. Yiannopoulos? Mr. Rubin has hosted all three on his show. And he appeared on a typically unhinged episode of Mr. Jones’s radio show, “Infowars.” Mr. Rogan regularly lets Abby Martin — a former 9/11 Truther who is strangely sympathetic to the regimes in Syria and Venezuela — rant on his podcast. He also encouraged Mr. Jones to spout off about the moon landing being fake during Mr. Jones’s nearly four-hour appearance on his show. When asked why he hosts people like Mr. Jones, Mr. Rogan has insisted that he’s not an interviewer or a journalist. “I talk to people. And I record it. That’s it,” he has said.

. . . .

“You have to understand that the I.D.W. emerged as a response to a world where perfectly reasonable intellectuals were being regularly mislabeled by activists, institutions and mainstream journalists with every career-ending epithet from ‘Islamophobe’ to ‘Nazi,’” Eric Weinstein said. “Once I.D.W. folks saw that people like Ben Shapiro were generally smart, highly informed and often princely in difficult conversations, it’s more understandable that occasionally a few frogs got kissed here and there as some I.D.W. members went in search of other maligned princes.”

But people who pride themselves on pursuing the truth and telling it plainly should be capable of applying these labels when they’re deserved. It seems to me that if you are willing to sit across from an Alex Jones or Mike Cernovich and take him seriously, there’s a high probability that you’re either cynical or stupid. If there’s a reason for shorting the I.D.W., it’s the inability of certain members to see this as a fatal error.

Even as Weiss recognizes that the Southern Poverty Law Center has improperly characterized Harris as hateful, Weiss says: “I share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more. I don’t, however, want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all.” I agree with Weiss that the Cernoviches and Alex Joneses of the world, with their insane PizzaGate style conspiracy theories, should be shunned. But who will be the gatekeepers, in a world where Weiss’s own newspaper uses the SPLC as a reputable organization?

Ultimately, like many things, it comes down to a matter of judgment. Hear everyone out, whether Big Media or the SPLC or other self-appointed gatekeepers tell you that you shouldn’t. If you listen to the gatekeepers, you’ll miss out on the Sam Harrises, and you’ll lazily and incorrectly conclude that Charles Murray is a racist who needs to be shunned and perhaps assaulted. But if you go too far in the other direction, you’ll end up defending the notion that we need to sit across from Alex Jones and frown thoughtfully as he tells us that Sandy Hook is a hoax. Once you’ve heard out the Cernoviches and the Alex Joneses, there’s no need to waste your God-given life listening to them unless it amuses you to point and laugh.

Anyway, even if I don’t agree with Weiss in every respect, I recognize a kindred spirit in a woman who describes herself as “a classical liberal who has run afoul of the left, often for voicing my convictions and sometimes simply by accident.” There’s nothing wrong with that — and these days, there’s nothing wrong with running afoul of the right for the same reasons.

The only thing I don’t like about this group is that it now has a name. And once your group has a name, it runs the risk of becoming a tribe — an ironic possibility for a group of intellectuals who banded together to avoid tribalism. Having learned the name of this movement this morning, my best advice to its members is to lose it.

UPDATE: Sexist that I am, I had Weiss down as a man. That has been fixed.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

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