Patterico's Pontifications


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.]

34 Responses to “The New York Times on the Intellectual Dark Web”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  2. “A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.”

    When Arthur Schlesinger wrote The Disuniting of America, he was fiercely attacked. That was during the Bush years. The first Bush. It was taboo even further before that. Trump has nothing to do with it.

    random viking (6a54c2)

  3. Grade “A” for the topic. I look forward to diving into this in depth later today.

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  4. seems like this is all about trying to figure out an algorithm for censoring people on zuckertwat’s dirty dirty facebook

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  5. The idea that liberal thought is mainstream and that the people mentioned as part of the IDW are not is the reason that these new thinkers are flourishing. Mainstream, to me, means an almost kabuki style of culture, with movies, books, political campaigns, news stories, all mouthing the same glittering generalities. The Narrative, as they say. And all the rules of this culture have been determined by postmodern theory or critical theory. I have a degree in it, I know it to be true. It’s a house built on sand. Students are beginning to get it, media figures, professors like Weinstein and Peterson are too.

    Patricia (3363ec)

  6. Patterico, thank you for this post.

    One of the most important points made is the ability to disagree civilly, without being vulgar or a name calling oh so snide bully. When folks get tagged with nicknames, thus begins the process of tearing them apart…because they are no longer seen as people, but targets. In addition, the juvenile bullying nonsense (that we see even from DJT) polarizes people in BOTH directions.

    Was I a cynical man, I would contend such is the point of the exercise. Oh wait, I am cynical.

    Look at how Jordan Peterson, for example, gets tagged as “alt-right.” It’s a slogan or bumpersticker or nickname, intended to trivialize and dehumanize an opponent.

    And if we don’t like it from the Left, we shouldn’t do it from the Right.

    Sam Harris is intellectually honest. So when I disagree with him (and I do on many points), I can do so with respect…and I can learn from the disagreement. Labeling him or coming up with some offensive name for him (as happens online) is the antithesis of this.

    I see it on campus every single day, which is why I dislike the strategy so.

    Thanks for this good post, and I look foreward to your Quillette essay.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  7. No Simon, they want to destroy any opposition, the pattern was morecclearly seen in 20s Europe, the left thought their opportunity was assured as Michael burleigh, nitesin sacred places but they were mistaken like the alliance was with the pax in serenity.

    narciso (d1f714)

  8. I don’t think we are disagreeing, narciso.

    Glenn Reynolds makes a joke of it: “Because shut up!”

    And both sides need to guard against it.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  9. Wonderful piece …. and spot-on most of the time .

    Bill Saracino (78f41f)

  10. Who has the infrastructure to do so. In institution and in coding, why did they force scl Cambridge analytica into the cold.

    narciso (d1f714)

  11. These people have been around for decades. Well into the 1960’s and rising to attention in the media in the 1970’s and 80’s. They started to gain real power in the 90’s. This was obvious to anyone who had eyes and wanted to see. Most people, conservative and liberal, did not want to believe such things would ever be a danger so they simply declared that such things were not a danger, buried their heads in the sand, and ridiculed those who spoke of the elephants in the room. Why is anyone surprised by what we are seeing today? If you don’t like it, you better get used to it because this is the normal for most people under 40.

    Skorcher (5ba7f6)

  12. Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters…

    ropelight (91a9b9)

  13. How do you dismiss the Alex Jones? Is it based on a percentage of their reporting be unacceptable or the degree to which even one story offends? Has Jones made up ant story as potentially damaging as Dan Rather’s faux bombshell days before a Presidential election?

    NBCs pinto story. Pink slime. Both did economic damage far worse than anything Alex Jones ever printed.

    Nate Ogden (2ad82b)

  14. Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters…

    And now it’s alright, it’s okay
    And you may look the other way
    We can try to understand
    The New York Times’ effect on man

    Skorcher (5ba7f6)

  15. People make mistakes. Media is made up of people. They’re going to make mistakes. I’m more likely to trust a media outlet that admits mistakes, owns up to why and how they made mistakes, and takes measures to fix those mistakes. Dan Rather resigned in disgrace over his screw up. They admitted what they’d done wrong.
    Media figures that claim to be performance artists who shouldn’t be accountable for their statements aren’t trustworthy.
    Media figures that refuse to admit when they make a mistake aren’t trustworthy.
    Both of those describe Alex Jones.

    Time123 (b4d075)

  16. NBCs pinto story. Pink slime.

    the global warming hoax has cost literally trillions

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  17. very long article on Charles Murray.

    Haven’t researched it, but assuming it’s mostly correct it doesn’t paint him on a very positive light.

    Time123 (b4d075)

  18. The obvious questions for me, about all cultures being purportedly equal….
    1. Why did we fight the South when it seceded? Why was slavery wrong if all cultures are equal?
    2. If all cultures are equal, why should we care that anyone criticizes our own culture? After all, it’s at least as good as anybody else’s.
    3. If all cultures are equal, why should I be defensive about being a white man? Why shouldn’t I revel and gloat about my purported privilege and emphasize it?
    4. How do you reconcile equality of cultures with cultures that overwhelm and crush other cultures?

    I expect no rational answers from the other side. Then again, why is irrationality worse than rationality? Let them think that last belief and they will soon not exist.

    Lazlo Toth (1492be)

  19. Meh, the intellectual dark web is any site that posts opinions forbidden in NYT comment sections.

    gp (0c542c)

  20. Well said, Patrick. I touched on Ms. Weiss’s piece in my diary on the kerfuffle between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kanye West, and I think it’s all of a piece. Ms. Weiss mentioned Kanye in her essay, which I thought was interesting.

    Paul Montagu (e6130e)

  21. How do you dismiss the Alex Jones?

    How do you not? Have you watched him?

    Do you need something more than his oft-repeated claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax?

    Patterico (ea45b6)

  22. 19. A lot of “conservative” websites won’t post anything that goes too far afield of the New York Times party line. And besides that, just because I may have found a safe space for my Trump criticism here, that doesn’t mean I am immune to criticism of my own views.

    Gryph (08c844)

  23. 21. Not only does Alex Jones believe that 9-11 and Sandy Hook were hoaxes, but he seems to be able to shoehorn those two topics into ANY interview or conversation. That doesn’t sound like someone aching to be taken seriously if you ask me.

    Gryph (08c844)


    happyfeet (28a91b)

  25. Good piece, but I would add to Random Viking’s statement that THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND and THE SHADOW UNIVERSITY were written decades ago and highlighted this very problem. Certainly, the problem has gotten worse as the years have gone by, but it has been a problem for quite some time.

    Leftist professors faked hate crimes at Claremont McKenna in the early 2000s. Protesters rushed the stage to hit Ann Coulter with a pie in the face during the Bush era.

    I admire people like Ben Shapiro, even as my most ardent #WhateverTrump friends shun him, because he has been brave enough to challenge those who harangue and silence dissent even when he was an undergraduate at UCLA. I don’t always agree with him, but I find him to be brave and sincere.

    I don’t think Alex Jones deserves to be shunned. I do think he deserves to be exposed as being a caricature who rarely breaks kayfabe. I see him as the right’s version of Stephen Colbert. And before you say, “but Colbert is a gimmick and parody,” that’s true, but you’d be surprised how many people take him seriously. Same goes for Jon Stewart. If you don’t like Alex Jones, and I’m not a fan, then one must remember that the blame goes to things like the Daily Show.

    Infrequent Guest (21fe6a)

  26. I had Weiss down as man. That has been fixed.

    When aname ends in a letter “i” it’s a female, especially if the same name ending in a ‘y” is a man’s name.

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

  27. They only have a name if you buy into it.

    Typical NYTimes smear job to marginalize common sense and rejection of Groupthink. Jordan Peterson has been the primary target for a few months. They are telling their readers to forsake critical thinking, pick up a torch and join the mob.

    harkin (c60926)

  28. We don’t need “gatekeepers”and we never have. But most people are such wusses they’d rather censor speech they dislike then ignore it.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  29. They only have a name if you buy into it.

    Typical NYTimes smear job to marginalize common sense and rejection of Groupthink. Jordan Peterson has been the primary target for a few months. They are telling their readers to forsake critical thinking, pick up a torch and join the mob.

    It didn’t read like a smear job to me. And I think they accept the label. And I saw some of them tweeting the article.

    Did you read it?

    Patterico (115b1f)

  30. Better to let 100 Alex Jones’ into the tent than keep one Ayaan Hirsi Ali out. And a system that keeps her out and admits a fraud like Tyson or a zealot like Dawkins is NFG.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  31. When aname ends in a letter “i” it’s a female, especially if the same name ending in a ‘y” is a man’s name.

    So, Cindi is a girl, and Cindy is a guy?

    Kevin M (752a26)

  32. “It didn’t read like a smear job to me. And I think they accept the label. And I saw some of them tweeting the article.

    Did you read it?”

    Yes I read it.

    Anybody who willingly lets the msm label clear, common sense, productive ideas as ‘The Dark’ anything is an idiot, and God forbid they associate with Charles Murray or factually report Islamic poll data.

    Let’s wait a few months and see if they herd all these thinkers together with every racist and nutbag as they did the Tea Party.

    Nice cheerful, uplifting pic of Eric Weinstein too.

    harkin (c60926)

  33. Bari Weiss is trying to get things right. She’s an asset to the NYT and to the world. I have been following her for a while, because she’s got interesting and brave takes.

    Sure, she’s liberal. And for some people, that’s disqualifying. It shouldn’t be.

    JRM (c80289)

  34. T1J
    I’m pretty sure the “intellectual dark web” people literally just saw how much money anti-SJWs were making on YouTube and copied/upgraded their shtick

    ___ _

    Bret Weinstein
    The authoritarian-left is anti-science and rejects due process, presumption of innocence, equal protection, and the idea that people should be judged by the content of their character.

    Yet some can’t imagine sincere opposition.

    harkin (0c588c)

Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.3534 secs.