Friday, 11 May 2018

The Intellectual Dark Web

"Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web" - An alliance of heretics is making an end run around the mainstream conversation. Should we be listening?" 

So reads a recent New York Times headline, and social media is now abuzz with talk about it.
"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.”
The "Renegades" of the Intellectual web.
Do these look like spaghetti western villains to you?
In case you don't know, this is a loose group of bloggers and academics who are known for bucking the trends in today's cultural spaces. Their names are by now familiar to most of us. Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Heather Heying, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Christina Hoff Sommers, Claire Lehmann, Joe Rogan and Maajid Nawaz, among others. A mixed bag to be sure, though leaning towards a kind of classical liberal consensus. Some more "classical" than others.

The response has been what you'd expect.

The Guardian, showing that it has no intent on slowing its descent into becoming the Infowars of the left, runs the headline: The ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ – the supposed thinking wing of the alt-right. THE “INTELLECTUAL DARK WEB” IS JUST A BUNCH OF WHINY RICH PEOPLE reads the subtle and nuanced headline at the Nice all caps, guys. We would never have guessed that their great sin was being privileged white males had you used lower case letters. That ever vigilant bearer of the truth, Vox, runs this headline: The “Intellectual Dark Web,” explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right

Now to be fair, the Outline article is correct in pointing out that these thinkers aren't exactly marginalized or being censored. Not that they're claiming to be - most are expressing dismay at the state of free speech on campus rather than themselves claiming to be victims. Thus far, many of them hold academic positions, have published best selling books and bring in tens of thousands of dollars monthly on Patreon. So it is a stretch to paint the IDW as a posse of outlaw renegades on the run due to their heretical views. They aren't quite Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, I'll give the reg-left blogosphere that much. Besides, everybody knows that the real victims of marginalization these days are tenured women's studies professors in Ivy League colleges, "diversity officers" at publicly traded Silicon Valley tech giants and bloggers for outlets that are not exactly fringe themselves, like the Guardian. Poor things. It would sure be nice if feminists could just be heard in the media, online and on campus every once and a while.

A more accurate picture is painted in a more recent National Review article:
More substantively, I guess I still don’t get it. Having read the essay twice, it seems to me this IDW thing isn’t actually an intellectual movement. It’s just a coalition of thinkers and journalists who happen to share a disdain for the keepers of the liberal orthodoxy. Weiss recounts a bunch of conversion tales where once-respected and iconoclastic liberal types run head-on into the groupthink or party line of the liberal establishment. They suddenly have a revelation about the enforced orthodoxy of their own side, and as they pull on these intellectual threads, they face blowback and reinforcement from unexpected places.
That National Review more often than not paints a more accurate picture of the world than supposedly liberal outlets like the Guardian and Vox do is something I'm still struggling to become accustomed to. And that's precisely what the IDW, as described in Weiss's New York Times article, is really all about. It's about a complacent progressive left's loss of the moral and intellectual high ground. It shows for once and for all that St. George really has become the dragon. What began in the 1960s as a campus rebellion for free speech against an ossified status quo has itself become an ossified status quo that makes no mistake about its hostility towards free speech.

Regressive left indignation is thus more easily understood, if still unjustified. For one thing, the IDW is far from united behind a right wing banner. Indeed, Ben Shapiro is among its only outrightly conservative members (a poor choice IMO, Victor Davis Hanson is who I'd have gone after had I wanted a right wing intellectual). Jordan Peterson is arguably (and make no mistake, it is an argument) right leaning, given that his now heavily memed description of crustacean society emphasizes the natural occurrence of dominance hierarchies.

Beyond that, we're not talking the G.O.P national convention here.  Consider that one of its purported members, Sam Harris - no fan of Donald Trump, to put it mildly, was also part of the wrecking crew that dismembered the Christian right back in the Bush years. Good to see he'd be happy to repeat the performance with the regressive left.

Could the left even put forward its own IDW candidates? Besides the brothers Eric and Bret Weinstein, two of its central figures, that is? Despite showing his age and being a bit unhinged on occasion, Noam Chomsky is no dummy and has shown some dismay for the postmodern elements on the left. Slavoj Žižek remains the philosopher of the common man, though you wouldn't know it trying to read him sometimes. Kyle Kulinski at Secular Talk does a lot of sharp work. Ditto for Jimmy Dore. I'm sure there are others, none any more fans of excessive political correctness than most people on the right, and without the ideological baggage that conservatism brings with it.

Those pundits and more like them will be needed in the future. Gone are the days when being progressive came with a default sense of intellectual and moral superiority. That's been the true impact of the IDW. The left is going to have to work for it now, and they're out of shape, if the contents of The Guardian and Vox are anything to go by. Once upon a time, being progressive meant you got to be the smart one in the room when your opposition consisted of creation "scientists", televangelists like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, climate change deniers, paid shills for the pharmaceutical or energy lobbies, conspiracy theorists a-la the aforementioned Infowars and raving a.m radio talking heads in the vein of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Weren't those the days?  It's a shame they're gone.

Not the right wing loons, sadly. They're still with us. What's been lost is the default assumption of progressive intellectual advantage and moral integrity. That's been squandered by the SJWs.

Now, being progressive all too often means anti-whiteness events on college campuses and masculinity being toxic. It means equating right leaning libertarians a-la Ben Shapiro with outright Nazis and denying the very science and reason that once made the progressives oh so superior to Christian conservatives as social constructions that privilege socially powerful groups. It means hammer and sickle waving goons giving Nazi skinheads a run for their money and trashing colleges and urban centers. It means apologizing for Muslim extremists from behind the rubric of anti-racism and mindlessly following along with a closed and insular party platform drawn up in feminist theory and critical race theory studies departments without any regard for an outside world dismissed as hopelessly racist, misogynistic and oppressive. Hell, in the wake of #MeToo allegations targeting progressives in Hollywood, they can't even be morally superior to disgraced televangelists any more.

No wonder the progressive establishment is so ornery.

What remains to be seen is whether the IDW will be enough to topple the regressive left hegemony on most college campuses and in the mainstream media. I suspect not. Not yet. The regressive left has shown itself impervious to reason to a degree that even the Christian right was not. This will require more than a posse of intellectual outlaw renegades. It requires popular support and sustained effort on part of a movement that effectively organizes and strategizes. While the anti-SJW cause has come a long way since its genesis on 4chan and gamergate, we ain't there yet.

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