As much as I agree with much of the criticisms leveled at social justice warriors and the gender pronoun obsessed left, the self-anointed brave warriors of the “Intellectual Dark Web” have managed to do the unthinkable: they have out-snowflaked the snowflakes.
The group — a collection of mostly rich, mostly white, and mostly male intellectuals –fervently believe they are being persecuted by liberals for daring to speak out about biological gender differences, the evilness of Islam, and IQ differences between whites and blacks
I am of course, being somewhat flippant here as there is more nuance behind their thinking than much of the liberal press would like you to believe. The gaggle of internet stars have interesting things to say, and their critique of leftist group think has merit — but the characterization isn’t an unfair one either. With characters like Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, James Damore, Dave Rubin, and Michael Shermer, the “Intellectual Dark Web” is distinctly libertarian, distinctly atheistic (Shapiro asides), and firmly embedded in the notion that Judeo Christian civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement. It has Alt-Right overtones (despite the site creator’s insistence that it doesn’t) and has been embraced by the same Trump supporting zealots who supported the president over Hillary Clinton in 2016, presumably on the basis that he wasn’t politically correct and, you know, didn’t use a private email server to conduct official business etc, etc. As Sam Harris himself noted, “There are a few people in this network who have gone without saying anything critical about Trump, a person who has assaulted truth more than anyone in human history. If you care about the truth, that is quite strange.”
The group, started by an anonymous admirer of the rebel thinkers, has been rapturously embraced by those selected to feature in it. Jordan Peterson has been bragging about it relentlessly on social media, and others view it as a refuge from the awful persecution they have been suffering from. A widely shared, glowing review of the movement on the New York Times has been touted by the group, and the subversive, edgy branding has helped further their mystique as renegade thinkers ostracized by the mainstream. “It is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now,” writes Bari Weiss. “Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.”
“They all share three distinct qualities,” Weiss continues. “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.”
The group see their ability to speak and think freely as being under attack by leftist ideologues, and have characterized their struggle as a noble fight against, as Jordan Peterson puts it, “Cultural Marxism”, and the totalitarianism of gender identity politics.
I can attest to some of the backlash members of the Intellectual Dark Web have experienced at the hands of leftist ideologues. I have written many unpopular pieces on the Banter — from publicly asserting my belief that Bill Clinton was guilty of raping Juanita Broaddrick to going after Black Lives Matter activists, I am no stranger to offending my tribe. But as much as the backlash hurt, I could not with a straight face claim any sort of persecution. Being hounded on Twitter or via email isn’t much fun, but it is after all, what I do for a living and it comes with the territory. No one has told me to stop publishing, I have not been asked to take anything down, and I haven’t for one second felt like a persecuted minority. Like most adults learn at some point in their lives, I sucked it up and got on with my job. Granted, I do not work at a university, and my role as a public intellectual is, to be frank, non existent. I am not in the firing line in the same way people like Shapiro or Peterson are, but then I am not saying things like “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage,” and that feminists support Muslims because of their “unconscious wish for brutal male domination”.
If you say things like this, expect a backlash. If you engage in lengthy discussions with “thinkers” like Charles A. Murray who have spent decades trying to use data on IQ tests to take money away from poor women, then expect some criticism. The whining coming from these extraordinarily privileged men is astonishing, and evidence of their remarkably thin skin. Jordan Peterson threatened to slap a writer who argued he was engaging in fascist mysticism. Sam Harris won’t engage with thinkers like Ta Nehisi Coates because of his views on racism in America, and Michael Shermer apparently “lives in fear” of speaking his mind.
I happen to agree with a lot of what people like Harris, Peterson, and Shermer have to say, and genuinely appreciate their contribution to public debate. But it is important to have some perspective here — they may be the least persecuted public intellectuals in the history of humanity. All have access to the open web, all have incomes the vast majority of the planet would sell bodily organs for, and all are able to speak freely in a their respective countries without fear of imprisonment or death. The notion that these thinkers live in fear of speaking their mind is, to be frank, pathetic.
As clichéd as it sounds, the spectacle of grown men who are paid handsomely to espouse their political views on the internet complaining about how unfair nasty liberals are is about as clear an example of white male privilege as you could possibly dream of. I generally detest the term, but in this case it is more than appropriate. I share their frustrations with the identity politics left and all the irritating group think that goes on in liberal circles, but good God, their sense of outrage puts the college snowflakes to shame.
The overriding concern of ‘The Intellectual Dark Web’ members appears to be the realization that their own status in society isn’t quite as insulated from the consequences of their words as they thought it might be. Normalizing the Alt Right, refusing to criticize Donald Trump, and defending racists isn’t about defending free speech, it’s about being an asshole. The Intellectual Dark Web members are free to defend whomever they want of course, but they cannot expect the rest of us to laud them for their bravery.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.