An Introduction to the Intellectual Dark Web
Tl;dr: the intellectual dark web is an intellectual movement promoting ideas generally opposed to the established mainstream narrative.
The Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) is a term coined by Eric and Bret Weinstein in 2017 to describe a group of intellectuals speaking up against mainstream dogmas and ideologies usually advocated for by their own socio-political groups, justifying their claims with scientific, philosophical, ideological or empirical facts.
Traditionally, IDW intellectuals tend to criticize post-modernism and extra left-leaning, communist, Marxist, and racialist ideologies, most of the time embedded into identity politics issues.
They also speak up on controversial topics where has been established a traditional orthodoxy and political correctness, such as immigration, Islam, sexuality, gender roles, gender identity, race, “safe spaces” and causes of social-economic inequalities, among others.
Broadly, we could say that any personality or anonymous individual that sees itself “canceled” after speaking up on a particular topic, de facto joins the Intellectual Dark Web, which makes it quite of a controversial movement.
If you want to know whether you belong in the IDW, ask yourself this simple question: “do I support Social Justice Warriors”?
Genesis of the Intellectual Dark Web
In 2017, Bret Weinstein, then professor of biology at Evergreen State University, criticized and opposed the idea to have white students being forbidden to enter the university campus for one day, instead of the traditional day of absence black people organize to protest against racism.
He was subsequently forced to resign from the college and coined the term Intellectual Dark Web.
It’s quite difficult to trace back a precise origin of the Intellectual Dark Web. Indeed, the IDW is not a movement originating from itself, but is a response to an ever-growing tendency of political correctness in the West that forbids the debate of controversial topics on which certain neo-Marxist ideologies developed the monopoly of “thinking and defining”.
To be more precise, movements of Marxist inspiration such as Black Lives Matter, the SlutWalk, the FEMEN, or ideas and concepts such as gender identity, cultural appropriation, the rape culture, the patriarchy, “whiteness” or “maleness”, or even gender equality pay, have, according to the Intellectual Dark Web, secured intellectual rights not to be criticized or debated, and for which questioning will see the questioner being labeled as “racist”, “xenophobic”, “nazi”, “transphobic”, “macho”, “rapist” and more.
Where and for What Does the IDW Stand
Philosophically, it stands nowhere. The Intellectual Dark Web welcomes members from all political and philosophical backgrounds.
In fact, you often find them doing podcasts with each other where they endlessly debate concepts on which they disagree.
As such, what bounds the members together is not a shared ideological artifact, but a common opposition to a cultural phenomenon that has been mainly developing in university campuses before entering Silicon Valley, then the rest of the West: the decrease of free speech and the diversity of opinions.
Who Are the Members of the IDW?
There are as many Intellectual Dark Web intellectuals coming from the left as coming from the right.
Some are believers and others are atheists. Some are simple scientists that after crushing the numbers, publicly claimed a non-politically correct statement.
Some are prominent academics. Finally, all of them in a way or another were attacked online by the politically correct crowd often labeled as “mob”.
Most of them got “canceled”. And the funniest: former critics of the IDW ended up joining them as the leftist movement they once supported got more and more extreme and ended up coming after them.
In this section, we introduce the most prominent members.
Dr. Jordan Peterson: Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. He wrote two mainstream books, “Maps of meaning” and “12 rules for life”, the latter which sold millions of copies.
Peterson became famous after criticizing a law project in Canada protecting people identifying to a gender they are genetically not being part of and opening the possibility of criminal justice for anyone not willing to treat people according to their gender of preference.
Jordan Peterson has authored or co-authored more than 100 academic papers and was cited more than 8000 times, so I won’t explain Peterson’s view of the world here.
Several incidents happened between Peterson and students on campuses during events about free speech.
Joe Rogan: Joe Rogan is the host of the “Joe Rogan Experience”, one of the oldest and most-watched podcasts in the West.
It’s not entirely clear how he got into the Intellectual Dark Web movement.
I believe one of the main reasons is because he is a free thinker with no financial or ideological pressure which enables him to host about anyone on his podcast.
From conspiracy theorist and political commentator Alex Jones to democrat primary-candidate Bernie Sanders, Rogan welcomes about anyone and discusses with them.
His open-mindedness and freedom make him a member of the IDW.
Dr. Bret and Dr. Eric Weinstein: coming from the center-left, both academics (Bret is a biologist and Eric a mathematician), the brothers have gained access to the Intellectual Dark Web by coining the terms and by criticizing SJW actions usually regarded as positive by the left.
Bret entered the IDW after a classic IDW sequence of events: being an academic, taking a controversial stance against his political group on an orthodox societal issue, getting fired from the university, starting a podcast.
You don’t get more Intellectual Dark Web than that.
Claire Lehman: Claire Lehmann may be one of my favorite IDW members. Australian, she founded the online magazine Quillette after quitting her MA in psychology.
Quillette, which directly inspired this blog, is an online blog reserved for academics wishing to express their thoughts, results of research, or overall controversial opinions about controversial topics.
Its mantra is “free thought lives” and may be the only real website uniting Intellectual Dark Web members together.
Frequent topics concern free speech, sexuality and gender identity, gender roles, culture wars, Marxist-inspired movements, climate change, and politics.
Dr. Sam Harris: Sam Harris is an American neuroscientist famous for his critic of religions including Islam, a topic traditionally untouchable in a politically correct Western society.
Sam was catapulted into what wasn’t yet the Intellectual Dark Web after a debate with Ben Affleck regarding Islam, and after having declared that some societies were better suited for human flourishing than others.
Harris is an atheist, has written 5 best-selling books, and hosts a podcast.
Dave Rubin: Dave Rubin is a libertarian and former left political commentator hosting the “Rubin Report” on Youtube where he mostly interviews…libertarians and right-leaning people.
Dave narrates his awakening and shifts from the left to the libertarian political sphere in his book “Don’t burn this book” (I don’t recommend it, it’s bad).
You can watch a video of him explaining why he left the left on the PragerU Youtube channel.
Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers: Christina Hoff Sommers is a philosopher, author, and former academic.
Sommers gained direct access to the Intellectual Dark Web when she criticized a certain type of leftist feminism willing to impose gender equity (instead of gender equality) in society while militating for a demasculinization of men.
“Toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy” are concepts she heavily criticized. She hosts a podcast called the “the Femsplainers”, an indirect critic of the feminist concept of “mansplaining”.
Bari Weiss: Bari Weiss is quite of a comic-tragic case. Weiss used to work as an opinion writer and editor for the New York Times until she quit under the pressure applied by her peers and hierarchy for…her different opinions than her and her Marxist-inspired colleagues had on different issues.
The irony is that the concept of the Intellectual Dark Web went mainstream when she wrote about it in the NYT, asking herself if she was part of the club in the article.
The fact that she self-describes as a progressive left, taking a stand against other self-described left-leaning progressive, and losing her job as a result of her opinion makes her the latest member to officially join the club.
JK Rowling: Rowling is a member of the Intellectual Dark Web but doesn’t know it herself.
These last few years prominent, she was rather active in the SJW sphere by rewriting Harry Potter to make hit seem more inclusive and politically correct.
Unfortunately for her, the movement she once supported turned back against her when she implied in a tweet that trans women weren’t equal to real women, or something like that.
The backlash was big. There were scenes of people burning Harry Potter online.
Suddenly, Rowling was canceled by her fans.
Dr. Jonathan Haidt: Dr. Haidt is a psychologist and professor at the Stern School of Business, famous for his Ted Talk on capitalism and particularly appreciated for this talk.
He’s been one of the most fervent critics of the current SJW movement imposing silence onto ideas for their “dangerous character”.
Haidt explains that thinking (and society) can advance when difficult ideas can be discussed, confronted, and debated and that people should be exposed to these ideas so that they know how to react and become mentally capable to debate and resist “psychological” assault.
Haidt’s main thesis is that ideas are not physically “dangerous” like a criminal could be, and as such should not be buried or silenced as it makes people ultimately mentally weaker.
He wrote an entire book on the topic called “The coddling of the American mind“.
What Are the Significant Moments of the Intellectual Dark Web Intellectuals?
We can count three moments. One concerns the debate between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher where Harris claimed that some societies were better suited for human flourishes than others (which is quite obvious according to me and has been extensively written about by Daron Acemoğlu in “Why nations fail“).
One concerns the interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 where Newman kept on rephrasing Peterson’s claims; and one concerns a protest for free speech attended by Jordan Peterson as well.
Other minor moments, such as the firing of Bret Weinstein explained above, or James Damor’s Ideological Echo Chamber can also be accounted for in the establishment of the Intellectual Dark Web.
Ultimately, these different events share a somewhat similar timeline: someone makes a controversial but backed-up observation; a politically correct mob gets angry on Twitter; calls are made to cancel the perpetrator of the “dangerous thought”; the perpetrator loses invitations to prestigious universities or get fired, or both; the perpetrator creates a podcast.
Are the People From the Intellectual Dark Web Dangerous?
However, we need to note a certain tendency.
Intellectual Dark Web members cherish above anything else freedom of speech in a context that unarguably links it to the diversity of ideas.
Diversity of ideas is itself a concept that cannot be separated from an individualistic conception of the world.
The reason why there are different ideas is that they are generated by different individuals.
Individuals are able and capable to think for themselves and do not need the group to do so.
This claim fundamentally opposes Marxism, which pretends that there can be only one truth, one model, one idea, and one group.
Even if some Intellectual Dark Web members such as Bari Weiss, Haidt, or Weinstein consider themselves to be center-left (access to healthcare, for example), they still support the idea that people are autonomous, different and (should) think individually.
There is therefore this idea of right-leaning, republican, conservative (call it however you want) casting its shadow over the movement.
In a not-so-distant path, people were not as divided as they are now. Diversity and controversial opinions (that would be deemed today “hateful”) were still widely tolerated, listened and agreed upon.
I believe that the self-described leftist ended up in the Intellectual Dark Web because as the left moved more towards the left, the leftists that didn’t move with the movement ended up on the right (politics is a zero-sum game).
The leftist intellectuals of 50 years ago would probably all fit in the IDW of today.
As such, it is not uncommon for those that enter the world of the Intellectual Dark Web, to progressively move further on the right towards conservative ideas as they keep on informing themselves.
When one embraces the idea of individual free thought and free speech, one moves to embrace the idea of the free economic initiatives (capitalism), freedom of financial burden through minimized taxes and ends up, if not in the conservative side of society, at least in some sort of libertarianism.
The IDW itself could be called “an introduction to individualism”.
The Bottom Line
I believe we live in a strange period where people are afraid to voice their opinion when it is controversial, where Marxist students protest to prevent a speaker to speak on campus and where intellectuals get canceled or worse, fired from their jobs over their opinions.
Freedom of speech and diversity of thought is undoubtedly decreasing as more and more issues get politicized and as the concept of “nuance” itself is erased, replaced by screams of insults where there should be listening and debates.
Personally, I don’t see this society moving any time soon towards depoliticization and more understanding and respect for ideas one might disagree with or find offensive.
As Ricky Gervais has been tirelessly saying, “being offended doesn’t mean you are right”.
As time goes by, if the “monster of identity politics” Dixit Peter Thiel, that is currently invading our institutions is not fought back, a big part of the population might eventually end up in the Intellectual Dark Web.
Might as well know from the get-go that you’re not the only one thinking the way you think.