WTF is the “Intellectual Dark Web," how does Joe Rogan fit into it and why do some say it’s dangerous?
Free-thinking intellectuals are so hot right now
There’s a group of “public intellectuals” rising to infamy. And they’re making the mainstream left (and the media at large) very uncomfortable.
They are a group of influencers, professors, authors, journalists and even comedians, known as the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW) — a group of thinkers who operates outside of the mainstream, online and live in person; who podcast, write books/articles; who tweet, Youtube and speak publicly about their “radical” ideals.
Radical ideals, which have been called “alt-right,” “white nationalist,” and “dangerous” by many. Ideals which have jangled a lot of people’s politically and philosophically tribal tendencies. Ideals which have cost several of these figures their jobs.
Not that that has stopped any of them. In fact, it seems that for many “members” of the IDW, getting fired has only made their message louder.
What is the "Intellectual Dark Web?"
That’s not an easy question to answer.
To put it simply: they’re a bunch of freethinking geeks, who’ve gotten popular for being intellectually rebellious and started a club with a cool name.
In more detail: the IDW is a group of free-thinkers; intellects who express and defend ideas that smash conventional “party-lines” of thought. These are people who break from the orthodox margins and dance between liberal and conservative ideals; who aren’t afraid to express something that will upset people or cause controversy around them.
In the era of tribal identity politics, this is both unusual and disruptive. This particular breed of politically blind idealism makes a lot of people uncomfortable. New York Times opinion writer, Bari Weiss (who says she might have “joined” the IDW, if she wasn’t so woke) summed up their schtick in a single paragraph of her NYT opinion column on the IDW:
“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.’”
Original photos from the Bari Weiss profile article in NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/opinion/intellectual-dark-web.html . Picture taken from: https://medium.com/@henziran/the-dangers-of-the-intellectual-dark-web-c398ad5d0a4c
Who is in the IDW?
Like any secretive club worth its salt, there is no official member’s list for the IDW. No catalogue of affiliates, their roles or contributions.
(However, this website is pretty close.)
The name was half-jokingly coined by mathematician, Eric Weinstein, to encompass the group of people who are standing up to the regressivism and tribalism and who are challenging the status quo of identity politics. Since then, a lot of notable public figures have been lumped into the IDW: from media personalities, to professors, business owners, journalists and comedians.
To name a few: Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Michael Shermer, Heather Heying, Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers and Joe Rogan.
Some of these personalities have publicly announced their membership in the IDW (like Eric Weinstein, who seems lowkey pretty proud of having come up with the name). Others, like Joe Rogan, have been honorarily lumped in because they fit the frame — which is to say, they don’t nicely fit nicely into any others.
They come from a variety of different political backgrounds, the members of the IDW. Some of them, like the Weinstein brothers and Ms. Heying are Bernie Sanders supporters. Others, like Sam Harris, openly supported Hillary Clinton in the last election. And still others (like Ben Shapiro) are of the conservative bent.
When good, tough, correct, subtle or adaptive ideas get their owners down regulated within institutions (e.g. fired, cancelled, humiliated, blackballed, etc) the engine of memetic selection will start to unravel whatever society experiments with such a program.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 24, 2019
How do you get into the IDW?
First things first, you have to be willing to confront your own tribe on things you don’t agree with:
Are you a conservative who is pro-choice? Make that shit known, tell your people what you think and bear the heat. Are you a liberal who thinks gender and racial whitewashing is absurd and ignorant? Call it out, make it known you don’t dig on that and reap the retaliation. Are you a libertarian that believes in a social healthcare system? Say it loud and say it proud!
Don’t be afraid to believe in something that others in your circle vehemently oppose.
Second: start a podcast, write a book, get fired from a university, develop a public image as a provocateur, or, do all of those, sit back, and wait for the IDW to come to you.
Every “member” seems to have their own story — a moment in their lives when they realized how broken the system truly is and had to walk through the phantom toll-booth, to come out the other side, liberated of conventional intellectual boundaries that have been so heavily constricted by modern identity politics.
Jordan Peterson for instance, began his journey to the IDW in September of 2016. Prior to that, he was just a largely unknown psychology professor from the University of Toronto. But when the Canadian government tried to pass a bill outlawing “discrimination based on gender identity and expression,” he took a stand.
Essentially the law would have made it possible, lawful, even, to fine or imprison somebody because of a perceived act of discrimination. An act that could be as innocuous as calling a “Ze” a “He” or a “Him” a “Her.”
“I think their aims are destructive rather than constructive,” Peterson said in this video. “They claim constructive aims, of course everyone claims constructive aims, but the actions that I see undertaken seem to be driven by resentment.”
That new law put The Fear in Peterson because he saw it as a socialist form of speech control. Canada does not have a first amendment like the U.S. does, and so laws like this C-16, which Peterson took international flak for defaming, would have made it possible to lawfully punish a person for saying something that is perceived as “discriminatory.”
“If they fine me, I won’t pay it. If they put me in jail, I’ll go on a hunger strike,” Peterson said, of C-16. “I’m not doing this. And that’s that. I’m not using the words that other people require me to use. Especially if they’re made up by radical left-wing ideologues.”
Sam Harris, a prominent neuroscientist, author and meditation guru, had his induction experience at a dinner with Neil deGrasse Tyson (and a bunch of other prominent scientists). Harris, in the interest of intellectual earnestness, made a claim that, to him, seemed obvious on its face: some cultures are better suited to allow for human flourishing than others are. (For instance, in Islamic cultures, women are repressed and therefore cannot flourish as freely as those in a western culture.)
The dinner party, apparently, erupted in accusations of genetic-bias/racism, and cultural bias.
“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.”
Bret Weinstein and Heather Haying were working at Evergreen State College when their defining moment came. The school had proposed a “Day of Absence” where white students had to stay home. The two professors questioned that clearly racist suggestion, and not only lost their respected tenured positions as a result, but received vicious critical backlash and even death threats, to the point where they had to take their family and leave their home out of fear of physical violence.
These kinds of stories are the credentials of the IDW. No matter what “side” you’re on, if you take a stance in the middle, against your own “team” and can defend your position rationally, bravely, deterministically, you’ve probably got what it takes to be a “Dark Web Intellect.”
Why does any of this fucking matter?
I can’t tell you for sure that it does.
I can however, tell you what it represents: a breakaway from tribal identity politics. And that’s a very good sign.
You don’t have to agree with everything everyone in the IDW says, nor do you have to agree with their actions to respect that they are trying to break the patterns of tribal ideology that have gripped this nation (and the world).
People adopt a side: Democrat or Republican, Christian or Atheist, Environmentalist or Capitalist, Mac or PC and with that choice, comes a list of things they have to believe in. They repeat everything the people in that bubble say, and agree with everything everyone repeats. Even if they don’t believe in it, in their hearts, they follow in step and echo their peers. Often, out of fear of being doxed and/or publicly shamed.
But the IDW is normalizing that — even making it cool to break out of that intellectually restrictive bubble. They’re setting an example, laying the foundation, breaking trail for this generation of thinkers (and the next generation, too) to be free-thinkers. They’re demonstrating that it’s okay to have some conservative ideas and some liberal ideas; that it’s not a crime to believe something that will make your peers uncomfortable; that it’s healthy to have intellectual discourse over subjects that are considered totally taboo.
And that should give people hope. Hope that this era of identity politics might be waning before our eyes.
How does Joe Rogan fit into all of this?
No one really knows.
Joe Rogan is not a professor, nor has he ever been fired from a university, he is not a journalist or a professional skeptic, he is not a mathematical philosopher, nor is he a neuroscientist or a scientist of any kind.
He is a psychedelic enthusiast, a martial artist, an MMA commentator, a fitness/nutrition geek, a hunter, a fisherman, a Hunter Thompson and Jimi Hendrix fan, and a father of three. Oh, and, of course, he is also a stand-up comedian.
How did he get lumped into the IDW?
Well, in a way, Joe Rogan is like the mascot for the IDW. He is the bridge between the intellectuals lost in their heady discussions of free speech and ideological repression, and the common folk, the you’s and me’s of the world, who agree with the ideology of the IDW, but will likely never be inducted into its ranks. He is the embodiment of what these free-thinkers believe in: someone (a regular dude) who has really chiseled out his own beliefs, and who doesn’t conform to party lines or conventional ideas just to make people happy.
Plus, all of these professional academic nerds probably get a kick out of hanging with someone as cool as Rogan, and are happy to include him in their inner circle.
And, more to the point, Rogan has one of the largest platforms in the world from which these IDW members can spout their message. He frequently hosts them on his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, to talk free-thought, free-speech and free-consciousness for millions of online listeners. That’s a nice perk to Rogan’s membership in the Intellectual Dark Web, too.
If you want to learn more about this group (which you should, because this article does little to really break down the characters involved with the IDW, and their individual philosophies) check out their podcasts, websites, public discussions or Youtube channels. Ben Shapiro’s podcasts get on average 15 million downloads a month. Dave Rubin’s Youtube show, the Rubin Report, has over a million subscribers. Jordan Peterson’s channel, has over two million. And of course, Sam Harris has his own podcast which is also growing rapidly in popularity: Waking up.