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What’s the point of the Intellectual Dark Web?

May 17, 2018   3 mins

The dark web is the least regulated part of internet – home to all manner of questionable, if not downright illegal, activities.

The ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ is, therefore, an over-dramatic metaphor – a buzz phrase for the loose grouping of academics, journalists and other thinkers profiled by Bari Weiss in the New York Times.

Some of the best-known names include Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and our own Douglas Murray. Some are libertarians, others are liberals or left-wingers. Though a largely secular bunch, their altitudes to religion range from outright hostility through to friendly engagement. What they have in common though is that they have all, in some way, violated the strictures of contemporary political correctness.

But so what? That’s true of lots of people – probably most people. It’s not as if they don’t get to have their say or can’t find publications that reflect their point of view.

For instance, one of the biggest news websites in the world is Mail Online – an extension of Britain’s lavishly un-PC Daily Mail. Another massively successful example is Fox News – the right-wing echo chamber par excellence.

So what on earth is the New York Times doing talking about an ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ as if the opponents of the PC-left were dissidents in a totalitarian state?

Well, let’s start with the word ‘intellectual’. The Daily Mail can be accused of many things – but having intellectual pretensions is not one of them. Of course, the right-leaning media does have its high-brow publications too – but almost all of these cater for a conservative audience with an interest in conservative themes. The IDW is broader than that – not only in terms of ideological outlook, but in seeking to participate in a discourse that is public not partisan.

Public intellectualism needs an ‘intellectual commons’ – universities, libraries , bookshops, museums, theatres, public service broadcasters, respected journals, and ‘newspapers of record’. Some of these public institutions may in fact be privately-owned and/or have their own ideological biases. Nevertheless they make it their mission to provide a platform for a genuine exchange of ideas across ideological divides.

The problem is that that the post-modern left is marching through these institutions – and not only disagreeing with other points of view, but seeking to delegitimise them.

The intellectual commons has become an increasingly hostile space. Several members of the IDW – including Jordan Peterson, Brett Weinstein and Christina Hoff Sommers have been subject to harassment. The problem isn’t just the rentamob, but also the academic, journalistic and cultural establishments who acquiesce or actively cooperate with the PC-left’s programme of delegitimisation.

To help understand what’s at stake I’d recommend Chris Beck’s profile of Claire Lehmann for Splice Today. Lehmann is one of the youngest members of the IDW and the founder what could be called its ‘house’ publication – Quillette:

“Lehmann contributed to a number of publications before launching Quillette, but claims the Australian media blacklisted her as soon as she started criticizing feminism. She rejects the ‘blank slate’ view that feminists, and progressives in general, have made a centerpiece of their dogma. It’s the belief that humans are strictly the product of culture and socialization, and the rejection of the idea that humans are born with certain innate characteristics.”

Note that challenging this form of feminism is not tantamount to anti-feminism. Indeed, if you believe that there are some ‘hardwired’ differences between the sexes, then it’s all the more important that things shouldn’t be arranged to the convenience of only one of them.

Of course, such subtleties are entirely lost on Quillette‘s critics:

Quillette’s a place where people of various political persuasions can escape what Lehmann calls the ‘polarization entrepreneurs’—those who boost their careers by promoting divisiveness. Left-leaning critics call it a repository for reactionary thought, or a forum that polishes crude alt-right talking points so they appear erudite. Lacking substantive grounds for attack, they resort to name-calling.”

To the post-modern, PC, intersectional left, error has no rights. Any dissent from its theories is interpreted as oppression or even ‘violence’ – and must therefore be excluded from public debate.

It is this circular logic that spins the real intellectual dark web.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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