A Few Bad Partisans Still Poison the Diversity of the Intellectual Dark Web

A Few Bad Partisans Still Poison the Diversity of the Intellectual Dark Web

The Intellectual Dark Web, the so-called renegade team of marginalized moderates, is facing the perception problems of modern reactionary politics. As society evolves into new alliances, common enemies and their intersected issues, the IDW must ask what role it plays in fostering “political diversity” when its reactionaries form a partisan pigeonhole of their own.

In recent weeks, Quillette made a decision to step away from its established IDW-sycophantic bias to publish three constructive articles criticizing the group’s position in modern discourse. Journalist Uri Harris made poignant observations about how their championed cause of fostering across-the-aisle inclusivity is limited to the “new right,” where their agreeable relationships appear more flirtatious than adversarial, while the “new left” is often left caricatured as an extremist force deemed beyond consideration by their Overton window. A recent counter-response from Areo Magazine contributor Blaine Bowden, an admitted “IDW enthusiast”, asks critics whether this same caricature trick is being used against this membership as a whole.

Bowden’s arguments rest on the foundations of #NotAll, a often-memed online expression from devil’s advocates known for avoiding any generalized discussions about social groups, especially their worst adherents, through appeals to natural social deviation. It’s often employed as a logical fallacy, asserting that because people are never the exact same, no general social pattern should be observed. Bowden argues Harris is free to levee his criticism at the likes of Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson, two IDW members being ideologically embraced among partisan right-wing organizations, but that it’s a much harder case to indict all members of the exact same behavior—at least not without a fair public trial. 

Harris’ criticism came after a graph from researcher Daniel Miessler began analyzing where IDW members stand on “key issues” on the left/right political spectrum. The accused included Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and both Bret and Eric Weinstein. The criteria examined their stances on a handful of traditional civic issues from political parties, abortion, climate change skepticism, gay marriage, gun control, vaccination, separation of church and state, immigration, drug legalization, healthcare and whether income inequality is even a problem. Miessler found “the vast majority of people in the IDW are extremely liberal” with the exception of Shapiro. 

For a few moments, let’s accept these findings as true. If the group is truly comprised of classical liberals and soft-progressives, where exactly is the political diversity among its ranks? Does Shapiro serve as the token conservative create the appearance of internal diversity? Does the IDW have a small divide based on labels and approach instead of a greater divide on their policy positions? Wouldn’t such a structure be an intellectual circle-jerk, leaving genuine political diversity to its associations outside its ranks? Harris contends “either Miessler is wrong about their positions on the most important political issues, or he’s wrong about which issues truly divide liberals and conservatives.”

“This is misleading,” Uri Harris tweeted about the graph. “Just take a look at @RubinReport’s timeline; he relentlessly attacks Democrats, retweets Trump Jr., and hangs out with Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. The proof is in the pudding. Some of the other people are debatable, but clearly, the chart is missing something.” 

As I wrote last week, this ‘something’ is the comparison between belief and behavior, particularly in dealing with outside associates. If you walk the walk and talk the talk of your ideology, no matter the confines, the record should be able to speak for itself. Bowden argues those bypassed “debatable others” prove stronger cases than the cited weakest links. This doesn’t justify ignoring their unchecked faults, however.

Harris concludes the IDW can only “foster political bridge-building and their across-the-aisle debates” if “issues such as abortion and gay marriage are the main points of contention between liberals and conservatives today.” In fairness, the weakest links even differ amongst themselves. Peterson openly opposed legalizing gay marriage in Australia “if it’s being supported by cultural Marxists” and takes no positions on legalized abortion, meanwhile, Rubin, who describes himself as being gay married and begrudgingly pro-choice, does make his support of both clear and takes the rare opportunity to push back against his opposing guests. Both, however, contend that abortion ranges from “clearly wrong” to outright “true evil” morally speaking.

By contrast, one of the IDW’s brighter bulbs in Sam Harris show clearer intellectual strengths regarding abortion. “A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst,” he once said on his podcast. “There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person’s brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground.”

“If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being,” he continues, “it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst. Perhaps you think that the crucial difference between a fly and a human blastocyst is to be found in the latter’s potential to become a fully developed human being. But almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings.”

Place these men of science and men of faith on an abortion debate stage, I can guarantee there’s going to be some stimulating content for the so-called “marketplace of ideas.” 

However, Uri Harris instead argues that if the main point of contention is “the acceptance or rejection of the new left and its focus on identity and structural oppression,” the side their colleague Eric Weinstein dismissed as “activism redefined as authoritarian, bigoted, and anti-intellectual,” the IDW is merely a reactionary alliance holding the line. 

The only variable is whether they meet enemies at the table, seen in Sam Harris debating his hostile “SJW” critics Ezra Klein of Vox and Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. Weak links stick to debate dodging based on arbitrarily deeming opponents “bad faith actors,” evidenced through Rubin’s public avoidance of progressive commentators Sam Seder, Contrapoints, and David Pakman, Peterson’s refusal to debate Marxist economist Richard Wolff and most recently, Shapiro’s walkout BBC interview after he hilariously accused his conservative opponent of using “political leftism.” 

Outside the fun of social mob culture, calling people pussies for avoiding your champion of ideas, there’s no obligation to make nice or entertain opposing views. It does, however, seem hypocritical when certain members adhere to these principles of free exchanging ideas, no matter the hostility, as others only talk the talk. Allowing people like Dave Rubin to continue being included under the moniker only drags down the credibility others have tried to establish within the IDW.

Bowden even shows how the brothers Weinstein have at least used their talk to oppose perceived forms of reactionary divisive politics, such as this exchange with Owens who claimed patriotism “unites ALL Americans” while condemning the entirety of the left as anti-patriotic. Say whatever you want about patriotism, the dogmatic stimulant for pervasive statism, there is at least a debate being had when the Weinsteins come out against rightwing dogma, where Rubin would simply offer a smile and wave. 

There should be objection when Rubin types use fallacies and smears to ostracize leftists outside the window of acceptability, whereas the known rightwing smear-merchants are given credence. There should be protest when they’re granted the liberty to run roughshod over weak centrism where their “agree to disagree” approach still leaves the weaker arguments beaten to a bloody pulp. To quote Bari Weiss, the New York Times op-ed writer who promoted the IDW last year, “if you are actually willing to sit across from an Alex Jones or Mike Cernovich and take him seriously, there’s a high probability that you’re either cynical or stupid.”

And who’s to say there’s no profit in such cynical stupidity? Rubin and Peterson were making upwards of $50,000 yearly donations each before moving away from Patreon. I have no doubt they’ve made much more due to their associations with successful rightwing groups they’re supposedly against, showcased in our exposé from last year surrounding the dark money behind some of these aforementioned free speech heroes. Peterson, who describes himself as a “true speech advocate,” is correct that we need more truthful dialogue unfiltered by monied interests or social acceptability. It just so happens that falling in lockstep with a crowd of partisans-for-hire, astroturfing paid ideas to the people, abandons these principles entirely.

Uri Harris is also correct in saying there’s no “mass delusion,” whereas Bowden thinks “conservatives are becoming more liberal.” If that were true though, the crowds they’re addressing would join moderate Republicans in supporting the decision of Roe V Wade, a middle-ground position limiting abortion to around 20 weeks with exception to rare circumstances, which has 52% of the party. Instead, liberals and conservatives are hardly singing kumbaya as abortion bans are implemented from Georgia to Alabama, possibly jailing women or doctors for 10 to 30 years, with the full-throated support of the political right. 

Instead, Uri Harris agrees with Ezra Klein’s assessment of how political divides are shifting in the U.S. 

“The coalition Rubin is a part of, is best understood as a reactionary movement because, well, that’s what it is — a movement united by opposition to changes it loathes…,” Klein writes. While Bowden is fair to point out “the IDW is not homogeneous,” if there is a diversity among the IDW, it’s not with their purported old-school principles themselves, but whether they actually adhere to them in the face of adversity or trade them in for new-school principles to gain favor among new crowds. As Klein concludes, “whether you support legal pot has nothing to do with it.”

What has something to do with it is a bridge for progressives willing to disagree with their culture war stance on social justice. “The IDW needs to make a choice,” Uri Harris concluded. “Does it want to be a partisan organization, where its members get together in front of an audience to iron out their differences and strategize on how to defeat the new left, or does it want to be genuinely non-partisan? If the latter, it needs to open itself up to new left people and ideas. The new left isn’t going anywhere, and issues of identity, structural oppression, privilege, critiques of classical liberal notions of free speech and assembly, and similar topics will probably play an important role in the cultural and political discourse in the future. The question is whether the IDW will take a leading role in these discussions or will it allow itself to be pigeonholed?”

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