It’s ironic that an appearance in The New York Times still feels like a win for a group based on outsiders retreating to the Internet to broadcast themselves. But it shows you that reputation and respectability still matter, even when anybody can publish.
Bari Weiss, the New York-based hack behind the account, calls the intellectual dark web ‘an alliance of heretics […] making an end run around the mainstream – and finding enormous new audiences thirsty to discuss subjects that have become taboo.’
I have listened to some of these heretics for years, including the new atheist Sam Harris, comedian Joe Rogan, and the journalist Douglas Murray. Before it was cool, I even read The Righteous Mind by psychologist Jonathan Haidt – a book on how our moral instincts separate us – shortly after it was published in hardback in 2012.
Weiss’s piece has a slight ‘explorer unearths foreign culture’ tone to it, and suggests more cohesion and cooperation within the intellectual dark web than exists. But at the centre it captures the story that the Internet has opened an escape door to many trapped by institutional bias.
Though political correctness has made certain facts and opinions unwelcome in certain places, the Internet has made gatekeepers increasingly irrelevant. Far from resorting to a ‘dark web’, intellectuals can easily express their ideas without navigating the closed systems of formal education or the mainstream media.
Thus the wonderful thing about the ‘intellectual dark web’ is not that it endorses unorthodox views, a fact that can be deduced simply from the variety of a label that contains both Harris and the author Jordan Peterson, who cannot even agree a definition of ‘truth’. It is that a lack of gatekeepers allows you to read a genuine diversity of views, and agree or disagree.
Almost as if the Internet was designed for it.