Even I’m kinda amazed by the amount of attention the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) has gotten. I knew when I first covered it a month ago, it was not one of those things that was going to just go away. People are fascinated, intrigued that this small group of intellectuals and pundits is so influential despite not being ‘mainstream’ (but at this point, Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris in terms of popularity are as close to mainstream as possible).
A question that has vexed me is what makes someone a member of IDW? Why is Sam Harris a part of IDW but Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman are not? They’re all left-wing intellectuals, right. The operative word is ‘web’–the IDW is like an extended family that gathers on twitter. There is a a sort of closeness or camaraderie between members of the IDW, even among members of differing ideologies. For example, as evidence of this, Noah Smith, a left-wing member of the IDW, is somewhat respected by right-wing IDW neoreactionaries despite stark ideological differences between the two groups. Although they fundamentally disagree on ideology, they have similar internal value systems, such as rejecting low-information discourse, being high IQ, and a skepticism of majoritarianism. It’s such shared narratives and internal value system under the umbrella of ‘intellectualism culture’ that unite these groups that otherwise are ideologically very different. Unlike non-IDW arguments, it’s never personal or mean-spirited. It’s more like, “oh that Noah again talking about open borders” or “oh that Scott Alexander does not understand how conflict theory works (or something like that)”. And Noah is like “oh those reactionaries and their tribalism”. Compare that to the Paul Krugman vs. Donald Luskin quarrel in the early 2000’s, which was very personal, and entered the realm of ‘meatspace’ when Donald Luskin appeared unexpected at Paul Krugman’s book signing. 15 years later, they are still on bad terms, whereas IDW members seldom hold grudges with other IDW members (or at least when they do, it’s brief).
A second question is, if ‘darkness’ is synonymous with holding potentially controversial and taboo-breaking opinions, wouldn’t someone like Rush Limbaugh be far more ‘dark’ than any IDW member such as Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson? The distinction is, IDW members are controversial because they speak facts and truths that go against convention, such as “IQ is important” or “biological differences between the sexes manifest in workplace performance and career choices”. Non-IDW members, however, generate controversy through hyperbole, such as “feminists are ugly, and that is why they are feminists” (rhetoric vs. dialectic). The former statement, although based on facts and reason, can be just as controversial, if more more so, as the hyperbolic statement, specially if voiced by a prominent academic, some recent examples being Watson and comments about Black IQ and Larry Summers and comments female intelligence.