The Dark Web?

I’m working on a book proposal right now. I do this from time to time, but I’ve never gotten very far. I think book proposals are like relationships. They fizzle when things aren’t quite right. I’m in the honeymoon stage of this book proposal relationship, and things are flowing. My goal is to finish it by Friday of next week, and then send it out to people.

Since this book would seem to fall into the dreaded “self-help” section of the book store, I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday to check out other books in that category. It’s a rather huge section that includes everything from celebrity guides to losing weight to guides on how to be successful without any effort.

Lumped in with the books in the self-help section was Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I don’t know much about Peterson, other than he is hated by a lot of people that I follow on Twitter. I guess he’s a conservative, but I don’t know much more than that. Because his book was 40 percent off and seemed be less badly written than other books on that table, I bought it. I’ll skim it today.

Bari Weiss wrote an article that also blew up some steam on Twitter yesterday, called “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Along with Peterson, other thinkers represent the new Intellectual Dark Web or the IDW, Weiss explains.

Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.

These thinkers are making serious cash by saying controversial things, I guess. Weiss champions them as heroes who are fighting the good fight against political correctness.

The other big news yesterday was that Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, came out with a new blockbuster video, “This is America.” I watched it. I can only watch it once, despite the great dancing. Commentary here and here and here.

Today’s ideas are angry, divisive, lucrative, polarizing, violent. In some ways, I’m intrigued, because it’s all new and I like new things. But it’s also a little frightening, I suppose.

UPDATE: Read Henry Farrell on the IDW. Also interesting.

43 thoughts on “The Dark Web?

  1. I agree with Henry, except that I think he is being too nice. I think a better way to put it is that they are deliberately undermining common culture and civility rather than accept that black people and women are equal to them and have a right to protect themselves when insulted.


  2. “I watched it. I can only watch it once, despite the great dancing.”

    You have to watch it multiple times. I can’t stop thinking about it. (Though, remember, much of my undergrad and grad education was about race and representation, so it’s right in my wheelhouse.) You have to not watch the dancing, because the dancing is the distraction. And it’s also not the distraction. OMG, it is so good, and Donald Glover is now being upgraded to possible next husband status (especially now that I had to demote Junot Diaz).

    I mentioned it to my classes, and the only students who had seen it were black men. 😦


    1. I just this week figured out that Donald Glover has a musical career, shortly after I learned who Diaz was because of the accusations. I don’t manage to pay attention to what the kids are up to very well.


    2. It’s in my “civilian” wheelhouse. Here’s another commentary that mentions Jim Crow imagery.

      It’s such a crazy time right now – on the one hand, terrifying for the usual reasons but on the other hand, I’m listening to/watching/reading more from people outside of my regular rotation. Writers and artists who challenge me and what I believe. From Pod Save the People to Ta-nehisi Coates to Donald Glover and more – good to be getting out of the bubble.


    3. Jonah and I chatted about it over lunch today. He had watched several times yesterday and loved it. He thought that the movie artistry was better than the music. Jonah is the white kid at the Kendrick Lamar concert.


      1. I think there’s lot of white kids at the Kendrick Lamar concerts these days. Our kids might go to one of his shows – although they might not because Kendrick is a bit more mainstream than their tastes in rap and hip hop run. From what I gather, rap and hip hop are the music of choice of lots of suburban white boys. My guys are really into it, which has me thinking a lot about this. We try to talk to our boys about a lot of the issues this music raises – for instance, we had a conversation about the Jim Crowe imagery in This is America and have talked a lot about issues of misogyny. I am sure you do with Jonah. But I suspect that lots of these boys are not having these conversations with their parents, which is problematic to me.


  3. In the words of Ghan-Buri-Ghan, “Big fight, and who will win?” Probably neither side, decisively, in my lifetime. I doubt that anyone would have picked the Christians, in 100 A.D., or the English, in 1500.

    Francis Fukuyama wrote a piece, about 10 or 20 years ago, in which he predicted that the advancement of genetic knowledge during the 21st century would generally support “conservative” ideas, e.g., the idea that there are biologically based, genetic and ineradicable differences in the mentalities of men and women, and maybe of different races. But for myself, (i) I have no idea what genetic research will learn over the next 80 years, and (ii) I do know that scientific knowledge doesn’t always progress, if those in power don’t want it to do so.


  4. Many people can publish their ideas on the new tech platforms made possible by the hardware and software revolution. So what? I don’t see an “intellectual dark web,” as ominous as that name sounds. The world is not divided into two sides on any issue.*

    I do think the time has passed for newspaper and magazine pundits who are expected to know more than the average adult on any topic. They are perhaps remnants from the middlebrow culture of the last century? Those figures still write columns for established media, but it’s far too easy for interested readers to find specialists willing to explain issues online.

    *although kudos to the author for inventing a name for a random grouping of people that associates them with, you know, the actual Dark Web, which I gather is used for all sorts of nefarious things. Publishing podcasts is kind of the opposite of web pages so secret you can’t use Google.


    1. I left that comment. Not sure how I managed to publish it without details.


    2. The author of that piece didn’t invent the name. Eric Weinstein, the guy pictured at the top of the article, coined the name.


    3. Using “Dark Web” in this context is kind of a joke, like “Juicebox Mafia”–obviously Matt Yglesias et al. are not, in fact, an organized crime syndicate, or even Sicilian. Here, “Dark Web” means people who (i) use the internet (ii) to say things that would get a person removed from teaching duties at a university.


      1. A joke and a way to flatter their egos, like somehow Peter Thiel is the underdog in a struggle with the literature department at Oberlin. I think most of them could get jobs at universities, but flattering billionaires pays much better.


      2. Here, “Dark Web” means people who (i) use the internet (ii) to say things that would get a person removed from teaching duties at a university.

        Except, of course, that none of them have actually been removed from teaching duties at any universities.

        I think Henry Farrell has it spot on. This isn’t a reaction to persecution, but rather a temper tantrum because they aren’t running things anymore.


      3. “none of them have actually been removed from teaching duties at any universities”??!! Did you read the article? Several of the people profiled were forced by threats of violence to leave their university jobs.

        Now, TBH, I think places like Evergreen State are a joke and a total waste of money, but you can’t say that and pretend, with Henry Farrell, that people with professorships there are “running things.”


      4. Did you read the article? Several of the people profiled were forced by threats of violence to leave their university jobs.

        Yeah, I don’t buy that “threat of violence” thing at all. The Evergreen profs could have stayed there forever if they wanted. They were never in any serious danger if they still wanted to be there. They *were* treated contemptuously, true, but this really just reinforces Farrel’s point. They are angry that their narrative is pushed back against rather than accepted unquestioningly. To the extent that they are in a fight, it is because they picked it themselves as much as anything.

        So, no, they didn’t have to leave. They just decided they wanted to. They realized that they could cash in on the wingnut welfare gravy train for more money than they ever could get at Evergreen.

        And who could blame them, really? Evergreen is kind of a joke. But as persecution narratives go, if that is what you have you really need to find better ones.


      5. “as persecution narratives go, . . . you need to find better ones.”

        Not hard to do, in the American academy today! Erika Christakis. Allison Stanger. Amy Waxman. The list goes on and on. Shameful.


      6. Not hard to do, in the American academy today! Erika Christakis. Allison Stanger. Amy Waxman. The list goes on and on. Shameful.

        Um, the Christakises are still at Yale. Stanger is still at Middlebury. Wax is still at Penn. None of these people are being driven from their jobs. Where, exactly, is the persecution?*

        They are merely being met with some disapprobation in a way in which they, perhaps, have felt entitled in the past to avoid. These aren’t examples of persecution, but rather more confirmation of Farrell’s point. They are unhappy that people don’t appreciate them and accept their narrative unquestioned. This is hardly persecution.

        *The only one who might have something to gripe about is Stanger, but even then there is no evidence that Middlebury is doing anything to persecute her.


  5. Best of luck (break a leg?) on the book proposal. I’m curious, but won’t ask for details.


  6. And, yes, I agree about the temper tantrum about not owning the table anymore (to use the analogy where I first heard the concept). We’re ahead of the curve on the west coast with a rapidly developing skills & financial capital elite in which whites are no longer a majority. Social capital is still concentrated, but that’s changing, too.


  7. I’m reading a MA thesis about the fight for age of consent laws in the US in the late 19th/early 20th century. Southern congressmen resisted raising them (from age 8 or 10) because it’s a God-given right to rape an 8 year-old so long as she’s black (white girls should be raped only at age 14 or above, because they’re civilized).

    So no, there’s nothing really “new” or “exciting” about warmed-over 19th century racism and misogyny. Unless “new” means “antiquated” and “exciting” means “terrifying and immoral.”


  8. One Texas congressman proposed that the age of consent should be raised to 18 only if it meant women were forced to have sex at age 18 with all men who wanted them. I think he would have fit right in with today’s novel and exciting incel communities.


  9. Well, today, in Massachusetts, there is no age floor for child marriage.

    A joint House/Senate bill in Massachusetts (H2310/S785) would prohibit clerks from issuing marriage licenses if a party is under age 18. By contrast, current law has no age “floor” for marriage, so long as a judge verifies that the parents of the child consent.

    Current Massachusetts law has failed to protect children from the harms of forced and early marriage. Nearly 1,200 children as young as age 14 were married between 2000 and 2014, and most were girls married to adult men – like a 14-year-old girl married to a 23-year-old man, or a 17-year-old girl married to a 39-year-old man. Statutory rape laws are ignored, and predators are given a free pass when “marriages” like these are state-sanctioned.

    Only one state in the union has banned child marriages. As of yesterday.

    In the U.S., every state requires parties to a marriage to be at least 18 or older. Several states set higher minimum ages. However, every state has exceptions; most allow minors age 16 and 17 to marry with parental consent, and many allow younger children to marry with judicial consent.
    In New Hampshire, girls may marry at age 13 and boys at age 14 with parental and judicial consent. Similarly in Mississippi, boys can marry at age 17 and girls at age 15 with parental consent. Judges in Florida can allow marriages with no minimum age in the case of pregnancy. Massachusetts has no minimum age for marriage where the minor’s parents and a probate judge consent.

    So it’s not a Southern thing.


    1. Cranberry said,

      “So it’s not a Southern thing.”


      This really is an area where the current laws on the books are very open to abuse, but reform is both important and doable. The current minimums are just too darn low.

      Interestingly, the state laws on first cousin marriage are also not what you might think based on state stereotypes:

      Nearly the entire Eastern seabooard, California, Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico and Colorado are soft on first cousin marriage, whereas it’s illegal in the Pacific Northwest and (as a rule) in flyover states outside the SE (although it’s also illegal in Louisiana and Mississippi). First cousin marriage is a crime in Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota.


      1. We have kooky laws on the books, such as it being illegal to take a lion to the movies. That doesn’t mean anyone is doing it.

        Actually, one incidence of first cousin marriage isn’t all that harmful. The effect is much worse when it’s a common family practice, and when both spouses come from families that practice cousin marriage.

        In that vein, I find it interesting that so many European royals have married commoners in recent years The European royal and noble families have a history of marrying cousins over generations. It is healthy to marry “out.”


    2. You’re talking about child marriage, which is its own can of worms, but not the same thing as age of consent. Not sure how it’s relevant to the history of age of consent laws being fought in the South by legislatures who didn’t want them to apply to black girls.


    3. The short answer is it that it is. It’s a historical fact that age of consent laws were not challenged in the North by politicians who felt that black girls ought to be sexual prey for white men.


    1. Don’t scare the white people or they’ll blow up society. It’s like terrorism, except most real terrorist don’t expect you to feel sorry for them.


    2. Christakis was forced from the Yale faculty for her views on Halloween costumes. Stanger was beaten by students and sent to the emergency room for being in the presence of Charles Murray (so I guess it wasn’t her own views: no intolerance here!). Amy Waxman was removed from her teaching duties (which was my original phrase) for her views on affirmative action. I think it’s shameful that you attempt to excuse, minimize, and deny these events.


      1. Amy Wax is still teaching at Penn. Allison Stanger is still teaching at Middlebury. Erika Christakis’s husband is still teaching at Yale, though Erika isn’t. She resigned.


  10. Yale’s statement on Christakis’ resignation: “Erika Christakis is a well-regarded instructor, and the university’s leadership is disappointed that she has chosen not to continue teaching in the spring semester,” the statement said. “Her teaching is highly valued and she is welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice.”

    Stanger’s injury is a terrible shame, but saying that she was beaten by students is an overstatement. As she describes it ( ), she was moving through a crowd of riled-up students and someone shoved her, resulting in her injury. That should not have happened, but it’s on the person who actually shoved her, it’s nothing to do with being removed from a faculty.

    And Amy Wax is still teaching at U Penn, she’s just no longer teaching first year classes that students are required to take.

    If these are the worst cases that spring to mind, they really aren’t much.


  11. I have a percolating concern about the growth of the non-professional intellectual/thinker. On one hand, it’s beautiful, the digital spread of thought. But, these thinkers are also separated from standards of conduct, set in academia, in journalism, in medicine, in law. Examples include Ann Cuddy, who parlayed a dubious study on “power posing” into a much watched TED talk, book, and speaking career (while transitioning out of the academic position that would have demanded that she engage in criticism of the original study and find further evidence in support of it) and biohacker Josiah Zaynor, who left academic science to enter a wild self-funded world.

    A related issue is that the ethical standards in different fields are different. For example, those who work with human subjects have a set of fairly rigid and extensive standards (on privacy, anonymity, deception) that other fields don’t have. Some professions have strong standards on confidentiality.

    When an academic researcher, as an example becomes a reality show advisor all sorts of standards get broken: for example, the funny in parts, but ethically dubious “secret lives of 4 and 5 year olds” — which in one scene shows a non-mobile 5 year old with CP sobbing in a playhouse she can’t leave by herself) or the French recreation of the Milgram torture experiments as a fake reality game show.

    Or, say, when people who look like they are journalists say they are entertainers.


    1. A lot of the people who claim to be “persecuted” by academics and have to take their stick to Fox News aren’t producing research that passes basic muster, or even doing research at all. Many of them are recycling long-discredited garbage and trying to pass it off as new, or they’re actually just making things up and passing it off as “research.” (See: Amy Wax, Keith Chen).

      As someone with no formal physics training, I could put forward the theory that the “strings” of string theory are actually cheese whiz strings, and I could produce a website on this, but if no peer reviewed physics journal wants to publish it and no university offers me a physics position, it’s hardly because Big Physics is trying to Silence The Truth.


    2. I was amused when searching for Ann Cuddy to find Nicholas Christakis chiming in to say she was being bullied by those who criticized her work. So, I guess, students living in a dorm should have to defend their concerns about a ceremonial honor like a Plains Indian war bonnet being used as a costume accessory, but a scientist shouldn’t have to justify their statistical methods.


  12. And, I am going to be the old person complaining about the 13 point twitter chain method of writing an opinion piece. I find the format so so so annoying.


  13. elizardbreath, you’re quoting a statement from the Yale administration? You seriously claim that statements from university administrators have credibility with anyone who knows anything about academia? Erika Christakis issued a very different statement.


  14. Here is a very interesting taxonomy of arguments, good and bad. Our comments at apt11d illustrate most of the categories (good and bad) in the taxonomy, except that no one here ever posts a comment long enough to qualify for some of the author’s categories.

    So I just want to say two things: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” and “Conservatives have no real program except hating black people.”


    1. I have long liked Slate Star Codex (and as well a number of the people cited as Dark Webbers in the NY Times piece) and I like the presence of Bulverism in the piece and in the comments. Certain commenters here have been known to make Bulverist comments!

      “Description: This is a combination of circular reasoning and the genetic fallacy. It is the assumption and assertion that an argument is flawed or false because of the arguer’s suspected motives, social identity, or other characteristic associated with the arguer’s identity.

      Logical Form:

      Person 1 makes argument X.

      Person 2 assumes person 1 must be wrong because of their suspected motives, social identity, or other characteristic associated with their identity.

      Therefore, argument X is flawed or not true.

      Example #1:

      Martin: All white people are not racists.

      Charlie: Yes they are. You just believe that because you are white.

      Explanation: Charlie is making two errors: 1) he is assuming that Martin must be wrong and 2) he is basing that assumption on an accidental feature of Martin—the amount of pigmentation in his skin.”


  15. “Explanation: Charlie is making two errors: 1) he is assuming that Martin must be wrong and 2) he is basing that assumption on an accidental feature of Martin—the amount of pigmentation in his skin.””

    Actually, the first “error” is not one and it’s not an assumption. It’s a conclusion that Charlie has reached based on a series of premises that Charlie believes are true. It may be a logically unsound conclusion, but it’s not an assumption.

    The second sentence is also not an assumption; it’s an argument. Again, the argument may not be sound, but it’s still an argument. And the unstated premise of that argument is, actually, that white people cannot see that they are being racist.

    I could probably refine that a bit more, but I am avoiding going into work and should probably stop doing so.


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